Shadows Rising

The Catacombs of Santa Cora, Part I
We finally made it!

catacombs.jpgAfter dispatching the group of thugs, they pulled out the map that Emlia had given them and made their way to the entrance of the catacombs. The catacombs of Santa Cora are guarded day and night by the Vicit Mortem, a holy order of Paladins responsible not only for the maintenance of all funerary sites throughout the Dragon Empire, but also for the daily rituals which must be maintained in order to keep the Lich King at bay. As the group approached the main gate, they were immediately stopped by the Officer of the Watch, who interrogated them in order to determine their reasons for seeking entrance to the catacombs.

At first, the group claimed that they were coming to visit a relative who had recently died, although they were not able to come up with a name that matched any of the persons on the list of the recently deceased. At one point, the guards asked the three elves, Ennet, Alleon and Xylia, why they were traveling with a gnome and a dwarf—they responded by telling the guards that the gnome and dwarf were their servants (Grunt was unhappy about this, but played along.) Noticing that the guards were becoming suspicious of them, Remulus finally spoke up and told them that he was friends with Emlia, and that they had come here on her behalf. Not wanting to upset Emlia, the guards grudgingly opened the gates and let them in, although they told the group that they had to return before sundown, so that the Daily Office (the rituals said to keep the dead “dead”) could be performed.

The catacombs of Santa Cora are as old as the city itself, and the deepest accessible levels date back to the 4th and 5th Ages. As they passed through the gates, they found themselves standing in a beautifully sculpted white marble room—ahead, the room narrowed into a hallway that seemed to go on forever. Not knowing exactly what they should do next, they decided to press on and see what they could find.

After entering the narrow hallway, they noticed that the walls on their left and right had names etched into marble slabs that had been securely attached to the wall. Grunt, unable to contain his curiosity, went over to one of the slabs and began to try and pull it off—before Xylia and Ennet could run back to him in order to stop him, he had already successfully pulled the marble slab off and was pulling out the coffin hidden behind it. An argument quickly ensued about what to do next, but Grunt didn’t really care what either Xylia or Ennet thought—defiantly, he opened the casket only to discover that it was empty (although there were definite signs it had once held a body.) Confused, they closed the coffin, slid it back in, and placed the marble slab back on the wall.

Moving further down the hallway they came to an intersection—after some discussion, the group decided to continue heading in the direction they had started, in the hopes that they would find a set of stairs down to the lower levels. As they passed through the intersection, they could suddenly hear a faint sound of chanting coming from down one of the hallways attached to the intersection that they had just passed through. Curious, Alleon went back and traced the sound to a private mausoleum locked behind a very secure, iron gate. As he approached the gate, the chanting suddenly stopped—perplexed, he went back to the group and told them what had happened. Deciding that they could investigate it on the way back, they continued on down their original path, only to hear the sound again from the intersection behind them. This time, though, the chanting was coming from the opposite hallway—they followed the sound to yet another private mausoleum located behind a locked, iron gate.

Realizing that something was going on, Alleon, Grunt, and Xylia chased down the phantom noise only for it to stop as they approached a different, private mausoleum. Not wanting to disturb the dead any further, the three went back to the rest of the group and decided to press on to the lower levels of the catacombs. But a strange thing began to happen…as they moved further down the hallway, some invisible force was physically slowing them down. Eventually, they reached a point in the main hallway where they could barely move at all. Grunt, not wishing to be stopped by anything, attempted to jump through the force only to be completely stuck in mid-air, unable to move. Ennet and Xylia went over and formed a human chain in order to pull him out. Deciding that trying to push down the main path towards the staircase would be futile, they headed back to the last private mausoleum they had visited in order to investigate it further.

After reaching the room, Grunt picked the lock and the group headed inside. Grunt wanted to open up yet another casket, and this time Xylia encouraged him to, thinking that it might help them get to the bottom of whatever was going on. Grunt went over to the side of the room and removed one of the large stone caps of the coffin nearest to him—strangely, though, there was nothing inside. Puzzled over the turn of events, the group decided to open the oldest grave in the room, to see if the empty graves had something to do with the fact that they were all relatively new ones.

They found the oldest one and opened it up—inside was an old, dusty skeleton—Grunt (for reasons only he knows) grabbed six of the remaining ribs—as they were all standing over the casket, they suddenly heard movement behind them. Turning around, they saw three ghouls climbing out of the first coffin they had opened—not putting up much of a fight, the ghouls were quickly dispatched. Unsure what to do next, they decided to put all the coffins back and head towards the main hallway.

When the group arrived at the main hallway, they attempted to head back to the entrance, but now the invisible force that had blocked their ability to more further into the catacombs was now blocking their path out. Faced with no other alternative, they headed towards the staircase and down to the next level of the catacombs.

The next level was laid out in a similar fashion as the one above—as they moved down the central hallway, however, they noticed that the magically lit torches on the wall were getting dimmer and dimmer—even Xylia’s dancing lights was affected. After approaching the fourth intersection, all the light was gone—Grunt and Remulus attempted to press on, but the darkness around them was stifling—halfway to the fifth intersection they both suddenly felt weakened. Remulus, realizing a powerful magic was pressing down upon them stopped, although Grunt attempted to move forward. Suddenly, the group heard Grunt fall to the floor. Ennet screamed out in dark elvish, and mysteriously, the torches on the walls were suddenly lit up as if nothing had ever been affecting them.

