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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