I walked into the Deepwood to find a celebration in progress. It was absolutely the last thing I would have expected to see, and yet, there it was before me. Few people seemed to notice as I passed by, with arms thrown around each others’ shoulders, hoisting tankards and singing songs. Weapons were piled in spots that almost seemed random, but were just out of the way, leaving me to believe there had been just a touch of organization in post-battle revelry. I continued on, stepping out of the way of dances and circles around the fires, towards the large building at the center of town. The tavern, so I assumed. I believed I had a fifty/fifty chance of finding out what happened there.
Inside, I saw both halves of probability. At one table sat a dwarf with empty tankards all around. He bellowed his laughter and took long pulls from the mug in either hand. At another sat a rather surly looking human, and at a third sat an eladrin woman, the most approachable of the three. I made my introductions and inquired to to celebration in the town. As it turned out, my guess was correct. I had arrived a day late to aid Deepwood in the troubles I had heard about. Apparently, a wave of devils had attacked and been repulsed by this group of adventurers and the townsfolk. Well, there was apparently more to the group: a human that had just departed, another dwarf, and another half-elf like me. As I made small talk, a crack of thunder barely preceded the door swinging open to admit a dragonborn man, resplendent in his robes with a dagger at his belt and an air of capability like these other adventurers.
After introductions with everyone there, the eladrin, Naiverra, told me that the group was looking to set out to deal with another threat in the Castle Velinheim. I remembered from my education there used to be an empire of Velinheim, but not much beyond. Before the conversation could continue, though, Naiverra and the dragonborn, Errol, made their introductions and began to bicker of the practices of arcane magic. I sipped at a tankard myself, somewhat amused at the back and forth. However, it resolved itself soon enough and I spoke with the dwarf and the human. The dwarf, Travek Whurkrak, is a cleric of Moradin. I felt more comfortable with another who follows the will of his deity in company. The human introduced himself as Limerick, a ranger with a large bow and a dour face. The three regaled myself and Errol with the necessity of dealing with a lich in Castle Velinheim’s counterpart in the Shadowfell. When I asked what exactly a lich was, the gladly told me: a being that had undergone a ritual unholy to transform himself into a walking undead, with his soul caught in a bauble so that he would not pass on. I felt my blood rise and told them I would be more than happy to aid them. Errol took a different tact, and said he believed it sounded like an excellent opportunity to hone his craft.
That night, I slept in a bed for the first time in quite a while. I knew it would be the last time for a while as well. I slept well, and the talk of Stormhold, where the group was from, gave me dreams of my family and the temple of Pelor there, where I had learned my own trade. I slept peacefully, and I awoke when the first light of morning fell on my eyes. I rose and began my morning prayers. My morning tasks completed, I dressed and donned my armor and headed downstairs. There, I met the other dwarf, Dalrak, brother to the cleric and a fellow hammer wielder. We exchanged pleasantries before I met Eorik, the other half-elf. Others soon joined, and not long after, a gnome descended the stairs with what must have been all his belongings strapped to his back. He remarked about heading to the Mage Guild in Stormhold, and the group around me began to snicker and offered to speed his way so he could greet Rahvin, the man that had left the day before, when he arrived. I suspect this is a great joke on their part, and no doubt would enjoy it myself, if I knew it.
Our trip over the mountains was uneventful. We had been directed to a mountain pass, making the journey considerably easier, and emerged on the other side to an open plain. In the distance was a crumbling castle and as we drew nearer, the remains of apparent undead that the group had faced before littered our path. Here was where we made our crossover into the Domain of Dread, the home of this lich, Harivec the Cruel.
As soon as we crossed into the new plane, I felt entirely out of place. Everything seemed muted and suppressed. The white of my robes and gold of insignias were dulled. Dark clouds raced overhead, and I uttered a prayer to Pelor for protection and strength in our coming trials. Limerick lead us to the gates, where mist swirled about the walls, and closed behind us along with the gates after we had passed through. The people… they looked upon us with sunken eyes, made signs towards us before hurrying away. The lines of their faces told of crushing despair that they bore without thought now. Of all the things to get used to… I made a vow to myself that I would bring Pelor’s light to this abominable creature that held these people in such conditions.
Limerick found a man he seemed to know, and spoke with him in hushed terms. As he did, children with empty eyes came towards us, looking at the coloration in our clothing. Naiverra attempted to please them with a show of colorful lights, but instead, I fear she scared them half out of their wits. But people made their gestures and the children watched on. I kept my eyes casting about, looking for sudden groups of people or perhaps something else come to confront us when Limerick motioned us to follow. We walked through winding streets of dark, chipped stone and over canals of murky, viscous water. Finally, we stepped into a building and met a woman Limerick named as Esmeralda.
She was apparently an oracle, and quite blind, though I have heard of similar things before.
I suspect that the gods must find a balance to such great sight. She greeted Limerick by name, and he asked about approaching the castle. It seemed that Harivec was attempting to marshall more strength from other planes, but he did not leave his castle unguarded. There were four lieutenants that we face. The first was the Reaper, the being that swept the streets and took people to the lich for cruel experiments. Another was the Vile Warlord, who had sought Harivec to avoid death, and now guarded the lower levels of the castle and lead the undead legions. Dragolan the Fierce, a lich dragon of all things, guarded Harivec’s phylactery and was bound to due to Harivec’s possession of his own.
What chilled me, as I stood there next to the door, was the story of the Old Knight who manifested as a headless ghost. As Esmeralda told us his story, she pointed straight at me, and said ‘one like him, a paladin that came to destroy Harivec.’ I closed my eyes and suppressed a shudder as she told us of the being now bound to the lich’s will after decades of torture. Pelor, give me strength so that I may release this poor man and not suffer the same fate.
More time passed, and there was more discussion about gaining entry to the castle, when Limerick’s acquaintance, Grigori I believe, burst in and told us they were coming. I hefted my shield and drew my craghammer, which already glowed with divine radiance. Travek summed up my feelings perfectly:
“Then let us go and meet them.”
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