he Horns journey to the ruins of Etimar in search of a silver key lost over a millennium ago within the fount of Orna. The Society of Lost Relics believes that this key will unlock a magical portal located within the Tindor forest that will lead to Eretanis, one of the seven great elven cities lost during the Sundering. Etimar was overrun by Minotaur during the Demonspawn Wars, and the party discovers that the former Dwarven city is now home not only to these bovine creatures, but to goblins and chuul as well. The Horns navigate through a turf war in the under-city between goblins and minotaur in search of the fount of Orna. They discover that the fount is guarded by a massive territorial Chuul that brooks no trespassers. Meanwhile trouble is on the rise within the downs of Edigroth, as more and more people begin to mysteriously vanish.
The sun loomed high and hot in the afternoon sky as the Horns traveled along the downlands heading eastward toward the ruins of Etimar. The spring season had been especially wet this year and the Summer was proving to be no less intense. The journey thus far had been uneventful, and unnaturally quite. The party rode in silence for the most part, save for Thir, the horse handler’s son, who hummed softly to himself now and then.
Allot seemed to be weighing on the minds of the Horns. Upon returning to Hidroth Lea a few days ago, the party had learned that their friend Orend had been caught attempting to elope with princess Aribell and had been sentenced to death as a result. Elien and Illendra had each in their own way protested this sentence, to no avail. In lieu of their efforts at diplomacy they and Starling devised a plan to bust their friend out of prison. Elien sought the aid of the Horns in this mission, but the party had made the difficult decision not to become involved. Now they wondered what had become of the rescue mission. Had it been a success?
Then there was the matter of war. Mara had recently learned that her homeland in the Tindor Forest was under siege by Orcs. The Orc clans of the Atrowan Heights were now united by the tyrannical Jarl Gorlosh and threatened to spread through the northern reaches as locusts. Moreover to the south Karn unleashed a brood of dragons upon the kingdoms of Dwinovar that were wreaking havoc upon the homelands of Leuca and Romen. Should the party abandon their quest for the lost elven city of Eretanis to help out in the war effort?
Etilwin Vass seemed to think that the lost city possessed a powerful artifact the likes of which had not been seen since the Sundering. If Eretanis could be found, perhaps this artifact could be brought to bear upon the war. But could the city be found? Countless unsuccessful expeditions had been launched in search of the City of Ice. However new information was now at hand. Within the ruins of Ondur the Horns had discovered an ancient Tome that told of a northern gateway believed to lead to Eretanis located somewhere within the Tindor Forest. The key to this gateway was a silver orb which was once possessed by the Dwarves of Etimar, yet had slipped into the fount of Orna underlying the city a millennium ago when the city was besieged by Minotaur. The Society of Lost Relics wanted it back, and had commissioned the Horns to find it. Thus, with grim determination the Horns had set out this morning for the Minotaur infested ruins of Etimar, in search for the silver key.
“Oh my… Elucien’s pimpled arse what is that smell?!” asked Phadran disgustedly as the Horns scaled the side of the cliffs leading to the entrance of Etimar. The party had reached the cliffs the night before, and after a restful night’s sleep had left Jeren and Thir to tend their horses as they journeyed into the heart of the Dwarven city.
“Well,” said Romen, pulling himself up over another rise, “my guess is it’s that Chimera we slew the last time we were here. That carcass has been baking in the sun for nearly two weeks now.”
“Oh, right,” replied Phadran “victory never smelled so awful.”
Sure enough, when the party reached the moss covered ruins atop the cliffs they were greeted by the site of the large decaying tri-headed beast. “Quick Phadran,” said Mara through finger pinched nostrils, “find the lever to that secret entrance so we can get out of here.”
“I’m already on it,” replied the shadow rogue.
It didn’t take Phadran long to locate the entrance, and in a matter of moments the Horns had ascended into the dark, damp interior of the mountainside. Etimar had once been one of the four great Dwarven cities in the Northern reaches, and even after a devastating war and a millennium of neglect, the brilliant craftsmanship of the Dwarves was apparent in the smooth, level masonry of the walls of the under-city. Many of the walls had been damaged and even collapsed during the Minotaur invasion, and the skeletons of long dead Dwarven warriors still lay strewn about where they had fallen over a millennium ago.
Of course the only member of the party that could appreciate this fact was Phadran, whose mysterious shadow arts endowed him with darkvision. The rest of the Horns stumbled around in the dark.
“Should I light the way?” Asked Leuca, who had chained around his neck a Bronze Ram pendant upon which was cast eternal flame.
“No, best to keep that light buried beneath your tunic,” replied Thelend, the newest addition to the party. “Like the old Gnome told us, this place is crawling with Minotaur, and we don’t exactly want to advertise our presence. Best to let Phadran scout out ahead and lead us through the dark. You can always brandish that flaming pendant later if we need it.”
The rest of the Horns were all in accord with this suggestion, and so Phadran was elected to be the party’s scout. However it wasn’t long before the party was sniffed out by a pair horned beasts looking for blood and Leuca had to retrieve the pendant so that the party could defend itself. The Minotaur were fierce but the party managed to dispatch them without too much effort.
