The Westgate Campaign Chronicles - serial

Carlo-One

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Darrow and Dermot, it being late evening on Ches 30 by that point, headed to the Giant’s Folly for some refreshment. When they arrived, the bard was playing in the common room, Aerikoth was nowhere to be seen, and Shanni was standing at a table, scornfully rejecting the clumsy pickup attempt of one of the mercenary patrons. Dermot seemed glad of the inn’s fireplace, appearing with wet hair and out of his usual leathers. After getting a drink, Darrow went over to Shanni’s table, putting a sack of troll guts against the wall first. The mercenary, looking the hardbitten dwarf over, took his cue and departed, as Shanni called out that he should ask the bard for some lines.

The bard finished playing for the evening and went upstairs as the three companions got caught up. Dermot succinctly described how they had went out to find the hermit and ran into a group of trolls by the Reddan River. Shanni, who clearly had a more restful day, mentioned she had wandered about town a bit and noted a temple of Oghma there, but had not gone in and just returned to the Giant’s Folly. Dermot explained that the old hermit was a decent fellow, but he couldn't add much more on where they planned to go, other than people wandering out that way had disappeared around there for a while. Shanni expressed her lack of surprise at this.

Darrow polished off the last of his ale and hefted his pack, thinking of nothing but bed at that point, as was Dermot. Shanni, eyeing the crowd of drunken mercs in the common room, thought that going to bed a bit early was a good idea as well. Upstairs in their shared room, Darrow got to work cleaning his armor with a rag and oil, spending around fifteen minutes or so before frowning and deciding to call it a night, while Shanni kicked off her boots and wriggled under the sheets immediately, only complaining once about the squeaking of the dwarf’s armor being polished. Dermot and the others drifted off to the sound of the wind softly creaking through the boat on the top of the inn roof.

The morning of Tarsakh 1, the three woke up after hearing the noises of the common room springing to life underneath them. Dermot urged Shanni to get up, citing that it was light already and they had to save Westgate from vampires, while Darrow needed no prompting to rouse himself and begin wiping down his armor again. Dermot washed up in the room’s waterbasin and made himself more presentable, his entreaties eventually getting a groaning Shanni out of her bed.

Downstairs, Ian Gryphonhawk wished them a good morn and promised a healthy breakfast of fresh eggs and black bread, adding a stout for Darrow. After they sat down at a nearby table to wait for their food, Dermot mentioned that the previous day he had spoken to the bard, Dubh, who had met the elf Dinendal over in Cormyr. Shanni recalled him as having been with the company around the time they had met, but the elf soon departed. Darrow thought he wasn’t bad, for a pointy-ear.

Ian and the barmaid Erinetta came over with their meal, and Dermot briefly filled Ian in on the trip to see Old Hamish, saying the old ranger and his dog were doing all right. The three adventurers then tucked into their meal, Darrow in particular tackling it with gusto, pausing occasionally to clean egg, stout, and bread bits out of his beard. Dermot looked on with mild awe and Shanni rolled her eyes at the display, the petite rogue then bringing up the idea of visiting the Oghma temple. Dermot thought it would be worth a look, since it might help them prepare for their journey into the unknown.

Darrow finished eating and left Ian a generous tip, as Dermot and Shanni laid in some more supplies for the road, including additional vials of alchemist fire. Ian mentioned that he had informed Aerikoth the previous day of their plans to see Old Hamish; the wizard had said he would check in with Ian, but had not been seen yet. This did not surprise the three adventurers, who were used to never knowing where he went, but having him eventually turn up again. Dermot left word of their plans to be either at the Oghma temple or on the road south to the Reddan River, for when the wizard did turn up.

Namer of Oghma Neferen greeted the three when they entered the temple and pointed out where Acolyte Hald was selling supplies. Shanni glanced around at the bookshelves and desks that filled the interior and headed off to see the acolyte, as Darrow began explaining that they wanted to see about acquiring knowledge. A disappointed-looking Shanni wandered back as Dermot was telling the priest about their interest in the time of the Night King, the ancient vampire lord of Westgate. Neferen indicated that the temple could provide – for a fee – a scroll of custom-researched information on the topic and accepted 75 gold from Dermot to work on the task. Darrow, who at first was taken to be joking by the priest, tacked on a request for a scroll on brewing, paying 25 gold for the added research.

Before they departed the temple, Dermot pulled out the hand-drawn map of the area in his possession and showed it to the Namer, pointing out the spot with the skulls. The priest confessed that he had no knowledge of such a location, and Dermot stuffed the map away in his pack. Dermot and Darrow then perused the acolyte’s store, thinking that some of the scrolls might be useful, given their expected undead opponents. Shanni said she could purchase a scroll of restoration, then the three departed the temple, heading south towards the Reddan River Crossing. (While I am familiar with and greatly respect the library possessed by our own Order, I must confess some envy at the prospect of being able to draw on the resources of the Oghmites in a pinch. Yet, not even they always have information that is needed, as these chronicles demonstrate. --C)
 
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Carlo-One

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A few hours later, the three adventurers had arrived by the river. Darrow halted in order to put on his good armor, while Dermot informed an already-complaining Shanni that they had a ways to go yet. Approaching the bridge, Darrow yelled out a provocative greeting to any trolls that might be around, but there was no answer. The only reaction came from a nearby deer, which halted and regarded the dwarf with wide eyes, then bolted away as Dermot shrugged apologetically at it.

After crossing the bridge and heading east along the Starmantle road, and with no enemies in view, the ranger took the time to pull out their map and compare it with their progress. He concluded that the indicated turn off the road could not be far, if the map was right, and literally started sniffing around, to Shanni’s bemusement. After a short while, Darrow answered his own question about looking for a pile of skulls when he spotted one to the north. The dwarf poked them, but nothing happened, to Dermot and Shanni’s evident relief.

They headed north into a dense and dark forest. A wary Dermot urged them to proceed slowly, saying there was something on the air. Shanni shivered at the chill in the woods, then Darrow spotted something glowing in the distance. Dermot suggested that they avoid it and started heading away, but then several glowing, floating orbs converged on the group’s location. The balls of light attacked the intruders to the forest, but after a wild melee were repelled by the adventurers’ magical weapons. Shanni and Darrow both found the experience weird and Dermot remarked that the forest was haunted.

