What follows below is a transcription of a story as told by a Greensinger bard of the Eldeen Reaches. It is an account of the Brelish border conflict and military engagement which took place in the winter of the 998th Year of the Kingdom, over two years since the Treaty of Thronehold which ended the Last War.
CHAPTER 1: THE TIP OF THE ICEBERG
VATHIROND, BRELISH BORDER
A wealthy dwarf named Janus Goldhammer offers the gathered adventurers a job: It seems that the town chief councilwoman, Lady Irena Zenrick, has been defraying funds to a terrorist group, and intends to hand Vathirond into the hands of some unknown enemy. It’s known that she had a Sacred Contract, which is a document magically guaranteeing that the signatory parties will keep their bargains. The adventurers are tasked with retrieving this document from her person or her manor house.
The adventurers: A terrible Trio. Katel, the ranger with the sharpest ears on Korvaire; Hawk, the man with a backup for every situation and a dagger for every back; and “Tiny”, a mysterious Warforged with the strength of an Ox and a blade that cuts through Iron like butter.
The adventurers set an ambush for the lady Zenrick, arranging for her to be invited to the mayor’s home on official business. In the darkness of night, they ambush the carriage on a lonely road. In the struggle, they discover that she and her manservant have become creatures of the night – vampires – who escape as foul mist when defeated.
The heroes give chase, and boldly smash through the manor’s defenses, slaughtering the mercenary spy-catchers of house Medani hired to guard the grounds. Inside, they discover a hidden chamber in the basement.
This chamber contains the remains of some hideous plot; operating tables drenched in blood surround a massive black pit in the earth. A terrible stench pervades this place of evil.
Suddenly, a swarm of undead corpses begin to crawl out of the pit, moaning for flesh. The heroes must fight off a swarm of zombies, and just barely win the day against a particularly tenacious zombified Gray Render.
Hoping to avoid any further entanglements, and badly wounded, the heroes solve a fiendish puzzle and gain access to the secret sanctum, where Irena Zenrick and her manservant lie in their coffins. Without mercy, both are staked through the heart. The Sacred Contract is found nearby – written in a language not spoken by the heroes, but bearing the lady’s signature… and that of some other being.
As they leave the smashed and bloody mansion, what will our heroes do with the Contract now that they have it? Janus Goldhammer has promised them a handsome reward, and they aim to collect it – but what secrets might it hold?
And what other allies – and enemies – might they meet as the plot thickens?
PREFACE TO THE CHAPTER 2: THE CONTRACT
Written in Infernal, the Sacred Contract is a magical document which, once signed by willing parties, will impart a horrible curse upon whichever claimant fails to uphold the letter of the written agreement. This is the nature of the document recovered by our heroes from the lady Zenrick’s manor house. Before handing it in to Janus Goldhammer, Tobias decided to copy out the text of the contract “for his own records”.
As one might expect, the contract is written in very dense legalese; “The party of the first part, having then received such services as described in paragraph 3 section 4, will hereby offer monetary considerations not to exceed …” and so forth.
The essential thrust is that it seems that the Lady Irena had agreed to provide three services: First, she would provide as much military intelligence as she possessed about Breland’s defenses, second, she would use her political power to weaken the standing troops in Vathirond as much as possible, and delay the arrival of fresh Brelish troops for at least fourteen days (the contract is dated ten days ago) – and thirdly, and most troubling, she agreed to “Safely transport and position the Device provided to her with this document in Sharn according to the verbal directions of the cosignant, to be done no later than eight days following the signature of this document by both parties” (i.e. two days ago).
The other party, for their part, agreed to grant lady Irena the gift of immortality and great power – in the form of vampirism, it seems – and “sovereign rulership of the regions of eastern Breland, following the successful completion of the tasks assigned to her, beginning twenty days from the signature of this contract, with the understanding that those regions may be in a state of devastation and warfare at said time”.
The two signatures at the bottom of the hefty document;
- The Lady Irena Ivanonnvich Zenrick – “Mars”
PREFACE PART 2: To The City of Towers
Upon returning the contract to Janus, he dutifully pays out the gold he promised to each of the trio, though he mentions that more discretion might be advisable in the future. After a moment, something appears to startle him, and he points to the bag containing the strange silver broach. “May I see what is in there? It is of critical importance!”
Upon seeing the broach, Janus’ face turns pale. “It’s worse than I thought! I have another assignment for you, if you’ll take it; Get this broach to Professor Dolg Glassbeard at Morgrave University, department of History! I will send ahead to inform him that you’re en-route. The payment for its safe delivery is one hundred platinum pieces each! And whatever you do, by Kol Korran’s beard, do not let anyone but the professor get ahold of it!”
Without waiting for a reply, Janus begins making arrangements for three first class seats on the next lightning rail to Sharn. “I only hope we’re not too late…” mutters Janus as he studies the contract.
EPISODE 2: BATTLE FOR SHARN
On the lightning rail to Sharn, the trio – Katel, Hawk, and “Tiny” – meet a strange, dapper little gnome who is apparently a master troubleshooter for House Cannith. The man introduces himself – Slarvish Globnose, master tinker, a man with literally dozens of magical and technological devices on his person at any time, and the ability to maginify a magic item’s power manyfold with a simple modification.
