Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 17

Hajima sees a pale-scaled Dragonborn woman dining alone. She looks around nervously as she eats, startling at every sound.  As Hajima approaches, she looks away.  When he sits down, the Dragonborn recoils a bit, as if expecting an attack.

“Pardon milady, but you seem to be feeling a sense of unease. I assure you that the patrons of this establishment are most kind and the staff are excellent.”  He gives her a smile,  “There is no need to feel nervous or afraid. All are welcome at the Boiling Kettle Inn, even a simple veteran like me.”

He gives her a welcoming smile and signals to Blaizette.  “Blaze, an ale for me and another of whatever this lady is drinking.”  Turning back to his table companion he continues, “Did you have any difficulties in your travels, perhaps? Brigands, bandits, or the like? I can assure you, I and my friends are actively engaged in making the roads and farms safer around these parts.”

“I – my name is Halda.”  She says hesitantly, “I’m in town to visit family but I’ve been attacked by bandits twice since coming to Starvale.  I suppose I stand out due to my white dragon heritage, but everyone’s always staring at me.  I don’t feel safe, even in a place as public as this one.”

Rowan is fascinated by the alien beauty of the white Dragonborn. She’s heard of this race, but never seen one in person. The Dragonborn’s shyness touches her, and almost without thinking, she transitions into a calming song. Not quite a lullaby, but a sweet, gentle song of beautiful skies and gentle breezes and the green of growing things.

The soothing music has no effect on Halda who looks even more uncomfortable now that Hajima sits opposite her.  Rowan wonders to herself why the other woman would be so worried but is soon distracted by the rowdiness of three young, male Halflings dressed in bright and varied colors seated at a nearby table. They talk loudly over the music, shouting for boisterous, rolliking Halfling music between her songs.

Rowan smiles widely at the male Halflings and nods to acknowledge that she’s heard their request. When she winds up the current, gentle song of serenity, she stops for a minute. She stands up and quaffs a few deep gulps of her mead and smiles again at them.

She pitches her voice out to the crowd, giving a saucy wink at the grumpy meal critic, and shouting like an intro to a concert.  “I’ve had a request for a rousing Halfling song! What say you, gentles? Shall I oblige?”

The Halflings, and those who know her songs, all yell loudly and somewhat drunkenly, “Aye, Red! Let’s hear it!!!” And so she launches into a lively Halfling tune, and continues to play spirited music with a strong beat. Seeing a hand drum at the Halfling table, she continues to strum loudly while shouting at him to join her.

Sebastian can see that one of the Halflings wears a belt pouch that radiates faint magic. The pouch contains some dust which magically expands into a cloud when tossed to the ground. It is part of their tumbling act – which they proceed to perform to the beat of Rowan’s music and much to the delight of the patrons of the Boiling Kettle.

Tawn, Tane, and Tine perform as tumblers in a traveling show which is now in Starvale they explain in between singing, dancing and tumbling through the magic cloud until the song ends and a new one begins. They raise their glasses to Rowan and later go back to their chatter.

Hajima studies Halda intently, “If you’re truly here visiting family but afraid for your life, why are you here in this bar with none of them around?”

Spinning her chair around on one of the back legs, Tallisk joins Sebastian’s table. The move almost ends in disaster, but she grabs the table to steady herself, her auburn hair swinging wildly around her face.

“Oh! Scuse me.” She says with a slightly unsteady smile.  Noting that these folk look capable, and therefore aren’t good targets, Tallisk scans the room for someone who looks distracted or lonely enough that they might buy her a drink and maybe a meal.  Spotting a peasant, likely a peat worker eying her, she gives him a saucy wink.

Rowan winds down her song and raise her mug to the crowd. “Thank you very much everyone! I’m on break for a while, but perhaps I can be convinced later on to play a wee bit more.” She smiles widely around the room, gently places her cittern away in its protective case.

Keeping an eye out for any possible folk with too much coin in their purse, Tallisk weaves through the crowded taproom and plunks herself down on the bench next to the man. “You know what they say about peat workers doncha?” She asks, leaning an elbow on the table. At his puzzled look she shrugs, “Me either, but maybe we can find out, over a drink?”

He signals to a passing bar wench and turns to look at Tallisk, “M’ name’s Renton but they call me Rent.”

Tallisk strikes a pose, tossing her flaming red hair back from her pale and slightly freckled face. Her green eyes twinkle with mischief and she announces in a rather louder than necessary slurring voice.  “I am th famoush, the infamoush an th frequently inebreated Tallisk Revenar. Sometimes known for my juggling, and other times known fer my habit of loshing drinking games… but I loshe with shtyle!”

Picking up three empty clay mugs from the table she idly begins tossing them in the air, seemingly at random, but gradually the pattern takes shape.  “Tosh me them would ya?” She says, jerking her head at a roll and a sausage on the next table.

Rent takes the food off the table and bemusedly throws it in her direction. It gets added to the whirling mugs. A few others have begun to notice now and since Rowan is done playing and the Halflings have stopped their tumbling act, their focuses on her instead.  As the juggling continues, the incorrigible redhead begins taking bites out of the sausage as it passes.

