Voleir

Back Underground
In which the heroes learn of their location and of strange currencies

The camp was empty and the lone goblin still unconscious. Setting up watch around the campfire, Fiona watched as Blayth and Svierge set up their bedrolls and rested. Kriv, Raxeus, and Maugrim each took a tent to themselves and soon, everyone was asleep.

When the goblin awoke and began struggling at his chains, Blayth and Svierge joined Fiona to interrogate. They learned that the goblin was the head of the hunting party that had attacked, and they were on the outskirts of a city called Gloomwrought. Upon request, the goblin recommended the Black Griffon Inn as a comfortable enough place, but when given some gold by Blayth as repayment for the destruction of his hunting group, he scoffed.

“Shiny stuff like that won’t get you far in the Shadowfell, dear,” he said. “Our kind look for tangible wealth, like meat.”

And that is how the party found themselves descending into the catacombs again, hunting some ghouls to fill the goblin’s wagon before heading back to the city. Maugrim and Kriv stayed behind: Maugrim, to contemplate some strange dreams he had encountered upon sleeping, and Kriv, as he was feeling extremely exhausted from the travel into the Shadowfell and had not slept well during the night.

Below, the party, with Raxeus towing the goblin along on a chain, examined an unexplored region of the ruined tunnels. Fiona, scouting ahead, discovered a den of ghouls. She surprised them with a volley of arrows, killing one outright, and the heroes advanced into the slimy tunnel and began to exterminate the remaining ghouls.

Suddenly, Fiona’s wolf was ambushed by an invisible panther. A swarm of dark and agile scarabs poured out from a crushed wall to attack. In spite of the complications, the party managed to hold the enemies at bay… until another wave of ghouls climbed from beneath the rubble and went straight for Raxeus.

Holding his glaive and the chain in hand, Raxeus spun around, dashing several of the ghouls into pieces and swinging the goblin around his head. Screaming madly, the goblin grunted when he hit the stone ground again. The fight was over.

XP Reward: 700xp apiece
Treasure: none

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The Hunting Camp
In which the party has a run-in with a very strange group of hunters
  • Fiona and Raxeus emerge in an admin office and then exit into the open air, near a crater
  • The rest of the group ascends the main exit staircase, spies a number of figures in the dusky square outside, and hears the sound of their companions from the crater
  • Maugrim sneaks over to the edge of the crater and signals to Fiona and Raxeus, but not before he is spotted by a ballista on sentry
  • A guard behind a casement signals an alarm and goblins begin to pour out of the campsite
  • Close behind them is a troll with a shadowy aura following him; shades flit out from his trail and move off to attack the other groups
  • The troll heads straight toward Raxeus and Fiona, who enter into melee with him
  • Another ballista moves out from behind the other, while a third arrives on the opposite side of the battlefield
  • Blayth charges the first ballista and takes out a number of the goblins
  • Maugrim sets the first ballista on fire with his Eldritch Blast and uses his Nail of Sealing on the next one
  • Svierge, in between keeping Raxeus and Fiona healed, lights the second ballista on fire with a torch made from the first
  • The troll whales on Raxeus and continues to heal himself until Blayth catches her cloak on fire (using the second ballista) and throws it over the troll’s head
  • Raxeus gives the troll a killing blow and it stays down, thanks to Blayth’s burning cloak
  • Fiona and her wolf are busy with a goblin hexer, who surrenders as soon as the group surrounds him
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Into the Shadowfell
In which the heroes emerge into the Shadowfell and find a strange structure from ancient times

Ancient subwayAfter opened the door and rejoining Svierge and Kriv, the rest of the group saw the large doorway set into the wall of the new room. After some fiddling by Svierge, who seemed to not understand the basic function of a doorknob, Kriv pushed the door open into pitch black.

Anything that was inserted through the portal vanished in the darkness. When the party moved through, they too could not see anything. They trudged onward for ten minutes until the dim light of a larger chamber appeared far at the end of a tunnel.

When they moved out into the big room, they were shocked to see that Raxeus and Fiona were missing. Stranger still was the chamber they had emerged into. Huge, with vast ceilings made of tile and what appeared to be tracks running alongside each wall, this appeared as some sort of coach station. One of the coaches lay against a wall, smashed into pieces and filled with rotting body parts. Upon inspection of this massacre, the party was attacked by a group of ghouls.

After dispatching the foul undead creatures, the group continued upward to the platform above, and then exited past ancient rusted turnstiles and a busted up ticket booth. Above them, the sky seemed ready for evening and the wind blew fiercely. A massive staircase led up and away from this very strange building.

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Interlude

dndThere is a glen deep in the Feywild. Or deep within the Winterbole Forest. Sometimes it exists in both places. It is an old place, one that has existed for as long as creation.

