Branca 12, 331
The Singing Mercenaries, guided by their new addition, Mark 9, picked their way down the ancient stone stairecase that had been revealed to them. Unlike the earthen tunnels they had traversed during their captivity, this was a grand staircase, made of otherworldly stone and dimly lit by glowing, magical crystals. After an hour of descending the grand staircase, they arrived at an open hall, dimly lit by the same crystals, with multiple passages leading to other parts of the ruins. “This place is well-maintained for a ruin,” remarked Shalazar, noting the marble flooring and the still-working magic illuminating the hall. On the far end of the open room was a broken statute, and from it’s wings, a soft, blue glow.
As the adventurers stepped into the room, they heard an awful “SKRREEEEE” coming from both wings of the hall…and barreling towards them were two giant rats! Both were larger than even Mark 9, who cried out in alarm as they came speeding towards them. Jett and Tattered Onion quickly unsheathed their weapons, and put the raging beasts down without a second thought. “I was hoping we would have worthier opponents,” Tattered remarked. “Acris thirsts for blood.” Peering down the halls, the Singers noticed glowing arcane circles on the floor. “Fascinating!” exclaimed Mark 9, “These creatures were clearly arcane experiments. I hope we see more such things in this tower!” The others ignored the construct, more worried about what else lay in store for them.
They were quick to discover. Striding from the darkness at the far end of the entrance hall, a pale figure, dressed in black armor, emerged. The vampire noticed the Singers at once, he shouted “Intruders!” and took off from whence he came. “I really hate vampires,” Winward muttered under his breath as the mercenaries readied their weapons.
They were soon greeted by a more sinister vampire wielding a wicked-looking curved sword that glowed red in the pale light, and two monstrous werewolves, backed by several more vampire guards. Jett and Shalazar rushed foward, shouting battle cries as they crashed into the lead vampire. Mark 9 and Winward were caught unawares as the two werewolves, who had been on the far end of the entrance hall, emerged next to them seconds later from a side passage.
Mark 9’s chilling blasts managed to keep the werewolves at bay while Jett and Shalazar dueled against the vampire swordsman. They were dismayed to see even more vampire guards rushing up from one of the halls, but Mark 9 was able to halt their advance using a magical spider web blasted from his orb, which entagled the vampires in vexing strands of sticky, goo-like rope.
The vampire leader was a strong opponent, lithe and agile, but eventually the brute force of Shalazar’s axe, coupled with the magical assaults of Jett, overcame him. As the final blow was delivered, the vampire’s physical form shattered, while a black shade winged its way down one of the many dark corridors leading away from the main hall. The werewolves had no such luck: the psychic assault’s of the bard coupled with the physical assaults of the left them dead on the stone floor.
The Singers searched through the floor, clearing out more guards that had been unaware of the disturbance. Eventually the Singers found a teleportation device, which, after they had located and activated its power generator using an arcane ritual known to Mark 9, whisked them off to another part of the ruins.
After a brief journey through a pocket dimension of the ruins, the singers emerged into another room. This one was lit by glowing crystals suspended from the ceiling, and rubble was strewn about the room. Seeing no other option but to press foward, the party picked their way into a long corridor, with doors at both sides, and the end. In true Singing Mercenary fashion, they elected to barge into the first door, killing first and asking questions later.
Tattered booted open the door and rushed in, only to be stopped abruptly: the room was a small cell, and it was occupied! Huddled in the corner a once-proud looking werewolf crouched, beaten and bruised, although his eyes still shone with the primal anger of his race. Peeking around Tattered’s leg, Winward immediately recognized this werewolf as the purported commander that had inspected them when they were held in captivity.
Seeing the werewolf was injured, and relishing the role-reversal, Jett kicked out at the werewolf, wondering out loud how such a proud beast might have ended up so poorly?
The werewolf was surprised, but ignored Jett’s question. Coiling himself for a strike, he poised, awaiting the Singers’ next move. Wanting to avoid unnecessary fighting within the halls of the ruins, Winward quickly stepped foward. “You are clearly at a disadvantage here, wolf. Stand down, and you may let live.”
The werewolf remained poised, but relaxed slightly. “I don’t know how you escaped the dungeons of those creatures, or how you found your way here. I am, once again, impressed. How you’ve managed to make it past the cultists is beyond me.”
“Priests of Orcus” the werewolf continued. “My people are a warrior race, and too long have we gone without war. The Demon Prince and his machinations are well known to us, but the temptations for war were to great to my kin. Our chieftans declared an alliance with them, and I was honor-bound to follow my pack. But they have betrayed us! They plan to enslave us all, and use us for their twisted experiments. They are breeding an army, slaughtering my people only to raise them back from the dead as mindless warriors.”
Sensing an opportunity, Winward seized them moment. “Look,” he said, “we’re not here to kill helpless prisoners. If we let you escape, what will you do?”
Baring his fangs, the werewolf growled “I will marshall my people and drive this evil from the forest. Our chieftans were the first to be turned here, they no longer hold power. This…betrayal will not go unpunished. The honor of my pack demands it!”
“We will let you go, but if you are being false with us…there will be consequences.” Waving his companions out of the way, Winward motioned to the soldier that he was free to go. Glancing from side to side for a brief second, the werewolf leapt from the small bed he had been huddled on and took off back from where the Singers had came.
The Singers found nothing in the other cells, but when they entered the hall, they found two cultists studying a strange-looking tome. “Intruders!” they cried, and quickly fired off bolts of crackling necrotic energy at the singers, and directed their zombie servants to attack. The Singers gave as well as they got, but quickly realized the cultists were not their only opponent. Streaming out from the solid wall, a ghostly form appeared behind the Singers, reaching out at Mark 9 and Winward with a cold, deadly touch. Becoming desperate, the Singers worked to slay the cultists quickly, knowing the ghost was a far greater threat. Although the cultists were finally dispatched, after being pinned against the wall by Jett, Tattered and Shalazar and being hacked to death, the ghost trailed off through a door on the far side of the study.
Chasing after it, the Singers emerged into what could only be described as a maze of mirrors. They searched throughout it, oftentimes getting separated, but could only catch fleeting glimpses of the ghost. Although the ghost swiped at them from the shadows, often passing right in front of them, only to move through solid walls, it seemed keen on intimidating them more than actually fighting them. Eventually the Singers retreated back into the study to examine what the cultists had been poring over. Most of the books laid out were written in an ancient language that none of them, not even Mark 9, recognized. Most curiously, however, was a strange scroll, written in Draconic.
Excited at the prospect of possibly finding a relic of his people, Shalazar pushed his way foward and grabbed hold of the scroll. As soon as the Dragonborn’s scaly hand clutched the ancient parchment, there was a blinding light, a voice like thunder boomed in the small room, intoning in Draconic, and in a flash Shalazar dissapeared. “Fascinating!” was Mark 9’s response to the event, although the other Singers were visibly shaken. “Whatever these cultists were studying, it clearly has to do with the dragonborn race, or even the great dragons themselves!” Mark 9 began to sort through the other scrolls laid out by the cultists, but could make nothing of them.
Annoyed with the construct’s apparently lack of concern over Shalazar’s fate, and his scholarly nature in general, Winward ordered that they press on, hoping to get some other answers. They elected to proceed through the door they had discovered earlier the mirror hall. Bracing themselves for whatever lay ahead, the Singers wondered what they would find…