Friday, October 14, 2005

Chapter 1 - 13. The Morgûl-campaign

Chapter 1. Feb 3, 2005.

It was the day of the great festival, when all four of us gathered in Hammersdale, the small village that lies at the foot of mountain above the dwarven delve of Kundrukar. Rufus and Luke were the first to arrive, while Taliesin had come down from Glamis a full week early in order to spend some time with his uncle Elÿas. Paheri was the last to join, arriving from his temple-garrison in Glamis only hours before the climax of the festivities: “ the rabbit chase”.

“The rabbit chase” is a local game of hide-and-seek, where small groups of villagers: men, women and children has to find a small child carrying a rabbit, who is hiding in the nearby forest. As the chase was afoot, we also joined and entered the forest. We had not been searching long, when movement was spotted in a nearby bush. Luke sneaked closer to discover that it was not the child, but a man weary and bruised from travel. He was obviously scared at first, but as Paheri was able to calm him down, he revealed his story. He’s name was Elmon and came from the village of Dire’s Cove in the mountains, about a week away over land, to seek the help of Kundrukar, as his village had been attacked by a large number of “rough and barbaric humanoids, some furry and some much larger than a man”. We immediately escorted the man to the village and further towards the dwarven gates, where Lord Jodmar met us. The dwarf lord was very inclined to help, however, since the snow would make travel in the mountains very dangerous, he was reluctant to march his troops up there just to perish in the freezing cold without further investigation. Hence, a scouting party should be sent to investigate, and the four of us readily volunteered for the job, receiving 100 gp per head for provisions. Already on the next day, at mid-day, we left Hammersdale, having equipped ourselves with provisions, winter gear, and a large cart pulled by Rufus.

The first days of traveling were uneventful. As we started the climb, though, the weather rapidly got colder and snow started to hinder our path. Higher up the roads were inaccessible for wheeled carts and snowshoes were essential, therefore the wheels were taken of the cart so as to be pulled like a sleigh by Rufus. There were also other hindrances: heavy tree trunks suddenly blocked the mountain path. It turned out to be a roadblock erected by at least three primitive humanoids as large as Rufus, demanding a “road toll”. Focused on our mission in Dire’s Cove and realizing that they had a clear advantage of ground, we paid the toll of 5 gp per head and were subsequently allowed to move on. A few cold days later, approaching the village, three cat-like creatures carrying goblin riders attacked us. As battle commenced, the creatures turned out to be some sort of beast, whose howling made the blood freeze in our veins; fortunately Luke and Paheri were able to shrug it off and finish them quickly, since Rufus and Taliesin panicked. Abandoning the scene of the battle, we soon after reached the outskirts of the village.

While the rest were hiding the “sleigh” and recuperating from the days of climbing, Luke sneaked closer to investigate. The two wooden guard towers were obviously manned by some humanoids, but distance and the heavy clothing made identification impossible. It was decided to try to sneak closer under cover of the morning twilight. Again, Luke took the point, the rest hiding just out of sight of the nearest guard tower. Unfortunately, Luke was discovered and soon an alarm drum could be heard, calling out to a group of orcs! Paheri and Taliesin still in hiding, Rufus appeared and tried to bluff the orcs into believing that he wanted to join their band, alas without success and the orcs attacked. In the ensuing battle, Rufus was cut down by the orchish swords and only saved by Taliesin’s healing, however, the orcs were eventually defeated (the last few spectacularly so, as Rufus toppled the 30-ft guard tower killing three orcs underneath as well as the archer on the lookout).

Investigating the village closer, the surviving villagers, mostly women and children, were found to be captives in their own houses. Approaching them, we learned that they were scared of something (or someone?) dwelling in a building, residing high over the village itself; it looked like a small temple of some sort, but at the distance it was impossible to make out the symbol protruding from the roof. So we went closer …

Chapter 2. Mar 19, 2005.
Alas, we did not get far when suddenly and without warning multiple black projectiles pierced the cold air with deadly precision. Rufus toppled forward and lay quite still, two poisoned crossbow bolts protruding from his back, and we knew instantly that he had gone beyond this world. As for our attackers, a small group of orcs, they showered us with bolts from their concealment in the outskirts of the village. Paheri and Luke, angered by the untimely demise of their large friend, charged their position without hesitation. Weakened as we were, this was a battle, which could easily have turned against us. However, fortunately, an unexpected ally appeared to tip the scales in our favor. It was the elf Anarion, whom Taliesin knew remotely from his elf home. After initial presentations, he and Taliesin walked up towards the temple to investigate, while Luke and Paheri having suffered grave wounds stayed behind, guarding a single orc who had been taken as prisoner during the battle. They soon returned to report that three dog-like humanoids, which we later learned were gnolls, were guarding the entrance of the small, square temple on the hill overseeing Dire’s Cove. Not knowing the exact strength of our enemies or the cause of the attack on the village, Paheri tried to gather all of the surviving 16 villagers, mainly old people and children, in the barn to question them. They proved too scared to be bolstered by his words, however, and their doors remained closed. Approaching a single family only, Taliesin had more luck with his efforts. Meanwhile Anarion’s keen eyes never once left the hill, his bow notched and ready to fire at the first sight of reinforcements. Apparently, the initial attack on Dire’s Cove had been swift and decisive and all able-bodied men and women struck down in the hopeless defense. Subsequently, the village had been plundered for provisions. These had been transferred to the small temple of Asterioth on the hill, leaving the surviving villagers starving and confined in their own houses. The attackers had then split up. The orcs had been left in the village to guard the prisoners, while the rest of the attacking war band had retreated to the temple. There appeared to be little if any contact between the two groups. The fate of the village priest, a man called Germanus, was unknown. As we returned to question our orc prisoner, he turned out to have bled to death, while attempting to break his bonds.After a good night’s sleep and healing, we set out for the temple at dawn. Choosing to go around the hill in order to avoid the guards, we approached from the side of the bell-tower. From a distance only one guard could be seen, keeping a lookout from the top of the bell-tower. Luke sneaked closer and felled him with a well-placed arrow. Our hopes for surprising our opponents was quickly shattered, though, when we were ambushed by the three gnoll guards right on the doorsteps of the small temple. Emerging relatively unscathed from the ambush, we began to investigate the building. In the bell-tower there was an entrance to a basement, which was found to be quite large and to contain a section that was obviously younger than the temple itself. The oldest part contained a crypt with several stone sarcophagi, which had recently been opened and ransacked. The central one had an intricately carved lid, showing the visage of a knight. It was empty. By close inspection of the lid it seemed as if something had been removed from the knight’s hand! Continuing our search of the basement, we found a magically sealed door, the village provisions as well as a room, which obviously had served as the sleeping quarters of our enemies. As we entered this room, another ambush was sprung. Having defeated our rogue attackers, we discovered a battered body in the room – it was the priest Germanus. In his dying breath he urged us to “save Saint Drayan”, clutching a key to what turned out to be the sealed door. Recalling an old myth, Taliesin explained that Saint Drayan was rumored to be a knight, who fought alongside the god Asterioth against Morgûl and who returned back alive to this world – as one of three - bearing the actual weapon, used by Asterioth to slay the Lord of Undeath. Intrigued by this information, the magically sealed door was immediately opened to reveal a pathway, leading to another door. This door, however, was guarded by more than “just” magic. Blocking our way was the half-ogre leader of the war band and his two heavily armed half-orc bodyguards. They attacked us on sight and a tough fight broke out, where the sharpness of Anarion’s sword in the end turned fortune our way: the half-ogre and one of his bodyguards were both slain, while the remaining bodyguard, who had wielded a serrated sword-axe, was captured. The door now blocking our path was of superb craftsmanship, engraved with many images of nighttime wilderness and inlaid with costly metals and gems. A cryptic message appeared on the doorframe, which Anarion was fast to decipher.
In the eyes we are of all who dreamthough great we are, so small we seem.A friend to those who roam abroadthe feet of gods, with splendor shod.It was a riddle instructing us how to open the door: by pushing the stars appearing on the door in the right order - west to east. Behind the door there was a magnificent room with a large stone table and decorated with paintings showing Saint Drayan’s quest: the epic journey and battle against Morgûl taking place at a large ziggurat, and the return of three surviving knights carrying a chest. On the table there was a book and a coffer; according to Taliesin both the book and the contents of the coffer possessed a magical aura. Recalling the words of the priest Germanus, we carefully took both items with us and left the basement.After further investigating our fallen enemies, we began to make our way back towards the village itself with the book and the coffer. Just as Taliesin and Luke were clearing the impromptu barricades erected by the gnolls outside the temple, it was as if they both saw the transparent visage of father Germanus looking sadly at a particular part of the barricade. A moment later the image was gone. Taliesin went to investigate and found a wooden statue of Saint Drayan, damaged and blackened by fire. The statue had been slightly larger than a normal man but now lacked the legs and part of the upper body and face was damaged by fire. Again recalling Germanus’ dying words, the statue was dragged back to the village, where grateful villagers greeted us. At last they dared to believe that they were safe!Being the only one of us speaking orchish, Anarion interrogated our half-orc prisoner. He learned the half-orc’s name to be Thark. Vowing to set him free to fight another day, Anarion learned that the half-ogre and his mercenaries had been hired by an elf to take the village and secure the treasures from the temple. Apparently the deal was that the elf would get the captive villagers and first choice from the findings, while the mercenaries would keep all other findings as payment. Moreover, the elf would come for his prizes with more men. This was, of course, dire news. Not only was the elf known to have committed terrible atrocities elsewhere, but rumors Anarion had heard and followed told him to be nearby. Unwilling to leave the villagers of Dire’s Cove to a desperate fate, we faced a tough decision: to make a stand and await the coming of the reinforcements, which perhaps would run us over; or to lead the villagers down the mountain in the midst of winter, a trip which would undoubtedly cost many lives to the cold. Believing that nothing more was known to the half-orc, Anarion eventually set the prisoner free and let him leave with his sword-axe and his honor. As for ourselves, when the spring came and the snow blocking the mountain passes had thawed, we returned to Hammersdale along with all the villagers in our care.

