When we last left the party…
- They saved Ravenstone from the experiments of a terrible, mad wizard, and set off to Waterdeep to warn of a giant attack on the town.
- In Waterdeep, they uncovered a greater plot by a Wizard's guild, which they would later learn to be named Alkahest, linked to the giants. An explosion in a wizard's academy and local inn resulted in many deaths, but before the party could set out, they tied themselves to the various factions – Mainly, the Lord's Alliance and Lady Laeral Silverhand, herself.
- Silverhand asked them to investigate to the North – they were headed there, anyway, to drop off some orphaned infants from Ravenstone at a Monastery – to investigate the hideout of one member of the guild – Haxiris. Too, they were asked to investigate rumors of giants around the town of Triboar, and a Hill Giant occupying the town of Longsaddle. Then, onward to Luskan, where the bread crumb trail seemed to lead to two to three of the wizards.
- Along the North Road, the party had many unfortunate and fortunate adventures. They lost two of the children – Midge Nesper and Grim Agganar - and had a rather unfortunate run-in with a passing Calimshani caravan in Amphail. Later, two assassins tried to spring upon them, but despite all of this, the party remained steadfast on the trail to the monastery.
- Along the road, they made a new friend in a bladesinger wizard named Zephyr Zanzibar who covered his face, as well as a dwarf battlerager/cleric named Alamathar.
- Poisoned from the assassins, Arentian and Alamathar found themselves clinging onto the delicate threads of life as the group rushed onward to the monastery in the Northern Sword Mountains. There, they healed Arentian, but did not have the resources to help poor Alamathar. So, they set out on a quest to help their new companion, leaving Enthoril behind, who wished to stay and aid the dying dwarf. They began a quest to find two missing monks in the mountains, with the hopes of earning the use of the monk's most prized possession – a diamond known as the Oculus Eye.
- Gone for naught but two days, tragedy befell the group: T'avin met his demise at an abandoned temple of Shar, which they learned was cursed by an ancient and mysterious diety named Ghaunadaur.
- Continuing along the trail for the missing monks, the party headed south, following tips from an Orog that they rescued from the temple curse. Drothakk, the orog, led them to where he had seen the Frost Giants heading, knowing well that they had taken the monks from the cursed orc-kin. Along that route, they also ran into T'avin's sister Siras, who was sent to rendezvous with them on behalf of Lady Silverhand.
- Once they came before the Frost Giants, it was clear that the party was outmatched. They chose instead to follow a legend told to them by Drothakk, speaking of reincarnation magics buried beneath the mountains that once belonged to his shaman leader, Uthuk Urkrypt. West, they went, their hearts heavy as they understood that it was likely already too late for the poor monks, and for poor Alamathar.
- Eventually, they arrived at the site of where the tomb would be buried, deep under a mountain and at the exact site of a dwarven dig site. There, they met Dr. Pilgrim, a gnome archeologist and academic who was searching for the same tomb as them, as well as the brother of Thaldrakk, Benthran. Benthran had supposedly undertaken a spiritual quest to find his brother, which led him in advance to the mine, whereupon he had worked for months, waiting for fate to bring his brother forth.
- Dr. Pilgrim and the party struck a deal whereupon they could help one another – clear out some baddies from the dig site, and the party could look around. During their discussion, they learned that Dr. Pilgrim truly sought the tomb because of a legend that the high shaman was buried with a map to one of the sets of Nether Scrolls, powerful, ancient artifacts tied to the origins of magic, itself.
- While helping Dr. Pilgrim out in the dig site, the party incidentally discovered the entrance to the tunnels, which presumptively led to the tomb! Excited, they began the arduous journey down to find it. En route, they discovered a mysterious giant who roared about a personal quest, but eventually made their way through to the place… only to find that someone had already been there.
- The traps of the tomb were discharged and the sarcophagi looted; Dr. Pilgrim and the party were too late. To make matters worse, when trying to get out of the tomb, Dr. Pilgrim was killed in one of the traps, and both Kay and Arentian suffered terrible diseases from the same.
- Finally, they emerged from the tomb onto the surface, only to discover that the giant they had encountered had laid waste to the digsite, killing most of the dwarves.
- They continued on to the hideout of Haxiris, where they learned a horrible secret – a disease known as the Draconecrophage was ravaging the draconic populations of the Sword Coast, eliminating them entirely or placing selective pressure to induce the birth of new varieties.
- Then, resting in the hideout, they were discovered by none other than Haxiris himself, as well as two other known guild members… Virro, the mother of Zanzibar, and Zalara. Thankfully, there was room for negotiation, and the party learned much from the group. Most disturbingly, that Haxiris thought Lady Silverhand to be behind the release of the necrogen. Suddenly, though, they were faced with a terrible choice. Silverhand was on her way – with three others – and didn't know about the guild's presence! They chose to await her arrival.
