The Quick and the Dead

Dramatis Personae: Calla, Keluak, Keth
Source: “DDEX3-1 Harried in Hillsfar”, homebrew

Part I: The Quick
With Gil and Tasklar busy with family, Calla, Keth and Keluak decided to enjoy some quiet time in Dockalong before the long journey back to Larchwood. While relaxing in the inn with some cool beers, they were approached by a scholarly elf who introduced herself as Lady Ineddra. She said that Sheriff Savil had recommended them to her. When she asked the PCs if they could be discrete, Keth accidentally knocked everyone’s tankards onto the floor as he gestured in affirmation. The elf winced but sat down. “I need help looking for my brother, Seppremis. I dare not take this to the authorities, as it is somewhat embarrassing for my family. As you may know, this area is dotted with elven ruins. I believe that one of those ruins may have been a fey’ri outpost, and I believe that my brother may be trying to find it.”

When the PCs stared at her blankly, Lady Ineddra explained that the fey’ri were “foolish elves who consorted with demons and devils a long time ago”. She feared that her brother’s investigations would lead to nothing but misery. She offered to pay the PCs 1,000 sp in gems if they would go find out what her brother was doing. She gave them Seppremis’ last known address – a rothé ranch on the outskirts of Sowsville – and they were on their way.

Almost as soon as they’d arrived, they knew something was not right. The ranch was deserted, and the fields behind the house were dotted with dead animals, some of whom had been dismembered. There was quite a bit of blood in the barn, particularly around a trapdoor in the middle of the floor, under which they found a shaft with fresh wooden rungs staked into the side.

The shaft dropped below the limit of Keth and Keluak’s darkvision, so the dwarf volunteered to go first. Several hundred feet down, Keluak found part of an old mine shaft, crafted by dwarven hands, leading south. The floor was sticky with blood. As the others descended, Keluak lit up his driftglobe so Calla could see.

Heading south, the PCs found that the passageway ran for nearly a mile before ending in a bend leading to a large room. Keluak surmised that they were now under the woods to the south of the ranch. In the room ahead, they found a gauntlet of six statues – three statues depicting elves to the north, and three depicting demons to the south. Each pair of statues shared some features. For instance, the first pair wielded wicked swords, while the second pair held spiders and snakes in their hands. The last pair, both female, wielded scourges and arcane wands. In addition, the walls of the room feature delicated elven carvings and other stonework that nevertheless depicted shockingly terrible scenes.

At that point, the PCs noticed some writing on the floor. Someone had recently translated an Elvish phrase: next to some Elvish lettering etched into the foor, someone had written in Common with chalk: “To pass, you must speak the titles of each of the three, divided by three.” Next to that was a long string of letters: TLLHOAERDSDYLVAAEGYNOEONRMY.

Between the three of them, the PCs soon puzzled out the names of each pair of statues: The Slayer, Lord Venom, and Lady Agony. Keluak went first, speaking the names as he passed through the statues. Much to his surprise (and relief), each pair animated and bowed slightly as he passed. Keth and Calla quickly followed.

From here, the tunnel turned north again and quickly ended in another room decorated with ghastly depictions of elves and demons comingling. A blood-stained mosaic depicting the infinite layers of the Abyss with breathtaking and terrible beauty covered the floor. Amidst the carvings, nine gaping demonic maws adorned the walls, each one marked with a number from one to nine. While the maws were large enough for a person to climb into them, they were filled with magical darkness obscuring the other side.

Keluak decided to send his driftglobe through one to see what would happen. It got spat back out – lights off – and the maw closed with a horrible grating sound of stone on stone. Keth then tried tossing an iron spike through another. It too got spat back out, more violently this time (causing Keth to have to duck), and that maw also closed up. Thinking that maybe the maws didn’t like magic or metal, Keth broke off the metal tip from one of his crossbow bolts and chucked that into a maw. Nothing happened, so he chucked the metal bit in. When nothing happened again, Keluak decided to climb in himself. Meanwhile, Calla was busy obsessing over cleaning the blood off the floor with her magic.