Chapter 3. Mar 24, 2005.
Back in Hammersdale, we gave a full recollection of our adventures to Lord Jodmar. We also presented the three items, which had been recovered in Dire’s Cove: the wooden statue of Saint Drayan (which upon closer inspection was discovered to have a ceramic head), the book (which was titled Diem Lux Vincem et Mortem and written by one Drayan of Eastroth) and the magic wand stored inside the coffer. At the dwarf lord’s request, the three items were handed over to Elÿas, Taliesin’s uncle and the sage of Hammersdale, for further examination. And thus our charge ended.We were not to dwell long in Hammersdale, though, but almost immediately set out for Glamis. It was in particular Anarion, who urged us not to linger but to press on, as he was most anxious to continue his ongoing search for the great elven weapon master Eirwin. Unfortunately, Eirwin’s last known residence is a secluded monastery in Talaron more than five hundred miles away by land and that is a fair and possibly dangerous journey by any standards. Consequently, Anarion’s plan was to employ the services of a Wayfarer in Glamis, who would transport us there, by means of teleportation, if we all decided to join him that is. And so the elf quickly arranged passage, through the harbormaster, a dwarf named Ethor Boatswain, for all of us to Glamis, on one of the underground riverboats the dwarves use to transport weapons and other goods to the markets. This boat was scheduled to depart three weeks later, though, and so in the end we left for the city on foot, a mere four-day hike.Before leaving Taliesin got news from his uncle about a man from Glamis called Arakk, who apparently was searching for a small group of adventurers to retrieve an object of historical interest. Piecing the story together, partly from memory and partly from the information provided by Elÿas and later Arakk himself, Taliesin had a strange story to tell. The object of interest was a cloak or cape by the name of Fiend’s Embrace. This cloak was supposedly a gift from the demon lord Graz'zt to his concubine, the witch queen Iggwilv, and made by a great artisan of the Abyss out of the hide of a pit fiend slain by Graz’zt during the Blood War. Iggwilv was later to have passed on the cloak, which magical powers had not been recorded, to a human lover, who eventually suffered a violent end and was then lost. A renowned collector of old things, however, Arakk had recently discovered a journal hidden in an old desk once belonging to the wizard Zarlag, indicating that the cloak was presently to be found in an abandoned keep called Blackstone Keep. Zarlag’s journal stored a collection of notes, written partly in Abyssal, Infernal and in Common. Many of the notes were excerpts from a book called The Demonomicon, while others were travel notes and observations. According to the notes, Blackstone Keep is located in the north end of the Blood Marsh; the great marsh located south of the snow elf settlements in the Shilthindast forest and a good 2-3 weeks from Glamis. According to legends, the marsh once saw a great battle between an alliance of men and snow elves and a great host of orcs, led by the demon Galantos. To the south of the marsh there is a city, Eru-tar, which seems to be a likely starting point for an expedition. Between the city and the marsh there is a bridge, referred to by Zarlag as the “Ghoul Bridge”, where the presence of undead is particularly strong. Closer to the keep, inside the marsh, lives a hideous and monstrous woman known as “The Potion Maker”, who apparently is prone to flattering and sells potions readily. And somewhere further to the north, there is apparently a place where evil treeants are roaming freely!Upon arrival to Glamis we rented rooms for the night on the “Golden Lion”, an inn of high repute and high prices too! Asking around, Taliesin discovered that Arakk was well known to the frequenters of this inn and a man of high regard. Taliesin therefore eventually went on his own to meet with Arakk in his city residence to hear the terms of the offer and learn more about Fiend’s Embrace. He returned with the translation of the journal, made by Elÿas. Afterwards, Taliesin and Anarion visited the Monastery of Dusk to find a Wayfarer named Yuan. Our feelings about whether to accept the task put forth by Arakk, however, were very mixed. While Paheri felt the quest worthwhile, he was not convinced by the sincerity of our employer. Likewise, Taliesin was intrigued by certain aspects of undertaking this journey without being entirely convinced that it was worth it. The most critical was Anarion, who argued long and rightly against it. In the end, though, we decided to visit Arakk in order to all hear the story from his own lips.Arakk turned out to be a man in his forties, proportionally built and with long black hair. He was dressed fashionably in a tailor made suit and sported a few discrete pieces of jewelry. Retelling the story of Taliesin, Arakk added that the Keep was sinking into the marsh and therefore time was of great importance if the cloak was to be retrieved. Moreover, he told about another expedition, he had just learned was on the road, an expedition apparently sponsored by the Black Hand, a mystical organization of monks and assassins worshipping the demon lord Graz’zt (their symbol sports a black six-fingered hand, just like the one we found in Dire’s Cove)! Arakk went on to offer to cover all our “reasonable” travel expenses as well as pay the market price for the cloak, which he expected to be 2000 gp. Swayed, but still not clear about the true intentions of our would-be sponsor, Paheri asked Arakk directly, whether he would agree to leave the cloak in the hands of the church, and await it’s decision on whether it was an item of evil or not. He refused adamantly and thus the negotiation was over on our part. His disappointment by our refusal was as great as his anger at Paheri´s evangelizations, though these were soon to be replaced by sadness as we left the house, determined to launch an expedition of our own to retrieve – and possibly destroy – Fiend’s Embrace. And so on the very next day, we left Glamis by means of Yuan’s magic (our purses considerably less heavy!) in order to beat the expedition of the Black Hand. Our destination was the city of Eru-tar, but as the wizard had never been there, there would be a risk that we could end up somewhere else! Holding hands Yuan wrought his powerful spell … and suddenly we were in a small, rural town populated by people wearing furs. But where were we exactly…?

