The Darkness Between

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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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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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 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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Chapter 5 : The Captain
Wherein; Our band of heroes ascend to the final level of the Temple of Orcus and face their greatest challenge yet in this House of Evil...

GM's Note: From now on, I will be inserting notes and comments concerning certain sections of the Adventure Log. These may be the rule used for a situation, my reasoning concerning an event in the adventure, whether something went right or wrong in my design, etc. Constructive criticism would be most welcome!

 

Upon opening the door to the next level, the mage and the priest both realized that they had just broken some sort of magical seal held within the symbol of the Raven Queen. Whether this seal held something in or kept something out, they did not know…

Beyond the door was a massive chamber. Steps led upward from the other three sides of the room. To the west, they led to an upper level and what appeared to be huge bronze doors that may be an exit and to the south, a dusty barren upper tier scattered with the skeletons of long-dead warriors…

The Black TempleThe Black Temple

To the north, a shorter set of steps let to an altar dedicated to Orcus and two crumbling thrones. One of the seats of power had been reserved for the High Deathpriest of this temple. The other still held the Captain of the temples dark warriors…

The skeletal figure in black armor rose from the throne with the rasp of bone against metal and strode forward to address the group below. It's bony countenance was familiar…for back in the Mortal World, the Captain was known as Sir Keegan!

Before the Captain could utter a raspy syllable, Coatillian the Ranger, servant of the Raven Queen, stepped forward and bowed.

Thinking that Captain Keegan, like his counterpart back in the World, was being kept sealed within these evil walls, Coatillian greeted him with the formal greeting of a worshipper of the Queen…and immediately realized his mistake!

GM Note: I had designed a Skill Challenge to be used with this "Dark Keegan", much like the one used with Sir Keegan in H1: Keep on the Shadowfell. The party had an opportunity to talk their way out of the Temple (although the cost was high) if the luck of the dice had been with them…but alas, as soon as the Ranger spoke of the Raven Queen, the "jig" was up…

Upon hearing the name of his Lord Orcus' accursed nemesis, the battle wight known as the Captain screamed out a call to arms from it's long-dead allies!

The deathmaster specter of the High Priest manifested itself as the skeletal archers to the south arose, drawing back withered strings upon rotting bows…

A word from the Deathmaster Specter summoned demons from a magical brazier near the party with a burst of eldritch fire!

DM Note: A Battle Wight, Deathmaster Specter, 4 2nd Level Skeletal Archers, and 7 dretches made up the encounter. The brazier was also a 3rd level hazard/trap (it regenerated the demons).

The battle raged on, covering the length and breadth of the Altar Chamber and even back down to the level of the Dark Path. The ranger was almost lost in a hail of arrows as the party regrouped on the level below…

Soon, the Specter had been utterly destroyed, the demons slain, and the Captain defeated and thrown down the shaft to land 3 stories below, his Lifedrinking sword wrenched from his hand just before falling… 

 Moving back to the great bronze doors that exited the temple, the party slowly began to open them, thinking that freedom was at hand…

Unfortunately, the way before them was jammed with the Undead. Quicky forcing the doors closed, they chose to leave via the air shaft that exited to the roof of the temple.

Upon climbing out under the gloomy overcast skies of the Shadowfell, they found themselves on top of a great black ziggurat surrounded by hundreds upon hundreds of the dead…drawn there for weeks by the dark majicks of the Shadowrift far below! 

DM Note: Have you ever seen the Jet Li movie, "The One"? This is similar to the final scene… 

The band of companions, weary and bloody, only spared a moment to glance at each other in ironic humor before launching themselves at the hoards before them…

 To Be Continued… 

 

 

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Chapter 6 : The Curse of Dark Haven
Wherein; our champions of justice and greed battle hoards of the dead to reach the town of Dark Haven...

Throwing themselves into the mass of rotting foes before them, the party bravely battled their way down the steps of the obsidian ziggurat and into the forest beyond. Spotting a column of smoke in the distance and using it as their goal, the heroes made their way through the undead throng with blade and spell.

DM Note: I created a Skill Challenge that allowed the players to eventually escape the sea of undead surrounding them. 

Once clear of the army of darkness, the companions made their way down a black shale road and soon found the ruined town of Dark Haven, which had been under siege from undead forces for weeks…

The town's lord and town guards were now dead, along with a large portion of the population. All that was left were a few lucky farmers, peasants, and laborers…most of them wounded and recovering in the Lord's burnt-out manor house-turned-hospital.

The majority of the towns structures were leveled by fire or damaged beyond use. A small zombie dragon had been shot down by a drunken lout named Etheran, crashing into a tall tower and dislodging it's rider, a vampire spawn, who ended up impaled on the building's top spire.

