4th Ed D&D In London

Villainous Interlude 2

The Underpriest winced again as the wound closed, the incantation to Orcus dying on his lips. The Demon Prince did sometimes grant the power of healing to his servants, but never without a price.

Straightening up, he made his way to Kalarel’s chambers to report further on the events of the previous day. Having returned in disgrace, desperate to save his own life as the adventurers slaughtered his zombie minions, he had been steering clear of his superior.

Kalarel was now resting after another day of attempting to open the portal to the Shadowfell. The Underpriest hoped that he was in a forgiving mood.

“My Lord?” he asked of the darkness ahead of him, cautiously waiting in the small pool of light the torch provided.

“Come in,” issued the tired words. Moving into the gloom, the Underpriest advanced carefully.

“Report, Underpriest.”

“My Lord, as you know, the adventurers were able to dispatch the zombie forces I sent against them. I can now also confirm that the initial hobgoblin defences were insufficient.”

“I guessed as much,” rasped the voice from the shadows. “Continue. What of Ninaran?”

“Ninaran did as you ordered, raising a small force of skeletons and two grave hounds to assault Winterhaven. The village would have fallen had a Halfling by the name of Ryam had not made his way here to bring news.”

“Orcus curse his name!” responded Kalarel, moving slightly more into the light. The Underpriest managed to hide his shock at his master’s appearance. His face now appeared skeletal and gaunt, yet his eyes now glinted with a deep malice and madness that had not been there before. Kalarel continued “When they return, this Halfling is to be sacrificed first, do you understand?”

“Yes, my Lord.”

“Continue. I take it the adventurers made it back to Winterhaven in time, then?”

“Indeed. A runner from the village made it back here a few minutes ago. Ninaran was, apparently, joined in battle by a Gnome who fought alongside her. He managed to escape, but Ninaran was slain. He and the human, Sabbat Fau, appear to have a great deal of animosity towards each other.”

“Agrid,” mused Kalarel. “It appears he is more resourceful than I thought. Excellent. I shall stay in contact with him once this matter is resolved. What are these ‘heroes’ doing now?”

“They rest in Winterhaven, stating they will return here tomorrow.”

“So be it. I am close, so close now. I believe tomorrow the portal will open and we can begin the destruction of this area.” Kalarel’s teeth gleamed in the dim light as he smiled. “First Winterhaven, and that pathetic “Lord” Parrag. Then onwards to Linden Field, and then, finally, Fallcrest itself shall fall to me!”

“Have the hobgoblin warchief prepare the rest of his troops, then you shall guard the upper Temple with your disciples. I shall return Below and continue to work. Whatever happens, hold them off.” He fixed the Underpriest with a penetrating stare.

“If you fall, do not fear. I shall defeat them myself if needed, and then I shall raise you anew. You will serve Lord Orcus, in your death as you did in life. I shall see to it, loyal follower.” Kalarel’s arm twitched violently. “But now I must rest. See to the defences. They must not take us by surprise.”

“Yes, my Lord,” replied the Underpriest. “We shall not fail you.”

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Ninaran And Agrid Play Their Hand

Swiftly returning to Winterhaven, the party was not suprised to see the gates barred and locked. Several torches flickered above the strong wooden doors, and Lord Parrag’s voice rang down to them.

“The town is under attack! Several of my people have gone missing this night, and if you look yonder you can see some sort of strange glow from the graveyard. We’ve closed the gates, waiting to see what happens – I beseech you, please investigate for me, brave adventurers! Ryam volunteered to bring you back from your quest. I do not believe we can stand for long if the dead rise against us.”

The curious Halfling led the party, leaving them barely time to rest before they arrived at the graveyard at the edges of the town. Introducing himself as Ryam Rateater, the heavily armed Halfling pointed his broadsword down the hill across the dark landscape.

“See for yourselves!” It was night time, the air was frigid, and an eerie blue glow could be seen from far away amongst the gravestones. The party approached the gates and made their way inside.

Cautiously moving through across the frost bitten grass, their breath rising in the air around them, the adventurers saw a circle of arcane power had been drawn on the stones in the center of the cemetery. From the shadows around them, figures began to move.

“Prepare to die!” came a voice from the shadows of an old stone mausoleum. Ninaran, the elven huntress stepped into view and raised her bow to fire, flanked by a group of skeleton archers. From the edges of the graveyard other groups of skeletons began to appear, amongst them could just be seen the figure of Agrid the gnome, whom the party had previously captured and had interred in Winterhaven.

“What foul evil is this!” shouted Elwanen, drawing his sword. Des nodded to the party, strode to the front of the group and held up his hand to the ambushers.