Staring down the hallway toward the fifth intersection they saw Grunt lying on the floor, completely unconscious…but he wasn’t alone…he was surrounded by zombies who looked eager to begin feasting on their new snack, even if it was a small one…

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Escape from Thog Tahrir
I hope that dragon is still asleep...

The group stood in silence for what seemed like an eternity—it’s not every day that someone successfully seals up rifts in time and space. Eventually, though, the silence of the room was broken by Nibil who wondered aloud what their next course of action should be. Of primary concern was whether or not Tharos the Vengeful was awake from his protective slumber, and whether or not they’d have to fight their way past him again. As the group headed back into the forge room, they debated the option of taking one of the tunnels out of the palace, although Marduke seemed fairly confident that they would only lead deeper into the mines. Deciding that there was no other real option, the group headed up the stairs and back the way they came.

As the group approached the next floor, Serine sensed a frantic shift in the energy of the palace—she surmised that since the rift had been closed, that all of the entities and beings that had been tethered to its dark energies were now let loose. The group hoped that if Tharos had indeed woken up from his protective slumber, that perhaps he would have already left the palace upon realizing that the source of dark energy he had been feeding on was gone. Hesitantly, they made their way to the set of stairs that would take them to the floor where they had last encountered Tharos

As they came up the stairs, they suddenly heard the flapping of wings—making their way to the main part of the room, they discovered that Tharos was indeed gone—they surmised that he had made a quick exit through the massive hole above them—Branan boasted about his eagerness to engage Tharos one last time, although most everyone else was eager to never face him again. Feeling lucky, they ran to the set of stairs that would take them back up to the main level of the palace.

They made their way through the ground level as quickly as possible, hoping to avoid any major conflicts. As they approached the ante-chamber that was connected to the throne room, they came upon a group of leaderless goblins who seemed surprised at their presence in the palace. Branan, seizing the moment, convinced the goblins that Dark Serine was their queen, as she was the mighty one who had slain Tharos. Serine, sensing that the goblins weren’t quite sure if this was true or not, quickly lit one of them on fire—convinced of her god-hood, they fled from them in terror.

Running through the palace, they eventually reached the outer courtyard where they encountered a second group of goblins. This group was led by a mage who was unimpressed by Branan and Serine’s subterfuge. At one point, after Branan attempted to speak on behalf of Serine, the mage demanded to hear from the “dark queen”. Serine spoke…Alatir held his breath…and a battle quickly ensued. The goblins, though, were easily dispatched.

On the outside of the walls of the palace, the group took some time to rest. Nibil remarked about the increasing sadness he felt—why did he feel sad about destroying goblins? Branan continued to question Nibil about why he was at the palace to begin with, and expressed some frustration at not getting a clear, honest answer. After the conversation died down, they set a watch and rested for the evening.

The next morning the group decided to head back to Forge and find another secret way into the city (the way they had come down was blocked due to the cave-in from a spell that Serine had cast.) After passing the point at which the sewer had dumped them onto the road, they followed the road as it meandered up toward Forge. Eventually the road narrowed down into a tunnel—after some conversation, the group decided to head inside. As they walked through the tunnel, they suddenly saw up ahead, just to the right and in a small alcove, two dwarves sitting around a small fire. Determined to avoid a conflict with them, they all decided to quietly sneak by.

Alatir, Branan, Nerryn, Nibil, and Serine successfully snuck by the two dwarves. But as Marduke attempted to get by them, he tripped over his own feet, causing his mace to clang loudly against his armor. The two dwarves looked up and saw him immediately, and quickly began to approach him. Just as Marduke was about to speak, Branan spoke in the most feminine dwarf voice he could muster, although this caused the two dwarves to rush towards Marduke more quickly.

When the two dwarves had finally approached Marduke, they asked him if he was there to worship their god with them. Not sure what else to say, he told them that he was. Excitedly, the two dwarves told Marduke to follow them, as they were just about to start the ritual to summon their god. Marduke followed the two dwarves into a small opening cut out of the alcove the dwarves had been sitting on…the rest of the group quietly followed behind.

The first thing that Marduke noticed was the thick webbing that encased the summoning room. The tunnel they had walked through opened up onto a large ledge that fell off into a deep, deep cavern. The two dwarves began to set up the rats they had been carrying as a sacrifice to their god (this relieved Marduke somewhat.) As they were doing this, a voice called out of the darkness, from below the ledge, thanking them for bringing her such a sweet treat. Marduke, sensing that he was the sweet treat, pulled out his mace and struck one of the dwarves over the head. The two dwarves, who were genuinely confused as to who the sweet treat was, suddenly focused their anger on Marduke, who had just lashed out at them. The rest of the group jumped from the tunnel to join Marduke on the ledge, just as the dwarven “god” climbed up to join them.

Standing before them was a great beast of the deep, a drider. Pleased at the many excellent meals that had just appeared on the ledge, she viciously attacked them. Marduke was knocked out cold, and Nibil quickly followed him. Alatir fought bravely, although many of his attacks seemed to miss. Branan and Serine took to lighting all the webbing on fire, and Nerryn courageously jumped on the drider’s back and dealt many a devastating blow. Finally, after a long and glorious battle, the drider and her two dwarven followers lay dead on the ledge. The group, badly injured, healed what they could and scavenged the drider for everything they could carry. Heading back to the tunnel, they hoped the journey to Forge would get easier…

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Thoghouc's Bane
Ruptures in time and space??

