Rowen, Khabsha and Taen
Graham is away with Gowen and Trenton on a trip into the fringes of the Winter Wood. Cinder is on semi-permanent sabbatical in Heljin's Tower and Fathak is likewise permanently engaged on the high seas.
While attending a small political dinner with the King and several Chieftains and Trade leaders, a messenger arrives from the small village of Dunbolten, one days ride to the west of the city.
The Message and the Story:
The people of the Fomish village of Dunbolten have lost three children over the last several months. The first they thought simply wandered too far into the woods, but when a second and third disappeared, the last from his own bed and with signs of a struggle, they knew a predator stalked them.
Being the good, tax paying Fommish that they are, they sent for the king's soldiers to help them in their time of need. A Knight of Culan arrived with a hand of soldiers. They searched the woods and the moors, and questioned the villagers. Just when they seemed to be at a loss, one of the villagers made a gruesome discovery while bringing water from the village well.
The bloody finger was that of the last child gone missing. Horrified by the find, and anxious to find the thing responsible, the Culanian Knight took his men into the dark hole after the unknown terror. That was four days ago. No sound nor sign has been heard from the well.
Fearing the worst, the village elder had the well covered and chained, and now leaves a villager on guard for signs of the Knight's return or the creature itself.
The three agree to ride with the messenger back to Dunbolten and investigate the well. At a stop along the way, the messenger introduces himself as Marduk. He tells them that he is the Uncle to the little boy who was last taken, Jenner. He asks about their past experiences, and pleads with them to get his nephew back.
Once in the village, they are led to the village elder, Headman Monmont, who explains what has transpired. Rowen asks for something personal of Jenner's. Marduk hurries to get the boy's mother Arelina, who brings a locket of hair. With everyone looking on, Rowen employs a bit of her new magic, a scrying spell.
The spell goes well, and Rowen sees a strange sight. Her perspective appears to be from the eyes of the child. She can see a hazy view of a cavern, but dark spots mar the view. These abnormalities of sight seem to come from the child, not the scrying. There are liquid-like gurglings and when the child's hand briefly comes into view, Rowen can see trails of tiny bubbles. Though she watches for a few minutes, nothing else becomes apparent.
After explaining her vision the mother and villagers present are greatly relieved. Without further delay, the three adventurers prepare for their trip down the well.
Armor bundled separately, and with plenty of rope ready, they pull the stones from atop the planks boarding the well. Taen does some initial recon, flying down into the well to the water level and finding no signs. Taking the plunge, she goes below, and with the help of one of Rowen's light stones, soon finds a hole in the wall of the well that appears to lead away into further submerged caverns.
With Taen continuing to lead the way, and Rowen and Khabsha following her rope tied form, they make their way through a short but harrowing tunnel. They surface in a large, natural looking cavern. Investigation reveals the only further exits being through another submerged section. In this cavern they find many footprints in the mud, showing signs that Sir Beregrd and his men at least came this way, and made it this far.
It's at this point that Rowen's sword, Hawkwing, gives it by now familiar warning of demonic presence, but unlike in the past, this warning is fleeting and inconsistent. The blade sets to vibrating and then suddenly cuts out, only to start up again a few moments later.
With little else to go on, they once again send Taen at the end her rope, into the water. The first underwater passage she checks ends in a muddy, rocky dead end, almost in more ways than one. A huge, demonic fish with a mouthful of razor teeth snaps at Taen as she desperately evades. Her tugging on the rope causes Khabsha and Rowen to pull her backwards with great force. Banged and beaten, but at least not eaten, Taen is pulled from the water. All three see the large, twelve foot pike lunge briefly from the water before disappearing back into the depths.
When calmed once more, the three decide there's nothing much for it but to wade in and take care of the menace. Tossing some light stones into the water to give them warning, they go waist deep in the water as Taen hovers just below the low ceiling. Soon enough they are attacked by the wily devil fish. Through teamwork, some close calls and Hawkwing's warnings they manage to smash and stab the fish until the water is stained black and three of the beasts are destroyed.
Cutting open the largest of the beasts, a fish fifteen feet in length, they find the gruesome remains of a man, along with a small light gem. With no further sign of fish, they explore the other passages and soon find a deeper tunnel where the ripped remains of chain mail, along with a broken sword and discarded helmet bear proof of at least one of the knight's end.
