Campaign of the Month: March 2009

Denizens of the Nentir Vale

Weapons

The five adventurers had made their way to Fort Dolor on the eastern side of the Dawnforge Mountains. Their mission was to investigate suspicions of a goblin army forming in the Kingdom of Nerrakis. Fears were that the Brotherhood of the Crescent Moon would soon threaten the borders of the dragonborn clan Kengi. So it was with bewilderment that the five’s arrival at the fort was met with nary a guard’s suspicious eye nor even an inhabitant’s glance from a window across an empty street. Open were the gates to Fort Dolor, defender of the Kingdom of Nerrakis.

Still, the five met with some luck as the dwarven fighter and the ranger were able to procure some magic to aid them in combat. Bits of information did come forth too. There was Captain Revince, proud and honorable commander of the fort, yet he had been gone a long time on patrol – whereabouts unknown. Then there were the mysteriously full warehouses whose contents were a secret but clearly not for common trade. Finally, a dire prophecy loomed over the fort. A prophecy told by a dwarven hag. Strangers coming as friends would lead to the death of everyone in the fort. Thoughts to give the adventurers pause. Leads to be followed.

So it was on the morning of their second day at the fort that the adventurers did strive to end their puzzlement. Torrock the dragonborn shaman and the mighty dwarven fighter Barrick left early to crack open the secret of the warehouses. Rift and Tira would use their best magic and feminine charms to track down Captain Revince. The ranger Erik set out to uncover the truth behind the dark prophecy of doom that was keeping the forts inhabitants so fearful and unfriendly.

At the warehouses…

A surly, miserable miser of a dwarf met Barrick and Torrock as they approached his warehouses. “What is it why you are here? You are not welcome. Leave!”, he barked. His axe flashed, yet the two warriors had seen much, much worse and so Barrick upped the ante with an intimidating bluff of his own. Perhaps it was not a bluff. A powerful presence can be a weapon. The might of the two became all too real for the storage keeper and so with his mind for business, he corrected his attitude toward something more in his favor. Surely these two brutes could be used to guard the warehouses, especially with so many of the fort’s good men having gone off on patrol only to never return.

With that, Barrick and Torrok were hired straight away at 1 silver piece per day. As the storage keep instructed them on their rounds, they made quick note of the piles of ore, the foodstuffs, the wood stock and some large crates, piled high to the ceilings and covered in tarps. Strangely, the crate’s markings had been seared off.

At the barracks…

The wizard and the sorceress snickered at each other as they theatrically preened for the visit to the barracks. Today they would wield their feminine wiles, something often more effective than a bolt from the finger tips. Charm can be a weapon. How could the soldiers resist and not immediately reveal the whereabouts of Captain Revince and that farmer’s daughter that he rescued just a few weeks prior? Sounds suspicious. Surely she’s a tramp. Jealousy is a powerful force. Rift and Tira had seen how the Trujy the shop keeper had grown rosy and nearly swooned at the mere mention of the captain. Tira and Rift would find their man.

It was not to be. Although their flattery and seduction got them past a private, he sheepishly returned with his superior, a pompous and overly proud Lieutenant named Steiners. His demeanor was repellant as were his words that rebuffed the two ladies. No. No to seeing the Captain. No to meeting with the farmer’s daughter – sole survivor of a heinous attack from the forest where the goblins and things likely much darker gathered their strength. Quite chagrined, Tira and Rift left with even stronger suspicions that the military in this fort were not to be trusted in any way.

At the stables…

Thistlesticks – a simple gnome or so Erik the ranger concluded. The dwarven hag left some time ago after spreading her gloomy soothsaying like a pack of mangy rats spread disease throughout a town. Her words were such powerful weapons. They had defeated the good nature of the citizenry, spreading fear and suspicion not only for strangers but for those who once were friends.

Having no luck with tracking down the hag, the ranger turned to follow a different trail. Seeing that the girls had been sent away by the soldier, Erik made his bid to join the military as a common soldier. Initially meeting the same resistance Tira and Rift had met, the young ranger was finally able to discern that the proud lieutenant was indeed short of men. Using this fact, and the need for “proof of employment” to secure a warm bed at the inn, Erik cajoled the gruff lieutenant into a soldiering job – a lookout on the guard tower, but not only did it pay 5 silver per day, it gained Erik temporary access to the entry room of the barracks. This was enough time to count ten battle hardened soldiers, six armed with long swords and four with crossbows. With that, Erik left for his post in the guard tower, on his way passing by a pair of dire boars whom he could not fully calm with his animal kinship.

Back at the warehouses…

From the tower, Erik could see much of the fort, including the bemusing shenanigans of one particularly mischievous and risk taking wizard. Never one to think twice, Rift noticed that her friends Torrock and Barrick had the warehouse keeper distracted and so without a moment’s notice, she disappeared from Erik’s keen sight to reappear behind one of the warehouse’s walls. Climbing up to the top of a stack of crates, she wedge her dagger below the lid of the top crate and levered hard. Would the mystery of the warehouses be revealed? Only a clue. The crate held scores and scores of swords and shields, all branded with the symbol of the kingdom of Nerrakis. Carefully covering her tracks, Rift quietly restored the crate’s lid and climbed down from her precarious perch, only to be face to face with a bill of sale, written in common: 150 swords and 150 shields, Lt. Steiners to B.I. Noticing that earlier would have made things so much easier! But this information was helping to form a picture. The prices of the weapons and armor was just one-tenth of what one would normally expect. Why would Lt. Steiners be collecting these weapons? And who is “B.I.”? Perhaps this information could be used as a weapon against Lt. Steiners. With that, Rift slipped through the warehouse door, just narrowly escaping the notice of the storage keep who could no longer be delayed by the antics of Torrock and Barrick.

An encounter with a tailed man with a tale…

Rift quickly met with her compatriots to share her discovery that now surely indicated trouble in the fort. Trouble centering around the military as lead by Lt. Steiners. Their huddle was interrupted by a young but serious and professional soldier, who at first glance gave them a startle. Could he be trusted? After he introduced himself as Private Zanfus, his tiefling red eyes grew more intense like piercing weapons of fury with the fire of his strong convictions. “I have word from my friend Trujy that you are good and honorable travelers and with you I must share my grave concerns that Captain Revince is not to be trusted”, he spoke with obvious nervousness. “I must be brief, for it is not safe, but I have myself seen the captain with the farmer’s daughter that he rescued but a fortnight ago. A romance has developed between them and he is no longer himself, I fear. He is not on patrol as Lt. Steiners would have us believe and with his dereliction of duty the lieutenant has assumed a shameful command without discipline nor direction. I am worried about Steiners.” With that, the adventurers could confirm their growing suspicions, revealing to Zanfus the contents of the scroll that Rift had discovered. “That is very bad”, said the increasingly alarmed private, “I must leave now so as not to be seen talking to you.”

At the herbalist’s…

Erik watched from afar, perched high up on the guard tower. What could have been going on? Sometimes a high vantage point is not what the situation calls for. His fellow adventurers continued their huddle only momentarily and Erik could soon see them walking his way, only to turn down another street. As they passed by, Tira looked up at Erik and gestured two fingers to her eyes and a pointed finger to the herbalist’s shop. Erik understood. His bow would be at the ready to provide cover from the sky.

With Barrick and Torrock waiting outside and out of view, Rift and Tira entered the herbalist’s shop to be greeted by a man of just 18, still visibly awkward with the opposing presences of Tira’s timeless beauty and Rift’s dangerous edge. Finally he would get the courage to introduce himself as Flenn, inheritor of his aunt’s botanical garden of both the mundane and arcane. Both Rift and Tira could tell that his nervousness was not just due to his lack of comfort around beautiful women, but something more, and so the two began their ruse. “Show me your mandrake root, would you dear”, implored Tira, “I would very much like to brew a healing potion.” Flenn resisted, “You must come back later, I have things to attend to.” For a moment his eyes just barely turned down the hall, giving away his thoughts. Rift and Tira could almost read each other’s minds as to the plan. So as Tira drew Flenn to the green house Rift faded into invisibility.

“What is this most marvelous plant?”, inquired Tira, taking Flenn by the arm to draw him over. “It’s, it’s, wizard’s rose”, blurted Flenn, visibly concerned that he could not follow his other customer’s whereabouts. “Why that’s a fascinating name for a plant that looks more for a maiden than a crusty old wizard”, laughed Tira, doing her best to calm the young man and regain his attention. “Yes, true, I mean it’s, umm, I sell it to Barum Voltar the wizard. He selects only the finest leaves and now I must attend to my duties and you must leave. Immediately.” With that he pulled away from Tira and with eyes darting around searched for Rift, but she was not to be seen.

