Three for the Twelve

Into Vordekai's Tomb
or, 'Meet the Big Dead Guy'

Clever tactics and seamless teamwork enabled the four to defeat the massive zombies, despite that fact that they proved to be more intelligent than one might assume from that sort of undead. Upon re-entering the banquet hall turned charnel house, they discovered that one of the victims was still alive, apparently spared by the luck of being at the end of the row, and by the fortuitous timing of the arrival of the four.

Fane, an elven wizard associated with Morgrave University, was on an archaeological expedition in Droaam, searching for artifacts of some sort, when he was caught up in the powerful magic that compelled all those present in Sharaat Kol to drop what they were doing and walk to the present location, underground, in order to act as meals – and possibly something else – for the undead here. Although his memory was fragmented by the physical and mental trauma, he did remember being relieved of his possessions and then being led into the hall, where the horrific feast began. Other villagers were taken elsewhere.

Deciding to recuperate before pressing deeper into the complex, the team retreated to the rough entry hall a level above, and spent a night…seemingly under the watchful eye of a powerful scrying spell from within the complex.

The next day saw them going deeper, finding a strange white crystalline room with a single eye mounted in the ceiling, and in the room beyond it an angry water elemental that attacked from within a stinking, sulfurous pond. Despite the elemental’s might, the team was able to defeat it, and on the tails of the always-impulsive Foen, pressed on through a pair of ornate bronze doors, into what seemed a central hall. At the end of the hall, sitting on a throne of ancient bones, sat the giant lich, Vordekai, the source of the scry, power behind the compulsion of the villagers to their doom, and leader of the many undead still lurking throughout the complex.

Upon coming face to face with the ancient monster, Fane’s memory returned in full: this was why he’d come to Droaam, in search of cyclopean ruins that might hold pieces of the Draconic Prophecy, carried away from Zen-Drik so many thousands of years ago when the giants fell. Legends abounded of a small population of cyclopes that made this area their home after they fled the shattered continent, likely taking with them information and artifacts that could unlock some of the secrets lost for millennia. Among this population one name stood out in the most esoteric histories, known to researchers who knew where to look, and how to decode the ancient scripts: Vordekai, possibly a wizard or sorcerer, and overlord of the cyclopes for many years until his overthrow by Dhakaani hobgoblins. The best histories indicated that he had been defeated, and along with some of his followers imprisoned in a secret location. Imprisoned, it was now clear; destroyed…not quite.

Arko!, although not privy to the ancient knowledge of which Fane was an expert, also reacted to the sight of the lich, feeling more than any other member of the party the waves of necromantic energy surrounding and flowing from the massive creature. This being had been a master of arcane power in life; and now in undeath, could well be almost invulnerable. This was going to be a fight like nothing any of the men had ever fought, one they could easily lose. All their skill, teamwork, and experience might mean nothing without healthy doses of luck and discretion.

Mysteries within Droaam
a village lost? something worse than the hags?

Flet returned, somehow, and not too much worse for the wear, aside from his inexplicable inability to transform himself. Making their way out of the sheltered canyon, the team proceeded quickly to the east, following the rough coastline as closely as possible along rolling, sometimes rough hills. By mid-day they had made maybe 10 miles of progress, when they encountered an undead cyclops, armed with a large battleax, and soaking wet. A short fight later and the horror was defeated, and it was decided that a short investigation en route was in order. What followed was the discovery of a secluded lake, in which there was a large island. The lake, it was clear, had recently been up to 15 feet deeper, and some rough changes in the land of late had opened stream that enabled a goodly amount of water to flow out. Possibly the tsunami’s work?

Footprints were found. Some large, individual, heading out of the water; and one large group of humanoid, both shod and bare, headed in. The team followed, wading across the 4’ deep lake, and explored the perimeter of the island, finding two entrances into the massive rocky heaps that made up its interior. Choosing the higher of the two, they entered and proceeded down inside a tunnel, roughly hewn from the rock.

