Beneath the Blackwood Forest – Brevoy
The 19th Day of Erastus, 4711 AR – late afternoon
“Come on. This way.” Iacobus and Albia carry Akorian between them as the party slowly makes its way across the slender dwarven bridge. For his part Talathel leads the way, holding his sword (enchanted with a light spell) aloft. Both Tanis and Kyras hold back at the far end of the bridge, waiting to see if the sulking goblins attempt to follow.
“Do you think they’ll come after us?” Kyras asks the elf.
“Probably not.” Tanis shrugs. “You and Albia blocked off that crawl space pretty tightly, friend Kyras. It should take them quite a bit of time to dig themselves out.”
The pair continue on the moment Talathel reaches the far side of the bridge, and soon the entire party finds itself back in the now-abandoned domain of Tumai Goran. It is here that you decide to pause for a while, and rest. There is food here, and clean water. Plus an easily defensible place to rest and restore your strength. With this in mind Albia leads the way back to the wizard’s quarters on this level, and, after a quick check to make certain no one awaits you within, you bolt the door and settle in for a brief respite.
Talathel offers to take the first watch, and drags a ornately gilded armchair over to the door and settles in, his bow across his knees. Albia is tired and dirty, and therefore unbuckles the clasps holding her armor in place, and pauses long enough at the fountain in the center of the room to wash some of the dried goblin blood from her face and hands. Iacobus joins her and does likewise. For his part Akorian settles quickly into the dead wizard’s bed and is soon fast asleep, and snoring loudly. Kyras offers a prayer to his goddess and settles in as well. Tanis says little before stripping out of his armor and climbing onto a comfortable divan and pulling his heavy cloak up over his shoulders to ward off the chill. Soon everyone is settled in, snug and warm, and a companionable silence fills the room, marred only by Akorian’s heavy snoring.
“Does he always sound like that?” Kyras asks quietly.
“Always.” Iacobus offers up a lopsided grin. “Father made us share a room when we were boys. I dare say I never had a full night’s rest until I left for school at thirteen!”
Time passes, although it is impossible to tell how much here in the dark depths of earth. Talathel stays at his post by the door, untiring, and considers the puzzle represented by the strange locket the party has just recovered. What mysteries does it contain? What treasures does it represent? He is just considering heading over to see if Iacobus is willing to hand the thing over for his examination when he sees Albia stand and saunter over to him. Her long white hair is tousled from sleep.
“We need to continue moving, bard,” she told him. “I doubt it is a good idea to stay in one place for so long.”
And so it was decided. Within minutes the party is rousted, and your gear checked and gathered, and weapons readied. Soon the group stood before the so-called “teleportation circle” in a small anti-chamber to one side of the room, and Iacobus called forth to puzzle out its operation. This he does so quickly, for detailed instructions were included in the wizard’s notes you discovered elsewhere in the tunnels beneath the manor.
“I’ll go first,” Iacobus offers. “The workings of the thing seem straightforward enough.” The magus touches a silver panel to one side of the pentagram carved into the floor of the chamber, and suddenly the circle itself glows with eldritch fire. Iacobus seems to steel himself, and then steps into the center of the circle. There is a flash, a sudden pop, and the wizard is gone, disappeared, and nowhere to be seen at all!
You decide to be the next one through the portal. With this in mind you touch the panel, and step into the circle; again there is a flash and a pop, and suddenly you find yourself back in the wreckage-strewn entrance hall of the dungeon’s second level, with the stairs up to the manor house directly before you. Iacobus drags you quickly out of the way, and pop! Kyras appears next, safely transported from the levels below.
