Campaign Chronicles - Invasion of the Shadow lord

Death in the Umar Hills

The group has just solved the mystery of the dream fever in Dagger Falls, and defeated the mage-lord Colderan Morn, back from dead after almost a hundred years. While the town recovers, the group basks in some much-needed rest and relaxation for a few days.

They head back to their keep, hoping to see how far the dwarves have come with their repairs. They arrive a half-day later, and notice an elder human male conversing pleasantly with several dwarves. Roc, having had quite enough of surprises these past few days, places his hand on the hilt of his sword, ready to strike at the slightest hint of hostility by the stranger.

The stranger ignores Roc for the moment, and politely greets the rest of the group. He introduces himself as Valrin, and explains that he has traveled here from the village of Umar, in the nation of Amn. The town usually sees a number of merchants pass through the area, and many of those traveling from the heartlands have shared stories of the recent liberation of Dagger Falls. Among these stories were tales of the local adventuring band who rescued and aided the rebel leader Randal Morn in the attack against the Zhent forces.

Valrin then explains that upon hearing these stories, he hoped the party would be just the sort of heroes he needed to investigate a series of gruesome killings in the lands surrounding his village. Normally, he would have sought out a local band of adventurers, but they all seem to be busy with other campaigns along the southern borders of Amn.

He admits (apologetically) that the party was, in fact, his third choice. The ranger Marella, who was the protector of the town and surrounding lands, was the first to investigate the killings. When she disappeared suddenly, Valrin hired a local adventuring party, who also disappeared soon after beginning their investigation. Word got out quickly about the killings and the missing adventurers, and Valrin could find no one else willing to help. So, he was forced to look outside of Amn for help.

The village doesn't have much to offer as a reward, but Valrin does say that with the lack of other local adventurers, he could easily help the party find an abundance of other work afterward. The party hesitantly agrees to help, but first wishes to get a full night's rest before heading out. Valrin concurs, and tells them that when they are ready, he will cast a Teleport spell that will take them back to his home within the village. After the party has a chance to rest, they meet with the wizard the next morning, and prepare to leave.

The party is teleported to a quiet farming village in the Umar Hills. There, they meet with the mayor, who offers them a small amount of gold and some equipment left over from his own adventuring days. The task is simple: discover the identity of the killer(s), and find the town's missing ranger if at all possible. Once they have agreed on a price, he tells them all he knows of the killings.

The killings started in the outlying farms. First, it was a few sheep, followed by the shepherds themselves. Then, several crop farmers began to disappear without a trace. As the killings moved closer to the village, more of the victim's bodies were found. The bodies were horribly mutilated, almost beyond recognition, and always found at night. But strangest of all was the fact that no matter what preparations were taken, the bodies would disappear by daybreak.

The killings have become so frequent (almost nightly) that many of the remaining farmers and herders in the area have fled with their families to the central village in hopes of finding refuge. Many of the local merchant caravans have stopped coming to the area, fearing that they may also become victims.

The villagers have several theories and rumors about who or what the killers are. Some of the refugee farmers believe it is a large pack of wolves that have lived in the area for the past few years. They have been hunting in the area more frequently since the killings began, and many of the villagers have formed hunting parties to track them down. The mayor is quick to dispel the rumors about the wolves, citing the fact that wolves aren't known to carry off entire bodies without a trace. Besides, Marella has known those wolves for years, and would discourage any such behavior.

The second rumor is that the killers might be a group of ogres that have been camping in the woods a few miles to the northeast of the village. Ogres are known killers of humans, and often feast on human flesh. Plus, they are more than capable of carrying off entire bodies. The mayor is only mildly skeptical of this theory, but admits it is a more likely possibility than the wolves. His only concern, however, is that the killings did not start when the ogres first showed up in the area. In fact, the ogres have been in the area for almost a month prior to the killings, and have had only peaceful encounters with a few of the locals thus far.

