Firetop/Undermountain

The Story So Far
Season One Part One

Season One

On the fringes of Darkwood Forest, amidst the foothills of the Moonstone Hills, live the barbaric wild elf tribes. Stithiel Morrow, son of the shaman priestess of one of the clans, chafes against the restrictions of the clan’s laws. His father left when he was young, and had a bad reputation with the clan, one he has inherited. After hobgoblins raid their lands once too often, he leads a disasterous counterstrike against the hobgoblins. Although he kills several of the culprits, his confidence leads him to attack a large encampment, where he and his three friends are captured. They are killed but he is released, with their heads tied to his back, as a warning and an insult to his tribe. The chief exiles him, and he wanders south.

Lania, the chief’s daughter, holds him in enough esteem to bring him supplies and advice – he should seek the Nameless Witch who dwells on the eastern edge of the forest, who can tell him more about his father. Avoiding the increasingly restless hobgoblins who dog his footsteps, he finds this witch. The information and aid he seeks comes at a price – for a lock of hair, a drop of blood and a night of passion, she gives him powerful magic armour and weapons, and tells him to seek the town of Kingsholm, where he can find a portal to the notorious dungeon of Undermountain, beneath Firetop Mountain, where his father went to seek fame and fortune. This deep realm is ruled over by the impossibly powerful and deeply mad archmage, Zagor ‘Halaster’ Blackcloak. Travelling to Kingsholm as advised, he discovers the town is nervously seeking help finding a lost family in their local ancient crypts – wolves have been heard in the graveyard recently, and they fear the worst. With the captain of the town guard, Mia Descarna, Stithiel approaches the mausoleum only to find it full of the restless dead. Although the zombies nearest the door are easily dispatched by his raging sword, the skeletal archers further in prove more dangerous. Riddled with arrows, the elf barely escapes alive. Mia returns him to the inn, where they recruit the local cleric of Olidammara, Hargon Hilltopple, to aid them. They are also joined by a charismatic stranger, Drakar, a sorcerer of unknown providence. Together, the three venture further into the tombs, vanquishing the skeletons but running foul of the ancient wasp-like constructs guarding a side tomb, and an enigmatic puzzle room that leads to a glowing portal.

Through the portal lies a room…

Meanwhile, a man called Garrett has been attempting to live the innocuous life of a tailor in Port Blacksand, leaving his dark past in the city of Brice behind him on a different continent. Garrett is blessed (or perhaps cursed, depending on your place in the scheme of things) with faint traces of demon blood in his heritage – he is a Tiefling, one of the Planetouched. But when he becomes unable to pay the corrupt city guards their protection cash, he is forced to turn to the Thieves’ Guild for help. He botches their initiation test appallingly, and is quickly obliged to flee the city after killing one of their members; they advise him to seek other employment, perhaps in the dark and underground town of Skullport, which lies in the fabled dungeon of Undermountain. Taking a boat north to Zengis, he again tries to settle into the life of a tailor, making shirts for the wizards there and even attracting their ruler, the Heirophant, as a customer.

But the marbled calm of the Courteous Mageocracy hides a cruel front – Garrett stumbles onto their hidden nest of slavery and war, liberating the dwarven ranger Dorrin Grimcrag from the forges where the Zhengisi mages build endless ranks of their Doomguard constructs, perhaps to attack the fortress of Undermountain. Fleeing through ooze-haunted sewers and tombs, Garrett and Dorrin fly the city, picking up help from a hermitic sorcerer called Catullus on their way through the eerily silent rice paddies.

Together, the three ford the river Kok at the ferry town of Deng Shang at some risk. They discover the townfolk have been driven away by hordes of rodent vermin led by a super-intelligent moonrat, after some recent earthquakes. Finding the survivors and rallying aid, they retake the south bank from the rats, but Garrett finds his past reaching out to him in the form of a shapeshifting ninja, presumed to have been sent by his old foes in Brice.

Heading south to Firetop town, the three shelter in ancient Thunder Tor from an autumn storm. When lightning blasts the old tomb, a previously hidden chamber is revealed, but Garrett cannot defeat the elderly locks. Returning to their fire, though, they encounter an Ogre also seeking shelter, and the ensuing fight claims the life of Catullus. Saddened, they head on to the Yawning Portal inn at Firetop.

Here, they discover the innkeeper, Durnan the Wanderer, holding what is effectively an auction for the chance to be first into the newly shaken-up Undermountain. The city itself is reeling after the recent earthquakes have both shattered their walls, and brought a plague of magical nightmares to the city, seeming omens of the death of Halaster. Dorrin leaps at the chance to explore a ruined Dwarf Fortress for one of the runic weapons Durnan asks for as a prize, but their first attempt to make their way in is foiled by the tough orc security. Taking the time to heal up back in Firetop, they team up with a monk called Griffa, a half-elven follower of St Cuthbert from a monastery up north, and make a second attempt on the fortress at Stone Knife. This time, they steal in through a chimney way, but rouse some resting orcs in a failed ambush. Rather than running from the hoardes, Dorrin and Garrett hold their own, Dorrin bringing down a huge section of tunnel on top of most of the orc guards as they secure an escape for the wounded Griffa. But all three are badly battered, although they have rescued some prisoners from the orcs and have hopefully weakened the orc garrison severely.

Meanwhile, the cleric of Heironius, Sebastian Fitz-Gabriel, is tasked by his church to find out what has happened in the wake of the cataclysmic earthquakes that have seized Firetop. Sebastian is touched by an altogether more worthy place than Garrett is – he is an Aasimar, one of the rare mortals to boast a touch of angels in his bloodline. Is Halaster, the legendary Mad Mage, dead? And if so, who now rules below? To aid him, a specialist from Blacksand has been recruited, Johan, and his half-orc bodyguard Ug Ortha. Together with help from Sebastian’s wizard sister Eleanor, they begin seeking a way into Undermountain. But Durnan the Wanderer, keeper of the Yawning Portal, has closed the entry well after the shakeup, and is auctioning the privilege of first entrance to the first team of heroes to impress him by bringing him dwarven weapons. Balking at his suggestion of heading further south to the Stone Knife and the lost forge of Durgeddin, the party instead climb Firetop, hoping to find lost dwarven weapons amidst the sleeping grass at the peak.

Instead, they find a hobgoblin raid gone awry in the grass, and a forgotten tomb of the Melairkyn Dwarves, first owners of Undermountain. Guarded by an elemental and haunted by wraiths and zombies, the tomb contains a mighty sarcophagus heavily trapped and warded by curses – something is entombed within that the dwarves didn’t want found. On top of this, they find evidence that the mysterious and evil Zharradan Marr may be linked to the hobgoblins raid – what can the most enigmatic of Halaster’s peers want with Undermountain? And what lies in the tomb? Sebastian returns to the Grandmaster of his order, Glave Tasserich, to seek his advice on their next move.

Meanwhile, on the third level of Undermountain, the pleasant yet deadly forest cavern of Wyllowood sees the monthly ritual of the Hunt of Kurnous take place. A cult loyal to the Hunt God will bless whatever applicant can prove themself worthy by bringing a sacrifice then hunting it down as it tries to escape via a portal in the temple across the forest. Many come for the blessing, some just to dispose of enemies or try their prowess at hunting, and at this month’s, Arturios Ellethrain, secondboy of the Thirteenth house of the Drow city Merroberenzzan and Dark Paladin of Hextor, has been captured by a lesser, rival house and brought as prey by one of their lesser sons, the drow Drangell. Arturios proves his worth as a sacrifice under the cynical eye of a wild elf thrall, Grinyol, first by killing a goblin in a somewhat one-sided battle, then by pitting himself against a trained Blink dog, one which almost finishes him. But the Drow are born commanders, and after a closely-matched fight, Artemis first commands the dog to lie down, then, once the confused animal has obeyed him, kills it as it lies. With every ounce of charm at his possession, Arturios convinces Grinyol to arm him with the finest weapon available from the temple’s stash – a flaming rapier called Lucifer – as well as equipping him with a fine mithral chain shirt and a healing potion. Thus armed, the hunt begins.

With the other potential prey, a Halfling called Curtis and a Githzerai monk, Arturios must now escape the hunters (a Githyanki gish and a bugbear warrior). Despite striking an initial deal with Curtis, Artemis calmly leaves him to be mauled by a dire badger in the woods, kills the pursuing bugbear with Lucifer, and then stumbles on some predictable Drow treachery – Drangell has sent his bodyguards into the woods to ‘help’ find the prey…

Meanwhile, up above, Garrett finally loses patience with Durnan’s challenge. Although the retired hero has asked for a runic artifact, he hasn’t specified a new one must be brought, so Garrett breaks into his office and steals one from his cupboard, then marches into the bar and presents his loot back to Durnan. Durnan, although immediately realizing the theft, is somewhat impressed with the tiefling’s bravado, and so agrees that he will be allowed into Undermountain. However, he is too late – other groups have already beaten the challenge, and so it is that Garrett learns of Brother Sebastian and his team. But he also learns of the second successful challenger – the mysterious icy Drow witch Zollor, and her barbaric Kalakuri minions from the frozen north. Once Zollor has followed Sebastian’s team in, Garrett, Dorrin and their Dwarven mercenaries will be next down the Entry Well. Garrett spends time gathering information from other patrons of the Yawning Portal, including the alcoholic elven bard, Ellithral the Golden, who is too scared and embittered to return to the active life of an adventurer despite Garrett’s best efforts, the scholar Grey Toby, who has dedicated his life towards studying the lore of the Undermountain, the cunning Jaxsen, who acts as informant and recruiter for a Skullport-based power group called the Agents of the Eye, and a strange prophesy from a mysterious mage known only as Zyrokan the Oneiromancer. Thus equipped, Garrett begins what he imagines to be a short, final wait before he can at last begin his descent towards Skullport and the chance of some decent work.

In the meantime, however, he meets up with Johan, and the two of them find a certain common background – Johan recognizes the tailor from his days in Blacksand. As they talk over the table, they are approached by a messenger from the Oneiromancer – he has important information for Garrett. Johan comes along for the ride, and it is as well he does, for it is a trap. The Oneiromancer lies dying, surrounded by spectral ravens, his eyes filled with hazy cataracts, and the messenger proves to be another shapeshifting assassin from the church of Vecna. Johan helps Garrett kill his attackers, and the Oneiromancer’s last words to Garrett are ‘Tor… Liche…’ scrawled on a scrap of paper.

Meanwhile, Mia, Drakar and Stithiel emerge in the linen store under the Yawning Portal. The portal only seems to work in one direction, so they go upstairs and mingle with the people in the bar. But where Drakar blends in quietly, Mia is still in full armour, and Stithiel quickly gets into a fight with one of Zollor’s barbarians. A massive ruckus ensues as Durnan attempts to break the fight up, which ends with Zollor summoning some strange ice beast to attack Mia, and Drakar partly burning down the inn as he blasts it with flames. Durnan throws everyone out into the darkened streets, and closes the inn until further notice. Mia and Drakar lose Stithiel in the chaos, and eventually bribe their way into unpleasant lodgings in the Blue Mermaid inn.

The following morning, the pair start looking for a way of raising some funds to pay for their stay, selling a necklace they found in the Kingsholm tomb. But shortly afterwards, as Mia realizes Drakar is feeling drawn to the exciting potential for adventure in Undermountain, and that she is hundreds of miles away from home, she gives up in disgust. The sorcerer has never been to Firetop, and is happy to discover not only a number of texts on Dragon lineages he has never read in an antiquary, but also a snake-faced Tiefling by the name of Garrett, who tells him of a place called Thunder Tor where another sorcerer lies buried with his research.

Garrett and Johan have just been chased off from Zollor’s camp outside the walls – a spying mission is foiled by the wary eyes of Zollor’s familiar, an arctic polecat, and they only just manage to persuade the city guard to let them back in before the enraged barbarians hunt them down. After Garrett is questioned about the disturbance first by the guard and then by a sorcerous passer-by, he returns to the Yawning Portal, where Dorrin has put together a team of mercenary dwarves to accompany them on their mission to Stone Knife. This time, they feel ready; Garrett has paid a scout called Steve to bring detailed plans of the fortress, and although arrogant, the man in question has come through. Figuring it may be several days until Sebastian is ready to enter the Undermountain’s passages, Garrett’s team set out for the third time to the abandoned dwarf fortress of Khundrakar with the intention of killing the Ogre who leads the orcs, The Great Ulfe, and shattering the orcs’ hold on the place.

Again, their plans go awry. Slipping into the glittering mines under the fortress, they fight through troglodytes and blood-sucking stirges to gain secret access to the orcs’ lair. But on the way, Garrett is poisoned by yellow mould spores and has to leave, coughing up blood. Although Dorrin is able to surprise and kill the orc shaman, when he leads an assault on the ogre’s throne room his mercenaries are swiftly hacked apart by the giant’s axe, and Dorrin himself barely escapes by killing the Ogre’s pet wolves and fleeing back into the mines. Bloodied and demoralized, they return to Firetop.

In the meantime, Drakar meets the elven bard Ellithral the Golden, and learns more of Undermountain and Durnan’s challenge. He’s more intrigued by the library at the Blackcloak Academy, however, and arranges for a reader’s card in order to study the Draconology section. But a student there, Torben Gillibrand, has already taken out all the interesting books and refuses to tolerate competition for them. Enraged by Drakar’s attempts to borrow the books, he insists on a duel to the death by the Well of Shadows at midnight. Drakar learns from a Halfling librarian (Brandon Twoshoes) that Torben is a frequent dueller, and suspected of using unfair means to win. Although untalented as a sorcerer, his rich parents give him enough leverage at the university that the robed seconds who regulate magical dueling will aid him to a certain extent.

One of these watchers, Callow, appears at the Gorgon’s Head inn where Drakar stays, in order to ensure he is ready for the fight. After a quick medical exam, he offers the mage a red potion to cure the slight cold he has diagnosed – fearing treachery, Drakar doesn’t drink it, but rests for the fight. He is led, blindfolded, to a shadowy back alley in the city where he must fight for his life.

