Surina came round and realized that some vicious little b****r had attacked her in a moment of vulnerabilty. In fact: twice… In fact TWO of them had! A stinger-wound on her neck/shoulder was swelling to the size of a melon.1 She gathered her wits, gathered some of the chattels of the fallen demon-gnoll, Maldrick Scarmaker, and gently lifted the unconscious sacrifices to safety.
- Nana Cloudrun, head of the halfing family, and itinerant priestess of Avandra
- Bodhran Lightfoot, Thumper-clan apprentice shaman and uncle-cousin to Cram
But as the potion steadily returned her strength, there was little attention on Surina for the moment.
Percival’s killer instinct proved itself yet again, and he ‘winged’ Mezzothraxiar the imp even while it was invisible, but little came of any further attempts against it, including Varris’ broad sweeps of his cloak. Chiefly Varris noted that the doors into the sightless soundless place that was the only way out were shut. He shut the main doors too and leaned firmly against them. Wjizzo’s fist of Icy Grasp clamped the Rod of Ruin to the floor where the imp could not get at it again, and then he mage-handed it into being safely bundled up in Varris’ cloak.
Cram hefted the Baphomet-altar (scattering candle-stubs, small-bones and other minor gnollish trinkets to Yeenoghu) looking for loot hidden underneath it. When, disappointed, he let it crash back, Wjizzo detected a light metallic tink and was in like Flynn. An extremely well hidden pair of symmetrical secret compartments proved one to be empty, but the other one to contain a silvery-metal key.
There were no concealed keyholes anywhere in the room.
Varris prompted Elana to open the sealed scroll from the cultists to Maldrick, which had been intrumental in getting them into the complex, but which needn’t be kept sealed for Maldrick now!
All kudos: Myrhdraak
But as people were searching for keyholes, and Percival clambered up onto the base of the big minotaur statue across from which the altar was situated, Varris realized the top of the statue was the one place that the blasted imp could lurk without even flaping its wings to hover. A delightfully subtle Elven whisper in Wjizzo’s Eladrin ear and a Force Orb resounded about the statue’s horned head, but still no sight, sound or sense of movement betrayed the location of the undetected target.
Nor — as Surina divined their quarry — would the imp Mezzothraxiar come either at her request or her command. As the party filed out of the chamber, glad to be quitting the Abyss-reeking place, Surina went last and held the doors open the merest crack. “Mezzothraxiar, you show yourself now or stay here!” When no sign came, she slammed shut the doors and IMPrisoned the diminutive devil in the minotaur temple for however long it would be before another group were to battle through the tests of the Proving Grounds and open the way into the Inner Sanctum, possibly forever.
- o O o -
Away from the Abyssal dread of the Well of Demons, back at the Seven-Pillared Hall, Surina went back to her cave in the Pigeonholes, retrieved the Bag of Holding and handed it over, which went much of the way to mollify Percival.
In the Halfmoon Inn, as Rendil and his Auntie Erra served ales and food to the heroes and the rescued slaves, blind little Alvi Cloudrun heard his nana’s voice and there was a tearful reunion, though darkened by the news that his sister had died in the rescue attempt.
Varris asked a series of questions of Nana Cloudrun, who confirmed that the black-clad “Mister Sable” had met the Cloudrun family’s flotilla on the White River west of the Harkenwold, but before the whole group she denied having any other knowledge of him than that.
Then came something of a courttoom scene as Surina explained her actions in the matter of the Rod of Ruin.
Previously, having come to the Thunderspire on a matter of religious duty to Erathis (the torch of civilization, lady of the big society, foe-goddess of chaos) and prayed for guidance, Surina had had a visitation from Mezzothraxiar. He said he was sent to aid her cleansing it of the Asmodeus-worshipping duergar, drow and other such foul folk as abused the peace of the Mages of Saruun. And later, after their alliance with the saviours of Winterhaven saw the vanquishing of the Grimmerzhul duergar, Mezzothraxiar said that Surina had the arcane training and strength of will to wield the Rod of Ruin where faint heart may have kept others from the knowledge that could be gained.