- When Silverhand arose, Haxiris confronted her, and a combat erupted. When the dust settled, three guild members and one of Silverhand's paladin allies were dead, one Alkahest member – Virro - as well as Zanzibar and the leader of the Harpers, Dumbledilp, were unaccounted for. Silverhand herself was slain… by a death knight.
The combat was over. Many were dead; many enemies, indeed. Though, it was not clear who had won. Silverhand was dead, reduced to a pile of ashes by a horrific undead creature, a Death Knight, as well as one of her greatest allies. Her only other remaining ally, a wizard and leader of the Harpers, was unaccounted for. Though they weren't the only ones. Zalara, Salsalaniir, and – for better or worse – Haxiris were also no more. Though Virro and her son – and the party's former companion, Zephyr Zanzibar, were also unaccounted for. As the group looked over the carnage, their halfling rogue stood on the second floor of the hidden mountain hideout, now a literal stone graveyard.
Kay stood over the corpse of Salsalaniir and pulled out one of the darkened bottles of Mortu, a terrible magical acid that, when poured upon the eyes of a corpse, sever the spirit's connection to the material world and prevent reincarnation. As the evil gelatinous goop dripped out of the vial and sizzled onto the disintegrating, dead eyes of the black tiefling wizard, the halfling did what only came naturally – he eyed the possessions of the wizard. Taking what he deemed valuable, the major peculiarities were the red jacket and spellbook of the wizard, a black, leathery tome chained to his belt that felt uncomfortable – almost sticky – to touch.
Down below, the others began to do the same with what was left of the dead from their combat. Silverhand's staff was nowhere to be seen, but they managed to produce quite a magical arsenal of equipment, weapons and clothing. Arentian nearly met the same fate as T'avin when he approached the body of Zalara, a tentacled rod whipping out at him, propelling itself forward to the sorcerer with it's own ravenous hate and otherworldly consciousness. Thankfully, though, Thaldrak was there to tend to his friend's wounds as Siras destroyed the thing. "That's what killed your brother," Thaldrak added, as the rod shattered into thousands of obsidian shards that sprinkled across the stone cobbles.
The morbid deed was tainted a bit by the appearance of Astrus, Haxiris' pet Void Dragon, who emerged from the Smoke Room together with Max when the silver-haired sorcerer went to check on their safety. Astrus wailed and moaned in sorrow as he saw the corpse of his former master, the orog laying crumpled in a heap on the ground among the scorchmarks and bloodstains that marred the otherwise pristine stone entrance. Siras offered the Dragon a few words of sympathy before heading upstairs, closely followed by Thaldrak and Arentian.
Once reunited with Kay, Siras took notice of the book in the halfling's hands. Immediately, she took it up and opened it, but something wasn't right. Her mind began spinning and her chest became cold and hollow… she felt a change, deep within her. The others took note, as her face blanched and her eyes rolled back, for a split second. But her tone became sharp and scolding as she dismissed their concerns, and urged them onward to explore the rest of the hideout. They shrugged, presuming her change in attitude to be due to the trauma of the battle, and the loss of her own master, Silverhand. They inspected the nearest two doors in one side of the hall and found only one to be locked and trapped. On the opposite side was a small closet with extravagant clothes, whereas a large door was locked with an impressively intricate lock mechanism. "I can unlock this, but it will take me some hours," Kay said, aloud.
Huffing, Siras uncharacteristically shot an insult their way and opened the unlocked door opposite the one the halfling inspected. Immediately, a click resounded as she looked into the artfully painted room, but saw it only for a split second as a green-acid bolt slammed into her chest and propelled her into the door opposite. She slumped unconscious, a scalding concaved wound showing her sternum and ribcage sizzling beneath acid-burned skin. Thaldrak rushed toward her and bandaged her wounds, doing his best to keep anyone else from dying in that place. She came to after a few minutes, though her chippy dark sarcasm was replaced by a bitter blame directed at her companions. They, too, levied loud voices her way, chastizing her choice to enter the room unbidden, when they started to notice an abnormal manner to her tone and behavior. Clearly, something was influencing her. Clearly, it was that book she still held in her hand, despite her brief lapse in consciousness. They tried to take it from her, but she refused, and among a tirade of words, they had to resort to restraining the woman as she flailed about, doing everything in her power to stop the – in her mind – unjustifiable assault. Faces tight with concern and frustration, the group decided to knock her unconscious and remove the book from her hands, stashing it away in the bag of holding where it wouldn't be read by anyone else, anytime soon.
For the third time that day, Thaldrak tended to the wounds of his friend, and Siras came to. She felt lighter and fatigued, not recalling anything since the moment before she opened the book. Needless to say, she was shocked and apalled to hear their account of what had transpired in the recent minutes… never mind the horrific scalding upon her chest. Thaldrak helped her up as Kay offered some chipper words of comfort, and they agreed to enter the room, then… this time, together.
