The kingdom of Zeltennia prospered. For once the heroes had time to work on developing their kingdom into the bastion of light and learning they had envisioned. The external threats to peace had all but disappeared, or at least had taken a holiday. And with the erection of the final wall surrounding the city, the residents felt a sense of security not often found in the River Kingdoms.
An academy and library of learning sprung up, overseen by the brilliant, if erratic, Walter White. Students from all around, both rich and poor for everyone is welcome, enrolled to learn the secrets of the arcane. Many of the pupils would never amount to more than household mages, but that was okay by Ilieo. He had seen the effects of even the smallest amount of magic can have on a society. That is not to say the academy would not generate a great mage or two. Jericho Firestorm (a self-serving name if ever there was one) and Brevyre Shortcloak (as short as the name implies) come to mind.
Not only was this institution a glorious achievement towards a greater Zeltennia, it was a boon to the local economy. Having such a ready supply of spells to be used in the creation of wondrous items and magical wares led to the establishment of Anorelda’s Arcane Artifacts, a simple if pretentiously named, magic shop. Run by the shrewd Anorelda MacCalbert. The only thing more shrewd than her business savvy was the shrewdish look of her face. People came from miles around to view and purchase her goods. Swords, wands, staves, items of an even stranger nature the likes of which had not been seen in these parts for centuries.
While certainly not overwhelming in number, the travelers needed someplace to stay, and thus, the Crimson Palace and adjoining tavern the Crimson Valant were built. Established and run by a remarkably attractive half-orc bard named Galvan Harthak the Crimson Valant (yes, he named the tavern after himself), the Crimson Palace become an attraction in its own right. Modeled after the desert palaces of the far east and adorned with gaudy decor and furniture, Galvan made everyone feel like royalty without charging them a year’s wage. The Crimson Valant become a popular place to end a hard day’s work for both visitors and locals. Galvan’s ability to tell a tale of grand adventures, exciting intrigue and horrific dangers that were supposedly all true tales was preposterous but exciting to listen to nonetheless.
Some months passed, and the city grew and prospered. The magi rulers were not content to sit by and merely run a kingdom. Not when there was more world to discover, more power to gain. And so, the heroes set out once again in search of fame and glory. The Narlmarches were still largely unexplored, and given the forest’s proximity to Zeltennia, that became the first priority.
Several uneventful days into the forest, the group made a wondrous discovery. There, in the middle of the forest, was an ancient elven keep from an age long past. A simple, yet effective structure consisting of four towers surrounding a taller central tower, the keep was likely a simple outpost for a larger kingdom. A tribute to elven craftsmanship, the structure remained largely intact though not immune to the ravages of nature and her never ending quest for dominance. Vines snaked their way over the walls and up the towers creating the illusion that the keep had grown out of nature herself. Oddly, there were no sounds of local wildlife. It seemed as though they still feared the incursion of man on their home.
A quick pass of the perimeter revealed a couple crumbling sections of wall that would allow passage into the keep. A cursory look inside revealed an empty courtyard filled with rubble and overgrowth around a center, windowless tower. The group decided to enter through the front gate, a sort of reclamation if you will. Led by Kaifang, Ilieo’s trusted eidolon, it was not long before the dangers of a ancient keep presented themselves. Almost immediately upon crossing the threshold, the iron portcullis gave out and came crashing down, pinning Kaifang beneath it. The creature let out a terrible sounding yelp and vigorously began trying to free itself, but the gate was too heavy. After several failed attempts, the less than physically imposing group of wizards and sorcerers managed to lift the gate enough for Kaifang to wriggle free before it slammed back down. So much for reclamation.
The party made their way around the perimeter to one of the breaks in the wall. They entered the courtyard, albeit more cautiously this time, and headed towards one of the towers. The first tower they visited had a single door entering into it, but the door seemed to be much newer than the rest of the keep. Ilieo knocked and called out. No one answered. After listening at the door and hearing nothing, the group entered. What they found was surprising. It appeared to be the abode of some kind of small humanoid creature. The rubble from the collapsed ceiling had been cleared out and small furniture put in its place. No sooner than the group had taken this all in, Syrio cried out.
He had been stabbed! But no one was there beside him holding the bloody knife. They rushed out into the courtyard to confront the assailant but there was no one to be seen. Ze and Syrio scanned the area for any signatures of magic while Ileio muttered a quick incantation allowing him to see through magical invisitbility. Ze and Syrio got a hit, and Syrio quickly conjured a sticky web between one of the outer towers and the central tower in order to ensnare the hidden foe or at the least corral him into a smaller area. It worked and the next time Ze detected traces of magic it was inside the central tower. Ze rushed in.