“Wait!...” shouted the great orator, his voice carrying the promise of revelation. Ninaran paused expectantly. Agrid relaxed for a second as he strained his ears to hear what Des was about to say. Even the skeletons seemed to pause, as if awaiting instructions.

Seizing the moment, the paladin charged towards to nearest group of undead. Following his lead the rest of the party spread out and, charging through the darkness, closed with the archers as they were raising their bows and taking aim. Ryam swung his oversized broadsword overhead and ploughed into the skeletons on one side of Elwanen and Cass.

Ninaran, gathering her wits, took her shot. The arrow sailed through the night air, narrowly missing Des.

“Carry on then, lads” said the tiefling ruefully, prudently lowering his hands and stepped back into the group. Fangorn the barbarian charged the elven huntress, who was left fending off his mighty maul swings with her bow. Fau the warlock strode across the graveyard into the middle of a group of skeletons until he stood face to face with Agrid. The gnome had a look of hate burning in his eyes, for it had been Fau who had tormented him so cruelly.

“You!” uttered the warlock. The memory of the foul curse caused Agrid to step back, allowing Fau to unleash an aura of frost that engulfed all those that surrounded him.

Breaking off from the melee for an instant, Ninaran had just enough tme to call another group of skeletons from the ground. They quickly clawed their way out of their graves and ran with their swords drawn to engage the adventurers.

Aran had disappeared from view. He had made his way to the arcane circle and was engaged in the business of attempting to disable it, although it did not resemble the common wards that folk would place over their doorways to prevent pilfering during the night.

Over the other side of the cemetery a slathering, slobbering and snarling noise could be heard. A moment later a pair of rotting grave hounds burst out of the crypt house, bounding over the crunching earth, ribbons of fetid drool flying about them, their loose rotting flesh rippling this way and that. They charged into the main group where Elwanen, Ryam and Cass were finishing off the skeletons.

The warriors braced themselves to recieve the grave hounds with equal intensity, one hound bouncing off Elwanens large shield and rolling across the earth before Ryam pinned it to the ground with his sword. Cass ran several steps to meet the other hound in mid-flight, swinging her greataxe and sending it, whimpering, into a gravestone. It rolled onto its paws and crouched ready to leap.

“Bad dog!” shouted Des sternly, “No biscuit!” Even in undeath the grave hound understood disapproval, shrinking back for a moment, long enough for Cass to follow up and bring her axe down on it’s head one final time.

Fangorn had battled Ninaran back step by step. They now fought on the edge of the glyph circle. With a mighty shove, Fangorn sent Ninavan back pedalling until she toppled over the crouching Halfling and fell into the circle.

“Oi! I nearly ‘ad that!” reprimanded Aran.

“Feast on your own dark magic, witch!” spat the barbarian, watching as Ninavan writhed on the ground, a look of agony on her face.

“The pain!” she screamed.

“Bloody hellfire!” muttered Aran, “What did you do?”

The next instant, the elven huntress was upon them. Leaping out of the circle, laughing, she had her swords drawn and was ready to kill or be killed. With both Fangorn and Aran flanking her, though, she had little hope. As the two of them hacked her to the ground, the circle began to fade, it’s magic dying with her. The remaining skeletons also crumbled to dust and ash in an instant.

Meanwhile Fau and Agrid traded volleys, the gnome darting in and out of the shadows as he fired his crossbow, the warlock standing still and emotionless, unleashing blast after blast, demolishing the stonework around them.

“I will hunt you down and make you pay, warlock, mark my words!” shouted Agrid, realising his allies had all been killed. The gnome fled into the night, with Fau sending a huge wave of fire in his direction as a parting gift. To a casual observer it would have seemed as if Agrid had left a trail of burning trees and foliage in his wake.

“We return to the keep anon,” the warlock called after him, “I will expect you…”

Illustration of Ryam Rateater by James Paterson

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Rangrim Falls
Wherein a Dwarf Meets His Match

After disposing of the last of the zombies and taking a moment to catch their breath, the adventurers searched the area, as all good adventurers do. Discovering a hidden door, they faced a riddling voice that challenged their intellect. Once answering, two shiny suits of armour were theirs for the taking.

Moving down some steps, they then entered the guard room, wherein waited several ranks of battle-ready hobgoblin soldiers. Standing with shields locked together were 4 sword wielding grunts, behind them what appeared to be a murky well. On the far side of that waited 2 heavily armoured lieutenants with flails, and at the far end of the room near one of the exits stood the hobgoblin captain barking out orders.

As the 2 opposing groups sprang into action the hobgoblin captain was the first to act. “Hold the line!” he ordered, running back down the passage into a smaller room where he could just be seen fiddling with a bunch of keys in the lock of a large cage.

