3rd day, 1st ride, April, 1372 DR
We all woke up, in our rented cabin, at Anathar’s Arms in Anathar’s Dell, and got ready for our ride out to Castle Dunbarton. Well, most of us got ready. Roland, naturally, was late, as he needed to take a bath before departing. I swear I could’ve smelled soap coming from the bath room.
Once we were underway we found ourselves riding through the beautiful country-side of southern Daggerdale, headed south toward Spiderhaunt Woods, on the edge of which Castle Dunbarton was sighted. The going was slow, due to the often twisting and winding paths through the rolling hills, but the weather was fair, and we were all in good spirits. We decided to halt our approach once we came into view of the castle. The area surrounding it was open and relatively flat, and if there were occupants, it would be hard to remain unseen during our approach. We camped out behind one of the hills, and waited for nightfall. While I was taking watch, I saw no movement or light flickering coming from the castle. I started to doubt that the castle was still being occupied.
At dusk, we left the horses, and continued on foot. Before we left, Thorim and I blacked up our armour, to keep any light from reflecting off the metallic surface and give away our position. Darkness fell quick, and soon we were guiding ourselves by the meager light of the moon, the path before us little used and long washed away by rain and erosion. While crossing a small stream Abel slipped and fell, making more noise than Thorim and I put together. Luckily we didn’t draw any attention, and we remained undetected. Abel was soaked through, and Roland graciously lent him some spare clothing. I can’t believe he took spare clothing, but lucky for Abel he did.
When we got to the castle, which was situated on a hill which was very steep on all sides but one; the approach to the main gate. There was only one tower, and a large wall, crumbled in a few places to reveal the courtyard within. From down the hill we couldn’t make out much of the courtyard, but we heard nothing, and saw no light or movement. Roland went in to investigate, opting to inspect one of the holes in the wall instead of the main gate.
He soon returned with news of a massacre inside the castle-walls. The courtyard strewn with blood and the entrails of horses. He said he was able to make out one lone figure near the cadavres, hunched over and devouring pieces of the horses’ flesh.
Instinct took over, and I closed my eyes, and begged Abaddon the power to detect the restless dead. I inched forward, my eyes wide, the wind stinging my dry eyes, and tears streaming freely down my face. As I got closer and closer to the main gate, one door of which was off it’s hinges and had collapsed inward, I forgot all about my traveling companions as my fears were made real; I felt a steady pulse of rot and decay overwhelm my mind, like a throbbing headache or a glancing blow to the head. I looked around the courtyard, and down the path leading away from the gate, and for a split second, I could’ve sworn I was back in Vaasa, approaching the undead-infested town of Talagbar.
I walked closer and closer, until I stood upon the threshold of the main gate and I saw what Roland had previously decribed. The large, now-bloated and ravished carcasses of the horses were in the dead center of the courtyard while a pale, soulless ghoul was sinking its teeth into it’s dead flesh. I prayed to Abaddon to shield his servant, and to strengthen my hammer, and as I felt the lightening lick over my armour, tracing the contours of the sharp splint-ridges, I saw that ghoul turn around, and look at me with pale, lifeless eyes.
I knew what would be next. I was eager for it. They had torn my country apart, killed my father and took away my youth. “Your childhood is over the moment you know you’re going to die,” they say. Oh, and how I knew of death, and how I hated it when I was young, until I realised there are worst things out there than dying. Undeath.
In the short battle that followed, my companions and I steadily moved into the courtyard, dispatching five ghouls, dressed in modern armour. During the fight I had shouted for Abel to start a fire. Afterwards, I asked him for one of the burning timbers, which he refused me. My respect for him shrank that moment, for the lack of trust in me he showed, even though he knew full well that I was better equiped at determining what was best at that particular moment. I ran to the fire he had made outside the castle walls, and I got one of the burning timbers. I asked for the flask of alcohol Thorim had on him, which we had only that afternoon used to keep ourselves warm, and I ignited the corpses.
Roland, who had fought very well during our entrance into the castle’s courtyard, was inspecting the two buildings inside the castle walls with Abel, while I burned the corpses, making sure they would not be getting up. The tower was mostly empty, except for some decayed furniture and some rotten possessions of the former owners. There was a now defunct siege-engine standing proudly on the roof; a balista marking a time where this castle stood in proud defence of this dale.