The dwarf was nearly overcome by horrific visions of the Abyss before being flung back into the room, the maw closing up behind him. Keth decided to have a go, choosing maw #8 at random. The half-orc emerged into a short, narrow passageway leading to another chamber filled with strange lights and bubbling sounds. In the middle of the room, between four pillars of glowing purple stone around which were lashed several dead humans, sat a large slab of purplish stone on which a hideous monstrosity – a human body with the head of a rothé sewn onto its neck – lay chained. Behind the slab stood a hooded, blood-drenched figure, cackling maniacally. As soon as the figure saw Keth, it called out, “Perfect! When my creation rises, you will be its first meal!”

At that point, some vaguely humanoid lumps of flesh each crawled out of the bodies chained to the pillars. At the same time, several baboon-like demons moved towards the passageway threateningly.

Not knowing what was going on, Keluak and Calla climbed through the maw to see what had happened to Keth. They came through just in time to see the fleshy demons climb up onto the stone slab and be absorbed into the body chained to the slab. As Keluak pushed past his friend, two of the baboon demons moved forward to attack, one flatulating a sickly green gas as it approached.

Over the course of the ensuing battle, Calla attempted to set the room and its occupants on fire while Keluak hacked away at the baboon demons with his magic handaxe. Unfortunately, every time the fleshy demons either got absorbed into the body on the slab or were destroyed by the PCs, more appeared a few moments later. Same with the baboon demons. Whenever one was cut down, another would climb out of one of the cauldrons filled with body parts bubbling away in the corners of the room. Kel went and knocked one over as Calla finished off the mad elf with a trio of well-aimed fire rays.

But this did not stop the ritual! More fleshy demons crawled out of the dead humans and up onto the slab. Even as the mad elf breathed his last, the body on the slab grew and twitched and transformed into a demonic minotaur. It broke its bonds and charged Keth, who had summoned up some spiritual falcons to guard him. The minotaur cared not for such things and bowled the half-orc over onto Calla with a mighty blow of its horns. The creature was well and truly outmatched, however, and the PCs took it down without too much trouble.

They then spent a bit of time “cleansing” the room before heading back to Dockalong. Lady Ineddra was saddened to hear that her predictions had come true. Nothing good *had* come of her brother’s meddling. She thanked the PCs, gave them their gems, and informed them that she would arrange to have the site reconsecrated.

Part II: The Dead
It was time to say goodbye to Dockalong. The three PCs told Gil and Tasklar that they’d see them back in Larchwood and off they went. A few days into the journey, a thunderstorm forced them to seek shelter in an old abandoned temple. In the night, during Keluak’s watch, the dwarf heard a faint murmur and then everything went silent. He could no longer hear the patter of rain on the roof, or the rumble of thunder in the distance, or the snoring of the half-orc sleeping behind the altar. He turned to go and wake Keth up, but as he did so, a flash of lightning revealed a figure standing in the ruined doorway. Although the figure appeared to be that of a gnoll, with a twist of fear in his gut, the dwarf knew at once that it was actually the revenant.

With a silent roar, the creature dashed forward and fixed Keluak with its vengeful glare, freezing the dwarf in place. It then proceeded to pound him into the ground with its fists. At this point, Calla woke up, having subconsciously noted the sudden lack of ambient noise. As the dwarf battled for his life in front of her, she soon found herself under attack – another gnoll stood outside in the rain, firing arrows through the broken windows. She ducked behind a broken pew, trying desperately to figure out what she could do to help. Then it occurred to her that the magical silence most likely wouldn’t be filling up the whole building, so she crept down the aisle until she could suddenly hear normally again.

At this point, the dwarf lay dying on the floor. But he was not yet ready to give up the fight. He struggled away from the light and, with a silent gasp, found himself back in the land of the living [Kel’s player rolled a natural 20 on a death save]. Jumping to his feet, Keluak attempted to hold the revenant at bay while simultaneously knocking some of the debris atop the altar onto Keth. This woke up the half-orc, who was confused by the lack of sound. He tried to shout at his friends but couldn’t even hear himself speak inside his own head! Then he saw the revenant. And then he saw Calla under siege from the gnoll archer. He leapt past the revenant and ran to Calla, leaving Keluak to die as the revenant pounded him down again.

