Terror of Nagash
Episode 3 - The Past Catches Up
When we last visited our intrepid adventurers, they were resting after the terrible battle with Kalarel’s underlings in the graveyard. The infernal device they were employing to raise their undead army was disabled and the evil creatures were put to rest.
Winterhaven was saved from the onslaught of undead legions and the townspeople rejoiced. A feast was served at the tavern and our party joined the festivities.
The Order Finds Galt
While enjoying a half pint, Galt was approached by a local businessman who claimed he had a venture Galt may be interested in. Suggesting they step outside where they could talk in private, Galt was ushered to the door. On stepping through the doorway, two ruffians pounced and threw a large sack over his head. Helpless, he was dragged down the street to the town’s square.
The sack was carefully removed and he was held by strong arms. Looking up he recognized the man before him as one of the leaders of his old order.
“Your insults to the Order will no longer be tolerated. Prepare to meet Sothoth.”
As Galt struggled to break free from the Order’s henchmen, the leader produced a device Galt had seen before. This deadly contraption of wires and gears had been used to torture enemies of the Order by slowly sucking their soul from their body and devouring it completely.
As the device started working, luminous strands of Galt’s soul began to stream towards the device, his strength draining from his body.
Back inside the tavern, Balomir was enjoying his umpteenth ale and toasting the town’s guard for their bravery in defending the village. Woodie was attempting to engage one of the local farmer’s daughters with her magic tricks. And Paelias was busy making small talk with some of the village elders.
Always keen of his surroundings, Paelias noticed Galt’s seat empty and his half pint mug fallen to the floor. Moving quickly, he pulled Balomir and Woodie away from their revelries and the trio made for the door in search of their troublesome little friend.
From the stairs of the tavern, they could see he was being held by three men while a fourth man in robes held something in front of Galt’s face.
Charging in, Balomir attempted to push the thugs away but was unsuccessful. Paelias followed behind and engaged one of the thugs with his dagger. Woodie made her way forward and began casting her magics.
Determined to not give up their prey, the thugs held the sagging Galt tight while wisps of his life were drained from him and into the device. Paelias, seeing this, decided the best course of action would be to go after the robed figure holding the device. To do so, he would have to get around the thugs blocking his way. With cat-like grace, he leapt over the closest thug, somersaulted off an apple cart and landed with his dagger in the leader’s side. The blow was enough to knock the robed man off balance and send him stumbling into the fountain in the centre of the square. In doing so, the device lost its grip on Galt and he collapsed to the ground.
His robes soaked, the leader clamoured out of the fountain and smashed the device on the ground. Above the contraption’s broken pieces, the air rippled and the fabric of space tore open. From some other dimension, a green and yellow cat’s eye hovered into sight and began scanning the situation.
Seeing Galt fall, Balomir, holding the thugs at bay, was quick to call upon the power of Kord, sending healing energies into his diminutive friend.
Focussing her magics, Woodie called forth a flaming ball 4’ around and rolled it right into the thug leader.
Galt, regaining consciousness, turned his own magic towards the thugs blasting them with his eldritch powers.
Having sensed the situation, the floating eye turned on Paelias, twisting his mind and warping his allegiances with its fearful gaze; Paelias was compelled to attack Woodie. Luckily, the eye’s hold did not last long and Paelias was able to break free and return his attention, and dagger, to the leader.
With one final thrust, his blade finished off the robed man and pushed him into the grotesque floating eye. As his corpse was sucked in, the eye folded into itself and sealed the tear in space it had come through.
The thugs continued to put up a good fight after their leader fell but it wasn’t long before they too were defeated.
“All this killin’s made me thirsty” Balomir gruffly spoke as he wiped blood from his axe. “Come on then lads, the next round’s on me.”
Peals of thunder crashed over the mountaintop, shaking the very roots of the world. Lightning arced from one swirling ink-black cloud to another. The jagged landscape was illuminated by each blinding flash; a rugged, desolate, landscape at the foot of the heavens. A lone figure stood on the peak of the mountain, the fierce wind tearing at his beard and clothes. His stout, athletic form was encased in plates of polished armour, and in his mailed gauntlet hung a well-used battle-hammer. The dwarven warrior braced himself against the raging storm and glared at the sky.
As he watched the stormclouds swirl above his head, the frothing weather seemed to form a pattern. Though indistinct, the vague outline of a bearded face began to take shape. Like the sound of a thousand crashing waves, a voice imbued with primal fury called to Balomir
“Are ye worthy of a task, beardling? Are ye truly ready to shake the heavens?”