As they entered the room, they came upon a breathtaking sight. Opposite where they had entered was a masterful mural painted upon the walls of the room, stretching from left to right, each wall depicting one of three different scenes.
- On the left wall, a pale, long-haired and robed individual stood alongside a werewolf, posed mid-howl as the moonlight reflected across a glean coat of fur. They stood parallel, looking from a cliff-face over a foggy and decrepit landscape of wilderness and ruins, while the blanket of night stretched atop them.
- On the right wall, a raging sea storm tossed about a massive caravel, the wooden ship being crunched apart by great, purple tentacles that reached from the angry waters to bind the vessel. Sailors leapt or fell overboard as parts of the ship crunched and crumpled under a brown sky, dark clouds split by veins of lightning and a curtain of rain.
- Finally, on the wall opposite them, was depicted a single eye, from which yellow sun-like beams emitted alongside shadowy parallels. The centered eye was unlike anything they had ever seen: a literal microchasm of a clear night's sky sprinkled with stars and adorned with a single, twinkling, pupil-like ball of white light in the center. Nothing about the eye seemed benevolent or peaceful; on the contrary, it was overbearing and penetrating, like a metaphor for every aspect of the feeling that "someone is watching".
The hairs on their backs stood on end as they investigated the room. Thaldrak walked about with his hands running along the smooth, stone walls, inspecting the mural, while Siras took note of the runes inscribed on the floor. She recognized them as those of a teleportation circle, and pointed this out to her companions. They all agreed that they should disrupt the circle, rubbing aside the runes once Siras inscribed them onto some parchment. Kay, Benthran and Siras then started outside as Thaldrak ran his hands along the far wall, and suddenly a voice entered his head. It seemed low and probing, uttering impossible, layered words of nonsense not ever pronouncable by the dwarf's tongue. He shuddered as he rushed to join his friends in the hall.
They continued along then, moving a few dozen feet to the right, where an identical, locked door awaited them. Kay got busy with the contraption, breaking out his tools and slipping them into the crevasse. Easily, the lock gave way as the mechanism became clear to the halfling, and the door unlocked. Cautiously, this time, they formed a plan to open the door, Thaldrak running downstairs to grab a table (while Benthran sipped… or chugged wine) to use as a barrier. Though despite their caution, no danger awaited them in the empty room, beyond. These walls were undecorated, though the floor was adorned with a similar teleportation circle. As they did in the previous room, Siras noted the runes and smudged the circle, and they continued on, again.
On the opposite end of the top floor was the smoke room – which they had already entered – and a room that they had yet to explore. Opposite that was a small closet stuffed full of ceremonial clothes from various regions and countries of Faerûn. Benthran wasted no time in dressing with a feathered hat and ceremonial tribal garb of leaves tucked about a harness… all of that beneath a massive fur coat. His brother could only roll his eyes.
As Kay got to work on the lock mechanism for this final door, they prepared themselves with the propped-up table and readied positions. The lock sprang, and they opened the door… but no trap awaited them. Inside was a large, double-bed with fanciful furniture and artwork; a bedroom. They entered, taking special care to eye any traps or out-of-place objects, and looked around the place. The only thing of note were some small paintings of Dragonborn children beside the bed, and a family portrait of sorts above the bed. In the portrait, a blue Dragonborn family stood – likely that of Haxiris – with man, wife, and two children. A tragic tale unfolded in their minds as they realized that Haxiris' wife and children were likely killed by the necrogen, and they sighed with a heavy heart as they thought of his reincarnated Orog corpse, downstairs, knowing that despite his efforts, his family line was at an end.
Benthran explored the far side of the room as Kay and Thaldrak thumbed about the portrait, searching for some hidden compartment. Benthran discovered only the toilet, but the others found a hidden indentation in the stone wall, hiding a sack of treasure, scrolls and gemstones. "His getaway bag…" Kay explained, doing a mental tally of the treasure before him. As they looked in the bag, Benthran walked over to the bedside. Before the bed was a wide, low chest that stretched from his new friends to the wall… nearly ten feet. Must be nice stuff, inside! Benthran thought, as he reached down to open it. "Wait, don't…!" Kay, Thaldrak and Siras shouted in unison, noticing just too late as the druid grabbed the clasp and pulled. Immediately, dark runes surrounding the lock puffed out a black, negative energy that quickly expanded and exploded, bursting out in a cacophonous FWOOM that enveloped the druid. He quivered as it stretched through his body, shaking his head when it finally stopped. His friends gave him quite the verbal lashing, then, as they shouted at him for being so stupid and risking their lives. Kay bent low to examine the chest, unlocked the clasp and saw a second trap, within… linked to a circle of death spell.
"Alright, so if you open this, I'll kill you!" Kay said, pointing his finger into Benthran's chest.
