This week’s epistle comes in three sections, two chunks writing up what you did and the one at the end which is new Exposition.
Lines are Drawn
Varris the Scarred, wielder of the Orb of Taurus Zabath, and his heroic companions were barely rested when Wjizzo the Eladrin roused them and led them out, mostly half-dressed, to see what was occurring in the Seven Pillared Hall.
The Ordinator Arcanis was marching out, coordinating the movements of no fewer than five Bronze Warders. He was concentrating quite hard to do this, moving them into a defensive formation at the northward side of the Hall, as though to defend against an attack coming down the Shining Road. Chief Apprentice Crohro explained that the arcane arts of the Mages of Saruun had identified a threat and they had despatched their Ordinator Arcanis to meet strength with strength.
The heroes, with Junior Apprentice Otario along as a runner in case of need, toured the other points of ingress into the Hall, concerned that the lone Ordinator’s longstanding bluff was finally being called. But there was no sign of any other threat.
So they girded themselves and headed forth, wary of ambushes, until they shot down one Zombie Bat and pursued another few that flapped their unsteady way north. In the darkness at the limit of vision (the limit of elvensight beyond the Everburning Torch born forth by Elana’s unseen servant) loomed a wall of 7’ horned figures with great axes. The party approached closer without eliciting any response until they could make out that the front rank of six minotaur warriors were undead, barely more than skeletons, but they were backed by serried ranks five deep.
At their challenge, a voice responded from amongst the ranks, identifying itself as Az’Al’Bani. Knowing this deathlock wight by reputation, as apparently once a paladin and as being now obsessed with a quest for the Court of Bones (which they now knew they could find in the Halls of Silence), they put up a potent case for his leaving off this offence. But he acknowledged that for all his long obsession, the patience of the dead is great, and now in mere days the Bringer of Change would overthrow the Mages of Saruun and everything would be re-ordered to suit him and his favourites.
The Orb of Light had let Varris know its favour when the Zombie Bat was killed. It would not be pleased if the false necromancy of Orcus were not opposed wherever it was encountered, but the others dragged Varris unwilling away from the fight.
Hostilities had begun between the Mages of Saruun and Paldemar, the Bringer of Change, but in only a token fashion. The heroes wondered at the renegade wizard’s true intention.
Vadriar the Sage
Back in the Seven Pillared Hall people from outlying sites were drawing in closer to the direct protection of the Mages. Mighty Cram speeded a dwarf miner’s overladen handcart of ore back to the Deepgem Company and the dwarf mentioned being glad to hear Vadriar was back in one piece. Elana pursued a chain of hearsay and sightings with a cheery smile here and a promise to sing a request there until she identified that Vadriar had been seen scuttling into a very undesirable residence of a half-ruined ‘Pigeonhole’ high up on the south wall of the Hall.
The heroes found him on a thin sleeping mat. He awoke as they arrived and they indulged him in his usual panicky insistence that no light be brought near. And then Vadriar told how he’d been abducted by the two drow, unhindered by the power of Truce under which the Mages of Saruun are meant to keep the Seven-Pillared Hall. The drow had ascertained from his conversation with Varris and Surina that he was knowledgeable about the Labyrinth and had seized him to help them find the Court of Bones. Even without the key (in which Az’Al’Bani sets great store) they overcame the locks and found that which they’d sought, which “Matron Urlvrain” in “Phaervorul” would appreciate in facing down an Orcus threat… And they headed off through the Underdark, abandoning Vadriar near the foot of the Great Stair.
Elana’s servant-borne Everburning Torch and Wjizzo’s wizardlight continued to cause him consternation as he told his tale, and even as he backed up against a wall, Elana spotted him looking at the wall behind him. He was quite literally scared of his own shadow! A darting move of a lightsource and his shadow was just a little too slow in moving round to stretch across the width of the room. It was no mere natural effect, but an otherworldly shadow-being bound to him like a curse or a possession!
