Orborros

The account of Henk and Bareris

 

Foremost, let me say that it feels good to have ink and quill at my disposal once again. For this, and for saving the life of me and my friends, I would like to thank Mirri. Without consideration for her own safety she wrestled a dragon to the ground and pinned him there. A feat worthy of mythic songs and tales.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The account of events that befell my friend Bareris and I shall start much earlier, but still in medias res. Our flight and route from the ruins of Arcarost.

Together with the rest of our party, Landerr the hunter, Anzo the mage, Zora the sage and our leader Wilby, we had set out to explore the ruins of the infamous city of Arcarost. During a previous quest we had come in to possession of a key that could open up a vault of untold riches. We were now in search of that vault. We had payed no heed to the warnings of others who said that Arcarost was too dangerous and that venturing there meant certain doom. We were sure of our abilities and certain of our strength. We were fools.

The unwavering onslaught of enemies wore us down. Our mages could not rest to regain their spells and our warriors became exhausted by the constant battle they had to wage. It did not take long before our optimistic venture in to the ruins turned in to a hastily and unorganized retreat.  How exactly It happened I do not know, but during our escape from the enemies assailing us, Bareris and I lost track of the rest of our group. Finding ourselves alone in the dark streets of the abandoned city we took refuge in an old tower. Some ancient and unstable magic must have lingered there however, for as we searched the ruins we suddenly found ourselves transported to a cold dead forest beneath a dark and cloudy sky.

Exhausted by the earlier battles we quickly made camp and huddled together by the warm fire. I recalled stories of travelers who had traveled to a similar land called the Shadowfell. A land of evil fey and undead monstrosities and even though I had some basic knowledge of this plane, I could think of no way to get back home.

The night was uneventful and despite all our worries, we rested well. The gloomy morning brought, despite all odds, new hope and energy. We traveled south, away from the grim mountains that reminded us of the ruins of Arcarost. Soon the dead trees fell away and the forest turned in to ragged hills. We roamed these hills for several days, finding no sign of any inhabitants. Eventually we came upon an all too familiar sight. A small caravan of merchants was beset by raiders. The caravan’s guards had done their job well and had reduced the attackers to a mere handful, but they had payed for these deaths with their own lives. Without any remaining defenders the remaining assailants were beginning to ransack the wagons. The drivers and passengers were either dead of fleeing.

Frustrated by the passed events, Bareris and I took this opportunity to impart some cathartic justice upon these ruffians. The first two fell before they realized more enemies had joined the fray and the rest were either defeated without difficulty, or quickly fled in to the surrounding hills.

The caravan’s owners and passengers thanked us and offered us much needed supplies and passage to a nearby settlement in exchange for continued protection.

I feel I must make a quick and short note here regarding the race of our new patrons. As other scholars are well aware, humans, dwarves and other well-known races of our world are rather rare in the Shadowfell.  Therefore, while I can say that the caravan was manned with normal drivers and passengers, I mean to say normal for the Shadowfell. Our new travel companions were mostly fey creatures, dark elves and a race formerly unknown to me, called the Ervid. It is here that Elanna makes an entry in to our story as she is one of these Ervid, a race of tall and slender humanoids with doe-like ears and large horns.

Elanna was one of the passengers. She was on her way to the west, towards a region she called the Feylands border. Here she believed to know a passage that would lead to the Feywild, a more pleasant plane of fey and elves. Recalling that elves existed on both our world and the Feywild, I hoped to find a way back home with them, so with her in agreement we joined her on her path.

Our stay in the nearby settlement was short but rather unsettling, for me at least. I do not think Bareris noticed much of the gloom and corruption of Grinner Hall as he became ever more entranced with the fair Elanna. It quickly became apparent that she returned his affections and not long after we left Grinner Hall, they consummated their relationship, sadly to say not far from where I was trying to sleep.

Our travels returned us to the dead forest where first we had entered this world. Elanna lead us deeper in to the once green thick of rotting wood until we came upon an abandoned village. Still littered with the rotting corpses of humans, we could not determine what disaster had befallen the inhabitants of the town.  We decided to stay there for the night and took shelter in the largest building we could find, a once beautiful gothic mansion.

It is here that we discovered something amazing. A magical crystal of an otherworldly and intensely dark beauty. It hung suspended in a magical field in the middle of the mansion’s sitting room. It radiated both power and sadness. Venturing near it brought about an unsettling feeling of loss and melancholy, as if feeling the last dying emotions of hundreds of people. While Bareris secured out hideout I set myself to the task of studying the artifact. I could not determine much. As far as I could tell it was bound to this plane, drawing upon the shadowy energy that flows through it, focusing it for some unknown purpose. I tried, unsuccessfully, to remove it from its suspension. Nothing happened. As Bareris and Elanna settled down for the night, I could not turn my attention away from the mysterious crystal.

Maybe it was my continues examination that alerted the artifact’s master to our presence, or maybe he was simply making a routine inspection. We shall never know. Whatever the case may be, a few hours in to the night, we were disturbed by the arrival of Umferat, a shadow dragon.

According to Elanna, who knew about Umferat and almost went insane with fear as she realized who had arrived, Umferat is a mighty wizard as well as a dragon. He has claimed the entire region as his own and demands fealty and tribute from nearby Grinner Hall.

The dragon was furious at our trespassing in the village. He proclaimed it to be holy ground off-limits to anyone on pain of death. I tried to negotiate our way out, but the dragon became paranoid the moment I mentioned the crystal. A fight was inevitable. It did not take long for us to realize we were no match for this mighty beast and so, at least, we managed to procure a safe escape for Elanna with what we believed would be the cost of our lives.

Umferat did not kill us however. He imprisoned us inside the mansion and would return to question us at length. He created wights to guard us when he was away but never left us alone for long. For some reason the dragon was convinced we had been sent by someone named Gob Mara to steal the crystal.

I am sure eventually the beast would have either seen that we had accidentally stumbled upon his prize or would have grown tired of us. At that time he would no doubt have killed us. Thankfully, Elanna returned.

And she did not return alone. Elanna had brought with her old friends we had made on our way to Arcarost. On a quest in the Shadowfell to cure one of their own they had already saved Elanna from the Gobgrins of Grinner Hall that had captured her after she had fled the dragon, and now had accompanied her to save us.

