- Upon returning to Laston, our heroes were greeted warmly by their loved ones. The one exception to this was Glia, whose mother Mairwen is visibly distraught. A few days ago, a letter had arrived. It seems that her oldest son, Caden, had been lost in the Battle of Two Rivers. He was buried in the field with proper ceremony. Caden was the jewel of his mother’s eye, a well-liked fellow of only 16 summers. Mairwen is as yet inconsolable, her grief driving Glia’s twin brother Hauli to chores around the farm rather than remain in her presence. Glia instead spent time with her friend William, the son of the town’s alchemist, who she entertained with outlandish stories of her recent exploits.
- Valeran took Throck to meet Alastrianna. The reeve was glad to see the return of her protégé, but upon hearing his tale of the orc army encamped at the foot of the Slumbering King she became alarmed. She conceded to Stafford’s wishes that they must quietly move to fortify Laston, and went to speak to the Mayor on this matter. Before leaving, she offered to let Throck stay at her home. Valeran did reveal to her all the details of their travel, including the death of the Arlain Cidum at their hands.
- Beld’s family was doing quite well. All have healed from their injuries at the claws of the kruthik, and their small farm seems prosperous. Both his father and eldest brother, away fighting in the King’s Army, have written and seem to be faring as well as one could hope. Some children, ignoring the warnings of the reeve, have been playing in the nearby cave left by the kruthik at all hours of the night, but apart from that there has been little to disturb the family.
- Gwil returned home and then checked in with both Ione and Brother Simon. Ione asked her to look in on a few people who were still nursing injuries, but all seemed to be healing nicely. Brother Simon has nearly recovered full use of his injured right hand, joking that both a club left foot and useless right hand would be too much of a joke for even the gods to inflict upon him. As they shared his poitin, she gave him a full accounting of their recent travels. He was particularly curious about their induction into the service of Stafford Greenspire, it striking him as odd that he would swear someone into his personal service and then instruct them to leave. Typically, such a knight would remain by his lord’s side as a bodyguard.
- Morwen caught up with the refugees from Celaneddog. Wishing to be rid of the Baron Coluddyn who had inflicted Cidum upon them, they had traveled to the Greenspire Barony and then continued all the way to Laston, home of these who had delivered them from the ghouls. They were surprised to see her, thinking she had probably met an untimely end at the Arlain’s hands, and were saddened to hear of the death of her grandfather and their beloved elder Hendad. As they do not yet have homes of their own they could not offer her a place to stay, but one of their hosts was quite happy to provide a temporary place until a more suitable permanent arrangement could be found.
- Valeran returned home to a warm welcome by his father Harvel and his mother Ilga, whose pregnancy is moving along nicely. Though saddened to hear of Kore’s departure, Harvel cannot fault his cousin for his loyalty towards his clan.
- The next day, several incidents piqued the curiosity of our heroes. First, Valeran’s milk was curdled, although his mother had milked the goat just moments before. He sensed a faint lingering residue of magic, unwholesome, but it dissipated quickly. Talking to the villagers, Morwen learned that several lambs had been disappeared from various flocks, but no adult sheep had gone missing. Calyd, who smokes much of the town’s meat, complained of blowflies suddenly growing in a side of ham. Grek, Glia’s trapper uncle, noted that several of his traps had gone missing. Intent to uncover any possible connection between these events, the group split up and cast about for some common theme. Glia, checking up on her uncle’s traps west of town, found what appeared to her to be hyena tracks near them. But hyena are not found in these mountains; indeed, Glia would have not recognized them were it not for their recent encounter with the goblins mounted upon them (almost certainly imported from the grasslands to the south) and her uncle had not seen such tracks before.
- Gathering the group, they set about following the hyena tracks as they led further west. Some hours later, as they crossed a wide stream, they lost the tracks. Casting about for them, Glia wandered towards the north where she stumbled upon the source of the tracks. Not hyena, but gnolls, violent and feral humanoids who have been known to serve demons and other unwholesome beings. The encounter with these gnolls proved challenging, for their pack-leader could gaze into the eyes of his foe and compel them to obedience, a power he used on Morwen repeatedly. Against her will, she found herself lashing out at her allies. Glia, isolated from the others, found herself in a difficult struggle against a couple of gnolls who engaged her in melee while another fired arrows at her. Eventually, though, the heroes would prevail in this battle.
