“The Empire of Nerath?” A hulking male dragonborn speaks up with a surprised tone. He wears vestments emblazoned with the image of a Platinum Dragon – Bahamut, god of justice, protection, and honor. “We heard the empire was no more, destroyed by an army of goblinoids from the Torin Plains.”
Aramil replies, “Yes, but an heir lives on. We seek to return the Empire to power, as the order it brought to the land is our only hope for defeating the undead armies threatening us.”
The dragonborn nods. “Of course, no one else responded to our call for help. The Empire of Nerath did bring peace and security to the land. I can’t speak for all of my brethren, but you will certainly have my support.” Several of the other priests eagerly nod their approval, though some maintain dubious looks. “My name is Rikus. I am the leader of our small community here, or whatever is left of it.”
A Diversity of Faiths
Rikus notices the ice statue of Leoan, and asks why the party has left him frozen. The party realizes this group of priests doesn’t know the full story behind their attack, so they take the time to fill them in on what they discovered. The party explains that the priests of Vecna in the community were really part of a cult that is in league with the undead armies. The traitorous priests arranged for the ice troll tribe to attack the village so they could keep the community’s collection of religious artifacts out of the hands of the civilized lands.
Rikus shakes his head with a look of despair. “I should have seen this coming. All but one of our priests of Vecna mysteriously disappeared recently, and the remaining priest quickly brought in this trio of replacements. I should have realized something was going on, but our community has only known peace for so long.” The dragonborn clenches his fists in frustration.
“It’s not your fault, Rikus,” a young elven priest speaks up, and several other voices lend support to their leader. Eventually Rikus sighs in resignation and accepts that nothing can be done now to change what happened.
The group begins making its way back to the village. Surveying the survivors, the party notices several priests dedicated to the darker gods amongst the group – a tiefling bearing the vestments of Asmodeus, god of tyranny and domination, as well as a halfling priest of Lolth, goddess of shadow and lies. Nonetheless, the priests seem to get along fairly well with the rest of the group, which includes priests dedicated to a variety of deities, including an aged dwarf of Moradin, an attractive young elf of Pelor, a human of Avandra, and others.
The Zaza immediately notices that one priest displays the symbol of Melora, the deity that the dragonborn paladin has pledged herself to. The priest is a wilden, a humanoid from the Feywild with bark-like skin and vines draped along its body. The Zaza is awed to meet such a beautiful creature of nature dedicated to her goddess and falls in line with the wilden as the group hikes through the snow.
“It’s a pleasure to meet another follower of Melora,” the dragonborn offers.
Seeing the symbol of Melora displayed proudly on The Zaza’s armor and shield, the wilden nods, “Indeed. My name is Voland. My eternal gratitude for saving our lives.”
The paladin excitedly asks, “Did you know I got to meet Melora a couple days ago? She came to me in a temple in Arastur. It was the most wondrous experience imaginable!”
The wilden smiles but eyes the dragonborn dubiously. “Truly? Our deity came to the mortal realm to meet with you?”
“Yes, she spoke to me!”
The priest turns away with his lips pursed for a moment. “Well, perhaps you mistook an avatar of Melora for the goddess herself. Deities often send avatars to the mortal realm in their stead to do the gods’ work.”
The Zaza shakes her head vigorously, “No, it was truly her! I know it was… I could feel it…”
The wilden nods patronizingly then turns to catch the priest of Asmodeus as he passes by, seeming to need to ask the priest a very important question. The Zaza shrugs and continues trekking through the snow-covered mountains.
Meanwhile, Erik catches up with the eladrin priest of Boccob the party saved and confirms that she is Larath. She assures Erik she can repair the teleportation circle if it was damaged, though it may take a few days.
The group eventually arrives back at the small temple community, and the priests move through the town in stunned silence. Corpses are still strewn about the streets and inside the temples, and it is a somber moment as the survivors survey the devastation. Of course, all of the priests witnessed the initial attack before they were captured, but seeing the finality and stillness of their slaughtered community now leaves them speechless for a time.
The priests discuss the situation for a while, then Rikus informs the party that the group will be returning with them to Arastur. They have decided it’s best to rebuild their orders and to recruit new priests to join the community before attempting to reestablish the small village. While Larath begins repairing the teleportation circle, the remaining priests begin the hard task of burying the bodies of their brethren and sorting through the damage done to their temples.