After Nibil had finished adjusting his new armor, and Marduke had picked up one of the swords dropped by the hob goblin captain (his own had been destroyed back in the pedestal room), the group went through the narrow hallway that led into a dark chamber.

RIp_in_space.jpgThe chamber was the same size as the two above it, except the walls were scorched and the dwarvish writing completely illegible. At the center of the room was a great mass of dark purple energy, flashing and flickering wildly about.

As they investigated the mass of dark energy, they suddenly noticed a small, old dwarf sitting against the wall. At first she said nothing to them, and then she looked up and asked them what they were doing here.

Silent at first, and not sure how to respond, they eventually told her that they had come to destroy the Rune of the Grey. Slowly shifting in her seat, she told them that she wasn’t sure if it could be destroyed. Branan asked her how the rune came to be, and she told them the true events of the disaster that befell Thog Tahrir.

She began.

The war between the elves and the dwarves had been going badly for us, and many of our leaders believed that defeat was inevitable. Against this pessimism stood Thoghouc Greyarmor, the great leader of the dwarves, who believed that the magical powers of this place could deal a final, devastating blow against our enemies and turn the tide of war in our favor. Thoghouc Greyarmor consulted with mysterious persons who advised him to construct this room and all the rooms above it in order to channel the energies of the deep so that it could be turned into a weapon to vanquish the invading elvish armies.

He was given that rune and a book of spells that I was to chant from while standing in the pedestal room, along with six additional priests. We were told that as we chanted, a great force of energy would be brought forth from the deep, that it would be focused through the crystal, and then sent through the seven canals to the exterior of Thog Tahrir—a powerful burst of magical energy that would destroy the dark elf army standing on the other side.

But we were deceived—the spells we had been given, although in ancient dwarvish, were of dark elvish design, and so it did not go as planned. The energy flowed from the deep, and into the rune, and along the canals, and did in fact destroy the forward forces of the dark elf army. But a subtle enchantment, undetected by all of us, had been placed on the rune—as more and more energy poured into it, there was suddenly a bright flash of light, and a horrible screeching sound. The energy that was being channeled through the grooves in the floor suddenly stopped, and a feedback loop formed that forced the energy back below, killing all the priests on the lower floors and creating a dark tear in the very fabric of space and time.

After the summoning failed, I heard the explosion, and I ran down here to this room to see what had happened. Drawn to the dark energy and to the rift it created, I have remained here ever since, a silent punishment for my ultimate failure.

A heavy silence hung in the room. Quietly, Serine spoke up and wondered aloud if throwing the rune into the rift would seal the tear. The dwarven priestess did not know the answer, and as they debated their options, they came to the conclusion that they could not allow the rune to fall into anyone else’s hands, and that since this was where it was created perhaps this was the place where it could be undone.

Marduke and the group formed a circle around the twisting ball of dark energy. As he began to chant to his god Halmar, Serine unsealed the rune from its protective container and threw it into the rift. The room began to shake violently, matched only in intensity by Marduke’s fervent chanting. The others begin to chant as well, and as the room seemed to be shearing itself apart the ball of energy suddenly disappeared, leaving behind a small floating scar in the center of the room.

They looked over at the dwarven priestess and saw that she lay motionless on the floor. The room already seemed lighter, and they were all glad to finally be rid of the rune. A long, purple scar ran from floor to ceiling, the only remnant of the rip in space and time that once consumed the room.

Only the thought of facing Tharos a second time could ruin this moment…

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Entering the Palace of Thog Tahrir, Part III
Can we finally destroy this rune already?

As the body of Tharos lay sprawled out on the ground, Branan walked over to it and wondered if there was anything of value that he could scavenge from it. At first he tried to remove a tooth, but it was lodged in too tightly. Then, he summoned his trusty burning hands and attempted to burn through Tharos’ scales, although, when he did this, he was suddenly repulsed away from the dragon’s body. Frustrated, he stood there trying to figure out what was going on.

Meanwhile, Serine began yelling down the hallway to Nerryn (who was carrying the rune), who eventually made it back to the group after a few minutes. Sensing that it would take more time than they had to pillage the dragon’s body, they all decided to head down the long hallway that Nerryn had just come from in order to explore more of the palace.

At the end of the hallway was a set of stairs, and as they began to walk down the stairs, Nibil suddenly remembered a story he had been told about black dragons. He told the group that he suspected that Tharos, due to all of the dark energy present in this place, was not dead, but was merely regenerating his strength and power. He suggested that they move as quickly as possible to destroy the rune so as to not have to face Tharos a second time. Although both Alatir and Branan argued to go back and find a way to slay the dragon once and for all, the group voted and decided to move forward.

The stairs emptied into a large hallway that went to the left and the right, with a series of rooms in the center that could be accessed by the exterior hallway. On both sides of the stairwell were two narrow hallways that started off the main room and headed the opposite direction. After some discussion, Serine surmised that the narrow hallways led to a room underneath the pedestal room above them. The group headed down the narrow hallways to see if Serine’s deductions were correct.

The hallways emptied into a small chamber that had the same exact dimensions as the pedestal room above them. As they entered the room, they noticed that the walls were covered in a very ancient form of dwarvish. In the center of the room was a stone pillar that ran from floor to ceiling, presumably connecting to the pedestal above. On a hunch, Serine opened the book she had found in the library and suddenly saw that the same dwarvish writing on the walls was now magically appearing on the paper of the book. After a few moments of silence, Marduke recognized the writing as some kind of summoning spell, although he couldn’t figure out any of the specifics.

