The Tide of Shadows - Chapter 16

Adventure Date: November 3, 2012 - Weekend of Glory II

Last Updated: April 25, 2013

Tide of Shadows – Log #16 Time Out of Mind

The night passed uneventfully, but was not particularly restful.  The forest pressed down on them, an oppressive force that never relented.  The canopy was so dense that the sun’s rays never quite pierced through – there was a never-ending darkness that weighed heavily on the soul.  Nerves that were already tense were drawn to their breaking point.

The Shadow Stalkers broke camp silently, not feeling the need to talk after the events of the previous evening.  They looked at each other wearily, uncertain where each of them stood.  Before they could continue their trek, a shriek of agony ripped through the air.

As one, they moved forward, searching, scanning for the source of the screams, they moved cautiously – this trap had worked once on them before in this accursed forest.  Despite the feelings of misgiving within the party, they instinctively assumed a defensive posture, providing protection to each other.  Shribryn seemed to disappear from sight as she shifted from shadow to shadow.  Opening a vial, she quietly drank its contents.  An invisible, protective field formed around her as she continued to stalk forward.

Soon, the source of the painful cries was spotted.  A dwarf was suspended from a tree near the forest trail from a large net.  Raven moved forward and spoke soothingly to the dwarf.  “Calm yourself.  We are here to help you.”  The dwarf ceased his screaming – he seemed to come out of a daze and turned his gaze towards Raven.

“He seems to have strange wounds,” Pelias commented.  Without thinking, Pelias moved towards the dwarf to treat his wounds.  As he stepped just underneath the net that trapped the dwarf, he felt a burning sensation creeping up his legs.  Looking down, Pelias was shocked to see the forest floor come to life and begin to wrap itself around his legs.  An acrid stench rose up as pain lanced through his legs.

The dwarf seemed to come fully to his senses.  “It’s a trap!”  With a violent wrench, Pelias was thrown prone as a translucent sludge covered in dead vegetation wrapped itself around his body.  The vegetation’s grip tightened as it tried to smother Pelias.  An emaciated humanoid stepped out from behind a gnarled tree.  With mottled brown and green skin, it almost looks like it was covered in tree bark.  Its limbs were unnaturally long and thin, and ended in long, curved talons.  The most disturbing aspect was its head – it was roughly human-shaped, but its face was that of a handsome elven man.  Its mouth and eyes were cold, dark gashes that flickered with tiny motes of light.  It seemed to enjoy hearing Pelias’ screams of agony.  With a grin, it seemed to melt back into the forest and disappear from sight.

Kat had been scouting behind the group to ensure that nothing was sneaking up on them.  Hearing Pelias’ cries of pain, she darted forward.  When she saw reached the party, she just caught sight of the strange humanoid fading into the forest background.  Immediately, she understood the danger they were in – a murderjack!  Then she spotted Pelias.  The mulcher, a forest ooze, continued to wrap itself around Pelias.  Taking to the trees, Kat kept to the middle heights, scurrying along with the sure-footedness of a rope walker.  Using her cover, she cocked her hand-crossbow and scanned the forest for any sign of the mad fey.

Blasts of flame erupted as Pelias tried to burn his tormentors, but it was in vain.  Crawling towards his companions, the ooze continued to wrap itself tightly around him, his skin blistering from its caustic touch.

Even as the others moved forward to help Pelias, the murderjack stepped out from behind another tree and pointed at the group.  Ska’arr’s thoughts became addled.  Not knowing who is enemies were, he lashed out with his chain and struck at Ro-Lund-Do, tearing at his flesh.  Ska’arr was not the only one affected by the murderjack’s magical attack.  Baron Longtooth’s thoughts seemed to flit about, enraging the bear.  With a roar, Baron Longtooth rushed forward at what he thought was an enemy and ran headlong into a tree, knocking himself senseless.

The net holding the dwarf swung crazily from the impact of the bear on the tree.  “Hang on!” Raven yelled as she threw a dagger.  The rope holding the net was suddenly cut as the net was swinging out towards another tree.  The dwarf desperately caught hold of a branch and clung with all his strength.  Having freed the dwarf, Raven focused on the dangerous situation they were in.  Time to even the odds.  Closing her eyes, a mist rose out of the earth, obscuring the vision of their enemies.