Torben may not be a master sorcerer, but he proves competent enough, shielding himself against Drakar’s magical missiles and rays whilst hurling magically guided knives to attack. But Drakar is protected by the force armour he conjures, and as his blasting is proving enough to defeat Torben’s defenses, Torben turns to darker powers. With a single short gesture, he robs Drakar of his sight, leaving him blind. In doing so, however, he makes a mistake – his next spell, a surge of dazzling colours, is now totally ineffective, and Torben attacks at close quarters with his bladed gauntlets. Panicking, Torben tries to flee, but is caught and cut down. Blind and somewhat wary of further treachery, Drakar summons his familiar, the pseuododragon Ambrosius, to lead him back to the inn and relative safety, where he waits for his eyesight to return. But by dawn, he is still blind…

Meanwhile, Garrett is approached by the ne’erdowell Jaxsen, who has news from his employers. They are impressed with some of the information Garrett has provided them with, and are offering him the chance to join them in Skullport. They have sent a guide to fetch him back, or to help him aboveground until such time as he can join them – a mad-eyed priest, Rex Darkculler. Judging his new companion too unstable to be anything but a liability in Firetop, Garrett tells Dorrin to wait for him in the Yawning Portal (something Dorrin finds very hard to take), and heads off for the chance of gainful employment down below.

But Undermountain is a shifting and dangerous place – Rex and Garrett, on taking the Castle Corkscrew entrance, quickly find the route that should lead them straight to Skullport is gone, blocked by a puzzle room full of statues and anagrams. Each anagram, when solved, presents them with a dangerous monster, and both priest and rogue are ill-equipped to fight a half-iron golem hybrid, let alone a minotaur barbarian or an ghoul lord. They choose instead a giant scorpion. The fight is a disaster, and Rex is crushed by the monster’s claws, Garrett only barely able to kill it and continue. He finds himself on the dungeon level of Undermountain, lost and alone. He meets a sorceress anxious to escape, falls foul of various traps, and then discovers a freakish fey creature, a Splinterwaif, eating the remains of a child. In a furious fight to the death, he eventually slays it, riddling its body with arrows and deafening it with thunderstones. The noise brings new company…

Garrett meets Grey Toby, now revealed as none other than the archmage Trobriand, one of Halaster’s pupils. The mage has a base of operations nearby, where his own pupils work – Halaster’s Heirs. He intends to spread out and take over this level, perhaps even the Yawning Portal, for his own ends, and whilst delighted that Garrett has rid him of the pesty Splinterwaif, worried that the rogue may leak information of his presence to the wrong parties. To prevent this happening, he places a powerful magical Geas on Garrett, forbidding him to tell anyone of Trobriand’s identity, reveal the location of the base or lead any Agents of the Eye to it, on pain of death, but then sells the tiefling a map of the dungeon and a silver dagger and returns him to the relative safety of the streets of Firetop, via a portal unlocked with a small bar of Adamantium.

Still determined to return to Undermountain and Skullport, Garrett chafes at the bit, awaiting whatever preparations Sebastian is making with his church to be completed. Johan meets up with him at the Yawning Portal, and they go out looking for gossip and rumours of their mutual foe, Zollor. They hear instead that the merchants coming from the North are being preyed on by well-organised goblinoid bands, and the roads are no longer safe in that direction. Rather than risk the open air and the threat of roaming bandits, however, Johan convinces him to try Khundrakar again with Dorrin and Ug Ortha in tow in a quest for entertainment and funds. This time, with the tactical brains of the master thief backed up with the brawn of Dorrin, the half-orc barbarian and a huge brown bear the dwarven ranger frees from a Troglodyte pen in the Glitterhame, the result is a triumphant success. The remaining orcs are led into a carefully prepared ambush, mown down by axe and arrow. Great Ulfe is torn apart by the bear, although not before he almost kills Ug Ortha, and only skillful healing from Dorrin (as well as the berserker’s refusal to die) keeps the wounded barbarian alive long enough for a healing potion to be trickled down his throat. The upper levels of the old dwarven fortress are now cleansed of their orkish taint, and free for new settlement to begin. Joyfully, the heroes return (with their loot) to spread the news.

Meanwhile, Drakar has trusted himself to the vaguaries of his pseudodragon familiar, Ambrosius, to navigate the streets of Firetop whilst still blind. The little dragon gets him entirely lost, and while it runs off chasing cats, Drakar looks to what charity he can find. The hostel that takes him in turns out to be a soup kitchen run by clerics of St. Cuthbert, providing justice for those who have been deprived of it. Here, as well as the roguish player of Three Dragon Ante, Mad Pete, he meets the young and earnest Father Jodrell Banks, who prays for a miracle on his behalf. One seems to occur, and the young Father returns Drakar’s sight to him. Gratefully, the sorcerer returns to his studies.

During a coffee break, he meets Dorrin and Garrett, and is reminded of what Garrett told him of Thunder Tor and the sorcerer’s notes buried there. Garrett agrees to take him there and find them, as he is still waiting on Sebastian’s long-awaited entrance to Undermountain. They convince Father Banks to accompany them, telling his church they have evidence of a foul Liche that may be awaking there (which isn’t strictly true, although it’s the only explanation Garrett can think of for the last words of the Oneiromancer, and he is genuinely keen to check it out).

Travelling on foot with Dorrin’s bear companion, Mawg, the four companions return to Thunder Tor to find a large band of goblins, hobgoblins and gnolls in occupation. Slaughtering the guards, they loot their camp, finding the captured money chest of the merchant Garrett spoke to before, as well as some fine ivory pieces from the caravan. But they also find the hobgoblins have penetrated further into the Tor than Garrett was previously able to do, and that the grave of Catullus has been dug up, the body and notes missing. Banks fears necromancy at work, and so they go deeper into the hill.

Here, they find a great evil – a hobgoblin cleric of Hextor has desecrated and ransacked the tombs below the hill, and seems to be gathering all the bones and bodies there for some foul purpose. Rather than asking complicated questions about what or why, the heroes set about defeating him and his undead minions in battle, and a great battle it is, pitting the clerical powers of Banks against ranks of zombies, ghouls and skeletons, the battle prowess of Garrett and Dorrin against the reanimated corpse of the ogre they killed here before, and the sorcerous skills of Drakar against the unholy might of the evil cleric. Even then, it is only Dorrin’s bear companion who can finally kill the cleric, having avoided the unnatural undead in the halls until the cleric tries to flee.

Good has prevailed, and the heroes, battered and weary, return to the surface by a secret stair, emerging amidst the stone circle on top of the Tor. From there, they see a great army on the move back on the road – the scarlet and black ranks of the Doomguard of Zengis, showing their hand at last as they march in force towards Firetop.

Obviously, the city must be warned, so the heroes head back without delay, cutting through the wild hills to stay ahead of the slow marching constructs. Mawg leaves the group, his ursine senses offended by being brought to the lair of undead creatures, and Dorrin fights off a bout of ghoul fever on the way back, so they only arrive minutes before the Doomguard approach.

But Garrett’s warning cries fall on deaf ears. The city, it seems is not only expecting, but welcoming the Doomguard, supposedly sent to help clear the roads of hobgoblins and rebuild the fractured walls. Garrett, smelling endless mechanical rats, skulks off into the celebrating crowds, even as the Mage General Karaktakus gives a rousing political speech to the crowd, apparently ushering in a new era of Zhengisi philanthropy.

Back at the Yawning Portal, he meets the monk Griffa again, who has come to find him. Some of the other monks are now with him, and have had strange dreams as well – knowing of his interest in such things, Griffa has come to fetch Garrett to them. But on arrival at the house Griffa brings him to, only Garrett’s sharp eyes save him from another ambush by Talons. This time three of the shapechanging ninjas attack, and he is forced to flee, poisoned and bleeding. He takes refuge in the crowds again, and bumps into someone who claims to be Dorrin; helplessly trusting his companion, he is taken back to the Portal. Here, the Talons reveal themselves again, disguised as the stableboys, but in a close quarters fight, they are no match for Dorrin, and are quickly bested.

There is much for Garrett to worry over – the Zhengisi are being welcomed with open arms into the city, Brother Sebastian is taking an incredibly long time to start his quest into the underhalls, and the attempts on his life are increasing in scale. If the warnings of Trobriand are to be believed, an undead creature of horrible power may be planning them from within the city walls, and there seems nothing he can do to stop them…

Amidst the fun of the carnival, Drakar is approached by a group of black-leather clad henchmen, who march him off to see their leader, the ‘Black Dragon’. This proves to be a somewhat fanciful sobriquet for a local Duke, Gillibran, the father of the sorcerer Torben that Drakar killed only a few weeks before. But the man is alarmingly pleasant, willing to let bygones be bygones, even claiming something of a shared heritage by merit of his own draconic blood, and invites Drakar, with any friends of his that may be interested, to come and watch some experiments at his lab the following day. Drakar then meets the barbarian Stithiel, living rough on the streets of Firetop since the bar brawl, penniless and alone. He takes him back to the Gorgon’s Head and pays for a room, and the wild elf accompanies him, along with Dorrin and Johan, to watch the experiments the following day. When the Duke clumsily attempts to poison them, before vanishing abruptly, they quickly discover his apparent chumminess to be an obvious cover for his clear insanity. His lab is a poor facsimile of an arcane workshop, serving only as a lure. The abandoned warehouse they are now in has a lower level filled with rabid blink dogs and traps, through which they must hurry if they are to escape the threat the Duke has left them – pursuit by a Blackspawn Raider, whatever that is. The threat proves false, in the end, nothing more than a reason to make them hurry blindly into danger. Bitten by dogs, crushed by portcullises and finally assaulted by the drooling, shrieking horror that is a Gibbering Mouther in the mouldering rooms under the warehouse, they eventually hack their way free, much embittered.

Garrett, having been tasked by Dorrin to stay put in his room at the Yawning Portal, gets a visitor. A grey-clad man called Amarus is looking to enter Undermountain for slightly non-specific reasons, and is keen to join Garrett when he finally heads down. He says he has something Garrett should see, but won’t say what, and asks Garrett to come and meet him ‘and his companion’ in an anonymous alleyway near the skinners’ market. Garrett smells another in a long string of rats, but has no compunctions (as usual) about going to see how the trap might spring itself anyway.

Heading past the Gorgon’s Head, he picks up Drakar (just back from the aftermath of a similarly arranged meeting), and the two meet Amarus in the alley. Much to their consternation, Amarus proves to be a Zhengisi mage, albeit one claiming to be a renegade. And he has a Doomguard with him, a looming construct built of mithral. But this one can talk, and seems to have free will…

TLS-1147 (or Talos) seeks to become more human, develop his own free will and perhaps even free some of his brethren from the tyrant yolk of Zengis. Amarus knows this is an unlikely goal above ground, and so near the Zhengisi at present anyway, and wants to look for somewhere to live and care for his newly conscious charge in Undermountain, one of the free towns down there. And he begs Garrett to find somewhere they can stay until they can leave.

Talos isn’t prone to easy trust, it would seem, and when Garrett leaves to ‘talk to someone’, it considers Drakar a hostage until Garrett returns. Amarus anxiously waits with them, trying to stop a disaster. Garrett, perhaps naively but perhaps merely careful about anything from Zengis, goes and reports this sentient construct to someone he knows loves such things – Trobriand, the Metal Mage. Trobriand immediately dispatches agents to collect the creature for investigation, and Garrett leaves him to it, relieving Talos of his hostage on the pretext of fetching food for Amarus.

Shortly after, a junior mage of Halaster’s Heirs attacks Talos and Amarus with a pair of hired thugs. Their unexpected assault is barely repelled, and Garrett and Drakar wait until this has resolved before turning up to ‘rescue’ their new companions. They take them in disguise to the Yawning Portal, now about to finally re-open after redecoration, and pay Durnan to take the odd couple in. Dorrin vents his frustration with Garrett’s inability to behave sensibly, and goes out to get drunk, while Amarus, exhausted and injured, goes to rest.

Whilst here, however, the potato-faced sergeant of Duke Gillibran’s goons returns with a group to fetch Drakar back to his master. For extra muscle, a sinister figure in a cape hulks at the back – Drakar, keen to avoid wrecking Durnan’s interiors for a second time, submits to their care, and is escorted to Gillibran’s estate just as a group of Zhengisi mages are leaving the Duke’s audience. The Duke then convinces him that he has Drakar’s best intentions at heart, saying he has passed the first test with flying colours. He opens a secret passage in his study, telling Drakar to seek a second challenge below, and the sorcerer obeys his natural curiosity for a second time, descending into a damp, dark corridor.

Outside, Talos and Garrett have followed the group, nervous for their friend’s security. While Garrett attempts a subtle scouting of the house, Talos decides to take a more straightforward course of action, climbing the wall of the house and marching towards the front door. The guards take exception to this, especially after Talos jumps on one of them from the wall, crushing him to death, and attack – from outside the gate, Garrett attempts to give covering fire, whilst the hulking figure they saw in the inn reveals itself as a Blackspawn Raider – one of the spawn of Tiamat, an evil child of the chromatic dragons. It proves a capable and deadly fighter, hacking Talos down with the aid of the guards, and then hunting Garrett down the street, almost killing him but for the chance aid of a passing guard patrol.

In the Duke’s dungeon, Drakar overcomes a puzzle door only to find himself in a watery room trap. Although he manages to work out how to stop the room flooding, he falls foul of the poisonous water snakes that infest it, and their poison lays him comatose on the floor, alone and at the Duke’s mercy.

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The Story Continues
Season one part two

Back in the Yawning Portal, Garrett explains the situation to Amarus and Dorrin, and fetches the ever-keen Father Banks to heal the wizard. Together, they form a plan of action to rescue their friends, resting overnight before putting it into action. Amarus and Banks will attempt a little cunning diplomacy, and Garrett and Dorrin will come in to fetch them if it goes awry.

