By-Tor Brigade Legacy
Book 1 – Crypt of the Steadfast Flame
Part 1 – Journey to the Crypt
- Chapter 1: History of the Quest
- Chapter 2: Departure
- Chapter 3: Inside the Crypt, Day One
See also: Adventure Log > Session 1, 2013-01-04
Chapter 1: History of the Quest
Founding of Darford
Long ago, the deepest reaches of Hwychwood were a wild and untamed place. As a result, the great forest was full of danger, from marauding orcs and goblins to deadly predators, making it unsafe for merchants hoping to trade with the growing community of Uller’s Keep in the northern reaches of the Kingdom of Baeldur.
Dartron was a successful adventurer in his youth. For a time he served in the Uller’s Keep military and even journeyed as a member of the renowned By-Tor Brigade. While he fought with distinction, he soon realized that he wanted more from life and left the Uller’s Keep military to find his fortune elsewhere. After one particularly profitable adventure, Dartron decided to retire from adventuring. Using a sizable portion of his fortune, he set out to tame a small area of Willowdale near a ford on the River Tamesis. For the next 10 years the village grew and prospered. It came to be known as Dartron’s Ford, then eventually, Darford.
All the peace and prosperity changed when Wotan came to Darford with a host of mercenaries under his command. Wotan was a former companion of Dartron, and the two had traveled together for some time before splitting up just after Dartron’s last adventure. Over the years, Wotan became sure that Dartron had cheated him after that adventure. Promising great wealth to his mercenaries, Wotan raided the town relentlessly for 2 months.
Finally, the townsfolk managed to locate Wotan’s camp, hidden in an ancient crypt deep in the forest, and Dartron himself went out to deal with his old companion. The battle was terribly bloody, with only a few townsfolk coming back to tell the tale. In the end, Wotan was slain and his mercenaries scattered, but Dartron suffered a mortal wound. He died 2 days later.
In honor of their beloved founder, the townsfolk buried Dartron in the ancient crypt, interring his bones in a place of honor, above the simple sarcophagi used to inter Wotan, his mercenaries, and the townsfolk that lost their lives in the bitter struggle. They placed an eternal flame above Dartron’s final resting place, so that all who visited the Crypt of Dartron might find warmth in the wilderness.
Over the years, the Crypt of Dartron had become an important part of the history of the town of Darford. The townsfolk viewed the crypt as a memorial to those difficult first years of the town’s history. Every autumn, a few of the townsfolk would make a pilgrimage to the crypt to light a lantern from the flame and bring it back to town, where it was preserved all winter, a symbol of the town’s resilience. Most years, the town Reeve and a group of dignitaries performed this quest. Every few years, however, a handful of younger townsfolk were given the honor of lighting the lantern. Many saw this as a passage into adulthood, a taste of adventure before settling down to work and marriage.
Traditionally, the quest started out as a solemn ceremony in the town center, where the townsfolk gathered to wish the adventurers luck, just as it was when Dartron himself left to fight the mercenaries. When the adventurers would return a few days later, the town held a great celebration in their honor. This also marked the final harvest celebration before the long winter.
Those who were raised in Darford knew a bit about the ritual. The quest required the group to travel to the tomb (about two days’ travel outside of town), venture inside, light the lantern, and return home. Although every adult knew that the “solemn” ceremony was really just for show and a perfect excuse for an annual ceremony, children told wild tales to one another about what happened during the quest. Some even claimed that there had been a number of deaths over the years.
It had been four years since Reeve Ulfrid last decided to send a group of youngsters to the crypt. Members of that previous group were now productive citizens of the town: Sidric was an apprentice cobbler, Hrothgar was a fletcher, and Sturm was one of Darford’s guardsmen.
This year’s quest was special. Ulfrid had selected five youngsters for the quest. Three were born and raised in Darford. Dodge son of Gedrik, hard-working apprentice to Finley the blacksmith. Kyran, dark and brooding son of Grimr and Brynja, recently returned to Darford after a mysterious apprenticeship in the distant land of Gwynedda. Glenlivet, albino half-elf son of Dargoth and Glenna, recently returned to Darford after traveling through distant lands. Two were new residents of Darford. Li-Al Saar, friend and traveling companion of Glenlivet, had arrived from his homeland of Shem. His inclusion in the quest had been suggested to Reeve Ulfrid by Drogo. Magna, half-elf ranger from Blackwood, had been suggested for inclusion by Liric the Scop.
Along with the honor of being selected to participate in the Quest for the Steadfast Flame, the five young men were also invited to a supper in the tavern, courtesy of Reeve Ulfrid. Glenlivet and Li-Al Saar sat at a table with their new friend Magna. Dodge was accompanied by his guests: his proud father Gedrik and his blacksmith-mentor Finley. Beside Kyran were his parents Grimr and Brynja.