The front row of soldiers advanced slowly on the party. Elwanen, Fangorn, Cass, and Rangrim advanced to meet them. With battle cries in the air the two rows clashed. The hobgoblins were clearly experienced soldiers and held their phalanx under the onslaught of blows, while the adventurers, favouring the pursuit of solo heroics, swung great axes and mauls in huge arcs in an attempt to break the line with raw strength. The thick shields and heavy armour proved difficult to negotiate but it was Elwanen who claimed the first advantage, driving one of the phalanx fighters backwards several steps, whereupon he tumbled backwards into the well.

As the remaining adventurers entered the chamber a second wave of hobgoblins appeared from a side passage. The adventurers looked around and instructions were shouted. The first row of soldiers had begun to break, and the flail wielding lieutenants had stepped in to regain the line.

Theron, Des, and Sabbat Fau took to opposite corners of the room from where they were able to pick out targets for their blasting spells. Their fiery bolts and darts of energy proved difficult to dodge, causing the heavily armoured hobgoblins some concern as their comrades began to fall. Having appeared out of nowhere, Aran seemed to be able to navigate the battle with great ease, ducking and rolling into position and felling grunts here and there with swift blows from his scimitar and short sword.

The battle was now opening up. The ferocious swings of two handed weapons had succeeded in breaking the main phalanx, but as reinforcements entered the room smaller groups of hobgoblins quickly organised themselves into tightly locked formations.

At that point the adventurers noticed that the hobgoblin captain had finally opened the cage in the far room, and scuttling down the passageway came a huge black spider the size of a horse, its agile legs clambering wall to wall until it suddenly emerged into the guard room with alarming speed. The melee fighters in the party shouted warnings to each other and reassembled ready to engage this new unmeasured foe.

With a giant leap the spider sailed over their heads and landed next to Fangorn who was battling several grunts. Its dripping talons narrowly missed his bark as he swung around and landed his oaken maul solidly on the beasts thorax. The giant spider recoiled, rearing up on its 4 hind legs before plunging down again upon Fangorn. Busy fighting off the soldiers that had begun surrounding them, Elwanen, Cass, and Rangrim had difficulty reaching Fangorn. Theron stepped forward and conjured clouds of force daggers where the spider stood, forcing it to shift around the battle field, picking its way nimbly over the piles of dead and dying hobgoblins.

Meanwhile from the last side passage a large group of hobgoblins could be seen assembling. Several lieutenants followed by 6 grunts surveyed the battle planning where best they would strike. Seeing this Sabbat Fau stepped into the middle of the room where he had a clear view of the group, launching a blast of fire into their midsts. The explosion wiped out most of the grunts, spurring the remaining soldiers to charge into the room towards the warlock. Seeing this, Rangrim freed himself from the opponents he faced and charged across the room to meet the oncoming hobgoblins. Standing alone against many the brave dwarf battled fiercely, receiving many wounds.

Aran had now moved into position to attack the giant spider. Difficult as it was to get passed its stabbing mandibles, enough warriors now surrounded it that it suffered many blows. As green blood oozed from its body it once again sprang into the air, landing directly behind the retreating warlock. Des turned to a new page in his book and quoted from the musings of ancient thinkers. His words twisted in the air and lashed at the spider, who suddenly found its voice, screeching in pain.

The hobgoblin reinforcements were depleted and the adventurers finally felled the last of the soldiers, turning their attention to the injured spider. Amidst axe blow and sword strike the ferocious beast died surrounded by its enemies.

The adventurers looked around the aftermath of the battle, realising quickly that Rangrim was missing. Searching the bodies they found the dwarven paladin buried under a pile of slaughtered hobgoblins, he was near death and not even Des’ healing magic could save him.

“Take my hammer and strike down many enemies,” he whispered gasping for breath, “for I am bound now for the halls of Moradin the Maker.”

“And there they shall sing of your deeds, brave friend,” spoke Des.

Rangrim died there of many wounds. There was a grim silence amongst the adventurers. Suddenly, a small voice was heard from the doorway by which they had entered.

“If you will forgive the intrusion,” A halfling stood at the doorway wearing armour and carrying a large sword over his back. “I have been sent to warn you, Winterhaven is under attack!

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Zombies To The Left of Me, Zombies To The Right
Here I Am, Stuck In the Middle

Reacting quickly, the party leapt into action.

Cass stood firm, hefting her greataxe in her hands and blocking the southern corridor. Beside her, Aran swiftly shot two arrows down the corridor, both finding their marks and dropping two of the oncoming horde.

To the west, Fangorn charged forwards and bludgeoned another zombie with his maul, splattering it’s brains across the wall. Des moved centrally, trying to keep all his friends in view.

Elwanen acted impulsively as usual – teleporting a past the oncoming undead to engage the Underpriest directly. Sneering, the Underpriest stepped back and hurled a blot of shadow energy at him, and Elwanen was almost forced back a step from the impact, his shoulder burning where he was hit.

