Adventure Date: July 18, 2014
Last Updated: August 29, 2014
Tide of Shadows Log #21 – For Whom the Bell Tolls
Shribryn shook her head. After visiting the Gypsy Queen’s hovel with Ska’arr, they had found it completely empty. Even the stones of the fireplace were cool to the touch – the hovel had not been occupied in a while. Ska’arr and Shribryn wanted to explain how the Eye of the Dragon got taken by an ethereal filcher, but now they seemed to have a chance to reclaim the gem without having to tell the Gypsy Queen. But her absence bothered Shribryn. I wonder where the Gypsy Queen has disappeared to? Ska’arr and Shribryn headed back to the Triboar Arms to meet with the others.
Kat had been out exploring more of Triboar, gathering information. She noticed right away that she had to push her way through the crowd. The population in Triboar seemed to have grown quickly in the time her and her allies had been gone. Peasants, ruffians, and street urchins abounded.
Kat tugged on the arm of one of the peasants. The peasant closed his hand upon his satchel protectively and looked about. Looking down, he finally caught sight of the little gnome. “What do you want?”
Rather rude. Kat had decided not to pick his pocket out of respect. Now she changed her mind. Putting on her most pleasant expression, she began to talk softly. “I seem to have gotten myself lost in the crowd. Could you tell me where the Talking Troll is?”
The peasant bent down to hear Kat more clearly. “How should I know?” the peasant said scathingly. “I’m new here in Triboar. Why don’t you go bother someone else?”
Kat frowned. “You’re right. I haven’t seen you around here before. It seems there are so many people about in Triboar nowadays. I wonder why that is?”
The peasant’s tone became bitter. “Probably for the same reason I’m here – for protection. Wild beasts and undead have been lurking about in the area. They’ve been attacking farms and people. It’s no longer safe to be outside Triboar’s walls. When I found my neighbour’s farm demolished, I packed up my things and made my way here as quickly as possible.”
Kat’s hand stopped. She had locked gazes with the peasant and been stealthily moving her hand towards his satchel to acquire a new item. Disturbed by what she heard, she quickly thanked the peasant and headed towards the Triboar Arms.
As she got close to the Triboar Arms, the flash of a silver coin caught her attention. Looking over, a nondescript peasant tucked the silver coin away and caught Kat’s gaze. Quickly, she made a sequence of symbols with her hand that Kat recognized immediately. In a circular manner, Kat made her way to her contact. As she passed the peasant, she slipped a folded sheet of paper into Kat’s hand.
Continuing as if nothing happened, Kat turned into an alley. Scanning the area, she opened the note. Hmmm. A meeting at the Talking Troll two nights hence at midnight. Guess I’ll be busy that night. Humming a little tune, Kat stepped into the Triboar Arms.
The front door of Belig’s house burst open, throwing Belig to the floor. Scuro calmly walked through the opening and looked coldly at the fallen dwarf. Belig had bit down on his tongue when the door smashed into him. Tasting the coppery fluid in his mouth, he spat his blood on the floor. The dwarf’s tone was sardonic. “I see your endeavour wasn’t completely successful, Ro-Lund-Do.”
Scuro’s silver eyes flared. The door slammed shut. His tone left no illusion to Belig’s fate if he failed to placate Scuro. “I have not the patience for platitudes, Deathdelver. Information that I had thought private between us has managed to reach those who would bury me.”
Scuro’s shadow rose up and stalked towards the dwarf. Belig’s eyes widened with terror. “I..I..don’t know what you...urrk!” Belig’s voice was cut off as the shadow clutched him by the throat and lifted him clear off the ground.
“Do not dissemble, Deathdelver.” The shadow’s grip began to crush the dwarf’s throat. “I am not pleased. Who is Lady Jaluth Alaerth?”
Belig’s eyes popped out even further. His mouth opened, but no sound came out. Suddenly, the grip on his throat released, dropping Belig back down to the floor. Gasping for air, Belig managed to cough out, “Why...do you...seek her out?”
“You do not need to know that. You only need to know that I am seeking her out.” Scuro raised his hand and the shadow moved forward once more. “Now tell me everything that you know.”
Belig began to babble. “While in Triboar, she resides at the Everwyvern House. Gondyl Ilitheeum is the owner of the house. It is where merchants and nobles can hire elegant escorts at a steep price. It is also rumored that, for the right price, you can get any form of contraband you desire. Drugs. Slaves. Whatever you wish you can have if there is enough coin in your purse.” Belig’s voice trailed off. “This is all I know. I swear it.”
Scuro nodded. “I believe you.” Scuro turned to leave. “If you would continue to be in my good graces, you will find out everything you can about Lady Alaerth and the Everwyvern House in a discrete manner.” Without another word, Scuro opened the door and left.
Heading to Everwyvern House, Ro-Lund-Do knocked politely on the door. A small slot opened up and elvish eyes stared at Ro-Lund-Do with disdain. “State your business.” The elfess’ voice was melodic and had a slight lilt to it.
Ro-Lund-Do’s smile did not reach his eyes. “I have a meeting with Lady Alaerth.”
The elfess attendant didn’t even blink. “And who might you be?”
Scuro was getting tired of the delay. He was tempted to blast the door down and be done with it. Patience. We will get more information if we are pleasant about things. You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar. “I am Ro-Lund-Do, a cleric of Aman-Ra.”
The attendant sneered. “Are you one of those heroes?”
Ro-Lund-Do’s tone was terse. “No. I am not a fool. Now take me to Lady Alaerth.” Scuro chuckled. What happened to being pleasant?
