Dramatis Personae: Calla, Keluak, Keth (and Elia)
Source: “Iriandel” (Dungeon 83)
While out on a long patrol through the countryside, the PCs got caught in an autumn rainstorm and sought shelter in a fortified village called Pebbleton. The majority of the residents were halflings, but there were enough tall folk around to allow for buildings and furnishings that could accommodate them.
The guards at the village gates insisted on searching the PCs’ belongings, explaining that orcs were always a danger this year (looking pointedly at Keth while they said so). They then directed the PCs to Mayor Roscoe Thorngage’s house. The mayor greeted them warmly and invited them to share his meal and dry out in front of his fire.
After the meal, the mayor told them a story about a remarkable horse he’d come across in the woods nearby a year before. He then explained that a half-elf bard had recently come to town with an even more remarkable tale concerning the horse. He offered to take the PCs to meet her at the village’s common hall, a large, roomy area carved out of a low hill in the center of town. First, though, he took them to meet the horse, whom he’d named Treetrot: a fine, grey-maned stallion who fairly jumped with excitement upon seeing the PCs enter his stable.
There they found the bard, a “comely” half-elven woman with red hair, attempting to play her flute with accompaniment from two halfling drummers. The drummers were a bit bored, however, and ended up going off on a convoluted drum solo, so the bard sighed and wandered over to the PCs almost as soon as she’d spotted them. She introduced herself as Ruallin, and Mayor Thorngage asked her to repeat her tale to the PCs.
Ruallin launched into a lengthy legend concerning tribes of human barbarians and wild elves, as well as star-crossed lovers. A unicorn named Iriandel – the guardian of the elves’ forest – was also mixed up in the story. The legend stated that the chieftain of the barbarians, a man named Turiew, had fallen in love with an elf named Deleflin, who was the friend (and frequent rider) of the unicorn. Their love was forbidden, so they met in secret. Some time later, another barbarian tribe – said to have the blood of orcs and ogres running hot in their veins – came to the area to take the land away from the locals. The chief of the newcomers, Tamaich, challenged Turiew to a duel. Deleflin, against the wishes of her people, sought to aid her lover. She called upon the fickle elven gods for aid, and they granted her the power to turn Iriandel’s horn into a magic spear and Iriandel himself into a fearless stallion. But with the condition that if the horse and spear remained separated for more than three days, they would remain so for another three centuries.
Sure enough, while Turiew was able to kill Tamaich with the spear, he too succumbed to the half-orc’s poisoned blade. Tamaich’s people overwhelmed Turiew’s, and the spear was buried with Tamaich in a great barrow built over the tribe’s winter camp. Deleflin, overcome with grief, “went away to the place where elves are immortal”, and with Iriandel the unicorn gone, the forest and the elves that inhabited it dwindled away.
Ruallin was adamant that the halfling mayor’s horse, Treetrot, was the body of Iriandel. She urged the PCs to seek out the spear so that Iriandel could be restored to his true form and become the guardian of the forest once again. The PCs felt like it was Fate that had brought them here, so they readily agreed to help.
Keth decided he’d like to play a bit of music with Ruallin, so the two got up on stage and Keth accompanied the half-elf on his lute. The halfling drummers were impressed by the half-orc’s skills and got to chatting with him afterwards. One of them explained that he’d once found a strange glyph on an old oak tree in the woods to the southeast of town while out searching for inspiration. He warned the half-orc that it seemed like it didn’t want to be found deliberately … and sure enough, when the PCs went to look, it took them six hours just to find the old oak, even though it turned out to be less than 5 miles out of town.
Unsure of how to find the glyph on the tree, Elia decided she’d try talking to it. Everyone thought she’d gone mad until the tree seemingly replied. The voice had come from above, and when the PCs looked up, they discovered that it wasn’t the tree talking but an owl! It introduced itself as Tashek, and asked them what they were doing looking for Iriandel’s mark. This prompted the PCs to relate the story Ruallin had told them. Listening intently, Tashek expressed disappointment at having been left out of the tale before filling in the gaps. As it so happened, he had been a good friend of Iriandel’s and so had been around on that fateful day when the unicorn had become cursed to wander the woods as a mere horse for three centuries. He was pleased to hear that the time was now right for Iriandel’s restoration and offered to help the PCs. They asked him if he knew the way to Tamaich’s tomb, and Tashek said he could lead them straight to it!