Disguising himself as the Mage General Karaktakus, Amarus asks to see the Duke, pretending to know that one of their Doomguard has run amok on the estate. The ruse works, the Duke initially pretending to know nothing, but when challenged, letting slip that he has dealings with the Zhengisi and is handing over some of his research to them and also has Talos at his lab, but he quickly becomes suspicious. Amarus and Banks are lured back to his downtown warehouse, where Gillibran claims his potato-faced henchman Dran has the construct awaiting research. Here, as Amarus is forced to slip outside before the spell maintaining his disguise wears off, Gillibran attempts to charm Banks using his sorcery. But the strong-minded cleric fights off the spell, and a fight ensues.

Gillibran initially has the upper hand until Amarus traps him with a well-flung web spell. Dran flees, and Banks reveals a vicious side, firing his crossbow at the helpless sorcerer until he agrees to take them back to his estate and show them where he is keeping Drakar and Talos. Bound and kept at crossbow point, the Duke attempts several more cunning lies, but the heroes are now wise to his guiles and none succeed. They overpower the last guard back at the house, tie him up and proceed back into the mansion. Deep in the hidden lab, they are reunited with the unconscious Drakar and the inactive Talos – Banks heals the mage and Amarus repairs the Doomguard as the rest fight the guard, the acid-spewing Blackspawn raider. They emerge victorious after a hard fight, and even though left unattended, Gillibrand’s bonds have been tied too tight by the dwarven ranger for him to slip free.

The sorcerer is promptly examined thoroughly over what else he knows of the Zhengisi and what it is they have been asking for. The manipulative mage refuses to help anyone but Drakar, who he still claims to be interested in helping. He tells Drakar of his other secret lab, a temple ruin he has converted out in the hills near Firetop, where he can perform more research into Drakar’s bloodline and abilities. He keeps a sample of refined black dragon’s blood there that he has obtained from his draconic ally Darkhorn, a mature female black dragon who lairs not far from the city.

To prove his apparent trustworthiness, he helps the heroes convince the Zhengisi mages who come calling that all is well on the estate, handing over the documents he’s promised them after Amarus has copied them out. In on this deception is Mad Pete, who has finally tracked Drakar down with a deck of cards he ordered, and happily stays on to offer his help as a happy-go-lucky rogue and ‘priest’ of Olidammara. Although they don’t trust Gillibran, they’re willing to leave him alone in his study with one of the mages as Drakar listens outside the door, pretending to be his student, and even heal him of some of his wounds and let him sleep in his own bed before Drakar follows him into the wilderness looking for the secret lab, with Dorrin and Mad Pete tracking at a discreet distance. Gillibran still plays along, even ordering his last house guard to carry on with his usual duties round the house until he can return.

In the meantime, Garrett scours the city for information on the deadly creature that watches his every move – the Vitreous Drinker that Trobriand warned him of. Jaxsen warns him not to go after it, it’s too powerful. Not knowing what kind of creature it may be makes it hard to know where to seek lore on it, and his attempts to find information in the libraries and zoos of the city prove fruitless. Even the temple of Boccob is a dead end – but his luck finally turns with the temple of Heironeus. Here, the Grand Master sternly warns Garrett that no servant of Vecna can be trusted. They will help him, sensing no specific evil in him, but he must first submit to rigorous screening and examination to ensure that he is not ensorcelled or screened by magic, and that he is not a knowing or unknowing trap of the lord of secrets. After all, nobody trusts a tiefling without covering their own back first. Garrett reluctantly agrees to the examination, and admits every detail of his past, how he fled the temple of Vecna in Brice after they tricked him into torturing his own brother to death, and how he knows nothing of why they pursue him so relentlessly.

Convinced by his honesty, the Grandmaster agrees to help against their mutual foe. He sets a team of researchers and scryers to locate the creature, and then slay it, but will not allow Garrett out of the temple barracks. It is safer to keep him under constant guard in their way temple. Garrett chafes at his bonds, knowing the ravens of the Drinker are already circling the temple, and tries to shoot as many as he can out of the sky, perhaps to blind his foe or perhaps to enrage it and draw it to him. But that very night, under cover of stormy darkness, one of his paladin guards reveals itself as another of the shapeshifting Talons. Garrett kills it on the roof of his safehouse, then explains the urgency of a strike against the Drinker to the Grandmaster. Understanding their security to be compromised, the Grandmaster agrees, sending Garrett out as a lure with a covert team of elite paladin guards, while his main force heads to the creature’s lair.

Out in the darkness of the storm, Drakar and Gillibran reach the ruinous temple lab. The Duke describes how he was forced to abandon it after his experiments on the regenerative qualities of Troll blood went disasterously wrong – the place is now a lair for the foul carnivores, and they must tread carefully. They fight their way in past another of the Duke’s gibbering mothers, and then (even knowing he’s letting himself in for trouble) Drakar submits to the Duke’s suggestion of using a magical sacrificial circle to provide a sample of his blood for experimentation. It is of course a trap, and the Duke watches happily as the circle tries to suck Drakar clean of blood, but he breaks free of it and a magical duel ensures. Unable to dodge Drakar’s fireballs, though, Torlion tries to flee under cover of a smoky cloud, but Drakar catches him and blasts him down from behind with flaming rays.

Dorrin and Mad Pete lose the trail to the lab, and it takes them longer to arrive than they hoped – they eventually follow troll tracks to the place, and arrive just as Drakar finishes looting the Duke’s lab (or what remains of it). He has taken papers mentioning a ‘dragon orphanage’, the Dragondown Grotto, where eggs of slain dragons are guarded and hatched, and also revealing his plans of stealing and eating one… They continue searching the temple, discovering a key to a sealed central altar room, in which lies a beautiful suit of armour. But when Dorrin tries to take it, the statue in the room proves to be a mighty Stone Golem – outmatched, they run, leaving the armour behind when the golem chases them out of the temple. It retrieves the armour and retreats to the inner sanctum, and the heroes, already weary, decide to head for home and leave the rest of the temple to another visit. On their way back, they are ambushed by one of the trolls, but a combination of dwarven axework from Dorrin and repeated flasks of acid prove more than enough to easily slay the beast.

Back in Firetop, Garrett waits with his paladin guards for the strike of the Drinker, who he feels certain will move against him. Nor is he disappointed – before long, a hunched form stalks out of the rain and darkness, and waits in the yard outside. The paladins attack, but when the foul undead creature reveals its true appearance – a withered corpse whose blackened skin is covered with hundreds of bloodshot, watery eyes – they are overcome by nausea and are unable to fight effectively. Garrett’s arrows pick off the ravens that circle round it, but the creature effortlessly moves through the paladins, magically whisking itself into the room where Garrett snipes at it. Garrett flings himself out of a window to escape, and the paladins, attempting to hack it apart, barely even succeed in hurting it at all before being cut down by a combination of powerful magical blasts from its eyes, its terrible appearance, its blinding tongue lash and its vampiric abilities. Garrett flees for his life, leaving the elite team dead or comatose behind him.

The Grandmaster is grave at this news – there is only one weapon his temple has that could hurt such a powerfully evil creature, a holy greatsword kept as a relic of a great paladin of old. But there is no warrior currently available to wield such a thing – Garrett is not pure enough of heart, and to risk it in the hands of even his elite paladins could mean losing it to a servant of Vecna. Garrett goes out to panic buy holy water, now guarded at all times by at least two paladins.

When Dorrin returns from the short sojourn in the local wilderness, he feels tired and restless, and keeps thinking of the brown bear he rescued from the troglodytes, Mawg. Wandering lonely through the canyons of the Moonstones, he decides to seek the bear, and his unerring wilderness senses bring him to the giant ursine – trying to lair for the winter in an abandoned watchpost, it has been attacked by a band of bugbears and goblins led by a hobgoblin with arcane powers. Between Dorrin’s axes and the bear’s paws, however, the goblinoids are quickly dispatched, and Dorrin leads Mawg back towards Firetop, where he finds a safer cave for him to sleep in.

He brings him food, and convinces the bear to follow him into town, where he eventually persuades a dwarven smith to forge a set of chain barding for the bear. His plan is to eventually train Mawg as an unconventional mount, and to that end, starts feeding and training the bear during the winter afternoons outside the city.

Garrett, in the meanwhile, searches the sewers for the frost witch Zollor, hearing that she has perhaps infiltrated the city walls. His paladin guards are easily duped into following him, but the drow and her barbarians are not convinced so easily to drop whatever aims they have and aid him against the Drinker. She dismisses him with the threat of violence, and there are too many barbarians with her to argue his case, so he leaves to report her whereabouts to the Grandmaster. But the temple already has its hands full trying to find the Drinker – something is blocking their scrying attempts, and the Grandmaster isn’t able to divert any paladins to chase the drow at the moment.

Garrett turns to less reputable sources of information, paying Jaxsen off to get the location of the Drinker’s lair. Jaxsen is none too keen to help – the Drinker is a powerful foe, and he doesn’t want to be listed as one of its enemies for fear of its retribution. It has eyes everywhere – apparently blind beggars, the paladins it hit with its cataract-causing tongue and the spectral ravens that still follow Garrett across the city. Only for 1000 gold pieces and the promise that Garrett will steal the holy sword relic for the Agents of the Eye gets him the information he seeks – the Drinker is hiding in the clock tower of [[St. Anselm’s]], amongst the warehouses uptown.

Between the resources of the Heironian Temple, a map of the sewers showing a way from said temple to [[St. Anselm’s]] clock tower away from the circling ravens, and the agreement of the Grandmaster to lend Dorrin the holy sword, Garrett feels as prepared to destroy his foe as he can. He and Dorrin also take an enchanted sunrod they can use as an emergency beacon the paladins will follow, and with a final blessing from the Grandmaster, they leave. Even on infiltrating the clock tower, however, the Drinker’s ravens are watching them, and when they finally track it down to the roof, it is waiting for them.

It refuses to explain its actions to Garrett, although it does tell him that the Talons are nothing to do with it, unexpectedly. Whatever master it serves has a darker purpose for the ex-torturer, but not one it chooses to reveal. It warns Garrett not to meddle with it again, and to leave it alone to watch him in peace, but Garrett has had enough of being followed and strikes the sunrod against the tower balcony, summoning the paladins even as Dorrin charges to attack. With a single word, the undead monstrosity strikes the dwarf dead, and its foul appearance is enough to incapacitate Garrett. It lashes him with its tongue, and his eyes cloud with cataracts, and then it vanishes from the rooftop before the paladins arrive. Garrett takes the few moments he has left alone to steal and hide the holy longsword, telling the paladins that the Drinker took it.

Dorrin is prepared for burial back at the temple of Heironeus, where the Grandmaster grimly ejects Garrett from their care. There is nothing more he can do for him – without the sword, there is next to nothing that can even hurt the creature, let alone stop it, so the mere presence of Garrett now makes the temple a target and a threat. Garrett takes his companion’s body to the local mortuary, pausing only to take a lock of hair and some ‘samples’ in the hope that magic may be able to bring his friend back, and then sets off to find a druid who may oblige.

He hears of such a druid from Ellithral at the Yawning Portal – a centaur who leads a tribe near Firetop has such powers, and may be willing to help. Garrett wanders the wilderness seeking the tribe, and eventually finds it, and convinces the centaurs he means them no harm. Their leader F’zan, the druid in question, agrees to help the tiefling if in return he will determine what creature it is that has been eating their livestock and killing their scouts recently.

In a cave at the end of a nearby canyon, Garrett discovers a resting hydra, a serpentine monstrosity with six heads that has crawled up out of a hole leading to some dim underground chasm to nest in an old dragon lair. He reports this to the centaur, who decides that this threat must be ended – nominating a potential heir for the tribe in case he doesn’t return, he sets out with Garrett. Their plan is to use the narrow windings of the cave to their advantage, outmaneuvering the hydra. Indeed, its scaly bulk proves its downfall – although it can heal almost any wound the pair inflict instantly, it cannot dodge the lightning blasts of F’zan or Garrett’s poisoned bow shots, and they eventually trap it with a pincer movement and slowly tear it to quivering shreds.

After looting the lair, they return to the centaur village – but in their absence, disaster has struck. The village is gone, the centaurs either dead or taken. As the druid mourns, Garrett examines the tracks – from what he can determine, slavers from Zengis have struck, enslaving those centaurs who weren’t cut down. Taking a shred from a red robe and a black and red crossbow bolt as proof, he returns towards Firetop, and the centaur accompanies him. Perhaps together, they can convince the authorities of the city not to trust the Zhengisi.

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The Continuing Continues
Season Two Part One

Season Two

Garrett returns to Firetop with F’zan, both determined to present the evidence they have of Zhengisi slavers to the authorities. But F’zan’s skepticism of human interest in centaur welfare proves well-founded – the head of the city guard, Sa’Drassin, takes their evidence and promises blandly to look into it. The elf clearly has more pressing matters on his mind.

Not long after leaving the guard headquarters, Garrett is approached by a lady dwarf, who introduces herself as Dorla. She explains that she was a member of a clan honour bound to rid Stone Knife of the orks that infested it, and her honour debt was then passed on the Dorrin once he undertook this task. With Dorrin now dead, Dorla is transferring her debt to Garrett, and offers her services, whether he wishes them or not, as his bodyguard.

F’zan leaves the city quickly, uncomfortable in the urban surroundings, and goes to spend time in the cave where Mawg is now hibernating. Garrett spends some time that evening in the Gorgon’s Head, where a huge three dragon ante tournament is taking place, with visiting guest star player Thaddeus Gorkor, a renowned player at the high stakes tables. Garrett spots a few familiar faces – the potato-faced ex-manservant of Duke Gillibrand, and Jaxsen, who he goes to talk to. Business is the order of the day – Garrett hands over the stolen holy longsword to Jaxsen, who is very pleased to see it. He tells Garrett that he has the favour of the shadowy masters of the Agents of the Eye, and will now be welcomed in Skullport whenever he cares to visit. But there is also a warning – the Drinker is almost certainly able to see everything Garrett can see (what little that is through his cataracts), so Jaxsen suggests that they keep their meetings to a minimum. He does, however, ask Garrett to deal with a loose end, a half-ork who has been a little too loose-lipped for the Eye’s comfort. After losing a little money in a few trial games of Dragon, Garrett stakes out the alleys at closing time, follows the half-ork into a dark alley and kills him with a few well placed arrows.