“You don’t have an appointment. You can come see a nice girl in....ummm...a fortnight.” The slot slammed shut.
Scuro was furious. Turning, he slowly walked away and made his way back to Belig. As he arrived at Belig’s house, Scuro saw Belig examining his damaged front door. Belig spotted Ro-Lund-Do and saw that his mood had not improved.
“How can I be of service, Ro-Lund-Do?” Belig’s attempt at easing the tension failed.
“I was rejected by the doorman at the Everwyvern House.”
Belig could feel his stomach turn cold. “I...I thought you knew. You need an appointment to enter the Everwyvern House.”
“Does it sound like I knew this?” Scuro’s arm shot up.
“Wait. Wait. Wait.” Belig cringed. “I will set up an appointment for you and bribe the doorman to ensure you get to see Lady Alaerth.”
“See to it immediately.” Scuro walked back into Belig’s house and began to pour himself some wine.
Belig dashed to the Everwyvern House to set up the appointment for Ro-Lund-Do. A short time later, Belig returned, breathless. “It is done. Your appointment is for two days hence at midnight.”
Scuro stood up from his seat. “Two days hence?”
“It was the earliest appointment that was available,” Belig whimpered. “I paid a hefty price to get you the earliest time when the Lady Alaerth was available.”
Scuro smiled. “You have done well.” Draining his cup, Scuro gave Belig a final reminder. “Find out as much as you can about the Lady Alaerth and the Everwyvern House. Succeed, and I will shower you in treasure. Fail...Well, you don’t want to do that.” Belig’s heart skipped a beat. Scuro headed to the Triboar Arms to organize his underlings.
Pelias had been sitting in his rooms studying his tomes on the dwarven pantheon. The books were scattered haphazardly and rested precariously on top of each other. He was still puzzled how a place sacred to Moradin could be corrupted so badly. He was also concerned about the other spirit that had infected Lord Farragut. A spirit should not have been able to enter into Lord Farragut’s being during a sacred ritual of revival.
A gentle knock at his door drew Pelias from his tomes. “Who is it?”
A muffled voice could be heard on the other side of the door. “I bring a message from Belros Songsteel.”
Pelias opened the door. A young cleric of Tempus stood before him. “Please, come in.” As he said that, Pelias’ tomes toppled over.
Hiding a smile, the cleric said, “No need, Master Hadrathus.” The cleric handed Pelias a note. “I will leave you to your studies.”
Pelias closed the door and examined the note. It was an invitation to meet with the Battle Chaplain of Tempus at Foehammer’s Altar. The meeting was in two nights at midnight. Hmmm. That’s an odd time to meet.
Raven was intrigued. She had never seen Ska’arr nervous before. Except when there were vermin. But this was different. He almost seemed self-conscious. She walked beside Ska’arr as they made their way to Gwaeron’s Slumber. “Raven, I would be...happy if you would accompany me to see a very holy place.” Raven smiled at the memory.
The forest was thick about them and there didn’t seem to be any paths. “Are you sure you know where you are going?” Raven asked good-naturedly.
Ska’arr grinned, but his expression soon turned serious. “I have been here once, when I was first initiated as a ranger.” The forest parted before them and they saw an elf dressed in gray-green clothes, a bow strapped to his back and a shortsword at his hip.
Ska’arr stepped forward. “These creatures attacking the area, are they normal animals, werecreatures or evil creatures?”
Raven smacked Ska’arr in the back of the head. “Polite people introduce themselves first.” The elf smiled. Turning to the ranger, Raven introduced them both. “I am Raven Battlestar, Mistress of the Northwind. And my companion is Ska’arr. I hope we haven’t offended.”
The elf laughed a little. “Well met, Mistress of the Northwind. I recognize Master Ska’arr.” He bowed in a formal manner. “I do not have the answers to your questions, Master Ska’arr, but if you proceed this way, there will be someone who will be able to help you.” The elf waved towards a path neither Stalkers had noticed, indicating they should follow it.
Thanking the elf, Ska’arr and Raven walked down the path. Within a short time, they found themselves within a grove, surrounded by beautiful trees. The trees were large, spreading outward like oaks, but the trees were definitely not oak. The leaves of the trees were small and bladelike, shaped as rounded arrow points. The leaves were green on the topside and yellow on the bottom, and they quaked in the slight breeze. The bark of the trees was smooth and black, and the thick roots dove deep into the soil. Ska’arr and Raven were mesmerized by the scene before them.
“The nemeton trees are a wonder to behold.” Ska’arr and Raven jumped at the sudden sound of the voice. A man had seemed to have appeared beside them, though they had not heard his approach. His clothes were a dark grayish green that would have faded into leaf or shadow, and his cloak swirled through shades of gray and green and brown as it shifted in the breeze. The cloak almost seemed to disappear at times, fading into whatever lay beyond it. His hair was long and white, held back from his face by a narrow band of leather. His face was made from stony planes and angles, weathered but unlined despite the white of his hair. The stranger continued. “The wood of the nemeton tree is golden, the grain dense, and it seems to have a natural sheen, as if it contained an oil, though it does not burn. It is a precious lumber and rarely found.”
The man smiled. “Forgive me. I forget my manners sometimes when I tread within this grove. Welcome to Gwaeron’s Slumber. How may I be of service?”
Ska’arr and Raven introduced themselves. Ska’arr’s expression turned more serious. “Can you tell us of the creatures attacking this region?”