Helping the priests with their work, the party overhears a number of them mention with dismay that the ice trolls apparently plundered their treasuries along with their religious artifacts, as all of the coffers of the temples have been emptied. The priests are especially downtrodden at this discovery, as rebuilding the community will be all the harder without any finances to help them.
The party carefully gathers by themselves to discuss the matter. Of course, the ice trolls didn’t actually plunder the temples’ coffers. The party did, collecting close to 10,000 gold in doing so. They debate the matter only briefly, and conclude that they cannot keep the community’s money now. Even hard-hearted Invicto agrees to turn the gold back over to the priests.
The priests thank the party graciously for their honesty. The party also informs the priests that they have recovered some of the religious artifacts the ice trolls took, though they insist on bringing them back to Arastur to investigate if some of them can be used against the undead armies. The cultists obviously had good reasons to attempt to claim the artifacts for themselves, and the party must discover what those reasons were. Rikus agrees wholeheartedly, assuring the party that the temple community will do whatever it can to help fight the evil plaguing the land.
The dwarven priest of Moradin then approaches the party. He also offers his hearty thanks to the party for saving his life and returning the temples’ gold. He informs the party that, in their plundering, the ice trolls left a magical suit of plate armor behind in the temple of Moradin. He insists that the party take it as a gift of thanks, saying, “It will clearly do more good in your hands than collecting dust in a temple somewhere.” The party offers their gratitude, and The Zaza dons a shining new set of Plate Armor of Dwarven Vigor.
The party then turns its attention to Leoan. Aramil is especially interested in discovering if Leoan has crafted a teleportation circle to Lord Dread’s castle somewhere nearby. When Aramil spoke to him in disguise earlier, Leoan had mentioned that a priest in his group knew how to craft the circle to “the master’s castle”. Aramil wants to recreate his earlier disguise to convince Leoan that he is a member of the Cult of Mortalis, and that Lord Dread is displeased with Leoan’s handling of the trolls. He figures Invicto could join in the interrogation, as the warlock is pretty adept at lies and intimidation.
Erik tires of the creative scheming and planning and says, “Why don’t we just set him on fire and watch him die.” Invicto shrugs, finding this idea pretty amenable.
Aramil, however, looks shocked, and a little disappointed. “What’s happened to you Erik? You used to be one of the reasonable ones…” The Zaza shoots Aramil a dubious look, not sure if she’s supposed to be ‘one of the reasonable ones’ as well.
Invicto chimes in, “I don’t know – I’m beginning to like this new Erik!”
The wizard considers Aramil’s words and shrugs, “What can I say? I’ve just witnessed so much killing and destruction… I guess I’m just starting to see people as those who should die and those who should live. No middle ground.”
Aramil shakes his head, “Well, I don’t mind seeing Leoan given a death sentence, but I would like to get some information from him first.” The party agrees, and Erik, Aramil, and Invicto take Leoan to a snowy hillside a little ways outside of the village. The Zaza, with her shining plate armor and radiant devotion to Melora, stays behind, as she would be difficult to pass off as a Cultist of Mortalis.
Erik channels a bit of arcane fire, and Leoan unfreezes. The cultist starts coming to, confused and disoriented. Aramil immediately addresses him with a threatening voice, “You have failed. Lord Dread is displeased.”
Leoan responds groggily, “What? I didn’t fail. The civilized lands don’t have the artifacts. They’re just as good in the trolls’ hands.”
Aramil leans over the cultist menacingly, “No! You were to recover the artifacts, and you let some pitiful trolls defeat you! Lord Dread does not accept failures.”
Leoan looks around confusedly at Invicto and Erik flanking Aramil. “Then what is my fate?”
Invicto points a threatening finger in Leoan’s face, “If you don’t answer our questions, then you’ll die.”
Leoan looks appalled at this suggestion. “The master would kill me, and waste what I could become? That is not how things are done…” The cultist squints his eyes suspiciously. “Why do none of you wear the vestments of the Cult? And you use the master’s name openly?” Leoan’s face twists in anger, “You are not servants of the master… You lie! You are impostors!”
