After vanquishing the Lich before it had a chance to recover its Phylactory, Jesail and Moagh spent the remainder of the day in Giddy Willow down in the dark recesses of the mine. At first the halflings were hesitant to work with the two adventurers present, but a quick flash of the broken shards of the Phylactory were enough to convince them that the dangerous creature was gone. The sickly halflings immediately abandoned the dark easterly curving tunnels to go celebrate with their families.
Variel, still under the possession of the halfling priestess of Serenrae immediately took to the Lich’s often used alchemy lab, laboring under the wizards notes trying to synthesize a cure from the potent poison and ineffective remedy. A young halfling winemaker accompanied him, hoping to learn the cure so a similar control could not be used on them again.
The two clerics, Geth and Dimitri poured over the extensive library, scouring through tomes ranging many subjects, though few piqued their interest. Into Geth’s hands a large and varied tome entitled ‘Immortal Swords’ was found. Inside it was information about twelve swords forged simultaneously with the making of the world. Primal blades were lost to time immemorial, wielded by ancient divine ancestors to the modern pantheon, all of whom had been long forgotten by the masses. Each blade represented a different aspect of the newly created world; some were good and pure, others neutral or held within a balance of duality, yet others possessed an evil so ancient it dwarfed the machinations of evil creatures and gods alive today.
Yet the most extensive information was found in the form of notes in the margins about a terrible and foreboding dancing sword called Shadow Bringer. Though Geth could not understand much of the coded information, the blade was accompanied by a series of illustrations describing the slaughter of millions by the blade operating on its own. Determined that this blade should never be reformed, when Jesail and Moagh returned from the mines inquiring about why the tunnels head easterly, Geth refused to answer, saying that the blade was old and evil, and he would have no part in assisting in it’s location.
However, within the wizard a deep stirring inside his inner soul waged a battle with the halfling priest for supremacy, and briefly, he won. Variel decided to put it to group vote on whether or not to stay in Giddy Willow to search for the pommel, noting that the only way to either purify or destroy the sword would be to first have it in one piece. Geth reluctantly agreed under the premise that they would try to use the sword for good, and if not, then they would destroy it to prevent someone like the Lich from ever finding and reforming the pieces themselves. Either way, they needed to remain for at least one day more to finish making enough cures to heal the rest of the halflings. The party, given free rooms at the halfling inn with just enough ‘long people beds’ to house them reflected on the possibility as they drifted to sleep.
The next day, Moagh and Jesail consulted with the halfling mayor about the pommel they were searching for. The mayor handed Jesail an amulet the diggers had been given, a dark disk on a thin chain that would burn their flesh when the piece was close at hand. Curious, they took it back to Variel, who irritably only gave them enough time to briefly study it, as he was focused on finishing the cure.
“The amulet is divine magic, attuned to necromantic energy. However, it has a limited range, as this is the equivalent to a dime store divining tool. Now leave.” He said, turning back to the bubbling flasks before him. Undeterred, the elf and dwarf wandered off to explore other options.
The rain began to fall in force again as the day progressed. Around noon, Dimitri’s holy symbol of Serenrae began to glow and hum in a way he had never experienced before. Upon touching the symbol, Dimitri’s mind was flung many miles, connecting him to the mind of Father Malen Shreed of Turtleback Ferry. Shreed’s mind was a chaotic whirl of flashing images. Sick people huddling together on a stone floor, torrential rain obscuring the view from a high up window, a swollen river dumping millions of gallons of water out onto the streets, people running around in panic as the waters swelled up to their knees.
“Please!” He implored, “Turtleback Ferry is flooding! Skull River is continuing to rise and people are trapped in their attics. I am with many sick and wounded who cannot be moved easily. The water is two feet high already and threatening to swallow us. By morning I fear Turtleback Ferry will be swept away, and the church is already showing signs it may collapse!”