The man frowned. “Conflict rages across the land. Wargs, trolls, ogres, orcs, undead. They all fight in a ceaseless battle for supremacy. Alliances are made and broken just as quickly. How this will turn out, none know. Only the innocents suffer.”
At the mention of humanoids, Raven perked up. “Were there any symbols or sigils on the orcs or any of the others?”
“Some of the orcs bear a symbol of an eye split by a bolt of lightning.” Ska’arr and Raven looked at each other. Memories of the orc citadel were still fresh in their minds. “These orcs seem to be the most active and organized. And vicious.”
Ska’arr scratched Lord Farragut beneath his chin. “What types of undead are present? Are there any corrupted elementals?”
The man shook his head. “There seem to be many variations of undead, but none of the corrupted elementals.”
Ska’arr seemed relieved. “Where can we find the orcs and undead? Are they more active in certain areas?”
The man grew pensive. “Unfortunately, I do not know which regions they are localized in. Though they are fighting amongst themselves, the undead and orcs are connected. Your silver eyed friend may be the key to solving both problems.” Ska’arr and Raven were shocked. Ro-Lund-Do? What does he have to do with this? Raven’s blood began to seethe. Though they had just met, Ska’arr and Raven felt they could trust this strange man.
“You have given us much to think about,” Raven said. “Thank you. May we have the honor of hearing your name?”
The man smiled. “Please stay and enjoy the grove. You must be very tired after all your long travels.” Ska’arr and Raven both suddenly felt very sleepy. Laying down, they quickly dozed off. The man looked down on their resting forms. “Your trials are far from over. You will sacrifice much for the benefit of others. Whatever blessings I have, I will provide.” Kneeling down beside Ska’arr and Raven, he passed his hands over their resting bodies. His hands began to glow, which was soon matched by a glow that surrounded the two sleeping forms.
A short time later, Ska’arr and Raven awoke. Refreshed, they stood up. “A strange place to fall asleep.” Raven commented.
“True,” Ska’arr replied, “but I have never felt so safe and rejuvenated.” Raven nodded her agreement. Ska’arr knelt down. “A note left by our benefactor?” Opening it up, the symbols were incomprehensible to him.
Passing the note to Raven, she found the writing equally perplexing. “Let’s bring this to Pelias. He may have a better understanding of this. And let us investigate Ro-Lund-Do to see what connection he has to the orcs and undead. No need for him or the others to know this yet. Not until we learn more.” Ska’arr agreed reluctantly. Giving silent thanks for the respite, Ska’arr and Raven headed back towards the Triboar Arms.
Reaching the Triboar Arms, Ska’arr and Raven found the others waiting for them. Shribryn walked up to Raven and passed her a note. “We got a message while you were out.” Opening the note, it was an invitation to meet with the silk merchant, Gracecaryn Sandtracker, in two days at midnight.
Ska’arr addressed the group. “Raven and I have learned of some valuable information.” Ska’arr relayed what they had learned, but he omitted the last bit about their ‘silver eyed friend’.
Raven passed the note they had received in the grove to Pelias. “Can you decipher this? We got this under strange circumstances in Gwaeron’s Slumber and it may prove important.”
Pelias read the note and smiled. “It says: ‘Though you are not of my flock, accept my gift for all your existence on this plane’. Followers of Gwaeron Windstrom have been known to being blessed by the deity. Usually He gifts his followers with his ability to track the north wind for a specific task. I believe the Master of Tracking has given you a more permanent blessing.” Raven smiled.
“I will set up a meeting with Faurael Blackhammer to determine our best course of action,” Ska’arr said.
“As long as it isn’t at midnight in two days,” Pelias replied. “I am meeting Battle Chaplain Belros Strongsteel to discuss current events.”
“Wait, what?” Kat had been about to make a joke about having better things to do in two days time, but Pelias comment caught her off guard. “You have a meeting at midnight in two days? So do I.”
“As well as Shribryn and myself,” Raven added. “We are meeting Gracecaryn Sandtracker the silk merchant.”
“How about you, Ro-Lund-Do?” Shribryn asked.
Do not reveal too much. It is too much coincidence, but they do not need to know your purpose. “I was going to visit the Everwyvern House.” The others chuckled knowingly. Ro-Lund-Do blushed. Yes, assume that I have fallen to your level and let my base needs take over. How wrong you all are, fools.
“This is strange,” Kat said. “All of us are being scattered around Triboar. I don’t think it is a good idea to be separated.”
“How were the invitations given?” Scuro asked.
“We were all given our invitations by intermediaries, not by the people we are supposed to meet,” Raven mused.
“It could mean nothing,” Shribryn piped in. “They are, after all, the social elite in Triboar. They would have delegated handing out invitations to their underlings.” She frowned. “But the similar dates and times are troubling.”
“It is too much of a coincidence,” Ska’arr said. “I believe someone seeks to trap us.”
“If so,” Ro-Lund-Do replied, “then staying in one location would be the height of folly. Let us move about so we are harder to trace.”
Standing up, the Shadow Stalkers left the tavern. Walking out, the number of people in Triboar once more surprised them, but now it held a more sinister tone. Ska’arr began scanning the crowd for magical auras, seeing if anyone was hidden behind a false face to trick them. From what he could see, everyone in the crowd seemed to be who they were supposed to be. Kat and Shribryn fell back from the group and scanned the crowd. No one seemed to be following them.
Regrouping, they continued their discussion in a hushed tone.
“So what do we do?” Raven asked sarcastically.
