Drakkarsys

The Witching Hour

Early morning. The Witching Hour. You awake from troubling dreams in the stable.

Sephus, supposedly on sentry duty, is fast asleep, a near empty bottle of wine lying on the floor beside him.

The rest of your companions are sleeping soundly, no doubt still recovering the encounter with demon-worshipers in the basement below.

However, something is not quite right, you muse, then you put your finger on it — Sardonis is missing.

Looking about, he is nowhere to be seen — the door leading to the stone walkway and lighthouse is, however, ajar and in the distance, a torchlight can be seen through the gaping maw of the lighthouse door many yards away.

You reflect on your dreams as you stealthily make your way to the lighthouse. Nightmarish images of an abyssal landscape, with thousands of bodies buried headfirst in horrific muck, their legs kicking in agony as volcanic ash rains down all around you. In the distance, a multi-headed dragon is in silhouette against twin peaks of fire and ice.

At the lighthouse door, ajar as it is, you see in a ruin, the upper levels of wood have collapsed down into the first floor.

The light you see is held by a beautiful woman, on the far side of the wreckage. She is dressed in forest green with long hair of white and sparkling eyes flecked with gold. You recognize the telltale sign of her pointed ears and recognize her to be, most likely a crossbreed, high and wood elf.

As you study her more closely, your skin begins to crawl. She is non-corporeal.

“Top of the morning to you, m’ lady.”

With a staff in his hand, Salazar will bow slightly. I will project an aura of friendliness, yet keep my eye on her and be ready to react should she make an aggressive move.

“I am Salazar, adventurer and explorer of the esoteric. What brings you to this place today?”

“The orcs have left,” she says quietly. She raises a finger to her lips denoting silence. “But they’ll be back.”

She turns to go through a broken archway, passing through the rubble.

I’ll nod my head and whisper, “this will help.”

And in a low voice and with a turn of a fingers of my hand, I will cast detect evil and good.. The spell also lets me know if there’s an aberration, celestial, elemental, fey, fiend or undead within 30 feet. I fully suspect her to be undead. Is she good? Evil?

I will follow her. Should I perceive anything hidden – a door, a chest, or anything noteworthy – please let me know.

Once through the archway, I will engage my own ever-burning torch. It extends from a custom shoulder harness across my back, lighting my path while giving me use of both hands. Putting the staff on my back, I will quietly draw my rapier and follow her.

She is certainly an apparition, but you also detect a hint of evil, but you feel it is not her you sense.

You carefully make your way up, over, and under the fallen timbers, moving carefully through the ruined hall. Passing thru the arch, you discover a open door and a more open area beyond.

Past a small foyer, you see the “front” entrance to the elven construct. To the side, a large fireplace with cooling embers in the hearth, a pot of some form of stew cooking. There are rough leather sacks and packs stacked along the side wall and the stench of orc is in the air.

Suddenly, the ghost appears in the hearth area. She looks frightened. Following her gaze you see a spectral form come crashing through the door. Standing over 6’, clad in ornate plate armour, with a horrific helm from which burn two blazing eyes of magical fire. It draws its weapon and cuts the elf maiden down, then dipping his fingers in her blood he inscribes the fang rune on the floor and bows in prayer before she and he evaporate once more.

A voice from behind you causes you to turn.

“He’ll be back too,” she says.

I whirl around, rapier and spells at the ready. What do I see?

The elf maiden is standing behind you.

“Why have you come?” she says. “It is too late for me.”

Did the undead knight’s armor have any markings on it?

It did. Deep Speech Runes and Roses. There is a legend regarding the Knights of the Black Rose, of how they were betrayed by one of their own, and damned.

What does the symbol the knight drew in blood mean to Salazar?

It is the one Sardonis showed you on the note from his dead friend.

“There’s much to explore here. For this place has been the home of a friend, who has just turned up missing. He could, of course, simply be out for a stroll. But there may be more to it than that.”

“Who are you?”

“My name is unimportant. Only that I lived and loved here and that was all taken away.”

“What happened here? Who was that knight that cut you down?”

“Vagnarok the Half-Drow, who loved me in life and despised me in death. Who he could not have me, he took me.”

“When did that happen?”

“Yesterday, today, and tomorrow.”

“While it may be too late for you, perhaps there is some way I can bring you some peace if that is of some interest. All the more reason to better understand what happened here.”

“Perhaps you may be related in some way to my elven friend. What’s the history of this place?”

“I came to live here with my betrothed, his father, and his brother, Sardonis. My betrothed came here in search of the fiend who killed his mother.”

“Looks as if this Vagnarok worships a most foul beastie. Have you been in the lower levels of this place? “No. Never.”

“We came across a group of worshippers of Vagnarok’s demon. And slew them. Do you have any idea why they have selected this particular place?”

