Having encountered their first true success as a group, the Four were keen to continue their adventures together. And yet, little did they know the grave danger that their over-enthusiasm would put all of their lives in, or how their inadvertent actions would save Arkhosia from danger once again…
Arkhosia, having been freed from the menace of the Goblin King, seemed to have no real issues with itself. The Dark Brotherhood had not contacted Fir’nae yet, no interesting contracts were on the tavern walls – The Four were left to their own devices, a very dangerous thing to leave them with. Recalling her discovery yesterday (After recovering from no-doubt a massive hangover from the partying the night before) of a crypt’s secret tunnels, Little Frankie lead the group back to those tunnels to explore where they lead, but not before they “picked up” some additional protection from an amulet merchant (Not to mention the non-magical amulets, the spare amulets, and so on).
The four crawled through the tunnel Frankie had found, and were stunned to discover it lead into a massive cave system, right beneath the city of Arkhosia. As they moved cautiously through the caves, they became all too aware that they were not the only living (Or Unliving) creatures walking the caverns – Ghouls scurried in the darkness, watching the four adventurers from beyond the light shed by their Sunrods.
After following the passages for a few minutes, the four came to a series of iron bars blocking the passageway – Strange, considering that the tunnels all seemed naturally made. Through the combined efforts of the four, they broke through the bars, but disaster soon struck – A cave in caused by their actions separated the group, leaving Vozerlet and Fir’nae on one side of the rubble, and Roger and Frankie on the other. Unsure of what to do, Vozerlet and Fir’nae called out that they would try and find another way around, while the others tried to clear the passageway.
It was not long after Fir’nae and Vozerlet began exploring until they encountered another living person, an old man, who they found hunched over a skeleton.
“I hunger…” The man groaned, as he looked up at the pair. Fir’nae and Vozerlet looked at each other awkwardly. “I hunger for meat…”
“We’ve got some spare food, would you want some of that?” Fir’nae cautiously asked the strange old man.
“Meat… I need meat.” The man replied. Reaching into his Everlasting Provisions, Fir’nae pulled out and offered the man a piece of cold ham, which the stranger greedily devoured. “Do you have… More?”
“I do. Tell us, what is your name?” Fir’nae asked, setting out some food on the worn stone floor.
“My name is… was… Erik. Come, let us eat.”
Erik explained that he was a servant of a noble family, from back before the Fall of Arkhosia. They had fled beneath the city to one of many safe-houses before the war all-but destroyed Arkhosia, and had lived there ever since. Now, he claimed, the family had all died out or left, leaving Erik by himself in the safe-house. He invited them back to the safe-house, as thanks for the meal, an offer they foolishly accepted.
After arriving at the nearby safe-house, Erik left by way of a staircase leading even further down. Fir’nae’s assassin instincts told him to trail the old man, out of caution, whereas Vozerlet’s drunken instincts told him to search the premises for alcohol. Upstairs was the remains of a burnt-down manor, which was understandable considering Erik’s tale. All Vozerlet could find in the first few cupboards were a number of strange stains on the wood panelling, but it was something he found hidden behind a cupboard that gave him cause to possibly worry, if he could feel worry in his intoxicated state.
Meanwhile, Fir’nae arrived at the bottom of the stairs, to find an unoccupied storage room. Wondering where the old man disappeared to, he started rummaging through cupboards, boxes, eventually finding a lever in a barrel, which opened a hidden side door. He followed it through to a side room, which was full of, curiously, rotten meat. Braving the near-unbearable stench, he discovered another hidden passageway, this time a trap-door. Curiosity was nearly about to end his life.
Vozerlet, irritated at the lack of booze, slid open the last of the cupboards. Behind a few uninteresting bottles of not alcohol, there seemed to be a hidden tunnel. Inquisitively, he pushed the cupboard out of the way, and squeezed through a gap clearly not designed to fit a fully-grown dragonborn. On the other side, he discovered a bizarre sight – A group of skeletons, with bite marks across their bones. It was around this point when Vozerlet realised that Erik was probably not who he claimed to be, and coming around to his living space was probably a very bad idea. He forced his way back through the tunnel, and rushed downstairs, before Fir’nae could get himself into too much danger.