Whilst some of the group may still be keeping their council, the opinions that were voiced were that Surina was of course valiant, and when Mezzothraxiar purloined the Rod and offered it to her, her treachery was a failing of gullibility rather than malice.
Surina maintained that the Rod was a force of the Shadowfell, distasteful to some amongst the living, but no more evil than the rest of that realm or indeed the Raven Queen herself. [‘Necrotic’ is not inherently evil, though many may view it as such.] “The evil is in the wielder, not in the weapon,” she said, and the Rod remembered the deeds of its former wielder(s). As one of these was evidently a lord of the minotaurs, the Rod could yet provide valuable intelligence about the history of Saruun Khel.
At this, Percival waxed forceful, having also had a vision of a former wielder of the Rod. His had been of a leader of an army of demons and undead leading an attack into the Feywild. Percival was in no doubt that the Rod was an “Evil Artefact”, and reminded everyone that they had taken it from Kalarel the Necromancer, who had been trying to open a rift to the Shadowfell to unleash an army of Orcus upon the folk of the Nentir Vale.
- o O o -
More information on this was shortly to be forthcoming.
The advantage of having the sealed letter to Maldrick had previously caused the group to hasten into the Well of Demons. But now they were back in the Seven-Pillared Hall, Varris returned to a previous lead. Gendar the Drow had refused to aid the party in seeking the missing Paldemar (even for what was no doubt a large profit), saying that the hand of Orcus was in it, possibly even the dreaded Ashen Covenant.
When Varris had asked around a few people about rumours of undead, possibly a cult of Orcus, he had learnt that most people here in the Hall who were curious about the history of the place would ask Vadriar ‘the Sage’, an eccentric small human with a penchant for books and scrolls.
And now Rendil said that Vadriar was in tonight. Right in the darkest shadows. Well not the darkest shadows — as tonight had a pair of Drow in one corner, who appeared to wreath themselves in deeper shadows than was strictly natural — but the next darkest spot.
Varris went and sat uninvited opposite the little man, who tried to hustle out from behind the table only to find Percival and Surina sliding in on either side of him. With ill grace, he accepted Varris’ offer to share a bottle of the Halfmoon’s finest vintage. Saying little about himself, he was nevertheless extremely forthcoming on his specialist subject, and was soon producing a page from a book once he found himself to have a keen audience.
All kudos: Myrhdraak
“Karavakos! That’s the name the Rod gave in the instant it was dashed out of my hand!” exclaimed Percival. “I told you it was an Evil Artefact!”
“I know that name too,” said Cram unexpectedly. “Douven Staul said a ‘Karavakos’ had reputedly had ancient connections with some location in the Winterbole Forest that is now our home.”
Karavakos was described as a Tiefling wizard who took a pact with Orcus, made the Rod of Ruin and opened the original rift to the Shadowfell, forming an army with which he carved out a kingdom in the Nentir Vale before his meteoric rise was matched by a precipitate fall.
But Varris’ interest was in the undead of Thunderspire, especially as connected to Orcus.
Vadriar had something on that too, and pored through a scroll to read out relevant excerpts — with much editorial comment, in which he was humoured by the assembled group. The scroll was an account by the minotaur high priest of Baphomet in a time when one Tzaruum’ze led an uprising ostensibly following Torog the many-eyed, the Watcher in the Darkness, but who proved to be of Orcus, and whose delvings had been to open up “the Sea of Shadows” and raise its ‘shadow waters’ to inundate the Labyrinth and spill into the lands beyond. In the civil war that followed, every loyal minotaur who fell became an undead footsoldier for the other side. Taurus Zabath himself despaired of Baphomet and sought the aid of Orcus’ nemesis, the Queen of Death, creating something that was a weapon against the undead. He was not remembered kindly. “In as much as he was remembered at all,” ended Vadriar. “For that war was the end of the minotaurs and they seem to have fought themselves into mutual annihilation, leaving the Labyrinth deserted for the two centuries until the Mages of Saruun came.”
All kudos: Myrhdraak
Surina, who went more than a round with the Rod of Ruin, says she saw something that must have been the Sea of Shadows…
1 This will leave a permanent scar, btw.