Siras looked down at the pair, and sighed, "Can we please get some rest before continuing to open trapped things…"
They agreed, and headed downstairs to find a safe place to rest. Astrus still laid atop Haxiris, where he now slept, occasionally muttering Draconic pleas of sorrow for Haxiris to return. They checked out the remaining rooms, being careful to not open any chests or wardrobes, finding one such chest in a hidden room along a storage of wine. The last two remaining rooms were an abandoned alchemy laboratory and a living room, of sorts… an eternal fire burning within the fireplace lighting the furniture in the room. Cots lined the perimeter as exotic sofas and tables filled the center. They decided to rest there, and set up camp for the night.
Before they rested, though, Arentian asked Astrus if it would be better to give the dead man a proper funeral, offering to fulfill Astrus' wishes. The dragon agreed, and the pair dragged Haxiris' corpse to the fireplace room, where Astrus obliterated it to ash with his dragon breath. They then set up to rest.
That night, their rest was troubled by eerie moaning and humming sounds coming from the second floor. Thaldrak told the others about the voice he had heard in his head, and they all agreed that the mural room was a troublesome place. Thaldrak went upstairs during his watch to have a look in the keyhole… and a bloodshot eye lowered to look at him, back. Withholding his shriek of surprise and slight terror, the dwarf rushed downstairs to tell the others. However, none could validate his claim, as they saw nothing in the keyhole, and nothing in the room. Thaldrak shuddered and shook his head, thinking that he only needed some extra sleep, and that the duress of the last days had begun to wear upon him.
Things only intensified during the watch of Benthran and Arentian. Benthran heard an eerie laughter in his head that echoed from up the stairs. At first he ignored it, but it began to beckon to him. Again, he tried to ignore it, going instead to the abandoned alchemy room in an attempt to mix up some potions or poltrices from the rotten ingredients. He had no success, however, and the voices only continued… one speaking with a whisper right in his ear. He spun around and saw a ghost of a little girl Dragonborn in the doorway, calling out to him. When he refused, she shrieked, shattering all the glass in the room. Thinking a fight with undead to be at hand, Benthran rushed out of the room to retrieve Arentian, but when they returned, they saw all the glass intact. Nothing had been broken, and Arentian did not hear the voices.
Benthran continued his watch, then, walking alongside Arentian. As they made their way up the stairs, the voices intensified. They came from the bedroom, and when Benthran checked inside, he saw a trio of ghosts… a female Dragonborn and two children. They bid him to enter, and could seemingly physically touch him. Arentian saw no such thing, though, and encouraged Benthran to leave the room and ignore the voices. Though the dwarf, now curious, let them lead him into one of the wardrobes, that depicted a painting of Haxiris with seven female wizards and one terribly old male wizard. As the ghosts disappeared behind the painting, Benthran moved it aside and saw a small tunnel, leading onward into deep, ultimate blackness.
He shook his head, though, and pulled away from the ghosts, joining Arentian and telling him what he saw. They agreed to check it out the next morning, after a good rest and with all of their friends.
They did so, returning to the room to finish their exploration, for one, and tend to their druid companion's claim, for two. They all saw the hole in the wardrobe, and the tunnel that led down to the blackness. Even with Razzik's Eye, Kay saw nothing but a spinning void, an eerie black emptyness. The ghosts remained, but none could see them save for Benthran. They did as they had the previous night, and led him on into the tunnel. Feeling that this was somehow important, Benthran complied with their urges, and climbed into the tunnel. They all watched as Benthran crawled further and further, but twenty feet into the congested space, when Benthran's hand reached out into the blackness, he felt a terrible vaccuum tug at him and a searing pain from his elbow as he howled in surprise and pain. He backed up as fast as he could, the others rushing forward to pull him out, as he looked at where his hand had used to be… a stump was left behind, bleeding and torn like it had been obliterated in an instant. Suddenly, realization came upon Siras and Kay as Thaldrak freaked out, grabbing at his healing kit and tending to his shocked and bleeding brother… who had just survived a near-death encounter with a sphere of annihilation.
Once all was said-and-done, they ensured that Benthran was alright to continue, and continued to explore the place. They wouldn't know it yet, but it was only the first of many terrible things to happen, that day. Kay set to work on the large, intricate lock mechanism that adorned the two doors they had yet to open. It took him a few hours, but when it was done, the door slid back into the wall, a thick iron slab that revealed a second iron door, with a simpler mechanism. Upon this door was depicted a strange, blobby outline of a peculiar shape. None of them could make anything of it, and they decided to unlock the next door. As they did so, and it, too, slid into a recess of the wall, it revealed a terrible sight. A horrific, tentacled creature – as large as a dragon - burst out from the room beyond which stank of dereliction and death. It crunched the bones and bodies of dead that lined the floor as it's four legs rushed toward the group, and it's mouth tentacles reached out to snatch or lash them.