After fending off another, similar attack, the three encountered a fence and a transparent-looking ghostly figure, blocking their way on the path past it. The ghost challenged them and inquired if they sought death and glory, prompting Shanni to circle behind the nearest tree as Dermot and Darrow looked at each other. Darrow told it that they sought to keep some moldering corpses from ruling Westgate, which caused the ghost, who used an archaic form of language to address them, to query what that had to do with it. Darrow further explained that they were seeking to find out more about the one called the Night King.

The ghost shared that his name was Alexander, once of Teziir. He knew nothing of a King, but referred to a Queen, saying she might know. At Darrow and Dermot’s prompting, the ghost told his tale, of how he was lured into the forest, which at times appeared a magical land of faerie. He had passed through the gate of skulls, which at the time appeared to be jaunty maypoles, then found a female…apparently one that he could not name, though he attempted it, eventually settling on calling her a witch. He warned she could appear in various guises and told them he had served her for an uncounted time. However, the ghost lamented, another served her pleasure, and he must now guard the way. (The term "witch" is a vague and rather unhelpful one, when describing an individual. In this particular case, it does not really do justice to the "queen" they seek to encounter, and probably is quite unfair to any self-identified witches. --R)

Darrow looked at Dermot and shrugged, as the ghost warned them to go back. Getting to the point, the dwarf confirmed that the ghost would have to fight them if they tried to pass by the gate. Undeterred, Darrow stated that they had to head that way, as there was foulness afoot, and moved forward. As promised, the ghost attacked, but despite the solid sword he carried, he proved no match for the two adventurers. Shanni emerged from behind the tree, looking more than a little creeped out, as Darrow offered an apology to the departing ghost. None of them wanted to touch the ghost’s sword and they agreed they should wait for Aerikoth, before continuing further.
 

Carlo-One

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After some time, with the wizard nowhere to be seen, the three companions split up. Shanni, disturbed by the encounter, said she wanted to make sure nothing else was lurking nearby, vanishing into the forest shadows. Dermot and Darrow meanwhile decided to walk further down the path, to see what was there. They soon encountered another ghost guarding a fence, although this one was less melancholy and more insolent than the previous one, introducing himself as Sir Frost.

Similar to the previous ghost, Sir Frost praised the Queen of that place, although was unable to name either her or his former master, although he silently mouthed the word “Tyr” to them. The ghost referred to a period of servitude with the queen, then when his flesh was too weak, he continued serving in his current fashion. He also expressed jealousy of Alexander, apparently a rival for the Queen’s affection, as well as his contempt for the other ghost for failing to prevent the adventurers from passing.

After Sir Frost referred to another new favorite of the Queen, this time of flesh, Darrow managed to provoke the ghost into a tirade, but he refused to provide a name, and resisted being tricked into letting the dwarf and the ranger past. Losing patience and at an impasse, Darrow shouldered his axe and attacked the ghost, Dermot joining in immediately afterwards. Sir Frost proved a much tougher opponent than his rival Alexander, yet eventually succumbed to a long series of blows from the adventurers, Dermot panting heavily afterwards from the exertion.

Darrow, although having enjoyed the fight, thought it prudent to wait for Aerikoth before confronting the Queen they spoke of. They made their way back along the forest path, but managed to get partially lost, searching for the way back to the main road. Hearing some chanting in the distance, they eventually made their way to the scene. There they found Aerikoth, a summoned air elemental by his side, standing over and examining the remains of a wisp before its ethereal body dissolved.
 

Carlo-One

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Dermot greeted the wizard, who seemed unfazed by the wisp attack, and explained that he had been able to find the skull-marked path into the forest. The ranger explained that the woods were haunted, and not just by wisps. They had encountered shades of dead men serving some 'Queen' – who might have a live captive, as Darrow pointed out, the dwarf also speculating that she might be a vampire. Aerikoth wondered if the fate of Ian’s son might be determined if they investigated the area, which Darrow and Dermot thought possible.

The ranger mentioned having spotted a path to a building and the three adventurers prepared for a fight, Aerikoth casting the two stoneskin spells he had prepared on his companions. Once that was done, the three headed back to the forest path, which had been previously guarded by the shades of Alexander of Teziir and Sir Frost, evidently a former paladin of Tyr. The end of the path came in a dense, dark wooded area, with a glowing green cabin visible at the top of an enormous tree, with skull decorations around it.

A spiral staircase led around the exterior of the tree, which the adventurers carefully climbed, ready for action. At the top, they examined the large door, which was evidently trapped. Before they could do anything further, they spotted something large moving below in the forest – several somethings, actually. They quickly decided it would be better to descend from ledge by the door and face whatever was lurking on the ground.

Their stalkers soon revealed themselves as a flight of large wyverns. Despite their fearsome appearance and obvious bloodthirstiness, the monsters proved no match for the three companions, who used the dense forest canopy to channel their attackers into their waiting arrows, spells and axe. Both Dermot and Darrow nonetheless suffered painful stings and Dermot pulled out waxed bottles from his pack for them, to counteract the wyvern’s poison. The ranger noted that it was made from herrup seeds and wartflower essence, which the dwarf commented tasted worse than his mother’s pea stew, but did the trick. While his two companions were treating themselves, the wizard went about collecting some vials of blood from the dead beasts.

After they made their way back to the treetop cabin doorway, Darrow – who still had some magical protection left – volunteered to open the trapped entryway. To the dwarf’s dismay, his magical axe Haelgrim could not penetrate whatever the door was made of, although it did trigger a trap, which was shrugged off. Aerikoth then attempted to use his chime of opening, but it also had no effect on the door. Dermot closely examined the door, looking for a secret catch or other mechanism, but had no luck, commenting that they certainly missed having Shanni’s skills there.

A female voice, wavering, then was heard calling from within, asking if they wished to come in and be entertained, perhaps with some tea. Dermot, taken aback, looked at his two companions and gave an uncertain “yes” in response, which was followed by Aerikoth, more assuredly, telling their unknown host that they would like to speak with her, if she was willing. Darrow shrugged and followed the other two inside, along with Aerikoth’s huge air elemental, which had to compress itself to fit.

The interior of the cabin was spacious, but occupied with several large undead constructs of flesh and bone, along with a grey-skinned hag wearing skull decorations. Before anyone could say anything, the elemental moved forward to engage the group, its tornado-like presence stymying their attacks. As bits of undead flew around the room, the hag disappeared from view. Darrow pointed out her flight – apparently having turned invisible to flee – as the three adventurers moved further into the chamber, bemused at the carnage wrought by the elemental.