Chapter 4. Apr 16, 2005.
We quickly found out that we had come to Eru-Tar as planned, but the magic of Yuan had apparently broken some sort of law in the town and as we landed right next to a group of local lawmen we had a problem. The expedition of the Black Hand had arrived before us and ended up in a fight with the locals killing four of them and they now suspected us to be more of the same kind. Their captain Barin decided to detain us until it was made clear that we were harmless visitors. No one in the party rejected to come with them even though it didn’t look very promising to let ourselves arrest and give up our weapons. But after waiting for some time in a cell we were released and set free without any more obstructions. We were told that The Black Hand had arrived before with an expedition of six people – four humans, a half orc and what had appeared to the locals as a ‘little dwarf’, all equipped with a medallion with the symbol of the Black Hand. They had travelled into the Blood Marsh.We estimated the journey to the Blackstone Keep to last around ten days and went out to buy trail rations and equipment. It was decided that Taliesin should go first using Zarlag’s map, as Taliesin knew most about how to navigate in the wild. But after a few days in the cold swamp we were attacked by a large acidic ooze that grappled Taliesin and besides hurting him badly destroyed most of his equipment as well. A brave attempt to fight back the creature cost Anarion his sword, but at last the party succeeded in killing it. Now we stood in the middle of the swamp – Taliesin without his quarterstaff and clothes, Anarion with no sword and all of us soaked, a problem that quickly got serious, as our clothes no longer could warm us. Therefore we decided to hurry back to Eru-tar to get some equipment for Anarion and Taliesin and dry our clothes. Finishing that we set out for another try to get through the swamp, this time knowing how essential it was to avoid getting soaked. This time after a few days’ travel we came to a little lake that unfortunately housed a five-headed cryo-hydra. This creature was known to Taliesin who knew how to fight it and immediately lit a torch to be able to burn the wounds after a head had been cut off to prevent it from growing out again.But the creature used it’s mighty breath-weapon which hit Taliesin and Luke. Taliesin was immediately sent to the brink of death and lay still, bleeding and unconscious and Luke was nearly struck unconscious as well. Luckily he managed to stop the bleeding of Taliesin’s wounds and carried him away to avoid any more attacks from the hydra’s terrible breath-weapon. But in the meanwhile Paheri had been caught in a terrible fight with the hydra. Badly wounded and almost unconscious he realised that the only way he would be able to defend himself would prevent him from attacking the creature and it would be very hard to flee because of his condition and the hydra’s long reach. But he chose to buy the party time to escape and valiantly kept fighting until the hydra at last broke through his defences.This heroic death was a hard blow to Taliesin and Luke whose friendship with Paheri went a long way back. Now the remaining members of the party decided to try and sneak back and recover the paladin’s body to make it possible to show him the honour of a funeral. Luke made his way back without being seen by any of the hydra’s heads and returned with what remained of the paladin. Now the party was in a difficult situation – to go on weakened without the paladin or give up and return to the city. We decided to go on, giving the mission one last shot. This decision stood even after a tough meeting with a large snow spider that left Taliesin and Anarion weakened after being poisoned by its bite. But a strange black fog combined with a strange black frost forced us to spend a couple of days resting, the poison’s debilitating effect stopped. Continuing our journey we at last made our way to Zarlag’s dwelling where we met Krudin who gave us some good advice about finding our way. The next four days passed without any attacks, and even though we missed the Ghoul Bridge we managed to find the Potionmaker’s house. She showed to be an old hag who grossly overpriced her potions and as our attempts to charm her didn’t succeed we had to settle for some very important, but also very expensive potions. She warned us about scrags at the keep and told us it was slowly sinking into the swamp and therefore most likely would be partially flooded.Two days later we reached the keep to find it lying on a low island surrounded by 90 feet of icy cold water. As the sight of a rowing boat on the opposite brink told us that the the Black Hand had come first we decided to wait for their return with Fiend’s Embrace. They came in the middle of the night and as our ambush worked perfectly the three remaining members of the band were quickly finished off. As we now had Fiend’s embrace we returned to Eru-tar without meeting any problems. We met a stranger though, who seemed to know quite a bit about our quest and wanted to come with us. His name was Naxxar, and he seemed to be some sort of spellcaster. A bit suspicious about a complete stranger knowing so much about us, we asked Yuan if we could delay going to Glamis until we had found out whether we dared trust the stranger or not. Taliesin would not be able to ask his deity for help before midnight so we decided to wait until then. Under Taliesin’s spell Naxxar managed to convince us that we at least could agree on taking him with us to Glamis.Yuan sent us back to Glamis and we arrived late in the night. We decided our errand was important enough to wake Arakk up and went directly to his house. Arakk asked for time to appraise Fiend’s Embrace and payed for our stay at The Golden Lion Inn for as long as it took. The next day he came to us at The Golden Lion and told us that the value of Fiend’s Embrace amounted to 26500 gp, but that he didn’t have the sufficient money to pay us. He could give us the 2500 gp immediately, but had to pay us the rest in monthly rates of 2000 gp. We accepted the down payment, but told him that we would rather have him owing us a favor instead of the monthly rates. He of course accepted and thus the quest for Fiend’s Embrace had come to an end.