Theron chanted and placed a flaming sphere at the end of the north corridor, instantly immolating one lumbering opponent. Smiling to himself, he awaited the rest, confident he could keep them at bay.

The zombies, in turn, began to strike home. Two powerful brutes lumbered towards Cass, pummelling her with powerful fists. Behind them, she dimly saw the rotting corpses pull a glob of filth from themselves and hurl it towards her. Before she could dodge, she was hit twice. Crying out in pain, she realised that she could feel the filth starting to spread throughout her body, weakening her muscles. Her axe began to feel heavy in her hands.

Fangorn also suffered, as the Underpriest infused one zombie with shadow before it stepped up to him and battered him. The sound of it’s fists echoed off the walls as they crashed into his wooden form, and Des responded with an assault of his own – his psychic strike biting into it in return.

Zombies began to pour down the northern corridor, despite Theron’s spell taking down a few, and he was forced to back up a step to keep clear of them. Meanwhile, more zombies took advantage of Cass’ weakened state to press forwards on the south side, neatly trapping the party in the central room.

Aran hatched a quick plan. Drawing Fang and Talon, he sliced and diced at the zombie blocking the route to the south, calling upon Cass to help. She swung her axe in a huge blow, and with a final deft twist of a blade Aran took off it’s leg and it crashed to the floor. Grinning, Aran dodged past the other zombie and heading towards the rot-flinging pair that had stayed further back, seeking to draw fire away from Cass.

Des took a second to bolster Cass’ resolve, quietly urging her to continue, as Fangorn and Elwanen continued to battle to the west. Fangorn was striking out in great blows, shattering zombie bodies around him, but taking hits in return. Seeing that he could force a way past, he took off down the corridor as space opened up, trying to come around and join Aran in taking down the corruption courses that were working so hard to kill Cass.

The Underpriest and Elwanen continued to exchange taunts as they battled, but as Elwanen was distracted by another zombie coming in from his side the priest checked the situation and backed off down the corridor, calling behind him “You may have won this day, but my Lord Orcus shall still have your souls when you die!”

With Fangorn and Elwanen otherwise engaged, one large zombie was able to push through and engage Theron directly. Stepping forwards, it delivered a powerful blow to the Wizard’s chest, slamming him back against the wall. Theron gasped for breath and passed out on the floor, his flaming sphere disappearing too.

Fangorn also found himself in trouble, as the zombie he had pushed past followed him and similarly laid him low. A spot of light occoured as Des selflessly moved to support the fallen Treeforged, distracting the zombie from taking a final blow and issuing a Healing Word at distance to stop Fangorn from dying.

To the south, Aran obliterated one corruption corpse with a stunning display of swordwork, his blades dancing through the air. The other made room for itself and then launched another glob of foulness at him, but with a cheeky grin Aran activated the power of his new armour, taken from the Hobgoblin torturer and the attack was foiled.

Elwanen, despite triggering a magical rune and feeling panic course through him, resisted and beat down the zombie that had menaced Theron. However, this rune affected Cass much more severely and she fled down the corridor towards Aran. Happily, the effect wore up in time for her to join him in killing the second corruption corpse.

Des found himself on the receiving end of another slamming punch, which dropped him, but from behind the zombie Fangorn, revitalised, smashed his maul through it’s side and watched it collapse.

Carefully, the various members of the group checked around them. The walls and floor were covered with dismembered corpses, some twitching slightly as the remnants of the magic that had powered them left them. However, despite the desperate nature of the battle, none of the party had suffered any lasting wounds.

DM’s note: One Orcus Underpriest, 2 Corruption Corpses, 5 Zombies & 14 Zombie Minions – this was by far the toughest fight they’ve had to face.

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Zombies! Thousands of Them!
From THREE directions?

Returning to the outside of Sir Creegan’s tomb, Elwanen suggested that a rest be taken in the safe environment of the shrine to Bahamut. A consensus was quickly agreed, and with a watch pattern established the time passed quickly.

However, during the rest period, several members of the group complained of Bad Dreams...

Once all were rested and recovered, the group returned to the maze of corridors with the runes on the floor. Theron had previously confirmed that the runes were some sort of arcane trap. Carefully navigating over the first of the runes via a plank of wood and some cautious balancing, they moved down a short corridor to an intersection. There were exits to the west and south.

Straining his ears as he scouted ahead, Aran could hear a low moaning in the distance. Direction was difficult, however.

“Zombies…” he called out behind him. Taking the initiative, he hurled torches down both passageways, trying to expand the field of vision. However, this did not exactly have the required effect!