Through a secret door was found…a tar pit? Guarded or at least occupied by some kind of undead spellcaster, who attacked the party with fire, acid, and other means. Defeated, the monster’s corpse was lost to the bubbling tar.

Through another door and passage, and up sets of stairs, the team proceeded into a large chamber – seemingly a banquet hall – that included a massive, long table, seats for 30 or more, a loft/gallery along the opposite wall, and carved pillars. And what was clear were the remains of many of the villagers, of all races, their brains devoured directly out of their skulls from where they sat in the over-sized chairs…devoured, it was obvious, by the four undead cyclops, rudely interrupted by the team, and eager for….more brains…

'Round the fire
...pouring one out for our homie

Pour one out

The trio sat in the courtyard of an abandoned temple in a secluded canyon under the stars. Together they quietly rested around a fire with a fine bottle of Brelish rum that was found in the cellar of the small keep, each brother taking a turn to throw back a drink as they relayed a story they remembered of Flet.

Foen remembered with a rueful laugh when Flet transformed himself into a waitress that Foen had fancied for some time, and had finally gotten up the gumption to ask out. The shy barbarian had waited around until she got off work, and approached her as she left for home – maybe not the best way to ask someone out, but for a guy from the Shadow Marches, it seemed pretty smooth. Flet/Bar Girl feigned interest and, in an uncharacteristically husky voice for the girl, invited Foen into a nearby alley for a ‘frolic.’ Needless to say, the barbarian was less than amused when the changeling appeared a moment before Foen revealed “…a real Shadow Marches python” to her. Foen had to admit now, however, that it was pretty funny.

Mishka had little to share aside from the one time he caught Flet alone in a room, looking into a full-length mirror, apparently practicing ‘speed shifting,’ as the changeling later called it when questioned. He was striking poses, changing his face & hair & clothes, and trying out new voices, none of which sounded very convincing. Mishka couldn’t decide whether it was a strange joke – some kind of screwy changeling humor – or for real. They all shared a laugh when he mimicked Flet repeatedly asking “…how much for the wagon?” in a variety of obviously fake voices.

It was Arko!, however, who had the hardest time sharing and reminiscing. For all his years of service with Flet during the war, he couldn’t remember any specific stories about the changeling and him together. No matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t help but drifting back to the same old storyline of crowds of adoring fans, always cheered on by some well-informed stranger. How could they have spent so many years together and shared so little? Arko! just couldn’t understand.

Dead is/n't Dead is not heresy, and I will not recant...

“Your four are likely to fall soon,” chortled the copper. He seemed to delight when things fell apart, so much a cynic was he. Within the orery were several dragons, all watching a massive shimmering sphere floating in the center of the vast chamber. Within the sphere, an image of a pitched battle between a group of spriggans and four friends. Although the four had done considerable damage, the numbers against them, and lack of immediate means of escape, were beginning to take their toll.

“Perhaps there were errors in interpretation or reading. Possibly in judgment,” muttered the copper, leaving the last word to linger in the air. A cynic, indeed.

Orsha’ra’ak could bear the copper’s taunts no longer. “Refer again to the 5th of the Morgal Tracts, lines 47 through 51 in particular. The wave, the destruction from the sea –‘the Devourer lashes at the clouds’ – it clearly fits what we have beheld. And consider the connection between these and the 72nd line of the 15th Tract,” the cloud dragon stated as she conjured another, smaller sphere near the one in which the srcy was visible. The cloud dragon let the last remark hang in the air, as if to be slowly digested by those present.

A seemingly disparate collection of images of carvings, terrain features, dragonmarks, and script appeared. When taken together, the lot shared a striking similarity: the lines, curves, and symbols of the most ancient draconic script, the language suggested by the marks, and in which was written the Prophecy.

“It is too clear to ignore. There is no more explicit line in all the Prophecy – none have discovered or deciphered anything more clear. It is almost blunt in what it states.” Orsha’ra’ak traced a foggy line in the air, connecting the pieces in his image together to highlight the 72nd line, and in so doing had backed the cantankerous copper into a corner.