Chapter 5. Apr 30, 2005.
Back at our usual inn, Taliesin had received word from his uncle Elÿas, who invited us to meet him in Hammersdale as soon as possible. The letter clearly suggested that Elÿas had stumbled across something, which would be of interest to us, and so we departed at once and with speed, taking heed of his warnings about large groups of orcs and ogres rumoured to roam free in the mountains. We arrived to Hammersdale a few days later, our journey free of incidents. Upon our arrival to the village we were promptly introduced to Vorona Tristani, a stranger who came from lands far beyond these. Many questions naturally arose, however, Elÿas vouched for him unfalteringly, and that was good enough for everyone. Over lunch, the sage began to explain how a group of dwarven prospectors had recently come to him for council. The prospectors, ten in all, had unknowingly uncovered something they deemed to be a large tomb or mausoleum while searching for precious metals. Inquisitive as they were, they had broken down the entrance to investigate, however, they had not delved far into the structure before being attacked by strange shadow creatures, forcing them to withdraw. One of their numbers severely wounded, they had returned to Kundrukar for healing and for equipment. With them the dwarves had brought a single stone brazier, they had been able to recover from floor of the tomb, and which was now in Elÿas care. Upon closer inspection, Taliesin and his uncle agreed that the brazier was probably more than 1000 years old and probably of human make. The latter was particularly surprising, since the area north of the mountains was supposed to be devoid of human settlements 1000 years ago.Since the dwarves had already departed without us and against Elÿas’ counselling there was no time to waste, and we immediately set out after them with Vorona joining our ranks. On the way to the tomb a pair of owl bears momentarily delayed us, though fortunately we all withdrew from this dangerous fight relatively unscathed. On the last night before reaching the entrance, we were alarmed by unnatural sounds in the forest. As the sounds came closer, we discovered that is was six dwarven zombies, heavily mutilated and unmistakably carrying the symbol of Khundrukar. Undoubtedly the remains of the prospectors, Taliesin called upon the power of Sehanine Moonbow and put them to rest. The following morning we carefully followed the zombies’ trails and approached the tomb. The broken down entrance proved to be guarded by a two-headed giant, an ettin. Next to it there was a large pile of orc and dwarven cadavers, obviously the fallen of a recent battle. The ettin was not too bright, yet Vorona’s attempt to bluff him failed, as he turned out to have a taste for elf flesh and a hungry stomach! We slew the ettin with some difficulty thus saving Taliesin from becoming the ettin’s lunch! A closer inspection of the bodies disclosed that the orcs were all wearing similar tattoos or symbols: two curved daggers arranged like a yin-and-yang image. Perhaps the symbol of another organization like the Black Hand? Unknowingly we passed the broken door and embraced the darkness to seek for answers…A long, sparsely lit corridor led into the mountainside. Just before a perpendicular intersection, a fresh orc cadaver was found protruding from a pit trap. To the left and right there were inscribed doors. Further along the corridor, sounds of working reached us. And then - all of a sudden - we were under attack! Three shadowy doglike beings, identified by Taliesin as shadow mastiffs, charged us from within the darkness. Tripping us with their powerful bites, these tomb guardians caused us deep wounds. Weakened as we were from the battle, we therefore withdrew for the night to heal. The next day we entered again. Nothing seemed to have changed, so we turned left at the intersection, where first Luke and then Taliesin examined the door. As Luke investigated the door, he set off a lightning trap, the brunt of which hurt many of us. Using magic the inscription on the door read:
To the DarknessYour Spirits are Offered

Behind the door, another corridor led to an old armory. Behind a secret and trapped door (which Luke this time expertly disarmed), we discovered the skeletal remains of a long deceased adventurer. His fingers were still clutching a magic staff and a book, which crumbled as Taliesin tried to examine it. Only a single page, a letter, was left to read. It was his dying words! The letter mentioned the tomb, the shadow mastiffs as well as two names Amran and Panhar, fellows of the writer who had perished while searching the tomb. In a small chest we further found some valuables. Heading back to the intersection, we turned our attention to the right door. Taliesin was too late in deciphering the warning on the door, thus we walked right into five undead shadows waiting in the room behind it. Calling again upon the power of the Luminous Cloud, four of the five shadows were kept at bay by the half-elf, while the last of the shadows fled before Vorona’s axe. A quick search of the room, though, revealed nothing and so we left quickly before the shadows could return.Continuing down the main corridor, we passed another three orc corpses, all wearing the curved dagger tattoos, undoubtedly victims of the shadow mastiffs. Also the banging became louder. Soon we could also hear strong orcish voices. In the great hall opening before us, a large group of orcs, twenty or so, were trying to break down a huge double door, leading further into the vault. Their attention was fixed on the door, allowing us easily to sneak quite close just in the right time to see the portal finally giving way. The orcs swarmed into the large room behind it, where a great podium was rising from the floor. As the first orcs entered, the room lit up, and it seemed that they were engaged by some unseen foe, perhaps more shadows? Suddenly a female elf clad in fine metal armor appeared out of nowhere. The elf sent a ball of fire erupting into the room, killings the front orcs and their attackers alike. Then, turning to the orc leader, the elf discovered us! Surprisingly, she did not seem too alarmed by our presence, though, and merely entered the room, leaving her orc allies to deal with us. Fighting our way through their ranks, we set out after her. It was immediately obvious that the elf had prior knowledge of the place, because she knew how to transform the podium into a stairway leading not up but down into a natural cave. In the far end of the cave there was a pyramid structure, and that was where she was heading. Unable to stop her from entering we waited outside the pyramid to see her emerge again, carrying something in a sash. Evidently, the elf had found what she was looking for, because she largely ignored us, her mind only set on getting clean away with her prize. We were again unable to stop her. Before she could weave a Fly spell and vanish from our sights, however, Vorona cut her sash with a well-directed cut, spilling her stash of coins and jewels on the floor. In the midst there was also a rod and a book marked with an elven symbol.Still trying to put together the pieces of the puzzle we had gotten ourselves into, we entered the pyramid. Inside there was a sarcophagus marked by the elf symbol Cython (the same as on the book), a broken chest and a pedestal with the imprint of a book. The sarcophagus had a magic radiance and both Anarion and Taliesin insisted that it be left unopened. With no further ado we left the tomb altogether and headed back to Hammersdale to examine the found items closer and to inform the dwarves of the demise of their brethren. Upon exiting the tomb we discovered that the body of the orc leader was missing!By immediate inspection, the writings in the Cython book seemed to be complete nonsense. Examining it closer, however, Elÿas and Taliesin concluded that it was written in “trionic”, i.e. the book was actually one of three, where every third line would be found in each book. In other words, the first line would be written in the first book, the second line in the second book and the third line in the third book and so on. Obviously, one would have to have all three books to read the text. The elf symbol on the front of the first part in our possession, Cython, represents knowledge, wisdom and learning, perhaps a clue to the content of the book? Or to its author? As far as Taliesin could remember, an elf wizard who used the Cython symbol as his own is buried under the “academy” (library) in his village in Angharradhi. Maybe his tomb could be the next clue?!

