The Westgate Campaign Chronicles - serial

Carlo-One

Explorer
Carlin returned, saying that he had spoken with Melissa, who understood that she would soon speak with him and the party together. Brok-Tul took the opportunity to remove the small box containing Clan Ironhelm’s gift and show it to the High Cleric, who was somewhat astonished at the amount of divine energy radiating from it, although he could not ascertain its nature. Brok-Tul explained that they believed its purpose was to either destroy Ashnakzeroth or allow him to be destroyed. Carlin commented that it appeared as if the bell was meant to meant to be rung with the hammer in Ashnakzeroth’s presence. The cleric then placed the hammer and bell back in the small box and returned it to Brok-Tul.

Carlin told the group that he had more information he wished to share with them, before they spoke with Melissa. According to the cleric, in the days that he had sat and spoken with Melissa, she had perhaps become more “herself” or at least more like the person he knew when she was growing up in Turnton. He meant that she was less obsessed with "the Master" and more human. She still referred to Ashnakzeroth as "the Master" but it seemed to be more out of habit than feral devotion, as was the case previously. Belle commented privately to Rahnee that Melissa could simply be acting. Continuing, Carlin said that he was convinced Melissa remained the key to discovering Ashnakzeroth's whereabouts and, hopefully, his weaknesses. He also believed she would be willing to help, although he did not fully trust her and advised the group not to either. Rahnee commented that there was little question about that.

Belle, although somewhat hesitant to speak, then asked Carlin what he thought if Melissa would do if she were simply let free. The cleric admitted that he had not thought about it, since he did not consider it an option. He stated determinedly that he had raised her for the sole purpose of destroying Ashnakzeroth through her, which would be done. (The determination of the cleric of Helm is praiseworthy. Abomination must be destroyed and there is no room for mercy for those who support it. --C). In response to a comment from Rahnee, Carlin said that he believed that the time to defeat Ashnakzeroth was growing short, based on his conversations with Melissa. Brok-Tul interjected doubtfully that the lich had waited longer than most dragons age and he thought it could handle a few years more. Carlin explained that Ashnakzeroth had recently succeeded in making himself corporeal, which he had not been able to do for aeons. Now, he was able to gather power to himself, for Helm knew what purpose.

Rahnee commented that from what they had seen, Ashnakzeroth did seem to be progressing toward some kind of plan. Carlin turned to go and bring back Melissa, but before he could move was interrupted by Brok-Tul. Somewhat nervous, the half-orc began by saying that previously he had spoken of his intent to marry Rahnee. Carlin said that when their task was over and done with, he would be happy to officiate. Brok-Tul continued by saying that he was prepared to do his heart and spirit's most to defeat this evil, including placing Rahnee, himself, and his friends in danger, or death. However, he did not want to wait for the afterlife for Carlin to marry them. Rahnee kneeled, joined by Brok-Tul, and said that what her half-orc lover was trying to say was that they wished to be joined in marriage before they walked into the jaws of death.

After asking them to rise, Carlin placed a hand on Brok-Tul’s shoulder, asking to speak with him privately. The two exited the side chamber and then returned some time later. Brok-Tul took a golden ring off his finger and extended it to Rahnee on his palm. “Cake can wait. I already have all the bond I'll ever need” said the half-orc, then asking if she had a similar ring. In response, Rahnee raised her hand, pulling a gold ring from it, which Brok-Tul accepted, gravely placing his ring on her finger afterwards. Brok declared his love and said that they could wait and have the party after they destroyed Ashnakzeroth. Rahnee asked him if it was his free will, which he indicated it was. Rahnee drew her sword and knelt at Brok-Tul’s feet, holding her sword up to him across her palms.

Rahnee announced that their love bound them in life as they were bound in death. With her sword, she bound their strength, and he would always find her at his back. Grinning mischievously, she then declared that, maybe by the time they had finished this up, that “blasted merchant” would have her wedding leathers finished. (Carlin showed wisdom by convincing the half-orc to wait for his full reward. Tragedy becomes doubly so when there is a formal bond, not just a promise. --R)
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
As Rahnee climbed to her feet and resheathed her sword, Brok-Tul looked around to the rest of his companions, face calm and eyes steady. Carlin went to fetch Melissa while Rahnee and Brok-Tul exchanged some private words. The cleric returned with a demure-looking woman that Brok-Tul greeted, asking how she had been. Melissa, smiling sweetly at the half-orc, declared that she was better now and thanked him for asking.

Carlin asked if the party wished to speak first or have Melissa do so. Tapping a tusk absentmindedly with his finger, Brok-Tul said that he was listening. Melissa began by saying that she was willing to guide them to one of “the Master's” towers, should they wish to go there. From there, she knew that they could reach the Master, although she did not know exactly how. Melissa explained that the tower was where she had served her apprenticeship, so she knew its location, although not all of its secrets. She stated that the others would not be able to find it on their own, as it lay deep in the wilderness, away from civilization. She declared that, as she had been told by the High Cleric, perhaps she could atone for her past, by helping the party.

Carlin asked if the party wished to speak first or have Melissa do so. Tapping a tusk absentmindedly with his finger, Brok-Tul said that he was listening. Melissa began by saying that she was willing to guide them to one of “the Master's” towers, should they wish to go there. From there, she knew that they could reach the Master, although she did not know exactly how. Melissa explained that the tower was where she had served her apprenticeship, so she knew its location, although not all of its secrets. She stated that the others would not be able to find it on their own, as it lay deep in the wilderness, away from civilization. She declared that, as she had been told by the High Cleric, perhaps she could atone for her past, by helping the party.

In response to questions from Brok-Tul and Veran about what awaited them in the tower, Melissa said she was sure there were undead there, having seen some of the Master's work firsthand in the tower. There was also a portal to the Master's mountain fortress inside, which is where she believed Ashnakzeroth to be. Melissa explained that he had lost part of his regained strength in the party’s battles with him, including what they had done in the darkened forest. Yet, she declared, given time, he would regenerate his power. She did not know what lay beyond the tower's portal, only that it led to the Master's mountain fortress. At least, she qualified, that is what he had once said to her, and it was the only way to reach him that she knew of. Melissa declared herself willing to be the party’s guide, to show them what she knew of the Master's tower and its dangers.

Carlin at this point addressed the group, saying that it had taken some time to get to this point with Melissa. The High Cleric believed that she understood her apprenticeship to Ashnakzeroth was, in the end, hollow and empty of promise. Brok-Tul asked Melissa if she both trusted them and wanted to trust them. She countered by saying that she had offered her assistance, which entailed placing her trust - and her life - in their hands, of her own volition. Brok-Tul smiled gently in response and told her that he appreciated that, declaring that he thought it would work out well. Carlin stated that he had not coerced her in any way. In response to a question from Melissa, Brok-Tul indicated that he was ready to depart for the tower now, Rahnee nodding in agreement. Carlin told Melissa to change into her traveling clothes while he finished speaking with the others.

Carlin declared his admiration for Brok-Tul’s faith and presented him with a scroll and potion bottle, saying that they should be used wisely and only in time of need. Aerikoth interjected with a question, asking Carlin if there were any reason for having Melissa accompany them after she had guided the party to the tower. Carlin pondered a moment and said the decision was entirely up to them; she could be either a help or hindrance afterwards. Carlin then went to check on Melissa while the group discussed the supplies they would need for the trip.

Carlin and Melissa later met them in the main temple chamber, Melissa dressed for traveling. Carlin asked her if she was ready and she replied in the affirmative, squeezing his hand and thanking him for what he had done for her. Goodbyes were then said between Carlin and the rest of the party, who stepped out of the temple exit into the day’s sunlight.
 
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Carlo-One

Explorer
Ashnakzeroth’s Tower

Belle drew her bow and strung it, while Brok-Tul unlimbered his massive maul from its shoulder-loops. Rahnee, somewhat ironically considering their previous fatal encounter, directed Melissa to stay near Veran so the monk could protect her from harm. Weapons ready, the group departed Turnton, heading north for Westgate.

After three hours of travel, the party arrived at the Turnton/Glees road fork. Carefully scanning ahead, they were able to spot a pair of owlbears emerging from the forest to attack them. The monsters were quickly defeated, the only damage being a deep scratch received by Brok-Tul. Moving on, the group continued their journey to Westgate, arriving on the snowy southern outskirts of the city after another eight hours. All agreed the best course of action was to head for their warm guest house.