Aramil sighs in frustration. It seems the jig is up. Aramil, Invicto, and Erik debate openly about whether to simply kill Leoan, while the cultist stoically awaits his fate. Aramil turns to ask the cultist a few questions first.
“Did you make a teleportation circle to the master’s castle somewhere nearby?”
Leoan replies, “Yes, in the ice trolls’ cave. But it would be suicide for you to use it.”
Aramil clenches his fists in frustration. Of course, Leoan does not know that the ice trolls’ cave collapsed, destroying any arcane circles that might have been inscribed on its floor.
The eladrin asks his prisoner, “What did you want with the artifacts? How can they stop the undead armies?”
Leoan scoffs, “The artifacts can do very little. We sought them only to try to impress the master with our dedication. He is not concerned with anything they can do.” The party eyes Leoan dubiously as he lets out a deep laugh. “You fools! You have no idea what is coming for you, do you? The armies of undead you have seen are nothing! Nothing! The master’s true forces have been amassing in the Torin Plains. Legions upon legions of undead orcs, ogres, even giants! Unlike anything you have ever seen! You will be crushed-“
“Silence!” Aramil shouts.
Leoan’s face turns to a look of concern. “Don’t you see? We don’t want to destroy the world. We only want to reshape it. Why must you deal with the worry and despair that death brings? Vecna only seeks to bring eternal undeath to the world, so that we can live forever. He has given us the Keystone to free us from the yolk of an inevitable death…”
Aramil rolls his eyes, “Yes, you’re so compassionate.”
The warlord suggests that they summon Rikus to decide what to do with the prisoner, as the community should decide how to handle the retribution for what was done to them. Erik hustles back to the village and returns with Rikus, as well as The Zaza. The party asks Rikus how the temple community would decide the prisoner’s fate, but the dragonborn priest’s response surprises them. “There are so many faiths represented in our community. It would be difficult to come to a consensus. Some would want death, others a chance at repentance, and still others may argue for some other form of punishment. Honestly, it would be easier if you handled deciding the prisoner’s fate. You are the ones who captured him.”
Aramil nods in understanding. “Very well. In the name of the Empire of Nerath, we will set a judgment panel-”
“Judgment panel?!?” Invicto cries in disbelief.
The eladrin continues, “Yes, a judgment panel of at least three people to weigh the crimes and evidence against the prisoner-” Invicto abruptly draws a dagger from his belt and stabs it into Leoan’s neck.
Aramil is left speechless, while Erik and The Zaza seem pleased with the prisoner’s fate. The wizard asks, “Should we burn the body, so he can’t be raised as undead?” The Zaza and Invicto nod, and Erik sets Leoan’s corpse aflame until only a pile of ash is left. Rikus turns away somberly and heads back to the village. Aramil is once again shocked at his friends’ reckless actions, but must admit that, even if he had his way, Leoan would have faced the same fate, simply by different means.
Cataloging the Inventory
Larath requires a few days to finish repairing the teleportation circle. In the meantime, the party sits down with Rikus to go over the artifacts they recovered from the ice trolls. Unfortunately, the dragonborn explains that he does not fully understand the purpose and function of all of the artifacts. The items were brought to the small temple community to be studied because they could not be easily understood using traditional means. Rikus mentioned that some texts were collected and kept on the items, and as Invicto and Aramil empty their packs and pockets, they find that they did recover some of these writings.
However, Rikus warns the party, “Many of these writings are ancient – from languages that are hundreds or even thousands of years old, that we have struggled to translate. Because they are no longer spoken, even magical rituals cannot decipher the languages. I know Arastur is famed for its Library of Sages, but I do not know that any of the scholars there are familiar with the languages of the world from a thousand years ago?"
Erik immediately thinks of Lock, “Well, we may have some resources available that can help us once we get back to Arastur.”
Rikus nods his approval. “Very well. I will tell you what I do know of these artifacts.” Rikus begins picking through the artifacts. “I believe this wooden carving here can seek out the nearest body of water in a several mile radius.”
Erik interrupts to say, “We are really only interested in artifacts that you think may have something to do with fighting the undead.”
