The heroes had been en-tranced by the effusive gush of Vadriar’s tale. In short:
- ‘Someone’ was planning to work a ritual upon the vortex at the centre of the Sea of Shadows
- Vadriar was attacked there by something that did a darkness thing on him and had a loud roar and big grabby claws
- He woke up in the presence of Paldemar, in an access tunnel just outside the Seven Pillared Hall. Paldemar told him about his new shadow and the terms and conditions attached thereto, and allowed him to limp home
It was only after hearing all this that anyone reminded themselves how dank and unpleasant it was in the place where Vadriar had chosen to hole up. They’d rather have heard his tale in the comfort of the Half Moon Inn. But then Vadriar said he would not have willingly gone there just now, not with events at their current heightened pitch. Slinking around had become his habit not only “for fear that brighter lights cast <gulp> stronger shadows,” but because Paldemar had told him that he had ways of knowing everything that went on in the Seven Pillared Hall!
Wjizzo suggested that Vadriar’s shadow might have been communicating everything it saw back to its master, Paldemar. And this made Vadriar shiver all over with renewed distaste, to think that he might have been the agent of Paldemar’s knowledge of proceedings… and then elated him, if his new friends’ valour might have cut off the villain’s channel of information. But now that the shadow had dissolved away, no one had any way of knowing for sure.
The Fairy Ring reflected that Paldemar must have continued to hatch his plans for some time from the point four months ago when Vadriar suffered his fate until — just three weeks ago — when “apprentice” Paldemar went seeking tidings of unreturned Mages of Saruun, and must in fact have abandoned his guise and begun in earnest to put those plans into action.
Surina suggested that the Rod of Ruin was the means by which portals to the Shadowfell were opened, and (with Wjizzo’s attention strangely elsewhere) it was Cram who noted astutely that the evil Kalarel had not wielded his rod whilst performing his ritual — for which he had a tome in one hand and Stanley the Knife in the other — but had taken it up only to join battle with Cram and co.
“We must warn the Mages before it’s too late!” said Vadriar, only for his rescuers to completely ignore him. None of them explained to him that they considered the Mages to have suffered far worse than just having a couple of their number overdue to return from their travels.
Cram of Clan Thumper pointed out that Vadriar’s information about the Sea of Shadows was four months old. He was keen to lead a small, unarmoured scouting mission to find out how things were now, down there at the root of the mountain.
But the others, despite Wjizzo’s assertion that the blockade of the Shining Road by the deathlock wight, Az’Al’Bani, and his 30 minotaur skeletons was a feint or a distraction, were keen to try and deny Paldemar the Bringer of Change this ally and the 30 footsoldiers he commanded. If he had refused to abandon his post to go to the Court of Bones, then maybe whatever was there could be found and used against him.
“Vadriar, we’re going back into the Halls of Silence, and you and Terrlen can lead us — back to where the drow took you.”
Cowed by the larger personalities of the group of heroes who had just (endangered and?) saved his life, Vadriar put up no resistance.
THE HALLS OF SILENCE
The mist-wisped Halls of Silence were less daunting for a return trip, with an already halfway useful map and marks upon the walls, and they sensed neither rumour of drow nor spoor of hyena before they found themselves approaching the the plaza of the Court of Bones which Terrlen had previously helped them avoid.
So large a space, being overlooked by so many galleries with such long sight lines, was a perfect haunt for predators. The little imp servitor whom Surina had unceremoniously dubbed “Gimp” confirmed that nothing lurked on any of the balconies or galleries above the route they must take. Wjizzo created a Feylight unseeable to any creature beyond ten paces, and the group slunk undetected to the entrance, through the open gate and down the entrance tunnel.
THE COURT OF BONES
Where Vadriar had told of waiting when the two drow went forth into the Court of Bones and were assailed by fire, the Gimp reported a fiery light behind one of two arrowslits. If the drow had worked on the doors for half an hour, obviously there was a blind spot that the fire-trap or sniper could not reach, so Cram and Wjizzo dashed forth, the others staying back in case the blind spot weren’t larger enough for more than two. Cram pounded down the tunnel, outdistancing Wjizzo, and the Eladrin — even forewarned of the danger — only narrowly evaded the ball of fire hurled at him from the arrowslit. He opened the door which the drow had had no reason to re-lock behind them and stepped through, finding himself in a short corridor overlooked 20’ up on both sides by the guard posts behind the arrowslits. A reflected glow lit the ceiling and he panted, “It was a skeleton shrouded in a blaze of flame!”
Cram was undaunted and, placing one foot in Wjizzo’s folded hands, launched himself heroically upwards. Wjizzo was pushed back and away, but Cram’s fingertips found the ledge and he pulled himself up to see the blazing skeleton trying to concentrate its fire into a ball between its two hands. One mighty ham-fist closed around the skeleton’s leg and Cram launched himself back into space. The barbarian landed and rolled right where Wjizzo had just been standing, followed by the crash, splinter and crackle of the blazing skeleton. Surina’s eldritch blasts and Varris’ hail of arrows met the skeleton’s unsteady rise to its feet before Cram swept out his Fullblade and hacked it to the ground, before Varris shot it dead once and for all.* Its fire died, leaving only a flame-blackened skeleton and a barbarian swatting out the smoulderings all over his hide armour.
Beyond this guardpost the passages led to a vast dark presence chamber where twin thrones overlooked a floor defiled by a 30’ ram’s skull device of Orcus daubed in blood and charcoal, on which stood a minotaur skeleton brandishing a greataxe. Another similar form lay sprawled on the steps up to the thrones, and there was a second flame-blackened skeleton on the floor off to the other side. Wjizzo suspected the symbol to be infused with necromantic energies and though the Eladrin did not himself confirm this to be true, Surina confirmed it with a grim nod. Wjizzo fell to searching the thrones, assisted by Varris who turned up a spring-loaded panel under a rotton cushion, and found a couple of hundred golden coins of Saruun Khel and a slender leather-bound book containing details of two arcane rituals.
Surina lowered the rod of the demon-gnoll at the skeletal minotaur and performed a Grasp of the Iron Tower, racking it with damage and holding it in place for a long moment… until she unleashed a textbook Fiery Blast which rocked it back on its heels, flames bursting all round it. At this it began to lumber up the steps towards her, only to be met by Cram’s downward hurtle, iin which a perfectly timed sweep hewed through ribcage and spine, chopping the minotaur in half.
A few moments later, Surina pointed out that the lower spine and legs that had fallen back to the chamber’s floor were now twitching (whilst the head, and critically the arms still clutching the great axe, remained inert). As Wjizzo’s wizard hand removed the dismembered bones from the Orcus design on the floor, Surina explained that its necromantic energies restored strength to the creations of undeath. That would make this a desirable place indeed for a deathlock wight to lair.
Wjizzo wanted to disenchant the Orcus design. Varris said it was their duty to the Raven Queen. Cram said it would need more than fairy liquid and asked if anyone could lend him a six-foot crowbar for wrecking the floor. Wjizzo and Surina prepared for a long afternoon of Magic Missiles and Eldritch Blasts. Then Elana spoke up to say that the most important thing was to think of a means to use this for leverage over Az’Al’Bani the wight . . .