Calla, meanwhile, was exchanging fire with the gnoll. As the revenant came stalking down the aisle toward Keth, its wounds healing up before their eyes, she shot flames out of her hands at it. To her surprise, this seemed to stop the revenant’s regeneration momentarily. It had eyes only for Keth, though. The half-orc cried out to Freya to save him and summoned up her spiritual falcons. Their radiance also seemed to hurt the revenant quite well, but it was not enough. Keth was hurting badly, and then the revenant struck a mighty blow, killing the half-orc instantly. At which point the revenant’s mission was complete. A look of peace spread across its face as it slowly collapsed onto the rain-soaked floor. The gnoll wisely made itself scarce at that point, leaving Calla to look around her in disbelief. What the hell had just happened? The boys had told her about the revenant, but had they really been *that* unprepared to deal with it?! She could scarcely believe it.

With a sigh, she went and fetched the donkey and dragged the boys’ bodies over to it. She thought about taking them to see Iriandel, but the unicorn was too far away. She recalled passing through a city on the way to Dockalong, though. While the miracle of raising the dead was a rare thing indeed, it was not completely unheard of. Perhaps someone in the city would be able to help her restore her idiotic friends to life. As the morning sun burned away the clouds, she guided the heavily-laden donkey back onto the road and headed for the city.

Once inside, she discovered that, while there were no miracles to be had at the local Septry, they did happen to have a crypt consecrated with a gentle repose effect. For a small fee, she could leave her companions’ bodies there while she searched for a more permanent solution. Ten days and a considerable amount of sweet-talking led Calla to an enclave of halflings, where an old priestess of the Sisterhood claimed to be able to raise the dead. For a price, of course. She warned Calla that no one was ever the same after being brought back. Resurrection had a way of causing people to lose a bit of themselves.

Calla was nevertheless determined. She wasn’t going to let Keth stay dead! They’d been through too much together for that. Besides, who else was she going to take her anger out on and get away with it? She’d hurt Gil once before and had sworn never to do it again, and she wasn’t about to do the same to Tasklar. And Kel wasn’t around for her to accidentally-on-purpose burn his beard off. Dammit! Luckily, the half-orc – dumb as he was – had had the foresight to convert most of their party loot into easy-to-carry gems. Handing over the vast bulk of their accumulated wealth to the halfling priestess, Calla was relieved to find that the woman was true to her word. After a bit of religious mumbo-jumbo, Keth was back in the land of the living, though he seemed a bit different somehow. Calla wasn’t sure what exactly had changed, but she was sure she’d find out soon enough. So long as he’d learned his lesson about not attacking people after they tried to surrender …

As the PCs did not have the funds to raise Keluak as well, they paid the halfling priestess to cast gentle repose on his body and then carted it all the way back up past Larchwood to the ancient woods over which Iriandel presided. The unicorn agreed to help so long as they agreed to undertake a quest in payment. The duo had no qualms about that, and so Iriandel took them to see some elf druid friends of his. The druids called upon their ancient nature magic and crafted Keluak a new body for his soul to inhabit. They called upon his soul to return to this world, and as Keluak opened his eyes and drew in his first breath, he was stunned to find that he’d been brought back to life in the body of a half-orc!

Iriandel, Part II

Dramatis Personae: Calla, Keluak, Keth (and Elia)
Source: “Iriandel” (Dungeon 83)

Tamaich’s Tomb
After ensuring it was safe to enter the ancient feasting hall, the PCs began a thorough search of the room. They discovered that the now headless statues sitting on the stools covered more pit-graves – those of Tamaich’s elite bodyguard, most likely. Keth also uncovered a cache of magic potions in clay jugs marked in Orcish in a cavity under Tamaich’s throne.

The party then proceeded to pry open the door at the end of the hall behind the throne. This opened into a circular chamber with a large stone in the middle of the floor. A passageway at the other end of the room was bricked up with stones – the other side of the wall they’d found at the end of the outer ring passage filled with the warriors’ pit-graves. The top of the stone in the room was carved into the likeness of a female orc’s leering face. Calla cast detect magic as a ritual and picked up a faint aura from the stone. Wondering what it might be, Keth and Keluak decided to lift up the stone to see what was under it.