Now the tower leaned at a precarious angle, damaged by the crashing undead dragon. Since even the brightest day on the Shadowfell seemed like twilight, the trapped vampire merely shrieked in pain from sunrise to sunset, instead of crumbling to dust in sunlight as it should have. The surviving townsfolk had taken to calling it The Screaming Tower…

Rumors abounded that a demon of shadow had broken into the tower and the sage had not been seen or heard from in three days. The townsfolk merely blocked off the entrance until they could recover from the devastation wrought by the onslaught of the dead…

During their investigation to find a way home, they met the "town drunk", Etheran Stone, also from the Mortal World. Etheran was a paladin in the holy order of Bahamut and son of the Baron of Therund.

An assassination attempt on his father by cultists of Orcus set the knight and his long-time companions in pursuit of the villains…a chase that ended with a rift to the Shadowfell being opened by a powerful cultist mage!

The paladin and his band followed the disciples of the Blood Lord through the black rift and into the Shadowfell, only to be ambushed by a crazed-dwarf and his mounted troop of black-armored warriors, their banner depicting a dragon on a field of dark burgandy or purple.

Left for dead among his slaughtered friends, Etheran soon regained conciousness and had made his way to Dark Haven the previous month.

The gloomy effect the Shadowfell has on all of it's visitors manifested itself as depression and alchoholism in the once-virtuous young man.

The threat of the undead after they breached the walls (three days prior to the partys arrival) had briefly roused Etheran from his dark mood. With the town guards dead, he had led farmers and peasants against the walking dead, holding them off until they seemed to lose interest and move on. He had lapsed back into a drunken stupor after that, and now was barely able to stand.

The heroes questioned Alabrek, a Shadar-Kai innkeeper and learned that a scholar studying Shadowrifts and their locations had visited their town a long while back. He had questioned their own local historian, a sage by the name of (gasp!) Valthrun… 

Alabrek the Innkeep told them the easiest way to find out the name and home city of the Shadowrift scholar was to visit Valthrun. The sage of Dark Haven had always kept meticulous records…

There was only one small problem…Valthrun lived in the Screaming Tower…

To Be Continued…

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Chapter 8 : The Road of Shadows
Wherein; our intrepid heroes pass through the Twilight's Anvil mountain range to reach the city of Gloomwrought...

A chance meeting with a small band of merchants from the town of Crestfallen gained information about the passage ahead. Duergar slavers and their orc minions had commandeered the abandoned dwarven gatehouse that guarded the entrance to the Road of Shadows.

An attempt by the party to bluff their way into the gatehouse using a merchants ox-drawn cart ended badly for both wagon and beast.

A pitched battle through the stone corridors ensued, ending with the party bloodied but victorious. The first of many conflicts arose between Kordun and the paladin, Etheran, when the knight slew a captive duergar Hellcaller. "No mercy for Devil Spawn" was the holy warrior's only reason.

Travel on the old dwarven highway was treacherous. The party faced a pack of twisted beasts the wizard named destrachen in eladrin, along with a subterranean horror with huge hooked talons.

Along the way they saved a travelling priest of Avandra from sacrifice by troglodyte worshippers of Torog, attempted to enter a mysterious tower marked with the symbol of the Chained God.

This challenge to their skills did not turn out so well and the party reluctantly retreated. Another conflict with Etheran the paladin arose, as his sense of honor  and justice blinded him to the danger and reality of the situation.

After a few days of travel, they companions emerged from the Road of Shadows and completed the final leg of their journey to Gloomwrought, City of Midnight!

To Be Continued…

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Chapter 9 : The City of Midnight
Wherein, the Companions search for the Rift Scholar, Carrigan, and find more than they bargained for...

The trip through the great swamp that surrounded the land-side of Gloomwrought was uneventful overall. Enterprising Dark Ones operated the skiffs, poling them slowly but safely through the 20 miles of bog called "The Skins" by locals. 

Other than the distant, earthshaking roar and footfalls of something the Dark Ones called a "Thunder King", the only other interesting encounter was meeting the half-elven bard, Azilis Roe.

The bard was friendly but a bit aloof. She could provide no information on this "Carrigan", but bid them good luck as the party reached the city.

The next day was filled with re-supplying and investigation. At the Great Library, Kordun and Trin discovered Carrigan had been researching a particular cult of Orcus called "The Ashen Covenant".

While most cults of the Blood Lord longed and prayed for the day their Master would supplant the Raven Queen and bring eternal undeath to the Natural World…the Covenant actively sought to make this a reality! 

A friendly but simple-minded tiefling janitor called Random gave them information on the location of Carrigans home and his daily routine.

The only other interesting tidbit learned was that several days before, a great Shadow Dragon called Urishtar Nightwyrm had crashed in through the massive stained glass roof dome and stolen away a large tome about the Dawn War. (Battle between the Gods and the Primordials over dominance of reality)

Following the clues, their investigation led them to the conclusion that Carrigan had been kidnapped by the Ashen Covenant. 

 While searching the scholar's home for clues, they encountered Carrigan's sister…the bard Azilis Roe! She had returned to Gloomwrought after having a "bad feeling" and wanted to check up on her brother.

