Tellurian Tales (vol 11): The Clanholds

When we last left our heroes, they had successfully infiltrated the lower reaches of Mor Dunehaim. They had cleared the Glitterhame caverns and mines of walking undead and other dangerous vermin. The discovery of grave rime--a cold emanation associated with strong desecration--seeping down from the upper levels of the delve suggested that worse may be yet in store.

07 May

Our heroes cautiously pass once more through the Glitterhame. A couple lone zombies--bearing Luceo's white chalk marks--are up and about, but are easily dispatched by Luceo's own undead entourage. Luceo comments that it must be due to the power of the grave rime that the bodies keep rising again.

Near the clanless holds, the party ascends a wide stately staircase to the clanholds. As they rise, the air grows chillier and seemingly darker. The stairs emerge in a large hall with a central fountain, currently still. Littering the floor are the bodies of orcs and dwarves, all slightly desiccated. Thick darkness pours from two wide hallways that stretch away from the fountain.

Our heroes decide to quietly check out the various clan halls first, all branching off the great hallways that seem slightly warmer. While they find no walking corpses, small bundles of hair and teeth, animated by negative energy, scurry out from some of the rooms to claw and nip at their legs. The tomb motes are quick and fierce and surprisingly tough, but the party soon dispatches them.

Returning to the fountain hall, the second, darker hallway stretches off into the frozen gloom. The silence is not that of a tomb, where all lies dead and still. Instead, it is as if some cloying evil simply holds its breath, waiting and ominous. The party stands at the crossroads for a moment, and Invellios suddenly cocks his head. They all listen, and soon the others hear it too: a muttering in the distance. It slowly builds, growing more angry and insistent... and obviously coming from behind the door to their left. "Allip!", hisses Luceo. "It'll be dark and incorporeal." Already he is gesturing, and a glowing spectral hand appears before him as he draws a wand of cure light wounds. Sarah readies herself, but the dwarves and the hobgoblin stand motionless, eyes wide, mesmerized by the mad muttering.

The writhing spirit bursts like inky smoke through the door, screaming now. Sarah blasts it with a ray of searing light, and Luceo channels healing energy through the spectral hand. The allip cringes, and then reaches a wispy tendril out to Luceo's head. Luceo screams as his mind is rent by the madness of the allip. He sees hazy images and he knows: this is the dwarven mage Arundil, tortured endlessly by the plundering orcs, driven insane before finally slain in this cursed delve where his twisted soul can find no rest.

Invellios, his arrows useless, shakes the others from their trance. Luceo continues to attack with positive energy, and the shadowy form begins to waver. Suddenly, with a final scream, it shivers, frays, and evaporates. The halls are silent once more.

A search of the allip's room reveals a stale and dusty scholar's library. There is no where left to go now but down the dark hallway.

Cautiously clearing out rooms on either side, they discover a surprise. In a dusty armory, a full set of plate mail suddenly shambles forward and attacks them. The dwarves and hobgoblin surround the thing and eventually manage to hack the wooden frame within to pieces. It's unclear whether the wooden frame was animated by magic or a possessing spirit, but it is disconcerting to be attacked by even the inanimate furniture.

This only worsens in the next room when a giant embroidered rug ripples to life, engulfing Boren and Strohm. Invellios sets the rug aflame with two well-placed dragon's breath arrows while Rorik tries to hack the rug apart between the two wriggling bodies within it. When the rug finally loosens, the others pull a singed and crippled Strohm and an unconscious Boren free from the blackened rug. Luceo puts his wand of cure light wounds to good use once more.

Our heroes share grim looks, their faces pale in the bobbing magical lights of their glowstones. The weak light seems to only highlight the blackness beyond. Rorik's whispers, "Beyond the next corner lies the King's Hall."

They enter the great room cautiously, but they have no advance warning before torn fragments of darkness slip silently and unerringly into their little pool of light. The shadows attack Rorik first, who groans and stumbles back from their cold, weakening touch. Another shadow bursts through Luceo's vanguard of skeletons and zombie to attack the necromancer himself. Luceo binds the fell figment to his will with command undead, and then attempts to direct it to attack its fellows. After a couple attempts, the murk finally submits, and launches itself at the other shadows. Sarah and Boren hold the shadows back with their turning efforts while Luceo's murk and another tear each other apart. Between Luceo's magic missiles and Sarah's greater turning they are able to dispatch the rest, but not before being greatly weakened themselves. The fighters cower behind the clerics, knowing their mundane weapons to be ineffectual against such incorporeal foes.

The heroes, stumbling with weakness and the oppression of this haunted delve, fall back to lick their wounds. They return to the comparable brightness of the Glitterhame to recover. After 24 hours of rest under the Sarah-Maria's magical and mundane care, everyone has recovered fully except for Luceo, who cannot shake the madding chatter of the allip's touch from his mind. It prevents him from praying to his goddess, Wee-Jas, and so he must rely only on his arcane magic for now.

08 May

The heroes gather their gear together slowly the next day, and it is with a dragging, weary tread that they once more traverse the Glitterhame and mount the stairs into the oppressive Clanholds. The fighters frequently touch the holy water flasks that now dangle from their belts.