Kat caught sight of a murderjack emerging from the trunk of a tree.  Taking careful aim, her bolt flew true and pierced the side of the murderjack.  A brown ichor oozed from the wound.  Ducking back behind the trunk, she reloaded her crossbow.  Suddenly, Kat heard a rustling sound behind her.  Too late, she turned to spy a second murderjack behind her.  A feeling of panic welled up inside of her – an unnatural and overwhelming fear.  Dropping her crossbow, she drew her dagger, swinging wildly to keep her opponent away.  Losing her footing, she tumbled backwards, just managing to catch a lower branch and somersault safely to the ground below.  Though her opponent was out of sight, the fear stayed with her.

The dwarf saw the harm the fey were causing and a rage built up inside of him.  Grasping the small, silver warhammer that hung from his neck, he called forth the power of his deity.  “O Moradin, smite my enemies!”  A ghostly warhammer appeared beside one of the murderjacks and struck it a terrible blow.  Whirling around, the murderjack hissed in frustration and began melting back into the forest again.

A blast of flame dropped into the ooze, searing it.  Flopping around, the ooze hissed as it burned, releasing a horrid stench.  Pelias pulled himself upright.  He was a sorry sight to behold – his body was battered and blistered, like it had been partially digested.  With a groan, he shuffled over to lean against a tree.  Though he wished to heal himself, there was no time – there were enemies still around.  Sending his thoughts out, he sought to find the hidden enemy so he could burn it to a crisp.

Scuro smiled to himself.  Thank you, Raven.  You provide the cover I so desperately needed.  Taking advantage of the mist, Scuro began to incant.  A black cloud rushed upward, like steam hissing out of the gates of Baator.  The shadow swirled about, turning and coiling, and took form.  Hundreds of rats emerged from the shadowy cloud, their hot red eyes gleaming with hunger.  A mental command was given and the swarm of rats rushed towards a murderjack, their yellow razor teeth sinking into it.

His mind still addled, Ska’arr could only react and was unable to think clearly.  An offensive odor reached him and he rushed forward and struck at the source of the stench.  Globs of burning ooze were flung all about as his chain tore through the mulcher.    Feeling small claws gripping his shoulder, Ska’arr reached over his shoulder and gripped Lord Faragut.  As he begun to squeeze, he was tackled from behind by Baron Longtooth.  Over and over the three tumbled as each tried to pummel the other.

“You mustn’t fight amongst yourselves!”  The dwarf dropped down from his perch in the tree, but his legs gave out from underneath him.  Too weak from his ordeal, he leaned heavily against the trunk of the tree, desperately trying to focus his energies enough to remove the madness overtaking the others.

Scuro looked down on Pelias as he crawled pitifully towards him, the mulcher digesting Pelias bit by bit.  Where is your righteousness now?  Suddenly, Pelias looked up past Scuro’s shoulder, fear painted clearly on his face.  A wave of terror and panic washed over Scuro as he and Pelias fought back the mental demons that now haunted them.  The murderjack stepped back into the tree and disappeared from sight.

The murderjacks jumped back and forth from the scene of battle, striking swiftly.  Panic waxed and waned within the group as they sought to anticipate where the next attack would come from.  Pulling Pelias free from the mulcher, Ska’arr swung his chain down – the mulcher’s guts flew all about as it sank back down into the soil.

The murderjacks looked on impassively and stepped into the trees again.  The silence that followed provided no respite.  As the mindless panic wore off, wounds were bound quickly with magic – the enemy could still be about.

The dwarf hobbled towards the party.  “My thanks.  I am Thraor Orcbane, cleric of Vergadain, the Merchant King.”  Thraor tapped his heart and forehead in benediction.  “My companions and I had entered the forest seeking adventure when we were set upon by the denizens of this forest.  I was capture and the rest were slaughtered.”  A look of sorrow was quickly replaced with rage.  “I would avenge my brethren.  Please help me retrieve my items from those fey and I will provide my strength to your cause.  What say you?”

Ska’arr placed his hand on Thraor’s shoulder.  “Your cause is just.  We will help.”  Scuro hid his scowl.  This is not your decision to make.  But he let the moment of anger pass.  His moment of glory approached and all this would be an inconsequential memory.

