After rescuing Lord Major Bren ir’Gadden and his aide, Aric Blacktree, from their dolgrim captors, the party took a pause to heal and rest. But as the group recuperated, a large section of the crumbling tower collapsed, injuring both Jak and Lil Paw. Worse, the rubble trapped them within a ruined stairwell, and the team lacked the means to free them.
Although the injured party members appeared stable, losing two able-bodied soldiers would have ordinarily left the unit at a severe disadvantage. Fortunately, fate smiled on the mercenary band. Earlier on the battlefield, they had been separated from two of their newer recruits — Ket Ahman and Turnkey. Combating the dolgrims bought time for the missing troops time to catch up with their comrades. The new combat roster now consisted of:
- Bishop, Warforged Warpriest
- Mark, Warforged Monk
- Ruz, Changeling Artificer
- Sokos Bloodbane, Dragonborn Barbarian
- Turnkey, Warforged Fighter
- Ket Ahman, Human Ranger
As the reunited unit considered its next move, an unexpected turn of events derailed their nascent plans. “BRING US BREN IR’GADDEN!” demanded an unseen woman outside the tower. Carefully, the group peered outside and discovered a host of Emerald Claw soldiers — most of them undead.
Mallora, a green-robed necromancer with a haughty disposition, repeated her demand, along with a promise to spare the party in exchange for ir’Gadden. Bren ordered the party to disregard her ranting and attack. Wisely, the group decided to trust their commanding officer rather than a mob of dubious, death-worshipping zealots. Without hesitation, Mallora ordered her two lieutenants (both of them living) and her eight zombie rotters (all of them quite dead) to slaughter everyone except Bren and Aric.
The necromancer’s forces ultimately met bitter defeat on the battlefield, yet despite the party’s need for support at several key points, Lord Major ir’Gadden suspiciously abstained from fighting until the very end. In fact, he seemed ready to flee whenever defeat loomed over his men. The frustrated combatants questioned their leader about this later, but ir’Gadden insisted his intent was benign. He explained that protecting his addled aide and keeping vital information out of Karrnath’s hands took priority over front-line combat. Nobody in the party felt especially convinced by his threadbare rationale.
Recriminations were quickly forgotten, however. As the fray with the necromancer raged, an ominous change transformed the sky. Arcs of lightning traced across burnt orange clouds, and an unnatural fog rolled in across Saerun Road. A chorus of screams marked the mist’s passage, followed by abrupt silence. Bren and the party watched with breathless horror as the Battle of Saerun Road yielded to the Day of Mourning. Stunned, the party struggled to understand the catastrophe unfolding before them. Then two horrifying revelations struck them like a warhammer: an entire nation had been wiped off the map, and no citizen of Khorvaire would ever sleep soundly again.
Two years later, in 996 YK, the group still struggled with the horrors they witnessed at Saerun Road. Scarred by their experiences, they took work as underpaid mercenaries in the decrepit city of Punjar, deep within the Shadow Marches. Jak and Paw continued to suffer from head wounds they acquired when the tower crumbled, and spent much of their time languishing in bed.
Those weren’t the worst injuries the group sustained during the Last War. Sometimes, when the party encountered a situation reminiscent of their war days, they experienced a post-traumatic anxiety attack. Their condition remained largely manageable, yet worrisome.
One evening, at the height of summer in the month of Lharvion, the group decided to distract themselves with a night of gambling and drinking. They went to an out-of-the-way tavern in the The Souk — The Unsleeping Eye — where they played Three-Dragon Ante with a local. The disheveled, half-crazed man rambled about a number of strange things during the game:
“‘Ware the Black Spire. There was a keep there once, but the swamp’s done gobbled it up! And it’ll do the same to anyone foolish enough to go poking around….”
“The swamp folk ain’t right. They’ve all been bred with the frog-things. Half are monstrously strong, and the rest are just demented and crazed! My brother had a run-in with one once, and it tore his arm off at the socket!”
“Skoulos the Undying is just a story used to keep the wee ones out of the swamp. The real threat is the swamp folk, with their war drums and unholy rites. They’ll call up something wicked, just you wait!”
(The crazed man sang this next part.) “Oh, there’s a keep at the foot of a black stone tower in the heart of the swamp. Hasn’t been occupied for longer than even gran’father remembers. Probably sank long ago….”
“I’ve heard tale of a boy named Malikai poking around the spire. Handsome one he is, and trained in the dark arts. Got a heart just as black as any devil, too. He’s wrong in the head, worshipping things that ought not be spoken of….”
“There’s a mad dwarf living somewhere in the swamp. He lairs with crocodiles, and they answer the call of his bone whistle. If you ever hear three high-pitched keenings, beware — your death is at hand!”
“Don’t know much about Skoulos the Old, but I’ve heard stories about his minions. Every one that crossed him was stripped of flesh, and their wounds filled with eggs, larva and maggots. When they rose up the next full moon, each was a shambling thing of vermin, worms and worse. There’s an army of them beneath that black spire, waiting to march on their master’s call!”
Partway through the game, the rambling madman ran short on cash, so he persuaded the party to accept a strange clay idol as currency. It stood approximately a foot and a half tall, and was fashioned in the image of a monstrous maiden with a woman’s lower half and a fishy, unsettling torso. Its cyclopean face bore a single ruby in lieu of eyes. Although the unwholesome sculpture disturbed the party, Ket seemed fascinated by the gruesome thing. Grudgingly, the group accepted it into the pot.
Ruz abstained from the game, choosing instead to people-watch from his seat at the bar. He noticed that many of the patrons, if not all of them, shared the same odd features as the man playing against his friends. Something about their eyes reminded him of fish, and a few had subtle webbing between their elongated fingers. Khorvaire boasts a wide range of races, many of them monstrous in origin, and so Ruz initially dismissed their appearance as an ethnic trait. Yet their attitude and ever-vigilant stares continued to pluck at his curiosity throughout the game.
A few hands later, the scraggly gambler tossed his remaining money into the pot and wandered off, seemingly unconcerned about his losses as he hummed tunelessly to himself. Once more the party wondered if they should keep the statue, but Ket’s growing obsession rendered any debate futile. Besides, the oddity provided a welcome distraction from the group’s usual malaise, and the gemstone set in its inhuman face looked valuable.
Drunk and flush with cash, the group made its way home for good night’s rest. Tomorrow they could hunt for new work, and maybe answers about their unusual prize….
- 704 XP total (117 XP per player)
- Scale armor x 2
- Heavy shield x 2
- Flail x 2
- Crossbow x 2
- Crossbow Bolts x 30
- Green robes x 1
- Bone quarterstaff x 1
- 330 GP (gambling winnings)
- Clay idol x 1 (gambling winnings)