Looking out over the Old Troll Wall at the shattered remains of outer Moonstair, Riverwind, gripped his holy symbol firmly. Correlon’s words of guidance still resounding in his head, “Onward, she needs you, we all need you. You must not let the darkness snuff out the light, brave cleric”. These words bolstered the confidence that there was still some hope in these dark days. It had been over a year and a month since Melora, goddess of nature, had last been heard by any holy men or angels; her silence was now being felt all over Faerun. The nights seemed unending, the days so bleak and gray.
Peering past the destruction Riverwind could see the wild dark side of nature taking a firm grip on the Trollhaunt. It’s twisted tendrils firmly wrapped around a once beautiful countryside; there was no safety beyond the Old Troll Wall any longer. Horrible monsters, the broken remnants of Skalmad’s army, had taken up residence in almost every corner of the area surrounding Moonstair. Riverwind remembered back to the warning issued by a scout who ventured out, lucky to return with his life, “It was as if the land tried to swallow me whole!”.
His gauntlet wrapped firmly around the symbol of Correlon, Riverwind heard the plodding footsteps of Bertha Bronzebottom behind him. “At least it hasn’t rained today. I hate the rain.” bellowed the conspicuous dwarf.
“It has rained every day for the past three months, you know” Bertha waited a moment, studying her companion. “Wasn’t sure if you were keeping track is all” she added meekly. Bertha could tell that the resolve of her companion was waning, it was hard to push onwards these days, harder than ever before. Bertha thought back to the days in Bronze Manor, ancient homeland of the Bronzebottom clan, days which seemed so distant. She at least took solace in the fact that Melora had chosen her cousin, Bluto Bronzebottom, to be the messenger which brought them their only guidance in over a year. Bertha still carried the note with her, her strong eyes studying it’s cryptic message “Seek Etheran of Moonstair. His sword will be needed to end the darkness” giving her the only hope she still had. If the note, wrapped in a golden leaf, indeed did come from Melora then the adventurers had no choice in their action; the sword needed to be recovered from the clutches of the twisted king of trolls. Also, Bertha just plain hated trolls.
“When do we leave?” Bertha asked, “We can’t wait here for another attack, you know. We have to go out there and get that sword back”. Bertha shifted her weight onto the toothed edge of her mighty axe which glistened in the last of that days sunlight.
Nearby, atop a cracked stone spire, Armereth the blood mage sat with her eyes closed. She was listening to the whispers of magic in the air. The wind carried with it the strong tingle of a terrible magic. A less experienced wizard might have dismissed the faint magical clue as something to not worry themselves with; however, Armereth continued to listen for the past three days. She heard dark words whispered in the ether of magic. She heard words that made her fear the setting of the sun. “Orcus… Kalarel… Death” all danced on the edge of the ether; their presence reverberating. The more she listened, the clearer she heard these dark phrases.
She shivered and opened her eyes, unsure if the cold she felt was real or a residual effect of peering into the fabric of magic itself. After a few seconds the first droplet of water nicked her on the tip of her nose, there was a cold rain coming.
“God damn it!” boomed Bertha as she scrambled to get off the wall and back inside Cham’s cozy inn. She had reached the now slippery ladder to climb down when she looked to her side and saw Armereth floating down from her perch, a large glowing blue leaf over her head serving to protect her from the pounding rain. “Wizards!” she groaned as she threw her axe over her shoulder and began down the ladder.
In the nearby Cloudwatch Inn sat three more eXtraordinares. Pants looked over a stack of maps of the area. He sighed as he reached for his goblet, “I just wish these weren’t so out of date. This one says it is over three hundred years old! What good does that do us?”. His frustration was palpable after having spent the past three days trying to find a quick and quiet way back to the Great Warren to find where Skalmad had stashed the missing sword of Etheran. Bluto looked up from his leg of lamb and challenged, “Why not just go back the way we came?”. Pants shot him a glare which he usually reserved for foe.
In a nearby corner, Homonculus listened as his comrades argued back and forth for what felt like the tenth time in the past hour. He thought to himself that the trolls might have won the battle after all; the past three days were nothing short of a living hell for all the survivors of Moonstair. The day after the great victory over the champion of Skalmad, the wicked beholder Gzemnid, the people of Moonstair heralded the seven adventurers as heroes, now it was apparent to everyone that they might still have air in their lungs but they were more prisoner than survivor. The peninsula which held the city of Moonstair was the cage which none of the “survivors” could escape.
Homonculus closed his eyes and tried to shut out the voices of his companions, he was listening for something; something dark. He felt his eyes roll back as he felt a mighty surge of warmth through his body, he could hear it’s voice. For nearly six years Homonculus had heard the voice of a great demon within him. This sinister creature had given Homonculus all the power which he could ever hope for, as long as Homonculus was prepared to give the devilspawn his soul in the great afterlife. With the voices of Pants and Bluto reaching a crescendo loud enough to disturb the other patrons of the Cloudwatch inn, Homonculus heard nothing but the demon which he knew all too well.
“What do you require, beautiful slave of mine? What can Zxem’glaaragh do for you on this fine evening?” the forked tongue voice of the demon echoed in the bald head of the warlock. As Homonculus corresponded with his wicked patron, he felt his power grow; he felt confident and at the same time felt one step closer to death. One step closer to paying for the wicked evil which bolstered his blood.
After many long hours of searching, Pants’ eyes lit up as he finally saw what he had so desperately sought after. Bluto saw relief in his friend’s face and smiled, “You’ve done it then?” he asked of the master tactician. The tiefling warlord shot him a playful smirk for the first time in a very long while, “Yes. I believe I have. No thanks to your help”. They both laughed heartily as Bluto sprung forward from his reclined chair to see the freshly discovered path ahead.
The silence of the fresh night was welcome to the expert tracker, Gladanthia. She had stolen out beyond the safety of the Old Troll Wall nearly a day ago in search of signs of movement from the troll horde. Searching through the many crags and swamps immediately surrounding Moonstair, the rogue had seen a frightening amount of monsters still within reach of the city. She was careful not to be noticed by the creatures, monsters which were more than eager to continue eating livestock and townspeople which had dragged from the countryside. As she moved into the dark clearing ahead she saw something which gave her pause; she saw another elf standing in the moonlight. She had seen this elf before. She was not eager to be seen by him while all by herself. Standing before her, basking in the moonlight, was the dark elf assassin Valistraz Nefarion…