After searching the room carefully, they decided to head back through the narrow hallway and into the main room. Suddenly, as they began to get close to the end of the hallway, they noticed a hobgoblin on patrol—fortunately they had been quiet enough so that the hobgoblin didn’t even know they were there. They quietly discussed ambushing him, and as they were doing this, Marduke begin to chant to his ancestors (in order to summon a powerful attack spell) but Alatir placed his hand over his mouth so that they would not be discovered. Nerryn quietly slipped on the other side of the hobgoblin, who after hearing a noise, had summoned some other goblins over to him. When they were all in position, they pressed their advantage—the hobgoblins were taken by surprise, and easily routed.

After the battle, they began to explore the rooms that were in the center of the main room (the hallway completely encircled the center rooms.) Most of the rooms were full of rotted vestments and destroyed furniture, although they did discover a mysterious dwarven cloak that was somehow still well preserved. Nerryn remembered a story she had been told about a magical dwarven cloak that could make its wearer invisible, although when Marduke tried it on, nothing happened. He bundled the cloak up and they headed towards a set of stairs that led down to the next level.

The stairs opened up into a large room with openings along the walls on the left and the right that led to mine shafts—in the center of the room were large pieces of equipment used for mining. Most of the doors that led to the shafts were dwarf size, however, they did notice a gaping hole towards the end of the room (along the right wall) where they assumed Tharos had broken through. The doors on the right connected to bridges that spanned a great chasm, while the mine shafts along the left wall led straight into the mines.

As they moved further into the room, they noticed a powerful looking mage blocking their path ahead. He asked them how they had made it past his master (the dragon), and they told him that they had killed him. The mage didn’t believe this was true, as he would have most certainly felt the death of his master. The mage told them that he could not let them pass, and so naturally a fight ensued.

The mage called out for reinforcements, although Serine was able to cast a hold portal spell to keep half of them trapped on the other side. The mage turned out to be a formidable opponent, as he completely knocked Nibil out on his first attack. Eventually, though, after a great deal of fighting, the battle was won. Going over to the mage’s corpse, Nibil noticed that he had been wearing a rather nice set of chain mail. Seeing as how it was nicer than what he was currently wearing, he took it off the mage’s body—as he did this, though, he suddenly felt very sad, and he didn’t know why…

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The Darkness in the Deep
Can we just head to the catacombs already?

As soon as the battle was over, Remulus made his way over to Emlia and began to heal her wounds. Meanwhile, the rest of the group headed upstairs to make sure that there were no other enemies lying in wait. As they were securing the second floor, they came across a locked chest in what appeared to be Emlia’s bedroom. Grunt attempted to break the lock, however, he was unsuccessful. Eventually, after a couple of other members of the group tried to break open the chest, Xylia wondered allowed as to whether or not it was right to be breaking into Emlia’s personal affects, especially since she was just downstairs with Remulus. The group decided to head downstairs to inquire with Emlia about what was inside the trunk.

After reaching the bottom landing, they saw Remulus carefully helping Emlia up. They asked her if she knew why the trogs had attacked her—she told them that she didn’t have any clue, and she was uncertain as to how they even got inside her house. Xylial showed Emlia the urn with the mysterious Elvish markings on it, however, she could not decipher the words. The group also asked her if she knew anything about the person named Zelil Zelil, Emlia told them, was a dark elf sorcerer who was involved in the events that led to the demise of Thog Tahrir—beyond that, she wasn’t able to give them any additional details. Eventually, Grunt (rather impatiently) asked Emlia if he could look inside the locked chest in her bedroom. Surprised by his request, Emlia said of course not—sensing that they may have overstayed their welcome, they said their goodbyes to Emlia and headed out.

Once outside, the group began to debate about what their next steps should be. Remulus told the group that Emlia had shared with him that suspicious and dark activities were happening in the catacombs of Santa Cora, and that she thought they should go and investigate it (Remulus, of course, was loathe to go underground again.) Others thought that they should head to Axis to seek an audience with the Priestess, who had left a few days prior to seek counsel with the Emperor. Still others suggested heading to Forge and then Thog Tahrir. Finally, Ennet spoke up and suggested that they head to a local tavern to get more information from the locals to see if that might help determine their next course of action.

This seemed reasonable to them all, so they set off to a nearby tavern to see what additional information they could discover. Upon entering the tavern, a few of them went over and grabbed a booth while Grunt and Xylia went up to the barkeep and quizzed him about the on goings of the city of Santa Cora, particularly any rumors he had heard regarding the city’s catacombs. The barkeep told them that many adventurers, especially holy men and women, had gone into the catacombs, but that to his knowledge, none of them had returned. The catacombs, he told them, were part of the ancient city of Santa Cora, remnants from the 1st Age.

As they were chatting, Remulus the Wise came over and inquired about how to get to the city of Thog Tahrir—the bartender told him that not only would be it an incredibly far distance to travel, but that it would be impossible to get in since he had recently heard from a dwarven traveler that the entire city of Forge was sealed tight. If anyone was going to make an attempt to enter the abandoned city of Thog Tahrir, they would first have to go through Forge and then they’d have to know the secret ways to find the path to Thog Tahrir.

The three returned to the rest of the group and told them all that they had learned from the barkeep. Grudgingly, they all decided that the best path would be to head to the catacombs in order to figure out if there was any connection between the events at Emlia’s house and the events at the temple where they had all first met.

