Evil Returns to Helmsport
After the final destruction of Gulthias and the end of the threat posed by the evil of Nightfang Spire, the heroes returned to Helmsport for some well-deserved rest. The winter holidays were upon them, and before long the locals were ringing in the first year of Blackmere’s second millennium.
But like all good heroes, the characters soon grew impatient with peace and quiet. When word of troll attacks to the east came to his attention, the ranger Beran Findalson grabbed his friends Adarrial Smythe, Alarion Northsea, and Caedrus to investigate.
Arriving in the village of Eastway, the characters wasted no time in locating one of the recent scenes of trollish incursion. Here Beran went to work, following the tracks through the early January snows into the hills. The heroes encountered a gruff if friendly huntsman, himself well-acquainted with the trolls that had recently settled in the area (displaced, no doubt, from their home in the Great Mere by the goblinoid army that had come through that area months earlier).
The trail eventually led to a cave set high on a hillside. Sure enough, the heroes encountered a pair of trolls just inside, confirming that their quarry lay within. But trolls weren’t the only denizens of the cave, for the heroes were next beset by two monstrous umber hulks, apparently the original creators of the claw-dug tunnels.
Things grew stranger still, for the heroes next encountered a pair of robed figures bearing the broken-ankh unholy symbol of the Dark God, Seth, along with a pair of hieracosphinx mounts and a shadowy demon apparently in their service! In the pitched battle that followed, Alarion’s loyal shadow wolf steed was slain, but the heroes ultimately prevailed. As the last cultist died, he gave the heroes an enigmatic warning: “The Devourer will awaken.”
This was clearly more than a mere troll problem—what were these cultists doing here? A letter on one of them suggested that the shadow demon was a gift to someone named “Zeccas,” part of an entreaty of alliance by “the Cathezar.” This was a name all-too-familiar to the characters, yet the true identity of this mysterious individual was unknown to them.
Venturing further into the caverns, the characters soon discovered who—or more specifically, what—Zeccas was. While negotiating around a treacherous sinkhole, the heroes were terrified to encounter an enormous cyclopean sphere with a grinning, toothy maw and ten writhing eyestalks: the caves belonged to a beholder!
Beran and Caedrus managed to flee, but Alarion was ensnared by the beholder’s charm power and lured deeper into the cave. Knowing that he could not leave his ally behind to a grisly fate, Adarrial braved the beholder’s deadly rays all by himself. Though he was ultimately unable to save Alarion’s life, he managed to rescue his friend’s body rather than leaving it to be devoured by the horrible eye tyrant.
The heroes trekked back to Helmsport to report their findings to Chief Inquisitor Lorcan, knowing that their trusted ally in the Church would want to learn of the activities of the Dark God’s minions. With no cleric in Helmsport powerful enough to resurrect Alarion without substantial loss of life energy, Adarrial sought the aid of his friends Stannis and Thorgrimm. In the distant dwarven kingdom of Undermountain, the loremaster Stannis knew a fellow Scrollkeeper who could restore Alarion to full health, and with the dwarf barbarian Thorgrimm to make introductions, the paladin was soon back on his feet.
Back in Helmsport, Adarrial, Alarion, and Thorgrimm reunited with Beran, who had spent some time ensuring that Eastway was now safe from troll attacks. Beran told them of a volcanic eruption that had occurred many miles to the north—no threat to Helmsport or any other town, but an interesting event nonetheless.
But the heroes had no time for geology lessons, because an old friend suddenly showed up on the doorstep of Thorgrimm’s small settlement in the ruins of Khundrukar under Helmsport: Seth McCullin, prodigal son of Great Rock, had returned to Helmsport, looking for help from his boyhood friend Duran Fortnite.
Though unable to adequately describe the events of his eighteen-month absence, it was clear to Beran that young Seth had experienced something horrible. For their parts, Adarrial and Thorgrimm didn’t know Seth well enough to make a judgment about him, but the paladin Alarion did not trust the morally questionable young man.
There would be no time for questions today, however, as the reunion was interrupted by the attack of a pack of four large toadlike creatures seemingly bent on the destruction of the heroes’ wayward friend! Together, the four heroes and Seth defeated the would-be assassins, but this left still more questions. Who wanted the young mage dead? Had Seth made new enemies during his long absence? Was the attack linked to Seth’s heritage, which the heroes feared could be traced to fiendish ancestry? Could his reappearance be connected to the dark cultists’ activities near Eastway?
Unfortunately, these questions would have to remain unanswered for now. As quickly as Seth McCullin had arrived, he disappeared once again, perhaps realizing that his mere presence endangered those he still counted as friends.
Previous: A Reckoning at Nightfang Spire
Next: The Devourer Awakens
All material copyright Andy Collins 2001-2008.