While they searched the area, the dwarf expressed his disappointment at finding a hag rather than the vampire enemy they sought. Dermot, after careful examination, spotted some floorboards that were notably more worn-down than others, around a pillar in the corner of the room opposite the fireplace. The ranger urged them to look around for a switch or other signs of a secret passage, as he moved his hands over the pillar, knocking on it. Finally, he shoved his blade into a crack and twisted, revealing a hollow panel and a crawlspace. Dropping to his knees, he called out for the others to follow, as he made his way through. He shortly afterwards called back, saying that he had found a live one.

As the other two joined him, they could see Dermot examining an unconscious but alive young man in a simple tunic. The ranger thought he had been enchanted or drugged in some fashion. Aerikoth, observing the evident victim of the hag, thought it was hard to tell, but speculated that she may have been using him for her pleasures, the wizard remarking that he had heard of offspring born from hag and human males. Dermot wrinkled his nose in response and hoisted the unconscious body over his shoulder, staggering awkwardly back to the crawlspace with it. The ranger also pointed out a dangerous-looking chest in the chamber, as he and the others made their way back to the main cabin room.

After propping the unconscious man up in a chair, they decided at Aerikoth’s urging to open the chest, rather than wait for Shanni, the wizard arguing that if they departed, anything in it would be gone later. Before tackling the trapped chest, Dermot readied another bottle of poison antidote and dribbled some into the victim’s mouth, stroking his throat to trigger a swallow reflex. This had the desired result, as the man’s eyes fluttered in response, then fully opened, as he regained consciousness.
 

Carlo-One

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As Aerikoth and Darrow continued discussing plans for getting to the contents of the hag’s chest, Dermot focused his attention on the now-conscious former victim, who slowly took in the room as he regained full control of his senses, looking very confused. The ranger apologized, telling him they would like to explain, but were in a bad place, which earned a nod of recognition. Dermot then quickly went to the chest, held his breath and after a wary look, opened it. The trap only caused relatively minor damage to him, so he shrugged it off and walked back over, carrying a bundle of equipment in his arms, reckoning that it was the victim’s effects.

The man looked over the armor and sword and acknowledged they were his – for all the good it did him, he said with a bitter tone. (Killian's fate is an object lesson in why solo adventuring is a bad idea. --R) Standing up slowly, he introduced himself as Killian Gryphonhawk, of Reddansyr. His three rescuers were intrigued by this, Aerikoth mentioning that Killian’s father had been looking for him. Killian thanked them for coming there and walked a little unsteadily over to the armor, putting it on over the rags he was wearing. He then picked up the sword and swung it through a short arc. Looking at the remaining items Dermot held out for inspection, Killian indicated that the belt was his, but he did not recognize the ring and gloves in the ranger’s possession.

Dermot asked if anyone would disagree with burning the place down, which Killian supported, saying he would prefer to burn it from his memory, but perhaps it was a start. Dermot set about the cabin interior with a lit torch, the fire slowly taking hold in the floor planks. Darrow suggested they get out of there before it got going and the four exited, going down the winding exterior staircase to the base of the tree. From there, they moved a safe distance away and watched smoke start to rise from the cabin, followed by flames.

The three adventurers were satisfied with the destruction of the hag’s lair, but expressed their regret at not being able to get more information from her. Killian asked what they wished to know, and was informed there were vampire doings afoot in Westgate by Dermot and Darrow. The former victim knew nothing of vampires, but said that the hag had called herself a “supplier” for a “client” near there. He went on to explain that he had been drawn to the forest by shining, dancing lights, then had found the treetop cabin, its entrance appearing to be decorated by maypoles rather than bones. Hanging his head, Killian lamented how stupid he had been and his foolish adventurer’s longing, vowing to better appreciate his father’s inn. (Is this not the lesson life provides us, no matter what our path? That we do not truly appreciate what we have, until it is taken from us and the pain of the world is demonstrated to our chagrin? Yet generation after generation fails to learn this from its predecessors. --C)

After some discussion, it was decided the best way to get Killian home would be for Aerikoth to teleport directly there with him; the former victim was impressed by the wizard’s magical power. Dermot and Darrow said they would find Shanni, who likely had not gone far into the forest, then meet back up with Aerikoth at the skull markers on the path. Before they could do anything, however, their roguish companion approached along the path, evidently having been drawn back by the burning treetop cabin, smoke and flames from which were visible against the sky.
 

Carlo-One

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Darrow playfully greeted “Beast,” his pet name for her, and told Shanni she had missed all the fun. Killian, appearing exhausted and leaning on his sword, stood up straighter as she arrived and questioned what was going on. He introduced himself and explained that her companions had just rescued him from the hag’s hut, which was now on fire. Dermot and Aerikoth filled in some more of the details for Shanni, then the wizard teleported out with Killian, to return him to his father’s inn in Reddansyr.

A short time later, Aerikoth rejoined Shanni and Darrow at the skull markers by the Starmantle road, using them as a convenient landmark. They were debating how to find the hag, while Dermot was out in the forest looking for traces. The ranger soon appeared, looking a little worse for the wear, explaining that some wisps had interfered with his search. He admitted not finding any signs of the hag, but thought that he might have been looking too far to the south.

Dermot then led his companions in a northerly direction, Shanni grumbling along the way about not having spotted any fleeing hag earlier. Aerikoth explained that she had powers in the Art, having turned invisible to escape, but beyond that was unsure of her capabilities. Dermot also expressed his frustrations at not finding any signs of her passage.

After returning to the area with the now burnt-out hut, the ranger eventually found a streambed leading further east into the forest. The group carefully made their way along it and was rewarded with the sight in the distance of a huge tower. Moving closer, they took in the sight of what appeared to be an ancient, ruined complex, with remnants of various buildings scattered around the central tower. A waterfall cascaded down, cutting through the ground perpendicular to their path, powering an old, massive water mill that still creakily turned. Dermot, awestruck by the sight, uttered an exclamation about nearly having missed the place.

As they moved closer to the tower walls, which were dotted with humanoid remains and bones, a pile of skulls in front of them flared with light and several large skeleton warriors appeared. Aerikoth conjured another elemental, this time getting a huge water one, which moved to intercept as the skeletons closed in with their greatswords. However, its drown attack inadvertently swamped Shanni while doing no harm to their undead foes, putting her on the ground, not breathing.