Chapter 6. May 14, 2005.
After spending one full week in Hammersdale, which Taliesin used to produce healing potions for everyone, we started our journey to Angharradhi. The easiest route there took us through the pass at Glamis, and hence once again we trod our steps along the main road to the city. After a full day and a half on the road we met a group of travellers, who had been attacked by a strange beast, they described as part scorpion and part spider. The creature, which Taliesin later identified as a Cildabrin of the Underdark, had overturned one of their vans, slain two of the hired guards and chased the remaining away, before it had grabbed a young boy and withdrawn into a nearby cavern. The trail still fresh, we took up pursuit immediately and entered the cavern, where we fought the aberration. With its deadly combination of great physical prowess, poison and magical powers, the Cildabrin proved to be almost more than we could handle. By skill and luck, however, we eventually managed to drive it off and save the boy. Tracing the path of our escaped adversary led to a deep shaft, possibly a pathway into the Underdark. Borrowing Vorona’s horse, Luke therefore rode like the wind back to Kundrukar to warn the dwarves, who immediately dispatched an engineering team to close the shaft. As Luke returned with the dwarves, we continued on our journey to Glamis.In Glamis we decided to linger for a few days, allowing everyone to replenish their provisions as well as to spend some of the well-earned gold, we had secured the last many weeks. Then we continued our travel. The journey from Glamis to Angharradhi was of little incident, save for a solitary hill giant who decided that we were suitable targets for its large boulders. We drove him off, though, and were able to press on for the elven realm with little delay. After ten days on the road (which only felt like three!), we reached the outskirts of Angharradhi. On the edge of the forest, Taliesin and Anarion spent a little time in prayer, before leading on along almost invisible paths. After a further two days, we reached the small village, which is Taliesin’s birthplace.The next couple of days, we rested in the village and enjoyed the hospitality of the elves, while Taliesin made inquiries about the wizard, whose tomb we had come to examine. Taliesin in turn approached the Keeper of Lore, his old teacher and caretaker of the village library to discuss our findings, in particular the “trionic” book. The Keeper proved to have nothing new to add on these matters save that the wizard in question had spent most of his life far away from the village. As for the burial vault underneath the library, containing the remains of the local wizards of the past, we were readily given permission to enter. By “chance” a great and unexpected earthquake just 10 days ago had caused the ground to collapse and to block the entrance to the vault. It cost us two days of hard labor to clear it. Entering the burial vault, we discovered the mummified bodies of two humanoids and two jars, indicating that someone had (recently?) created two powerful, incorporeal undead in this place. Wary of this we continued with extreme caution, examining every door in the vault till we came to the one, we were seeking. As we carefully approached, we saw that this stone door was broken down. Inside the chamber there was a sarcophagus and a pedestal identical to the ones we had seen inside the pyramid. On the pedestal, another softly glowing book was resting. Blocking our path were two wraiths, undoubtedly the lost souls of the mummified bodies, we had discovered earlier. By the power of Sehanine Moonbow, Taliesin swiftly put both of them to rest. Examining the chamber more closely, one corner of the sarcophagus proved to be smashed. Looking inside, it was obvious that this tomb had never contained a body! Had the sarcophagus in the pyramid also been empty? The book resting on the pedestal was like the first one written in “trionic”, however, whereas the former was marked with an elven symbol, this book was marked by a glowing Celestial symbol, the “Circle of Corellon”. Vorona suggested that perhaps the differing architecture of the two tombs (the elven vault versus the pyramid) could yield some additional clue, but little came of these considerations. Another question puzzling our minds was if the earthquake had indeed been a decoy, allowing someone to “break” into the vault unseen and create the two undead, why was the book still here? Was it “left” for us to find that we would do someone’s dirty work? It was not to be said at this time.Since the “Circle of Corellon” referred to a circle of standing stones about three days away, we decided to travel there in search of answers and of the third book. On the way to the stone circle, three trolls attacked us. We slew two of them, while the third escaped into the wood. It was evening on the third day when we arrived to the stone circle and made camp nearby. Next day, while Anarion was keeping a lookout, we started to investigate the site. The “Circle of Corellon” was a perfect circle of five great standing stones, two of which (no. 1 and 3) were decorated with many different symbols in different languages, including those on the books, seemingly without order or meaning. The last three stones were plain, apart from a small hole in the middle, facing the centre of the circle, where three tiny gems were inserted. One gem was clear, one dark and one grey. After a bit of “trial and error”, Vorona discovered that opening the two “trionic” books in front of the engraved stones, a beam of light would be generated from a Circle of Corellon symbol flaring up on the first stone, hitting a Cython symbol on the third stone, which would reflect the light ray on to the fifth stone. Here it would hit the small hole in the stone. Continuing in the same manner, it was obvious that if reflected from all the stones, the pattern would form a pentagram! We were still missing some crucial bit of information, though, because the light ray presently stopped at the fifth stone. Fortunately, Luke’s keen eyes discovered a small pouch with three coloured gems (clear, grey and dark) hidden in the book marked with the Celestial symbol. Just in that moment, we saw Anarion topple forward, taken by surprise by a Demon Assassin. A heartbeat later, another one appeared out of nowhere, attacking Vorona whom it had clearly deemed the most dangerous foe left. Vorona took some heavy hits, but stayed on his feet and well assisted by Naxxar’s eldritch blasts and Luke’s bow, he dealt with the Demon Assassin. Meanwhile, Taliesin had managed to get Anarion to his feet and by sword, axe, bow and blast the second Assassin was also dispatched, before it could succeed in summoning more of its brethren or teleporting away. No less disturbed over the nature of our attackers than before, Luke carefully mounted the three gems in the three holes as appropriate and as the pentagram formed, a magic portal opened. Readying ourselves to enter the portal, we meticulously started to gather all our items including the two books. Then – suddenly and without warning – it closed on us. All subsequent attempts to reopen it failed, leaving us again with more questions than answers.

Chapter 7. May 28, 2005.
Note: This chapter was unfortunately lost to the fiery breath of the black dragon. The words that was lost described how we discovered that the portal would reset with time and how we traveled through it to enter the demi-plane on the other side, escaping the pursuit of our elf adversary and her hirelings. They also recollected the meeting with the Couatl guardian and our strife to liberate a small tribe of lizard people. In gratitude, their shaman presented us with unidentifiable potions of supposedly great power, which we drank. So great was the potions’ power, however, that all but Taliesin immediately fell to the ground and lay like dead.

