Elminster the Sage

The Company of the Silver Coin
Amber the Ranger
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Book 4

Chapter 10 - The Black Rift (1359DR, 3rd - 5th Nightal)

The grim reflections of us, with their decaying flesh and ruined faces, were about forty feet away when we realised what they were. Sensing the malice in them my companions readied weapons. I quickly called upon Silvanus for protection and in answer to my prayer my skin was temporarily transformed into tough but flexible wood. Unhurriedly but with dreadful purpose the undead figures moved forward but before they had even closed half the distance they were enveloped in a thick bank of fog, disappearing from sight. Fearful that we would be taken off guard I quickly pulled out the lens and held it to my eye. Without warning the crystal lens exploded into a hundred tiny shards in my hand. It was only pure luck that prevented me from losing my sight but even so I bled from dozens of small wounds in my hand and face. Even more then the pain of my wounds I was stung by loosing of the lens; it had proved an invaluable gift in the past especially in the catacombs beneath The Citadel in Nimpeth and while we tracked down the vampires in Espar.
When, after a few seconds, the undead doppelgangers hadn’t reappeared we decided to make a break for it, push on into the mist. We had barely taken ten paces however when we became aware of movement above us. The branches of the trees we were passing under were starting to move. No, not the branches themselves but something serpentine within their branches. As they swung, with surprising speed, to the ground we could see that they looked like the Shambling Mounds we had fought the day before except these creatures had been stretched into sausages some eight feet long and about as thick as my leg. Baynar, Baldric and, though we couldn’t see him, Bazil moved to engage one each. Twin-Death proved as ineffective against these new Slithering Mounds as it had against the Shambling Mounds the previous day. Though Bazil plunged both of his blades into his chosen foe, becoming temporarily visible in the process, he didn’t connect with anything vital. Baynar had more luck; he injured his foe but as before the creature’s fibrous body took little real damage from the sword strike. The Slithering Mounds were quick to retaliate. Like the ones from the previous day they attacked by exuding two, thick pseudopodia. By now we were well aware of the dangers of becoming caught by both of them. One Mound attacked Baynar; he was able to block one sweeping arm with his shield while the second bounced harmlessly off his armour. Baldric’s fine, Elven plate-mail similarly warded off both the attacks from his Mound. Despite his agility Bazil fell prey to both of his enemy’s bludgeoning arms and was quickly enveloped. The forth Mound had fallen close to Faergil and attacked the mage who managed to dodge one arm but wasn’t so luck about the other. Quickly Colatto, falling back on the Art where swords seemed to be failing, unleashed a blistering blast of arctic cold into this fourth Mound but it appeared that, like fire, cold had little or no effect on these creatures. During this time I had returned to a tactic that had proved successful in the past; I moved across to Amber and, placing a hand upon her, called out to Silvanus. The blessing, though it would only last a few seconds, would allow Amber to see a fraction of the way into her future and guide herself to one more beneficial to her.
With grim purpose Amber closed on the Mound that had just swallowed Bazil and, her natural skill and strength enhanced by the blessing of Silvanus reigned two powerful blows down upon it. It was injured but still alive and still holding onto Bazil. Screaming with rage Primrose charged the Mound’s flank delivering a blow with The Tears of Tymora. While this attack didn’t finish the creature it did hurt the Mound and let Amber slip past its guard of flailing limbs and deliver a third, powerful blow. Not only did the Mound refused to yield but it retaliated, snaring Amber before she could dodge back out of arms’ reach and engulfing her too! Both Colatto and Faergil were once more using the Art. Colatto cast a spell of Vampiric Touch while the elf, quite understandably worried about being so close to a Slithering Mound, did what he usually did under those circumstances and created a dozen illusionary decoys. The elven-mage was not a moment too soon as the Mound flailed at him with both of its pseudopodia but only managed to hit, and dispel, two of the decoys. A moment later Josh was at Faergil’s side, chopping at the Mound with his scimitar but unable to find anything vital. Baynar continued his man-to-Mound fight, fending off pseudopodia and finding openings to deliver two counter-attacks.
