Thursday, August 25, 2005

Chapter 11. Jul 27, Aug 6, 2005

We were soon to discover that the grells, we had encountered, were by no means alone. Indeed, following the trails of our attackers quickly led into the first of a series of caves, which constituted a grell colony. Behind an intricate door, which we battered down, we soon after faced off more grells and managed to free two prisoners, obviously their next meal! One of the prisoners was a halfling baker called Bindo Berrybug, the last of a group of travelers who had been systematically consumed by the grells, while the other was a strange winged humanoid, an aasimar, called Duncan. Like many of his kin carrying the blood of the Gods in them, Duncan proudly bore the tabard of a paladin of The Holy Trinity and he readily decided to join our search. Luckily, his weapons and armor had been of little interest to his captors, so they were lying nearby. Hence, everyone fully armed we headed back to the campsite for some greatly needed rest. Suddenly, as we passed through the great natural hall leading back to the entrance tunnel, Luke saw something and let out a shout of warning. It was a trap and we had just sprung it! From above the ledges some 20 ft above the floor and running down the full length of the room, five drow warriors appeared as if out of shadows to take deadly aim with their arrows and spells. The drow knew exactly how to take advantage of their elevated position and initially targeted Taliesin with their arrows and spells. As a result the mystic theurge took several serious hits and was magically blinded! While attempting to regroup and improve our position, everyone promptly retreated towards the exit leading deeper into the caves. Unfortunately, this was exactly what the drow had anticipated and thus the maneuver only served to worsen our situation, when most of us were caught in a magical spider web covering the exit. Mercilessly, our enemies and several summoned spiders now closed in for the kill. Fortunately, before they got the chance to deliver the final coup-de-grace, Taliesin was able to dispel the web and this to some extent turned the tide. Now free to act, Anarion and Vorona swiftly engaged the drow on the ground, while Naxxar and Duncan both took off to deal with those on the ledges. Soon four of the five drow lay slain, while Duncan captured the last, a wizard, alive. Exhausted after the fight, we wasted no time to interrogate him, but set double speed back to the campsite.

Having regained most of our strength, Anarion made his feelings about the drow wizard perfectly clear to everyone: he could not be trusted and deserved only be slain. This feeling obviously was mutual, because the drow wizard likewise refused to converse with him. Since Anarion and Taliesin were the only ones who spoke elf, the interrogation was consequently left entirely to the half-elf. Far from comfortable about the situation, Taliesin eventually managed to strike a deal with the prisoner, to exchange his freedom for valuable information. And so in this way we learned that the drow had been tracking us ever since our first visit to the amethyst shaft, in the hope of getting us to do their “dirty work”. We also learned that the drow were after something called a Cerulean Sign, a powerful magic amulet that possessed some sort of power against aberrations. The amulet had originally been the make of a Brotherhood called the Keepers of the Cerulean Sign, who had fought aberrations, and was supposedly to be found in this tomb. Of the Ankh of Voices he knew nothing. We finally released the drow with all his equipment, and he vanished into the shaft, into the Underdark.

Our prisoner released the next priority, on Anarion’s insistence, was to secure the safety of the halfling Bindo. Obviously, this required finding a way to get past the red dragon guarding the entrance. From a tale some twenty years old and involving a silver dragon, Taliesin expected that this particular red dragon, called Fylokkipyron, would be susceptible to taunting, perhaps making him careless in battle. There was also a different way to get away, though, which did not involve fighting him at all. Casting a special spell memorized from the white spell book, he had received from the elves in Angaradi, Taliesin gave all of us the shape of falcons, allowing us to escape up through the shaft and right under the dragons nostrils. After eight hours of tiresome flight and with the spell starting to wear off, we were only a few hours from Hammersdale. Saving Taliesin’s spell for the return journey, we continued on foot the next morning to find the village in smoldering ashes! Having been under attack from red dragons during the night, half the houses were burnt down and many more damaged. As we came closer, the people of Hammersdale seemed to direct all their frustration and sorrow towards us, especially Naxxar, complaining loudly about our absence. That was when Eliot pushed his way through the crowd to say these words: “They have taken Elÿas!”.

