Medriev's FR Keep on the Shadowfell - Concluded Nov 7


Chapter 15 - The True Threat (Part 4)

Lavren quickly laid claim to the robed kobold’s wand but within the pouch on his belt, Dulvarna found a parchment and a small silver key.
“The parchment says there is a door to the north,” said Dulvarna once she had examined it. “The writing is crude but the runes are Thorass and it is in the common tongue.”
“Door to north lead to big treasure,” said the capture kobold then, now disarmed. “Key will open, key will open.”
“Kobolds rarely lie to their captors,” said Kel. “They are usually too afraid of the consequences.” She looked pointedly at the kobold who scrambled back from her.
“Bind him anyway,” said Lavren, pulling a coil of rope from his belt.
“Do it,” said Dulvarna, though she disliked the idea.

The kobold shrieked and scrambled back from the elf but Lavren was quicker and soon he had the kobold’s hands and feet bound behind him. Together, they turned towards the north passage and made their way inside.

The key slotted into a carefully crafted and well hidden keyhole and when turned, the end of the passageway slid away into the left wall. Beyond, a long winding passage led the companions deeper and deeper into the earth. Eventually, the finely worked stone tunnels gave way to natural passages and then, at last, the passage opened into a large cavern. The air in the cavern was unnaturally cold and in the centre of the room was a large pool of frozen dark water. They looked around but saw no signs of life and the cavern itself was utterly quiet.
“Something comes,” said Thira. She had heard something beyond the pool, as though a claw scraped on rock. Thira moved to the right with her stave at the ready while the others looked around in confusion.
“I heard it too,” Said Kel, drawing her morningstar and starting towards the frozen pool. Even as she did so, there was a flurry of movement from the far end of the cavern as around a pillar came a creature from nightmare. It was a winged beast covered in scales of purest white. Its teeth were as long as daggers and its body was as long as a wagon, ending in a long, white tail. Along its back and along the tail were ridges and in its pale, blue eyes gleamed a fierce intelligence.
“What is it?” asked Kel, though she feared she knew the answer.
“It’s a dragon,” called Thira from the right. “A white dragon.” The dragon reared back and breathed frost at Kel and the dark elf, paralysed by fear, could do nothing but stand and watch.

Thira stepped around the pillar close to her and moved to the edge of the frozen pool, lowering her stave as she came. With a word, she loosed a shimmering arrow of green, glowing liquid that flew towards the dragon but the beast turned aside and the arrow burst against the wall in a spray of sizzling acid. Lavren darted along the south wall of the cavern and drew the wand he had taken from the kobold chieftain. He leveled the new wand and called forth fire from within the dragon, the spell that had failed him in the halls, thus far. Again the spell failed but succeeded in drawing the dragon’s attention. Slowly, the huge beast moved towards the elf.

Kel met the dragon before it ever got to Lavren and swung out with her morningstar to strike the dragon on the foreleg. It screeched and reared, turning towards her instead. Dulvarna and Erlmoor rushed forward to aid the drow but they could not possibly reach her in time. The dragon snapped at the drow and Kel simply ducked, leaving the white wyrm to snap at nothing but air. Thira launched a silver bolt at the dragon that struck the dragon beneath its wing while Lavren gestured with his wand and chanted in elven. The dragon screeched, though none could see what assailed the wyrm and it reeled around, retreating from the imaginary onslaught it faced.

Kel paused for breath and Dulvarna and Erlmoor surged past her. The warrior woman reached the dragon first, her blade weaving before her and then darting forward to tear at the dragon’s snout. She twisted around the side to strike at the dragon’s leg then but it had recovered from the nightmares that Lavren had conjured and skittered back so that she could not get past its mouth and claws. Erlmoor roared and spewed acid from his mouth but the wyrm darted back out of the way. The dragonborn chased it back, praying to Lathander as he went but his blade struck only the scales of the wyrm’s chest before he was driven away himself. The dragon lashed out with a claw and knocked the dragonborn reeling before roaring its own triumph. It would not be beaten in its own lair.

Thira circled back around the pillar next to her and picked her way across the cavern floor until she could see the dragon’s back. Leveling her stave, she uttered a phrase that called forth fire and unleashed flame against the wyrm. The dragon reared and twisted so that the flames barely touched its scales and then, as it came, down, it turned its neck to regard Thira with fierce eyes.

From the other side of the wyrm, Lavren called on the innate power of his wand to ignite witchfire within the dragon but once more the spell failed and the dragon remained unhurt. Kel charged back into the fray with her morningstar swinging out while Dulvarna and Erlmoor struck at the wyrm whenever they could. Dulvarna landed a mighty blow on the wyrm’s shoulder and as she did, Erlmoor came in at the beast from the other side. His blade slashed along the dragon’s neck and with a screech it turned around towards the dragonborn. Suddenly, the dragon reared back and with a roar, it breathed frost once again. Erlmoor stepped towards the dragon and evaded its breath but Dulvarna and Kel were seared by the terrible frost. Thira cried out, fearing for Lavren, and loosed a hail of silver bolts from her staff, each striking the dragon. The dragon roared its agony and breathed again, the terrible frost felling Dulvarna and Kel together while wounding Erlmoor. Lavren cried out and unleashed a wild hail of black bolts of energy, only one of which struck the dragon. The wyrm was struck a terrible blow, though, the black fire, searing one side of its face and drawing another screech of pain from its maw. Erlmoor struck at the dragon with a prayer on his lips and as his blade cut the wyrm’s flank, white light washed over him and spread to Kel and Dulvarna. Dulvarna opened her eyes while lying quite still and winked at Erlmoor. His heart sang and hope was reborn within him. There could be victory still, he decided, and boldly, he began to sing a hymn to the Morninglord.

Thira and Lavren loosed silver bolts and black flame at the dragon but it paid them no mind. The dragon called Szartharrax existed to serve Tiamat and would not be felled by mere treasure-seekers. He lashed out wildly with his claws but the dragonborn was quick and ducked under each blow. The paladin retreated before the dragon and held out its sword, unleashing blinding light from it that seared the dragon like flame. The wyrm screeched again and lunged forward blindly, over the bodies of the fallen. Something seared into the dragon’s back and Szartharrax knew that it was the accursed tiefling wizard with her equally accursed staff. The dragon cast around for the dragonborn but could not find the creature. He ducked instinctively as warlock flame seared close to his head and then suddenly, he knew his mistake. Pain seared his belly and hot blood flowed down his back legs. One of the fallen creatures was not dead and it had stabbed him! Szartharrax screeched again in pain and tried to turn to reach the creature.

Erlmoor slashed at the dragon’s nose but the frost breath still slowed him and his blow glanced off to the side. The dragon slashed a claw at his shoulder and sent him reeling away but as he moved, he felt the effects of the frost leaving him. He turned to his right and stopped there, blade in front of him, the dragon, small by the standards of its kind, snarling before him. With a roar, he charged, and as he did so, Thira and Lavren loosed their magic and Dulvarna charged at the dragon’s back. Szartharrax fell then, struck at almost the same moment by black eldritch flame, a silver bolt of arcane energy and the blades of a warrior woman and a dragonborn. The wyrm screeched one last time and slumped to the floor of the cavern, narrowly missing Kel’s fallen form.


Chapter 16 - Getting Back (Part 1)

“These were all that we found,” said Lavren, unwrapping a blanket and revealing the unguents and herbs that they had recovered from a small chest at the back of the dragon’s lair. They had also found a gem, some gold and the fine enchanted longsword that the elf now wore at his belt but Brother Milos was not interested in those.

“They are all here,” said the priest after a few moments. “You have done very well to recover them. And from a dragon, you say. If only such adventures fell to me.”
“We also found a parchment,” said Lavren, looking to the others to see if they minded him revealing this. They seemed not to so he pressed on. “It was an offer of alliance from someone a hobgoblin chieftain called Khurbok of Thunderspire.” Lavren and Thira shared a knowing look for it was not the first time that they had found mention of Thunderspire but they had not yet revealed their knowledge to the others.

“Do you know of this Thunderspire?” Erlmoor asked slowly.
“Thunderspire,” said Milos thoughtfully. “It is a peak on the southern edge of the vale of the Immerflow. Few go there openly now for there are said to be hidden tunnels beneath it and a market where those of the surface world can trade with the Underdark.”
“Khurbok is dead,” said Dulvarna then. “And Enlishia will remain so if we do not return with from here with what we sought.”
“Agreed,” said Kel, hooded once more. “How much of this do we need and how much will it cost?”
“I will give you what you need for three hundred gold,” said Milos as he began to separate out the different salves and unguents on the blanket laid beside the campfire. “You have done Chauntea a great service this day and are worthy of her blessing.”

Dulvarna, Erlmoor and Kel counted out the gold that they would give and then Dulvarna added a share from Enlishia’s own pouch that she now carried on her belt alongside her own. Once three hundred coins were gathered, they handed them to Milos in another pouch.
“Will you come back to Arabel with me?” he asked.
“We will take you to the gates only,” answered Dulvarna. “We must make haste back to Winterhaven.”


Chapter 16 - Getting Back (Part 2)

Dusk was fast approaching as the small band drew near to Winterhaven and climbed the side trail off the East Way to the village gates. As they drew near, they knew that something was wrong for the gates were already closed and several figures stood with weapons drawn on the parapet above. One of the figures, Lord Padraig, waved as they drew near and called out.
“We are in peril!” he shouted. “Several villagers have disappeared and the dead of the cemetery have risen. We fear these creatures will emerge to assail the gates and drag us all away!!”
“We will go to the graveyard and deal with whatever lurks there,” Thira said at once.
“Then may the gods speed your way,” called back Lord Padraig and together, the five companions turned away from the village gates, taking a trail to the right around the hill and through a grove of trees to the graveyard where Deloak, Mandratan and Brother Gevarn lay. As they walked along the trail, a terrible doom fell over them all. If their companions were among those who had now risen, this would be a terrible task indeed.

Out of the dusk loomed the fence wrought of iron bars that enclosed the cemetery and within, they saw that the gravestones were densely packed. Three mausoleums sat amid the markers and the soil around some graves seemed disturbed. A sickly glow pulsed from somewhere near the largest of the mausoleums. Each of the five drew weapons as they entered the graveyard and Thira called light to her staff, more for comfort, than because it was needed. Slowly they made their way along the path, noting that the tombs of their companions lay undisturbed near the gate. All was quiet and as they neared the centre of the graveyard, the five were beginning to think that a false alarm had been called. It was then that the dead burst from the soil around them and lurched to the attack.

Two skeletons lurched at Erlmoor from behind and stabbed at him with old, rust-covered swords while another blocked the path in front of Dulvarna. From the largest mausoleum burst two dogs with rotten, torn flesh and rabid jaws. One darted past the skeleton in front of Dulvarna and leapt at the woman. Dulvarna twisted aside and swatted it to the floor with her elbow. She stabbed down at it but the creature rolled away and her blade only nicked its foul flesh.

Erlmoor turned and lashed out with his sword, smashing one skeleton apart with one blow but more were coming. One lurched past Erlmoor and stabbed at Thira. The tiefling leapt back and leveled her staff but still more came on. One stabbed Erlmoor in the leg but as it did so, Kel’s voice rose in prayer and she held forth the fiendish foot which now bore Lolth’s symbol of a spider with the head of a drow. Pale blue light seared out from the dark elf and struck the undead hound and the skeleton beside it. The skeleton burst apart into bones and dust while the hound was driven back, away from Dulvarna. Lavren twisted around and lashed out with his wand, sending crackling black fire towards one skeleton. It seared past his foe and he cursed the undead creature in elven, promising it a worse fate with his next spell. Arrows began striking the ground and clattering off the mausoleum next to the group then as more skeletons pulled forth bows instead of the swords they all carried at their belts. An arrow drove into Kel’s shoulder from behind and she cried out, turning on the spot to seek out her attacker. There, standing amongst the undead, was an elf woman with shoulder length, brown hair and dark eyes. Slowly, she raised her bow for another shot and Kel wondered where she had seen the elf before.