Fir’nae had already discovered that he was in a bit of danger on his own. After following the trap door, he found himself on the side of a wall, so instinctively, he dropped down silently. He then noticed what he had landed on – An arcane trap designed to paralyse victims. A figure appeared, dragged his prone form around the corner onto an altar, and began chanting in a strange language, with a strange dagger covered in runes left near Fir’nae. It was who was chanting this ritual that shocked Fir’nae the most though – It was Erik, a man who he had trusted minutes ago. As the ritual neared it’s end, Fir’nae felt strength return to his body, no doubt as the trap had worn off. Erik reached for the dagger, yet Fir’nae’s training had made him far faster than some cave-dweller – Erik breathed his last to his own dagger’s point. As Fir’nae got off the altar, he noticed that Vozerlet had snuck up behind Erik, and was about to cut him in two with his scimitar. The pair quickly checked around the altar, unearthing a reference to a “Doresain” on the runes covering the walls. Thankful they were still alive, Fir’nae and Vozerlet decided to leave the so-called “Safe-house” and check on how their companions were.
Arriving back where they had left Frankie and Roger, the duo found the passage cleared, and a note from Little Frankie reading “We’ve gone down the passage to the right, thanks for waiting for us, bitches.” Sighing, Fir’nae and Vozerlet charged after them, and found themselves at another of the safe-houses. Whilst they fended off an attack from swarms of bats, a familiar face arrived – Little Frankie, who had apparently wound up going in circles. Reunited, they fought off the swarms, before proceeding to loot anything salvageable. Amongst the few useful items, they discovered a diary belonging to “Quinn Torak”. It chronicled his life, watching his noble family steadily fall into cannibalism, whilst he did not, concluding with him eventually fleeing his household into the caverns with nothing but his family’s ancestral sword, a suit of armour, and enough rations for a week.
Having read through the diary, the three re-searched the room, and eventually found a small passage – Evidently, Arkhosian nobles were obsessed with having secret passageways in order to escape from their already secret hideaways. Curiosity prevailed, and the three slid through the gap (some easier than others). Through the tunnel, apparently Roger had discovered a tunnel leading onward, but before they could join him, they had to fend off another ghoul ambush. In the madness of the melee, Fir’nae managed to lose track of where Vozerlet and Little Frankie went, although he was mercifully reunited with Roger.
The Tiefling and Eladrin, having once more fought off ghouls, discovered the body of a youthful looking man – A human, thought Fir’nae. Or an Elf, Roger reasoned. The pair were surprised to discover that the man, whatever race he was, was still alive. Fir’nae, still untrusting from his encounter with Erik, hastily moved the man’s sword away from him (which Roger was more than happy to take care of), and they woke the man up.
When he woke up (and sufficiently recovered), the man explained who he was – His name was Quinn, and on further questioning, turned out to be the very same Quinn who wrote the journal they had found. He was seeking for a way to return to the surface, but had been ambushed by ghouls and barely escaped with his life. The pair agreed to help him find his way back to Arkhosia, and after some persuasion, Roger even gave back Quinn’s sword.
With Quinn now accompanying them, Roger and Fir’nae continued to search for a way back out to Arkhosia (along with Vozerlet and Frankie, of course). Before long, they found themselves battling ghouls, although there was one quite unusual detail to this fight – As one last ghoul lunged out of a tunnel to attack Fir’nae, a hidden figure slammed a Kukri into it’s back, ending it’s assault prematurely. Intrigued as to the identity of their unknown helper, the group rushed after the person, although not before Fir’nae pocketed the Kukri.
Following the tunnel, the group found that they had lost track of their mysterious ally, and they also stood before the tail of a river. Floating in the water, they spotted a sign, with the ridiculous warning of “Beware of Frogs”. Taking note, the group proceeded to do as they usually would, and investigate the chamber. After cracking open a clutch of eggs, they discovered that what appeared to be giant tadpoles; As they looked on at the odd sight, a barbed tongue lashed out, and grabbed Fir’nae – The heroes had stumbled upon a nest of Sporeback frogs. After some ingenious tactics from Roger, they cleared the area of any more immediate threats, and noticed that their mysterious helper had struck again, as there were a number of shuriken lodged in the back of the frog. Roger chose this time to cast a ritual enabling the three to walk on water (not to mention pocketing a frog-egg), and the adventurers and their guest continued after the strange helper.
Further along the passage, Fir’nae caught his first glimpse of the mysterious stranger – A humanoid, with bright blue eyes, pale skin, and fair hair – Yet they were unable to catch them. After slipping past a few more sporebacks, Fir’nae, Roger, and Quinn arrived at a large cavern, which was inhabited by living creatures, for once. Typically, they had stumbled upon a group of goblin and Ork cultists. After cutting them down, the trio noticed more life – Thankfully, it was Vozerlet and Little Frankie, who had managed to track down the group by way of following the trail of dead ghouls. Mysteriously, Roger seemingly vanished at this point. His companions assumed that he had simply ran off, or fell down a hole, or ran off down a hole, yet unbeknownst to them, he was in grave peril.