During the voyage, the heroes are accosted by some suspicious-looking thugs, who demand to search their bags, seeking the silver brooch that they took from Zenrick Manor. Refusing, the heroes knock the thugs silly. However, a strange creature – a boneclaw covered in mechanical parts – claws its way through the train and attacks. After a harrowing battle, and with the help of a 100mph tree, the heroes are able to destroy the creature. Interrogating the thugs, they discover that a man identifying himself as “M” had charmed them into stealing the brooch from the heroes.
Arrived in Sharn, the heroes, joined by the curious Slarvish, head to the absentminded Dr. Glassbeard’s office. Glassbeard pays them promptly and is astonished to see that the brooch is an authentic “Corpsemonger Sigil” – a phrase he quickly denies having said. He instructs the characters to meet him tomorrow.
Just then, Hawk and Slarvish are summoned to the Southern Enclave of House Cannith -for an audience with Merrix D’Cannith himself! It seems that Tobias Hawk Gibbs is a specialist agent of house Cannith, favored in the house. Hearing the heroes’ report, and especially the contents of the conract copied by Gibbs, Merrix informs them that his concerns have proven accurate; A schema for a powerful doomsday weapon, the Urn of Unmaking, that had been stolen a few months previous from the Cannith vaults, was probably used to built three urns of unmaking. Merrix firmly believes that the ‘device’ mentioned in the letter was the Urn of Unmaking – here in Sharn. The device is more than capable of killing or turning into a hideous undead every humanoid in the city if it detonates.
The heroes race to locate it before the mad terrorist, Mars, can set it off. Slarvish has the skills to defuse it; Katel and Hawk to locate it; and Tiny the power to stop anyone who would prevent their work. Along the way, they are joined by a house Cannith Envoy, who is a specialist at bomb defusal.
Along the way, the heroes are ambushed by several house Medani revenge squads, who plan careful ambushes but are no match for the heroes. At last, using means fair and foul, the heroes discover that the Urn has been planted on the famous luxury liner of Sharn, the Brelish Queen(owned by the lady Zenrick). Flying aboard, they locate the urn.
As they are just about to begin disarming the urn, attached to the great mast of the ship, the house “envoy” makes a slip – he refers to “mars” as “Johnny Merruci”, claiming that this is Mars’ original name. Having given away his identity, the traitor reveals himself: Mars, the mastermind of the urn plot and Zenrick’s conversion to vampirehood. Congratulating them on forcing his hand, he uses a very powerful magical item to vanish and summon two minotaur zombies in his place… as well as animate the entire Brelish Queen, and cause it to begin laying about with its massive mast as a flail.
After a struggle, the heroes destroy the animated ship, sending it crashing into the walkways below, the passengers long since evacuated. Slarvish, still in the process of disarming the Urn, finally succeeds aboard their escape ship, despite a last, desperate attack by Medani agents on Soarsleds.
With the urn disarmed and their enemies scattered to the winds, the heroes have saved Sharn from certain doom, and earned praise even from the normally humorless Merrix D’Cannith, who breaks out a bottle of his finest wine. Or, probably wine. He might have refilled that bottle with engine de-greaser a few years back… hmmm…
The heroes receive 2000 gold each, and a letter from Merrix himself guaranteeing the assistance of the house to the bearer. It is very strongly worded to indicate that no favor is too much… within reason, of course.
Still, Merrix has bad news;
“I believe I have correctly calculated the location of the remaining two urns. You are not going to like it.”
PREFACE TO PART 3: CHOOSING SIDES:
Merrix waves in a short, thin construct who clicks into the room on silent feet.
“I’ve been keeping an eye on this Janus Goldhammer from Vathirond, and professor Glassbeard at Morgrave. I was able to call in a favor from a contact of mine in house Sivis in order to gain access to the message Glassbeard sent back to Janus.”
The small construct quickly produces a folded piece of parchment, which Merrix plucks out of its hand. “See for yourselves.”
The letter, written in the messy scrawl of the absentminded professor Glassbeard, reads;
“There is no question about the authenticity of this item; it is a genuine Corpsemonger Sigil. ‘Corpsemonger’ of course being the term given by humankind to the Lord of Dust Makha Razza, also called “The Machine”, a demon being that is said to use the power of artifice to turn life into death. There seems to be excellent historical evidence to suggest that when the Lords of Dust were defeated and sealed away, thouands of years ago, Makha Razza was sealed in Khyber below what eventually became a small hamlet known as Grey’s Valley, in Cyre. Grey’s valley seems to have disappeared from the maps some years before the great war broke out.
There is reason to worry, Janus; the sigil, by my calculation, was made recently – in the last few months at the latest. This means that somehow, Makha Razza has gained enough freedom to possess a new Exarch to carry out its bidding in Eberron.
This is particularly troubling news because during the Age of Demons, unlike most of its kind, Makha Razza was known to cooperate with other Overlords, rather than merely squabble over spoils. Makha Razza was said to be part of a triumvirate of Overlords. One of its partners was the being known as Gargazza, also known as “The Beast of Bloodshed”now sealed beneath the deep woods in the Eldeen Reaches. Its third ally is a secret party, but research indicates that it may be sealed on Argonessen, in a prison known as “the pit of five sorrows”.
Janus, I assure you that the Overlords are quite real. If the Corpsemonger is close to being freed, there may be little hope for the world of men on Khorvaire as we know it. If, Dol Dorrn forbid it, two overlords were to break free at once… no action would be possible to save any of this. I do not know what your plan is, or why you ask me to explain how to use the sigil, but I implore you as one scholar to another; do not meddle with this power! It is impossible to use the tools of the Lords of Dust without eventually becoming their servant. Instead, turn your incredible resources to stopping the release of any of these demons! The fate of the world hangs in the balance!