A cone of mental energy first fell upon them, then, – FWOOP – as they staggered with the blast. Weapons were drawn as they flung into combat, trading blows with the thing. Benthran transformed into a bear as they slashed and jabbed at purple tentacles that swooped out to wrap onto Benthran and nearly onto Kay. Thinking Benthran tough and safe, they were shocked to see the tentacle crush the bear into submission, as the form reverted to the one-handed dwarf. Desperately, they worked to free their companion, rushing onward to slash at it more, as milky white blood poured out onto the floor and mixed with their own.
They could only watch in horror, though, as the longest tentacle of the thing tore a hole under Benthran's cheek and jabbed into his face, sliding under his skin and penetrating the cheek of his skull. He shrieked in agony and fear as the loud crunching of bone stopped and was replaced by a sucking and slurping, as his face went blank and his thrashing body quivered, then stopped moving. It consumed his brain.
Tossing aside his body, the creature met a raging Thaldrak, who cried out in emotional agony and denial, screaming to the gods for tearing away his brother, at this creature for killing him, mere days from being reunited. He rose his weapon and jabbed or slashed, backed up by the quickening from Siras and daggers that sailed above his head and into the creature. Siras and Kay unleashed their own magical or thrown fury, respectively, but neither could match that of Thaldrak. They took blow after blow, but soon emerged victorious… the creature's head lopped clean off by Thaldrak's blade as white, thick blood sprayed out from it's neck. It writhed about, jerking in the spasms of death as Thaldrak fell to his knees in grief.
When he did so, as the battle rage ceased, his eyes fell to the ground, at the decomposing bodies that littered the room, of which his brother's was one. There, his grief was multiplied logarithmically, as he saw a second corpse that he recognized… Gwennys. For months… nearly a year… he had been searching for her. Desperately, trying to right an incidental wrong. Long ago, he had been charged with escorting her – a diplomat – from Mithral Hall to Waterdeep. However, after a few drinks at an inn en route, he slumped into an unusual slumber and when he awoke, she was nowhere to be found. Since then, he had seen no sign of her, and had been stripped of his honor, his dignity and pride. All of that felt torn from him, lost to the winds of fate by this terrible creature and those who had kept it, as he wept for a long, long time.
Kay, Arentian and Siras moved into the room to comfort their friend and take full inventory of the terrible sight, then noticing behind the creature a peculiar sight. A massive silver egg – the size of a human being – laid upright in the center of the room. It shone as if a light glimmered upon it, revealing it's various metallic contours. It looked almost as if it were a metallic statue cast from a forge, with contours and textures resembling that of hardened molten metal. Arentian examined it from a distance, knowing full-well what it could imply. Though Siras placed her hand upon it, recalling that her prayers to Bahamut had in recent days gone unanswered, and felt the warmth of life. Before pointing it out to the others, she, too, looked about… and she, too, noticed a corpse that triggered recognition in her mind. Her brother… her other brother… laid dead on the ground. She searched his body, immediately, finding some papers hastily etched in an unfamiliar language. She pocketed them and moved alongside Thaldrak, who continued to weep, his shoulders shaking.
As his tides of his tears began to stem, Thaldrak wiped away the wetness of blood and sorrow from his face and growing beard, then began the terribly morbid task of investigating Gwenny's corpse. She was nude, but in her hand clutched a single pebble-sized object. He took it, and examined it more carefully. It was a note wrapped about a seemingly inconspicuous stone, but Thaldrak immediately recognized it as a Diplomat Stone; an object kept by dwarven diplomats to leave one-time verbal messages for themselves or others, activated by a codeword. He read the instructions on the note, and spoke it aloud. The stone warmed as it glowed bright red, and he heard the message in his mind.
Once finished, Thaldrak stood, thinking to tell his companions about the message at a more appropriate moment. He examined the egg, which he recognized to look nearly identical to Mithril, a precious nearly-magical metal found deep in the most rich of Dwarven mines. Siras explained that it was a Dragon egg, and likely that of a metallic dragon. They agreed to keep it safe, and together rolled it to a far corner of the house.
They then decided to finish the task of exploring the house, before moving to take another rest. They headed to the bedroom, and Kay set to the task of defusing the Circle of Death spell. As he did so, he saw in the chest a single, massive, unimpressive tome, as well as a few other objects, among them a bottled potion and two scrolls. Siras identified one of the scrolls, etched with white ink on paper black as ash or obsidian… a scroll of Power Word: Kill, the most evil and deadly spell known to magic. She then took the book, written in Draconic, and began to read it, as the others investigated the black box that was also in the chest. They found a music box atop the side table, and Kay assured them that it was not trapped. As he opened it, a song began to chime. They shrugged, looking at the little aquamarine, mechanical draconic figurines that danced about atop it, and continued to explore. While they did this, Siras read the book, which apparently documented Haxiris' life story, thus far.