Balomir glared at the sky; beardling indeed! Facing upwards he yelled at the storm with all of the power his lungs could muster. Yet even when yelling with all his might, Balomir’s voice sounded childlike by comparison.
“Ready? Ready! Course I’m ready! I done followed yer path, taken yer tests, bring what ye will!”
The storm visage chuckled, low and long; an earth-shaking rumble like the sound of an avalanche.
“Good beardling, good. Then I have chosen wisely, for I’ve a task for ye. This task will truly test yer spirit, and force ye to face the very depths of yer powers. You have been chosen, but yer victory is nay assured. I need proof that yer as strong as ye claim! I cannae rest the weight of this path on a beardling that cannae handle it!”
A vision appeared in the sky before Balomir. The clouds swirled and coalesced to form a diorama before the dwarf. He clearly made out the image of himself, encased in his suit of recognizable armour but without his weapon in hand. Both of his hands were locked in a vice-like grip with another figure, a skeletal giant that towered well over the dwarf’s head. The enormous creature was clearly an unnatural, undead creation, it’s ribs protruded from tattered rags draped over its form. The two figures were struggling to overpower each other, swaying forward and back in a brutal contest of strength.
“I need ye to prove yer strength beardling. Ye’ve been chosen. Don’t dissapoint me.”
With a final thunderous crash, the image vanished.
Balomir bolted upright in the dusty bed where he was, until recently, sleeping. The increasingly familiar walls of Winterhaven’s inn faded into view around him, as he sluggishly wiped sleep from his eyes. A stinging sensation on his upper right arm caused Balomir to glance down, and there burned into his flesh was the symbol of a hammer crossed by a bolt of lightning. The mark of Kord.
With a sigh of resignation, the dwarf struggled out of bed.
“Ah bugger me. I swear, I gotta stop drinking”
Paelius’ New Assignment
Paelius arranged the ruby coloured wax candles in a circle around himself. Although he had used this ritual to make contact with his superiors in the Council before, it has always been in the training temple, never in the field. This was his first attempt to make a mental link with the Council members outside of their stronghold.
Paelius slowly lowered himself to the floor, sitting cross-legged in the center of the illuminated circle. He gently slipped into the calming, meditative trance that all Eladrin achieve in place of the deep, unresponsive sleep of the short-lived races. Mentally, he traced the outlines of the tattoo on his forearm, while chanting the well rehearsed phrases:
“I’thilien kara t’orenal”
A fleeting contact skirted the edge of his awareness, a whisper in his mind. Paelius concentrated on the mental link, struggling to bring it into focus. Slowly, the conscious link grew stronger, creeping into existence, until finally the Eladrin rogue received clear thoughts and messages.
“Initiate Paelius. I see that you have mastered the art of t’orenal contact. Well done. For most members of our order, this is a very challenging ritual.”
“Thank you councilmaster.” The greeting was difficult to transmit at first, but with each passing moment, their mental connection grew stronger and less difficult to maintain.
“Do you have any news regarding your assignment Paelius?”
“Yes councilmaster,” responded the young Eladrin. “I have found Douven as you asked. He was being held captive by some local brigands and on the brink of death. But we have rescued him and nursed him back to health.”
“Very good Paelius. You have proven to be… skilled. But I must understand the details of what has happened. Open your mind to me young initiate. “
Paelius understood the request. Although individuals could communicate using an imitation of speech over the mental connection, words and expressions were clumsy substitutes for pure emotion. The most vivid and accurate communication could always be had by lowering one’s mental defenses, and allowing the other individual to relive the experiences directly from one’s memory.
Paelius slowly relaxed his mental barriers, allowing the councilmaster to peruse his thoughts. The councilmaster gingerly probed Paelius’ memories, exploring the events of recent days. He paid special attention to the conversations that Paelius had with Douven, examining each word with the precision of a surgeon.
Gingerly, the councilmaster retreated from the deep mental exploration.
“It is as we thought Paelius,” said the councilmaster. “Your memories confirm it. The individual named Kalarel that Douven speaks of is known to us. Most importantly, Kalarel has an item of special significance to the council. He bears a ring on the middle finger of his right hand.”
In the eye of Paelius’ mind, the councilmaster showed him an image of a simple, unpretentious ring. It had no gems or precious stones, and looked to be made of simple bronze rather than gold or silver.