“We go to our designated meetings,” Pelias replied. The others looked at him quizzically. “We do not know who is targeting us so we need to draw out our enemies. If we go as a group to any of the meetings, our enemy will know that they are discovered and change tactics. And they may be more clever next time when setting their traps. Plus we have some advantages at this stage. We are within the walls of Triboar. We should be relatively safe from a massive attack. We are walking into the trap hoping to spring it, so we will not be caught unawares. And finally, I trust in our abilities to extricate ourselves from the situation as needed. We have faced a horde of orcs, the undead and many other perils and won through. This will be no different.”
The others nodded. “Fine,” Kat quipped, “but if we get killed, I will have a stern talking with you afterwards.” Pelias smiled. Agreeing to meet back at the Talking Troll once their meetings were complete, they continued with their daily business, checking to see how their commissions were going, meeting and chatting with various people, until the appointed time of their meetings. Under the light of a QUARTER MOON, the Shadow Stalkers headed out from the Triboar Arms and went their separate ways.
Kat walked down the middle of the street. She was heading to the Talking Troll to meet her contact, but her nerves were on edge. Even though it was close to midnight, there were still crowds of people about, though they were much thinner. As she looked about, she saw that two men dressed as militia had stepped out of separate alleys and then began walking parallel to her. Uh oh.
Quickstepping to the right, she turned and faced her pursuers. “Hello, boys.” Behind her, she heard a spellcaster intoning the words to a spell. Suddenly, the form of one of the attackers in front of her was wreathed in blue flames. Ah crap.
Summoning a burst of flame behind the non-blue attacker, she startled him, causing him to turn to see what was behind him. This left a nice opening for Kat as she leaped forward, her shortsword slashing. Her sword tore a deep rent in the attacker’s side, but he didn’t even flinch. Refocusing on Kat, he pressed the attack. Fists and feet flew at Kat. Though unarmed, she had seen what Raven was capable of with her bare hands and Kat was a little scared. Fending off multiple strikes, Kat tumbled backwards out of the reach of her two attackers. Her left arm and her right side stung from where she had been hit. I am going to have some serious words with Pelias.
Twisting about, her feet seemed a blur as she dashed between the two startled swordsmen. They both lashed down on her, scoring four more solid hits, when suddenly, Kat just seemed to disappear. Perplexed, they looked about for the vanished gnome.
The spellcaster ran forward pointing towards the alleyway. “Fools! She is over there! Go get her!” Kat was surprised and a little worried that the spell caster could see her invisible form. I am going to give Pelias a definite earful!
Dashing away, she heard the spellcaster lash out. “You idiots! You were supposed to catch that one! What are we supposed to tell the mistress?” They were supposed to capture me? This does not bode well for the others. I hope they are doing better than me. Running past people, she made her way to the Talking Troll and safety.
Raven and Shribryn
Raven and Shribryn made their way to the market to meet with Gracecaryn Sandtracker. Shribryn held Raven’s shoulder, pretending to be led by Raven. As her feet touched the ground, she could feel the minute vibrations travelling along the earth caused by other people. She noticed quite quickly that a pair of humans within the crowd was moving towards them from behind. Squeezing Raven’s shoulder, she whispered, “We’ve got company.”
Raven’s reply was full of disdain. “I saw them too. They aren’t even being subtle about their approach. They’re dressed as militia, but I think they have other things on their minds other than protecting Triboar. Shall we greet them accordingly?” Shribryn smiled. Suddenly, they heard a spellcaster and they realized the situation was very serious.
The first attacker was wreathed in blue flames and charged Raven. Spinning, Raven’s foot lashed out and would have decapitated her opponent if it had landed. Her opponent slid on his knees and threw his own devastating punch towards Raven’s exposed abdomen. In a blink of an eye, Raven’s body morphed into that of a powerful hawk. Her adversary’s blow missed cleanly as Raven’s wings beat forcefully, launching her high into the sky.
Shribryn had lashed out with her chain, but her opponent dodged it easily. Thinking he had an easy target, he was surprised to see Shribryn grinning. With a wave, she flicked out of sight.
Raven’s muscles clenched and nearly seized up – she recognized the Hold Person spell. Forcing her body to move, she saw the spellcaster below. He shouted at his two companions. “Go after the invisible one! I’ll handle the flying one!” Raven knew that they were at a disadvantage. Time to leave.
Shribryn suddenly appeared beside the two warriors. “Miss me, boys?” Gouts of flame engulfed the two as Shribryn winked out of sight once more. Raven could see that the spellcaster’s gaze was following Shribryn and he seemed ready to cast another spell. Summoning the forces of nature, dark clouds formed overhead. Drawing forth the potential within the clouds, Raven struck down at the spellcaster and her burning companions. To Raven’s dismay, the lightning never seemed to quite reach the spellcaster. He shrugged them off as if they were of no consequence. Definitely time to leave. Knowing that Shribryn was safely away, Raven winged her way towards the Talking Troll to meet the others.
As Shribryn rounded a corner, she heard the spellcaster yell at his companions, “This was supposed to be easy! What are we going to say?” Huh. Food for thought.
Pelias was heading towards the gates leading to the Altar of Foehammer outside of town. As he approached the gates, he saw two men dressed as militia step out from the shadows and head directly towards him. Only two? This will be a walk in the park. Then he heard the incanting. Pelias recognized the spell immediately. Wait a minute! That’s a necromantic spell meant to bolster the undead. Suddenly, one of the militia burst into blue flames. Oh crap. Kat is going to be giving me one hell of a lecture tonight. I hate it when she says ‘I told you so’... With that, Pelias cast his own spell quickly, summoning multiple images of himself, and braced for the undead assault.