In this glen is an unadorned throne made of oak. On the throne sits an eladrin, cold and beautiful. She tilts her head in curiosity, for there is someone kneeling before her. Or at the very least, he is on his knees.

“You say that you have news for our brethren in the Outside World? News from Amethystra?”

The kneeling figure, also an eladrin, stares at her. His mouth is a taut line. He suddenly narrows his eyes and clenches his teeth as if straining against some unforeseen power.

“Ahh, yes. I see. Prince Uricain’s little coup against his father. It is the talk of the town, is it not? Old news, though. Everyone’s heard it.” She smiles cruelly, and it is not an altogether unpleasant sight. “King Arghal of the Winterbole elves is mustering troops for aid. It was his uncle that the Prince slew, after all.”

“You know that’s not what happened,” the kneeling eladrin says, shaking with anger. “There is more to this than your fickle games, Shirlindra! I must spread the truth!”

She smiles down at him and beckons a guard to take him away. “Sometimes the truth is a dangerous weapon, Malthoron Istarrna.”


Kamroth CastleArmos Kamroth stands at the window of his manor, looking out over the pissant burg of Fallcrest. In his mind’s eye he sees the towers of Razortear rising to the sky, banners snapping in the cool Arkhosian wind. It won’t be long, he thinks, before I am out of this hellhole.

A voice breaks his reverie.

“There’s news, sir. We have… a situation.”

Kamroth turns slowly, staring the underling down. “What?”

“We… we have word, sir. Word from Nerath. It is about Banebreath.”

Nathak Banebreath. The pride of Arkhosia. This should be good.

“It appears that he has been executed, sir.” The courier winces, awaiting his master’s reaction. “By the… Silver Talon, sir.”

The response is not what the young half-elf expected. Kamroth frowns and then shrugs.

“Not surprising. He was a fool. What I worry about most now is how much he told that ancient castellan that runs the Talon. It’s little concern to us, really. I never understood why Chazore put so much stock in…” He pauses, noticing the look on the courier’s face. “What? Is there more?”

The youth swallows hard. “Sir… it appears that Kriv was involved as well.”

Now Kamroth is silent, fuming. Through a clenched jaw, he says, “Involved how?”

“Err, he… he returned to the Keep of the Claw with… with the box, sir. As well as the Littleknight… contingent.”

Waiting for a reaction and receiving none, the half-elf continues. “It also appears, sir, that he has exhibited signs. Err, signs that he is indeed the scion of…”

“Don’t say it,” Kamroth says in a low voice. He turns again to stare out the window.

The half-elf nods. “Yes sir. That is… that is all.”

“Leave me. Now.”


The ground is cold. Her body feels… different. The tendons creak when she moves. It feels like the muscles haven’t soaked in oxygen for centuries.

She opens her mouth. The taste of blood. Her vocal cords do not work.

In time, your voice will return. A voice, expressionless and cold echoes through her mind.

The last thing she remembers is the face of a gray creature, one called a quickling. It grinned at her with its sharp teeth and then ran its blade into her exposed throat. It stayed above her, gloating while her last breaths bubbled out from her bleeding neck.

That too will fade, says the voice again. It no longer matters. All that matters is this.

And an image comes into her mind. A man, swarthy with an easy grin. She knew him, before. They had battled great evil once, together.

All things must end. It is necessary for order and balance.

“Who,” she croaks. “Who… arg… you…?”

Wings flutter in the distance of the bleak landscape. A crow lands on the cracked tundra. It stares at her. Again, she sees the man.

His time has come. Yours has not. You are now called Kaja. You will end him.

Kaja stares down at her stiff legs, then up again. The crow watches her.

No, not a crow. A raven.

Revenant


The ferryman pushes his boat through the marsh. It stretches out for miles. They call it the Skins. There are dim lights back the other way, on the horizon, marking the city of Gloomwrought.

A man waits on the bank. He is silent, even when the boat pulls up. He hands the dark one ferryman five gold coins and steps onto the rickety boat.

The Skins“Not much for talkin, huh?” says the ferryman after a beat. “A man after me heart. Usually you flipsiders are askin questions left and right.”

The man’s pitch black eyes turn to study the dark one. There’s something odd about them. Like they’re looking deeper than most eyes do. The ferryman feels as if his passenger might know his very thoughts, and this makes him shudder.

“Just two fellas carrying their fare along,” the stranger says in a voice tinged with a strange flipsider accent.

The dark one shivers again and pushes off. “Somethin like that.”


A cold wind blows from the North Sea. The lake is frozen solid and it is the start of the fishing season for the Nords of Sebald.

First, the ceremonial cutting of the ice. The chief of the clan uses an ancient axe to hack away at the thick ice until he reaches water. Then the tents are set up and fishing commences. The time passes slowly. Stories are told and drink is shared. By the middle of the first night, many of the Nords are far into their cups.