Slowly shuffling into view down the end of the south corridor were two vile creatures. Human-looking, their flesh oozed and dripped from them, and even at this distance Aran got a whiff of their stink. They were followed by several more zombies, and all began to shuffle towards the halfling and Cass, who had met up with the party a few minutes before. Turning to call a further warning, Aran realised that the moaning and shuffling he could hear didn’t just come from down the south corridor – but down the west, and more worryingly the north corridor as well! The party were surrounded on all sides.

Standing behind the zombies from the west was a human figure dressed in armour. His face was tatooed with a ram’s skull, and Elwanen instantly recognised the markings as signifying that he was an Underpriest of Orcus. Snarling, the Underpriest called out “Forward, my minions! Kill them, kill them all!”

Battle was swiftly joined.

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The Tomb of Sir Creegan
A Skeleton In The Closet

Standing in the dim light of the stone chamber the party could just make out a large stone sarcophagus at the far end. As they slowly entered the room they began to discern around the walls the iconography of Bahamut, Lord of Dragons. Here he was portrayed as the champion of justice, a noble leader of men who upheld the highest values of honour, self-sacrifice, and the pursuit of peace and goodwill. The ornate relief work showed the fluttering banners of well disciplined armies standing against a foul horde of chaos spilling forth from a gaping maw of darkness as the divine dragon looked on.

“Of course, Bahamut is no more a dragon than Moradin is a dwarf,” whispered Des, who had made a study of such imagery. “But such a noble form is fitting indeed for this godhead.”

Aran approached the sarcophagus cautiously, the flagstones seemed secure and evenly aligned, the stone work bore no traces of arcane inscription that his keen eyes could reveal, even the intricately worked dragons head that adorned the front of the stone case was free from slots from which arrows could fire out or grooves which might hide a poisoned scythe blade. “You can never be absolutely certain of such things,” he thought to himself. “But it pays to be careful.”

As the adventurers edged forwards the lid of the sarcophagus swung silently open. They jumped back as one, and in the half light the figure of an armoured knight arose.

“The Rift must never be reopened. State your business or prepare to die!” came an otherworldly voice, a sorrowful sound that lingered in the stale air as if it’s echo was trapped. The adventurers looked at each other. “Who speaks for you?”

There was a degree of discreet jostling amongst the group, and finally Elwanen found himself nudged a step closer than the others.

“Sir Elf,” came the voice again,” What business have you here so close to the dark heart?”

“We have come to close the rift, and we would seek your help, if you are indeed Sir Creegan, lord of the keep.”

“I was once that man, but I fell to the madness that seeps ever daily from the other side. It is no earthly place to which you venture near, and its influence claims all in the end. Linger not, for you will fall as once I did.” The apparition lifted its gaze as it studied the group, it’s baleful eyes full of remorse, it’s once strong face drawn with suffering.

Fangorn stepped up beside the Eladrin paladin. “Natural it may be not, but we are determined and resourceful folk. Long did I dwell in darkness before I saw the sun for the first time, and I swear by the soil from which I sprang that I would rid this place once and for all from evil, or die trying.”

“Brave words indeed tree-sprite. A stout heart will see you well, but it will take more by the end,” replied the revenant of Sir Creegan, “And what say you, Master Dwarf, who guides you on your path?”

“I follow Moradin the Maker, he teaches us that strength comes through justice, and that we will find the truth through our labours.”

“A worthy edict, your cause is just, but are you equipped to meet the arcane power that your enemies wield?” said Sir Creegan turning to the warlock. Sabbat Fau stood for a moment as if giving the question some thought.

“Yes.” He replied matter-of-factly. There was an uncomfortable pause.

Turning to Des, the ghostly apparition lowered his voice. “Your companions appear ill-chosen, word-spinner…”

Des cleared his throat, “…At first knowing [being what they are] my companions may oft appear a touch bereft in the arts of diplomacy [and this is not [I must underline] a failing on their parts, but simply [and factually speaking] a mere resultant of the gritty business to which they have [each and every one] so capably applied themselves, that business being [namely] the socially responsible and [ultimately] spiritually purifying pursuit of [if I may] that which is [by all right folk] commonly held to be the ‘good’].”

“Furthermore, we together [one and all] face a threat of malevolent Machiavellian machinations which would maliciously muster a menace that would make mice of meeker men [but we are not that]. Morality is our watchword, the paragons of virtue are our patrons, and you, good sir knight, would [if you view our cause as just] offer us your blessing.”

“Listen, it’s dangerous out there,” interjected Aran, “it’s nasty and the wilds are dark and sinister, full of kobolds and goblins, and nastiness far beyond either of those I’m sure. We are here to right this, and with your blessing we will make the land a place fit for good people once more. You should know that we have found descendants of the ancient lineage of Kaius not far from here in Linden Field, the dynasty lives on, there is hope!”