While Elÿas’ house itself had been left untouched by the flames, men cloaked by flames and darkness had apparently abducted the sage. Moreover, they had ransacked his house, clearly looking for something. Seemingly, the dragon attack for all its ferocity had only been a diversion to hide these actions! Who that would have the power to command three red dragons, however, none of us had any idea. Searching his uncle’s house, Taliesin quickly discovered what had been taken: the mithril amulet from Saint Drayan’s statue. Next to where Elÿas would keep the amulet, the skull of Saint Drayan was lying on the floor, cracked. Unlike us, the attackers seemed to have known exactly what they were looking for and how not to leave clues behind. In fact, the only clue left behind was a plain kama of good quality, which was stuck in one of the rafters. Lacking magic powerful enough to discern Elÿas location, we were left with no other alternative than to return to Cerulean’s tomb in search of the ankh, hoping that Saint Drayan himself would lend us some more clues. As a parting gift Bindo gave us his magic cap and we in turn encouraged him to find work with the innkeeper Eliot.

We left Hammersdale at once to walk a few hours, before Taliesin again cast his spell and hours later - as falcons - we once again descended the shaft. Wasting little time we choose a tunnel half filled with debris at the end of which we encountered another grell, this one armed with a lightning lance. Having dispatched the grell, we continued round a circular path and soon after found another grell door, which Naxxar somehow was able to open. Behind this there was a great hall, ending at a semi-circular dais with stairs leading up to a superbly crafted door adorned with a tree symbol. Guarding the door were three undead ogres and an undead grell wizard, who managed to cut off Vorona and Anarion from the rest of the group with an invisible wall of force. To bypass the wall, the two warriors thus had to cut their way into the rock itself, creating a passage into the hall beyond at the same time. Meanwhile, the rest of us fought hard to keep the powerful undead grell at bay, while Vorona and Anarion hacked away at the stone. After defeating all four of the undead guardians and examining some urns, standing close to the door, we carefully proceeded into the rectangular hall beyond, where two huge statues posed in the middle (one of them collapsed). In the far end, a short corridor lead further on into a burial chamber, which as Luke discovered much to his own dismay proved to be guarded by a sonic trap! Inside the burial chamber was a plain closed sarcophagus, containing the last remains of a half-elf dressed in white robes, probably Cerulean – or whatever the bard’s true name had been. In addition to the corpse, the sarcophagus contained an amulet bearing the same tree symbol as the outer door, the ankh and lastly a harp of masterwork quality. Leaving the harp behind, the sarcophagus was promptly closed again.

Though we had now apparently retrieved the items, we needed, it was decided to search also the last tunnel. After bypassing two more of the grell doors, we found ourselves facing a huge grell, larger than any of the others, armed with an even greater lightning lance. Fool-heartedly, we charged it only to discover that the grell was a fearsome opponent. One by one the creature took us down, until only Naxxar was still standing. As he finally also fell to its paralyzing touch, we would surely have been done for, if not the grell itself proved to have been fighting on death’s door. Shrugging of the effect of the paralysis and healing the rest of the group, Naxxar eventually found the creature lying helplessn on the ground in the far end of the cave and swiftly put it out of its misery with some of his blasts.

Sketch of Cerulean’s tomb

Everyone bearing grave wounds we did not stay any longer but instantly retreated to the now familiar campsite. After a full night of rest, Taliesin returned briefly to the tomb to repair the broken down wall. He then magically repaired Saint Drayan’s skull and cast a third spell to speak to the creature, who had once resided therein, using the Ankh of Voices to magnify his spell. Before our unbelieving eyes, a ghostlike visage seemed to grow from the now floating skull to take a vaguely humanoid form. It was the undying soul of Saint Drayan, called back from its resting place.

From what we learned from the soul there could be no doubt that the skull was indeed the last remains of the knight, who had fought alongside his deity against Morgûl (see Chapter 2). As for the mithril amulet, the markings on it was a map showing the hidden temple on the island of Dava-Notar, where The Sword of Five Virtues was resting. This holy sword was the one, which had been used to defeat the Lord of the Dead, and consequently the stealers of the amulet were probably either followers of Asteriot – or what seemed more likely – Morgûl. In the latter case, the thieves would undoubtedly want to destroy it, to ensure that it would never be used against their cause again. Duncan shortly lectured us that the Five Virtues of Justice are Faith, Humility, Steadfastness, Truth and Compassion, before Saint Drayan went on to tell of his great sea voyage into the West, over endless months and oceans, to get to Dava-Notar and the secret temple of Texcuatla, the Ulluxy God of Death, with the sword. He also told of guardians, vowed to protect it, and that the islanders were friendly to the temple. Finally, he expressed his doubts that Elÿas was still alive and that he would prefer to be allowed to rest henceforth, as he had so greatly deserved. On the other hand, if truly called for then he would answer our summoning again. Then he was gone and we immediately broke camp, to return to Hammersdale as fast as wings could carry us.

In Hammersdale a man called Rudegar, claiming to be a messenger from Glamis, met us. He had been sent by Arakk (see Chapter 3 and 4) to request our immediate presence on an urgent matter.

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