Seeing the danger that Bazil and now Amber were in Faergil unleashed a volley of magical darts into the Slithering Mound that was trying to crush the life out of the pair. The Mound, already badly injured by Amber and Primrose, was torn apart by the barrage, disgorging it’s victims. I quickly moved over to the slime covered rangeress and, helping her up, renewed the blessing I had previously placed upon her. Josh grabbed hold of the slimy, decaying bulk of the Mound that had just attacked Faergil and, as I had the previous day, reversed the healing power of Silvanus. The Mound discoloured and seemed to wilt but, though badly injured, didn’t die. This seemed to be the start of a short fade of people attacking Mounds barehanded. Baldric, who of all of us must have been at the greatest disadvantage against the Mounds lacking as he did any edged weapons, did almost exactly the same thing as Josh to his opponent with very similar results. Colatto employed the Vampiric Touch he had cast against Baynar’s opponent, touching the Mound and leaching out a large slice of its life-energies and in the process healing some of his injuries. By getting so close to the Mounds the three had left themselves vulnerable to attack and only Josh, whose Mound continued it’s single minded attack on the illusionary Faergils, avoided being first bludgeoned and then drawn into the creatures’ masses. Now Bazil was free Primrose had moved on to the closest Mound, the one facing the Faergils and Josh and managed to make two solid attacks on it. Baynar continued his duel with his chosen opponent now fighting for Colatto’s life as well as his own, his martial skills proving sufficient to keep him safe while he slowly wore it down.
Between them Josh, Faergil, Bazil (blinking into and out of sight thanks to his cursed ring) and Primrose raked one of the Mounds with enchanted steel, the Art and Divine power but still it endured. It lashed out at Bazil but could only connect with one arm, even so that left the hobbit battered and bruised. The Mound that had swallowed Baldric was unable to hold him for long as the Luck-Bringer, blessed by The Lady, heaved himself to freedom. Amber was on her feet again and attacked the one that had just, reluctantly, given up Baldric with a series of powerful attacks. The Mound was however relatively unwounded and weathered the assault. It was able to bludgeon her with one of its limbs but she was able to avoid the second. I stayed close to her to maintain the blessing.
With Amber at his side Brother Baldric managed to get enough breathing space to cast a warding miracle of Sanctuary upon himself. Whether the miracle would have been potent enough to turn aside the Mound he never discovered as it concentrated its attacks on the rangeress, coming close to engulfing her. That attack proved to be it’s last as Amber retaliated with three, devastating swashing blows that hacked the Mound into four chunks. This left only two of the Slithering Mounds, one (which still held Colatto in its coils) facing Baynar and the other hemmed in by Faergil, Josh and the hobbits. Both were clinging to life by a thread but didn’t flee. The Mound that had previously concentrated on snaring the allusive Faergil suddenly turned on Primrose, knocking her to the ground and engulfing her. With a deep thrust into the bulk of the Mound Baynar finished off his foe. It’s animating force gone the plant-creature lost cohesion and Colatto, gasping for air, slipped free. Three quick strides took him to the side of the remaining Mound, which was twisting and writhing as Primrose tried to escape it’s deadly embrace, and he hacked at it. Suddenly the Mound was opened up almost from end to end as Captain Stringfellow, heralded by the blazing green aura of The Scout’s Blade, materialised beside the Mound and finished it off, freeing Primrose.

