Dwarf on Back

Nineteenth Adventure: Death Deferred

Episode 1 – Unexpected Awakenings

The Friends of Dwarf on Back had passed on. The fate of Faerun seemed set – the Realms were doomed.

Eventually, each member awoke in Hades Manor. Everyone appeared to be accounted for. Samuel remained unconscious, and sadly, Embergrace and Lanharath were dead, their forms lying on the ground, twisted and broken. The remaining members checked their persons and found all was relatively well – except they felt strangely oppressed, and they all featured rotted patches of skin.

It was a strange occurrence that all of them had reappeared back in Hades Manor. Each member described their experiences so far…

Neil had slowly become aware of mist, and realized he was back in the befogged woods. He began wandering through, and began following sounds in the distance. The sounds of battle revealed to Neil a tribe of gnolls, desperately fighting off waves of undead. It was clear that this was the tribe which had torched his village.

Neil was unsure of what to do. It was clear that he was brought here for a reason – but what do the tenets of Melora have to say? As Neil took a step, the image faded away.

Nicolae was surrounded by darkness. He heard a voice, which asked a question – Do you desire power? and was confronted with a vision of the heart contained within Osterneth entering his own chest. The voice in Nicolae’s head offered him Osterneth’s position as Vecna’s primary lieutenant in the Realms – but Nicolae turned it down, and all remained dark.

Shortly afterward, a light appeared in the distance. Upon Nicolae’s approach, it appeared to be an angel restrained with chains. It seemed to see Nicolae, and mouthed – “Help me!” Nicolae was unable to do anything to assist the being, and then awoke as if from a dream.

Yellga and little Duvan Jr. safely floated away from the battle against Angelus and Necrosis. They arrived in a brightly-lit glade with an absolutely gorgeous woman. "Yellga, my dear and loyal follower. You have served me well, but alas – you have fallen in battle.

“You are welcome to your reward in Mount Celestia – but we would ask of you a favor. Should Vecna enter the Realms, he will end all life. None can stop him but you and the Friends of Dwarf on Back – but know that should we return you to Vecna’s realm, you are dead. If you fail, then you are lost for eternity.

“What is your choice?”

Yellga hesitated not at all, and chose to return to the Realms – for a realm without beauty is a terrible place, after all.

Nox described waking up in a pitch-black room with stone floor and walls. She was unable to escape, and started becoming hungry. As she gave up, she could hear a sultry, female voice – This is your final resting place. This is your fate for your betrayal.

Nox screamed back. “What did you expect me to do? What do you want?” …But there was no response. She continued to check along the walls, but found nothing.

As Nox began to lapse into despair, she heard the voice again. It’s not too late. Agree to serve us again, and we will save you from this fate.

Nox was very torn, and the temptation was great, but in the end she turned Vecna down.

As she sat in the dark, images began to play across Nox’s vision. They started to take form, and she could see her old mentor – but he looked different – he was human, and alive! “Nox. You have resisted the darkness, and have the opportunity to find your eternal rest. You and the Friends of Dwarf on Back must stop Vecna from entering the realms. It is your destiny!”

Eredon awoke surrounded by a bright glow. In front of him was a table with two chairs, which was set up for tea. Eredon sat down and refreshed himself.

Toward the end of his repast, Eredon noted a dragonborn who had come to be in the chair across from him. “Greetings, fellow Bahamutian. Do you know who I am?”

“No,” responded Eredon.

“I am Kuyutha, Exarch of Bahamut, and you are Eredon Silmanar, an icon of justice and honor who has fallen in the line of duty to Bahamut.

“Your service is impeccable, and you have earned your reward in Celestia – but we would ask your indulgence for but a moment. The Realms from which you have come are in dire peril, as you know. Vecna may soon make his entrance – if he does, it will be as a deity unbound by the restraints upon the rest of the pantheon. He would be free to wreak havoc unfettered.