One common pastime is swimming from hole to hole and frightening the other fisherman. The Nords, used to the cold, are able to survive in the frigid water and they even enjoy it. And so one youth slips into the dark waters and sets off toward a nearby tent’s hole.

He’s not ten feet deep before his bare feet kick against something scaly and coated with slime. It surprises him and he turns around to get a look.

It looks like a large tree trunk and takes up much of his vision, so he swims backward away from it.

That’s when he realizes that it’s not a tree. It goes down, deep, as far as he can see. It’s a snout. There are teeth and, further away, nostrils and a brow. Eyes the size of mead kegs, closed in sleep.

The boy startles, kicking up instinctively. He thinks, Krackning, just before slamming his head on the ice. Choking down ice-cold water, he regains his composure, turns, and swims away from the… thing, and toward the nearest hole.

The chief must know about this monster.

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Who Else Wants to Kill Us?!
In which someone following the party reveals themselves with a trap

After a rest, the group noticed the lava was descending into the chasm and it was leaving behind a walkway that led downward. A quick consult of the Loadstone revealed that this was indeed the pathway to take, so the party descended.

At the bottom, lava-scarred stone and ancient reptilian statues decorated a room that was clearly, at one long-ago time, host to strange and alien rituals. The stone floor was cracked and there was still a good amount of liquid hot magma beneath the rickety bridge.

The party moved across the bridge, with the hefty minotaur Raxius causing it to buckle and crack under his weight. The large stone double doors at the end of the chamber were ajar, whether from the lava or another explorer. After checking the Loadstone again, Svierge entered with Kriv close behind.

When the door quickly closed, everyone was shocked. Kriv managed to ram his quarterstaff into the doorway, keeping it from slamming shut completely, but he could not open it.

Something fell from above: a fist-sized metallic globe which hit the lava and immediately began to react with the heat, causing an instant geyser of choking fumes. The magma began to bubble and figured emerged: corpses on fire, their skin melting off, reattaching, and melting again. They moaned and climbed from the lava pits, shambling toward the four remaining party members.

Maugrim spotted someone on the narrow passage leading down the cliff. A humanoid with long white hair sneaked down, barely visible. The changeling warlock summoned his mage hand, fishing into the lava for the sphere. Meanwhile he blasted at the figure with a spell and called him out to Fiona, who began firing arrows at the stranger.

There was something very odd about him. He fixed the elf ranger with a strange expression and she felt as if he had invaded her mind. Every time she nocked an arrow and moved to aim, he seemed to be aware.

The InspiredThen the stranger jumped from the passageway and into the melee. The entire party was aware of him now, in spite of the two zombies they fought. This newcomer, a pale man with white hair and eyes with no color or whites, was preempting their moves. He was so very hard to hit.

Maugrim had heard stories and felt the strange magical aura that surrounded this stranger. In the midst of battle, he wondered whether this was one of the fabled Quori, nightmares from the Realm of Dream embodied and implanted inside a mortal’s body. He was curious indeed. Was this truly one of the so-called Inspired?

Eventually they wore him down, though, and after killing the fire zombies, this stranger was no match for the party. When he was defeated, his eyes cleared to a very normal blue shade, he looked around in confusion, sputtered, and fell. Again, he looked up at the party with a pained expression and clawed at the ground uselessly. “What?” he mumbled, and then he was still.

Back at the huge stone doors, the tip of Kriv’s quarterstaff was nowhere to be seen. The doors were closed.

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Liquid Hot Magma
In which our heroes discover the corpse of one dragon and the writing fiery mass of another

Volcanic DragonAs they continue into the caverns on their way to the shadow crossing, Blayth, Maugrim, Kriv, and Svierge encountered a strange sight: the charred corpse of a purple dragon. They were even more surprised to meet up with Enna—now referring to herself by her Elvish name, Fiona—and her minotaur bodyguard Raxeus.

Before the two groups can catch up, the magma from the chasm in the middle of the massive chamber spewed upward and a number of fiery elemental beasts appeared. Not far behind them was a gigantic smoking creature bursting from the heat: a dragon, but ablaze and angry at the trespass.

It took nearly everything, but eventually the party felled the great catastrophic dragon. After discovering what appeared to be Estracon the Enlightened’s hidden treasure, the group set up a watch, tended to their wounded, and caught up with one another.

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Flay This
In which the party meets an illithid and sends him over a cliff

Mind FlayerAfter investigating the caverns even further, the party discovered a causeway leading across a great chasm. A chamber beyond echoed with sloshing.

The troglodytes eventually rushed forward, meeting the party on the bridge. When the voices began to echo inside the party members’ heads, they realized that they were up against more than simple cave-dwellers. There was an illithid, a mind flayer, leading this group of beasts, and they had to destroy it as quickly as possible or they would end up as its thralls.