During Tira’s distraction, Rift had enough time to venture a bit further into the herbalist’s shop. Upon opening a door, she spied a strong looking man cuddling with a gorgeous young lady. But something was wrong – his plate armor was out of place and so was his obsequious demeanor as she harshly demanded that he investigate the open door. “I sense that someone is there!”, she commanded, “Now go and protect me!” Dutifully following her instructions he replied, “Yes my lovely Xeniope, I always will.” Rift stifled her chuckle at his seemingly pathetic behavior but then thought how nice it would be to experience such love. Shaking that off, she quickly exited the scene and as she invisibly crept further down the hall even deeper into the herbalist’s, she could hear the whiny cry of Xeniope, “No one was supposed to bother me while I recover! My wounds are so bad, doesn’t anyone care? Ohh!”

In the entry room Flenn was growing more and more agitated and finally broke down to Tira. “Yes, I am anxious and you really must leave. I have the strictest of instructions to keep the young farmer’s daughter safe and secluded as she heals from her most terrible wounds. It’s by the grace of Pelor that she even lives.” In the back room, Rift scanned Flenn’s diary, learning the same and more than Tira hears: “Lacerations healing slowly. Scratches and claw marks beginning to fade but it is taking longer than expected. Something is not right with her body. Is she human? I cannot believe it.” Continuing his mini-breakdown, Flenn admited to Tira that the good Captain Revince has assumed the role of Xeriope’s constant protector and companion has she recovered from her grave injuries. Flenn expressed his concern, knowing the captain’s reputation as a revered leader of the Nerrakis military. His behavior was indeed out of character, ruled by Xeriope’s enchanting charms that could penetrate armor more easily than any sharp weapon.

The truth laid bare…

Despite the fog of the situation, the adventurer’s had realized that action was urgently needed for though they had convinced Flenn to offer the shaman Torrock’s healing powers to Xeriope, there was no having it. Xeriope was outraged at the disruption of her convalescence and her tantrum turned Flenn back to pleading for the adventurer’s to leave post haste. With this, Barrick would have no more. “Stand back!”, thundered the dwarf from a deep place in his barrel chest. Tears burst from the young man’s eyes as he scampered to his chamber. Xeriope’s response was different. By her command, her room’s closet door opened to reveal two spiny devils. Barrick muttered, “Looks like we’ll have to heal you the hard way.”

All the traded stares, glowering and built-up tension exploded into a frenzy of flying devil spines, swinging axes, blades and blood. Four of the adventurers were crammed into the tiny bed chamber of Xeriope, along with the two devils and Captain Revince, who upon standing had a physical presence fully fitting his reputation. Erik had seen Torrock and Barrick enter the herbalist’s with weapons at the ready and so he too was on the way, sliding down the tower’s banisters, running with heart pounding with concern and anticipation of the worst. Bow switched to twin blades while in full stride.

The good Captain Revince’s longsword swung down on Barrick with such accuracy and force that Barrick stood immobalized by the blow. Barrack just chuckled inside with his dry dwarven black humor, “This room is so crowded, where am I to go anyway?” With dragonborn breath of acid and shaman spirit companion’s bite, Torrock slew the first devil. And so it was that the true nature of the fair Xeriope was laid bare with her rage. The soft curled lips of a young lady changed to the harsh sneer of a contemptful vixen. Eyes of blue to yellow. Endearing innocence that inspires sympathetic kindness to sinful naughtiness that instills the very worst kind of lust. No longer the wholesome, natural beauty, Xeriope had transformed to the the leathery winged succubus, impure ruler of both men and women though the ability to infect with the deepest and darkest of jealous fantasies. Greedy lust, jealousy and envy were her weapons. Wrath and despair for those that would try to resist.

Barrick was the first to risk staring too long into Xeriope’s eyes. Too many years spent lonely in deep dark caverns toiling with the cold stone let him open up for the one second Xeriope needed to draw him over. His sadness that had been deeply suppressed within his subconscious welled up in him and coaxed by her beguiling, turned to biterness, anger and even hatred for his fellow companions. Surely he had been a fool for following them. Who were they to deny him his new love? With that, she held his heart and dominated him. Not noticing Barrick’s altered demeanor, Rift cast her own magic, oddly of the more normal sort for her kind – a shroud of fire and a spectral ram that hit Xeriope but did not make her flinch from enchanting poor Barrick. Enraged that Rift would do any harm to his Xeriope, Barrick took his swing at the unsuspecting Rift. Clouded of mind, Barrick was fortunately unable to successfully guide his axe and Rift turned to him, unscathed but none-the-less shocked. “This is nuts,” she thought, “Too many in too small a place!” and so she exited the room.

Xeriope’s wings powered her up into the air with magical force. She hoped to find new hearts to dominate on the other side of the room. Amid all this emotional warfare, so too flew devilish spines, magics and metal. “What’s all the fuss?”, wondered Erik as he arrived and immediately chopped down one of the devils with four deadly strikes from his twin blades, not realizing that it had been softened up by Tira and Torrock. No sooner than Erik withdrew his blade from the devil’s gut did another one appear. “Oh. I see,” though Erik, “Yeah, and there’s a succubus too. Wow! She’s…” With that Erik made the mistake of looking into her eyes just as Barrick had. A ranger’s journeys alone. The little boy still inside looking for the safety of the strong hand. A young man’s desires for advenure and danger. Erik’s will was lost to Xeriope. All the control and discipline of the ranger’s art was for what? What of expressing uncontrolled passion? Erik’s uncorked anger and emotion evoked uncontrolled feelings of great power. The berserk blow that he unleashed upon poor Barrick surprised even himself and though he knew it was wrong, it felt so so good. The power of anger was intoxicating. So was Xeriope. Unlike the older and wiser Barrick, Erik could not shake off this insanity and continued to be dominated. Extreme vanity and pride now controlled Erik as he struck the fair Tira as well.

Barrick and Erik were not the only ones who had been dominated by the devilish Xeriope. Captain Revince had fully succumbed long ago when he rescued what he thought was a farmer’s daughter, alluring and innocent. All this time, the good captain would throw himself in front of his Xeriope to protect her from the attacks that the adventurers would deliver. She delighted in this for although her protector would not last much longer against the powerful onslaught, she could palpably feel the power that total control over another person gave. She craved this. It was her talent and her obsession which she could not long live without. Finally the stout dwarven fighter Barrick was able to push Captain Revince from his dutiful post beside his master. This was what the adventurers needed to bring the fight directly to the succubus and that is what they did. Abandoning her most loyal defender, Xeriope flew out of the room and into the hallway in a bid to escape.

Now all the adventurers were still in Xeriope’s convalescence room, except for Rift. The succubus was clever indeed and turned her gaze to Rift, who opened herself up to Xeriope’s charms. Rift had been adrift amongst men, dwarves, halflings and all other sorts of inhabitants of earth and sea, but never her elven kin. Xeriope could sense this and with her gaze drew upon that which Rift had repressed all these years. Though a beautiful woman, Rift hid behind a tough exterior and bravado that pushed most away from her, alienating herself from anyone who could get too close and see her need for belonging and love. The allure was overpowering and with but a glance into the room, Xeriope indicated what she wanted. Rift obeyed. A pulse of fire leapt from Rift’s fingers and exploded, searing her friends. Alas, a friend of Xeriope was no friend of the the spiny devils, and the last remaining one rewarded Rift’s allegiance with a hail of poison spines.

It was time for the adventurers to get out of the room, for Xeriope’s hold on Rift continued and with another glance into the room still more fire engulfed the adventurers. With Tira and Rift badly injured, Torrock turned from the fray and in a brief moment of silence emanated his healing strength. Erik escaped the room and quickly switched from twin blades to bow just in time to get two arrows into the devil. It would not last long and Xeriope knew this. Down the hall she flew, leaving her devil companion and the good Captain to perish. More merciful were the adventurers. With a measured blow, Torrock rendered the good captain unconscious – not dying. Erik’s aim at the spiny devil was also measured – to kill – and that it did. Xeriope continued her escape, but now all the adventurers could focus just on her. Torrock’s spirit companion joined in the battle. Through a secret door Xeriope thought she could escape, but surrounded, she made her final stand. Rift dealt the final blow. Before her lay the succubus and the wickedness. Before her lay the Xeriope and the warmth. No one knows what emotions Rift really felt.