Thira retreated and leveled her staff at the skeleton that had attacked her. With an uttered phrase a blue bolt burst from its tip and seared through the skeleton, blasting it into dust and shards of bone. She turned and saw another stab its blade into Lavren’s leg while behind her, another undead hound burst from the large mausoleum to run at Kel. An arrow flew past Thira then from the bow of yet another skeleton. More arrows flew across the graveyard, thudding into the turf or clattering off stone until one struck Thira, driving into her calf. She cried out and turned to see the skeleton who had fired, standing beside the elf woman. Another pierced the tiefling’s shoulder blade and spun her around on the spot. She cried out again and with cackling laughter, the skeletons surged forward again.

The undead dog rushed back at Dulvarna and this time, as she raised her arms to knock it aside, its teeth took hold and tore at her flesh. The warrior woman fell to the ground and shook the dog free but the wound was deep and was already cold as though the flesh had died. She rolled to her feet and slashed out with her blade but her wounded arm was slow and the hound darted back to evade the strength of the blow. Behind her, a skeleton blade slashed Erlmoor’s arm and the dragonborn roared his anger in response. Acid spewed from his jaws and the two skeletons before him crumbled as the acid seared their bones. With another roar, he rushed at the elf and the skeleton archer beside her and as he expected, both retreated before his charge. The elf fired an arrow wildly and the missile flew high over Erlmoor’s head. He snarled and advanced menacingly on both foes.

Kel took a step back and twisted to the side as the undead hound leapt at her, allowing it to fly past and roll to its feet beyond her. She prayed and brought her morningstar down on its back then and with a growl, the creature darted away, stricken but not beaten. Behind Kel, Lavren put away his wand and drew his newly acquired sword. He slashed out with the blade and watched with wonder as it clove through a skeleton, cutting through ribs and spine until the undead creature fell in two lifeless halves to the ground. Thira nodded her appreciation to Lavren and then turned on the spot to face the undead dogs that Dulvarna and Kel now battled. She loosed a silver bolt from her stave but the dog darted aside at the last moment and evaded the missile. The dog that Kel faced leapt at her and seized her arm, tearing at the flesh and bearing her to the ground. She shook the hound free but within a few heartbeats she felt the chilling cold that Dulvarna had felt and knew that the wound she had bee dealt was touched by the grave.

Two skeletons turned their bows on Erlmoor as he advanced on the elf and one arrow drove into his right arm. He paid it no mind and continued to stride forward as the skeleton before him threw down its bow and drew forth its sword. The skeleton slashed out with the rusty blade and drew blood from Erlmoor’s left arm but once again, the hardy dragonborn paid the hurt no mind. Instead, he lashed out with his own blade only to have it parried by the rusty weapon of his foe.

The hound leapt at Dulvarna again and she dodged aside, swatting its down again with her elbow and the hilt of her sword. The chill was spreading around the wound on right arm but she mustered all her strength to weave her blade before her and then strike fiercely, plunging the sword into the flank of the undead dog. The creature growled at her and twisted away., coming up on its feet and yard away from her and snarling rabidly. Beside Dulvarna, Kel swept her morningstar out at the hound she faced and struck it in the flank, knocking it sidelong. It rolled to its feet and as it did, she felt the chill spread in her own wounded limb and her morningstar drooped towards the ground for a moment as her strength waned. With a glance towards Dulvarna, the dark elf retreated then, fearing for her life and she began a prayer to Lolth.


Chapter 16 - Getting Back (Part 3)

Lavren closed his eyes for a moment and with a dizzying rush he passed through the mausoleum against which he had stood and reappeared on the other side. He plunged his sword into the skeleton before him and watched it shattered before his eyes. Surveying the enemies before him, he sheathed his sword and reached for his wand. It was then that an arrow drove into his shoulder and he decided upon his next foe.

Thira watched the elf move away from Erlmoor, firing an arrow from her bow as she fled. Thira lowered her stave, uttered an incantation and sent forth a shimmering arrow of green, glowing liquid towards the elf. It struck the woman in the side and burst in a spray of searing acid. The elf cried out as pain tore through her and staggered as she ran. Thira leveled her stave and brought to mind another spell.

Dulvarna dodged left and right as the two hounds darted at her, ravenous teeth bared. One leapt at her and tried to bite at her hip but the scales of her armour defeated it and it let go. She spun on the spot, slashing out with her blade and striking the muzzle of one hound and the shoulder of the other. Both reeled away and then turned on her, snarling. Dulvarna smiled and raised her blade in the traditional salute to an enemy. They came back at her as invited. Behind Dulvarna, unseen by the warrior woman, Kel prayed fervently as she tried to stem the chill that was spreading from her arm. She staggered and almost fell, holding herself up with her morningstar. The drow silently prayed as well that Dulvarna could keep the terrible hounds at bay.

Lavren leveled his wand and loosed searing bolts of purple fire that engulfed one skeleton and consigned it to the dust from which it had come. Meanwhile, more arrows struck turf and stone from all directions and Thira cast about looking for the right target to strike at. She spotted the elf near the eastern edge of the graveyard and leveled her stave. With a word, the tiefling loosed a silver bolt that struck the elf in the shoulder and sent her reeling away. The archer glared at the tiefling and then started towards the gate, apparently seeking to leave the companions to their fate.

One of the hounds leapt at Dulvarna and bore her to the ground, while sinking its teeth into her shoulder. The other hound darted forward but Dulvarna rolled away and pushed herself to her feet. She slashed out with her sword and wounded both hounds, driving them back for a moment as she faught the numbness of the new wound that she had suffered.

Erlmoor slashed high with his sword and swept the head from the skeleton before him. He paused for a moment, wondering if the thing could survive such a blow but once the collapsed bones had failed to move after a heartbeat, he decided that he had slain the thing. He looked around and spotted the elf woman making for the gate and he started towards her, only to stop and look over towards Dulvarna. She was hard pressed but had the rest of the group around her. The elf was they key to this thing! Erlmoor rushed after the elf, with his sword held high.

Lavren loosed a crackling black bolt at another skeleton but struck a gravestone beside the undead creature instead. The skeleton turned and leveled its bow, loosing an arrow that drove into the elf’s shoulder. Lavren felt the jolt but felt no pain as the strength of the undead life he had taken with his sword surged to his shoulder and absorbed the wound. What a power, he thought, and he put away his wand and reached for his sword again.

Thira watched the elf woman draw her sword and face off against Erlmoor and turned away from that battle. The dragonborn would deal with the her, Thira knew, and so she turned her attention elsewhere in the battle. Leveling her stave at the nearest hound, she loosed a silver bolt that struck the beats in the flank and sent it reeling backwards. With a growl, it darted forward again but Dulvarna was waiting. The woman’s blade swept across and split open the hound’s head. With deft precision she twisted on the spot and drove the blade down into the shoulder of the other hound. It yelped and retreated before resuming its rabid growling and coming forward once more.

Erlmoor forced the elf back against the fence while praying to Lathander. His blade glowed white and he stabbed it forward, aiming for the elf’s heart. She twisted to one side and the blade drove into her shoulder instead. Her own blade slashed out as she turned on the spot to move along the iron bars, biting into Erlmoor’s left arm. He roared his anger and advanced on the elf again as a silver bolt flew past the elf on the other side, emphasizing how trapped she was.

Kel and Lavren charged at the same time, meeting skeletons close to the southernmost of the small mausoleums. Kel swung out with her morningstar but the skeleton ducked back as it threw down its bow and drew its sword from the leather belt draped grotesquely around its bare hip bones. The creature stabbed out with its blade, driving the point into Kel’s shoulder, close to an earlier wound. She cried out and fell back a step. Lavren looked over to her and then turned back to his own foe, parrying desperately to keep the skeleton at bay.

Dulvarna struck low at the last hound, stabbing her blade into its foreleg, close to the shoulder. The creature retreated, favouring the leg as it did so. Somehow, the hound managed to leapt anyway, hurling itself at Dulvarna’s throat, teeth tearing at her flesh as the heavy hound drove her to the ground once more. The chill began to spread almost at once and though the warrior woman managed to push the dog aside, she doubted that she could rise again. Warily, the creature growled as it decided how to finish her.
The elf darted to Erlmoor’s left, still seeking to make it to the graveyard gates but the dragonborn was quicker. He feinted a blow there and the elf darted back only for the dragonborn to bring his blade back up high and plunge it forward into the elf’s throat. She gasped, staggered and then fell to the ground at Erlmoor’s feet. With a snarl, the dragonborn turned away and started back towards the others.

Kel struck down the skeleton before her, her morningstar smashing through its shoulder and its ribs until it collapsed into a pile of bone. She looked over at Lavren before turning aside and rushing back to aid Dulvarna. Behind her, Lavren exchanged parries with the last skeleton and then gasped as the undead creature scored another hit. He looked back at Kel and Dulvarna and knew that his aid would be needed against the undead hound. Turning back to his foe, he saw another skeleton shambling towards him with a blade in its hand. Cursing his luck, he battled on.

Thira loosed a silver bolt at the hound as Dulvarna’s head slumped back and her eyes rolled upwards. The chill of the grave had finally overcome the warrior woman. She had lost the fight. Erlmoor charged at the hound with a roar, his sword sweeping down and cleaving open the side of the hound’s body. It rolled over on the ground and did not get up. The paladin knelt beside Dulvarna and withdrew cloth bandages from his belt while the others looked around for the enemies that remained. Kel rushed to aid Lavren, her morningstar singing out and smashing through the body of another skeleton. Lavren smiled at the dark elf, feinted neatly to his right and then swept the head of the last skeleton from its shoulders. Elf and dark elf looked around for more enemies for a few moments but when they saw none, they turned back towards their companions who tended their fallen leader.
“She will live,” said Erlmoor in his deep, baritone voice.

Relieved, the others surveyed the carnage of the battlefield and the slain elf who had brought such terror to Winterhaven.


Chapter 16 - Getting Back (Part 4)

“Why has no one come for me?” Enlishia asked her companion once again although she already knew the answer.
“You served no one,” explained the horned creature next to her. “And so no one comes for you.”

Enlishia’s shoulders slumped and she surveyed again the grey, lifeless plain which surrounded her. Here and there, other like her wandered, some alone, some in groups and some with companions such as she walked with. She looked over at the creature again with the same disbelief that she had experienced when she had first met Ilagh. He smiled at her patiently, showing elongated canine teeth and the remainder as sharp as needles. He was used to her scrutiny. They had walked together in the same direction for what seemed like an age. Every so often, Enlishia would ask the same question, usually when a glowing being came down and gathered together a band of the others who walked the plain. They would vanished through a shining doorway and always, she would be left.

Ilagh was crimson skinned with sharp barbs at his shoulders and along his arms. He wore black plate armour and carried a vicious barbed spear with a blade two feet long lazily over one shoulder. His eyes were bright red also and from behind his ears, horns curled back, ending in vicious points that steered down towards his shoulder blades. Ilagh’s beard was the strangest of all for it seemed to be made of writhing snakes that constantly hungered for prey. He was a strange companion, Enlishia thought. Not one she would normally seek out but here, wherever here was, strange companions were all there was.

“You will reach the city soon,” said Ilagh then, as he often did. “A tenday, perhaps a little more. The time for decision is not far away.”
“And when I reach the city?” Enlishia queried once more.
“You will join the Wall of the Faithless,” Ilagh answered as he had repeatedly. “It is Myrkul’s condemnation of all who serve no god.”

Enlishia pondered this terrible fate and found Ilagh’s offer more and more tempting. She would at least exist, she reasoned, as something more than a body in a wall of such bodies. She looked over at Ilagh and he smiled, that tooth-filled smile that she had become so familiar with. Suddenly, she felt a pull and heard someone calling her name. She was being turned around without her willing it and there, before her, she saw a golden, glowing portal. She heard the call again. Enlishia, come back to us.

She was facing away from the city now, towards the portal and slowly she was being drawn in. Dimly, she realised that Ilagh was becoming increasingly agitated.
“You can’t,” he was saying. “You are Faithless. You belong to me!”

With one last pull, Enlishia entered the portal and the grey plain was gone. Ilagh was gone, the distant city was gone and somehow, she knew that she was safe.