I will set about immediately to consulting the records of the draconic prophecy to find out how Makha Razza, Gargazza, and their third ally are said to be able to be released. If we can determine this, there may be time to stop their agents. If my theory is correct, and each of these buried Overlords has gathered enough power to claim an Exarch, time may be short for us all!
Again, I beg you – do not pursue your plans to control the Corpsemonger’s power! Stop the Lords of Dust at any cost!”
The letter ends here. Merrix watches you as you read it over. “This was sent three hours ago. I took your suggestion and established round-the-clock protection for Professor Glassbeard, but he’s dead. Poisoned. We discovered that he had opened a sealed envelope with golden trim shortly after sending the message, and it contained a strong dose of Deathleaf powder. He was dead before he hit the floor.”
Merrix looks you in the eye. “It appears that a rather elaborate intrigue is playing out around us. I find it rather boring, personally, but if the late Dr. Glassbeard was correct, then this is not a situation that can be ignored. Gentlemen, I would like to commission you to investigate this matter. I am hereby hiring you to investigate and report on the situation at the seal of this “Gargazza” creature in the Eldeen Reaches. Luckily for us, House Orien is very grateful to you for your assistance in neutralizing a threat to the safety of their passengers aboard the lightning rail, and providing medical assistance and repairs after the fact. They have arranged for their fastest special rail to bring you to the edge of the reaches, and then by special coach to the woods just outside of Greenheart. If you accept, you leave immediately. Leave me a list of supplies you’ll need and I’ll have them waiting for you when you pass through the city of Varna at the edge of the Reaches.”
Merrix absentmindedly adjust the bolts on the pickpocket construct next to him as he continues:
“You should know… I first tried to hire an airship to transport you to the Reaches, but house Lyrandar refused service once they heard the destination. I believe our enemies are gathering pawns in their service, including the dragonmarked houses. Beware the agents of Medani and Lyrandar, and surely others as well. The houses will be choosing sides in this coming conflict…”
Merrix turns to study a large glass screen displaying magical images of the endless words of the draconic prophecy.
“You have your mission. I urge you, succeed at all costs, or we may very well lose everything.”
“And gentlemen… good luck.”
CHAPTER 3: THE HUNTER OF THE REACHES
Travelling north, the heroes arrive in Greenheart, where they are granted an audience with the great druid Oalian. Oalian welcomes them to the reaches, and begs for their help in repelling the barbarians from the demon wastes who have been destroying the villages in the north of the wood, and killing many of the Wardens of the Wood.
Oalian says that he believes that some force has united the barbarians (no easy feat), and intends to tamper with the seal that holds Gargazza, the Beast of Bloodshed (in ancient hobgoblin, Gargazza is known as “The Tarrasque”). Oalian bestows one of his leaves upon each of the group (Tobias refuses out of respect), giving Tiny, Katel and Slarvish the Mark of Oalian as their features turn fey and green (in Tiny’s case, sprouting leaves from his joints).
The heroes venture to the seal. Along the way they crush a barbarian raiding party (saving many lives through force of arms and medical attention), and eviscerate a band of would-be ambushers.
Soon they reach the seal, guarded by a contingent of Plague Bearer barbarians. They charge into the camp, and with terrible magic and blades they begin to tear into the barbarians. They are joined by an unexpected ally – the mysterious SHINZEN from Sarlona, to the east, who fights without weapons. With his help, the heroes turn the barbarian camp into a meat grinder, downing a score of barbarians as well as their mighty (but stupid) Blessed Champion and even their legendary leader, the Gift Spreader (who, long ago, was responsible for Katel becoming the man he is today).
The heroes continue into the cave of the Tarrasque. There, they find the mysterious figure who united the barbarians: Talshawa, an eyeless man who was once a ranger of the reaches, long ago. Now an Exarch of the Beast of Bloodshed, he tries to release its seal by spilling the blood of innocents upon its altar. Before he can complete his ritual, he is stopped by the combined efforts of the heroes, plummetting into the darkness of Khyber, below.
Having stopped the barbarians (and destroyed their sacred artifact) as well as stopped Talshawa’s plans, the heroes return to Greenheart where they are granted a heroe’s feast by the grateful villagers and even some of the more lively druids. During the revelry, Oalian and Tobias speak in private for some time. The heroes are invited as guests into nearly every home in the town – even Tiny – and choose a house that suits their tastes, either relatively luxurious, or simply a warm blanket and a fire beneath the stars.
Enjoy this peaceful night, adventurers – trouble never sleeps.
PREFACE TO CHAPTER 4: THE BEGINNING OF THE END
Around a blazing fire, villagers drink root beer, sing lively tunes, and dance in the Towering Wood. The barbarians fall like flies before the terrible anger of the Druids and their allies, Gargazza the Overlord is sealed, and all is well.
Many hundreds of miles to the south, however, evil stirs.
MOURNLAND, FORMER ROYAL PALACE OF CYRE
In the ruins of what was once the war room of the High King, two figures stand before a scrying crystal, watching the images playing on its crystal surface. They see the five adventurers being celebrated as heroes in Greenheart.
“Talshawa has failed. These people are proving to be very… troublesome. Too many variables… I should have taken more precautions to make sure they died in Sharn when I had them in my grasp.”
The man speaking is Mars, Lithe and pale, dressed in a fine suit, and with sharp fangs and burning, clever eyes, Mars stares into the crystal with rapt concentraton.