On their way to the catacombs, Remulus suggested that they stop at Eleanorwynn’s home to seek out any additional information. Eleanorwynn, a priestess and friend to Remulus, warmly greeted them. Although she was not able to read the elvish writing on the urn either, she did recognize the ceremonial dagger that Grunt had found stashed away in the first temple where they had all met. She told them that it was a dagger used in rituals celebrating the god Aphneon, a god of truth and light that is worshiped by many elves throughout the Dragon Empire. Xylia surmised that the answer to how the temple of Aphneon had been overrun by the followers of Zelil may be found down in the catacombs.

After Eleanorwynn had finished speaking to them, the group finally decided to head out. As they made their way to the catacombs they were suddenly beset by a large group of thugs. Naturally, a fight ensued, although the thugs were no real match for them (especially for Grunt, who landed many devastating hits against them.) After their enemies had been destroyed, the group continued on their journey to the catacombs of Santa Cora

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Entering the Palace of Thog Tahrir, Part II
Take us to your leader, unless it's a dragon...

The bottom of the stairs opened up into a large chapel. Old pews lay scattered throughout the room, and a long neglected altar was built into the center of the wall opposite from the stairs (this wall also had seven half-columns built into it, with the altar jutting out of the base of the center column.) Marduke made his way through the chapel and to the altar at its center—in his haste, though, he tripped over a small table, making quite a bit of noise. Suddenly, just above the altar, the pillar door (which they had not noticed had been cut into the stone) began to slide open. For a moment, nothing happened—then, several hobgoblins burst out, catching them by surprise.

The captain of the hobgoblins demanded to know what they were doing in the chapel. Branan, once again, attempted to reason with them, and miraculously, the captain began to have a conversation with him (no one in the group had ever had a conversation with a goblin before…) After a short conversation, Branan convinced the hobgoblin to take him to their leader. The group stepped up on the altar and walked single file through the door, not knowing where they were being led.

The hallway opened up into a strange, dark room flowing with intense, magical energy. At the center was a pedestal that had an indent in it that roughly fit the shape of the Rune of the Grey. Flowing from the pedestal were seven trough-like grooves that moved to and under the surrounding walls. As Branan was talking to the captain, he was suddenly interrupted by a deep and dark voice. At first, no one could see where the voice was coming from. It asked them what they were doing here in Thog Tahrir, and seemed surprised that they had made it this far past all of his patrols.

After some conversation, the voice finally revealed his name to the group—Tharos the Vengeful. Serine remembered from her studies that Tharos was rumored to be an old and powerful black dragon, an entity attracted to places of powerful, dark magic. Tharos, realizing he had the upper hand, offered to make a deal with the group—all they had to do was simply give him the Rune of the Grey and in return, he would let them leave alive. Knowing that their mission all along was to somehow destroy it, they refused. Tharos, amused by their defiance, ordered the hobgoblins to attack.

Although not as easy as the first fight with the first set of hobgoblins, the group overcame them with relative ease. As soon as they fight had ended, Serine, Nibil, and Nerryn made for the door in order to escape. As they did this, they saw it shut in front of them before they could get out. Meanwhile, Tharos began to make them all the same offer again—hand over the Rune of the Grey and he would let them live. Branan attempted to barter on behalf of the group, explaining to Tharos that they had to destroy the rune lest it brought about the end of the world. Tharos told them that he could not stand the idea of the rune being destroyed, as he desired it greatly. He offered to keep it safe from anyone else who may come in search of it, as he was quite sure that he was powerful enough to fend off any attacker or would be thief. Tharos also revealed to the group that the rune was the bane of the dwarves, as they had attempted (unsuccessfully) long ago to harness its powers.

While Branan, Alatir, and Marduke were speaking with Tharos, the other three were trying to find a way to open the now shut door. Eventually, they were able to pry it open just enough to make an escape. Joining up with the three who were talking to Tharos, Serine let them know that the door was open and that it would be possible to escape without having to engage the dragon. Alatir and Branan, however, convinced the group that the only way to destroy the Rune of the Grey was to destroy the dragon who was blocking the path that led deeper into the palace. And so, the fight against Tharos began.

It was, to say the least, a brutal fight. Tharos unleashed powerful attack, after powerful attack, and many of the group fell numerous times. About halfway through the battle, Tharos offered to spare all their lives if they would only give him the Rune of the Grey, but they refused, so the fight continued on. As the battle waged on, Tharos suddenly moved from his defensive position and out into the open. They all quickly pounced on him, except for Nerryn who ran down the hallway now open due to the movement of Tharos.

It’s not clear who landed the final blow, but at the end of the battle Tharos lay motionless on the floor before them. They stood there, stunned into silence…who would ever believe that they defeated Tharos the Vengeful?

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Entering the Palace of Thog Tahrir, Part I
They've really got a thing for the number seven...

As soon as the battle came to an end, the group turned to Nibil and asked him what he was doing down in the depths of Thog Tahrir all by himself. He told them that he was hunting for treasure, and that he had unsuccessfully spent the past six months trying to find an entrance into the palace of Thog Tahrir. Believing his words to be true, the group turned to Marduke to see if he knew of any way in. Marduke, after pausing for a moment, began to recall a small hole to the left of the great gates (which no one else in the group had been able to open through any means available to them) that they might be able to crawl through in order to gain entrance to the palace.