The following day, he teams up again with Drakar and Mad Pete, who are looking for any dragon-related adventures. Garrett tells them of the lower levels of Stone Knife, where a dragon reputedly lairs, and they set off, but they quickly realise they’ve underestimated the winter weather. Only Drakar’s magic keeps them from freezing, and they hurry back to Firetop to reconsider and equip themselves for cold camping.

F’zan persuades them to help him hunt for the people who kidnapped his village, so when they set off again, this time they head into the Moonstone Hills. But snow covers any tracks that the kidnappers may have left – protected from the elements by Drakar’s spells, they head instead for the Dragondown Grotto, supposedly a place where orphaned Dragon eggs are taken and hatched. F’zan leads them through the wilderness, and after beating off attacks by a vast Landshark and blinding and avoiding an angry hill giant, they reach the ancient temple in question.

After Pete and Garrett are almost killed by a trap that deluges them with acid, they then fight a band of hobgoblins, this time led by a cleric who seems to worship Tiamat and his bodyguards. The minions are dispatched with ease, but the spells of the cleric prove deadly and effective, plunging the centaur, the sorcerer and Pete into magical confusion, and then besetting them with plagues as Dorla and Garrett fight the bodyguards. But Drakar’s familiar, the pseudodragon Ambrosius, stings the cleric asleep, and his defences prove a great deal less effective against an electrical attack against his sleeping form.

Drakar then finds the true defender of the temple, a kobold called Meepo, who was guarding several clutches of eggs against the depredations of the hobgoblins by locking himself in a central chamber. Meepo is keen to get rid of these new intruders, but Drakar persuades him they mean no harm. He barters for a map of the area, showing him where to find a mystical pool of dragon’s blood referred to in Gillibran’s notes, in exchange for leaving the orphanage and never returning. He holds up his part of the deal, and F’zan leads the group to the pool using the map – a sulpherous area of hot springs, steaming in the winter snow. Drakar finds the pool and bathes in it, emerging more in contact with his draconic ancestry and more powerful than before. But their food is already limited, and F’zan leads them back through the snowy wastes to Firetop to restock, rather than continuing to the intriguing site of ‘fall and rebirth’ marked on the map.

After a very sound night’s sleep back at Gillibran’s mansion, Drakar discovers that the last remaining guard, Gary, who Gillibran had given orders to carry on with his usual duties, has abandoned ship. He also finds a discrepancy in the number of rooms in the house. Although the Duke previously referred to the space under the library as being the stables, Drakar can’t find any way into this space, either inside or out. He sends Ambrosius for a little airborne scouting, and discovers there is a large, vacant lot behind the house with no apparent entrances – windows and doors that previously looked over the area are bricked over. He nips out to buy a sledgehammer and returns with some home improvement in mind, but quickly discovers that physical labour is a slow and boring route through the back wall. A short blasting spree later, he emerges into the empty area, paved and tiled over, and finds little clues as to what the area has been used for. Nor can he find an entrance into the mysterious ‘stable’ room.

Garrett, meanwhile, goes back to check on Sa’Drassin’s progress. The elf captain has coincidentally been looking for him – knowing of the tiefling’s previous prowess in clearing out mountain forts infested with goblinoids, he intends to pay Garrett to deal with a troubling report that hobgoblins have invaded and occupied an abandoned watchtower, Peakwatch Fort, a little way south of the city. The fort holds a defunct portal to Undermountain, – however slim the chances are that it could be re-activated, Firetop doesn’t need more security risks at present. Garrett agrees (for a price) and goes to round up a crew.

F’zan is glad to help if it increases Sa’Drassin’s likelihood of helping to track the raiders who kidnapped his village, and Drakar owes the centaur a favour. Mad Pete fancies the craic, so off they go, first stocking up on invisibility potions to allow them to approach the tower without being detected.

They reach the tower, and even get close enough that Garrett and Ambrosius can take out the sentries. But they are unaware of the perilous watchbeast the hobgoblins have stationed with them – a huge Remorhaz, an insectile arctic predator that bursts out of the ground at their feet, apparently able to detect them despite their invisibility. Drakar almost vanishes into its burning maw head-first, and Dorla only escapes by running for her life as the others drag Drakar to safety, then break into the tunnels behind the fort.

Here they fight through a cordon of well-trained hobgoblin fighters and guards, led by a chain-wielding mage-killer who almost finishes the already-wounded Drakar off for good, dancing past the others when they try to block him. But the sorcerer has already wounded the Spellscourge with fireballs (as well as wiping out the other guards), and his friends finish the job before reviving him.

The complex proves baffling and mysterious – an elemental-powered heating system, a tomb protected by a deadly illusion, an old temple to Pelor which is slowly being eaten by some peaceable rock-eating aberration from the depths, and a solid door, the lock of which frustrates Garrett’s best efforts to pick. Until Mad Pete mentions that he’d found the key lying around earlier, at any rate – behind the door are watchful hobgoblin guards, and the sounds of some large-scale ritual. Feeling under-prepared to deal with large numbers, the wounded heroes smash the doors shut, and barricade the hobgoblins inside, taking a slightly edgy night directly outside. When morning comes, somewhat refreshed, they re-open the doors and venture within – the hobgoblins have vanished, through what looks suspiciously like a re-activated portal.

Disheartened, the heroes leave, trying to run past the remorhaz outside. But Mad Pete isn’t quite the sprinter the others are, and is left behind – he tries another invisibility potion and this time remains perfectly still, thinking that perhaps the creature can only detect motion. Perhaps he isn’t still enough or perhaps its senses are too keen to be baffled by a spell, and the unfortunate chancer is eaten on the spot. Fuelled by revenge, the remaining heroes take the beast down with a deadly combination of acid-tipped spear thrusts, arrows and firey rays. Pete is buried with honour (once they’ve cut his mangled corpse out of the creature’s gullet), and then Garrett pays for him to be brought back from the realms of the dead in Firetop.

Meanwhile, the mercenary Gareth Mordrimm rests at the Yawning Portal with a mug of ale, after seeking new employment in the wintery streets of Firetop. The caravans have dried up for the season, and he has not enough money to get by on, especially when he bumps into a prison acquaintance from his days on Fire Island – old lags never forget a debt, and the Blackhand gangers are no exception. But Gareth teaches them a humiliating lesson with his spiked chain when they try to collect, giving their leader with a memorable beating and letting the others flee.

This show of prowess attracts the attention of a passing cleric, the Pelorite Greigor. He offers the mercenary well-paid work – guarding him as he deals with a restless spirit in a local noble’s manor. Mordrimm agrees, and the two enter a rather ominously deserted pile up in the good end of town, where Griegor proves singularly inept at banishing a mischevious spirit. Chasing the chuckling haunt down a series of corridors, Mordrimm is too pre-occupied with catching his quarry to smell a rat until it’s too late, even after they are attacked by shape-shifting imps. Hot on the haunt’s heels, he stumbles into a chamber whose exit is quickly sealed by a heavy portcullis, its walls decorated with sinister murals depicting blood sacrifice. A single bowl-shaped depression in the floor is stained with dried blood…

Belatedly suspecting the bogus cleric of Pelor, Gareth learns that he has been duped. The only way out of the portcullis room is by shedding blood in the bowl – this will allow access to a lair beneath the mansion, where the dread vampire Orinax is imprisoned. Griegor will let Gareth free only if his master is also released. There is only so much his rants can achieve from behind bars, so the mercenary agrees, pricking his thumbs and heading into the newly revealed lower levels.

He witnesses a series of horrific creatures killing off red-robed clerics as they seek to open some mystic portal on the far side of a grate; he attempts to prevent some foul fiends summoning a greater evil from a circle of energy but relents after his efforts seem only to strengthen the vast, bat-winged devil; he watches as imps torture another red-robed cleric for information; finally, he discovers Orinax, chained to a wall and asking nicely for help. And he agrees, desperate for safe escape from a nightmare sequence of chambers filled with horrific beings from the netherworld. Although the devil in the circle has also attempted to broker a deal (let me out and I’ll destroy the vampire in exchange for not killing you), the vampire (I’ll let you go if you let me out) was at least human at some point, and therefore is more likely to understand honour and contracts.

First checking that the vampire’s proffered escape route is viable, he heads back to save the torture victim from further agony, slaying the devils that beset him and trying to drag him to safety. He unleashes the vampire, who sweeps through the passages to wipe the devilish infestation from them, but furiously returns on finding the circle empty and the devil escaped. Although Orinax agrees to its side of the bargain in allowing Gareth to escape, he has made no such pledge to the red-robed cleric, and demands him as succour. Gareth attempts to refuse, but the terrible will of the vampire forces him to comply and then leave – he surfaces in an open grave, in a cold boneyard somewhere in Firetop. From there, he flees, seeking sanctuary at the temple of Heironius. Two more evils are now at loose in the streets of Firetop

Garrett, meantime, attends the Dwarven Clanhold at the north end of the city, where a priest of Clangeddin, Father Haggartey, performs a powerful ritual for a pre-agreed price. Dorrin awakens from the sleep of death as the ritual is completed, and is very pleased to be back. Even in the halls of the heaven of Dwarves, his mind has been on his oath and the fact that it remained uncompleted. But despite the signal honour the dwarves afford Garrett by allowing the tiefling into their hold at all, his stay is short once they discover his cursed eyes, and the pair return to the streets of Firetop to further their mission.

Dorrin thinks he remembers Dorla’s family, although not the ninja herself, and is as keen as Garrett is to find and destroy the drinker. But the oath is the main thing to him, so between them, they start looking at all the ways into Undermountain that they now know of, and evaluating the ones that may best suit their purposes.

Durnan, when asked, is no more willing to allow them into the Entry Well early than he was before, and no amount of persuasiveness on Garrett’s part will change his mind. He sees himself as guarding the city from whatever is down there, and Garrett’s attempts to appeal to his business side fall rather flat. So until Father Sebastian actually enters the dungeons, no-one else is going to.

Garrett rules out using the Castle Corkscrew, the winding stair that he entered with Rex, himself – he isn’t quite sure how to get to it inside the castle, and he doesn’t want to risk upsetting the guard or Sa’Drassin by wandering about their demesne waving human skulls at the walls. Besides, there’s no guarantee that it will lead them to their first port of call down below – Skullport. Nor does he want to deal with Trobriand again at the moment, which rules out the Adamantine Gate into the Dungeon level.

Which leaves the gate at Peakwatch Tower, and it is, after some debate, to there they decide to return. Garrett spends a little effort trying to find out more about the hobgoblins first, and Durnan points him in the direction of Ellithral as a source of lore on their warbands. Ellithral hasn’t seen the device on their shields before, but tells Garrett of the seven tribes of the Moonstone hills. As best as he can determine, the magic-hating Maces of Stone clan may be the ones they encountered in the tower before.

F’zan joins them, keen to be hunting the kidnappers of his people, and the three set out. The weather turns against them, with a bitterly cold night that would freeze a less well-prepared party in their tracks, but they are seasoned travelers all, and reach the tower in a day and a half of fast travel. There, they encounter a team of Zhengisi – one wizard and his apprentice, along with a bodyguard of four Doomguard. Garrett offers his services to the wizard, who declares he is here to survey and claim the tower’s portal for ZengisGarrett plays the part of guide.

But instead of leading the wizard to the portal, he leads him to the shadowy arch with its mind-breaking trap, hoping to lead him to his doom. The wizard proves too canny, and Garrett then lets slip a little too much information – once he reveals he was involved with removing the rats at Deng Shang, the Zhengisi twigs who he must be. Garrett gives the signal to attack at the same time as the mage orders the Doomguard into action, and battle is joined – a brief and violent affair where the ordered strategy of the constructs and magic of the two wizards is no match at all for the sheer aggression of Dorrin’s axes and the speed of Garrett’s bow.

And then they step through the glowing red portal.

Almost immediately falling, Garrett triggers a vicious trap immediately on the other side of the portal, where a canny wire and spring device is rigged to hurl blades at anyone entering. It stands amongst a forest of huge, misshapen fungi, in a vast, stinking warren of subterranean caves. In the soft soil underfoot, the tracks of the hobgoblins are unmissable – they have moved as a group deeper into the caves. But Dorrin points out something they all feared – the portal appears to be one-sided. There is no way back from here, and so they must push forward.

Investigating a noise from a side passage nearby, they find a broad, foetid river, and their first brush with a denizen of this weird forest – a mass of weapon-wielding tentacles erupts from the soft muck at the river’s bank, first ambushing them, then trapping them in the side passage with a barrier of invisible force. Garrett is almost throttled by half a dozen tentacles, Dorrin nearly cut down by a savage barrage of weapons – it is F’zan who kills the Darktentacles, skewering it on his spear.

As this takes place, a party is thrown in the Undercroft, a makeshift bar for the Firetop’s downtrodden near the soup kitchens. Here, the body of Mad Pete is shrouded with linen, to be burned on a pyre by the ‘street druid’ [[Urkula]]. Garrett has clearly spent no expense in ensuring only quality casters raise his friends – but the mad-eyed herb-eater proves worth the coin. As a crowd of drunken revelers chant and dance round the pyre, including Drakar and Stithiel, both patrons of the soup kitchen in latter days, the flames burn away the old Pete even as a new one returns in the ash. Pete is reborn, but not quite as he was. His ears are pointier, his eyes sharper and his frame slimmer and more lithe. Pete has come back in the body of an Elf, perhaps through the random whim of his god.

Drakar, Stithiel and Pete celebrate his new heritage, and vow to seek their chosen goals anew. Drakar heads straight for the Blackcloak academy to research clues on the great centre of Death and Rebirth his map depicts, and makes something of a breakthrough. In a tome of local myth and legend, he reads accounts of those who sought this site, where a great dragon died and was reborn (or raised, or awakened) into something else. Apparently the energy released there can still be tapped, although the process is difficult and dangerous, and requires an expensive ritual to be performed to duplicate. None who have tried it before have returned, but Drakar figures this is clearly because they weren’t dragon enough to do it. He copies the ritual out, thinking of ways to make the money he will need at the same time.