“Big deal. As long as those idiots are up in the woods scrapping with Talshawa, there’s no one to stop us. They’ll never be able to get down here in time since we got house Lyrandar in our pocket.”
The man speaking is ten feet tall and eight feet wide, a huge, muscular shadow that blots out the light behind him. His voice is the voice of a man who’s been eating gravel for years.
Mars looks at him, annoyed. “Don’t underestimate them. They defeated my animated ship much faster than expected. My plan almost didn’t work because of them. And if they beat Talshawa… that wasn’t one of my preferred outcomes.”
Mars waves his hand over the crystal in front of him. It changes from an image of the heroes to a map of Breland, with lines and circles drawn on it in red. War plans.
Mars studies the map, his hands arched together in front of him, a strategy cooking behind his cold eyes.
“Yes… we have a contingency for this situation. We still have enough power to take Sharn before the winter. The other nations are too slow to react, too divided to stop us in time. When spring arrives, our army will be unstoppable.”
Mars looks back at the giant man.
“Now it’s your turn, Kine. Don’t fail us. I will have the Corpsemonger ready in time when the slaughter is over. You must make sure we don’t lose this first battle. That is an outcome I prefer not to have to calculate…”
The giant man chuckles, a horrible sound.
“Just because you and Talshawa couldn’t keep your shit together doesn’t mean I’m the same. We’ve waited a long time, Mars. Too long. Breland is weak, divided, and unprepared. Our forces will grind them to dust.”
The giant man turns to leave, a clanking and clattering of metal weapons and armor shifting under his massive bulk.
“You just keep building your master, Mars. I’ll handle those idiots if they want to try anything with us…”
Mars looks away from him, unconvinced.
“Maybe so, Kine, maybe so. Still, a little insurance never hurts.”
Mars waves a hand over the crystal and speaks his orders:
“I need to speak to our agent in House Lyrandar. And after that, I have the first order for our newest allies as well…”
BACK IN GREENHEART
When the Orien Carriage fails to appear at the appointed time, the heroes’ worst fears are confirmed when the Wardens of the Wood find the carriage run off of the road. The five drivers and guards are all dead – throats slit from behind without a struggle – before the carriage crash.
Who has the skill to kill five men on a moving vehicle without any of them fighting back? And how are the heroes going to get back to Merrix and collect their dough now?
As the heroes stand pondering their options, a loud noise from overhead startles them. Up in the sky, a huge shape is descending over the road where they stand, blotting out the sun…
CHAPTER 4: AIRBORNE ASSAULT
The heroes are picked up from the road outside Greenheart by house Cannith’s one and only flying ship, the Ironwing. Piloted by the eccentric Captain Victor Rashne, this adamantine vessel was sent by Merrix to pick up our heroes – and deliver a message:
“My very reliable sources in the Mournland report a massive army mobilizing on the Brelish border – uncountable legions of zombies, and worse. The Iron Wing is at your disposal. Captain Rashne will be included in your deliberations.
Breland is extremely vulnerable to an attack from the Mournlands if the attacker is an organized military, and is sure to lose tremendous amounts of ground if the attack happens soon. Stop or stall the enemy by whatever means you deem fit, or find a way to rouse defenses for Breland in time. Good luck.
And with that, the heroes set sail for Aundair, to seek help in Fairhaven, where Tobias “Hawk” Gibbs had received his education. While travelling, they re-purposed a stock of mechanical messengers to travel long distances, and sent out request for aid to: Thrane, The Reaches, Breland, House Jorasco and House Deneith. In addition, they warned Merrix, and told him to enlist who he saw fit.
As they travelled on, they were accosted by increasingly aggressive Lyrandar airships, but made quick work of their crews. Each ship was commandeered and added to the newly-expanding House Cannith fleet. Armed with four ships, the heroes even boarded and gutted the mighty Blackcloud, prize of the Lyrandar airfleet, killing the mysterious samurai from Sarlona, Kano Aruma, despite his use of the terrible power of the Corpsemonger.
With all their enemies outsmarted and outfought, the heroes arrived in Fairhaven and spoke to Jorlanna D’Cannith at the Aundair enclave. Jorlanna was very hostile toward the group, but agreed to see them since the three most powerful agents of the House were present. After being given the locator stone (made by Mars), and attempting to read it, she came to believe the heroes that a powerful evil was on the rise in the Mournland, and prepared a skeleton crew of makeshift airship sailors and some last-minute equipment from the house supplies. While leaving the city, Hawk was able to detect a scrying attempt against him, and in turn scry on his enemies: Mars, Talshawa, and Kine, the three Exarchs of the Ovelords, as they marched to war on some gigantic vehicle. Harsh words were exchanged, and vows to clash on the field of battle were spoken.
Now the party has taken three captured ships to sail with them to the town of Starilaskur, in eastern Breland. From there, the three captured ships will make for Sharn, to be outfitted with fresh crews and weapons from Merrix. The heroes, meanwhile, will sail east to Vathirond, straight into the jaws of the wolf.
Will the heroes, now joined by the gallant captain and their airship fleet, be enough to stop the coming war? Or will the armies of the Overlords seize Breland before the first snowfall, and begin a campaign of exponential conquest?
CHAPTER 5: MEAT GRINDER
When those they entreated for help sent token forces to investigate the reports of an army on the border, the heroes led their respective units in a desperate bid to recapture Vathirond from the enemy’s already massive forces.