Marduke led them over to where he remembered the small hole to be—mysteriously, the crevice had been filled in and was now completely inaccessible from the outside. As they discussed their next move, Hermia suddenly fell unconscious at their feet. Branan moved to her aid quickly, and after a few moments, she regained consciousness and told them that she had seen a vision of the very plaza they were standing in, except that in her vision the courtyard was bustling and full of life. Hermia also told them that in her vision she noticed a smaller door (also to the left) of the great gate, and that perhaps if they found that door they’d be able to make their way into the palace. Sensing that the Rune of the Grey was what caused Hermia’s vision, they decided to trade off who was carrying it so that the effect would not be able to overcome anyone else again—Branan took the first shift.

Moving along the outer wall, the group eventually found the small door hidden behind some rubble. Serine “knocked” on the door, and the magical spell caused it to open just far enough that the group was able to make their way in (some of the taller members of the group had to duck down, however, as the door was made for dwarves.)

They found themselves standing in the outer courtyard of the grand palace of Thog Tahrir. A series of majestic fountains ran up the center of the courtyard towards the palace, and statutes flanked the fountains on both the right and left sides. Seeing nothing of note, they decided to press on towards the seven pillars that marked the outer most boundary of the inner courtyard of the palace.

As they approached the steps that led into the inner courtyard through the seven pillars, they decided it would be wise to stop and check for traps—Marduke reasoned that any dwarves fleeing the palace would have most certainly left all types of traps between the pillars in order to ward off anyone who might think of looting the treasures kept deep within. After Nerryn checked and found nothing, they headed up the steps, through the pillars, and into the inner courtyard. Before them stood three sets of doors—a double set in the center, and a single door to the left and to the right. They tried all manner of might and magic to open the doors, but they wouldn’t budge. In a moment of brilliance, Serine pulled out the Staff of the Underworld and lightly tapped it against the main set of doors—slowly, the doors began to open.

They stepped through the doors and entered into what appeared to be a large foyer—inside the foyer were seven symmetrically placed pillars, as well as a doorway that led into a great hall. The group noticed that the number seven seemed to appear throughout the palace, and Marduke told them that it held great ritualistic and cult status amongst superstitious dwarves, and that it was often taken to be a bad omen.

After checking for any traps in the foyer (and discovering none), they headed through the doorway and into the throne room. Two lines of seven pillars each ran the length of the room, and at the farthest end of the room was a magnificent throne carved out of stone, with one smaller seat to the left and to the right. As they began to inspect the room, Nerryn accidentally broke off a piece of the intricate dwarven statuary that graced the room. Marduke, who had been in the middle of a series of prayers to his long dead ancestors, heard the noise and got up to chide Nerryn for being reckless. Hearing the commotion from an adjoining room, a small band of hobgoblins rushed in to see what was going on.

As the hobgoblins entered the room, Branan attempted to reason with them—the hobgoblins, however, were not interested in diplomacy and a fight quickly broke out. The hobgoblins were easily dispatched, and after searching the bodies for anything of value, the group moved into the adjoining room where the hobgoblins had just come from. The first room they entered was a small antechamber, with rotted furniture and many destroyed paintings. The only other door in the antechamber led down a small hallway where they found two additional rooms, an armory and a barracks.

There was nothing of note in the barracks, however, inside the armory, Nibil found a mace enchanted with dark energy. The mace itself was centuries old, and Nibil could feel a certain hatred (on the part of the mace) for Alatir. For his own part, Alatir felt rather uncomfortable around it—he thought to himself that it must have slew many elves in its day.

They returned to the throne room and headed towards the wall opposite of the room they had just came out of. Entering through an open doorway, they entered a nearly identical antechamber that was also connected to a small hallway. As they entered the hallway, they saw a door on the left side that led them into a large library. Nearly everything in the library had either been destroyed or rotted away, however, off in the corner both Nerryn and Serine found a tome lying on the floor. They both thought it was strange that any book could survive for so long, and Serine suspected that it had some powerful magical enchantment upon it. She picked up the book and opened it up—to her surprise, there was not a single drop of ink on any of its pages. Nerryn, tracking down a random thought that had just run through her head, grabbed Marduke’s hand and placed it on the book’s cover. Marduke’s hand burned in agony, and he quickly pulled it away. Curious, Alatir placed his own hand on the book to see what would happen. Although his hand did not burn, the book seemed to know that he was not the right kind of elf…not only was the book made up of dark energy, but it was probably a creation of the dark elves he reasoned. Serine scooped up the book and put it in her backpack, hoping to be able to eventually unlock its secrets.

Stepping back into the hallway, the group headed towards a set of stairs that were at its end, hoping to unlock more secrets of the palace of Thog Tahrir

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Making new friends
Maybe we should try and work together as a team...

After winning what turned out to be a rather easy fight, the group decided to search the room for anything of value. Ennet found four silver ceremonial goblets and handed them off to Remulus, who, fearing that they might have some evil enchantment on them, decided to bang them together—unfortunately, he only succeeded in putting rather sizable dents in them.

Meanwhile, Grunt found a secret compartment in one of the cupboards…not being an exceptionally patient dwarf, he thrust his hand into the hole and nicked his hand on something sharp. Crying out in pain, he removed his hand to see that it was now bleeding. Curious still, he carefully reached back into the hole and pulled out a beautiful ceremonial dagger. Additionally, he found a small pouch holding 50 pieces of gold.

Grunt distributed the gold evenly amongst his new friends, but decided to hold on to the blade himself. After searching the room further and finding nothing of any value, the group headed downstairs to inspect the altar and the mysterious statue in the gardens.