Although these heroes managed to slay our wight guards with little effort, the dragon still awaited them.

The cunning gnome tricked Umferat in accepting a challenge from Miri, a human woman, to a wrestling match. At first he laughed at the idea that she might best him. The contest was a thriller however as both wrestlers kept escaping each other’s grasps. Finally however, Miri managed to lock down the dragon’s wings and threw him on his back, pinning him beneath her boots. Umferat had been bested.

Despite the dragon’s evil nature, he kept his word and allowed us to leave his territory. And so, that is how I find myself now, in good company on my way back home through a magical portal my friends happen to know about.

The past few weeks have been humbling, but exciting none the less. I have decided to stop questing for a while, write down my adventures and recount the histories of my former party. I feel my tale is worthy of telling and some of my old friends, who apparently have fallen to the evil of Arcarost, should be honored and remembered.

From the heart,

Henk

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Faerin's eleventh letter
The deeds of Thorin the Great

To the sisters Thora and Fin Trollsbane,

I hope you are well.

I know you don’t want to hear from us. But we have recently discovered some information that is critical to every Dwarf in the Beinhall Hills. I have sent similar letters to every Dwarven hall and Vosark Untgart who should be around in Woodsong as well. Read carefully, your lives may depend on it.

We returned home to Khan Hall several days ago with our companions, Nissa, Miri, Fierna and Faera, but found things changed in our absence. Our leader, Tukas Khan had become more erratic as of late and my of the clan’s responsibilities had been assumed by our father, Bain Khan. The earthquake that followed the High Peak collapse had mostly spared Khan hall, yet there was some visible damage to be found and as we learned later most of the true damage was hidden.

We received a warm welcome by our family, even as we are ever penitent for our deeds and mistakes. Thorin especially, who has grown contemplative and remains ever humble. We asked to be judged but our father, who is strict but fair, joined with the earlier judgement of Vosark that our misdeeds balanced out against the good that we had accomplished.  

We gave our travelling companions the grand tour of Khan Hall, showing them the renowned Khan Forge and the world-famous Khan Brewery. We then set them up in the local inn. There we encountered Elder Azmag Balderk and his advisor Fastian Torunn, who had travelled to Khan Hall in the hopes of arranging a Dwarven Moot to elect a King for all the clans. That evening, we had a gathering of the Khan family members where we told our tales and sang the Dwarven songs of old. Meeting our family and talking to our father, we learned that an ancient Dwarven rune has been resurfacing lately. It is a rune my companions and I have encountered before. It was worn on the armor of a mysterious black knight who declared himself the enemy of all Dwarfs.  The rune translates simply to “War” and all Dwarfs used to become sick just at the sight of it. However now that it is appearing more and more often, we have become accustomed to it.

The next morning, we went to see Tukas Khan, our clan elder. His room was a mess of books and scrolls. His speech was erratic and disjoined.  Yet he was hard to ignore, even if he seemed confused. Tukas requested to see all of our travelling companions. So I sent my sister, Lyn to rouse Fierna from her sleep and went to get Nissa and Miri who had journeyed outside the walls. In the meantime, Thorin gave Tukas a quick check-up to see if there were any obvious medical reasons for his behaviour. Indeed, Thorin is a very able doctor and he is more than capable of taking care of his family. After Thorin declared Tukas sound, we continued our discussion. 

What Tukas told us then, as hard as it might be to believe, was the true history of how the Dwarfs came to Beinhall Hills. It is a history that we have deliberately forgotten and one that we have keeping a secret from the people of Woodsong and the Arcarost Valley. I will leave it up to the judgement of every Dwarf what they will do with this information, but it has become essential that we regain this knowledge. Tukas told us, and we now have evidence that he was right, that we all originated as Mountain Dwarfs in the Wild Peaks, a mountain range far to west of Arcarost Valley. There was a grand Dwarven Empire that spanned the entire range. These Dwaves ruled these moutains with magic and metal, fighting against the uncivilised giants, kobolds and dragons. One day these Dwarves encountered the human empire Thronehold, which used the contain the Jewels and much more. Our ancestors could not stand the presence of the Humans at the doorstep, they hated them for aspiring to be greater and were jealous of their magic. And so the Dwarves declared war and turned on the villages and towns close to the Wild Peaks. Thronehold seemed like it was bound to lose and be pushed away, until the ascension of Math Mathamby caused a turn in the tide. With an man-made god on their side, Thronehold pushed the Dwarves back deep within the Wild Peaks. But in the end it was still Thronehold that collapsed for reasons that my historic knowledge evades me. My brother Thorin is the scholar warrior. The Dwarves were then left with a choice, make peace with the fractured humans or continue the war and finally eliminate the threat. This caused a rift in Dwarven society, some followed the path of peace, others the path of war. Our ancestors were the latter and to this end they made a deal with Morrigan, the godess of War. She sent an avatar, known only as War, to fight the humans. War was an enormous black knight with a black sword and shield. The humans now divided after the fall of Thronehold never stood a chance. War killed numerous humans, wiped out entire villages, not only the fighters, but the elderly, women and children were slain. Mass atrocities were committed by War and they were all done in the name of the Dwarfs. Our ancestors, seeing the pain and slaughter they caused, lived to regret it. And so they betrayed War. They forged the magical weapon Peacebringer, lured War into a trap, slew him and imprisoned him. From then on the name of the avatar, War, became a symbol of disgust amongst our kin. Those clans that had first called on War, were outcast from the Wild Peaks and they wandered. They found themselves hated and rejected from all places, for everyone had heard of their misdeeds. But our ancestors then heard of the fall of Arcarost and travelled to this region, hoping to start anew. There they encountered the peoples of Woodsong, who lived so isolated that they were unaware of the war between the Dwarves and Humans. And so they settled here, burying their vile past in the First Hall near the Moot circle. The stories never told to the children, never spoken aloud, never shared with outsiders, until they were only remembered by the oldest in our clans. The symbol of War the avatar was gone, but has now returned. There are even some Dwarfs who have started exploring the usage of the War rune in their craft.

