The party decided it could take a moment to investigate the coffin before returning to Winterhaven. As soon as De’Wayne began to slide the coffin open, the heavy lid exploded in a flurry of dust. A heavy mist seeped from the open coffin, and flowed over the ground. The room seemed to darken, and in the south corner of the dais, a sickly green glowing form materialized from the mist. It was a skeletal apparition, wearing a helmet and breastplate, and holding a spectral shield and broadsword. Its shield was emblazoned with the symbol of Bahamut. “Thieves and grave robbers!” it croaked menacingly, “the portal must never be opened! Declare your intentions, or prepare to die!” Then, gesturing towards De’Wayne’s hip, he said, “You have my sword, knight.”
With some fast talking, the party managed to convince to skeletal knight that they were not in the keep for plunder, or to open the portal, but to stop the portal from being opened by Erzoun. De’Wayne further explained that he had the sword in the possession of one of Erzoun’s shadar-kai lieutenants. Seeming to accept the party’s claims, the wraith identified himself as Keegan, the last commander of Shadowfell Keep before its fall. Keegan gave his version of the fall of the keep: how his pride and sense of righteousness left him vulnerable to Orcus’s influence, and how he was finally possessed by evil, and murdered his wife, children, and many of his commanders. He fled into these crypts to escape the vengeance of his remaining troops, and his madness lifted. He wished to die, but found that he could not. He therefore resolved to protect the portal alone, fulfilling the oath he had been unable to live up to during his life.
Keegan also explained that Orcus’s influence has grown in the years since the fall of the keep: as a result, he had been unable to leave this small area that remained consecrated to Bahamut in many years. He did report that some time ago, perhaps years, he had felt a presence push through the portal from the other side, after which the portal snapped shut behind them. Whoever that was, he reported, felt the same to him as the person now trying to open the rift from this side. The party was now in a rush to check in on the safety of Winterhaven, but before they left, Keegan granted De’Wayne continued use of his sword, Aecris, wishing that someday the knight might prove himself worthy to bear such a blade.
As the party emerged from the keep’s basement, the eerie green light from the cemetery remained, but was now outshone by the orange light of flames inside the city walls. The sound of shouting voices could just be made out in the distance. As the party descended the mountainside, the flames could be seen to subside, and the shouting diminished. Finally they reached the city gates, around which they saw evidence of a mighty struggle: the bodies of many zombies were littered about. The drawbridge was down, its chains hanging uselessly, but a portcullis had been lowered behind it, gruesomely bisecting an unfortunate zombie hulk in its attempt to enter the walled town. The smoldering ruin of Wrafton’s Inn was visible behind the gate. Two Winterhaven Regulars stood within the gate with halberds raised, and the captain of the guard approached with his hand on the hilt of his sword. He said to the party, “You’d better account for your whereabouts.”
The party explained that it had been exploring the ruins of the old keep, and that the attack on the town seemed to have something to do with activity there. The captain accepted the explanation, but refused to allow anyone to enter the town until the immediate threat had been disposed of. He explained that during the assault on the town, witnesses had seen a figure in black, first atop the city walls, and then fleeing away to the south. Valthrun reported that he could see from his tower that a green glow was emanating from the cemetery, and surmised that the intruder had fled in that direction. As the captain explained all this, Sister Linora approached the gate, and demanded that Nuvok at least, be allowed to enter and help her tend to the wounded, who included Lord Padraig and Thair Coalstriker, the blacksmith. The captain grudgingly relented, and Nuvok entered the town as the rest of the party prepared to deal with whatever threat lay hidden in the graveyard. It was at this point that one of the guards informed the group that Randy, De’Wayne’s sometime lover, had fallen in the battle to defend the city’s gate.
The party entered the cemetery gates, and saw no one by the sickly glow of what was now seen to be a mystic circle in the ground of the graveyard. Three stately mausoleums stood in the dark, surrounded by many simpler grave markers. Then, suddenly, a number of skeleton archers erupted from the earth, and a ravenous ghoul charged at the party from the darkness of one of the mausoleums. The skeletons fell quickly, but the ghoul tore a swathe through the party, gashing the De’Wayne’s and Stone’s flesh with its vicious teeth and claws. Then, from one of the other mausoleums slunk a black cloaked figure wearing a raven mask, peppering the party with arrows.
