More death and despair strikes Riversyle, as Billy Porridge expires from his wounds, another death somehow tied to the mysterious Elven Circles the party keeps finding. The town’s mourning over one of its own is short-lived, however. That same day (and a mere three days since their triumph over the White Elves at the Battle of the Mire), the group is summoned to a meeting with Hanley Sunwarm, and Dedrick Wayne. With them, Wayne’s protégé, Grayson Dent (a youthful ranger) and Xichl (ZIX-al), a Mind Flayer from the depths of the
Underdark. Here, at last, the party finds the common thread that knits their party together.
The Iron Circles, relics from the days of Dark Fire, are keys to closing off the Feydark, the realm inhabited by the White Elves and their masters, the Black Fire Druids. They also hold the secret of Elven immortality. Unfortunately, many of the secrets of the Circles – where they’re located, how to use them, how they can be destroyed – have died with Denek Elf-Friend. What is known about them, however, is the following:
-the party has 3 of 9 circles: one each for Skelly, Lady Belvedere and Zhael.
-the keepers of the circles were chosen by Denek 30 years ago, and consisted of: Denek himself (who hid 4 of the circles), Billy Porridge (a distant relative of Skelly), Herion Aldadir (the husband of Guinnivere), Meridith Heavensby (Tristana’s mother, who later passed the circle to her son, Victor), Garack Lofen (a cousin of Zhael) and Fanger the Recluse (the
great uncle of Dengar).
-the White Elves have at least 1 circle (gained from murdering Victor Heavensby, which sent Tristana out on her road to adventure).
-the circles “imprint” on those of the same blood as their keepers, which leads to the discovery that Lady Belvedere (not a blood relative of husband Herion) is pregnant.
-there are two map rooms used to locate missing circles, each activated by using one of 4 methods: (1) Denek’s staff (which the party recovered from the White Elves in the Mire); (2) use of the book of evocation (slow, dangerous, time-consuming and intermittent); (3) a ritual involving 3 of the circles (extremely time-consuming, and requires several rare elements to attempt); and (4) a “blood ritual” involving the sacrifice of an infant at certain types of the year.
The party is pressed into service by Hanley, Dedrick and Xichl, who believe their appearance at this time may actually be the hand of fate intervening on their behalf. They began to discuss options and share information. As the meeting went on, the party found out more about their adversaries: the White Elves known as the Sidhe are but weaker shades of the more powerful Black Fire Druids, who seek to return to the material realm from the Middle Realm between shadow and light. They have forged alliances with not only the Red Stick Goblins, but also, it seems, the Dragonscale Kobolds. They seek to take the Circles for themselves, just as surely as the party’s relatives sought to protect them (at the loss of their lives). In addition, Wayne believes the Elves intend to speed up the return of the 3-headed dragon, Calastryx, in an attempt to invade Daerkak, kingdom of the Mountain Dwarves (and perhaps the location of another Circle).
Between Zhael’s perusing of Denek’s notes, plus the information gathered by scouts Wayne and Dent, the party determines several courses of action:
(1) Return to Castle Bear Claw: the belief here is that Denek, who was captured in Allstop, was on his way to recover a circle from Fangar, who lived near the Mire.
(2) Scout out the Windmill for an entrance to the map room: if the party can gain entrance, they may be able to destroy the map, rendering the Elves temporary helpless when it comes to finding circles.
(3) Locate the Red Book of Remembrance: this item can be used to capture an image of the map room and recreate it elsewhere. Unfortunately, no one is sure where it might be (or if it truly exists).
(4) Find the second secret map room: Denek did not reveal this information to anyone, but Wayne and Sunwarm believe it can be found, with some effort.
Wayne and Belvedere take on the scouting mission, with Hanley Sunwarm in tow. Meanwhile, Xichl volunteers to research the whereabouts of the Red Book of Remembrance, using Denek’s library in Riversyle. Dent, in the meantime, travels up river to find out more about Denek. This leaves Skelly, Tristana, Adrie and Zhael to return to Castle Bear Claw to recover Fangar’s Circle (which Xichl believes is still hidden there – for the moment). Finally, Dengar decides to locate Drazh, just in case an assault on the Red Stick is imminent. Maybe, he thinks, Drazh has other goblin-hating friends. By the following morning, all are on their way to their respective missions.
Led by Numinar Wolfnose, Skelly and Company make their way into the Mire, their destination the only fully intact building of the Bear Claw area– an ancient temple that predates the Bear Claw reign. Their horses left behind with their faithful guide, the stalwart adventurers make their way into a misty graveyard, which they quickly determine once belonged to the Baldren King Harold Dresden. This in itself is something of a historical find, but the party soon finds more than it bargained for.
After dismantling a trap in an above-ground mausoleum/shrine (a trap originally sprung by Adrie), the party takes on a group of Twig Blights, who give them all they can handle before succumbing to the fire of Tristana’s spell. With the blights eliminated, the party investigates the shrine. There they locate the body of the legendary Gamby Playfair, Knight of the Watch. Playfair, a lowly foot soldier in Dresden’s army, once saved the King and his Queen, Christine, from certain death. Elevated to a Watch Knight, Playfair was later accused of philandering with Harold’s wife. Harold had both of them put to death, only to find a rival had planted the rumor and supposed proof. The distraught king built a small shrine to his faithful lieutenant, then had himself buried beside him, eschewing the noble burial that was his due. Thought a mere legend, the party makes note of the location, intending on passing it along to the Knights of the SIlversword, who revere Playfair as one of their own. They then proceed into the temple itself.