The adventurers rested for a moment, but only so. They quickly recovered several interesting items from the succubus’ secret chamber. Two maps showed the way to “F. Lair” and “Hag”.

In a satchel, Tira discovered red ruby, a platinum statue of a man in chains and a small sphere with dark red and black. Upon examining the sphere, Tira knew this to be a communication sphere that required human blood to release the message. Erik, the best available human, let his wounds drip onto the sphere and in his mind he could see an image of a man speaking in a language that could not be understood. The face was warm, caring and loving, but the feeling was of diabolical evil.

Further search of the room revealed a second secret door which lead to a long passageway through the rock that Fort Dolor was built up against. Moving through corridor, Barrick could tell that early dwarves had carved the walls. However, today these tunnels were used by the soldiers of Fort Dolor. Pausing to examine the ground, Erik estimated that eight to twelve men and two dire bores routinely made there way here. Finally, an exit to the outside was found along with a back entrance to the fort.

Returning to Xeriope’s chambers, Torrock revived Captain Revince. With time and the healing powers of Torrock, the Captain began to remember and realize just what had happened. The mixed emotions he had for Xeriope were overwhelming and he wept. He also wept from the shame of letting the fort fall into disrepair and worse. The adventures told the tale of Lieutenant Steiners, the contents of the warehouse and the good Private Zanfus’ story. Finally, the captain stood and regained his composure. The adventurers could see the goodness and honor returning to his presence. Captain Revince knew what action was required. He told of his distrust of the lieutenant and the two score or so hardened solidiers that remained in the fort. A plan was to be immediately formed.

Comments

Congratulations! You overcame the riddle of the Fear of Fort Dolor skill challenge and you saved Captain Revince from the clutches of the evil succubus. XP – quest reward for saving Captain Revince (1000); Completing complexity 2 skill challenge (800); Excellent role playing (400); defeating Xeriope, Captain Revince, and Friends (2050) = 4250 or 812 per player for a total of 13,827 per player.

Weapons
 

Standing in the small visiting room of the Herbalist’s shop, Captain Revince says, “I cannot thank you enough for saving me from that devil! Now, as much as I am want to rip off the head of Lieutenant Stymers, too many of the remaining soldiers may be entirely loyal to him. Even with your fighting prowess, I do not think you can withstand 20 or more trained and battled hardened Nerrakin veterans. Also, to be fair, I must see your evidence against him. So, I have a more subtle favor to ask. You say that Private Zanphist remains loyal? Deliver a note to him in which I will send him with orders for a new garrison. It should arrive within two days. Then, after seeing you evidence, Stymers can hang.”

He turns to the herbalist, ” Phlen, quit standing like a pool of boar’s milk and get me quill, parchment, and sealing wax!” The Captain pens a note, rolls it up, seals it with his ring. Rift can clearly see the note as he is writing.

Private Zanphist,

The bearer of this letter tells me that you have remained loyal while others have seen the Fort diminish while I was indisposed under a devil’s spell. Take this letter to Captain Kavanha. She is to bring her garrison here to Fort Dolor with haste so that those disloyal to the Council of Elders may receive their due.

Captain Revince

The Captain then extends the sealed letter forward. “Will you deliver it to the loyal Tiefling? I have little wealth at the moment, but I will see that your loyalty and support of Nerrakis are rewarded when all is made right here.”

Weapons
 

Rift bows to Captain Revince. “You are obviously a man of honor. Of course we will deliver your letter.”

If no one objects, Rift and Tira will go deliver the letter, as we are the most innocuous looking. (Not innocent, innocuous!).

“Phlen, perhaps the Captain should still stay here, since it seems the safest place?”

Tira and Rift will make our way over to the barracks. When we arrive, we knock on the door. Assuming someone other than Zanphist arrives, Rift will then loudly exclaim, “Where is that no-good Zanphist? Been waiting at the Inn all day and night. You better tell him to get his tail over here, if he knows what’s good for him!” She then winks knowingly…

What happens?

Weapons
 

Phlen agrees wholeheartedly that the Captain can stay.

As they walk over, the two mistresses of the arcane notice that there is now a dwarf with a crossbow in each of the towers. They seem to be looking rather intently for something on the ground, but they do not flinch at the pair. Rift and Tira make their way unmolested to the Barracks.

At Rift and Tira’s knock, the haughty elf Private Frome answers the barrack’s door. He does not seem displeased to be talking with Tira and Rift again. “Perhaps my services will be more to your liking? Zanphist? Really? You must speak with him? You have been waiting for him? Hmm.” Frome seems skeptical of these words at first, but Tira’s and Rift’s persuasiveness has not diminished, and in a few minutes, a wide-eyed Tiefling stands before them.

Zanphist says rather loudly, “I do not know you. Why are you saying that I do? What could you want with me? Nevertheless, so as not to cause my comrades to have to deviate from their current activities, I will take care of this disturbance.” Then he steps through the door, closing it, and says very quietly, “Whatever it is, it is not safe here. Lieutenant Stymers is in a rage over some new recruit. As if Stymers cares about anyone following orders. What do you need?”

Weapons
 

Erik does his best to stealthily make his way back to the guard tower, traveling behind buildings as needed. Erik knows that it has probably been 10 or 15 minutes at most since he’s been gone from his post, but that he’s probably made the Lieutenant angry (especially upon seeing the new guards in the towers). If he makes it to the tower, as he climbs the steps he’ll mutter loudly about the “dang dire boars” that he tried to pet. If confronted about his tardiness, he’ll say that he had to clean up from the boars that so attacked him and complain about how badly they treat the animals – no wonder they’re so vicious, even to friendlies. If pushed further, Erik will have fun prattling on about how he really, really, really had to relieve himself behind one of the buildings after the dire boars scared him half to death.

Weapons
 

Erik is pleased to remember that he previously noticed that the sight lines from the towers are rather poor for seeing into the nooks and hidden places of the fort. His time in the tower was well-spent as he makes his way back. His time spent training in his stealth is well-rewarded. The dwarven bolters do not seem to notice him. Even more pleasing, the lazy guard that is now under the south tower is rather idly picking dirt out of his boots, and completely oblivious to the passing of the ranger.

The dwarfs at the top of the tower must have heard the muttering. In the ensuing discussion, the dwarfs lambast the ranger for making the Lieutenant angry, but they do not themselves seem overly concerned that he left his post. “The humans take care of the boars, talk to them,” and then they snicker at the Erik’s need for relief after “petting” the boars. Then the dwarf closest to Erik says, “Look here, the Lieutenant may have been angry, but that was because he has another assignment for you and couldn’t find you to give it you. You’d better get to the Barracks and get your new orders, then we can get out of these perches fit only for dragonlings and get back to cards.” The other dwarf perks up at the mention of the fashionable card game.

Weapons
 

Erik chuckles at the dwarf’s words, but not so much for the jovial camaraderie, but for that he made it through this little ruse! “Thanks for telling me about the Lieutenant’s request for me. Whew. Why do you think he’s so uptight? What’s the deal? That dude needs to chill.” Erik grins. He’ll wait a moment or two to see if the dwarfs reveal anything about Lt. Stymers or the fort in general, then he’ll bid the dwarfs farewell, making a warrior-bonding joke about cards (“Unlucky at cards, unlucky at love, so cheat and lie!”) and head off to the barracks to get his new orders.

When arriving at the barracks, Erik will take on a different persona that is something closer to the truth – that of a serious and skilled tracker and hunter; someone eager for the challenge of “special ops”. His excuse for being missing from his post will be that he was investigating suspicious activity at the warehouses – a single shadowy figure, small and built like a dwarf, a bit hunched, probably female, cloaked. Didn’t find anything. All was in order, at least as far as he could tell from the outside. Returned to his post and met the dwarves who directed them here (to the barracks).

Erik is wary of the Lt. and is ready for a trap. So Erik keeps his eye on the room’s exits (doors and windows) and that which would delay their use. Still, Erik wants to come across as someone who can be trusted for missions requiring tracking, stealth, skill with a bow, etc.