The only Dwarf who still knew about the dangers of War was Tukas and everyone thought his ramblings were the first signs of his senility. Thus he tasked us to travel to the First Hall and recover the lost records so that he can warn the clans about the dangers that are approaching. Although our father had warned us not to indulge Tukas, but what he was saying matched too close to our experiences. Thorin, as our valiant leader, decided that it was critical that we discover if there was truth behind this myth. And so we set out to the Moot Circle near Loderr Hall.

After a quick trek fuelled by Dwarven travel songs, we arrived in the late afternoon. The old stones of the Moot Circle welcomed us. However as we had been told, several of the stones had been knocked over in the recent earthquake. One of these revealed a cavern that would hopefully lead us to the First Hall of the Beinhall Hill Dwarfs.

The cave was clearly natural but had been reinforced in many places. Some parts had been partially collapsed but it was on the whole still easily traversable. The cave reeked of moss and fungi. Tree roots had overgrown many of the reinforcements and small spiders and rodents scuttled about. Fifteen minutes into the cave, the reinforcements turned to stone and it widened into a Dwarven Hall. Torches had been fixed to the walls and were recently lit. Our companions Miri and Nissa noticed the tracks of a single Dwarf.

As we continued on, we stumbled upon a small tent encampement with a goat pen. Unsure of who could be staying here, we did a quick search and found a backpack that featured the inscriptions og the Torunn Clan. The cave went on and grew smaller again. The cave was much narrower but alcoves had been worked into the walls. Thorin in his wisdom immediately knew that we had entered Dwarven catacombs and so we continued with the proper respect for the dead. Half an hour later we exited the cave and entered a narrow canyon. 

And there it was, as Tukas has said, the First Hall. The construction was ancient but still looked sturdy as can be expected from Dwarven make. We carefully entered and found the ancient hall to be filled to the brim with books and scrolls. However it also had an occupant. A stout Dwarf with monk’s clothing. He had darkened skin, a short grey beard and a white right eye. He called himself Urzo Torunn and Thorin was immediately suspicious. Urzo claimed to have been at the First Hall for a year now and was researching the Dwarven history. He said he had found an old diary that had described the location of the First Hall and that he had climbed down from the hills into the canyon. Our divine magic could not make sense of him as he seemed to be both Fiend and Dwarf at the same time. Urzo did not impede our own search of the First Hall and so we looked around. All books were written in Dwarf, save one in celestial that is now in the possession of Nissa. Miri started displacing books and antagonising Urzo until he could no longer take it. He revealed himself as a bone devil, a result of the fiend pact that some members of the Torunn clan had made recently. He was therefore the same Urzo Torunn who made the original deal. 

In his bone devil form Urzo crashed into Miri and with his claws and tail drew blood. Nissa immediately used her connection with the surrounding nature to summon a pack of wolves upon the bone devil. Fierna used her magic to blind the creature. But it was Thorin that was the true hero of the battle. He stepped forward and cast forward divine light. He summoned a radiant handaxe whose make and markings would be familiar to you, Fin. And without any fear engaged the bone devil. Hoping to escape this dwarf that seemed to embody the living soul of Dianecht, the bone devil threw his full onslaught unto me. I could not hold the creature at bay and went down. But my brother, using his divine magic brought me right back into the fray. The bone devil sensed he had no chance to win against Thorin and threw himself down at his feet and begged for mercy. Thorin in his wisdom, granted the vile creature a reprive. Urzo revealed that he had been ordered to find Morrigan, who has apparently been missing for several years now. He had hoped to find information about the other-wordly location where the deal between Morrigan, the Dwarfs and the Humans was struck so many years again when War was betrayed. Thorin pitied the creature Urzo who claimed to be working on his ascension. And so because of his kind heart, Thorin cast out the creature from the Beinhall Hills, vowing the slay him should he ever return. Urzo agreed and made a hasty escape. 

We could then inspect the First Hall unimpeded and discovered several books and scrolls related to War and his rune. All of them confirmed the story told by Tukas. We also retrieved a book on ancient Dwarven Law, one on arcane enchantments and one on our clan’s genealogy. We rested and then returned back to Khan Hall. We were unable to fix the toppled stones of the Moot Circle and reseal the entrance the the valley so I tasked the First Noble Goat Guard to watch it and keep it safe.

We then returned to Khan Hall just in time to see a portion of the outer wall collapse. We rushed over to investigate the damage. At first no one knew what happened, an old storage room had simply just disappeared into the ground. But we soon realised that there was an old tunnel that ran under the collapsed section. We delivered the needed proof on War and the cursed rune to both elder Tukas and our father Bain. The question quickly settled, we went back to investigate the collapse. Myself, my brother and our companions volunteered to scout the old tunnel. 

After speaking to Dagnyn, our great-aunt who built much of Khan Hall, we learned that the tunnel that had collapsed led to an old quarry. We headed into the tunnel and found it to be passable despite the debris. As we continued, we noticed a large crack in the wall, likely caused by the earthquake before. However the damage was insufficient to explain the collapse. As we walked along the dark tunnel, I heard some ghostly whispers, seemingly calling my name. I still do not know what caused it. My companions seemed unperturbed by them. I am likely not as resilient as my brother Thorin in such circumstances. When we finally arrived in the quarry we found the culprit of the collapse. An old storage shed containing black powder had detonated. It seemed like the recent earthquake had loosened a rock in the ceiling of the quarry, which had only recently dropped down and exploded the shed. Nothing remained anymore of either the shed or the rock that fell upon it, but the blast seemed more than sufficient to cause the collapse.

Interestingly, the crater where the shed once stood now revealed a cavern below. Thorin leaped in without a moments hesitation, the brave soul that he is. At first the cavern remained dark and quiet, but without warning six crab people jumped at Thorin. None of us had ever seen anything like these beings. They were huge, with the bodies of crabs with huge pincers and the torso’s of men. The were vicious and ruthless but no match for Thorin the Brave. With ease Thorin deflected blow after blow from the crab people. With his divine might he pushed back against his foes. By the time the rest of us arrived to help, the crab people were almost in full retreat out of fear. We closed off the entrance to the cave and headed back to Khan Hall.  