“Ah, well, I certainly know of one such item.” The dragonborn rummages through the collection of artifacts and pulls out a heavy iron ring about two feet in diameter. The ring has a number of overlapping symbols forged inside of it. At first it looks like a confusing jumble, but after some study, the party recognizes that the symbols are those of Bahamut, Pelor, and Heironeous, all gods of good.
Rikus explains, “I actually studied this artifact for a time. We discovered that it is capable of allowing a number of priests to project their souls as radiant, magical warriors of light. These holy projections can roam quite a distance from the priests performing the ritual – as much as half a mile. However, the ritual must be performed in a sanctified temple to a god of good, and no more than five priests can participate in the ritual at a time. These radiant warriors of light would be devastating against undead, which are very susceptible to the power of divine energy. However, the projections of the priests’ souls can still be injured. If a warrior is slain, the priest dies as well.”
Rikus looks through the remaining artifacts, picking out only two others – a silver carafe and a small, red wand made of metal. “These two I am not familiar with, but I think they may have something to do with the undead.”
Wail of the Dead
The party thanks Rikus for his time and examines the two mysterious artifacts further. Though it is the size and shape of a wand, Erik quickly realizes the second artifact is not a wizard’s implement and cannot be used to cast spells. Invicto rummages through some of the texts and finds a page with a drawing of the silver carafe. He does not recognize the language of the writing on the page, however one prominent phrase seems to be a derivative of some of the obscure arcane languages the warlock has come across. The words seem to roughly translate to “wail of the dead”.
Erik decides to perform the Object Reading ritual on each item to see if he can discover more. First, he takes the small metal wand into his hand. Upon completing the ritual he seeks out a vision of when the artifact was last used. However, the divinatory magic of his spell seems to bounce off of the artifact. Erik sees a clear vision of himself in his mind, standing in an empty background. Confused, the wizard sets the artifact aside for the time being.
Next, he performs the same ritual on the silver carafe, again seeking out a vision of when the artifact was last used. As soon as the wizard utters the final arcane syllable of the ritual, he feels the divinatory magic shatter around the carafe and a demented wailing fills his brain. The wizard doubles over in pain as necrotic magic sears his mind, and he drops the carafe to the ground. After he regains his composure, Erik notices that the stopper of the carafe did not come loose, even though he dropped the item onto the hard stone floor. The wizard offers his best guess to the party – the item likely has some kind of powerful undead spirit trapped inside of it. He does not recommend removing the stopper.
The party then tracks down Larath, priestess of Boccob, as she is working on repairing the teleportation circle. Unfortunately, she says she knows nothing of the artifacts. The party then looks through the temple of Boccob, and finds that the priests have not finished cleaning up from the aftermath of the battle. They find the corpse of the gnome high-priest who they previously used the Speak with Dead ritual on still lying in a bedchamber. Erik performs the ritual once again and queries the gnome’s corpse on the items.
Holding up the small red wand, Erik asks, “What is this artifact?”
The gnome responds, “It is a divining wand.”
“What does it divine?”
The corpse’s hollow voice speaks, “The true nature of beings when it is touched to them.”
This description jogs a memory from Erik’s arcane trainings. He has heard of such devices. By touching it to someone else, the holder can see through any illusions or enchantments that might have been cast upon the subject to see a true vision of the person. The item would also tell the holder if someone was undead or not.
Erik then asks, “What is in this carafe?”
Unfortunately, the gnome only replies, “I do not know.”
Aramil relieves Erik of the wand and promptly heads back upstairs to where Larath is working. He approaches quietly and touches the wand to the priestess. As Erik said, he sees a simple vision of Larath standing before him, appearing as she normally does. The warlord is somewhat disappointed to see that she is fully clothed in the vision. The priestess recoils from Aramil in shock and confusion, as the eladrin apologizes smoothly and takes his leave.
After a few more days of waiting, Larath finally finishes repairing the teleportation circle. The community’s survivors gather together to return to Arastur. Larath is capable of performing the ritual to send everyone back, but can only send a few at a time. The party agrees that two of them should stay behind in the temple community to make sure everyone makes it back safely. The other two party members will go back first to report to the leaders in Arastur what happened. As Larath begins the incantations of the ritual, Erik and The Zaza step into the circle and soon find themselves teleported back to the mages’ tower in Arastur.