The Brown Grounds
Unfortunately, this meant crossing a vast peat bog known as the Brown Grounds. The going was slow, but thanks to Tashek’s keen eyes, they were able to effectively surprise both a band of orc thieves and a band of ogrillons led by a half-ogre cleric of Grolantor. Although the priest tried to parlay with the PCs, Keth and Keluak were too overcome with bloodlust and struck him down while he was on his knees. This made Calla really mad and she shot a fire bolt at Keth’s head which luckily missed him.
The PCs took all the monsters’ loot for themselves – including the half-ogre’s cleric’s magical chain shirt, which appeared to be made out of an ultra-rare substance known as glassteel and which conferred resistance to force damage to its bonded wearer – and pressed on towards the Poven Hills, at the feet of which the owl assured them they would find the barbarian chieftain’s massive barrow.
As they drew closer, they discovered that the land was haunted. At one point, Keth glanced into a still pool and saw a number of mounted riders with lifeless eyes reflected in it. They all bore the mark of a blue horse leaping over a cloud on their wooden shields. As they raised their right arms in a salute, he saw to his horror that their hands had all been cut off. No one else had seen this vision, and when Keth asked Tashek if he recognized the symbol, the owl confirmed that it was the mark of the Iorai tribe – the people of Turiew, who had been slaughtered – man, woman, and child – by the Sya-Negan, Tamaich’s orc-blooded people. Upon hearing that name, a little shudder ran down Keth’s spine, for the Sya-Negan were the ancestors of his own people.
That night, while settling down around a campfire they’d built in a hollow, the PCs were roused from their sleep by sounds of fighting, although no one could see anything – not even the dwarf or the half-orc. Suddenly, their fire turned red and flared up, rising two meters into the air, and ghostly men and horses went running all around them, re-enacting a battle that had been fought here more than three hundred years before. This was too much for both Elia and Keluak, who turned and fled into the night, where they were set upon by a giant bat hunting in the darkness. Keth and Calla came to their aid and dragged them back to the campfire, where they were able to get some rest once the ghostly warriors had faded away.
The next day, Tashek guided them the foothills – an area the local orcs and ogres referred to as the Knuckles – to where Tamaich’s tomb lay: a massive mound over a 100 yards across, ringed by ancient standing stones. After a bit of searching, the PCs found the entrance, mostly buried. It took them a good few hours of work to unearth the stone slab blocking the entrance, and just as they were about finished, Tashek warned them that two ogres were heading their way.
Finding some adequate hiding places, the PCs were able to ambush the ogres, taking one down before it could react. The other, taken aback by the PCs’ ferocity, turned tail and fled. They decided to let it go, while they looted its dead companion’s sack instead. Along with some objets d’art and some coins, they found a vial containing a rose-hued, effervescent liquid in it. Keth dipped his finger in it and had a taste. Glancing over at Keluak as he did so, Keth suddenly found himself regarding the gruff dwarf more favorably. He decided he’d go over and help clean the mud off the dwarf’s armor. Both Calla and Keluak were taken aback by the half-orc’s strange behavior and wanted to know what was in the potion he’d just tasted. They surmised they’d come across a love potion of sorts and decided to keep it for later use.
Turning their attention back to the tomb entrance, Keth and Keluak managed to work together to move the massive stone slab enough that they could all slip past. The smell of damp earth emanated from the darkness beyond. Immediately inside, they found a circular tunnel running north and south – the remains of the outer edge of the old barbarian camp. They decided to head south first, with Calla’s dancing lights leading the way.
After a few moments, they came to an intersection which Keluak surmised was at the southern-most point of the circular mound. A ramp consisting of several large stone slabs led up into the darkness, while the outer circular passage continued on its curve, although from this point on, there were small stone slabs evenly spaced along the passage’s floor. Keth recognized them as traditional “pit-graves” in which the tribe’s elite warriors would be housed. Carved into each grave’s slab was a Dethek rune monogram indicating the name of the warrior interred within.
The PCs decided to head up the ramp. After 60-odd feet, they came to another intersection, with a tunnel heading west and a short passage leading into a circular room to the northeast. They chose to investigate the room first, in which a huge jumble of humanoid and animal skeletons were piled up against the far wall. They caught the gleam of something shiny reflecting the light of Calla’s dancing lights inside a hedgehog’s skull.