“Here now, don’t be throwin’ th’ cups about!” The barmaid says, arriving with the ale Rent ordered.

“I beg pardon m dear!” Tallisk says in an exaggerated stage voice, her mouth partly full of sausage, and deftly plucks the mugs out of the air, setting them on the tray the other woman is holding. The roll of bread arcs up and she catches it in her mouth, munching happily.

A few of the onlookers clap hesitantly, as if wondering if this was a show to be applauded or a drunken exhibition to be ignored. Tallisk finishes the roll and bows, flourishing her cloak, coming up from the gesture with the fresh mug of ale in her hand and a smile on her face.

Hajima smiles at Rowan as she comes over to sit next to him. After she introduces herself, he turns back to the Dragonborn. “Come now, milady. No need to be like that. My friend here has a heart of gold. The time for nervousness is passed. Let’s be open and honest with each other shall we?”  He says to her with a pointed look.

“Here then, I’ll start. Then you can have a turn. We’re looking for a special artifact. A possibly dangerous artifact that shouldn’t be near so many wonderful and lovely people. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about any dangerous, magical artifacts nearby, now would you?” His previously welcoming and harmless gaze disappears in the blink of an eye. He gives her a hard look, his stare unrelenting as his hand drifts to the rapier at his side. “Now it’s your turn. Tell us what you’re really doing here in Starvale.”

Rowan looks very briefly surprised at Hajima’s tone, but then turns to the Dragonborn, curious to hear her answer. She keeps her face neutral. Not threatening, but no longer smiling widely. She radiates a sense of gentle curiosity and alertness.

Tuskor approaches the table with the Human and the Dwarf, pulls up a stool and sits down with his mug of steaming hot milk in one hand and his mighty tusk staff in the other. He stares at the couple in a direct and unsettling manner.  As the human glares back and begins to speak, Tuskor deliberately takes a drink of his milk, slurping loudly.

“What do you want forest dweller?”  The Dwarf at the table demands, “Go somewhere and pick the twigs out of your beard before pestering civilized folk.”

Tuskor ignores her entirely, continuing to stare at the human man, barely blinking.  Slowly one of the twigs in his beard begins to move, revealing itself to be a stick bug.  It crawls slowly up the side of his face and snuggles into his hair instead.

While Hajima is sitting there waiting for the Dragonborn to answer, he suddenly wonders if perhaps the half-orc is the real culprit who seeks to cause misdirection by keeping us busy with innocents while he completes his nefarious scheme unhindered. He looks over at the half-orc and considers him with new eyes, sizing him up afresh.

The conversation behind her is not nearly quiet enough to avoid Tallisk’s sharp hearing, and the mention of a powerful magical item piques her curiosity. Swilling down half her ale in one long swallow, she takes her trusted friends, her juggling balls from one of the pockets in the sleeve of her well-fitting wool travel dress. The skirts are split for riding, also making it much easier for her to move swiftly.

With a grand, sweeping gesture, she loops the fine silken cords that connect to them over her fingers and flings a half dozen of them into the air. Holding her hand to her mouth she inhaled deeply, the elastic, yet nearly invisible cord attached to each one made it appear that she had drawn them back to her waiting hand with her rapid intake of breath.

Now that she wasn’t hucking the barware about, the spectators decided this was indeed a show and clapped in appreciation. With deft skill, Tallisk re-wrapped the silk cords around the balls and began juggling them, first in a normal pattern, then in a loop, then two loops. As she keeps the balls in the air, she moves gradually back toward the table with the Dragonborn, noting that the Halfling minstrel has now joined the man who was there before. A conversation like this was too juicy to miss.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 16

Lanaver sees an older human man and Dwarven woman dining together, talking together in low, emphatic voices. Neither looks like an adventurer, as both are dressed in fine clothes.  Lanaver approaches, sliding into the only vacant chair at the table.

“Hey.  This is a private meeting.”  The human says.

“Find your own table.”  The Dwarf gives him a glare.

“Hey, just bein friendly.”  Lanaver says, “This place is crowded!”

“Is that why you just left your friends and decided to intrude on our evening?”  The human says, his voice acid, “We’re expecting a friend.”

Knowing that they’ve seen through his ruse and not wanting to make trouble for Madame Freia, Lanaver retreats back to watch the rest of the tavern for suspicious activity from his original table.

Tallisk shouts her drunken approval and bashes her ale tankard on the table. The human signals the barmaid for another drink, hoping that somehow she can find a way to scam a meal as well. Priorities are what they are however, booze comes first.  Although she knows drinking is a bad habit, the deeds she had run from in Denoria made it a necessity.  At least until she found a better way to cope with it.  Besides, it made her fighting style all that much easier.

“Who’s th musicer?” She asks, turning a deceptively bleary gaze at the empty chair to her left before repeating the question to the handsome man on her right. Well maybe he was missing some teeth, but who was she to judge?

“At be Rowan Red Tale as folk call er ere abouts.” The man smiles, showing his three good teeth.