Enlishia’s eyes opened and she looked up at the stone ceiling of some kind of temple. She lay on hard stone, she decided and she smelled strong incense in the air. There was more than that, though. Her body was covered in sweet smelling unguents and poultices. Faces crowded around her and she saw a dark haired woman, an elf and a black-scaled lizard man. Dulvarna, Lavren and Erlmoor. The names came to her as though from a distant memory. She had come back from the dead, she realised and as memories of the grey Fugue Plain receded, hope returned.


Chapter 17 - Hunters in the Dark (Part 1)

“We know now that there is a deeper level and that whatever is being planned by Kalarel is near to its end,” said Erlmoor. “We must therefore try ways we have not tried before. I say we go south from here.”

They stood at the bottom of the stairs beside the pit that still housed the vicious rats that had dwelled there when first the group had come to the Keep. They were six again now and a letter carried by the elf who was known in Winterhaven as Ninaran, had given them a new sense of urgency. It had instructed the elf to stop the companions from interfering with the plans of Kalarel, mentioned a second level to the dungeons beneath the Keep and that Kalarel was close to completing whatever he undertook in the dark tunnels.
“Why not,” said Dulvarna. “We are hunting in the dark anyway.”

Double doors led to the west from the goblin barracks to the south of the pit room, opening onto discoloured stairs that led down into cold darkness. Slowly, the companions started down the stairs and at the bottom found a branch in passages, one continuing to the west, another branching north and a third opening to the south. Dulvarna moved ahead along the eastern passage but looked south into the southern opening. The passage there opened almost straight away into a chamber and within, she thought she saw shadowy figures begin to shamble forward.

“Thira, light!” she called back and the tiefling came forward with her stave.
Within the chamber, terrible figures, seemingly half-rotten corpses began to move, disturbed by the intruders and the light that they had brought. Thira reacted instinctively and lowered her staff, calling flame from its tip to fill the chamber. Three zombies fell to the searing flames but more lurked in the deeper shadows of the chamber and came forward to battle the intruders.

“What is it?” called Lavren, rushing forward as he saw Thira unleash fire. He stopped in the chamber entrance and drew forth his wand. Striding forward and cursing the creatures for the foul abominations they were, he loosed black, crackling energy at the nearest zombie and blasted it back against he chamber wall. It slumped down and did not rise again. One came at him and backhanded him with its fist, slamming him against the wall of the entryway. The elf staggered but then pushed himself upright off the wall. Enlishia appeared beside him a moment later and began firing arrows into the shadows at the far end of the room and then Erlmoor charged into the chamber to join the battle. Two more creatures emerged from the shadows, one with an arrow protruding from its shoulder and both promising death to Lavren as he put away his wand and drew his sword.

“More this way,” called Dulvarna then as she saw a zombie enter the eastern passage from a side passage that led north. She charged the creature with her blade held before her as Thira loosed a silver bolt from her stave. Missile and blade struck home, halting the zombie in its tracks and forcing it back a step. Another zombie shambled forward to aid the first and more came behind it. Dulvarna panicked then as she thought of being overwhelmed by foul undead.
“Aid me!” she called back to the others but they still battled enemies of their own.

Lavren drew his sword and beheaded the zombie before him, exulting in the flow of life energy that he felt as the creature died. Lifestealer, he had named his blade after the battle in the graveyard, though he had shared this with no one, not even Thira. He saw Enlishia duck back around the corner into the eastern hall, apparently moving to aid Dulvarna while the others surged forward to attack the remaining two zombies. Kel pushed past Lavren, leading with the fiendish foot while praying to Lolth. A burst of blue energy assailed the zombies then, hurling them back across the room and into the shadowy passage entrance from which they had emerged. Erlmoor roared and charged across the chamber after the zombies, breathing acid from his mouth as he ran. The zombies came forward to meet him but he ducked their clumsy blows and raised his blade to cut them down.

In the eastern passage, Dulvarna slashed out with her blade, splitting open the chest of the zombie before her. The creature reeled away but did not fall and as it reeled, it evaded a silver bolt from Thira’s staff that burst against the stone wall instead of its intended target. Enlishia had felled one zombie with her first arrow when she had come to aid Dulvarna but now more were coming forward and Dulvarna was worried. Her eyes focused just as much on the growing band of zombies behind her foe as on her foe itself and it was almost a fatal mistake. She did not see the fist that backhanded her into the tunnel wall but saw only blinding light as her head hit the stone. She reeled backwards, her sword tip falling to the floor as her grip weakened. The zombies surged forward sensing that their first victim was about to fall but as they advanced, Dulvarna shook her head to clear it and raised her blade. A fist flailed at her from the left and she deflected it with her sword hilt. She looked up and saw less enemies behind the two zombies who she now faced and wondered what the lessening of pressure portended. Suddenly, she realised.
“Watch the north tunnel,” she called. “They’ll try to circle around us.”

Kel rushed to aid Erlmoor, drawing her morningstar as she ran. She swung it as she reached the zombies and struck one on the shoulder. Erlmoor looked around to see the source of his aid and gave a hint of a smile when he saw the drow. He stabbed his sword into the belly of his own foe and drove it back from him but still it would not fall. He roared again in anger and Kel added her own feral cry to the sound. The two shared another glance and then turned their attention back to the battle before them. Just as Erlmoor turned back around, a two fisted blow struck him in the jaw and sent him reeling backwards. Kel looked back at him, concerned that she could not fight the two zombies alone if the dragonborn fell. Thankfully, he rallied, raised his sword and charged back into battle.

Dulvarna ducked another flailing arm and then swept her blade across the bellies of both her foes. The rotten flesh split open and spilled black blood and rotten entrails onto the corridor floor. Both zombies spent horrifying moments trying to shovel their insides back into them until they realised they were dead and collapsed amidst the gore.

“The north passage,” said Dulvarna desperately and she turned away from her fallen foes to rush back the way she had come. Sure enough, as she rounded the corner of the northern passage, two zombies emerged from a side passage a few yards ahead of her. Thira rushed after her, leveling her staff at the zombies and unleashing a silver bolt into the lead creature. It jerked back as the missile struck but did not fall.

In the southern chamber, Lavren moved out to one side until he was close to a wall before raising his wand to loose a spell. He cursed the zombie first to add power to his magic and then unleashed black energy that struck the creature that Kel battled. The blast seared the flesh of its side and shoulder and it staggered where it stood. Kel seized her chance and with a huge blow, shattered the creature’s ribs and felled it. She looked down at it, expecting it to rise again but it did not and then she felt a strong hand on her shoulder.
“They are slain,” said Erlmoor. “And I could not have done it without your help.” Erlmoor’s foe lay next to Kel’s with its belly and chest split open from navel to throat. Together, the two turned back towards the chamber entrance and the battle that still raged beyond.

Enlishia felled the first zombie to shamble down the corridor with an arrow to the throat but the second and third reached Dulvarna. She ducked and parried their blows easily before slashing her blade across high and beheading both with one blow. Dulvarna held her ground before the next zombie as Thira loosed a silver bolt into it and Enlishia readied another arrow. The ranger loosed her arrow when the creature was only a few feet from Dulvarna but her aim was true. The shaft drove straight through the creature’s skull from front to back. It stopped, staggered and then fell as the realisation of death took a hold of its dim spark of life. No more zombies followed this one. The battle was won.


Chapter 17 - Hunters in the Dark (Part 2)

The southern passage emerged into a long chamber with ten stone sarcophagi, five on each wall lining what seemed to be a crypt. The sarcophagi seemed to be granite and contained relief images of human warriors in plate armour. To the east, the crypt opened into a higher, wider area from which a starry glow emanated. Dulvarna started slowly forward into the room, turning left towards the eastern end. No sooner had she passed the first pair of sarcophagi to the east of the doors than their lids slammed open with a band and from each came what seemed to be a shower of bones. As the bones hit the floor, the landed as a complete skeleton armed with a sword and a bow. The other sarcophagi burst open in the same way and each disgorged its own skeleton.

One landed beside Dulvarna who lashed out with her blade and struck it down. Another landed beside Lavren but Thira was there a heartbeat later and the crypt around her was filled with flame from her stave. Three more of the skeletons fell as burned bones to the stone floor of the chamber. Another charged at Lavren from the right, jabbing its blade into his leg. He staggered and then drew his own blade as a second skeleton came at him from the front. He parried desperately and slashed out a wild counter to keep his enemies at bay. Enlishia rushed into the chamber and began firing arrows at the skeletons but another rushed at her and drove her back against the crypt wall.

Blades stabbed at Dulvarna from every direction as she tried desperately to parry. One drove into the back of her right thigh and another pierced her hip above it. She twisted around to meet these new foes and found that three more skeletons had replaced the one that she had cut down. To her right, back down towards the crypt entrance, she saw a burst of blue light and knew that Kel had driven back the enemies there. Dulvarna took heart from that, although her own situation looked truly desperate. A blade nicked her arm and she turned her attention back to the enemies before her, parrying desperately while glancing back towards her friends.

Erlmoor burst in to the crypt and cut down the last skeleton before the entrance before pausing to seek out Dulvarna. She faced three skeletons and seemed hard pressed so he started towards her. Behind him, Thira cried out as two more skeletons flew from the sarcophagi at the far western end of the crypt. She leveled her stave and blasted one to pieces with a silver bolt of energy but the other rushed at Lavren. The elf brought his sword around and parried the skeleton’s first low thrust before smashing the hilt of his sword into the creature’s face. The head snapped back and toppled off the neck of the skeleton, leaving the body to crumble before the elf. Enlishia moved out into the aisle of the crypt and loosed an arrow at one of the skeletons that Dulvarna fought. It drove through the creature’s skull and the skeleton crumbled to the floor. Kel rushed past the ranger and charged into battle beside Dulvarna and Erlmoor was left to follow her. Before them, Dulvarna slashed out at the skeleton before her, her blade cutting into its ribs and shattering several of the bones. The skeleton paid the wound no mind and came on as though it had not been struck

Two more skeletons sprang from sarcophagi, one landing next to Enlishia and the other close to Lavren. Thira retreated before the closest one and loosed a silver magic missile wildly from her stave, missing her foe completely. The creature turned and drove its sword into Enlishia’s leg as the ranger tried to turn away. Lavren charged the other newly appeared skeleton, slashing his blade through its spine and felling it.
“We have to get out of here,” he called to Thira. “They will keep coming if we remain.”

Enlishia stumbled away from the skeleton that had stabbed her and fired an arrow. The projectile flew over the creature’s shoulder and so she ducked right, towards Dulvarna, Kel and Erlmoor. She looked over at them and saw that Kel was retreating with a wounded shoulder and Erlmoor was moving to take her place. Erlmoor roared as he moved forward, showering both skeletons in acid. The dragonborn’s blade glowed white as he sang a prayer to Lathander and as he brought it down, it seared through the shoulder of the skeleton before him, cleaving into its ribs. The creature lurched awkwardly to one side and then seemed to right itself. Behind the creature, two more skeletons leapt from one sarcophagus on the southern wall. The wounded skeleton looked over its shoulder and let forth a high pitched cackle as if it knew it could never be beaten. Dulvarna let out her own guttural cry and surged forward, slashing her blade into the shoulder of the foe she faced. It too staggered and then righted itself.
“We will not die here!” she cried out in defiance of the undead before her. “The light of Lathander is with us, even in this darkness.”

Thira loosed another silver bolt in panic that flew wide of her enemy. The skeleton rushed at her and she parried its thrusting sword, driving the blade downward so that it only nicked the side of her knee. Lavren was upon the creature a moment later, his sword slashing in behind the skeleton and severing its spine. It collapsed between the two of them.
“We must go from here,” he said. “There may be doors at the far end.”
“We must defeat our enemies first,” said Enlishia from further along the crypt. She started forward to aid Erlmoor and Dulvarna who stood between two sarcophagi, holding off the skeletons beyond them. Kel looked to the ranger as she reached her.

