Tl;dr: Rejoice AFK citizens, heroes from Port Miranda have defeated the source of the terrifying storm of darkness emanating from Castle Ruthdala, also claiming the castle for our use as an outpost. Also, the butler didn’t do it!

Session Title : Back to Black
Session DM : Geokahn
Session Date : 21 Jul 2021 @ 02:00 UTC ; extended on 30 Jul 2021 @ 23:00 UTC

•”Cartographer”, “Chronicler,” and “Scout” Bardy (Bard 11/Cleric 1) with Sisyphus the Pegasus
•”Leader” Chemist (Rogue 1/ Wizard 16)with Keri the Wight and an Air Myrmidon.
Eddings (Bard 14/Sorcerer 1) with Pery the Peryton
Faenoa (Fighter 10/Wizard 2)
•”Trailblazer” (Barbarian 12/Fighter 3) Joule
Valorean (Paladin 6/Sorcerer 6) with Azure the Griffon
Zak (Barbarian 3/Fighter 10)

A recollection of events that were for me mostly one year ago, but in actuality were recent. Some stiff drinks were required and I apologize for any inconsistencies, I am still struggling with the passage of time ~Bardy

When we left, there was still a dark and dangerous storm south of Port Mirandia. (This storm was unfriendly to the living, reducing sight and magical healing, while bolstering undead.) Chemist had decided that instead of going through the large forces protecting the castle from the north we would try to approach from the far side by coming up the road from Ruined Oak. (Having seen but some of the forces arrayed, I was most willing to try a stealthy approach) He assembled everyone available to help with this dangerous but necessary task. We brought along the folding boat that had proven useful in our escape from the last infiltration attempt.

Joules magic allowed very swift passage along the roads. (I remember little of note from that journey). We spoke with the dwarves of Stiner’s Conclave who had noticed nothing in particular regarding the storm (it was fairly distant from their domain). The Fishscale tribe had seen similar to what we and the guards near the edge of the storm had seen, namely strange shapes and lights. The Fishscale had also noted a few figures on the outside of the storm nearby, who they called “cat people”. (Tabaxi is a more polite word.)

Curious as to why there were tabaxi camping by the outer edge, those of us who could fly went searching for them. While we tried to approach stealthily they knew we were coming and greeted us. They introduced themselves as Garden of Flowers and Garden of Thorns and knew who we were and our goal. (much to my surprise I knew Garden of Flowers, perhaps it was the light but I did not recognize them.) The Tabaxi had reached many of the same conclusions about the darkness as we had, but were staying here in particular to guard the Fishscale tribe from some fearsome hydras that the darkness had disturbed and caused to move.

The Tabaxi responded to our query if the darkness had changed recently that it had gotten stronger. (Possibly due to Chemist accidentally opening a portal to the Shadowfell the last time we were inside) They let us sleep at their campsite, providing safety for us. (I recall Zak spoke with one of the Gardens about something, but I do not remember who or of what anymore) and then wished us the god’s own luck before setting off in the morning. (I certainly prayed to Oghma for our success)

We activated the folding boat, got in and went along the river, then into the darkness. Immediately, it was apparent that all the flora and fauna around the area are different and wrong,(the Shadowfell’s influence was getting strong enough to change the land.) We heard the maddening whispers on the wind and tried to fortify ourselves against them. Valorean somehow was able to see normally within. We saw a figure of what I would term Death personified, followed by a wolf (even a year later that image haunts me.)

(In the darkness it was not clear, but I believe Joule had something effect her. She said she was fine but her manner was affected.) We continued along the river when we smelt a fire burning and then see ahead a house on fire. We heard cries for help (I recall trying to use reason with my companions to ignore the cries but they could not) Faenoa tried to help but when she tried, the fire disappeared and she got very quiet for awhile. (Around here we saw more of the antlered creatures that seem to shepherd souls, twice I encountered them and never felt threatened. They were beautiful in a way.)