Fearful of traps, which Keth knew to be common in these old barrows, the PCs waited in the passageway while Calla used mage hand to retrieve the item from the skull. As the spectral hand closed around the item – which turned out to be a necklace of human finger bones set with precious gems – the skull glowed orange and the earthen ceiling melted and collapsed in a wave of mud. The PCs breathed a sigh of relief that none of them had been in the room, but then four stone statues that had been carved from the smooth stone wall of the room came to life, striding through the mud as if it wasn’t there. Since the PCs were huddled in the passageway, one even walked through the wall and appeared in the tunnel behind them!
The creatures’ fists were hard, as were their stony hides, but eventually the PCs won out and the creatures crumbled into pebbles. A further search of the room revealed a pendant bearing the horse and cloud symbol of the Iorai hidden in another skull.
Down the western passage, they came to another circular room containing a seven-foot-tall statue of an ogrillon, its visage menacing in the shadows cast by their lights. As they stepped into the room, the shadows seemed to come to life and attacked, draining the PCs’ strength away. Keluak took a gamble and activated his driftglobe‘s daylight spell, which fortunately sent the shadows cowering against the far wall. After two minutes, they all faded away and the PCs’ lost strength returned. It had all been an illusion!
Keth went up to the statue and swung his mace, Dragonthumper, at it. Much to his surprise, the statue melted and out oozed a horrendous monster covered in eyes and gibbering mouths! The horrible thing drove the PCs mad and blinded them on several occasions with globs of spit that flashed as they struck the ground. Keth suffered numerous bites as he tried to squash the thing with his magic mace. Against the combined might of the four heroes, the gibbering monstrosity stood no chance, and it too was soon nothing but goo. But by that point, the PCs decided they’d had enough, so they retraced their steps to the entrance for some fresh air and good night’s sleep. In the night, they heard wolves howling and retreated into the tomb to avoid them.
The next morning, they headed back in and continued on from where they’d left off, eventually coming to what appeared to be a trophy room, complete with rusty old weapons taken from the Iorai warriors. Keth noticed, almost too late, that there were a number of right hand gauntlets in the room … and sure enough, the hands were not only still in them, but they were also waiting for the living. A dozen crawling claws came rushing at the PCs, conjuring up bad memories of the necromancer’s cave near Lance Rock (see “Trouble in Larchwood, Part I”).
The foul undead hands proved to be little more than pests, however, and they were soon all dealt with. Keth vowed to take the Iorai’s things and give them a proper burial somewhere to put their souls at ease. Calla decided to take the time to cast detect magic as a ritual and, much to her delight, found some magical auras radiating from in and behind a rotten old chest. Inside the chest were two magic potions. Behind the chest was a handaxe made from stone with lots of precious stones embedded in its handgrip. Keluak took it for his own and soon discovered that he could will it to light up with green flames! A quick taste of the potions led Keth to believe they were some kind of strength-enhancing brew.
From here, the tunnel turned southeast and led into what was once the Sya-Negan’s feasting hall. Two long stone tables flanked a low, rectangular firepit. Seated on benches at the tables were clay statues of headless warriors. On the shoulders of these statues were actual half-orc skulls – with something in their eye sockets that was gleaming red with the reflected light from the driftglobe and Calla’s dancing lights. At the statues’ sides lay some rusty old longswords. At the far end of the room, the PCs could just make out another passage continuing east beyond a throne.
The PCs were immediately suspicious of a trap. They decided to backtrack all the way to the southernmost point of the tomb and continue on up the eastern side, where the Sya-Negan warriors’ pit-graves were. About halfway along to the eastern side, they came across a pit-grave with no marking on it. Elia knelt down for a closer look and discovered that the ground around it was unstable. Fortunately, there was room for them all to leap across that space. Unfortunately, at the eastern point, they discovered a passage heading west to a dead-end, where someone had walled up the passage with stones. Rather than try and take down the wall, they breathed a sigh and headed back to the western side of the feasting hall.
Concerned that the statues in the hall would animate as soon as they entered the room, Calla had the others wait in the tunnel while she attempted to gather all the longswords with her mage hand. Unfortunately, the moment she lifted one up into the air to pull it back towards her, it activated some kind of invisible magic trap that caused all the swords in the room to animate! A dozen longswords came flying through the air and started hacking and slashing at Keluak and Keth, who were standing just inside the entrance way.
After a few frustrating seconds of trying to fight back against flying swords, Calla ordered everyone to fall back deeper into the passage. She wanted to test out a theory that proved to be true – the swords couldn’t follow them out of the room! Calla used her fire to melt the swords down and then the PCs entered the room.