The man, noticing Tallisk is drunk, idles over and asks, “What brings a lovely lady like yeself ere abouts?”  He runs his hands through his greasy hair and gives her a sleazy grin.

The barmaid arrives and Tallisk pays with her last silver, taking a full and foaming tankard with a smile. “Ain’t it obvious?” She says to the man, “I’m gettin shitfaced!  Whatr you doin in this fine esta… est… err place?”

“Just havin a drink and looken fer some female companionship.”  He says, reaching his hand out towards her barely laced bodice that strains against the ample flesh it contains.

“All tha about heroes an th like sounds great inna song but…” She gestures with her mug, coming very close to smashing his reaching hand with it.  When he reaches again, Tallisk hiccups and then releases a belch of epic proportions, blowing it into his face. “That’s fer idiots an fools right?”

“Yeah.”  He says, leaning away from the warm alcohol soaked smell of her breath.  “Only fools go adventuring.”

“Rowan… Now where’v I heard tha name?” Tallisk muses, taking a pull on her foaming tankard.  “Sounds familiar like.”

Rowan smiles at Blaizette when she brings the critic’s second meal.  “Thank you, Sweetie.” She turns to the critic and says as she stands, “I hope you enjoy your stew. I, for one, love it here. I would appreciate it if you are kind to them.” He takes a bite and begins to scribble notes with a pen that never seems to run out of ink, seeming to have forgotten she was even there.

With a sigh of resignation, Rowan gets up to casually wanders the room, playing her flute almost absent-mindedly. When she gets back to the table where Lanaver sits, she takes a few gulps of mead from her mug and whispers casually to him that seems to be a harmless restaurant critic with a magical pen. She then heads into the kitchen to make sure that everything seems ok back there. She is concerned that the magical item might have been planted back in the kitchen where there is much that can be gotten into, including fire and food.

“The venison is particularly good tonight.” Rowan says with a smile to the chef.  “Let me know if any of you have requests for music, I’m happy to oblige!”  She says, sneaking a sample a strawberry tart that’s fresh out of the oven.

The kitchen staff asks for ‘Basil Butterbarrel’s Boast’ and ‘The Lovers’ Twixt’ and Rowan promises to play their favorites when she plays her next set.  After that, she wanders back out into the common room.

As Sebastian comes back downstairs and sees a Wild Elf dining alone at table one. She looks out of place in a nice establishment like this. She wears leather armor dirty with sweat, grime, and the stains of moving through vegetation. A fine-looking bow of strange, purple-hued wood is strung across her back. Of the six tables, five of them show signs that someone at them carries something magical.

Sebastian moves to the table where the Wild Elf sits.  He notices that although her armor is dirty and her hair unkempt, the bow she carries is meticulously maintained and shows no signs of dust, dirt or stain.

“Mind if I join you?”  He asks over the general din of the other patrons.  She meets his eyes, shrugs and goes back to her meal.  At this close distance, Sebastian can identify the bow as being fashioned from Morcant Burl; a rare wood that grows only within the Quivering Forest.

“My name is Sebastian, I must say that is a nice Morcant Burl bow.  Did you make it yourself?”  He asks, “I can appreciate good craftsmanship.”

“I’m Surruk, and aye I made my bow.”  She says, obviously enjoying that he has noticed her prized weapon,  “The Quivering Woods are a dangerous place, The Starshield knights see Starvale safe against the fae and fell creatures that dwell there, but those who venture aways from Starvale get no protection but what they give themselves.”

“Yesh th woods are treche… malev… Dangerous.” Tallisk says, leaning back dangerously on her chair to interject into a conversation she isn’t a part of. “Tha’s why I like ta stay in a civiliz… Er… a town.”

Anyone who really looks beyond her disarming smile and flashing green eyes notices that she’s nowhere near as drunk as she seems, but most men are too busy looking at the generous cleavage she brazenly displays to think about her possible motives. Many women also, although in her experience men are easier marks.

“Tell me more a th Starshield knights I ain’t heard of em.”  Tallisk says with a sloppy smile.

The Elf quirks an eyebrow and says, “You must be new in town I take it?  The Knights of the Starshield are all that’s left as a semblance of law enforcement in Starvale.” She leans in closer and says softly, “Some of them are even corrupt, and they are heavy handed with innocents and those of guilt alike.” She glances about to make sure there are no guards around. “They serve Lord Ector, who rules us all here.”

“Sure, jest got in th other day.”  Tallisk says, turning back to grin invitingly at her table companion.  “How’s bout ‘nother drink?”

The man is walking away from their table, glancing back over his shoulder at her with a sour, disgusted look on his face.  Tallisk frowns, pulling out a small steel mirror to check her appearance.  Her well fitted green and cream dress is all in place, her bodice is still unlaced just a hair above the point where it would be truly indecent and her tangled mass of coppery curls are still attractively framing her plump face.

Tallisk scratches her head, “Nothin stuck in m teeth, m hair’s OK still… Maybe I’m losing m touch. Or maybe I jest got too many teeth fer him.”  She laughs uproariously at her own joke, leaning precariously back in the chair and nearly unbalancing herself in the process.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 15

Hajima gathers up his spent bolts and takes any that can be reused before following the others out of the teleportation chamber. “In such a profane place as this, I certainly won’t refuse the blessing of a goddess. I’m in complete agreement that this foul experiment must not be repeated.”