We continued along the river and saw the ruins of a town, that had the spirits of the dead gathering within (an eerie sight, Zak seemed particularly effected.) At this point it was faster to go by land, so we folded the boat and went northwest towards the castle, (luck was with us the direction we approached from was undefended.)

Valorean sighted us nearing the castle so we halt, wary of the automated archer turrets Hussan had described. Valorean stepped forward to test the range, accuracy and power of the turrets. He returned saying they did magical necrotic damage. We asked if he saw any sign of the old sewer entrance (then explained what Hussan had said about that old sewer entrance) so he went off to try to scout for it. He eventually returned and said he had found it and the path to it was out of range of the towers. We proceeded to the old sewer entrance, (thankfully long disused.)

We followed the sewer tunnel until it ended (with two holes in the ceiling, possibly the outhouses of the keep.) The holes were not large enough for our mounts to get through, barely ourselves were able to fit through. Immediately upon exiting the holes we were beset by a host of creatures and a fight for our lives. The very ground was against us, periodically a spectral army would appear and severely wound some of us. (I saw little of the fight, with my diminished eyesight and being grappled in the outhouse structure by two swarms of spectral hands that came up out of the very holes we did, an ignominious place to die.)

Somehow we prevailed. We took some time to recover before exploring around. (thankfully the turrets did not seem to be able target us inside.) One building was once a stables. It contained a carriage with ghostly horses that did not respond to anything we tried. We found stairs that seemed to lead to the main keep.

As we approached the main keep, we saw that the doors were glyphed. Chemist said he felt an odd hum around him and said magic would not work inside. We opened the doors and slowly went inside. Standing there at the entrance was a shadowy wraithlike creature (later we learned to refer to is as the Regent) that said “Welcome detectives, the guests have remained in the room and the doors have all been locked awaiting your arrival.” We looked around at each other quizzically before agreeing to present ourselves as detectives and for the Regent to lead us to the room. We saw some paintings along the way.

Nosumdor Defender of the People
Hussen Defender of the River

We were ushered into a magnificent (thankfully well lit) great hall with a sumptuous banquet on the table. By one corner of the table was the dead body of the queen, on the floor. There were five people who reacted to our arrival. (Over on the throne was the king who did not notice us or respond to us in his grief.) The Regent said that someone in this room was responsible for the death and we had to determine whom it was. (this was certainly not something this bard expected to have to do just after a fight for life.) We were to interview the suspects and search the keep for clues, and when ready ring the bell and make our accusation. But we were warned to only ring the bell when we were certain, a mistake would bring dire consequences.

The suspects

(Remember this was a year ago from my perspective, which will be explained shortly, so I will do my best to recount the suspects.) The suspects were : Min’ka, the king’s concubine; Ramsus Grettunthall, a merchant; Nahila Alleckson a noble; Periair Del’walt, the head servant; and Toddles McGee, the court jester. Each proclaimed their innocence and accused some of else of the crime.

Most had expected the Queen to make an announcement in their favour, (hence their innocence, for why should they kill her. Ramsus had a favourable land deal, Nahila said she was going to donate a family diamond to resurrect his slain son, Periair said she was going to announce his retirement. Min’ka and Toddles were both mutually friendly antagonists of the Queen. (There was much more information gleaned here that I have forgot but of note in the end was the fact that the king and queen’s son was missing and Min’ka had left for the kitchen to retrieve some medicine for Nahila)

Painting named “Come Back to me Granddaughter” defaced with the word “Dula.” Periair had never seen it before.
Family Portrait?

There were some paintings in the great hall. Also, I recall I examined the body of the queen and thought poison to be the cause of death, and from the presence of thrown up blood, that it was likely ingested. The head servant had said the queen kept a small study to the the northwest of the great hall, so we started our investigation there. In there was a defaced painting labelled “My Beloved Child” and the queen’s journal. The journal noted details of personal thoughts and encounters but the entries from the day before she died had been removed.