Thoroughly shaken by the message, Dimitri relayed it to the party. Though the rain was also very severe in Giddy Willow, there were no rivers nearby and with the overall feeling of joy from the halflings, they seemed far removed from the danger.
“We are more than a twelve hour ride from Turtleback Ferry,” Said Jesail somberly “By the time we arrive we will likely be too late. The rain will also slow our progress significantly.”
“There is always a way!” Variel interrupted loudly. Through his heavy pack of assorted magical items he pulled out a large and old tome; a Thassalonian spellbook found earlier. Variel looked ruefully at it for a few moments as his inner soul waged a war against the halfling priestess. Variel’s soul railed against the priestess’ suggestion of what was to come. Ultimately his inner self was suppressed and the evil voice faded away as he cracked open the book with a creak of protest from the weathered spine. He flipped through the pages until he found the one he was looking for, the spell Teleport.
Without flinching he ripped the page clean from the book, turning to the rest of his party who stared at him in utter disbelief. What in the world had happened to him to cause Variel, Variel who would gladly allow each and every one of them to die for a single remnant of Thassalon, that same Variel to damage a Thassalonian spellbook?
His voice had the hollow ring of someone who had just committed a deeply remorseful act.
“Everyone gather around me. We only have one shot at this.”
The next thing anyone could perceive was the sudden pounding of the thick, heavy rain against their backs. For the first time the others could see what Dimitri had felt a few scant minutes before. Turtleback Ferry was awash in chaos. Boats and ferries lay capsized in waist high water. Near the general store, a ferry had tipped against the strong current and trapped several screaming children against the wall. Across the road, the church’s stone foundation showed the beginnings of wear as debris smashed into the building. People ran shrieking, carrying children and helping others through the rising tide.
The party leapt into action, Moagh, Dimitri, and Geth went south to assist the trapped children, Variel and Jesail east to the church.
Because the rushing water heading toward Clay Bottom lake was pushing against the underside of the upturned ferry, the first few attempts to haul the slick and wedged boat failed spectacularly. Dimitri began an incantation and called forth a water elemental from its home plane, commanding it to create a whirlpool to divert the rushing water away from the ferry. With another mighty heave, aided by the elemental, the boat finally came free, tipping upright and pulling the children inside.
No longer wedged, the boat surged south, threatening to carry the children and schoolmarm out to the lake. Moagh used his dwarven stoutness to drive his heels into the mud, but his short stature threatened to drown him as the water swirled up around his throat. Geth and Dimitri reached forward and each grabbed a portion of the Dwarf, helping him stay upright.
“Get in the damn boat, Sailor!” Moagh spat at Geth, unhappy to be manhandled in such a way.
“I’m actually not that great at swimming.” Geth responded somewhat pitifully,
“What!?” Moagh growled at him, “Well yer’ still a sailor, and you can keep these welps from being stranded at least.”
His point conceded, Geth released Moagh, and scrambled through the water and up onto the boat.
Variel and Jesail’s task seemed less perilous as they were not standing right on the edge of the swollen Clay Bottom lake. Variel used the spell fly to lift himself up to the bell free where the people where hiding.
“Come, we are here to aid you!” He called, his voice sounding thin and far away amid the howling rains.
“Thank the goddess!” Malen cried, standing to meet him. “What would you have us do?”
“VARIEL!” Jesail shouted from below, “I have brought a boat! Tell them to get in!”
Variel looked down and saw it was true, his companion elf standing in waist high water, tying off the ferry to a lamp post.
“Come downstairs, there is a boat waiting!” Variel commanded, watching as people struggled to get to their feet. He was counting, there were about thirteen people in the tower, and the smaller ferries could usually seat ten, and it would not do good to overcrowd the boat, it would increase the likelihood of capsizing.
“Jesail!” Variel called down from above, “There are too many people for that one boat, find another!”