Old warrior Kleggi sat near the hearth, enjoying its warmth, his cane hooked over the edge of his chair. Sitting next to him was Liric the Scop, playing his lyre for all in attendance. Reeve Ulfrid shared his table with guard captain Wisslow, and Geldhere, his occasional assistant.
Alrica and Drogo were hard at work attending to the needs of the guests. Ina was resting nearby, having spent the day helping Trygil with the cooking, and her daughters Aelis, Clarinda and Sera assisted with the serving.
During the evening’s festivities, Ulfrid instructed the five to meet at the center of town at noon the next day, which marked the anniversary of the day that Dartron and his men set out to find Wotan’s camp and deal with the destructive mercenary. They were also informed that they were expected to travel light, carrying only what was absolutely needed – weapons, armor, etc. – as rations and other equipment would be provided.
Return of Yríadel
Near the end of the supper, two more people entered the door into the friendly chaos of the room, their identities hidden beneath hooded cloaks. One appeared to be a slender child, while the other promptly removed his hood to reveal himself as Ranulf, the leader of the local temple of Odin. He and Ulfric entered into a hushed discourse that appeared to be a continuation from an earlier argument. Most of the occupants tried to politely ignore the dialogue, but as their speech grew steadily louder and more insistent, the villagers could not help but turn their attention toward the debate.
“…And I told you ‘no’ earlier today,” spoke Ulfrid. “She is much too young, and only returned to our town this very day. We cannot risk her safety on this quest.”
“Risk is not a proper interpretation,” replied Ranulf. “You know that she will be well protected with this year’s group, led by the son of Gedrik. And even so, she needs this experience to earn much needed respect in this town.”
“I suggest you wish her on this quest in hopes that they will lose her in the woods, and you will be rid of her,” implied Ulfrid.
Ranulf looked indignant. “You insult me, my friend. I have no fear of her influence in my temple – or this community. I contend that once again you aspire to prevent yet another female from contributing to this town, like her mother before her. Let her prove that a woman can be a capable warrior – or priestess – when the need arises.”
“Very well – I give my consent – before your arguing spoils my feast or curdles my mead. But mark me, if anything goes wrong, it will be to your regret, not mine. May Odin guide them.”
Ulfric took a deep breath before turning to address the crowd of perplexed diners, now all in attention to the newcomers. “My friends, we now have a sixth member for our quest. I present to you… Yríadel Yngvarsdottir, priestess and healer.”
Ranulf reached over and dropped the hood of his young companion. Her head was bowed. Like the fable tresses of Sif, her golden blonde hair and twin braids seemed to glow as if in sunlight, even in the dim light of the room. Timidly, she raised her face to the audience. The crowd seemed transfixed by the deep brown color of her eyes and the tension of the moment. When she recognized her old friends Dodge, Glenlivet and Kyran, her face lit up with a smile that melted the hearts of all present. She rushed to greet them, her arms out wide, and with tearful hugs and joyous greetings Yríadel was reunited with her friends after many long years apart.
Chapter 2: Departure
When the group arrived at the town square, they found it empty except for each other. At noon, the bells atop the Temple of Odin tolled their midday song, echoing throughout the quiet town of Darford. As the peals began to fade, the first of the townsfolk made their way into the square, dressed in black, as if attending a funeral. They slowly filled the square, moving quietly across the cold, hard ground, their eyes downcast and mournful. After a few moments, a murmur passed through the crowd as it slowly parted to let Reeve Ulfrid through. He led the way with a tarnished silver lantern. Behind him, an old pony dragged a cart laden with backpacks and supplies.
Once he reached the center of the crowd, Ulfrid stopped and called out to the assembled townsfolk. “Once again the winter winds blow through Willowdale, marking the end of another harvest. There are wolves in the woods, howling at our walls, and serpents in our shadows, waiting to strike. Just as it was eighty years ago, when Dartron himself left these walls to protect us, so it is today. Where are the heroes? Where are the brave folk that will venture out to Dartron’s tomb and retrieve the Steadfast Flame to keep this community safe for another winter?”
Ulfrid paused and the group of six stepped forth to accept their mission. “Who is to have the honor of carrying the lantern,” asked Ulfrid to the group. Dodge held out his hand and received the sacred lantern. “Bring the fire back to Darford,” said Ulfrid. Next he gave to each a backpack containing rations and various other travel supplies.
