A Spot of Silver

The Necromancer's Laboratory
Vamaniel's fury fells a wicked mage

The Crumbling Hallway

Although a large door, emblazoned with an M, stood to the north of the room where they had fought the bugbears, Arannis could tell that magical wards had been triggered which even his craft was insufficient to penetrate. Guessing that beyond that door lay Malareth, his minions, and the skull of Gubbio Hircus which Sister Sondal had asked them to find, the adventurers decided to seek another way. To the east was a door, and stepping through it into the hallway they could immediately tell that something was amiss.

Where once stout stone had formed the floor of the passageway, which twisted immediately to run northwards, now there were places where the stones had crumbled and fallen below. There seemed to be a cavern or crypt of some sort below them, although the light was too poor to see too far down. What they could see suggested that stone supports that once held up the floor had fallen away in the intervening years, making it a treacherous gap to cross.

With care and skill, however, and with more than a little bit of help from each other, the adventurers crossed the gap. Peering into the next room, they realized that there were enemies inside; what appeared to be a wizard and his lackeys. They had crossed in relative quiet, and had yet to be detected.

Jixin

Their attack was furious and immediate, and the heroes managed to cut down the enemy mage before he could cast a single spell; the one time he did get a chance to cast anything, the fireball fizzled at his fingertips and sputtered out, so great was his shock and surprise.

The other fighters in the room, though dispirited by their lack of support, fought hard, and one of them appeared to be stronger than the others. He looked exactly like another fighter in the room, too, though he wielded a different set of weapons. He fought savagely and fiercely, but suddenly, as his partners began to fall, he seemed to turn…in front of Vamaniel’s eyes, he stabbed his own partner in the back, and as he did so scampered into a corner and…seemed to metamorphose before their eyes.

“Let me be!” He shrieked, shrinking and turning into a female with pallid skin and sunken, pale eyes. “If you but spare me I will tell you all you need to know!”

Vamaniel advanced threateningly, unwilling to grant the fiend her wish, and Arannis seemed willing to do the same. But Merri grabbed his hand and counseled that they interrogate the creature, which Staimos identified as a Doppelganger.

They learned that the creature’s name was Jixin, and that she was part of a team of Doppelgangers hired by the Iron Circle to infiltrate Harkenwold and learn its secrets by posing as various of its citizens. She said that each had operated independently under the orders of someone named Karis, so while she didn’t know who the others might be impersonating, she knew that there were five of them. She had been sent to keep an eye on Malareth and make sure he didn’t do anything that would interfere with the Iron Circle.

She also told the adventurers about the Iron Circle, that they had a force in the castle of nearly 300 troops, and that they had orders to subdue the region so that more troops could be sent later to garrison the place; furthermore, they worshipped Asmodeus, as evidenced by an altar in the corner of the room which had been defaced and covered with profane symbols. Jixin also indicated that her brethren could be told apart because when they bled, they bled green; she cut herself to prove it.

Feeling that they had gotten what they could from her, Vamaniel told her that she wasn’t going to be left alive to tell the others. Pleading for her life, she tried to bargain away a cowl that would grant doppelganger-like powers to the one who wore it. Staimos took it from her, said thanks, and then nodded at Vamaniel, who moved forward to kill her anyway.

Before Merri, Sister, or Torik could stop him, though, and before he could raise his axes to strike, Jixin shrieked and suddenly vanished; the howl that echoed in the room was deeply anguished, and Merri later surmised that this must be because the power a doppelganger of Jixin’s rank and experience would need to channel in order to achieve invisibility was tremendous and would cost her a great deal of pain, which is why she hadn’t used the power earlier. While some adventurers were cursing her escape and others were thankful that unneccessary blood had been shed, all were interested in the altar desecrated by Asmodean arts.

The Altar

It was a shrine to Aruman, the shifter-god, whose lore Arannis and Sister both knew a little of. Aruman had been a wolf, long ago, and had come across the Green Man in the woods when the world was still young. Unwilling to allow another to trespass on his territory, Aruman attacked relentlessly, and the Green Man nearly laughed, until after many hours the Green Man was impressed with his tenacity. With a wave of his emerald arm, the Green Man bestowed the gift of sentience on the wolf, as well as the ability to appear in the form of a bipedal man. And so Aruman attained Godhead, and became the first werewolf.

Because Aruman’s attainment was in the ability to control his wolf nature; to rise above it and channel it at will without letting it overcome his rational nature, Aruman became specifically a God revered by werewolves and other werecreatures, especially those who sought to control their gifts and remain functioning members in society, despite the occasional bouts of moon-sickness which would impact them.