Moving the heavy stone out of the way, the group discovered a shaft descending into darkness. Just then, the face on the stone called out “Tamaich!” A rush of air blew up the shaft, followed by several ghostly warriors who flew around the room for a few moments before vanishing into the ether. The group dropped a length of rope and climbed down into a conical chamber with a single passage leading off to the west.

After a short distance, the passage opened into a larger chamber filled with a strange mist. In the center of the chamber was a tall stone pillar carved into the likeness of multiple skeletal snakes, each one facing a different passageway. Keluak went ahead to scout the chamber. As he drew towards the end of the passage, he spotted a tall bas-relief of a mighty half-orcish warrior on the southwestern wall of the room. Just to the left of that was a passage heading south. Beyond the pillar, he could see another passage that headed west for a short way before veering to the north. Another passage stretched away to the north of the pillar as well.

The group decided to try the southern passage first, and Keth and Keluak decided to rope each other together just in case. As the group approached within ten feet of the bas-relief, however, they heard the sound of heavy boots coming down the western passage. The mighty warrior depicted in the bas relief approached and started silently casting a spell at them! Keth called out to Tamaich that they meant him no harm, but Keth rushed forward and took a swipe with his new magic handaxe. The axe went straight through the half-orc, revealing him to be just an illusion that soon vanished into thin air!

But the danger was real, for they soon heard the anguished cries of something no longer living echoing down the passageway, and three hideous creatures that might once have been Tamaich’s wives came rushing to the attack. Keth and Keluak stopped them in the passageway so that Elia and Calla could safely attack them from behind. The wights had trouble getting past the warriors’ defenses and soon all three of them lay dead on the floor, finally at rest.

Shaking their heads, the PCs turned back to the southern passage. They could see another stone block door at the far end. Keluak led the way and soon found himself falling into a deep pit that lay hidden just in front of the door. Tied to Keluak with rope, Keth was unable to arrest his own slide into the pit. They both soon found themselves breathing in yellow mold spores, but the green flame from Keth’s magic handaxe soon burned the stuff away. The ladies watched in amusement as the two boys struggled to get back out of the pit and then spent quite a bit of time debating how to reach the door on the other side.

Eventually they decided not to bother and went to check out the other passages. The one heading north soon ended in a cave-in, and Keluak the dwarf was able to determine that there wasn’t anything beyond it. It looked like a passage that had been abandoned. So they headed west. Soon they came across the wives’ chamber. Calla again cast detect magic, this time picking up a small aura coming from within the wights’ “bedding” on some stone biers. It turned out to be a small pearl, which she pocketed for later. The PCs found some other treasure in amongst the wights’ trash, including a matching silver comb and hand mirror set, which they gave to Calla. There was also a large, heavy bowl that looked to be quite valuable.

Before proceeding down the passage heading south from this chamber, the PCs opted to take all the loot they wanted and move it up to the benches in the feast hall above. They then came back down and headed into what turned out to be Tamaich’s final resting place. His skeleton lay, still in its fatally-pierced breastplate, on a stone bier, his longsword resting on the floor at its base. Behind the bier stood four rusty braziers.

Suspecting that Tamaich’s corpse would rise to attack them, Calla used her mage hand to pull the sword away toward her. As soon as she’d done so, the skeleton did indeed rise up, but instead of standing to attack, it just sat there for a moment before it began to vibrate more and more violently. The PCs winced as the skeleton fell apart harmlessly. Calla got the distinct impression that something had gone awry, but before she could figure out what, the undead spirit of Tamaich appeared and attacked Keluak, attempting to drain the very life out of the dwarf!

The wraith might very well have succeeded, too, if Calla hadn’t had the foresight to get Keluak to activate the daylight spell on his driftglobe. Tamaich’s spirit hated the light, and that was enough for the PCs to press the attack. The wraith was soon put to rest.