Ulfrid once again spoke to the townsfolk. “I present to you the brave heroes who will follow in Dartron’s footsteps to retrieve The Steadfast Flame! Some of them may not return, but I say to you that their sacrifice shall not be forgotten. Go, brave heroes, and do not return until you have the eternal fire.” With that, Ulfrid pointed to the gate at the town’s walls, the direction of Dartron’s tomb. The townsfolk began waving goodbye with cold, solemn looks on most of their faces. Their journey was about to begin.
Just beyond view of the town’s walls, they stopped and took stock of their inventory. They discovered that each backpack contained 5 days’ worth of rations, a small tent, a winter blanket, a full waterskin, and a piece of parchment with some incoherent scribblings upon it. In addition, the following items were spread out among the backpacks: 50 feet of hempen rope, a box containing tinder and three tindertwigs, a labeled potion of cure light wounds, three torches, a grappling hook, and a small bottle of local brandy. They assembled the six pieces of parchment together and realized they now had a map to the crypt. This would make their journey much simpler and safer if they followed its directions.
Just 2 hours outside of Darford, the rhythm of their steps had settled into an acceptable pace. The narrow path meandered through the raking claws of the trees, now bereft of their leaves, which crunched loudly underfoot. Up ahead, a fallen tree trunk blocked the path. Suddenly a trio of snarling humanoids leaped up from behind the log, all greenish skin and fearsome tusks, bellowing vulgar challenges.
The rookie team immediately recognized them as orcs – intruders to Willowdale – and prepared to meet their challengers. Dodge, Glenlivet and Kyran quickly engaged the attackers, while Magna unleashed his arrows upon them and Li-Al Saar maneuvered to outflank them. The orcs seemed to single out Dodge, and he received several wounds from the battle. But before he sustained any critical wounds, all 3 orcs were defeated. Astonishingly, their fallen bodies faded into nothingness – apparently illusions – and the wounds received by Dodge disappeared as well.
Perplexed, the group searched nearby, hoping to seek an answer to the encounter. The keen perception of Magna caught the scent of pipe smoke in the area – similar to the leaf favored by Hildigest. Was he evil, and trying to sabotage their journey? Not likely. Was he merely testing the group, or trying to ensure they would stay alert? The answer would have to wait as they continued their journey.
Eyes in the Dark
After dealing with the illusionary orcs, the group traveled for the rest of the day in peace. Following the map was relatively easy, but as the sunlight began to fade and a cold wind began to rattle through the leafless forest, there was no sign of civilization in sight. Establishing a safe camp became their first order of business, and thanks to Magna’s ranger skills they selected a nice level spot, surrounded on three sides by a thicket of bushes. They gathered some dry wood, started a fire, and chose portions from their various rations and cooked a stew.
As they sat around the camp, they heard howling off in the distance. Over the next hour, the howling seemed to grow closer, before it became eerily silent. Just a half-hour later, they spotted a lone wolf at the edge of the firelight. The wolf looked lean and starving, and they supposed it was looking for a quick meal. Dodge took some dried meat from the trail rations and tossed it near the wolf. The wolf hungrily grabbed the morsel in its jaws and quickly sped away. Luckily, the pack never returned, and the youngsters finally got some rest.
In the morning, they continued their journey through the forest. Early in the day, the trees began to thin, revealing a field of short, green grass that led to the shores of a wide, calm lake reflecting the overcast sky above. Their trail had led them to the shores of Gray Lake, seemingly a good place to refill their waterskins and stop for a quick rest. A dense fog hung over the center of the lake, obscuring the far side.
Near the shore of the lake, a dark form lay next to the water. As they drew closer to the form, they could see that it was a human corpse. Upon closer inspection they could see that it was the decayed body of a male human, which appeared to have huge bite marks all over its upper torso, perhaps from a gigantic serpent. Most of its gear was rotted to worthlessness, but they managed to uncover a masterwork short sword and a coin pouch. Within the pouch they counted 87 shillings, newly minted from Linwich. Based on the coins and the clothing (which was obviously of a kind purchased in larger cities) they concluded that the victim was not from Willowdale. Yríadel deduced that the man had been dead for a few months.
As they gathered to discuss burial for the corpse, they heard a lilting voice from a nearby distance, which warned in a melodious tone, “I would not linger there for long, if I were you.”
“Who are you? What do you mean?” they shouted in reply.
“There is danger in the water. You should move away from there,” the voice advised.
Warily, they crept away from the lake and closer to the trees from whence they heard the voice.
“You are those young people from Darford, are you not?” the voice inquired.
“Yes, I am Kyran Grimsson, and these are my companions. We were chosen by Reeve Ulfrid for the annual quest to retrieve the steadfast flame.”