At the guest house, Aerikoth declared that he was retiring for the evening and would see the others in the morning. After the mage had gone up to his room, Melissa innocently inquired if she should stay with Veran that evening. Rahnee indicated that there was a spare room next to his and escorted her upstairs to the room, the first on the right-hand side of the corridor. Belle was placed in the room opposite Melissa and was asked to keep watch.

Some time after all had gone to bed, there was a commotion on the upper floor. Aerikoth was eventually awakened by Veran and joined the others in the corridor. Belle explained that Melissa had opened her door and triggered an improvised alarm set by Belle. Melissa had said that she had wanted to go out for some fresh air, but did not want to trouble the others and instead went back in her room. Veran thought that she might actually have been telling the truth, although was unsure. Belle and Veran stood watch for the remainder of the night, in case Melissa tried anything else, but nothing more of note occurred. (I suspect that Melissa was probing them to see what boundaries had been set for her, both with the 'innocent' question about bed arrangements and the attempt to leave her room. The party has been careful so far to keep her under control. --R)

The morning of Hammer 14, the group gathered in the Gatereach for breakfast. Brok-Tul introduced Melissa to Jandrico as their new guide. Rahnee mentioned that they would be traveling that day, so asked for a hearty breakfast for all, with the exception of the usual bread and water for Veran. Melissa reminded Veran of an earlier promise to expound on his doctrine, which the monk obligingly did, including answering her questions about those who “cheat death” such as her former Master. Brok-Tul and Rahnee chimed in occasionally as the group finished their breakfast to the sound of weighty philosophical discussion. (Ah! To have such a conversation with a representative of the enemy must have warmed Brother Veran's monastic heart. Discussions around our monastery's refectory are certainly vigorous, but are often preaching to the choir, as it were. --C)

After a quick stop back at the guest house to grab their gear, the party headed for Trader’s Road, taking it west towards the Reddansyr crossroads. Belle had insisted on going on ahead alone, saying that she had some “difficulties” in Reddansyr and preferred to make sure things were safe for her before rejoining the party. Although the day began bright and sunny, by the time they had reached the crossroads fourteen hours later, the night was thick and the rain cold. Turning south, they arrived at the town of Reddansyr a little while later, cold and tired. The militia at the gate let them pass and recommended a bed at the Giant’s Folly.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Once inside, the party negotiated with innkeeper and town leader Ian Gryphonhawk for three rooms; Aerikoth took one for himself, while Rahnee and Brok-Tul shared the suite and Veran and Melissa shared the last available room. (It seems that her relationship with Veran is not fully antagonistic. Curious, but perhaps a good sign for her. --C). All slept soundly, any dreams they had fading away before morning.

Breakfast at the inn on Hammer 15 was relatively simple fare, some oatmeal with cinnamon and butter. Rahnee took the opportunity to ask Ian about the boat on the roof of the inn. Ian clarified that the boat actually was the roof. The innkeeper had some time ago won a bet with a passing giant, who had to drag the boat all the way from the coast. Ian had thought that the boat would make a good inn and also add some notoriety to the place.

Belatedly realizing that the fact that the road south to Starmantle was closed meant that they could not get to it from the town, the party bargained with Ian for him to open the way to them. They told him that they were not going all the way to Starmantle, instead searching for a tower south of the Reddan River. Ian thought there was less risk to them if they were not traveling the length of the road, so agreed to let them onto it, with the proviso that they should inform him if they heard anything about his son Killian, who had left town as an aspiring adventurer. Ian accompanied the group to the south gate and ordered the militia members guarding it to unlock it and let the party pass. He wished the party luck, saying they were going to need it.

After a few hours, the group approached the bridge crossing the Reddan River. They cautiously made their way over the bridge, then Melissa directed them to turn right and head for a gap in the treeline. Rahnee stealthily scouted the way ahead, returning after a few minutes to inform the others that two beasts with lion bodies, wings, and barbed tails were in a forest clearing ahead of them. Veran, Aerikoth, and Melissa all recognized the description as being that of a manticore. Veran warned that the beasts could shoot the spikes from their tails as an attack. Rahnee came up with the plan of her luring the beasts back to the others, after shooting one with an arrow.

The plan certainly worked, as the beasts roared and chased after Rahnee, who ran as fast as she could around the trees and back to the group, but not before her armored back was filled with manticore spikes. Once the rest of the group engaged the beasts, however, they soon fell, as Aerikoth’s summoned dire wolf assisted Brok-Tul and Veran in melee. Brok-Tul spent most of his healing magic on Rahnee, who cursed under her breath as she removed the spikes.

Deciding they needed to rest after the battle, the party stationed Brok-Tul on watch while the others slept or studied, save for Aerikoth, who summoned his familiar Zeluth and sent him winging southward. Brok-Tul took some souvenirs from the manticore corpses before taking his turn to rest while Rahnee stood guard and Aerikoth spent time studying his spell book. Zeluth returned as the party was moving to break camp, landing on Aerikoth’s shoulder and communicating silently with the wizard. Aerikoth informed the others that Zeluth had flown south and encountered some broken hills, although had not flown far enough to find the tower they sought. There was some debate over whether the party should spend the night in the forest clearing, eventually resolved in favor of pushing on to the tower. Rahnee made sure to blaze a trail behind them, so that Belle could catch up eventually.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
After about four hours of travel, the party emerged from the broken hills and saw a tower looming ahead of them. The moonlight gleamed eerily off of its walls and the surrounding rock, while a low-lying fog circled the base of the tower. Rahnee carefully scouted ahead, slowly circling the base of the tower while sticking to the shadows around it. A large metal door appeared to be the only way inside. The others took up a position close to the door while Rahnee opened it and moved silently inside.

Aerikoth cast a stoneskin spell on Brok-Tul, in case combat was imminent. Rahnee shortly returned outside and described the stone entry chamber, including a “skeleton trap” where a pile of bones had assembled itself into a skeleton warrior when she drew near. Melissa said that the tower, when she had been apprenticed there, had ground and upper floors, but nothing below ground. It was decided that for her own safety, Melissa should stay outside while the rest of the party cleared away any dangers. Aerikoth’s raven familiar, Zeluth, kept an eye on her as the others entered the tower. (I believe it was more for the party's perceived safety from her that she remained outside, I suspect. --R)

Inside, four glowing red pillars dominated the room, with a pentagram inscribed in the middle of them. Rahnee pointed out the animated skeleton in the back corner, which was quickly dispatched. A search of the room saw that battle repeated another three times, with animated warriors appearing in each of the room’s corners. Aerikoth studied the pillars while the others moved to open the room’s eastern door.

Behind the door was a large chamber containing pots, workbenches, and other things suggestive of a wizard’s laboratory. A faint echoing of hammers could be heard, although there was no visible source for the sound. Moving back across the entry chamber, the western door was opened to reveal a ghoulish meeting chamber, a throne of bones placed at the head of a long table. Veran and Brok-Tul examined the ancient bookcases that lined the wall, but found only dust.

Moving along the corridor north from the entry chamber, the group explored two other rooms off of it, both of which were apparently torture chambers; one contained a series of iron maidens, dried bloodstains on their spikes, while the other held a cage suspended from the ceiling, a skeleton within bearing mute testimony to Ashnakzeroth’s cruelty. Exploring further, they found that the corridor ended in a “T” junction, with both the eastern and western ends terminating in stairs leading upwards. At this point, Veran suggested that they retrieve Melissa and headed back towards the entrance, while Brok-Tul volunteered to take rearguard. In the entry chamber Veran almost literally ran into Belle, who had just arrived. With obvious relief, she put down her bow at the sight of the monk.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Veran returned with Belle and a nervous-looking Melissa, who inspected the pillars and pentagram in the entrance and stated that the portal was not fully activated. In response to a question from Rahnee, she admitted that she was not sure how to accomplish that, “the Master” not having shared his greatest secrets with her. Melissa confirmed that the stairways they had found led to the upper floor of the tower and speculated that the key to activating the portal might be found there.

