Shadows Rising

Foolish Gnolls!
It's like taking candy from a baby!

Not sure what to do next, the group headed over to the Steer and Rooster (which is outside the city walls) in order to organize their thoughts and map out their next actions. After ordering and consuming several drinks, Nibil opened up about why they found him in the abandoned city of Thog Tahrir. He told them how he had been born with no magical abilities, and how the shame of this caused him to run off and live in the barbarian lands. Becoming a sword for hire, he was eventually hired to spy on the gnomish headmaster of their great magical academy—and how, when the headmaster was assassinated, he was wrongly implicated as the culprit. Forced to flee even from the barbarian lands, he escaped to Thog Tahrir, where he was surprised to run into any other living human beings.

With the implication from Superior Quartus that the gnomish headmaster may still be alive, Nibil expressed his desire to clear his good name—Branan swore his undying loyalty to helping to clear Nibil’s name, and additional drinks were ordered for the table.

As they discussed what to do next, Marduke suggested speaking to Carmo in order to discuss the status of Nerryn’s locket, although Nerryn was hesitant to do this for fear of losing her locket forever. Nibil argued that they should take up the job offer from Superior Quartus to pick up a package for him at Dockside, and Alatir thought this would be a good idea to do (might as well curry favor with a Superior of Horizon!). Branan argued that they should pick up the package, but then hold it ransom in order to demand the return of Nerryn’s locket—Serine pointed out that there would be no way to know if the package from Dockside was of the same value as the locket, and that even if it was, it was probably a bad idea to be on the bad side of Superior Quartus. After some additional conversation, the group decided to take up the job offer from Superior Quartus.

Wrapping up their conversation, they began to head back to Horizon. On the way to the Whirlpool, they were intercepted by a group of gnolls, demanding that they turn over Nibil to them. After some back and forth conversation, Branan convinced them to hand over all their gold to him and to leave them in peace. Stunned at their good fortune, the group continued on their way to Horizon.

At the Whirlpool, they checked in briefly with the armorer who had finally finished crafting Branan’s new breastplate. Serine asked him for his general thoughts on the Superior’s of Horizon, and he told them that he thought Superior Quartus was on the up and up, but that Superior Primum was becoming too involved in the politics of Axis. He explained to the group how the Towers of Horizon worked, and just before leaving, in response to Branan’s question about whether or not his new armor had a name, told him that it would earn its name in battle. (It was at this point that Marduke, not missing a beat, suggested that Branan name his new breastplate “spiderbait”, since it was crafted from the carcass of the drider they defeated in Thog Tahrir.)

Concerned that others might be looking for Nibil, Serine asked him if he had any thoughts as to how he might disguise himself any better (Marduke suggested smiling more often.) Realizing that they were most likely going to be dealing with the fallout of the false accusations against Nibil for some time, they decided to rest for the night—Serine headed back to her place, while the rest paid for rooms at the Whirlpool.

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The Archmage's Superiors
Ricven's assistant is kind of a jerk...

Stepping through the portal, they found themselves in a small lobby area inside the Great Citadel, the central administrative building of the Collegium Maleficos. An assistant to the Superior Quartus quickly greeted them and ushered them into a private room. As the assistant closed the door behind them, seated at the head of a great table was Ricven Tarmikos, Superior Quartus of the Collegium Maleficos.

Ignoring protocol, Serine bombarded him with questions, inquiring as to how and why they were brought to Horizon. Unfazed by her breach in etiquette, Ricven began to ask them how they had sealed the rift in Thog Tahrir, and how many members of their group had magical abilities beyond Marduke and Serine. Branan spoke up and said that he possessed the magic of music, although others rolled their eyes at this suggestion. Ricven, however, seemed to agree with him, and questioned him about his involvement with the group.

Quietly and quickly, Ricven’s assistant made his way over to where he was seated, and whispered something in his ear. Taking a moment to gather his thoughts, Ricven looked at Nerryn and asked her if she had met up with Carmo back at the Great Library. Nerryn confirmed that she had met up with Carmo, and as she was doing this, Ricven interrupted her and told her that she would have to leave her locket behind in Horizon for the unforeseeable future. Angered at this sudden revelation, Nerryn demanded that he return her locket, but he refused, saying that it was too powerful for her to be carrying around. After a tense discussion, Ricven offered to have Carmo instruct her in the safe keeping and handling of the locket, although he did not guarantee that she would receive it back even after completing this training. The locket, Ricven said, contained the power to unlock deep and dangerous secrets about her past, memories that he was confident she was not yet ready to hear.