In time the entire party has gone through the portal, and you organize yourselves for your extended exploration of the place. One section in particular draws you onward – a locked portcullis that the party was forced to bypass just before your encounter with the alluring she-demon known as Alenta. Soon you find yourselves standing before the portcullis once more, and begin to puzzle out a way to open it from this side. It is then that you notice that Albia had earlier recovered two heavy wood axes from the wreckage of the room behind you. She hands one to Tanis, and together the two begin to hew and chop at the door that stands directly to the right side of the bolted portcullis. The steady CHOP CHOP CHOP of their axes echoes far and wide, and soon bits of sundered oak begin to fly through the dank air.
“Here! That’s enough. Let me in there.” Akorian steps forward and shimmies his right hand into a hole cut into the wood; within moments you hear the dusty clatter of a bolt being thrown, and the door to the guardroom beyond is opened! Together you storm inside, blades drawn and readied. As your witch-light falls across the place, you immediately see that yes, it was indeed a guardroom, and that it has apparently not been disturbed at all in many long years. A thick coating of dust covers every surface – from the doorway you see that the place boasts a trestle table and chairs, a weapons rack (still containing four longswords, two spears and a crossbow – all rusty with age) and a cabinet. Akorian quickly riffles through the cabinet and finds several sets of guardsman attire, including rain cloaks, several tabards complete with the Goran family crest, and a single set of masterwork chain mail (medium sized) still in usable condition.
There is also a locked chest in the southeast corner of the room. Akorian is unable to urge the age-jammed lock to give up its hold on the chest, however, forcing Albia to take to it with her now well-notched axe. Soon the chest is sundered open, and within you find five bulging (and split) sacks containing a small fortune in minted silver. This is quickly divided up amongst the party for easy transport, and your attention then turns to the lone flywheel mounted in the eastern wall of the chamber.
“Kyras, turn the wheel. The rest of you, to the gate, with blades ready. I want to see what’s in there.” Iacobus draws his scimitar and stands ready just outside the guardroom door.
The rest of you gather in the darkened corridor and come to stand before the portcullis. Iacobus then calls out to Kyras, who begins to turn the wheel. The squeal of heavy gears come to your ears, and slowly the big gate begins to clatter upward. Albia and Tanis ready their swords as the gate inches slowly upward, and then locks into place with a metallic snap. Kyras fits the locking pin in place, and calls out that all is in readiness.
Tanis takes one step forward, and peers into the darkness. Therein he sees yet another shadowed corridor, flanked on either side by row upon row of unlocked cell doors. The doors are hewn from heavy iron, and face into cells a mere 10’x5’, tightly constraining, with a simple wooden pallet and a lone slop bucket as their only embellishments. The elf is about to call out to the others to follow him when he hears a sharp intake of breath, and the soft pad of bare flesh on dusty stone.
You all pause as several sets of crimson eyes suddenly wink back at you from the darkened hall. There is a bestial snarl then, and a lurching human figure appears in the gloom, bent over low and running quickly. Though man-like, you see it has long, sharp teeth, and gray, pallid flesh stretched tight over its starved frame. There are four more of them as well, all slavering, all snarling, and all dressed in the tatters of guardsmen’s attire from long, long ago.
Talathel’s bowstring snaps, and a feathered shaft juts from the chest of the creature closest to you. It barely seems to notice, and then leaps upon Albia with flashing fangs and red-rimmed eyes. Its teeth sink deeply into her hand, drawing blood, and then Albia is casting the creature aside, and howling defiance. You all withdraw back into the corridor, forming a defensive wall, with Akorian and Talathel to the rear with their bows held ready. Tanis lashes out quickly, and severs the head of a creature with one telling blow. Kyras raises his hand, and begins a prayer to his goddess, and a bright white light fans out from his outstretched hand. Albia feels the wound to her hand knit shut, largely healed, whilst another of the demons bursts into a cloud of fine white dust, its corrupt flesh no match for the pure, cleansing energy of Pharasma. Tanis then sidesteps the claws of another ghoul, and guts his second foeman of the battle. It too collapses to the floor of the tunnel, clutching at its savaged belly with gore-streaked fingers.