My Beloved Child
Stairway Painting

Joule, Faenoa and I decided to check out the upstairs while the rest elected to remain to guard the suspects. We went up the stairs northeast of the great hall, found some paintings, then a reception room with two other exits, one west and one southeast. Some of the walls were lined with cabinets and bookshelves, also more paintings. On the table was an ominous looking book that Faenoa touched in her search of the room. The book evaporated and was absorbed by her (it looked painful but she did not seem affected by anything afterward.) Faenoa found a piece of paper that was likely from the journal based on the handwriting and size, and if so would corroborate the account of one of the accused.

The west door of this room led to a hallway. From the end, further west, was some ominous organ music. We tried the north door first. When Faenoa and Joule enter they were stricken with blindness. I guided them out with my voice and could see their eyes were totally blackened. We tried to call for help through the mind link we shared with the others but realized that somehow it was blocked between the floors (so focused on our investigation I guess we had not noticed this until then). I left the two briefly there while I went back downstairs, updated that group on our findings, the status of the mental link between floors and needing help I brought Valorean back with me.

When Valorean got near Joule and Faenoa the inky blackness squealed as many motes of darkness flew away from their eyes, sight restored. (Valorean’s inner light I suppose, or perhaps they left in fear of him.) I elected to enter the room with Valorean near, and withstood the darkness. Searching around the room I saw various papers on tables, near on of the chairs an horrific skeleton statue, and a globe. All but one of the papers I touched disintegrated as if sudden aged a thousand years. The one that did not was some sheet music for a song called “Ode To The Blood Line”.

(It was here that I unknowingly committed a very large mistake.) In curiosity I approached the globe and as I neared it I felt a powerful magic force come across me. (I do not know if I resisted it or not, but it is possible that I succeeded and what follows was the good version of events). The world blurred before me and I lost consciousness. I woke to find myself in a prison cell. Time passed. I did not need food or water. I fought boredom by remembering many stories I had read over my years and by studying the sheet music I had found.

After roughly (or maybe exactly, I will never know) one year, my cell was opened by a marble golem, who told me to follow. I was brought to an octagon room, where on the tiered floor above me were three golems, one gold, one silver and one adamantine. They said my case if up for review and then judged me ready for release. (With not even a moment to ask one question) I was instantly transported back to the great hall, and a surprised Chemist and Eddings looking towards me. They seemed unchanged by time and I am struck by confusion.

Chemist asks me how I got down here, I just went back upstairs. (The words back upstairs, there was only one point of time that would be true.) Somehow I realized I was back to when I left the keep (resolving to deal with confusion later) I rushed back upstairs (again) to stop them from trying to rescue me. Faenoa had a roped tied around her and she was getting close to the globe before I got there. (again looking like I had just last seen them, reinforcing that I was in the past.) I haltingly tried to explain something that I do even understand before we restarted our search for clues. (that is what I was doing, was it not?)

We approached the western door, hearing the organ music. (I recognize it as the Ode To The Blood Line, seeing as I had spent a year with the sheet music, mentioning this to the others.) As the door was opened the music stopped. Inside the room was a small church, with a pipe organ and several pews. Joule and Faenoa (I recall now, they kept mentioning how they were going to die here throughout the investigation) again entered first. Their faces immediately went slack and the walked, as if automatons to sit in the pews. Valorean and I tried to rouse them but to no avail. As the time passed their bodies began to turn grey and fade, as if becoming incorporeal.

Infernal Organ

Valorean and I had no ideas beyond trying to play the music on the organ, so we enter. As we approached Valorean face slackens and he sat in a pew. He began to fade like the other two. I reached the organ and played the sheet music to the best of my abilities. I do not understand this magic, but somehow it worked, releasing them from their fugue states. (Thanks Oghma!)

They decided to search a room to the north while I kept playing (this was a rather stressful experience for an old man, having to work an organ to use magic to keep something terrifying from happening, for who knew how long.) They came out of the room saying they found another piece of the journal and then Valorean tied a rope around me (with my full support) before they leave the room. I stopped playing and moved with great speed (for an old man) out, but thankfully, the magic did not seem to come back.