“I see. You are an unusual collection for the quest. I recognize three of you as people of Willowdale, though one of you is a girl, and a beautiful one at that. Yet three others are outsiders: one a mainland elf, the other two dressed as if from a very far land.”
“Yes, some of us are newcomers to Willowdale. But we all love Darford and share the same goal to accomplish our quest,” answered Kyran. They were trying to determine where their mysterious inquisitor was located, but its voice seemed to move about within the trees. They could tell it was uttered by a somewhat mature owner, yet from a small person, not a human. “Thank you for helping us. Will you tell us who you are?”
“I prefer to remain unknown, though I don’t mind helping young people from Darford. But if you can guess my name, I will reveal myself to you. I shall give you a clue. I wear a scarlet tunic and a blue green hood. It looks quite good.”
They shouted out silly guesses (“Rumpelstiltskin” among them, of course) but none were correct. Eventually they grew tired of the game, and offered to pay.
“No, but I will take gold in exchange for information you may find useful.”
“Agreed,” replied Kyran. “Here are ten shillings for your kindness.” He counted out the ten gold coins and set them upon a tree stump.
“Excellent, my friends,” the voice chimed. “Now I will tell you that a few months ago a small group came through here, men from a foreign land. I could not guess their goal or their destination, but I knew they did not belong here. One of them met his fate by the creature in the lake, as you just saw. They made their camp just east of here, but after they moved on, I never saw them again. The creature is a gigantic serpent. It does not feed on men, but does attack to protect its territory. It leaves a poison that renders the victim unsuitable even for scavengers. So keep your distance. That is all I know. Farewell.”
The six replied with their farewells, then continued on the trail beyond the lake.
Leaving the Gray Lake behind, the trail led ever deeper into Hwychwood, through a twisting maze of trees and confusing ravines. The trees in this part of the forest were very old and quite gnarled. The weather made the journey even more miserable, as a cold rain began to fall halfway through this part of the forest.
After about 3 hours of travel beyond the Gray Lake, the trail topped a small rise, and a broad valley spread out before it, the opposite side of which looked like a writhing serpent. Yet between the two lay a steep hill sloping down into the valley. The cold rain continued to fall, making the ground slick and treacherous. This part of the forest was particularly dense, making it a thorn-covered maze of bushes, treacherous roots, and uneven rocks.
Their map led to this valley, marking the crypt at its bottom, but getting there proved to be a challenge. After they began their descent, Kyran lost his grip and slid down several feet before coming to a stop with an embarrassing thud. Next, Li-Al lost his footing and took a dangerous tumble down the slope, injuring his leg in the process. At Glen’s suggestion, they tied off a rope and the group descended more carefully. Upon reaching the bottom, Glen untied the rope and dexterously found his way down to join them.
Yríadel attended to everyone’s injuries and surmised that more than just mundane healing would be required before they could continue their journey. She knelt on the ground amongst her friends, closed her eyes in concentration, and whispered something which seemed like an incantation, though they couldn’t quite hear her words. Then the place where they stood grew brighter with light. At first, they thought perhaps the sun was breaking through the clouds, but when they looked up the sky was still gray and a faint drizzle continued to dampen their faces. When they looked back they realized with pleasant surprise that the sun-like glow emanated from the glistening form of Yríadel, as the healing magic she summoned radiated from her! Their bleak dispositions became relieved, despite the miserable weather, and the wounds of Kyran and Li-Al were alleviated.
They located the entrance to the crypt, an archway of stone set into the side of a small hill, at the bottom of a relatively small valley. A pair of horses and a trio of ponies lay slaughtered next to the archway, each corpse still tied to a post set into the ground nearby. A swarm of flies hung lazily in the air above them.
They inspected the corpses and estimated the animals were slain about two days prior, apparently with crude blades or perhaps claws. The horses and ponies were outfitted with saddlebags, so were apparently laden with gear and supplies at one time. They searched the packs and all were empty, except one. Inside they found 2 days’ worth of rations, a pair of large, comfortable pillows, a quiver with 10 blunt arrows, and 2 pints of lamp oil.
They discovered scattered bones of a human underneath one of the horses. After moving the beast’s carcass to uncover the skeleton, they could see that the bones were clearly very old – a mysterious situation.
Moss had overgrown many of the details on the stone archway, but one was still quite clear. The keystone of the arch was carved with a flame symbol with a stylized Dagaz rune in the middle. Beyond the archway was a darkened tunnel that led to a pair of massive wooden doors, one of which was slightly ajar.