Keth immediately set about taking a look at his distant ancestor’s sword. The blade was fashioned from black iron and was carved with vile runes. The leather grip seemed to be fashioned out of the hide of fiends. Yikes! Nevertheless, Keth was determined not to throw it away immediately.

Despite feeling very drained and in need of a good rest, the group decided to continue down the passage leading out of Tamaich’s tomb to the south. It soon curved back to the east and led them to the other side of the stone door with the pit trap in front of it. Here they found Tamiach’s treasury! Amidst a great deal of loot, Calla found some ancient magic “scrolls” written on clay tablets. They also found the magic spear fashioned from Iriandel’s horn, partially hidden in a corner under an old cloth. They might not have ever spotted it had the light from Keluak’s driftglobe not reflected off its silvery tip. The weapon resembled the spiraling horn of a unicorn exactly, except that it was a full six feet long. It radiated strong magic. This was a powerful artifact indeed!

The PCs took the spear, along with the other loot, up to the feasting hall. They then resolved to head out of the tomb and get some rest just outside the entrance. Keth and Keluak went out first and soon discovered that they were not alone …

The Quarry
Six orcs emerged from their hiding places with arrows pointed at the two PCs. They had a bedraggled half-orc with bound wrists. When he began to speak up, one of the orcs struck him to the ground. Keth bristled but did nothing. One of the orcs came forward and informed them that their leader, the great Yventhu, wished to speak with them. Not wanting to start a fight then and there, Keth and Keluak agreed to go along with the orcs, leaving Elia and Calla behind in the tomb.

The orcs confiscated the PCs’ weapons and marched them off to the east. Not knowing where they’d gone, Calla and Elia stayed put until Tashek the owl returned a few hours later. He told them he’d seen their companions heading east, so they found the donkey, which Tashek had led to safety when he saw the orcs coming, and packed up all the treasure, then headed after the others.

The orcs marched Keth and Keluak hard, not giving them a chance to rest, until they came to an old, overgrown quarry with a cave entrance up near the top. They could see several other orcs patrolling the quarry and standing guard outside the entrance. They were led up to a platform in front of the entrance, where an aged half-ogre greeted them. He wanted to know who they were and what they thought they were doing invading his territory and stealing from tombs and the like. He also demanded they compensate him for all the deaths of his minions at his hands. The discussion eventually came to the spear, which Yventhu claimed to have in his possession already. The PCs knew he was lying but didn’t say anything.

In the end, Yventhu decided to take them captive and sell them as slaves. He stuck them in cages alongside the other half-orc, who later introduced himself as Wuhlap. He was an orphan (like Keth) who’d been compelled to act as the orc patrol’s guide to Tamaich’s tomb, since he’d been there once before. In the night, Keth was able to get a good rest, but Keluak was kept awake by the orcs, who kept prodding him through the bars of the cage with their spears and trying to set his beard on fire with torches.

Meanwhile, Calla and Elia spent the night out in the peat bog and arrived at the quarry the next morning. Deciding against a frontal assault, the ladies opted instead to scout around for a rear entrance. Sure enough, they found one hidden behind some scrubby bushes up in the hills. Elia snuck down the passage and found herself only a canvas wall away from the orcs’ cave. Peering around this wall, she spotted Yventhu heading around a corner to speak with his captives. She snuck after him and spotted Keth and Keluak in the cages. Reporting back to Calla, the two devised a plan: Calla would head around to the side of the quarry and use her magic to set it on fire, thus creating a distraction. While the orcs and the half-ogre were thus occupied, Elia would sneak back into the cave and free the boys.

The plan worked like a charm! They were even able to rescue Wuhlap. The party headed deeper into the hills, not stopping to rest until they found a nice, clean cave in which to spend the night. Come daytime, Tashek the owl informed them that the orcs weren’t following them. Instead, they were sending out emissaries and gathering the tribes for a war party! That could mean only one thing: they intended to sack Pebbleton!

Hunted
The PCs immediately decided to make for Pebbleton to warn the townsfolk. As they journeyed back across the peat bog, both Keth and Keluak began to have strange nightmares in which something was always following them and no matter how they tried to get away, it was always there on the horizon … Then, as they were getting close to the edge of the Brown Grounds, they spotted something drawing closer … and closer … and then it was on Keluak before he could say “zombie”!

