At the table for these two pivotal sessions were Wes and his Calishite wizard Keseim, Pam and her elven ranger Kale, Bill and his cleric of Lathander named Oisin, and Jamie’s rogue named Milo. We picked up where we left off at the end of Session 6, with the group back in a hidden glade high in the Star Mount range in the High Forest. The group had just returned through a portal from the location of an ancient tower that was once the dwelling of an elven wizard named Kurthrad, who called himself “The Artificer.” They had fought against some of the constructs that dwell in the tower: a bull-like abraxus that expelled deadly green gas and some animated suits of armor.
Their centaur NPC, Quiron, was poisoned by the abraxus’ noxious exhalations. They had dragged him back through the portal, but he lay unconscious, his breathing shallow and his skin a deathly pallor. Narcoth, the other centaur NPC, told the group that a warrior of their tribe should die by a weapon’s touch, not slowly fade into death. That would be dishonorable. So he told them that he would put an end to Quiron’s suffering, whether they agreed or not. Indeed, he would fight the party if they tried to stop him. The party said they would not interfere, so Narcoth went about the task of ending his fellow’s life, and, as befits the traditions of the centaur people, they would leave his body for Nature to reclaim.
Afterward, the group discussed their next move, and decided that they would need to soon return to the ruined temple of Myrkul and attempt to finish off the evil force within. But they knew they would need some help, and decided to attempt to find the group of dwarves from Mithral Hall that they had met in the High Forest.
They came down from the mountains, and as they headed northeast, some of the group (except for Kale) began to hear the faint sound of a woman’s voice. The voice seemed to come from everywhere, and they heard whimpering as well as the words “…temple…pain…” As they stopped in confusion, they spied a small form emerge from the High Forest: it was Murzod the dwarf, one of the dwarves they had decided to seek out. When he approached the group, he said that he had been journeying with his fellows to Mithral Hall when he began to hear a woman’s voice, and his feet turned of their own accord back toward the east. The call had been leading him in the general direction of the ancient temple to Myrkul, a place he had not been before. The group took this as a sign that their fates crossed paths at the site of the evil temple, so they moved in all haste to that dark place.
Once at the ruined temple, they headed inside with some hesitation and preparation. But they encountered nothing but bones of orcs, gnolls, and goblins. They toyed with the idea of opening the door inscribed with the words goblinoid words for “Bad Here,” but ultimately decided to pass it by. When they came to the room where they slew a goodly number of evil humanoids, including the gnoll chieftan Gritznak, they decided to break up the bones they found there in an effort to cripple any animated skeletons that might form from them. As they broke up the bones, that’s when the temple seemed to breathe. Then bones began to swirl around the room in a storm of sharp fragments. The party managed to avoid getting shredded and fled down the nearby staircase to the lower level of the temple.
They were greeted by a dark corridor lined with doors at the bottom of the steps. As they slowly advanced, torches in hand and listening at doors, they began to hear moaning from somewhere ahead…and then the skittering of claws. This was followed by someone suddenly wailing “Gods, they’re coming back! Please, save me, oh gods of mercy!”
The group cautiously rounded a corner to see a flayed man chained to the wall of the passage. The flesh of his torso was peeled back to reveal his organs, and yet he still lived. The sound of claws grew louder, until a ghoul came out of the darkness ahead to feast on the exposed entrails of the man, whose wails became screams (can you tell it’s close to Halloween? ;-). The group sprang into action as several more ghouls rounded the corner and rushed at the party. Some blows were struck against the creatures before Oisin the Lathanderite turned the ghouls, causing them to flee back into the darkness. The group tried to talk to the unfortunate man on the wall, but all he did was rave about once being a part of a traveling group of performers.
They continued down the corridor and discovered three more flayed yet still living people, also former members of a group of troubadours that were captured by the evil humanoids that served the power of the evil temple. They pressed on through the gauntlet of these tortured souls, encountering two giant skeletons that were created from the bones of many different creatures. Once again, Oisin exhorted Lathander to make the undead flee, and the god answered, sending the things running before the party’s advance. The group then made similar short work of another pack of ghouls, using swords, arrows, and flame (the old flaming lamp oil trick!).