Once inside the structure, Zhael locates the locking mechanism, deftly disarms it, and reveals the secret stairwell down to the lower tomb. The party descends to find the burial crypt of the Dresden family – a hallway lined with sarcophagi containing the extended family of King Harold himself. Avoiding the many mechanical traps (thanks to ken-eyed Adrie) as well as magical wards (that the mote-born Zhael readily handles), as well as avoiding the greed that might lead them to tomb-rob, the party makes its way to the antechamber of “the lady of the manor.” The chamber, which features a magical pool of divine holy water, also contained 4 skeletal guardians, one of which was Fangar himself, transformed into an undead ward by the enigmatic “lady,” as the party comes to know here. Preferring diplomacy over violence, Adrie convinces the undead Fangar of their sincerity in locating the Iron Circle for the purposes of good by taking the Oath of Truth. The process scars and drains the Druid, but Fangar, who termed them “Sidhe Shapeshifters” when they entered the chamber, steps aside and bids them enter the chamber of the lady. Skelly flips the lever in the chamber, opening two great doors to the resting place of Christine Dresden (and, they hope, the room where Fangarhas hid the Circle).
The party enters, then seals the door shut behind them as a precaution. Inside the chamber they find several more sarcophagi, including the tomb of the lady herself. Across the room, there is also a large circle inscribed in the divine of the ancient ones. Tristana determines that, if she can decipher the runes, she can remove all the wards in the room (and there appear to be several powerful ones). AT first, he attempt appears to fail, and all the guardians in the room begin to take shape. Two violent pillars of dust and metal appear. A vicious red mist creature flows into the chamber. And a horde of insects begin to come out of the walls. But the mage pushes on, and, with extra effort, deciphers the riddle of the runic circle. The wards return to their otherwordly realm, and the lady herself appears before them.
Long dead, but summoned twice in the last 7 days, Queen Christine reveals to them that her “guardian” (Fangar) came to her with a request to watch over the iron circle. In exchange, he bequeathed his body and soul to her service, forever. Wary of the party as thieves and spies, she beckons them to tell their tale, and quickly. Skelly uses his knowledge of proper etiquette to gain her favor, and introduces the party and their quest to the dead queen. This favorable impression is solidified by Tristana, who recalls ancient prayer rituals precious to the lady. In the end, the party’s efforts, aided by a reminder of her family’s place in history by Zhael, sway Christine, and she allows the party access to her tomb where the recover the circle, then leave the temple.
But, of course, this is not the end of our story. When the party makes it back above ground, they are greeted by a pair of White Elves, one of them mounted on a huge Wyvern. It seems they expected the characters to do their dirty work for them, and now they want the Circle! The adventurers are simply not intimidated. Why should they be? They’re heroes, after all.
And so it goes. Threats and insults are hurled back and forth, and combat begins. The group quickly ducks back inside the upper temple, where they attempt to take cover from their enemies (particularly, the Wyvern). But the long, poisoned tail of the beast, and the unerring accuracy of the White Elf bows proves too much for them. Quickly, Adrie falls. In short order, the party members find themselves suffering multiple wounds. Several furious rounds pass, and the Wyvern had broken its way through one of the temple walls. One of the Elf hunters gains access to the temple from a separate door, and begins hacking away at Tristana and Zhael while his compatriot fires arrows through the windows, peppering party members with lethal blows.
Adrie falls, rises, and falls again. At one point, Zhael is knocked prone by the rampaging Wyvern. Each of the stalwarts receives a grievous wound, but all bind together, until, at long last, they emerge triumphant (thanks mainly due to judicious use of flames and lightning, plus the timely resurgence of Adrie from his second brush with death). The White Elves turn to ash. The adventurers triumph yet again. Taking no time to rest, they return to Numinar, mount up, and make their way back through the Barrowmounds, dodging several Red Stick patrols along the way). Twenty-four hours after leaving, they return, intact, and dog tired.
The party gets a good night’s sleep, and awakens to the news that Wayne and Belvedere have located the secret entrance to the map room. Unfortunately, the area around is crawling with Red Stick goblins. They’ll need some way to keep the army occupied if they want to sneak in. Perhaps Dengar will have an answer to that once he located Drazh. Xichl, meanwhile, manages to open the ensorcelled door in Denek’s library, revealing a scrying device, with he uses to communicate with Dent. Having travelled to Daudale, Dent reports that Denek was known to be fast friends with a man named Mumford, who seems to have disappeared. He believes that Mumford might know something about Denek’s second map room – if the man can be found. Xichl, for his part, reports that the Red Book of Remembrance, may be nearer than they think – he believes it is hidden in a pocket universe within the Feyrealm – in the hands of the Pan-Dancers, a group of malevolent satyrs (at least, this is what Denek’s cryptic notes tell him).
Their quest now clearly upon them, the party has several options to consider. Should they:
-Destroy the map room beneath the windmill (and maybe recover the book of evocation in the process; perhaps even an Iron Circle).
-Go to the Feyrealm and retrieve the Book of Remembrance. Then use the book to make a copy of the map room beneath the windmill PRIOR to destroying it.
-Locate Denek’s second map room (ostensibly somewhere in Daudale). Use the staff to pinpoint the relics’ locations before the White Elves can use their map.
-Try finding the Circles through some other means (perhaps even Denek’s notes that Zhael found earlier)
Whatever they decide to do, the adventurers now have a charge laid upon them, one that has already cost the lives of family members. There are still questions to be answered, of course: where is Heri Aldadir? Is he still alive? Who actually killed Victor Heavensby, Tristana’s brother? And how long is it before Calastryx rises to wreak vengeance on the Daerkak Dwarves (and will she stop there?).