She didn't get far, though, as Kay grabbed the music box and lifted it, the bottom gave out, and a familiar stone plummetted onto the ground… "Oh no," Kay said, under his breath, as the room suddenly filled with a raging inferno, fire exploding outward from the pearl-sized stone that hit the ground. Everything non-magical and flammable was incinerated in the blast, including the book and all of their clothes and hair. Siras and Arentian went down, nearly gripped by the firey hand of death, but were thankfully saved by Thaldrak's healer's kit. Shaking off the pain of their misfortune, they gathered their senses and looked about the charred room.
"Dammit!" Kay shouted, "Not this, again!"
Siras, too, bit back her frustration, her face flushed with the heat, but also the frustration of knowing that she will never read the book they found.
Then, they continued downstairs, investigating the last, remaining chest of the hideout. There, they uncovered a pair of magical boots and other various items, of which included a magical staff that appeared as an icicle topped by some kind of tribal beads and ceramics. As Arentian gripped it in his hands, he sought to figure out what it did, and pointed it at a corner of the room, willing power out of the item.
Unfortunately for them, this power arrived… as a storm of ice and wind lashed out of the staff and into their faces, filling the room with a plume of cutting iced glass and frigid, biting wind. It stopped as suddenly as it started, though, as Siras and Arentian went down, again, for the second time that day.
Cursing audibly at the absurdity of the situation, Thaldrak rushed to them to tend their wounds. "You… stupid!" He shouted at Arentian. "Stupid! I have only enough bandages for one more of these!"
Their rest began, Thaldrak took watch. Not long after, he heard activity when the front doors of the hideout began to move. Fearing the worst, he awoke the others and prepared for combat, thinking that the Death Knight had returned to finish what he'd started. Thankfully, that was not the case, as a spectral wizard – Dumbledilp, by his word – emerged. Dilp explained that during the battle, Virro had triggered a magical tear that sucked her, Zanzibar and Dilp to the Astral plane. Once there, Dilp saw no discernable sign of the pair, but took immediate notice of the disarray and chaotic organization that was the astral plane. He tried to explain this succinctly to Thaldrak, but the abstractness of it all detracted from the purpose, as Dilp rounded to the point to explain that when he tried to teleport back to the Material plane, his corporeal form remained behind. This left him unable to interact with the physical world outside of magical objects and divination spells. He pointed then to a bag of holding that hung from his shoulder, and explained that he had returned to bring the party aid, knowing full well what had transpired in the hideout and seeking answers of his own.
Satisfied with this, Thaldrak brought him in to speak to the others. There, they informed Dilp about their story from beginning to end, being careful to leave out details that he needn't need to know. In turn, Dilp informed them of something that Siras had learned, herself… Silverhand was supposedly alive and well, or at least someone posing as her was, in Waterdeep. Siras learned this as she magically contacted her mother.
By the end of their long, exhausting conversation, the group agreed on a few things. First, they needed sleep. Next, they had some planning to do… A LOT of planning… as too many things needed their attention.
The next morning, Dumbledilp produced the sack and showed them what he had brought. In addition to what they had found on the dead combatants, Dilp produced a small arsenal of his own. He distributed the items and investigated or identified those they had found in the hideout, laying everything out so they could decide who would weild what. What caught their attention most, though, was the black box.
"A deck of many things!" Dumbledilp shouted, his spectal voice echoing in the room. He explained what the item did, and the various risks and potential rewards that awaited those who would choose to draw from it. "This is one of the most powerful magical artifacts in existence… yes, an artifact!" Dumbledilp cautioned. "Drawing from it warps the very fabric of time and space itself, as the weave enacts to induce the fate called upon by the card! I know only of the most terrible and the most incredible of these … the worst is the Donjon, a terrible card that, when drawn, traps the drawer somewhere unbeknownst to all; sealed away in a limbo for all time! But the best… the best card yields unto you up to 3 uses of the spell Wish… which can, upon it's casting, alter reality and re-weave the fates, themselves! You could wish an entire being into or out of existence… think of the possibilities! There are many of these such decks, with differing numbers of cards. I count… 53, here? So that's 51 possibilities that I could never tell you."
As Dumbledilp explained how the deck was used, they felt the tingle of the possibilities. What if they drew something that would help them in defeating the guild… or what if they got use of that wish spell?? The prospect was too enticing to miss… and they did draw.
As they finished their draws, the effects happened simultaneously… a sudden lightening of Thaldrak's pack and then, POOF, the disappearance of Arentian. "Oh no!" Dumbledilp cried aloud… "The Donjon!"
As they recovered from the theft of their companion from their party simply by the cruel hand of fate, the group took inventory of what had happened. Thaldrak lost all of his wealth, and all the wealth of the group had also disappeared. This meant the pounds and pounds of platinum that they had found! They cursed aloud when realizing this, feeling as though Tymora herself has twisted this luck against them.