“There must be a way to stop this,” she said, turning towards the nearest sarcophagus, which had now closed again. Kel began to try to force the sarcophagus open while Enlishia looked on. Beyond them, Erlmoor fell back, leaning a hand down to the floor as a blade stabbed into his leg. The skeleton came on at him and he raised his blade, driving it through the creature’s neck and beheading it. It crumpled at his feet.

Two more sarcophagi opened next to Lavren and two more skeletons leapt out, blades in hand, one between him and Thira and the other at his back. Thira leapt back, stave leveled and loosed a silver bolt into one of the skeletons, blasting it apart where it stood. Lavren spun around to face the second, bringing his blade down towards its head. At the last, the skeleton jumped aside and the elf’s blade struck only the stone floor where the creature had stood. Lavren cursed and raised his blade but as he did so, an arrow burst through the skeleton’s skull, feeling it. Elf and tiefling both nodded their thanks to the ranger.

In the middle of the hall, Dulvarna lashed out with her blade and slashed a rib from the chest of the skeleton she faught. It came back at her fiercely but she parried high and blocked a blow that would surely have split her skull. She felt healing energy wash over her as Kel prayed behind her and then Erlmoor drove his blade into the skeleton’s shoulder, shearing away more bone and driving the creature back. The sarcophagus beside the dragonborn burst open then and two skeletons leapt forth, one before him and the other behind. He turned to face these new foes and Dulvarna pushed forward herself, slashing left and right with her blade.

Thira saw the skeleton burst out behind Erlmoor and leveled her stave, loosing another silver bolt that blasted the newcomer apart. She and Lavren looked at each over and with a nod, they started along the crypt to join their companions while looking left and right at the sarcophagi as they went. They turned as they reached Enlishia and Kel, taking positions against the north and south wall facing outwards. Lavren held his blade ready and Thira, her stave as they watched the shadows at the western end of the crypt for the appearance of more enemies.

Erlmoor cut down another skeleton with a huge blow from his sword and turned on the second. Beside him, Dulvarna took a step back to parry a flurry of blows but then came forward, seeking out gaps in the defences of her two foes. Again and again her sword clashed with the rusted blades of her enemies but each time she could find no way through. Erlmoor meanwhile, feinted left and then stabbed his blade in from the right through his foe’s spine. The skeleton fell as a heap of bones at the dragonborn’s feet and the paladin pushed forward, turning to aid Dulvarna against the two remaining skeletons in the crypt. She did not need his aid for no sooner had Erlmoor turned on her enemies than Dulvarna feinted high and then brought her blade in low to cut through the spines of both her enemies at the base. They collapsed together to the stone floor of the crypt.


Chapter 17 - Hunters in the Dark (Part 3)

“Will they return?” asked Thira once the last of the skeletons had fallen. “We should seek the trigger for the foul magic that dwells here.” She led the way to the eastern end of the chamber where silvery-white light from above suffused a wider section of the crypt. A dome depicted a radiant sky with a set of vivid silver and blue eyes gazing down. The eyes were surrounded by six equidistant silver points of light with a single larger point of light above the eyes. Surrounding the radiant image were dark tiles while altars inscribed with elaborate script stood on either side of the wide area. Relief images of soldiers in plate armor on their knees in prayer appeared on the walls behind each altar. Erlmoor made his way over to the northern altar and found Thorass runes carved into the stone:

In the light, life thrives, perseveres, and endures against the darkness. Our Lady of Silver, give us strength to stand against the darkness and face the night with vigilance and bravery.
“It is an altar to Selune,” said Erlmoor to the others.
“As is this one,” said Dulvarna. “We should leave. I have an ill feeling about this place.”
“Should we not offer praise to Selune as we have disturbed her crypt,” said Kel.
“Selune no longer watches this place,” answered Dulvarna. “It is cursed by something darker.” There were double doors at the eastern end of the crypt and Dulvarna pushed them open.

Within was another crypt, this one with a raised dais at the far end which held a single coffin. Carved on the lid of the coffin was a warrior in plate armour with a sword laid across his chest, the point toward his feet. Dulvarna drew her sword and the others drew weapons as the doors swung shut behind them.
“There is nothing here,” said Kel after a few moments. “We should leave.”
“No arguments from me,” said Erlmoor.
“Me neither,” said Thira.

Together, the six companions turned back toward the doors but as they did so, a loud noise of breaking stone behind them turned their attention back to the coffin. The lid had exploded in a flurry of dust and from it rose a humanoid skeleton girded in plate armour. It held aloft a longsword.
“The rift must never be re-opened!” it croaked. “State your business, or prepare to die!”

“We are adventurers seeking to thwart the plans of a being named Kalarel,” said Erlmoor. “Does he seek to reopen this rift you speak of?”
“I know nothing of this Kalarel,” replied the skeleton. “And yet I am sworn to defend the Keep. Is he what brings you here? Is the rift to be reopened?”
“Perhaps,” answered Erlmoor. “We know not his true purpose but know only that the shadow dragon Shadraxil has something to do with it.”
“Shadraxil,” the skeleton all but spat. “He has been the bane of my existence since first I confronted the wyrm. A plague on him. And you,” he turned to Thira then, his mind clearly jumping to something else. “Who protects you when you venture into the dark? Are you true to the god you serve?”
“I am,” said Thira then, surprising the others who had never seen her at any religious devotions. “Mystra guides me and protects me and I serve her faithfully.”

“Good,” answered the being, “that is good. And a ranger guides you unless I am much mistaken.” Enlishia nodded her head to the creature.
“Tell me ranger,” the skeleton continued. “If you trust your senses, what do you see before you?”
“I see a tortured soul doomed to undead existence,” answered Enlishia.
“No!!” the creature cried out. “I am Sir Keegan who once was lord of this keep. I was trusted to keep the Shadow Rift sealed and prevent terrible Shad¬raxil from breaking free to unleash a reign of terror upon Cormyr.” Sir Keegan calmed a little. “Now I am but a shadow of what I was.” He paused then.

“I pray that you are strong if you are truly who you say are,” Sir Keegan resumed after a few moments, turning to look at Dulvarna. “The warrior woman who leads you wears a fiercesome demeanor. Are you truly as formidable as you look, warrior woman?”
“I am strong enough,” answered Dulvarna fiercely. “Already I have faught through many perils to get here.”

“Strong enough!” Sir Keegan answered, his voice rising shrilly once more. “You know not what you truly face here. There are perils yet to face that you cannot even imagine. Unnatural forces abound in this place. Are you truly equipped to overcome them?”
“We are equipped and we are strong,” answered Thira. “We have braved terrible dangers to come here and would brave much worse to thwart the enemies that lurk here.”

“A convincing answer,” Sir Keegan said, more softly now. He turned back towards Erlmoor. “Or at least one convincingly given. Can you attest to the truth of your comrade’s claim?”
“I can,” Erlmoor rumbled in his deepest baritone. “We have stood together and faught together, the six of us, against terrible enemies here and elsewhere. We are true to our intentions here and would bring down the enemy that dwells in this place.”
“Then in that case, I wish you well,” said Sir Keegan, hiss voice finally softening. “I only hope that you do not fail as I did. Shadraxil’s power was so great that the wyrm was able to extend his influence from beyond his shadow prison and consume me with madness. I became possessed and in a rage, I slew my wife and then moved through the keep, killing my men one by one even as they stood stunned. I became a murderous fiend!” Sir Keegan’s empty sockets stared down at the stone floor of his crypt then as though grimly remembering his own terrible deeds.

“How came you to be here, Lord?” asked Erlmoor quietly.
“Finally the alarm went up,” Sir Keegan answered, without looking up from the floor. “What remained of the legion banded together against me. Even in my rage, I realised that I could not best them all, so I fled into the crypts to hide from vengeance. Only then did the madness lift. I realised what I had done and despaired. I had killed my love and broken my oath. More than that, I had done so with my sword, Aecris, a blade given to me by King Tharyann when I was made a knight. The remnants of my legion sealed the passage and trapped me here. I selected this as a fitting place to spend eternity.”

“There must be something we can do to aid you,” said Dulvarna. “Name it.”
“I am past redemption,” Sir Keegan answered, finally raising his empty eye sockets to look at Dulvarna. “But perhaps I can grant you aid. I cannot leave this crypt, but Aecris can. Perhaps this elegant weapon, unlike me, can be redeemed. I give it to you that you might purge Shadowfell Keep of those who work to open the rift. Seek Selune’s boon at the altars outside and perhaps she too will grant you aid.”

Dulvarna stepped forward as Sir Keegan held out his sword and took it from him reverently. She took out her own sword and gave it to the knight.
“So that you may rest more easily with a blade still in hand,” she said. Then she replaced her blade with ancient Aecris in the sheath on her back and bowed her head to the knight. The others did likewise before all six retreated from the chamber.


Chapter 18 - The Deeper Tunnels

Each knelt in turn at the altars of Selune and paid respects in their own way before the companions moved on. They passed through the crypt undisturbed this time and emerged into the tunnels where they had faught the zombies with only one way forward. Dulvarna led them cautiously northward through the twisting passages but then stopped suddenly at strange designs inscribed into the floor.
“Runes of some kind,” said Enlishia. “But I know them not. We should not touch them”
“Agreed,” said Dulvarna and with a few steps back, she jumped over the runes. The others followed suit and slowly they made their way northward once more.

They passed two more sets of runes before they came to a chamber at the northern end of the passages from which stairs descended into darkness. The group shared determined glances before Dulvarna drew forth Aecris and started down the stairs.

The stairs descended into a large, torch-lit chamber with two creatures, the sixe of men standing near the entrance. Big, pointed ears struck out from under their helmets, and sharp teeth glittered in their mouths. One of the guards yelled out a challenge phrase.
“Shadow seeks shadow!” it called out.
“From the ground, some magic is found,” called out Kel, reciting the phrase in Kalarel’s letter to the elf Ninaran.
“Intruders”, the hobgoblins screamed and charged towards the newcomers.

Lavren drew his wand and darted to the right as the hobgoblins came forward. As he reached the wall of the room, he turned and loosed crackling black energy from his wand that flew over the heads of the two guards. Two more hobgoblins had been standing against the north wall but now they were turning towards the passageway between them. A side door opened in the north west corner of the room and more hobgoblins came forth to battle the intruders.

The guards at the entrance surged forward, drawing flails from their belts. One lashed out and struck Dulvarna on the shoulder before she could raise her blade. Kel moved to aid Dulvarna, slashing out with her morning star. The hobgoblin turned his body and brought his flail across to parry the blow before twisting the drow’s weapon aside. Thira darted behind the dark elf to join Lavren against the right hand wall. She turned, lowered her staff and fire burst around the two hobgoblins, lighting clothes and searing skin. A hobgoblin appeared from an eastern side passage, apparently ignoring the elf and the tiefling as it rushed to join the battle with a sword in its hand. Lavren lowered his wand and prepared a spell.

Two more hobgoblins joined the battle at the chamber entrance as Dulvarna and Kel faught to keep them at bay. Erlmoor rushed past the dark elf on the right, his blade in his hands The huge sword swung out but was blocked at the last, inches from the hobgoblin’s head by the handle of the guard’s flail held crosswise. Enlishia entered the chamber behind Erlmoor and made for the wall next to Lavren and Thira. The ranger leveled her bow and loosed an arrow. The shaft drove through the neck of a hobgoblin running to join the battle and sent him tumbling to the stone floor. Unsurprisingly, he did not get up but lay where he had landed.

Erlmoor ducked as a flail swung high but no soon had he risen again than the weapon came in low and struck the side of his leg hard. He staggered but then regained his footing though his wounded leg was engulfed in pain. Lavren cursed the nearest hobgoblin to him and loosed black energy at the warrior that struck it in the shoulder and sent it reeling against the edge of the well that dominated the centre of the chamber.

Dulvarna staggered as a blade drove into her left leg and as she turned to fend off this new enemy, a flail lashed the back of her shoulders and twisted her back around to the foes before her. Kel saw Dulvarna’s plight and tried to call forth dark fire to limn the hobgoblin and mark it. At the last, the hobgoblin moved and the enchantment missed its mark. She swung out with her morningstar but again the blow was parried and the prayer on her lips failed.