Like before the passage rises back into an air filled cavern, but the this time the craggy room has occupants. As the three pull themselves up from the water, they are faced with three undead soldiers, one of which is headless. As the creature's attack, one of the ones with a head speaks in a croaking voice, "Turn back or the children DIE Now..."
Needless to say, the heroes do not heed the warning, knowing that any chance the children have rests in a quick dispatching of these things. With sword, hammer and bow, Rowen, Khabsha and Taen finish off the walking remains of the last rescue party.
There is only one exit from the chamber. Just a short way through the passage they find a crumbled set of large, rune engraved stones leaning against each other. The only way to proceed is to step through them. A test of the magic, reveals the way to be some sort of planar passage, not unlike the pond before the Shadow Tower. Like that way, this seems to lead to Cairn Nan Arq, the Shadow realm.
With a weary sigh, they choose to proceed, having learned through experience that demons seem to prefer the Shadow realm to their own. Unfortunately, they are not long in this new tunnel before they come to another portal much like the first.
Two such planar shifts so close to one another is a new thing. Carefully, they probe the new gateway, wary of a trap. Through investigation, they learn that anything placed through the gate loses its magical properties. Knowing something nasty waits beyond, the two Wicala's are loath to lose the magical advantage, but again, they aren't spoiled for choice.
The fact that the undead minions spoke of the children, leads them to believe that whatever holds the children knows of their coming. There is no going back for reinforcements, even if there were reinforcements to be had. Even now, the creature responsible could be killing his victims, if indeed they weren't already long dead.
So, wasting no time, they prepared what offense and defense was left to them, armor and sword, bow and hammer, lit fitful torches and stepped through this second portal into who knew what realm to face who knew what challenge.
Stepping through and to the side, to make room for the others, they were faced with a jagged, bone filled cavern. More importantly to the two priestess's, they were not only cut off from their magic, but were totally and utterly cut off from their Gods, so isolated from their identity, that each could only just keep themselves from falling to the ground, leaving only Taen to face the ten foot, reptilian monstrosity's opening attack.
And face it she did. While her arrow found it's mark, the beast was barely distracted. It's counter strike came in the form of a pair of clawed hands powered by long, strong arms. The beasts tail lashed out and Rowen jumped clear, crashing through the dry bones on the floor. As she circled it, testing it's speed with Hawkwings still keen edge, Khabsha brandished her hammer and took the creature in its side, caving ribs and bursting armored skin.
Even this powerful blow barely seemed to hamper the creature. Indeed, Taen's arrow wound and Rowen's cuts disappeared only moments after they were given, and the creature's ribs seem to crackle and reform as the three heroes watched and circled. Then Khabsha took a glancing blow from one of its claws and felt the acidic burn of demonic poison.
As Rowen dashed in to save her friend, and Taen circled above it's head, Khabsha fought off the poison. When it turned again, she let loose a terrible Oroka cry and rushed in, hammer raised high. The weapon crashed once into the creature's high head. She spun and brought it down again, this time finding the beasts knee and bringing it crashing low. Once more her hammer found its mark, this time it's hook smashing through the creature's chest and finding the vital organs within. With a jerk of her corded arms there came a popping and grinding, and with it, a dwindling struggle from the demon. The three fighters surrounded the downed demon and hacked and slew until little remained of the giant beast.
In the aftermath, the heroes found the remains of Sir Beregrd and three pale sacks of liquid suspended from the ceiling. Within the sacks were the three missing children. All had some form of cord attached to their necks, and two appeared to still be moving, if sluggishly.
Rowen experimentally put a small hole in one of the sacks. The liquid that squirted out hissed and spit as it hit the floor. With a gloved finger she plugged it. From this the three deduced that whatever demonic acid was within, only burned when it touched air. Together they devised a plan to roll the sacks carefully through the passage and into the water.
It was difficult and grueling work, but they managed it, and a candle later, they had rescued and revived two of the three children. After bringing them back to the surface, along with Sir Beregrd's shield and the creature's head, they were greeted with a hero's welcome, cheers from the villagers and hugs from grateful families.
Beregrd's shield and the head of the demon were sent to his Chieftain with a letter explaining the deed. Rowen, Khabsha and Taen rested in Dunbolten, after staying for a celebratory feast. They then returned to Kaergot to report their deeds.