Walking down the corridor, the group paused outside the torture rooms, where Aerikoth pointedly observed to Melissa that they appeared to have seen recent use. Brok-Tul declared that it made sense, the “spike-boxes” probably having been used to create the skeletons that Melissa used to attack them previously. Melissa quietly stated that they had actually been the work of the necromancer Zagath, her “experiment” having been in the other room. She explained that she had wished to see if a prolonged death energized Ashnakzeroth’s blood magic more than a quick one, determining in the end that it did not. (The true evil of Melissa in service of her master is bared at last. --C)

Rahnee deliberately did not comment and directed Melissa to stay near Aerikoth while the rest of the party went up the stairs. Melissa called out a warning before Rahnee could get too far, indicating that they should be very careful on the eastern side of the tower, the Master having warned her not to open the door there. The party then went up the west stairs. Melissa admitted once they reached the upper level that she had not been allowed past the doors on the western side of the tower either. (Snakes should never be trusted, regarding what they do or say - or, in some cases, not do or say. --R)

Examining the runes on one of the doors, Aerikoth was unable to read them, although he said they appeared to be a warning of some sort. The party readied itself for combat and entered the door, Rahnee in the lead. Past the door was a large, dark chamber with a throne and statues dimly visible at the other end. Moving ponderously toward the party was a large golem-like creature, which appeared to be made of various dead things put together.

The party engaged the creature, Brok-Tul and Veran standing toe-to-toe with it while Rahnee and Belle shot arrows at it and Aerikoth cast spells. The arrows had no effect on the creature, nor did the wizard’s magic, forcing the group to rely on their melee weapons. Bolstered by his divine magic, Brok-Tul was able to inflict some damage on the creature while avoiding its attacks. Veran, however, fell to a mighty blow from one of the monster’s fists and was bleeding to death on the ground. Brok-Tul shouted to Belle to drag the monk out of harm’s way, but the monster - whether it understood Brok-Tul or simply reacted to Belle’s movement - at that moment turned away from Brok-Tul and slammed Belle to the floor, killing her instantly.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Daringly, Rahnee darted into the middle of the battle, applying a healing kit to Veran and managing to get him to his feet and out of the way. Aerikoth meanwhile had summoned a dire wolf, one of the wizard’s favorite tactics. The animal then moved to assist Brok-Tul in battling the golem. Between the two of them, they eventually wore down the monster, which collapsed into a pile of dirt and rotted flesh.

After catching his breath, Brok-Tul asked the others if they would agree to have him use their raise dead scroll on Belle. Veran and Rahnee concurred, while Aerikoth for his part by then was on the other side of the chamber, examining a glowing pedestal. Brok-Tul began praying to Helm for strength and faith enough to return Belle’s soul, entering a deep trance before reading the scroll. Veran knelt and prayed quietly while Brok-Tul finished the magic incantation. Melissa at this point came into the room, looking somewhat awestruck at the sight of the battle‘s aftermath. Aerikoth came over to her and commented that it had been a hard-fought victory. Belle’s body stirred then, responding to Brok-Tul’s divine magic, and Rahnee helped her to stand. (I am not fully comfortable with an act that in effect challenges the rule of Lord Kelemvor over his own domain. However, when the raising of a companion is done with respect and the full knowledge of its import, I cannot object to the idea. --C)

While Brok-Tul and Rahnee explained to Belle what had happened, Aerikoth returned to examine a jewel in the center of the pedestal, accompanied by Melissa. The others, helping a still-shaken Belle, joined them soon afterwards. Aerikoth stated the that jewel, which gave off an intense cold, was magical in nature and would be well suited to be a lich’s phylactery. Aerikoth said that they had two choices: to take the jewel with them, to examine later possibly with the help of others, or to attempt to destroy it. There was much debate over what they should do with the jewel, but no resolution of the matter before the group decided to rest for the night.

By early in the morning, all had awoken, having been troubled by their dreams that night. Melissa said that she was not surprised that “the Master” had invaded her sleep, given her connection with him, and that it appeared he was now able to do the same with the others. She said he had always been a master of dreams, having enslaved the Ironhelm dwarves originally using such techniques. The tower was a place of power for him, so his abilities were likely enhanced, allowing him to enter the dreams of the companions while there.

Rahnee commented that their dreams had all been driven by a desire to have them give Aerikoth up to Ashnakzeroth, and she wondered what Aerikoth’s dream had been about. In response to a question from Rahnee, Melissa explained that the Master needed Aerikoth’s blood to complete his rise to power, Aerikoth having been present near the original ritual conducted by the necromancer Zagath. The magic from the ritual, disrupted by Aerikoth’s companions at the time, had been transferred into the mage’s blood, as the closest living receptacle. Veran commented that an offer had been made to each of them in their dreams, Aerikoth confirming that he had been made an offer as well. Belle said that she did not remember an offer, only someone coming towards her with a knife, after she tried to intercede in a sacrifice. (I have to wonder about the nature of the offer made to the mage, whose blood was desired by the abomination. Shared dominion with Ashnakzeroth? Perpetual life in death? In any case, he does not seem to have been so foolish as to accept it. --R)
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
After taking some time to prepare themselves, the group decided to examine the gem on the pedestal later, leaving the room and moving down the corridor to the other room on the second floor of the tower. Belle asked Melissa if she knew what was inside, but Melissa said that she had never been allowed there. After some defensive spells were cast in preparation for a confrontation, Rahnee checked the door for traps; finding none, the party moved into the room, which proved to be empty of any threats. Both Rahnee and Belle, however, immediately recognized it as having been where their dreams had taken place.

Looking around the room, Brok-Tul commented that it appeared almost exactly like the entry chamber on the first floor, with its four rune-covered pillars. A bloodstained altar lay at the far end of this room, however, along with some crumbling statues. Brok-Tul called upon Helm and swung his maul at the altar, evidently seeking to destroy it, but the weapon rebounded as it hit the solid stone. Rahnee recommended that the half-orc cleric cleanse it instead, while Melissa counseled that its purpose should first be determined, a course of action supported by Veran. (Another example of their growing closeness, or at least an alignment of views. Brother Veran is admirable in restraining any hostility for her past actions. --C). For her part, Melissa could shed no further light on the room’s purpose. Brok-Tul repeated his experiment with the maul on one of the stone pillars, with similar results. Belle, while examining the pillars, noted that Melissa had mentioned blood magic being used by Ashnakzeroth, speculating that perhaps blood caused the pillars to become active.

With other avenues of investigation having been exhausted, Aerikoth had made his way back to the first floor entry chamber, accompanied by Veran, and cast a comprehend languages spell on himself, in order to read the runes on the pillars. The others soon joined them, telling him about their speculation regarding the need for a blood sacrifice to activate the pillars above. Aerikoth informed them that he had determined the portal was powered by the pillars on the upper floor.

After returning to the upper chamber, Aerikoth examined the runed pillars and was able to confirm that the portal required blood to activate it. Each pillar required blood and the amount in total would be equivalent to that contained in a humanoid. Melissa said she believed the ritual would require magic to energize it as well, since the Master's rituals always needed an external force to serve as a catalyst. Eyes gleaming, she said that she thought she had enough power remaining to complete the ritual.

Veran, scowling at the thought of blood sacrifice, nevertheless raised the point that perhaps not all of the blood needed to come from the same donor; in other words, instead of killing one of their number, they might each give a small amount. Aerikoth confirmed that the writings on the pillars said nothing about the blood having to come from a single source.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Before beginning the ritual to activate the portal, the party decided to return to the room with the magical gem, in order to examine it further and, if appropriate, take it with them. Knowing that the gem radiated intense cold, Brok-Tul had prayed for a spell to protect him from the elements the night before. Rahnee passed her bag of holding to him, so he would be able to place the gem in the container once obtained and thereby nullify its cold effect. Aerikoth asked for some additional time to examine the gem, casting a spell in order to divine its magical nature. After casting the spell, he stared intently at the gem, his eyes narrowed, his right hand hovering over it as he focused his attention.

Exhaling as he ended his concentration on the gem, Aerikoth confirmed to the others that it was indeed a phylactery, albeit an unusual one. The wizard determined that the magic inside it would allow whatever spirit was held within it to reconstitute itself fully, at any distance, if the gem were broken. Brok-Tul, only half-listening to the mage’s words, hefted his maul and declared his intent to destroy the phylactery, but was halted by Veran and Aerikoth, who warned the half-orc that destroying it might result in a fully-restored lich appearing shortly afterwards. (The half-orc regularly courts disaster with his impulsive behavior. I hope he properly appreciated his companions saving him from himself. But given later developments, I doubt it. --R). Belle, partly as a question, stated that breaking the gem would fully restore the lich, yet destroying him would cause his essence to return to the gem. Aerikoth thought that at least part of Ashnakzeroth’s essence currently remained within the gem, since the creature was not yet fully reconstituted, still evidently needing Aerikoth’s blood to empower its physical form.