Suddenly, the murderjacks appeared on either side of the group.  Their claws slashing, they moved as one.  As quickly as the murderjacks struck, the Shadow Stalkers struck back.  A ball of flame engulfed one of the murderjacks.  Writhing in agony, the murderjack spun around and around, trying to extinguish the fire that would not die.  The shrieking faded as the murderjack curled up into a blackened ball of smoking flesh and died.  Pelias’ smile was grim.

The other murderjack, seeing the fate of its companion, leapt for the nearest tree and vanished from sight.  “After it!”  Ska’arr ran recklessly forward, scanning the trees for any sign of the murderjack.  Kat moved up to the tree where the murderjack had last appeared and searched it for any signs of the murderjack’s location.

Surprisingly, the tree trunk proved to be hollow.  Carefully reaching in, Kat pulled out a backpack and other adventuring equipment.  Glancing down, she saw that the backpack was embroidered with an eye-twisting pattern.  As she looked more closely, she saw a gold coin hidden cleverly within the pattern.  God of tricks and treasure indeed.  Turning to Thraor, she said, “I believe these belong to you.”

Thraor’s face split into a great grin.  Clutching his equipment to him, he quickly dressed in his battle gear.  Skar’arr and the others returned.  They had found no sign of the other murderjack, but they presumed they had frightened it away.  As Thraor was attaching a large number weapons about his body, Kat chatted casually.

“So, do you know much about Kryptgarden Forest?” she asked.

Thraor glanced sharply at Kat – a she could see that he was assessing her and the others in his mind.  Shaking his head, with a wry grin, he reached into his backpack.  Pulling out a flask, Thraor took a long pull.  Belching, he replied, “Yes.  A cemetery lies down the path, but it is warded.  For any to truly see it and enter, you need to see through the eyes of Hanseath.”  He tossed the flask to Kat.  “Drink deeply and know what Hanseath knows.”  Kat smiled and winked as she drank deeply of the dwarven ale.  Thraor looked on as Kat consumed a surprising amount of the liquor.

As she finished her drink, Thraor said to Kat, “You knew of this cemetery.  I see that you have with you flasks.  I assume they are filled with Hanseath’s holy water.”  Kat nodded.  “I do not know what you seek, but I only wish to search for the grave of one of my ancestors.  I will not interfere with your quest, as long as you seek not to harm any of the All-Father’s children.”  Kat nodded again in agreement.

Continuing down the path, Pelias drank from his flask and felt euphoric.  Up ahead, the forest opened up.  In the clearing, they saw a ruined landscape.  Among the trees, crumbling lines of stone marked where great walls once stood, but now, all was in ruin.  Near the back of the clearing, a broken domelike structure, built of gigantic blocks of a peculiar ironlike green stone, overlooking the area.  It seemed incredible that mortal hands could have shaped and placed these gargantuan stones.  Uncertain as to what to expect from the cemetery, they were dismayed by what they saw – all was in a state of collapse and entropy.  If there had been a tome sacred to Moradin, it had long since disintegrated.

Pelias moved forward to see what was holding up the group.  Ahead, he saw a great dark green wall with a great archway leading within.  Beyond the archway, magnificent buildings – the expertise required to have built them astonished him.  This was beyond any stonecraft he had ever seen.  In awe, Pelias began to push past the others to more closely examine the exquisite craftsmanship.  “It’s amazing.”

Raven was jostled as Pelias rushed towards the broken archway.  She barely heard him whisper to himself, “It’s perfect!”  On instinct alone, she reacted.  Running a few feet, she leapt and flipped over Pelias.  Landing in front of him, she tackled Pelias to the ground as he struggled in vain to reach the broken archway.  Placing him in a painful restraining, hold, she turned to the others to help her.

Not caring about the injury he caused himself, Pelias thrashed around violently, his eyes mad with hate and desire.  Amazingly, he started to slip out of Raven’s grip.  Fortunately, Ska’arr added his considerable bulk and brawn to the fray.  In short order, Pelias was immobile.

“What is it, Pelias?” Shribryn asked.  “What is it you see?”

For a brief moment, Pelias seemed to focus on Shribryn’s voice.  “The buildings, they’re so beautiful!”  Confused, Shribryn looked to the others.  “Maybe he’s been enchanted.”