“Only that it has always been sacred to those who call Ravenwood home.”

What can you tell me about this Vagnarok? Seems like you deserve some sort of revenge. So, knowing him better can help. Besides you, what were his interests? Why didn’t you return his love? How did he get mixed up with this demon?

“I thought you knew… it was Vagnarok who killed my lover’s mother. I spurned his advances not only because I was sworn to another, but for the fact that he is undead, as I am now.”

I wonder if he himself doesn’t have some unfinished business, too.

“His only business is to bring torment and death to those he deems worthy of his attention, and to serve his dark lord as one of the children of the night.”

So, you know Sardonis? He’s my friend – the one currently out and about. The one I’m worried about. I share my brother-in-arms concerns and interests.

I had no idea it was Vagnorak who killed your lover’s mother. He is the fiend. But do you have any idea why Vagnorak killed her?

“An old grievance. The father had been a Knight of the Blood Rose, adversaries of the Black. Both men vied for the affection of the one who claimed the Blood for her own. In similar fashion, my own story played out.”

It seems Vagnorak is also the Knight of the Black Rose that betrayed his own. I don’t know that much about that legend. But have you heard of the knights? What was their purpose? How did Vagnorak betray them? Perhaps this explains how he got mixed up with a demon.

“When Drakkarsys was under one rule, there were four Orders of Rosiknecht, Rose Knights: White, Black, Gray, and Blood. They were rivals and tournament adversaries. Vagnorak broke tradition, soiling his Order’s honor, when he killed a man unsportingly on the listfield. His curse came later.”

I see that now. It seems like Vagnorak – when both alive and dead – was cruel when it came to affairs of the heart. What do you mean by the mother who wanted to claim the blood for her own? Was she a vampire? Or perhaps something related to lineage and control of lands?

“I mean Blood as in the Knight of the Blood Rose, the Order my ‘Father-in-Law to be’ was sworn to.”

How did he come to be cursed?

“That is a story I do not know. It is ‘hidden’ from me.”

In what Age was Drakkarsys one rule?

Early in the Age of Darkness. They were united under Gandryllus the Elf King

To whom did the Rose Knights report?

Each were governed by a Duke, known as White Duke, Black Duke, etc and each Duke had an adviser. White = Wizard , Black = Warlock, Gray = Sorcerer, Blood = Cleric

Should I be thinking that the colors correspond to alignments or mindsets?

Based on the wizarding alignments, I would think mindsets.

Were the Blood Knights vampiric?

No, Blood represented the lifeblood spilt in Battle.

And what do you think the orcs are doing here now? Are they searching for something?

They are up to something, what I cannot say.

Do you appear at the same time of the day?

No. I am nearly always here, though sometimes I am… preoccupied.

What are you searching for?

A respite from this horrific existence. To finally be properly laid to rest, which cannot be done so long as the fiend still walks the earth.

Have you seen Sardonis recently?

I have not seen him since my death.

Please know that I will work towards putting you at rest and bringing you a measure of peace. Both for you, and for my friend Sardonis. With this in mind, please feel free to share what you know of this place that can help until your fiend is no longer here.

I know the Orcs have taken root here for but a short time, but that others have come here to stay in the ruins. As I cannot leave, I know not what they do.

Do you ever have a chance to do your own spying on the fiend?

The fiend, as you say, is not here, merely a reflection of his evil act. Where he is in this world now is a mystery to me.

Is the scene we just witnessed something that happens at the same time every day?

It does. Nightly, upon the witching hour.

As she is answering these questions, Salazar explores the orcs packs. Being careful, mind you, for traps. And trying to respect how they were placed so as not to disturb them so much.

What is found, if anything?

Two weeks rations per pack. Several wineskins. Rope, climbing gear, pitons, picks, shovels, stone and gem cutting tools, bags of salt, pouches of wolfsbane, garlic, and nightshade.

Bob, does Salazar know what protections the herbs offer? (I know garlic for vamps, wolfsbane for lycanthropes, but that’s it.)

Nightshade, garlic, and woldsbane combine to make a powerful poison that cannot be detected by taste.

In what part of the ruins do others stay? Perhaps I should quietly investigate that area, too.

Here, and in the back rooms, but never for long. Everyone wants something. No one has found it. Not yet.

Are you familiar with any secret doors or passages in the areas you have traversed?

I know there are secret ways, but I know them not, nor have I seen them found.

Does Salazar know the proper combination of herbs to make the poison?

No. But it is supposed to be odorless and tasteless.

Questions for the ghostly beauty:

Do you specifically know what the parties are searching for?

No.

Have you ever overheard or interacted with explorers to better understand their goals?

Not to any great degree.