Except it wasn’t really a zombie. For one thing, it was clearly intelligent. It appeared to be the reanimated remains of the half-ogre they’d slain in the peat bog several days before. And it wanted revenge! Keluak went on the defensive and was able to withstand its deadly attacks long enough for the others to destroy it. They cut off its head and then decided to burn both the head and the body just to be sure. They were able to rest easy that night. But on the following night, the dreams returned …

Pebbleton
Back in Pebbleton, Keluak headed straight for the common hall and ordered a drink. And then another. And another. Calla was amazed and couldn’t stop watching the dwarf attempt to make up for all the dry years in one go. Meanwhile, the others sought out Ruallin and the mayor and presented them with the spear. They managed to drag Calla away and she was just as amazed to see Treetrot the horse transform back into the beautiful and majestic unicorn, Iriandel!

But this was not the happy ending the PCs had hoped for. Keth quickly warned Mayor Thorngage of the coming orc warband and offered his assistance in defending the town. Iriandel said he would be heading back to his woods but would come to the PCs’ aid if called. Tashek hung around, trading stories with Ruallin the bard.

Some days later, the PCs were woken up by the thud of boulders being chucked over the town’s wall. They rushed to the parapet to see orcs and ogres spread out around the town. To the north, just out of arrow range, stood Yventhu the half-ogre, alongside a massive horned and blue-skinned ogre that was currently attempting to dig out a massive boulder, with the help of some orcs.

Without delay, the PCs rushed out onto the battlefield. Some orcs ran up to engage them and were mercilessly cut down. Another group of orcs and an ogre tried to intercept the PCs before they could get to the leaders but they too were slaughtered. Around that time, Iriandel appeared alongside Calla and encouraged her to climb onto his back. His horn and his hooves proved deadly in the fight, and his healing magic was welcomed by the PCs.

Eventually, the PCs crossed the field to where Yventhu and the massive ogre stood. The latter creature was clearly fiendish in nature. It lowered its head and charged at Keluak, bowling the dwarf over. It then smashed him to a pulp with its tree trunk club, but before it could finish the job, Iriandel came to the rescue and the ogre had another fight on his hands.

Despite Yventhu’s best efforts – attempting to alternately protect the ogre and himself with sanctuary, conjuring up a spiritual club to harass the PCs with, and summoning up his fiendish spirit guardians – he was quickly defeated. The fiendish ogre soon followed, although he nearly ended Iriandel’s life beforehand. The unicorn was forced to withdraw. With the fall of their champion and leader, the rest of the orcish warband quickly dispersed and the town was saved.

In the aftermath of the battle, the PCs were hailed as Pebbleton’s heroes and treated to much wining and dining. Iriandel pledged his friendship for life and told them they’d always be welcome in his neck of the woods. He also offered to do one thing for them to repay his debt. Keth asked if he’d restore Tasklar’s eye, and the unicorn agreed. The PCs then gathered up their loot and headed home to Larchwood.

Postlude
Back in Larchwood, Keth and Keluak were able to rest more easily again. They no longer suffered the nightmares, though they still had the sense that the creature was out there, waiting for them … so they decided to spend some time asking around. Keth prayed to Freya but got no real help from her, so he opted to hunt out someone who worshipped one of the old gods of the dead. He soon discovered that Baroness Wynne of Cromm’s Hold was a devotee of the Raven Queen. He headed off to speak with her.

Meanwhile, Keluak went to speak with the Andarian Septry’s priests in Larchwood. They told him that the gospel of the Stranger spoke of vengeful spirits coming back to haunt those who had caused them to suffer a “cruel and undeserving fate”. They suggested he seek out a larger temple or a knowledgeable sage to learn more.

Ten days later, the two PCs had all the info they needed: they were being hunted by a revenant, a vengeful undead creature that was very hard to stop. Unless it succeeded in killing them both, or failed to kill them both within one year, there was no real way to get rid of it. Each time they killed its body, its soul would just fly around until it found another suitable corpse and then come after them again. The two resolved never to go anywhere alone again …