Under The Sun
Mystery of the Red Crystals
Lord Warden Faren Markelhay sends summons for our heroes early.
The Lord Warden, Allande Markelhay, and several priests from the nearby temples greet the heroes at the Temple of Avandra.
After divination rituals and studies, the priests report that they have little news of the crystals. The clerics of Bahamut believe the crystals are a trinket of the evil dragon god Tiamat, but the priest of Melora suspects Orcus, demon prince of the undead. Perhaps these are worn by their evil followers to ward off radiant energy.
Allande suggests one person who will know for sure. Several of the priests nod, and others seem to disagree. She speaks of one elf named Zuruta who has retired to Gardbury Downs. The priests know him as somewhat of a savior of Fallcrest, though military leaders never knew his name. He was instrumental in the Bloodspear Wars ninety years ago in unraveling the orcs’ warlock powers. Allande believes he will know what is behind these crystals.
Lord Warden explains that his lieutenants are questioning the trade houses in Fallcrest, to see if anyone knows who is trading these dark goods with Winterhaven. He needs to send word, and maybe some pressure, to Winterhaven (a much smaller town without much of a military force). He offers the heroes 200g for information leading to the capture or arrest of these traders. He also offers an official Fallcrest document addressed to the leaders of Winterhaven, explaining the situation and requesting them to match his 200g reward.
As for the matter of the slain dragon—Lord Warden’s advisors seem to think that young dragons found alone are rebellious and greedy, and Szartharrax may be far removed from his brood. For the safety of the people of Fallcrest, he suggests that the heroes take up this task urgently (in other words, get out of town and lay low for a while).
The heroes are instructed to once again travel King’s Road, stopping near the road to Gardmore Abbey to consult with Zuruta before continuing to Winterhaven. (see the Campaign Setting for maps).
Our travelers make their way towards Gardbury Downs when they encounter a strange masked fellow roughing up some Kobolds. He has two obedient giant scorpions on leashes and is backed up by goblin muscle. The adventurers overhear him interrogating the kobolds before they are noticed.
The masked man does not want a fight (realizing he is outmatched) until he notices the Lifedrinker Longsword carried by Selenus. “Then tell me this… what are you doing with my master’s sword!?” The heroes make quick work of them, quickly surrounding the scorpions and focusing damage. Even the Cleric punches a goblin in the face. The crossbow-wielding goblin tries to flee but Wytex’s Sleep spell puts him down.
The goblin knows far more than he admits; Donaar’s sword and Saum’s knives convince him to be a little honest. His master is a goblin named Bolgrom, and they are in allegiance with human cultists led by Kalarel. They are based in Winterhaven Keep (“Keep on the Shadowfell”). It appears the goblins were beginning to lose trust in their truce with the cultists, as Kalarel’s true evil has become manifest. The heroes move ahead while Saum “releases” the goblin.
Zuruta finds the adventurers along Gardbury Road late in the evening. The adventurers rest their legs, enjoy some venison, and talk about the crystals. Zuruta and Sweetlick talk about how they came to follow Avandra, while Zuruta starts his divination ritual.
The next morning, Zuruta talks of the crystals. One crystal seems tied to an elderly woman, another to a young man. The crystals seem to point to the Shadowfell, as when the souls of the newly-deceased pass through the Shadowfell on their way to the Astral Sea. However, something about these two are different—the souls, they don’t actually seem … dead.
Zuruta is concerned that recent nearby events are tied to the crystals. There is a farmer that Zuruta knows just down the road; usually the farmer smiles and waves as he passes by, but lately the farmer has been acting strange. It’s almost as if the farmer doesn’t recognize Zuruta at all, or that the farmer is depressed. The ranger-cleric encourages the heroes to talk to this farmer and see if they can glean any details from his behavior.
Also, when it comes to death cults, Zuruta knows this: check the graveyards. The heroes should look for markings, strange bodies, increased traffic or visitors, and ask the gravekeeper if he knows anything. While there, the heroes are instructed to gather Gravestone Lichen—such lichen that grows in underground crypts can be made into potions that offer resistance to necrosis.
The heroes leave early and head to see the farmer. From the road they notice the door to the cabin has been broken down. Inside, the farmer lies dead in his bed—pecked or stabbed to death, his body frail and drained. They notice a small corner of parchment in the man’s woodstove, a page from an indecipherable ritual.
Out in the barn they hear a ruckus, and see the farm horse attacked by a swarm of stirges. The heroes run in to help the horse. A stirge sticks to Borodin, but his Eladric teleportation zips him right out of it. Sweetlick’s Sacred Flame nearly sets the barn on fire, but Wytex uses two fast (and accurate) Rays of Frost to extinguish it. The heroes are able to rescue and calm the horse, who now happily accompanies the party.
Back in the cottage, the farmer’s corpse stirs and slowly stands. While debating on what it is (or what to do about it), the corpse swings at Donaar. Sweetlick channels the power of Avandra to Turn Undead, and the zombie rotter splatters along the back wall of the house. “Well,” they say, “I guess we know what the ritual was.”
The group presses on towards the graveyard. They arrive at a small, old graveyard in the dedication of Bahamut. The old gravekeeper (known only as Gravekeeper) greets them suspiciously. Once he sees that Zuruta has sent them, he opens up about the gravestone lichen in the crypt.