“Asmodeus! Guide my steel!” Albia drives the point of her blade into the eye of one of the two remaining ghouls, and sees it shudder pointedly before collapsing to the floor. Tanis rounds on the last of the things, locked now in desperate battle with Iacobus, and takes its head neatly with a deft flick of his wrist. It too falls to the dusty flags, shuddering, and then going still forever. Moments later a strange, awful sort of silence falls across the corridor, pierced only by your harsh breathing, and the swift click-click-click of a ghoul’s severed hand as it limply attempts to continue the battle.
Akorian steps forward and skewers the twitching appendage with the tip of his rapier. “Anyone injured?”
“I’m fine.” Albia grasps at her wounded hand. Kyras asks to see it, and she grudgingly obliges. The priest scowls at the purpled flesh at the edges of the fresh bite mark.
“What is it?” Iacobus asks.
“Its hard to say in this light.” Kyras wraps the wound in clean bindings. “But we’d best get her back to camp, just to be safe. The undead can carry all sorts of nasty contagions, you know. Its best to be as careful as possible when dealing with the like.”
“Let’s see what they were guarding first.” Talathel and Akorian lead the way into the darkened prison corridor. Each prison cell is empty and cluttered with dust and refuse, save for the last on the very right. There you find a pile of well-gnawed bones, mere splinters really, as well as a tattered velvet satchel containing a pile of gleaming gemstones. You quickly gather up the gems and withdraw from the place, eager now to be gone from this dank, horrid location.
It is but a simple matter to retrace your steps to the entrance chamber and climb the steps back up into the light – save that the chambers of the manor above are also as black as pitch. With a start you realize that it is still night outside, and that you have lost track of time while in the depths. With this in mind you withdraw from the depths of the manor and leave the building by way of the main entrance foyer. Soon you stand at the entrance to the crumbling structure, and peer skyward, seeing the black velvet sky above, studded here and there by thick banks of roiling clouds. The quarter moon hangs low on the distant horizon, telling you that dawn is but an hour or two away.
“Quickly, let’s get back to camp,” Kyras urges. With this admonishment Tanis leads the way, and soon you are crossing the grassy verge that separates the manor property with the forest itself. Moments later you cross over into the trees themselves, and are cloaked in fresh darkness once more. A hunting owl calls to you in the night, and small forest animals rustle amongst the leaves of the trees. Otherwise all is silent and still around you.
A short while later you arrive at your campsite – or, what used to be your campsite, it seems. The area is dark and still, and completely abandoned. Torches are lit, and the nearby ground carefully examined. While numerous old tracks of your horses (and yourselves!) are clearly visible, there is no evidence to indicate what happened to both Callis and your animals.
“Could someone have come, and taken her by force?” Akorian wants to know.
“I don’t see how,” Albia replies. “There would be tracks, and signs of a struggle. Things like that. It’s almost as if she were carried away by some horrid flying beast.”
“I’ve found something,” Kyras calls. The party gathers around the cleric, who is examining the moss-covered bark of a nearby tree. There you see a slender strip of cloth, bound in place and bearing three small knots. The knot holding the cloth in place faces westward; it is a sign that both Tanis and Talathel immediately recognize as expert forest craft, a signal that whomever left it means for you to head west about three hundred yards, and look for more clues as to where to go next.
“What do we do now?” Albia asks.
“We follow the trail,” Kyras replies. “We need to, don’t you see? The magic scrolls Theodus gave us are in my saddle bags. If I am correct we shall need them, and soon.”
“Why do you say that?” Iacobus says.
“This.” The priest gently lifts up Albia’s sword hand and tugs off the leather glove covering it. Instead of pale, flawless skin, you see an ugly purple mottling, clear now despite the poor ambient light.
“What is it?” Albia’s features are carefully schooled to display nothing, you see. No hint of rage or fear. You are forced to wonder how true the facade is to the emotions within.
“I can’t be certain, of course.” Kyras’ own expression is very grim. “But ghoul fever seems likely. If we fail to treat it properly you shall arise as one of the undead, and hunger for living flesh.”