Raven approached the archway and opened her mystic third eye.  Suddenly, a cascading rainbow of colors overran her mind.  Clutching her head in agony, she fell over backwards as she finally managed to close her mind to the magic around her.  Whatever else it was, the cemetery was a focus for mighty magic.

Thraor rushed forward and helped the stunned Raven back to her feet.  Opening his mind and heart, he sought out any evil in the region.  A dark pall hung over the cemetery, cold and infinitely evil.  The gloom threatened to crush his mind and spirit.  Screaming in terror, Thraor tried to flee but tripped on a gnarled root.  Seeking the calm within himself, he closed off his otherworldly senses and sought to dispel the fear that threatened to overwhelm him.

As he finally came back to his senses, Thraor saw the others around him, pinning him to the ground.  Pelias was still bound securely, crying piteously as he tried to reach the cemetery.

The group reassembled further back along the trail, out of sight of the cemetery, and discussed their options.  Placing a gag in Pelias’ mouth, they quietly whispered to themselves.  Raven looked about.  Where is Ro-Lund-Do? she wondered.  He had seemed unusually pale and quiet.  She decided to go in search of him.

Raven wandered quietly into the spectral twilight towards the ruins, knowing somehow she was heading in the right direction.  She found Ro-Lund-Do sitting on the stump of an old tree, staring intently at the ruins and muttering to himself.  “Could it be a portal to the past?  Could it be used to visit that which has already occurred?  Could it be used to change the now?”

He shook his head from side to side angrily.  “Silence!”  Raven took a startled step back.  Had she been detected?  No.  Ro-Lund-Do continued to mutter to himself.  “It is the past moving forward, touching the present, but only in a limited capacity.  It will not serve my purpose.”  Raven was taken aback.  Ro-Lund-Do’s voice had changed dramatically.  There was a new note of power, and something else – his voice was cold and ancient.

Suddenly, Ro-Lund-Do turned his head slightly.  “How can I help you, Raven?”  His voice had returned to normal – irritating and arrogant.  Again though, Raven was taken aback.  How did he know I was here?

Clearing her throat, she replied, “The others discuss our next step.  You should be there.”

Nodding in agreement, Ro-Lund-Do stood and turned away from the ruins.  Raven shivered and followed behind.  As they rejoined the others, the group had decided on resting to renew themselves.  Too much of their resources had been spent just reaching the ruins, and it seemed suicidal to just enter them unprepared.  Placing a gag

As the evening progressed, Pelias began to calm down.  A sense of sanity returned to his eyes.  Removing the gag, he asked, “Why am I tied up and gagged?”

Kat giggled.  “That’s what she said!”  Everyone shared a brief chuckle.  Untying Pelias, they explained what had happened.  Pelias was incredulous.  “I did what?”  Returning to the ruins, they watched Pelias closely in case he tried to make another mad dash to the ruins, but their worries were unfounded.  To Pelias, the ruins seemed to be just that – ruins.  The entrancing attraction, the amazing architecture, none of it was there.

Impulsively, Ska’arr stepped through the archway.  Nothing happened.  “What was different between yesterday and today?” Shribryn asked.

Thraor answered.  “We all lack the eyes of Hanseath.”  Drinking deeply, Thraor’s eyes began to glaze over.  Following his example, the others began to drink as well.  As the alcohol spread warmly throughout their bodies, a new sense of well-being spread as well.  The landscape began to change, but they all paid it no-mind.  The skies took on a purplish hue and the area glowed with a spectral light.  Their vision blurred and suddenly, they could see the dark green wall surrounding the cemetery and the buildings within.  With childish smiles, they casually strolled through the archway into the dwarven cemetery.

Blades of grass stood silently, no wind caused them to sway.  Bushes, perfectly trimmed and groomed grew all about.  Several tombs could be seen dotting the cemetery.  Guarding the cemetery and tombs were statues of dwarves.  Thraor cried out.  Running up to the first statue, he recognized the All-Father peering down at him, judging him.  Tears sprang from his eyes.  He whispered to himself.  “My companions died all around me.  I led them to their dooms.  Moradin, give me strength to avenge Your fallen children.  That is all I ask.”  Bowing his head in supplication, he then turned back to the others.