The battle was over but we could sense danger all about us. The fog was thickening by the second and the ground itself seemed to shift and twist under out feet as if it was trying to drag us down. Through the mist we glimpsed our ghoulish duplicates again, nearer this time. Stopping only long enough to make sure everyone was accounted for we stumbled off into the fog, Amber in the lead, desperate to put as much distance between us and the undead figures as possible. The fog was far thicker then it had been the day before, detail was impossible to discern beyond a couple of feet and anything beyond fifteen was completely hidden from view until we stumbled in to it. Suddenly, to our left, we became aware of a group of Shambling Mounds, how many I couldn’t tell but they at least matched the size of The Company. My divine favour was being rapidly exhausted but I had enough left to call upon Silvanus for aid. By his will a zone of protection into which no plant creature could enter formed around me. This shell was fifteen feet across and my companions were forced to crowd around me so they too would be protected. Brother Baldric pleaded with us to stop. Until then, as he pulled a scroll from his pack, I hadn’t realised how grave his injuries were. The scroll, a gift from the Church of Tymora, contained the most potent healing miracle of the Faithful and with it Baldric was able to heal all his injuries, no matter how severe, in one go. He also used his dwindling supply of Divine favour to see to Primrose’s injuries.
And so, a tight knot of flesh and fear, we plunged deeper and deeper into the blinding fog with only the Gift of Amber to guide us. It was truly a nightmarish journey. For my companions virtually every step was fight against the under bush and the blood-chilling cold, even clustered together as we were, stung us all, sapping strength and resolve. Monstrous, black shapes would appear and disappear into the mist. We saw more Mounds and for a while a vast walking tree, perhaps a twisted Treant, kept pace with us. The sight that haunted me the most was the blazing auras cast by the blades of the undead Colatto and Amber, some times far away sometimes far too close but never gone for long. Primrose’s occasionally whimpers echoed the feelings of doom that I imagine we all felt. I had faced death before but this was something different, darker; The Dark Watch seemed to embody what I could only describe as Anti-Life.
Suddenly, without warning, Amber was gone from in front of me. A split second later the ground disappeared from under me and I felt myself falling into a fog filled void! For a split second that lasted several lifetimes I sensed nothing, there was no sense of up or down, no noise, no sense of falling. Suddenly one of my flailing arms snagged something and I came to a jarring stop that sent daggers of pain through my shoulder. For a few more seconds I hung there until my racing mind caught up with me. I was hanging from a vine in a large pit of some kind. How large and how deep I couldn’t tell, in the mist I could only see one wall, some five feet from me. It was composed of dangerously lose looking stones inter-spaced with what I first thought were sharpened, white sticks but, after a second look, realised were countless animal bones. Above me, muffled by the fog, I could hear voices, my companions, calling out my own and Amber’s names. The vine that I was clinging on to was not alone but one of a number that must have hung, like a net, from the edge of the precipice I had stumbled over. Some of the vines seemed to be moving and for a second I thought that I was under attack by yet another carnivorous plant until I realised that it was being caused by Amber who was clinging to another vine a little above me. As I have mentioned in the pass I am not a great climber and I doubted that I could have shape-changed into something that was without letting go of my lifeline so it was with no small trepidation that I began my ascent. It wasn’t a long climb to bring myself level with Amber but I experienced a great sense of relief when I felt her strong, steadying arm on my shoulder. By then the others were calling down for us to stay where we were as Bazil was coming down. Looking up we could see the top of the cliff and a rather puzzling sight, a half-ring of flame some twenty-feet in diameter extending out into the void.