“Paelius, for the safety of the worlds, the council must have this ring. It is powerful and dangerous, and Kalarel himself does not realize its worth. Only the council can ensure its safekeeping, and prevent it from falling into the hands of the demonic powers. You have a new assignment Paelius, you must take this ring from Kalarel at any cost, the future of the heavens depends on it.”
“I understand my assignment councilmaster. It shall be as you wish,” said Paelius.
“Very well Paelius. The council is counting on you. May the light of Corellon be with you.”
“And also with you councilmaster”.
Warning On The Road
They awoke early the next morning to much noise and commotion. The villagers were in a panic over the sight of storm clouds gathering to the north. Swirling clouds centered over the northern keep where they had been just the day before, lightning streaking the sky.
This was no natural storm brewing. It was decided our heroes would need to investigate.
A visit to Douven was the first order of business.
“This is Kalarel’s doing. You must do everything in your power to stop him. He can still be saved.”
As the rest of the party prepared for the journey north, Balomir pulled Douven aside. “I had a dream last night, padre. I heard the voice of Kord. He told me I had to prove myself. Is this possible?”
“Yes, my bearded friend. The gods have been known to test us from time to time. It is a special gift you have received.”
The band of adventurers travelled along the weather beaten road that connected the small village of Winterhaven with the portal-guarding keep to the north. Even from a distance, the group could see the swirling vortex of stormclouds circling over the keep. Though it was early in the day, the stormclouds blocked out the sun, and a deepening shadow cloaked everything. Lightning flashed, and peals of thunder broke through the gloom. A howling wind blew sand and twigs in the party’s faces, stinging their eyes and hindering their progress.
“Are we really heading towards that thing!” shouted Galt, trying to make himself heard above the Gale. The resourceful halfling was still a little shaken by the events of the night before, when members of his previous fraternity finally caught up with him and tried to magically extract his soul.
“Aye lad,” bellowed Balomir the burly dwarf, “and a good storm jus’ makes ye feel alive!”
The group plodded on, leaning into the winds which seemed to grow stronger as they neared the keep. Suddenly, a brilliant flash of lightning struck some trees nearby, and momentarily blinded the group; the echoing boom of its thunder set their ears ringing and dazed the adventurers.
As their sight and hearing returned, the group was startled to see a figure standing a mere ten paces away atop a boulder by the side of the road. The figure had appeared from nowhere, and nobody in the group recalled seeing this individual arrive. The adventurers immediately unsheathed their weapons and scoured the surrounding forests, forming into a defensive ring in case of a possible ambush.
“I know that woman,” said the sharp-eyed Paelius to the other members of the group, “that is the archer from the Goblin chieftan’s cave, the one that intervened on our behalf.”
The figure atop the boulder was indeed a woman. She was tall, lithe and clad in what appeared to be black leather armour, although the armour seemed to play tricks on the eyes and reflected light in unusual ways. Although she did not have any obvious markings, she did have a collection of black feathers attached to her clothing, like an odd assortment of avian jewelry.
The woman’s face was totally hidden within the shadows of a black cloak, and not a glimpse of her skin was visible. Although the figure obviously had the physique of a woman, she could be of any race or region. She stood in a relaxed and unthreatening pose, her hood facing towards the party.
The woman spoke, but her voice startled the adventurer because it did not seem to emanate directly from the figure. Instead her voice was a contradiction, it sounded like it was echoing from a distant mountain and yet, at the same time, it sounded like she was whispering only inches from each warrior’s ear.
“You must stop Kalarel,” said the woman, her strangely echoing voice easily understood despite the deafening roar of the storm.
“Kalarel is pursuing a path, a path that he hopes will achieve his goal. But his path is… misguided.”
“This path he has chosen is an attempt to realize his desires, desires which are… unconventional. But his path will not work, and his dreams will not be realized, he does not see this.”
The woman looked at each party member in turn, allowing her unseen eyes to pierce their composure.
“You must stop Kalarel”.
Paelius stepped forward and addressed the woman, using his most charming demeanor in attempt to extract information.
“My fair lady, stopping Kalarel is indeed our intent,” said the eladrin “but we are at an impasse. The lower levels of the keep are guarded by a magical door, and we have found no means of passing through”.
“Indeed,” came the whispering voice of the woman, turning her cloaked visage towards Paelias, “and for that I can help.”
“The keep that you approach is old, centuries old, built by the last great empire to occupy these lands. But the keep was built atop something much older still, something ancient by the count of men, something unfathomably evil.”