Weapons
 

torrock will return to his post as warehouse guard

Weapons
 

The dwarfs are not forthcoming with additional details. As Erik heads to the Barracks, he sees Tira and Rift outside talking to the Tiefling Private Zanphist. Recalling that Zanphist has not met him nor seem him with the others, he hesitates for an instant.

DM: What does Erik do? What do Rift and Tira do?

Torrock is able to get the warehouses without any problem. All is quiet in that area. He can see Rift and Tira with Private Zanphist just outside the Barracks, and with his excellent perception, he can hear them.

Weapons
 

Erik walks past Tira, Rift and Zanphist, slowing down just enough to ask in a direct and business-like manner, “Good day ladies and sir, have you seen Lieutenant Stymers? He has called me to his service.” Erik in no way lets on to Zanphist (or anyone observing) that he knows Tira and Rift well. Continuing on, Erik opens the door and enters the barracks.

Weapons
 

First, Rift and Tira will suggest that Zanphist move further away from the barracks, out of the line of sight of the door.

Then, we will give Zanphist the letter, and also inform him of everything that has occurred with the Captain. If he is willing, they will also help him to slip quietly out of the Fort, and will even lend him a horse if that will help him to reach Captain Kavanha more quickly.

Assuming that everything goes well, we will wait for Erik to give us an update.

Weapons
 

Just inside the door, the elf Private Frome hurries up to Erik and ushers him further into the room, closing the door behind the Ranger. Frome does not appear hostile. In the room are 3 burly looking dwarfs with crossbows at their side in chainmail and 6 veterans in scale armor. Shields are close by the veterans. At the far end of the eating room, three more veterans are huddled close to Stymers. One of the veterans swears and Stymers laughs like someone who is accustomed to winning, “Don’t try to beat me at dice, Leter. You always lose!”

Frome shouts out,”Lieutant, the new recruit is here.”

Erik can hear coins clicking and Stymers saying,”Later you’ll have a chance to try your luck again.”

Stymers makes a motion and two of the veterans grab their shields, two of the dwarfs get up and all four fall in behind Stymers as he approaches Erik. Everyone else stands and looks at the Ranger. As he is walking, Stymers is shaking his head, “Erik, Erik, you left your post – very disappointing! Well, no matter, I have an assigment for you.” He will stop 1 staff length away from Erik, assuming that Erik makes no threatening moves.

DM: Note that the door is closed behind Erik. What does Erik do?

Meanwhile outside The Tiefling’s tail twitches after reading the letter. He says, “Thank you for your help. I will need a horse. There is simply no time to waste. If those dwarfs in the towers try to stop me, I will insist that I have orders and cut those disloyal sons of fungus into the pieces they deserve to be.”

He seems anxious. “Will you take me to your horse now?”

DM: Do Tira and Rift wait for Erik to come back out, or do they take Zanphist to the stables?

Weapons
 

Tira glances at Rift, then nods. Tira leads Zanphist to the stables and shows him a horse, not the best of the set, that he may borrow. She smiles broadly as she wishes him luck, trying to appear as if she believes he does not need any.

If Zanphist heads off immediately Tira will watch him ride toward/through the gate, then return to Rift straightaway. If Zanphist is stopped at the gate, Tira will watch, but not step forward, unless weapons are drawn.

Weapons
 

Erik calmly stands his ground, at attention, looking at the lieutenant directly and answers, “Sir, from the guard tower I could see to the warehouses and noticed a single cloaked figure, smallish and hunched, probably female. I investigated but found nothing. What assignment do you have for me?”

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The arrogant Lieutenant looks at the Ranger. “Well, that sounds reasonable. Good initiative, I suppose. Just what I would have expected from a recruit of mine. Someone that can think on his feet and seize an opportunity.” He seems pleased with himself and a little more full of himself, it that were possible.

“Now, that assignment. I have received a report of a large humanoid, maybe an ogre, near the wizard’s tower not far to the south of here. Maybe this ogre is the cause of the troubles. I want you to go down to the tower, scout around, and see if you can confirm this. You’ll need to take one of the men with you…Uh, take Zanphist. He just stepped outside a minute ago. Zanphist will know how to get there. Get him and then report back to me just before sundown tonight. That should give you enough time to get down there, scout around, and bring back a report. You can get a horse from Aestirol the rancher, just outside the fort.” He hands you a tabard with the sign of Nerrakis. Put this on so that Aestirol knows that you are legitimate, along with Zanphist. You’d better hurry; the report said that the ogre was very near the tower. We wouldn’t want old Berune to get hurt, you know. That weird wizard must be good for something, all the emphasis we get from the Council to make sure his needs are met. With more information, we can decide what to do. You are dismissed.” He makes a vague hand gesture from his chest. Nothing like the crispness and care of the salute that Zanphist gave the party.

Stymers immediately turns around and heads back to the spot that he came from. He does not wait for questions. The goons make room for him to pass but stay in place until Erik leaves. Erik’s senses tell him that Stymers was lying about something during his explanation and assignment, but Erik’s isn’t sure which part was a lie and which part was the truth.

Meanwhile..

Zanphist goes with Tira to the stables. He thanks the sorceress for the horse and the gnome for helping him get it ready. He immediately rides out the gate. The dwarven crossbowmen pay no attention to him. Tira is able to return to Rift without any problems. She is able to see Torrock making rounds around the warehouses. It is not clear to her where Barrick is, and she can’t remember where he said he was going. Perhaps he is still with the Captain in the Herbalist’s shop.

DM: What do the characters do next?

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Tira waits for a few minutes with Rift to see if Erik emerges from the guard house. If he does, she tries to signal to him that they have information. If it appears that anyone is watching, Tira will pretend to find Erik attractive, walking with a wiggle to him with an apparent obvious reason, then whisper in his ear the news of Zanphist’s departure.

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Erik exits the barracks not knowing quite what to think and makes his way toward the gate by way of the warehouses and the inn. He hopes to find Zanphist (who he doesn’t know has already left the fort) and see his companions so he can relay their new mission. Somehow Erik will have get a horse from Aestirol and at least appear to head out on his own to Berune the wizard’s tower.

DM: Is Erik able to meet up with his companions? Surely Rift and Tira will be excited to meet Berune – hopefully on a powerful wizard’s good side, for once. Barrick may like the ogre.

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As Erik exits, Tira is able to catch his eye. Erik isn’t quite sure what to make of Tira’s unusual overture until she nods towards the dwarven bolters up in the towers who are avidly watching Erik. With his eagle eyes, he can almost see a dwarf smirk as Tira gets close enough to whisper. Tira relays the news of Zanphist’s departure to seek troops with a body language that says little about troop movements. Equally skilled at movement, Erik is able to tell Tira about his mission, the wizard Berune and the ogre.

DM: What do the characters do? Note that no one currently knows the location of the tower.

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Erik quickly tells Tira that he must catch Zanphist, at least to find out where the tower is. Knowing that he’s only minutes behind, he runs to the stables and grabs one of the group’s horses. Erik races off after Zanphist.

DM: Erik will use all his tracking skills to reach Zanphist as quickly as possible. If he can’t find Zanphist within 20 minutes, he’ll return to the fort and ask locals about where the wizard’s tower might be.

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Erik is able to tell that Zanphist headed north and at good pace, but not so fast to attract undue attention. Zanphist then sped up when well away from the fort. After about 20 minutes, Erik, having the better horse, is able to catch up to Zanphist. “How did you know where I was?” the Tiefling asks. “Ah, tracking skills. Useful. And, an ogre near the wizard’s tower? I would not have you or anyone face such an evil creature alone. Alas, I have mine own orders and cannot accompany you on this mission from Stymers.” He sneers as he says the name, “but I will not sabotage your attempt to follow his dictum. Turning south out of the fort gates, the road immediately forks. Head to the west. You will pass considerable new construction. Take care of your mount on the road, as the lazy workers leave things all over the place! Then the road becomes forested and parallels the hills. The tower is in the western hills about 2 hours ride on the main road or a good march of 4 hours. Fare well.” Zanphist heads off to the north at full speed.

DM: What does Erik do next?

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DM: Who has the communication sphere? Rift or Tira? What is it stored in?

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“Your directions will guide us well, Zanphist. May your travels be safe. When we meet again, pray it be in celebration of the dark cloud lifting from Fort Dolor”, exclaims Erik as he bits Zanphist farewell. Erik then turns his horse back to the south to meet with his friends. They will have to decide if they really wish to meet Berune the wizard. And perhaps an ogre.

