The Chronicles of Hallowdwell

Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 7
Wherein some quests come to an end and some begin

We closed up the portal under Coppernight Hold without much problem. Concerningly, our very shadows seemed to gain substance and sentience, attempting to prevent us from sealing shut this crack into the Shadowfell, but we persevered and closed another path to the Ebon Tower. Interestingly enough, Hilde’s sword, the Valkyrie, gleamed with a bright light as we closed the portal, dispelling the living shadows that sought to stop our task. That sword continues to fascinate me, and were Hilde more forthcoming in letting me examine it, I’m certain there would be many fascinating things to learn from it.

Returning to Hallowdwell, we reported our success in freeing the captive dwarves to Ironstone, the leader of the Royal Guard. Rewarded with both praise and gold, we began to leave when the man we saved from the crypt in Col Fen was hauled in by guards, accusing him of being part of a group called the Crimson Brotherhood. Deftblade, befitting the sneak he was, gave no sign of knowing the man as he was hauled into dungeon. Deftblade slinked off before we could ask him about the charges of assassination against his group, but I am not so naive to believe that a group of theives wouldn’t branch off into other unsavory businesses as well.

The reward we received was perhaps a mixed blessing, as the party splurged not only what we had just earned, but also wound up spending over a thousand gold. A thousand gold. Just unbelievable. It is a good thing that I am the one who controls the purse-strings for this band, or we’d find ourselves begging for coin on the side of the road just for a piece of stale bread. Let them mutter that I am a penny-pincher; when circumstance puts us in a situation where we have the need for substantial funds, I will gladly accept their gratitude.

Later that night, I went to warn Bohm that Brook had spotted some unsavory characters lurking about the Temple of Pelor. Apparently, an outcast of his people belonging to a mercenary outfit called the Dark Legion had let it be known that there was some kind of job he was on involving the temple. Though I do not doubt Bohm’s mental resolve, I have far less confidence that he and his fellow monks could repel even a handful of hardened fighters. I urged him to keep a wary eye for anyone loitering around the temple, and to keep the skull in a location known only to himself, so a weaker-willed companion would not give up its hiding place.

Lahktar went to dig up some more on the Crimson Brotherhood. As he did most of his investigating in a tavern, his testimony was somewhat confused, but I believe we were able to tease the story out of him after some tortuous twists. It seems that this Crimson Brotherhood is a splinter faction of the Twilight Wanderers, and that the schism began when a member known as “Stiletto” broke away from the Wanderers because he didn’t care to take orders from a group he considered soft. Frankly, I don’t feel that this is any of our business, so long as we keep far away from Deftblade and his people. Last thing we need to have happen is us getting drawn into some kind of gang fight.

Meeting with Xavier was…interesting. And unpleasant. The lavishness of the palace bothered me; in such a cradle of comfort, was it surprising that Allandria’s leaders were too soft to lead an effective counter-attack? However, the very fact that we were allowed to enter the palace, much less be granted audience with the crown prince, proved that we are beginning to be noticed for our deeds of bravery. The favor of nobility would go a long way in establishing the kind of reputation and funds needed to establish a center of arcane learning in Allandria, whose central location and proximity to the site of the original Arcane University make it an ideal location.

However, the prince himself seemed very distant. He questioned whether our motley group would be able to negoiate with the monarchs of the forest realms. That he doubted his own eloquence to the point where he sought us to become diplomat soldiers raised doubts in my mind; however, I think I helped him to see the situation differently when I said that we would be the iron fist in his velvet glove. Whether this boy is up to the task I do not know. I do know that without us, his chances of even reaching the Elven kingdoms is slim, and that I expect the reward for our services to reflect this fact.

Tonight, before we leave in the morning, I traveled to Elhazra’s dwelling. I said that I wished to ask her questions about the Shadowfell Gloves I took off the witch of Coppernight Hold. As she told me how these gloves would allow me to channel necrotic energies, I realized that my feet had taken me to her without conscious effort. I cannot lie anymore – I am enthralled by this woman, whose beauty is as stunning as her knowledge is deep. This is no mere lass who preens and bounces along without a thought inside her head.

Against my desires, I steered the conversation to the skull. In love or not, I know that Elhazra was interested in the skull, for she is bold and believes that study of the relic may be worth any nightmares that would result. So I lied. I told her that I cast the skull into the Snake River that flows out into the Great Sea, unable to listen to the dark whispers in the night. She scolded me, but then her eyes turned soft and said she understood. At this point, knowing that the trip into the Western Forests would be perilous, I nearly asked to stay the night with her. But I am not brash like Beezra, charming like Lahktar nor courageous like Hilde. And so I bid Elhazra good night and skulked off into the night, thankful that my black cloak would allow me to disappear that much faster into the night.

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 6
Wherein our intrepid wizard discovers the black heart of a mountain

I write this journal entry by the pulsating purple glow of a portal into the Shadowfell. I had been staring into the void for some time before my old colleague, our Dragonborn bard, snapped me out of a trance with the racket he fancies music. I suppose, for once, I’m glad that damned instrument exists. If I had stared at that portal long enough, surely I would have been swallowed by it.

We are resting after a series of battles retaking an ancient Dwarven fortress called Coppernight Hold, in the southern mountains of Northrock, near the border with Allandria. Beezra heard a call for adventurers from the Dwarf head of the palace guard to investigate why a Dwarven excavation team had suddenly gone silent. Upon returning from our various adventures in southern Allandria, our gregarious halfling swordmage happened upon an odd fellow with quite a quixotic quest. He was a ranger named Brook, and he sought to track down and slay nothing less than a storm giant. His travels had led him to Hallowdwell, and the trail led north. Being out of money and not adverse to companionship, he chose to accompany us on our rescue mission.