In which this pack of gnolls leads to a greater threat to our heroes
- As the heroes searched the bodies of the fallen gnolls, they discovered a number of short letters written in Abyssal. Beld recalled the letters carried by the tiefling bandit Diawlio, also written in the same strange script and bearing Arlo’s seal. As Gwil lamented the fact that none of the group could read these letters, Morwen said she should take a look. As they handed the letters to their new friend, a small shape made its way out of the safe confines of Morwen’s cloak. A tiny humanoid, blue and frost-covered, crawled up and rested easily on the young girl’s shoulder. As Morwen looked at the letters in succession, the familiar pointed at it, and tugging on her ear it whispered to her. “I think I can make out some of this. It uses a script I know. It looks like the first letter is talking about having convinced a merchant from Trelgar to search for something. In the second letter it sounds like maybe he’s figured out where to look and has found guides. Finally, in this third one, he says he thinks he’s located the ‘Gweddill’ and the pack must come secure the place. I guess that would be translated literally as, ‘That Which Remains’. Anybody have any idea what this is talking about?” This led to some quick reminiscences of Arlo. Hadn’t he seemed particularly excited about something at Knight’s Tomb, and tried to conceal his enthusiasm? Hadn’t Krehir spoken of his concern that Arlo perhaps had some other motive besides pure exploration? He had cited the death of Brett as his reason for leaving Laston so quickly upon their return, but perhaps something more was going on. In any event, the group decided to follow the tracks from their current location to the north, in the direction of Knight’s Tomb, and see where this led.
- After walking for hours, one the sun set they began to have difficulty following the tracks. Although the moon was in its first quarter, clouds obscured much of its light. After realizing they still had quite a ways to go before reaching the Tomb, the group decided to camp here overnight and get a fresh start early the following morning.
- They rose early, as the sun first peeked above the mountains to the east, but with a strange sense of unease. Valeran likened this to the lingering aftersensation he had felt around the curdled milk back in Laston. After some brief discussion, the group concluded that this was probably the result of some potent ritual and they had best hurry. A few short hours later found them standing at Knight’s Tomb while the morning sun was still warming the valley.
- Entering the tomb, Beld lit a sunrod. But as Glia moved up stealthily, she realized that there were some torches lit in a few of the rooms. Recalling the layout from their earlier visit, she carefully approached the two side rooms nearest the entrance on the long hallway. In the Squire’s tomb, she spied a gnoll gorger, somewhat more powerfully built than his packmates, eating from a leg of meat. A faint weeping emerged from the room as well, perhaps the voice of the Ghost Squire who inhabited this place. From the fountain room, she heard some quiet conversation between several gnolls. Motioning the others to join her, they quickly struck a plan. Moving into the fountain room, they struck before they were detected. But yelling out in pain, the gnolls called for reinforcements. Soon, the hallway would be filled with gnolls, many arriving from the main burial chamber at the end of the long passage. The gorger went after Beld, driving him back towards the entrance to the Tomb, battering him with a large hammer constructed from a gnoll’s skull. Valeran and Gwil struggled with the lasher, a gnoll wielding a barbed whip that sought to rip their flesh from the heroes. The battle was difficult, but after a few frenzied minutes the heroes claimed their victory over these gnolls.
- Valeran entered the Squire’s tomb, and spied a figure cowering behind a statue. The Ghost Squire, so faint he could hardly be seen at all, sat on the ground with his arms hugging his legs to his chest. “So many of them. So many. Have to keep them from the Stairwell. But so many. Can’t stop them. Found it already.”
- As Valeran tried to quiet and comfort the ghostly lad, the others moved slowly towards the main burial chamber. Once the light from their sunrod could enter the burial chamber, they saw the lid of the sarcophagus had been removed. A humanoid shape climbed over the edge into the sarcophagus and disappeared from sight. More movement in the room alerted the heroes to the presence of the those laying in wait for their approach. Beld whispering primal words of power to strengthen his allies, they steeled themselves for what is to follow.