“You know,” Rowan adds, after humming a few bars of a new tune, “Perhaps Tyche herself is involved in this. I’ve heard a few tales of her revulsion for those who would pollute a dragon’s life, especially as an undead.” She looks around at the various necromantic tools that have been properly destroyed, “I’d say creating a Dracolich would particularly irritate her. Whatever the case, if any gods are involved I hope they lend their help if despite our efforts a dragon does rise from the dead. That is not something I’d like to see.”

She looks around at her powerful allies. “Though if I’m to face danger of any size or risk, I cannot think of anyone I would rather face it with than with you all.” That said, she squares her little shoulders, and prepares to face whatever is next down the tunnels.

Comforted in knowledge that they have thwarted something sinister the party returns up to the graveyard. They find Brother Keefe and he thanks them for their service. He is stricken to know of what they found beneath.

“My mind reels at the prospect of necromantic magics being practiced under my very nose. I must report this to The Alliance, for I am a member of that august order of law-abiding citizens.  It was a few of my fellow members who warned me of rumors about Xandria’s possible draconic heritage.”  He looks older than ever as he confides in them.

“Those lawless Silencers are involved somehow as well.  They have been investigating various dragon related leads over the last fortnight.  If they are part of this, then it will get worse before it gets better.”  With that, he gives Sebastian a sack of gold to distribute among themselves.

“If I may ask such, would it be possible for you to intercede on my behalf?”  Sebastian asks quietly as he accepts the payment.  “I would be honored to join The Alliance, for upholding the law while promoting peace and prosperity are at the core of my beliefs.”

“Of course youngster.  You have more than proven to be worthy of consideration in this action today.”  He says, his mouth quirking in what might be thought of as a smile.  “I will be in contact when the time for your vetting comes.”  With that he politely excuses himself and the party makes their way back to the common room of The Boiling Kettle for a well-earned drink.

The Boiling Kettle is crowded a few days later, as the Evenfeast meal has brought many hungry patrons. A young Halfling woman called Blaze, obviously one of Freia’s daughters, wears a blue kerchief and acts as the server for the meal. She manages to keep a smile despite the busy night.

“Oh Rowan,” she pleads, “Please play your new song for us! The one you’ve been writing about your tales of brave adventure!” Blaze has been nagging since she first heard the song coming together a few days ago. Murna and her baby have just left the Boiling Kettle after visiting Vellk and gifting him with some home brewed Boiling and barley bread, it seems Murna has taken quite a liking to Vellk.

Chaab, who was in a corner drinking with Lanaver excuses himself and leaves but mentions before he goes, “Lan, if you’re ever down by the ‘Laughing Goblin’ come say hello, there may even be work to be had.  Though you’d better watch yourself.” He warns, “The place can get quite rowdy, not a polite bunch like this lot! Have a good evening, Lanaver.”  With that he settles his tab and leaves.

Rowan smiles up at Blaze. “Well, I think I can manage that, since you asked.” She winks at her. She tenderly takes out her cittern and walks over to the small table that she’s had set up near the fire. Seeing as how she’s very short, the Halfling likes to sit or stand on top of the table.

Sebastian is found drinking, gambling or studying magic. Usually in that order. He seems to beam at the new song, not for his part but for how great Rowan’s performance is.  Lanaver is in high spirits this evening. After his company leaves he joins in the merriment, singing, dancing, and drinking more than anyone has ever seen him drink before.

“Here here!” He roars. “To the Boiling Kettles’ troubadour and her motley mix of mad men!” He swings his mug high to toast.  There is raucous applause after Rowan finishes her song, and it’s not just Lanaver and Sebastian who are cheering and whistling.  Barely a person in the bar isn’t at least clapping.

Hajima is uncomfortable at first, when Rowan begins to sing the song of their adventures together. Many of the patrons look over at their table, whispering among themselves. As a sniper and someone who grew up in the woods of the elves, he is not used to being in the spotlight. But soon enough the beauty and magic of Rowan’s song takes him up as well and he forgets the people around. He feels himself relax and enjoy her melody, quite touched that she took the time to compose this song for them.

Rowan enjoys the applause and blushes a little, making her freckles stand out. This is her first original heroic song, and she’s very pleased with its reception. Smiling, and feeling high from the applause, she wanders through the crowd, and finally back to her friend’s table for a drink and a bit to eat.

Blaizette brings over their meals when the cheering dies down and happily accepts 9 silver from everyone for the meals, drinking and lodgings this evening. After she brings the food and heads off to another table, a half-orc pulls up a chair and smiles a toothy smile at them.

“Just act normal, but listen closely.” he says through clenched teeth, “Everyone’s life might be in danger. My name is Buhrell Caah. I represent the Emerald Enclave, a group that watches over the happenings in Starvale and beyond. I was just told by an associate that a potentially devastating magical object was brought into the Boiling Kettle. We don’t know what it looks like or who has it, but I need your help in finding it. Could you split up and talk to anyone who looks suspicious, and find out if they are in possession of a powerful item? Do not let anyone know what you are doing, for the possessor of the item might set it off if he or she knows we are aware.”