Also accompanying us would be Beezra’s beau, the thief called Deftblade. I say called because assuredly that is a pseudonym. I am glad that it is I that keeps an eye on our purse; left in the hands of the others, we would certainly be paupers and Deftblade would be enjoying our money several hundred miles from here. I do not think it is in any way wrong to not trust an avowed thief. Code of honor, bah! Wizarding history has had codes of honor for thousands of years, and not one has ever remained unbroken. However, Beezra insisted that he accompany us, and she can prove rather convincing, if only through persisting until she gets her way.

With our new companions, we set north on the several days trek to Northrock. As we began approaching the border, I could already detect the cold north winds that make Northrock such an inhospitable place for those who do not know the tunnels and warrens carved out by the Dwarves over the centuries. Rumors claim all manner of Centralian-era artifacts are buried under the deep snow drifts, or in some long-forgotten cavern seemingly deep as the center of the earth, far from the light of day. Some legends even claim that an entire Centralian city stands intact, lost somewhere amongst the peaks. To me, that sounds like the kind of mirage that would lead a man to his death, frozen solid, he himself becoming a relic to be found by another, more hardy soul.

Arriving at Coppernight, we heard the unmistakable chattering of kobolds. Lahktar actually understood what they were saying, and he intimated that apparently the kobolds were in service to some manner of dragon. Undeterred, we got the drop on the bunch and dispatched the lot of them without too much effort. Entering down into the excavation site, we found ourselves in what must have been a centuries-old Dwarven keep, though it looked as if it had been abandoned for a very long time. More kobolds attacked, and though these proved to be tricky, pulling down tapestries to trap us under them, we pressed forward and routed them. The tide quickly turned when Hilde gave a mighty heave and pushed over an eight-foot tall statue of some forgotten hero, crushing kobolds under the rubble. One escaped, and we knew that the element of surprise would not be ours when facing the dragon.

Upon entering the keep’s throne room, we were almost immediately greeted by a young white dragon. Despite the (relative) youth of our foe, he was not any manner of pushover – upon seeing us, he unleashed his frozen breath at us. In the split second I had to react, I found myself throwing up my arms. As I did, the frozen daggers went around me. Opening my eyes, I saw a blue orb surrounding me, a bubble of protective energy. How many times did Meros try to teach me to create an energy shield, and how many times did I achieve but a flicker? Obviously, all I needed was to face down a dragon, to give me the right frame of mind to finally succeed in creating a shield. I believe that the next time I need it, I will not have problems creating a shield…the memory of that first time is clear to me as if it were happening now.

Seeing the damage the dragon could inflict upon my companions, I drew upon an old spell that had proven exceptionally effective on Lahktar during our apprenticeship when I needed him unconscious, which was the only way to keep him quiet enough for me to finish that night’s spellwork. It worked on the Dragonborn, and it worked again on the dragon. Lulling the beast to sleep allowed our band to inflict many wounds upon it. Waking from its magic slumber, it cursed at us as it flew out of the keep, leaving its kobold followers behind. After securing the keys to free their Dwarf prisoners, we let them go. Without their master, they would be of little trouble to anyone coming upon them.

The thief earned his keep as he disarmed a trap the kobolds had set, using the prisoners as bait. After freeing the captives who survived their imprisonment, we headed deeper into the keep, past the Dwarven construction and deep into the heart of the mountain. There we found three shadow-kai, including one who was trying to open a portal just like we had seen in the tombs. In the darkness, they detected us first. After a thunderous force orb shot to the kobold bodyguards that had accompanied them, I noticed that the witch stood upon the lip of a pit. I fired an energy bolt (I refuse to call it “magic missile”, that vulgar name Lahktar calls it) which nearly knocked her in, but she clung to the edge. She seemed pleased with herself until my second volley hit her, casting her down into the pit.

My veins ran hot with courage, and I jumped down into the fray. Coming near to the shadow-kai warriors who were giving Beezra and Hilde difficulty, I found the mixture of fresh blood, excitement and rage a potent mix. I have heard plenty enough from ignorant beings, especially humans, of our cursed bloodline. But privately, I wonder whether we Tieflings who claim that it is not so are the fools. Because finding myself in that situation, that heady mix of emotions found physical form. Flames surrounded my body; I could feel the heat upon my skin but they did not burn me. Then the flames erupted from around me, catching one of the warriors on fire. I was repaid for my brashness with a sword blow that struck me blind with some manner of enchantment, but I cannot help but feel that my comfort with the arcane seems to increase every day, and usually under stress, when I need it the most.

Though they put up a good fight, it was over soon enough, with Hilde cleaving the witch’s head clean off. From her beheaded corpse Beezra took a pair of gloves. Without seeing them clearly, I told her, “Give them to me.” Surely enough, the gloves were enchanted. There was a chill upon my hands as I slipped them on, and they pulsed with the same purple energy as the portal as they stretched to fit my hands. Surely these gloves were forged within the Shadowfell, and with that, I found myself thinking of her again, and the poor terms on which we last parted. Having spent time with that awful skull, I knew that she should not have it, lest it drive her mad. But how to explain that to her? It was better, I suppose, to simply endure her wrath…though it certainly does not feel better.