Chapter 8. Jun 10, 2005.
Frantically, the visibly weakened Taliesin examined all of his friends, fearing betrayal. Everyone was merely unconscious, though, and in the outskirts of the clearing the half-elf could see a smile play on the shaman’s lips, before he left. Shortly after, the first one started to come around, then another and soon we were all back at our full strength. Only … everyone felt somehow … changed.Without delay we approached the great door into the mountain, we had discovered earlier. Disabling the trap, which had been put on the door, we entered a long tunnel. Apart from a few side tunnels proving to be dead ends or collapsed, the tunnel led straight through the mountain into the valley on the other side. The tunnel was not without its own dangers, though. Multiple magic traps so intricate that even Luke’s abilities came short caused us grave wounds along our path, and our wands of cure light wounds was bereft of many of their valuable charges. As we finally emerged from the shadows, a beautiful valley scattered with the ruins of an ancient city opened up before us. In the middle of the ruins there was a lake. Examining the ruins more closely all seemed to bear markings of a powerful acid having etched its signature into the stone. We soon discovered why, as we approached the lake and suddenly found ourselves facing a black dragon. Although not nearly as impressive as the dragons of legend, it was clear to all of us that this was one fight we would not win by arms, would we try. Vorona instead addressed the dragon with careful wording, and during the conversion discovered that it was searching for the “Staff of Cython”. The Third Book written in trionic on the other hand was of no concern to the black dragon. Hence, by Vorona’s negotiations a deal was sealed, wherein we would try to obtain the staff, while we were given leave to search for the book. As it was, there was a single, large and square building in the ruined city, where even the dragon was barred entry, hence we did not need a seer to discern that this was a good place to start our search. And so we turned our attention to this building, leaving Anarion as a willing hostage with the dragon.The only entrance into the building seemed to be a large gate, sealed by powerful magic. Next to the gate, in a niche on either side, two statues of elves flanked the entrance. The one statue was obviously a wizard, while the other statue portrayed a warrior. Together, Vorona and Taliesin quickly figured out that the statues were keyed to the books somehow. Approaching the Cython book to the wizard statue and the Celestial book to the warrior, both books all of a sudden disappeared and the gate swung open. In the distance, the unseen dragon cried out in triumph. Entering, the inside of the building looked like a library, shelves towering along every wall. However, there were no books to be seen. In that moment the ghostly image of an ancient elf wizard suddenly appeared and started speaking to us. The ghost wizard explained that he was one of the Cython, an ancient and long forgotten order of wizards, and that he was waiting for those worthy of the secrets in the trionic books. He further explained that the library, which had once resided here, had long since been moved to a safer place, and likewise the Staff of the Cython was no longer here. Casting an unknown spell he then magically tested all of us, save Taliesin who manged to resist his probe. At first the results seemed to leave him in great doubt, since we were obviously not what he had expected. Especially Vorona and Naxxar bore an unexpected taint of evil in their souls. After a moment of struggling in his own mind, however, he decided that we must be the worthy ones after all, since we had made it to this place. Subsequently the two well-known books as well as a third, unknown book appeared out of nothing. Since, obviously, the staff so desperately wanted by the black dragon was not here, we needed to device a ploy to ensure Anarion’s safe return. And thus Taliesin’s frystalline staff was equipped with a makeshift symbol of the Cython and wrapped in cloth to keep its true appearance hidden from the black dragon. Moreover, to complete the deception, the ghost wizard cast a spell on it, giving it a powerful but false magical aura. Finally we bid the ghost wizard of the Cython to fare well and left the library, heading back towards the lake. Unknown to either of us at that time, Vorona hid the staff on the way, something that later proved to be a fortunate gambit, as we again confronted the black dragon. Negotiating on our behalf, Vorona expertly bluffed the dragon into releasing Anarion in return for knowledge of the hiding place and ought us time to escape. As the dragon lifted up from the ground on powerful wings to seek its treasure, we ran like the wind back to the tunnel… Emerging unscathed from the tunnel we were again met by the Couatl, who told us how to get back to our own Material plane again. Once through with the books, the portal would be sealed for good after us. He then handed us another gift from the shaman, two jars of magic war paint, the most powerful magic the tribe possessed.Knowing that our enemies would undoubtedly be waiting for us on the other side, we readied our weapons and spells before proceeding. And true enough, stepping back through the portal we were immediately attacked by the elf female and her group of warriors: the orc barbarian, a human monk, and a female human rogue. The elf at once lifted up from the ground using her Fly spell, to cast her spells at a safe distance from our swords. Her primary target proved to be Naxxar, whom she had rightly judged to be her most dangerous opponent. Meanwhile, the rogue singled out Taliesin, who was seriously wounded by several arrows fired with deadly precision. On the other hand, spell, bow and sword quickly rendered the orc helpless, and thus the tides of battle seemed to change back and forth. In the end it turned out to be Naxxar, revived by Taliesin’s magic, who came to decide the outcome of the confrontation as his fearsome blast nearly finished the elf off, causing her to flee. Bereft of their leader the rogue promptly surrendered, while the monk also took to flight, to be pursued by Vorona. Vorona ultimately caught up with him, but alone the monk proved to be too much and he suffered defeat. Fortunately, the monk did not care much for taking Vorona’s life and merely went on to escape into the woods – that is after having lifted Vorona’s purse!Back in the camp near the stone circle we questioned the rogue, who turned out to be nothing more than a hireling, albeit a dangerous one, from a nearby city. Her testimony certainly shed no light on the mysteries still in front of us, and she was eventually allowed to go, buying her freedom with a heavy purse of gold.

Chapter 9. Jun 23, 2005.
With our enemy routed and all the Books of Cython finally ours, we did not delay but set a fast pace back to the village to consult Taliesin’s former master, the Keeper of Lore, and to examine the books. Two days later we arrived and Taliesin and the Keeper immediately started to investigate our findings. It was quickly apparent to them that translating the books would take a great deal of time and that the content was of such a kind that it would be dangerous to stay in the village. Instead the Keeper suggested that we travel to a fortress near the edge of the forest a few days away, where we would be under the protection of many swords and spells. This was unanimously agreed upon. After a further two days traveling through the forest the Keeper suddenly declared that we had finally arrived, pointing to the trunk of a huge and ancient tree. A magically concealed gate opened up before our unbelieving eyes, leading into the elven tree fortress. Inside, we ascended up many stairs until we were quite near the top, where its captain, Thorontar, greeted us, before we were each given a room.A whole month passed away at the fortress, while the Keeper aided by Taliesin worked on deciphering the trionic books. The work was to some extent slowed down by the arrival of an elder priest of Sehanine, who requested Taliesin’s presence. For two weeks the half-elf was therefore nowhere in sight, and we only later learned that he had spent this time in meditation, seeking direct communion with his deity in order to learn about the mystic union of the arcane and the divine. And true enough, there was something changed about him when he returned. As for the rest of us, Anarion tirelessly spent most of his days under the skilled tutelage of his teacher of old, Thanas, the renowned weaponmaster of the House Moonwhisper. Thanas arrived from the capital of Angharradhi along with a small retinue a few days after us and a party was soon after given in his honor. When not joining Anarion, Vorona spent his time in the forge, mending his damaged arms and armour. Lastly, Naxxar and Luke just enjoyed some well-earned rest and used the occasion to trade themselves to a few useful items: Naxxar a few healing wands and Luke a magic rapier. Finally the translation was ready, and we all gathered in the meeting hall to discuss the Books of Cython. Taliesin carefully explained everything (see the extracts from his notebooks below) he and the Keeper had been able to find out about the Books, their author Maedhros Stargazer and about the Prophesy of the End of Days. When he was finished, it was obvious we needed to make an important decision about what to do with our newfound knowledge. In the end, it was decided to hand over the books to the elves, lest they be taken to the capital of Angharradhi for further studies and for protection. Two days later a trio of powerful wizards therefore arrived, including Milamber, to receive the books. Since both Thorontar and the Keeper vouched for them, we readily handed over the books along with our notes, still keeping a copy of the latter for ourselves. Clearly our findings as well as our actions had won us great respect amongst the elves, because we were soon approached again – this time by the elder priest of Sehanine, who wanted to enlist our aid. Two months ago, he explained, an apprentice of his had joined a group of elven adventurers in the search for a minor relic lost some 200 years ago. The relic was a sacred cup of elven make called The Chalice of Twilight. Since their departure all contact with the group had been lost, and the priest feared the worst. Having spent a full month in the fortress, everyone (and Naxxar most of all) was happy to embark on a new quest, and without much further ado we agreed to search for the lost party. Leaving the safety of the forest behind us, we followed their trails north. As we approached the mountains, we fell into ambush from two gargantuan spiders. We slew both alas with great difficulty and withdrew from the scene of the battle weakened by spider poison. Taliesin took the worst hits of all and had to be carried; he lay unconscious for a full day before waking up, while the poison cursed through his body. When he finally awoke, he used his healing magic to recover his own strength and subsequently his mundane healing skills on the rest of us, helping to speed our recovery. A quick search of the surroundings revealed the spiders’ nest, where their most valuable treasure was discovered: a scepter decorated by bone and skull symbols, a Scepter of the Netherworld.Another day had passed when suddenly we discovered smoke in the distance, probably a campfire. Approaching with the greatest of care, it turned out to be a group of ogres camping in front of the entrance to a large cave. It looked like they had been there for some time, because next to their campfire there was a huge pile of carcasses both from animals and humanoids. In order to find out what they were doing here and whether or not they knew anything about the elves, Vorona used his wand to disguise himself as a half-ogre and boldly walked closer to talk to them. Meanwhile, Luke, turned invisible by Taliesin, also sneaked closer, to watch Vorona’s back, while the rest of us kept out of sight. What happened next was as surprising as it was improbable. Since the ogres were reluctant to move out on Vorona’s command, he challenged their leader to a duel. Only the ogre leader turned out to be 17-foot mountain troll armed with a club the size of a small tree! And since the mountain troll was more than happy to accept the challenge, Vorona found himself facing this juggernaut in single combat. While physically no match for the creature, Vorona skillfully wield his strange magic, however, making the creature roll around in laughter before moving in to shower him with blows. Unfortunately, the giant’s wounds closed almost as fast as he could strike, and thus Vorona did not manage to finish him off before his spell expired. Free to act, the mountain troll dealt him a deafening clash that would have easily felled a lesser man. That was when Luke could hesitate no longer, and all of us quickly joined the fray too. Having been bought a breather, Vorona again cast his spell, which caused the troll once more to fall over in laughter. It was Luke, though, who impossibly finished him off with but a single stab from his dagger! With their leader fallen, the ogres were easily disposed off. Amongst the cadavers we subsequently found all the missing members of the adventuring party, including the apprentice; and Taliesin buried them all. The Chalice of Twilight we found on the mountain troll. With our search thus ended, we returned to the fortress to present the bad news of the sad demise of his brethren to the priest and to give him the cup. In return he presented each of us with a precious gift.