With that cheerful thought in mind you plunge on westward, moving carefully with Tanis once more in the lead. Both torch- and witch-light illuminate the forest around you – this light is necessary, of course, so that you may spot other telltales that Callis may have left for you. And indeed, soon you discover another strip of cloth, urging you to turn southward. And then another, again urging you southward once more. In time the sky above grows rosy, and the thin, misty morning air is filled with the cries of birds, singing the praises of the coming day. You have come perhaps two or three miles from the manor, and are now entering a portion of the forest that is deep, and thickly wooded. It is easy to imagine the thought that no living sentient creature, human or otherwise, has ever entered this sylvan realm.
Then, however, you smell venison roasting over an open fire. As you creep ever closer, you suddenly hear the soft whinny of a nearby horse, and muted conversation. Akorian and Tanis sneak in closer, and soon come upon a small clearing in the forest – here you see your horses, penned and well cared for, with Callis standing over a pot on the cook fire. Theodus the Gray also sits nearby, reading stoically from a largish tome. Looking closer, Akorian sees that the book is crafted from age-stained vellum, and is bound with large plates hewn from dark mahogany.
“I know you are there, Lord Sarani,” Theodus calls. “You may as well come and sit by the fire. It seems I have much to tell you.”
NOTE: your horses and camping gear are all present and well cared for. The scroll containing the Cure Disease spell needed to treat Albia is also present. Kyras retrieves it from his saddlebags and casts the spell, thus curing whatever ailment is infecting her. You then settle down by fire and ask by what right Theodus had to relocate your campsite, and thusly go through your things.
The stranger replies that he brings grave tidings, and that your lives are now in deadly danger. Two days ago a band of battle-scarred dwarf mercenaries arrived in King’s Mead, claiming that they had been ambushed by a group of forest brigands. These brigands were likely survivors of Karn’s band, and were apparently led by two renegade lords from Cheliax – Akorian and Iacobus Sarani. The dwarves beseeched Lord Garess to send troops to the forest to slay or capture the brigands, and His Lordship agreed. Thusly, the day before Lord Semnon Garess (His Lordship’s only son) and twenty elite Bannermen rode south, intent upon finding your band and putting you to the sword. Also riders have been sent north, south, east and west, bearing warrants supposedly containing your names and partial descriptions. A price of 200-gp has been placed on each of your heads, with payment due upon you being handed over to agents of the Crown, dead or alive!
Theodus also heard rumors while he was in town. The most pressing was that the price on your head was requested by the dwarves’ true patron, the beautiful Tian courtesan known as Xue-Han. What interest she has in you is impossible for him to say, however.
Theodus also believes he knows why you were in the area, and took it upon yourself to explore the ruins of the old manor house. He claims not to care about what you found there, or why you were looking for it. He does say that he could actually feel the mystic energies of whatever fell sorcery you encountered there, deep beneath the earth. And these stirrings are likely to draw attention to both you, and the region around King’s Mead. Dark riders have already been seen hereabouts. And rumors swirl of mysterious gatherings in the border regions, and questions asked about the comings and goings of strangers to the region. So Theodus would like to see you go, safely if possible, but go nonetheless. So he brought you one final gift – a ledger containing the writings of the Royal Castilian who oversaw the stewardship of Eaglebone Manor years before, particularly during the time when Tumai Goran lived here, and the countryside was rife with fear. Theodus knows that the Castilian was the sole investigator into the wizard’s demise, and held extensive inquiries into both the explosion that took his life, and the chaos that followed. Perhaps these notes will shed some light onto the mysteries that confront you now.
Sadly, you have little time to read then now. (We can handle that information Out of Move when the time is right) Theodus believes that Semnon and his men should be in the area today sometime, and may even be at the site of your old camp even as we speak! You are in great danger, he tells you. But what you do next, as always, is up to you.