Lanaver quickly checks his pockets to make sure Chaab didn’t plant something on him.  “Well, sure.  We’ll do what we can, but without more information it’s going to be tough to be much help.”

“We’ll keep an eye out sure.”  Sebastian says, “We can’t have innocent folk put in danger!”

“Oh I simply cannot abide anyone bringing dangerous magics into The Kettle!”  Rowan says, eyes wide with excitement and indignation, “We’ll stop them for sure and it’ll make a tale worth telling.”

Upon hearing of the danger to the inn, Rowan finishes her food and drink, and casually returns to her place upon the table by the fire. She plays songs that she knows well, fun, silly, but mostly instrumental, so that she can focus her attention on the crowd, and whether anything stands out as unusual in behavior or item.

Buhrell goes to speak with Blaze after the party accepts his offer, letting them focus on other patrons of the Boiling Kettle.  He sits at the bar, accepting a tankard of ale and sips it while watching the room carefully.

Rowan sees six tables that seem likely candidates. With a nod a series of brief hand gestures she points them out to Lanaver who relays the message to Sebastian.

Sebastian excuses himself, “I will retire to my room briefly and prepare my detection magics.”  He explains to his friends.  “I will let you know if I find anything suspicious.”

Rowan’s attention narrows to the fourth table she noticed, that happens to sit nearest her makeshift stage. She sees a half-elf man dining alone, playing with his food with a grumpy expression on this face. He jots notes in a small book on the table.

Rowan finishes off her current song and takes a sip of mead from the mug beside her. She sets her cittern down gently and hops down from the table. She strolls over to the half elf’s table and says curiously, and with a smile, “Do you not like my songs, good sir? You seem out of sorts.” She plops herself into a chair next to him, props her chin onto one fist, and tilts her head, looking at him quizzically. “What can I play for you, to cheer you up?”

The man looks up at Rowan, perplexed at the interruption. “Eh?  Music?  No, I’m Schuyler, a renowned food critic in Starvale, perhaps you’ve heard of me?”  Without waiting for her to respond, he nods, gesturing at his plate.  “Have you ever had such a terrible meal in your life?  Obviously this cook has used far too much Safflower oil and as a result has ruined any hope of success this dish had.”

Rowan leans back and looks at him in mild surprise. “Oh really? I haven’t tried that particular dish this evening. Perhaps you’d prefer the stew? They make a delightful venison stew. Perhaps a little heavy on the coriander, but I think that’s a matter of personal taste rather than a strong criticism of the cook. And the bread they serve with it is simply divine.”

She reaches toward his plate, “May I?” and without waiting for an answer, takes a small bite of meat and chews it thoughtfully. “Hmmm. I do believe you’re right about the oil, though I do like the spice blend they’ve used. Perhaps the cook is having a bad day. I think you should give them a second chance.”

Rowan looks around the crowded room and waves to Blaizette. When she comes over, Rowan says, “Blaize, Dear, when you get a chance, can you please bring this gentleman a serving of the venison stew? He doesn’t care so much for the mutton dish. Thank you.” And she smiles brightly at the girl, giving her a tip for her trouble.

“At once, Rowan.” she replies and hurries off to get the man a new meal with less safflower oil.

“Strange that she’d be using something like Safflower oil, those only grow in the Quivering Forest.”  Rowan muses idly, watching Blaizette wend her way deftly through the crowd of patrons.

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 14

At the mention of ‘undead Dragons’ Vellk shudders a bit, knowing true fear for the first time in a long while. Thinking of his family and many others just like them out there with no protection from this kind of evil. “I agree we need to punish these defilers before they cause more trouble.”  He had quite enjoyed smashing things in the laboratory.

Lanaver slips down the spiral stair, stopping as it opens into yet another room.  This chamber’s walls are painted to look like the inside of a dragon’s lair, the scenes range from depictions piles of treasure, robed acolytes bowing in supplication, bound prisoners being served up as a meal.

The paintings focus toward the alcove in the south wall, where a pile of real gold coins form a nest large enough for a dragon to slumber upon.  Each of the four walls also has a large glyph, glowing softly in the dark of the room. In the northwest corner of the room, a teleportation circle has been etched into the floor.

The lack of wear on the etchings implies that the circle was created very recently. A thick metal rod, inscribed with sigils stands in the middle of the circle. Lying on the floor in different parts of the room are 4 dead bodies. Although the bodies look roughly humanoid, they are stitched together from various parts, including some that appear to be draconic in nature. Each one has some semblance of draconic features, such as small wings, tails, and elongated necks.

Rowan stops and stares, fascinated and repulsed by the stitched-together bodies on the floor. “Sebastian, what … what are they?”

“Zombies are my guess, animated bodies, far harder to put down than skeletons. Clerics are the best fighting these filth.”  Sebastian says, “Both the glyphs and the corpses radiate necromantic power.  They appear to be linked, the glyphs are a trap that will animate the dead if they are tampered with.”