Finally the party felled the ghoul and was able to concentrate on the masked bandit. The bandit fought bravely for a time, but was badly outnumbered, and finally, on the verge of defeat, snatched a sheathed dagger, and screamed accusingly at the party, “Where WERE you?” It was a woman’s voice they heard. The bandit then plunged the dagger into her own belly, and fell dying to the ground. Althaea removed the mask from the bandit’s face, and was shocked to see the lifeless eyes of Ninaran staring back. On Ninaran’s body the party found two notes, one written in Common and one in Elven. The note in Common read:
I have a job for you. The adventurers of whom you wrote have become a thorn in my side. Eliminate them. I haven’t the manpower now to spare for this sort of thing. We’ll all just have to improvise, I suppose. I am granting you a different means to assault the town and put an end to our meddling friends.
My messenger carries a ritual elixir. Combine it with the blood of a dozen locals, then trace the pattern depicted on the bottle in the soil of a graveyard and pour out the libation. That should raise a force sufficient for your purposes. Strike at night, when they are least prepared.
If it will ease your pitiful conscience, the influence of Orcus is particularly strong in this region; perhaps it will require the lifeblood of a handful fewer villagers to muster your troops. Then again, it would be better not to take any chances, would it not?
Only Althaea read Elven, and she declined to reveal the full contents of the other note: only that Ninaran had addressed it to Althaea personally, and that Ninaran’s actions against the party had been forced, because Erzoun was holding Myna, Ninaran’s sister, hostage. Althaea declared that with Ninaran dead, Myna’s life was likely forfeit now as well. Althaea knelt down and found a pendant of Sehanine around Ninaran’s neck, much like the one the party had found in the cell block beneath the keep, but with one small gem missing. She pocketed the find, and demanded help moving Ninaran’s broken body to one of the now unoccupied crypts. The party complied, and meanwhile, Brandis performed a short ritual to disable the necromantic circle that Ninaran had etched in the soil. The glow subsided and the party prepared to return to Winterhaven with Ninaran’s raven mask as proof that they had dealt with the immediate threat to the town. As they returned townward, dawn seemed to break somewhere far away, offering only the faintest hint of light in the east behind a thick wall of clouds that seemed to cover the whole earth.
The town guard now allowed the party to enter the city, where they retrieved Nuvok, and obtained the items they had purchased earlier from Thair Coalstriker: an enchanted suit of chainmail for Nuvok and a magical waraxe for Stone. Thair was walking on crutches now, from an injury sustained in defending the town, but seemed to be in good spirits.
The party considered taking a rest in town, but elected instead to return to the keep. They now headed east from the entrance chamber. Just a few feet down the hallway, Althaea located a secret passage on a northern wall. The party found that the secret passage opened into the goblin barracks. Returning to the main hallway, the party took note of a set of stairs down to the south that appeared to open into a dark natural cavern, but continued eastward before investigating it. The hallway finally opened into a large chamber whose floor had been destroyed in many places, so that the ground level was now ten feet below the original floor. A huge mound of dirt was piled in the northwestern corner of the room, and small islands of the original floor were connected with one another by wooden planks. No inhabitants were visible here, but a number of weapons, shovels, and other digging implements were strewn about the area. After searching the room, the party returned to the darkened stairway in the passage behind them.
The party descended into a cavern draped in spider webs. Within moments, they were under attack by a couple of jumping spiders, that leapt in, attacked, and leapt away, too quickly for any useful reaction. More troubling, The party was able to make out the sound of something burrowing towards them from the south. De’Wayne and Stone managed to corner one of the spiders, while the other focused its attacks on Brandis with impunity. Then, with a great hiss, a giant insect erupted from the earth behind De’Wayne and Stone, and snapped De’Wayne up in its pincers. The party didn’t know it, but the creature was called an ankheg. The ankheg next emitted a great splash of acid from near its mandibles, burning the skin of human, dwarf, and eladrin. The party managed to dispatch both spiders and the ankheg, but Brandis was considerably the worse for wear, having taken the brunt of one spider’s attacks.
Searching the natural cavern, Althaea and Stone located a false wall, and behind it, a dirty bedroll, some empty wineskins, and spoiled rations. Amid the mess, they discovered Balgron’s Journal, in which the megalomaniacal goblin interspersed some seeming truths with his own imaginations and delusions of grandeur. It was not easy to determine which were which in all cases.
Meanwhile, along the western wall of the cavern, Brandis and De’Wayne located an old door, grown over now with a carpet of fungus. Into that carpet had been scratched, relatively recently, the words, in Common, “Keep out. Really.”
When we reconvene, it will be 1000, 3 Flocktime 588.