The dead tiefling assassin they found stuffed in Carrigan's closet revealed one name to them under the influence of the Speak with Dead ritual…Varim the Mad! Varim was one of the ranking members of the cult…a Tiefling Warlock with a penchant for insane schemes and creating as many undead as possible. 

More investigation gained knowledge of Carrigan's journal, the book in which he kept all of his collected rumors and knowledge of stable, two-way Shadow Rift and apparently the object the Ashen Covenant was seeking! 

 To Be Continued… 

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Chapter 10 : Puppets
Wherein; our heroes attend a marionette show, only to discover that they are the puppets...

Clever deductions by the party soon discovered where Carrigan had hidden his Rift Journal. The journal told a tale that was previously unknown to his sister, Azilis the Bard.

Her father and mother had apparently been agents of the Raven Queen sent to find and close all stable Shadowrifts connecting the Shadowfell with the Natural World or the Feywild. This mission would frustrate the plans of Orcus to supplant the Lady of Winter as the new God of Death.

After their mothers death, her father had began to train Carrigan to aid him in this life-long quest. Most-likely, her leaving at an early age to seek her own fortune had spared her the same destiny.

Her brother had carried on this mission after the murder of their father and had closed several rifts on his own over the years. His latest research had discovered rumors of a rift located somewhere off the coast on a island only referred to as "The Isle of Dread".

The party also received a mysterious message from the tiefling library janitor Random. He said he had seen Carrigan and they should meet him in the morning at the market square where he went to watch his weekly puppet show.

The groups attempts at learning the location of Varim the Mad had come to naught. Only the cleric, Berrock, had gained any leads during his questioning of a priest of Erathis. 

If you wanted to learn of something hidden, they should go to the Alley of Twisted Bones and seek out the House of the Eye.

For who would have more information and cryptic knowledge than the cultists of Vecna, the Dark God of Secrets!

Not wishing to deal with that Devil just yet, the companions went the next morning to meet with the simple-minded Random. What they found was a trap! 

The plaza was just waking up around them. An old woman swept her shop steps, a farmer readied his huge cart of manuare for sale, and the puppeteer prepared his little sock friends for the morning show, and a caff (coffee) shop was just opening for business.

That was when the three dark elves strode slowly into the plaza…black cloaks billowing and arrogant sneers upon their faces! The party tensed as the Drow moved in their direction…and then past them to order caff at the small cafe! 

"Sorry your simple little friend didn't make it" was all the warning Kordun had before the puppeteer slammed a double-bladed sword into the dwarf's armored back! 

At the same instant, the "farmer" dumped his cart of stinking offal across the plaza, making the footing treacherous while spilling out a half-dozen hidden zombies!

The sweeping old woman then revealed herself as a Swarm Shaman by sending forth a torrent of stinging insects at the Dragonborn Warlord, even as crossbowmen appeared on the rooftops and opened fire!

During the battle that followed, the ever-changing city of Gloomwrought joined in with a cruel trick of fate. 

A tower erupted from the center of the plaza, as building were wont to do in the twisted City of Midnight. The structure rose 30 feet into the air, carrying Berrock, Kordun, and the puppeteer assassin with it.

Despite slippery footing, swarms of blood-sucking insects, archers above, and half-naked dwarven clerics, the party soon prevailed. The battle finally ended when the fanatical assassin through himself from the tower to his death rather than be questioned.

Bloody, wounded, covered in filth and insect bites, the companions limped back to their inn to prepare for the inevitable but distasteful solution to finding Carrigan…they would have to deal with the House of the Eye!

To Be Continued… 

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Chapter 11 : House of the Eye
Wherein; our brave adventurers trade secrets for secrets, while a companion walks away...

In the gloom of The Alley of Twisted Bones,  the party found an entrance to the House of the Eye. 

Greeted by a somber cultist of Vecna, they followed the priest past scenes of horror they had never imagined. Reigning in their instincts to bring this vile place to the ground, they found themselves before an elven crone who demanded their secrets for the secret they sought.

Once the party agreed, she tarot read their secrets of past, present, and future…even secrets they did not even know they possessed.

DM NOTE: I created a "tarot" deck of Vecna using images from Magic cards and the Magic Set Editor. Three cards for each PC told a cryptic secret that hinted at things to come… 

When all was said and done, they had a direction to go to find Carrigan. East into the swamps surrounding the city. Leave the city at sunrise the next day, the crone said…and they would find what they sought one day's walk into the Skins.

On the morrow, they found Teraldar the Eladrin Wizard gone. No signs of foul play. The innkeeper told them the mage had simply paid his tab and left with gear packed. Since the fey had always been somewhat mysterious, the party pressed on to rescue Azilis' brother.

DM NOTE: One of our player's is a die-hard football fan, so this time of year takes him away on Saturdays. Last year, his character had to "rest up from a battle" for quite a long time. This year, he mysteriously leaves, giving me a story hook for another adventure when football season is over!

As the sun topped the walls of Gloomwrought, the party trudged into the danger infested swamps ominously called "The Skins" and made their way east.

To Be Continued… 

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