“Vecna and his dread lieutenant think you dead. You are – and if we return you to Vecna’s realm, you will continue to remain dead. Should you choose to return, you must stop him, or you are consigned to spend eternity wandering endlessly in his realm.

“Which do you choose?”

Eredon chose as only a true follower of Bahamut would.

“Fare well on your journey, and be wary – treachery is around every corner.”

Belgerath awoke to find himself in a dark, shadowy realm, easily recognizable to one such as him as the Plane of Shadow. As he wandered, Belgerath sought a way to return, and announced his intent to the realm directly around him.

A great, shadowed being of immense power accosted him. “I can give you life again – but someone must come here in your stead. You must make a sacrifice.”

Belgarath agreed, and was returned to Hades Manor with greater power and a new, dark purpose.

Titanius awoke to find himself in a brightly-lit and cheerful store with a wide selection of merchandise, particularly furniture. After wandering for a bit in a daze, he chose a few items which were emblazoned with the symbol of Bahamut and sought to make a purchase. A friendly customer service associate pointed Titanius to the basement.

Upon arriving, Titanius found himself in a box-filled dungeon. Checkout stands were at the front, and long lines weaved their way away. Whenever Titanius stood in one line, others would move forward; whenever he would switch lines, the new line would stop moving while the others inched forward.

The waiting was too much for Titanius, and he broke protocol and rushed to the front of the line! Store security detained him and placed him in a room made entirely of cardboard boxes. A famliar, female voice laughed in his head – This is the hell you face when you worship a deity and go against his tenets!

The voice continued in his head, making sweet, whispered offerings which, perhaps, he could not refuse…

Each member of the Friends of Dwarf on Back investigated the manor. It had been long since they had seen it, and it was unknown what may have happened.

The front door was open, and fog was slowly rolling in. The FoDoB closed the door, halting its progress, and checked the rest of the mansion for open portals. The passage to the basement displayed some fog. Interestingly, the mist coating the ballroom was gone, and the holes in the ceiling were repaired (albeit inexpertly). In addition, the mirror displayed the party as being alive.

Having fully explored the mansion, Eredon tied rope about his waist and ventured out into the fog. As he reached the end of the rope and turned back, a disgusting vine dislodged from the ground and wrapped itself around his leg!

An enormous monstrosity raised itself from the ground and menaced Eredon. It was the same horror which had dragged Damaia into the undergrowth when the Friends had first approached Shadowdale. Quickly, they approached the creature in an effort to get Eredon away from it. The mist was thick, but Belgerath saved the day with a great power that prevented the creature from attacking. Instead, it dragged itself underground, allowing the party to quickly flee indoors.

Samuel had awoken, and approached them at their position. “What has happened?” The Friends quickly filled him in on the events leading up to that point. “Hmm… this thing sounds familiar. It is the sort of result which occurs when ancient forests meet mighty necrotic magic. I must research this further.” Samuel headed to the library, leaving the party to lick their wounds and wonder what fate will bring them next…

Episode 2 – Unexpected Tenancy

Having fully explored the ground upper floors of Hades Manor, and having determined that the fog itself appears to be of no danger, the Friends of Dwarf on Back accessed the trapdoor in the master bedroom which led to the lab in the basement.

On their approach, they could hear some shuffling sounds – there was definitely something moving down there! The party continued clanking noisily down the stairs, readily alerting the occupant. When they rounded the corner and came face-to-face with the mysterious figure, it turned to face them – revealing the cloaked and hooded figure of a female eladrin – who then dashed for a portal in the doorway of the entrance to the larger portion of the lab. The Friends of Dwarf on Back quickly followed.

Inside, the party found a magic-laden room with orbs of magical wisps floating in seemingly random places throughout. As they attempted to walk around, strategically-placed invisible fields of energy would flash, causing harm to anyone caught in them, and teleport them back to the entrance. The eladrin could be seen disappearing into the next room, and shortly afterward flashes of light emitting from that area caused a rippling effect across the room with the teleporters.