“Then how can we disable this?”  Rowan asks, “Do you think that someone has left by this device? Or was something or someone going to be brought here? I feel as if we must destroy this place, just as we destroyed the laboratory.”

“I think we need to find a way to get this treasure out of here!” Lanaver says, his practical avarice showing itself as usual.

Rowan smiles at him, “Yes, indeed! That gold can be well used I imagine.”

“From the looks of things, each of these glyphs must be disabled separately.”  Sebastian explains, “I think Rowan and I have the best chance of disarming these magical runes, however we will need protection from those poor souls as I am fairly certain that any interaction with them at all will activate their macabre protectors.”

Hajima steps up to Sebastian and Rowan. “Do what has to be done to disarm the runes. I will fight any zombies that try to interfere.” Hajima then loosens the sword in his sheath and readies a bolt into his heavy crossbow. He then pauses and removes the bolt. He reaches into his shoulder pouch he takes out a set of specially modified ammunition that appears to have a small bundle wrapped around the head of the arrows.

The familiar smell of oil comes from the bolts. Hajima takes up a position that gives him the most range and the best angles to fire on each zombie when it animates. He sets out three more fire bolts within easy reach and then lights a torch next to him.

“When you are ready to begin, I will shoot each corpse with flammable bolts in rapid succession. That should slow them down and give you the advantage you need.” Hajima brings the torch closer to the first flammable bolt already loaded in his massive crossbow, ready to light it. He looks at Sebastian with a grin. “Which rune do you want to try first?”

“I’ve always been partial to the left.” Sebastian says with a grin “Ready when the rest of you are!”

Lanaver pulls out a pouch and scatters a double handful of metal balls in front of Hajima.  “These little beauties have saved me more than once!  Can’t hurt right?” He readies rapier and dagger and supports Hajima on the zombie approach.

Rowan gives her friends a tight, determined smile and begins to play an angry tune on her flute with sharp thrills that ends in a low thrumming vibrato note.  A playful shimmer of light flickers over the zombies as Rowan’s magic takes effect.  “That will make them slower and clumsier than they already are, the great lumps.”  She says with satisfaction.

With that, Hajima ignites the arrow and fires it into the nearest zombie to the left. As the flaming bolt hits the dormant zombie, the four glyphs begin to glow with sinister light.  Fell magic reanimates the draconic zombies and they rise, shambling toward them with lumbering steps.

Sebastian runs over and magically disables the first glyph as one of the undead constructs slips the metal balls Lanaver scattered, flailing about in confusion.  The flaming zombie lurches toward Sebastian with an inarticulate moan of hunger as he tries furiously to disarm more glyphs. It reaches the wizard and slams him into the wall. Another zombie runs toward Hajima, its meaty fist striking him in the back as he is working the reloading crank on his crossbow.  Lanaver deftly jumps aside of the last zombie’s attack.

Vellk swings his axe the zombie nearest him, cutting off the zombie’s crude, draconic hand. Rowan moves up to a glyph to disarm it, ducking under an attack from one of the zombies. She successfully disables the second glyph with quick efficiency.

Tuskor notices that two of the zombies are moving erratically and realized they can’t see. He shouts, “Disable the glyphs to blind the undead filth, maybe then we can easily dispatch of them!” as the last zombie punches him in the shoulder with a rotting fist.

Lanaver moves to flank the flaming zombie, gutting it was a slashing strike of his rapier’s tip and it drops to the ground. He disengages from the melee, moving out of the chamber in the hope of attracting more zombies away from his allies. As he moves he notices the zombie he just slew beginning to twitch and it rises, moaning, from the ground, bloodied and blindly swinging its mass about.

Hajima successfully unleashes another flaming bolt, finally killing the risen zombie and then drops his crossbow, unsheathing his sword with a flourish.

Tuskor and Vellk move to flank a Zombie together. Between them they manage to sever one of its arms and break one of its legs just below the knee.  Rowan moves up and successfully disarms another glyph. The zombie next to her strikes out wildly and lands a lucky blow, slamming into the side of her head with a scaly lizard-like fist.

Sebastian moves to disarm another glyph, is attacked by one of the monsters but it doesn’t penetrate his arcane shield.  Ignoring the attack, he disarms the third arcane symbol.

Tuskor casts a spell and once again, large slithering worms creep up through the stonework and wrap around two of the remaining zombies. Vellk swings at and misses another zombie, momentarily distracted by the sight of the weird eyeless worms wrapping around his enemies.

Rowan moves through the battlefield, braving attack to get to the last glyph. A zombie, despite being blind and wounded, manages to connect a flailing fist with her shoulder, nearly knocking her over.  In spite of being hurt, she successfully disarms the last glyph.  The zombies fall to the ground unmoving, and Tuskor’s worms continue to restrain their lifeless flesh and bones.

Sebastian begins binding wounds and applying salves, seeing to Rowan first as she looks the most bruised.  Rowan looks around at the mess on the floor and shudders, but her enthusiasm can’t be held down for long and she smiles beamingly at her friends.