Having an altar of Aruman seemed strange to the party; they had assumed that deep within the Abbey of the Five Altars they would find a fifth altar, dedicated to all four of the gods the Abbey’s public sections praised: Moradin, Erathis, Sehanine, and Pelor. But to instead find Aruman…this was strange indeed! Aruman is a good god, but he is an often misunderstood god, and those who worship him often kept it quiet.

The Necromancer’s Laboratory

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Treachery at the Four Altars
What does it take to deceive a dragon?

Nighttime Warnings

The group, minus their bard leader, clustered in the vestibule, cleaning up what they could of the goblin and drake ichor before laying out their bedrolls on the cold stone floor. They had opted to sleep in the large room with the rune of fire protection in it, just in case something fiery happened while they were trying to rest.

In the early hours of the morning, Arannis the eladrin had completed his trance, and was keeping watch at the far wall with Merri the paladin on the other door. He suddenly sensed waves of arcane power coming from beyond the door, and beckoning her over so as not to disturb the others, she agreed to keep watch while he peeked outside. The magic did not feel threatening, and upon cracking the door he could see that the pool which he had used to peer deeper into the Abbey earlier was actually glowing with an eerie light.

Taking a risk to step into the hallway, he walked forward. Suddenly, the water in the pool glowed a deep red, and a man with sharp, commanding features peered out. “You have trespassed into my domain and taken me by surprise once, but never again! Be warned, adventurer who enters the realm of Malareth’s power, for he is aware of your presence and will not tolerate you for long!” Suddenly, the entire pool vanished, replaced with only a smooth floor where once a stone basin had rested.

Arannis didn’t have long to process this phenomenon, for the others were rising with the coming of dawn. As they rolled up their things and prepared to go deeper into the dungeon, despite Malareth’s warnings, the bard Torik returned. He told them how Greag, the caravan driver, had revealed to him that he transported more than art objects for Argenta. Every time he traveled south, he also concealed masterworked silver weapons beneath empty compartments in the false floor of his wagon.

Dealing with the Dragon

After a brief discussion about the dragon they believed to be lurking in the worship space of the abbey just north of their position in the vestibule, they decided it was worth it to pay the creature a visit. A few among the adventurers knew enough about dragons to know that they didn’t tend to like sharing space with others in their lair, and it was possible that this dragon was harboring a grudge against Malareth. They also knew enough about the weak and sickly-looking kobold servants that Vamaniel had spied earlier to guess that the dragon would be very young, unable to command stronger vassals, and therefore would be easier to dispatch should the discussion turn sour.

Entering the hallway, the tiefling Staimos used his linguistic facility to speak with the kobolds. Even then, their language was elementary and babbling, speaking of the “Ice Lord” and requiring the adventurers to come with them. They did so, and were ushered to a chamber with a glowing rune circle on the floor, a small pile of gold and a few assorted oddments in the corner, and a large white dragon. The dragon reared up, the scales along his back ruffling almost like feathers, and roared. The roar was somewhat impressive, but the adventurers were hardly frightened.

The dragon, who named himself Farallax, demanded to know why they had entered his domain, and the adventurers strove mightily to placate his obvious arrogance. Comparing him to Megallax, an “ancient dragon” that the adventurers made up on the fly was a great maneuver, as Farallax was obviously pleased and claimed to be descended from Megallax. (Anyone from the Nentir Vale would know, of course, that it’s far more likely that an ice dragonling in the area would be some whelp or another of Bitterstrike, the Wounded White Dragon of Winterwood.)

They adventurers managed to convince Farallax that they would slay the interloper on his domain and bring his body to the dragon to consume, and he agreed to help them by revealing a secret doorway in his chamber that would permit a sneakier assault on Malareth.

Betrayal!

The adventurers, deciding that it was too unsafe to leave the dragon alive to haunt the people of Harkenwold, decided to ask permission to worship at the four altars in the main hallway before traveling further into the dungeon. The dragon laughed at their desire, but they had flattered him enough that their desire to worship gods and not him was not terribly offensive, but more amusing. He let them go, and they quickly used the time to discuss whether or not to betray the dragon.

The bard alone ended up holding out on this treachery the longest, but the others had either been so upset by the dragon’s base arrogance or so concerned that the dragon might upset the surrounding countryside if allowed to survive that they decided together to kill Farallax before he could grow to become a real menace. Quickly organizing themselves for battle, keeping in mind the kobolds still lurking around them, they went back into the dragon’s chamber on the pretense of using the secret door, and launched a surprise attack.