I will close my entry with an observation upon these portals that I do not wish to share with my companions. This portal leads to the Shadowfell, which has similar dimensions to our realm but not exact. It would seem that these portals somehow bend the geography of the Shadowfell itself to allow faster passage through the Shadowfell to what surely is the Ebon Tower. Doubtless, Coppernight Hold was built to seal this passage from being used again…or to defend against things arriving from the Ebon Tower from escaping this place. Though each time a part of my very soul cries out to stop, I must seal this portal shut. Though a voice inside of my mind, a voice both mine and not mine, begs for me to step through, I know I am not yet ready to face what it in that tower. And I worry that no matter how powerful in the arcane arts I may become, my heart will never be ready to face what lies inside that cursed spire.

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 5
In which the nightmares of many people are told and re-enacted

It has been a long time since last I updated this journal. Much has happened, too much to summarize in this one entry. In brief, we searched the tombs and found many creatures of the darkness, whom we send to their end. We saved a mother and child, who may have been blessed of Pelor. But more important, though perhaps only obvious to me and Elhazra how important, was a map and a skull we found. The map showed black tendrils, one of which originated from the crypt we discovered the map in, leading to great black mass deep in Southern Arktfar. This was proof, beyond fragmentary poems and my own troubled dreams. Proof of the Ebon Tower.

As for the skull, it was an onyx skull that I snatched from upon a dark altar. As soon as it touched my hand, I could feel it pulsing with cold. Elhazra wanted me to give it to her, and as soon as she asked for it, I felt a voice beyond words telling me to keep it for myself. I tried to shake it off as well as I could, but I kept the skull. I trust Elhazra, but I did not when she asked for the skull. The idea of parting with it seemed impossible.

After clearing the tombs we also sealed a black portal into the Shadowfell. Elhazra suggested that we were too hasty to do so, if it was perhaps a short cut to the Ebon Tower. The idea of closing off a road to the Ebon Tower filled me with a deep regret, but in my heart of hearts I knew I was not ready. The time has not yet come.

At least, that is what the skull told me. The leering thing I kept in a burlap sack. I loathed it, and yet I could not bear to be far from it. When I slept, it spoke to me. It showed me the tower. It showed me my destiny. I was ensconced in the tower’s focal chamber, a room filled with silver mirrors arranged at all manner of unnatural angles. I sat upon an onyx throne and all who entered the chamber threw themselves at my feet. A counselor came to me ear and whispered that our agents had heard discontent in a village, and with a casual thought the chamber hummed and discharged a great energy that seared the village out of existence, which I viewed in one of the mirrors. And then I saw my traveling companions, trapped in ebony cages around the dome of the focal room, a thousand black wires stabbed into their body, their faces stuck in awful grimaces of unimaginable pain. They screamed and convulsed as my anger erupted into black energy and obliterated the village, and it was their screams that woke me up.

The dreams continued until tonight. And the worst part was that each time, they bothered me less.

We sent Beezra ahead to escort the mother and child we rescued, and to deal with any business, personal and otherwise, she had with Deftblade. While Beezra returned to Hallowdwell, we made a detour to a small farming village that Hilde had passed by earlier. We discovered that the people of this hamlet had fallen to an illness that had turned them rabid. Without Beezra to aid us, we still acquitted ourselves well in battle. Lahktar is becoming more comfortable in combat, and Hilde’s combat prowess did not fail us. I have read in treatises on war, that fighting units, as they bond, become more efficient and effective combatants as they begin to learn not only the abilities of their comrades but how their own skills compliment those of their brethern. I dare say that our small group is beginning to find that bond, and that will serve us well in our journeys to come.

After cleansing the well, we returned to Hallowdwell. We heard of an attack upon the castle itself, which had spooked the people. It had also spurred Prince Donovan, the young heir to the thrown, to begin seeking out adventurers. I have heard of the “ivory tower”, which some might wish to apply to me, of having learned all theory but not having practical experience. In my case, this is a fallacy; I have decades of very practical experience having honed my will to alter the world around me in what the common folk call “magic”. Prince Donovan, however, seems to fit the mold quite exactly. One of his subject said he was “noble as a fairy-tale, and about as realistic.”

Hilde insisted we accompany her to a cluster of trees known as Sorrow’s Grove, on nothing more than what she called “instinct”. I’m not sure that I believe she had any reason to go, but having seen her cleave a Pale Reaver in one mighty blow, I am not inclined to spar with her on minor matters. But indeed, her instincts were right, and we found an orphaned girl named Willow, who had been chased for days by something Hilde seemed to recognize, which she called the “Woodwalker.”

Hilde’s story sent chills through my spine. She has also lost a father. Like my father, whose legacy was to leave me in the care of Meros and set forth my path, her father left her the legacy of that incredible sword of hers, the Valkyrie. I do not know what killed my parents. No one does. But I do know that if I knew that they had been murdered, and I knew who killed them, I would never rest so long as the murderer lived. Perhaps I am not the only one plagued by echoing dreams, though mine be of the future and hers of the past. Her story did shed much light on why she threw herself ten feet into a pit with a Pale Reaver to save a child, and I do not blame her for trying to save her own young self time and again.

Late that night, I cast a pall of magical silence upon our room and visited the Temple of Pelor while the others slept. The humans and halflings here look upon me as some malevolent demon, and I did not do anything to dispel that notion when an acolyte in the temple came upon me. Sometimes fear will get you what you need faster than love, and it takes much too much time and energy to change the prejudices of others. But when Bohm came out bleary-eyed, I knew that I could trust him. I gave him the skull. There are few people I trust, and with something like that skull, he was all that I could trust. I could not trust Al-Hiraj. I could not trust Elhazra. And most of all, I could not trust myself with it.