“Beneath the keep lies a portal to the netherworld, a gateway into hell itself. It is a rift through which demons and creatures of the foulest nightmare can gain access to this world. It is a seeping wound on this world, and it reeks of death.”
“At its peak, the empire was strong in arms and sorcery, and they sought to close this rift. They knew of the foul evil that could cross through into this realm, and so they gathered the empire’s greatest wizards together and performed rituals of the highest magic, sealing the portal and locking it with mighty arcane wards. Once the gateway was sealed, the empire built a keep over the site to guard it, to prevent the careless from reopening the rift, whether intentionally or accidentally. Over a hundred legionnaires kept watch over the keep, and they were commanded by a mighty castellan, Sir Morgan.”
“But the portal was not an inanimate object, it had an insidious appetite, and it was hungry. Although nightmare denizens could no longer pass through the gateway, the rift was still able to reach out with its consciousness, tendrils of corruption strangling the minds of its jailors. The corrupstion was not quick, but the portal was patient, and over time the noble Sir Morgan, esteemed paladin of Bahamut, succumbed to the corrupting powers. In a night of madness and bloodshed, Sir Morgan slaughtered every living soul that guarded the keep, including his own wife and children. As he stood above the savagely murdered form of his wife, the madness momentarily lifted from his eyes, and he saw what he had wrought. It is said that Sir Morgan died of grief that day, for he has never been seen since.”
The blackclad woman paused, then turned to face the keep, her back to the adventurers.
“Remember this story warriors. In order to pass the magical door that you encounterd, you must confront Sir Morgan. When you arrive before the door, say Sir Morgan’s name aloud. He is the last guardian before you face Kalarel.”
The woman did not turn back to face the party. Her story finished, she stood immobile, gazing towards the keep.
“Another question fair lady,” said Paelius. “Who are…”
But Paelius never finished his thought. Without warning, another flash of lightning arced in the air and blinded the party. As their eyes readjusted to the gloom, they were startled to see that the woman was gone. The party frantically scanned the surrounding terrain, but she was nowhere to be seen.
As they settled back into a relaxed stance, the voluptuous female mage Woodie put a finger to her pouty lips and spoke up
“Now that chick was hot. Unless anyone objects, I’m calling first dibs”
The other members rolled their eyes, sheathed their weapons and continued the march towards the keep.
The Keep’s Guardian
When the party arrived at the abandoned fort, they headed directly to the warded doors on the lower level.
“Sir Morgan” they cried in unison.
The room spun and they were whisked away from the hallway to what appeared to be a throne room. A shimmering, translucent form appeared on the throne, flanked on either side by two ethereal knights in full armour.
Sir Morgan’s ghost.
Galt stepped forward, “Sir Morgan, open the locked doors to the portal.”
“Do you know what the portal is?” came the ghostly response.
“The kind that drives men mad”, Galt replied.
“Then why do you wish to enter?”
Before they could reply, the two ghostly knights started forward, drawing their weapons. It looked as though the party would not be able to talk their way through this but would have to fight these miserable souls.
Balomir and Paelius engaged the knights with their weapons while Galt and Woodie called forth their magics.
“We need to stop Kalarel” came Galt’s reply.
“But I have allowed Kalarel to pass so that he can prevent Nagash’s escape”.
As the party battled the ethereal knights, more ghostly figures began to appear and join against them. A commoner, a farmer and a woman all wearing expressions of sadness and misery. They wailed in pain but showed no signs of fear as they clawed at the living flesh of the party, jealous of the life that had been taken from them so many years ago.
“As a righteous servant of Kord, I swear tae ya that Kalarel is a liar” spat Balomir.
“You are wrong, Kalarel is a trusted servant of Bahamut, he will prevent Nagash’s release”.
“Did you not see his grim visage, ghost?” Galt asked.
Stuttering in confusion, the ghostly image replied “Yes… but… how can this be? Whe… where is my family?”
“They died by your own hands… you were driven mad by the power of the portal!” said Galt.
“Noooo!!!” bellowed the ghost “I’ve been deceived. Take my shield and undo what I have done.”
And with his final words, the ghosts disappeared and the party was back in the hallway by the warded door, Sir Morgan’s shield lying on the ground. As they approached the shield, the glowing runes on the door disappeared and the portal opened to a flight of stairs leading down.
Balomir, picking up the shield and replacing his own, “this might come in handy.”