After the shock had worn off, they tried to think of a way to recover Arentian, but the disbelief of the situation was real; there was nothing they could do. Distraught, they moved on to the next order of business… reincarnating Hector, the only dead person whose body remained, intact. Dumbledilp had granted them three reincarnation scrolls, and they intended to use at least one to bring back the mighty paladin. Unfortunately, upon the first casting, he was brought back as a Dragonborn. Realizing the implications in light of the necrogen, Dilp ordered him killed and a redo… as they used a second scroll. This time, Hector re-emerged as a halfling, stout and Kay-sized with dark, long, waivy hair and a glorious moustache.
Needless to say, the paladin wasn't overly pleased with his transformation. He loudly bickered with Dilp and Sirus for a while before the group brought him up to speed on what was happening.
"Okay then, so…" Hector looked between them, "What next?"
"Well, we have a number of threats," Dumbledilp began,
"And no easy way of getting to any of them," Thaldrak said.
"We could go to my mother?" Siras suggested, openly.
"Siras, your mother is in Luskan. So far as we know, that is where this guild is based," Kay began, "It took us nearly a month to get here, it would take twice as long to get to Luskan, or more!"
"Right, we have a problem of transportation," Dilp nodded in agreement. "And I might have a solution. The gnomes nearby, in the village named Ieirithymbul, they have an airship. That's the short story. They're shipwrecked explorers from Lantan, an island far to the south that worships Gond, the God of invention and innovation. They owe me a favor, and if you can get their airship working again – which I know how to do – then maybe they will let you use it. Or if not, at least you can sail with them to Lantan and purchase a new one."
"With what money?" Siras asked, exasperated, "we lost all of our gold!"
"Well, one thing at a time," Dilp responded. "So?"
They agreed, and set off to the village. Once there, they were greeted by a fairly grumpy old, black gnome. All the gnomes were black, they noticed. And not black like those from the southern lands, but black like a drow. Deep gnomes; svirnebli!
Their village seemed largely built underground, with only the tops of the structures protruding from the ground. Each of them were interconnected by large, rotating logs which eventually led to string of massive water mill buildings. They went through the typical process of being vetted by the gnomes, checked for security reasons and brought over to the town inn, where they had gathered to discuss "serious matters". When they entered the large, packed inn, though – and it was packed with at least 80 of the gnomes – they immediately noticed something odd. And not the conveyor belts that sent drinks and snack flying across the room, nor the gears spinning on the walls or the peculiar bottles of liquor that seemed to litter the shelves randomly placed in blank spaces between them. Standing in the center of the inn, drinking from the bar, was a familiar red-haired woman. Fair-skinned and donning only simple armor, she wore a belt made of beast hides that was far too large for her waist, and her muscles seemed to bulge beyond what they would expect… yet they thought it was… Bree Hodge?
"You guys! I've been looking for you fucking guys for weeks!" The woman arose in a fury and slammed her glass onto the bar table, smashing it into pieces.
What ensued was a tirade of curse words and ranting by Bree, who had been searching for Arentian. Apparently, the young, silver-haired slick had knocked her up those weeks ago in Ravenstone! She was upset that he had never communicated back to her with the ring he had supposedly picked up from the masked Lord in Waterdeep; little did she know, however, that it had been taken by the Garrote. As the tirade neared it's end, the wrinkled svirfnebli leader spoke up and demanded answers concerning the flying island – yes, island – that had appeared above the mountains.
Flabbergasted by this claim, the group refused to believe that such a thing had appeared; they had never seen it, after all! But Bree affirmed the claim – a floating island, complete with an overgrown city, had appeared above the mountains before being obscured by clouds a few short hours later. Having lived through a metaphorical, magical rollercoaster ride in the last day or two, the party collectively moaned and thought back to the Deck of Many Things.
They agreed to help the gnomes investigate the island, but first had to undergo a kind of test to permit their free traversal around the community. Kay and, surprisingly, Bree, both passed the test of knowledge, but Thaldrak and Siras were unable to answer the gnome's questions. Thus, Kay spent his time in the town bar, aiming to get ahold of the bottle Dilp had earlier referred to (while pocketing something for himself) as Siras helped him with a few songs to distract what gnomes remained. Meanwhile, Bree and Thaldrak visited the shrine of Gond, built by the gnomes to the God of Invention.
Having completed his task, Kay then turned in for rest before the others joined, as they discussed their plan of action. It was here that Bree decided to follow and help the group – so long as they would find Arentian, so she could punish him herself, of course. After a restful night in the gnomish town, Kay headed with Bree to attempt to repair the gnomes' fallen airship. According to Dilp, the task shouldn't be too difficult. Dilp had informed Kay that a
- Kay fixed the ship, but activated the Epoch Engine, which physically aged him nearly a century
- The group departed together with the gnome leader to investigate the island.
- En route, the party was assaulted by a gargantuan Roc, together with a flock of smaller birds
- Their ship was nearly destroyed, and they crashed into the side of the island. The epoch engine became tangled in the vines overtaking the place, but they managed to climb to the safety of it's floating surface.