We reported our findings to our elder Tukas and just when we were about to call it a day and a victory, we learned the most dire of news. Our youngest sister Lyn was missing! No one had seen her since shortly after the collapse. Our mother Ilde had already searched the entirety of Khan Hall and could no longer find her. Lyn has always had a rebellious streak but she had never disappeared like this before. We searched outside of Khan Hall for tracks but could not find any. We eventually resorted to magic to find Lyn. We got our mother Ilde to cast a druidic spell that would point in the direction of where Lyn’s armband was. We hoped that Lyn was still wearing it as she hasn’t separated from since our father gave it to her six years ago after a lucrative trade deal. Ilde formed the necessary symbols in the soft underground with a small root-knot staff and focused.

As we feared, the spell indicated that Lyn was deep underground in the direction of the old quarry. Furthermore she was deep within the cavern structure that housed the crab people. We stopped our kinsmen who were sealing up the cavern with a large stone slab and journeyed inwards once more. We followed the passage unto a large cavern with a bright pool in the centre. Hiding in a corner was another one of the creatures, this one was much larger than the previous ones. Far less human and much more crustaceous. Yet it stayed back, likely it had already heard from its kin about the battle prowess of Thorin. This allowed us to try diplomacy for a change with the new creatures. 

We learned that the creatures speak undercommon and called themselves Brachura. They had indeed captured our sister and were interrogating her, believing her to be a forward scout. We negotiated a deal, we would allow us to be taken without our weapons, even the feared Thorin, in exchange for the release of our sister Lyn. They agreed to these terms and they soon brought out our sister. Lyn then headed back to Khan Hall with Ilde, as we were taken in the Brachura village. 

They live underwater so we were given water breathing potions. We then held on to a rope as we were pulled forward by the larger Brachura that we had spoken to. Their city was entirely submerged in a large cavern and their architecture was very unlike any I have ever seen. We were brought in front of the Queen Brachura inside of a large underwater fortress. She explained that the explosion of the quarry shed had been assumed to be a preemptive strike on their civilisation. Dwarfs were seen as the culprit and that is why they attacked us on sight and imprisoned our sister. After some discussion, we managed to clear up the misconception and indicated that we wanted to learn more about their people and culture. The Brachura seemed to be an isolated people, with little interaction with the above ground world. They worship Manannan mac Lir, the god of oceans and water. And they had only settled this particular cave twenty years ago as an off-shoot from a much older colony far further down.

We agreed to stay for a feast and were also introduced to their servants, the Wanderers. These wanderers are blue humanoid creatures, bipedal in nature with an aquatic appearance. The Brachura explained that they were dim-witted creatures who are unable to take care of themselves outside of captivity. The dinner itself consisted mostly of raw fish and seaweeds. The flavour was interesting to say the least. We even offered the Brachura Queen some Khan’s Finest in exchange for their hospitality. 

After the meal, we were let go. It was made clear that they would not tolerate any other uninvited excursions into their territory but for now there would be peace between our people. We were also given a parting gift, an object that Brachura had found, which they assumed came from the surface people. It was another black armor also emblazoned with the War rune. While the armor was empty, the inside feels cold and strangely resists manipulation. A strange dark shroud of black smoke seems to bellow out of the armor forming a cloak. Given what we had now learned about the avatar War, we didn’t trust it and didn’t want to bring it back to Khan Hall. Instead we made plans with our clansmen to fashion a tomb for it under the abandoned quarry. We would need to post guards to watch the Brachura, so they could also keep an eye on the armor. 

We then returned to Khan Hall after all of our adventures hoping for a moment’s rest. The first order of business is of course organising a large celebration in honour of Lyn’s safe return and the valiant deeds of my brother Thorin. 

So that is what we have learned so far. The ancient avatar War who has held a great grudge against our ancestors seems to be resurfacing, or at least part of him is. Whether it is the avatar himself that is breaking is bounds or a third party that is perhaps even unwittingly bringing him back, we do not know yet. All we do know is that he is very dangerous as it took a deal with a god last time to bring him down. His rune cannot be trusted and we must endeavour to not be tempted by its promises of power.

Yours sincerely,

Faerin

 

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Letters from Woodsong
from Zora and Welby

 

Dear Faerin,

It was nice to hear from you, your brother and your friends.

The rebuilding of Woodsong is coming along great. Vosark and the other dwarves are a tremendous help. Somehow they always seem to know each building’s weak spot in need of repair or strengthening, long before we do.  Even though it will still take a few weeks to finish the necessary repairs, thanks to your people we are all certain the work will be done by winter.

You will also be pleased to hear that Maugrim wandered in to town yesterday, tired and underfed, but otherwise just fine. He seems to have accepted the loss of Landerr now and is staying with us at the encampment. How he survived the fall of the mountain and the trip back through Arcarost is beyond me however. This is the second time he made his way through that cursed city alive. I will try and keep him close, he could prove a valuable ally and resource in the future, should you ever decide to venture back to the plateau. For now he seems content with sleeping near the fire at night and playing with that strange girl Marianne.

The man you mentioned, Ivan, arrived this afternoon. We did not speak to him yet, but will do so if you want us to. He had a meeting with father Portas and with Guildmaster Brane Lancelin. He left town with two Tower Guards a while later. They have yet to return. I did not get a good vibe from him and although I do not want to jump to conclusions, I do not think I trust him. Call it a woman’s intuition.

Fierna’s story does sound eerily similar to our own experience. I have no idea what the red mark you mentioned could mean, but I will see what I can find in the local library and my own collection of lore.

Welby and I wish you well and good luck with your family business, which sounds very serious and urgent. If you need our help, feel free to let us know.  We can find our way to the Beinnhall Hills in a few days if need be.

Best wishes to your brother and friends.

Your friends,

Zora and Welby

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Faerin's tenth letter
Odd Patrons at Kramer's Crossing

To my dear friends Welby and Zora,

I hope the rebuilding of Woodsong is going well and trust that you are both in good health.

Some events have transpired that I feel you should be aware of and I have a small request from you.

A few days ago, my brother Thorin and I set off to our homeland, the Beinhall Hills. We were travelling with the tiefling Faera, whom has been trying to evade capture and return to Aurion. Her sister, Fierna, had disguised herself to look as Fierna and returned to Aurion in her stead. I am telling you this, because the plot no longer matters and it will become important in a moment.