Kriv knew what needed to be done. He raised his staff, closed his eyes in a silent prayer to Bahamut, and a beam of light blasted the mind flayer directly in the chest. Stumbling, the creature fell backward off the stone bridge. His alien shriek echoed in the heroes’ minds as they made short work of the remaining foes.

Far below, where the mind flayer fell, lava flickered. The magical Loadstone told the party they needed to continue onward and downward. After a short rest, they continued.

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Journey to the Kingsmont
In which the heroes set out northward to the Kingsmont barrows in search of a path to the Shadowfell

dndAfter preparing for the journey, the party heads north toward the Kingsmont, a series of burial mounds in the foothills of the Dawnforge Mountains. The librarian of the Keep of the Claw suggested this area and the tombs beneath as a potential gateway to the Shadowfell.

dndAfter pausing at the first visible tomb, the party used their Loadstone of the Planes to locate the nearest Shadow Crossing. It indicated that they descend into the tomb, which was marked as belonging to Estracon the Enlightened, a king of Nerath from two centuries past.

After a short discussion, the group tied their horses to the mausoleum and descended into the nearest.

They were met with an odd puzzle. In a room with a bas-relief depicting major historical events of the Nerath Empire, a door stood blocking the king’s tomb and the way to the Shadow Crossing. On the door’s surface was a series of lapis lazuli keys in a grid with an inscribed message: “A GREAT TREASURE LIES HERE UNDER A CURSE AND ONLY THOSE MAY ENTER WHO PROVIDE THE CURE.” The only apparent clues were singe marks around the word “CURSE” and a depiction of Estracon himself on the bas-relief, holding his index fingers toward the sky.

dndAfter some time, it was discovered that each letter was a button that could be pressed. Kriv suggested pushing the “S” in “CURSE” to produce “CURE”, and Blayth did so. The lock mechanism disengaged and the party advanced into the crypt.

After descending into the king’s sarcophagus, which held a secret trapdoor, they found a set of natural caverns below. After fifteen minutes of traveling south, the group came to a rickety rope bridge across a chasm.

In the other room was a group of dwarves who had turned cannibalistic. They attacked immediately, followed by the strange aberrant creatures—fell taints from the Far Realm—that had driven them mad. Blayth referred to these altered dwarves as duergar, or “fallen ones” in Dwarvish.

The party was able to kill the dark dwarves and the foul aberrant monsters that had infected them. In the duergars’ death pit there was all manner of offal but nothing that appeared to be of value. Back on the south end of the room, a midden heap of bones and cast-offs concealed a number of treasures. A human- or elf-sized skeleton wore a dirty, blood-covered set of chainmail which gleamed when buffed (Eladrin Armor +3). There was a man’s head, partially decomposed, with a set of goggles around the middle of his face (Starlight Goggles).

One of the dead duergar had a set of bracers that were soaked in blood. They gave off a faint magical aura. (Bloodsoaked Bracers). There was also a purse, cast off and thrown near the corner of the room, containing 401 gold pieces.

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Betrayal in the Keep of the Claw - Part 2
In which accusations and revelations are made

Nathak Banebreath lies on the stone floor, his head bruised and bleeding. His armored chest rises and falls with shallow breaths. The dragonborn soldiers stand, hands up, huffing with the exertion of the battle. Otherwise, they are quiet.

Footsteps come from the staircase and Castellan Silvershod soon arrives with his retinue of soldiers. At his side is the human guard who escorted Kriv and the others to the training story. He stops cold at the sight of the carnage, his gaze falling first on the charred corpse of the dragonborn soldier, then to the unconscious Nathak, and finally resting on Kriv.

The dwarf’s face contorts in anger. “What is the meaning of this?” he barks, moving forward quickly.

“Has the whole world gone mad?” asks Blayth, holding up her longsword in resign. Her eyes are fever-bright, her lips barely making out the more civilized words in the wake of the unearthly howl she let go just moments ago.

She swings around and levels Kriv with a stare. “What manner of people do you put your faith in, dragonborn, that not a day into our safe haven here, they are already at our throats?”

Svierge, his weapon still aglow from Berronar’s Blessing, turns to the dwarf and gives him a steely look. Speaking with an air of almost contempt, Svierge says, “How far has the Order fallen that people seeking their aid are instead attacked in the Order’s own keep. And you call yourslves followers of Bahamut?” Giving Nathak a tap with the butt of his spear, Svierge says, “He is all yours. I would just prefer to never seen his face again.” Turning to the fallen dragonborn, “What is this man’s life worth to the order?”

Maugrim flashes his wry grin, now with more teeth from the dragonborn form.

“Now that was a rather interesting scuffle. I must say that I did not expect an after-dinner workout but the gymnasium here seems rather suited to intense exercise.” He deftly flips the card he pulled from the mechanism end over end from one clawed finger to another.