It was the copper, years ago, who had first deciphered the stanza that included the shockingly explicit line. It was the copper whose reputation had, in part, grown significantly after he demonstrated the depth of his skill and knowledge in successfully deciphering this complex series of connections.

A pause, and a grunt from beneath was all the others needed to know the copper’s mind; he would not back away from his own accomplishment. The cloud dragon’s connection between what was happening before them and that single line was also impossible to dispute, as it was obviously a result of the copper’s reasoning and interpretation model – the protocol that had made him so revered.

A mighty silver’s eyes met those of Orsha’ra’ak and they shared a momentary glance. The silver disappeared in a muted flash.

Half a world away, the battle raged. Mishka held his own against the spriggans, and did his best to hold back the bleeding from his abdomen. If he was to fall, he would do so in the service of his brothers. Still, it seemed unreal that he was so close to death, here in Droaam. His vision blurred and mouth became dry as he swung again, and tried to think clearly enough to position himself so as to prevent the killing blow. So busy was he trying to survive that he did no notice the large horsefly that appeared suddenly next to him; nor did he notice as it landed on his neck. He stepped to his left, and immediately realized his mistake as the spriggan’s eyes widened with excitement: Mishka had stepped directly into the path of a wide, powerful swing of his halberd. Just as the jagged blade made contact with his armor, he felt a sudden jolt of energy; as it bit through his armor and into his side he felt pain; and as his vision blackened and he felt the sensation of collapsing, he also felt a familiar warmth spread throughout his body. His last thought was that it seemed odd that death felt so much like life.

The fly quickly buzzed away, leaving Mishka in a bloody heap in the dirt. A bloody heap, maybe, and a barely-living one. The words of the 72nd line were now manifest in full. It spiraled over the melee, and headed toward Flet as the leader of the spriggans aimed his powerful crossbow at the changeling. The fly’s eyes glinted silver as it made its way toward the rogue.

The spriggan chieftan moved with unnatural speed, twisting his back and arm with almost serpentine grace. In the trance of battle, he stared blankly as he swung his massive warclub – he would not miss, not this close. The club caught Flet on the right side of the head with a sickening crunch, caving in half his skull and spraying blood, brain, and bone chips in all directions. Without healing magic – significantly powerful healing magic, and now – this wound would be Flet’s last.

The fly buzzed about, ignored by the combatants. No one paid it any attention as it watched the half-orc collapse, and suddenly transform back into its true changeling form.

Fighting continued for a few moments longer, but the spriggan chieftan, fully aware of his surroundings it seemed, recognized that although he had killed one, and his men another, two were still standing. Despite his best efforts he was overcome, and the battle ended in a bitter victory for the team. They had captured the fort, intact. They had access to its sizable stores. The chieftan’s powerful bag of holding was full of the collected loot – magic and mundane – of the town. And Flet was dead, beyond the healing available to the team, stranded in Droaam.

It was Mishka’s idea, within minutes of regaining his consciousness, to use one of the potions of gentle repose on Flet – they had three! – and thus preserve his body. The bag of holding could serve as an easy means to transport him…to Sharn. Overland they would go, swiftly, avoiding all contact possible, to the Breland border, and on from there to Sharn, where virtually anything was available for the right price. Even under the noses of the many dragonmarked operatives there, they would find someone, or some way, to bring back Flet.

By nightfall, they had replaced some of the food from the town with hardier rations taken from the fort, and headed east. The town and its surroundings were still eerily quiet as they departed, as if in an awkward silence, watching them leave. It was important, they decided to start the journey immediately, and put some miles between themselves and the town – every mile, and every hour, counted now.

Some time after midnight, several miles along, they stopped in a defensible position, set out a watch, and collapsed for what rest they could find.

A Plan for Exploration?
...first the town, then the keep...