Just as the undead closed with Pelias, from behind, a mass of strong, sticky strands landed on Pelias and his attackers, trapping them. Though the webs almost knocked Pelias to the ground, the undead were not hindered by them at all.
Four solid blows seemed to catch Pelias, but as each connected, one of his images dissolved. With only two images left, Pelias cast desperately. Suddenly, a ball of fire engulfed the undead and burned the web away. Badly scorched by the incinerated web, Pelias was free, but hardly out of danger.
The spellcaster began incanting again. Before Pelias could stop him, the spellcaster brought up his hand and a black ray leapt from his finger. Pelias twisted at the last moment, leaving himself open to several painful blows from the undead, but it was better than the alternative. If the ray had hit him, he would have been drained of all his stamina and collapsed to the ground. Drawing in holy energy, Pelias quickly knit his wounds and made a mad dash back towards the Talking Troll. The undead tried to catch up to him, but Pelias sent his images running in other directions, distracting his pursuers enough to escape their clutches. That was too close. Time to rethink our strategy.
You know that this is a trap. Ro-Lund-Do bade Scuro to be quiet. Before he knew what was happening, a protective field surrounded Ro-Lund-Do. You can thank me later for that. Now let us see Lady Alaerth and be done with this.
Gathering his wits, Ro-Lund-Do continued to the Everwyvern House. Without thinking, Ro-Lund-Do instinctively assumed a relaxed, almost arrogant, walking stance. His back straight but with every muscle loose, it was as if he hung from a wire at the top of his head.
Knocking on the door, the slot opened almost immediately. Familiar elvish eyes peered at him. Almost immediately, the door opened. With hand over heart, the elfess dipped her head and greeted Ro-Lund-Do. “Welcome to the Everwyvern House. You are expected, my Lord.” The elfess grinned. She was beautiful and taller than average. Her robe accentuated her curves and hinted at delights hidden beneath the folds. The interior of the building was decorated with fine art and statuettes on pedestals, and the air had a hint of jasmine. The walls were made of smoothed granite – a rare sight this far north.
Scuro looked at the elfess and wanted to wipe the smirk off of her face, but held back. “Thank you. I would see Lady Alaerth immediately.” Ro-Lund-Do stepped in and walked past the elfess.
The elfess closed the door and Ro-Lund-Do heard a distinct clicking noise as the door locked itself. Bidding Ro-Lund-Do to follow, the elfess led him to a door down the hall. “Please wait in this antechamber as I notify Lady Alearth of your arrival.” Opening the door, Ro-Lund-Do saw that it was a large room adorned quite elegantly. A single divan sat near the back of the room. Beautiful floor-to-ceiling paintings covered two of the walls while the third had a large mirror hanging from it. Candles burned in small sconces, providing gentle illumination. A delicate pitcher rested on a small table by the divan with two crystal goblets.
Leading Ro-Lund-Do into the room, the elfess waved at the divan. “Please, rest and help yourself to the wine while you wait. Lady Alearth will be along shortly.” With that, the elfess gently closed the door as she left.
The trap will be sprung shortly. Scuro closed his eyes, preparing for what was to come. Extending his essence, he began to feel the life forces around him. The door opened and two young women entered. Both were exquisite in their beauty. One was of human descent while the other was definitely of elf stock. Their silken gowns were tantalizing. Closing the door, the young human lady spoke. “We’ve been asked to entertain you until the Lady appears.” They glided forward towards Ro-Lund-Do.
“Tell me your stories.” Ro-Lund-Do was so mesmerized by the way the women moved that he almost didn’t hear Scuro’s warning. They are undead! The women suddenly leaped at Ro-Lund-Do, looks of hunger painted on their faces.
Ro-Lund-Do acted on instinct. Activating the magic within his boots, he stepped from within the room to the other side of the door. When he appeared, he startled a young male elf. Recovering quickly, the elf bared his fangs. Vampire! Ro-Lund-Do ran past the vampire and headed to the front door. The vampire began to incant and Scuro knew that it was creating a stone barrier to stop him. Then, the door to the antechamber was thrown open and the undead elfess lunged for his throat. These are poor odds.
Activating his boots once more, Ro-Lund-Do teleported himself outside of the Everwyvern House. Looking back, he saw that the front door had been blocked by a large stone wall. They had meant to trap him and slaughter him at their leisure. Scuro’s eyes smoldered. Belig has some questions to answer. He headed towards the Six Windows, Belig’s favorite watering hole.
Ska’arr headed to the Tower of the Lord Protector to meet with Faurael Blackhammer. Arriving at the tower, Ska’arr was let in by a pair of guards. Ascending the tower, Ska’arr reached the top level. Knocking on the iron-bound door, a deep voice responded. “Enter.” Opening the door, Ska’arr entered Lord Blackhammer’s domain.
The entire level was simply designed. A large table sat in the middle of the room, maps organized on its surface. High backed chairs ranged around the table. A simple bed rested in the corner with a large chest sitting at the foot of the bed.
Faurael Blackhammer stood by the table, examining one of the maps. He was a large man, in the twilight of his life but still filled with strength and energy. Wearing a simple tunic and breeches, his face and arms were criss-crossed with numerous scars.
Ska’arr opened his mind and surreptitiously examined Lord Blackhammer for magical auras. Surprisingly, he found none emanating from the Lord Protector of Triboar.