Alleon was the first to reach the altar, and immediately saw that the top of the altar was connected to the base via a series of hinges in the back. Alleon carefully lifted the lid up and found a beautiful blue green urn resting inside. As he moved to pick it up, he felt dark energies coursing through it. Remulus, carefully taking the urn from Alleon, discovered a very old and undecipherable elvish sentence across the top. The group tried many creative ways to open the urn, but its lid remained firmly in place. They decided that they would need additional help to unlock its secrets.

They then headed outside to inspect the statue a little bit further. Xylia was still a little unnerved from her experience with it earlier, and she was intent on finding out why it had made her feel dizzy. The marble statue was clearly that of an elf, and most likely some type of sorcerer as it was draped in a cloak. At the base of the statue was the name Zelil, but no one in the group had any memory of who that was. Remulus suggested visiting his friend Emlia Pashar, the half-sister of the Priestess in order to try and find out more about who Zelil was. After some debate, they agreed to set out for Emlia’s house.

As they approached the exit of the temple they saw a dark shadowy figure standing in the door. Remulus instantly recognized him as Crulamin, one of his friends who had survived the horror of Badger. After introducing himself to the rest of the group (and flirting, at least, that’s what the group that it was, with Ennet) Crulamin joined the group and agreed to go with them to meet up with Emlia.

Along the way to Emlia’s house they visited several merchants where the group picked up backpacks, cloaks, and other basic materials (Crulamin even tried to unsuccessfully steal a cloak from one of the shopkeepers). Grunt attempted to sell off the ceremonial dagger that he had found back in the temple, although decided to keep it after the shopkeeper told them it was quite valuable.

After everyone felt like they had purchased everything they needed, they finished the walk over to Emlia’s house. Standing in front of her door, they knocked…and knocked, and knocked, and knocked. Growing concerned, Grunt picked the lock and the group (except for Grunt, who decided to stay outside) walked into the house. In the corner they could see a body lying on the floor with a grotesque, lizard like body standing over it. Immediately they were overcome with the foulest stench that any of them had ever smelled.

Noticing their entrance, the lizard-like man turned to face them. He was quickly joined by three friends who were making their way down the stairs. A fight quickly ensued, and it proved to be exceptionally difficult for them all. Before it even began, the lizard-like man spewed forth his stench on to them, greatly weakening their ability to fight and defend themselves. Attack after attack failed to do any noticeable damage, that is until Xylia summoned a devastating magical attack on the lead lizard man.

Grunt headed inside when he heard the fight break out, and was also overcome by the foul stench, although it seemed to affect him the least. He engaged two of the enemies by himself, and stood there bravely as they both ganged up on him. Crulamin attempted time and time again to place his burning hands on the two enemies who were fighting Grunt, but the spell seemed to fizzle each time. Ennet struggled to land any hit at all, and Remulus spent most of his time healing all the members of the group.

Alleon shot arrow after arrow, and finally, towards the end of the battle, hit the main lizard man with deadly precision. With the leader finally dead, the group turned their attention to the other three remaining enemies, who still continued to fight with all of their might. Grunt was knocked unconscious twice, although Remulus was able to stabilize him. Finally, the momentum swung their way, and the group cut down the last of the remaining lizard men. Silence and stench hung in the air, and they only hoped that Emlia was unconscious and not already lying dead in the corner…

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The City of Santa Cora
We only need a small sacrifice...

Santa_Cora_Cathedral.jpgThe three elves, Alleon, Ennet, and Xylia stood there staring at one another. It had been a long time, they each thought to themselves, since a high elf, a wood elf, and a dark elf stood peaceably in one another’s presence. After a long, awkward silence, Xylia was the first to introduce herself, and after having done that, asked the other two why they were here in Santa Cora. More specifically, Xylia wanted to know why these two were standing in front of this specific temple—Xylia had felt a strange draw (or was it a calling?) to this shrine, and she wondered if the other two had a similar story to tell.

As the three of them stood there engaged in polite conversation (a welcome improvement from awkward silence) they were approached by a quiet and obviously grief stricken gnome. The gnome introduced himself as Remulus, and as he began to answer their general questions about the city of Santa Cora (a city he had spent much of his life in), he realized that Ennet, the dark elf, was intently staring at him. Remulus, having no love lost for the dark elves, was gripped with great fear and anxiety, and it was only after Ennet swore a blood oath to never let any harm come to him that Remulus finally seemed to calm down.

Noticing the commotion between Ennet and Remulus, Grunt the dwarf made his way over to see what was going on. It is no secret that the dwarves despise the dark elves, and while having no official alliance with the gnomes, people of a certain stature are oft inclined to look out for one another. After checking in to make sure that Remulus was okay, Grunt asked the three elves why they were standing in front of this temple. They admitted that they had no real reason to be here, except that they had all sensed a calling to this place (this relieved Xylia knowing that she was not alone!). Remulus explained to the group his reason for coming to Santa Cora (and relayed to them the horrible events at Badger), and then they all decided to explore the mysterious temple together.

As they entered the shrine they were immediately greeted by a temple acolyte. After general pleasantries were exchanged, the group asked if they might be able to spend the night there. The acolyte told them yes, and after accepting their payment and giving them a brief tour of the temple grounds (and making sure to point out the areas that were off-limits), disappeared behind a very secure door.

