Episode 5 - The Fallen Apprentice

Kalarel

The Sacrifice Chamber

With the foul defender no longer blocking the way, the adventurers headed towards the bridge. Just as they got close, there was a loud bang and a flash of light. They turned to see an increasingly familiar figure appear behind them. It was the black-cloaked woman from the road.

“Kalarel’s ritual is nearing completion” she said, in her strangely whispering voice, “The portal to the netherworld will soon be opened unless you stop him. I would help you, but I cannot face him myself. I will remain here and do what I can to slow the ritual.”

“We will do as you say, fair lady” Paelias responded, “To the bridge my friends, we’ve no time to lose.”

“Are we sure that thing is safe?” Galt questioned.

“There’s only one way to find out” came Sting’s reply.

“Could that chick be any hotter?” Woodie asked.

“We’ve no time fer yer debaucheries, laddie. C’mon” came Balomir’s gruff response.

After a quick inspection, it appeared the bridge was in good condition and the group made their way across. Approaching the temple, it became clear that it was once dedicated to Bahamut, immortal patron of justice and honour. Bas-relief carvings of platinum dragons and noble paladins once adorned the gleaming marble walls of this sanctuary but the evil influence of this place, and the torturous storm raging above have tarnished this once beautiful sanctuary. The ornate details are now crumbling, and chunks of stone have broken off from the statues. Cracks riddle the walls and blackened ichor seeps through rents in the marble, as if the temple itself wept blood.

The party spotted an iron-bound double door at the front of the temple, flanked by a pair of shattered pillars. A soft blue glow emanated from beneath the door. Throwing caution to the wind, they pushed open the doors and charged inside.

The inner chamber of the temple reeked like the charnel-house smell of an abattoir. Hanging from the center of the ceiling were lengths of hooked chains, an assortment of mutilated bodies dangling from their ends, soaking the floor in blood. These chains hung above a pit in the center of the chamber and the cadavers were being lowered down by a series of winches, like some grotesque parody of a fisherman.

Operating the winches was a trio of shambling zombies. At the far end of the room stood two wild-haired tiefling priests, dressed in tattered robes and wielding wickedly curved daggers. Although they were able to hold the blades in their right hands, both of the tielflings had their left hands severed, a raw red stump all that marks their passing. In addition to losing their limbs, their right eyes had been cut out, the remaining left eye bloodshot and clearly showing signs of pain and madness. The two robed priests were screaming praises to Nagash, standing with arms raised before an altar upon which lay their latest sacrificial victim, an elven peasant by all appearances. The victim’s lifeblood ran in rivulets down the altar, draining into the pit in the center of the chamber.

The tieflings, now aware of the group’s entrance, spun to face them. They screamed incoherent curses in their direction and began frothing at the mouth, furious that someone would interrupt their ritual. They traced intricate runes in the air with their blades, and then issued barked commands to the zombie guards. “Blood and skulls for the undying lord!” they shouted and then attacked.

The zombies moved forward to engage the adventurers while the priests used their magics from a distance. To make matters more interesting, one of the priests summoned a wailing ghost to assist them. The combination of zombie, ghost and priest was quite formidable and they put up a strong fight. But not strong enough as the party soon finished them off.

With the temple cleared, the group could hear sounds of chanting coming from below them. Examining the pit in the center of the room, they realized there was a chamber beneath them. They decided to climb down the chains and investigate.


The Fallen Apprentice

Dark portal

The party decided that Paelias, with his natural stealth and agility would be the first to investigate the chamber below. Paelias slowly lowered himself, hand over hand, down the blood soaked chains, passing the mutilated corpses and avoiding the sharpened hooks they clung from.

Once he reached the bottom of the chain, the elven rogue quietly slipped onto the floor and looked around. Compared to the blood-spattered butchery of the room above, this room seemed clean and orderly, yet sinister. A yawning black portal dominated the right side of the room. Something appeared to be straining against the darkness within as if it were a thin film keeping back a vicious clawed beast. Blazing runes were inscribed into the floor before the portal.

Opposite the portal was a great statue of Bahamut, standing in silence, watching.

At the far end of the room atop a series of steps lay an altar of bone. A group of ominous skeletal warriors stood guard at the foot of the steps.