Thira looked to the plight of her companions at the entrance and then glanced towards the northern passage into which both hobgoblins who had been standing nearby had gone. They had to be up to something, she decided, and surely it could not be good. With a wink to Lavren, she rushed across the chamber and into the northern passage. There, at the far end of a square chamber, the two hobgoblins busied themselves with the fastenings of a large cage. Within the cage was a large, brown spider, the size of a wolf. Already its mandibles were clacking at the bars as poison dripped from them. Without a second thought, Thira lowered her staff, uttered an incantation and filled the room with flame. The spider screeched but the hobgoblins were paralysed with fear. Fire engulfed them and they died beside the cage, seared the blackened corpses that collapsed to the floor.

Erlmoor roared as he slashed out with his sword and then spewed acid over the enemies that surrounded him. The hobgoblins raised their shields and all but one was unharmed by the acid. Acid burned the arm of the slowest amongst them but the hobgoblin only roared his own anger at the dragonborn. Another hobgoblin came at him from his right with a flail and desperately, the paladin turned and parried high keeping the weapon at bay. Yet another foe joined the battle then, darting between Erlmoor and Dulvarna to stab its sword at Kel. She parried deftly and stepped back to give her room to size up her new enemy. An arrow drove into Erlmoor’s new enemy, the hobgoblin already burned by Lavren’s eldritch fire, and the warrior staggered to the right as the arrow drove into its side.

Beside Kel, Dulvarna pulled back to try to draw breath while sizing up the three enemies that she faced. They held still, watching her as she stood with her blade held across her and then she darted at the nearest one, weaving her blade before her and then plunging it forward towards her enemy’s belly. The hobgoblin parried with his shield and then raised its flail to strike back at her. The flail came down and struck the side of her head, bringing blinding pain and bright lights before her eyes. Dulvarna staggered and waited for the killing blow but it never came. Instead, she heard Kel chanting in her own tongue and a warm feeling, almost too warm, washed over her. Opening her eyes, she lashed out with her sword and her enemies retreated for a moment. Kel had saved her

Lavren loosed purple bolts from his wand that struck the hobgoblin he had wounded earlier. The creature reeled and staggered for a moment and Lavren hoped Erlmoor would take his chance. Instead, Thira did. Emerging from the northern chamber, the tiefling lowered her stave and loosed a silver bolt at the reeling hobgoblin. The bolt tore through the creature’s back and burst out of its chest. It staggered again and then pitched over the edge into the well.

Dulvarna reeled as another flail struck the side of her head and knew that the end of her battle had come. She heard Erlmoor roaring as he tried to reach her and took strength from that as she glanced over and saw one of his enemies driven back from him with a huge blow. Desperately, he struggled to reach her but she knew he would be too late. An arrow from Enlishia’s bow struck the same hobgoblin but still it raised its shield and blocked the dragonborn’s path. Dulvarna roared her own anger in answer to the dragonborn’s and swung Aecris with all her strength. The blade smashed through the shield of the hobgoblin before her, broken its arm and buried its tip in its side. The hobgoblin staggered backwards, stunned by the huge blow. It staggered and then with a roar of pain and anger the hobgoblin rushed at Dulvarna. Its flail swung out and smashed into her face before she could raise her blade. Pain and stars filled her head once more as she spun around on the spot. Then the blackness took her before she even hit the floor. A moment later, a silver bolt burst out of the chest of the hobgoblin and he fell forward across Dulvarna’s body, in death unknowingly hiding from his companions the fact that his enemy still breathed.

Kel stepped forward to try to protect Dulvarna’s body, knowing not whether she lived or not. She parried desperately with her morningstar and swung out with the heavy weapon whenever she could. Erlmoor surged forward with her while Enlishia, Lavren and Thira provided their own missile support. A sword stabbed into Kel’s forearm but she paid it no mind, gritting her teeth through the pain and refusing to cry out. A flail lashed across the side of Erlmoor’s head, almost spinning him around and tearing wounds in his cheek and above his eye. He roared in response and rushed at his enemies more fiercely.

Lavren cursed the hobgoblin before Erlmoor again and loosed black, crackling energy from his wand that seared across the warrior’s left side. The hobgoblin spun around and pitched headlong down the well after its companion. One of the remaining hobgoblins leapt over Dulvarna and the hobgoblin, stabbing its blade out at Kel and piercing her shoulder. She slashed out with her morningstar and drove her enemy back but two other hobgoblins, all that now remained of the force, pressed her back as well. A silver bolt from Thira’s stave burned through one, emerging from its chest and driving into the stone beside Kel. The hobgoblin fell to the floor, a look of stunned bemusement on its face. Another swung its flail wildly but then was engulfed in ribbons of radiance that burned its flesh. Erlmoor was upon it a moment later, his sword slashing at it from left and right. The hobgoblin parried desperately and Kel turned her attention back to the sword wielder that had just stabbed her. No sooner had she turned back to it than an arrow drove through its throat and the hobgoblin fell beside its companion and Dulvarna.

With a glowing morningstar, Kel turned back to the last hobgoblin and smashed her weapon down on its right shoulder. It staggered as black, crackling energy from Lavren’s wand narrowly missed its head. A blue bolt seared into it from the other side but still the last hobgoblin refused to yield. It lashed out wildly with its flail but Erlmoor ducked the swing and slashed out with his blade to keep the warrior on the back foot. It stepped back and then an arrow drove through its throat. With a strangled gasp, it fell beside the others. Kel knelt beside Dulvarna and desperately felt for a lifebeat. The warrior woman dragged in a rattling breath but then slumped back and breathed no more. Kel put her head in her hands and all knew that another one of their number had fallen.
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Chapter 19 - Clearing the Path (Part 1)

Dulvarna opened her eyes and looked up into the serious eyes of Sister Linora. Dark memories of wandering souls and an endless grey plain faded quickly into the deeper recesses of her mind and she turned her head slowly to regard her companions, all five of them, standing beside the hard stone altar on which she lay.
“You must rest a while,” said Enlishia. “We will take you back to the inn.”

Slowly, they moved Dulvarna over to a litter and carried her solemnly back through Winterhaven where a cold rain was falling as the streets darkened at the end of another day. They had secured four rooms now, no longer sharing the loft dormitory and Enlishia had agreed to share with Dulvarna to tend to her. Lavren and Thira shared their own chamber while Erlmoor and Kel slept alone, enjoying their solitude. Salvana Wrafton watched the grim procession nervously as the companions carried their fallen leader up the inn’s stairs.
“Some wine, called Lavren. “We will be back down.” Grateful for something to do, the innkeep rushed off to busy herself preparing the inevitable wine jug for the elf and his hooded companion. She glanced back up from her duties as the last of the companions passed up the stairs, wondering if they could truly save the town from whatever darkness gathered over the Keep.
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Chapter 19 - Clearing the Path (Part 2)

“We have struck at the heart of the enemy now,” said Thira as they reached the top of the steps down into the dungeons beneath the ruined keep. “We must descend to the deeper levels again and keep them on the run.” It was a dull, drizzly day but the rain was a little warmer now. Spring was not far away, even in the mountains, and the weather would soon warm towards summer.
“And if enemies yet lurk on the upper level,” rumbled Erlmoor. “We could be attacked as we retreat. None of us would have welcomed that when last we were here.”

“Agreed,” said Dulvarna. “We cannot take the chance that enemies yet lurk on the upper levels. And besides, our battle with the hobgoblins has proved our vulnerability. We will go west from the guard room and then east until we have cleared the path for us to attack the deeper level again.” Dulvarna felt comforted by this decision as soon as she had made it. She still saw images of the grey plain in her dreams and occasionally when she was awake. For the first time in her young life, fear had taken hold of her, and she doubted her own skill in battle. Slowly, she led the companions down the steps.

The westward passage from the goblin guard room turned north and before widening into a long, narrow chamber. Doors were set in the northern and western walls, and iron doubled doors stood to the east. Faint bloodstains streaked the floor between the western door and the northern door.
“I hear goblin voices,” said Enlishia quietly. “To the north, beyond the door.” Drawing weapons, the six companions started forward.

Lavren was first to the door, pulling it open with one hand while leveling his wand with the other. A goblin stood to the right of the door in the chamber beyond and turned suddenly as the elf opened the portal. Lavren spat a curse at it in elven and loosed crackling black energy into the chamber. The goblin was struck and sent reeling while Thira came up behind the elf and with a word, loosed flame into the room beyond the door. Two more goblins were engulfed in flame but standing next to a blood-stained rack used for torture, a hobgoblin turned to face the doorway. Pulling two hot pokers from the brazier beside him, the hobgoblin charged at the door, waving the makeshift weapons before him. As he reached the door, the hobgoblin swung out with both pokers and Lavren ducked back as the red hot iron passed close to his face. He looked back desperately towards his companions and was thankful that Dulvarna was rushing forward. The warrior woman pushed the elf aside and plunged her blade into the hobgoblin’s shoulder, all but severing his arm. The torturer cried out and dropped one poker as its left arm dropped uselessly to its side.

A crossbow bolt clattered against the doorframe and another nicked Lavren’s neck. The elf ducked back as his companions came up behind him. He tried to push the hobgoblin back, shoving his shoulder into the creature but it refused to yield and instead stabbed at him with the poker it held. Lavren leapt back, darting out of the way, as did Thira, both leaving the way clear to the door for their companions. Thira loosed a silver bolt wildly from her staff that struck the door frame and hobgoblin stabbed its poker into Dulvarna’s leg before withdrawing into the chamber beyond the door. Dulvarna grimaced through the burning pain and rushed after the hobgoblin, jabbing her blade into his thigh. The torturer, clad in black leather armour and wearing a leather mask that hid his face, staggered and lashed out wildly with the poker once more. Crossbow bolts struck the walls either side of the door from goblins to the left and right who had been burned by Thira’s flame. Dulvarna paid them no heed for behind her, her friends came through the door and the goblins stood no chance.

Kel surged into the chamber beside Dulvarna, pulling her hood back as she came and swinging out with her morningstar. The hobgoblin fell back before her and Erlmoor surged into the room to flank Dulvarna on the other side. He roared and breathed acid on the hobgoblin before slashing out with his sword. The torturer fell back another step and then flinched as Lavren appeared behind him and loosed black, crackling energy from his wand. The blast flew high and struck the doorframe in front of the torturer but the creature knew that its plans were unraveling.

Suddenly, the hobgoblin roared and surged at Kel, seizing the drow and dragging her along the wall away from the door. Dulvarna twisted to the left and slashed her blade into the hobgoblin’s back as it dragged Kel away from her. A cage with spikes protruding inside stood further along the wall and Dulvarna realised quickly that that was the torturer’s goal. He never made it there for through the doorway where Dulvarna had stood seared a silver bolt from Thira’s staff. It drove through the hobgoblin’s back and pitched it forward to land at Kel’s feet.

Crossbows clicked and a bolt struck Lavren in the shoulder while another drove into Kel’s in the leg. The drow yanked the bolt out with gritted teeth and rushed at the crossbow wielder close to her right who had wounded her. Her morningstar swung out and struck the creature on the shoulder, spinning it around on the spot. It looked to its shoulder and frantically tried to brush at the mark of Lolth on its shoulder. Behind the wounded goblin, another began firing a crossbow from within an iron-barred cage in the southwest corner of the room. Kel glanced towards this new foe and marked his position before turning back to finish the goblin before her. Suddenly, from the right, the goblin that had been crouched along the wall next to the torture device, surged at her and drove its spear into her thigh. Kel gasped and turned a fiercesome gaze on this second new foe.