Brok-Tul, somewhat confused, then asked if they should just take the gem with them. In his usual dry voice, Aerikoth said that they could instead destroy the gem presently and do battle with a fully reconstituted lich that was believed to be a god back in the days of early Netheril. Brok-Tul commented that in his old line of work, that was known as "Plan A", prompting Veran to say that he would prefer to hear "Plan B."

Aerikoth continued, saying that if they defeated the creature after going through the portal, that would result in it being trapped in the phylactery for weeks or perhaps months, giving them time to contain it or find a way to completely destroy it. Rahnee and Brok-Tul favored giving the gem afterwards to the dwarves, as a form of just revenge for Ashnakzeroth’s previous enslavement of their clanmates. His spell protecting him, Brok-Tul reached out and seized the gem, triggering a flash of blue light and intense cold, then placed it in the bag of holding.

Somewhat grimly, the companions returned to the nearby ritual chamber and prepared to do what was necessary to activate the portal. Brok-Tul, having a stoneskin spell cast on him, was unable to donate blood to the cause. Despite some needling from Belle, Melissa also declined to give her blood, saying that she doubted she would have enough energy left to complete the ritual if she did so. Brok-Tul had the idea of summoning a wolf with a spell in order to do the bleeding for the companions. Aerikoth confirmed, however, that humanoid blood was needed for the ritual, according to the runic pillars.

Rahnee was the first to go, stripping off her bracers and rolling back her shirt cuff before slicing her forearm with a dagger. She bled for both herself and Brok-Tul, who called upon Helm to heal her after she was finished. Veran went next, pausing afterwards to take a long drink from his canteen while Brok-Tul tended to his wound. Grimacing, Belle went last, Brok-Tul bandaging her arm when done.

Once all of the blood had pooled on the altar, Melissa directed the others to stand away as she attempted to energize it. Brok-Tul expressed his faith in her to be strong and for them all to do the right thing, as she entered into a trancelike state. Crying, “Come to me, power of the Master! Do my bidding, once more!” she cast a beam of energy at the altar. Soon afterwards, a black, swirling cloud appeared over it and then disappeared in a burst of golden energy. Turning away from the altar, the companions started downstairs, to see if the ritual had succeeded in opening the portal. Veran stayed behind briefly to meditate on the situation. (Brother Veran must have struggled mightily to reconcile the needs of the situation with his training and sense of what is just. Participating in an ancient, evil blood magic ritual left more than just an external scar, I would think. --C)
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Battle and Aftermath

Once below, the group carefully approached the portal room. At the center of the four runic pillars, a glowing red portal was now visible. Knowing that they might never return to the tower, the companions made ready to enter. Rahnee sent a prayer to Tymora, while Belle knocked an arrow and watched Melissa carefully. Veran arrived and declared himself ready to proceed. One by one, they all entered the portal, Brok-Tul going first. (Although rash, I cannot say the half-orc is not brave. --R)

Although they had prepared themselves for the sudden journey, the place they arrived at was nothing like they had expected. The portal, which was apparently one-way, had deposited them on a rocky shelf high in what appeared to be the Giant’s Run mountains. In front of them, a chasm yawned, crossed by a narrow bridge, beyond which rose the towering walls of a citadel. Glowing giant skulls dominated the stonework at the far ends of the walls, while a pair of large gates stood in the center.

While the party was still taking in their surroundings, the image of a large figure appeared before them, barely humanoid in appearance. Darkness seemed to wrap itself around the figure, which then addressed them. Ashnakzeroth's image, for it was a magical projection of the abomination, said: “So, you have brought the wizard to me.” Brok-Tul smiled grimly in response, while Rahnee said “He is with us, yes.”

“Let him come forward, then” spoke the illusory projection. Veran restrained himself with effort from attacking it while Rahnee let her sword swing free, Brok-Tul tensed himself, and Belle rested her fingers on the drawstring of the bow. Ashnakzeroth's image said, “I promise it will not hurt. Come, wizard. Enter my citadel and fulfill your destiny. Your blood will power my return to godhood, and I shall reward your companions.”

Brok-Tul protested, “Wait. We want him unharmed” while Rahnee answered the lich with a challenge, questioning its promise - “As you have rewarded others?” The image replied, “Did not my servant explain? His blood is needed for this task,” earning the retort from Brok-Tul “Yeah, and we want him safe.” As the lich’s image spoke, Veran murmured to himself. “I will not fear, for fear is the little killer. I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me.” (Our training teaches us not to ignore fear or pretend it does not exist, but to master the challenge by letting go of it. It is only through acceptance that it can be banished. --C)

Ashnakzeroth's image looked to Melissa, who reacted with a shudder, barely being able to stutter out “Mmm...aassster.” Rahnee replied to the lich, “Oh, she explained quite nicely. Quite thoroughly as well.” Brok-Tul felt moved to support Melissa, saying “Melissa has been very helpful...and, she has been a good friend. With the light of Helm, she has found faith to be rewarding, too.”

The abomination’s image then turned and focused on Aerikoth, saying “Oh, you will come to me, wizard. There is no other way off this mountaintop, besides the portal in my citadel. Your friends will deliver you to me, or you will all die here.” Rahnee, giving a small smile, added, “Or someone will.”

Aerikoth glanced back at Melissa and then returned his gaze to the creature. “As I told you once, creature. We shall see,” he replied. Rahnee stepped forward towards the image, challenging it again, saying “Does friendship surprise you?”

The illusory image replied, “I have unbarred the way, creatures of flesh. Bring the wizard to me for my sacrifice, and I will send you home with rewards beyond your dreams. Friendship is irrelevant. There is only power. And death.” Unfazed, Rahnee said, “You only think it is irrelevant. But you are wrong. As you were wrong in the dreams you walked in.”

As Ashnakzeroth's projection faded, it left these final words behind: “Today, you look on the face of death, if you do not give me what I ask. I await you within.” Veran gave a wry grin as Rahnee said “Well. That went well.”
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
With a sense of finality, the party readied itself for its confrontation with Ashnakzeroth. Aerikoth inquired of Melissa if she had a weapon, which provoked hysterical laughter from the woman, who, gripped by fear, repeated over and over that she had a dagger. Brok-Tul did his best to calm her while the others prepared themselves.

As a group, they then moved forward towards the citadel gates and passed into the large courtyard beyond, Brok-Tul and Rahnee carefully scouting the path ahead. Once past the gates, they were able to make out in the distance thirteen skeletal undead standing in silent ranks before the entrance to a tower. Ashnakzeroth was visible, towering over them in the back and wielding a darkly glowing staff. Brok-Tul, his voice shaking, took out the tiny box that was the gift of Moradin and asked Aerikoth for a distraction. Rahnee declared, "Remember Brok, I love you. Now and forever.” Brok-Tul replied, “I love you too, no matter what gods have to say about it."

Ashnakeroth’s voice, deep and resonating, rang out across the courtyard. “Bring the wizard to me!” Aerikoth said, in answer, “Indeed. Shall I see if those creatures are immune to my magic?” Rahnee replied, “Be my guest, Aerikoth.” As Belle and Brok-Tul readied themselves, Aerikoth said, “Then so be it. Let us begin this.” Veran declared, “Let us finish this. Kelemvor grant me strength.” Brok-Tul said he would use the hammer and bell of Moradin’s gift upon the activation of Aerikoth’s spell. Chanting, the wizard raised his arms and a fireball blossomed forth, speeding toward the front ranks of the undead. Brok-Tul said, “Moradin and Helm, hear my plea: let this day be the last of this evil creature” and rang the bell, its clear, clean tones ringing out across the landscape. At the same moment the fireball exploded, the sound of the bell reached Ashnakzeroth and a group of spectral dwarves appeared to fall out of the sky, surrounding him.