Sweetlick notices some strange things about the keeper—he carries an unusually clean, new shovel, and there is no dirt pile in sight with which to fill the empty grave. The gravekeeper explains that the recent influx of dead make it hard for him to keep up, but he seems to be hiding something.
He invites everyone down into the crypt to tell tales of the noble paladins of Bahamut and their heroic battle in the Bloodspear Wars. He keeps telling tales, long after Sweetlick has collected the lichen. He seems to be stalling the group, and a quick bit of Intimidation puts the old man aside.
Back above ground, a gnomish necromancer has just finished reading a ritual scroll – the runes light up, the scroll disintegrates, and the corpses on the wagon rise to their feet as zombies. The gnome Illyathi asks what this group is doing here – he reminds the gravekeeper of their agreement: no visitors while he’s gathering bodies. Saum, thinking quickly, dons the mask of the scorpion-trainer and skillfully fools the gnome into trusting them.
The party follows the gang of undead until they meet up with Zuruta. Against undead, two clerics are better than one – they make quick work of the creatures while putting the gnome to sleep. They tie him up and throw him on the horse and relieve him of his ritual book, magic dagger, unholy symbol, and clear crystals—the same size and shape of the evil red ones.
Back at his cabin, Zuruta pours over the necromancer’s ritual book. Meanwhile the gnome wakes from his magical sleep – although he is restrained by ropes, he can still Fey Step out of them and turn invisible. Antek meets him as he tries to flee, and one solid brute strike finishes off the nuisance.
With the scrap of parchment, the red crystals, the clear crystals, and the necromancer, Zuruta is able to piece together the ritual behind these crystals:
The ritual is a device of Orcus, Demon Prince of the Undead. These skull-masked people are his cultist worshippers.
The clear crystals are empty vessels, almost like a lich phylactery. The ritual imprisons the soul of a target. That soul is held prisoner in the Shadowfell, and the crystal turns red and is imbued with great power.
The red crytals can be used to power dark rituals. At the back of the necromancer’s ritual book is a ritual to assume Shadow Demon Form. Their leader (phonetically Ka-La-Rel, as written in Demonic) might be gathering these crystals to perform the Demon ritual.Apparently, the separated soul and body are still dependent on each other. If the body dies, the soul is still stuck in the Shadowfell so the body turns Undead. If the crystal is destroyed, both body and soul die. If the crystal is placed next to the empty body, the soul is freed from the Shadowfell and the person is made whole.
The heroes wake from a rest and hit King’s Road early. Zuruta borrows their horse to ride to Fallcrest and warn them of the cultist activities. The party is not halfway to Winterhaven when Zuruta pulls behind them, along with a cart from Fallcrest full of weapons and ammunition. The heroes hop into the cart and they speed over to Winterhaven.
As they approach Winterhaven their spirits sink – A horde of undead, maybe a hundred-strong, are wailing just outside the gates of the town. Their apparent leader is a 15-foot-tall zombie horror. A guard runs across the parapet to the tower nearest the heroes. He explains they are nearly out of ammunition, and the gates to Winterhaven might soon fail. Somehow their crossbow bolts are not having effect against the zombie giant.
Borodin recalls something in his history studies about such a fiend – made of parts and scraps of other zombies, it is a grotesque creature that uses other undead for regeneration. They realize they have to somehow separate the horror from its decrepit, rotting minions.
Saum remembers he has a grappling hook, and over the 20’ south wall it goes. Wytex, Selenus, and Saum take up ranged attacks on the battlement while the rest of our heroes begin picking off the loose undead.
The hulking horror rushes our heroes, swinging and tossing them mercilessly. Although they are landing deep wounds, the horror keeps grabbing nearby zombies and consuming them – the zombie parts seem to restore the foul creature. They focus their attacks on the smaller zombies until Donaar’s radiant attack leaves permanent damage against the creature.
Meanwhile on the parapet, Wytex’s scorching bursts are annihilating scores of undead. Saum calls for the guards on the ground to find a cask of alcohol or oil, something they can ignite to really turn the tide. The guard comes back later with a four-gallon keg of alcohol. He ties it to a rope, and Saum hoists it up. Saum takes a running start and tosses the drum over the edge, and Wytex’ well-timed scorching burst ignites a colossal fireball on the ground – dozens more zombies are crisped.
The ground troops finally surround the zombie horror, and he can’t get close enough to eat any more minions. A tricky maneuver by Borodin, Antek, and Sweetlick weakens the creature’s defense. The adventurers wear him down, each slice and spell tearing zombie heads and arms from the creature. As the last minions approach, Sweetlick uses Turn Undead to destroy the final zombies and lay waste to the giant horror. The zombie hulk falls back, his zombie pieces coming apart in mid-air. Donaar and Antek stare up in awe and don’t move in time—both are buried in disgusting rotting flesh.
The siege on Winterhaven has been turned back for now. The villagers inside the keep are still in panic, while the city leaders scramble for a plan to counteract the cultist attacks. It’s a good thing the heroes and Zuruta have shown up when they did, with answers about these crystals and the source of this scourge.Borodin’s related writings: Prelude