Chapter 3: Inside the Crypt, Day One
The wooden doors that opened into the crypt were very heavy. Dodge took the lead, and with a little strain pushed the doors open. As the heavy doors swung inward, the faint light from outside revealed a long chamber with risen platforms on either side. A faded painting of Dartron was visible on the far wall. The room appeared to be the site of a gruesome battle, with two bodies piled in the center and a number of skeletons scattered around. An echoing wail could be heard somewhere in the distance, beyond the foul chamber.
As soon as they all entered the room, the skeletons rose together to assault the team. Without casualty, the team defeated the animated skeletons. After the battle, they reviewed the scene. There were 8 skeletons total, 2 were apparently smashed and broken in the earlier battle, but the 6 intact skeletons had risen to combat this day. All the skeletons were extremely old.
There were 2 bodies, both badly mauled, but they were able to identify them as Hrothgar Erikson and Sturm Torgerson, both of whom were friends of Reeve Ulfrid. Solemnly, Dodge remembered how they, along with their other friend Sidric, were always kind to him while growing up in Darford. Hrothgar was learning to become a fletcher like his father and older brother. He had been courting Juthwara and they were planning to be married. Sturm was a member of Darford’s guardsmen and had been mentoring his younger brother Stein to follow in his footsteps. The whole group was extremely confused as to why they would be here. They also found a pair of backpacks. One of the packs contained a large pillow and two quivers, each containing 10 blunted arrows. The other pack had 2 days of rations and a full waterskin. The wailing noise was faint, but could still be heard, and appeared to come from the east.
Maze of Pits
As they surveyed their surroundings within the unlit crypt, they estimated the ceilings were about 15 feet high and all the surfaces were made of stone. The walls were decorated with a scrolling pattern of villagers fighting off masked bandits and monsters. The artwork was still in relatively good condition, although water damage and lichen had taken their toll. The stench of mold and rot hung heavy in the air. (They would later notice that all these features would be about the same throughout their visit within the crypt.)
They passed through the door to the southeast (the direction from whence the moaning seemed to emanate) and into the next chamber. It was very large and contained a maze of pillars that obscured the far side of the room. Next to the door was a pile of empty saddlebags and 3 brooms. The wailing that could be heard in entrance hall was much louder in this chamber and appeared to be coming from the door to the south.
They navigated a host of hidden pit traps scattered throughout the room, though very curiously the bottom of each pit was cushioned with a mound of pillows, recently placed. At the bottom of the center pit, Kyran spotted a sack containing 6 Nobles (platinum coins) and a small scrap of parchment that read “three to open, but be quick, for the door will only open for those who work together”. This clue apparently indicated the purpose for the 3 small levers they detected within the room.
As they exited the room and continued southward, the mournful wailing grew louder with each step toward the door at the end of the musty hallway. There were a host of bones strewn on the floor here, many of which were cracked and broken. The door was locked and after they picked the lock they discovered it was also barricaded from the other side. When they tried to push the barricade out of the way the wailing suddenly stopped. As they paused to listen into the silence, they heard the sound of a crossbow being loaded.
They spoke through the door and explained who they were and why they were there, and the voice on the other side finally allowed them to enter. The man inside the chamber was Sidric, one of the few survivors of the undead attack 2 nights before. Seeing his friends butchered had shattered his fragile mind, leaving him a wailing mess, locked inside the only safe room in the crypt. Getting Sidric calm and willing to talk was no simple task. He had gone mad, and constantly ranted and raved about the “angry bones” and referred to any living creature as “a trick of the dead one, the dead one who speaks.” Yríadel was able to soothe his emotions and gain his trust with her charming voice and by mentioning the town and promising to get him home safely. When she laid her hand on his arm, the touch had an obvious effect on him, and he became lucid enough to speak more intelligently.
Once he calmed down, Sidric became a bit more helpful. He was able to explain the basic story of what happened, but in a disjointed way, describing the events out of sequence. With extreme patience, they were able to piece together the events. Sidric and his group of 7 villagers had arrived here 3 days ago. Their mission was to prepare several of the chambers with harmless “traps” for those on the Quest for the Steadfast Flame. Some of the traps were blunted or the tools to defeat them were placed nearby. After setting up the traps on the first level of the crypt, they were attacked by the “walking bones” in the middle of the night. When the attack occurred, most of the group was in the main entrance hall. Sidric was sweeping the floors in the maze. He responded to the clamor, but upon seeing the massacre he fled to the supply room and locked himself in, where he had been safe ever since. Sidric knew nothing about the leader of the undead, just that there was “one with the voice of death, who stalks these halls in ancient mail.” He knew that the rescuers would need “the shields and the keys” and he also mentioned that they would need to go for a swim, but he couldn’t remember where.