Behind the altar stood a figure cloaked in black wielding a skull-tipped sceptre. An open book lay on the altar before him, and he chanted a low droning prayer. Although Paelias had only seen him once before, he recognized him immediately… Kalarel.

Kalarel’s face was gaunt and sunken. His skin stretched across bones like brittle parchment paper. Like so many of Nagash’s followers, Kalarel had but one eye, his other eye replaced by a multi-faceted emerald. But unlike the other priests of Nagash we’d encountered, Kalarel did not exhibit a wild, mad fanaticism. Instead his composure was cold and methodical. But more striking than his apparent lack of compassion or his disfigured face, Kalarel seemed tired. He appeared weary to the very core of his soul, as if he were about to conclude a prolonged, will-destroying journey.

Paelias decided that stealth was the best course of action. He quickly looked up the shaft through which he had lowered himself and signaled the other adventurers to start their descent. He then decided to sneak around behind the statue of Bahamut, attempting to get into a flanking position behind the skeletal warriors.

The rest of the courageous group made their way down the shaft, climbing down the chains just like Paelias. However, once they were halfway down Galt lost his grip on the blood slicked chains and fell to the ground below with a thud. The rest of the climbers realized that surprise was no longer an option and quickly dropped the rest of the way to the floor, landing on their feet.

As they reached the floor and looked around, Sting let out a gasp. Staring directly at Kalarel, Sting realized that he recognized this man, the aging warlock’s face had haunted him for years. This was the man that destroyed his life, separated his family and left him for dead. This was the leader of the marauders that executed his family. Sting’s hunt had reached it’s conclusion, his quarry was at hand!

Startled, Kalarel looked up from the book and stopped his chanting. As he took notice of the adventurers his face clenched in frustration. With barely suppressed anger, he addressed the party

“So Douven’s pawns have arrived,” he said between clenched teeth. His voice was strained and tired, the sounds rattling and wheezing in his lungs. “It seems that no matter how many obstacles I put in your way, you persist.”

Kalarel was agitated, and seemed to nervously fidget with a ring on his left hand. Paelias, hidden behind the statue, took special note of that nervous twitch and started making his own particular plans.

“Yer madness ends here old fool!” roared Balomir loosening his axe from its sheath. “By Kord’s axe, I’ll not have ye open that portal.”

“Ahhh the portal,” replied Kalarel, his weariness returning. He glanced towards the seething black gateway and let out a sigh of resignation. “But it is the only way.”

“You’ve lost your way old man,” shouted Galt. “Look what you’ve become! We’re here to ensure that your plans come to an end.”

“Ensure my plans come to an end? Come to an end! You meddlers! My plans are only beginning!”

Kalarel viciously pointed his scepter at the group and his rattling voice raised to a yell, “Tell me you fools, did you ever ask Douven why the portal must be opened? Did that old man, that old… betrayer… ever tell you why this can be the only path!”

Finally, Sting spoke up. His voice was deadly calm, and his burning revenge injected venom into every word. “Your path ends here Kalarel. No more innocents will be sacrificed for your wickedness!”

“Sacrifices!” screamed the raging Kalarel. “I am the one that has made sacrifices! You wil never understand the pain and suffering I have endured to follow this path! I have made too many sacrifices to be stopped now!”

Regaining his composure, Kalarel stared down the party. “No more talk. My path was set long ago. Douven may have robbed me of my humanity, but I will not be denied my redemption!”

With that, he commanded his skeletal warriors to attack and began casting magic of his own against us.

Sting and Balomir moved straight up the middle of the room towards Kalarel and the altar. Woodie and Galt stayed close behind. Pools of blood from the sacrificial chamber above made the floor slick and difficult to navigate. First one of the skeletal warriors then soon after, Woodie, slipped and fell to the ground.

Kalarel made his way towards the portal and stepped into the blazing runes inscribed on the floor. The adventurers figured these runes must be giving him some additional power, since the skeletons proved to be strong defenders.

Sting, in an attempt to disrupt the infernal ritual, moved to the bone altar and threw Kalarel’s books to the ground. As the ritual’s components scattered onto the floor, the black portal began rippling around the edges. Kalarel threw Sting a venomous look, but then he briefly closed his eyes and focused. The portal’s seething ripples settled down, and came back under control.