The battle was a long, pitched struggle. The stalwart Brelish, Thrane, Cannith and Deneith soldiers held their ground bravely, not giving an inch to the encroaching hordes of zombies. Meanwhile, the crack Thrane Sharpshooters, deadly Dragon Guns, and the absolutely devastating Maginot cannon rained death and destruction onto the enemy lines.
The Ironwing cruised overhead skewering careless enemies with its bolts and shooting down enemy airships.
As the battle raged, the Exarchs Kine and Talshawa both summoned avatars of their Overlords: A massive five-headed aspect of Tiamat appeared on the scene, only to be brought down in a hail of arrows and a mighty ramming speed charge from the Ironwing, as well as a fireball for good measure; and an Avatar of Gargazza, whose grounding aura threatened to swamp the allied airships as it marauded about the battlefield. Timely action from Brelish soliders kept the beast in check, while the Maginot and the Dragon guns rained death upon it.
All heroes did many daring deeds, not least of which was Shinzen’s single-handed capture of an enemy airship and subsequent flying of this ship into an enemy formation.
When at long, long last the heroes had cleared the fields, the carnage was massive. They now moved into the ruins of Vathirond, only to find their old enemy Mars lurking aboard the lightning rail shipment that brought their supplies. The heroes foiled his ambush, thanks to Slarvish, and chased the villain into a nearby ruined church.
There, Slarvish was able to polymorph the enemy general into an ordinary bat, trapping him in this form.
Cursing Slarvish, Mars vanished into the deep black pit in the church’s floor, fluttering into the darkness.
Now equipped with their supplies, the heroes are preparing to give chase down this pit. It seems that the enemy forces have been dragging captives, both dead and alive, into this pit for some unknown purpose. What will the heroes find when they slip down beneath the earth?
And just what did Mars steal from Merrix’s vault when he teleported in?
While the heroes prepare to head down, their troops begin fortifying the city to hold out for a long siege. When Tiny captured Fort Mistwatch, he saw the massive waves of undead approaching the city – the force the heroes put to rout was only a scouting force.
Will the heroes take any of their soldiers with them, or will they leave every unit they can to hold out aboveground?
PREFACE TO CHAPTER 6: WE THREE KINGS
The origins of Kine, Talshawa, and Mars. Read at your own peril.
Cyre, five years before the death of Galifar and the beginning of the Great War
A small town, Brighton, in the Heart of Cyre, has been blessed with a prosperous if small community. Here, simple and honest folk make their livings and do their part to keep their nation safe and successful.
One day, the caravan from the village to the north fails to arrive. The tiny hamlet of Grey’s Valley sends a caravan to trade once a month without fail; when it is still missing two weeks later, the city council becomes alarmed. Attacks are reported along the road north of the town. Travel becomes more dangerous, and people begin to worry.
The City council decides that it is time for action. They hire three specialists who have sought their fortunes in Brighton: Talshawa the Ranger, who could hear a pin drop a mile away; Johnny “Mars” Merruci, a successful thief and card shark with connections to the powerful criminal underworld of Sharn; and Lincoln Kine, a disgraced and extremely dangerous dwarven warrior from the Mror holds, famous for his ability to literally shred his opponents to pieces with his spiked chain.
These three misfits were hungry for coin, and accepted the city’s mandate: Travel north, discover what has happened to Grey’s Valley, and return our agent to us. They sent along a volunteer observer, ‘Darren’ of the city watch – this man ensured that the city council would not merely receive a fabricated report from their three mercenaries.
On the road north, the party encountered nothing except an ambush by three desperate deserters-turned-highwaymen. The trio killed two of the three ambushers who attacked the on the road, but Mars decided to spare the life of one of them. Not taking the time to learn his name, he dubbed this man “Bob” and made a deal for his life, after which they let him run off into the wilderness. Soon they had reached Grey’s Valley, a sleepy woodland hamlet surrounded by tall hills and trees, overlooked by an abandoned and decrepit fortress atop a nearby hill.
Grey’s Valley was a ghost town. Completely abandoned, as if suddenly and overwhelmingly attacked. Nothing remained but empty buildings whose doors swung in the breeze. The party decided to camp for the night. They set up in the local Smith’s house and fell sound asleep.
Ambush. In the middle of the night, Talshawa awakens; something is moving around below his perch in a tree outside the house. Silently, he gains his feet and wakes the others by throwing a branch through an open window.
The defenders awaken and look around; zombies. Dozens of zombies are shambling toward the house. As they begin to fend off the approaching horde, the three men notice that the zombies are being directed by two marksmen far from the cabin, firing special magic bolts from their crossbows and marking targets for the zombies, who instantly become aggressive against those bearing the mark. The marksmen also all bore strange silver broaches on their shoulders, like holy symbols, which seemed to keep the undead from harming them. The heroes mount a counter-offensive, dashing into the night and engaging the marksmen – humans – who are no match for three desperate and vicious mercenaries, and the survivors quickly flee northward – to the ruined fort.
The mercenaries, with Darren in tow, hunted down and killed the fleeing men. They took their clothing and their magic sigils, and moved into the fort in disguise, mixed with a horde of returning zombies and posing as the robed marksmen from earlier. They found the fort to be anything but abandoned; it was reinforced, armed, and filled with armed men like the ones who had led the zombies against the cabin, as well as a veritable horde of zombies.