After the skeletons were dispatched, Dermot hurried over to Shanni’s side and worked to pump water out of her lungs, pressing repeatedly near her ribs. Darrow slid off his ring of regeneration and placed it on her finger, in hopes that it would aid her fight. After a short while, Shanni rolled over on her side and heaved out the remaining water, exhausted but alive. Aerikoth, observing the process, stated that he would no longer summon such elementals in battle, given their unpredictability.
 

Carlo-One

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A short while later, Shanni slipped off the ring and gave it back to Darrow, who had been examining the stonework around the tower. As the petite rogue continued to heave and spit, in the most decorous manner possible, the dwarf declared that the stone looked ancient, older than Westgate – and if it wasn’t obvious, not made by dwarven hands. He also observed that the skeleton warriors they had just fought were similar to those encountered by the group in the Shore district.

Dermot was eager to continue scouting around the tower base, but first accepted along with Darrow two more stoneskin spells from Aerikoth. Skirting around the structure, the ranger spotted something to the north, so the four adventurers proceeded cautiously. In front of what appeared to be a tower entrance was what appeared to be a ghost of a man, sporting a large sword. He asked first if they were living beings, seeming surprised at their presence. He then remarked that he had not seen such for many years, save for the hag – for those she brought were already dead, truly. (The connection between the hag in the forest cabin and the lord of the ruined tower - whom we shall meet in due time - is made evident by the ghost's words. Yet it seems that the party's attention is not drawn by this fact. --R)

Darrow at first joked with the ghost, despite the morbid introduction, then asked his name, which was given as Aronson. The dwarf continued to question the guard, which Aronson admitted he was, as he was bound to prevent anyone who attempted to cross the threshold without knowing the word of passage. The ghost had been commanded so, he said, by the lord of that place, having died there. Aerikoth found this intriguing and asked how long the ghost had been there. When informed it was 1373 DR, the ghost stated that it had been twenty years of damned existence in that place.

The wizard continued to query the ghost about his past. Aronson explained that he and a companion had come to try their mettle and souls against the evil of the place, stating simply that they had not triumphed; the measure of immortality that he had achieved, he did not want. (While our Order, with reason, despises all abominations, I cannot help but feel some sympathy for those who do not choose such a path, but have it imposed on them. --C) Shanni, who had been hanging back, in a whisper pointed out a nearby rubble pile that the ghost periodically glanced at, so Darrow asked about it. Aronson, apparently uncomfortable, said he was not allowed to speak of such things. The dwarf then asked if he could take a peek at the rubble, which was just in front of the entrance. Aronson considered for a moment, then declared that he could let Darrow come to the threshold, but no further, without attacking. The dwarf then moved forward, asking the ghost to tell him before he went too far.
 

Carlo-One

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As Darrow reached the rubble pile, the ghost indeed warned him to go no further. The dwarf stopped, poked in the rocks, and looked upwards, trying to gauge where they might have fallen from. He then announced he was going to dig in the rubble for bit. A set of human bones were soon uncovered, causing Aronson to flinch upon seeing them. Aerikoth pressed the ghost, asking if they were his remains, but he said he could not speak of it. Shanni, who had been hanging back out of sight in case of a confrontation, appeared and took a look at the bones, wondering if they could be removed and given a decent burial. Darrow bent down and picked up the remains in response, putting them in his pack and saying nobody deserved the ghost’s fate.

Aerikoth queried Aronson if anyone still lived who would be interested in his fate. The ghost, with some irony, turned the question back on Aerikoth, saying he did not know who still lived. Darrow more practically wondered if there was a kid, wife or brother; Aerikoth pointed out that two decades was not a very long time, if there were any family or friends from that time.

Aronson told them that he had been a Paladin of Torm, forswearing his earthly ties to serve. His only companion was Tougal, a monk, who came with him to the place of the ruined tower; only Tougal departed. Dermot guessed correctly that he had been a monk of Ilmater, leading Shanni to put her palms over her face, saying that explained a lot. Darrow observed that it just so happened that a monk of the Crying God had tipped them off about the place. The party then departed the entrance area, but not before Aerikoth needled a silent Aronson about his faith not protecting the former paladin from his fate. (Such are the ways of those who do not understand or value faith, but see the world solely in terms of power. Could it be that the wizard is one of the faithless? If so, perhaps a similarly unwanted fate awaits him, in Kelemvor's realm. --C)

Dermot led the others, circling around the tower looking for another way inside, as they talked about Aronson’s situation. Shanni wondered if they could do something with the bones, using one of the scrolls that brings back life, as she had a couple in her possession. Aerikoth asked to see the scroll and perused it, then indicated that he did not think it would work on the former paladin’s remains; a more potent version, that of resurrection, would be required. Darrow thought that the Ascetic One, who was likely Tougal, would know what to do with his friend’s remains.
 

Carlo-One

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Shanni, still concerned about the missing hag, decided to cover their backtrail to the forest as Aerikoth, Darrow and Dermot continued to explore around the ruined tower. Darrow paid particular attention to the ancient stonework, much of it still standing amidst the rubble, while agreeing with Dermot that the place was unsettling. North of the tower they found a cave entrance, which Dermot scouted before they entered.

Inside there was something of a foul odor, and Darrow noted that the stone floor by the entrance was well worn, meaning that many people had come in and out over the years. They soon discovered a set of wooden posts and shackles for binding prisoners, although none were present. Upon examination, the manacles and posts appeared to be in good condition, and Dermot noted a bucket and broom nearby, evidently used for cleaning the chamber; however, a faint stain still covered the floor. (The world has many despicable, deadly and horrific things in it. In the songs of bards and tavern tales of adventurers, these often take the appearance of epic frights and fearsome monsters, no doubt sometimes exaggerated. Yet true horror can also be found in the realization of how a wooden post, a set of chains, and a bucket have been used for uncounted years. --R)

Their grim search was then interrupted by another ghost, who appeared by the edge of a large pit and questioned why they were there. Dermot and Darrow responded that they were there to put a stop to this, the dwarf tapping the post for emphasis. The ghost, apparently more unhinged than Aronson, laughed madly and questioned what they knew of endings. Aerikoth baldly stated that if the ghost had anything useful to tell them, it should do so, or they would end it.

