[30 Mirtul 1372]
In the aftermath of their battle against Grim and his slaver army, the adventurers temporarily split up. Fargrim carries Grim's corpse and drops it into the lake, Mellia finds a clerical scroll hidden in a desk drawer which she gives to Cain, and Markus begins leading a trio of horses back towards the keep. On the way, however, he hears a low moan coming from an unexamined wagon in the stables. Looking inside, he sees a strange being manacled inside a cage: the humanoid is just over 5 feet tall and is covered with scales and dark blue
feathers, and in place of a mouth has a beak. The stranger, who introduces himself as Ralkin, asks Markus to hand him the small case of tools sitting nearby. With their aid, Ralkin is able to pick the locks on his manacles and open the steel cage. After soon meeting the other adventurers, including a very stunned Fargrim, Ralkin explains that he was imprisoned by the slavers who had, at the time, pretended to be monks. Mellia seems somewhat cautious and skeptical of the newcomer, but the group invites him to join their explorations of Startop Mountain.
The adventurers explore the small series of rooms beyond the secret door Mellia had discovered through her arcane magicks. One of the rooms, itself guarded by another secret door, contains little but layers of dust, the remnants of a table and chairs, and a faded tapestry depicting Startop Castle from above. Cain ingeniously uses a mending spell to repair the tapestry and is able to discern that the keep has a lower courtyard that must now be covered under the lake in the volcano's caldera. A nearby room contains a massive pile of rubble and a heavy wooden door recently reinforced with steel bands. As Fargrim approaches the door, individual bones in the pile of rubble somehow join together, forming an unliving abomination in the shape of a bear. Still wounded from his battle against Grim, Fargrim is forced to retreat against its onslaught. Mellia scorches the nightmarish thing with a flaming lance, Ralkin unveils a massive bow made out of bone and shoots arrows at it, and Markus lays into it with a mace. Cain, however, is the turning point, as he channels Kossuth's will to drive the creature back in fear, and it is destroyed before it can escape.
When Ralkin searches the rubble pile, he discovers a hidden steel chest. Cain uses the key he obtained from Ikenvar's body to unlock the chest and set the half-orc's hidden loot on display: hundreds of gold coins and a small number of rubies. Ralkin, whom the others learn is a member of a rare species on Faerun called kenku, tries to pick the lock on the reinforced door but finds it too difficult. After a thrilling but exhausting day, the group discusses how they should spend the rest of the day and evening. The consensus is to camp inside
the keep, but Markus and Mellia have a long argument about whether they should journey down the mountain and return with their mounts, or leave them where they are for the time being. Mellia eventually gets the better of the dispute, but Markus states that if anything happens to his warhorse, the sorceress had better
purchase him a new one. That night, while resting, Fargrim tells Ralkin a little bit about Bearos, the dwarf's old friend who had been kidnapped by Grim to taunt the dwarf. Bearos, alas, is still missing.
[1 Kythorn 1372]
The first day of a new summer month brings rain and even hail to the Evermoors. But although the weather may bode ill, for the first night in days, Fargrim has no disturbing nightmares--a fact that annoys Mellia, as she had hoped that the insight that Fargrim sometimes gains from these traumatic visions would be
useful in knowing whether they were on the right track to discover the Crown of Horns. Fargrim marks his defeat of Grim by hanging the bandit leader's skull mask from his belt as a trophy.
Later in the morning, while on a walk around the inner perimeter of the ancient, crumbling keep, Mellia shocks Markus by suddenly chanting an occult incantation, swallowing a live spider, and climbing up the side of a tall tower without even needing a rope! Mellia enters the tower through a window at the very top and
discovers the room is abandoned save for a large black raven in a cage. A barred trapdoor would allow access to lower levels of the tower. Mellia returns to the rest of the party with the bird, and they discern that it must be a messenger. They include a note stating that "Grim has perished at the hands of Fargrim Trollslayer" and set the bird off. It immediately flies to the northwest.