I hope that now that it is out of my possession, and that I have admitted to both Bohm and this journal its ill effects, that tonight’s sleep will be the first in several nights where I can sleep soundly. Or at least the closest to sound that I usually sleep.

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The Col Fen Rescues

After taking a few minutes’ pause, and placing the body of their fallen companion in a temporary place of rest, the adventurers moved to investigate the old crypts. They first investigated the northern crypt, from which they could hear faint sounds of weeping. It turned out that the crying came from a Halfling woman, Rysa Gosen, and her infant child Leese. The two of them were trapped in the crypt, menaced by a Pale Reaver and its skeleton and zombie companions. The heroes sprang to action, defeating the creatures. The battle included some particularly spectacular maneuvers by Hilde, who dove into the 10’ deep trench at the south side of the crypt to come to Rysa’s defense, and shortly thereafter tore the Pale Reaver asunder with the mightiest blow yet seen from her blade, the Valkyrie.

As the rescuers helped Rysa and child from the trench, Lahktar noticed something strange: a mark upon the child’s skin in the unmistakable form of the Great Sun of Pelor! Though the confused and shaken woman protested that it was a mere birthmark, Lahktar had no doubt, and even Ouroboros backed him up: such a sign meant that little Leese was a figure of prophecy. The Clerics of Pelor back at Hallowdwell would have great interest in this baby, and would no doubt want to keep her safe within the castle walls until her prophecy came to pass. The townsfolk who had been accompanying the group volunteered to escort the Gosens back to town and keep them safe until the adventurers could take them on the day’s journey back to the castle.

Searching the crypt, the adventurers found a sarcophagus containing an ancient shriveled corpse, hundreds of gold pieces of a mint long predating the current kingdoms, and a parchment with a map. It showed cities and states long collapsed into antiquity, and a strange web of black lines overlaying them, its heart in the south of modern Arktfar and with terminus points marked throughout the continent. Ouroboros used ritual magic to copy the parchment, lest the crumbling paper disintegrate before the group could make sense or use of it.

That accomplished, the group proceeded to the central crypt, the only one remaining in good enough repair to explore. This was a longer and deeper descent; the first room was littered with corpses in varying states of decay. It seemed that many of the townsfolk who disappeared had been savaged and feasted upon by ghouls! Passing through this grim scene, the group continued downward, and found a yet stranger sight awaiting them.

Deftblade’s contact and Kyla’s husband, Veran Tal, lay bound to a stone altar, close to dying of hunger and thirst from long imprisonment. A glowing onyx skull lay atop his chest, and behind him a crack in the wall held an inky blackness that swallowed light in an unnatural fashion. Two ghouls stood over him, muttering ritual phrases in Deep Speech: words of reverence to the skull, asking for it to open “the path.”

As some nearby skeletons and zombies reacted to the arrival of the group, the heroes attempted a risky plan: to convince the ghouls that they were agents of Vecna come to oversee the ritual. The ghouls, far more canny and intelligent than the one at Black Hearth, were as suspicious as they were hungry to devour the newcomers, but the ruse proved enough for the heroes to attack from surprise. Ouroboros used his Mage Hand to steal the Onyx Skull away from its place atop Veran, disrupting the ghouls’ ritual, and the battle was joined.

Afterward, tensions among the group burst forth into a heated argument. When Veran was revived enough to speak, he revealed that Elhazra’s own Order of the Nightshade had commissioned the grave robbery gone wrong that led to his being captured! Added to the fact that Elhazra flashed some sort of sign that helped convince the ghouls of their occult intentions, suspicions of the warlock came to a head. She continued to play cagey until Ouroboros mentioned Al-hiraj, at which point she burst into laughter, mocking “that old twit” and impugning Ouroboros’s judgment of character. That was too much for Hilde to stand; the barbarian rounded on Elhazra, and with her fearsome mien extracted an apology from the now cornered necromancer.

The only remaining task was to deal with the strange blackness at the back of the room. Determining that it was a nascent rift into the Shadowfell, Ouroboros, Lahktar, and Beezra set to dispelling it. The portal fought back with a blast of necrotic energy, but vanished. Col Fen was safe again; no more undead would crawl forth from there.

Many questions remain to be answered as the party continues the trip back to Hallowdwell, but for now, some well-deserved rest!

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Disappointments and Discoveries

Having rested up from their encounter with the goblins in the Black Hearth cemetery, the group followed a mysterious sound of flutes and chimes toward the town center, evading goblin patrols along the way. Upon arriving at the town square, they saw a halfling and a gnome conversing while a pair of goblins stood guard and, just as strange as finding goblins in Black Hearth to begin with, a ghoul apparently patrolling the perimeter. The gnome held a staff that appeared to be the source of the noise: a black wooden thing topped with a set of pan pipes and dangling arcane trinkets. The heroes caught just a snippet of the conversation before being spotted—the halfling was apparently berating the gnome for setting up base too close to the armies of Allandria and Arktfar, while the gnome brushed this off with a retort that Black Hearth was “the ideal site.”

It never became clear what the site was good for in the gnome’s plans, however. Upon spotting the heroes, the humanoids and their pet undead (that last rather less intelligently than the rest) rushed to the attack. By battle’s end, the goblins, ghoul, and halfling lay slain, but the gnome turned invisible and fled before he could be defeated or questioned.