Combat was immediately joined by all save Melissa, who cowered by the entrance gate. The ranks of skeletal warriors and flaming skeletons charged the companions, while Ashnakzeroth used his magic to contend with the ghostly dwarven warriors, who wielded great battle-hammers as they attacked their ancient foe. Rahnee and Veran broke free from the melee and made for Ashnakzeroth, who had been wounded, but was destroying the spectral dwarves facing him one by one. Turning from the dwarves, Ashnakzeroth called upon dark magics and struck down the two companions before they could reach him. However, this left him vulnerable to his other enemies, and the lich fell to the ground with a despairing cry as the last remaining spectral dwarf smashed his hammer into the lich’s body, causing the abomination’s life force to depart its mortal shell.

Meanwhile, the battle against Ashnakzeroth’s skeletal allies was slowly being won, although only with great effort. Brok-Tul, armored by his god’s protective magic, wielded his enchanted weapon with great stubbornness, smashing the bones of his foes, although the undead warriors he faced showed unusual skill, time and again knocking the weapon from his grasp. Aerikoth discovered early on that the skeletal warriors were able to resist most of his magics, so he summoned a huge dire wolf to fight by Brok-Tul’s side in the melee. Belle for her part sent arrow after magic arrow into the skeletons, but had little success in damaging their bony frames. After what seemed like forever, an exhausted and bleeding Brok-Tul finally stood over the smashed bones of his foes; for their part, Aerikoth and Belle had both been spared harm. Melissa, who had stayed out of the way of the battle, came up to join them, shouting out that the Master was dead, to which Aerikoth replied, “At what cost?”
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
The four of them still standing – Aerikoth, Brok-Tul, Belle and Melissa – slowly made their away over to where Ashnakzeroth had fallen. There, they saw the last spectral dwarven warrior standing over the corpses of Rahnee and Veran. The dwarf saluted them, saying as he faded out, “By Moradin’s will, it is done. The abomination is dead.” Staggering over to Rahnee, Brok-Tul slowly picked up her body, cradling her in his arms. Aerikoth observed to the others that Ashnakzeroth’s remains had apparently vanished.

At Aerikoth’s direction, Belle went over to Veran, but Melissa had already picked the monk’s body up. (I have little trust in her and for good reason, given her pact with the abomination. Yet it is undeniable that she formed a bond with Brother Veran, which signifies that she was, perhaps, not beyond redemption. --R). Brok-Tul appeared to look into the distance, as if listening to something only he could hear, then declared he had to ring the bell again. Aerikoth recalled to Brok-Tul that Ashnakzeroth had said that the only way off this mountain was to use his portal. Belle asked Melissa if she could confirm if there was a portal within the tower.

The half-orc then said aloud, “Moradin…send us home…thank you Moradin and Helm” and rang the hammer and bell of Moradin’s gift. As the crystal tones of the bell sounded for the second time, a glowing blue portal appeared in front of him and the dwarven god’s gift vanished from Brok-Tul’s fingers. Melissa, in answer to Belle’s question, pointed at the new portal and said that she would trust that more than anything found within Ashnakzeroth’s tower. Brok-Tul and Melissa, each shouldering a body of a companion, then entered the portal, followed soon after by the others.

As soon as he stepped through the portal, Brok-Tul fell to his knees in surprise. After the others had finished arriving, one by one, Brok-Tul told them that he recognized the place as the valley of Clan Ironhelm, ancestral home of the dwarves that had assisted them. The group moved forward slowly towards the gates, Brok-Tul and Melissa staggering under their respective burdens.

At the outer gates, Brok-Tul hailed the dwarven defenders guarding them, declaring that Helm’s Shadows had been sent home by Moradin. The guards recognized Brok-Tul as the one who had received Moradin’s Gift and, saluting the surviving companions, bade them pass to the inner gates.

Arriving at the inner gates, Brok-Tul repeated his tale for the guards. One of them went inside to fetch a clan elder to speak with the companions, who waited patiently for him to complete his task. Soon, the guard returned, followed by Clan Greeter Rumnaher.

Rumnaher recognized Brok-Tul and was told of the defeat of Ashnakzeroth and the fall of two of Brok-Tul’s companions. The dwarven elder said that few outsiders had seen the halls of Clan Ironhelm, but that he would be honored to invite Helm’s Shadows within and see if the high priest Iskar could tend to the fallen. Brok-Tul, belatedly remembering protocol, introduced his companions and they all followed the elder through the gates, Belle taking over the burden of bearing Veran’s corpse from Melissa.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Once inside the dwarven citadel, Melissa expressed her sense of wonder at being in such a place, as the others took in the scale of the underground halls; even the normally phlegmatic Aerikoth paused a moment to do so. They made their way up a long corridor and passed a large open dining area, before finally reaching the underground temple of Moradin. There, Rumnaher called Iskar over to meet the companions. The dwarven priest recognized Brok-Tul as the one who had been given Moradin’s Gift and saluted the half-orc for being the instrument of the clan’s vengeance against Ashnakzeroth. Iskar said he would see to the fallen, prompting a shuddering Brok-Tul to carefully place Rahnee’s body on the floor of the temple, Belle then depositing Veran’s corpse next to it.

Iskar said he would require some time to contact their spirits and call them back, in Moradin’s name. He began to pray over Rahnee’s body and was joined by Brok-Tul, who raised a plea to Helm to not be separated from her. After a time, her hand twitched slightly, signaling that the breath of life had returned to her body. While Iskar cast healing magic on her, a dazed-looking Rahnee attempted to get her bearings, aided by Brok-Tul, who soothingly tried to explain what had happened. Iskar then turned his attention to Veran while Brok-Tul softly asked Rahnee to pray for the monk to return as well. Iskar’s prayers were eventually answered and Veran groaned, slowly sitting up to receive Iskar’s healing touch. (The second return for Brother Veran. I wonder if he had time to speak to anyone he had previously met in Kelemvor's halls? --R)

After the two newly-restored companions had gained their bearings, Rumnaher declared that it was a great day for the clan and ordered a hero’s welcome for their guests. Brok-Tul, evidently having thought of something, excitedly dug around in his pack, eventually emerging with the cold, glowing gem, placing it on the floor and telling the dwarves that it was what was left of “Ashy.”

Iskar showed a strong aversion to it, declaring that he had no desire to handle anything of the abomination and that Brok-Tul should keep it until they could all speak further of the matter. Brok-Tul began to explain why he felt the clan should have it, then thought better of it and shut his mouth, picking up the gem again and placing it back within the bag of holding. Iskar said that they indeed had much to discuss, as he called for assistance to show the companions to the clan’s guest quarters.

End of Part I of the Chronicles
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Campaign Chronicles: interlude from "C"

I have taken several days to contemplate the events in the first part of the Chronicles. In these last blank pages of the first volume, I do not see any commentary from my predecessor as senior initiate "R" - perhaps, having chosen to read the chronicles in their entirety before going back to make his annotations, he (as in other places) does not wish to unduly prejudice the thinking of his successors. This fact has led me, in turn, to reflect more on this final process of confirmation with the Order and how it differs from the other lessons we have been taught. I am becoming convinced that each individual's solitary reading of the Chronicles is meant to not only convey to them the knowledge contained within these pages, but to teach the importance of thinking on our own about the challenges we must face. The Order's teachings cannot have all of the answers to the situations life places in front of us, even if its principles are universal.

Another lesson that is apparent, given the experiences shared within this tome, is that there is always something more that needs to be done, and much uncertainty over the correct path. The crescendo of the final (?) confrontation with Ashnakzeroth, the ancient lich seeking to regain his old power, has immediately been followed by a quieter but insistent refrain, the problem of what to do with its phylactery. The abomination's intelligent and cunning plan of using ritual "blood magic" to enhance his power appears to have played out across more than a millennium, and is not done yet. Furthermore, the separate appearance of a vampire problem in Westgate and the efforts of Jamal, the Harper bard, and others to combat it has been mentioned, but no more as of yet. Even without having read the remainder of the Chronicles, I know that this needs must resurface in the future.

As done before, I shall organize some of my thoughts on the principals involved and put them on paper, in order of their longevity with the party.

Aerikoth Ankharat - I wonder if the wizard fully appreciates the sacrifices made for him by the others. His calm - verging on emotionless - approach to life has brought him many benefits, it seems, as he marshals his powers and intellect in a manner which often leaves him unscathed while his companions bleed or die. Melissa's explanation of Aerikoth's importance to Ashnakzeroth, if it can be fully believed, hinges on the interrupted ritual mentioned at the beginning of these Chronicles, when the necromancer Zagath was killed by Aerikoth and the mage's former companions in the Six Points Adventuring Company. The wizard evidently has other secrets as well, ones which have not been revealed in these chronicles and are not known to the other party members. His companions, I must say, have been remarkably tolerant of his periodic disappearances and limited explanations. But perhaps such is the normal way with adventurers, all of whom have things they wish to keep private, so in turn respect the privacy of others.