As they, that is Fir’nae, Frankie, Vozerlet, and Quinn, moved onward, the noticed the area suddenly go incredibly quiet, all save for a faint clap of what sounded like hoof on rock. From the other end of the room, a man, clad entirely in steel, was riding a horse through the caverns. It seemed impossible – Or at least incredibly unlikely – Yet he was there.
“Who are you, venturing through these most dangerous caves?” The man boomed, his voice echoing throughout the cavern.
“Who the hell are you?” Vozerlet drunkenly answered. The sober members of the group wished that they had put some form of muzzle on Vozerlet to prevent him from offending anyone.
“I am an Angel of Death! Who are you to stand before me, mortals?” The man yelled back, his voice striking fear into the heroes with every syllable spoken.
“Excuse our friend, he’s drunk, and we’re just adventurers!” Frankie hastily explained, pushing Vozerlet into Quinn. Vozerlet stared at Quinn for a few moments.
“Grah nahk snarthra, Chip.” He spoke at Quinn, who nodded nervously. The sentence said at Quinn was in Draconic, incidentally, translating as “You look delicious, Chip”.
“Adventurers? This changes things.” The steel-clad figure replied, ignoring Vozerlet’s ramblings. “Would you be interested in sparring with me?” he continued, immediately snatching Vozerlet’s attention away from freaking out Quinn.
“You wanna fight? Bring it on!” Vozerlet roared joyfully at the stranger, drawing his scimitar.
“I have not lost in 56 years. Hopefully you can challenge I, the Grey Hunter!” the man replied, rearing his horse and drawing his blade!
A fierce battle ensued. The Grey Hunter’s mounted tactics were a major bane to the three heroes, his powers seemed inhuman, and it would be some time before they encountered anyone who could wield a sword quite like him, but eventually, through their inspired tactics – Dragging someone off their mount and kicking them whilst they were down – the Grey Hunter was forced to yield.
“I have not met any like you in many a year. I warn you, the road ahead is harsh, and grave danger awaits you on your path, but you shall prevail against infinite odds. Farewell, adventurers.” The Grey Hunter spoke to the heroes, riding off the way the group had came, seemingly unphased by the battle he had just taken part in.
“Hang on, you left your shield!” Frankie called out after him, yet there was no reply from the mysterious stranger, who seemed to simply vanish. Besides, Vozerlet had already claimed it gleefully.
“Brak fla gres narf, Chip”. Vozerlet growled happily at Quinn. Quinn nodded back nervously once more.
In the caves from which the Grey Hunter had came through, it seemed that he had been telling the truth in quite a literal way, as the heroes found themselves faced with a group of the unquiet dead – Reanimated skeletons clutching rusting spears still guarded the room safe-house they no-doubt died defending. Yet those were not the only foes they met, as a ravenous ghoul attempted to ambush them. As it fled down a hole, Fir’nae and Frankie decided to slip after it. They followed it down a short tunnel, and with her divine powers, Frankie vaporised the ghoul, who was attempting to burst out behind Vozerlet and Roger from a hidden trapdoor. However, when it came to leave the room, Frankie was no-where to be found – there was nowhere she could have left through, so how did she vanish?
The chamber beyond was completely different to the previous one – The masonry had been seemingly eaten away, revealing the barren rock beneath it, and in the corners of the room lay pools of mud and dirt. Looking closer, the Fir’nae and Vozerlet noticed something very worrying – Metal weapons, armour, jewellery, coins, and far more was within these puddles. They knew that they had walked straight into an Ankheg lair. From a side chamber, they discovered where the beast itself was, as it flew across the room at them… And then, simply lay there. The duo approached it nervously. Their previous encounter with an Ankheg was unpleasant at best. Suddenly, they noticed exactly why it was motionless – Something had cut its head clean off. The duo looked down the tunnel where it had flew from, and were greeted by a sound neither of them expected to hear in this circumstance – Feminine laughter.
Striding gracefully out of the cave, a pair of beautiful yet hideous androgynous figures giggled to themselves, delightfully tossing around the Ankheg’s severed head between themselves, catching it with a pair of claws they had where their hands should have been. They strode over the razor-sharp stalagmites of the cavern on a pair of bird-like feet with an unearthly grace that left all three stunned.
“This one was boring.” One of the creatures said, sighing.