The heroes were able to discover a few things, though:
  • The halfling bore a tattoo, perhaps marking her membership in some cult. Those with backgrounds in religion could see resemblance between the spiraling thorn emblem and certain sigils associated with Vecna, god of secrets and necromancy.
  • The staff was apparently the cause of the plague’s lifting from the town. As its jangling sound vanished into the distance, the miasma crept back in. Given the way the gnome used it during the battle, it’s also likely it gave him the control he had over the ghoul.
  • A training hall once presided over by the Dragonborn swordmage Drahktar stood on Black Hearth’s town square, and within it they found a hidden room where a magic sword hung. Hilde was also able to appropriate a suit of enchanted hide armor from one of the goblins.

On the way back to Hallowdwell, the party decided to follow up on the errand Deftblade had requested of Beezra before they left: to look into the disappearances of townsfolk in Col Fen, one of which was the Twilight Wanderer’s contact Veran Tal. They met first with Veran’s distraught wife Kyla, who explained that he disappeared without word or sign of struggle two weeks past.

The town headwoman, Mara Kres, was able to provide more information. Not all of the disappearances were as quiet as Veran’s. One Quen Laren’s disappearance, for example, was accompanied by signs of struggle and tracks as if a body had been removed to the old graveyard near town. But try though Mara had to organize a group to investigate, the coincidence of the disappearances, the sudden deterioration of the graveyard’s ancient warded mausoleums, and old tales about a vile black skull housed there came together to keep the townsfolk too fearful to go prowling the cursed place.

The arrival of armed and capable adventurers, however, seemed to hearten the townsfolk enough to take action. As Ouroboros sat doing magic tricks to draw attention, and Lahktar gave bold speeches, a group of four men of the town (three human, one halfling) volunteered to go with the group to the graveyard, and take back the Col Fen night!

It turned out the townsfolk were right to be fearful. The place was crawling with undead: skeletal archers and rotting hounds. With the help (and for one, a life’s sacrifice) of the townsmen, the group defeated the monsters, and drew near to the crumbling ruins.

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 4
In which our wizard wonders about warfare and loss

Let it not be said that we have not earned the title of adventurers. I knew upon embarking upon our quest to find Meros that we would have to confront and overcome martial dangers, but knowing and understanding have proven to be two wholly different things.

Leaving the graveyard in Black Hearth, we headed toward town center, drawn by the sound of pipes and chimes. In the center of this abandoned town were two goblins, a halfling, a ghoul and a gnome. The gnome seemed to be in command, and nearly as soon as we came to the central fountain they were upon us. The fighting was fierce in the cramped street between the town buildings. Seeing the halfling disappear, I feared that she might flank us through the back door of a tavern and so, focusing my will upon a barrel near the door, blocked it. The halfling thief broke through the barrel, only to face our barbarian Hilde’s wrath. In the end, I fell the goblins and Elhazra smote the ghoul and the thief. Unfortunately, the gnome used some kind of arcane illusion spell to vanish from sight, and got away. Looking over the halfling, we discovered a tattoo that has been associated with cults worshiping foul Vecna. Elhazra and I shared a knowing look, aware that we may be dealing with some truly dangerous forces.

With the gnome’s piping ceased, the fog began to swallow the town again. Before we evacuated, we searched the former training room of an old swordmage known to Beezra called Drakhtar, a fellow countryman of our dragonborn bard. Not surprisingly, the hall was picked over, but with a little bit of luck we found a hidden room and an exquisite red short sword that seemed to call out to Beezra on first sight. I’m sure the old master would not mind; Beezra follows his same path, and it will undoubtedly see much good use throughout our journey.

On the way back toward Hallowdwell, we decided to first stop in Col Fen to look for an acquaintance of Beezra’s particularly intimate friend. Along the way, I remembered reading in some very dusty tome about Col Fen. The current place name was a corruption of “Foul Ken”. This came about from a particularly nasty incident very late in the Centralian Empire. A splinter faction of necromancers from the Arcane University set up a death cult near the location of the present village. The very fact that such a place could exist near the heart of the Empire was proof itself of the fraying fabric of the land. Nevertheless, the warring factions of the University, with the help of troops still loyal to the Emperor, crushed the cult and sealed their evil off.

Even today, the place holds a reputation among the superstitious peasantry, and the bad feeling they got the closer to the former worship site gave rise to the area being known as possessing “Foul Ken”, and through the ages, eventually took the name Col Fen. I shared this information with Elhazra, who seemed rapt by the story. I am pleased that she has joined us. The rest of this party, brave and strong as they are, would not appreciate this kind of information. Elhazra, however, soaks in this information intently. Her scholarly demeanor is matched by her ferocity in battle and her charm outside of it. Truly, a remarkable woman.

Speaking of other companions, I asked Hilde about her sword. I had noticed some strange markings on it while in battle, but in the heat of the moment had not gotten a good change to examine it. She told me that her sword is called Valkyrie, but volunteered no other information about it and steadfastly refused to show it to me. Some kind of tribal taboo, I suppose. A shame, really. My best guess from what I’ve seen is that some of the markings seem to correspond to runic representations of Kord, but that’s common of plenty of swords. Perhaps as we travel together she will further enlighten me as to the story of her remarkable sword.