Jesail turned and scanned around quickly, spotting a canoe not too far away. He rushed through the rapidly rising tide to fetch it. Variel turned back to speak to the people when a large, dark object floating down the Skull River caught his eye. It was big, black, and sort of looked like a tree, an enormous, ancient tree barreling down toward Turtleback Ferry.
“Tree!” Variel exclaimed, “Heading this way! It’s BIG!”
Thinking quickly, Variel lined up a shot and loosed a fireball at the waterborne danger, hoping the heat would cause the water to steam and fracture the tree into smaller pieces when… Nothing, no explosion, the fireball simply vanished. Moments later, the tree disappeared, submerged into the river.
“That’s no tree!” Variel yelped, fear rising in his throat, “We have to get these people out of here!”
The next few moments were a whirl of activity, Moagh, Dimitri, and Geth attempted to scramble out of the ferry and onto the school house to try and get a look at the tree-not-tree. Jesail moved like an elven blur as he rushed up and down the stairs, carrying the infirm down to the waiting boats. When they were full, he cut the tethers and let them drift away toward the lake.
The water before them started to bubble and roil. Out of the waters just before the church came a creature never before beheld. The head and neck of a great sea serpent emerged but connected to a tumbling mass of tentacles more suited to an octopus than a serpent. It crashed into the church, cracking the stonework down the foundation, knocking huge stone blocks down around them.
“What is that thing?” Dimitri cried, looking to the airborne Variel.
“I have no idea!” Variel responded, eliciting a cold dread in the rest of the party.
“Oh crap.” Jesail muttered.
Mumbling the incantations of a spell a crackling of eldrich energies sprang from Variel’s hands as he summoned four large sharks around the creature. They thrashed in the shallow waters and bit furiously at the creature before them, managing only to draw the smallest trickle of blood. The creature reared its head back, opened its tooth studded maw and with a deep rumble produced a thick malodorous fog.
Jesail managed to gasp and hold his breath, only catching a few of the noxious fumes though he soon became dizzy as the poison leeched his mind. Variel came close to tumbling down. More troubling however was the look in his eyes as he spun around in a circle, staring maliciously as his gaze alighted upon his faux-elven companion.
“DIE!” Variel snarled as he tilted his body and dove down toward Jesail, raising up his fist. Fortunately, wizards were not built for brawling and his ineffective strikes brushed off Jesail’s armor as easily as raindrops.
“You are not yourself.” Jesail said as he snagged Variel’s cloak and dragged him away from the otherworldly creature.
From a safer distance the group watched the battle between the sharks and the creature, knowing very quickly that this beast far outmatched their abilities to damage it. They began to look around to any other people they could help out of harm’s way. An older gentleman and a woman with a child were caught in the fog like they were, and were soon steered away and into boats with the others.
As suddenly as it started, the rain let up, as as the group floated toward the middle of the lake they watched with horror as the creature started after them. However, as soon as it reached the deeper waters, it submerged once more. Peering over the boats into the muddy water they waited with trepidation for the creature to re-emerge. All was silent.
The rest of the day was spent taxiing the ferries back to relatively dry land and helping people get re-situated into their homes. Malon Shreed, overcome with emotion proposed a feast in the party’s honor for their efforts in saving the people of the ferry. He also had some other troubling news to discuss with them, about the dam Skull’s Crossing.
Skull’s Crossing bridged Skull River and held back the Storval Deep from doing what it did that day. An ancient Thassalonian piece of architecture, a band of trolls had long housed within so few dared to attempt repairs or maintenance of the structure. He worried that some foul play was involved, both with the storms, and possibly with sabotage to the dam itself. If the entire thing broke through, nothing would be able to save Turtleback Ferry or the nearby settlements.
The party debated on their next move, Variel struggled with his desire to return the priestess’ soul to Giddy Willow, as the ritual to free her had to be performed at sunrise, but the priestess’ good nature was swaying him toward assisting with the dam beforehand. Moagh and Jesail both wanted to return to Giddy Willow, but agreed that waiting an extra day or two would likely not harm anything. Dimitri was for the dam, but Geth, sitting quietly, piped up again and asked when the group would want to return to Magnimar.