Erlmoor charged the other crossbow wielder and Enlishia came into the chamber behind him, her bow ready with an arrow nocked. She twisted around behind the dragonborn and loosed an arrow into the goblin with the crossbow, driving it back a step. It staggered, a fearful look on its face, and then a black, crackling bolt of energy from Lavren’s wand seared through its neck and felled it.
Dulvarna charged into battle beside Kel, her blade weaving a dazzling pattern before her. She lashed out as the goblin before her tried to follow her movements, and drove her sword into the goblin’s leg. It staggered and stepped back from her while the goblin beside it threw down its crossbow and drew a short sword from its belt. It stabbed out once but Kel sidestepped the blow and smashed her morningstar into the goblin’s face. Its skull exploded and it collapsed on the floor before the dark elf. Erlmoor rushed past Kel towards the door of the cage in the corner of the room. Enlishia came behind him, circling to the left and loosing an arrow into the cage to drive into the shoulder of the goblin there. The creature threw down its crossbow, drew forth a sword and stabbed through the doorway at Erlmoor, the blade piercing the dragonborn’s forearm.

Behind Erlmoor, Dulvarna swatted aside the spear thrust of the goblin before her and raised her blade to strike at it but before she could, the goblin was struck in the side of the head by a bolt of black energy. Hurled into the wall at its left and horribly burned, the goblin fell to the chamber floor unmoving. Dulvarna rushed forward towards the cage but as she reached it, a silver bolt struck the goblin within and sent it reeling backwards. The warrior woman strode into the cage and plunged her blade into the goblin’s chest before it even had chance to recover. The goblin fell with a gasp to the floor of the cage and died there.
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Chapter 19 - Clearing the Path (Part 3)

“Now they are beaten,” said Erlmoor. “And we can turn our attention elsewhere.” He grunted as he tightened a strap on the armour Enlishia had taken from the torturer and was now putting on. It bore an enchantment and was too valuable to leave behind despite its last owner.
“Finally,” said Thira. “As I’ve said all along, we’ve no time to waste on goblins if Ninaran’s letter told the truth. We must return to the lower levels and defeat the evil that has hold here before it is too late.”

Dulvarna nodded finally, knowing that her companions spoke the truth. Together, they turned away from the torture chamber and headed back to the guard room at the bottom of the steps. They turned south and west and passed through the maze where the rune traps still marked the floor. Then, at last, they descended the steps to the chamber where Dulvarna had fallen and the hobgoblins had been slain. Dulvarna drew her sword as she reached the bottom of the steps and behind her, the others followed suit, fearing attack. As they emerged into the torchlight of the chamber, their fears were realised as two hobgoblins growled from the edge of the well as they entered.
“Password,” snarled one of the creatures.
“This is my password,” snarled Dulvarna in response, raising her sword.
“Intruders!” called the hobgoblin and all became motion.

A hobgoblin with a bow appeared from the passage opening to the right and fired an arrow towards Enlishia. The shaft drove into the ranger’s shoulder but she turned and darted along the wall without heeding it, firing an arrow from her own bow as she ran. Lavren followed her, loosing purple rays from his wand wildly and cursing his nearest foe as he ran. His bolts flew wide of the hobgoblins but they ducked nonetheless. Kel charged past Dulvarna as the two soldiers beside the well recovered. With her morningstar held across in front of her, she shoved herself into one of the hobgoblins and pitched him backward. The creature staggered, reached desperately for the front of the dark elf’s robes and then fell headlong into the well. The remaining hobgoblin lashed out with its flail, whipping the weapon across Kel’s back and sending her staggering away. Turning to face the hobgoblin, she raised her morningstar to defend herself.

At the far end of the chamber, two more hobgoblins darted into the northern chamber where the companions knew a cage had housed a huge spider when last they had come here. Erlmoor rushed past Kel and started after the hobgoblin only for another to step across and block his path. He slashed out with his blade and the goblin drew its own sword swiftly and parried the dragonborn’s blow. It slashed out a riposted and drew blood from the dragonborn’s sword arm. He stepped back to size up his foe anew.

Dulvarna shoved her shoulder into the side of the remaining hobgoblin beside the well but this creature had braced its feet well and would not topple as its companion had. It growled and turned on her, slashing out with its flail and forcing her back. She came in at the goblin with her sword up before her. To the right, she saw another archer enter the chamber but no sooner had she seen the newcomer than Thira rushed past her. The tiefling rushed to Erlmoor’s side, lowered her stave and loosed flame to engulf the two hobgoblins. Two more hobgoblins came from a door to the left, rushing towards her and Dulvarna felt a cold dread take hold of her as she watched the battle unfold in this chamber exactly as it had when last they were here.

One of the hobgoblin archers loosed an arrow at Thira that struck the tiefling in the shoulder. Enlishia determined that the archer would be her next target in that moment and aimed an arrow at the creature. She let the arrow fly and knew at once that the missile would fly wide of the mark. The arrow clattered into the stone of the chamber’s northern wall. Beside her, Lavren spat a curse at the hobgoblin for wounding his lover and then called fire from within the archer. Its clothes burst into flame and the hobgoblin staggered back into the passage entrance as it desperately tried to extinguish itself. Behind the archers, another hobgoblin entered the chamber then and each of the companions glanced towards the newcomer and knew what a terrible foe it would be. It wore a wolf skull on its head to mark itself as a shaman and it carried a staff that crackled with eldritch power. It strode towards Erlmoor and struck out with its staff, forcing the dragonborn to twist right and parry desperately.

At the well, Kel’s morningstar was parried again as the hobgoblin kept both she and Dulvarna at bay. It lashed out with its flail and this time struck Kel across the face, sending her reeling away from the blow. She heard a scrabbling sound behind her then and glancing over her shoulder, she saw the other hobgoblin emerging from the well. It stood atop the rim of the well and leapt down upon her, the haft of its flail cracking down on her skull. The dark elf felt warm blood on the back of her neck and collapsed at the feet of her enemies.

Erlmoor smashed aside the sword of the hobgoblin before him and plunged his own blade into the creature’s chest. It gasped and fell before him. Glancing into the northern chamber, the dragonborn saw that the hobgoblin there was struggling with the releases for the heavy bar that kept the cage closed. It shouted something, perhaps calling for aid, and then continued its struggle. Erlmoor turned to face the shaman and raised his sword again.


Chapter 19 - Clearing the Path (Part 4)

At the entrance, Dulvarna weaved her blade back and forth before her and then struck low at the leg of the hobgoblin before her, driving her blade through the warrior’s knee. It staggered and stumbled back towards the well. She smashed the hilt of Aecris into the face of her enemy and forced him back to the very edge of the well. A dazed look filled the eyes of her enemy and for a moment he seemed about to fall but then, just as he seemed he would topple, the hobgoblin recovered and righted himself.

An arrow drove into Thira’s leg and she cursed, loosing another silver bolt at the archer to strike him in the chest. The hobgoblin reeled but as it did so, its companion loosed an arrow that drove through the tiefling’s arm. Thira staggered as the pain of her wounds began to sap her strength. Enlishia saw Thira’s plight and swiftly loosed one and then a second arrow, both striking the nearest archer and driving it back towards the north wall. Lavren loosed crackling black energy that hurled the hobgoblin back against the wall. Its neck snapped with a loud crack and it fell to the floor next to its shaman.

The shaman looked down at its fallen archer and gestured with its staff, loosing a wave of force that struck Erlmoor first and then struck Thira before washing over Kel’s broken body and hurling her against the south wall of the chamber. Erlmoor and Thira were knocked from their feet as were two of the hobgoblins, the last archer and the warrior who had felled Kel. Thira lay still where she had fallen, as did the hobgoblin archer, while Erlmoor and the hobgoblin warrior rose wearily from where they had fallen. The wounded hobgoblin charged half-heartedly at Dulvarna but found his flail parried easily by the warrior woman’s sword. Erlmoor for his part, roared his defiance, breathing acid upon the shaman and then slashing his blade across his enemy’s chest. New strength coursed through the dragonborn and the shaman retreated until its back was to the chamber wall.

Beside the well, Dulvarna ducked another clumsy swing of a flail and then brought her own blade across low, opening up the belly of one hobgoblin and burying the sword in the hip of the other. The first pitched over backwards and fell into the well while the second staggered and almost joined its companion. An arrow drove through its neck then and finally pitched the hobgoblin over the edge of the well to join its comrade.

Lavren loosed black, crackling energy at the shaman and struck it in the shoulder, keeping it on the back foot. It lashed out with its stave but Erlmoor ducked the wild swing and slashed out with his blade only for it to be parried by the shaman. Dulvarna was beside him then, her blade slashing out to nick and cut the shaman even as her blows were parried.

Behind Erlmoor and Dulvarna, Enlishia leapt over Thira’s fallen form, feeling a twinge of guilt that she could not stop and aid the tiefling. She skidded to a stop in front of the entrance, nocked two arrows to her bowstring and loosed them into the chamber. The shafts parted in mid flight, one striking one hobgoblin at the spider cage and the other striking another. Both hobgoblins were pierced through the throat and fell next to the cage. The remaining hobgoblin looked to the half-lifted iron-bound bar as it slid back into place to keep the cage shut. Grimly, the warrior raised its sword and charged at the ranger.

Lavren rushed to Thira’s side and felt for her pulse. It could still be felt but its was weak and fading. Hastily, he pulled strips of cloth from his pack and began to bind her wounds while drawing forth the arrow shafts that had pierced her. He wondered if he had the skill and if Thira truly had any time left.

Erlmoor reeled as the shaman struck out with the last of his strength and connected the end of his staff with the dragonborn’s chin. He smashed his own sword hilt into the shaman’s face then and as the creature fell back against the wall, he plunged his blade into the hobgoblin’s throat. The shaman fell beside the archer against the north wall. Dulvarna leapt over the fallen shaman and charged into the northern chamber, meeting the last of the hobgoblins as it charged towards Enlishia. Dulvarna drove her blade through her enemy’s breastbone without pausing and then rushed up to the cage.
“The spider must die,” she said. “It can’t stay here.”
“That can wait,” called back Lavren from the outer chamber. “We have dead of our own out here.” He looked down at Thira as her pulse faded beneath his touch and felt tears fill his eyes.


Chapter 20 - Partings and Meetings (Part 1)

“Sister Linora will not raise a drow and a tiefling,” said Enlishia once the spider had been slain. “Chauntea would not permit it.”
“You’re right,” said Lavren. “So we have to take them elsewhere. Like as not we would find a cleric in Arabel who would raise them for our gold.”
“And perhaps we would not,” Dulvarna replied. “We all grieve for our companions but they would be no more welcome in Arabel as they are here, perhaps less so. If we went to Hillsfar we may get the aid we need but by the time we returned, what would remain of Winterhaven.”
“Nothing,” rumbled Erlmoor. “They fell here so we should bury them here.”
“And then we go on,” Dulvarna stated simply. “We have no time for retreat now.”

The others nodded grimly and then cast around for a place to inter their fallen companions. Eventually, they settled upon building cairns for them in the upper ruins and made their way out of the dungeons to bury their dead.


Chapter 20 - Partings and Meetings (Part 2)

Dulvarna looked down grimly at the two stone cairns they had raised over their companions and then called out to the others.
“It is time we returned to the dungeons,” she said.

Her three companions put down their half eaten breakfasts and gathered their weapons and belongings without murmur or complaint. The pale light of dawn was barely creeping over the mountains to the east but it was time, they all knew, to take revenge on the slayers of Thira and Kel. Grimly, they strode down into the dungeons, passing through the maze of runes in silence and descending the stairs to the bloody well chamber where they had suffered so much. Only then did Dulvarna draw forth her sword as she turned into the eastern passage out of the room. Another well chamber lay to the eat with a barrack chamber to the north, a passage leading south and another passage leading east. Dulvarna took the eastern way without a second though and led them into the eastern passage. Within, double doors opened to the north while another hall led southward. Dulvarna turned southward, her blade held high before her and Enlishia at her side, an arrow nocked to her bowstring.

They cautiously made their way perhaps halfway down the southern corridor before a flagstone shifted beneath Dulvarna’s feet and ahead, an iron portcullis slammed down, sealing the passageway ahead.
“Watch behind,” Dulvarna called back to Lavren and Erlmoor before sheathing her sword and setting to work to bend the bars of the iron gate. Enlishia added her own strength to the effort and within a few moments, one of the bars snapped with a loud crack. Dulvarna drew her sword again and led the companions through into the hallway beyond.