What are some of the common themes you pick up? (If any)

They always come to dig and burrow and fret about here and outside… and they discuss altars, swords, and water frequently, but I am not well versed in their alien tongues so that may not be wholly accurate. I speak common and my racial language and little else.

Salazar counts the packs and supplies and thinks there are 8-10 orcs in the party.

“M’Lady, these orcs are carrying garlic, wolvesbane and nightshade. When properly combined, they can make a powerful, tasteless poison. And what good can orcs be up to?”

I’ll glance at the cooking stew.

“Perhaps their stew could use some seasoning. You wouldn’t happen to know the right combination to add here, would you?

2 parts garlic. 1 part wolfsbane. 3 parts nightshade.

“Thanks, M’Lady. Keep an eye out for our dinner guests while I spice up what could be their last meal.”

I will quickly take chunks out of different packs to make a large batch and add it to the stew.

“M’Lady, me thinks we should beat a hasty retreat. And I’d be happy to have you by my side for a bit longer. Are there parts of this lighthouse in which you can’t travel? My guess is we can go in three directions here – up, down, or through the back area there (for the back area, I’ll indicate south on our map).

“I am tethered. I cannot ascend or descend, and I cannot move more than 30’ from where I was slain.”

“I look forward to the day when you will be free. Unfortunately, with our torches, I’m not a fan of heading south. If the explorers you say are back there happen to be encamped (versus out searching), then torchlight may give us away.

And down? Right now, there’s only one way back up. Which might take me by orcs enjoying their last meal.

So, that leaves up."

Salazar glances at the ladder.

“Which means we must part. At least for now. I thank you for your stories, generosity and… herb lore! :) Your beauty follows you even in death. And I hope to one day put you at peace.

If there is a way I might communicate with you when near here, feel free to let me know."

“Be well and true, brave sir. Should you need me, all you need do is call out.”

She fades from view.

I’ll get up to the ladder. If there’s a trap door, I’ll check it for traps (+8 total). Finding nothing, and it’s unlocked, I’ll poke my head up and take a peek around.

What do I see?

No trapdoor. It is open.

The room is 15’ wide. 25’ long. Immediately to your right is another ladder going up to a third floor. The room itself is heavily cobwebbed, but you can make out a bed, small table with a Hnefatafl on it , two chairs, a medium sized harp, and two medium sized chests.

So, a room that needs exploring!

Is there dust on the floor?

Yes, and undisturbed, though you can make out signs that it had been traversed at some point in the past, a year maybe?. The footprints are of medium size and nondescript however.

My good/evil/undead detection lasts for ten minutes, so if it’s still going, let me know if it reveals anything.

You do detect evil emanating from the room.

Thinking this has an elven bent to everything. Am I right?

Yes, everything is fashioned in elven design, with many curves, flourishes, and silver and green enhancements.

Shall I pause here before we continue, in case you wish to alter your action due to detecting evil ahead?

Yes, thanks, Bob. I’ll try to get a sense for what’s going on via evil.

Negative on all such probing. Careful observation denotes movement under the mass of cobwebs covering the elven bed.

Salazar eyes the bed and the evil lurking there. Holding his staff and raising his hand, he utters, “glaciem circumdantibus” and an ice wall will appear around the bed. If I don’t have room for the space between the headboard and the wall, then I’ll wall that part off. So, a three sided wall vs. and found-sided one.

Keeping my concentration on the spell, I’ll then draw my sword (and put away the staff).

What happens next?

The wall is formed, three sided around the bed. As you stand your ground on the landing you can hear chattering on the other side of the ice.

You investigate the chest, which appears empy at first glance, but you notice a side compartment. Inside is a parchment with elven writing. Do you read elven?

Unfortunately, no. I understand common; abyssal; celestial; infernal; and thieves cant.

I’ll grab the parchment after checking the area for traps. Then, go to the other chest (checking for traps there, too).

What’s there?

You open the chest slowly, having verified it unlocked or trapped, and inside, you are confronted by a foul stench. Inside the chest, a vile little creature with rotted flesh and hairless, pasty skin hisses up at you. It is eating a large rat… and there are several rat corpses beneath its blubber.

Roll initiative.

(Battle here. Creature is a Manes, a small demon. It is eventually killed.)

Lying amongst the rat bodies is a gold necklace with thirteen beads (3 white, 3 black, 3 gray, 3 red, and 1 clear). also attached is a gold skull medallion with ruby eyes and brain partially exposed.

As Salazar contemplates his next move, he hears a stirring behind the ice wall, a thrashing, then, several ‘plops’ amid a crash on the first floor, like several wet bags of sand being drop from a height.

Worried the whole floor might cave in, I race over to the ladders and go UP, to the third floor. If the floor starts to give way before then, I will leap towards the coat & hat pegs on the second floor

Once I’m on third floor, I’ll first look down. If not in immediate danger, then look around.