The heroes made short work of the armory guards and set a powder keg with a fuse that would last a few minutes. They then proceeded to the basement, where they duelled with a fearsome pair of warriors (one of them wearing eight matching rings made of silver – how odd), but in the end were victorious. However, the battle had badly injured Kine and had also released the horde of penned-in zombies. They tried a large, ornate door in the depths, and found a single woman tending to a massive metal machine surrounded by corpses connected to it by wires and tubes. It appeared to be a machine that was, with difficulty, able to turn the corpses into the undead. The woman was so consumed in her care for this device that she did not bother to defend herself when Johnny stabbed her in the back of the neck. Johnny quickly pocketed her ornate sigil before moving on. The swarm of zombies was closing in now.
The trio retreaded down a disused corridor just as the powder keg ignited upstairs, collapsing much of the fort onto their enemies. With their retreat cut off, the three mercenaries and Darren proceeded into a room whose door was massive and ancient, the hallway before it covered in crusted blood.
With their retreat cut off by a swarm of zombies, and the robed figures swarming like flies after them, they had little choice but to head into the room. Inside, they found a massive, disused chamber, obviously not part of the fort or the recent excavations. It contained huge stone pillars and a massive sarcophagus which bore a glowing blue spear in its decorative hand.
Lincoln Kine seized the spear. Inside the sarcophagus, Talshawa found a glowing Ankh. Attacked by a lurking mummy, Mars tried to ward it off by wearing the master Sigil he’d found. This proved to be an important moment in their lives.
Talshawa, Kine and Mars had, by touching these objects, accidentally opened their souls to three powerful Overlords who lay trapped in Khyber, and become their immortal Exarchs. They went on to dream strange dreams and plot strange plots, and with newfound patience and evil, they vanished from the sight of the world for many, many years…
The current whereabouts of Darren and “Bob” are unknown.
PREFACE TO PART 6: INTO THE BOWELS OF THE BEAST
“Don’t worry sir. She’ll be ready for action in a few hours, once we patch the hull ruptures and restabilize the forward elemental.”
Bo’Sun Stubbs of the Ironwing assures Captain Rashne as the crew frantically work to repair the ship in their makeshift drydock.
Around them, the allied forces dig in to the city and prepare themselves to hold Vathirond as long as possible against the enemy’s main force. These soldiers, formerly here merely to invesitgate a rumor, no longer have the least doubt about the threat to Khorvaire lurking in the Mournland. With new courage and determination, they entrench their position in the blasted city. They will hold against the enemy’s main force, a massive wave of moving humanoids in the distant mist of the Mournland.
They have no hope. Though no-one says it, it’s written on every face; the enemy’s main force is an endless line of living dead that seems to cover the entire border. A giant shape lurks in the mist, some titanic engine of war under the enemy’s command. Their reinforcements won’t arrive in time to save them. But they know their duty, and will die to protect the world from this threat.
The commanders shake hands with the heroes as they prepare to enter the blasted Church. “An honor to fight at your side, Sir.” “Never have I seen such skill in battle.”
All too soon, the line of doomed men looking grimly to the east disappears as the heroes wander down into the darkness.
The hole beneath the altar reaches deep into the ground, and a foul stench rises from below. The heroes imagine that they can hear the flapping wings of a bat somewhere down there, their prey escaping.
It’s time… the only chance for their soldiers, and Breland, is to cut off the head of the enemy.
It’s time to journey into the Bowels of the Beast.
FINAL CHAPTER: WE THREE KINGS
The heroes wandered down into the dark, following the tiny bat that fluttered away in the darkness.
The tunnels below ran east. Huge, and slick with fresh blood and thousands of footprints, the echoing passages reeked with the stench of death.
The enemies had been dragging captives, both dead and alive, down into entraces to the tunnel network from Vathirond, above, and down into the depths for some hideous purpose.
The heroes caught up with a mass of zombies hauling captives from the previous battle (Thrane and Brelish troops). After putting down an ambush by horrible mechanical digging machines, Shinzen, Tiny, Katel and Captain Rashne charged in to help the wounded men being dragged to a fate worse than death by the zombies. Meanwhile, Slarvish and Hawk inspected the mysterious platforms on a large metal rail that ran along the corridor – a rail transit system of sorts.
Mars had just departed on the foremost rail disk, leaving two for the heroes. As Slarvish figured out the controls, and Hawk disarmed the deadly sabotage left by Mars, Shinzen saved the life of Cardinal Dolan Wright, who, once healed, was able to repel great numbers of undead with his holy symbol. Rallying his troops, he thanked the heroes for their efforts and gave Shinzen a vial of the purest holy water from the font of the Silver flame itself.
As the Cardinal and his troops used the holy symbol and their blades to carve a path through the undead and free the others (Hawk even donating his wand of curation in order to help save the casualties), the heroes raced after the enemy commander.
Aboard the rail platforms, the heroes faced ambush from razor wire that had been hastily strung across the tunnel in their path, and scything blades that dropped down to mince them to bits.
Though the razor wire caused troubles for all except the nimble Shinzen, the scything traps were child’s play thanks to Slarvish’s steady hand at the controls and Tiny’s unstoppable blade.
The heroes zipped along the rails for huge distances, passing over a massive sea of undead. After miles of eastward travel, they were deep in the Mournland when they came upon a break in the rails.
Though Slarvish spotted it ahead of time, Hawk was engrossed with the magical power source of the platforms and accidentally plowed into the foremost disk.
A massive crash ensued, but the heroes quickly regained their feet and moved on.
