The Darkness Between

Chapter 4 : The Dark Path
Wherein; our heroic adventurers return to the gaming table (one of them sporting a new set of lungs after a successful transplant!) and continue their ascent through the Temple of Orcus...

The Blood Key was not needed for the moment as the wizard Teraldar used one of his arcane rituals to unlock the doors leading out of the catacombs and onto a spiral staircase.

Upward the party climbed, finding the living quarters level of the Temple. Another ritual from the eladrin gained the party access to the chambers of a long-dead High Priest of Orcus. 

Here they found a macabre scene…dozens and dozens of severed hands formed three unholy pedestals at various points in the room.

The withered hands were preserved in wax and twisted about each other to create a 4 foot tall column, upon two of which rested rune-carved skulls.

One of the skulls wore a pair of simple wire spectacles, while a plain gold ring adorned the severed hand that held the second skull in place.

The third grisly pedestal held no skull, but a simple iron amulet rested in the palm of the topmost hand…

The three ghastly platforms seemed to be guarded by some sort of arcane electrical trap, so the party set about to disable the  protective field…

A secret door was discovered and behind the shifting wall they found a very sinister sarcophagus. Next to the forboding coffin was a metal lever set into the wall.

Kordun the dwarf stepped forward bravely and pulled this mysterious switch in hopes of deactivating the arcane electrical fields protecting the skulls and hands, giving access to their prospective treasures.

The lever did indeed shut down the magical barriers…freeing the now-animated hands and skulls from their stasis!

Dozens of skittering severed claws crawled and swarmed about the chamber as the skulls ignited with green mystical flames and rose into the air to attack the intruders and infidels! 

At the same moment, the evil-looking sarcophagus proved true to it's appearance by flying open with a howling scream. Whipping shadowy skeletal claws about Kordun, it dragged him inside, lid slamming shut with a resounding bang and leaving the dwarf trapped among the hungry dead…

The heroes battled the crawling Swarm of Claws and fireball-spewing Flaming Skulls while the rogue worked furiously to unlock the secrets of the sarcophagus and release the dwarf from it's deathgrasp…

Soon, the skulls lay shattered, their flames fading, twitching hands littered the room like dying insects, and the dwarf was freed from his entombment…

Moving onward and upward, the intrepid heroes cautiously entered the bone-littered antechamber of a strange bare room with a rune-covered domed ceiling.

Berrock the cleric took one cautious step into the domed chamber…and found himself sealed off from the rest of the party by an invisible wall of force!

The dwarven cleric of Erathis had to use all of his skills and knowledge of the Seven Gods of Evil to make his way across the Dark Path of Orcus. One misstep would bring pain and potentially death!

As Berrock faced his challenge alone, the rest of the party was suprised as the shattered skeletons in the antechamber swirled up into some sort of Unholy Union of Death and Bone, moving to take it's vengeance upon the living…

Once again, the dwarf Kordun defended his companions by barreling forward like a small tide of iron, pushing the nefarious apparition back and into the central shaft that ran through this malevolent temple of Orcus… 

The following page was taken from the now-infamous "Journal of Kordun"...

Kordun's Epic Battle 

By this time, Berrock had navigated the Dark Path with only a few new burns and scars upon his dwarven skin. The way was clear and the companions moved forward and upward, halting outside a plain wooden door marked, strangely-enough, with the symbol of the Raven Queen…

To Be Continued… 

 

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Interlude
Wherein, Kordun uses a healing surge!

To all Adventurers who follow these tales, I have a real life announcement:

I wanted to let you know that our stalwart dwarven friend Kordun, (Axefan, or Ash, as we know him in the Real World) has just received the treasure package of a lifetime! He has finally had the double lung transplant we have all been wishing and hoping for…and now will be spending all of his healing surges for an indefinite number of rounds.

The tales of the Champions of Old Nerath will therefore be taking an Extended Rest until our Defender is up to facing the challenges of the Temple of Orcus once again…

Be prepared for Kordun's return…His Axe will be HUNGRY for justice!

 

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Chapter 3 : The Temple of Orcus
Wherein, the Companions ascend to freedom through a crumbling temple of the Blood Lord...

Before the adventurers could puzzle out the appearance of these figures high above, several of the unknown arrivals began plunging down toward them!

 Time seemed to slow as the falling creatures neared. The missing ranger, Coatillian, tumbled into the cavern. The brooding elf was locked in combat with a snapping, bloated zombie! Several more walking (or in this case, falling) dead raked at him as they plummeted alongside…

 Thinking quickly, the wizard Teraldar whispered words of power, engulfing the ranger in a spell. Coatillian’s fall was slowed to the speed of a gently floating feather. The zombies, however, were not so lucky…

 Coatillian’s foe, along with four of the other dead things, struck the stone floor not unlike ripe melons thrown from a high tower. Two of these zombies actually rose to continue the battle! They appeared to be different from the other undead encountered in the portal chamber below…these zombies appeared “fresher” than those desiccated husks, and seemed to carry some sort of infection in their deadly bite!

 After dispatching these ravenous cadavers, the party prepared to ascend to the level above. Climbing a rope to the lip of the opening, they entered a large chamber lined with hundreds of burial niches. 