We first travelled to Kramer’s Crossing by elk and horse. As we were with three, we took turns riding in tandem. The journey took us three days, each time stopping to rest at one of the old watch towers. Upon arriving at the Crossing, it was clear that it was still damaged from the recent Kobold raid that had momentarily trapped my kin from coming to Woodsong’s aid. However the inn was already up and running again, and was host to two other individuals save for ourselves. Both had stories that are relevant to your recent experiences.

The first we met in the evening. His name was Ivan Misha Padrov. He claimed to be a travelling hunter. He bore the symbol of Aroun, the god of life and death, and shared its hatred of the undead. Indeed he had apparently been hunting a single cursed family line for almost 30 years. An ancestor had stolen an object from the Vault of Creation, and now his entire family was cursed to wander this plain as undead creatures bound to the Vault itself. Only one of these remains, namely Wodin. The remaining had been hunted down by Ivan, among others. The story of this Wodin reminds we too much of the undead we encountered so long ago called Naeres. He too was bound to the Vault of Creation and tasked to retrieve the key of the Vault of Arcarost. Miri has spoken of a new undead that is wandering this valley in search of the same key, but I have not met it nor do I know if it is the same one that Ivan is hunting. 

The second visitor we met the following morning. The wife of Kramer had tasked us to rose the patron as she had not been seen leaving her room for almost two days. My brother and I gained entry to the room to check if the patron had fallen sick or worse, but were surprised to discover our good friend Fierna. She was covered in blankets and was slow to get to her feet. Apparently she had no recollection of the previous day, not even of arriving in Kramer’s Crossing! Last she remembered she was almost in Aurion, her disguise as her sister still in place. Upon investigation, she did not have a similar tattoo as the one bestowed upon you two when you woke up here, but she did have a strange small red mark at the back of her head. We are still no the wiser on what has transpired her, but I cannot feel like it may be connected to your story.

We would follow up these stories further, however we have been called back to our clan to deal with Dwarven business. Indeed, our allies Miri and Nissa were also called to Khan Hall by our elder Tukas Khan. My brother Dhorin himself made the treacherous journey through the forest to get them as quick as possible. I fear we would be preoccupied with these dealings for some time.

I therefore ask of you to keep your ears open for rapports of an undead called Wodin travelling the lands, or his hunter Ivan. Furthermore, if Fierna’s story triggers some additional memories of how you got to Kramer’s Crossing, let us know. Do not do anything to endanger yourself. Stay safe.

Thorin gives his regards.

Take care and remember we are all in this together.

Best wishes,

Faerin Khan

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Faerin's ninth letter
Homebound

Dearest Father,

We are returning home.

I am sending this letter ahead to inform you of our upcoming return. We have dealt with our business in Woodsong and in light of everything that has happened I feel like we have to also explain our actions to the clan.

We returned swiftly to Woodsong following short griffon ride. The journey takes a full day even by mystical elk, so we did first set up camp. Around the fire and with some of the last supplies of Khan’s finest wetting our lips, we discussed all that had transpired. Though we know that we have no excuse and are fully at fault for the release of the Calamity, so many unresolved questions still remain. Why was an ancient evil captured within a treasure vault of all places? Who were the mysterious griffon riders and the dragons that they seem to serve? Why didn’t the griffon riders intervene much earlier? Now that the seal is broken, will the Calamity remain bound within the collapsed mountain? Who was the third party involved in setting this all up? What had they hoped to achieve?

We talked, ate and then slept. We awoke the next day wary and with our only wish to return home. It was however with a heavy heart, because we knew that we had to abandon Lander trapped within the stasis field and his companion Maugrin whom may have perished in the mountain’s collapse. Furthermore, though we did find the fire gem, we found no trace of Anzo. But none of us had any desire to re-enter Arcarost, so we called Uhr and his ilk to transport us back to Woodsong.

During our travels, we noted the destruction caused by the mountain’s collapse. Far from a triumphant return, we arrived in Woodsong to find it ruined yet again. The earthquake caused by the dragons bringing down the High Peak, shook the small town and left it in a worse state than even during Xerax’s assault. The second floor of the Broken Tower Inn is now fully collapsed. The orphanage that Nissa has sworn to protect is now nothing but rubble. A great many other buildings have been damaged. The Guildmaster Lancelin of the Tower Guard sustained injuries that have likely crippled him for life. Most of the village has been evacuated to the Obligator’s camp and thus we decided to meet up with our allies over there.

We called a meeting of the faction leaders and told them what had transpired. Many of them were already aware of some of these events as the griffon rider Jona had travelled to Woodsong a day before our arrival and explained our actions to them before departing again with his father. We filled in the gaps of information and answered all questions they had. We then awaited our sentence by the council present. My brother and I directed ourselves towards the three Dwarven representatives as these were our closest kinsmen in town and thus those that had we let down the most. It was decided that our good deeds outweighed our mistakes and that it was clear that we were not fully to blame for what has transpired. Fin and Thora strongly disagreed and shunned us, but Vosark Untgart followed the reasoning of the council. Though we have been absolved of any true punishment by the people of Woodsong, we are not free from guilt. Many of the townsfolk still avoid us and we are again outsiders in this little community.

After the meeting, Fierna hatched a plan to gain more information about the Calamity and this Atraya that may be involved in this plot. She will disguise herself as her sister, Faera, and allow Erevan to take her back to Aurion. Apparently Erevan has a method to quickly travel to Aurion that she wishes to exploit. Aurion as one of the Jewels has a great many libraries and knowledge repositories, so there will definitely be some information that we can use. In return for this deed, my brother and I have promised her that we will keep her sister safe. We agreed that we would take Faera with us to Khan hall. So you can expect additional company when we return.

During the following night, Miri got two unexpected visitors. The first was the undead that she had encountered previously whom had taken up the search for the fire gem, the key to the Vault of Arcarost. The second visitor was Nissa in the form of a curious cat tracking the undead. The undead was still searching for the gem and claimed that in contrast to what we witnessed, the gem or at least its magic, has not been fully destroyed. Thus this means that there may still be a chance to reseal the Calamity. But given our previous dealings with this key, prudence will be paramount.