Most importantly, Sidric was concerned for his sister, Breena, and whether or not she was still alive. He witnessed her being dragged off by the skeletons during the fight and he seemed convinced she was not dead. He believed that “the voice took her.” They promised Sidric they would find and rescue Breena, and in response Sidric loaned them his masterwork crossbow to aid in the effort (though a cobbler by trade, he enjoyed archery and years ago bought this fine weapon from a down-on-his-luck adventurer). Sidric refused to leave the crypt without his sister, yet would not leave the safe room either. The room was set up by the townsfolk as a place where the group could rest during their exploits. There were a number of bedrolls here, a pair of bullseye lanterns with 4 flasks of oil, 5 days’ worth of rations, and two glass vials labeled “healing” (i.e. two potions of cure light wounds).
Without the calming touch of Yriadel, Sidric once again started ranting nonsense phrases like “if you can hear this whispering you are dying”, “I never said I was frightened of dying,” and “remembering games and daisy chains and laughs.”
After leaving Sidric safely locked in the supply room (“you lock the door and throw away the key”, he whispered strangely) they ventured to the next chamber. It was small, and mostly empty, save for the body of a villager sprawled in the center. Perched atop the corpse was a man-sized, brown and yellow beetle, trying to push the corpse into the corner where a pile of trash and filth awaited. As the group entered the room, the beetle – very territorial, as it planned to lay eggs soon – attacked everyone, vomiting deadly acid on his intruders.
“Kavvála Págonía,” shouted Kyran, and an eldritch black ray projected from his finger as he pointed with his left hand. The ray struck the beetle and shards of frozen, black crystals exploded on its shell. Then with Kyran’s right arm he swung his sword with sharp accuracy.
His companions, though not complete strangers to the existence of sorcery, had never witnessed its power first hand before, not to mention from a friend, and were quite surprised. They were especially impressed at how he used both sorcery and sword at the same time. However, they did not let the scenario disrupt their concentration, and they continued the fight. Outnumbered 6 to 1, the beetle was soon killed by the combined might of their deadly weapons.
After the battle, they were saddened when they identified the body as Waldrik the wright. They dreaded the thought of giving the news to his father Wyrhta or, even worse, his widow Yuliet, who would now have to raise their son Ailie and daughter Calan without their father.
The next chamber was full of smoke. It was quite harsh and caused their eyes to water and their breathing to become labored. Most of them were overcome with coughing fits and they swiftly retreated, deciding to return to this room at a later time.
They retreated back to the entrance hall, but were unable to open the door in the northwest corner of the hall. Through teamwork, they spread out from this door and into the room with the pit traps, they pulled all 3 switches at the same time, thus unlocking the door.
In the center of the next room was a large pool of clear water, fed by a fountain on the wall above it. The fountain had a stone statue of a weeping maiden holding the slain body of Dartron, but his head had been broken off and was nowhere to be seen. A voice boomed out from the darkness, saying, “Magic is the key.” The voice slowly faded, leaving a dreadful silence. There were 2 doors on the south wall, but both were locked.
At the bottom of the pool they saw a large quantity of keys through the darkness – perhaps around 100 – all nearly identical. Kyran’s eyes turned a mysterious black on black while he chanted “Kavvála Provállete,” and as he peered into the water he detected that one of the keys radiated magic. Dodge dove into the water, scooping the keys into a couple of bags and retrieving them to the surface. Kyran held the magic key, keeping it separate from the others, though none of the keys would work on the doors in this room which had to be forced open.
Gauntlet and Guardian
The door to their right opened into a long corridor flanked by a row of human statues, set into alcoves on each side. The statues looked like Dartron, and each one held a longsword out in front of it. The blades of roughly half the statues were wrapped in leather padding.
Sensing a trap, Li-Al Saar moved bravely alone down the corridor, while the others waited at the door. True to his intuition, upon reaching the third pair of statues, the trap was sprung and all the statues suddenly swung their swords downward, slicing anyone caught between them. Li-Al was cut, though not seriously, and everyone else was unharmed while smartly waiting outside the corridor. Once the trap had been triggered, the swords remained in place, creating a barrier that was difficult to navigate, as they had to climb over the angled swords.
The Shield Guardian
The next chamber had a lowered floor, with stairs on either side to reach the bottom. Standing opposite the door was a tall wooden statue of Dartron grasping a gigantic wooden shield in each hand. One of the shields was inscribed with the word “home,” while the other read “family.” When they reached the lower level, the statue became magically animated – a wood golem – and attacked the party, bashing them with its shields.
“Kavvála Oxy,” shouted Kyran, and a small ebon orb appeared in his left palm. He threw the sphere with unexplained accuracy and it struck the wood golem, exploding with inky black acid. With his right arm Kyran continued to strike with his sword.
