Divide and Conquer [WARNING:
This column contains spoilers for the D&D adventure “Deep Horizon.”]
[WARNING: This column contains spoilers for the D&D adventure “Deep Horizon.”]
One of the Three Thuribles of Justice had been recovered and returned to the Church of Altius--restoring some small portion of Duran's divine powers--but two remained lost. Clues found in the ruins of Chael Rekshaar led the heroes to conclude that these two relics had been either traded or stolen away from the ancient city. One was in the possession of the being known as Helkitrik, who was very likely also responsible for the geological disturbances plaguing the region, and the second was thought to be in the hands of spiderlike creatures lairing somewhere in the cavern that also held the ruined city. Thus, the heroes decided to divide their forces, sending one team after each of the two remaining thuribles.
The first group was led by the paladin/dragon disciple Alarion Northsea, and also included Beran Findalson, Jarvis Osburn, Stannis Alensin, the paladin's cohort Verdigris, and the heroes' sometime ally, Caedrus. Joining this team was Quinborough Cadwallader, a halfling cleric devoted to the god Metron (favored son of Altius Highfather). A resident of Stormpoint, Quin had heard tell of the heroics of Jarvis and decided to join the mighty warrior in his travels (as well as to look after Jarvis for some more influential friends of the giant among men).
Adarrial Smythe took charge of assembling the other team of adventurers. Standing with the Man of Renown were Duran Fortnite and his trusted bodyguard Rexander, Thomas Johnson, Eandrynn, and Thorgrimm. Adarrial also recruited Falaster Morian, a sorcerer and veteran of the recent battles against the goblinoids of the Ten Tribes. Somewhat envious of the heroes' rescue of the city of Blackmere, Falaster saw this as an excellent opportunity to increase his own fame and fortune.
Tunnels of the Spider Elves
With the peerless ranger Beran among their number, "Team Alarion" drew the task of hunting down the thurible hidden somewhere near the ruins. Sure enough, the trail led up to, then straight up, the cavern wall, only to disappear abruptly. A careful search revealed a well-hidden secret portal, and soon the heroes delved into a network of dark tunnels carved into the cavern wall itself.
Their suspicions of the existence of spiderlike creatures within the tunnels were soon confirmed, as the heroes encountered several groups of pale-skinned elflike humanoids with the ability to change their form into man-sized spiders! Clearly, these were the descendants of the pale elves who originally settled Chael Rekshaar, their blood inextricably mixed with spiderkind itself!
Further along, the heroes battled monstrous spiders with a gleam of fiendish intelligence, great half-spider, half-elf centaurlike monsters, and even a horrible spider-legged demon in humanlike form. But the the worst was saved for last, as the heroes found themselves face-to-face with a horrible creature displaying features of elf, spider, and demon and wielding not only the unholy might of her "goddess," the Spider Queen Lolth, but also the Thurible of Retribution!
After a devastating struggle, the heroes prevailed over the spider elves and their demonic minions. Exploring further, they discovered an inky black "doorway" that stood in the center of a large cavern, framed by iron-hard strands of webbing. Divination revealed that the doorway emanated powerful magic...and powerful evil.
Indeed, this evil suddenly revealed itself, as a great spiderlike construct lumbered out of the black portal and incinerated the unwary Quinborough with a fiery ray from one of its compound eyes. Thankfully, the rest of the heroes were able to destroy the foul thing, but they knew that this would have to be the extent of their explorations, at least for now. The portal clearly led "somewhere else," but exactly where that was (and how the portal worked) would have to wait for another day.
Volcanic Lair of Helkitrik
Meanwhile, Adarrial's team was on its way north, into the craggy mountain wilderness. If Helkitrik might be responsible for the eruptions in the area, and the final thurible lay in Helkitrik's grasp, then this seemed like a good place to start looking for both.
The team set up base camp in the mining town of Mauersberg. After some magical and mundane information gathering, the heroes determined that Mount Zeitler--a smoldering peak a few days' travel from Mauersberg--was the likely home of Helkitrik's operations. Sure enough, a search of the area turned up some volcanic vents that seemed much too well-traveled for any creatures not immune to terrible heat.
Venturing within the sweltering, smoke-choked tunnels, the heroes quickly ran into resistance in the form of salamanders and hell hounds. Though the front guards posed little trouble for the adventurers, they next encountered a pair of noble salamanders, who immediately summoned enormous fire elementals to repulse the intruders. Battle raged across a lake of lava as each side rallied time and again.
Then tragedy struck, as Rexander the hound archon was mortally wounded by a salamander's longspear. With the rest of the heroes running low on resources, they were forced to retreat, only barely rescuing Rexander's body before teleporting to safety back in Mauersberg.
The heroes cursed their foul luck. By now, they had received word of the other team's success, and their failure chafed all the more because of it. But then mystery was added to injury, as the true resurrection performed to return the archon's soul to his form inexplicably failed! Kurdundar, the dwarven cleric performing the ceremony, was mystified and could only guess that some powerful force had diverted or even captured Rexander's soul before the spell could be cast.
That night, Duran heard a voice in his dreams: "One who you trusted will kill you." When he awoke, he pondered the meaning, but knew he could not waste time with enigmatic prophecies.
Downtrodden, the heroes returned to Great Rock for solace and advice. Visiting the druidess Darnae for resources, the heroes also encountered their wayward friend (and occasional ally), Seth, who claimed that he sought "protection" from the forces pursuing him. Duran reluctantly agreed, realizing that the heroes needed all the help they could get. Together, the team put together a plan to neutralize the salamanders' "home-volcano" advantage.
Sure enough, their next visit to Mt. Zeitler proved more successful. Prepared for the environmental conditions and opponents, the heroes overcame the remaining defenders, including salamanders, fire elementals, an efreet, a pair of azer (one of whom was released by the heroes after convincing them that he was merely a visitor sent by another "interested party"), and Helkitrik himself, a noble salamander wizard.
In a lower level, the heroes found (and freed) a number of azers enslaved by Helkitrik's forces, tasked with the creation of weapons destined for some unknown location. And among the despot's possessions was the Thurible of Warding, the final piece required to restore Duran's lost powers! After four long months of research, travel, and deadly struggle, the death curse of Laogzed the Devourer could finally be lifted.
But even this triumph was tainted with loss. There was still no sign of the soul of Rexander the hound archon. Why had Seth turned up yet again, only to once again disappear immediately afterward? And what of the mysterious omen that spoke in Duran's very dreams?
And what exactly had Alarion's team been up to during the weeks that Duran and his allies had been storming the volcano?
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All material copyright Andy Collins 2001-2008.