The next morning, Fierna and Erevan left. And we got everything packed and ready to go. We said our farewells to all of the allies and friends that we had made in Woodsong before our departure. In particular, I took this opportunity to talk to Welby and Zora, the two surviving original adventurers. Welby is doing better these days and both were helping in the reconstruction of Woodsong. They both do feel extremely guilty and responsible for what happened. I tried to reassure them that there was plenty of blame to go around, but I fear that nothing I will say will suit their worries. I can relate to what they might be going through, but even then I was lucky not to have lost my family and friends. They did not share my luck. However this did give us an excellent opportunity to compare notes. And what they told us confirmed many of our suspicions. 

Welby told of their journey before Woodsong. He explained how he poured over tome after tome searching for hints about the legendary treasure vault of Arcarost. His main findings were based on three distinct books of arcane and historical nature. Through his research he had learned that there was a key to a great Vault buried within Arcarost that contained many artefacts and treasures of the former high mage. However that key was stored within the Vault of Creation. How it got there no one knows. The Vault of Creation, as you may know, contains dangers and evils that were trapped when the world was formed. And yet Arcarost only fell a few hundred years ago, so there is no reason for the key to have been there. Welby and his band set out to the central tower of Mat Sadon, the capital of the Jewels. He explained that within this tower is a gateway that allows access to any plane of existence, which includes the Vault of Creation. The gateway itself was guarded by large golems, whom they easily dispatched. Welby and Zora told us that it had been suspiciously easy to access the gateway but at the time they thought nothing of it. The last time they remember is travelling to the Vault of Creation, but then their memories fade. Their earliest next memory is of waking up in Kramer’s Crossing days later with the key in hand. They had also each received their tattoo’s with the symbol of the Vault of Creation. Unsure what had transpired but as their plan had been success, they decided to continue onwards to Arcarost with their first stop in Woodsong.

This tale fills in many of the gaps that we didn’t know before. We knew that the fire gem was a key tied to the Vault of Creation, but thought it was a key to open the Vault of Creation. This is why we suspected it was so dangerous. However it turns out that the key was from the Vault of Creation. It was always meant to open the Arcarost vault. And the ancient evil that the undead cleric Naeres warned us about is in fact the Calamity that we accidentally released! We were so blinded by the treasure and trusting of the fiendish spirits within Arcarost that we missed this truth right in front of us.

I can’t help but notice that we all lost that which we had gained in the past few weeks as a punishment of our greed for more. Miri lost the respect that she had gained from her fellow Tower Guard and her guildmaster. Her actions directly injured one of the men that I assume she looks up to. Nissa lost the orphanage that she has been desperately trying to protect, the same orphanage where she grew up and that took her in when she was abandoned by her parents. Fierna has been separated from her adoptive home having left maybe the first people who accepted her for who she is. Thorin has lost Fin as she no longer wants anything to do with him after our actions. She even gave back his handaxe, so I no longer see any wedding bells in the near future. And I ended up hurting the people I wanted to protect. I only wanted to see them happy and make sure that their lives and homes were safe. But what do our intents or even our actions matter, if the end result is worse than if we had done nothing?  I would almost prescribe it as a lesson from Lugh himself if I wasn’t sure that someone for more sinister was behind this plot. I do feel comfort in that I can still feel His presence. I know that with Him involved Good will eventually triumph, even if it is not by my hands.

And thus came an end to our adventures, maybe just for now, maybe just forever. A bitter final note like so many Dwarven tales with a glint of hope.

We intend to make great haste on our journey back as we will travel on horse and elk. Our cart was unfortunately destroyed in the earthquake so we no longer need to take it with us. You can thus expect our arrival shortly after you receive this letter, perhaps even before if we overtake the messenger.

See you all soon.

Love to mother.

Your son,

Faerin

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From the diary of Tukas Khan part two

 

Yesterday, the earth shook violently. Earthquakes are uncommon in this region. During my long life in the Beinnhall hills I have known no more than two to occur. Today, a cloud of dust and sand covers the sky, reflecting the light of the rising sun in beautiful but ominous colors.

To the north-west, the Highpeak has fallen, losing about a third of its size. It is still the largest mountain in the reach, by far, but its’ loss is noticeable.

I can’t help but think of my kinsman, Faerin and Thorin, who ventured to the mountain nearly a week ago. Undoubtedly this strange occurrence will have some connection to their quest to stop an evil half-dragon from unleashing the fire within the Highpeak. I just hope this means they succeeded. So far, no fire has appeared. Hope remains.

I also wish they did not pay for their victory with their life. It has been a while since the Khan clan has brought forth a true dwarven hero, and now it seems we may have two. As I have written before, in the times to come we may need them.

I have given up on trying to convince the other clan elders of the dangers from our past. They will not listen. I know I am not losing my mind however. I have seen more reports, not meant for my eyes. The rune is appearing more often now, and my kin are growing more accustomed to its presence. It won’t be long before they discover its’ true potential. By then I hope to have spoken to my heroic offspring.

The latest report said the earthquake toppled some of the menhirs at the moot-circle. Maybe this is the opportunity I have been waiting for. Would I be a younger man, I would venture to the circle myself to search for the first hall. The records there could prove I am not senile just yet, or at least not as senile as they think. I need to rely on others though. Most of us are busy repairing the earthquake-damage to Khan Hall. I have sent a runner to Woodsong, asking for the help of Faerin, Thorin and their heroic companions.

If we don’t start preparations soon, Faerin and Thorin might very well be part of the last generation of Hill dwarves, ever!

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Faerin's eight letter
To Arcarost and back again

Dearest Father,

We have defeated Xerax, but I fear we may not have stopped the plans of his master. In our quest, we inadvertently released an ancient evil and I cannot help but wonder if this wasn’t their plan all along. Without the intervention of the griffon riders, things would have been much worse.

We journeyed through Arcarost and it is a terrible place. Fiends, undead and elementals roam wild and hideous beasts lie in wait within the cursed soil. The city is covered in ancient runes and aberrant magics. Furthermore there are gaps in my memory. Myself and my friends made some poor decisions and I do not know how much I can prescribe to the influence of Arcarost. Other incidents I am not sure if they truly happened as I remember them because they seem so distant and surreal. I shall attempt to give my account as best I can, in the hope to capture some truth and diswade any others from following in our footsteps.