Lord Blackhammer straightened. “Thank you for coming. I have need of the services of you and the other Shadow Stalkers. I will be blunt. The situation is grim. With so many refugees entering into Triboar, we cannot sustain them all.” Ska’arr was surprised to hear that. “Oh, we could house them for now, but once the winter comes, we will run out of supplies and then be faced with a slow and agonizing death by starvation.”
Lord Blackhammer turned back towards the map he was examining. It was a layout of the orcs’ attacks in the region around Triboar. “The incursions from the orcs are particularly troubling. They seem to be very well organized and determined. Usually, after we rout a group of them, it breaks their spirit and they leave us. But now, the orcs are attacking in a dogged manner, nipping and gnawing away at our heels from multiple angles until we drop. Then they will have us.”
Lord Blackhammer’s fist slammed down on the table. “I need you and your friends to help root out the evil that is rallying the orcs. I know about your various exploits in the area. I found your credentials very impressive. The manner in which you overcame the defenses of the orc citadel and removed the plague on our water supply is widely known and respected. And the help you gave Ghelryn Foehammer is greatly admired. He asked me again to thank you for returning the Tome of Moradin back to his people, a sacred artifact that they had thought was lost to them.”
Ska’arr bowed. “We will rout the orcs and crush the evil that is agitating them.” Ska’arr stepped closer to the map. “Do you have any indication where the orcs are based? We have inquired at Gwaeron’s Slumber, but we got little in terms of the source of the problem.”
Lord Blackhammer shook his head. “The Twelve and the rest of the militia have been forced to stay close to Triboar to defend the population. They have had no time to scout the area and pinpoint the orcs’ base or determine who is agitating them.”
Ska’arr examined the map some more, but could discern no patterns to the orcs’ activities. “We will find out and deal with it. You have my word.”
Leaving the tower, Ska’arr noticed mists swirling all about. Fog has come in. But the conditions aren’t right... Missing the slight scuffing of boots within the mist, Ska’arr was almost knocked prone by a flying kick. Staggered, he saw that he faced two assailants, dressed as militia, and that one of them was covered in flickering blue flames.
Summoning a floating shield of force in front of himself, Ska’arr quickly drew his chain. Still slightly addled by the kick, he jerked the chain too hard, causing the loose end to smack him in the back of the head, tearing his scalp and addling his mind some more.
Chanting behind him caused Ska’arr to turn slightly. A robed man had stepped out of the mist and Ska’arr felt his muscles clench and begin to seize up. Fighting past the spasms that wracked his body, Ska’arr saw the look of surprise on the attackers’ faces as they tried to punch him. Each of their strikes seemed to hit an invisible, unbreakable barrier as Ska’arr’s magical shield of force intercepted each strike.
Outnumbered, Ska’arr summoned more of his innate magical ability. Suddenly, his body began to expand rapidly. Another kick struck his leg, but he was beyond noticing. The arcanist cast another spell on Ska’arr, and all at once, Ska’arr’s thoughts became scattered. Ska’arr clutched his head and bent over as he began to shrink back down to normal size. Focusing, he forced the arcanist out of his mind, ending his mental turmoil.
Continuing to grow, Ska’arr lashed down on the arcanist. His mind was still shaken by the confusion spell and Ska’arr missed the arcanist cleanly. Two kicks to the back of his left leg caused Ska’arr to stumble and fall to one knee. It is time to go. Leaping into the air, he caught himself with his magic and flew away as quickly as possible back to the Talking Troll.
Kat arrived first at the Talking Troll. Looking about, she saw a shadowy figure seated in the back of the tavern signal her. Cruain. Approaching, Kat took a seat beside him. “Why are you late?”
Kat was annoyed. “What? Not even a ‘Hello’, or a hug and kiss?” Seeing no sympathy in Cruain’s expression, Kat continued. “I was accosted and thus delayed.”
Cruain pursed his lips. “Perhaps I have overestimated you. Did you see who attacked you?”
Kat rolled up her left sleeve and showed one of her injuries. The skin was blue and purple mixed with a sickly green colour. It was not a normal bruise. “I got attacked by two men dressed as militia. One of them glowed with a fiery blue aura. And there was also a spellcaster who tried to foil my escape.”
Cruain’s eyes narrowed to slits. Muttering under his breath, Kat was positive she heard, “That Snakeface bitch.” Speaking louder, Cruain addressed Kat. “I called you here to tell you that you were going to do me a favour. Instead, I’ll do you a favour. The person who caused you grief is found in the Everwyvern House. She is known to some as the Snakeface Mistress.” Cruain’s expression darkened. “To the rest of Triboar, she calls herself Lady Jaluth Alaerth. She is dangerous. She dabbles in necromancy and toys with chaotic powers. Triboar suffers from a plague of undead. It is limiting trade and causing an increase in patrols. Both are bad for business. The undead need to be stopped.” Cruain’s expression left no doubt in Kat’s mind as to what he meant.
Looking around to see that no one was watching, Kat reached into her pouch and handed Cruain three items beneath the table. Cruain slipped them into his pouch without glancing at them. Standing up to leave, Cruain whispered, “Thank you, young one.” Her business done, Kat headed to the bar to order some ale to dull her pain.
Cruain pulled open the door and held it open to let Raven in the Talking Troll. Nodding her thanks to him, Cruain left. Raven spotted Kat at the bar. Taking the mug from Kat’s hand, Raven said, “We need our wits about us. Shribryn and I were ambushed and had to beat a hasty retreat.” With that, Raven drained the mug.