Stithiel asks around for a guide – Drakar has promised to aid him find his father in Undermountain in exchange for protection while he searches the hills for the site for his ritual. Although none are willing to chase fools’ quests in the heart of winter, Stithiel hears rumours of people vanishing from the streets of Firetop by night. Back in the Yawning Portal, Mad Pete introduces him to Ellithral the Golden, who spins yarns of the bad old days, when the Twilight Master, Count Orinax, ruled the city. Hair-raising, but doubtless unfounded. But when asked, Ellithral also tells Stithiel he knew his father, Moilan Morrow the famous wizard. Moilan once adventured with Durnan, the half elf whispers, and they were once great friends. But Moilan never returned from Undermountain on their last trip, and Durnan never speaks of it. This indeed proves the case when Stithiel tries to ask Durnan – “He’s down there where he belongs, and good luck finding him” is the most the dour warrior will give him.

Pete, in the mean time, is keen to tell Drakar of Thaddeus Gorkor, the Three Dragon Ante star, and his ten thousand gold pool big game. Trials are to be held at the Gorgon’s Head, and Pete reckons the two of them should be able to clear up with only a bare minimum of skullduggery. But the next qualifiers aren’t for two days, and in the meantime, the friends look into the run of disappearances, starting with the bloody disappearance of six salt packers in a warehouse in the tanners’ quarter. After Stithiel scares off a watch patrol, they investigate further, finding traces of salt and bodies having been dragged into the sewers below.

Following the trail, they find a sinister scene – a bearded, bat-winged devil stands by a glowing circle, sacrificing semi-formed creatures of flesh as they ooze from a nearby portal device. Deducing that no good can come from such activities, the three move to disrupt them. Stithiel smashes his way into the ritual with a bestial cry as Pete nimbly sneaks through the shadows to attack from behind; Drakar bathes the area in flames, but to his dismay, they have no effect on the creatures, and the Bearded Devil sacrifices another of its lemure minions. Only a terrible onslaught of steel and magical force topples the bearded devil – it is unable to fight back, caught up in the complexities of whatever horrific ritual it performs. No longer controlled by their master, the lemures run amok, but Drakar destroys the portal with fireballs as Stithiel and Pete butcher the rest of the devilish freaks. What were these creatures, and what fiendish purpose did they further? None of the heroes know, although they do get a good profit selling demon chunks to a local would-be demonologist.

Garrett and his companions continue their trek into the stinking mushroom caves, by scouting the area to make sure they aren’t going to get jumped on from behind. This way, at least, they are only jumped on from ahead – they defeat a Hook Horror when it tries to attack them in a nearby rock chimney, looting the various bodies of its previous victims for coin, then find evidence that the hobgoblins camped in the nearby caverns. At this campsite, they are attacked again, this time by disgusting carrion crawlers, although F’zan’s spear picks the caterpillar-like monstrosities off the ceiling even as they scuttle to attack.

Behind a mould-covered section of wall, they discover an ancient and apparently disused room, where a metal wall plate can be shifted on runners to activate a weird purple portal in the wall. But the portal is a good ten feet off the ground, and opposite a raised balcony area – it looks as though either a bridge is missing, or the only way of accessing the portal is by jumping clear across a twenty-foot gap. Dorrin wisely advises against trying another unknown portal so soon, and they carry on tracking the hobgoblins.

It isn’t far before they cross paths with their foe – a rather ragtag group of the goblinoids lurk in a nearby passageway. The heroes haven’t been quiet enough, and the hobgoblins are well-prepared. Their spellcasting Warcaster blasts Dorrin with a ray of strength-sapping energy as a chain wielding Spellscourge, an axe-throwing fighter and a pair of warriors all attack in concert. It’s a tough fight – the heroes are enmeshed in a magical web thrown by the Warcaster, and Dorrin is almost slain whilst helplessly dangling, but F’zan’s firey magic burns the group free, and a hobgoblin massacre quickly ensues. Back in Firetop, Drakar is determined to work out what is underneath Gillibran’s library. He decides a disguise will ensure cooperation from the city authorities, and putting on enough of the dark robes in Gillibran’s wardrobe to pass himself off as Torben, the dead duke’s dead son, he goes to the Palace of the Known Lord to examine the blueprints. But none are kept there – it’s a privately owned building, and he’s sent on to a Dwarven architect, Dieter Karlak.

Karlak is most displeased that outstanding accounts have not been settled, and Drakar has to hand over a fair sum of gold before he’s allowed to see the blueprints. But when he does, his suspicions are confirmed – there is a secret room marked ‘panic room’ under the library, and he now knows where the doors should be. He also finds evidence of more passages under the house, leading out of the laboratory into the sewers.

Heading back to the mansion on Cherry Tree Drive, he enrolls Johan to help find and open the doors, which the master thief duly does. TLS picks this moment to reactivate his interest in current affairs, and joins them as they examine the panic room – a dull stone chamber, apparently already ransacked of equipment, whose only feature of interest is a gore-streaked table in the centre of the room. Johan ascertains that a burnt body must have been dumped here at some point, but more than that, he can’t say.

Amarus tells TLS what he has finally deciphered from the documents Gillibran was selling to the Zhengisi mages. It’s a Dwarven legend of a thinking construct, the Paragon, that was declared anathema by dwarven clerics after it tried to lead an ill-starred rebellion of golems. Both it and its creator, Yul Craghorn, are thought to be entombed somewhere near Firetop, although with so many ruins and towers nearby, it’s impossible to say exactly where. Amarus hypothesizes that the Paragon may still have a lingering consciousness that has linked in some way to TLS, causing his unexpected sentience. TLS immediately seizes on this as a goal to seek, but neither it nor Amarus know where to begin looking.

Drakar still needs money for his Rebirth Ritual, and suggests heading into Undermountain via the Peakwatch Portal. But Johan sensibly points out that there may be more money directly underneath them, in Gillibran’s secret chambers under the mansion. So it is to these that the group advance. Mad Pete finds a panel behind the fireplace in the lab, and they investigate a small suite of rooms built over a sewer outlet – one with a booby-trapped room containing a desk and a small amount of loot, one with a circular portal marked with a black dragon. One by one, the heroes step through.

Beyond lies a vast subterranean cavern, littered with bones and luminous underworld mushrooms. It’s a dark and dank place unblessed by the sun, echoing to the faint sounds of forge work. At the far side lies a vast pile of glittering gold around a massive stone throne with a black dragon statue carved round the base. Pete and Johan surmise they must be in the lowest levels of Stone Knife, which fits in with the tales they’d heard of a dwarf forge and a dragon lair. Drakar and Pete almost immediately run into a pair of Blackspawn, however, standing guard over the sleep of their mistress. Drakar politely asks for an audience with Darkhorn, which the Blackspawn agree to pass on, but it’s clear that Johan and TLS’s initial plan of looting the hoard is going to be a very tricky affair to pull off with these reptilians guarding it. They return to the mansion (this portal has, at least, the benefit of being two way – a bound teleport spell, Amarus thinks) to plan.

And what a plan they come up with – Johan explains that while the dragon’s hoard may not be readily accessible, they can use it as a lure. All they need do is spread tales to needy adventurers that another portal to Undermountain exists – with the right adjustments to the basement’s ambience, they’ll be able to convince would-be heroes to stumble into the dragon’s lair. If they charge up front for revealing the secret, all they need to do then is wait for the money to roll in. And by warning Darkhorn and her minions in advance, Drakar also hopes to curry favour with the mighty creature. There’s no shortage of hopefuls desperately waiting to get back into Undermountain via the Yawning Portal – surely some will pay for the privilege of seeing those fabled halls themselves?

Shortly after, a Blackspawn arrives to summon Drakar to his first meeting with Darkhorn. TLS, in the meantime, gets Amarus to burn through the sewer grilles down below so he can seek an alternative entrance to the portal, and Johan goes out into the streets to try to find a suitable way down, or perhaps meet TLS as he leaves.

Drakar is ushered back to the dragon’s lair. The throne is now occupied – what they’d thought was a statue before is in fact the ancient creature herself, now flanked by burning torches and her scaly minions. Humbly, and desperately hoping Mad Pete won’t say anything too inappropriate, Drakar approaches this Dragon’s Den and outlines his plan. The terrible lady is amused – she accepts that Drakar will serve her, and that he has replaced Duke Gillibran (who was clearly overstating his usefulness to her), but to hear that the Drakar has killed the Duke? Unlikely. Drakar is horrified to discover his adversary has been here only two days ago, asking for money to start the very same ritual Drakar seeks to complete himself. His minions have brought him back, which goes some way to explaining which burnt body must have been in the panic room. Before casually dimissing him, however, Darkhorn agrees to the plan, but sets her own terms. Drakar must bring twenty souls to her each week, and when he has proved he can serve her in this way, he will see the fruits of his labours. Pale with the realization of what he’s gotten himself into, he returns to the study.

TLS, not having brought a light source along into the sewers, quickly gets extremely lost. Although following the flow of the sewage brings him to the walls of Firetop, he cannot get out past the huge security bars there. Following the flow back the other way, he reaches the beating heart of Firetop’s sewerage – a set of monumental pumps forcing water up from some hidden deep. From here, he climbs up and out, emerging in a workyard somewhere in Firetop, but he has no idea how to get back to the mansion. Wandering the streets and trying to keep out of sight, he tries to get home.

Johan, in the meantime, finds Firetop in a curiously anxious mood. The wintery streets are almost silent, and townsfolk are hurrying home out of the dark night air. There is a feeling of unease – he overhears various conversations between locals, all hinting at the recent spate of disappearances and missing persons, and whispered tales of that Firetop bogeyman, the Twilight Master – Count Orinax. Abandoning his search for TLS or a sewer entrance for the portal, he follows instead the unusual figure of a lone Zhengisi mage without Doomguard, clearly up to some nefarious business.

TLS runs into the same Zhengisi, but this is clearly no ordinary mage. The gaunt cheeks and red-tinted eyes tell a different story – when it tries to command TLS as it would an ordinary Doomguard, he gets close enough to attack it. But the ‘mage’ moves with alarming speed and strength, and his club barely seems to hurt it. Even as Johan sprints out of the shadows and thrusts his rapier into the figure’s ribs, it shifts into a cloud of misty gas, and rapidly floats away over the rooftops.

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A Continuation of the Continuing
Season Two Part Two

Back in the caverns of Undermountain, Dorrin checks the hobgoblins’ trail. Although all of them headed down the tunnel they are now in, only the five they’ve just killed seemed to head back, and two of them seemed wounded. And their camp here has a makeshift quality, with none of the usual care and order that hobgoblins seem to live by. Perhaps their expedition has met with some terrible fate? Garrett decides that following the trail is still a better option than risking the unknown portal, and they continue on their way.

But close at hand, they find a large cavern whose floor is a stinking bog, thick black water covered in a coat of repulsive slimy weeds. The air buzzes with insects and stinks of garbage – perhaps some kind of rubbish tip for the locals? But even Garrett’s clouded eyes can pick out amidst the slime the slumped corpses of hobgoblins floating in the water. And there seems to be a preponderance of fat black waterboatmen in the bog – great swarms of them skim the surface, clustering like flies near the corpses. Grimly, Garrett decides to turn back. There is no visible way to cross the bog other than wading through it, and that didn’t seem to work out for the hobboes.

Experimenting with the portal (and after failing to construct a staircase to it using giant mushrooms and broken crates) proves that only something travelling with a good forward momentum from the balcony area can pass through it. Garrett takes the risk and leaps over the room, vanishing into the purple barrier – it closes behind him, but not before spitting out a pair of vicious, child-like, shrieking, bat-winged creatures that swoop on F’zan and Dorrin, plucking at their eyes and tearing at their hair with sharp claws. Whenever the things are wounded, they vanish in a cloud of sulphurous smoke and re-appear nearby, making it hard for Dorrin to unleash his axe barrages on them, and they also seem able to create cloned images of themselves, making it almost impossible to hit the actual creature and not a copy. But after an almost lethally hard fight, the two kill their foes and reset the portal by moving the metal sheet again.

Dorrin isn’t sure he can jump far enough in his armour, and so takes it off, ready to try again. But he can’t make more than half the distance, so F’zan offers another solution. He also removes his armour, and offers to let Dorrin ride on his back as he makes the jump, which (with his horse-like strength) he can easily do. But the portal seems set to prevent more than one person travelling through it at once, and Dorrin is unceremoniously dumped off the centaur’s back; worse, he is immediately set upon by another pair of the horrible little bat-winged fiends. Blinded by their plucking claws, he is rapidly overcome.

Garrett finds himself back in Peakwatch, not far from the entrance portal – he’s found a way back. But his friends don’t follow him through as quickly as he was expecting, so he goes back through the Peakwatch portal to find out what’s happened to them. He arrives just as Dorrin collapses under the assault of the imp-like things, and tries to engage them himself. They flock him like nightmare bats, scratching and tearing at his eyes -totally blinded, he is reduced to firing randomly, unable to tell if he hits monster or image. Dorrin feebly fires crossbow bolts at the things, but neither these nor Garrett’s arrows seem to hurt them very much – neither does Garrett’s silver dagger, his rapier or Dorrin’s axes, but somehow they just survive the assault.

Tattered and bloody, they send a note on an arrow through to F’zan, explaining the situation and telling him to go back to Firetop and bring badly needed healing supplies. Dorrin and Garrett hole up in the portal room and hope that nothing too foul scents their presence and comes hunting. F’zan is gone for four days, while he sells off what loot they’ve taken so far and re-equips himself – in that time, a pack of Gricks (foul, rubbery worm-like creatures with incredibly tough hides) attacks the portal room, seeking an easy meal, but the thoughtful use of some magic arrows beats them off, and Garrett and Dorrin pass the time playing cards and resting their wounds.