“Indeed,” pondered Sir Creegan. “That is welcome news. Now speak you wizard. Conclude our conversation.”

“…And I’m so bad with words,” confessed Theron. “You see, I operate on the theory that whatever trouble I fall into, I somehow fall out of. I’m hoping that somehow I may just fall out of this!”

“Then know this,” began Sir Creegan, “The vile taint of an evil power known as Orcus seeps through from beyond the rift. This being is as ancient as the world itself, and commands forces of evil beyond the power of any mortal.”

“This keep indeed stands on a gateway to the realm of Orcus, a land known as the Shadowfell. It was built to guard against the menace from beyond, and men such as I have lived and died here so that mankind should be safe.

“But the power of the Shadowfell is assiduous and lingering, dwell too long here and you shall all succumb, as have I, to it’s sinister lure. It will claim your mind and your friends will not know you from your foes.

“In life I was given to command this once strong garrison, but the Shadow found me in my dreams and turned me from my path. I heard the voices calling to me, a call I could not resist. They bade me work evil in the name of their master, and evil I did.

“I took the lives of my two children as they slept in their beds. I smiled as I squeezed the last breath from their lips. I carried them to the fire and cast them into it’s warm embrace, because… He wished it to be so.

“My captains fell to my blade because they knew me only as a friend. All but one, who escaped to warn the others. In life I had studied swordplay with great masters, and many worthy opponents had I bested, and when near twenty knights lay dead before me I was wounded gravely and forced back into the lower levels where I was trapped.

“There before the altar of Bahomet did I finally come to my senses. Knowing what I had done, I took my own life. Death came as a blessing, for the pain of a blade is nothing compared to the torment of the Shadowfell.

“If you are to succeed in this task you must be have steel in your hands and your hearts. This sword is named Aecris. It has taken many lives and it bears many regrets. It longs to right that which I have wronged, and whomever amongst you is best trained to wield may do so wih my blessing.

“Know also that Bahomet blesses you. These dragon tokens will aid you towards the end. Now go, and seek whatever end you are worthy of.”

And with that the tragic figure of Sir Creegan, Lord of the Keep on the Shadowfell, lay down in his tomb and was silent once more. The stone lid closed quietly and the room was still.

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Battling The Bones
Never Trust a Closed Scarcoughphagus

The party emerged into a long processional passageway, lined on either side with stone sarcophagi that reached from floor to ceiling. In the eerie flicker of torchlight they could make out relief carvings of noble warriors standing proudly, bearing swords and shields with the insignia of a dragon.

Aran was first into the passageway, ducking from corner to alcove, inspecting the stonework for traps. He was followed by the frontliners: Paladin’s Elwanen and Rangrim, who, as they passed tomb after tomb, curiously glanced at the imagery. Rangrim peered down the passage to the limit of his vision. “A welcome sense of good eminates here, I suspect there was once a shrine nearby.”

Next came Fangorn Treeforged, barbarian, looking slowly over both shoulders before planting himself at the nearer end of the passage, scratching some moss from his bark. Lastly came the backline: Theron the wizard, Des the Troubadour, and Fau the warlock, who was being shadowed by a wary-looking goblin, Splug.

The party had delved beyond the goblin’s lair, slaying handfuls of the creatures where they found them, before opening an ominous door where Balgron had warned lay undead. In fact Balthgron had gloated that lurking here were so many foul creatures that no adventurer would succeed in such an endeavour.

“Please sir, I think this is a bad place, we should perhaps find another way around..” implored Splug in Goblin, the goblin prisoner now beginning to regret his new-found freedom. Splug had attached himself to the grim Fau, who also was beginning to regret having granted such freedom. However, as the only person who spoke Goblin, it had fallen on him to make the decision to free the wretched little sneak, and now Splug seemed determined to repay his kindness.

“Stay close and stay silent, my minion,” stated Fau disaprovingly. By way of courage, Splug assured himself that as the guardian of the prison cell key he had a great responsibility, a task which he had been honoured with and would not fail at. Those goblins who had been subdued in the wake of the adventurers’ progress through the upper level of the keep had been deposited there. They had been clapped in irony, Splug considered as he chuckled under his breath.

The group slowly and cautiously progressed along the passage. Splug could just about hear some whispered warnings or instructions passed amongst the leading members of the advance. From his point of view there wasn’t much to see, the way ahead was hidden by the voluminous folds of the wizard, the lumbering bulk of the Treeforged, and then several hefty and heavily armoured paladins.

Suddenly the group came to an abrupt halt. From up ahead could be heard the halfling’s voice shouting something about a trap. There came a long, slow, teeth-jangling sound of stone grating against stone and the sarcophagi began to open. All along the passage the ancient stone crypt was coming to life.