A Quiet Arrival
Erik and The Zaza appear in the large room they originally left the city of Arastur from, but are surprised to find it dark and empty. When the party left for the Northern Ice Sheet, the room was bustling with acolytes and mages busily at work. Now, they find it only quiet and still. The room seems to be in no disarray, as books and beakers are all neatly stowed away, but something is obviously wrong. A number of windows ring the small room, and Erik and The Zaza quickly move to look out on the city. They see activity below, but much less than there should be in the middle of the day. Only a few people hustle nervously through the streets.
Deciding they shouldn’t waste time waiting for everyone else to arrive, they decide to head out of the mages’ tower into the main city hall complex. Heading for the nearest stairwell, the pair of adventurers is surprised to come across a young acolyte in the hallway. The man rushes by with a stack of books filling his arms before Erik finally flags him down. “What’s going on here?” the wizard asks.
“What do you mean?” the young acolyte seems flustered by Erik’s question.
“Where is everyone?”
“I’m not sure who you’re looking for. Everyone’s probably making preparations for battle.”
“Battle?” The Zaza asks.
“Well, yes. The undead army will be here in only a day or two. Haven’t you heard?”
Erik’s face turns grim. “No, we’ve been gone for about a week. Now please tell us what’s going on.”
The acolyte’s eyes widen. “A week? Well, you must have left just as the disease struck then. The whole city was afflicted by some kind of strange magical disease. We’ve been working nonstop to try to find a cure or a way to combat it, but we’ve had no luck so far. Over half of the city has been afflicted. And scouts have now sighted an undead army approaching the city. They’ll arrive in less than a day or two, and the remaining, healthy, mages are working to shore up some magical defenses for the city.”
“Who’s in charge?” The Zaza asks.
The acolyte frowns, “Well, General Coremita was struck by the disease and has died. The noble and courageous Lord Prumoral apparently fled the city a couple of days ago. A senior lieutenant, Bane, is leading the remaining forces. All of the commanders are operating out of the city hall offices below. Now, I really must be going.”
“Wait,” Erik says. “We have a whole squadron of priests from the Northern Ice Sheet teleporting into that room. We need someone to direct them down below when they arrive.”
The acolyte sighs in frustration. “Well, I really don’t have time to wait for so many people to arrive. I suppose I could perform a Magic Mouth ritual to leave a message for anyone that appears in the room to head down to the… eighth floor I believe… to find Lieutenant Bane.”
“Fair enough,” Erik replies. The wizard and the dragonborn head downstairs and seek out Lieutenant Bane’s office. Eventually, Invicto, Aramil, Larath and Rikus are the last to arrive, appearing in the mages’ tower. As they materialize, a Magic Mouth formed out of the stone wall suddenly begins speaking to them and directs them below.
Once the party is finally rejoined, they report to Lieutenant Bane. The grizzled old war veteran is excited to see the party, though he’s not sure how much help they’ll be. He confirms the acolyte’s assessment, explaining that about one-third of the city’s population has either perished from the disease or fled. Another third is currently afflicted by the disease but still alive, although not for long. The disease generally only takes a few days to run its course. In the meantime, its victims are totally incapacitated, suffering from fevers, chills, nausea, and wracking pain.
Bane says the disease clearly seems like the same affliction linked to many other cities that have been attacked by the undead armies, and the party does not doubt that the Cult of Mortalis is behind it. With the city’s forces so devastated by the disease, Arastur doesn’t stand a chance, but Bane plans on giving the best fight he can. The lieutenant tells the party, “I’m glad you came back in time to fight with us, but I’m afraid you’ve joined a losing cause. Still, whatever the odds, we’ll go down swinging.”
The party is not ready to give up hope so easily. They introduce the lieutenant to Rikus, and tell Bane about the magical artifact they discovered that can create a small number of radiant, holy warriors which should be extremely effective against the undead. Unfortunately, with so few soldiers to stand against the undead army, the radiant warriors will be simply overwhelmed. Once again, Bane curses the insidious disease that has stripped the city of its fighting force.
Rikus speaks up, however, to say, “I believe in the artifacts you recovered, there was a necklace with a crafted silver symbol of Kord, god of strength. It can clean the body of impurities, and would likely remove this disease from a victim.”