Not far beyond the iron gate, the passage opened into an irregularly shaped chamber dominated by a massive oaken table. The table was scarred with burns and dagger cuts while several mugs and crumpled parchments lay scattered the table’s surface. Lavren moved to the table to examine the parchments but no sooner had he done so than the two doors to the chamber slammed open. A tall hobgoblin followed four smaller hobgoblins out of the southern chamber while three others emerged from the door to the east.
“Don’t kill ‘em,” the tall hobgoblin called to the others in Common. “We cam sell ‘em to the Bloodreavers as slaves.”

Lavren lashed out his wand and loosed black, crackling energy at the eastern door, startling the hobgoblins and stunning them for a moment. From the southern door, the huge chieftain charged forth with a roar towards Dulvarna while from the astern door, a hobgoblin charged at Lavren. This warrior spun a flail above his head and knocked a chair aside with his shield. The spiked ball of its flail came down and struck Lavren’s shoulder as he twisted aside, tearing his flesh painfully as it was pulled back. Enlishia loosed an arrow at the hobgoblin and gave Lavren a moment’s breathing space to draw back from his enemy. He only had a moment though, for a heartbeat later, two more hobgoblins rushed around the table, one coming at him and the other following its chieftain in its charge at Dulvarna.

Erlmoor met the newcomer with a roar and a shower of acid that seared into the flesh of its face and felled it where it stood. He slashed out with his blade and drove the flail wielding hobgoblin back a step and with another roar, he halted the other for a heartbeat. The reprieve was only momentary, though, for an instant later, another hobgoblin had charged n with a sword in its hand and elf and dragonborn faced two enemies once more. Two more came from the eastern room and pushed their companions forward from behind while Lavren drew forth the sword that he had named Lifestealer and prepared to defend himself. He glanced back over his shoulder, half expecting to see Thira there with her stave, but of course, the tiefling was nowhere to be seen. With guttural growl of his own, the elf turned back to his enemies, cursing the hobgoblin before him in elven. Then he struck out with his blade.


Chapter 20 - Partings and Meetings (Part 3)

The chieftain stabbed out with his spear and Dulvarna dodged left to evade the thrust. She raised her blade but as she did so, the hobgoblin to the left of the chieftain gasped and fell to its knees. Enlishia’s boot struck its chest and pitched it over backwards as the ranger darted past Dulvarna and joined the battle, her bow left in the corridor behind her. The warchief looked down at his fallen minion and as he did so, Dulvarna darted forward and slammed the hilt of Aecris into his face. The hobgoblin staggered back, his nose streaming blood. Just as Dulvarna felt the joy of a small victory, a chair was kicked over to her left. She tuned and saw that one of the hobgoblins from the eastern chamber, having found his way blocked to Erlmoor and Lavren, had circled around the table to get at her. Cursing under her breath, the warrior woman raised her bloodstained blade, ready to meet this new enemy.

Lavren feinted to the left, drawing his enemy’s shield down and then slashed his blade back and high to cur into the hobgoblin’s shoulder. The blade struck bone and the hobgoblin cried out and drew back from the elf for a moment before lashing out low with its flail. Lavren leapt but the blow still struck his left leg and all but pitched him over on the floor at his enemy’s feet. The elf staggered but regained his footing, holding Lifestealer before him to fend off the next attack.

Behind Lavren, Dulvarna ducked a spear thruat only to find the warchief had duped her and brought another thrust in from the right that pierced her shoulder. Pain assailed her and she staggered back towards Erlmoor whose back was to hers. She glanced to the right, wondering if they would yet need the escape route that the entry corridor offered but then dismissed the thought. They had promised revenge for Kel and Thira. The hobgoblins must pay. Diving in low, she drove her blade into the thigh of the hobgoblin and as he fell back, she plunged her blade into his shoulder, The warchief staggered and for a moment seemed about to fall before the hobgoblin seemed to force himself to recover and raise his spear and shield once again.

Erlmoor ducked left as a sword slashed at him and then drove his sword forward into the chest of the hobgoblin before him. The creature fell to the floor and the dragonborn stepped over him to meet the flail-wielding warrior behind. The spiked ball of the flail lashed out but the dragonborn ducked under the wild swing and continued to advance on this new enemy.

Dulvarna rolled to her left as the warchief’s spear came at her again but at the last, he adjusted his thrust and drove it into her shoulder. She cried out as the point drove in and scraped against bone. Enlishia jabbed her blade at the hobgoblin and it withdrew the spear to parry the ranger’s thrust, giving Dulvarna a chance to recover. She thrust out with her own blade, driving it into the hobgoblin’s hip. The warchief staggered back, its spear still out to its left where it had parried Enlishia’s blade. It tried to bring the weapon back across but it was far too slow. Dulvarna’s blade thrust at it again, piercing its breastbone and its heart beneath. With a gasp, the hobgoblin staggered and fell to the floor before Dulvarna. A flail swung at her then and she ducked the wild blow before coming up in front of the two remaining hobgoblins that she and Enlishia faced. Dulvarna grinned and winked at Enlishia. The hobgoblins came forward and the two women met them with steel.

Erlmoor slashed with his sword while praying to Lathander but just as the sword glowed bright with the divine power of the Morninglord, the hobgoblin ducked under the blow. As he did so, he slashed out with his flail, the steel ball at the end of its chain striking the dragonborn painfully on the thigh. Erlmoor roared and the hobgoblin drew back a step. The hobgoblin to Erlmoor’s left also faltered and Lavren took his chance. His blade lashed out, cutting across the hobgoblin’s belly and then driving through its throat as the elf stepped forward.

Enlishia feinted to the left and then drove her blade into the belly of one of the remaining hobgoblins. The creature gasped, gurgled as blood filled its mouth and then fell to the floor of the chamber. Beside her, Dulvarna drove back the last they faced while to her right, Erlmoor slashed his blade across the belly of the foe that remained there, driving it back and wounding it. Dulvarna’s foe came back at her suddenly then and in a heartbeat, the hobgoblin had lashed out with its flail and struck her head with the spiked ball. She reeled back and away and the other hobgoblin took heart from this. It surged at Erlmoor, lashing out with its flail to strike him in the side.

Lavren spat a curse at the hobgoblin and rushed at his enemy with his blade in hand. She lashed out at the hobgoblin but the creature ducked the wild swing. Erlmoor surged forward beside the elf but his swing was equally wild and the hobgoblin ducked it just as easily. The enemy lashed out with its flail but chain and ball whistled over the head of Erlmoor just has his blade had passed over the hobgoblin an instant before. Lavren stepped forward and smashed his sword hilt into the face of the hobgoblin, knocking it back. Erlmoor slashed at its throat with his blade but it ducked, falling to its knees as it did so.

Behind the dragonborn and the elf, Enlishia slashed out with her blade, drawing blood from the arm of the hobgoblin above its shield but still the creature roared its defiance. Dulvarna’s blade struck its other arm and it fell back a step, knowing that it was likely doomed but refusing to yield. Desperately it lashed out and struck Dulvarna on the shoulder, driving her back a step in turn. For a moment there was stalemate but then Lavren plunged his blade into the belly of the foe he faced and as its life force flowed into him he turned with a fey curse on his lips. The hobgoblin faltered and Dulvarna rushed at it, her blade slashing out and drawing blood once more. Erlmoor followed and the hobgoblin fell back, lashing out one last time at Dulvarna. The spiked ball struck her head, she saw light and then darkness and then collapsed to the floor beside her enemies. Erlmoor, Enlishia and Lavren pressed their attacks and the hobgoblin retreated until its back was to the west wall of the chamber. Then, Erlmoor plunged his blade into the hobgoblin’s chest and finally ended the battle. Only then did they hear the cries of the hobgoblins’ prisoners.

“Help us,” came a familiar voice from the eastern chamber. Erlmoor knelt beside Dulvarna while Lavren went to the aid of the prisoners.


Chapter 20 - Partings and Meetings (Part 4)

“Litiraan,” said Lavren as he stepped into the eastern chamber. “Telkya. When last we saw you, you were to return to Cormanthor.” The elf lord and his companion had aided the adventurers in the Hullack Forest and guided them to the Ashen Tower. It was the two elves as well who had allowed Micor and Ilar to accompany the companions to their ultimate ruin. Both elf leaders now had their hands and feet bound and were crouched on the floor between two beds. Lavren rushed to free them from their bonds.

“We were heading for Cormanthor again,” said Litiraan once he was free of his bonds. “But we were attacked to the west of here by hobgoblins. Those who were not slain were taken.”
“We heard that most were taken to a place they called Thunderspire,” Telkya put in. “We were brought here to be ransomed to Khurbok. They only laughed when we told him he had been slain.”
“We are going to Thunderspire next,” said Dulvarna from the doorway, her wounds covered in blood-soaked bandages. “But first we have enemies to deal with here and could use two more blades.”
“You have ours,” answered Litiraan. “Until Thunderspire at least.”

The two elves rose slowly, Litiraan supporting Telkya as she rose. Together, they gathered up their possessions and weapons which lay in a chest at the foot of one of the beds. Then, once all were ready, the six companions made their way out into the main chamber and then northward, back through the bent portcullis. Dulvarna held her sword before her in both hands and led them to the double doors that they had passed earlier in the in the east-west passage. Leaning her sword against her shoulder, she gently opened the doors.

Beyond a short hall opened into a wider, torch lit chamber. A figure peeked around the corner, looking down the hall. The figure was the size of a man but with big pointed ears protruding from under its helmet. The hobgoblin screamed out in its own tongue and then ducked out of sight to the east.

Telkya rushed down the hallway first, her sword in one hand and her holy symbol in the other. Darting left out of sight for a moment at the far end, she chanted a prayer and a ray of light lanced out from her amulet towards the hobgoblin that had first sounded the alarm. Lavren rushed after her, drawing his wand from his belt as he ran. He emerged into a chamber whose west wall was stacked with crates and boxes of provisions. He turned beside Telkya and uttered a fey curse at the hobgoblin who now retreated towards a double doorway in the eastern wall. One of the doors stood ajar and the sound of more goblin voices came from within. Lavren’s bolt struck the hobgoblin in the shoulder and drove it back another step. Erlmoor rounded the corner then and smashed the hilt of his sword into the hobgoblin’s face. It staggered back further until it reached the door and then it darted through it, slamming the portal shut behind it.

“It went east,” said Erlmoor as Dulvarna and Litiraan entered the chamber. “And it sounds like there’re more with it.”
“There usually are,” answered Dulvarna as she rushed the doors and slammed her shoulder into them. They burst open to reveal another hallway at the end of which the wounded hobgoblin now waited with a flail in its hand.

Enlishia joined Dulvarna at the doorway and sent an arrow down the hall within. A voice called out in goblin once more and from deeper within the chamber and to the north came answering cries. Telkya looked towards the northern wall of the entry chamber and saw another pair of double doors there. Holding her sword before her, she rushed over and slammed her shoulder into them. The bar inside cracked and the doors fell open. Within, a group of hobgoblins with swords and shields waited, ready to charge. Telkya stepped back.
“There’re more this way,” she called to the others.
“There usually are,” Dulvarna answered again.

Lavren rushed to aid the elf maid, calling forth two purple rays from his wand as he reached her. One struck a hobgoblin and hurled it back into its companion behind it before it dropped to the floor, slain. The other lanced out towards another hobgoblin but that creature ducked the bolt, evading its deadly power. Lavren put away his wand then and reached for his sword as the hobgoblins that remained began their charge.

Erlmoor glanced once towards the northern doors, wondering if his companions needed his aid and then decided they did not. He charged into the eastern hallway towards the hobgoblins that he knew must be waiting beyond the wounded one he could see. As the passage widened into a chamber, he saw four hobgoblins gathered there, two with flails and shields, another with a familiar skull headdress and a fourth with a bow, standing in the southeastern corner. Erlmoor saw the archer level his bow at the dragonborn and then threw himself against the south wall as the arrow was let fly. The projectile whooshed past the left side of his head and the dragonborn roared his annoyance. Then he raised his blade as his enemies came at him.