Rahnee Roaringhorn - her challenge to the lich over "friendship" resonated with me, if not with her foe, who apparently possessed no comprehension of the phenomenon. And it is touching to see that her bond of love with Brok-Tul, the half-orc converted cleric of Helm, is strong beyond measure, persisting to and through the point of death. He, at least, appears to appreciate what he has in that respect. Rahnee's courage has been repeatedly tested and not found wanting, and she has learned much in her travels and adventures. Yet I sense that her will to triumph over her enemies is still based at least in part on romantic ideals, believing that she will always emerge victorious. Having died in the confrontation with Ashnakzeroth and been brought back by Iskar, the dwarven cleric, it remains to be seen if her outlook on life will be tempered as a result.

Brok-Tul - he has journeyed far from his origins as a thug in the Shore district of Westgate. His heart has visibly grown, it seems, over the passage of time with his companions in what he has called "Helm's Shadows" - indeed a fitting name for the company, from his perspective. He and Rahnee have formed an unlikely yet unbreakable bond, which the half-orc rightly treasures. His rashness has been restrained many times - although not always - by his companions, which leads me to reflect on the value of people as individuals and in groups. Perhaps the lesson is that we can be stronger and more successful with others in our life, rather than only relying on ourselves.

Jokull of Arabel - as with Rahnee, his courage is unquestioned, and he possesses even greater skills as a warrior, as shown by his victories in the pit fights at the Quivering Thumb in Westgate. Yet the former Purple Knight's obsession with personal vengeance has consumed him, leading him on a path away from his companions before they moved to confront Ashnakzeroth. I shall refrain from judging his actions, since his companions did not, but he is a clear example of someone who puts their own interests ahead of anything else, which is not the teaching of the Order. One loses a sense of proportion and perspective when this happens, which can only be detrimental to the larger causes we seek to serve.

Veran Bron - Brother Veran is a legend in the Order, yet these pages show him to be human as well, and to have made mistakes. This teaches me that perfection is not to be expected, nor can it be obtained in this life. Rather, one must live according to their values and follow the righteous path as best as one can. The fear that he showed - and mastered - prior to the confrontation with Ashnakzeroth demonstrates that courage is not the absence of fear, rather the recognition of it and the refusal to let it determine your actions. The bond of friendship - or at least of tolerance - that he developed with Melissa also demonstrates the value of compassion.

Belle Goodman - the ranger became involved with the company through running errands for the temple of Oghma in Reddansyr, and stayed with the party to fight the abomination, which speaks to her character. She must have experienced a great shock due to her death in Ashnakzeroth's tower, subsequent raising, and the confrontation with the abomination. Yet she came through seemingly in good spirits - which forces me to consider whether I could have done the same, in her position.

I must also consider Melissa, the one-time apprentice of the abomination. On one level, her story is a tragedy, she having been corrupted as a teenager by Zagath while growing up in Turnton. She has shown some sympathy and promise during her interactions with both High Cleric Carlin and Brother Veran. Yet she has also made her own choices for evil, as starkly revealed by the remains of her experiments in Ashnakzeroth's tower. The question of her loyalty it seems has been resolved by events, instead of by her own choice, given the lich's defeat. Questions remain about her intentions, however, and the unresolved matter of the phylactery means that she still has a role to play.
 
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Carlo-One

Explorer
Campaign Chronicles: interlude from "R"

In these first, blank pages of Part II of the Chronicles I shall put down some personal thoughts. I confess to very mixed feelings about what has occurred, in light of their later consequences. It is also evident that the seeds of future destruction have already been sown by some. This leads me to wonder: is character destiny? I say not, otherwise Judgement would be irrelevant, the world simply being a wind-up mechanism for Ao's enjoyment. The events of the Time of Troubles at least show that what the gods do matters, and by extension the chosen actions of their followers. An Order such as ours, that follows Kelemvor's rule, thus may have many duties to perform in the wider world.

This time of reading and contemplation of the Chronicles is supposed to be the keystone in our preparation for life outside the monastery walls. Indeed, they offer many lessons on how the world actually works, instead of how we may wish it to. My own story is in essence the reverse of the expected of one in my position, already having had far too many experiences in the outside world before choosing to don the robes of a monk. This provides me with a - somewhat jaundiced? - perspective that I shall share with any who follow me in reading these pages. As in the first part of the Chronicles, I shall not reveal too much of what lies ahead, for any who perform a different sort of reading of the text.

The first book ended on a triumph: the party's defeat in battle of the lich Ashnakzeroth. This much at least is conventional storytelling, yet the winding and uncertain road to that particular victory - with death and the occasional folly making their appearances - leads me to believe that the Chronicles are a true reflection of events, rather than just a bard's tale. The main task still facing the party - how to deal with the lich's unique phylactery and its erstwhile follower Melissa - is not as straightforward as battling a monster. What eventually occurs does not fully put a line under the matter, it seems, although it is difficult to fully judge the situation. A certain lack of ruthlessness is evident, at the very least, which in my jaundiced view is the triumph of hope over experience. Is this for the best? Can an individual pass judgement on such things? I am humble enough, at least, to acknowledge that I do not have the answers to these questions.

A painful lesson, reflected in these Chronicles, is that evil is a choice of many around us, in our cities and towns, as they go about their daily business. Murder, oppression and fear are more often the result of a midnight knock at the door by men seeking to enforce their will on the helpless, than of the employment of dark magics. The worst is when both are combined, empowering the evil natures of people to go beyond their normal constraints. The mission of the Order to fight abominations wherever they appear is therefore a noble one, which addresses the most urgent of threats to life and order in Faerun.

Should we focus solely on this greater threat and ignore the more mundane ones that arise? For those outside the Order, of course this is not the case, for whatever threatens home and hearth must be fought against. I would make the argument that the Order should be careful in taking on too much, however, as then our primary mission would suffer from the distraction. Brother Veran's choices, as will be seen, furnish a tragic example of this. His actions are perhaps not in vain, but I cannot say that they served the best interests of the Order. Some may find this judgement harsh, yet our foes will be even harsher with us, should we not marshal our full strength against them.

Further candid commentary on individuals and their actions I shall reserve for the margins of this tome, to place things in closer context.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Here begins Part II of the Chronicles

To all those who read these chronicles: much is known, but still more is not known about the adventures and private dealings of those worthy people hereafter mentioned. One suspects that not everything that has occurred has been recorded for posterity.

Chapter V: Loose Ends and Endings

Dwarven Rewards


The morning of Hammer 17, 1373 DR, after a dream-filled night, the companions trickled into the Clan Ironhelm tavern hall for breakfast. Rahnee was noting the lack of tea when a messenger arrived, summoning them to the audience hall, where the clan’s Prince would be waiting for them. After the dwarf had left, Melissa asked the others what they had decided to do with Ashnakzeroth's gem. Brok-Tul, Rahnee, and Veran were noncommittal, while Aerikoth appeared lost in thought as they walked to the Prince’s audience chamber.

At the chamber entrance, a dwarven guard challenged them, then let them pass once they were identified as Helm's Shadows. At the end of a long hall, a dwarf garbed in finery awaited them, with guards and advisers in attendance. He introduced himself as Prince Dalgan, head of the great Clan Ironhelm. Rahnee acted as speaker for the group and formal introductions of the party were then made, Melissa being the last named.

Dalgan declared that Clan Ironhelm was ruthless with its enemies and generous with its friends, that day having cause to celebrate both aspects of its relations. He asked Toran Goldfinder, his merchant adviser, to bring sacks of gold for the party, and introduced Koll Wallbasher as his chief warrior. Toran soon returned and handed out large sacks to each of the companions, who expressed their thanks.

Dalgan then told them that because they had fought in the clan's name, he had special gifts for them, worthy of warriors. He asked each to step forward in turn, starting with Rahnee, and praising their deeds:

For Rahnee: "Your sword upheld the defense of the clan's name. Let this belt protect you as you wield it in the future." Her response: "Thank you, again. I shall wear it with pride."