Within a few moments Amber and I were treated to the slightly unnerving but welcome spectacle of a length of silk rope moving purposefully down the cliff face towards as the invisible Bazil climbed down. It was decided that I would go up first. Bazil lopped the rope under my arms and the others pulled my up to the top of the precipice, some thirty feet above. Once topside, as the others hauled up Amber, I discovered what the flame was, Faergil had cast a spell creating a wall of flame to surround us and keep out any of the hostile creatures of The Dark Watch (except the Shambling Mounds of course). I was also please to find my staff which, by shear chance, hadn’t fallen down into the pit. I also took the opportunity to use some more my Divine Favour to treat the injuries to my face caused by the exploding lens.
Once we were all reunited the question of what to do next was aired. We couldn’t see any trace of the far edge of the ravine; indeed, for all we knew it could have been a cliff with no far side. We were just considering scouting along the edge when Amber announced that we needed to descend down the into the depth. I was stung by my own stupidity; we had been told that there was a great rift at the heart of The Dark Watch and this was it.
Bazil went down to explore. Baldric cast a protective miracle on the hobbit that would alert the priest if he came to any harm. This done Bazil tied his rope around himself as a safety line and descended with Baldric and myself playing out the rope behind him. The first thirty feet or so of Bazil’s decent was easy as he climbed down the net of vines that had saved Amber and my life. After that things got tougher. The cliff-face was loose and prone to crumble even under Bazil’s weight. To make matters worse there were the spears of bone that he had to be careful he didn’t cut himself on. Further down still streams of foul, black water oozed through the side of the cliff and worked their way down leaving large patches of an oily, black moss. We had played out some fifty feet of rope when suddenly it went taut in our grasp. There were a few moments of concern before the line when lose again and we heard Bazil’s voice from far below calling out that he was okay; he had just lost his grip for a second. We had only just begun to feed out the rope again when Baldric declared that Bazil was in danger and we felt the rope being twisted in our grasp. Baldric told us that he had, thanks to the miracle he had placed upon Bazil, seen a vision in which he saw the hobbit being attacked by a black, animated vine. We felt the pull on the rope increase dramatically as the vine tugged at Bazil and I had images of the hobbit being caught in the middle of a deadly game of tug-of-war. Desperate to help Bazil Primrose jumped onto the rope and began to descend as fast as she could, within moments disappearing into the mist. Colatto pulled out Lord Worren’s spell book and casting directly from it put a flying spell upon Amber. Without hesitation Amber threw herself over the edge descended, feet first, back into the rift. Faergil’s concentration was taken up with maintaining the wall of fire while all the rest of us could do was hang on to the rope and hope for the best.
Within moments of her jump Amber had overtaken Primrose and a few seconds later, following the rope, which level with Bazil. Bazil was caught in the coils of a wiry black vine that was working its way up his body from his toes to his chest. The vine had razor sharp thorns along its length and as it spiralled about Bazil’s body it left long, painful cuts in his flesh. Bazil clung to the rope with one hand and had The Scout Blade, held away from his body to stop it getting trapped, in the other. Bazil had already started to hack at it but Amber was able to sever the vine with one powerful chop. With Bazil free of the vine we felt the rope twist again as, like a pendulum, Bazil swung back till the rope was straight. He and Amber had spotted four more of the vines moving towards the rope, from Amber’s description they seemed to be probing the cliff-face like blind-men, feeling their way along. Perhaps the vines were indeed blind, locating their prey by vibration, as they didn’t seem to be aware of the flying Amber until she drove them away from the rope with punishing blows from her swords.
Once the vines had given up Amber and Bazil decided that they should continue the decent. Bazil started to climb down again while Amber flew back up to collect Primrose. We were within feet of the end of Bazil’s one hundred feet of rope when we heard our companions call out that they had found the top of a building. I was eager to get down and investigate, too eager in fact and had to be brought to my senses by Colatto. Colatto then used a spell of Polymorphing to take the form of a Pegasus and carried Josh, Baynar, Baldric and myself down into the rift.