Telkya stepped back as a hobgoblin charged at her but still felt its blade drive into her thigh. She staggered, fearing for a moment that she would sink to one knee but then she regained her footing and struck out with her sword to keep the goblin at bay. Even as the goblin stepped back, a silver bolt of energy seared through its chest and sent it sprawling to the floor of the hallway. It did not get up and Telkya turned for a brief moment to not her thanks to Litiraan.

Erlmoor reeled as the spiked ball of a flail struck his chest but looking to his left, he knew, too, that the shaman wearing the skull headdress was advancing with a stave that crackled with power in its hands. The shaman came forward but instead of striking at Erlmoor, the hobgoblin almost casually gestured down the hallway to the west. There Dulvarna and Enlishia advanced but as they did so, a wave of force as powerful as the fiercest ocean wave hurtled down the corridor towards them. They both ducked back from the doors and crouched down, letting the wave wash over them. Then, they both rose and started down the hallway to aid their friend. Dulvarna charged at the shaman, leading with her blade and weaving it back and forth while Enlishia threw down her bow at the doorway and drew her blade before also charging. The hobgoblin met both blades with its stave while stepping back to give its warriors chance to attack. A flail lashed down close to Dulvarna but wide but the warrior woman knew from bitter and recent experience that the next blow would likely not be so clumsy.

Telkya fell back from the doorway, holding forth her holy symbol and praying to Corellon as she did so. The elven god answered her prayer and sent a searing light out from her amulet to strike on of the hobgoblins in the northern hallway. The goblin gasped and collapsed with a hole through its chest from front to back. Lavren stabbed out with his word and retreated into the chamber beside Telkya. The two hobgoblins that remained followed with their swords before them.


Chapter 20 - Partings and Meetings (Part 5)

In the eastern chamber, Erlmoor roared and covered the three hobgoblins nearest him in a spray of burning acid. He lashed out at the shaman while praying to Lathander then and with a glowing blade, he cut deep into the hobgoblin’s shoulder. A arrow drove into the side of the dragonborn’s leg then and he realised that he had been foolish to ignore the archer. Glancing right, he saw that a table blocked his path to this enemy and he could do nothing about it’s barrage until he had dealt with the foes before him. With a roar, Erlmoor turned his attention back to that task.

A sword stabbed into Telkya’s shoulder and she fell back before the hobgoblin that she faced. She staggered but then Litiraan came to her aid with a silver bolt. The hobgoblin was hurled across the room and through the northern doorway before landing beside its fallen comrades in the corridor.
Erlmoor came forward but even as he did so, the shaman began chanting and then lashed out with its stave to strike the dragonborn in the chest before he could raise his blade to parry. Blue lightning lanced into him and danced down his body and up to his neck. He staggered and reeled, helpless before his remaining enemies. Enlishia and Dulvarna slashed out with their blades, each wounding the shaman and forcing it back from the dragonborn. The shaman staggered seemed about to fall but his soldiers would not allow it. One darted forward and lashed out with a flail, catching Dulvarna’s arms and almost wrenching Aecris from her grasp. The warrior woman wrenched her hands free but glancing towards Erlmoor she knew that he was all but helpless. As she watched, the archer nocked an arrow to its bow and she knew that Erlmoor had no chance.

Lavren ducked a wild swing from the last hobgoblin and then plunged his blade into its belly. It gasped, staggered and then fell before the elf. He leaned back and glanced around the corner and quickly judged the corridor that way too crowded for him to aid his companions. Instead, he leapt over the fallen hobgoblins before him and rushed up the northern hallway, his blade before him. The corridor opened quickly into a wide barracks with beds against the north and west walls and another piled of crates and barrels along another hallway to the east. The sounds of battle were now behind him and to the east and the elf realised then that he had found a way to join the battle from behind the hobgoblins. Sheathing his blade and reaching for his wand, he started forward down the eastern hall.

Erlmoor paused for a moment, gathering his breath and slowly shaking off the effects of the shaman’s powerful stave. Alas, his enemies would not wait while he recovered and as he stepped back from the battle, an arrow flew in from the right, pierced his neck and plunged him into impenetrable darkness. A hobgoblin stepped over the fallen dragonborn and lashed out with its flail at Enlishia who ducked under the swing but the hobgoblins were triumphant now and at a roar from their shaman, they surged forward. Dulvarna ducked a flail that was swung at her and slashed her blade across the shaman’s chest again. The hobgoblin fell back a step but Enlishia pressed the attack. It raised its stave but was too slow and it could only watch as the ranger’s blade pierced its ribs and drove through its heart. The hobgoblins roared again, in grief and anger this time, and surged forward anew.

Telkya and Lavren entered the room from the north as the hobgoblins surged forward but only the archer saw them arrive. The hobgoblin turned towards them and raised its bow as Lavren leveled his wand and uttered a spell. The hobgoblin’s clothes began to smoke but the witchfire did not take hold but the archer was distracted as he loosed his arrow. It nicked Telkya’s cheek before clattering against the wall beside Lavren. Litiraan rushed into the chamber beside Telkya and filled the room with flame that erupted from his stave. The hobgoblin before Enlishia staggered forward almost meeting her blade as the fire seared its back.

The hobgoblin lashed out with its flail but Enlishia only had to leap back to evade the swing. She slashed out with her blade while Dulvarna, beside her, punched the hilt of her sword into the face of the hobgoblin she faced. Beyond the hobgoblins, both women saw Telkya loose more searing light from her amulet to strike the archer while Lavren turned his wand towards Enlishia’s opponent. Black, crackling energy darted out at the hobgoblin, striking him in the back and pitching him forward to land on the stone floor beside Erlmoor at Enlishia’s feet. The archer turned his bow on Lavren as the elf drew nearer to it. An arrow struck Lavren in the shoulder but the elf paid it no mind, simply yanking the shaft free of his shoulder and continuing his advance towards the hobgoblin. A silver bolt from Litiraan’s wand struck the hobgoblin the leg and drove it back into the corner of the room. Fear filled its eyes and it threw down its bow, reaching for the blade at its belt. Its end was near, as was the end of the last of its fellows.

Dulvarna lashed her sword out in a huge blow that shattered the top of the shield of the other remaining hobgoblin. The sword drove on into the warrior’s shoulder and only stopped when it struck bone. The hobgoblin cried out and fell back a step. The hobgoblin lashed out wildly with its flail and Dulvarna ducked as the chain and spiked ball whistled over her head. Behind the hobgoblin, white light and black, crackling energy struck the archer in the corner of the room at the same time, searing through its body. The hobgoblin crumpled in the corner of the chamber and the foe before Dulvarna realised that it was the last of its warband. A silver bolt struck the wall above its head and it cringed visibly but the real threat lay before it. Dulvarna’s blade nicked its hip and Enlishia came at it from the right. The hobgoblin staggered again as it backed up against a chair beside one of the room’s tables. It lashed out with its flail and struck Dulvarna painfully in the ribs but the warrior woman did not even flinch. The look of death was in her eyes and the hobgoblin could not escape. Then, searing light and a silver bolt struck it from behind and it fell at last to the stone floor beside its comrades.


Chapter 21 - The End of the Beginning (Part 1)

Dulvarna looked at the double doors in front of her and saw that a board had been nailed across both doors. Scrawled on the door in poorly drawn Thorass runes was the word Closed. They had camped in the upper ruins since the battle with the hobgoblins and Erlmoor and Telkya had ensured that all of their wounds were now healed but still, Dulvarna felt nervous as she eyes the double doors ahead of her. The hobgoblin tunnels remained uninhabited when they returned and the companions had ventured south to a wide chamber with double doors leading west and south. They had taken the western doors and had followed a passage around to the south until they had come to the doors that stood before them now.
“We should turn back,” Dulvarna said at last. “The last warning we found upon a door was the entrance to the pool chamber where Enlishia fell. It spoke truly so this one likely does as well.”
“Agreed, seldom are such warnings scribed in vain,” said Litiraan. “Even amongst the foul creatures of this place.”

The others nodded their agreement and the six companions turned away from the door. When they reached the chamber where they had turned aside, they turned to the southern doors and pushed them open. Within was a room that looked vaguely like a memorial. Dominating the western part of the chamber was a towering statue of a warrior in plate armour holding an outstretched sword. Across from the warrior, in the corners of the eastern wall, sat two statues of crouching dragons. To the south, an entryway led to a set of double doors while in the entryway stood four more statues of small, cherubic figures holding small vases above their heads.

Dulvarna held her sword up high as she stepped into the room, fearing a strap. No sooner had she gone a few steps towards the statue of armoured warrior than the doors to the north slammed shut, trapping Erlmoor and Lavren on the outside. The sound of large, heavy bolts sliding into place followed, trapping the four remaining companions in the room. On the western plinth, the huge statue twisted around and swept its sword in a wide circle towards Dulvarna. She ducked under the heavy, swinging stone blade and darted in close to the statue, slashing at the stone with her enchanted blade. She chipped one of the stone legs but still the statue swept its blade around towards her. Beyond the door, she heard someone slamming against the doors but from this side, the portals did not seem to move at all. Telkya sent searing light towards the statue but missed while Litiraan loosed a similarly wild, silver bolt. Enlishia began firing arrows into the whirling stone structure but they seemed to make no difference and soon, the blade swept around again to smash into Dulvarna and knock her from her feet.

Outside the doors, Lavren had already tried to force them open and failed and now, Erlmoor was bending down, attempting to release the locking mechanisms with the point of his sword. Lavren knelt beside the dragonborn and unwound a piece of wire from the hilt of his sword. Peering into the door’s keyhole, he began working at the mechanism while inside the sounds of battle raged on.

Dulvarna leapt up onto the statue’s dais and slashed a chunk of stone off the statue’s shoulder. Searing light from Telkya’s holy symbol followed, blasting away part of the statue’s knee. A silver bolt from Litiraan came next, searing through the torso of the statue and destroying it in a shower of masonry. Just as the statue fell with a crash, Erlmoor, tired of delicate methods, shouldered his way through the locked double doors, collapsing them in a shower of wood beside Enlishia.
“The room’s trapped then,” he said.
“Seems that way,” answered Telkya.
“Then we watch our step,” said Erlmoor.
“Right,” answered Lavren with a glance down at the shattered doors.

Enlishia started across the room, circling cautiously around the far side of the shattered statue. Suddenly, from the east side of the room, beyond the ranger, magical energy spewed forth from the mouths of the dragons. Enlishia darted back from the nearest statue, nocking an arrow to her bow while Dulvarna rushed to the edge of the southern dragon’s range.
Lavren rushed to Enlishia’s side and cursed the northern statue in elven without knowing whether his fey curse would work on animated stone. Leveling his wand, he loosed black energy at the dragon, shattering part of a stone wing. Telkya added her own searing light to the bombardment of the statue and then Litiraan struck it in the neck with a silver bolt of energy, almost severing the head. Erlmoor charged past Enlishia as she retreated but as they passed, the ranger loosed an arrow that all but shattered one of the statue’s legs. The magical breath still came forth from both dragons and this time, Erlmoor was struck and hurled back against the plinth of the shattered statue. The dragonborn shook his head, pushed himself back to his feet and charged the dragon statue again.

Dulvarna charged the southern statue once it had breathed its wave of magic. Her blade sang out and struck the nose from the creature. She looked to her left at another crash from that direction and saw that Lavren had shattered the northern dragon with another bolt of black energy. The elf started forward to aid Dulvarna and the others came behind him. Light from Telkya’s amulet struck the wall behind the statue and then a silver bolt from Litiraan’s wand struck the south wall to Dulvarna’s right. Erlmoor rushed to Dulvarna’s side in a moment, breathing acid on the statue with a roar and then slashed a chunk from the dragon’s wing. An arrow from Enlishia’s bow followed, driving into the stone of the dragon’s neck. Still the statue would not fall and then it breathed again, hurling Dulvarna from it and knocking Erlmoor back a step. Both charged back in as Lavren loosed another bolt of black energy and within a heartbeat the statue was nothing but dust.
“Destroy the others from here,” said Dulvarna then. “Only when all are gone do we venture into the southern hallway.” As she bound her wounds, the others destroyed the cherubic statues.