Shadows Rising

The Flesh Golem, Part I
Seriously, where's that gurgling noise coming from?

The group seemed to be caught a little off guard by the strength of the skeleton warriors—Xylia was quickly surrounded, and both Alleon and Grunt took early damage. Xylia tried over and over again to disengage, and was eventually able to do it, but not before taking several hits. Just as the skeletal warriors seemed overwhelming, they heard the sound of footsteps rushing down the stairs—Ennet suddenly appeared! Surveying the scene, she immediately jumped into help, taking on the powerful skeleton archer that had been harassing the entire group.

Remulus, for most of the battle, had a significant amount of success healing the group, although he did find himself in a sticky situation when he attempted to use his mace to attack one of the skeletal warriors. His feeble attempt missed badly, and the warrior, undaunted, picked him up and threw across the hallway into Alleon! But soon the tide of battle turned in the group’s favor, and Grunt managed to kill the last enemy by having Xylia pick him up and throw him, dagger first, into the skeleton’s chest, pulverizing him on the spot.

After the dust had settled, the group healed what wounds they could (although, strangely enough, Alleon decided to press forward without seeking any medical aid) and headed down the stairs to the sixth level of the catacombs.

The sixth level of the catacombs held tombs from a long ago age—the air was stale and musty, and the path underneath them was made out of compacted dirt. The beams holding the walls and ceiling up were simply cut wooden beams, nothing like the elaborate stone work of the floors above. Xylia activated her dancing lights and led the group down the dimly lit path. As they approached the first intersection, they could hear a low gurgling noise ahead. Curious, Grunt attempted to light an arrow and shoot it out in front of them, although he only managed to lose the bolt and singe his fingers in the process.

As they approached the second intersection, they noticed that the pathway opened up into a larger room. Standing in front of them was a monstrous flesh golem—silent for a moment, Xylia began to quiz the golem about where it was from and who it served. Others in the group asked other questions as well, although the golem only answered in cryptic, vague generalities. Xylia asked the golem if it would be interested in heading up to the light, and it responded by telling her that it was his job to “bring the darkness to the light.”

With that, the golem lashed out at the group, striking Xylia and Alleon with great ferocity. Xylia sustained a significant amount of damage, and Alleon was knocked out completely. Grunt attempted to shoot an arrow at the golem, but he missed badly and struck Xylia, knocking her unconscious as well. Ennet attempted to stabilize Alleon, but all she ended up doing was restoring the life of the flesh golem.

Surveying the scene, those who were still conscious realized the battle was going poorly. Even though Alleon and Xylia were eventually brought back to consciousness, and they finally began to land some hits on the golem, he didn’t see close to being taken down…only time would tell if the group would overcome this powerful foe…

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The Superior's Mission, Part II
The Tower of Highrock

Serine knew this was a bad idea, but before she could prepare the group, Branan walked through the main entrance of the tower, and immediately triggered a trap.

The group was pulled inside the tower and after shaking off a bit of dizziness, they saw that they were in a square room with no windows or doors (strange since they had just come through a door). The walls were lined with furniture, and there were two staircases — one going up, and one going down. After a brief discussion, they decided to head up.

As they entered the next floor up, they found themselves in a room that somehow appeared wider than the floor below. Like the floor below, there were no doors and no windows, and only two staircases — the one they had just come from and a second one heading up to the next floor. They headed up.

The next floor up was a circular room, with four doors heading in different directions. The group noticed that there were no markings on any of the doors, and although the room was lit up, a thick darkness prevented them from seeing anything through the doorways.

Not sure how to proceed, they picked a doorway and walked through it. Nerryn and Serine took the lead, looking for traps and lighting their path. After a little while, they walked through a doorway and realized they were back in the room that they had started in. Marking those two entrances as explored, they picked one of the two remaining doors and walked through.

They walked through darkness for some time, but eventually reached a well lit room of mirrors. Beyond the mirrors was a door — Nerryn suggested checking for traps, but failed in her attempt, causing each of them to gaze into a mirror. Horror after horror began to be revealed to each of them, except for Branan, who found a way to escape the enchantment. Eventually each of them was freed, although Nerryn felt the affects of the mirror for the rest of their time in the tower.