“This is a holy place.”  Thraor’s voice was filled with reverence.  “We must treat it as such.  I know not why you are here but your actions show you to be of noble intent.  As long as you do not move against dwarvenkind, I will aid you.”  His gaze swept the group.  “This place has fallen to evil.  It has been corrupted.  I will cleanse it with the blood of the evil that has defiled it.”  Thraor’s voice was hard and certain.

“We fight for a worthy cause.  We seek a holy relic – the Tome of Moradin.”  Ska’arr explained.  “We would return it to the dwarves in Triboar to aid in the conflict against the orcs and other marauders in the region.”

Thraor nodded in agreement.  “A worthy cause.  Let us begin.”

The tombs were built with incredible care.  Dwarven-made, they were simple in structure but they were so beautifully made they required no embellishments.  The door to the first tomb was unlocked and opened up into a large open room.  An altar stood at the back of the room, while braziers and candelabras glowed faintly throughout.

Baron Longtooth edged forward in the lead beside Ska’arr, sniffing the ground.  Suddenly, he sat back on his haunches, a look of confusion upon his face.  What appeared to be a slightly darker stain on the floor flowed forward and lashed out at Ska’arr!

Spooked, Baron Longtooth turned tail and fled.  Fortunately, the others managed to dodge aside as the bear barreled past.  Hearing Ska’arr’s warning shout, they saw a dark gray pseudopod reach out and try to wrap around Ska’arr’s leg.  Ska’arr’s skin burned and he could smell the caustic fluid dripping from the ooze.  In a panic, he lashed down with his chain, tearing the pseudopod off the main body.  Freed from the deadly embrace, Ska’arr assumed a more defensive position.  Whistling sharply, Lord Farragut’s head popped out from within Ska’arr’s backpack.  Making several clicking sounds, Lord Farragut leapt off of Ska’arr’s shoulder and raced after Baron Longtooth.  Giving a slight sigh, Ska’arr’s companion thought to himself, Why do I get to calm a giant, panicked bear?

Kat and Pelias rushed forward as Lord Farragut skipped passed them.  A dagger struck deeply into the ooze.  The ooze began to flow around the dagger, trying to engulf it when it suddenly tore itself loose and flew back to Kat’s hand.  A ball of flame erupted around the ooze and it began to burn brightly.  Within seconds, only an oily ash was left behind.

As Shribryn moved to enter the tomb, she heard the gentle padding of a foot to her left.  Twirling quickly, her unseeing eyes flickered with power as a cone of flame erupted from her outstretched hands.  A copse of shrubs burned, the flames licking out hungrily, but nothing else.  “We have trouble!”

As the others turned, waves of unseen power washed over them.  Thoughts, ideas, disjointed and chaotic threatened to overwhelm their minds.  Through sheer will, they managed to push these invading thoughts out.  Almost everyone.  Thraor’s mouth hung open, drool rolling down his chin.  His mind, unable to handle the mental invasion, did the only thing it could do to protect itself – shut down.

“A little help!” Shribryn cried out.  She stepped into the shadow of a nearby statue and seemed to fold in on herself, becoming like a shadow herself.  Invisible, she strained her senses to find their hidden assailant.  Pelias and Ro-Lund-Do called upon their deities to provide holy support for the group.

Unrolling a scroll, Pelias read it quickly as he placed his hand on Thraor’s forehead.  In an instant, the vacant look in Thraor’s eyes left.  Shaking his head of the remaining cobwebs, he drew forth his sword with an angry curse.

The party spread out but could find no signs of whoever, or whatever, had attacked them.  Pelias closed his eyes as his mind flitted free of the confinement of his body.  Searching for other minds, unfamiliar minds, he found nothing in the vicinity.  Strange.  What attacked us?

Before he could continue the train of thought, Kat signalled to the others.  As she had been searching for signs of their enemy, she had found that one of the stones near the tomb was slightly loose.  Prying it up slightly, she saw that the stone hid a spiralling staircase that led below the surface.

Kat grinned.  “Since we can’t find our friend, let’s not worry about him.  Or her.  Or it.”

Shribryn grinned as well.  “Out of sight, out of mind.”

Ro-Lund-Do sighed.  “As long as I don’t have to clean up your messes afterwards.”  Kat stuck out her tongue.  Their scans of the area were fruitless – their enemy was gone or too well hidden.

