Months had past since the three left Phandalin behind, their hopes for treasures and glories found a distant memory, a vanished dream that lingered now only in the dust stirred by their boots — a dust that had more recently turned to viscous, clinging mud.
The city of Baldur’s Gate lay ahead of them, across the empty, rolling hills of the Fields of the Dead. With them they carried a shipment, the most mundane of sorts, of simple grain and stone from distant quarries. The long trek south was finally coming to a close — it would be but one last, weary day before they reached their destination.
Before them, on the horizon’s crest, atop a pale green hill, stood the silhouette of a distant homestead, the estate of some noble or another. A stopped carriage sat nearby, and as they drew close, the stalwart adventurers could hear the pleading of a nobleman, young and full of spirit, as he tried to convince his bodyguard to delay travel to Baldur’s Gate.
Our three heroes — Corin, the draconian necromancer and seeker of knowledge; Llia, the crazed wild elf ranger and protector of all things small and furry; and Krosar, mighty druid exile from distant Icewind Dale — approached the nobleman and his guard, they being the first friendly sorts they’d seen in many days, and asked what aid our heroes may offer.
The nobleman introduced himself as Lord Droon Osprey, of Waterdeep, and told them his rather tall and imposing friend was his personal guard, Belistar. As it turned out, the pair were carrying gifts to a wedding in Baldur’s Gate, but Lord Osprey had demanded they stop at the homestead they now stood near, informing the party that the manor was a country estate owned by the Hhune family of Baldur’s Gate — it was a family sheep farm overseen by Lady Azaedeh Hhune, a lovely young woman to whom Lord Osprey wished to propose marriage.
A kink in the lovelorn Lord’s plan had become apparent, however, when he learned that Azaedeh had not been seen for some time; she having ventured into a recently discovered cave system on the estate. Several servants had been ordered in after her, but as of yet none had returned. Lord Osprey himself would surely have gone after his beloved, were it not for the stern disapproval of Belistar.
The Lord mentioned something else as well: evidently some artifact had recently been unearthed from the cave, the gilded hilt of a sword, and a researcher, a priest of Oghma from Baldur’s Gate, had traveled north to the Hhune farm to investigate. As far as Lord Osprey knew, it had to do with some ancient battle involving Calishites, but beyond that he could give little information. The party of three decided to speak to this priest and see for themselves what manner of adventure may be afoot.
From the priest, a middle-aged gentleman namedThrail, the party learned that the opening to an undiscovered cave system had been unearthed when one of the Hhune family’s sheep had fallen into a sinkhole. In the sinkhole a servant had found the sword hilt, which Thrail believed may have once belonged to the Shamshir-Azhatkhar, a legendary blade wielded, as legend states, by the infamous warlord Khasrahi. The warlord had disappeared in the area around modern day Baldur’s Gate, presumably dead, following the Calishite defeat at a lesser battle known as Asmot’s Breach — a battle Thrail had been researching for some time, as in addition to Khasrahi, ancient texts also spoke of the arch-sorcerer Zhunhassad, wielder of the long lost Mask of the Sands, an ancient and immensely powerful artifact to whose discovery Thrail had devoted his career. Thrail told our three heroes that he believed that this cave system may hold a clue as to the Mask’s whereabouts, and perhaps may be the site of Zhunhassad’s very tomb.
Krosar, Corin and Llia, our heroes, cared little for the history lesson, and hastily made plans to enter the dank caverns in search of Lady Hhune. But before they could, a servant of the Hhune’s, a Calishite youth identifying himself as Zhayin, approached the party, asking that they consider bringing any artifacts they might find to him, saying that he would ensure that any relics of ancient Calimshan remained with their rightful owners, the Calishite people. He claimed that though the Lady Azaedeh herself was of Calishite heritage — a detail that, as the party learned, stuck deeply in her family’s collective craw — she was but a “half-breed,” and was not to be trusted. Zhayin offered the party 300 gold pieces for any artifacts found, and gave them a small wood circle engraved with a simple symbol — a token, he said, that could find them help in Baldur’s Gate should they need it. The party considered Zhayin’s offer — Llia, in particular, seemed tempted by the promise of gold and gaining shady contacts in Baldur’s Gate — but Krosar and Corin dismissed it, deciding instead to bring what they may find to Thrail the priest.