“Nathak ostensibly called Kriv here for a conversation. A conversation that ended in Nathak saying ‘kill them all’ when we would not produce a certain bauble he had his eye on.” He looks pointedly at the dwarf.

“Oddly enough we failed to slay outright those who brazenly attacked us – the only casualty was brought low by another of Nathak’s minions. I thought the Order more, how shall I put this… orderly? Not that I am complaining about the amusing romp but it did prove to be a bit inconvenient for rest and relaxation.”

Svierge turns his head and glares at the dragonborn Maugrim. After a few seconds, he turns he eyes back on the dwarf.

Oliver’s brow seems to furrow even more when this strange dragonborn Maugrim addresses him. He looks to Kriv. “Is this true?”

Maugrim crooks a talon and makes a small circular motion with it, activating his gloves for Prestidigitation to clean the blood from his robes, making them shimmer. He looks to Kriv and arches the bony ridge where his eyebrow would normally be.

Blayth takes a deep breath and looks down at her sword. Blood from the last time she made contact, still fresh on the blade, drips down the center indentation and pools on the ground. Her hackles have fallen, and she looks all the more human… just enough, anyway. The look in her eyes is almost longing, sorrowful.

When she glances at Kriv, it’s with an expression that borders on a realization of betrayal—or a fear of it. “Yes, tell us,” she says.

“My companion speaks the truth. It seems Nathak has finally shown his mettle. Although to what end I cannot say, I trust you’ll find that out yourself – unless you already know of course.” Kriv turns to the dragonborn corpse, and motions in a quick, yet silent show of respect for his fallen former comrade.

“Death at the hand of a trusted friend, he met his demise at the hand of one of Nathak’s guardsmen. I have no way to prove this other than the fact that all of the others are alive, and that none of us are particularly adept at the ways of the orange flame.” Then turning back to Oliver: “I trust you can shed some light on this situation. I was summoned here to meet with you, only to find a greeting more in keeping with those who follow the enemies of our God. It seems that lately the line between friend and foe has become uncomfortably blurred. The Order has been tainted with the stench of our enemy, and my current mission requires I not keep such company. Where do you stand, teacher?”

Svierge, the glow finally fading from his weapon, says; “Well Master Dwarf, what do you say? I, for one, dislike the idea of being attacked in my sleep. Let us know where you stand or I will take my leave of this accursed place.”

“I knew nothing of this, Kriv.” The dwarf’s voice is soft, as if he is attempting to temper his anger or sadness. There is a look to his face hinting at the pain of Kriv’s accusation. “Nathak’s actions were not sanctioned by the order.”

Oliver looks at Nathak’s dragonborn retinue and is silent for a moment. Then he suddenly shouts, “What is the meaning of this?! You bring up arms against a brother of the Order?! WHAT WERE YOU THINKING?!”

Shaking in his anger, he motions to his own guard. “Take them to the dungeon. Bind Nathak and bring him to the Great Hall. We have much to discuss. I trust that you will all join us?”

“An inquisition – how exciting!” Maugrim exclaims. “Since we have just eaten I guess it will be entertainment only. Maybe room for a little juggling too, just to lighten the mood later on after all the grim accusations and steely glances.” He chuckles.

Blayth shoots a narrow-eyed and rather withering glance at Maugrim.

“I am hesitant to trust anyone at this point,” she said, brushing back the hair at her forehead. “But what other choice do we have?”

“I stand on the side of those who wish to prevent this artifact from falling into the wrong hands, Master Cleric,” says Oliver to Svierge. He watches angrily as the three dragonborn are led away.

Then the dwarf looks to the paladin and exhales sharply. “You are right to doubt, Blayth. It was trust in Nathak that convinced me to speak to him about the artifact. There is surely a reason why he wanted it badly enough to take it by force.” Again, the dwarf shakes his head. “We must convene in the Great Hall. This is far too important for us to delay any further.”

With that, the dwarf turns and heads down the stairs. Half his attendants follow him.

One attendant, a young elf or half-elf, stands over the prone Nathak, muttering an incantation. He produces a small scroll, gestures, and the scroll shrivels away. A glowing purple disk appears. At this point another attendant, this one a burly halfling, moves Nathak’s body onto the floating disk walks him down the stairway.

The young sorcerer turns to the party. “I have not ever seen Castellan Silvershod like this. He is very upset. And this, after General Dugan’s death and … General Nathak’s promotion…” Shaking his head, the boy gestures to the stairway.

“Often one’s demeanor is clue enough that they are not a keeper of secrets but rather a power-mad fool with a penchant for the dramatic,” Maugrim chuckles.

Surprisingly, Blayth comes to the defense of the dwarf, and says to Maugrim, “Well must put trust in people—but so often, people are not what they seem.” She grins, but it looks a little like she’s baring her teeth instead.