After about an hour of wandering the halls Phadran happened upon a curious site. In what appeared to be the sanctuary of a shrine-room, a large bovine creature held a chained leash connected to several other much smaller figures. The Minotaur, for such it was, began to bellow forth a series of low, animalistic grunts and shoved the smaller creatures down a stairwell. After the Minotaur had himself disappeared down the stairwell, Phadran led the horns down as well.
The stairwell ended in a lower chamber which connected to three roughly hewn hallways. Through the western hallway glowed a faint lavender light that afforded the entire party a view of what laid beyond. The hallway opened into vast cavern full of jutting volcanic rock and here and there stood large conical stalagmites formed over untold generations by the residue of sedimentary rock. The light appeared to be generated by phosphorescent purple fungi that clustered in patches all about the cavern. The walls of the cavern shimmered with twinkling white specs of light, and on one of these walls the Minotaur had set the smallish figures to work chipping away at these specks of light with picks.
“Luminiad,” said Thelend gazing into the starlight of the cavern, “The Hammodrans are rich with it, unlike any other place in the world. That was treasure of Etimar.”
“I recall Vass saying something once about the treasury of Etimar being located within the Halls of Amath Grall,” replied Romen thoughtfully, “he spoke of the Halls as being home to Gulgaloth, the great rune axe, yet he mentioned nothing about luminiad.”
“That’s because he’s an academic concerned chiefly with ancient history its artifacts,” said Thelend, “ask any bard in these parts though and he’ll sing you a tale of ore more precious by far than gold that once flowed from Halls of Amath Grall.”
As the Horns watched several small figures suddenly emerged from behind a large stalagmite and peppered the minotaur with arrows. The figures then converged on the beast like a swarm of rats and within moments felled the giant. They then freed the others from their shackles.
“Goblins?” asked Mara.
“Looks like Etimar is infested with more than just Minotaur,” said Romen.
“Well so long as they’re fighting each other and not us,” Phadran began, “then I’ve got no problem with them. Now, correct me if I’m wrong, but weren’t we supposed to be looking for some magical gate key or something? I’d suggest we get going.”
“Well, if it is supposed to be located somewhere within the fount of Orna, then we had better start looking for water sources,” said Romen.
The party spent the next several days venturing further into the caverns. They had had multiple encounters with goblins, ankhegs, poisonous fungai and chuul. They had also discovered that the caverns were a war zone between the goblin tribe that dwelt within, and the Minotaur of the upper levels of the city who came to mine ore, and capture goblin slaves. After much wandering the party eventually found their way to another immense cavern containing a subterranean waterway. A waterfall flowed down from the western end of the cavern spilling into a clear lake at the bottom of the cavern. Three descending sets of cisterns were built into the western wall like steps, feeding water from the falls into upper levels of the city. There were several stone buildings and rotted out boats set against the bank.
“Well looks like we’ve found the fount,” said Romen, “but where’s the key? It could be anywhere in that lake!”
“I say we check out those stone buildings before we search for the key,” suggested Phadren. The party had not objections so the Horns began to scout out the ruined buildings. The buildings were small and appeared to have once been used for storage and shipping; likely this had once been a port. Rotted rope and smashed crates lay scattered about, and here and there a dwarf skeleton could be seen.
“Check it out!” shouted Phadren, who had caught site of something shimmering in one of the crates. Inside was a shirt of brilliant luminiad chain. Rummaging through subsequent crates yielded a breast plate made from the same material.
“Told’ya this would be worth our…” Phadran began but was cut short by Mara’s shout of “Incoming!” The woodelf had stationed herself as lookout atop the roof of the building and had spotted nearly a dozen goblins stealthily approaching from the south. After Mara’s alert however, several of the goblins charged the buildings, while a few held back to shoot arrows at the ranger.
Thelend felled the first of the creatures that entered the room in a single blow, and Phadren stepped into a shadow and vanished only to reappear behind the goblin archers brandishing his twin Herzeglob blades. “Hi there,” he greeted the surprised goblins before planting his blades into the ugliest of the bunch. The battle was hard fought. The goblins did not fall easily and they fought savagely, like a pack of wolves attempting to pick off one enemy at a time. Still, the Horns managed to slay the lot, though Phadran was badly wounded in the process.
After the battle was won and the wounded were healed Mara said, “Guys… what is that?” She was pointing in the direction of the falls, where something huge and lumbering nimbly slid form cistern into the lake below. Mara’s Bear companion gave a low growl as a lurking shadow began to swim towards them.
“I don’t know,” said Thelend.
“I don’t think I want to know” replied Phadren.
The hulking green-grey carapace of the creature emerged several feet from the waters edge, and two beady black eyes stared out at the party with malevolent intent. There was an ancient crustaceous intelligence in those eyes. The beast emitted a high pitched shrill and then raised its two massive chitin claws from water in challenge.
“By the flames of Soraddadun, that is the largest Chuul I have ever laid eyes on!” exclaimed Thelend.