The ghost was surprised by this, interpreting the threat as a kindness, as its torment had been long. It mused that they at least were not like the others who came to the cave; the ghost did not show itself to them. When asked where it lived, it pointed to the pit, saying that it had many companions, though they talked little. Darrow then went to the edge and peered over, seeing a dim gleam of bone at the bottom of the pit, which he announced was a long way down.
 

Carlo-One

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Two others like them had come once, continued the ghost, but it said it had not seen them since. Aerikoth presumed that this had been the monk and the paladin, some twenty years past. The ghost had nothing more to say on this, but began musing about how long it had been there. It had been an inhabitant of Westgate when the Night King came, then had been sent to the tower with others as…tribute? Sacrifice? It was not sure. Aerikoth observed that this was some time ago.

Dermot expressed his sorrow at the ghost’s situation, then asked why it had stayed, when the others had seemingly passed on. This resulted in a brief philosophical exchange on the meaning of “why” which ended with Dermot and Darrow grunting an end to the conversation and the ghost disappearing. Shanni appeared at this point, surprising Dermot, and asked her companions who they had been talking to. Dermot explained that there had been a shade there, an old one – claiming to be from Westgate at the time of the Night King, Aerikoth added. They told her it had not provided anything useful, only warnings that they would share the same fate. (At least from the vantage point of this reader, what the ghost told them was in fact quite useful in helping piece together the situation. It established the age of the ruined tower complex to be at least as old as the Night King's takeover of Westgate, which occurred in -286 DR - close to 1,500 years before the events described in these chronicles. It also confirmed a direct link between the vampire king and whoever inhabited these ruins. --C)

Darrow pointed out the large pit of bones, which Shanni was curious about. She mentioned that they had enough rope for them to lower her in, which Darrow thought was a dubious idea, especially given how dark it was down there. Aerikoth also noted that someone or some thing had recently cleaned the area. After some debate, it was decided that exploration of the sacrifice pit could wait.

Outside, they continued discussing the ghost as they carefully examined a nearby small tower, which had a strange symbol on the ground by its threshold and smoke rising from it. Dermot eyed it warily before kneeling by the black and red symbol, attempting to determine if it was some sort of ward. Without being able to identify it further, the party decided to pass it by, Shanni remarking that nothing done up in black and red was ever nice, except perhaps for an outfit she once saw.

Returning to the base of the large ruined tower, Shanni found a locked door some distance away from the entryway the ghost Aronson was guarding. They decided to check it out and the petite rogue had little difficulty in opening it. Dermot went through first, but soon encountered a rockfall blocking the way. Gauging the direction of the path, the ranger surmised that it must have led to the surrounding hills. The disappointed party began retracing its steps, but was surprised by a dire spider dropping on top of them. Despite its successful ambush, the creature was quickly dispatched.
 

Carlo-One

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Resting for a moment, the party regarded the ruins around them. Dermot noted that, unless there was something he had missed, it seemed that just the Sacrifice Pit was left to explore. Shanni pointed out that they still could go past their “friend”, nodding at the ghostly warrior Aronson still guarding the entry to the tower. Both Dermot and Darrow thought that would be a bad option, the dwarf wondering whether it would be better to take Aronson’s mortal remains to Reddansyr or to Westgate, with the idea of laying the spirit to rest. Aerikoth observed that they knew the tower was the way to go, as Aronson had mentioned that the fleeing hag had entered there.

Dermot and Darrow admitted that it would take a long time to remove Aronson’s remains and then return, at least two days even with Aerikoth’s spells. The wizard cast further doubt on that option, saying it would be possible that Aronson’s spirit could still remain guarding the entrance. Darrow thought they would still be no worse off, but Shanni – impatient as usual – thought time was of the essence, with the hag having recently passed. Dermot reluctantly came around to Shanni’s way of thinking, although he backed Darrow’s suggestion to look into the pit first.

The four adventurers retraced their steps into the cave and took inventory of their tools along the way. Dermot observed that they weren’t short of rope, but Shanni wished that they had more holy water. Once they reached the lip of the pit, Shanni peered over and down, but was unable to make out much in the blackness of its depths. Darrow, frowning at a red-stained rock, lit a torch and then tossed it over the side, counting out the four seconds before it landed with a faint thud, glowing like an ember below them. The dwarf then cursed at the realization of how long a way down it was.

Shanni suggested they use two ropes and Dermot sprung into action, hitching some rope to one of the stakes protruding from the ground, then working to sailors-knot two lengths together, as Darrow nodded his approval of the ranger’s work. The petite rogue asked him to tie the rope around her, then handed her pack and bow over as well, so she would not be overly encumbered. Dermot coiled it around her waist, then left Shanni to tie it into a kind of harness, looping around both her legs and through the belt. She took a good look over the near-vertical edge, trying to decide on the best way down, then redid the loops of rope she had made, so she could lower herself down using them as an anchor. She made it clear that she would need to be hauled back up again, though, warning her companions not to go anywhere.

As Shanni lowered herself over the edge, she slipped on the slick rock and began falling, dropping rapidly out of sight. Aerikoth quickly told the others to grab the rope, the wizard not possessing sufficient strength, and Darrow was the first to respond. The dwarf attempted to slow the fall, but the rope was slack, due to how Shanni had rigged it. However, rather than a scream, they only heard a faint "oomph" from Shanni as she hit the bottom.
 

Carlo-One

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Interlude from "C"

It is with mixed feelings that I resume my study and commentary of these chronicles, after nigh on six months occupied with other pressing duties. The transfer of our monastery to another site in Archendale disrupted many things, yet was necessary in order to preserve both our collected knowledge and lives. I must admit to feeling both anticipation and regret at having to move - the novelty of such a challenge was mingled with regret at giving up old comforts, and of course much back-breaking labor was involved. In the end I and my fellow Kelemvorites of course accepted the necessity without reservation, as we one day will accept our final Judgment in the Crystal Spire.

Naturally I have had additional time to reflect on the events described herein. The comments of my senior novitiate predecessor "R" were helpful in illuminating the significance of the adventurers' discovery of the ancient tower complex, which was tied in some fashion to the original Night King's conquest of Westgate, nearly 1,500 years prior. In both times, there was a supply of fresh victims to the place - a fact which is disturbing beyond the obvious tragedy of the poor souls trapped there. What could still be living in this place? Un-living, of course, it would be more accurate to say. Certainly the evil there is old and powerful, as the unfortunate duo of the Paladin Aronson and Monk Tougal discovered twenty years prior.