We travelled to Arcarost to stop Xerax with great haste with the help of the elk Uhr and his ilk. We walked through the abandoned camp of Xerax’s followers and stepped into the ruined city. With Nissa’s magic to soften our steps, we followed Maugrin who had picked up Xerax’s scent through the Arcarost suburbs. We stayed hidden alongside the ruined houses as we travelled down the roads flanked by petrified trees. Yet we still had the constant feeling of being watched. Many of the houses in Arcarost are ancient ruins, infested by dark and dangerous creatures. However many others are covered in magical ruins and seem to look as if their occupant had only just stepped out. I am not sure which of the two or the most dangerous.

Upon a crossroads, we found an ancient house from which we could hear the distant cries of help. We circled around and saw that in the gardens a halfling was being tormented by a pair of fiends. I would have intervened had my divine senses not revealed the halfling and even the house itself to be undead. It was clear then that this was an elaborate trap designed to lure in good adventurers. We moved away from the cursed house as quickly as possible.

We attempted to stay away from the open squares and statues in particular. However one time the scent of Xerax took us right through a mephit infested fountain complex. Seeing no choice but to push on, we attempted to stealth past the mephits. However in my clumsiness, I banged into one of the water pipes and alerted the mephits to our presence. A battle ensued but our strength was sufficient to convince the mephits to flee.

Near the end of our first day, we discovered a grand square with at its center a great silver cross. A large robed fiend was nailed to this cross and it besieged us to release it. The robed fiend was the most grotesque thing I have ever seen. Easily the size of four or five men, and likely with the strength of twenty, with misshapen hands and feet. Its hide was a bright red and looked more like armor than skin. It did not speak but communicated by projecting its vile voice directly into our minds. I believe it to have been a pit fiend as I have read about in lore books. And I was very glad that it was trapped and could do us no harm.

At the edge of the square was a grand temple to Lugh, its consecration still intact. Inside we met Pax, a giant titan in service to Lugh. He was protecting the temple as his base and had trapped the pit fiend outside as a warning to others. Pax’ goal is to spread the word and teaching of Lugh, which a quest that I can only wholeheartedly agree with. Under Pax’ protection we had a night’s rest within the main hall. However when we awoke Pax was nowhere to be seen.

We continued following Xerax’s tracks and started heading closer to the center of the city. We soon arrived at an array where a large strip of buildings had been reduced to rubble, around 500 meters across and several kilometers wide. Instead of wasting time to walk around the rubble, we headed straight through it. We moved quickly and silently. In the distance, we saw a small clearing of bones and some movement. We decided to stay well away from it. When we had exited the clearing, Fierna’s curiosity got the better of her and she caused some light tremors across the grounds. This was soon followed by a giant chimera-like creature burrowing out and charging straight at our group. We attempted to hide and run, but Nissa was noticed and eaten whole.

When we saw our valiant companion gobbled up by the vile creature, we immediately turned around and headed back. When we arrived, we found the chimera throwing up a bear with a great belch. Nissa was far harder to digest than the creature expected. We fought the creature, but just as Fierna dealt the killing blow with a frostbolt, our back line was beset by flying fiends that had been lying in wait for an opportunity to strike. The battle expanded, but the fiends proved tricky foes due to their horrendous stench. Even coming close to them, made one’s stomach turn and heave. This was something that the fiends clearly took advantage of and stayed packed in close quarters where they were hard to reach. Nissa solved this by bursting through the wall of the nearby house to jump upon them. However her actions did attract more of the foul fiends that were residing in the now demolished house.  But Fierna’s spells proved quicker than the flying devils and they found themselves soon trapped in magical vines. The combined fire magic of Nissa and Thorin soon put them out of their misery. 

At noon on the second day, we had arrived more or less as close to the center of Arcarost as we would get. We saw in the distance the high tower that once belonged to the mage ruler of Arcarost. But Xerax’s scent and our path took us away from the center and back into the suburbs. We now started approaching the distant snow-capped mountain. 

Two hours later, we were forced to cross another square which prominently featured a large statue of an iron bull. We tried to sneak past, but the bull awoke and charged us. The bull seemed to expel some kind of green smoke and we soon felt our bodies harden in place. We luckily resisted the effects and could reclaim freedom of movement. We threw everything we had at the bull and it simply seemed to soak up everything we did. Eventually Thorin was the one who slew the iron bull with a spiritual version of the handaxe he received from Fin.

As we continued, we tried to remain vigilant. But suddenly and without warning, Thorin collapsed seemingly from two blade strikes to the back. I too soon after felt the strike of the blades but managed to remain standing, barely. The invisible creature called out to drop our valuables. But a fog cloud from Fierna balanced out the field, and soon it could not see us as we could not see it. Rather than risk a direct confrontation, the creature decided to flee. I still do not know what type of creature this may have been, I only know that it was extremely dangerous.

As the evening came again, we took refuge in a building covered by magical runes. We deemed it sufficiently safe and took our night’s rest. The next day we entered the mountain. We soon found a cave entrance that was guarded by Yuan-Ti, a clear indication of the presence of Xerax. We tried to stealth past but Thorin’s armour gave us away. We ran from the Yuan-Ti and managed to evade them.

We explored the cavern complex and found it more man-made than it originally seemed to be. There was a door with a sentient entity inside of it in charge of guarding the master’s sanctum. Far below in the complex, was something else entirely. A large cavern with a glass floor. As we traversed the chamber, runes started to light up in all different languages corresponding to our races. They all said one thing ‘permission’. With the light of the ruins, the chamber under the glass floor became revealed. Apparently the chamber contained a large treasure of gold, gems and trinkets as far as the eye could see. But the glass was clearly magic and a safe for the remarkable treasure. In the center, there was a socket which seemed to be the keyhole to this safe. Thorin tried inserting his circlet of blasting but that only consumed it and produced a torrent of flames. This seemed like the legendary treasure vault that Zora and her gang her searching for when they first set out to Arcarost. The socket even matched the outline of the key that Anzo was transporting. But without that key, nothing could be accomplished. We decided to leave the treasure room and journey up again. Soon enough we traveled down a fake-looking volcano cavern and encountered Xerax and his minions setting up the ritual.

The strange thing was that the chamber they were preparing was made to look like the inside of a volcano, with a lava pool and all, despite it being man-made. Furthermore the Yuan-ti carried symbols of a non-existant fire god. It is clear that the deception ran deep and this was an entire setup done by an external party. However for whose benefit was this ruse setup, was it an ancient trick from Arcarost’s time no long forgotten, was it to draw the attention of Xerax, or worse still was it to make us believe in the dangers of Xerax’s ritual?