In Col Fen, Lahktar managed to bluff and chatter his way to the village headwoman. She told us about the ruins, only confirming my initial suspicions that these may be Centralian in nature. Our presence in the village began turning heads, and four brave men of the village agreed to guide us to the ruins and join our quest to discover the reason behind the disappearances of the villagers. Along the road, we were attacked by undead wild dogs and skeletal archers. The dogs were quick and vicious, and their fangs were rotting and diseased. One of the curs managed to bite me, and it seemed their saliva seemed to have some kind of anticoagulant, causing the wounds to bleed profusely. Luckily, Hilde seemed at home fending off the beasts, and soon the dogs were downed. One of the skeletal archers missed my head by mere inches, and that’s when it happened.

I have heard plenty of stories about the fabled Tiefling wrath, enough to be sick of it. The curse of our infernal blood and all that rot. But perhaps it is not. For when that arrow plunked into the tree trunk, I felt it. A rage, black and mercurial, welled up inside me. My eyes glowed red and I felt some “other” take control. I felt myself charging full tilt at my attacker with dagger drawn, all of my mage training thrown out the window, oblivious and uncaring to the danger. When I came upon the archer, I did not stab it so much as punch through it, shattering the abomination. The rage cooled, and I saw Elhazra look at me. With what emotion, I do not know. Was it cool disdain at my lack of control, or quiet admiration of a sudden show of strength? I simply do not know.

After the battle, the four brave men of the village were reduced to three; one of the men, of the name of Merrick, took an arrow to the heart and was beyond our ability to save. He knew the risks, as well as all of us, and yet. And yet I feel troubled. We led this man to his death. I cannot help but feel that we are responsible, sure as the arrow that pierced him. Do all leaders feel the pang of each death they lead in combat, or have their hearts grown hard and unfeeling? Either way, I have discovered a new thing in this journey that no book could teach me: In battle it is one thing to risk one’s own life, but it is a wholly different thing to risk the life of another.

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 3
Our resident wizard ponders some grave thoughts

I sit on the stairs of a ruined mausoleum in the not-entirely-abandoned village of Black Hearth. While the others mend their wounds from our most recent unpleasant encounter, I have decided to use the time to quickly update my journal.

Our suspicions about the amorous intentions of our halfling friend seemed to be entirely correct. I will not judge Beezra; far be it for a wizard to be close-minded. However, I must say that romantic entanglements seem a poor decision for adventurers such as ourselves. Such passionate feelings can get in the way, cloud a person’s good judgment. This is why I have made the vow to avoid such relationships, at least for the time being. And perhaps for my entire life! Many mages have found it difficult to maintain marriages as their arcane studies progress deeper into eldritch matters, though there are plenty of stories of great mystic families. I do not know what the future holds in that respect for me, but for right now I cannot allow the scales of love to blind my eyes.

After a quick meeting with a most tedious cleric of Pelor, we met Elhazra and let her know we wished to have her join our party when we traveled to Black Hearth. Most wonderfully, we convinced her to accompany us. Once again my fellow wanderers wondered aloud whether we could trust Elhazra. I do not know the source of their suspicions, but whatever the case might be, I was able to convince them that having someone who was familiar with the necromantic energies plaguing the land would be quite useful to have around. Frankly, I suspect my companions are simply afraid of energies they do not understand.

The next morn, Elhazra appeared with a burn upon her (quite beautiful) cheek. She accused that accursed lizard-brain of giving her a fake nightshade potion, which blew up in her face. Lahktar isn’t clever enough to have intentionally given her the wrong potion, and besides that, he’s too honest. It’s possible that he mixed the potion too strong; certainly he has been known to be too excitable in his mixing. He claimed as much, and I have no reason to doubt him. He may be many things – lazy, unfocused, a blundering idiot – but a liar is not one of them. Elhazra calmed down upon seeing that no malice was intended, and we traveled south to Black Hearth.

The town was surrounded by the poisonous miasma of the plague, but just as it was rumored, the town itself seemed to be immune from from it, an island in the storm. Hilde and Beezra decided to charge through, while Lahktar, Elhazra and I decided to instead brew a quick potion to allow us to get through the fog without ill effect. I saw Hilde struggling to continue, so I summoned a swirl of air to clear the air around her head. We finally made it through, and on the other side of the thick fog was a graveyard. Not an auspicious omen, but it was better than certain doom within that sickening cloud.

Upon opening the gate, we caught sight of three goblins. Truly, a unusual and unexpected sight. Hilde charged forth, blood and death burning in her eyes. She found herself ambushed by two more attackers, who felled our barbarian friend. For my part, I must have been over-excited as I was missing my marks by wide margins. Elhazra was masterful on the field of battle; when she struck down a foe, she absorbed his energy into her. At one point I noticed that she was hit, and I ran to protect her. But what does one like her need of protection? She took a step back, grateful for the moment of respite, and then focused her full energies upon her attacker, striking him down. For my own part, I was but grazed by a spear. My armor absorbed the blow without losing any integrity, and I have but a nagging bruise to show that I was even touched.

Sitting in this graveyard brings back memories. Mostly forgotten memories. Memories of my mother and my father. But that was many, many years ago. So many years ago, it may as well have been another life, or happened to another person. I said love can be a blinder, but the same can be true of memory. It looks that my companions are ready to press further into town. I will banish those memories and keep focused on the dangers ahead.