- They explored the small ruins of the city on the island, which was over-run with living plant-like creatures. A giant treant occupied the center of the city.
- They entered the largest building in the center of the city. There, they saw a massive white globe, and met Congenio Ioun, a Netherese Lich and creator of the famed Ioun stones.
- Ioun asked if they would lift the curse of the island, but was vague about what this was and how it would be accomplished. He sealed the doors of the cathedral behind the party and undead attacked them.
- The group defeated the undead and learned from Ioun that they had to descend to the bowels of the city beneath the cathedral and find his phylactery, then destroy it.
- They headed down and decimated another group of undead in a close fight whereupon they incidentally summoned a unicorn named Heather from the Beastlands, and nearly became the victims of a horrific banshee.
- In these catacombs, they encountered five differently-shaped doors which were marked with different runes. They discussed which they should take, and recognized one of the runes as matching the same on the Oculus Eye stone in the center of the Lockridge Mine near the monastery.
- They investigated each door. One was triangular and led to a small passage down, either circle doors were both frigid cold or scalding hot, the massive rectangular door was heavily fortified, and produced loud banging noises as Kay approached. The final door was unremarkable and held a humid atmosphere.
- They decided to head toward one of the square doors that felt humid. Kay opened the door easily, and behind it they observed the decrepit remains of a jungle overflowing with undead dinosaurs.
- While investigating, the party mistakenly lured a zombie T-rex out of the wooded area. Siras attacked it with a fireball, and it engaged them in horrible combat. They easily defeated it before quickly investigating the area before it burned down – Siras stopping briefly to channel T'avin, decimating a group of a dozen Velociraptors with a single Fireball spell.
- They then opened the warm circle door, where they encountered a Fire Giant named Ephestiphus. He emerged naked from boiling lava, attacking them. They defeated him rather easily, however, and he told them that a dragon was kept behind the rectangular doors, and that a Frost Giant was kept behind the other circular doors. They made him promise to help them fight the dragon, reasoning that it likely guarded the phylactery.
- Following this encounter they confronted the Frost Giant, who was named Harshnag ("Hashtag"). He formed a bond with the party almost immediately, thanks to his carefree, agreeable nature… with a healthy side of overconfidence and aggression. He, too, agreed to help them fight the dragon.
- After a rest to prepare, they headed to the large door and initiated the hardest fight of their lives, so far… against a Dracolich and nearly two-dozen of his skeleton cronies. While they nearly lost both Harshnag and Bree – and Ephestiphus died – they decimated the skeletons and defeated the Dracolich, capturing it in the Cubic Prism, the Octochoron.
- Their victory was bittersweet, however, as they did not find the phylactery in the room the Dragon obviously guarded. Instead they found a single piece of parchment, that seemed to contain a code or puzzle. Siras and Kay immediately took interest.
- They headed down to the final layer beneath the place, then, where they encountered a peculiar individual of unknown origins and make named the Earthbinder. He was bald and muscular, with spectacles dangling at the tip of his nose. His skin was a leathery brown, rough and textured, covered in red, swirling and thorned tribal tattoos. Purple strips of fabric dangled from his collarbone with no visible way of physically hanging from his body, giving the impression of a shoulder-less robe. He was surrounded by wispy creatures of various elements and makes that seemed to giggle and cackle while they spoke in high-pitched, jittery voices, in an unknown language.
- They learned that the man – or being – was some kind of representative of an ancient being known as the Terraseer. The Earthbinder told them that the Terraseer foresaw Karsus' Folly and advised many Netheril cities to flee to other planes of existence. Several fled to the Shadowfel, but Ioun instead directed the Earthbinder to send them to the Feywild. There, their magics did not work, and while the island remained suspended, they could not leave to retreive food or water. Eventually, the population started to starve, and Ioun asked the Earthbinder to enact the curse – turn them undead, and Ioun into a lich. It was meant to be temporary, reversible for up to a century, but much more time than that had passed, and it was too late. He directed the group to the Phylactery, which he kept above his bed, and Thaldrak destroyed.
- The Earthbinder claimed that he was responsible for controlling the Mythallar, the large sphere in the cathedral that suspended the city from the ground and gave it it's magic. He explained what the city could do and how he would permit ownership of the place to the party.
- Furthermore, the Earthbinder agreed with the party's cause and offered to help, telling them that the Netheril did not, in fact, pen the Nether Scrolls, but merely found them. They were written by an ancient race – one of the first sentient races on Toril, a "creator race" - known as the Sarrukh.
- The party told him about the Epoch Engine and asked Harshnag to retrieve it, and asked the Earthbinder to teleport them down to Dumbledilp, so that they could explain their situation.
- Once below, they explained what had transpired to Dumbledilp, who had informed them that he had penned a list of trusted contacts that they could hire or recruit to accomplish more than one task; forming strike teams of agents while the party took care of the most pressing objectives.