There are not many pages left in this third volume that I now resume reading, which implies...I am not sure what. My predecessor "R" read to the end of the chronicles before scribing his sometimes acerbic commentary, while I have chosen to record my thoughts as events occur, without foreknowledge - as most of us must do in life. I shall therefore preserve my sense of wonder as we continue, although I must admit it comes with a sense of dread.
 
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Carlo-One

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The petite rogue Shanni was in fact uninjured, having fallen relatively gently into a packed pile of bones, close by the flaming torch Darrow had thrown into the pit. She called out to Dermot that she was all right, then picked up the torch, exclaiming that there were thousands of bones. She then started exploring her surroundings, succeeding in walking with a slow, shuffling motion over the thick carpet of bones, although she found it hard to keep from falling. Aerikoth hypothesized that, if the area was controlled by vampires, then whatever remains they did not animate they would drop into the pit.

Shanni’s wavering torch could be barely seen from above and the others heard a prolonged "ewwwwwww" from below as she searched the bone piles. She called up that all she could find were bones, lots and lots and lots – not even clothes. Darrow was nonplussed at this, realizing that meant a lot of folk had met their end on that spot. Aerikoth and Darrow discussed the implications of this as Dermot worriedly looked over the lip of the pit, in which the light from the torch had gone out.

Suddenly there was repeated jerking on the rope attached to Shanni and a loud hiss that was audible to all of them. Dermot and Darrow hurriedly began pulling on the rope, the ranger exhorting his dwarven companion to maximum effort. Darrow put his back into it as Dermot gave a mighty heave and Shanni fairly launched out of the pit, having evidently been scrambling up the wall at the same time. She quickly moved away, telling the others that there was something slithering and hissing in the bones. The rogue was slightly shaky untying the rope, as Darrow expressed his hatred of snakes. Dermot thought snakes sounded like a best case scenario.
 
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Carlo-One

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As the adventurers debated what could be down there, the Ghost of the Pit reappeared and said that they had seen his home now. Shanni, who had not previously encountered the apparition, staggered away, groping in turn for her bow and magic cloak while sporting a panicked expression. Meanwhile, Darrow blithely commented that the pit was not very homey. The dwarf then quizzed the spirit on who was down there with him, more specifically what had scales and hissed.

The ghost replied that he called it the Bone-Cleaner, saying in truth it was not much company. He continued being talkative, describing how the Lord of the place no longer deigned to feed there, others being taken to him instead. As Shanni found some semblance of calm and pulled on her cloak, Darrow continued interrogating the spirit, who mentioned that a hag had come, but was not much further help, although it described the chant “Nocturnum Eternum” – endless night – that was made during the victims’ passage to the place. (The querying of undead spirits is a dicey proposition at best, even for those who are not disturbed by their deathless state. Their minds, such as they are, inevitably deteriorate and focus on whatever the strongest glimpses of pleasure or terror they experienced while alive. --R) (Perhaps they are not so different from the living in that respect, although this may be a somewhat heretical concept. --C)

At this, Dermot gave a thoughtful look and Aerikoth commented that perhaps it was the password to get by Aronson. The ranger noted that there was only one way to know and started gathering up the rope. Shanni agreed it was worth a try, picking up her bow while looking back down into the bone pit and swallowing.
 

Carlo-One

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The adventurers made their way out of the cave of bones and were disappointed to see that night had already fallen on Tarsakh 1. Aerikoth gave an obvious warning that the parasitic undead would be more active after dark. Shanni heard a funny squeaking nearby and Dermot confirmed that it was bats, not mice. As they walked back towards the tower entrance, Darrow pointed out that the water in the moonlight looked like blood. The ranger replied to the dwarf that he was trying not to look, instead tensely glancing around for anything that might be a threat.

They reached the tower and were greeted once again by the spectre of Aronson. Dermot used the words given them by the ghost of the pit, “nocturnum eternum” and asked for passage. The former paladin stiffened slightly and told them those were indeed the words of passage. Shanni seemed to relax a little at the spirit’s words. Aronson then begged them not to pass, saying that years before he had entered with his companion. Then, gesturing at himself with his sword, the ghost emphasized the fate that had befallen him. Shanni’s look in response turned to one of trepidation.

Dermot asked if Aronson could inform them of what lay inside the tower. The former paladin stated that he could not divulge secrets against the wishes of the Lord of that place. Yet, he continued, he could warn them of certain things. The ghost mentioned that the Lord’s faithful followers had an easy path to his presence, while others must face many challenges. In the end, Aronson confessed, he and his companion had fled for their lives, the paladin being crushed by a trap on the way out. He asked if it was worth it, what they sought inside.

Darrow, a determined look on his face, replied that it was the lives of an entire city. Dermot added it might even be more, and that someone had to finish what had been started. Shanni, nodding slowly, agreed that was why they had come, although Aerikoth did not appear to fully share that sentiment. Aronson sadly indicated that if his fate was not enough to convince them, then perhaps they could not be dissuaded. He warned them, however, that if they harmed his master, he might not be able to stay his hand against them if they returned that way.

Drawing himself to attention, Aronson raised his sword and said that if they repeated the words once more, he would stand aside - on their souls be it. Dermot rolled his eyes and said the passphrase once again, the ghost saluting with his weapon in response. Shanni swallowed hard as Dermot looked back at the others, then walked through the ruined doorway, torch held in front of him.
 

Carlo-One

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Inside and down a set of stairs, they found themselves at the east end of a dark stone corridor, with seemingly blood-red wall tile interspersed with sandstone and jeweled patterns. Before anyone else could say anything, Aerikoth proposed that before they continued, they should eliminate the guardian spirit. Dermot commented that he found that a bit harsh while Shanni gestured at the others, saying she was being careful going ahead as she already saw “stuff”. (It is noteworthy that Aerikoth demonstrates such ruthlessness towards Aronson, although the others soon agree to follow the wizard's lead. It is not the first time, nor the last, that this sort of situation occurs in these chronicles. --R)

Unfazed, Aerikoth continued speaking, recalling Aronson’s words that he might not be able to stay his hand and pointing out that, if they needed to retreat while wounded, would it not be better to eliminate him then. Darrow agreed that if they had been fighting his master they would be in trouble. Dermot admitted that the wizard had a point, but argued that he was not sure what fighting the ghost would cost them, suggesting they could just run past him if needed. Darrow thought that the only way to end him would be to bury his bones somewhere consecrated, or else a long, hard fight.