A silence fell over the room and was eventually interrupted by Ricven’s assistant, who asked them if they had any additional questions for him (he was, of course, a very important man.) They asked him how he was able to bring them to Horizon, but he would only tell them that he had been watching them as they traveled from Glitterhaegen to Forge, and that he had been intrigued by not only their adventures in Thog Tahrir, but by the way their friendship had helped them persevere in the depths.

Ricven then asked them if they’d be willing to perform small tasks for him—Serine wondered aloud what they could do for him, and he assured them that there were many missions they could undertake for him should they be interested. Ricven told them that many fine items arrived at Horizon via Dockside, and he would love to occasionally obtain some of those items without anyone else knowing. Incredulous, Branan responded by saying that surely a man of his stature was already able to obtain such items without any need for their help.

Pulling out a large bottle, Ricven popped the cork and passed it over to Serine. He told them all that it was an exceptionally old and rare bottle of Elven scotch. After getting over their initial apprehension, he implored them to take a sip, and they all did. The drink elicited many different emotional responses, and Ricven questioned each of them about the feeling that the drink evoked in them. Focusing in on Nibil, who had said that the drink had made him feel very happy (a feeling that he was not accustomed to), Ricven asked him about his past, and learned that Nibil was the prime suspect in the death of the gnomish headmaster of the Gnomish School of Magic. Ricven let it slip that he was aware of the headmaster’s “alleged” death, and that Nibil should continue to keep a low profile as there was a bounty on his head.

Feeling a moment of courage, Branan asked Ricven about how the High Druid was doing, although Ricven only seemed to have disdain for her. Just as Branan was about to inquire further, Ricven’s assistant stood up and told them that it was time for them to leave—the Superior Quartus had many more important things to do than to answer all of their tiny, unimportant questions. He hustled them out of the room and back through a portal that deposited them back near Dockside. The group decided that they needed to speak in private, so they headed off to find a place where they could unpack the meeting they just had…

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The Great Library
Damn pixies!

After some discussion, the group decided to head over to The Whirlpool, a pub located over in Dockside. Inside The Whirlpool were all manner of rowdy sailor, dockworker, and gambler—making their way to the bar, they were greeted by the owner, who offered them free drinks if they would only regale him with the tale of their journey thus far.

After Branan finished telling the story, and drinking copious amounts of ale, they left The Whirlpool and headed to the archway that would lead them to the college district, where Serine told them they would find the Great Library, a place that would definitely hold answers to at least some of the questions they had. Serine led them outside, up the street, and through a great archway, at which point they emerged on the other side right in the center of the College District of Horizon.

The first thing they realized (to their great dismay) was that the effects of the alcohol they had just consumed were completely gone. Noticing the confused looks on her companions faces, Serine told them that there was a magical enchantment on the archway that prevented anyone from remaining inebriated while entering the College District. The enchantment was in place to make sure that wizarding students would not do anything dangerous or harmful once returning from Dockside or the Sub-city. After some discussion, it was decided to head out from the archway and up to the Great Library.

As they approached the The Great Library, Serine told them that it not only holds all the great wisdom accumulated by the Archmage and his followers, but is also the place where you can find many great teachers, including her mentor, Vance. Walking through the great doors, they were shocked that the building seemed even larger on the inside than it did when standing outside of it. The students at the front desk recognized Serine as she walked in, and after some surprise at the fact that she had friends, told her that Vance could be found in his office.

The group reached Vance’s office and knocked—slowly, the door opened by itself, and revealed an elderly wizard sitting at his desk, with piles of paper and books strewn about. After exchanging pleasantries, Nerryn asked Vance if he knew anything about her locket—he picked it up and held it close, murmuring to himself that he could hear it “speaking” to him (although no one else in the room could hear anything at all.) Handing it back to Nerryn, Vance told her that she should speak with Carmo, a wizard who specialized in studying ancient, unknown artifacts. Nibil spoke up and asked Vance if he knew anything about the demise of the headmaster of the great Gnomish School of Magic—Vance told him that he didn’t, but that he could possibly arrange a meeting with someone who might.