For Brok-Tul: "I hear you bravely fought the undead horde of Ashnakzeroth, in the end victorious. Take this maul, crafted with the magic and care of our clan, and smash your foes with honor." His response: "My foes will fall as never before. My thanks, King of Dwarves." To which Dalgan replied, "I have no doubt of that." But then his face clouded for a moment as he corrected the half-orc, "Prince, Brok-Tul. For now."

For Veran: "The strength of your convictions is great, I have heard. You fell in battle, helping defeat our greatest foe. Let this gift lend you even greater strength of body, then, to match your spirit." His response: "One does one's duty, because one must. My thanks. It will be worn, with honor."

For Belle: "I understand your bow sang against our foe, though your enemies had defenses against your arrows. Take this arrow, then, and should any wizard arise who wishes to imitate our ancient foe, use it against them." Bowing her head, Belle said "I shall do so."

For Aerikoth: "I am told your magics did much to aid in the battle. We are often suspicious of magic-users - and for good reason, given our history. However, you have proven yourself a dwarf-friend. For this, I shall offer you a gift of protection from your enemies, when they seek to do you harm across the battlefield." Aerikoth accepted a belt from Dalgan and bowed, saying "Thank you your Highness."

Dalgan smiled, saying it was a great day for the clan and declaring himself pleased to share their joy with them in this manner. Rahnee replied that the dwarven reputation for generosity to friends was well-deserved.

Dalgan then asked Melissa to step forward. She moved forward hesitantly to stand in front of the group. The dwarven prince said, "You served our ancient enemy. For that, you deserve death...but we shall stay our hand this day, for the services you rendered our allies. Do not forget, however, that the clan always remembers its friends...and its foes." Melissa, who at first had blanched at the dwarf's words, managed a formal curtsy and stepped back to join the others.

The prince waved them all closer, saying that they had weighty matters to discuss. He said that he understood the abomination had not been fully destroyed; Brok-Tul in response brought forth the cold gem, Ashnakzeroth's phylactery. Dalgan indicated that he had spoken to Iskar, who judged that the clan did not have the resources to destroy it. Dalgan apologized for the clan not being able to aid further in the matter. Rahnee and Veran assured the prince that they could draw on other resources to complete their task. Dalgan asked them to send word once it was done, so that the clan could know of the final demise of their ancient foe.

Dalgan then switched topics, mentioning that his coronation as King was due to occur the following month. He explained that his father, King Tagnar, had died nearly a year ago, and that Iskar would determine the proper date for the coronation based on signs from the gods. Rahnee told Dalgan that his people were blessed to have a strong ruler waiting to lead them, which pleased the prince. He said that he would send word when the rites of succession would take place; as dwarf-friends, the companions would be welcome to attend. Rahnee and Brok-Tul expressed their thanks on the party's behalf.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
With the ceremony over, Dalgan encouraged them to take advantage of the clan's merchants and to enjoy the hospitality of the clan for as long as they desired. The party took their leave and was escorted to the Ironhelm smithy by Koll Wallbasher. Lorn Ironbeard, the clan’s head smith, was pleased to show off his selection of gear to the group, which spent some time selecting items. Koll then showed them to the temple and departed, citing clan duties.

At the temple, Iskar's acolyte saw to their purchases while Iskar healed Brok-Tul's wounds. The half-orc said they had resulted from his possession of Ashnakzeroth's gem, which gave him frostbite every morning. Brok-Tul and Rahnee had a private conversation in the temple, while the others, once done shopping, headed for the exit to the clan halls. Once they all had assembled at the exit, Clan Greeter Rumnaher appeared to wish them well on their journey.

Leaving the valley of Clan Ironhelm, the party fought the bitter cold of the mountains while they followed the path to the village of Mountaingate. After being challenged and then invited in by the village militia, they first stopped at Skye’s Provisions. In response to a question from Rahnee, Skye indicated that there were probably still a winter wolf or two around, but they had not bothered the village as of late.

At the village inn, its gnome proprietor Allie Grimblegort greeted them, having remembered most of the group from the previous visit. A few mercenary types hung out in the common room, but kept to themselves. Allie brewed up some hot tea and the others joined her in the kitchen, which was far warmer than the common room. After some cheery small talk, the companions paid Allie for her tea and departed the village.

After several hours, the party reached a crossroads at the Shining Plains trail. Despite Brok-Tul’s recollection of a more direct route to the northeast, they decided to follow the main trail north; neither Aerikoth nor Belle had been in the area before, so could offer no assistance. Eight hours later, in the middle of a rainstorm, the group found itself at the Traders Road crossroads. After some confusion as to where they were, they decided to camp for the night before continuing on. With help from Brok-Tul and Veran, Belle took the lead in helping construct a makeshift shelter. Belle and Rahnee took the first watch as the others bedded down as best they could. Rahnee woke Brok-Tul for the second watch, which lasted until dawn.

The groggy company staggered up and broke their fast, while debating the road ahead. Melissa pointed out the need to travel east in order to reach Turnton, as the group was still west of Teziir, although it took several tries to convince Brok-Tul. Breaking camp, the group hiked east along Traders Road, reaching the western outskirts of Teziir after six hours. Melissa looked longingly at the city buildings in the distance, wanting to stop and see some civilization, but the group decided to press on, arriving at the Reddansyr crossroads after another four hours.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Reddansyr: Trolls and a Well

After turning south towards Reddansyr, they were challenged at the town gates and then allowed to pass. They made their way to the Giant’s Folly inn, Veran commenting on how they had now come full circle, and were greeted inside by Ian Gryphonhawk, who asked how their expedition had went. They mentioned its success, Brok-Tul placing some manticore spikes on the counter for dramatic effect and informing Ian of their fight against the creatures. Belle also greeted Ian, who asked her how she had ended up with the others; she said it was a long story. After Ian checked on room availability, Rahnee arranged for the group to take the two available rooms upstairs, ladies in one and gentlemen in the other. Following some mulled wine and venison, the companions retired to their rooms for the night, with Brok-Tul also informing Ian that they had unfortunately not seen any sign of Ian’s son.

The morning of Hammer 20, the men and women of “Helm’s Shadows” rose from their respective beds. As usual, Veran headed outside to meditate, while the others ordered breakfast in the common room. Veran came back in, looking rather wet, although with a straight face he told Rahnee that it was not raining for once, saying he had actually fallen into a horse trough. The inn’s waitress Erinetta delivered their food - bacon and eggs; the companions dug in, except for Veran, who found the bacon too much to handle. (In my opinion, members of the Order should be able to stomach common inn food; let us not take asceticism to extremes. Or perhaps I just miss having bacon. --R)

As they were finishing their breakfast, a member of the Reddansyr militia entered the inn and went straight to Ian, saying that he had grave news. Scouts by the Reddan River bridge had spotted a band of trolls heading north; the trolls had stopped for the moment by the bridge, but could move towards the town at any time. Overhearing the conversation, the companions began discussing what they knew about trolls. Brok-Tul rose and looked pointedly at Ian, saying that he wanted to check out the problem. Ian was delighted at the prospect of Helm’s Shadows handling the troll situation, the town militia not being up to such a challenge. Melissa said she would stay in town while the others, after wolfing down the remainder of their food, agreed to join Brok-Tul in the “trolling” expedition. In return for taking on the trolls, Ian gladly agreed to provide them in the future with rooms and food, on the house.

As the companions gathered their gear, Rahnee queried if the trolls were north. Ian indicated that they were to the south, on the road to the river, which is the way the group had departed before. Ian noted with curiosity that the group had, however, arrived back in town from the north. Brok-Tul, making himself ready, told Ian that they would tell him the tale once they were finished.

Leaving the inn, the group made its way to the temple of Oghma, where the priests were able to sell them four flasks of alchemist’s fire to use against the trolls. Departing the temple, the group discussed tactics on the way to the town’s southern gate, which the militia unlocked for them. They then walked for three hours, arriving at the Reddan River bridge.

While Brok-Tul prayed to Helm for victory, Aerikoth cast stoneskin spells on the half-orc and Veran, to protect them in the front lines of battle. Brok-Tul first went to look for the trolls under the bridge, but then spotted a small group of them on the opposite riverbank. Aerikoth summoned a dire wolf to aid the group in melee. Soon, battle was joined with the first group of trolls, but the companions were soon surprised by several more trolls coming to aid their fellows. Belle was chased back to the bridge area by one troll and was assisted by Aerikoth. The mage tossed a fireball into the melee, which dealt serious damage to five of the trolls, although it also finished off his wounded summoned wolf. Rahnee singlehandedly fought three of the trolls, spinning and thrusting for all she was worth, keeping them at bay until Veran could join her and help finish them. Brok-Tul was able to account for the rest.