We found Amber and Bazil standing on the roof of a stone tower. The tower was perhaps ten feet from the wall of the cliff. Its roof was large and flat with a round opening in the centre. A little way down the side of the tower, on the side away from the cliff-face, was a bridge that connected to a second tower that we could just make out through the mist. Searching the floor Baynar was able to find a trapdoor buried beneath the layers of decay that covered the roof but it was either locked or jammed. Returning to his natural form Colatto pulled a light stone from his pocket and dropped it down the hole. The light dropped until it disappeared altogether though as it did so it briefly illuminated several voids, rooms perhaps, each with a hole in the floor similar to the one we were looking down.
We decided to forget about the trapdoor and use the hole. Colatto, taking the form of a bird, took the lead with Amber, still under the effects of the flying spell, carrying each of us down in turn. After Colatto I was the second one down and I found my companion in a large room the ceiling of which was held up by four carved pillars. In fact intricate carvings of trees and other wilderness scenes covered every inch of the tower. The room had one door leading out that was partially open. Looking at it, while Amber ferried the others down, the thought occurred to me; who had opened it? When I aired my views Colatto, a ranger before he became a mage, checked around the door and decided that it had been open no more then a few days ago. It looked like we had found the first sign of the Drow arch-mages and their party.
When we were all together again Bazil, after checking the door a declaring it free from traps, squeezed around it to see what was beyond. No sooner had he stepped around (I think…he was after all invisible) then we heard him say he had found bodies of men and elves just beyond the doorway. My first though was that the humans were Red Wizard allies of the Drow but when Colatto opened the door it became clear that the elves and men had slain each other. The Drow were clad in the now familiar black chainmail and were armed with short swords, bucklers and daggers much like the dark elves who had attacked us in Tilver’s Gap; indeed a quick investigation by Bazil revealed they wore the same insignia as the Drow from that battle. The humans, by comparison, wore leather armour and seemed mostly to be armed with scimitars. A sudden suspicion as to their identity came to me, a suspicion confirmed when Bazil found that the humans were wearing about their necks obsidian disks carved into the shape of a maw; they were priests of Moander the Rotting God. After learning from Gillian that priests of Moander had been seen near The Dark Watch I had wondered how their alliances lay. Had the Drow struck a deal with them to get to the legacy of Shrinshee or were the priests on no ones side but their own; ready to defend The Dark Watch from all invaders. It now seemed clear that the later was true. From first hand experience we knew that the Drow, as well as being highly skilled fighters, were armed with magical weapons and arms. Bazil and I took the opportunity to acquire a few daggers though Colatto balked at peeling a set of chainmail from one of the decaying dark elves.
There were three other ways out of this room but the one directly ahead of us, according to Brother Baldric who had paid particular attention to it while we were on the roof, should have lead out to the bridge. Concerned that the priests of Moander had left traps I used the very last of my Divine favour to invoke a miracle that would alert me to any traps. Baldric was proved right about the bridge and we decided to follow it.
The bridge was some ten feet wide and fifty feet in length. Like the roof of the tower it was covered in a mat of decaying vegetable matter that had no doubt fallen over the cliff over the centuries since the earth had swallowed the structure. Amber went a little way ahead and examined the bridge for footprints, she reported that multiple sets of booted feet, almost certainly the priests of Moander, had passed back and forth across the bridge. Cautiously we crossed. Colatto took the opportunity to cast an Armour spell upon himself as well as a spell that temporarily gave him Elven Sight. Looking over the edge of the bridge we could see below us what appeared to be a complicated arrangement of walled courtyards that would, as Baldric pointed out, look not unlike an eye if seen from above. We crossed the bridge without incident and reached the second, smaller tower. A door connected the bridge with the tower and beyond was a short corridor from which exited three doors. Two doors led into what had once probably been living chambers, though any furnishings that there had once been had long since turned to dust, while the third lead to an external balcony from which descended a set of stone steps. We were about to descend when Primrose suggested that it might be a good place to rest after the trails of the day. Baldric and I were eager to push on; I felt that time was against us and would rather have confronted the drow tired and low on magic then got to them too late. However the others, particularly the mages, wanted to rest to so rest we did. Before going to sleep Baldric employed the gifts of The Lady to heal our wounds. Baynar refused to accept Baldric’s healing while there were others who needed it. I must admit I was surprised how much Divine Favour the Luck-Bringer still had. Any concerns I had about getting to sleep on the hard stone floor surrounded by the damp mists of the Dark Watch (which were now much thinner but still ever present) proved unfounded and within moments I had fallen into a deep and dreamless sleep.