Eventually they defeated the golem, though not without receiving many bruises and severe headaches. None of them were trained to use tower shields (weighing about 60 pounds each), but they remembered the advice of Sidric and removed them from the golem to carry along.
“FREYJA HÉLBREDE,” spoke Yríadel. Her eyes were closed in concentration and her arms were held out like the wings of a falcon. Those who looked at her, especially Kyran with his enhanced mystical senses, would later swear that her golden hair seemed to glow in the darkness. Immediately they all felt relief, as the pains from their bumps and bruises faded away.
The door to leave the room was locked, but Kyran used a key to open the door – the key retrieved earlier from the pool by Dodge. The small chamber had a table on the opposite side of the room. On top of the table were a number of items, each with a small note attached which indicated its intended recipient and described the items.
For Dodge, there was a masterwork Longsword bearing a Dagaz rune (coincidentally the same letter which begins the names Dartron or Dodge), obviously crafted by Finley. For Glenlivet, a potion of Bear’s Endurance and an oil of Magic Weapon. For Magna, a potion of Cat’s Grace and an oil of Magic Weapon. For Li-Al Saar, a potion of Invisibility and a potion of Cure Light Wounds. For Kyran, a wand of Magic Missile and a scroll of Scorching Ray. For use by the whole team, a wand of Cure Light Wounds and a scroll of Lesser Restoration.
The notes indicated that these items had been placed here by the townsfolk to be discovered if the group managed to find their way into this chamber. No items were left for Yríadel, as she was a late addition to the team, so she graciously accepted the “team” items for the group.
Room of Reflection
They returned to the room with the pool, then tried the door to the left. A small stone bench sat in the center of the dusty chamber. On the far wall was a faded mural depicting the hero Dartron defeating the mercenaries at the entrance to the crypt, with his blade piercing the chest of the mercenary leader. The figures stood alone in the center of a scene of carnage, with dead villagers and mercenaries all around them. Resting her tired feet, Yríadel sat on the bench and studied the painting. She noticed that both Dartron and the mercenary leader were wearing golden necklaces, each made up of a simple golden chain, from which hung an oddly shaped medallion. While not identical, the amulets looked similar.
Pillar of 1,000 Arrows
They progressed beyond the room with the mural and passed through the next door into a large circular room. A single pillar in the center of the room supported the wide, domed chamber. The pillar was surrounded by a pit, but a stone bridge crossed the pit on the south side. Dozens of arrows jutted from holes in the pillar, facing every direction. Seconds after entering the room, the door started to shut by itself. Li-Al and Yríadel alertly stopped it from closing and began to prop it open. Suddenly the trap was sprung and the pillar began to rotate, firing arrows at everyone within the room. Most of the arrows had blunted heads – probably setup by the townsfolk – but a few sharp arrows were still mixed in and were potentially fatal. Dodge and his companions reacted quickly and positioned themselves behind the 2 tower shields they had been carrying. They withstood the barrage for nearly a whole minute before the ammunition was exhausted, suffering only minor bruises.
Chamber of the Bloody Dead
In the next room a continuous carving of mourners ran along the walls, leading to a staircase on the south side of the room. Statues flanked the staircase and four pillars were symmetrically spaced within the room.
When they entered, bloody human skeletons dragged themselves from behind the pillars, reaching for the group with long claws. They handily defeated the skeletons without casualty. Among the corpses, Dodge found one wearing a tarnished silver necklace – probably worth 200 shillings – and which appeared to be about 100 years old.
They investigated the staircase which led to a lower level of the crypt. As they listened, they could hear the sound of dripping water and a low, distant moaning.
In the meantime, the bloody skeletons had been slowly healing and rose to attack once again. This time, the group smashed them more thoroughly and tossed their fragmented bones into the pit in the previous room.
Completely fatigued, they decided to return to the store room to check on Sidric and attempt to get some rest before descending to the lower level.
When they returned to the store room, they found Sidric locked inside, physically safe, but his mental state was still shattered.
“You lock the door and throw away the key” he muttered as they entered.
They tried to communicate with him, but he began uttering nonsense. “I was just telling him, he couldn’t get into number 2. He was asking why he wasn’t coming up on freely, after I was yelling and screaming and telling him why he wasn’t coming up on freely. It came as a heavy blow, but we sorted the matter out”
They began to prepare the room for defense, but after they had all used the chamber pot Yriadel suggested that a couple of them should empty it in a different room. Dodge and Glenivet volunteered. They carried the pot into a different room and emptied it into a pit, then returned safely and without incident to the safe room.
