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.