The Sarcophagal Stairwell
- The heroes approached the burial chamber, coming close enough to see see the Tiefling Occultist Diawlio standing inside the sarcophagus itself. He summoned a haze of oily smoke which slowed their approach, and then disappeared below, leaving behind a huge curtain of fire. From within the curtain came a number of Lesser Fire Elementals and a Furnace Elemental. The Fire Elementals set those they attacked ablaze, while The Furnace Elemental granted vulnerability to fire to the nearby heroes, so several heroes were quick to try and take down the Furnace Elemental. They soon succeeded, only to find it rise again as an Ash Elemental. It repeatedly blinded those nearby, but they eventually overcame the group of summoned elementals and proceeded to the sarcophagal chamber. Confronted by the roaring curtain of fire, Gwil spent a few minutes trying to drain off its arcane energies before it dies down. The sarcophagus held no buried pauper knight, but a black stairwell that led down into darkness. Climbing inside, they descended.
- The narrow stairs shortly ended at a gradually-widening passage, the floor and walls composed of basalt and covered with scree. Thin veins of bright red light ran throughout the rock floor, lending an eerie mood to the passage. Soon, small bits of white appeared mixed in the loose rock; as they made their way further into the strange passage these white bits grew in size until it became clear they were pieces of bone. Finally, the heroes arrived at a grand chamber. Therein stood five gnolls, Diawlio, and our old friend Arlo Frinazi. One gnoll stood guard, a soldier of some sort, while the other four gnolls were dressed in black ritual robes and were scattered about a ritual circle. Arlo, similarly attired, slit the throat of a lamb just as the heroes entered the chamber. Other lambs were staked about the room, awaiting their fate, while the blood of the predecessors ran along channels in the stone floor towards a pile of rock that stood in the center.
- Throck and Morwen entered the room, quickly taking down the guard and dragging several of the ritualists from their appointed positions. Arlo turned to Diawlio, asking what to do now that this interference would delay their progress. Pointing back to the heroes across the room, Diawlio said there was a quicker way. As Arlo turned to look, Diawlio pulled a knife from his belt and smoothly slit the human’s throat. A look of surprise reaching his face just as his lifeblood spilled out into the channels and ran to the pile of rocks in the center of the room, waking what slumbered there.
- The rocks shuddered and were cast aside, revealing their occupant. Before the Dawn War that saw the ascension of the Gods, the Primordials fought a war against Demons rising from the Abyss deep within the Elemental Chaos. Winning the war, they bound the demons within the Abyss, where they remain to this day unless they are summoned by the unholy, the unwise, or the unwary. But demons have a souls of their own, and when one is destroyed its animus may linger still. Long ago, such a foul creature had been bound in this place, and thanks to the work of Arlo its hiding place had been uncovered. What rose from the pile of rock was a demon, undead, a thing of fire and necrotic energy, wielding fire and lightning.
- Around the heroes, the gnoll ritualists cackled in delight at the rise of the foul demon and cheered for the imminent destruction of these interlopers, our heroes. Throck and Beld’s spirit companion moved up to the demon; time and again it maneuvered around them to strike at Throck with its blade and Morwen with its lash. When it managed to skirt those nearby, it moved to confront Gwil and Beld, who kept a distance between them and the demon, but Throck again moved adjacent. As they damaged the unholy abomination it began to radiate heat, threatening those nearby. Gwil fought against Diawlio, raining down radiant attacks upon the tiefling until he fell to her. Undaunted by its fiery aura, Throck continued his melee assault on the creature. But eventually, after once falling unconscious briefly and being brought back up by the aid of other heroes, Throck found himself once more next to the demon. He struck a heavy blow against the demon, whose retaliatory strike left Throck barely standing. Slashing at him yet again with its lightning sword, it landed a potent blow, cleaving the half-orc from shoulder to stomach. Throck fell to the ground, dead. Half a second too late, Morwen, felled the demon with a shard of shimmering eldritch force. Seeing their risen champion fall, the remaining gnoll ritualists made to flee. One already dead and another cut down as he ran past the heroes in the direction of the stairwell, the final two reached the bone path. Morwen barked a sharp order to halt. Upon hearing this, one immediately fell the ground, cowering and whimpering. The other raced down the path, out of sight, to the stairwell and the wilderness beyond.