Once F’zan rejoins them, they press forward, following the now-cold trail of the hobgoblins back to the insect-filled rubbish tip. They build a raft with some of the supplies F’zan has brought with him, and attempt to punt their way across the slimy morass. Immediately, they are set upon by swarms of pale waterboatmen, whose vicious stingers open bleeding wounds. Unable to kill enough of the bugs with their weapons, or fight effectively on the raft, they retreat from the swamp. The bugs seem to sense the waves their raft creates, although F’zan has heard of similar swarms in the jungles of the south that can smell fresh blood. Trying to distract them with the mouldering corpses of hobgoblins proves fruitless, so, after some debate, they decide their best option is for F’zan to prepare a set of blessings to allow them to climb across the ceiling without leaving any tracks or scent that would attract the swarming creatures, so they return to the portal room to rest.

Later, as F’zan completes his trance, a pitiful figure stumbles blindly out of the gloom. Dorrin hides and covers with his axes ready, whilst Garrett draws a bead on a bedraggled woman. She claims to be an escaped slave from the nearby fungus farms, who managed to avoid her captors and swim down the murky river, and begs for food and water. Questioning her, Garrett discovers they are not far from Skullport (at long last), and that it lies downstream. But the minute he moves to aid the woman, her true nature reveals itself as an Annis hag, tall, blue, lean and horrible in its hunger. It almost tears him apart in an instant, and even Dorrin is badly wounded in the ensuing fight. But they defeat it, and keep it off F’zan long enough that his trance is completed.

With his new spells prepared, F.zan is able to carry Garrett on his back, and enchance both himself and Dorrin to walk, spider-like, across the dripping ceiling of the swampy cavern. The insects swarm in vain below, unable to reach their prey, and the group safely reach a ledge on the far side where they find a door. And through that door?

Part of the fungus farm the Hag mentioned, more winding caverns where the mucky floor is raked and ordered, and thousands of brown puffballs grow on the walls. Exploring, they discover a group of slaves held by wicked drow captors. Garrett snipes the guards from the shadows and they rescue a motley band of hobgoblinoids, a human and a dwarf, who tells them where the nearest barge dock is. But if they are to escape, they’ll need to be swift. The drow are changing watch shortly, and are used to hunting escaped slaves with implacable trackers known as Runehounds.

The escape is on – Garrett and F’zan take point, wiping out drow guards in advance of the slaves, with Dorrin taking up the rear. But their timing is bad – as they near the docks, a dark barge is approaching, and an armoured drow priestess is disembarking with a deadly-looking team of bodyguards. The Overseer, a cruel mistress indeed, is making a spot check of the operations after recent raids by a rival slaver organization, the dwarf slave explains. Arming the slaves with weapons taken from the dead guards, they hide behind the nearby door and hope to avoid notice.

But they haven’t hidden the bodies of the dead guards, and so end up having to fight their way clear. The Overseer immediately leaves the area, at least, fearing an attack from her rivals perhaps. But her bodyguard of highly trained drow ninjas cover her escape, along with half a dozen crossbow-armed guards. Most of the slaves perish in a hail of poisoned bolts, or are cut down by the ninjas whilst trying to take revenge on their captors, and by the time Dorrin, Garrett and F’zan have wiped out the opposition, only the dwarven slave and a single goblin remain. They commandeer the remaining barge and set sail for Skullport, where the dwarf hails from. He introduces himself as Gyudd Melairkyn, a descendant of the line of dwarves who first built Undermountain, and offers to take them back to Skullport, where he used to operate a forge until he fell foul of his debtors. The goblin’s name is Glawkus, and he throws his lot in with his rescuers.

Far above them, back in Firetop, it’s the night of the qualifying rounds of the big Three Dragon Ante tournament in the Gorgon’s Head, and Drakar, Mad Pete and Stithiel are in attendance. As Drakar concentrates on playing a mean game, knocking out rivals to make it to the last, all-important table, Stithiel learns some more of Durnan’s history from his rival innkeeper, Clerk. But he then manages to get himself embroiled in a challenge to drink a whole mug of the infamous orcish ale, Gruumsh. Although he manages to drink the entire mug, the after effects are poisonous in the extreme, and the elf is paralytic for the rest of the night. Mad Pete sees him home, and offers to share the winnings he’s made on betting against the barbarian’s drinking ability.

Drakar beats his way through table after table, mostly raking in the pots and keeping his own ante up. But in the semi-final, he’s beaten by a dwarven engineer whose luck seems uncanny. Luckily, Drakar’s sharp eyes pick up the fact that the dwarf is palming cards under his beard, and the Halfling judge disqualifies the cheat, leaving Drakar up against a one-armed mercenary, a mysterious elf and the desperate-looking lackey of some nefarious local. All this under the piggy, watchful eye of the half ork Thaddeus Gorkor, ex-wrestler and infamously unbeaten card sharp, who’s putting up the pot for the final game.

Drakar shrugs off the pressure to win, and is invited to the closed table in a private library the following night. He spends the next day selling off his winnings from the pots to raise the 500 platinum pieces he needs as his stake. Stithiel attempts to shrug off his hangover, noticing that someone has been hanging up posters in the Yawning Portal advertising guided tours of a nearby dragon’s den for budding heroes, and trying to help Drakar’s negotiations as only a barbarian can – standing menacingly behind the sorcerer, freaking out the merchants.

The Dragon game is a solemn, high-stakes match, under the intimidating rule of the brutal Gorkor. Cash stakes are exchanged at the door with the Halfling judge for a pool of carved dragon tokens. Each competitor is allowed a single bodyguard. Drakar has Stithiel, Gorkor a half-ork woman armed with vicious daggers, the elf has come alone, and the mercenary… The mercenary turns out to be protected by Dran, the potato-faced henchman of Drakar’s nemesis Gillibran. Although Drakar suspects the mercenary of being the Duke in disguise, he can prove nothing, so the game begins. Gorkor is a brilliant card player, ruthless, vicious and extremely intimidating to play against. By midnight, the elf is knocked out, and some five hours later, Drakar is glumly pushing his final few tokens over the table, having lost his 5000 gold piece stake. At which point Stithiel’s patience with watching card games is finally exhausted, and drawing the brutal sword Longfang, he leaps into the game, overturning the table and hacking at Gorkor.

The ensuing battle is fast-paced and vicious. Dran unexpectedly kills off the mercenary he’s supposed to be protecting, before attempting to pick off Drakar. Gorkor struggles to his feet as Stithiel slashes furiously at him, with his bodyguard coming to his defense, but the half-ork wrestler soon has the elf in an almost-inescapable arm lock, entirely at his mercy. As Drakar blasts first Dran, then the bodyguard into oblivion, starting a fire in the library in the process, Thaddeus moves to attack the sorcerer rather risk being burnt, but even his bulk is no match for serial barrages of magic missiles plus the exhausted swings of Stithiel. His body crashes through a window into the night air.

Drakar and Stithiel loot the bodies, fighting off another pair of Gorkor’s bodyguards as they do so, before the smoke from the fire starts forcing them out of the building. Although they recover the vast and exceptionally heavy chest containing the 10 000 gold pot (all in silver coins), Gorkor has the key, and his body is nowhere to be found. Nor is there any sign of his Halfling minion or any of the gold that made up the stake for the game, much to Drakar’s disgust. Still, at least he now has the money he needs for the reagents that will ensure his transformation.

Far below them, Garrett continues his travel in the foreboding barge. The goblin helmsman occasionally pauses to throw the bodies of the other slaves overboard at specific points on the dark Sargauth river, sacrifices to whatever creatures lurk in the dismal flow. After several hours, they reach the ominously-lit docks of shadowy Skullport, the Undermountain’s wretched capital of slavery and black market traffic. Weird and terrible creatures stalk the docks, going about their business or lurking in doorways – gigantic fish-like creatures in tanks, floating orbs bedecked with tentacled eyes, drow and many other sinister humanoids, whilst above the city float tiny specks of baleful light, sweeping round in organized orbits. Gyudd leads Garrett quickly to his abandoned forge, explaining he used to work here as a weaponsmith, but when he was unable to pay protection to the most powerful band of thieves in the city, Garrett’s own Agents of the Eye, he was sold off as his own most valuable asset to pay the debts he owed. He fears that the Agents will have noticed their arrival in a stolen barge, and that the Overseer will not be long in seeking them out.

His fears are well-founded. Moments later, a thin-lipped stranger arrives, flanked by a pair of half-serpentine bodyguards. The sallow-faced man introduces himself as Zsulkk Ssarmn, a member of the Iron Ring slavers, the organization that had been attacking the farm and disrupting their rivals. He has come to make Garrett an offer – protection from the doubtlessly furious Overseer in exchange for work with the Iron Ring. Garrett takes this into consideration, knowing full well he probably can’t jump ship from the Agents of the Eye easily. Ssarmn leaves, and the Overseer and her drow warriors aren’t far behind – coldly angry though she is, she has been slaking the worst of her temper on the Iron Ring barracks already, and once Garrett explains he is not only an Agent himself, but one who is expected in Skullport, the Drow lets him live. But she still swears revenge, and also promises to explain what he has done to their mutual superiors.

Garrett convinces Gyudd to take him to the nearest Agent meeting place, and is taken to meet the cruel mage Avereene in the Deepfire Inn, hoping to make the best of it, and pay off Gyudd’s protection fees. The Overseer’s report has preceded him, however, and Avereene lightly and calmly explains that although she is glad he’s made it to Skullport finally, it won’t be a specially safe place for him until the Overseer calms down and his remiss actions can be remedied. In order to satisfy all of these problems, she dispatches him back up the Castle Corkscrew at once, all the way back to Firetop, where his instructions are to terminate the no-longer useful services of Jaxsen, and to bring his head back as proof. Braving more of Undermountain’s bizarre traps (this time, a pit traversed by booby-trapped pillars blocks the stair, and they take so much time gingerly trying to set up a rope network they are attacked by a bulging eyed frog-like creature – in the end, they sleep in the pit overnight so F’zan can prepare his spider climb spells), they return to their square one, using a human skull as a portal key for the way back into the castle’s kitchens far above.

Drakar has been busy in the meantime, trying to buy the vanishingly rare materials he needs for his rituals. But the merchants of Firetop are either out of stock due to the time of year and the continuing depredations of the hobgoblins, or the bizarre nature of the shopping list means the items he needs are just not available, so it’s slow and frustrating work. As the days go by, he realizes he is running out of time to provide Darkhorn the entertainment he has promised her – the posters Amarus has flooded the taverns with aren’t drawing would-be heroes into the promised ‘free Dragon Hoard Looting Blow-out’. Despite having loud conversations with Mad Pete in the Yawning Portal about the ease with which anyone signing up will get rich quick, Durnan seems to have turned public opinion against them somewhat, and their honeytrap is attracting no flies.

Amarus has, however, discovered something more of Darkhorn. His research turns up the suggestion that the huge and terrible dragon they saw is unlikely to be the real Darkhorn, who shouldn’t be old enough to look that size. And there is a suggestion that she at one point in the past kidnapped or coerced a gnomish illusionist, Garduke Nomentarn. Perhaps the vast Wyrm they saw is no more than an illusion? Perhaps the dragon is in reality the gnome? Drakar decides that he will try and keep his end of the bargain, however, but is already thinking of ways to either explore the lair further and discover the truth, or ways of perhaps turning the Blackspawn against their mistress. In the meantime, he pays to take the entrance exam for the Blackcloak Academy, and passes on his second attempt – the library there will now be less expensive to use, and he has access to more and better books, as well as official-looking wizard robes.

Garrett arrives back in town, and joins forces with the sorcerer. With less than twelve hours before Darkhorn’s deadline is up, they race to prepare themselves – Garrett finds Jaxsen and tells him to round up twenty unwanted folk from Firetop ready for slaughter, and then they wait by the sewer portal to the dragon’s lair, ready to ambush any Blackspawn sent to collect or attack. When Jaxsen fails to provide anything like the requisite number of souls (he manages to tag and bag a pitiful five hapless idiots, drugged and roped into their doom), Garrett wastes no time in executing him, then takes his henchmen to pad out the numbers.

Drakar nips through the portal, where he sees almost a dozen Blackspawn limbering up for action. Returning to the the sewer rooms, he hurriedly arms the dupes with clubs and shields before pushing them, one by one, through the portal. After all their captives are used up, they take ambush positions and wait for the inevitable recriminations.

The first Blackspawn through the portal are a pair sent to scout, under a cloak of invisibility. But the sharp ears of Garrett detect their footfalls, and only one of the monsters makes it back, the other being cut down in a hail of arrows, blows and magic. The team dump the corpse back through the portal as a challenge and return to their ambush, whilst beyond the portal, under the watchful eye of their leader, the Blackspawn Exterminator Sarvas, the marauding draconians quaff protective potions and coat their weapons with magical oils. A first full wave dashes invisibly to the attack, but F’zan has identified a wand he took from the Hag his friends killed in the mushroom caverns – the spell it casts allows him to see through the invisibility of the raiders, and he can warn the rest of the assault.

Even then, the deadly falchions of the Blackspawn take a terrible toll. Mad Pete is cut down where he stands in the first few seconds of the fight, and though F’zan and Dorrin are able to repulse the first wave, Drakar is also badly hurt. As they try to dump another corpse back through, another wave of five more Blackspawn spill through the portal, but F’zan again warns the group in time for Drakar to hurl a fireball into their midst. This wave retreat after heavy losses, although it is not without some effort they are repulsed.

The advantage must surely be theirs, the heroes decide – it’s now or never, push on while they have the chance. Pausing only to activate as many healing, protective and aggressive magics as they have (including enlarging F’zan to huge size and enhancing his skin to magical bark), they get ready to attack the dragon’s lair.

The Blackspawn have prepared a counter-ambush on the other side, and as the heroes emerge they are pelted with javelins and arrows as Sarvas, the ninja leader of the band, joins the fray. But the might of the furious giant centaur swings the battle, and the remaining guardians are overwhelmed, slain one by one amidst the stinking pools of Darkhorn’s cavern. Only the mistress of the lair herself can remain, apparently slumbering on her hoard throughout the battle. Drakar sends Ambrosius to investigate, and their suspicions are partially confirmed – the mighty sleeping wyrm below the throne is merely an illusion.