They divided themselves into shifts to keep watch so that everyone could get some rest. As the first shift settled by the door, the remainder laid out their bedrolls in a corner. Yriadel happened to lay hers beside Magna.
“Tell me of your homeland, Magna,” Yriadel requested, quietly and politely. “We’ve been together for nearly three days but have never had the chance to talk. Even within the forest we traveled in near silence, always on guard for danger. At night you seemed always on alert – scouting the perimeter of our camp or resting with your back to a tree, facing away from us. I was quite impressed by your archery skill today.”
“I hail from Blackwood – a great forest near the west coast of the mainland, far south from here,” replied Magna. “In Sindarin we call it Eryn Vorn. It was once part of an ancient forest which dominated the region ages ago. In a previous, darker time, the coastal areas were cut down for lumber to build great war ships, then what was left of the forests were burned down by vast orc armies. Blackwood was incredibly lucky and escaped the destruction that its neighbors suffered. These day, only a few secretive hunter-folk live in the woods, mostly elves, half-elves and fey.”
“If it is not prying too deeply – what brings you to Willowdale?”
“I recently completed my training with the Blackwood Rangers,” revealed Magna. “Within my troop, I finished first in all areas of skill and competency. Due to my ranking, the day after graduation I was given a special mission, assigned to me directly by Geldron himself, the great elven leader of the rangers. Geldron explained that he was once a member of a group known as the By-Tor Brigade which separated after their final rescue mission around 80 years ago. He had lost track of them and desired to know their fates and perhaps the names and stories of their descendants.
“My journey took me to Darford to seek the council of Curulírion the bard. Coincidentally, Dartron, the founder of Darford, was a former member of the By-Tor Brigade. I think Geldron will be pleased to hear how Dartron became a valiant warrior and established a village when he settled down.”
“I find that very interesting,” admitted Yriadel. “Maybe after we finish this quest for Ulfrid, we could join you on yours. It sounds like a worthy mission.”
“I would like that, Yriadel. I think that is a good idea.”
“Good night, Magna,” she whispered softly, drifting off to sleep.
“Losto vae,” replied Magna, “sleep well.” Unfortunately for Magna, it was nearly impossible for him to fall asleep. Certainly there were distractions: the constant mumbling of the lunatic Sidric; the cold, hard floor beneath his bedroll; the occasional sounds of skittering outside the door from some unknown creature – or perhaps a wandering skeleton. But the real distraction was the presence of such a beautiful and vibrant young woman so close to his side. Even in the dim light of the single, flickering torch, her hair seemed to sparkle with flecks of gold. Her soft and innocent face seemed so out of place in this dangerous environment and he felt a strong urge to enclose her in his arms and protect her. Yet in contrast, she also seemed so brave and capable of taking care of herself as well as everyone else in the room.
After several hours of rest, the group roused and began preparations to continue their quest. Glenlivet practiced a routine of stretching to limber his joints. Kyran began quiet meditation to restore his sorcerous powers. Yriadel sat upright, her eyes closed in concentration and hands clutching her holy symbol, a wooden carving of a falcon. As she quietly recited her devotions to Freyja, her strength began to recover:
Freyja dame av kjedet.
Freyja datter av jord og sjø.
Freyja nydelig i tårer.
Freyja gull skjønnhet.
Freyja vinger av falk.
Freyja søkere av lidenskap.
Freyja skinner en.
Freyja chooser av falne.
Freyja gissel i Åsgard.
Freyja dronning i Vanaheim.
Freyja våren jomfru.
Freyja utspekulert kvinne.
Freyja vellystig fruktbarhet.
Freyja villsvin rytter.
Freyja vred gudinne av glede.
Freyja elskerinne Allfather.
Freyja giver av masse.
Freyja berusende som mjød.
Freyja som danser i varmen av sommeren.
Freyja honning søt.
Freyja muse av poeter.
Freyja øyne som en katt.
Freyja beskytter av kvinner.
Freyja som brenner i hjertet av vinteren.
Freyja gudinnen for reiser.
Freyja elsker av skjønnhet.
Freyja weaver av magi.
Freyja vellystige, edle venn.
Freyja, Jeg elsker deg Freyja.
Sidric was incoherent, but whenever Yriadel was near him he would become rational enough to communicate. Once again, Sidric refused to leave the safety of the room, nor would he leave the crypt without his sister. As the group left the room, locking it behind them, they could hear Sidric talking to nobody in particular, “I mean, they’re not gunna kill ya, so if you give ‘em a quick, short, sharp, shock, they won’t do it again. Dig it? I mean he get off lightly, ‘cos I would’ve given him a thrashing – I only hit him once! It was only a difference of opinion, but really…I mean good manners don’t cost nothing do they, eh?”