Their resources almost spent, the group passed a nervous night in the depths of the temple. They were able to rest and regain some strength before pressing on. They discovered the desiccated corpses of what looked to be a party of adventurers. Among the bodies they found an amulet, a well-crafted wizard’s staff, and a beautifully-made dagger, all of which radiated strong magic.
The party moved on, and came to a massive door of black iron. The front of the door was crafted to resemble a writhing mass of nude male and female bodies. As they approached the door, five twisted dog-like creatures—yeth hounds—with slavering jaws passed through the door as if they were as insubstantial as ghosts. The party engaged in a desperate battle once more. The beasts were not undead, so Oisin could not turn them. Milo the rogue used his newly-acquired dagger to good effect. His attacks on the hounds were devastating, causing the flesh of the beasts to burn. At one point, one of the hounds began to howl, and supernatural fear descended upon the party. The group was able to shake off the effects of the fear, however, and after slaying several of the hounds (which, as extraplanar creatures, faded into nothingness once killed), this caused the remainder to flee. Then the party steeled themselves and pushed open the massive door before them.
They entered a large chamber that was lit by guttering torches in sconces. The vaulted ceiling was lost in darkness. Along the walls were six giant statues of Myrkul. As was the case with all the other statues in the temple, they were carved into the “Grim Reaper” visage of the former god of death. However, the faces of these statues had been smashed off. At the other end of the room was a large stone altar, upon which lay the bound and unconscious form of Tanara, the elven wizard. And beyond her, on a dais, sat a dark-robed figure. Two yeth hounds sat at its feet, gazing balefully at the party with burning red eyes.
The party readied themselves for battle once more, and advanced slowly into the chamber. As they did so, the cloaked being stood slowly and welcomed them to his lair. He told them that he would use their blood and bodies to aid in the finalization of his resurrection and the continued growth of his army of the undead. He gave praise to a god named Velsharune, the god of undeath (who was never a friend to the gods of death, especially the current death god, Kelemvor). Velsharune was the source of the mysterious being’s power. The robed figure declared that the birth of an undead empire on the face of Faerun would begin with the sacrifice of Tanara.
The party decided to attack as the hooded figure began to advance toward Tanara with a large ceremonial dagger. An epic battle ensued, in which the robed being commanded yeth hounds as well as animated shadows to attack the group. Kale the ranger had a shadow drain her of strength at one point. The robed being cast arcane spells, one of which enchanted Murzod, who promptly turned and attacked members of the party. In the chaos of battle, the elven warrior Otiver (an NPC and clansman of Kale) struck Murzod a blow from behind, wounding him.
But the party had the divine power of Lathander on their side in the form of Oisin, who was able to turn many of the shadows summoned by their cloaked antagonist. This enraged the strange being, who pulled back its hood to show a fleshless head that revealed wet musculature and lidless eyes. The being cursed the cleric Oisin and the god Lathander, renewing his magical attacks. He summoned up a poisonous fog to choke the group, and flung bolts of green energy at them. Several of these struck the wizard Keseim at one point, almost killing him (took him down into negative hit points, but the cleric acted quickly to heal the wizard).
Slowly, the group turned the tide of battle, working well in unison until only the fleshless being remained. At that point, their opponent drew out a wicked mace that ended in a spiked metal head shaped like a skull. Then, he shrouded himself in magical darkness, and advanced on the group. A mighty blow from that evil weapon slew Murzod. Milo was also struck a grazing blow, and the touch of the weapon caused him to go blind!
The party attacked from all sides, desperately trying to damage an opponent that they could not see. Finally, Oisin challenged the being directly, causing their enemy to react in anger. The robed being strode from the shadows to deal a blow to the cleric. But it was Oisin who landed a crushing strike (Player Bill rolled a clutch natural 20 at that moment!), and at the same time the centaur Narcoth also struck with his enchanted scimitar. This onslaught brought the battle to an end, slaying their foe.
In the aftermath, the group only had time to heal some of their wounds and gather up the body of Murzod. Then the temple began to shake violently. They rushed through the dark corridors in a frantic race to reach the exit before the temple collapsed in on itself. They were able to make it back to the surface just as the temple withdrew back into the ground. The group had just collapsed to the ground in exhaustion when a nearby voice said, “Welcome back, friends.” The party looked up to see a dark figure standing in the shadow of the nearby woods.
To be continued...