They found a hole, dug into the ground in one of the buildings, leading to tunnels beneath the castle, filled with spiderwebs. While we inspected the hole we disturbed two large spiders who had evidently made their home in those tunnels. Large, vicious greaters, with long, black legs, and a hard, green-flecked, chittinous body. Green ooze was dripping from their mandibles, and I was bitten twice, once pretty severely on my weapon arm, and once in the face, as one of the terrible creatures climbed on and over my shield. We killed them, eventually and found that the tunnel was very wide, and most likely sculpted by magic, rather than by any digging or mining operation.
Thorim went down, and so did Roland and Abel, while I stayed behind to guard. My armour and size wouldn’t do much good down there, but I was soon called back into action when moments later a strange darkness fell over the hole in the ground, blocking off all vision inside the tunnel. Chaos erupted, and I quickly realised that we were dealing with what the dalesmen call Drow; Dark Elves.
When I was being educated by Heron, he taught me of other gods, and other pantheons, and I seemed to recall a Goddess, whose name escaped me right then, but I know now to be Lloth, Lady of Chaos, Queen of Spiders, to whom many Dark Elves prayed. The darkness, the underground tunnel and the spiders seemed to indicate their involvement, and when I saw Abel’s hands reach from out of that murky blackness, I quickly pulled him up and jumped into the black voice, following sounds of battle, and Roland’s whimpering.
I quickly found Roland, cowering in a corner, and directed him back towards the hole. The darkness was so completely absolute, that I had trouble keeping my own very real and visceral fears in check. I called for Abel to help Roland out of the hole, and advance further into the tunnel, hoping I would soon reach Thorim, and hopefully exit this blackness.
I did eventually reach Thorim, but I didn’t exit the darkness. Calling upon my Lord to illuminate my shield, so that it may stand for his radiance and brilliance only allowed me to see the shield on my arm, but nothing more. We fought, in the dark, with something wielding both magic and swords, with a command of a strange language, but much larger than I had expected any Dark Elf to be. I tried to rush it, pushing it beyond the borders of the darkness, but I couldn’t. I felt many long, hairy legs, and a chittinous body, and the lancing pain of a blade piercing my side. These Dark Elves were mounted!
After coordinated a coordinated shield-rush with Thorim, we managed to push our opponent out of the darkness, and my shield shone brightly, illuminating our adversary and the tunnel beyond.
By Kaladan Thunderfist! This was no Dark Elf, mounted or otherwise! No, this was a strange hybrid between a Dark Elf and a large bulbous spider body. Half man, half spider, like a nightmarish version of the fabled Centaurs.
It’s long white hair in sharp contrast to it’s ebon-hued body skin, as well as the deep blackness of it’s spider-body, it’s eyes glowing and angry red in the darkness of the tunnel until my shield blinded it…its eyes obviously unaccustomed to light.
We continued fighting, long and hard, and especially Thorim, his frame ideal for tunnel-fighting, managed to strike several critical blows, the last of which decapitated the…thing, leaving its lifeless body to slump to the ground. Thorim was wounded very heavily, so I called upon Abaddon’s infinite resilience to help my fallen comrade.
I went to retrieve the head of the Dark Elf, which we would need as proof for Captain Durmark. As I grabbed a fist full of white, silky hair, and raised the head up to reveal a vacant expression, blood dripping from it’s severed neck, I noticed that his eyes no longer shone with an angry fire. I looked past the head, to the spider-body, and past that into the tunnel, and I noticed something glistening in the side of the wall. I walked over and found a metal handle, set in the stone, undoubtedly meant to open and close a secret door of some kind. It was hidden well, and it was blind luck that I came across it. I decided to leave it be, and not tell the others.
His wounds partially healed, I dragged Thorim towards the entrance of the tunnel where Roland was waiting, visibly disturbed, shaking and frightened. He helped us out of the hole, and told us that Abel had gone to fetch the horses. Meanwhile we caught our breath and went to work, filling the hole with all the decayed furniture we could find, weighing it down with rubble and stones. Once done, Abel returned with the horses. I impaled the head on Roland’s polearm, and we rode out to Anathar’s Dell.