22 March (Continued)
Bhavik pushed the door open to reveal a chamber that must once have been a shrine to the dwarven gods. The walls were carved with their dour images, and a low stone altar stood at the western end of the room. Stone benches once lined the wide hall in even rows on the floor, but the pews have been smashed and thrown askew – the icons of the gods defaced. Atop the altar, arms folded over his chest, lay the corpse of an old dwarven warrior in half-plate armor. Bones lay scattered around the altar’s base, and the leathery remains of an orc in half-plate crouched before it.
The warden led his companions into the shrine cautiously, alert for traps and threats. When Aramis entered the chamber, he frowned at the sight. “Too many bodies down here that need to be laid to proper rest. Mind that they aren’t the restless dead.” Bhavik shifted his attention to the corpses as he crossed the room to the altar, and Azal followed behind the two men.
Even were they not so alert, they would have sensed the evil presence in the shrine – a cold whisper of death and dark magic. They watched, horrified but unsurprised as the bones before the altar stirred and rose up to form two towering skeletons gripping massive femurs in their bony grasps. The dead orc warrior turned its head to look at the heroes and grin wickedly, green fire burning in its hate-filled eyes.
“It’s a trap!” Bhavik declared rhetorically.
“Aramis, what are these things?!” Azal wanted to know.
The cleric frowned, “The larger ones were once giants, and they do not lack for strength even in death. The orc appears to be a wight.”
The tiefling’s dagger flew wide of her first target, and the heroes soon discovered that even the slightest distraction made them vulnerable to the giant skeleton’s bonecrushing reach. “Keep moving!” Bhavik encouraged his companions. Aramis channeled the Raven Queen’s divinity to turn the undead monsters, and the adventurers struggled to take control of the combat.
Bhavik’s blood flowed freely from his numerous injuries, and he assumed the form of Winter’s Herald, his icy aura coating the floor beneath the skeletons and making it difficult for them to maneuver. Azal’s dagger began to shatter the giants’ bones, and Aramis kept his companions standing with his healing prayers. A subjective eternity later, the three stood victorious in the quiet dwarven shrine.
Taking stock of their condition, Bhavik said, “Aramis, you look worse for wear. Should we rest?”
“I’m fine,” he lied, but Azal was quick to call him on it.
“Let’s take a good, long rest before we continue on,” she said, smiling at his foolish bravado.
“All right,” he conceded.
The three braced the doors with the remnants of the stone benches and as they settled in, Bhavik and Aramis noticed their ankles had begun to itch furiously. The cleric rolled up the legs of his breeches hesitantly and noticed a rash had appeared on his ankles and calves. The shifter was similarly afflicted, and Azal backed away slowly as she asked, “Umm… What is it?” For a moment, they were at a loss until the remembered wading in the putrid water near the choker cavern below. Fortunately, both were talented healers, even without magic, and they applied their art to their infected legs. Disaster averted, the heroes set a watch schedule, then settled in for the evening.
23 March, 103 CY
“Are we ready?” Aramis asked the next morning.
“I believe we can survive the day,” agreed Bhavik.
Removing the stones she’d place in front of the door to the shrine the night before, Azal nodded. “I think we should go back through the Great Hall and continue through the other door to the north.”
When they opened the door to enter the entryway to Durgeddin’s former redoubt, they saw three armed duergar leveling weapons in their direction. “Aramis, speak with them again,” Azal said nervously.
“Ghared has granted us passage,” the cleric intoned in Dwarven.
Acidly, the leader retorted, “But I have not. Fire!”
Though the battle started poorly with Azal getting impaled by crossbow bolts and fiendish beard quills, the adventurers quickly gained the advantage. Despite their flaming hammers and ability to vanish into the shadows, the heroes swords and prayers proved sufficient to defeat the gray dwarf guards in short order. Shaking their heads after resting to regain their breath after the encounter, they moved to the door Azal had suggested previously.
The portal opened into a chamber about thirty feet to a side. A dark pool sat in the center of the room, and hallways led off to the east and the west. There was a strange sound in here – a weird moaning slowly taking the form of garbled Dwarven words. The moaning grew louder taking on a crazed intensity of gibbered phrases and shouting as a strange, ghostly creature drifted into the chamber from the eastern hall.
An extended melee with the forgewraith and two of its lesser kin ensued, draining the party of a great deal of their strength before the undead had the courtesy to shuffle off.