Everyone turned and stared at the cleric. He looked pale and overtired, fretting about something unknown to them.
“Why?” Variel, asked.
“Because…we will get paid.” Geth offered weakly, peering around.
“People’s lives are at stake here, payment can wait.”
Geth settled down in his chair with a heavy sigh. Dimitri, sensing something amiss with his fellow holy man reached out a concerned hand to him. They had always been close, discussing things between them often before anyone else in the group knew. Whatever it was, it was desperately important and personal to Geth, for he had not mentioned anything even to Dimitri.
“To the dam, then.” It was decided.
Skull’s Crossing certainly lived up to its namesake. A towering structure that spanned two cliffs three hundred feet in height, the face was decorated with thousands upon thousands of sculpted skulls. Five enormous ones in particular formed the floodgates, though on the eastern side one had completely broken away, unleashing a torrent of water down to the river below. On the west, a winding treacherous stairway led up to a cavern, and out again to the dam’s walkway.
As they approached the stairway, Jesail craned his neck high, able to pick out the moving figures of several lurching humanoids on the dam itself.
“They aren’t trolls,” He said to the others, “too small.”
“I will go see, and will return shortly.” Variel said, casting a spell that caused him to fly, and a second one to vanish.
Peering up at the top, they could not see much, but that the figures soon fled and were out of sight. Variel’s voice came back behind him with a small shock,
“Did you defeat them?” Dimitri asked, receiving a sigh in return. “Let’s go find them, then.”
The climb, though certainly dangerous, was not difficult, and everyone made it to the summit safely. The cavern itself was as enormous as the rest of the structures here, with a ceiling forty feet in height.
“Jesail scout ahead and report what you see.” Moagh suggested, knowing that the heavy armor on the rest of the party would quickly give them away.
“I will follow.” Variel’s invisible voice added.
With a nod, Jesail stepped into the cavern and melted into the shadows, completely silent. Moments later the chanting of a very familiar spell caused the rest of the party to break their wait and charge inside. Web. Fireball.
Inside, atop a fifteen foot ledge stood five ogres and one ettin. They had been plotting an ambush but completely in vain as they all stood traped inside an incinerating web. The party broke into a flurry of well orchestrated combat; Jesail took to the ceiling, climbing the walls like an elven spider to snipe the enemies below. Magic energy crackled around the newly visable Variel, Moagh stood firm against any who approached, Dimitri loosed divine fire from his hands, and Geth brought forth celestial weapons that fought on their own.
Before long, the ogres were dead. On their bodies they found pickaxes; the ogres were actively destroying the Skull’s Crossing Dam. Wait, there were only four ogres here… The party charged after the one who fled up onto the dam’s walkway. No sign. Peering over the edge, Jesail saw a spectacular sight, the ogre had leaped from the dam, plunged three hundred feet to the bottom and was swimming away!
“I got this.” Jesail and Variel said in unison. Nocking three arrows Jesail let them fly downwards, while Variel jumped himself and dove down while under the effects of his own fly spell. The arrows whistled faintly and none but Jesail could see as one hit the water, one hit a rock, and a third pierced the ogre’s back, causing the creature to sink.
With all the ogres dead they turned their eyes ahead toward a foreboding structure shaped like a pile of skulls in the middle of the walkway, a watchtower called, surprised? Skull’s Watch. The party approached, but the doorways were barred from the inside. Variel, still under the effects of the fly spell rose up and into one of the windows in the skull’s eye sockets, opening the door from the inside.
The walls were smeared with ogre grafitti, including one repeating phrase. “BIG POPPA GRAZUL DWELLS BELOW. ALL HAIL BIG POPPA GRAZUL.” Without needing to discuss they knew to wait to deal with Grazul and checked the rest of the floor. In one room, attempting pitifully to hide behind thick ropy fungi stood five trolls.