Cautiously, the party once more presses into the King's Hall. They stand in the cold vastness, but all is silent, inky, and still. With their boot heels seeming to ring and echo on the tiles, Rorik leads them to the forges--but those too are silent, coated in dust but lacking cobwebs. The King's personal rooms have been sacked--tables overturned, bedding ripped, and the walls splattered in blood. The grimacing, desiccated corpses of three orcs and a dwarf warrior lie on the floor, but do not move as the party's weak light falls upon them.

Yet still the oppression hangs in the air, the darkness thick and nearly tangible in its dread. At the far end of the King's Hall, Luceo waves the others over to a barred pair of doors bearing a scrawled Orc message. Luceo whispers a translation: "'Here lies the bested King. May he writhe for all eternity!'"

"That's the shrine beyond," Rorik mutters. "So how can it be the blackest here?"

A soft growling, wailing moan sounds from the door beyond. Luceo looks meaningfully at the others, and they nod. Invellios falls back to protect their retreat, the fighters ready themselves on either side, and the clerics stand before the doors. Strohm lifts the bar... and immediately a tarry black cloud pours forth from the crack between the doors, accompanied by the sudden gagging stench of death. The wraith swipes at Strohm, who gasps, his breath visible as a cloud of vapor in the cold. The wraith leans forwards and seems to suck in the breath. The fighters fall back, reaching for their holy water flasks while Luceo mutters incantations and Sarah misses with a blast of searing light.

Then the animated bodies of dwarves are tumbling out of the room. Though still bearing the weapons and shields they held in life, their skins have shriveled from their bones except for a few tatters, and the bony forms are wreathed in frost.

Strohm dashes between them to whip his holy water into the face of wraith. Then a grey glow pours from Luceo's fingers, seeping into the wraith and Luceo calls out, "No one attack the wraith!"

The warriors step back, muscles tense, all eyes on the wraith. It shivers and shakes its head, dark red eyes glowing. "We have come to rescue you, O King!", exclaims Luceo. "Call off your skeletons!"

"These dead are nothing to me." The wraith's reply is a rasping whisper, dripping with menace.

"Then will you help us destroy them?" Luceo queries. In a flash, the wraith twists and falls upon the nearest skeleton, though its lashing shadowy tendrils pass through the skeleton, leaving it unharmed.

But the party takes encouragement from this sudden shift in allegiance, and falls upon the skeletons. Luceo urges forth his own commanded skeletons, and Strohm and Boren lay into the skeletons. Rorik stands ready with his holy water, distrustful of the wraith. In a few seconds, the skeletons lie as shattered bones upon the floor.

The wraith hovers, seeming to glower at the party. "We thank you for your aid, fell warrior! May we enter your sanctuary?" The wraith turns without answering and drifts back through the doors, leaving a cold stench in its wake. "Wait here for me," whispers Luceo.

The blackness of the shrine chamber seems to swallow the glow of his lightstone as he crosses the threshold. The others stand in the still hall, watching the bobbing flicker of Luceo's lightstone and listening to the murmur of his voice.

A few minutes later, he returns to lead them a ways from the doors. "It is indeed King Durgeddin. His body lies beyond, upon the desecrated shrine of Moradin. He was tortured for many days and eventually slain by a Morgul blade. I have read of such, but never seen its like. His soul has been consumed by evil. His existence is now one of both agony and hatred. He cannot be redeemed, but we may grant him rest eventually.

"For now, however, I suggest we use him. He is open to me due to my command undead spell, though it will only last a few days. He has agreed to join us to destroy the orcs that have done this to him. The only danger I see is that, should I fall in battle, he may turn upon you as likely as upon any orcs. But the alternative is to battle him here, which I am loath to do."

The party discusses the situation for a few minutes. Boren and Rorik are unsettled by the idea of Luceo commanding the soul of their king. Sarah is opposed to using such tangible evil as a weapon, but admits that to attempt to destroy it now would be a dangerous proposition. Rorik argues that his King should be granted a chance at revenge, and this sways the vote. They agree to Luceo's plan.

Luceo continues. "First, to remove the current binding between wraith and body, we must remove the Morgul blade from the King's heart. As a dwarf and loyal subject of the King, it may be more politic if you do this, Rorik."

"Secondly, until we reach the orcs, I suggest the clerics keep a low profile. Remember that, if the soul of the King were ever noble and good, it is no more. He is a wraith now. He is pure evil, despising all life and all light."

"Lastly, the torturing of the King's soul suggests that we will face a powerful necromancer ahead. I pray that we are up to the challenge."

Despite their weariness, the party agrees to press on now, while both surprise and the wraith are still on their side. Rorik returns to the shire with Luceo, to pull the twisted blade from the body of his King under the wraith's glaring red eyes. The pitted blade crumbles to dust when it hits the air. The wraith gives a low wet chuckle at this breaking of his bonds.

The layout and some of the encounters of Mor Dunehaim come from Richard Baker's Forge of Fury adventure scenario (played backwards).

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