I cannot say how long I slept for but when I awoken I felt more refreshed then I had since the night by the ford (could that only have been three days ago?). It was dark outside and somewhere, far above us the moon and stars were out. Not that their light reached as down in The Dark Watch. The fog and the darkness combined in a way that was smothering and oppressive and the only light here was the light that we brought with us. The mages and us priests spent the next four hours in study and prayer, not enough time to relearn our most potent miracles and spells but time was not on our side. Before we set off I finished what Baldric had started and healed The Companies injuries, at least we would have the chance of facing the Drow fighting fit. Colatto took the opportunity to renew his spell of Elven Sight and cast a second spell that would increase his strength a little. Both he and Faergil cast Stone Skin spells upon themselves.
The stone stairs spiralled down the outside of the tower into a walled courtyard of which the tower itself seemed to form part of the wall. A quick circuit of the courtyard seemed to show no way out except by going back into the tower at ground level through one of the two doors set in opposite sides of the wall. We also found more dead Drow and human bodies; we definitely seemed to be on the right track.
Opening one of the doors in the tower we were struck by an appalling smell of rotting flesh that brought bile to my throat. Beyond the door was corridor, or maybe a long hallway, which connected with the corresponding door on the far side of the tower. In the wall to our left were a pair of double doors that lead out of the courtyard while to our right was what had once been a set of elegant stairs descending to a level below us. It was up these stairs that the sickening smell was coming. In the light of Faergil’s light stone we could see the stairs descended into what could only be described as a sea of filth; rotting vegetable matter, decaying flesh and putrefying foulness I cannot begin to imagine (or maybe I just don’t want to). Floating near the top of this mass were dismembered body parts, fairly fresh, of both men and dark elves. As most of us hastily went for the double doors Baynar, prompted by some macabre curiosity, went to investigate the stairs with Colatto close behind. The pair discovered that the sea of refuse didn’t fill the room below from floor to ceiling. By descending the stairs a little and crouching down they could see the top half of the chamber, which seemed very much like the one in which the rest of us were standing. No sooner had Baynar called out their discovery when we started to see movement amongst the sea of muck as something bulky started to half crawl, half swim towards them. With a flick that sent globules of foulness everywhere a long tentacle ending in a leaf shaped paddle the underside of which was covered in spines or teeth rose from the muck and flew towards Baynar. The knight parried the heavy blow with his shield and Colatto and he came running back towards us. As the pair reached us Bazil threw open one of the double doors and we went through. As we slammed the door back into place we caught a glimpse of a creature crawling up the stairs; it had a large, bulbous body some seven feet across with a great, chewing maw and three powerful tentacles.
With the tentacled horror shut away we could examine our surroundings; we were in a passageway or alley formed by two of the walls that surrounded the towers. We had a choice of two gateways out of the passage; the first had collapsed at some time in the past while the second gateway was both intact and open. We chose the second and passing through it we found ourselves in another passage that ended in a set of descending stone stairs. The stairs finally brought us out of the maze of passages and courtyards surrounding towers and into the gap between the outer wall of the tower complex and the vast, towering cliff-face that led back up to the surface. The floor was slick with the same greasy, black moss that Bazil had described seeing in patches on the cliff. After a few minutes walk we found the broken remains of a long, stone staircase. The stairs had broken down the centre and some force, perhaps the same that had driven this whole area into the ground, had forced the outer ends upwards. We were forced to pick our way in single file down the stairs, keeping to the centre. The mist and slippery moss didn’t make the going any easier and I’m surprised none of us came to any harm. The stairs deposited us into a vast open area that was as bad as any we had seen since entering The Dark Watch. Even with Faergil’s light stone the fog meant we could see no more then thirty feet. We had lost sight of the cliff face down which Bazil had climbed but occasionally, when the fog thinned, we caught glimpses of the far wall. Stretching ahead of us was a vast sea of blighted plant-matter, mostly thick layers of moss but here and there the stems of cancerous looking growths rose into the thick air. There were also monolithic stones, like the bones of some unimaginably vast dragon, jutting skywards and broken stone structures that had once been the elven settlement of Tsornyl. And the smell; incredibly we didn’t encounter it until we reached the bottom of the stairs, as if the fog were somehow deliberately concealing it from us. When we reached the end of the stairs it hit us in fall force. We all gagged and it was too much for Colatto who spent the next few minutes bringing up what little he had had to eat recently.
Amber’s Gift had been rather quiet since our arrival in the tower but seemed to call to her once more and she began to lead us across the void.
I can only guess that the rift was two, perhaps three, miles in length. It was eerie walking between the remains of the elven settlement; one that had been founded before even Mythdranor. It would have been bad enough if it had been a waste land but the poisonous, colourless growths that now surrounded it made it’s destruction even more complete. Hidden as it was in the Vast Swamp at least Myth Janael, had the echoes of those who had lived there, here in Tsornyl even memory was dead.