“I am reminded of a story I once heard about one of the ‘shifter’ race that wandered by a painting in a gallery,” Maugrim says. “This painting depicted a ‘shifter’ with hackles raised, baring large sharp teeth and threatening a human who was heroically fending it off with a spear. The human’s armor shown brightly and there was a look of steadfast resolve on the human’s face. The ‘shifter’ asked the curator of the gallery ‘who painted the shifter in that painting’ – a rhetorical question indeed as the painter was clearly not a ‘shifter’, yes?” He grins.

“All depends on perspective, to be sure.”

Blayth strides past Maugrim, shaking her head at his rather colorful anecdote. “I can’t say I ever knew a shifter to be particularly deft with the brush,” she says, clearly not taking the meaning.

With a sharp intake of breath she moves to the head of the group.

Kriv, without looking at Maugrim, begins to speak somberly. “This dwarf we can trust more than most – and certainly more than we can trust you.” A cool breeze blows through the room from an open keep window as he strides past the others, following the prisoners, his heart filled with sadness and a touch of silent rage.

“I am pricked, nay, cut to the heart by the fellow feeling in this room! And after all we have been through together!” Maugrim giggles. “Ah well, I suppose I must bear the burden of so often being right.”

Maugrim chuckles and picks up his green robes to move, still not completely trusting his dragonborn feet to not snag them.


Keep of the Claw - Great HallThe Great Hall is a large chamber off the first story of the tower. When the party finds their way inside, they are met with a large rectangular table. Beneath it, illuminated by a chandelier above, sits Oliver at the head of the table in front of a large fireplace. Above the hearth are two sets of antique armor, one with detailing identifying it as Arkhosian and the other as Nerathi. Steaming mugs sit at the place settings, but the big dwarf doesn’t touch his.

At the other end of the table is Nathak, flanked by armored guards wielding polearms. He is awake now, staring silently down at the table. He does not react when the party arrives.

Oliver looks to the party, his old face lined with sadness and exhaustion. “My aids have reported unfortunate news,” he says, turning his gaze to Nathak. “It appears that someone broke into the shadar-kai’s cell while he slept and murdered him. The entire room was ransacked.”

Nathak looks up slowly. “Unfortunate indeed.”

Clearly tired and quite annoyed, Svierge sits down heavily in one of the chairs and says, “Now someone please tell me what the hell is going on…”

“Were there signs that he was made to suffer before this, Castellan Silvershod? He knows as much as we do of… recent events though in all truth he would not have given up information easily if all the tales of the Shadar-Kai are true. Just an observation, my lord.” Maugrim takes on a countenance somewhat more serious and somber, mimicking others in the room.

“There were signs of a struggle. It doesn’t look like he engaged in much conversation,” says Oliver. “I presume that somehow Nathak and his soldiers overheard our conversation, Kriv, and wanted to ensure that the options available for you taking this artifact to the Shadowfell were limited. Thus the silencing of Albrek.

“Nathak, what say you to these charges?”

The dragonborn stares languidly ahead. “I did not murder the shadar-kai in cold blood,” he says in a slow and deliberate voice. “I went to question him, and he drew one of his knives on me. It was self defense.”

“Lies upon lies,” growls Blayth, taking a step toward Nathak, but restraining herself. She clutches her fists, but her voice is smooth when she speaks. “The dishonor you have brought to your order already this night is more than I could bare in a lifetime, and yet here you heap more deceit!”

“Limited indeed, my lord. But not eliminated. However what would be more interesting would be the ‘why’ of things. Did the potential for power tempt Nathak or did a fell entity work its wiles on him? One may be forgivable. The other, well, that may be worthy of a different fate.”

Nathak sneers. “You would believe these outsiders rather than a man of the Order?” “Silence!” Oliver turns to Nathak. “Whatever you’ve done here, Nathak, you’ve bungled it. Killing an envoy of the Raven Queen? Are you mad?! You have been taught better. Any two-week initiate knows to use non-lethal force when attacked like that.”

The dwarf shakes his head, trembling with his anger. “Or were you afraid of his powers? The great Nathak Banebreath too frightened to follow the training that he has lived by for nearly a decade?”

The red-skinned dragonborn again stares down at the table, silent.

“I think not. Whether his actions were his own or were brought upon by another matters little. He would not tell us either way. I know him well enough to not waste time.”

Oliver licks his lips and looks down at his hand, which moves idly across the wood of the table. “That is why we are interrogating his retinue.”

Nathak narrows his eyes but says nothing.

Maugrim says, “I must say that I agree with the sentiments of our intrepid and earnest Blayth. I would think that if you, my lord, made the demand instead of Nathak, Kriv would have handed items over to you gladly. However, since violent overtures were made by Nathak that puts us in the position of calling his activities dishonorable, regardless of their aim. There are myriad different approaches that would have achieved the same end. Again, regardless of his personal or, ahem, professional reasons for seeking to obtain what we carry, his marked lack of imagination does not speak well of his capability, especially for one in his lofty position. At best he should be relieved of his current responsibilities, and… well, we know at worst what should happen.”