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.

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 tombEveryone 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.

Chapter 12. Aug 20, 2005
Without delay we took to the road in desperate hope that Arrak’s council might help us to find the old sage alive. Joining us was the messenger, Rudegar, who after a bit of persuasion on Taliesin’s part finally agreed to subject himself to the transformation, which was now familiar to the rest of us. And thus in the form of falcons we made haste for the Free City. While it normally takes a full four days to cover the distance to Glamis on foot, on powerful wings we made the journey in less than a day, setting down within sight of the city just as the spell wore off. After a further hour of hiking we arrived at the city gates, shortly after the onset of night. The gates were guarded by a watch consisting of four orcs of the Steel Skull clan, who readily let us pass after having examined a few of our bags. Inside the city Rudegar led us directly to Arrak’s lordly home, obviously unaware of our previous visits, where at the front door we were courtly welcomed by Arrak’s butler. With his usual detached attire the butler without much ado showed the way through the house to the sitting room where his master waited.It was immediately apparent that Arrak had somehow received fast tidings about the disappearance of Elÿas and of the presence of dragons in Hammersdale. Greatly concerned on behalf of his old friend, Arrak had therefore promptly initiated his own inquiries. So far his contacts had reported a group of black-clad men fitting the description from Hammersdale, who were traveling north. In turn Taliesin gave a detailed recollection of all we had discovered in Elÿas’ house and learned from the Soul of Saint Drayan, e.g. the kama, the Sword of Five Virtues, the mithril amulet, etc. The old wizard listened carefully to his every tale and speculation, never once revealing whether he already knew that which was told or what his true feelings was. In conclusion he asked if he could keep the kama for investigation, as it could perhaps reveal the whereabouts of its owner. Likewise, when showed the Ankh of Voices, Arrak offered to take it off our hands for a generous price. When refused, he merely commented that this priceless artifact could no doubt bring in a fortune if sold into the “wrong” hands. All together there was something about our mysterious host, which made Anarion later suggest that Taliesin should be more careful about his tongue in the future. In his opinion, the half-elf had been a bit too trusting and open-mouthed, especially since the wizard had already once proved to be a man whose motives were entirely his own. This was agreed upon. As we eventually departed, Arakk gave us a token to show in a nearby inn, The Tankard and Bottle, which he warmly recommended. This inn was located in Carriage Street, between the Great Market and the Horse Market.The next few days Taliesin spent locked in his room, magically investigating our many findings. Meanwhile the rest of us tried to find information pertaining to the Sword of Five Virtues and Dava-Notar, alas without much success! And so passed several days until at eventide on the fourth day, we were once again summoned to the house of Arakk, whose master had clearly fared better than we. Using the kama the wizard had magically discerned Elÿas’ location to that of a remote fortress on the great plains to the north, called the Grey Fields. Moreover, a letter from one of his contacts at the Great Library in the Monastery of Dusk, a man called Seneschal, named his kidnappers.Seneschal's letter to ArakkEvidently there was no time to waste, and hence at first dawn we left Glamis in our bird forms, in the direction of the Grey Fields and Hoit’s Tower. Though our first day of traveling was hindered by strong winds and rain, we managed to reach as far as Killraven, where we made ready to camp in the ruins, when suddenly an ogre barbarian and three hobgoblins appeared out of the woods to launch an ambush. We swiftly dealt with these attackers, who proved to be carrying many magic items of some value on them. Early the next morning, we ascended a quarter of a kilometer to reach the barren and unforgiving lands of the Grey Fields. For two days we flew over these wide open fields, where only grass and moss will grow and where the temperature drops to just above freezing even in summer time. Finally, in the late afternoon on the second day, Hoit’s Tower came into sight, rising in the distance from a small hilltop, the only one within miles and miles. Next morning, in the unsuspecting form of sparrows, we approached the fortress, spending the better part of the day studying the activities of the inhabitants and looking for possible clues to Elÿas’ whereabouts. It was immediately obvious that the use of a frontal attack could only suffer a dire fate, since we were hopelessly outnumbered and outmatched by the force of the monks. And hence stealth was called for.The fortress of Hoit’s Tower consists of a number of smaller two or three-storey buildings, whereas the central one seems to be the dining hall, since at dinnertime most of the monks gather there for about an hour. What is more, a foul aura emanates from the building directly opposite the gates and thus appears to be the center of their dark worship. All together an aura of malevolence covers the entire fortress, leaving little doubt about the black hearts of its inhabitants. Nor does the presence of the many cadavers and skeletons lying around everywhere. On the second day, Taliesin returned alone during dinnertime to scout for his uncle and for the amulet using his spells. He returned with evidence that the signet ring Elÿas used to carry was to be found in the two-storey building standing tall on the small hill in the outer wall, while the amulet was in the central building. With this knowledge we spent the night planning our next move…The next day, shortly before the monks would have dinner, Taliesin cast a Fly spell on everyone and we carefully approached the backside of the fortress cloaked by invisibility. On the top floor of the building, where Taliesin still sensed the signet ring, the half-elf magically wrought a hole in the wall of stone, and we began a fast search of the building. Guided by the magical imprint of the signet ring, we quickly moved downstairs, where we ran into a guard. Shocked by the sight of a door opening out of nothing, it was easy for Duncan to strike him down. Unfortunately, the sound of battle had alerted two guards posed outside the front door, and since Duncan was now visible, they had now no problem in seeing him. Fortunately, we managed also to strike them down before others could be alerted, and while Taliesin created two illusionary guards outside, Luke went on to search the room, where the signal ring supposedly was stored. True enough, here in the office was the ring, but there was no sign of Elÿas.