After the battle was over, Brok-Tul went to the manticore grave area to see if there were any more trolls, while Belle checked the muddy ground for tracks. Neither found anything of import, although Brok-Tul took the opportunity to stuff two foul-smelling troll heads into a sack as trophies. The group then headed back to Reddansyr, where the inhabitants reacted poorly to the odor wafting from Brok-Tul. Inside the inn, Ian congratulated the party on their success, barely managing to stand the stench of the burned troll flesh. Eventually, Brok-Tul was convinced that the heads would not be of any use, and he went outside to bury them and wash up. Meanwhile, the others enjoyed Ian’s hospitality and discussed how the battle had played out. Once Brok-Tul returned, smelling of soap, the group debated whether to continue on that day or rest in the inn. The battle having taken its toll on their energy, the group voted to stay another night in Reddansyr before pressing on to Turnton.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Hammer 21 dawned clear (for once). Rahnee, unable to sleep, got up at dawn and departed the inn. Brok-Tul was the last of the others to arrive for breakfast at the inn’s common room and was asked by Ian if Rahnee was upstairs. Brok-Tul answered in the negative, saying that she had headed out to stretch her legs and think. Ian commented that it was a long time to be out walking.

As the group was finishing their breakfast, a boy came up to Belle and delivered a note, saying a man had paid him a silver to deliver it. The boy then scurried off before Brok-Tul could ask him any further questions. Belle unfolded the note, looked at it for a moment, then handed it wordlessly to Brok-Tul, biting her lip. While the half-orc was looking at the note, Belle suggested to the others that they go upstairs to the suite, where Rahnee and Brok-Tul had stayed the night, for more privacy.

Veran joined the others after a short delay, telling them that he had asked Ian about the child messenger; the innkeeper did not know the boy’s name. Once the note was handed around for all to see, Brok-Tul asked Belle to explain, since it had been addressed to her. The note read: "Belle - We have your companion. You know what we want. Come to the old forest well, alone, and deliver it. We will have no need for the woman afterwards, you may have her then. -- X"

Belle said that she thought the “companion” was a reference to Rahnee and that they - whoever “they” were - must want Ashnakzeroth’s soul stone. She also speculated that the note had been delivered to her because she would know how to get to the well in the forest. Veran observed that Belle seemed to have a history in Reddansyr and that someone might want something specific from her, instead. (Brother Veran's observations are as keen as ever. --C). Brok-Tul and Aerikoth also commented it seemed strange that if “X” were after the soul gem, that person would reach out to Belle rather than one of the others. Belle said she could think of no reason why she specifically would be singled out. Melissa, in a scathing tone, pointed out that it was unlikely anyone in Reddansyr would even know of the gem, so it was much more likely someone interested in settling a score with Belle, and Rahnee had simply got in the way. Teeth clenched, Brok-Tul nodded his agreement and asked Belle who “X” was; Belle again denied knowing anything about it.

As the others began talking about possible tactics to use, Belle sighed heavily and mentioned that there had been a little problem in town, which was why she had to leave and had accepted the task to deliver items from the Oghma temple to Veran in the first place. She had tracked down someone named Jonas, who’d had a merchant’s guild reward on his head. Belle also mentioned that at one point she had cut the mane off of Old Tam’s prized horse - which subsequently made a decent-looking blonde wig - but that incident likely was not the cause of their current problem.

The party agreed that it would be best to accompany Belle to the well site, in order to see what they were up against; Melissa stayed at the inn as before, in case any more messages were delivered or Rahnee appeared. They prepared themselves and marched downstairs, heading for the inn exit. On the way out, Brok-Tul informed Ian that they were heading to the old well in the forest for a meeting, and to send the militia in four hours if they didn’t come back. Ian said that if they couldn’t handle whatever was there, he doubted the militia could do anything. Belle and Ian had a private exchange as well.
 

Carlo-One

Explorer
Belle led the way east from the town, into the nearby forest. After a few hours, the party reached a wooded area close to where Belle said the well was located. She sneaked forward carefully, with Veran stealthily moving along close to her, circling around a stand of trees. From a distance, a bandit spotted her and opened fire, prompting Belle to return fire with her bow. However, her opponent was soon joined by a large band of comrades, who were able to cut Belle and Veran down before the others reached them. (Battle strategy is not a consistent strength of this group, it seems. --R). Despite their early success, the bandits were unable to deal with the remainder of the party and were cut down in turn by Brok-Tul’s hammer and Aerikoth’s magic.

Brok-Tul became enraged at not finding Rahnee and ran off into the woods, searching for any sign of her. Aerikoth meanwhile poured a healing potion down Veran’s throat, partially reviving him. Brok-Tul returned, his face ashen, and was directed by Aerikoth to assist Belle. After the two had been restored to partial health, Brok-Tul mentioned that he had found tracks leading south from the battle site, but could not determine who they belonged to. He had also found the well nearby, around the corner past a stand of trees.

The group stripped the bandit corpses of valuables as Veran closed the eyes of the dead and Brok-Tul said a short prayer to Helm. Belle asked Brok-Tul if he had checked down the well; the half-orc replied he had not, as the tracks he was following had taken him south and no one had answered when he had called. The group went over to the well and Brok-Tul lit a torch to help him see down into its black depths. He spotted a form wriggling at the bottom and immediately started to organize a rescue effort, eventually lowering Belle down on a rope with a torch. Belle called out to the others that it was Rahnee, but could do no more to assist. (I must commend the insight Belle had in thinking of the well, otherwise tragedy could have ensued. --C)

Coughing from the torch smoke, Belle was hauled back to the top of the well by Brok-Tul, who then tied the rope around himself so he could make the descent. An earlier prayer to Helm for strength was still active, so the half-orc had little trouble making his way down, picking up a bound and gagged Rahnee, then ascending to the top. He emerged from the well, one hand wrapped around Rahnee's limp waist, the other pulling himself up powerfully, with his legs propped against the side of the well. The others helped Rahnee to the ground as Brok-Tul hauled himself out.

As a semi-conscious Rahnee lay on the ground, Brok-Tul removed the last of the rope from around her, carefully bandaging her wounds and also applying healing magic where necessary. Belle was sprawled on the ground next to her, still gasping from the effort of helping haul her up from the well; meanwhile, Veran was keeping an eye out for any enemies who might seek to take advantage of their situation. Aerikoth commented that they should make haste to leave the area, a sentiment with which Veran and Brok-Tul agreed. The company gathered their gear and slowly headed northwest back towards Reddansyr, Rahnee limping along determinedly.

An hour later, they arrived back at the gates of Reddansyr. The guards were trying to stay warm and advised the group to do the same. Once back at the Giant's Folly, the group informed a relieved Ian Gryphonhawk and Melissa that they had successfully rescued Rahnee from the bandits. Rahnee then told the story of how she had been captured while on an early morning walk, evidently having been knocked unconscious after someone had used a sweet-smelling substance on her. Rahnee struggled to remember what had been said, recalling that two men had been talking and the the name "Jonas" had been mentioned before she had been thrown down the well. She had the impression that they had been looking for something.

Ian told them that Jonas was in the Westgate prison, so Rahnee's captors must have been acquaintances. Rahnee, still struggling to recall details, said that she had been referred to as a lure for Belle. Ian said that it sounded like the bandits had wanted something from Belle, with Rahnee representing an opportunity for them. Rahnee then remembered a gem being mentioned; Ian commented that the Thyssian Gem had been an obsession for Jonas.

Rahnee, looking thoughtful, said that one of the men had mentioned that since his brother Jonas did not have the gem, Belle must have it, or know where it is. Belle held up her hands and denied knowing about the gem, saying that she would have turned it in for a reward if she had run across it. Ian said that the gem was rumored to be worth tens of thousands of gold pieces, motivation enough for the bandits.

After some discussion of the bandit threat, which all agreed had been dealt with for the time being, Ian went to take care of inn business while the others discussed their next steps. Melissa said she was quite ready to leave the village and the others agreed it was time to move on. Following their farewells to Ian, the group marched out of the inn and headed north out of the village, snow falling around them.
 

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