“He wouldn’t dance for us!” The other replied calmly, as though this was perfectly obvious.
“He couldn’t dance properly, so we showed him how to.” The first continued, looking at the head in a somewhat bored manner. The creature tossed it away, and it splattered into the mud pool.
“You there. Mortals. Dance for us.” The two creatures spoke in unison. Fir’nae’s baffled expression spoke for all of them. These two monsters had killed an Ankheg because it couldn’t dance, and they were willing to do the same to them if they didn’t dance for them.
Fir’nae stepped from the shadows where he was hiding when the creatures looked his way, gravely aware of the creatures’ identities, and slowly reached into his pocket, pulling out a small flute. Beckoning for someone to start dancing, he began to play a melody for the pair of monsters. Vozerlet, obviously incapable of dancing in a hideously drunken state, shoved Quinn forward with a cry of “Tarn lier kra no bragh, Chip!”, and began banging out a shaky beat on his shield, whilst Quinn attempted to dance for the laughing creatures. Both of the creatures reached out, and joined Quinn in his dance for a short while.
After several panic-striken minutes of music and dance, it seemed that this strange ordeal was over for the group.
“You have done well, mortals!” One of them laughed.
“Tiiraz will be very pleased!” The other continued.
“Tiiraz’s blessing upon you all!” They giggled in perfect unison, as they skipped away, back through the passageway they walked in through.
“What the hell was all that about?” Quinn asked as soon as they were out of sight, exhausted from the creature’s game.
Baffled by what they had just lived through, the three moved onward. Eventually, the passage returned back to masonry, but a return to professional stone-working was not what surprised the group. Ahead, a bizarre rune was engraved into the ground, and standing behind it were a veritable legion of undying – Zombies, skeletons, ghouls, but behind them was a dias upon which a man clad in black robes stood before a statue of a cloaked figure with a blade held out.
“What? Who are you? How dare you defile the temple of the Black Hand!” The man shouted furiously.
“What the hell is the Black Hand?” Vozerlet replied, unaware of how much danger he was in.
“You break into my lands. You kill my worshippers. And then you defile our temple with your presence! You shall die with the rest of them!” The man screeched, pointing his staff at them. “I, Kalarel, Apostle of the Black Hand, shall end your lives! Servitors, kill them!”
Before another word could be spoken, the skeletons and zombies lurched forward clumsily, limbs flailing and weapons pointed. Vozerlet, Fir’nae and Quinn were locked in a desperate battle for survival against Kalarel’s legion of undying minions. Even when they began to turn the tables on the shambling horrors, the foul necromancer simply laughed scornfully and returned a number of them to hideous unlife, before continuing to blast away at the heroes with his foul magicks. The heroes fought bravely, with Vozerlet taking a mighty blow from Kalarel’s dark magick in an effort to protect Fir’nae, but there is only so much you can do against creatures who cannot die.
Sensing he was gaining the upper hand, Kalarel chose to taunt the heroes by revealing his prize – He had kidnapped both Roger and Little Frankie, and had them chained up and unconscious at the base of his dias, no doubt to use as sacrifices or more undead servitors. In a ferocious rage, all three redoubled their efforts, Vozerlet in particular tearing undead apart with each blow he landed. Within seconds, many of Kalarel’s minions lay scattered and destroyed across the floor of his own “temple”. Vozerlet and Quinn charged up the steps to meet Kalarel himself in combat, whilst Fir’nae slipped away from the melee for a brief moment. The battle with Kalarel was brief, the Necromancer no match for the combined wrath of two swordsmen. He staggered away from them, desperate to make his escape, yet Fir’nae had already planned for this, and had climbed up the side of the dias in waiting.
It was over in moments, as Fir’nae shot out of the shadows and made one clean blow to the foul mage. Kalarel was knocked backward, tripped, and fell upon the outstretched blade of the statue behind him.
“The Black Hand shall… Have its revenge…” He murmured with his dying breaths.
“Brek sna thref bragh luur.” Vozerlet growled at Kalarel, before slicing Kalarel’s head off for good measure. Freeing their trapped companions, the re-united group were now staged with another problem – How were they supposed to get out of here?
The four adventurers (and Quinn) began their usual post-battle ritual of stripping the area of anything valuable. Having given themselves enough time to recuperate, the group descended upon the body of Kalarel. Somewhat disturbingly, the body had somehow vanished from the sword, leaving only his cloak behind. Poking around the back of the dias, Fir’nae made an unusual discovery – He could feel cold air rushing through nearby him. With Little Frankie keeping watch, Fir’nae opened up the trapdoor, and slid down the ladder he found. Vozerlet, meanwhile, was entranced with a number of floating, swirling lights that were flitting around the room. The strange lights moved toward the statue, whirling around it, before seemingly vanishing also.
