The Rising Darkness
Our heroes make it home to Phandalin, only to find the place looks alien to their eyes. Stout stone walls (of hasty dwarven construction, Gurtak notes) have been raised around the town, and guards man the parapets. A few dwarves can be seen working on the construction, shoring up weak spots and generally polishing the job. Gurtak hails them and they explain that about two weeks ago a force of drow fell upon the mines. They were repulsed, but to keep the mines and spell forge safe, the Rockseekers sealed the mines. They’ve been using secret entrances and exits to lend aid to the people of the town since then, and will re-open the mines if the situation improves.
As the PCs approach the walls, they are hailed by the guards, who demand to know their names and business. They identify themselves and ask for Sildar. A few minutes later, they are admitted to town with apologies, and welcomed home, albeit under dark circumstances. A 13-year-old runner guides them through Phandalin, whose people are living under a cloud of weighty depression and fear, to the town hall.
Sildar looks like he hasn’t slept in weeks. He’s haggard and beaten down, but welcomes the PCs home. He first lets them know that their manor is intact, that he has spared a garrison of troops to watch over the place, and that Mirna and the staff refuse to leave. He is introduced to Nav’ron, and told about Gah’Ri; he promises the group that their deceased friend will receive a burial with honors, and welcomes the dragonborn to town.
The town itself has been assaulted by drow and undead almost every night for the past several weeks. People are occasionally carried away. The group turn over the letter they recovered from the drow on the road, and report on the ritual they interrupted.
Sildar looks concerned at the letter; the indications that their enemies have a political foothold in Naerie are disturbing, especially as he has sent runners to ask the city for help. His scouts have managed, at the cost of their lives, to determine that the stronghold of these villains, led by the Necromancer, the banshee, a green-armored warrior and a “dark warlord,” is in the ruins of Thundertree, about 70 miles north. The information about the “dark warlord” especially concerns him as it rings familiar somehow.
He asks the PCs to head to Thundertree to investigate and, if possible, cut the head off of this serpent.
They spend the remainder of the day tending to personal matters: Gurtak helps to get the bedraggled town guard in shape as much as possible; most are too old or too young to bear arms, but all have served with integrity and been forged in fire. Punty visits the gnomes and collects his improved sword-whip, and the group stop at the Stonehill Inn where Punty spends time with Elsa St. John before the group visits home, where they are doted upon by Mirna and her children, who are fascinated with Nav’ron.
The next morning, they set out, heading north to the now-collapsed ruins of Cragmaw castle where they intend to take the river towards Thundertree. En route, they encounter a battle scene with more dead centaurs, and a site that rocks Gurtak to the core: several dead creatures that appear to be a magical fusion of an orc and a giant worg, much as a centaur is a fusion of a horse and man. Gurtak identifies them as “Dirdraug,” mythical boogeymen that are used to admonish dwarf children to behave.
The scene was apparently a stop on part of a running battle. The group debate tracking the fight, but decide that their immediate mission is more important, and head on towards Thundertree. En route they camp for a night on the far side of the river, which doesn’t feel as heavy or oppressive as their local area.
When they finally make landfall, they note that a thick, acrid fog has moved in across the entire area. The trees grow closely together and are covered with an emerald moss. The light that filters through the heavy canopy is also emerald-hued and very dim; they are forced to navigate their way through heavy thickets and briar patches. Fortunately, Gurtak proves a skilled outdoorsman and is able to pick the group’s way through with relative ease.
Nav’ron and Sten are disturbed; everything they’re seeing is a sign of a green dragon lair somewhere within five miles of their location. The report of a “green-armored warrior” comes to mind and they steel themselves against this inevitability. They also realize that the dim light will negate any advantage they might have of taking on the drow during the day.
At length, they find a pathway to approach Thundertree from a high ground in the north—a vantage which allows them to get a general layout of the town. As they watch, they see a massive, armored warrior conferring with several robed humans, who eventually move off. They decide to sneak up and try to take out this warrior alone.
The ruse partially works; unfortunately, Gurtak stumbles and draws attention to himself. He recovers and strides forward, intending to serve as bait. The dark warrior steps forth and challenges the dwarf, at which point the remaining companions unleash a surprise attack.
The battle is fierce; the warlord summons aid from 8 drow warriors and brings to bear mighty spells in connection with his combat prowess—Punty identifies him as a fallen Paladin, or a blackguard. The halfling very nearly sacrifices his life for the cause, but Sten is able to heal the diminutive paladin. Unfortunately, their victory is a bitter one, as the blackguard steps back into the building from which he emerged and triggers a ring of teleportation to vanish…
TO BE CONTINUED…