After spending a short time determining where the teleporters are most likely to be found, the party succeeded in traversing the area and entered the next room. It was a summoning chamber, with magical circles of power on each side. The hooded eladrin stood in the circle, clearly finishing a ritual. Monstrous construct-looking figures sprung from the circles of power, and the eladrin turned toward the party with a look of determination on her face.

Episode 3 – Unexpected Allies

“Vecna won’t have me, alive or dead!” the eladrin challenged.

“We don’t work for Vecna…” replied Nicolae.

TRICKERY!” she exploded, weaving intricate patterns in the air.

Reluctantly, the Friends of Dwarf on Back commenced battle. Neil Mennar engaged the summoned constructs – and found that with barely a touch, they dissipated into a haze which clouded the mind. Nicolae lay low a couple of the summoned creatures, which dissipated into clouds similar to the ones Neil attacked. Nox attempted to make the eladrin believe that she didn’t want to hurt her – and it seemed to calm the eladrin down a little, but she continued the assault. When Nox approached within a certain distance of the eladrin, self-doubt began to cloud her mind.

Eredon approached, sword sheathed, hands in the air, and took no harmful actions. Nox made an attack – but the eladrin seemed ready for it, reacting by teleporting to the other side of Eredon and sweeping his feet out from under him, then doing the same to Nox.

Before too long, the party was able to convince the eladrin that they meant her no harm. She introduced herself as Ellaera, a Harper scout, and filled the party in on what has happened as best she knew.

Ellaera had watched the party emerge from the fog into Shadowdale, then disappear into the Temple of Bahamut – never to emerge. Following that, she retreated to Hades Manor, where the fog slowly crept up. Figuring that she may be there until the end of her life, Ellaera cleared the ballroom of mist and fixed the holes in its ceiling.

The Friends of Dwarf on Back brought Ellaera back into the Manor and up to the library in order to meet Samuel. Upon meeting, the two eyed each other suspiciously and with familiarity. A short back-and-forth interchange happened between them, revealing a few details:

- The rotvine’s nature is such that it merely hunts down life, not specific beings. - Samuel is able to distract it for long enough that the party can make its escape from the vicinity.

With that in mind, the FoDoB waited until Samuel grabbed the attention of the rotvine, and darted off in the fog toward Shadowdale. Unfortunately, they promptly became lost – but Neil had a flash of memory, and recalled this area from a vision he’d had just after the party’s fateful battle with the angelic statues.

Neil led them through the fog until they heard the distant sounds of battle. Shrouded in stealth by the aid of Nox, the party crept closer until the combat was within sight. A beleaguered band of gnolls fought a horde of undead in what seemed their final desperate bid. Neil, to his horror, recognized the band from his vision though they were now much reduced in number. It was the same clan of gnolls responsible for burning down his village, killing his family, over forty years ago.

Neil began to argue for the gnolls’ destruction. It was as the druids had promised him – join this band of adventurers and they would lead him to his destiny, which surely was to avenge his people. Yellga and Eredon both stood against him, arguing the greater good. The world threatened to be swallowed by the undead, and the adventurers were committed to defend any life which battled the forces of Vecna. As if to prove the point they watched a gnoll fall, releasing a black cloud of energy which seemed to make the world around them a little bit darker.

Neil reluctantly bowed his head and conceded the argument. Then, with their path decided, the heroes swept down on the undead with a dreadful fury, saving the remaining gnolls. Following the demise of the rotted horrors, each gnoll dropped their weapons and fell to their knees, throwing themselves upon the mercy of their saviors.

The Friends of Dwarf on Back took pity on the gnolls and spared their lives. They asked for directions to Shadowdale. The gnoll shaman said that the fog is unnatural, and that traversing it requires special knowledge. He was willing to teach such a traversal to the party, but in exchange they must grant his people sanctuary, for they cannot survive in the fog on their own.

The party agreed to give them asylum at the Manor. In exchange, the gnoll shaman taught Yellga and Neil Mennar the secret of the fog.