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Beasts of Two Breeds

The party’s suspicions about Beezra’s activities in her absence proved true: she spent her days training, and her nights trying to gain the confidence and companionship of the halfling rogue the party met on their first day in Hallowdwell. His name, at least as given him by the Society of Twilight Wanderers, was “Deftblade”, and he apparently bore some stature (?) in that thieves’ guild. Beezra’s first attempt at meeting with Deftblade led only to her surrendering his cloak back to him; the second was interrupted by a jealous halfling woman named Vaya, who threatened Beezra with bodily harm should she ever “dare to make the two-backed beast with Deftblade”.

Undeterred, Beezra did in fact spend the next night with Deftblade in his garret. And managed to pick up another adventure lead before doing so: a string of disappearances in the town of Col Fen had claimed one Veran Tal, an informant for the Twilight Wanderers.

The next morning, Beezra met back up with the rest of the party, who were busy discussing whether or not they trusted Elhazra enough to let her join the group for their trip to Black Hearth. Ouroboros’s insistent vouching for her won the group over, and they decided to spend the day as they all saw fit before going to meet Elhazra that evening. Hilde explored the countryside, finding a farm settlement (Vallren Fields) whose livestock appeared to be infected with some sort of maddening disease; Ouroboros and Lahktar bought supplies and chatted with the acolyte Bohm at the Temple of Pelor; Beezra visited the war room and training grounds of the Royal Guard, finding another lead on a mercenary expedition the group could undertake north of Hallowdwell.

That night the group informed Elhazra of their plans and confirmed the invitation to have her along. In the morning, she appeared in a fury, accusing Lahktar of sabotaging her by giving her false nightshade, but the bard’s protestations of innocence (and a bit of his healing magic for her alchemical burns) calmed her ire. The group set forth without further incident.

After a strenuous trek through the plague clouds surrounding the town of Black Hearth, the heroes emerged from the fog at a cemetery on the edge of town. There they discovered… goblins? The startled creatures raised an alarm, and a fierce melee followed, during which the stalwart Hilde fell unconscious and bleeding before Lahktar’s magic revived her. In the end, though, the heroes were victorious; not a one of the five goblins escaped.

What are goblins doing in an Arktfarian town surrounded by plague? And will the now much-battered heroes be able to weather any further such battles?

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Ouroboros' Journal, Entry 2
In which our wizard reflects on two arcane scholars who dabble in darkness

After three days of hustle and bustle about the capital city of Hallowdwell, I finally have the time to update this journal again. I have met and spoken with more people in these past three days than I would have spoken to in three years under Meros’ tutelage. To be wholly honest, it is somewhat disconcerting to me. I cannot imagine how much it is making our barbarian companion’s head spin; the narrow alleys and tall buildings are a far cry from hide tents out on the open plains.

Not long after arriving, my companions felt need to chase after a halfling thief that was cutting purses in the town center. I gave chase as well, trying to use my powers to disorient and disarm the diminutive wretch. My lizard-brained companion tried to “convert” him, to what I have no clue, but it was bizarre enough that it stopped him long enough to grab him. Being a halfling, though, he slipped from Hilde’s grip. To spite the little troublemaker, I used my telekinesis to make him spill his ill-gotten goods. As there would be no way to determine what money belonged to whom, I suggested that we keep it; after all, we would be spending it to help repel the evils plaguing this land, so it was a kind of unwitting donation for those whose money had been taken.

Beezra decided that she was going to chase after her fellow halfling; Hilde suggested that justice wasn’t really her motivation for chasing him. Personally, whatever the case, I simply hope she returns to the party all the better for her little adventure. Given the prospect of a few days’ wait in town while we waited for her return, I decided to do some poking around Hallowdwell and see what the state of arcane studies in this town was.

In a word: Poor. There were a few alchemical shops, and a temple of Palor, but compared to the stories Meros told me about Protence, Allandria is apparently at the remedial stage of arcane learning. A shopkeep did tell me that al-Hiraj, that ancient wizard, had taken up residence in a villa right outside of the castle walls. If that powerful and grim magician has fled in the face of the plague wind, then things are indeed dire.

Despite my misgivings, I went and visited al-Hiraj. His exile and change of scenery have done nothing to improve his foul mood. After his servant lent us into the room (which Lahktar and Hilde swore was a shadar-kai, I happen to think it was merely a human who had been around al-Hiraj too long), we were led to al-Hiraj’s chamber. The temperature immediately dropped, and it became hard to breath. The air itself became oppressive. al-Hiraj, after our pleading, offered to exchange his wisdom for information on a warlock named Elhazra. It seems the old man had it in his mind that she was one of those responsible for the fall of his Citadel of Silence, though I personally question that. It has been duly noted that the minds of many great wizards have grown enfeebled by age while they age, and that paranoia begins to fill the many cracks of the senile mind. We nevertheless agreed to visit this Elhazra and report to him who she was in league with. With our promise secured, he told us of a village to the south, in Arktfar, called Black Hearth, where the Plague Wind had mysteriously lifted.

All of us could not wait to leave the unpleasant company of the Raven Queen’s priest. Later that night we sought audience with Elhazra in the common room and library above a local temple. We found her with two hangers-on, and we proceeded to make some amount of small talk. Elhazra was guarded regarding her allegiances, but she was certainly not about her knowledge of arcane lore. Her knowledge is quite exceptional, and her insight into the nature of the mystic arts penetrating. To be honest, to be able to talk in-depth with a peer about the nature of magic is an experience for which I have longed for many years. I will not deny that she was also quite beautiful. She had raven hair, the smoothest skin and aloof yet watchful eyes. However, it is her mind, her will, her spirit-that is what I find most memorable about her!