“Your tongue is honeyed, worm,” says Nathak, chuckling. “I can see why Kriv keeps you around. He would have simply cowered at my command and given the box over, I think, if not surrounded by peers such as you.” The dragonborn shakes his head in disgust. “It does not matter. The box should not go to the Shadowfell. It belongs… elsewhere. I was hoping to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands and I failed. May the gods forgive me.”

Oliver is silent, listening to the general speak. He quickly glances to Kriv to gauge the other’s reaction, then says, “There are more ways into the Shadowfell than by following the footsteps of a shadar-kai, Nathak. Surely you knew that.”

“None that lead directly to the Queen of Death herself.” Nathak’s cold gaze meets Oliver’s first, and then Kriv’s. His jaw is clenched.

“Sounds like I struck a nerve! It is as if your prisoner is claiming that your own hands were not the right ones for the box, my lord. Not that you need any further proof of his intent or his opinion of your lordship’s hospitality and forbearance.”

“And how would you know who the right people were?” says Svierge. “Or is this some lame attempt to bring yourself some vain honor?”

“I know because the gods have told me. What have your gods told you of the box?” spits Nathak.

“What our gods say to us is of no consequence to you,” says Blayth, glaring at Nathak. “But they do not inspire us to acts of malice, murder, and thievery.”

“Very true, Blayth. It does seem like Nathak’s actions are more in line with Tiamat’s teachings than Bahamut. Which deity is it that has supposedly spoken to you, Nathak?”

“I think Nathak’s loyalties are especially clear now, Maugrim. If you have something important to say, then I suggest you say it now,” says Kriv, now oddly calm as he faces Nathak. “We have no time for traitors, and we have less time for you. So make it brief or be silent, else I will retire from what is fast becoming a practice in wasted time. I am anxious to rest and be on my way from this place – and we’ll get all the information we need from the others.”

At the changeling’s mention of Tiamat, Nathak’s lip curls. “For too long we have sat idle, following this foolish dwarf and his timid god while our kin is trod upon. Look around you, Maugrim! Once we were rulers of all lands, and now we are but second-class citizens in a world that barely understands who or what we are.”

“Oh, Nathak,” Oliver says, his lament a croak in the back of his throat.

“My journeys in Arkhosia showed me power the likes I had never seen. You would cower in fear and abandon the trappings of your crippled god at the mere glance of my Dark Queen. She will bring about change where your Tiamat could not and again we dragonborn will be as kings!” He closes his eyes and looks to the ceiling, as if in silent prayer.

Oliver puts his head into his hands. “No…”

Blayth stiffens at the gesture by Nathak, and instinctively her hand goes to her longsword, poised and ready. She looks at Oliver, concerned. “At your command,” she said. “We will protect you.”

Svierge slams his fist on the table. “Seriously, why is it everywhere we go, people want to kill us?” Reaching for his spear, Svierge takes up a defensive stance close to Oliver. Giving the Dwarf a sideways glance, Svierge says, “If that raving lunatic has more of the Order on his side, you will need all the help you can get.”

“Ah yes – the truth at last,” Maugrim says, “It must be freeing to release such a secret kept for so long. Or is it? Oh but how it seems to bind even closer, its claws bright, now that you have declared yourself. The noose is tightening and you do not even see it! Your ‘Dark Queen’ stalks your vanity as a ravenous wolf scents fresh young blood. It must be intoxicating to her, irresistible. The chance to whisper cascading fountains of false hope to one so high in the Order – why it would be too sweet a victory to see that hope dashed to pieces and a life that could have been so much more ended in misery.”

The changeling flashes a wry half-smile. “Oh foolish Nathak, you will not be a king save in your own mind! When death claims you, and claim you it will, your grand schemes and pompous demeanor will give way to the endless despair that is the not- life with your ‘Dark Queen.’ You will beg on your knees for release from the bonds you have laid on yourself, but help will not come. You have laden yourself only too well.”

Then, to Oliver, Maugrim says, “I assume you will pass final judgment on this wretch and be done with his prattling?”

The dwarf shakes his head and waves his hand at the traitor. “Take him to the dungeons. He will be dealt with later.”

Guards walk forward and pull Nathak to his feet. Oliver stands and walks forward, looking up into the dragonborn’s eyes. Quickly, he reaches out and snatches the insignia off the former general’s tabard. For a moment, Oliver continues to maintain eye contact with Nathak, and then he turns abruptly to face the remainder of his retinue.

“The rest of you may leave. I would like to have a word with our guests. Privately.”