DM: Erik does not have the communication sphere. Perhaps it’s in the pouch of holding?

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Before heading off, Zanphist salutes Erik in the formal way, right fist to his left shoulder and then arm extended with hands open. Erik realizes that the salute is a stylized way to show that one is not holding a weapon.

Erik is able to return safely to the fort. When within range, he notices that the dwarfs are no longer up in the towers.

While Erik was gone, the others noticed that once he was probably out of sight, the dwarfs proceeded to descend from the towers and head back to the barracks. As they passed, the dwarfs could be heard grumbling, “Can you believe Stymers made us pull a shift? Beard’s pull, you’d think he was the Captain giving us orders. Bad enough he made a patrol go out without captain’s orders. Heard they saw an Ogre. Won’t find me chasing down one of those monsters.”

All the dwarfs go back into the barracks.

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Torrock goes and finds erik and asks him about the wizard

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After Erik departed, Torrock spoke with Tira, learning the snippet about Erik’s mission. When Erik returns through the gates, Torrock quickly closes the distance between them and asks about the wizard.

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Who has the communication sphere?

Maybe it is the confusion of the battle still lingering in her mind; maybe it an after-effect of being near the succubus; maybe it is from chewing on a strange leaf from the herbalist, but Tira finds that she is not sure if she has the sphere or not.

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DM: Rift feels the communication sphere in a pocket but not in the pouch holding. Does she move it?

DM: What do the characters do once Erik returns safely? No dwarfs are in the towers and no one but them is on the streets. Two dire boars remain tied to the south wall of the Barracks.

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Tira talks with her friends, “An ogre, a wizard, and a tower? Now that sounds like an enjoyable afternoon. I vote we head down that way and see what is around.”

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Erik sneaks back into the fort to meet up with his friends. He knows that he’s supposed to be scouting for ogres down at the wizard’s tower, but he must confer with them first. From behind one of the warehouses, he spies Tira. Mimicking the sounds of a dire chicken, Erik tries to draw her attention: “Bu-cough, bu-cough, bu-cough.”

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Hearing the sound of the wounded bird, Tira pulls out her whip and moves quietly to try and find some fresh lunch. Seeing Erik she stops and stows her whip, wondering to herself just what Erik was doing crouched with a chicken.

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Torrock grabs Barrick and follows the chicken sounds. OOC lets playy online now please post round by round if combat occurs. More from DM later hopefully.

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Undoubtedly, Rift cannot miss Erik’s call. All five adventures are now together. The soldiers remain unseen, and the unruly dwarven warehouse owner Otrun seems content that his warehouses are under guard.

DM: do you proceed to follow Zanphist’s directions?

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Rift quickly examines the communication sphere. Does she notice anything unusual about it?

If not, let’s head off to the wizard’s tower, following Zanphist’s directions.

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After hearing of Erik’s mission and the detail of the direction to Berune’s tower, Tira remembers that this is the same name that Phlen the herbalist used to describe the purchaser of the leaves of wizard’s rose. Torrock realizes that the directions to the tower seem to be similar to the map that says “To the Hag”, but the only distinguishing landmark on that is a “Great Tree”.

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Rift keeps her eagle eyes open for a “great tree”...

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Nothing unusual about the communications sphere.

DM: Where does Rift put it after she looks at it?

Turning at the fork in the road, the adventurers walk past a cluttered road littered with boards, rocks, and other building materials, and new houses or other buildings under construction. Coming to the end of the construction, the road narrows. They walk at their usual pace for about 2 hours and are a bit surprised to see a circular tower up just past them in the hills to the west about 300 ft uphill from their present location. A loud sound of metal hitting something hard rings out of the hills. Grunting can be heard by the more perceptive of the group. A particularly loud ringing followed by a grunt sends a flock of hundreds of miniature red and blue dragonlike birds out of the hills.

If this is the tower Zanphist was describing, the military horses and soldiers are slow, the adventurers are fast, or Zanphist has a very bad sense of time.

DM: What do you do?

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torrock thinks we should go investigate

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Let’s let brave Erik sneak up and peek through the trees, while we wait out of sight just off the road.

Rift will put the communication sphere back in her pocket, where she can keep an eye on it. Does it make her nervous or anything?

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The three-story tower has a diameter of about 16 staff lengths. Battlements at the top would make for superior cover of any archers or crossbolters hiding behind them. Covered arrow slits ring the walls of the first and second stories. Approaching, everyone recognizes the construction as dwarven: the tower looks as though it was called out of the stone rather than made from stone. Its walls are smooth and remind you of the Hammerhold Inn. Although it has none of the ornateness of any of Baelsmirth’s work that you have seen, it has that aura of craftsmanship.

As you ascend, Rift’s eagle eyes spot a tremendous, nay Great, tree further to the south, perhaps another hour or more up the path. Maybe Zanphist got confused on what he was directing Erik to.

Noticing more of the tower, a double door of iron reinforced oak on the northernmost part of the tower is the only apparent entrance. Erik and Torrock both immediately spy a glyph of warding sealing the door.

Erik is disturbed to see that little grows around the tower, so there is no cover to be had. One can only be as quiet as possible.

The ringing of metal gets louder. The grunting reminds you of someone hard at physical work. Approaching quietly, you can see a monstrosity of a large, green humanoid creature. The 8 foot tall creature built of solid muscle is swinging a large axe at a jet-black wooden tree trunk. When the axe hits, the wood splits but with a sound as though the axe hit a soft rock. Barrick is reminded of the sound of a pick on coal. The Ogre, you presume, is dressed in hide armor. The hide armor is ornate and fine, much nicer than you might have assumed an Ogre would have. A greatclub hangs on a belt. Erik and Torrock are surprised to see finely detailed silver crescent moons, short straight lines, and triangles scattered all over the armor once the party is within 5 staff lengths.

When they get to 4 staff lengths, the Ogre stops and turns. Angrily he says, almost grunting, “What you want here? Leave me be. Work do. Go away!”

Torrock’s insight tells him that though the anger at the interruption is real, the speech is not. The Ogre’s eyes betray an intelligent creature that is speaking poorly for effect.

The Ogre is waiting for you to leave, but the axe is down not up. He is simplying pointing for you to go back the way you came.

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torrock says calmly what is your name

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Does it make her nervous or anything?

The sphere gives Rift no feeling except frustration that she does not know the language that was being spoken.

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The Ogre’s face turns almost red with frustration. Still he does not lift the axe. “You come my house. I ask questions. You not answer. Me better than you.” He pauses for effect. “Monroe.” He points to himself with his free hand. “Who all you and why you here?” He looks impatient this time.

Those that remained by the road can clearly hear the conversation.

Torrock has a hard time not snickering at the obvious attempt at poor speech.

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DM: What kind of tree is the ogre working on? Does Erik know it to be a tree of “nobility” that should not be chopped down?

Erik takes a step forward and asks, “Perhaps you would like some help with your work? My friend here, the dwarf, is a master with the axe. Between the two of us, we have great strength and can help shorten your labor. The dragonborn has great powers to heal tired muscles. The two ladies are more than meets the eye. Though both beautiful and charming (Erik winks at Rift), they possess powers of wizardry and sorcery. Perhaps they could show you and me a thing or two about felling a simple tree.”

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Rift would like to use her arcana skills to determine if this Ogre could indeed be the wizard.

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torrock asks the ogre why he is chopping the tree down.

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Erik recognizes the tree as the famous coalwood. It is not seen growing in the Nentir vale but is highly prized there for its slow, long burning with high heat. It is a favorite of those who need to heat stone buildings or keep a forge going.

“Apparently, you stupid and not know why you here except to help me.” The Ogre Monroe smirks. He extends the axe. He smirks even more. “Human try first. Split the coal wood. Yes!” He crosses his arms with a bit of smugness on his face.

Rift’s arcana is able to see that the Ogre is indeed an Ogre, but her study of Ogres reminds her that Ogres do not speak much in their native and rarely speak Common at all. Even this much talking seems beyond the realm of Ogre lore as taught to her.

Taking the axe, Erik is not surprised by how heavy it is. It takes all of his athleticism to wield the mighty tool. He swings. All of his training pays off, as does his great physical strength. A good sized piece comes off of the trunk, about the same size as the split logs that Monroe produced. He quickly makes several more pieces.

Monroe stops smirking. “Now, why are you here at the tower of the wizard Berune Voltar? You tell me this, dragonborn, and then I will tell you why I am chopping the best heating wood before another winter storm approaches.”