Octagan table room painting

Back in the hallway, we opened the last door, to the south. This was some sort of meeting room, with an octagon table. (Octagon! Not again! I stayed out.) They found nothing of note, but for a painting with the words “Oder of the Thorn Rose Adepta Sororitas.” We went back to the reception room and headed for the southwest door. Beyond which we found presumably the royal bedchamber. There was a painting of a young man. We found another journal page here.

Bedchamber painting

The pages from the journal we had found corroborated the accounts of three of the accused. The noble, the head servant and the jester. We went downstairs, informed Eddings and Chemist of our progress and then went to find the stairs further down, that led the to kitchen. Just outside the exit from the stairs we were attacked by a creature of some kind. (My magic still did not work so I went up the stairs to call for help from those two.) The battle was brief however, the creature was speaking some language that Valorean knew, asking for water. When it got some, it became water.

Kitchen painting titled “I will stop you my enemy”

We searched around the various storage areas and the kitchen area. There was another painting and one door that would have led to a deeper area that was locked. In the kitchen we found a small, mostly empty vial, on the floor. This vial had a flowery smell. In one of the storage areas, there was a locked crate that had some bottles of wine, a money pouch with one hundred fifty gold and a used looking but blank journal. One of the wine bottles had a flowery smelling residue. Faenoa (in her utmost wisdom) decided to scrape some of the residue off and taste it. She immediately started violently vomiting.

We brought the crate and its contents back up to the grand hall. We showed them to Chemist and then tried the old trick of heating paper that was blank but should contain writing. This worked revealing an account of how Min’ka the concubine had been acting unusually, while exhibiting symptoms of pregnancy. Min’ka backed away from the group while saying that the journal did not prove anything. Faenoa smelled the flowery smell from Min’ka. Valorean rang the bell.

The Regent appeared and said to accuse the murderer. We accused Min’ka, thinking she poisioned the bottle when she was in the kitchen and that she killed the Queen so she could marry the king allowing making her child the heir. The Regent pronounced “Guilty!” and in a flash the room aged immensely, and the click of a lock unlocking reverberated around the keep. From Hussan we knew the crystal skull was supposed to be deep under the castle’s keep, so we went back downstairs to the door that had been locked. It was unlocked now. Through the door was another wine cellar, with doors to the south and to the north.

The south door radiated a powerful abjuration magic, which Chemist dispelled. Beyond the door was a pool of liquid that radiated with intense necromantic magics. Curious as to what might happen, Chemist directed Kari the Wight into the pool, which seemed to empower it. Chemist suggested that this pool is for the restoration and fortifying of the undead. We left to try the north door.

Through the north door was a torture chamber. While exploring this room, the moment we opened one of the doors, we were attacked by a creature with a gaping maw, some ghosts and some flaming skulls. (Again I could not see well enough to follow, but Joule was possessed by one of the ghosts.) We prevailed and quickly determined there was only one way forward.

Faenoa was first through the door and saw a spectral figure (later she described it as Lord Chemist with a scythe.) We heard it congratulate us for getting through the madness to get here and it implored us to end it, (Faenoa said it pointed south at this point.)

To the south was another door, unlocked. Inside was the castle’s treasure room, amidst which was a crystal skull. The crystal skull was emanating a jet black beam up through the ceiling. Faenoa tried to cast a spell and was forcefully blown back by a ward around the skull. Chemist dispelled this ward and then Joule steps up to smash the crystal skull with her maul.

With the destruction of the skull, immediately we could see normally. Healing magic worked normally. We gathered the gold and searched the keep for any remnants of undeath or signs of life, finding neither. We went outside and the sun is shining down (ah such a wondrous sight, I had forgotten its simple majesty in the year.)

View of Castle Ruthdala in the sunshine

We travelled up the road to the guard camp. They congratulated us on our success and we suggested that instead of returning to Port Mirandia they instead go fortifying the now empty castle. They agreed to do so. We continued back to Port Mirandia to celebrate our victory.