“I know,” Kat snapped back. “I was ambushed as well.” Concern crossed Kat’s face. “Wait. Where’s Shribryn?”
Raven ordered another ale for herself. “She went to the Triboar Arms to ask about the silk merchant we were supposed to meet.” Raven drained the next mug. “My concern is that the rest of our companions are not accounted for.”
Kat’s eyes widened. “Good point. Shall we go searching, you and I?” Hopping off her seat, she made for the door.
Raven hadn’t moved. “Not yet. Let’s give them some time. Pelias brought up a good point. We have weathered many challenges and we should trust in the abilities of the others. Plus, I want to exchange notes on who attacked us. They seemed well prepared and organized.”
Kat returned to the bar and sat beside Raven once more. “I learned a few things tonight and you are not going to like what you hear.”
Shribryn arrived invisibly at the Triboar Arms without incident. Approaching the bar, she heard Tristan MacGuffin’s voice. Seating herself, she ordered a glass of wine. Passing three copper coins to Tristan, she nonchalantly asked, “Have you seen Gracecaryn Sandtracker? We were supposed to meet her tonight, but we seemed to have missed each other.”
Tristan shrugged, and then remembered that Shribryn was blind. Clearing his throat, he said, “The silk merchant? She was here earlier in the evening, but then she left an hour or so before midnight. Said she had an important meeting. Sorry.”
Shribryn smiled and gave her thanks. So it seems the silk merchant was actually going to meet her and Raven. As Shribryn got up to leave, she heard several drunk patrons mocking another. “I swear. There was this giant flying over Triboar! We should tell the militia! This could be part of an attack!” The others laughed out loud and told their drunk friend to stop telling outrageous stories. With that, Shribryn headed towards the Talking Troll to meet the others.
At the Six Windows, Scuro pushed the door open. Scanning the room, he quickly found Belig at the bar. Belig turned when he heard footsteps approaching and nearly swallowed his tongue when he saw the expression on Ro-Lund-Do’s face. “Master Ro-Lund-Do! How did your meeting go?”
Ro-Lund-Do tossed coins on the bar to pay for Belig’s drinks. “Come with me.” Leaving the Six Windows, they headed to Belig’s home. “I want to talk with you where there are less people watching.”
Belig nearly fainted. He stammered, “My...my...my contacts in the Deathdelvers s-s-s-said that she would b-b-be there.”
Scuro turned sharply on Belig. Belig cringed further. “I was attacked. Was this your way of removing me from your life?” Belig began to shake violently. He tried to nod his head, but he seemed to be just twitching spasmodically. Scuro continued. “You seek the secrets of undeath. Perhaps I will show you them first hand.”
Belig fell to his knees. When he was able to talk, Belig’s voice came out in a hoarse whisper. “Mercy. Please. The Lady Alaerth has been known to test those who want her help. She is a hard woman. No one knows her very well.”
Scuro snorted, but considered carefully what Belig was saying. Seeing that he wasn’t going to be immediately slain, Belig gained some confidence. “To show you my good faith, I will go with you next time you meet with her. If you feel I have plotted against you, you can strike me down then and there.”
“Stand up,” Scuro snarled. “Those who serve me should not be so wretched.”
Continuing to Belig’s home, Belig felt more confident that his life was no longer in danger. “There is a good chance that your...allies were also tested tonight. If I may be so bold to say that, if your allies have failed their tests tonight, you could demonstrate the secrets of undeath on them and raise up a powerful army.”
Scuro looked down at Belig and Belig thought that he had gone too far. Scuro smiled. “All in good time.” His expression hardened once more. “I do not like surprises. Gather information on Lady Alaerth. I will see you tomorrow morning. Do not disappoint me.” With that, Ro-Lund-Do left Belig and headed to the Talking Troll to see which of his minions still lived.
Reaching the Talking Troll, Ro-Lund-Do found that everyone else had returned safely, though in different states of injury. Setting up at a table, they quietly discussed what they had encountered. They were all shocked by Kat’s information on the Lady Jaluth Alaerth and her alter ego, Mistress Snakeface.
Scuro smiled. This serves my purpose well. The others turned when Ro-Lund-Do coughed. “That Lady Alaerth is dangerous is certain. That she also seems unstable is upsetting. But we do not know enough about her or the situation to act decisively. More information was needed. I propose that we investigate the Everwyvern House to find a way to get to her.” These fools will take me to where I need. And once there, I will have my chance to have words with this Lady Alaerth.
Raven saw Ro-Lund-Do’s smug grin. The smirk on his face finally made her lose her temper. “You seek to distract us from our true purpose. I do not think that Lady Alaerth is the true source of the undead in the region. I think it is you.”
The others were shocked and dismayed by Raven’s tone. Ro-Lund-Do’s face became livid. “By what right do you have to accuse me of raising the undead?”
Raven wouldn’t back down. “We know that you are the key to the problem. We know you are the key to the undead rising.”
Scuro sneered. “Who told you such outlandish lies?”
Raven’s tone was cold. “Gwaeron Windstrom.”
Scuro was rocked back on his heels. This was an unexpected set-back. He hadn’t anticipated interference from the gods until his plans had progressed much further. And by that time, it would be too late. This caused problems. Time for a new tactic. Ro-Lund-Do’s expression became pensive. “I...don’t how I am the key to the problem. I am surprised that a god would name me such. He must be misinformed.” Ro-Lund-Do turned to the others. His voice took on a pleading tone. “You have seen me. You have seen what I have done to help you, to help Triboar. I have fought beside you, lost blood beside you, won through beside you.”