After I don’t know how long we became of a vast structure looming out of the mist. As we got closer it became more defined. Both in its titanic size and design it was completely different from anything else we had seen since descending the rift. Its great age was unmistakable, as was the fact that it had once been of incomparable magnificence, but now it seemed to emanate almost perceivable waves of evil and corruption. There could be no doubt that somewhere within was the very heart of The Dark Watch. As we took in the scene we became aware of furtive movements in the fog. We glanced in that direction and glimpsed a ragged figure moving away from us. We started to give chase but the figure, by his movement clearly weak and injured, sprawled prone after barely a dozen steps. With Colatto’s warnings to be cautious following me I quickly closed to the figure. It was a man with long, matted hair and dressed in ragged, soiled clothing that did little to conceal the festering wounds on his body. Quickly I called upon The Oak Father to stanch the figure’s injuries and then rolled him over. The figure was semiconscious at best and his breathing ragged. However my blood froze when Bazil pulled out the medallion that still hung around the man’s neck; he was a priest of Moander. My Lord Silvanus has few enemies amongst the gods but while he lived The Rotting God Moander had been high among them. I thought of all we had endured in The Dark Watch over the last three days; this was what all The Realms would be like if the will of Moander and his faithful had been done. I cannot think of a time up until then when I had wanted to kill someone so badly, to rip what little life was left in him from his broken body with my own claws, but I resisted the urge. Wanting for some benefit to come from the chance meeting I turned his face towards me and demanded to know what lay inside the building which, I’m sure, he had just escaped from. His reaction was simply an insane laugh, one that fanned the flames of murderous rage in me anew. Not trusting myself I got up and stalked away. What my companions did with the man I do not know but a few minutes later we were making our way towards the building.
The anticipation for the conflict that lay ahead was keenly felt. Colatto once more sacrificed a page from Lord Worren’s spell book to place a Stone Skin spell on Primrose. Bazil agreed to give me a magical oil which he had obtained on our travels that would magnify the force of any blunt weapon it was smeared upon; I tucked the flask into my belt of easy of access later. We approached the structure from one corner and had to walk along one intricately carved wall for at least seventy feet before we came to a doorway. Beyond the double doors was a room perhaps twenty feet square with a domed ceiling. On the far wall was a doorway leading further into the structure and in the middle of the room was a pool of stagnant, black water at the edge of which were the bodies of two, dead Drow women. Bazil informed us he was going to have a closer look, a good thing too as the sight of one of the bodies apparently rolling itself over would have done nothing for our already taut nerves. The Drow’s body, where it had lain in the water, was covered in large, black leeches. Suddenly, no doubt drawn to the movement of the body, the pool started to writhe as hundreds of hungry leeches rose to the surface. We all scuttled back out of the building, the leeches pursued us for a few feet before giving up the chase and inching their way back to the pool. Luckily there was enough room around the edges of the water for us, when all was calm, to dash around to the far door. Beyond was a massive chamber the purpose of which was not clear to me. It was missing most of its roof and a beard of pasty vines, far too reminiscent of pig’s entrails for anyone’s liking, hung down from the edges of the hole. We crossed this room quickly and found ourselves in comparably small chamber. This chamber, or perhaps hallway would be a better description, was some twenty feet wide and fifty in length. At the far end was an archway and about halfway along one wall was an open door. Carefully we approached the door. The wall it was in, like most of the structure, had carved frescos of stunning complexity. The pattern continued across the back of the door and it was clear that, had it been shut, the door would have been all but invisible. Once again I called upon Silvanus and attempted to divine any traps or hidden dangers but it seemed safe. Intrigued we went through the door and found ourselves in a corridor heading away from the hallway at right angles. After