“Yes, you are a huge ugly cuss, aren’t you,” Phadran taunted the beast, “I guess it’s a good thing that I brought an appetite.”
“Alright, so we know from past experience that Chull like to try and drag their victims into the water,” said Romen, referring to an earlier encounter that day in which Leuca had been drowned in just this way. “So whatever we do, we can’t afford to engage this thing in the water.”
“Right,” said Thelend, “is there some way we can lure the beast out of the water?” The party briefly discussed several different ideas. First they waited to see if the Chuul would come to them. When it did not, they tried barraging the creature with aerial attacks, and taunting it with seafood jokes. Still the creature remained unmoved. Finally Romen suggested that perhaps if they climbed up to the cisterns from whence the beast had originally come they might coax it to pursue them.
Within minutes that party had scaled the first of the three cisterns and sure enough, the plan succeeded. The mammoth chuul sprang from the waters edge to the waterfall and moving with impossible speed scaled the side of the cliff. Moments later the Chuul reached the lip of the cistern, whereupon Thelend and Mara’s bear companion rushed at the beast and landed several blows upon it. Then the Chuul turned to face the party. If the creature had looked big before, now standing less than ten feet away from mot of the party the Chuul seemed immense. It’s chitin slimy chitin armor was covered in vegetation and eerie bluish light pulsated from a sack just underneath its abdomen. The creature gave another high pitched screech and then unleashed a volley of claw attacks upon Thelend and the bear.
Thelend groaned in pain as one of the massive claws ripped into his flesh, yet he managed to survive the ordeal. The bear was not so fortunate. The Chuull had managed to secure a grip on the animal and the next moment constricted it’s mighty claws with such force that it rent the bear in two. The bear gave one last sickening cry of pain and then was no more.
“Let’s get out of here!” shouted Romen, “we don’t stand a chance against this thing.” “Yeah, I’m with you on this one,” said Phadran.
With no time to waist, the Horns leapt from the cistern to the cavern floor some twenty feet below, risking mild injuries to escape from certain death. The Chuul did not follow the party to dry land, but rather watched them flea.
When the Horns had made it to the entrance of the cavern, Leuca prayed to Andunai to heal the wounds that Thelend had sustained. “Well, what now,” said Thelend out of breath, “We can’t search for the key with that thing guarding the fount.”
“Agreed,” said Mara, who had managed to keep the initial rage she had felt at the loss of her companion in check. “We aren’t ready to face that creature yet.”
“I wish I knew more about this Chuul,” said Romen thoughtfully, “perhaps if we learned more about it we could find some weakness to exploit.”
“What do you suggest,” asked Thelend.
“Well perhaps we ought to return to Hidroth Lea for now,” replied Romen. “Perhaps the library of the SLR will contain information on Chuul. And besides, I think we could all use some downtime.”
“I agree” said Thelend, “My Lord will want an update on our quest. I should report back to Duraland.”
“We’ll join you,” said Romen.
The trip to Duruland took several days of riding in the sweltering heat. The attitude of the party was somewhat ambivalent during the journey. The Horn’s defeat at Orna had come as a blow to their confidence. Never before had the Horns been defeated in combat. Sill, the party remained hopeful that their quest would indeed be fulfilled, even if it took longer than initially expected.
The party finally arrived in Mulborne, a village outlying Duruland Knoll, on the 15th of Sunsear. Thelend’s liege, Sir Mendubith, was both the Baron of the village, and a knight of the order of the Ram. Thelend had been Mendubith’s squire for years, and he loved the old Knight as father.
“There’s a great pub in town called ‘The Red Stag’,” said Thelend to the party as they entered the village. “I’d suggest looking for lodging there while I speak with my lord. The owner of the pub is an old family friend named Lurana. Let her know I sent you and I’m sure she’ll see you get the best rooms of the house. I’ll meet up with you once I’m done.”
The party took Thelend’s advice, and it didn’t take time to locate the Tudor styled pub, whose upper story had been painted red. Upon entering, the party was greeted by Lurana, who, surprisingly, like Mara was a Tindori woodelf.
Phadran perked up at the site of the attractive she-elf and immediately began to lay on the charm. The rest of the party engaged the locals in conversation. It didn’t long for the party discover that apparently there had been a number of recent disappearances in town. “People vanish from their homes in the middle of the night, and children that play in the fields don’t always come back,” explained one local farmer.
Some hours later Thelend returned from his meeting with Sir Mendubith, and confirmed that according to the Baron, the disappearances were not isolated within Mulborne. Apparently reports of missing persons had occurred throughout Duruland.
“This sounds eerily familiar,” said Romen to the other party member, “Remember what happened at Silverhweat?”
“You think this has something to do with cult of Thyrn?” asked Mara.
“Well, I wouldn’t be surprised,” said Phadran. “Think about it. We may have slain the High priest and most of her cultists in the ruins of Ondur, but we never did discover whether or not they had been successful in raising their Genocron.”“Phadren’s right,” said Thelend, “I’ve got a bad feeling about this. Perhaps its time we headed back to Hidroth Lea to see if Father Ibereth ever got to the bottom of this matter.”