A sound from behind him made Splug spin around in a panic. A gust of fetid wind issued from two new openings in the wall from where he had passed, and out of the darkness stepped a pair of skeletal warriors, each armed with a sword and shield bearing the dragon motif. Looking around with their skeletal grins they launched forward preparing to attack. Splunk screamed and dived into an alcove. The sound of clashing steel could be heard from ahead, from the sound of it the Eladrin and the Dwarf were battling more of these undead creatures. The adventurers were shouting, there came a dwarven battle cry, then a throaty roar that must have been Fangorn, followed by bashing, crashing and the splintering of bone, and on top of it all…was somebody singing?

From his alcove Splug could peer out just far enough to see the skeletal warriors come dashing past. Then came the spells. From where Theron and Fau must have been came a deafening roar of flame and thunder. The dark passage lit up for a fleeting moment in which Splunk could see a silhouetted montage of the battle before him, weapons raised in fury, fragments of bone and armour appeared to be suspended in the air, a spray of sparks where two swords struck one another, and then it was dark once more.

Amongst the deafening roar of the battle Splug could hear arcane words of power hurled into the darkness. Another burst of light lit Fangorn’s face as he swung his mighty maul overhead, illuminating the knotted grimaced expression he wore as sword blows bounced off his bark. Then it was dark, the sound of something, or someone, crashing to the floor and a cry of victory that must have been the eladrin. Somebody was still singing.

Splug suddenly became aware that he was gasping for breath. Looking this way and that he caught sight of another skeletons emerging from it’s tomb. He froze in place as it advanced down the passage towards the melee. “By Maglubyet’s hairy toe, are you a goblin or a gamuzlyphlet?” he swore at himself, braced himself to charge out, and then suddenly thought better of it. The skeleton marched quickly past him.

Peering out Splug could see the skeleton making it’s way through the melee towards Fau, who stood calmly in the center of the battle. With his lank hair covering his face and trailing along the ground it wasn’t easy to tell which way the warlock was facing, but from the direction that the bolts of fire were flying in he seemed to be unaware of the advancing skeletal warrior. The creature lifted its sword ready to strike. Somebody was still singing. “This is it, Splug!” he gasped to himself, “It’s now or never, if you don’t act now the one who freed you will perish!”

Splug launched himself out of his hiding place and dived through the melee. He ducked a skeletons sword swing, and rolled next to a sarcophagus, which opened and released another skeleton. Fangorn waded past screaming, nearly stepping on the goblin to whom he was completely oblivious. The treeforged grabbed the skeleton in one hand, lifted it into the air and swung his maul with the other, cleaving the creatures head off.

Splug darted forward finding himself next to Theron. The blue skinned wizard was mustering blasts of roaring thunder and darts of dark energy, hurling them over the heads of battling figures around him. As Splunk ran past Theron swung around poised to unleash a ball of spitting force that he had molded in his hand. “Damn goblin!” the wizard cursed and, turning away, flung the ball of energy into a crowd of skeletons nearby.

Splug ducked past the wizard and suddenly realised he had placed himself between the two paladins, who were fighting back to back against numerous opponents. The dwarf twisted to avoid a blow and barged into the goblin, sending him sprawling across the damp stone floor. Picking himself up he caught sight of Aran leaping over the head of a skeleton, whirling round and taking it’s legs away with a scimitar.

Splug had lost his bearings. He panicked in the darkness as the sound of screaming and fighting filled the close air. Somebody was still singing, and now it was right in his ear. Des the orange haired tiefling reached down and picked the goblin up, placing him upright on his feet. “If you fall, I will catch you, i’ll be waiting…” he was singing with a remarkably true voice.

“Thank you very much!” said Splug with a salute. Beyond a group of fiercely battling warriors he glimpsed Fau and the approaching skeleton. “Nearly there! Nearly there!” he shouted. Diving across the floor he skidded on his belly across the flagstones, through the legs of two skeletons who narrowly missed him with sword thrusts. Rolling to his feet he rose immediately behind his skeletal quarry who was poised to strike down the warlock from behind. With a cry he swung his sword upwards, cleaving the skeletons pelvis and ribcage, sending it’s remains clattering to the floor in heap.

Oblivious, Fau blasted the two skeletons he faced into dust. Further behind him in the darkness Splug could just make out the paladins carving up the last of the terrible creatures. As suddenly as it had begun, the battle was over. Splug collapsed against one of the sarcophagi, gasping for breath while the party inspected the area until they were satisfied that the threat had passed.

“Come quickly minion, for we are away,” ordered the warlock. “Next time stay close.”