The party is ecstatic. They quickly hand the necklace over to Rikus and ask him to see if the artifact can indeed cure someone of this disease. Bane directs Rikus to a holding room in the city hall complex where a number of disease victims are being housed, and the priest of Bahamut hustles off.
Friends and Family
Unfortunately, Rikus returns aghast. “The artifact does indeed seem to cure a victim of the disease. I used the artifact on a young girl, and her symptoms disappeared before my eyes. However, a minute later they returned in full force. Somehow, the artifact cured the disease but only very briefly.”
The party is crestfallen at Rikus’s news, but they have no interest in giving up. While Aramil stays to help Bane plan the city’s defenses, The Zaza heads back to the party’s house on Wystra Lane to check on Lucinda and Old Breddy, as well as Queen Larindra and Marin, the Empire’s heir. Meanwhile, Erik and Invicto bring Rikus along with them as they head over to the Library of Sages, hoping Lock or another scholar there can help them find some useful information about the disease and the artifacts they recovered.
The Zaza arrives at the Redding House and finds it relatively quiet inside, but thankfully sees Old Breddy coming down the stairs to greet her. The old, one-armed warrior carries a mug of ale in his only hand and his face looks grim. “Aye, welcome back. It’s certainly good to see you.”
The Zaza asks Old Breddy what’s going on and gets a similar report to what she’s already heard – the city stricken by disease, an undead army on the way, little to no hope of survival… She asks Old Breddy the status of the party’s friends and recruits. “Most of the recruits are doin’ alright, though I heard a few of’em fell ill. Gravi and some o’ the others are serving sentry duty on the city walls for Bane.” The Zaza nods at the positive news, but then Old Breddy’s face turns downcast. “Some of our friends haven’t been so lucky. Yinlis, the head o’ yer merchant house, passed a couple days ago from the disease. Mujeh’s stepped in to handle things there. Palloth, Azaz, and Azad have all been stricken with the disease, though they’re still barely hanging on. I’ve been caring for them here, with Hunrit’s help, and haven’t contracted the thing myself. I guess it’s not contagious.”
The Zaza accepts the grim news stoically. “Where did this disease start? Do you know how it spread?”
Old Breddy shrugs helplessly, “I don’t know nothin’ ‘bout the damn disease. I think it started in the temple quarter – a lot of the priests have fallen to it, ‘cept the Temple of Melora. They ain’t been touched for some reason.” The Zaza is at least pleased to hear the good news about Melora’s followers. She thanks Old Breddy for his help in caring for their friends and takes her leave.
Once she makes it back to the city hall complex, Aramil is distraught to hear Palloth is stricken by the disease. As concerned as he is now with finding a way to cure the disease, he is also curious as to why none of the Priests of Melora fell ill from the disease. The eladrin eyes The Zaza suspiciously, considering whether the temple of Melora would betray the city.
Meanwhile, Erik, Invicto, and Rikus arrive at the Library of Sages and thankfully track down Lock to find him fully healthy, furiously studying away and surrounded by innumerable stacks of books as well as a cadre of young students. They eventually pull the halfling’s attention out of the large dusty tome he is studying, and Lock eagerly greets the party members, “Erik, Invicto, it’s so good to see you again! I have been working nonstop trying to identify this disease striking the city, have you heard about the disease, well of course you have, it’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen, some clearly identifiable symptoms that match up with so many rare and magical afflictions, but it doesn’t respond to any standard treatments-”
Erik finally interrupts the halfling, “Lock, this is Rikus, a priest of Bahamut. He has an artifact of the god Kord that can actually cure a victim of the disease for a brief time, but then their symptoms return.”
Lock’s eyes widen with surprise, “Really? Wow, well…” The halfling’s brow furrows with concentration. “Of course, that certainly might explain some things! I need to see this process in action, this could be the breakthrough we’ve been looking for!”
