Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 11

The crowd at the Boiling Kettle is sparse for the Highsun meal. Lanaver, Rowan and Hajima are lingering at their usual table, trying to decide whether or not to order another round.  It has been a few days since their daring rescue and subsequent run from the Goblin Caves, and they’ve been taking it easy, nursing wounds and mending equipment.

The youngest of Madame Freia’s daughters, Grelinda, is clearing the table after a pleasant meal. Grelinda’s short hair is tinted an odd shade of coppery green, and she treats the flatware roughly as she stacks it on a tray.

“Stupid boring work.” she mutters under her breath. Before any of the party can comment, the door of the Boiling Kettle opens and a cool draft plays through the room.

A tall, dour-looking human glances around, and his sallow expression finally settles on their table. He removes his tall black hat to reveal a balding pate. “I apologize for disturbing you,” he says in a deep, monotone voice. “I assume you are adventurers for hire, and I seek your expertise for a small matter.”

Rowan smiles up at him, and gestures for him to pull up a seat. “I am Rowan, and if your task is to our liking, we would be happy to help.”

“What she said,” Lanaver says, toying with his mug of ale.

“I am Brother Keefe, Priest of Kelemvor with the title ‘Keeper of the Dead’.”  He drones, standing at the side of the table with his hands hanging limply at his sides.  “My Residence is in the Valhingen Graveyard, most holy and revered ground in all of Starvale.  I am, if you will, the overseer of the permanent residents who have committed their remains to my care.”

He pauses and looks from face to face, taking in the mixture of fascination, disgust and fear playing across their faces.  “I am also in charge of disturbing their rest when necessary and the need has arisen for that unfortunate task to be performed.”

His voice drops to a dry, reedy whisper.  Evidence has been brought forth to the clerics of Kelemvor that one of the long-standing residents of the cemetery, Xandria Welltran, was not in fact human, but a polymorphed green dragon.  This is a serious matter that must be handled with delicacy.  I must now enter the crypt and inspect the body to confirm or disprove these claims. I fear that there may be more to this than meets the eye, but the other priests of Kelemvor mocked my concern.”

“You’ve told us the job, what’s it pay?”  Lanaver asks in his usual mercenary tone.  Rowan gives him a stern look but realizes she was wondering how much this dour man would have to pay her to get her to go into a graveyard and dig up a body.

“If you accept, I offer a fee of one hundred gold pieces and a scroll containing a spell that will help protect you against the undead.”  He says, “Keep in mind this must be kept quiet.”

Hajima gives a short nod. “I would be happy to help you and will gladly offer my services as a bodyguard during your inspection. Some of us have served in such roles before, I expect my companions would also be amenable. How soon would you like to go? If there are expected encounters with the undead, then perhaps a trip to her grave during the daylight hours would be prudent, just in case.”

“I would not wait, sir.” He says, rubbing his hands together. “I would go at once if your party consents to my offer.”

Rowan listens intently, her brow furrowed, “I have little experience with dragons or the dead, but will gladly aid you in your inspection to the best of my abilities. I can promise you that these, my friends, are worthy companions in time of need. Yes, very worthy indeed. Let us just grab our things, then, shall we?”

They disperse to their room, gathering weapons, armor and equipment as well as rousing Tuskor and Vellk from where they were relaxing and reading.  Before they leave the Inn, Hajima quickly turns back and enters the kitchen area. Returning shortly, he now carries a heavy wooden rolling pin used for baking bread. When the others look at him quizzically, he shrugs.  

“We learned at the military academy that the best weapon for fighting the undead is a sturdy club. They do not feel the bite of a sharp blade as living creatures do. Since we must leave immediately, this will have to do.” He then tucks the big rolling pin into his belt and follows the others outside.

Brother Keefe leads them to the Welltran Crypt in the Valhingen Graveyard. When they arrive, they might be surprised to learn that the graveyard is actually quite well maintained, if somber.

“Doomguide Yovir Glandon, my superior and the senior member of the Most Solemn Order of the Silent Shroud, personally sees to the maintenance of the grounds.”  The Brother says in his dull monotone, “He is very thorough.”

The crypt of Xandria is a nicely appointed stone and marble building, roughly 20 feet square. Brother Keefe produces a key to unlock it. The interior is equally fine. The walls are carved and painted with various scenes showing a lovely human woman in different locales: looking toward a snow-covered peak, standing in the rain of a thunderstorm, sitting in a comfortable room by a roaring fire, holding a venomous snake in a garden, working with bubbling vials in a laboratory, and many others. The lid of the marble sarcophagus in the center is carved with the likeness of the same beautiful human woman in the prime of her life.

Hajima admires the paintings and the figure they so vividly depict. “A woman so beautiful, it is easy to see why others might try to name such powerful charm as magical. It seems she had quite the varied pursuits in throughout her life as well.” He then slowly approaches the sarcophagus and scans it for any sign of disturbance.

As Hajima inspects the paintings, he can see are scrape marks on the floor around the sarcophagus, showing it can move. He puts his weight against it, however pushing does nothing.  Running gentle fingers over the walls, he sees that five of the carvings have a place in them where something tiny could be inserted.

“I wonder, do these carvings have anything to do with the paintings?”  He muses, leaning close to examine them.

Vellk strides forth and heaves against the sarcophagus lid. It rumbles and you hear the sound of stone shifting on stone as it slides off, revealing a jumbled pile of bones.  A quick investigation by Lanaver shows that these are definitely not human bones—many of them are draconic in nature. It is also readily apparent that at least half the bones that should be there are missing.

Also embedded in the skull in place of teeth are five tiny gems: a red ruby, a green emerald, a black opal, a white diamond, and a blue sapphire.  The rogue sees the tiny gems are all the same size and shape, cut like identical incisors.

A few moments after the lid is removed and the sarcophagus contents examined, a scraping sound echoes through the crypt. The door slams shut, and a hissing sound announces that some kind of gas is entering the crypt. It does not smell pleasant.

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