Soon, they had reached two massive doors in some alcove of the tunnel network. Choosing which to pursue, Slarvish and Hawk used their powers to scry ahead. One room was filled with glittering treasure – all of which were mimics lying in wait, servants of Talshawa – and the other was a narrow bridge across a pool of water.
Merrix contacted the heroes using magical communication, and caught up with the heroes. During this chat, he accidentally referred to Hawk as ‘Anthony Merruci’ – a crucial slip. He told the heroes that he’d placed a number of special protective items in Hawk’s backpack to help protect their weapons and items against magical interference. Everyone but Captain Rashne thought this was a good idea, and attached them to their gear.
The heroes entered the room with the bridge, after finding it safe to cross using summoned celestial dogs. No sooner had they reached the middle, however, then its ends collapsed around them and the foul stench of acid became clear to all. High above them, Master Inquisitive Doyle D’Medani revealed a preserved Beholder eye, pointed downward at the heroes – an impenetrable antimagic field encompassing the entire bridge. He then snapped his fingers to summon forth all the items to which the “protective” items had been attached – and Rashne’s suspicions that the voice speaking to them had not been Merrix were confirmed.
Without magic or their normal weapons, the heroes fought. Gnoll ninjas, servants of the Riedran Empire of the east, poured into the room, hungry for battle. Most of them found their way promptly to the bottom of the acid pool, thanks to Tiny and the Captain. Shinzen leapt up onto a low platform, working his way up to the smug inquisitive, and brutally mangling a ninja or two for good measure.
Katel wasted no time on niceties such as ninjas. With unbelievable skill, he jumped his way up to the top of the room, platform to platform, rope to rope. He vaulted the inquisitive’s bodyguards in one leap, causing the panicked Doyle to redirect the eye beam away from the heroes below.
Soon, his plan in ruins, Master Inquisitive Doyle D’Medani got an axe through the head for his troubles, courtesy of Katel. The heroes were soon at the top.
Though the door at the catwalk, the heroes found a dark and smoky corridor. They emerged into a massive underground chamber that seemed to extend forever in all directions. They stood on a narrow bridge high above a giant, sprawling jungle of machinery.
This was the body of Makha Razza, the Machine, the Corpsemonger. Below them, its giant wheels and cogs and gears spun and spewed. Captives, living or dead, were dropped from tubes onto massive wheels. Once on the wheels, they were lashed firmly to them and pulled into the rumbling machinery. From the other side, obedient zombies emerged.
On the platform ahead of them, a blue crystal, the heart of the machine.
The heroes moved to inspect it, when they were confronted and challenged by Kine the draconian dwarf, a massive giant with a flaming spiked chain in one hand and the blue spear in the other. Shinzen and Katel wasted no time in joining the battle, and were able to badly batter Kine in their opening salvo when Talshawa, Mars, and a giant mechanical tentacle arrived on the scene.
The fight was vicious, it was bloody. Hawk summoned his huge purple serpent familiar, Manda, and rode him as he targeted strategic weak points. Tiny, 12 feet tall, strode across the bridge sweeping death onto his enemies at the end of his massive blade. Captain Rashne kept Slarvish alive despite his horrific injuries. Shinzen laid a vicious smackdown upon the enemy, freeing Tiny from the clutches of the giant worm, stunning and brutalizing Kine with his unarmed attacks, and managing to scare Mars enough to force him to waste his ultimate trump; the Iron Bands of Billaro. Katel dropped a feather token into exactly the right spot in the gullet of the giant tentacle-beast, dealing massive damage, and smashed both the enemies and their precious protective orbs with his axes. Slarvish contributed to the fight, hastening and healing, seeing his enemies’ true locations, and most notably turning Talshawa into a turtle.
In the end, victory was gained when Slarvish managed to imbue Tiny’s faithful, nameless adamantine blade with the power of a Holy Avenger. Wielding a blade that positively scorched the air with its righteous power, Tiny fought Talshawa in his pool of darkness and, though battered and smashed by the fallen ranger, was able to beat him with a thunderous flurry, horribly wounding Talshawa. Not missing a beat, he thundered down the walkway at Kine, taking a terrible wound as Kine’s whirling, flaming chain tore open his chest. Tiny cared not one bit. With incredible fury, he dealt Kine a vicious blow that drove him to a knee. As Kine stood again to reply, Tiny’s momentum carried him to a desperate second swing.
Kine was split in two, too stubborn to ever know he had died.
Where once was the mutant and loathsome form of the eyeless monster Talshawa was now a simple human ranger, dressed in old-fashioned country garb, bleeding to death. Where once was the draconic monster Kine was now a large, muscled dwarf, split in half.
Mars, hit by a dreadful Hold spell by Hawk, still used his magic to escape through the blue orb, which led to the mobile form of Makha Razza, far away.
Kine was beyond saving. Hawk desperately tried to save Talshawa, but he was too far gone even for the considerable skill of the youngest Merruci. With his last breath, Talshawa’s eyes saw the world again, one final time, and he died with a gentle smile.
The heroes, grimly, deactivated the machine using Slarvish’s knowledge (he had built much of the device below them himself). They made their final preparations to follow Mars into whatever ambush he’d set.
They appeared on the back of a titanically huge metal crab that besieged Vathirond. The defenders had already fallen back heavily to escape the endless swarm of undead that filled the landscape as far as the eye could see. At the forefront of the zombie army was the massive, metallic crab body of Makha Razza, pulling the dead or wounded enemies into its bulk with tentacles and transforming them into fresh troops right at the front lines.