Here’s the town:

The water is mostly mud flat; the dock facilities and buildings immediately adjacent to them (at the level of the silver-ish ground color) are all destroyed; and the upper part of the town, with the green groundcover, is where you are. The inn that you explored is a reddish color and made up of what looks like three overlapping buildings that roughly form a block “C” almost exactly in the middle of town. I marked it with a red number 1. The house with the writing on the door is immediately south of the red circular thingy, and is marked with a red number 2. The fort, not pictured on the map, is up the road a bit from the red number 3, in the upper left corner.

No ship, no people, Nomen
Droaam is a fine place in spring

The voyage aboard ’Freedom’s Boast’ was largely uneventful during the first days, as they made their way out of Varash Sound. After rounding the Sorrow the ship encountered a massive swell, miles wide, and running generally from the southwest to north east. The Boast rose and fell, shaking some and with a few items falling off shelves and rolling around – unusual, yet nothing dangerous.

The crew was cordial and efficient, and dealt with the scene found at Vralkek well, skirting the shore to ascertain what happened, avoiding wrecked ships, and deciding- food and water supplies be damned – not to land, given the level of destruction and the probably chaos to be found among the survivors. It was a disaster, to be sure – and one among mostly monstrous races. It was a place better to be avoided.

Heading at full sail to the east, doing its best to outrun dwindling food and freshwater stores, the Boast made its way toward the other available – if much less desirable – port of Sharaat Kol, on the southwestern tip of the Graywalls. The town, alongside an inlet and slightly away from the sea, was what passed for a border outpost on the frontier between Breland and Droaam, and reportedly a lawless town by even Droaam’s standards. The frontier, 60 miles of foothills squeezed between dangerous sea cliffs and the southern tip of the massive Graywall Mountains, was disputed by Breland, Droaam, and apparently others who claimed it as home and owed no allegiance to either nation.

The attempt to provision the ship did not go well. The team and some crew members were attacked by some sort of mud men – 12 of them – while making their way across a mudflat toward the cliffs that led up to the town from the ruined docks. Sharaat Kol had clearly been savaged by a massive wave, as well. And it was savaged by another wall of water that almost took the team – only Mishka’s quick thinking and teleportation ability saved them, moving them instantly from the mudflat into the town, where they still ran to the second story of an empty inn to avoid the foot or two of water that again flooded the town.

The empty town. With signs of recent habitation by humanoids, but no humanoid life apparent. Only the world ‘Nomen,’ carved in the high goblin tongue on a house door, offered a clue.

On the docks, with tickets in hand
...and false identities, of course

A week later the plan seemed set: the four would travel under assumed identities, posing as contracted couriers for a collection of mundane parcels bound for Sharn, mostly from the various outposts of the Sovereign Host in the Shadow Marches. Considering how little membership those churches had in the distant swamps, it would not be unusual for Prelate Toorass to subsidize the passage of a group that had agreed to carry packages of church documents and other items to the temples in Sharn, where Toorass owed her allegiance.

Toorass had provided arranged for tickets on ’Freedom’s Boast,’ a privately-owned soarwood vessel captained by a human named Terrien Gooj. The ’Boast was set to sail at high tide, which would come an hour after dawn, and he wanted all the passengers – the four plus a few others, it seemed – on board at dawn. The church parcels consisted of three medium crates, locked and sealed by a Kundarak dwarf. The voyage would take no more than 3 weeks, and possibly a few days fewer if the seas were following.

What are your identities? Where have you put the two nasty books? What additional mundane equipment and/or supplies did you purchase en route? You guys left Valshar’ak the day after we left off, and only spent part of a day and an evening in Zarash’ak before heading to the docks, so there’s been no time for any major shopping sprees. Altogether, you had about 18 hours in Zarash’ak, and that included sleep time. What did you do while there? Have those answers ready for tonight.

Away we go!
Off to Sharn via......

The four gathered around the table, finishing their meal and concluding their days-long discussion over where to go. It seemed clear that their identities would get out soon enough, and word would spread of their location; they could not stay in the Marches – at least not the populated areas – for long. Sharn was the next step, for many reasons. The city was so large it might be easy to disappear, and yet be near source of information and resources. And it was the gateway to most of the rest of the continent – indeed, the world.