By the condition of the room, no one had disturbed this place for hundreds of years…at least, up until a few weeks prior! Apparently, the ritual Kalarel began a month prior had drawn the restless dead to the Shadowrift below…

A section of the wall had been torn out by bony fingers (according to the dwarves keen knowledge of all things stone) and allowed access to a natural passageway that led down into the earth…and most-likely to the Portal cavern. This explained  where all of the dead guarding the Shadowrift had originated from.

 A search of the large chamber found sealed bronze doors with no keyhole…only a disk of black metal etched with the likeness of the Prince of the Undead.

 The moldering journal of a priest of Orcus was also found…the skeletal remains of the author slumped over it's rotting pages. The book told of an invading force that battled and slaughtered his fellow acolytes and drove this cleric of the Demon Prince down into the catacombs.

He wrote of “resetting all of the temples defenses and wards” while locking all doors behind him with something called the “Blood Key”. This key worked only if a “proper sacrifice to the Blood Lord” was made…



The halfling rogue, Trin, discovered a statue of Orcus in a dark recess of the chamber. It held a brass bowl sealed by a black metal grate which only her small hand could fit through. Inside the blood-stained bowl was a strange key of black metal with a needle sharp point.

Since it was too large to fit through the metal grate, Trin grasped the key and enacted a ring of teleportation to free the odd piece of metal.

Touching the Blood Key angered the foul spirit of the dead priest. The Seething Wraith flew into their midst, it’s very touch burning with chaos and death!

To make matters worse, the hulking zombie from the Rift chamber below lumbered into the catacombs through the breach in the wall…and it had brought friends!

 Two rotted-winged undead harpies clumsily soared into the room, followed by a walking skeleton that burned with an unholy conflagration…

While the dwarves, the rogue and the warlord took on the evil dead, Teraldar and Coatillian sent magicks and arrows into the nearly-insubstantial wraith.

After their foes were vanquished, the Companions set to the task of unraveling the mystery of the Blood Key…

To Be Continued…

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Chapter 2 : Through the Glass Darkly
Wherein, the Companions find themselves deep beneath the earth and facing a sea of Undead...

Tumbling out of the closing Rift, the companions found themselves surrounded by a horde of undead on a ledge high above a massive cavern…a cavern filled with zombies and skeletons.

To add to their dire predicament, the elven ranger, Coatillian, had failed to appear with the rest of the party when exiting the portal!

The army of dead crowded the floor of the huge subterranean chamber and slowly made their way up a winding path to the ledge…

Arcane fire, divine might, and deadly steel parted the mob of dessicated corpses, only to reveal a mummified priest of Orcus and his hulking undead bodyguard…

As Kordun's axe tore through the mummy, the rest of the party sent the giant, bloated corpse tumbling off the ledge to splatter amongst it's brethren below. To their surprise and horror, the thing arose a few moments later, glaring balefully at them before making it's way toward a ground level exit passage.

Meanwhile, the heroes leapfrogged their way to another exit passage high on the cavern wall. By jumping across broken stalagmites, they narrowly escaped the throng of hungry cadavers that now filled the ledge where they once stood.

The party soon found itself in a winding maze of caves and passages lit only by a strange glowing fungus. Following the dwarves inate sense of direction, they made their way up and onward.

Passing through a fungus grove, the adventurers fell victim to it's hallucinagenic spores. All had visions of their worst fears, even terrors they had no conscious knowledge of…things forgotten in their past and horrors buried deep in their hearts and minds!

Shaking off the narcotic effects of the fungus, the group pressed on, soon finding themselves on the precipice of a wide black chasm…

 An ancient wooden bridge stretched across to a passageway on the far side, many of it's planks missing and whole sections crumbled away.

Halfway across this dangerous span, they noticed a light coming up the passage ahead! An old woman carrying a broom and a lantern came into view, dumping her garbage into the chasm and then sweeping the ledge clear of trash…

Speaking with the old crone,who called herself Roose, they learned that they were in the caverns below some sort of temple or church.

The place above was long abandoned by it's "priesties", according to Roose. Some sort of war or battle had occurred before she came to this place with her son…"Sonny", as she called him.

All she knew is that someone named "The Captain" was sealed in a room somewhere above…it's doors emblazoned with some sort of winged thing. The party guessed it must be a symbol of Orcus trapping this "Captain" fellow…

Roose was delighted to have some "real live heroes" to dinner! She called for her "Sonny" to come meet them…

As the sound of great wings sounded from deep in the black chasm, the companions realized that she didn't say "to dinner"...she said "for dinner"! It hadn't been trash the crone had been sweeping off the ledge…it was gnawed bones!

A young Black Dragon rose into sight from the inky darkness with a great roar as Roose revealed her true form…a Howling Hag!

Blood flew and scales shattered! Magic missiles lit the black and horrid screams from the hag brought pain and madness!

After a close battle, the champions eventually prevailed…Roose and her "sonny-boy" tumbled dead into the chasm below.

Searching the hag's lair gained Kordun a battleaxe seeped in magic and vengeance. They also found fresh zombie bodies, apparently the source of Roose's current diet. Blood trails seemed to indicate the bodies fell into a chamber from a 20×20 opening in the ceiling. 

A rusted base was the only remnant of the spiral stairs that once  led up to the level above. The companions could looked up and up, through several openings leading to what appeared to be the night sky. As they stared, humanoid silhouettes appeared at the very edge of the opening 100 feet up…

To Be Continued…

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