The adventurers found themselves in what appeared to be a shrine to Baphomet, lord of dragons, mighty and noble god of goodliness and order. Rangrim offered a prayer at the altar, and as he did so the air changed. It was as if the crypt was not quite as dark and foreboding as it had been when they had entered. At the far end of the passage stood a pair of large stone doors. The dragon-headed symbol of Bahomet could be seen emblazoned across the two doors.

Fangorn stepped forward and heaved the doors open. The party stepped cautiously into a large room. A single sarcophagus stood at the far side and all around were the carvings and trappings of a shrine to Bahamut. The doors they had stepped through slammed shut, and the sarcophagus slowly began to open…

“Oh,” thought Splug to himself. “Here we go again.”

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Meeting Splug
A New Goblin Friend

There came a faint whimper from one of the cells off the torture chamber.

Fau the warlock and Aran the halfling approached the cage while the rest of the party looted the dead bodies.

“What a foul and miserable creature,” declared Aran in pity as he gazed upon the wretched goblin that clung to the bars, apparently pleading.

“D..D…Dug dug durga durga!”

“What’s that? They locked you up for gambling?” translated Sabbat Fau. “You actually hate all the other goblins and will serve us loyally if we free you?”

“Durga durga!” confirmed the goblin with a nod. Aran and Fau looked at each other for a moment.

“Let him out, what harm can he do now?” said Fau. Aran seemed to agree.

The party had gathered once again under the spreading boughs of Fangorn the tree creature to discuss what to do next. There was the bright orange haired tiefling, Des, an orator by trade, although tricky indeed he was to pidgeonhole. Next to him pondered the blue skinned wizard Theron. Human he was by birth but one wondered what his many dabblings in the wondrous world of the arcane had done to him over the years.

Then there stood Elwanen, the battle scarred eladrin paladin of Pelor, who had just finished scraping the last pieces of goblin innards off his armour. Then there was Rangrim the dwarven paladin of Moradin, a taciturn and steadfast warrior. Joining them, all silhouetted against the roaring blaze of the torturers fire pit, came Sabbat Fau the human warlock, as unhealthy looking and morose as ever, Aran the young halfling ranger with a spring in his step, and, curiously, a raggedy looking goblin.

“Gentlemen, this is Splug!” said Aran, cheerfully.

“Shall we slay the wretch now or do you want me to torture it for information first?” asked Elwanen bluntly. Sabbat blinked.

“Well, actually he’s been quite a decent chap and says he will map the keep as we go, so I thought we could keep him around for a while,” he replied.

“Got into trouble with some gambling debts, owes the rest of the nest so much money he’s actually relieved to see US!” added the halfling. “And besides, we all know my map skills aren’t up to much.”

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A Villainous Interlude
In Which Kalarel Hatches a Plan

The Underpriest nervously entered the domain of his master. Kalarel had a volatile temper at the best of times, and since learning that Agrid the Gnome had found an Arcane Mirror at the Dragon Tomb, and then lost it to this same group that had now entered the Keep itself he had been difficult to approach.

“What is it?” issued the voice from the gloom of the small chamber. Straining his eyes, the Underpriest saw Kalarel stood looking through the ritual book again. Standing tall and dressed in armour, Kalarel was an imposing figure. His clay homunculous hovered nearby, chittering quietly to itself.

“My Lord, our spy has confirmed that the adventurers have broken both the local kobolds and now the goblins in the upper level,” responded the Underpriest. “They seem to have spared a few goblins – they might make useful undead later – but have now entered Sir Creegans tomb.”

“What?” roared Kalarel in a fury. In a second, he had crossed the room and gripped the Underpriest by the throat. “By Orcus’ Wand, you bring me this news now? Soon I shall perform the final part of the ritual and the Gate will open! This group cannot be allowed to interfere with that. Tell me, o faithful servant,” Kalarel’s voice dripped with venom. “What exactly are you going to do to stop them?”

“Uh…my Lord, if I may speak?” gasped the man, scrabbling at Kalarel’s gauntleted fist as it closed around his neck. Dismissively, Kalarel pushed him away and gestured for him to continue.

“The hobgoblins need to stay as a reserve force, my Lord,” stated the Underpriest. “But I have instructed our spy to put the plan to attack Winterhaven into action, serving as a useful distraction. I also require permission to fortify the zombie guards on the first level with reinforcements.”

“Wise moves,” returned Kalarel, a small smile forming on his face. “But I have an additional thought. You yourself will join the zombies on the first level. Engage only from a distance, get the measure of these…adventurers…and report back to me. I shall be waiting to hear from you. Dismissed.”

The Underpriest bowed and departed, his mind whirring with plans. The zombies were unlikely to defeat their foes by themselves, but with a little extra help…

An idea forming in his head, the Underpriest made his way to the prisoners, the words of the ritual to begin their transformation already forming on his lips. He would have to work fast – Sir Cregan’s guards would likely not hold them long.

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