about twenty-five feet the corridor turned to our left, back the way we had come. This knocked our hopes that this would lead to the Legacy of Srinshee as we imagined that it would be at the heart of the building. The corridor, now much narrower, ran for ten more feet before reaching another door. My divine sight revealed no traps and Bazil’s sharp hearing couldn’t hear anything from within so he opened it. As the door opened our hopes rose as shafts of a pure, silver light poured forth. Unfortunately we were a little premature but it was still an amazing discovery. The chamber beyond was basically square with one wall forming a curve. In that curve stood the statue of an elven goddess, Faergil identified her as Sehanine Moonbow, and above her a silver moon. The walls of the room were inlayed with diamonds set in the formations of the stars and the silver light, the only light I had seen since entering the Dark Watch that seemed in some manner that I cannot describe safe, shone from a point in the ceiling. We stepped in and took in the room. Somehow this room seemed immune to the fingers of decay that had stabbed at the rest of the building, if one of Tsornyl’s original citizens had walked at that moment I wouldn’t have been surprised. It did puzzle me that a place this beautiful would have been hidden away by the elves. Above and behind the statue was an inscription. Faergil translated it to be “Do not fear the stars or the light since they contain the memories of our people”. This jogged a memory of my own. Early in our quest for the mysterious Legacy of Srinshee we had been told of the legendary “Vault of Ages” said to contain the history of the elven peoples. Could this be it? The others had found no additional ways out and no trace of the Legacy so it was decided to return along the hidden corridor. At that moment more then any other it seemed to me a cruel fate indeed that we had to hurry from such places of peace and beauty to go looking for battle and death.
Once back in the hallway we headed for the archway at the far end. It opened into a small junction. Ten feet or so ahead was another archway. To our right was a wall and to our left a second archway with an impenetrable darkness beyond. Colatto tossed a light stone through the left-hand archway and instantly the darkness, presumably magical in nature, vanished and we could see three shimmering lights. Baldric, I think nervous of some kind of trap, dashed across the junction into the chamber ahead. The rest of us, with Colatto in the lead, went to investigate the light.
Looking through the archway we could see a large chamber with four platforms set in a square formation. Above the platform furthest from us and at the right danced a white light. Above the platform at the far left was a red glow. The platform nearest to us on the right had a blue glow while the near left had no glow at all. Before we could even begin to speculate at what we were looking at, however, first Colatto and then all of us were wreathed in a heatless, red aura of flame and with quicksilver, darting movements dark figures began to move towards us; dark elves!

Next Chapter

DM's Notes

I used the following references:
Volos Guide to the Dalelands - Info on the Darkwatch
Cormanthyr - Background information on Semberholme
Eliminsters Ecologies - Flora and Fauna of Cormanthor.

It was my intention to make the Darkwatch as nasty as possible, without actually obviously evil. Corruption and Decay were what I was aiming for. I used the background information from the above sources, but basically everything was my own 'cut' at the Darkwatch.

It IS a dangerous place and few people ever see it alive, luckily the PCs are 'few people'. Of course that doesn't mean its going to be easy...

I never said anything about those simulcrums of the PCs being undead...Thats something they decided. What they are...is for another day.

The serpentine shambling mounds are based on those in Eliminsters Ecologies.

The thing that grabbed at Bazil was a Creeper Vine - a huge one. They have a 10% per round of strangulation - nice.

I was greatly concerned that the idea of climbing down this rift onto a tower was reminiscent of The Sunless Citadel (a 3E scenario we have played). I tried not to make it so, but am still not sure.

The creature in the offal is of course an otyugh, and an unpleasant one at that.

Finally they have entered the heart of the darkwatches corruption, though whether they actually find the Legacy of the Srinshee is another matter. The Realms Campaign could easily come to a close next week!

Stay tuned.

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