Shanni, who had only been partly paying attention, had found a chest down the hall and called to the others to come look, even as they continued debating. Somewhat exasperated, she went back and said that she did not get the idea of leaving with Aronson’s bones or fighting him and then coming back later, because whatever was there would know and then be more prepared for them. Both Dermot and Darrow conceded her point, although the dwarf did not like the idea of fighting the former paladin. However, he finally agreed to set Aronson free, as he put it. The three then headed back towards the stairs, causing Shanni to follow them, with an oath under her breath.

Outside in the gloomy night, the ghostly Aronson was cheered by their appearance, expressing his pleasure that he had convinced them to return, so their souls would not be trapped like his, under an evil spell. Dermot soon disabused him of the notion, offhandedly inquiring if Aronson would put down his sword, speaking the words of passage “Nocturnum Eternum” again. Aronson, confused, was then told by Darrow that they aimed to break that spell and put him to rest, not being able to afford to have him at their back.

In response, the ghost asked if they would take his bones to be consecrated, otherwise his soul was damned. Darrow affirmed that he would do so, after they were done there. After some back-and-forth with both the dwarf and Aerikoth, during which the ghost said he could give no more information, he cried at them to fly from this place and return when they had completed “tasks”, seemingly struggling to speak what he wished. Grimly, Darrow gripped his ask and replied that he did not take pleasure in it, but hoped it released Aronson from his bonds. In return, the ghostly guard simply stared at Darrow, waiting.

Without further words the dwarf charged to the attack and was instantly supported by his comrades, who flanked the former paladin and poured destruction upon him with magical blades, arrows, and spells while the dwarf blocked blows from Aronson’s greatsword. Despite the ghostly warrior’s evident skill, he was no match for the group’s assault - which included a summoned dire bear - although Darrow was panting by the time his foe was dispatched. Aerikoth confirmed that they would return the remains to the Ascetic One and inform him of his comrade’s fate.

(I must ponder further on the significance of what occurred with Aronson. By striking him down, the party has condemned his soul to evil bondage if they do not subsequently succeed in recovering his bones and delivering them to be consecrated - something I would say is an uncertain outcome. Yet their ruthlessness, as "R" puts it, has a logic to it as well. What would I do in their place? I confess I do not know. Perhaps that is a sort of wisdom, in itself. --C)
 
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Carlo-One

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Once back downstairs below the ruined tower, Shanni moved down the corridor and fiddled around on the floor, seemingly securing some tiles. She told her companions that it should be all right, but to be careful, and then approached a dark chest, appearing to fiddle around some more inside it with her hand. Dermot asked what it was and was told that it was a lever of some kind, although the petite rogue could not tell if it was connected to the traps she had just disarmed. Aerikoth thought it might be prudent to leave it be at that point.

Shanni agreed and said she would peek ahead to see if there was anything like a barrier that the lever might work. Dermot went with her and then called their attention to a door-shaped outline in the north wall, while Shanni once again fiddled around with floor tiles. Dermot took a deep breath and reached for what appeared to be the door handle, but was disappointed to find out that it just opened onto a short corridor with rubble at the end of it. Shanni confirmed that the way looked blocked.

Darrow inspected the stonework in the corridor along with Shanni, the dwarf noting that it looked a little like a tomb, and the rogue remarking that it didn’t look like anything had passed through in ages. Aerikoth was curious if the others could tell if there were any structural anomalies in the area, perhaps a pulley system under the floors or in the walls. The wizard thought it might be far-fetched, although Shanni observed that such a setup would fit with the lever they had found. Darrow examined the rockfall and told the others that it looked pretty recent and seemed to be a natural collapse.

The four adventurers decided to move further west down the entry chamber corridor, as Shanni had spotted something giving off light ahead. She again warned the others to watch the floor, carefully wedging odd tiles as she moved down the hall. One of the traps she disarmed collapsed a hole in the floor, which she warned them to mind. Darrow gratefully hung back, telling the “observant folks” to let him know when it was safe. After a pause, the petite rogue told them to come down further, but just look and not touch, nor enter the light.

Once her companions caught up, they saw a red pillar of light in an alcove at the western end of the corridor and a large hole that apparently had been a covered pit, which was before a misty door. Darrow found the whole thing to be creepy, watching Shanni and Dermot uncertainly look into the pit as the ranger waved his torch as far down as it could go. Darrow, looking again at the walls, remarked that the color pattern repeated – yellow, blue then orange. Distracted, Shanni grunted that she had noticed the same thing, as the dwarf pointed out that there were yellow, blue and orange crystals by the misty door. Meanwhile, Dermot enterprisingly had secured a rope to a torch bracket and dropped it down the hole. The ranger said he would be right back and climbed about ten feet down, disappearing from view into the pit.
 

Carlo-One

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Dermot soon called up that he was all right and that the pit was not very big. At first he shouted that he had not found anything, but then discovered a door in the pit wall. Shanni asked Darrow and Aerikoth, who had arched an eyebrow at all the shouting, if they should join him. Darrow, as usual, briefly and dismissively asked what could go wrong. Dermot then relayed that he had found a lever as well and was going to try it. A single exclamation “oh” was heard from the ranger, then silence, as he failed to answer Shanni’s further queries. The petite rogue cursed and looked to Darrow to help tie a rope around her, to go down into the pit after Dermot.

After several minutes of careful preparation, Shanni reached the bottom of the pit, but saw nothing except for the door and lever that Dermot had mentioned. Aerikoth expressed his doubts about the pit door being what they were looking for, but said he would be willing to enter it, if the rest did. Shanni meanwhile kept calling out for Dermot and Darrow in turn yelled down to Shanni, to make sure she was still all right. Eventually she decided not to pull the lever and climbed the rope back up to her two companions.

The three eventually decided that there was little choice but to go down into the pit after Dermot, so Aerikoth left his summoned bear in the corridor and joined the others climbing into the pit, with the wizard suffering a minor spill at the bottom. Despite a thorough examination, Shanni could not determine what the lever did, but the others agreed that the only way to find out what happened to Dermot was to pull it. She and Darrow pulled the lever an in turn quickly fell through a trap door that opened up in the floor.