Raven cut him off. “And maybe you have outlived your usefulness.” Raven’s fist slammed down. “You hold so many secrets and try to manipulate us to do your bidding. We have had enough.”
Ska’arr gently placed his hand on Raven’s fist to calm her. Raven blinked and sat back. Ska’arr turned to Ro-Lund-Do. “What did the marut want with you?”
Ro-Lund-Do sighed. “The marut wants me to walk both sides of the line equally.”
“What line?” Shribryn blurted, but Pelias already knew.
Ro-Lund-Do looked at Shribryn. “The line between the living and the dead.” Looking once more at the others, he continued his story. “The marut placed a geas on me. I want it removed.” Ro-Lund-Do shook his head in frustration. “The marut told me that I need to find Lady Alaerth to have the geas removed.”
Kat’s voice was a whisper. “Do you need to kill her or find her?”
Ro-Lund-Do shook his head again in frustration. “I don’t know. I just need to find her. My magic will be limited otherwise. I need Lady Alaerth to rectify the situation.” Looking straight at Raven, he said, “But I swear this: I have no hand in raising the undead that is plaguing Triboar.” Raven snorted.
Pelias spoke up. “There is a threat to Triboar. That should be foremost in our minds. Let us take Ro-Lund-Do’s advice and examine Lady Alaerth and the Everwyvern House.”
The others began to head to their rooms when Raven grabbed Ro-Lund-Do’s arm. “I will be watching.” Releasing his arm, Raven made her way to her room. Rubbing his arm, Ro-Lund-Do hid his smile.
Ska’arr watched the exchange and sighed. I was hoping the marut would have helped to remove the evil from Ro-Lund-Do. But now it seems that he is being driven towards it. Ska’arr remembered appearing inside The Magic Shoppe and his discussion with Brenys Silentall, the female gnome who ran the unbelievable store. She had several insights into the nature of his companions, but their talk had dwelled mostly on Ro-Lund-Do. Ska’arr sighed again. All I can do now is hope. Going to his room, Ska’arr received little rest as his mind struggled with the dilemma.
The next day, the party separated and went to meet with those who had set up appointments with them which they had missed. Everyone who they were supposed to meet had only been interested in hearing stories of their exploits. The silk merchant, Gracecaryn Sandtracker, wanted to hear tales to confirm whether or not the Shadow Stalkers were the right fit to act as caravan guards. Belrus Songsteel, Battle Chaplain of the Altar of Foehammer, had wanted information of the composition and disposition of the orcs to better set up the defenses of Triboar. Faurael Blackhammer was happy to hear that the Shadow Stalkers were going to investigate the orcs and undead, and gave his blessing.
The surprising thing from these meetings was that, when each person had sent an invitation, they had been told by someone else that the Shadow Stalkers were only available to meet at midnight the prior day. When pressed, none could remember who had told them this, but that they firmly believed it. They’ve been enchanted.
Meeting back at the Triboar Arms, Kat had much to report. “I scouted out the area around the Everwyvern House.”
“Were you spotted?” Raven asked.
“Nope,” Kat beamed. “Invisibility has its advantages. Even so, I kept to the shadows and kept myself hidden. First of all, the wall of stone Ro-Lund-Do had seen placed in front of the door? Not there. In fact, there is no sign whatsoever that the stone wall had ever existed. Second, at dusk, a robed and hooded man approached the door and moved his hand in a strange pattern. When the door opened, I saw a dark enclosure.”
“What?” Ro-Lund-Do was confused. “Were you at the right place? When I was there, the hallway stretched back with doors along the side with decorations all about.”
“That is definitely not what I saw before the door closed,” Kat replied.
“The doorway must be a portal,” Pelias mused. “The robed man activated it and was transported elsewhere.”
“Were you able to see the pattern the robed man used?” Ska’arr asked.
Kat sighed. “Unfortunately, no.”
Shribryn spoke up. “Then that means we must continue to watch the Everwyvern House and be prepared to grab the opportunity when the portal is next used.”
“I agree with observing the Everwyvern House,” Ska’arr said. “But let’s not be too hasty. If we can determine the pattern and then recreate it, then we can control when we enter, hopefully catching whoever or whatever is on the other side off-guard.”
Kat sighed again. “I guess I have more boring duties ahead of me.”
After days without seeing any other robed figures, the Shadow Stalkers were finally rewarded at dusk of the eighth day. Kat saw Raven’s signal and made herself invisible. Moving forward carefully and delicately, she kept half a pace behind the robed figure. She was curious about whose face was hidden by the hood of the robe, but she couldn’t catch a glimpse of his face without endangering her mission.
When the robed figure reached the door, he reached out and placed his hand on a small block by the door. He moved the block up, then clockwise, then straight up again. As he moved the block, Kat heard him whisper, “Everything for the night.”
As he finished moving the block, the door opened, and Kat saw a room made up of an unknown type of dark stone. The robed figure stepped inside and the door shut automatically, the small stone block resetting itself. After the door closed, Kat quickly checked the door for magical auras and was not surprised to detect an incredibly powerful aura of conjuration.
Returning to the others, she relayed what she had learned. Ro-Lund-Do was most eager to hear what Kat had to say. “So then, we are ready. Let us collect our items and prepare ourselves.” Ro-Lund-Do paused. “I wanted to thank you all for helping me.” Raven barely bit back her retort.
Ska’arr patted Ro-Lund-Do on the back. “By helping you, we help Triboar. It is beneficial for all.” Scuro smiled secretly once more.