The cave was dark and damp, with caved-in earth all about — the leftovers of the collapsed sinkhole. In the darkness the party made out the scattered remains of ancient human bones jutting up in places from the wet soil, and in the distance the only visible passageway: a narrow tunnel through the wall, barely large enough to crawl through. In a most undignified fashion, our three made their way through the tiny passage, on hands and knees, through mud and scraping rocks, to the next chamber, which was smaller than the first, but just as dark and just as dank. At the far edges Krosar saw a gleam of silver among the muddy stones, nestled in the dirt beneath dark, twisted roots that dangled from the ceiling. He investigated the scene, only to be caught in the clutches of the roots’ wretched tendrils. They pulled him up towards the darkness of the ceiling, constricting his body and slicing his flesh. Krosar, mighty as he was, his pumping barbarian blood full of the fury of the northern folk, deftly wrestled himself free of the roots’ vile grasp, but in his distraction, Llia darted in to grab at the silver sparkle he had seen, and finding a small ring there, quickly hid it in her pocket. There, in her pocket, her friend and companion — a least weasel pet whose name is only known to those who truly love him — put the ring on and found himself, unbeknownst to his master and her companions, able to read for the first time in his small, musteline life. It was an astounding discovery for such a tiny beast.
Our heroes continued on down a somewhat less dismal passageway, an initially relatively pleasant journey that was disturbed by the sound, at first quite faint, but louder as they proceeded, of a distant moaning. Exchanging concerned glances, the party persisted until they came at last to a rather large, uneven chamber whose ceiling was thick with stalactites. Carefully climbing down a well, vertical rock face into the chamber, our heroes were assaulted with the stench of rot and decay. They continued, uneasy, into the darkness before finally spotting, hiding in a pitch-black corner, a terrible fiend with many legs and many tentacles, whose alien compound eyes considered the party with a mixture of disturbing aloofness and the intent stare of a predator — it was a carrion crawler, stinking and vile, and, in spying our three adventurers, had begun to size up the quality of its next meal.
Combat proceeded, with spells flung and blows laid upon the beast. Corin, the draconian mage, was laid low with a particularly devastating hit, paralyzing her and placing her at the mercy of the murderous worm. Luckily her companions were able to save her, and with the crawler dead, the party finally found the source of the moaning — the half-eaten corpse of a Hhune family servant, now dead and hidden away in the darkest corner of the cave; the only sign of life they’d seen so far in the darkness.
Their journey continued into a long corridor, with an easy to traverse path on the left, a babbling subterranean stream on the right and a thick patch of stalagmites in between. Krosar could smell the stench of evil and undeath on the air, and his intuition was proved right as the three came into contact with a small collection of animated skeletons hidden among the rock formations. Battle erupted, with each side taking cover behind the stalagmites as they attacked their enemies from afar. Again the necromancer Corin nearly fell, but again she was saved and her adversaries defeated. Llia investigated among the stones and found a handful of gold pieces, which she slipped into her pack and neglected to inform her party members of. After a brief rest, our heroes continued through a crumbled stone wall and into the main chamber.
Shadows clung to every surface and stone of the main room, which was saturated with darkness, the air thick with unease. The chamber stretched far into the inky black, but the party could hear distant muttering of a young woman echoing from somewhere far off. Rushing to investigate the sound, they found, to their surprise, a petite young noblewoman with dark eyes and a cascade of black hair wreathing her face. She sat over a meager fire, writing in a small, leather-bound book. This was Azaedeh, who seemed unhurt and in perfect health. Our heroes, ever distrustful, interrogated the young Lady as to how she had managed to survive the journey this far into the cave. Azaedeh was taken aback, disturbed and concerned by the party’s tales of horrors in the deep. She had, as she told the three, been in the main chamber for some time now, trying to translate and solve a riddle written upon the back wall. Hours ago she sent her three servants, who had accompanied her in her exploration of the cave, back to the surface to fetch Thrail the priest, but they had yet to return. Krosar told her that they found the body of one of her servants, killed by the carrion crawler, but found no evidence of the other too. A shadow of concern fell over Lady Azaedeh’s face. It was at this time, too, that Corin spilled the proverbial beans concerning Lord Osprey and his intent to propose. This came as quite a shock to the young Lady, who, though she admired Lord Osprey and enjoyed his company, had no interest in him romantically, and was even somewhat confused by his unannounced arrival at her estate — something she was not aware of until now. Such news, however, was best left for a different time, and Azaedeh suggested they attempt to solve the riddle she had worked so hard to translate.