Next, Serine asked Vance if he knew anything about the attempt on her life. While not having any specific information, he intimated that it was not safe for her to be in Horizon, although it was unlikely that anyone would try anything against her while she was traveling with her new friends. Branan asked if there was any news regarding the High Druid, but Vance told him that the High Druid had no real influence in Horizon, so he did not knowing anything beyond the normal stress that exists between the Archmage and the High Druid. Branan also inquired about the legend of Frothenhall, although Vance told him that that was a story for another time…

Deciding to split up and explore more of the library, Nerryn and Serine headed down to pay a visit to Carmo, while the rest of the group split up in search of the sections that might answer some of their more personal, lingering, questions. After a short conversation with Carmo, Nerryn agreed to give Carmo her locket for further investigation. Feeling confident in Carmo’s ability to unlock the secrets of the locket, Nerryn and Serine headed upstairs to the section on the history of the dwarves, assuming that they’d find Marduke there.

As they entered the dwarven section, they did indeed find Marduke, although he seemed to be having a difficult time. They saw him, arms outstretched, just out of reach of a book that was hovering above his head. Using mage hand, Serine pulled the book towards him, although she noticed that the book was struggling against her as well. With the book finally in his hand, Marduke attempted to open it, only to find that he was unable to do so. As the three of them explored the matter further, they noticed small flying objects whisking by in their peripheral vision, and the faint sound of giggling all around them. Serine, suspecting a pixie infestation, sent Nerryn to the front desk for help.

Meanwhile, Branan had made his way over to a section of the library devoted to Bardic Verse. After some searching (and flirting, unsuccessfully, with some of the students in that section), he located a book titled “Bardic Myths”. Flipping through the pages, he found a section on Frothenhall—borrowing some paper and ink, he jotted down the pertinent sections, and then made his way to the front desk to attempt to check it out.

He was surprised to run into Nerryn at the front desk, whom Serine had sent down in order to enlist the help of the library’s staff in solving the pixie infestion in the dwarven section. Unable to check the book out, he went back with Nerryn to help Serine and Marduke.

A chaotic scene was unfolding as Branan and Nerryn entered the dwarven section. Several pixies were tormenting Marduke, who had already begun calling the wrath of his ancestors down upon them. Branan, in an attempt to calm the situation down, began to swing a sweet lullaby to them, only to have all six pixies give their full attention to him. A fight quickly broke out, and eventually, after having been joined in battle by Nibil and Alatir, the pixies were destroyed.

Returning to Vance to report of their encounter in the dwarven section, he told them that he had arranged for a meeting with Ricven Tarmikos, Superior Quartus to the Archmage. He quickly opened a portal, and they all stepped inside, anxious to see if they could find any answers to the multitude of questions they had…

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The Catacombs of Santa Cora, Part III
Maybe we should try and explore the catacombs...

Before anyone could even get a word in, the priestess cast a spell in dark elvish, and Ennet was knocked unconscious. In addition to the priestess, five ghouls made their way out of the coffin and engaged the rest of the group in a vicious battle. As they cut down one ghoul after another, the priestess focused her energies on Remulus and nearly killed him—in fact, the group believed him to be dead. But as the priestess turned to cast a powerful spell on Xylia, it mysteriously backfired, and brought Remulus back to the land of the living. Severely weakened, the priestess was easily dispatched—as she fell to the floor, Xylia attempted to interrogate her, although she passed on to the abode of the dead before Xylia could gain any useful information.

Several paladins immediately came into the room—they picked up Ennet and took her to the Place of Healing. The paladins told the group that they would do everything they could for Ennet, but that they couldn’t make any promises—they told the group to check in with them later to get an update on their attempts to heal her. Discouraged and unsure what to do next, the group decided to see if Crulamin had awakened from the deep trance he had fallen into back when they were first heading to the catacombs.

When they reached the spot where they had left Crulamin, they discovered that he had disappeared. This frustrated Grunt and Xylia, as it meant that Crulamin had wondered off with the urn they all had found back at their first encounter together in Santa Cora. Xylia dispatched her raven in order to find Crulamin, and the group began to debate what their next move should be. Grunt argued that they should head back into town in order to get fresh supplies, although most of the group seemed opposed to this idea.