Lock excitedly leaps from his chair and walks over to a nearby table. “Let’s see, I’ll need my arcane goggles, though.” Rummaging through a variety of items, the halfling finally pulls out a strange looking set of glasses with huge, elongated, milky-white crystals for lenses and places them over his eyes. “Ready!” Lock says as he promptly trips over a stack of books. The halfling carefully removes the lenses, and coyly says, “Ah, perhaps I’ll wait to put these on until we get where we’re going…”
Erik, Invicto, Lock, and a few of the students head through the rows and rows of books, through a series of several different rooms and winding hallways, until they reach a large open area in the library where a number of acolytes and researchers afflicted by the disease are being kept. The group approaches the nearest one, a young student in white robes laid out on a simple bed roll on the stone floor. The man is constantly shivering from chills and the pains wracking his body. An array of red welts have formed all over his skin.
Rikus calmly steps forward and holds the necklace with the crafted symbol of Kord over the man’s body. The dragonborn priest whispers a simple prayer, and an instant later the red welts disappear from the man’s body. His shivering ceases and he opens his eyes with a look of bewilderment and excitement. He begins to rise into a sitting position, a beaming smile on his face, and Lock promptly shoves him back down. “Hold still!” the halfling says as he dons the arcane goggles and begins carefully examining the man’s body. A few moments later, the red welts begin reforming on the victim’s skin and the young student is once again wracked with pain and chills.
“Of course, why didn’t I think of this? Fantastic! Marvelous! This is great news!” Lock says excitedly.
The young student looks at the halfling in dismay, “What are you talking about? I’m still dying!”
Lock shoots the student a look of disapproval, “Oh, hush up!” The halfling turns to the rest of the group, “Come with me.”
They head back through the maze of rooms and bookshelves comprising the library. Lock asks a couple of the students with them for help in finding the section of the library on ‘aberrant’ creatures or the ‘Far Realm’, and they eventually arrive at their destination. Looking over the rows upon rows of books, Lock finally reaches up to pull out a dusty old tome titled, ‘Aberrant Creatures Comprised Predominantly of Facial Features’.
He flips through the pages, finally stopping on a page with a picture of a hideous looking creature – it appears to be no more than a shapeless lump of flesh covered in horrific-looking hungry mouths and lidless eyes. “Here we are!” Lock says. “A gibbering mouther. A nightmarish, aberrant creature from the Far Realm. This rare monster is capable of producing a limitless number of small polyps, too small to be seen by the naked eye. If the polyps were spawned into a city’s water supply, they would easily afflict the whole city with disease overnight. The trick is, the affliction is not really a disease. The symptoms are caused by the polyps themselves, which live inside the victim like a parasite.”
“So how do we cure someone?” Erik asks.
“Quite easily, actually,” Lock replies. “The polyps must maintain a psychic connection to the original gibbering mouther that spawned them. Killing the mouther means the polyps die and the victim is cured. To maintain the connection, the mouther must stay within a reasonable distance of the polyps, probably no more than half a mile or so. The gibbering mouther, or mouthers, must be in the city somewhere.”
One of the students speaks up to say, “Well if they have infected the water supply – all of the city’s water comes from one underground aquifer.”
“Seems like a good place to start,” Erik says. Before taking his leave, the wizard also hands Lock the silver carafe and its associated writings for the halfling to study.
Heading back to the city hall complex, Erik and Invicto inform Bane, Aramil, and The Zaza of what they discovered. The Zaza, appalled at Aramil’s earlier suspicions, says defiantly, “Well, the temple of Melora has a number of natural, magical springs that they get their water from. That would explain why they weren’t afflicted by the disease.” This seems to allay the warlord’s earlier suspicions.
With no time to waste, the party asks Rikus to begin preparing to perform the necessary ritual with the iron ring artifact to project the radiant soul warriors to fight in battle. They then head over to the nearest well in the city to climb down into Arastur’s aquifer.
Into the Dark
Unfortunately, the party realizes that swimming is not their forte. Only Aramil has much of any training in it, and The Zaza is weighted down in a hulking suit of plate armor. On top of that, according to Lock’s research, gibbering mouthers are natural swimmers, and would surely have an advantage in an aquatic environment. Erik considers launching a fireball down the well before the party heads down, but doubts it would have much effect on the huge body of water.
“We need some lightning!” Invicto says. Such a magical attack could blast anything in the water before the party heads down. Unfortunately, Erik has not learned any such spells.