The Ogre has dropped the stupid speech. His speaking is as clearly as a practiced lecturer in the legendary Lukianas University far to the east. Rift is keenly aware that Ogres, at least as she learned about them, do not talk like this. The only magic she can detect is coming from his armor.

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One reason of mine is that I wish to learn from this great wizard.

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The Ogre’s eyebrows rise. “Now, why did you not say that from the start? Wise is the one who knows that he needs to learn.”

Turning his back on the adventurers with the certainty of one who is powerful and unafraid, he walks up to the double doors. He turns around to face the adventurers. He says in the language of the dwarfs, “Welcome.” He bows slightly and motions towards the doors. The doors open.

He leans in and yells, “Master Voltar, you have visitors from one who wishes to learn from you and his four companions.”

A crash of glass, a small explosion, and a sour smelling smoke come out of the door, followed by a stout dwarf dressed in blue robes holding an ironwood staff. His head is crowned with a circular cap. The eyes of this dwarf are strange until you realize that one is blue, and the other is a blue crystal with swirling white lights inside of it.

“Ah, visitors. And well equipped ones at that” says the dwarf. You can see the swirling intensify as he quickly looks at each of you. “Please come in. I would know who it is that seeks to learn from me and what they seek to learn.”

The sour yellow smoke prevents your seeing anything beyond one staff length into the tower.

DM: do you go in as the dwarven wizard turns around for you to follow him?

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torrock will follow and ask. “Are you an alchemist? Great wizard is there anything I cuould learn about nature and magic from becuse I know so little.”

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“Alchemy, oh no, no. My love is rituals, and more specifically, potions. Of course, these require the utmost concentration and when it is broken by someone who was supposed to be chopping coalwood, well, things do not go so well.”

He glares in a friendly way at Monroe who simply shrugs his shoulders, and then says, “the chopping is done thanks to this one here,” he says, pointing at Erik standing near the door.

The dwarf’s good eye widens. “Well endowed with more than I realized.” Then, he sneezes.

“I apologize for the smell. Kruthik scales are notoriously odorous, but mixed correctly, when their scales are ground with an acid beetle’s teeth and a few other ingredients, the concoction does a marvelous job protecting against those Kruthik’s nasty acid. And, they are so common to the west of here. Another thing one must remember to thank the Tiefling empire for.”

“So, are you interested in rituals? I have not taught in years. Not sure I’m up to it. Did you have something specific in mind?”

Torrock’s insight tells him that the energetic dwarf is bluffing when he falsely expresses concern of “not up to it.”

DM: Do the others come in?

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Rift eyes the Ogre dubiously as she strides past him and into the tower. “Monroe, is it?” She smiles warmly. “I am Rift, a wizard from Fallcrest. I trained under Nimozaran, curse his green robes. Perhaps I could help you clean up the mess?” She will use a little prestidigitation to sweep up.

“Kruthiks, you say? We encountered a group of them on our journey here from the Hammerhold Inn. Killed them all, but sorry to say we didn’t have time to keep the scales. Seems like you can’t be too careful on the road these days, what with the Brotherhood being so active, and not knowing the whereabouts of that big dragon (what’s-his-name-again?).”

“So, how go things here in Nerrakis? Seems a bit quiet in Fort Dolor…”

After this long-winded stream of consciousness, Rift waits to hear his reply.

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Tira follows Rift inside, also smiling brightly at Monroe. Tira steps off to one side whilst Rift is talking and tries to casually look around the room, seeing what she can see.

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look around the room, seeing what she can see

Tira notices that there are golden designs on the walls that seem magical.

Now that the spoke has cleared, she can see this entire circular room of the tower. The diameter is 16 staff lengths. To their left is a spiral staircase leading up. To their right are two large chairs facing other with braziers next to them and a decorative wool carpet between them. In the center of the room is a table with vials, bottles, odd jars, parchment and ink. Bookcases are on the right and far walls stacked with books and scrolls. There is a small desk also against the far wall. Another table is far to their left piled with parchment, scrolls and books.

Tira is not sure why she cannot read any of the titles on the books at this distance. She thought that her eyes were better than that.

While she observes this, the dwarven wizard speaks to Rift.

“Thank you for the cleaning help, Rift. The wizard Nimorzan of Fallcrest, eh?” Berune shakes his head. “Not much love lost between you and your old master. Well, that happens. He has a gift for fire spells as I recall. Or was it ice? No matter. Not my area, really. I’ll dabble there, but nothing impressive.”

As he speaks to Rift and gets to be one staff length away, his blue crystal left eye starts to glow brightly. “Now there is no need to worry about dragons here anymore. Frystimagythant was slain almost two years ago. And, the Fort has been doing well ever since. What is a bit of a worry is that I can no longer see into the dwarven chambers that the white dragon used for his home. It is as though a shadow is over them. Very strange. Not the first place that I can no longer see well. This is a real distraction from my research, but I don’t worry about such things. Worry will get a wizard nowhere. Just as there is no point in worrying about the Brotherhood. Those little pseudo-goblins aren’t really much of threat around here. They are like the Kruthik. Both made by the Tieflings in their twisted, diabolic way. One from reptiles, the other from duergar. Both are simply annoying, as long as they don’t kill you.” He grins ironically.

He then looks intently at Rift.

“What is more of a concern is why an Eladrin wizard is walking into my tower with a devil’s speaking sphere. You are my guests, but I will not have such evil here. Let us see the sphere and then you can explain yourself!” His firm look suggests that he expects his order to be obeyed.

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Torrock speaks up and says. ” we found that on the dead body of a succubus. By the way do you know of any rituals concerning nature?”

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The first level of Berune Voltar’s tower:

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Berune’s good eye widens. “A succubus. And dead? Well, that is the best way for one to be. As to rituals about nature, that is one of my specialties. Each is difficult to learn and takes a considerable about of time. But first, it is always good to know what message such a devil carries. Have you translated the message?”

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Rift bows to Berune. “We apologize for bringing the sphere here.” She then takes it out of her pocket and hands it to him. “Apparently it needs human blood to work. Erik here graciously volunteered, but none of us were able to understand the language. Probably supernal. Perhaps you could help?”

“In return, we would be happy to assist you with investigating the white dragon’s former home.”

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Berune says,”Oh nasty as usual for a diabolic device. I keep samples of the blood of many races and creatures. Erik need not spill any more of his for this message.”

Berune crosses the room to a low cabinet, mutters something, and then extracts a tray of vials. He returns to the middle table. “Please, set the sphere here,” he says, clearing a space.

He uncorks a vial and a drop of blood falls onto the sphere. Again, the chain devil appears speaking in a most loving and affectionate manner. This time, the adventurers notice that just before he bows, he whistles a short series of notes.

“Intriguing! Your succubus is involved with a chain devil. Now, to see what he is saying.”

Berune crosses to the far book case and pulls off a heavy tome, bringing it back to the table. He opens a small chest on the table that Rift recognizes as filled with several thousand gold worth of ritual components.

“Please, I must concentrate for the next several minutes. Make yourselves comfortable.” He conjures some small stools for the group.

He begins a ritual. Sigils swirl in the air. Foreign sounds issue from the wizard’s mouth. His ears and good eye begin to glow a brilliant blue.

He grabs a piece of parchment and a quill. Then, the dwarf drips another drop of blood on the sphere. As the chain devil speaks, Berune scribbles madly. “Oh, my!” he says when the chain devil’s image has vanished. His hands are shaking. He hands the writing to Rift. “We have a problem,” he says.

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This is what is written on the parchment:

Dearest beloved you have done well. Frystiomagythant’s loss is our gain. And Lorvas is a boon to manipulate. Encourage Slitheral and Lorvas to search for the ring and rod. Get them as many humanoids as they need for their sacrifices. Keep the Fort soldiers away from us and away from their temple.

Tell the Zehir fools you also had heard of stories that Arkhosian magicians were able to stop the power of the ring and rod to turn dragonborn hatchlings into dracomen. You know that without those magicians to stop them, when combined, the rod and ring will have their power and make an army of dracomen to serve Zehir. I planted these stories in manuscripts attributed to Nemeia soon after the fall of the Tiefling empire. It appears Lorvas has read my work. Continue to preen Lorvas on his great knowledge. He must find the ring wherever Nemeia hid it in her tomb.