As the conversation began to get heated, Remulus fell into a deep trance. After he awoke, and after some prodding by the group, he told them that the angels had visited him and told him that a horrible scourge was consuming the catacombs, and that they had to return immediately to help fight it off. Even in spite of this vision from the angels, Grunt insisted on heading back to the shops—the group relented only to find that they were all closed. Sensing there was no other alternative, they made their way back to the catacombs.

When they approached the guard shack, they noticed that many paladins were grabbing armor and swords and heading into the catacombs. They checked in on Ennet, but were told that she was still unconscious. Deciding that they should head into the catacombs, the guards gave them all armbands so that they would be identified as agents of the light—they headed back into the depths, uncertain of what they would find.

They made their way down the first four levels of the catacombs without incident—many small skirmishes had broken out on these levels, however, the paladins seemed to have things under control. Silence and darkness greeted them as they descended down into the fifth level—surveying the scene, they realized that no paladins had made their way down this far yet. Suddenly, as they approached the third intersection of the main path, they found themselves surrounded by many minions of the undead, looking to add them to their legions…

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A New Horizon
If we have to fight one more goblin...

After harvesting all that they could from the body of the drider, the group made their way back to the main road and continued on their way to Forge. The road began to widen, and they surmised that they were approaching the entrance to Forge, although they reasoned that the gate itself would be sealed shut, in part due to the fact that the road to Thog Tahrir was closed to most people and also due to the fact that Forge was still in a state of lock down because of the appearance of goblins in the Dwarf King’s palace.

As they walked a little bit further, they saw several dwarves standing on the road, just outside the gate. Without being detected, Alatir cautiously moved forward and saw that Bellamin was standing at the front of the pack. Returning to the group, Alatir told them that he saw Bellamin standing at the head of the group, flanked by several goblins and a couple of other dwarves. After some debate, they decided to send Nibil up to engage Bellamin in conversation, since Bellamin would have no idea who Nibil was.

As Nibil approached the gate (with an intense feeling of sadness), Bellamin called out to him to halt. Bellamin, unhappy with the evasive nature of Nibil’s responses to his questions, ordered his guards to arrest him—Bellamin told Nibil that he was sure he’d be more forthcoming with a little…persuasion. At that, Marduke shouted out angrily to his ancestors, invoking the power of their spirits against the treachery of Bellamin.

At first, the battle seemed to be going well—the goblins were easily dispatched and many successful blows were landed against Bellamin and his dwarven compatriots. But every time the group would knock out one of Bellamin’s allies, he would whistle for additional reinforcements. Still hurting from their battle with the drider, the battle began to take its toll, and one by one they each dropped to the ground, unconscious and flirting with death. Marduke was the first to fall, followed by Nibil and Nerryn. As her friends fell in battle, Serine noticed that some powerful magic kept them from death’s door, although she was too focused on staying alive to figure it out in the moment.

Branan was the next to fall unconscious, and soon Serine joined him. Alatir bravely fought on, but it began to dawn on him that this might really be the end (a feeling that he realized he’s had more than once before…) Just as Alatir was falling to the ground, he noticed a powerful magical energy emanating from Serine…his eyes closed and he fell into a deep slumber…

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Nerryn was surprised to wake up…after all, she thought, hadn’t she died in the deeps of Forge? Outside she could hear the sounds of the ocean and birds, and a chorus of anonymous voices going about their daily routines. She sat up and surveyed the room—Marduke and Nibil were resting peacefully in their own beds, although she noticed that Alatir, Branan, and Serine were nowhere to be found. As she glanced back over to the window, she heard the familiar voice of Pannan entering the room.

As Pannan approached her, Marduke and Nibil began to stir from their slumber. Nerryn began to pepper Pannan with questions—he told them that they had been brought to the city of Horizon by the power of the Archmage. In fact, Pannan continued, one of the five supervisors had also summoned him to the city, although he wasn’t entirely certain as to why. Nerryn asked where the rest of their party was, and Pannan told her that they had woken up before the rest, and were probably out exploring the city. Nibil introduced himself to Pannan, and after looking around and noticing that his mace was missing, was told that it had been confiscated due to its dark magical energies. Pannan reassured him that he would definitely be able to find a suitable replacement.