Shining light over the stone wall, engraved with the mystical letters of an ancient and now lost tongue, the party saw the riddle that Azaedeh had worked tirelessly to translate. She told them it said, “Run I smoother than any rhyme; frequently I fall but ne’er do I climb.” The party was in agreement that the solution was water, something Azaedeh herself had supposed, but how to apply that answer to the riddle remained a mystery. It was Krosar who put forth the idea that perhaps one must spray water onto the wall. Everyone, exchanging glances in the dark, agreed that was a reasonable solution. Remembering the stream that ran through the previous corridor, the group went to fetch some of the water.
However, when they returned to the main chamber, something had changed. The air was heavier and more oppressive, and even the stoic Krosar felt the tickle of terror at the back of his mind. The shadows crept in closer and the air grew cold; the party could do little to shake the terrible feeling that they were not alone. In unison, the druid and the elf ranger noticed a shadow move near the wall, its silhouette distinctly humanoid in appearance, but flat and drained of all light and warmth. Before they could react, the shade of a spectral hand, black and icy, grasped Corin’s shoulder draining the very will to live from her bones. Frantically the party reacted to the threat, drawing blade and casting spells for their very lives. The draconian mage fell, her body made frail and weak, and her friends rushed to her aid, stabilizing her declining form and saving her from the grasp of death. Krosar the druid, calling to the vengeful spirits of nature, brought the blinding wrath of the moon down upon his enemy, catching the shadow-being in a radiant pillar of moonlight, shattering the foul shade’s form. Another shadow lingered, however, just out of sight, clinging to the peripheral vision of those that dared face it. But before it could act, Llia, with her elf eyes, caught sight of it and loosed an arrow. Krosar then brought the light of the moon about and trapped the shade within it, crushing it with divine vengeance. In the aftermath, they found where the shadows had fallen the blackened and chalky bones of Azaedeh’s two servants, who had fallen to shadow in a desperate attempt to return to the surface.
Though rattled by the terrifying ordeal with the shadow-creatures, our three heroes, and their newfound friend, Azaedeh, tested their answer to the riddle, pouring the stream’s cold water on the stone wall. Immediately the stone crumbled and slipped away like sand, leaving a small opening into the dark beyond. Peering in, Krosar saw a pile of something white, with brownish-red stains all around. Entering the room, they found the pile to be formed of countless teeth put atop one another, surrounding a red stain in the center and a large, green jewel resting atop the pile. The nature of the stain was readily apparent — it was rust. And there, in the corner, quite plump and content with itself, lay a rust monster, finishing off whatever was left of its feast — the numerous metal objects that had once littered this hidden cache. Though upset that whatever treasure that had once lay in the room had now been eaten, they opted not to fight the rust monster, who was obviously quite satiated and merely regarded them with a lazy curiosity. Azaedeh picked up the jewel, and beneath it found the weathered remains of an ancient silken shawl, patterned in crimson and lavender and radiating with faint magic, which she offered to our heroes as reward for their aid. Llia gladly accepted the shawl and stowed it in her pack.
Returning to the surface, Azaedeh gave the green jewel to Thrail, who identified it as once belonging to the Shamshir-Azhatkhar, the fabled scimitar for which he searched. Though distraught that the blade itself had been destroyed, he was happy that at least some of the sword’s remains could be studied, and began preparations to return to Baldur’s Gate. Lord Osprey was overjoyed at his beloved Azaedeh’s safety, and grabbed her in an awkward, but rather sweet, embrace. His guard, Belistar, reminded him of their obligations in Baldur’s Gate, and Lord Osprey invited the party to travel with him. They agreed, as did Azaedeh, much to everyone’s surprise, who voiced her desire to see more of the world beyond her family’s estate. Overjoyed with the news, Osprey and Belistar went to help the young Lady gather her things.
And thus our heroes were safe once again, though only slightly richer. They still had their goods to take to the city, but at least now they had a few more travel companions — and so they, looking over the magical artifacts they had found, prepared to continue south.