In any case, our path seemed clear at the time and we set upon Xerax and his Yuan-ti clerics. We drove them into the lava so that the fires that they worship would consume them. Xerax himself flew up and tried to stay out of reach but we quickly drove him down. Miri landed the killing blow and with that we soon forced the surrender of the remaining Yuan-ti clerics. We questioned the last of the Yuan-ti, who gave us a name, ‘Atraya’. This individual is involved in the deception of Xerax, and may be the or one of the master minds that orchestrated this entire plot. With their prophet dead and decapitated, the Yuan-ti left. We found Anzo’s fire gem covered in lava in the central pool, the focus of Xerax’s ritual.  

At this point, we should have turned back. Our mission had been accomplished and the threat had passed. But I could feel the magic of Arcarost clouding my mind, making me feel more distant in my own body. I could sense the others being enticed by the song of gold and riches. Entranced by what we had seen before, we made our way back down to the grand cavern. The runes lit up again and we knew we now had the key. We knew it was wrong, but were unable to resist the temptation. Even Zora, who had lost her brother, who had seen her leader crippled, who had been tortured and tormented by the follower’s of Xerax, still wanted this. Perhaps there was even no spell or magical effect, perhaps it was simply our individual nature enticed by rewards beyond our wildest dreams. Perhaps that too is a kind of magic.  I would like to say that if I hadn’t felt so exhausted from our dealings with Xerax, I would have intervened. But I too felt the greed, want and need for the treasure inside of me. I could only watch as Fierna, Thorin and Miri in turns almost fought for the privilege to insert the gem and reveal the treasure. At first nothing happened but when Miri inserted the gem that the visage of a large golden dragon appeared.

Three mortal races have given permission, the dragon said, and the key was turned by human hand. The Calamity will be released. 

The cavern shook, the glass broke and the floor started tearing itself apart. We retreated into the safety to the stairwell from whence we came. But Thorin and Miri were too late and fell into the treasure. Nissa turned into a giant spider to retrieve them. And Thorin seized the opportunity to sart collecting as much gold as he could. But the floor the treasure was resting on was fracturing with extreme heat pouring out. We managed to barely retrieve him in time before the entire cavern was consumed in molten lava. However by then, our entrance had collapsed. So we moved alongside the edge that remained in the hope of reaching one of the other stairwells.

Then the griffon riders arrived. At first they ignored us, but one of them, Jona the missing Tower Guard, noticed us and came to our aid. The other riders seemed content to leave us to our fate and saw us wholly responsible for releasing the vault. But Jona recognized Miri and Nissa and knew that we would never have intentionally released such evil upon the world. And so they picked us up and rescued us from a fiery death. As we left the cavern, we caught a glimpse of a giant red dragon rising out of the fractures. It was as big as the cavern that we were in, far larger than I ever could have imagined a dragon being. The core fo my being was in terror simply at the sight of it. The griffon riders brought us out of the mountain, where we witnessed more griffons and many silver dragons attacking the mountain. As we flew away, we saw the mountain crumble and lose up to a third of its size. I do not know what that means, is the dragon defeated or forever buried now? Or did the griffons and the dragons only buy a moment’s respite? How long would it take for the dragon to crawl out of the rubble; a day, a year or a century? The griffon riders escorting us would not say and simply dropped us off on the Arcarost path without a word. The griffon riders then left and we started our way back to Woodsong.

I have failed you, Father. Through my actions, I may have helped unleash a far greater evil than the one I was trying to prevent. 

Your son,

Faerin

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Carmondai's journal
The Angel and the Aboleth

I must admit that at first I was a bit hesitant in taking over command of the Drake’s fangs after Michael passed away. Fortunately, it seems that I have made the right choice as interesting things seem to be on the horizon.

It all started when my troop was send out to liberate a small mining village of some importance. Apparently the village had fallen prey to a band of Orcs and Goblins. And while we had no immediate proof that Cragkeep was behind the attack, it is highly likely as they have been strengthening their forces with their ilk. Accompanying my troop were the forces of Thesseus and those of the duo Xayah and Rakan. They are fascinating companions to say the least, Rakan especially. It will be most interesting to observe a dragon from close by. On the other hand I also have the chance to compare my own racial traits with those of the Assimar Thesseus. But I am getting of track.

The battleplan we had was a simple one for a simple foe. The Drake’s fangs will take the brunt of the Orcs charge while Thesseus and Xayah would protect our flank. Unfortunately we underestimated the sheer ferocity that the Orc horde possessed and as such we suffered heavy casualties. It could however have been a lot worse. While the battle was raging, a masked mage emerged from the mines and conjured up a giant earth elemental. The situation proved to be dire enough that I was forced to deal with the elemental directly. And while I was capable to banish it temporarily in the end it took the combined might of myself and my compatriots to defeat it.

With the battle over, I scouted out the mine with my magic in an effort to determine the location of the enemy mage. Instead, I found a giant gate. After having rested, Thesseus led Xayah and me into the mines in order to investigate the gate. After braving the dangers of the dungeon, we came upon a frozen lake. While there were no additional clues on the material plane, the etherial plane was guarded by an angel. He explained, that inside the lake an Aboleth was sealed by the gods for all eternity.

Thesseus proved to be extremely interested in the angel, even accepting a geass that would force him to kill whoever of us would leak this information. I was however able to make contact with the Aboleth in question, which proved to be both informative and a bit frustrating. The Aboleth revealed that he used to be a spy of the gods and as such was privy to many of their secrets. I must admit that the temptation to make a deal with him was most tempting. Made no easier of course no easier due to the constant mental manipulation that he attempted. I was able to gather a bit information, namely that in a year or so me and my compatriots would meet our end. Sadly he was unwilling to reveal more without first being freed.

It came an end when Reinheart arrived with an army of clerics and craftsman in order to fortify the mine and set up a more permanent base. Reinheart would remain and we were sent back to Deepnesse where we would attend a feast in honor of anniversary of its founding.

So many questions remain however. Such as the identity of the masked mage and whether or not the Aboleth spoke the truth. Time will tell, but it may be safe to have some safeguards in place.

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