Chapter 13. Sep 3, 2005
We quickly searched both floors of the building, but Elÿas was nowhere to be found. Searching the office more thoroughly, however, Luke discovered a diary and a letter belonging to some Dôrgan, Reaper of the Flesh, which proved to answer many of the riddles, we had been facing of late. It also posed many new ones. But above all, these findings confirmed that everything that had happened since Dire’s Cove was but parts in a grand scheme, orchestrated by these ruthless devotees of the Death God. It was now obvious that it was the search for the secrets guarded by Saint Drayan, which had brought Cathain’s mercenaries to attack the small village in the mountains, and that it was this same cause, which had triggered the attack on Hammersdale and the abduction of Elÿas. Which had let our adversaries to the mithril amulet that was the key to the one sacred relic, their dark Master of Úndeath really feared: the Sword of Five Virtues? According to one of the last entries in the diary, dated five days ago to the present day of Harvesttide 13 YP 1062, a search party had already been dispatched to secure the sword. An expedition led by the elven monk Cathain and a female elven spellcaster of some sort called Varena. And there was more; the diary clearly indicated that the Reapers had a source, who had informed them of our every move.Knowing well that each moment stayed would bring our enemies closer to their dark goal, it was beyond question that the more immediate task ahead still was to rescue Elÿas. To do so we needed information. Fortunately there was one, who might provide it: the lowly young monk that Duncan had struck down was merely unconscious. At first, the monk was reluctant to talk and even Vorona’s threats did not seem to have any effect, since the monk was obviously used to a great deal of suffering. There was another, subtler way, though, and thus under the influence of Taliesin’s charm spell the monk finally revealed what he knew. Although he had no knowledge of Elÿas’ fate, it was not difficult to guess where they had taken him: to the Temple of Death right next to the building, we were in. Leaving the charmed monk to explain the two dead guards to his boss, we swiftly covered the distance across the courtyard to enter the temple, praying that it was unnoticed. Just as we approached the main entrance, it was like a shadowy being watched us for a moment, then it phased through the wall, and we understood all too well that we would be expected.The building itself had once been a temple devoted to the Sun God of Old, he who is now called Asteriot, In its present state, it was an obscene mockery of its former pride, having long been defiled by the followers of the Arch Enemy. The place literally reeked with death and Taliesin explained that it had been unhallowed. Great was our surprise therefore and even greater our fortune, when we discovered a secret door on the lower level, leading into an untouched part of the complex. Here, in hallowed halls, we found a tunnel, which later proved to be a safe exit out of the fortress, and another that led deeper into the dungeons. At the end of the second tunnel there was another secret door, bringing us back into the rooms controlled by the Reapers. Proceeding with extreme caution we passed through the connecting room to enter a great round hall, which was literally a giant summoning pentagram, with five doors equally spaced around the outer wall. Everyone who entered to stand in the pentagram could hear the calling of undead spirits, beckoning them to pass over into the Netherworld. Furthermore, the hall had a guardian, a terrible and powerful undead creature who attacked us on sight. Together, we vanquished this foe only to discover that a much more dangerous one invisibly slipped into the room through one of the doors. It was the necromancer Jorack, who had patiently observed us, waiting for the right moment to unleash his dreaded powers. Cloaked by his invisibility, Jorack cast a powerful mass blindness spell, and darkness consumed us all. Blind as bats, we promptly retreated in desperate hope of finding safety within the hallowed grounds, however, for Naxxar it was not fast enough. He fell to the necromancer’s spells later to rise as an undead creature. As for Vorona, another terrible spell cost him his hand, turning it into a weapon against us in itself. And thus we were short of one man and one right hand as Anarion and Duncan finally managed to close the secret door behind us.It was not until many hours later and through the most powerful spells Taliesin possessed that everyone regained their sight. The question was what to do now? Seemingly without breaking his sweat, the invisible spell caster had decimated our ranks, and yet we could not leave Naxxar to his undecided fate. This time invisible, the stone door was therefore once more removed and carefully we entered the pentagram room to find that its undead guardian had been replaced. It was Naxxar and he was undead! Somehow the warlock could easily see through Taliesin’s spells and hence the confrontation was unavoidable. Still, it was mere moments that Naxxar managed to slow our progress, before we could lock our main foe in mortal combat. Twice Jorack unleashed his blindness spell, however, this time by the will of the gods only Taliesin succumb to its effect and then only after having covered our invisible enemy by shining particles, thus providing an ample target for our blades and arrows. Jorack in turn died all too quickly. Afterwards, directed by Luke, the area was searched. While securing an entrance to a room, the rogue accidentally set off a magic trap, a glyph inscribed next to a door. It proved to be fatal. Luke was instantly slain, his body reduced to a lifeless husk by purple rays. Meanwhile, Elÿas was still not to be found.Needless to say the situation was desperate. With Luke and Naxxar dead and Taliesin blinded, only fierce courage or maybe dumb luck led us on into the next, unexplored rooms of the dungeon. By chance these rooms were the torture chamber and the prison cells, and after destroying their mummy guardian we finally found Elÿas – he was alive! We also freed the other prisoner mentioned in the diary: the scholar called Atreion. Atreion proved to be learned in history and cartography and had like Elÿas been caught and tortured, four months ago in Taleron. Though he was unacquainted with the secrets of Saint Drayan, Atreion knew very well the location of Dava-Notar, and hence we now also knew. Unfortunately, so did the Reapers, since both Atreion and Elÿas had been broken by the physical torture and spells…Having retrieved the prisoners we withdrew one final time to the untouched part of the dungeon to set course out of the complex. After a few kilometers of hiking through the first tunnel it was discovered – as we had hoped – to lead to freedom. Still, we were lacking the one thing, which could give us even an ounce of hope that we could beat Cathain’s party to the sword: the mithril amulet. Refusing to accept this, Taliesin volunteered to go back and steal it. And … somehow … he succeeded. Using his spells he managed single-handedly to steal the amulet from around the very neck of Dôrgan, while the master monk was sleeping. And get away with it.Transporting the dead bodies of Luke and Naxxar, it took five days even in animal form to return to Glamis. Upon returning to the city, we immediately contacted Arakk, who organized the raising of the deceased within hours. Although they had permanently lost some of their life force, the return of life to their eyes was a welcome and much needed sight in these dark hours. The next morning Taliesin proceeded to investigate the amulet, which when opened contained a glass tube with a small black ball in the center. Instructed by Atreion, the half-elf cast a fire spell onto the ball and the light shining through the glass formed a map of Dava-Notar before our unbelieving eyes. For ease of traveling Atreion offered to make a copy of the map on parchment, this was agreed upon.
The secret of the mithril amuletThe following days, Atreion working on the map, we rested while investigating how to get to Dava-Notar. Duncan and Anarion visited the city library. According to Arakk, most of the Wayfarers had abandoned Glamis during the last year and those that were left were too inexperienced to get us the isle. Alternatively, one could charter a ship in King’s Port, though this would take weeks at best. Arguably, the best option would therefore be to find a Mana Circle, as indicated in Dôrgan’s diary. The Mana Circles are the result of an old alliance between the druids of Erlik and the crystal elves. They are magic portals scattered throughout Avern connecting regions and continents, yes even other planes, as we had already experienced. To control a Circle, however, one needs special training. And thus it was decided that we should at once travel to the Crystal Forest, to seek the aid of the elves.

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