With a bellowing roar, Farallax cried out “Treachery!” and blasted the adventurers with an icy blast fueled within his own cavernous body. They battled in the room for some time, the dragon pinned against the wall, the ranged fighters keeping the kobolds at bay while the melee fighters risked their lives against the dragon. Farallax fought with vicious skill, seemingly summoning new reserves of strength over and over again as he blasted the adventurer with his frostbitten breath and his dagger-sharp claws.

Finally, though, the adventurers had worn the dragon down, and he seemed to sink to the floor, then rose again to roar like he had when the adventurers first encountered him. As bloodied as they were, the adventurers might have been intimidated by the sound.

But then the bard, the one who had been so reluctant to fight, leaped forward. Angered by seeing two of his friends, Staimos and Merri, fall prone before the dragon’s vicious breath assaults, Torik’s eyes gleamed with uncharacteristic anger.

“You call that a roar?” The undead dwarf threw back his head and cackled, in a viciously mocking imitation of the dragon’s call. As he did so, he crooked his fingers at one of the kobolds, recently slain by Arannis and with a jerk of his arm seemed to rip a dark energy out of the very heart of the dying minion. “I’ll show you a roar!”

And with a screech to split heaven, the dwarf heaved his arm towards the dragon, and the dark energy from the heart of the kobold ripped across the room and plunged into Farallax’s gaping mouth. The dragon did not respond to this, but the cold fire in his eyes seemed to go out. In the end, the mighty Farallax perished by being mocked…to death.

The Storage Room

Resting for a moment, and investigating the runes at the various altars, the adventurers took a moment to pause, reflect, and prepare themselves after facing the dragon. Then, their preparations complete, they moved onwards, opening the secret door to find a few goblins and a monstrous bugbear waiting for them.

It wasn’t an easy battle, and there wasn’t a lot of room to maneuver in the cramped room. What was worse, a few crazy goblins rushed the adventurers early on, their frenzied attacks making them easy targets to dispatch but knocking the adventurers off balance and forcing them to reorient themselves before they could fight again. But the great bugbear seemed eager to move around them, staying free of their attacks but darting in to smash the adventurers whenever an opening appeared.

Eventually, though, the goblins and their bugbear overlord were vanquished, and the adventurers took a moment to search for what they could. They found a few things of minimal use — rope, chain, trail rations, and other bric-a-brac — among the barrels, but the axe-wielding Vamaniel found that the axe used by the bugbear was enlaced with some sort of necrotic magic. Claiming this lifestealer battleaxe as his own, Vamaniel named it “Kurrash,” after the word carved onto the axe head.

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The Shattered Vestibule
A church is a great place to camp

During their first foray into the Abbey of the Five Altars, seeking the sacred Skull of the Blessed-of-Four Monk in order to help Sister Sondal at the local chapel, the adventurers first encountered a gang of dragons, a pet guard drake, and a goblin shaman working some unknown ritual. They also found a horse tethered nearby for some odd reason, and decided to move it outside, taking pains to insure that its location outside wouldn’t be noticed.

Exploring the vestibule, they found a strange pool glowing with arcane energy. The wizard Arannis examined it, and it glowed with powerful light, showing him a vision of the room beyond. With the foreknowledge of the dire rats and goblin minions lurking beyond the door, the adventurers were able to mount a daring assault, surprising the enemies and routing them handily.

After a little exploration, they determined that it was highly possible that one passage led to a dragon’s lair, so they chose a different direction. There they found a strange room of five-foot tiles, some black and some white, set in a chessboard pattern on the floor. After Vamaniel ran headlong into the room, he discovered that taking steps outside of the specific roles of the chess piece one adopted when first stepping on one of the room’s tiles resulted in a scary mental assault! The team dispatched the chess pieces that came to life in this room, and decided to return to the vestibule for a much-needed night of rest. They hoped that the resting time would give their bard healer, Torik, time to catch up with them. He had been entrusted to escort Argenta’s caravan driver back to Albridge after the adventurers saved the driver from certain death, and the adventurers knew it wouldn’t be easy fighting dragons without Torik at their side once more.

Now Sister, Merri, Arannis, Staimos, and Vamaniel have made camp in the vestibule, hoping that Torik would arrive by dawn. What horrors await them deep in this chapel? They already suspect a Dragon has taken refuge in the western wings of the Abbey. And didn’t Sister Sondal did mention a wicked dabbler in necromantic arts, Malareth. The shadows in this abbey seem…they seem to move. With the dark pressing in all around, the adventurers have no choice but to wait until the sun rises, to embark once more into the terrors of this once-divine, now-corrupted place of “worship.”

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