They quickly moved through the door at the end of the room, and found themselves standing in a circular chamber. Along the side of the wall was a staircase heading up — leading the way, Branan walked up the stairs to the next level. Along the walls of this room were many enchantments and spells in ancient languages — there were also numerous, large crystals that seemed to be placed in strategic and intentional places. At the center of the room was a crystal tube, which appeared to contain a fire elemental.

Branan approached the crystal tube and called out to the elemental, but there was no response. Serine, having more experience with elementals than Branan, moved him aside and asked if it had a name — the elemental began to pulsate. They began to ask it yes or no questions, one flash yes, two flashes no.

They asked:

Are you trapped here? – Yes -

Did you choose to be here in this tower? – No -

Do you wish to return to your own plane? – No answer -

If we set you free, will you aid us? – Unclear answer -

Would you offer your services to the High Druid? – Yes -

Are the crystals on the wall key to your captivity? – Yes -

Would breaking the crystals harm you? – No response -

Noticing that the stairs along the wall continued up, they decided to explore the tower a bit more. For two more levels each floor contained ancient writings and crystals on the walls, and the crystal tube remained in the center of the room. Walking up the stairs again, they finally reached the top floor. Here they discovered a magnificent telescope like mechanism that Serine surmised was the way that the Superior’s kept eyes on the vast cities of the Dragon Empire. The mechanisms in this room, though, were quiet, as the Tower of Highrock had long ago faded from the view of the Archmage. As Serine peered out the window, it seemed to her that they weren’t that far off the ground, although she was certain this was the magic of the tower creating that affect.

Peering at the spells on the wall, Serine discerned that they all had three themes in common — focus, control, and containment. At this point, a disagreement formed as to how to move forward. Marduke wondered aloud as to whether or not they could contain the elemental (assuming they could even free it), which annoyed Alatir on account that they had entered this tower with no real ability to contain an elemental in the first place. Growing even more agitated was Nibil, who pointed out that they didn’t even know how to free themselves from this tower.

As Marduke expressed his concern that the building might collapse if they found a way to remove the elemental, Nibil, his rage rising, headed down the stairs, with Nerryn in tow. In a rare moment of anger, Alatir punched one of the crystals on the wall, which caused it to emit vein like electrical sparks up the wall and to the ceiling.

Branan, his curiosity piqued, placed his burning hands on two of the crystals, which exploded in a blaze of vein like electrical sparks throughout the room. Branan looked over at the elemental in the tube and saw that it was pulsating brighter than at any other point since their encounter with it.

Nibil, now on the first floor of the tower, was cursing violently at Branan, which prompted Alatir to say aloud that he missed sad Nibil.

Serine, aware that guards had been alerted to their presence, told the group that they had to leave. Branan, inspired by his burning hands, began to light crystal after crystal on fire. As runes around the room continued to explode, he told the elemental that he would be willing to carry it in his burning hands should they find a way to free it from the crystal tube. As Branan continued to destroy crystals, the crystal tube began to melt, and suddenly the elemental was free. Seizing its opportunity, the elemental entered into Branan’s burning hands, but wasn’t content to stop there. Now in full possession of Branan’s body, the elemental made its way down the stairs towards NIbil and Nerryn.

Frantically, the group ran into the hall of mirrors, but as possessed Branan entered, the mirrors shattered, injuring Nibil, whose swearing had now reached a fevered pitch.

They made their way all the way to their initial start point, and took the set of stairs that headed down. The sounds of guards were approaching from every direction. The room at the bottom of the stairs had eight doors, but possessed Branan blew the seven false doors away — they ran through the remaining door, down a long hallway, and reached a room with several windows looking out over Horizon.

Serine looked over the ledge of the windows and noticed that they only appeared one or two floors up from the ground — she realized it appeared exactly the same as when they were in the furthest reaches of the tower. She had no idea how high they actually were.

Suddenly, possessed Branan jumped onto the ledge of the window — the elemental was attempting to leave his body, but he was fighting to keep it contained within him. With the sounds of the guards approaching, the group began to discuss what to do with Branan.