But even as this trick is revealed, the true mistress springs from a hiding place behind the throne – the vast and appalling Darkhorn, furious and defensive, leaps into view, demanding to know what is happening. Drakar and Garrett quickly spin a confusing web of lies – they did send heroes as they promised, they claim, but even the few they did send have overwhelmed her guards. If it wasn’t for their own intervention, she would have been attacked herself. It seems the dragon believes them, for she blusters and snarls but doesn’t actually attack, instead demanding that Drakar must stay as her guardian in exchange for a single trinket from her hoard. Drakar presses his advantage, for his sorcerous eyes have pierced the shroud that surrounds the deceptive Black dragon – something makes her look almost twice her actual size and much older and more powerful than she really is. Greedily, he presses her for a higher fee to guard her.

But he underestimates the rage of a cornered dragon. If they will not serve her willingly, she is quite prepared to crush them, and when he tries to bargain for an item from the hoard for each of them, the dragon loses patience. A foul rush of toxic acids spews from her jaws as she springs forward off the throne. Whereas nimble Garrett leaps to one side immediately, Drakar is not as light on his toes, and is hosed down by the caustic bile. By some miracle, despite being drenched and scorched by the acid, the sorcerer somehow survives. As Darkhorn dives into one of the pools in her lair, perhaps waiting to get her breath back before attacking again, the others quickly grab a few choice items from the massive treasure pile and drag the unconscious sorcerer away, back into the sewers and then back to the mansion.

The treasures include a magical shield and various ornate artworks, gaining them enough cash to at least get [[Urkula]] to reincarnate Mad Pete again – this time in the body of a lizardman. But the mansion no longer feels safe to them – it can’t be long before Darkhorn seeks revenge, and Drakar, realizing he isn’t yet powerful enough to withstand the wrath of a dragon in his current state, knows he must complete his ritual rebirth as soon as possible. With this in mind, Garrett hits the shops with a long list of healing, enhancing and acid protection gear to buy, while Drakar spends an instructive morning learning about Black Dragons and their ways in the Blackcloak Library. These foul-tempered dragons are cunning, aquatic, and particularly fond of darkness and ambushes, as well as possessing a liking for cold, rotting meat, he discovers. Hoping not to end up as such a meal, he returns to the mansion. Garrett, laden with purchases, goes to ask Ellithral if he knows much about Darkhorn’s heritage and the rumoured gnome illusionist, but the Elf is of little help, and he meets up with Drakar outside the mansion.

On opening the door, they are met with a great jet of acidic bile- Darkhorn has been lying in wait for them, and almost kills Mad Pete again immediately with her breath, as well as injuring Dorrin and F’zan badly. In a panicky frenzy, the group retreats to the topiary of the front garden, rapidly consuming potions, scrolls, wands and spells in order to protect themselves in the fight they’ve been dreading. Darkhorn, confident of her own superiority, isn’t even using her illusion of mighty appearance, and is revealed as a smaller, younger but still substantial Black. She allows them enough breathing space to prepare, waiting in the hallway for their return, but soon has cause to regret it – under cover of supporting flame and fire from Drakar and Garrett, Dorrin and F’zan charge the mighty beast as Pete flanks though the secret chambers under the library wing. Surrounded and badly injured by a well-aimed scorching ray, the dragon fills the hall with inky darkness and flees for the safety of her lair.

Hasted by Drakar’s magic, the heroes pursue hotly, but her natural speed and slight headstart are enough for Darkhorn to reach her cavern safely. She has, furthermore, smashed some of the ladders on the way down, slowing the chasers by vital seconds, so that by the time they reach her lair, she has hidden herself in another cloud of darkness. As they spread cautiously out from the portal, she hangs from the distant ceiling in wait, and when Drakar prepares another of his firey rays, she coughs more acid over him, shattering the protective wards he has woven to save him from partial digestion.

Even as Garrett blindly fires into the darkness above and Drakar hurls fireballs across the ceiling, and the others dive for cover, the dragon pounces, splashing into one of the many pools that cover the floor and swimming into the depths below. Pete dives in after her, his lizardy form helping him swim after her as she retreats to a maze of submerged tunnels under the floor, perhaps hoping to get her breath back in safety and then strike from another direction.

But at the same time, F’zan and Dorrin are piling handfuls of her precious hoard into the centaur’s saddlebags, unaware that the coins are protected by a magical alarm. Instantly, Darkhorn turns and swims back, slashing Pete casually on her way past. Pete breaks water just ahead of her, and yells enough of a warning to allow Garrett and Drakar time to hurl fireballs and shoot arrows, but then she leaps out of the water and springs towards the robbers who would loot her gold.

It proves a fatal move for the dragon – Drakar summons a swathe of flaming bolts that tear through her inch-thick scales, finally slaying the evil mistress of the caverns. Whilst piling her misbegotten riches into sacks, they search the rest of her chambers, finding a miserable, bedraggled and improbably ancient gnome haunting her sleeping chamber – Garduke, the illusionist Amarus told them of, his mind broken by some kind of magical circlet. Dorrin attempts to remove it, but even his careful surgery proves too much for the frail wizard, and he breathes his last peacefully. Laden with the spoils of their fight, the heroes return to the streets of Firetop. Now nothing stands between Drakar and his quest for ascension to dragonhood, and Garrett nurtures the idea that, at last, he has enough money to buy a decent chance of striking back at the Vitreous Drinker and breaking the curse on his vision.

First, however, he sets off down the Castle Corkscrew to report the death of Jaxsen to his superiors in Skullport. The stairs, as ever, prove treacherous, this time throwing up another room of booby-trapped columns. Garrett finds himself trapped on by walls of magical force; having taken precautions with rope to prevent anyone ending up on the ghoul haunted floor far below, when F’zan slips off another column, Dorrin is dragged down with him and it’s only when Garrett is able to disable the device that has him trapped that all three fall to the ground. After fighting off the ghouls, they rest until F’zan can prepare the enchantments necessary for them to walk out of the pit.

In Skullport, Garrett is grilled thoroughly by Avereene. She is unimpressed by his rambling accounts of recent events in Firetop (see above), particularly the fact that the would-be agent has left many uninvestigated and loose threads in his account. She is doubly annoyed when he mentions in passing the fact that the Drinker can probably see everything he sees himself – this makes him incompetent and a safety risk. He is dispatched to the surface once again, after she insist on his making a full written report for her. His instructions are to deal with the Drinker one way or another – either bring it on side as an Agent of the Eye or destroy it entirely. He must also find out who or what has united the hobgoblin Tribes, and what their aims may be.

Wearily ascending the Corkscrew again, he rescues an apparently innocuous young woman from the clutches of some fishy Kuo-Toa. Although she spins a plausible version of her kidnapping from the peaceable folks of the Promenade, apparently not far from Skullport, Garrett is far from convinced. He’s fought too many shapeshifters in his time, and his suspicions are borne out when she returns in the night. A bewitching Succubus in truth, she enchants both his companions, instructing Dorrin to turn on his old friend whilst she sucks F’zan’s lifeforce out of him with her deadly kiss. But wrapped around the centaur as she is, she cannot avoid Garrett’s lethal bowshot, and he destroys her in the nick of time.

Back in Firetop, Drakar finally has everything he needs for his expedition out into the Moonstone Hills and the Place of Death and Rebirth. Once Garrett returns, they buy the tents, horses and supplies they need for winter travel, Dorrin wakes his mighty bear ally and fits him with his new chainmail harness, and Garrett commissions Ellithral to write a song of the Slaying of Darkhorn before they all set out, braving the midwinter chill so allow the sorcerer to embrace his draconic origins. Despite terrible blizzards, heavy snow and roaming Athachs (monstrous deformed giants with poisonous jaws), they reach the smoking crater marked on their map as the site for the ritual.

But it is not empty – Dorrin finds the tracks of a party of mixed giants and humanoids that have been nearby already, leading towards a craggy peak further up the barren hill. And the crater itself is guarded by a beautiful serpentine creature, one that declares itself the Guardian of this sacred place, and one willing to slay would-be performers of the ritual. It warns of terrible powers resting dormant beneath the unnatural scorched earth here, and the ring of skulls set in the ground at the centre testify to its proficiency as a guardian. Thus the heroes opt to proceed up the hill and find out who else may be nosing around these ancient mysteries.

Although Garrett suspects more of the ubiquitous hobgoblins, it is Drakar’s fears that are borne out. High in a snowy pass amidst the rocky crags of the peak, his risen nemesis Duke Gillibran attacks from the safety of the cliffs above – he has a band of minotaurs allied to his cause, as well as an armoured bodyguard and the unexpected services of Steve the Scout, whose lethal bow disrupts Drakar’s spells whilst Gillibran lurks behind various magical protections, raining spells on his foe. After a lucky escape from a mass of rubbery tentacles the Duke summons from the very ground beneath them, Garrett’s arrows pick the Duke off as Dorrin and F’zan defeat the minotaur clan charge. Steve is released from the domination of Gillibran’s magic on the Duke’s second death, and calmly agrees to accompany the heroes back to Firetop.

But there is more business left to conclude here first – Garrett takes the heads of the Duke and his minions back to the snaky guardian of the Place of Rebirth, and convinces it that Drakar is not a lesser seeker, but a champion of the draconic forces below, one who can be trusted not to fail in his task. Reluctantly, the creature agrees to allow the ritual to take place, despite its ancient oaths – this is the site of the death of Tssagaroth, a terrible Dracolich of bygone days, and the residual power here is linked to its destruction. There is a chance that if the ritual is performed incorrectly or left uncontrolled that the undead horror will rise again, and the guardian is part of an ancient order sworn to prevent that. It stands over Drakar as he begins the incantations, ready to strike and kill him if he puts a word wrong. The others must swear to take the guardian’s place if it falls, and prevent anyone performing the ritual again – Garrett, Dorrin and Mad Pete all agree, but F’zan refuses, saying he is already sworn to protect his tribe, and Steve mercenarily refuses to help unless offered a full share in their profits for this journey. F’zan agrees to wait nearby and help if he can, at least, but the business-savvy scout heads back to Firetop alone.

The ritual proceeds – Drakar creates a shifting totemic dragon from the expensive ingredients he has purchased. As the ritual completes, he can feel the dark energies of the Dracolich shifting in its slumber below, and he quickly sacrifices part of his sorcerous blood and power to appease the totem dragon before imposing his will on the creature – the construct shifts and changes, mirroring the ancestry of his blood with fire and a brassy appearance. As he severs its links to the negative energy of the lich below, it blasts him with flame. But Drakar has expected this from his study of the ritual, and is already protected from such energies – nevertheless, he is still hidden from view by an incandescent blast of fire.

As the smoke clears, the guardian has been torn asunder by the energy of the ritual. And Drakar is no more – or at least human no more. Now a muscular creature of brass scales and powerful claws, Drakar has proved for once and all that he is indeed a being of Draconic heritage, purged of some of his humanity and enhanced by the might of the Brass Dragon in his veins. His ascendency is complete at last, and laden with the spoils of their victory over the evil Duke, the heroes return towards Firetop as the last days of the year draw to a close.

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Continuing the Continuation
Season Three Part One

Season Three

Having returned from the Moonstone Hills triumphant, Garrett, Drakar and their companions take a well earned rest for a couple of days. For Garrett, this entails relaxing at gala night premiere of the epic poem, Drakar and Darkhorn, he has commissioned from Ellithral the Golden at the Yawning Portal. The poem is well received despite the extensive authorial license taken with the events it portrays; the free bar that Ellithral provides with the money his benefactor paid him goes down even better.

Amongst the revelers, Garrett meets the half-elf Stithiel once again, looking even better equipped than before. Stithiel tells him of how the Witch of the Eastern Woods has visited him at night in dreams, promising him even greater powers and aid from her mysterious stash, and even offering him a further boon in the form of personal aid – but he can only call on her once, and should he do so, he will become her slave for twelve years. Stithiel is keener than ever to find his father, or at least find a more reliable sponsor than some eldritch hussy, and so listens with interest as Garrett explains his current priority – to investigate the increasing threat of hobgoblin raids from the hills, and to finally honour his promise to F’zan and find where his villagers were taken.

They find Steve the scout, who has made his own way home it would seem, and pay him for a thorough dossier on the hobgoblins – their society and the main tribes that make up their population in the Moonstones, as well as any information on the banner the hobgoblins are mustering behind, the Great Maw. Although Steve can tell them little of the Maw, he gives them a wealth of history on the bands of nomadic hobgoblins that infest the hills – the martial Shatterfists and their feud with the Stonebridge Dwarves, the barbaric Twelve Axes with their wild and tribal ways, the wealthy Hill Wolves with their huge cattle herds and love of mercenaries, the magic-hating Maces of Stone who train their warriors to kill wizards from birth, the nefarious and roguish Winter Criminals that worship the crueler aspects of nature, the Murderous Bears and their packs of trained war animals, and the feared hobgoblins of the Shrieking Plains Wind, who lair in a mighty fortress deep in the heart of the hills, learning terrible magics from some forsaken ruins there. Balking at Steve’s expensive offer to go and find more information for them, Dorrin and F’zan agree to go and take some prisoners for questioning at Garrett’s hands while Garrett himself finishes some errands in town, and Stithiel decides to go with them, keen to test his blade against the hobgoblins again and make up for past defeats.

Stithiel borrows Garrett’s horse, and rides out with F’zan and Dorrin (who rides bear-back on Morg). After a few quiet days, gently travelling through the midwinter canyons of the hills, foraging and hunting as they go, the weather turns viciously on them, and they are forced to make camp in a deserted watchtower half way up a hill as a blizzard tears down the valley. Even the protective warmth of F’zan and Dorrin’s spells can’t quite keep them from the deathly chill of the wind outside. Worse, they have been relying on their own hunting skills to provide food, and trapped by the howling gales and deep snow outside, they can’t find food.

