“So tell us what happened?” queried Ernest Padraig.
The table was decked out with the finest that Winterhaven had to offer. While the team had set out for Shadowfell Keep in secret, by now everyone in the fortified village knew, and word was quickly spreading to the surrounding countryside.
“Well…” started Brindle, “It seems that we took a bit of a gamble and bypassed the Hobgoblin barracks in an effort get to Kalarel before he could complete his ritual. I am guessing that they might have heard us in the guard room, but prepared an ambush that we never walked into. By the time we were running back through their, the remaining Hobgoblins had taken their loot and ran.”
“Seems they scattered once the place started falling apart” remarked Rond Kelfem. The Captain of the Winterhaven Regulars was unusually chatty, but he had been proud of the work his own men had done in tracking down the spy. “I’ve managed to track them a bit, but it seems that they’ve decided to find work elsewhere.”
“Eh… leave ‘em alone and they’ll leave us alone” grumbled Kelfem, his usual surly demeanor returning.
“Honestly, I think we got lucky in the choices we made. We didn’t run into any dead ends, and even some of the traps that Kalarel had set for us we didn’t walk into. But as I said earlier, we got into the upper cathedral after making it through the ghoul’s feeding grounds.”
Aeren interjected, “Seems they were using it for a kind of garbage disposal, the ghoul was eating whatever sacrifices they had made, and with the influence of the rift, some of the food got up and started walking around…”
“Eyuck!” exclaimed Salvana Wrafton, as she poured the drinks.
After stopping the feeding ritual that led into the rift, we were going to have to take on Kalarel himself. We had no real clue of what we were dealing with, but we didn’t have much of a choice. Instead of sliding down the chains into the chamber below the cathedral, we went down on our own ropes. Less slippery that way. I think there was some sort of lift underneath the blood pool at the bottom, but we never did find that out.”
“Tell me,” asked Valthrun, “what was the chamber of the Shadow Rift like?”
Marcus raised his hand, “An abomination to the Raven Queen. Indeed it was a portal to the Shadowfell, but to a place particularly foul as you had said. Something was on the other side of it, trying to push through. We could hear a subtle whispering coming from the portal, but there were limbs and appendages trying to push through the portal.”
“Don’t forget the Wight!” Shuddered Rolan.
“A wight?” Valthrun raised an eyebrow.
“You threw stuff, I got a bit more um… personal” snarled Ankh as she rubbed a nasty bruise on her upper shoulder.
“Personal?” asked Padraig.
“Well, we not only had to try to stop Kalarel, but we very quickly figured out that his ritual had reached the point of being self-sustaining. We had to find a way of reversing it.” Aeren remarked, “Marcus and were working out while Heskan, Brindle and Ankh fought their way through the skeletons to get to the Death Priest.”
“That still doesn’t answer the ‘personal’ bit.” Padraig said, sounding increasingly curious.
“Sir Keegan had given us small statues of Bahamut,” added Marcus, “we decided to try to use them to help reverse the ritual. Aeren threw two into the portal, I invoked the power of the Lady to do the same. Seems that this portal had a real hate on for my Mistress.” The warlock winced showing a spider-like wound from where the dark energy had lashed him across his neck.
“But what did Ankh do?” asked Eilian.
“Well…” started Brindle, “We were getting creative in trying to slow things down. Heskan had managed to fend off one of Kalarel’s blasts, but Ankh ran in with her sword in one hand and a statue in the other. She slid in low, and despite taking a solid hit from his skull mace, managed to cut a hole in his lower armour and then, uh…”
Ankh interjected sharply, “I cut off his codpiece and shoved that statue up his…”
“Um… His lower bits?” She corrected herself, but by this time everyone at the table was laughing. Ankh smiled.
“I bet he didn’t expect that!” exclaimed Eilian.
“Um… no.” replied Brindle. “But it really threw him off. Truthfully, we were outclassed. One on one, Kalarel could have taken any one of us, and it seemed as if he was trying to separate us out, but we stuck it out. We got a couple of good hits in on him and he struggled to get away from us, and even teleported in front of the portal.”
“I want to hear more about the portal.” Asked Valthrun. “You said it whispered?”
“Yeah, and had this awful pull to it, and that thing had a mean hook.” grumbled Marcus.
“What do you mean?”
“As it tried to it would pull each of us toward it, and then if we got too close, it’d take a swipe at us. It clocked me pretty well. There’s no way we could fight it, all we could do was try to stop the ritual.”
“And just as we were getting the drop on Kalarel, he managed to teleport into a circle in front of the portal which seemed to give him extra protection.” Aeren smiled, “Fortunately, I have a few tricks up my sleeve to counter that.”
“You obviously managed to stop the ritual.” remarked Valthrun, “How’d you do it?”
“Group effort,” replied Brindle. “While Marcus and Aeren figured things out and started doing some of their own prayers, Ankh poured holy water all over Kalarel’s book. Aeren struck the final blow with a well-tossed statue, and Kalarel was not happy about that.”
“I know," replied Aeren, rubbing his own bruises, “none of us came out of this unscathed,”
“Speak for yourself,” smiled Heskan, “you guys just don’t know how to roll with the punches.”
“The Wight.” the druid shuddered. “Each time I knocked down a skeleton, that… thing would put it back up. I was just fending it off. Once the guys managed to shove Kalarel into the portal, it was none too happy.”
“Hey! You gave away the ending!” exclaimed Aeren.
“Group effort again,” the warlord nodded. “Aeren managed to scramble him out of his circle, and then we hit him with everything he had just as we managed to stop the ritual. Marcus was right about Kalarel being able to take any of us out, we didn’t let him take that chance. What was left of the portal sucked Kalarel’s body out of his armour. It wasn’t pleasant. Seems that Orcus doesn’t tolerate failure well.”
“It was just then that the Wight screamed at us.” shivered Rolan, “And not just any scream, but a soul-sucking, bone-freezing, howl. It caught us off guard, because we thought the Wight and the remaining skeletons would flee or collapse once we stopped the ritual. Turns out they might have looked to restart it if we didn’t taken them down first.”
“You guys ran away,” smirked Ankh. “I was at least smart enough to try and get around on it.”
“The next time a Wight looks you in the eye and screams at you like that, let me know how it works out for you.” grumbled Aeren.
Ankh waved her hand, “I’ve always found it good to not look my opponent in the eye, usually means they know I’m coming… which means I’m not doing my job.”
“Once we recovered we concentrated out efforts on the Wight and the remaining Skeletons. It took a bit, but by then it was outnumbered.” Brindle said cooly. “Besides, it dropped this,” he said holding up a flawless longsword. I think it’ll get some good use now.
Douven Stahl looked at the blade, “That’s a Nerathian sword, very fine craftsmanship too.”
“I got a new cloak!” exclaimed Ankh as she drew it around herself. Oddly enough, nobody saw her.
Just then, Thair Coalstriker, who had been listening intently, piped up. “Let me give it a go, Heskan. I’m sure I can make it more your style.” The Dwarf smith began looking at the helm from various angles.
Lord Padraig raised his goblet, “Well, Winterhaven owes you a debt of gratitude. You have not only rid us of the nuisance of the Kobold Bandits, but you saved us all from the dangers of the Shadow Rift. You are welcome any time you wish, and I hope that we may see you again soon. I may well have some work for you once you return your mentor safely back to Fallcrest!”
Amidst all of the festivities, nobody noticed a tiny yellow canary flittering amongst the rafters at Wrafton’s Inn. It hopped from beam to beam, down toward the party, and then at last coming to rest on Rolan’s shoulder… and the bird whispered into the druid’s ear…