Elhazra asked us to find her a spring of nightshade. We agreed, but Hilde told us that it would be very unlikely to find it growing in this climate. Lahktar worried that Elhazra might use the nightshade to create poison. I thought this was absurd. She was, quite clearly, looking at a list of curative draughts. Surely she would create an antidote with it. Luckily for us, we were able to find some nightshade in town, and Hilde was able to even help us get fair market price-just by being there! The barbarian may not be adroit at discussing culture or magic, but I must admit she is quite useful! We gave the components for the potion to Lahktar, and sure enough, he did not fail in brewing a fine potion.

We returned to the temple library to wait for Elhazra. The acid-spitter wandered off into the library stacks while Hilde stood there quite uncomfortable in the midst of all these tomes. I decided to use one of my earliest-learned magic tricks to help her feel a bit more at home; after all, she did help me earlier in the day. I created a snapdragon, or rather a decent facsimile of one, which she accepted with the eagerness of a child. It does not take much magic to impress our friend, but I will wholly admit that seeing that kind of awe in her face elevated my spirits nonetheless.

Elhazra and her tagalongs arrived not long after. She seemed either disappointed or impressed, at least caught off guard, that we not only gave her nightshade but brewed it for her as well. She revealed that she was affiliated with the Order of the Nightshade, and that they believed that they needed to better understand they ways of necromancy and dark magic in order to combat them. I wholly understood her reasoning; after all, was this not the reason Meros taught me the speech of the Underdark, that I may fight those fiends better? When we told her about Black Hearth, she was so curious about this development that she agreed to join us on our trip south. I am greatly excited to have this obviously learned and skilled woman join our party.

Perhaps I will be able to tell her of my great plan to one day re-establish the Arcana Majoris Universitas, that fabled house of arcane learning every young magician reads about. The Arcane University, as it is vulgarly known, was torn apart by internal strife at the end of the Centralian Empire many, many centuries ago, when the now-current kingdoms were merely clients of a great central god-king. In those days, great works of mysticism were commonplace and scholars sought to understand the underlying mysteries of the universe itself. But with the fall of the Centralian Empire, and the horrific wars that followed, so much knowledge was lost, both as the libraries burned and as wizard fought wizard, often to the utter destruction of both combatants. One day, I will re-establish Arcana Majoris, but this time we will remain above the fray of petty politics. We will be a nation unto ourselves, working not for king or country, but for the better understanding of all beings. I believe someone like Elhazra has the kind of vision to understand this dream, and perhaps when the time comes, the right mindset to be a member of the college.

So now we merely wait for our halfling companion to return, and we set out for Black Hearth. I believe whatever we find there will help us understand this vile curse better.

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A Tangle of Dark Threads
August 16-18

Hilde, Lahktar, and Ouroboros spent their first day at Hallowdwell getting the lay of the place, hitting the streets for information. Hilde found the tangle of the city confusing, hostile, and ultimately unhelpful, but the others turned up some information. Lahktar discovered that the thief they’d met that morning might be a member of a thieves’ guild, the Society of Twilight Wanderers, that recently moved operations into town. Ouroboros, meanwhile, heard that the Clerics of Pelor do some magical tutoring in the capital, but perhaps more notably, heard that an old colleague of his mentor, Al-hiraj, had left his Citadel of Silence and taken up residence near the castle.

The next morning, Ouroboros convinced the others to accompany him to see Al-hiraj, and find out if the old priest-mage might be able to impart some wisdom about combating the Deathwind. A shadar-kai guard admitted them to the ancient’s foreboding quarters, and while Al-hiraj scoffed at the suggestion that he could “wave a hand” and cure both Arktfar and Hilde’s homeland, he did feed the party some information. First, he had come to Hallowdwell in search of schismatics from his own order, and hinted that he might aid the party further if they could gain the confidence of one Elhazra and report back to him about her connections. And second, he had noticed during his travels north that the plague had lifted from the town of Black Hearth, and perhaps some clue or item crucial to fighting the Deathwind could be found there. He ordered that the group bring whatever they find to him, and dismissed them.

The group then set to Al-hiraj’s first task. Lahktar was able to locate Elhazra, a warlock who regularly discussed arcane theory in a library/common room above a local temple. They approached her as fellow students of the arcane interested in joining her dialogue, and she seemed eager enough to have them join her… but her companions urged her to caution. She thus asked “a token of good faith” from them: a sprig of deadly nightshade.

Such a reagent could be used for both good (diluted, as an antidote) and ill (in pure form, as a lethal poison), so the party thought this quest a risky one. Should they deliver a weapon into the hands of someone of such uncertain, perhaps even vile, allegiance? They came up with a plan to create a dummy nightshade that would pass for the real thing but be unusable as a poison. Ouroboros and Hilde purchased the necessary reagents from a local apothecary, including some real nightshade, and Lahktar compounded two solutions: a vial of “fake” nightshade and a vial of true nightshade antivenom. In the end, the decision of which to give her lay in Lahktar’s hands.

Whichever one he did turn over, Elhazra accepted the gesture, and revealed that she and her companions were a cell of a group known as the Order of the Nightshade: dedicated to studying the Deathwind, and necromantic arts in general, in an effort to battle the plague and perhaps reclaim Arktfar. She expressed great interest in their planned excursion to Black Hearth, and even offered to accompany them there.

Thus ended the evening of August 18. Will the party trust this dark character to join the group, or betray her to Al-hiraj as was promised?

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