Racing across the small room, Salazar ascends to the third floor. Looking down, he sees several manes clamoring up the first floor ladder.

Thinking quickly, Salazar grasps the ladder and begin hauling it up. A single mane reaches the second floor and leaps, its claws clasping the bottom rung, but lacks the strength to pull itself up. The mane falls back, barreling into the rising throng of his confederates, sending them all tumbling back to the ground floor.

The manes pick themselves up and scurry out of view.

Looking about, there is a small oculus window in the center of the far wall. The ceiling is slightly curved, being 6’6" on the sides and 7’2" in the center, so it is a narrow and confined space. Very claustrophobic. The walls are oak paneled, the floor of elm planks, while the ceiling is entwined cedar.

You discern no obvious secret doors, but the are is relatively clean. Some dust, but something or someone has been here, and recently. No footprints, but a path has been brushed free around the desk and bed area, with only the edges remaining to show time’s passage.

First, I will cast cure light wounds on myself, gaining 5 hit points.

I will then carefully inspect the chair and the desk. Searching for traps, looking for any drawers, secret compartments and the like. Above and underneath. This includes taking a look under the seat cushion and checking out the legs of the table.

Find or see anything?

In the back of one drawer is a piece of parchment, crumbled from having been caught in the glide.

Reviewing it, you see it is a combination of elven script and common, like someone practicing penmanship.

Common words and phrases in common, but one thing does stand out.

A name.

Sardonis.

Also in the desk you’ll uncover a spent inkwell, two old quill pens, four sheets of parchment, a small leather pouch, a silver necklace with bird feathers tied to it, and a crude drawing of a naked woman.

Salazar grabs it all.

Next up, the bed. Check for traps.

Nothing.

Look underneath it,

Under the bed is a pair of worn boots, mud-caked, with a broken heel that has been mended several times.

run rapier over the top of it,

Nothing.

look under the pillow,

Nothing.

check out the four posts.

Ah, a secret compartment beneath the headboard knob against the wall. Untrapped (as I allow your earlier search to stand). Within is a whistle, a spool of string, three fishing hooks, 3 copper pieces, a folded up piece of parchment with crushed aloe plant inside

Look under the mattress. On the sketch, I see something poking out of the bed (near the chest).

Sharp eye.

Is that anything?

It is. An elaborate scroll case with a leather strap. And beside it an empty potion bottle and a small purse.

Is the mud on the boots fresh?

Mere days old.

I’ll grab the stuff out of the secret compartment and put it with the other things. Nod my head as I think these are things Sardonis will appreciate from his youth.

Done.

I’ll check that case, bottle and purse for traps. I suspect a trap here.

The case is coated with a contact poison.

Is there any moisture in the potion bottle?

Remnants of a red fluid.

If I find no traps, I will actually back off and move to the other side of the room. With a whisper and wave of my hand, a spectral hand will appear and pull out the items and place them on the floor by the chest.

Done.

The mage hand will open up the scroll case and small purse. What’s inside?

The scroll case is empty except for ashes and flecks of scorched parchment.

In the purse is a stick of chalk, a vial of holy water, a glass bottle of powdered silver (half full), a tenderbox, a forked twig, A small pouch with tuffs of bloodhound fur.

Hmmm…

Based on the material components, we may be dealing a priest of some sort. But perhaps an evil one, which would explain the contact poison.

Looking up and scowling, I’ll stand up, draw my rapier, and move it slowly move it along the ceiling. I’ll try to cover the room roughly. And whisper…

“Come out, come out wherever you are, priest.”

“No need to hide. Nothing lost in a conversation…” Note I’m not menacing with the blade. Justifying to get a sense if I’m alone in the room. So, will also move the blade throughout the room, too.

Roll initiative.

A drow elf materializes near the ladder brandishing a scimitar in one hand with a spell of some sort cooking in the other.

“Stop. You don’t have to die this way, priest. One false move, and I’ll run you through.”

Should he continue his spell, I’ll swing. If he makes any threatening move at all, actually, I’ll swing.

Ugly and tense little battle breaks out between Salazar and the mysterious drow. VERY touch and go. Ultimately, Salazar decides that it is better to live to fight another day. He eventually makes his way down to the ground floor.

Surrounded in drow darkness, giving the elf considerable advantage, Salazar cries out for the ghostly elven maiden. “M’Lady, I need light!”

The room is bathed in a magical light, dissolving the darkness. Salazar sees her before you, radiant, and the manes are cowering, for now, from the brightness. The manes recoil… Salazar thanks the ghost, vows to help bring her peace, and runs.

Fleet of foot, Salazar scurries up, over, and under the lighthouse wreckage and onto the stone causeway leading to the stable. He hears hissing laughter behind him, growing faint as you burst through the doors where your companions lie in rest.

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