When the guards and servants have exited, Oliver returns to his chair. “Clearly this box is not only of use to the Lord of Undeath, but the Many-Colored Bitch as well.” He lets out a sigh. “I offered a prayer to Bahamut in my quarters before I slept. The Platinum Dragon had no direct command for myself or the Order, but whether through his hand or some other, I did see something that has further convinced me.”

Oliver scans the four others in the room and licks his dried lips. “It was a keep with a moat, dark and abandoned, on the verge of a forest. A hangman’s gibbet creaked in the wind. I saw a face, but just for an instant… a woman’s face, scabbed and dirty, staring out at me.” He pauses and regains his composure. “Then, the shadows lengthened and pulled aside like curtains. And beyond the curtains, I saw an endless army of the dead under a sunless plain.

“The Lady of Death does not send her quarry into our realm often. It is said that the unliving who haunt us are stolen by the Blood Lord Orcus himself, which vexes her greatly. I believe-I -must believe—that returning these dreams to the Raven Queen is the only way to avoid the vision from my dream.”

At the mention of the undead, Blayth stiffens, baring her teeth. Her hand no longer hovers over the pommel of her sword, but she is clearly not at ease.

“It is an uneasy decision that lays before us,” she says. “I am no follower of the Dark Lady, and I do not wish to ally myself with such… unsavory individuals as would pledge her allegiance. They make my skin crawl.” She takes a deep breath, hanging her head a bit. “But, if it is the only way, then so be it.”

“We must find a way into the deep shadows then,” says Maugrim. “We have a guide of sorts but a fickle one from what I can tell. The planewalker’s stone will not give us the keys to what we seek but may be useful by and by. However we will need some preparation and perhaps even research at a library.”

Svierge relaxes and sits back down in the chair. He mutters under his breath, “Great. First we escape from a town of the dead to now have to travel to the land of the dead to prevent an invasion of an army of the dead. Just great.” Shaking his head, Svierge take a long draught from the glass in front of him.

“It has been long since any of our Order sought a way into the Shadow Realm, but you have our library at your disposal,” Oliver says. “If Nathak has been turned, then there is no knowing who else has been tainted by the dark whispers of Tiamat. If this is a quest you can take, then I recommend that you take it soon. Kriv, you may speak with Jerran in the armory if you’d like any new equipment. Any potions or other supplies that you need are yours as well.”


To Maugrim:

You find a dusty tome in the keep’s library, from which you are able to copy the three lesser-level rituals. The aged eladrin librarian mentions that the potions master might have some of the components, and also that a nearby curiosity shop was said to have received a new lot of books from a recently deceased sage. He sends a novice to the store with your list, and the young tiefling returns with a small sheaf of parchment containing the Linked Portal ritual.

“Ahh, yes,” says the librarian, scribbling alongside you, copying the spell into his own book. “We have an old portal on the fifth floor, but have not used it in ages. This is a rare sight to behold! We can explore the circle afterward and you may copy down its sigils.”

Later, having finally found the necessary incantations and ingredients to enchant magical items of your own, you retrieve the lithe sapling of fey-grown yew from your pack. You’ve waited long for this moment…

Taking the lithe sapling of fey-grown yew from his pack in hand, Maugrim sets it down carefully on a workbench in the laboratory. “Now we will see if what My Lady told me is true about the hearts of plants.”

Starting softly, Maugrim sings to the sapling in Elven: “Cormamin lindua ele lle, lle an lema tela sinome.” (My heart sings to see you, your long journey ends here)

Then Maugrim begins to sing louder, making the sounds of rushing winds, babbling brooks and leaves tossing together. The sapling begins to sway of its own, the heart wood peeling back and growing together again, changing shape to form a round tube with one end closed and the other open. Small holes form in seemingly random places in the tube then gather into a line, though a line not exactly straight or completely orderly.

Maugrim then cries out in Elven: “Amin naa tualle, Shirlindra! Lle merna aut farien, corm en’ cormamin?” (I am your servant, Shirlindra! Shall we go hunting, heart of my heart?)

With that the sapling stiffens and is still. Maugrim takes in hand some berries he has picked from the forest and carefully preserved. He squeezes them between his fingers to release their juice then carefully rubs the wood in random places, allowing it to soak up the color and take on a darker shade of blue-red-purple.

Singing again, he turns what now looks like a flute over and over in his hands, smoothing over the thin sap that rises to the sound of his voice until the outside of the wood is sealed.

Maugrim whispers over his creation: “Amin essuva lle Laurinathansa, haba taure simpina.” (I shall name you Laurinathansa, my forest flute)


To Svierge:

While in the armory, you discover a pair of supple leather gloves. Something moves you to touch them, and when you do, sigils upon their soft surface begin to glow a light blue. You can feel the powerful healing magics that reside within…

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Betrayal in the Keep of the Claw
In which the heroes make their way to Nerath and to the Order of the Silver Talon
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