I will be glad to have her ring and summon more of my servants to the front lines so that our battalions can decimate these Nerrakins and turn them into the slaves they were born to be. I tire of slowly getting our people through this portal. Soon, those of Zehir will either serve us or die. Then we will turn north and destroy the spawn of Arkhosia. I need more humans to keep the portal open. Send three soldiers on a mission quickly.

Know that Ichyrot loves you.

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Barrick rolls his head around his neck, stretching out the kinks. He had been feeling out of sorts since he met an ogre smarter than himself, and a dwarven wizard more interested in nature than stone. But now, it was back to the usual slate. Power-mad schemers. Armies enslaving gentle folk. Magic bits of metal. Humanoid sacrifices. Open portals. He had seen it all before, and he knew now he would see it again, and soon.

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As Barrick ponders, for the first time the wizard has a clear view of him among the group. The blue jeweled eye glows brightly and then the wizard exclaims, “Moradin’s Beard! The Key of Bonderstrong! Here, in my tower. What goodness must have done to be so fortunate?” he asks rhetorically.

Then, he looks at the group. “How did you get it out of the carving of Moradin at the Forge? Incredible!” He doesn’t seem all that concerned about actually getting answers to his questions.

“Wait here!”

He rushes up the spiral staircase. A few moments later he returns with a clear crystal chest. Inside is a ragged piece of metal with multiple reds and golds and silvers. Two sides of a rectangle shape are straight while the other two sides are ragged as though it had been broken from something larger.

As the chest gets closer to Barrick, the metal inside begins to glow a fire white as does the key that Barrick wears. Barrick has the distinct feeling that he is seeing an old friend, an old comrade in the metal. No, it is not the fighter himself, but the Key that is expressing these feelings. They are so powerful that Barrick thought for a moment they were his own.

Berune is almost giddy. “Just two years ago, I had followed a lead, a rumor really, that an important dwarven artifact had been found and was for sale in Nerrakeen. Well, I could not let that pass. As you can see, here along the edges are the crescent moon, rod, and triangle patterns representing the great dwarven Clan of the Triangle, of whom Chief Bonderstrong Ironfell was the greatest leader. This is a part of the great shield of Bonderstrong, one of the three treasures of the Clan that Bonderstrong Ironfell led until the rise of the Tiefling Empire.”

Everyone can see part of a triangle shape recessed on the metal that the triangle part of the Key would perfectly match.

“My research had suggested to me that the shield was broken when the Tiefling Emperor Laarn stole it out of its safe place – a place similar to the Key that you have. I could only surmise that this was at Hammerfell, one of the lost holds of the Clan.”

The dwarven wizard is almost breathless. Here is an academic whose research is finally amounting to something. “It was in the naïve hope of finding the rest of the shield that I sent Monroe south to Sonderland for the past year, to await the mating of the Sonderval, the great crab. In the course of the mating, the stone walsir is produced. When walsir is placed in a dwarven forge and melded with steel, it becomes the great metal adamantium, of which this shield is made. Monroe was able to recover enough walsir, possibly, to repair the shield.”

“Unfortunately, no one knows what Laarn did with the remainder of the shield.”

The giddiness wears off as the reality of the difficulty remaining confronts the wizard.

“But, I believe that with the Key, perhaps the Key holder could be guided to finding it. Whether or not this is true, the shield fragment belongs with the Key. Perhaps you could bind the fragment to your own shield and derive some strength from it, valiant dwarven warrior.”

At this, a bit of wetness seems to appear in the wizard’s good eye. He mutters a few words, opens the chest, and hands the fragment to Barrick. The glowing stops but the feeling from the Key remains as pleased as before.

“In the time I spent retrieving the fragment, I reflected on a few of the items in the Chain Devil’s message. But first, I must know, how did you come by this sphere? Just where was this dead succubus? How did she die? Was she alone? Did she have companions? I must know everything and then, perhaps, I can give you some aid.”

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Rift looks puzzled. “Berune, what does this all mean? Why did you say we had a problem when you heard the message from Ichyrot? How does this concern us?”

“And just where is Frystimagythant’s lair?”

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Tira nods as she listens to Rift’s questions. She knows she heard the word ‘portal’ in the translation, and that brought forth memories, both good and bad but definitely exciting, but she also heard many names that meant little to her. She is glad that Rift asked these basic questions, she was afraid she was the only one that did not understand, and even being in the company of good friends, she did not want to ask a question that might show off her lack of memory for details.

If Berune seems to not want to answer until hearing the story of the sphere and the succubus, Tira steps forward and, with some extra flair, retells everything that transpired at the Fort, using her charisma to make the party appear even more heroic than they are.
DM: Please do not make me cut and paste the story from above

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Berune looks at Rift after her questions and simply waits for his own to be answered. He is obviously pleased when Tira starts to tell the tale of the Fort, the Captain and Xeriope. During Tira’s recital, his good eye grows larger and larger. He is clearly impressed.

“The Captain is back to his senses, this is good. The military can take care of whatever is needed to restore order, I am sure. Of more pressing concern are the contents of this message.”

“My dear wizard, Frystiomagythant was a powerful white dragon whose lair was at the top of Mount Hol’dna about half a day’s journey north of here. It is the largest mountain in the area. From it, the white dragon was the most terrible force in western Nerrakis. For more than a hundred years, as Fort Dolor and its mining and forestry would just start to grow and prosper, out the dragon would come to keep the people off of his territory. Not two years ago, a daring group of adventurers, the Storm Wardens, took on the Nerrakin Council of Elders’s challenge to slay the dragon. This they did, and the Fort and its populace have prospered and expanded rapidly since.”

“If a chain devil is saying that the white dragon’s loss is our gain, then this whole region has something to fear indeed, and that you have come to possess his message sphere could not possibly be good news for any of you. A chain devil can track the holder of his sphere. Now that I know that it was you that slew his beloved succubus, well, it would be a bad day for you when this Ichyrot and his army came looking for her and found you. Moradin’s Might! But, this is just the start of the troubles contained in this message.”

The old dwarf looks very solemn, almost sad. “The chain devil mentioned Slitheral and Lorvas. I do not know who or what this Slitheral is. But, a certain Tal Lorvas was a promising student of mine for many years. Unfortunately, he liked the path to quick success, easy power, and strayed far from the learnings I was offering. He sought more and more to learn about the evil god Zehir and his power over death. We had many heated arguments. About 10 years ago, I banished him from my service.”

Then he looks even more troubled. “Not a year ago, while Monroe and I were out collecting Kruthik scales, I returned to find that the Tower had been penetrated but with no sign of force. Only Lorvas could have gotten past so many of my magical locks and wards. He was always very good at that sort of thing. Searching, Monroe and I found that my books on the history of the Tiefling empire and my copies of the writings of the emperor Laarn and empress Nemeia, my books on the great dwarven holds of Bonderstrong and the whole clan of the Triangle: Hammerhold, Hammerfast, Hammerfell were all missing. Ichyrot mentioned that Lorvas must have read some of Nemeia’s writings, and indeed her book contained many references to her powerful ring that, among its several powers, could summon devils from the Nine Hells to support the Tiefling armies. She also had a magical rod that could warp magic and turn it on its master. Together, so she wrote, she had made many sacrifices so that the two could change the eggs of the dragonborn of Arkhosia into the dracomen, evil creatures bent on the destruction of all. All this, of course, to destroy the Tieflings hated enemies, the dragonborn of Arkhosia.” He gives this almost as a teacher digressing on a tidbit during an important lecture.

Then, the wizard returns to the matter at hand.

“Now, Ichyrot in this message appears to be boasting that such writings about these powers of Nemeia are actually his own! What else in our history books is actually the writing of ancient devils bent on twisting the truth? Oh, it staggers the mind.” He slumps for a moment, his head in hand.

The Ogre walks over to him. The group had not realized Monroe’s color had changed to a bright red. He says firmly, “Master. You have not finished. They must know all that you do about these matters.”

The wizard straightens up. “Quite right, Monroe. Now, there is more than one more twisted bit to the message. You see, Ichyrot mentions that he is using Lorvas in some way to get to Nemeia’s ring. Therefore, Lorvas must have found the tomb of at least Nemeia, if not Laarn the great emperor. Both were rumored to have great items of power entombed with them. Most bitter for me, is that my studies had concluded that these Tieflings had built their tombs on the site of great dwarven stronghold of Hammerfell, lost since the Tieflings invaded ages ago. It was in Hammerfell that Bonderstrong’s shield was stored for safekeeping until a valiant dwarven warrior could come and claim it with the Key. The very Key that you have walked in with! And, yet, a shard of that shield is out and here with us. Lorvas must have found Hammerfell, or what is left of it, and may have access to the great dwarven powers there, as well to the Tiefling items of power left by those conquerors before the great war with Arkhosia. Yet, Lorvas does not have the Key, so maybe, he does not have control of everything, yet. But his twisted powers may be enough, even without the Key.”