On its back, Mars commanded it from his throne. The final battle began.
In the opening moves, Tiny was flung by telekinesis off of the crab and far, far to the east. Horrible Greater Shadows approached the party, seeking to drain their life energy for their master, and another massive tentacle of the machine appeared, eager to snap up the heroes and digest them into undead slaves.
The fight was long, vicious, and strange.
Shinzen, for his part, opened the fight by smashing the supremely pure vial of holy water on Mars’ body, scorching the fiend, but was soon gobbled up by the maw of the tentacle. Once swallowed, his incredible power and training in the one-inch-punch allowed him to break his way out of the gullet of the monstrosity before he could be zombified. Katel Hacked and chopped the tentacled monster, and was nearly swallowed by it except when Shinzen was able to save him. This proved important, as it was Katel who later destroyed the metal serpent at a crucial moment.
Hawk and Manda helped enormously in the battle, Manda smashing the power crystal of the giant crab, while Hawk’s spells annihilated two of the shadows. Entering his combat form, that of the displacer serpent, he rescued a weakened Slarvish from having his blood drained by Mars and disarmed him of his very Talisman of power.
Captain Rashne effortlessly incinerated two of the shadow creatures with holy power, reducing them to ash in the wind with a thought. His wind wall saved dozens of lives by diverting the projectiles of the giant crab and his persistent attacks on the power crystal were what eventually forced the crab to rely solely on the power of the talisman (weakening it).
Slarvish, though enfeebled by the touch of the shadow creature, enacted his master plan. Cancelling the power of the artifact for a moment with his rod of cancellation, he granted Mars a brief moment of clarity, in which the tortured Mars confirmed his suspicions that the talisman needed to be immersed in the “blood of Eberron’ – red hot magma. Once freed by Hawk, Slarvish teleported himself to Merrix’s side and quickly sought his aid, being given the incredibly powerful “Grand Null”, the ultimate rod of cancellation, and an experimental and dangerous item that would give him the speed he needed.
In the end, the final maneuver went off like clockwork. Well, almost clockwork.
In his displacer serpent form, Hawk wrestled the talisman free from Mars. Resisting the whispered promises of power, knowledge, whatever he wanted, He tossed it toward the front of the crab. Slarvish appeared and, injecting himself with the experimental formula, was able to strike it with the Grand Null in midair, rendering the Talisman powerless. Slarvish levitated it a few feet, intending to toss it overboard. As Mars broke free and crawled toward the Talisman, the giant metal serpent moved to engulf Slarvish – and swallow him for good. Shinzen, Manda, and Katel battered the creature, however, and Katel was able to run up its back and sever exposed wires in time to bring it down.
Captain Rashne grabbed the inert Talisman and hurled it off the side of the crab – into the massive rift of bubbling magma created by the great druid Oalian in defense of the city. It hit the magma with a simple hiss and vanished – dissolved.
Instantly the undead army turned rampant and wild, turning on each other. The giant crab lost all power and fell limp in its tracks.
It might have even stayed there, if it hadn’t been for the Lord of Blades.
What the heroes assumed as an approaching enemy reinforcement was in fact the terrible and awesome army of the Lord of Blades in the Mournland. This army of warforged and other constructs marched out of the east against their rivals, cleaving a path of carnage through the undead ranks.
Atop the mighty warforged Juggernaut at their lead were two figures. First, the Lord of Blades, unmistakeable in his shining adamantine armor covered in sharp blades and cutting instruments. Next to him stood Tiny, directing the fury of the juggernaut to help his friends.
The impact of the juggernaut knocked the crab over toward the magma pit. The heroes would surely have fallen into it, were it not for the Ironwing cruising by, where Bo’sun Stubbs used the pauldron that Hawk had given him earlier to summon the heroes – except Hawk – aboard the Ironwing.
Hawk was desperate to save his Great-grandfather. As Mars slid, uncaring, toward the magma pit below, Hawk tried to fly and save him. He missed his first attempt, failed again when he used a dimension door to fall faster than Mars, and would have lost his ancestor then and there to the magma had he not at that instant of need discovered that he was an heir to the Cannith blood after all…
In that moment, he manifested the Syberis Mark of making, the first one ever seen since Merrix the Edler. With his newfound power, he created a net that would work even inches above the boiling magma: A net of adamantine bound around his back.
Using this, he saved the unconscious Mars and brought him aboard the Ironwing.
The defenders, bolstered by the presence of Oalian, made a brutal counter-charge against the undead. From behind them, the undead were assaulted by the unstoppable army of the Lord of Blades.
Leading the gleeful slaughter next to the Lord of Blades was Tiny; for he had removed his pauldron and was not brought aboard the Ironwing with the rest.
As the Ironwing sailed off, Tiny gave a last, long salute to his companions and friends. Who knows what a warforged really thinks or feels. But some say there was genuine sadness in his metal face in that brief instant.
The Lord of blades placed a hand on Tiny’s shoulder as they hacked through a mass of zombies, and spoke a few short words heard only by Tiny and Katel.
As the Ironwing sailed over the routing enemy forces, Katel produced his bottles of extremely fine root beer that he had managed to keep in one piece, and Captain Rashne found one last scroll he’d been keeping in reserve: Heroes’ Feast.
Aboard their flying fortress, stuffed with the finest food and stoutest beer, the heroes sailed off. There was much to be done; messes to be cleaned up.
But for now, in this perfect moment, they were Kings.