The party decides to track down the wilden priest of Melora they saved from the temple community, Voland. The priest does possess some storm magic granted to him from the nature goddess, and he is happy to accompany the party to the well. He sends a bolt of lightning shooting down into the darkness, and far below the party sees the water alight with electricity. They then affix a sturdy rope to the top of the well and begin climbing down. Aramil volunteers to go first since he is the best swimmer. Before going down, The Zaza scrounges up a few thick wooden boards to help keep her afloat in her heavy armor, and Erik casts a light spell on Aramil’s sword.
Aramil slowly climbs down into the darkness. He reaches the end of the rope and slides into the black, cool water. As the eladrin releases the line and begins treading water, his ripples break the still surface of the water and he can hear the sound of his own soft splashing echoing off the far cavern walls. Holding his long sword above the water, imbued with Erik’s light spell, Aramil can only see empty darkness surrounding him, as the cavern walls of the underground aquifer are far outside of the light spell’s radius. From the empty stillness, Aramil swears he hears a brief slipping sound out in the darkness, like something quietly breaking the water’s surface.
A Mouthful of Trouble
Soon Erik slides off of the rope into the water. The wizard has little training in the art of swimming and struggles mightily to keep his head above water. Aramil momentarily watches with an amused look and just as he considers moving to help, the two companions suddenly see the tip of a hideous lump of flesh break out of the water in between them. Numerous hungry mouths cover the creature, along with a few wandering, lidless eyes. The mouths are alive with maddening gibberish that infests Erik’s and Aramil’s brains with deranged images of unspeakable horrors.
Aramil manages to concentrate enough through the psychic onslaught to maintain his wits about him, but Erik finds himself dazed by the attack. Suddenly small mouths sprout all over the wizard’s own skin and they lash out to gnaw into his body, searing the wounds they make with an acidic saliva that starts burning away Erik’s flesh. The wizard screams, both from the nightmarish sight of mouths spawning all over his body, as well as from the searing pain of their acidic bites. The horrific attack is over in an instant as the gibbering mouther slides effortlessly back underwater, shooting away from the two adventurers. Aramil looks about to follow the creature, but loses it as it slides into the black, impenetrable depths of the underground lake.
The Zaza and Invicto hurriedly descend the rope to join Aramil and Erik in the water, but the mouther does not attack again. Treading water in the still aquifer, The Zaza hears a very faint sloshing sound to one side. With nothing else to go on, the party begins making its way in that direction. They eventually reach the edge of the aquifer, and Aramil’s sword sheds light on the rocky cavern wall.
More importantly, the party sees a large hole in the cavern wall, clearly man-made and dug through the rock recently. The party begins clambering through the small tunnel and, after several feet, they find that the hole opens into one of the city’s underground sewers. The sewer extends out into the darkness to the right and left. Down the middle of the tunnel is a river of foul-smelling sewage, and a narrow ledge runs alongside the sludge on each side of the tunnel. The party files out of the cavern onto the narrow walkway on their side of the tunnel.
The Zaza’s keen ears continue to pick up a faint sloshing noise, and the party is able to follow the mouther through the sewers. Hurriedly jogging down one section of the underground tunnels, the party suddenly sees arcane runes inscribed on the sewer’s walls burn with a fiery red light. Magical flames erupt from the walls and engulf the party, though Erik is able to duck out of the way at the last second.
Invicto stops to inspect the trap, wondering how the mouther was able to avoid triggering it. He realizes the runes do not extend into the deep river of sewage running down the middle of the tunnel, and the mouther must be swimming through the disgusting filth. The party debates whether they should pause to dress their wounds or continue on. They decide they can’t give the creature a chance to escape so they hurriedly press onward.
Soon they turn a corner in the seemingly endless passageways of the sewers, and see some light up ahead. A couple of torches illuminate two humans garbed in priests’ vestments, one on each side of the tunnel. The symbols on their chests are difficult to make out, but even in the dim light, the party can tell they are Cultists of Mortalis. In between the cultists, in the river of sewage, the party sees not just one but two gibbering mouthers poking their heads just above the water line.
The party’s haste seems to have paid off, as they see the cultists preparing to slip into some hidden alcoves in the sewer’s walls, apparently planning to ambush the party. The cultists see the party turn the corner however and give up the ruse. They grimly turn to take the fight head on, and the party eagerly approaches.