Just then, Alatir, Branan, and Serine came into the room. After hugs and pleasantries were exchanged, Branan looked over at Marduke and noticed that he was strangely very quiet. Branan asked Marduke if he was feeling okay, and suddenly Marduke flew into a rage. He was angry that he had been ripped away from Thog Tahrir, as he was planning on dying there along with his ancestors. Announcing his determination to return, Branan, Alatir, Serine, and Nibil spoke kindly and gently with him, reminding him that he had accomplished what he set out to do, namely, the cleansing of Thog Tahrir and the restoration of his family honor.

As Marduke began to calm down, Pannan told the group that Bellamin was under arrest, and that the Dwarf King was on his way back to Forge to deal with his treachery. Pannan went on and told them that no one comes to the great city of Horizon except by the bidding of the Archmage, and that they would be wise to search out the council of the supervisors before leaving the city. Additionally, in appreciation of their service to Forge, the Dwarf King had sent them each a generous financial gift.

Deciding that they would all stick together, at least for the time being, they headed out to explore the great city of Horizon. After visitng several shops, they decided to spend a little bit of their hard earned gold on some really good beer…and lots of it…

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The Catacombs of Santa Cora, Part II
Great...zombies...

Santa_Cora_Catacombs.jpgAs soon as the battle began, the group knew that they might be in for some trouble. Alleon was suddenly stricken by some powerful magic and was knocked completely out! Grunt was unconscious and surrounded by zombies, and Ennet had not really healed from her wounds from the previous battle. Still, having little choice, and summoning all the courage they had, they fought.

One of the zombies moved first, and shuffled over to the unconscious Grunt lying on the floor—his brains would be easy pickings! Ennet, in an attempt to disrupt the zombie’s attack on Grunt ran over with her sword raised high…but, as she approached the zombie, she noticed a strange smile on the zombie’s face and suddenly fell into an uncontrollable fit of laughter.

Remulus, not quite sure what was going on with Ennet, turned his immediate focus towards Grunt, and, calling upon the power of the Priestess and the celestial hosts, was able to break the powerful magical spell that had first knocked Grunt unconscious. Even though some of the zombies had taken some bites out of Grunt as he had been lying on the floor, he gathered himself and quickly joined in on the fight.

Meanwhile, Xylia cast several powerful spells upon the three zombie fiends, which all landed with great success. But these zombies were tough, and seemed unfazed by the damage they were taking from her. As the battle wore on, both Ennet and Grunt were knocked unconscious again—the zombies targeted Ennet as she was lying on the ground, and she came dangerously close to death. As her life force began to leave her body, a strange, glowing stone appeared in her pocket, and she was instantly thrust back into consciousness and the battle. Remulus made his way over to Grunt and revived him a second time—now, with all four of them standing there, they took on the zombies in force and eventually destroyed them.

As they surveyed the battle scene, they quickly rushed over to Alleon to see what had happened to him—his body, much like Crulamin’s, was wrapped in a protective force field that could not be penetrated. Ennet and Xylia stared intently at the glowing stone that had been in Ennet’s pocket, but couldn’t figure out what it was or how it got there.

The group then began to debate their next steps—after a quick vote, they decided to explore some of the side hallways on this floor of the catacombs, although they didn’t discover anything out of place. Realizing that they had not really explored the room in the floor above (the one where the ghouls came out of the empty casket), they headed back up to the main floor to do a more thorough search of the area. On their way back to the room, they were met by a group of four paladins and two priests who were on their way to prepare for the Daily Office of the Dead, the rituals performed by the Vicit Mortem to keep the dead “dead.” They told their story to the group—surprised to hear that zombies had appeared in the lower levels, three of the paladins and one of the priests rushed downstairs. The remaining paladin and priest asked them to escort them over to the room where the ghouls had first appeared.

As they approached the door to the room, the paladin inquired as to why the door was unlocked—the group lied and said that the door had already been open when they arrived (Grunt had, of course, picked the lock.) When they entered the room, the priest and Xylia went over to inspect the coffin that the ghouls had come out of when the group had first come into the room. Upon closer inspection, they saw the same dark elvish writing etched into the wood (as if by fingernails) that was also written on the urn they had found back in the temple of Aphneon. Just as Xylia was asking the priest about what their next steps should be, the door behind them shut with a loud clang. The priest, with a demon-twisted smile, looked Xylia in the eye and told her that they would do nothing, except, of course, become members of the newly forming army of the dead…

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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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