“That was brilliant!  Sebastian, thank you for the healing, those zombies dealt me quite a lot of pain. I seem to be more able to handle it, though. I think spending time with all of you experienced warriors is helping me to gain strength, or courage, or something.” She whistles a happy tune, trying to distract her from the extreme creepiness of this experience, and of the body parts laying about the ground. “Ugh. They really are disgusting, aren’t they?”

“We should likely destroy this last circle also shouldn’t we?”  Vellk asks, pointing at the teleportation circle set in the stone.  “Perhaps it’s just as simple as marring the circle itself.”

“Well, I certainly lack sufficient arcane power to destroy or undo the spells that created it.”  Rowan says, “It is possible that dismantling it physically would work, however you must have a care.  Sometimes releasing the energies contained within such a powerful circle can be a violent and dangerous task.”

“Well judging by the way today has gone, I think we’re probably up for ‘violent and dangerous tasks’ wouldn’t you say?”  Lanaver quips with a roguish grin.

“Ok, boys, let’s break some rocks!”  Rowan laughs aloud, a rather strange sound in this horrible place. The Halfling looks at her rapier, her dagger, then her flute, and laughs again. “I think it’s up to you men. I’ll stand watch.”

With careful effort Tuskor and Vellk use a hammer and pry bar produced from Lanaver’s pack to mar the carvings on the floor.  Sebastian looks on, his eyes glowing once again as he watches the flow of Arcane forces, guiding them to carefully and gradually bleed the power away.  As the energies in the circle fade, the gold coins in the southern alcove flicker and change into worthless wooden disks painted gold.

“Fake treasure!? I’m madder than that stupid dragon would have been!”  Lanaver says, frowning as his words make him realize what was truly happening here.  “Necromantic magic, evil dragons, rituals involving treasure and the undead.”  The color drains from his face.  “I think it’s possible these were preliminary experiments exploring the creation of an undead dragon.  Maybe even one of the powerful undead known as a Lich.”

Sebastian nods at Lanaver. “It does sound an experiment most foul. I hope we have done well in preventing such.”

Lanaver looks at Sebastian, an expression of mild surprise on his face.  “I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this is a lot worse than bad, Gods and Demons man how can you be so calm?  I think they are trying to make a Dracolich!”

“Yes, Lanaver, I think so too. And so we must do everything possible to make sure they don’t succeed. We must destroy all their tools, their magic’s, their circles, and continue on, deeper into the bowels of the earth if necessary, to stop them.”

“And for anyone who doesn’t quite grasp the meaning of Dracolich let me be clear… DRAGON… LICH! It’s about as far away from okay as you can possibly get.”  Lanaver shudders and visibly forces himself to relax, “So, uh, yeah, let’s make sure this never happens.”

Rowan has gone rather pale in the dim light of her dancing lights, and her freckles stand out rather alarmingly.  She emits a rather startled squeak as Sebastian puts his hand on her shoulder.

Sebastian squeezes her shoulder comfortingly. “Bendis brought us here for even she knew such abominable use of her holy mysteries should be stopped. Just think, if it wasn’t us saving the world, who would be?”

“Bendis?”  Rowan takes a shuddering breath, philosophy allowing her to focus on something besides the horrible thought of such a powerful monster, “This feels like The Lady Tyche’s hand to me, how else were the six of us to meet at this juncture? Seems fated to me.”

“I’m sure Tyche played a part, she is a goddess of the ones who are willing to take chances like us adventures.”  Sebastian says.

Rowan looks thoughtful, “Dragons and heroes and gods, oh my!” She smiles to herself and starts humming. “I feel a song coming on.”

Starvale Adventures: A Prelude to Darkness – Chapter 13

“Let’s keep moving shall we?”  Rowan asks, looking nervously at the skeletons and their strange restraints.

The group continues down spiraling stair, finding that it opens again into a chamber set up as a small laboratory.  Tables around the room are covered with beakers, vials, tomes, cauldrons, and pots full of alchemical agents. In the middle of the central table is a note next to a blue clay pot.

The note, written in Common, says, ‘Raaxil, I have figured out how to complete the process. When you are ready, simply pour the contents of this blue pot into the cauldron and stir. The effects should be instantaneous, but DO NOT DRINK THE RESULTING POTION.’

“Be careful in here!”  Rowan says, her small nose wrinkling in disgust.  “These are agents of foul magics indeed.  Necromancy and the arts of Evil Dragons, faugh I can taste it in the air!”

Hajima searches around the room, looking for a cauldron that matches the one described in the note. He can see multiple cauldrons, but he wonders if the contents of one of them in particular was used to combine with the contents of the blue pot.  

Lanaver also appears interested, “Poisons have lots of perfectly beneficial uses,” the elf muses. “Can we make a batch and save it for later? Is it possible?”

“I fear that mixing this potion would like as not animate the dead in the previous chamber.”  Rowan says with a shudder, “They are the guardians and I expect would obey this Raaxil person although we would not be so lucky.”

“Is there any way to interrupt the detection magic tied to the guardians do you suppose?”  Hajima asks, his brow wrinkling.