Whilst Fir’nae was exploring the tunnel he had uncovered, he heard a noise that he would have preferred not to have – The sound of grinding stone. He rushed back to the ladder, fearing that he had triggered another deadly trap, but when he reached the top of the ladder, it dawned on him what had made the noise. The statue of the hooded figure was moving, slowly and painfully, toward Vozerlet. The dragonborn’s instinctive reaction was to attack the animate statue, which was moving toward him with blade outstretched, but his attack mearly bounced of the towering statue.
“The Black Hand shall rise…” The statue seemed to groan through the sound of grinding stone, and raised it’s blade as though ready to strike – And yet as suddenly as it began, it stopped.
“I think we should leave.” Fir’nae called up to Vozerlet and Quinn. The group descended into the tunnel, and found themselves immediately at a ladder, leading back upward. They clambered up, hoping that Kalarel was to be the last of their issues for today.
At the top of the ladder, the heroes were glad to feel fresh air again, which was blowing through the cave they were in. They could see daylight, but that was not all they could see. A huge cage, almost like a prison for an enormous humanoid, stood before them, the door smashed apart. Leading toward the exit was a set of huge footprints, each with two toes. Nervous at the thought of what had escaped from this place, the heroes carefully followed the tracks, finding themselves back outside at long last.
Walking toward the gates of Arkhosia, the group quickly discovered what had created these massive footprints, because the owner was currently hammering away at the gate. A cave troll, although only a young one, was attempting with all of it’s considerable strength to tear down the gates of Arkhosia, and would no doubt rampage through the city if it got inside. The heroes drew their weapons for one last time today, and charged after the brute. As they closed in, the troll succeeded in it’s goal, and smashed the gates open, and roared savagely at the petrified city guard facing it. The beast swung it’s spear and chain around madly, smashing several guardsmen across the street, before proceeding to lay into a nearby house, ripping the wooden walls down with casual blows.
Finally catching up, the heroes set about their job with grim determination. Fir’nae leapt up and began climbing onto the beasts craggy back, Kukri clenched between his teeth. Vozerlet did what he does best, and ran at the troll screaming with his scimitar waving, and Frankie began blasting the beast with her divine powers. Half-way up the troll’s back, Fir’nae noticed a pair of guards cowering from the beast, whilst a number of civilians were trapped in their homes, an angry troll no-doubt intent on turning them into a light snack. Fir’nae shot them a look which could leave a dragon cowering in fear, and between the threat of an angry troll, or an even more crazed Eladrin climbing up a troll, the guards decided that their job was important enough to risk the former’s wrath.
Reaching the top of the troll’s back, Fir’nae watched as the guards rushed past the now distracted troll, leading the petrified onlookers away from the scene of the carnage. Whilst the troll turned it’s attention toward Vozerlet and Frankie, Fir’nae had a prime opportunity, and began smacking away at the troll’s literally rock-hard hide with his kukri. Assailed from Frankie’s divine power, Vozerlet’s blade, Fir’nae’s knife and Quinn’s incredibly accurate crossbow, the beast staggered over, sending Fir’nae flying (not to mention nearly crushing him when the troll impacted the ground). Frankie rushed over to the troll, and smacked it on it’s head with her morningstar. The troll groaned once, and slumped to the ground, unconscious. As the heroes caught their breath from the intense battle, Quinn moved over to Fir’nae.
“Thanks for getting me out alive, it’s been one hell of a journey,” He spoke to Fir’nae, struggling to catch his breath. He reached for his sword, and passed it to the assassin. “Here, take this. I think you’ll need it more than I will now.” Fir’nae nodded appreciatively. The group looked around, and saw that a small crowd had gathered, looking on in awe of the group of heroes resting against an unconscious troll. Quinn stood up, and addressed the crowd.
“These are the ones who saved Arkhosia! They just defeated that vicious troll, and saved all your lives!” Quinn yelled out to the mass of people arriving. He turned back to the group, grinning. “See you guys around.” he said, before walking off, an crowd of people taking his place, showering the group with coins, flowers, random articles of clothing, and far more besides.
After the crowd had been cleared away by the Arkhosian guards, Fir’nae noticed that there was something in his pocket that hadn’t been there before. Reaching in, he pulled out a scroll, stamped with a very familiar seal -
The sign of the Dark Brotherhood.