But how to get there? A voyage by sea would take weeks; by land, months. The sea lanes were full of ships that could make the trip – and yet news travels quickly, too, and Lyrandar vessels were everywhere. Droaam stood between the Marches and Breland – that was enough to cast doubt on the sanity of that route.

How to get there?

Resolving Loose Ends
...and moving on

With the assistance of Prelate Toorass and her assistant, Bren (the bookworm), you folks explore the rest of the complex (there were no more chambers or passages aside from what you had already found), and determine that the undead threat is over. The taint remains, and will take a significant amount of work to remove, but that’s not something you guys can do; Toorass begins making arrangements by the next day to make that happen.

The combined efforts of Toorass, Bren, and Arko!, with some assistance from Mishka the fighter with surprisingly esoteric knowledge, determine that the complex was not meant to imprison the floating guy (whose name, it seems, was Dhrazmorg, according to notes found in the central temple), but rather the book from which he was reading. It is a text related in general theme to the Pnakotic Manuscripts, albeit with a focus on undeath and its seeming connections to entities and powers from beyond the Dark Tapestry/Far Realms. Based on Toorass’ thoughts, it seems that Dhrazmorg likely had a connection with the Keepers of the Oldest, as indicated by a collection of letters found with a notebook (the same one with Dhrazmorg’s name in it). Apparently Dhrazmorg saw the Keepers as junior partners in a ploy to release the Spawn, a horde of undead, and start a wave of necrotic awfulness from this corner of the Marches. The book that was protected by this complex is called the Whispers of the Immortal, and is something of a Mein Kampf-like rant/treatise written or transcribed by a much-revered sage of the Dragon Below from several hundred years ago. According to the Prelate, the book contains coded messages that would help a reader with the proper knowledge unlock all manner of doorways to the Far Realms, unleashing all manner of rotten things from there. The tome is also seemingly indestructible, and therefore had/has to be contained rather than disposed of. It radiates a mild, yet persistent aura of taint (with a hefty dose of chaos), which much be counterbalanced by a similar aura from the other end of the spectrum (hence Aureon). When not contained properly, this aura seems to act as a magnet for intelligent undead, and others who are actively seeking such power.

This complex is, essentially, broken at this point. It cannot contain the book; it can’t prevent the signal from getting out, which it obviously already has. The book must be properly contained, or it will, over time, grow in power and its call with grow, drawing in all sorts of really awful things and wackos in search of knowledge man was not meant to know.

“Can you take this book far away…to Sharn, where there is a great temple to Aureon, whose priests’ powers are greater than mine, and can store this book, and thus protect the world from it? I will provide you with a letter of introduction clearing your path through the hierarchy – you will go directly to those who can help. And I will assist with assuring that your passage out of the Shadow Marches is unnoticed, considering your…notoriety in some circles…” she narrows her eyes slightly at this, raising one eyebrow as if equal parts amused, concerned, and interested.

With the help of Bren, who has some parchment and tools suited for the job, you are able to create a pretty accurate rubbing of the entire crystal sphere. You have about 50 square feet of rubbed parchment by the time you’re finished (that is the surface area of a sphere of that size).

And on the ceiling...
...there's something interesting

Embedded in the ceiling of the wax-covered chamber is what appears to be a crystalline boulder – it looks to be about 3 or 4 feet across – covered in carved runes. It is in a recessed alcove, above the center of the room, and is dull due to a coating of soot. The runes, however, are evident from a few angles. Given the relatively low light level, it was hard to see when you were all moving around, what with the flickering of candles; now that you’re not, you spotted it. It’s not lodged in the ceiling so much as it’s protruding from the alcove, possibly held in place by some unseen frame or bolts on the other side. It radiates a nondescript arcane aura, and is about 20 feet above the center of the room. There are no ladders, furniture, or other items in the room that would enable you to reach it.


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