Unexpected Demise

Having saved the gnolls from a fate worse than death, the Friends of Dwarf on Back struck out for Shadowdale. Yellga attuned herself to the leylines of the land, and Neil closed his eyes and allowed the whisperings of the forest to guide them. Samuel agreed to distract the Rotvine Defiler, as before.

The gnoll shaman had taught them true; as they wandered through the fog, the scenery around them (as much as they could see) took on different forms, whereas before it appeared that they wandered between the same trees over and over.

As they walked away from Hades Manor, Samuel let out a yell and was suddenly, ominously silent. The FoDoB could hear him no more, even when they yelled out in order to check on his well-being.

Before too long, the ground started to rumble in a familiar sense – the dreaded plant was upon them again! Bravely, the party turned to fight even as they continued to make their way toward the dubitable safety of Shadowdale.

Many of the Friends attempted to take down the great beast, but their attacks appeared to have little effect. Belgarath bedeviled the creature with his ever-useful ability to confound the enemy into a state of inaction, causing the mass of rotted vines to withdraw momentarily, but return with a vengeance. Eredon and Yellga were caught by the creature, and found themselves unable to move or make particularly effective attacks. Nox inhabited its shadow, and made attacks against the vile thing from a safe distance. One by one, the Friends withdrew from the battle.

Out of all of the members of the Friends of Dwarf on Back, only Nicolae argued in favor of attempting to slay the great beast. He stood his ground and pounded the defiler with the most powerful of his spells. In the end, he was able to wound the great beast – but at great cost. The maw of the great beast had him in its grasp, and as Nicolae unleashed a great volley, it reared back, clearly wounded – but the vines released a putrescent explosion, finally bringing Nicolae low. Before anyone was able to get back to him, Nicolae’s body was sucked away, presumably consumed by the vile monstrosity.

Stunned by the loss of their beloved sorcerer, the remaining Friends of Dwarf on Back had no choice but to continue onward to Shadowdale without him.

Return of the Unibrow

As the remainder of the Friends broke through the mists surrounding Shadowdale, the festering marks of undeath upon their bodies began inflicting great pain! The wounds hampered their ability to move, making the party shuffle a little more slowly and affecting their proficiency.

As they approached the town, it was clear that the undead who inhabited it during their last visit were still present. Without the presence of the Puppetmaster, they seemed to be going about their business as they normally would – albeit with a more rotted countenance.

In the town center, various vendors hawked their wares. Some of the town’s leaders stood upon a raised platform seated a short distance before the doors of the Temple of Bahamut, overseeing the town proper’s daily operations.

A commotion broke out. The undead townspeople were escorting a clearly living figure toward the town jail. It was a figure who the party hadn’t seen since their first introduction to Cardinal Dragonheart and her subsequent banishment to the Jungle of Bones and Lice, in Chult – none other than Mother Malaffection herself! Cries of “Necromancer!” and “Traitor!” were heard among the crowd.

Swiftly, the party realized that the townspeople did not seem to realize that they were, themselves, not quite living. As they escorted Malaffection away, the Friends attempted to gather information from the townspeople in an attempt to discover what had happened. They learned that Malaffection was accused of bringing the plague of undeath to the Dalelands, and that she would stand trial on the morrow.

Nox, true to her nature, hid in the shadows and stealthily made her way around to the window of the jail cell in which Malaffection resided. Quickly, she was able to discern who Malaffection was and what her purpose in Shadowdale was – she had finished her missionary work and returned to help the people she had grown, over time, to love.

In a brilliant moment of bluffery, Nox attempted to trick Ashull by disguising herself as a member of a local constable. Though her outfit was quite convincing, Ashull eyed her with great suspicion and would not give in to her demands. Nox, undeterred, continued to unleash verbal rage on Ashull, promising great punishment for his transgression against the law.

As this avenue proved fruitless, Nox attempted to kill two of the townsfolk in order to cause a distraction, but to no avail. Each released a black cloud from their bodies, causing the world to appear just a shade darker.