A trap! Upon entering the tower, a noxious gas erupted from the walls. Fortunately, it did not seem to have any ill effect on the surprisingly stout oracle. Still no trace of the assailant. Ze ran up the stairs in search of him. Syrio made his way through the tower and out the other side while Ilieo and Kaifang made their way around opposite the web, and there! Finally some luck. Out of the corner of his eye, Ilieo saw it, a quickling. Quick as lightning, Ilieo fired two arrows that found their mark and Syrio covered the area in glitterdust thus rendering the fey’s innate invisibility useless. The quickling turned to flea. Kaifang pursued while Syrio, Anari and Ilieo attacked from afar, but the fey was too quick. Before long, it had escaped through a break in the wall and fled into the woods.
Meanwhile, Ze was in the fight of his life. Expecting a small agile foe he could stand toe-to-toe with, he encountered something much worse. The Dancing Lady as she will forever be known was waiting to lure a fresh meal into her writhing tentacles. Ze stopped in his tracks. Something about her movements, so alluring, so hypnotic made Ze hesitate. Until the creature lashed out with her tentacles seeking to entwine Ze in her clutches that is. Ze snapped from his haze, called upon a hidden power known only to him and battled back. Blows were traded back and forth, the creature unable to ensnare the elven combatant, Ze unable to cut through the Lady’s innate magical defenses. Things looked grim for Ze until he thought he heard footsteps ascending the stone stairs.
Up the steps bounded Syrio and Anari, but there they stopped, ensnared by the Dancing Lady’s hypnotic movements. Even in battle her grace and elegance were captivating. Ze called out to his friends, yelling for their attention, warning them of the Lady’s hold but to no avail. Ze cried out in rage and frustration at the vile temptress’s hold on his friends and began his attack anew. Moments later, Ilieo and Kaifang joined the fray or rather presented the Lady with yet another meal.
Unable to take down the stout elf (“He must have some dwarven in him,” she thought), she moved towards an easier target. Anari, completely entranced by her movements, was an easy target. Her tentacles writhed along the floor, up one leg and around the other, wrapping both arms tight against his body. Anari could feel each breath becoming shorter and gasped in futility for more air that would not come. With her prey firmly in grasp, her carnal instincts took over, and she began to feast, draining the strength from the helpless elf within her clutches. Her hunger would be her undoing. Unable to focus on maintaining the mesmerizing grace she used to lure her prey in, the rest of the group snapped free from their trance and made short work of the Lady’s last meal.
The room in which the group now stood was remarkably well preserved, opulent even. An elegant four-post bed topped by a bearskin throw stood at one wall along with an exquisitely made elven water clock opposite. Clearly someone of great importance once dwelt here. More incredible was the view. Windowless from the outside, high arching windows ringed the upper tier of the forty foot tall tower affording a view of the surrounding environs from every direction. Illusionary magic at its finest.
Not in any shape to continue their exploration, the group began making preparations to spend the night. They investigated the southwestern tower for any more unwanted guests and found only the rubble and detriment of the long collapsed ceiling. A quick once over of the rubble yielded nothing of worth. As he turned to leave, something caught Anari’s eye. There underneath a fallen support beam of now rotten oak, a metallic shine. Further examination revealed a mithral statue of exceptional craftmanship. A beautiful elven woman adorned in simple garments standing beneath an arch of leaves. How she avoided discovery for so long was anyone’s guess.
The northwest tower proved more difficult to get into. Seemingly barred from the other side, Ilieo attacked the door with ill-advised abandon using his cold iron sword. Once destroyed, the door opened into a more or less intact tower. Vines had overtaken the inside walls and had grown all the way into the highest reaches of the tower. A cursory glance revealed nothing of value or danger. Ilieo turned to leave and found his foot wrapped up in one of the vines. He knelt to remove it only to notice all the vines seemed to be moving. These were no ordinary vines. A maniacal laughter rang out from up above, but before he could even look up to see anything, Ilieo found himself entangled and yanked off his feet by the assassin’s vines.
The fey creature howled with laughter. Ilieo found no such amusement. He had dealt with enough fey to last the rest of his laugh. Gods help him if ever he comes across another. Syrio, Anari and Ze exchanged spells with the fey who had nowhere to run while Kaifang worked to free his master. After a short struggle, the vines hung limp against the wall and the fey lay dead on the ground. Good riddance.
Thankfully, the rest of the keep was abandoned. The party rested for the night, spent the remainder of their healing magics and slept.