“Despite all this, Ichyrot seems to think he will have power enough to overcome Lorvas and this Slitheral. It staggers the mind.”

“But, where to start? Where is Ichyrot? And where is Lorvas? My research had not yet revealed the ancient location of Hammerfell or the Tiefling temple that Nemeia built on its ruins.”

He grips his hands with that feeling of one who knows that research is on the right track but results have not come soon enough.

“Rift, you asked why you should be concerned. This Ichyrot must be stopped before all of his ‘people’, as he put it, have arrived. You must find him and destroy him. Then, perhaps from his minions you can find the location of Lorvas. I will search what texts Lorvas did not steal. Mayhap I can find a new clue to his location.”

The dwarf turns to face the dragonborn shaman, ”Torrock, I can teach you the magic that is contained in rituals after this evil is destroyed. I can offer you the materials you will need and mine own knowledge. To the rest of you, I have a few items that may be of some of use in battling devils and the scum that inhabit the eastern Dawnforge but nothing else that I can offer to encourage you to take up this challenge. Still, I entreat you, return to me with the links of this devil’s chain and you will have done a great service to all that is good.”

His bright good eye looks at you keenly as he awaits your reply, while his blue crystal eye whirls.

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Erik steps to the fore and speaks to Berune, “This communication sphere, can it be used to trace back to Ichyrot?” Erik then glances to Rift as well, since he knows that she too has an incredibly keen intellect, good at figuring out the arcane.

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Tira adds another question, “And if we cannot use the sphere as a locator beacon toward Ichyrot, could we use it someway to draw him, not just his minions, but him, toward us, out into the veiled open?”

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Berune nods thoughtfully at Erik and Tira in a serious appreciation of what he thinks is a very good idea. “Tira, I know of no way to use a message sphere to communicate with the sender. It is as though a note was written and placed on a magical cord. But, Erik, can the cord be followed back to its origin? Oh, now that would be a very clever trick!”

He looks intently at Erik, “Are you sure you are not trained in Arcana?”

Then, he grins, almost wickedly. “If you had asked me this question yesterday, I would have told you that some powerful magic items might have properties that could follow a magical trace back to its source, but I did not know of any or where to find them. And, that would have been true. But, today, here stands in front of us the Key of Bonderstrong, whose powers of helping the bearer find his way to a goal are legendary.”

He speaks animatedly, “I heard of, once, a druid companion of a Key bearer that held the crescent moon in his hands like a divining rod and the Key guided this druid and their comrades to the lost Hammer of Neltedir, a gift of the ancient Clan of the Triangle chief Lasterrick Ironfell to the dragonborn king Neltedir. This was even before the days of Arkhosia and the evil Tiefling empire of Bael Turath. So, the Key’s magic extends to dwarven power of days long past. And, these mountains are so full of the ancient dwarfs, that maybe, if Ichyrot is in them, the Key can follow the magic of his sphere back to him.”

“I would see if you can confront the Key with the message sphere and communicate your intent or desire.”

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Erik is stunned that he asked a good question and for a moment and he day dreams about being a powerful wizard. From high atop his mighty tower built upon a rocky spire he wields his ethereal bow, raining bolts of light down upon the countless hordes of orcs who now surround. They fall in quick succession as an endless quiver feeds the guiding hand, so skilled it never misses. At his side wait two blades, crafted even before Elves came to this plane. Their sharpness never dulled. Their thirst for the severing cut never diminished. And finally, behind him stands his loving bride, the fairest maiden of all whose beauty is only surpassed by her sorceress charms. She brings forth a tumultuous sky that crackles and blows. Orcs lay blasted and drenched in water, mud and their comrade’s blood. Still there are perhaps too many…

Erik blinks a bit, composes himself and asks, “Berune, this is indeed good news. We shall indeed seek out Ichyrot, but may I also ask of a wicked hag? The fort was put under the spell of a horrible lie that visitors would lead to the deaths of everyone in the fort. She was the one who created this disease. Do you know of her? May she wait on our path before Ichyrot?”

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The dwarven wizard looks thoughtfully at Erik. “A hag? No, I’m afraid I don’t know about a hag. I haven’t been to the Fort in a while. A spell of a lie at the Fort? Hmm. I don’t think I even have heard of that spell. Always so much more to learn!”

“I can’t imagine a hag would present a danger to you five. What may be more of an issue are the several dreaded denizens of the Dawnforge. You mentioned you had seen the Kruthiks. I find that the Tiefling’s old pets vary considerably from one end to the other of this range. Be wary of them, and they should fall to your power without too much trouble, I expect, if they are too stupid to stay out of your way. Oh, do save some of their outer scales if you can. Very helpful for potion making. ”

Monroe’s deep voice almost startles you from behind. “Watch out for the vines. The greenvise vines. It is a large plant that eats humanoids.”

Berune nods, “Oh yes, and the stirges. They will fly out and try to bite you and suck out your blood. Nasty things, but…if you do see one and can get its sucker, those are extremely useful!” The little wizard just gleams at the thought of what he could do with a stirge’s sucker.

Monroe nods, “And the Brotherhood should not trouble you if they have any intelligence. There are a few that are a bit larger than most, though. They help stretch the muscles.” The Ogre closes his eyes briefly. He pats his greatclub. Then, he grins. An Ogre’s smile is creepier than an Ogre’s growl, it turns out. Then, he frowns. “Master, you should tell them about the shadows.”

The wizard nods. “Ah, yes, well. The shadows. Right. Monroe, I do not usually make a habit of discussing things I have not had a chance to investigate fully.” The Ogre looks rather sternly at the dwarf.

“Well, in my bowl looking out over the Dawnforge, recently, I have seen shadows moving. Not in a natural way. Very disturbing really. Large shadows. Not much else to say.”

The wizard looks deeply dissatified with having discussed this with you.

Then, he brightens, “Now, what about Erik’s good idea of tracking Ichyrot? Does the Key respond to all of you or just some?”

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Tira answers, “The Key seems not to care one whit about me, so it appears I must needs be a follower, at least for the time being.”

But then she asks Berune something that has been on her mind for a while, “Good wizard, perchance are you familiar with the leaf of the Wizard’s Rose? I ask because I saw some back at the Fort and have been curious since. I have heard it can greatly help spells, but being a sorceress and not a wizard, I wonder if I might be able to benefit at all from such a plant?”

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Berune’s good eye gets large even as his crystal blue one deepens. “Ah, those leaves are marvelous! As far as I know, they enhance spells for a short time when one uses an implement. It doesn’t seem to matter whether it is for a wizard, a sorcerer, or even a druid spell. I can rub one on my staff and find that my powers are much more effective. Unfortunately, the effect only lasts about five minutes, but oh, what value one can find in such a short time. I would expect that even in your sorcerery, the leaves would benefit you. But, they are very expensive. Phlen works very hard to grow them.”

Then, he turns and mutters almost, but not quite, imperceptibly, “hadn’t thought about having competition for buying those. Might have to give the boy something extra.”

He shakes his head and returns to Tira, “Oh, by the way, the legends of the Key are very interesting on your point about it not responding to you. Mayhap you have not tried ina time of need? Perhaps you do not know, the 3 parts correspond to three of the prized skills of the ancient dwarfs: the triangle is for dungeoneering, the rod is for endurance, and the crescent is for arcana. Now, it may surprise you that arcana was considered prized; it surprised me too when I learned of it, but the ancient dwarfs knew how to wield the great magic in the stone and earth. Such magic comes directly from the Elemental Chaos, it is said. Baelsmirth was the greatest master of this elemental magic, but many others had worked for centuries to learn of it. This tower represents one of the efforts in that arena.”

“So, I would not be so certain that the Key does not respond to you, or any of you, until you have tried when you have a need. You are all companions of Barrick the Keyholder, and it may have a way-making purpose for working with any of you, I would expect. It is not as though it is some evil item that only a valiant dwarf has the fortitude to bear.”

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