The adventurers decide to investigate the lower courtyard depicted on the tapestry that Cain repaired. As many of them are nervous about diving into the lake, Fargrim is persuaded to tie a rope around his waist and allow himself to be lowered down while the others stay topside as an anchor. When he reaches solid ground a few dozen feet under the surface, Fargrim realizes he is standing on crumbling stone steps. In the distance, barely discernible so far down in somewhat murky water, are several buildings. However, Fargrim's attention is immediately arrested by glimpses of a massive, multi-headed creature struggling with something else under the water. As the water becomes turbulent and filled with blood, Fargrim tugs animatedly on the rope and is soon pulled to the surface. Everyone backs away quickly from the water.
Returning to the keep, the adventurers try again to unlock or burst through the reinforced door, but have little luck. In a discussion of what to do next, Mellia lets slip to Ralkin the fact that Fargrim and Cain have been suffering strange nightmares. She goes on to explain that the group knows that some slaves have been sold to other malevolent forces in the Evermoors, but that some have also allegedly been sold to orcs below the keep. Cain hits upon the idea of learning more about their options by drawing upon dark necromantic rites to
force the corpse of Ikenvar to answer three questions. However, the spirit of Ikenvar knows nothing of the Crown of Horns, knows only one way down, and states that, as far as he knows, Bearos was to be sent to a place called "The Bleak Theatre." The latter two pieces of information are not new for the adventurers, but they at least seem to serve as confirmation.
Returning to the courtyard, Ralkin persuades Mellia to cast the magical climbing transmutation on him along with an invisibility spell. Alone, Ralkin climbs to the top room of the tower, opens the trapdoor, and peers into the darkness below. An almost overwhelming stench of animal waste billows up, but Ralkin
bravely grasps the rungs of the rickety wooden ladder and starts to climb down. The kenku has Beshaba's luck, however, as the ladder breaks, dropping him to the ground in a bone-rattling fall! With no light source, exploration of the room proves difficult. However, after some time to allow his eyes to adjust to the darkness, he realizes tiny shafts of light are entering through mostly blocked arrow slits in the walls. Clearing these out, Ralkin is able to discern several small nests with small, hawk-like birds. He also finds a trapdoor leading further downward.
Although convinced there is a trap on it, he opens it anyway to discover he was wrong. More darkness lays below. The kenku avoids the ladder this time and climbs along the ceiling of the lower chamber, down a wall, and onto the floor. In the near total darkness, however, he can hear something moving towards him. Still invisible, Ralkin moves as silently as possible and trusts his fingers to find a door out of the chamber. He feels the outline of a door and is able to push it open just as a sizzling glob of some substance flies past his face and impacts the wall. Shutting the door behind him and moving quickly forward, the intrepid adventure travels through a long, dark tunnel before discerning light filtering through cracks in another hidden door. Pushing it open, Ralkin finds himself back in the courtyard, between the inner wall and the keep. After the
harrowing experience, he returns to the other adventurers to discuss what they should do next.
Director's Commentary (May 13, 2014)
This session is most notable for the introduction of Ralkin, run by a new player to the campaign (bringing us up to 5 PCs). I'd never encountered a kenku before in gaming, and it's always nice to learn about something new. Plus, the party could definitely use a rogue if they were to continue dungeoneering (and they do, for a few sessions, and then rarely since!). Ralkin has appeared off-and-on throughout most of the campaign since this session, and is usually portrayed as someone who mostly keeps to himself and has a lot going on behind the scenes (demonstrated by frequent note-passing between his player and me). His player does a nice job bringing out some of the birdlike and frankly creepy aspects of the species.
Ralkin's exploration of the tower was interesting, risky, and difficult to run because it took place in almost total darkness. Trying to describe what a character feels, and running combat where sometimes neither of the combatants could see each other, wasn't easy. I also really didn't want to kill a new player's PC in the very first session! Fortunately, Ralkin escaped; the lower levels of the tower have never been revisited.
The party did some good work figuring out some of the interesting elements of the first level of Castle Whiterock (Startop Mountain); Cain's mending of the tapestry was really smart, they made an interesting use of Grim's raven, they found some hidden treasure, and so forth. Fargrim's quick dip into the lake was fun, and I think the PCs (and players) were appropriately scared by multi-limbed terror they saw. That worked out well, as the submerged area of the keep wasn't something I had completely planned out yet, and I would have had to improvise more if they had pushed further into it.