With moving lights and blade and staff and burst of magic they assailed the shadow, severed portions of which evaporated before their eyes, and then, having withstood their first onslaught it stood up off the floor and closed with Vadriar, wrapping dark hands about his throat with a strangler’s force as the little man rained eerily silent ineffectual slapping blows upon it. Attacked from every side it slid around Vadriar in a logic-defying dance, dodging an attack and then locking its hands back in place. And then as Cram interposed his fullblade and drove the shadow one way, Vadriar hopped both feet backwards over the shining torch behind his ankles, and the shadow was loosed from him. It darted behind a half-collapsed wall and became indistinguishable from the rest of the darkness there but a hail of steel: longsword, scimitar and fullblade cut shreds of shadow melting into free air, and the thing was no more.
"No! Get it off! Get it off me… It’s… It’s gone! " Vadriar fainted clean away.
NEW STUFF – The Tale of Vadriar the Shadowless
Vadriar is a slender, little old man with a shaved head. He wears simple brown robes and carries a big old canvas A-frame rucksack stuffed with books, scrolls and sheafs of scribblings. Cursed by a necromancer whom he once thought his friend, Vadriar may be thought a vampire… for he casts no shadow!
In recent months, Paldemar abused Vadriar’s eagerness to discuss his research and theories with any willing audience (at great length, you’re beginning to find). He learnt many old legends and myths about the Thunderspire Labyrinth and, unravelling their secrets, gained the power to challenge the Mages of Saruun themselves in the process of pursuing his darkest goal. Long unsuspecting of ‘Apprentice’ Paldemar’s agendas, Vadriar made a fell discovery some four months ago.
He can tell – now – that he learnt the Sea of Shadows to have been the scene of a defining battle between the minotaurs of Tzaruum’ze’s Orcus faction, seeking to open a rift to the Shadowfell, and the minotaur faithful of Taurus Zabath who pushed them back and denied them the Sea of Shadows to the last breath. And beyond waging that war, the faithful also collapsed the tunnels and passageways to it, and almost completely expunged all mention of it from the records and histories of Saruun Khel.
But Vadriar came across a reference to a chill somewhere not far from the Well of Demons, that was nothing to do with the nearness of the Abyss. Investigating this, he became the first surface dweller to find the Sea of Shadows (by his own actions) in the three centuries since it was sealed. Exhausted by a 200’ squeeze down an “ignominious” refuse chute he fell… into open air, and then into black water that was cold beyond imagining. He just barely managed to clamber out. He found himself in a cavern over a mile across, containing a vast lake like a black mirror, pierced here and there by mighty stalagmite-islands, and with bridges of minotaur workmanship spanning from wall to stalagmite to stalactite in a bewildering elevated maze – still strewn with the corpses of that ancient war. At the middle of the cavern a perimeter of bridges circled a central point where the lake surface could be seen to be rotating, as though in the drag of a vortex somewhere below. These bridges had been cleared of corpses, and at six equally-spaced places (the vertices of a regular hexagon) were chalk-marks and vector calculations planning a ritual.
And then Vadriar’s feeble witchlight was extinguished as a great roar blasted him with sickening black cold and he was seized in the talons of some mighty cavern-beast—— And the next thing he remembers is regaining consciousnness in the presence of… none other than Paldemar. His ‘friend’ made no effort to hide from him the ritual that would turn this hollowing at the heart of the Labyrinth into a portal to the Shadowfell, where he boasted that there was an immense head of water, far greater than that in this world. The forces of Doresain the Ghoul King, Exarch of Orcus, have erected great dams and flooded much of the Shadowfell landscape in the area corresponding to the Nentir Vale. By carefully apportioning the life forces of six strong souls over to the Demon Prince of Undead, Paldemar would open the vortex, and in less than a day Thunderspire would be filled with deadly shadow-water, infused with necromantic seepage*, until it spilled forth to inundate the lands without…
Vadriar had been sure that hearing Paldemar’s plan in full meant he was not to live out the day.
But Paldemar had found his learning useful in unravelling the secrets of the Labyrinth and the true nature of the Bronze Singers, and wanted to have him available yet. So he summoned a murderous Shadow and bound it in place of Vadriar’s own, with orders to slay him if he ever tried to leave the mountain, mentioned anything of Paldemar’s plan to kill so many and bring about the end of all that Vadriar held dear, or even gave anyone cause to suspect his predicament itself.
“And now it’s happening,” he whimpers. “We must warn the Mages before it’s too late!”
*I kid you not. It does necrotic damage.