The five decided to spend the remaining daylight hours exploring the temple grounds. Grunt was particularly interested in the temple altar, while the other four found themselves outside exploring the gardens. At one point, while Xylia was examining a statue placed in the center of the garden, she began to feel weak and dizzy. After regaining her focus, she asked anyone else if they had experienced a similar effect—no one had. Making a note to herself to come back and explore the gardens in the future, the four headed back inside and caught up with Grunt.

With dinner coming soon, they decided to head upstairs to the bunk room to get ready. After reaching the top of the stairs, Grunt noticed the locked door that the temple acolyte had gone through. Unable to resist, he tried to open it but it wouldn’t budge. Ennet came over to help, and together they were eventually able to break the lock and open the door. As they peered through the now open door, they saw that it led down a long, narrow hallway. Ennet decided to head in, and after some debate, the rest of the group followed.

The narrow hallway eventually opened into a large room, with a window at one end that overlooked the altar. The temple acolyte was inside, and seemed happily surprised to see them. The acolyte welcomed them to the sacrifice preparation room, and began to tell them the history of their religious order. As the acolyte spoke, a dark shadow came over the space, and Remulus began to feel uneasy. Grunt asked what was needed for the sacrifice, and the acolyte responded, “well a gnome, of course.”

Suddenly, they were beset by a nasty group of goblins. Remulus, wondering if he was being followed by the agents of Nucien, screamed out, “not again!” The battle, as it turned out, was not as tough as they expected it to be. Xylia destroyed some of the goblins with her powerful magical ability, and both Alleon and Grunt landed massive blows against the goblins. Ennet helped to finish off the temple acolyte, and also spent a great deal of the battle protecting Remulus. After the battle was over, the five stood there wondering what other secrets and surprises were to be found in the temple…

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The abandoned city of Thog Tahrir
...and meeting a new friend?

Thog_Tahrir.jpgRealizing that the energies of the Rune of the Grey were attracting dark fiends to it, the group pressed on to reach Thog Tahrir as soon as possible. After several hours, the road widened, and they finally approached what remained of the great gates of the once glorious dwarven city.

As they entered the city, they noticed that there was absolutely no growth of any kind. Most of the buildings had been torn down, and it appeared that Marduke was the last person to have walked through the city years ago as he made his way towards Forge, as there was no sign that the city had been inhabited for generations. As they pressed on, they eventually reached a small plaza with a well in the center—the well itself was surprisingly well maintained, given the general dilapidated state of everything else around them.

As the group pondered why this structure was still so well-maintained, Marduke suddenly remembered a dark story he had been told about it when he was a young dwarf. The well, Marduke started, was the primary supply of drinking water for Thog Tahrir, and as the city was about to fall, its last king, Thoghouc Greyarmor, poisoned it to ensure that no one, especially the elves, would ever be able to inhabit the city again.

Silence came over the group as they pondered his words—what could drive Thoghouc Greyarmor to engage in such a horrible deed? After a few moments, as Branan was about to say something, Marduke suggested that the group move on, and as he began to go up one of the roads the led into the plaza, he stepped through a trip wire that triggered an alarm that rang throughout the great abandoned city.

For a moment, it seemed like nothing would happen…then they heard the sounds of footsteps descending upon them. They found themselves encircled by a group of goblins led by two goblin shamans. The battle was fierce but quick, and after searching the bodies of the goblins for any loot and healing their wounds, Branan spoke up to finish the story he had begun to share with the group before Marduke triggered the trip wire.

Branan told them the tale of the cleansing of the well of Thog Tahrir, exactly as it had been relayed to him from the court of the Elf Queen. As a gesture of goodwill and peace, after the destruction of Thog Tahrir, the Elf Queen came to the abandoned city and performed a powerful ritual in order to cleanse the well and remove the poison of Thoghouc Greyarmor. Although it is not entirely clear what drove the Elf Queen to do this mighty act, what was known (or at least what Branan believed to be true) was that the water of the well was not only completely drinkable, but had become to be known as Elf’s Well Whiskey. The group took samples of the water from the well and realized that the story was true, and for a brief moment, the abandoned city didn’t feel quite so dark.

As they continued down the road, they finally reached the walls of what remained of the palace of Thoghouc Greyarmor. They suddenly heard two voices piercing through the dreary darkness, although they couldn’t make out what the voices were saying. As they got closer, they realized that the voices belonged to two dwarves, although it was apparent that these dwarves had long ago lost all sense of reason. Branan attempted to charm them with his gifted tongue, and he succeeded in getting their attention, plus the attention of a third dwarf hiding in the shadows. Grateful that they were not ambushed by the third dwarf (who also did not have full control of his mental faculties), Branan told him about the goblins they had just fought, and the third dwarf ran off in search of more goblins.

It was difficult, if not entirely impossible, to reason with the two remaining dwarves—however, at hearing the voice of Marduke, the two dwarves picked up their weapons and began to move menacingly towards the group. A vicious fight broke out, and the two dwarves were soon aided by the third who had initially run off towards the well in search of goblins. The fight was brutal, and both Branan and Nerryn were knocked unconscious.

Quite suddenly, as the fight seemed to be going badly, a small, fierce blade came onto the battle scene. The dwarves were no match for this mysterious fighter, and as the dust settled, the group saw a rather unkempt, barbarian looking gnome standing before them. He introduced himself as Nibil Mongoth, and after inquiring as to why they were here, told them that there was no way into the abandoned palace.

The group pondered their next steps…was this gnome friend or foe, and was he telling them the truth about the Palace of Thog Tahrir? Only time would tell…

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