As they argued, Serine looked over at Branan and saw what was coming next. He looked at her, then out the window, then back at her, and suddenly, without any control of his body, jumped. Serine ran to the window and, to her amazement, saw that it had been a short fall, and that he had survived it. She jumped out the window next, followed by the rest of the group.

Marduke landed badly, but suffered only minor injuries. Everyone else seemed fine, except of course for the fact that Branan was on fire and Serine was sparking lightning all around her on account of the magical spell she had used to land safely.

Serine thought to herself…I wonder if anyone will notice.

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The Superior's Mission, Part I
This should be easy!

As the group stood victorious over the shattered bodies of their gnollish attackers, Branan suggested renaming the Black Brick and Hammer the Bloody Gnoll — groaning at the suggestion, the group left a quick apology note for the innkeeper, and, after a quick stop at Dockside, made their way to the De Arcem to confer with the Superior Quartus one last time.

At the De Arcem, Serine slipped a note to the guard relaying their acceptance of Superior Quartus’ job offer — after a brief wait, the guard returned and slipped a piece of paper to Serine who read it and informed the group that they were to head to Dockside and find a ship named the Heavy Seas.

In a strange moment, as they were making their way to Dockside, Serine became lost, and they soon found themselves in a different part of District 4 standing in front of the Tower of Highrock, the only Tower in Horizon that was not operational. Noticing that the tower was completely unguarded, the group debated going in, although they ultimately decided to continue on their way to Dockside and to come back and explore the tower at a later time.

Once at Dockside, Serine approached the dockmaster who told her the time the Heavy Seas would be arriving and also the slip it would pull in to. The dockmaster then asked her why her group was down there, and so she told him. The dockmaster seemed surprised that the Superior Quartus would have anything to do with the comings and goings of Dockside, and Serine’s fellow adventurers were even more concerned that she would simply tell the dockmaster what they were doing in Dockside in the first place. After the dockmaster walked away, the group agreed that Serine would no longer be the person to negotiate deals on the groups behalf.

Having kept the nature of their quest a secret, Serine tells the group that they are to meet up with a man named Rem, receive a package from him, and then take that package to The Whirlpool. After the Heavy Seas had docked, Serine and Alatir made their way up the gangplank, followed by the rest of the group.

A sailor took the group into Rem’s quarters, who immediately requested payment for the package that they had been sent to collect. Confused that Superior Quartus had given them nothing with which to pay, Rem told them that he was sure that he could find another buyer for the item — not wanting to return to Superior Quartus empty handed, they learned from Rem that what he was seeking in payment was a fire elemental. After a brief discussion, Nerryn proposed that they should seek out Superior Quartus first, and then decide how to proceed from there. As they left the Heavy Seas, Rem reminded them that he would only be in Dockside for one day.

The group headed back to the De Arcem but were unable to meet with either Superior Quartus or his assistant. Thinking the assistant may be at the Whirlpool, they made their back to Dockside only to discover that the assistant wasn’t there either.

Leaving the The Whirlpool, and not sure where to head next, the group decided to check in on the new equipment that was being made for them. As they chatted with the armorer, they asked him what he knew about fire elementals. He told them that they are summoned from a higher plane of existence, although it is unclear as to whether they are being summon by a wizard or whether they are merely letting wizards think they have the power to summon them. He then told them that there were places in Horizon where one could find such creatures, but that containing such a powerful entity would require a sophisticated kind of magic.

After leaving the armorer, a fierce debate started up in the group. Alatir, Branan, and Nibil all protested the idea of enslaving a fire elemental, while Marduke and Serine weren’t particularly worried about it. Nerryn wondered aloud as to whether or not her locket (which had been confiscated by Superior Quartus) contained a fire elemental, and whether or not Superior Quartus intended all along to use the locket to trade with Rem.

As the argument intensified, Marduke suggested creating a type of holographic elemental, while Branan floated the idea of capturing an elemental, trading it, and then fighting Rem in order to secure its freedom.

Realizing that all of this was a moot point until they had a fire elemental in hand, the group decided to head to the one place where it was rumored that they might find an elemental — the Tower of Highrock.

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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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