When Aerikoth did not join them, the dwarf shouted up to the wizard, who apparently somewhat reluctantly pulled the lever and went down the trap door to join Darrow and Shanni. Their new surroundings looked more like a prison, with a closed door in front of them. After examining the door, Shanni opened it and moved down the rocky corridor, finding it ended in a room with another set of levers and a visible trap door; she yelled to the others that she was going down it. A few minutes later, she rejoined her two companions, saying there was another door and a chest, which she opened, then there was a light.

After some debate about their route, Shanni pointed out that since they were unlikely to get back out the way they came, they’d be buggered if they didn’t go on, as she put it. There was also still no sign of Dermot and Shanni wanted to try and find him fast. Aerikoth, regarding the set of levers, hypothesized that they had needed to be set a certain way to find the trapdoor they intended to use to follow Dermot, or unlock it if it had not been hidden. Impatient, Shanni headed back down the visible trap door and was followed by Darrow, then Aerikoth.

The somewhat larger room they found themselves in had a dark chest in the central tiles, which after some exploring Aerikoth opened and saw a bright, room-filling flash of light. Shanni said she had no idea what it did, but she had done the same thing. The rogue then found a secret door in the southeast corner and went through it with her two companions, around an L-shaped corridor that ended with another secret door. The three adventurers quickly passed through it and entered a long, rectangular hall with three obelisks spaced out along its center line. There, with some relief, they encountered Dermot, who was evidently glad to see them as well. The ranger, however, informed them that there was no way back. (In for a copper, in for a gold, as I'm sure they must have said to each other. --R)
 

Carlo-One

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Dermot went on to point out the visible features of the hall: several statues, two doors that were “rigged” as he put it, one hidden door that went to a locked door, and one hidden door that went to another hidden door, which his companions had just emerged from. Shanni noticed that the statues each held colored balls, like those placed by the misty door they had seen in the entrance corridor. Aerikoth observed the statues and spheres for a moment, apparently hoping to divine something of their purposes.

Dermot and Shanni together went round the various doors, each pointing out ones that looked suspect, as Aerikoth moved his attention to the nearest obelisk. The petite rogue thought something was funny about the door between the bronze and purple sphere statues, which Dermot agreed with. She also noted the orange, blue and yellow repeating patterns with the balls and on the floor. The two of them then went through the door the ranger had said earlier lead to a locked door.

They returned after a few minutes and related how the lock seemed to require a special key, although Shanni commented the mechanism looked rusted shut anyway. Aerikoth used his Chime of Opening, but it did nothing to the locked door, which appeared to be mechanically inoperable. Needing relatively little encouragement, Darrow took out an ordinary waraxe and returned Haelgrim to its sheath, not wishing to nick his legendary clan weapon on the door. The dwarf then bashed down the old door with several well-placed blows.

Beyond the door they found a room with a statue of an undead humanoid that looked creepy as hells, as Shanni put it. They noticed that unlike the other statues, it had nothing in its hands. A quick review of their inventory turned up nothing they thought suitable to place there, although Dermot mentioned having a gold ring that he had found in front of a box. The ranger thought that maybe it wasn’t the statue’s style, however. Aerikoth conjectured that a gemstone of some type might fit in the statue’s hands.

Darrow mentioned that there were still other doors to try in the central hall, which Dermot and Shanni agreed they should do. Shanni pointed out one by a blue sphere, which Dermot commented went to a “funny spot” as he put it. The rogue further observed that there was a yellow sphere by the door they had just exited, commenting that it seemed that the spheres indicated working doors. Aerikoth for his part added the observation that in the room with the statue of the undead, there was a broken statue arm on the floor, although the statue itself appeared whole.
 

Carlo-One

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The wizard then moved away from the others, apparently taking inventory of the various magical scrolls and other implements he had with him. Absorbed in his task, he barely noticed his three companions heading through the south door of the central hall. After finishing his inspection, Aerikoth followed in their path through a series of doors and found them standing by a stone statue. Dermot informed him that it had moved and had some gems in its cracks.

In reply, the wizard cast stoneskin spells on his companions and then himself for added protection. Shanni commented she had given the walls in the room a once-over but had seen nothing besides two dead folk. Darrow mentioned having found a gong that might be worth trying, but Dermot did not think that would be wise. The ranger then suggested that the armless statue might like one of the gems they had found.

Aerikoth cast a light spell to help push back the darkness as they headed back to the room with the statue of the undead. Dermot observed that it had four slots, one in each hand and foot. That matched the number of gems they had found, which the ranger thought might work, even if it sounded crazy. Shanni gave a mournful little sigh as she looked at the diamond and emerald they had found, not knowing if she would see them again.

Dermot began placing the gems in the slots, keeping one hand on his sword. The statue began to emit a low hum, which grew deeper in tone as the ranger started lurching backward. Darrow also took a few steps back and Shanni shrank into the nearest corner, while Aerikoth simply arched an eyebrow as he regarded the statue with an unblinking gaze. Dermot informed a disappointed Shanni that the four gems were gone, but a deep red stone had instead appeared in the statue’s grasp.

The ranger showed it to Aerikoth, who held it up to his magical light source to get a better view. Dermot expressed hope that it was a Magic Stone of Vampire Finding, while Shanni wondered if it was valuable. After a further moment of inspection, the wizard declared that it was a magical ioun stone that enhanced the abilities of the user, making them more agile; if it were released near one’s head, it would then circle it while active. The others were intrigued by this, although Darrow said he would pass on wandering around with a stone spinning round his head.

With Aerikoth’s support for the experiment, Shanni then took four gems from her pouch and placed them in the statue’s hands, as had been done with the others they had found. However, after Shanni had backed away and eyed the statue for a bit, nothing happened. Disappointed, she snaffled the stones back, noting that only two of them had been the same as the other gems. At Dermot’s urging, she then tested the ioun stone, throwing it up by her head, where it began orbiting, prompting the petite rogue to make an “ooo” sound.

Back in the central hall, they regarded the doors that Dermot and Shanni pointed out as dangerous. They and Darrow also remarked on the number of statues in the hall, the dwarf being of the opinion that they were a puzzle of some kind. Aerikoth, meanwhile, stood a moment staring with his unblinking gaze at the walls, frowning slightly.
 

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