Dorrin and Stithiel desperately hunt for anything they could eat, but can barely even find their way back to the tower in the snowstorm, and F’zan has to stay with the horse and the bear to stop any diplomatic incidents that might otherwise arise. After only a day and a half, Stithiel’s temper frays, and he tears out into the storm in a blazing fury, digging holes in a nearby mound until he finds a fox’s den; the hapless fox is quickly seized and eaten over a feeble fire.

The storm dies overnight, leaving several feet of snow on the ground as well as deep drifts. Even as the heroes stretch their legs again, however, F’zan spots a sizable column of hobgoblins moving up the valley. With the marching group are a pair of centaurs he thinks he recognizes, reduced to pulling pack wagons like mules. Although they rush to douse the fire in the hearth, it’s too late – the column turns up out of the valley, heading slowly through the snow towards the tower.

Stithiel guards the main door, whilst Dorrin takes aim with a crossbow from the battlements, backed by F’zan with a wand he uses to summon a great lightning storm. As the hobgoblin unit apparently led by a blue-skinned ogre and his honour guard of armoured warriors approach, they are pelted with bolts of lightning, crossbow quarrels and arrows from Stithiel’s bow. But there’s a lot of them, forty or so, and despite cutting down the first couple of lines, their approach is relentless. Wading through the snow past the bodies of the fallen, the hobgoblins prepare to charge as their leader takes to the sky and turns invisible, proving itself a capable magic user.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in the Moonstone Hills, the call of Halaster is still drawing heroes from far and wide. Once a proud paladin of the Fighting Orders of Heironius and now a cursed Blackguard compelled by a demonic oath to serve the forces of the Abyss, the man who now calls himself only Carbuncle finally draws near the city of Firetop, drawn by terrible dreams of the woman he sacrificed his all for. A haunted man driven mostly by the desire to slay, Carbuncle believes his beloved, the daughter of a Grandmaster of the Order who fell in battle with a demonic hoard, to be trapped in the labyrinths of Undermountain and in desperate need of his help. Striding ominously into the city unchallenged by the spineless guardsmen, he gravitates to the Yawning Portal. As he sits in a corner, smoking and listening, he hears of the spate of disappearances in the dangerous twilit streets and the famous dragon killers who frequent this very bar. And then they turn up in person, and he meets Garrett, Mad Pete and Drakar.

They’re curious of the albino, more amused by his bloodthirsty threats than scared, and decide to try and put his killing skills to good use. Garrett has various leads to follow up on, first of all paying Zorbin the Diviner to try and scry out the location of the Vitreous Drinker, then trying to find the drow witch Zollor in the sewer camp he last saw her in. Both prove dead ends – Zorbin can’t find any hint that a creature such as a Drinker even exists, and assumes Garrett is playing some kind of prank on him, whereas the sewer camp is empty. There, however, they encounter a junior agent of the eye, Talsker, who’s been sent to spy on the drow as well. Threatened with immediate death from the axes of Carbuncle, the junior spy pleads for his life, telling Garrett that everything has changed in Skullport. The Overseer has apparent used some horrific spider-like creature to overthrow Avereene, hurling the Agents in the dark city into turmoil, and it’s common knowledge she’s hunting for Garrett next. They let the youngster go with a message, that Garrett is not to be trifled with, and that the Agents should be ready to muster to him on his return.

Carbuncle has been roaming the Allansian wastes for months alone, killing any creature foolish enough to confront him, and the pace of investigative life in Firetop is a little slow for his taste. He demands a good fight, so Garrett takes him to the Gorgon’s Head, and once he’s established with Clerk that Jaxsen is gone and Garrett is the new frontman for the Eye in Firetop, learns of an illegal troll-fighting pit in the warehouse district. Carbuncle is itching for blood, and happily agrees to be entered under a magical disguise – he will be entered as a skinny teenager rather than the hulking, plate-clad brute he really is so that Drakar can rake in money from the bookies.

Carbuncle slaughters the straggly troll without much effort, but his use of axes breaks the illusion of puny appearance. This is supposed to be a bare knuckle brawl, and the crowd goes wild with fury. Garrett picks the fleeing bookie with their winnings out of the fleeing crowd, leaving them in an abandoned warehouse to pick over the loot.

His appetite for death only sharpened, Carbuncle suggests roaming the darkened streets to find and destroy whatever has been killing the citizens recently. Drakar is also curious to learn more of Orinax, the supposed Twilight Master, and happily agrees. After only a short period of wandering the lanes in the eerily silent town, the team are attacked by a pack of hungry undead, all clearly once citizens and now creatures of darkness driven by insatiable cravings for blood.

Although they defeat the monstrosities, it seems they cannot permanently kill them, for their spirits escape their smashed bodies in gaseous shape. Carbuncle at least has enough command over the dead through the demonic powers he is allied with to question one on its origin, but it gives little away, and Garrett is forced to kill it before it can escape its dread of Carbuncle’s awful presence. Even using his new-found powers of flight, Drakar loses the wispy clouds amongst the misty chimneys of Firetop, and they are left none the wiser as to the location of Orinax’s resting place.

After resting at the Mansion overnight, they consider where to turn next. Drakar is already wondering what arcane study he should turn his mind to, whilst Garrett is still fretting over how to approach his next task – to find the Drinker and either bring it into the fold or deal with it permanently. Anxious to prevent it seeing any plans through his cursed eyes, he leaves to give the others a chance to explain to Carbuncle what this foe is and why they need such secrecy in their planning.

Once he’s been told the full story of Garrett’s previous encounters with the horror, the Blackguard immediately has an idea. The Drinker has previously told Garrett that it wants to keep him alive for some reason or other. Perhaps if they capture Garrett and pretend to be ready to end his life, it may turn up to protect its asset? Mad Pete is only too happy to ambush the tiefling when he returns from his coffee, but his first strike isn’t enough to catch the wily rogue off guard. Rather then give up on the ploy, though, Pete manages to convince Garrett to play along without giving the game away, and they stage a kidnapping and assault before bringing Garrett, blindfolded and tied, back to the roof of the Clocktower of St Anselm’s. Here, Carbuncle threatens him with death and destruction in the name of the church of Vecna, whose agent he is pretending to be. Mad Pete helps him, and Drakar hides nearby, ready to ambush from the rooftops.

But they cannot hope to surprise a creature with eyes everywhere. As its spectral ravens ominously flock the skies, it sees Drakar lying in wait, and immediately sees through their deception. Appearing abruptly next to the sorcerer, it applauds their bravado and mocks their conniving. As Drakar tries to bluff it into following him, it merely reveals its vomitous appearance, causing him to fall to his knees, retching in disgust, before stalking off amongst the roofs.

Or attempting to. For Drakar clutches feebly at it as it turns to walk across a plank walkway between houses, and it loses its balance and falls into the streets below. Drakar’s pitiful spewing is enough to catch the attention of the others, and the chase is on. As the Drinker, unhurt by its fall, dusts itself off and prepares to leave, Carbuncle thunders after it while Pete leaps with great agility from roof to roof to cut off its escape and Garrett floats gracefully down from the tower roof, bow in hand, ready to deal with his nemesis one way or another.

Drakar blasts the horror in the back as it walks away, scorching it across its myriad eyes. It immediately turns in fury, pointing a withered finger and unleashing its most deadly power on him. “Die!” it commands, but Drakar’s grip on life is bolstered by his draconic nature, and he barely shrugs off the terrible spell. But even as the others try and surround the servant of Vecna, they realise just how much they are biting off. Their weapons, when they are even able to hit it, barely hurt the creature, which seems protected by some unholy blessing. It shrugs off spells and blows alike, and all the while, the four heroes can barely bring themselves to even look upon the dread being – the merest glimpse of its revolting visage is enough to make them turn away, weak with nausea. And all the while it lashes at them with its blinding tongue, or burns at them with its terrible eyes. Worse, it is even able to heal what little damage they can do it by sucking their life force away with its wretched fingers.

But then Carbuncle, furious at having his bloodlust balked, grabs its winding tongue and slashes it free of the creature’s head. Deprived of any way of attacking them directly, it chooses to walk away, and its all they can do to even keep up – the nausea it causes them is extremely debilitating, and it makes its escape into the sewers. Pausing to patch their wounds and hand out holy water, they follow as closely as they dare. Although they are not confident that they can defeat it, it is at least wounded. If they can’t destroy it now, they may never get another chance.

After initially losing the trail in the sewers, they manage to find a hidden entrance to the creature’s den. It is resting in a room beneath the sewers, centered around a deep shaft leading further into the depths under the mountain. The hall is defended by some kind of dark energy trap that Carcbuncle stumbles through – the Drinker is waiting for them, preparing itself for a final stand on an altar to some foul god.

Garrett tries briefly to reason with it – they will not rest from hounding it unless it lifts the curse on his sight. It laughs repulsively at them, waving a scroll at them with a carefree warning – leave it in peace, or regret the consequences. There is a long game at work here, it says, with huge benefits to be reaped in the end. But it can promise no rewards now, and is clearly confident that it can beat them off. Such over-confidence is enough to convince them to try and end its reign, and Drakar begins a fireball spell.

It immediately begins reading its scroll, summoning something from another realm to aid it. Despite the blasts of fire, dark and divine power and arrows that the heroes unleash to break its concentration, it effortlessly completes the spell, and the air clouds with smoky purple blots that coalesce into childish, bat-winged shapes. The Drinker, having seen everything Garrett has fought since they last met, has summoned a flock of Gaudacro, the horrid blinding demons he fought in the mushroom caverns.

The ensuring fight is an epic testament to their burning desire to defeat this shuddering evil. Although barely able to stand in the face of its appalling form, blinded by the plucking claws of the Gaudacro and already sickened and weakened by the Drinker’s magics, the heroes never once lose focus or drive. The Drinker stands, ghastly and naked on the altar and wielding a blackened sickle capable of sucking life even through Carbuncle’s plate armour, blasting all who dare approach with awful spasms. But it has finally met an implacable foe determined to end it for once and for all. Finally, tiring of pointlessly scratching at it with axes, Carbuncle grabs its wizened frame, shuts his eyes tightly and holds on for dear life. Although it struggles, it is powerless to escape the warrior’s clutches, and he manages to keep it immobile as the others attempt to finish it off for once and for all. But Drakar is finally running low on spells, Mad Pete’s rapier can’t even scratch its hide, and even firing arrows into it at point blank range doesn’t seem to hurt it much. It is Garrett who finally brings a weapon to bear that cuts through its unnatural resiliences – pinned to the ground by the mass of Carbuncle, it cannot avoid him as he rams a vial of holy water into its face, and its mortal frame is finally shattered. The flesh withers away, leaving a scattering mass of watery eyeballs rolling away in all directions, and a vast cloud of spectral ravens bursts, flapping, out of the pit in the room, fluttering madly in all directions before pouring in a great stream up and out, never to be seen again.

Weary, stinking of the filth of the sewers, shattered by the feverish spells of the Drinker, the heroes take the only treasure they can find – the sickle it fought with – and stagger back to the mansion. Only Garrett has much spring in his step, for the world is once more clear to him. The cursed cataracts have finally been lifted from his eyes, and his path through the underworld will no longer be spied on by his malevolent watcher.

The following day, [[Drakar]] awakes with the realization he has nothing to do – after months of determined questing to complete the ritual, or help Garrett destroy his enemies, his time is finally his own again. In the heat of that firey rebirth, he has also lost his familiar, Ambrosius, perhaps scared away by the transformation in his master, or perhaps consumed by the energy released, [[Drakar]] is unsure. Either way, there is a twin void in his life he decides he must fill.

Aware that although he is much stronger than he was before, and his skin is a living brazen armour, he knows he is not the martial combatant he could be, and therefore determines to improve his grasp of combat. After picking up a few books on the Sentience of Constructs and the Clockwork Nirvana of Mechanus for Amarus’ research from theBlackcloak Library, he approaches the Dean of the Academy, seeking a teacher in martial matters sympathetic to a sorcerous student.

Dean Bodilvar reveals that although the majority of the teaching at the Academy is probably too theoretical for Drakar’s tastes, he has been approached by just such a tutor recently. Mage Sergeant Zulanthor of the Zhengisi has made an offer of teaching some of the unique combat skills of his order, although nobody has taken him up on it.

Until now, of course, for Drakar sets off through the fresh snowfall to the Zengis camp, just outside the main gates. Here, the mages repair the silent ranks of their golems, both the smaller Doomguard and larger golems that seem made of plates of badly-melted metal. Finding the Mage Sergeant, Drakar asks after these creations, and is told they are larger Force Golems, used for bigger lifting tasks and blessed with a higher degree of autonomy than their smaller cousins. Drakar then demands teaching in unarmed combat, so that he can learn to use his claws more effectively. The Sergeant is willing to teach, if the sorcerer can prove his ability, and Drakar agrees to a test of prowess against some of the ominous constructs, even offering not to use his magic as proof of good faith.

His first fight is extremely short, as he uses his new claws and jaws to great effect even on one of the steely guardians. The sergeant seems somewhat impressed, standing the Doomguard down before it gets destroyed, but it’s not enough – Drakar needs to show he can fight with a sword as well. Picking the first blade that he finds in a nearby weapon rack, a longsword, he gamely steps up against a pair of Doomguard. But he feels he needs to even the odds, and quickly bolsters his size and strength with a rush of magic, sprouting wings and taking to the sky, ready to hit and run. Unfazed, Zulanthor commands a third construct into the fight, and all three quickly take up halberds, ready to use the extra length to fend off Drakar’s swoops.

He quickly damages another one severely enough for it to be retired, while the others flank and hack at him, and their sharp blades quickly take their toll even on his scaly hide. But when he tears the head off a second with a combination of tooth and blade, one of the previously silent golems, the scarred and slagged Force Golems, springs to life and attacks, shoving its supposed controllers aside as it tries to get at Drakar. The winged sorcerer takes flight, pausing only to smash the final Doomguard – Zulanthor tells him to get clear as the wizards hurry to try and suppress this minor revolt. Although the Force Golem blasts any who stand in its way aside with bursts of magical energy, Drakar is able to fly to safety, leaving the Zhengisi to eventually quell the amok creature.

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