“All magics can be undone, however this is far beyond our abilities.”  Sebastian says after trading a look of confirmation with Rowan.

Hajima doesn’t understand any of this talk of complex magic. His eyes glaze over during the discussion and then he shrugs. “This looks like a dead lead then. We certainly don’t want to wake the dead unintentionally or intentionally.”

Sebastian looks over to Rowan. “Nice job putting together what all this means and is used for. I need to hit the books more.”

Rowan says “We cannot leave this blue pot of liquid here. We must not awaken the dead, but we also must not allow someone else to do it. I am concerned mostly with the idea that this might awaken the dead dragon, and that would be far too dangerous to let happen.”

“Can’t we turn the bones in the other room into dust completely destroying them before combining the mixture so nothing can come back?”  Lanaver asks.

“I know little of this type of magic, but since many bones are missing, I’m thinking that perhaps her bones are already a part of this potion. I don’t know how it would be used. I don’t know if pulverizing the bones would prevent the rise, or trigger the skeletons to awake or something else entirely.”  Sebastian sighs and runs a hand through his hair.  “This is beyond my ken, and I think we need to be particularly wary.”

Rowan lowers her voice. “Green dragons are very evil. We must do everything possible to ensure that we don’t loose an undead green dragon on the world.”

Sebastian nods in agreement.  “Anyone else have any ideas?”

Rowan has a thought. “Sometimes, when I wanted my brother Raun to do something, I’d tell him NOT to do it. He wasn’t terribly smart, you see, and would think he was getting away with something. What if this note was a means to goad this being into making and drinking the potion, and if the dragon bones are in the potion, perhaps she would then come back to life in his body? It’s a strange thought, but a frightening one. I’m torn between having this potion analyzed to find out what it does, and pouring it out someplace safe so that it can’t ever be mixed into the cauldron. For now, of course, releasing anything into this chamber might be dangerous. But, just a thought.”

“They’re just skeletons…” Lanaver shrugs, “what’s the worst that could happen?”

Rowan looks aghast at Lanaver and shivers. In a whisper she says “I’ve heard terrible tales of walking dead. Terrible.” And she shivers again, looking back to make sure there are no skeletons stalking us.

“We can destroy it all on our way out, however, we have not seen footprints leaving so it’s safe to assume our evil-doers are still down here” Tuskor paces “If we discover their dastardly plot first we can destroy the foundations of this secret tunnel and ensure no more necromancy takes place”

Hajima shudders and looks over his shoulder at all the talk of walking dead and rampaging lich dragons. “I must be a bit more superstitious than some of you. The idea of desecrating a grave does not sit easily with me – especially that of a green dragon! But that was solid thinking by the both of you. We might as well take the note and loot any alchemy supplies that can be of use to Sebastian.

“As for the potion… I’m fairly sure we won’t like the results of it either way. Raising the dead or being possessed by the vengeful spirit of an ancient dragon are both things that I have no wish to see. Let’s follow Rowan’s idea and make sure nobody can ever complete this spell before we move on from here.” With that said, he helps Sebastian gather up any tools and vials that the mage thinks might be useful. When the room has been sufficiently stripped, he looks to Rowan expectantly to see what she wants to do with the potion components.

Hajima thinks for a moment and adds, “Tuskor is also right. We should ensure this tomb is properly sealed from further intrusion when our mission is complete and it’s time to leave this place.”

Sebastian nods his agreement and gets to work collecting supplies.  Lanaver helps, and in a few minutes they have gathered some vials that look like they would be interesting, valuable or useful.  The other members of the party take half an hour grinding bones before Rowan deconstructs the ritual, safely disposing of the contents to the best of her knowledge. The note is destroyed along with the potion, removing any evidence that it existed.

Rowan sighs in relief. “Oh, my dear friends, I am so relieved to see this done.” She smiles brightly at all of them. “Now, shall we deal with those who set up this foul place?” She prepares to continue forward, waiting for at least one of her stronger brethren to precede her. Her bright smile and brilliant red hair are a beacon of hope in a dreary place.

“Perhaps one of you who can see in the dark might lead us, so that we can surprise our foes?” She smiles brightly again around at her friends. “Someone needs to be taken down a notch or three.” The sight of her slight form, prepared to battle evil, probably brings a smile to the grizzled veterans in the party.

“I’ll scout ahead and keep an eye out for traps, just keep yer lights at a distance. Don’t want my own shadow to give me away,” Says Lanaver with a wink at Rowan.

Sebastian feels like he has truly accomplished something good today one less evil in the world. He will prepare himself to move forward with his companions. He takes heart from his cheery friend Rowan, and readies his mind body and soul for the confrontation ahead.

Hajima nods approvingly. “Good work, my friends. Let’s follow Lanaver and deal out some justice to these tomb defilers that seek to wake an undead dragon.” Making sure to keep some distance between the party and Lanaver scouting ahead in the darkness, Hajima readies his bow and takes point within the dancing lights, eyes alert and peering ahead into the shadows to make sure his elf friend is not in need of any emergency aid. With that, he advances down the spiral stairs once more.