Leaving his animal companions to watch for any signs of danger, Ska’arr took the lead down the staircase.  Immediately, his nostrils were assaulted by the stench of rot and decay.  At the base of the staircase, the hallway was partially filled with disgusting, stagnant water.  A rusted, circular door blocked their passage.  Turning to Kat, Ska’arr smiled.  “After you.”

Kat grumbled.  The water rose up to her waist and reeked.  Little bits of something floated about, turning her stomach.  As she stepped towards the door, she felt a slight shift in the stone beneath her foot.  A high pitched hissing noise screeched into the room.  Uh oh!  Ducking down below the surface of the water, Kat held her breath as she saw the air above ignite.  As quickly as it had appeared, the flames winked out.  Standing up, she gasped – it would take weeks for her to get rid of the smell!

Looking back at Ska’arr, Kat could see his look of concern.  As soon as she resurfaced, stinky but unscathed, his look changed from concern to one of slight amusement.  “Nicely done.”  Kat’s eyes threw daggers.  Approaching the circular door, she scanned it carefully for any other traps, but found none.

Trying to open the door, Kat found that the door was jammed – probably rusted close due to the water.  Turning to Ska’arr, she said, “After you.”

Ska’arr stepped forward and gripped the handles of the door.  With a loud screech, the door opened, revealing a large room with a square pillar in the center.  Water flowed from within the room towards the hallway.  The water came from the spout in the form of a gargoyle’s head – the water moved sluggishly but at a constant rate.  Several doors dotted the walls of the room.  Stepping out of the stagnant water, Ska’arr entered the room.

Scuro was conflicted.  As Ska’arr had opened the circular door, he had scanned surreptitiously for any undead.  They were in a tomb after all.  On the other side of the door had been several strong auras of undead – Ska’arr was stepping into a trap.  But if Scuro were to warn him, they might begin to suspect his true nature.  Better to let them slug it out and rescue them.  It will “earn” their good will without revealing my true power.

As Ska’arr stepped forward, several axes struck at him.  The axes deflected off his armor but pushed him back, almost into the hallway.  With an indignant cry, Thraor rushed forward, his holy symbol held high.  He saw that someone had corrupted these dwarves and turned them into their undead slaves.  I will free you.  Holy energy spread forth, striking the dwarven skeletons.  Realizing their true state, the skeletons turned and fled, cowering in revulsion.  “Please, end their suffering.”

Ska’arr’s chain lashed down, crushing a skeleton.  Kat’s blades quickly disassembled another.  In short order, the skeletons were all down.  Searching for any further traps and finding none, they began to open the other doors.  As Shribryn opened a door, she felt a slight vibration on the other side.  Tumbling back, a large club narrowly missed crushing her skull.  A giant, two-headed skeleton stepped out of the room and swung at Shribryn again.  Behind the skeletal ettin, three small, rat-like skeletons scrambled out.

Raven spotted the club swinging down at Shribryn and reacted instantaneously.  Leaping forward, she tumbled between the skeletal ettin’s legs and came up in a crouch.  Her foot lashed out and struck the ettin in the kneecap, shattering it.  Falling to one knee, Ska’arr’s chain struck again and again.  Chunks of the ettin flew wide as its body shattered underneath the impact.

Scuro’s eyes lit up.  The skeletal rat-like creatures, the tomb motes, would be perfect as spies.  He saw a chance to his menagerie.  Scuro’s unholy aura flared out, surrounding the tomb motes and overwhelming them.  As one, they stopped and turned to their new master.  That proved to be a costly mistake.

Ska’arr’s chain crushed the first mote, as Thraor’s longsword struck the other two motes, destroying them.  As they mopped up the undead, Kat searched the room where the skeletal ettin and tomb motes had emerged.  With a quick search, she found a small box with 200 gp, three flasks, two vials, and an hourglass.  The last was curious.  Why was this here?

Pelias quickly scanned the items and found them to be non-magical.  A quick test showed they were 2 flasks of acid, a flask of alchemist’s fire, a vial of holy water and a vial of unholy water.

“There’s got to be more treasure than this!” Kat complained.

As Thraor began to respond, Ska’arr’s eyes widened in horror.  “Lord Farragut and Baron Longtooth are in danger!”