“You’ll have to do better than that halfling,” challenged Kalarel. “My plans are not so easily foiled.”

As the group approached Kalarel and the portal, the runes on the floor blazed to life. With horror the adventurers finally realized the purpose of the runes. The runes did not embolden the skeletons. Instead, an evil spectral claw with black talons lashed out from the portal’s darkness slashing at the heroes.

Balomir, Paelias and Sting all withstood several blows each from the skeletal warriors, Kalarel’s dark magic and the godforsaken evil coming from the portal. Undaunted, the group continued to press and one by one, dispatched the skeletal warriors until Kalarel was left alone.

In what appeared to be the closing seconds of the battle, Kalarel took one last swipe at Balomir and the brave dwarf was knocked to the ground. Woodie rushed forward to administer a potion to her fallen comrade while Galt, Paelias and Sting continued the assault against Kalarel.

Surrounded on all sides, Kalarel began to retreat and frantically fend off his attackers. Finally, he made a critical mistake and Paelias lunged in with a vicious swing. With an accuracy that was obviously pre-planned, Paelias severed the old man’s hand.

“No” screamed Kalarel, collapsing to the ground and looking desperately towards his dismembered hand. All of his strength had drained away, and the old man could no longer defend himself.

Sting stood before Kalarel, both of his short blades inches from the old warlock’s face. “Where is my family you wretch,” Sting whispered, murderous intent in his voice. “What have you done with them”

Kalarel looked quizzically at the halfling ranger, and then realization finally dawned on his face. “Your family…” he said, his eyes downcast. “They can be found…”

But before Kalarel could finish his sentence, the portal behind him began to bubble and seethe, like a boiling pot of inky black water. An awful, clasping claw reached out of the portal, stretching the surface of the portal like a clinging film. The adventurers prepared to take on the new threat, but the claw reached not for them, but for Kalarel.

Kalarel saw the clutching talons and bowed his head in resignation. He then glanced toward his detached hand, actually towards the ring on his detached hand.

“Forgive me Tae… I tried”.

With a horrifying shriek, Kalarel was pulled back through the portal. The final price for those who fail Nagash.


The Escape

Once Kalarel was dragged through the portal, the ritual was interrupted and the storm ravaging the cavern began to rage out of control. The temple walls started to shake; pieces of the ceiling breaking off and tumbling to the floor. The adventurers quickly made their way out of the temple and started across the rope bridge. The swirling clouds overhead flashed as lightning streaked through the cavern. The ground trembled and boulders crashed down from the ceiling above. All around them, the red obsidian spires toppled over and shattered to pieces. They ran as fast as they could to the cave that would lead them back to the ancient fort; back to the surface.

As they burst free of the fort’s doorway, they were assaulted by swirling winds of dust and debris. The sun was completely blotted out by black storm clouds overhead. They broke for the tree line and the road back to Winterhaven.

Looking back, the party witnessed the most awesome sight. The black storm clouds had twisted into a tornado and were being funnelled straight down through the fort’s main doors. The wind picked up to a deafening roar and pulled them back towards the keep. Trees all around bowed down; dirt, leaves and twigs were whipped up and sucked in through the doors. A thunderous boom exploded and they were knocked from their feet.

They picked themselves up in silence. The wind had stopped. The sun shone down brightly and the sky was now a clear blue. The sounds of the woodlands around them slowly filled their ears.

The ruined fort was nowhere to be seen. In it’s place, a crater over a league around had swallowed it up along with the forest. The caverns below were completely destroyed; the portal forever sealed. Sir Morgan could finally rest in peace.

“That was fun. What are you guys planning on doing next?” asked Sting.

“I plan on cashing in some of this loot” Galt replied.

“I will meditate on this matter” intoned Paelias.

“I’d like to find that chick in the black cloak” smiled Woodie.

“I need a drink” gruffed Balomir.

And with that, the heroes made their way back to Winterhaven where they would recount their adventure to Douven and enjoy some well earned rest and relaxation.

Episode 5 - The Fallen Apprentice

Terror of Nagash AndyH