Before long, the FoDoB revisited the Temple of Bahamut. Cardinal Dragonheart’s body rested in the same place as it did before. The party attempted to reattach his head once again – and found their attempt to be successful. Slowly, quietly, Dragonheart came back to life, and with the assistance of the Friends, was able to make his way to a nearby table and take in some nourishment, but for a time was unable to do more than acknowledge any party member who might ask after his well-being.

The party reconnoitered throughout the town. They found that the townspeople had differing views about Malaffection’s innocence. One person, Dukel, used to work with Malaffection in the Temple before her banishment, and said that he believed her to be innocent – but nobody in the town seemed willing to step up and defend her. Nicolae agreed to represent Malaffection in trial, and the party retired to the Temple for the evening.

During their hiatus, Dragonheart approached them and thanked the Friends for their assistance in bringing him back to the world of the living – such as it was. He listened to their recounting of events since their return to Shadowdale, and enjoined the party to save Malaffection as well. During the evening, Dragonheart approached Eredon and bequeathed to him a goblet embossed with the Platinum Dragon’s image, and said that while its original use was lost to time, the goblet was said to purify any liquid which was poured into it and that it had been passed on from cardinal to cardinal for centuries. Eredon recognized this goblet as the one from his vision, some time ago.

The next day, the Friends returned to the town and obtained some character witnesses for Mother Malaffection. Three honest, steadfast young men stepped up and said that they would vouch for her. They also gathered some evidence of necromantic activity and sauntered among the townsfolk and attempted to sway their opinions to Mother Malaffection’s side. Nicolae prepared his defense, and the party awaited the beginning of the trial.

Trial of the Damned

During the trial, the prosecution called two witnesses who could only make claims pertaining to circumstantial evidence of Malaffection’s involvement with necromancy. Nicolae called the first two character witnesses, then called upon Cardinal Dragonheart, Mother Malaffection, and the final character witness.

Ashull gave his closing statement, but to the Arcana-trained eye it was clear he was enchanting the jury in an attempt to lull them to his side. Yellga recognized this and quickly dispelled the charm.

The jury filed out, but remained in deliberation for a very short period of time. When they reported back to the court, Kimyr asked them for their verdict.

Just before the jury could deliver, Ashull interrupted – “Your honor, I call for a mistrial!” – eliciting a gasp from the crowd and cries of dismay from the Friends of Dwarf on Back. “The guards found two bodies on the outskirts of the town. They did not appear here until this group found their way to our town. They called undead to the stand, and clearly protected them with their necromancy from the holy power of our priest! They…”

Belgerath detected more magics weaved into Ashull’s words. “He’s casting a spell!” Belgarath shouted – but the townsfolk were quickly succumbing. Belgerath unleashed an attack, catching Ashull by surprise and throwing the scene into utter chaos.

The bodies rose from the ground, turned black and started chanting Nox’s name. As they approached, Nox lashed out with an attack – knocking down both bodies, but unleashing a powerful curse upon her. Nox succumbed to Vecna’s hold even further than before, at times finding herself subject to his whims!

The battle raged on briefly, ending with Belgerath sensing an opportunity and unleashing a mighty spell designed to subdue at least one of the Friends of Dwarf on Back, true to his promise to the mysterious, shadowed figure who claimed to be the source of his power. Belgerath failed and was subdued by the remaining Friends, who finished off Ashull and his allies and turned their attention to the wayward wizard.

“You see, I’m so bored with this Vecna thing…” Belgarath said, upon questioning, which promptly led to Nox ending his life prematurely. Belgarath passed on with a sinister laugh.

With Ashull’s death, the townspeople began returning to their senses, discovering to their horror that they were dead and rotted. Cardinal Dragonheart and Mother Malaffection, along with the assistance of the Friends of Dwarf on Back, calmed the townspeople and began helping them return to their natural, pre-diseased status. The Friends of Dwarf on Back had reclaimed the City of Putrescence, turning it back to the City of Shadowdale and releasing it from Vecna’s clutches.

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Acharidel

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