The third theory is that the fabled "Umar Witch" has come back from the dead to claim more victims. According to legend, the Umar Witch was a necromancer who lived about 500 years ago and would capture victims for use in her experiments. The bodies of her victims were almost always found butchered and mutilated, much like the current round of victims. While the local innkeeper seems especially fond of this theory, the mayor brushes it aside as nothing more than campfire tales meant to frighten small children.

Despite the odds against it, the party decides to investigate the Umar Witch theory first. The innkeeper proves to have a wealth of local knowledge, including the location of the cave where the witch was believed to perform her experiments. The cave lies only a mile north of the village, and a few local teenagers go there sometimes to play "adventurer". The innkeeper (somewhat sheepishly) admits it was his stories that probably egged them into going there.

The party gets within a few hundred yards of the cave, when they hear something big crashing through the forest growth. Once they prepare themselves, they come face-to-face with a stampeding umber hulk. It nearly rips Roc apart as he engages the creature, while the rest of the party uses their missiles against it. When the beast falls, Roc proceeds to skin the beast, hoping to use it's shell in a new suit of armor or a for new shield.

The party next approaches the cave with caution, unsure if there are any more of the beasts roaming around. They hear a low grumbling coming from the cave, and decide it would be best to use stealth to enter the cave and look around. Once inside, they discover a gruesome sight. On the cave floor are the bodies of three teenage boys, and nearby is a large ogre sitting up against a rock, nursing a nasty gouge in his side...

The Accused

The party is investigating a series of killings in the Umar Hills, and their investigations have taken them to the mouth of a cave fabled to have been the home of an infamous necromancer long ago. Inside the cave, they have discovered the bodies of three teenage boys, and an injured ogre splattered with blood.

Roc takes a step toward the ogre, sword drawn, but Theranion quickly puts a hand out in front of him, signaling him to wait a second. While it looks like the ogre just slaughtered these boys, Theranion notes several inconsistencies. First, he notices the injuries sustained by the teenagers are all slash wounds, yet he knows ogres almost always use clubs or their fists in combat. Plus, this ogre in particular is unarmed, meaning he could not have made the type of wounds on the boys. The ogre's injury is also a slash wound; yet none of the teenagers' wooden swords show any signs of blood on them.

Theranion takes a cautious step forward, and announces his presence. The ogre, half-blind and distracted by the pain of his injuries, lets out a surprised grunt. After several tense moments, Theranion manages to talk with the ogre, and discovers the ogre followed the teenagers into cave after he heard them scream. The ogre says that two huge, green monsters were attacking the teenagers, and he charged in to attack the creatures. He managed to critically injure one, and chased the other away, but not before they had inflicted severe injuries to the teenagers and several painful ones to the ogre.

While Theranion talks with the ogre, Nataya tends to the teenagers' bodies, and discovers that two of them are still alive, but barely. She tends to their wounds, and heals their injuries, but is currently unable to revive them from their comatose condition. While cleaning their wounds, she discovers a small sliver of green exoskeleton, similar in color and texture to the shell of the umber hulk that the party faced earlier. This bit of evidence helps confirm the ogre's story, though not everyone is ready to hear it.

It is the party's (or is that the ogre's?) bad luck that a group of local hunters shows up at the cave, looking for the overdue teenagers. When one of the hunters sees the dead teenager's body (apparently, the teenager was his son), he flies into a fit of rage. It takes all of Roc's strength to restrain him and prevent further harm to the ogre. The hunters openly argue with the party, their anger fueled by the father's grief and the damning evidence against the ogre.

After the party members try to prove the ogre's innocence and Roc wrestles with the dead teenager's father some more, the other hunters grudgingly leave, carrying the bodies back to the village with them. The party tends to the ogre's wounds, and cautions it to be discreet on its way back to its own encampment. Meanwhile, the party decides to explore more of the cave, trying to return to their original mission.

There isn't much else in the cave, save for a lone mimic that almost makes a meal out of Zendril (he seems to have the worst luck). After turning up nothing in the cave, the party decides it best to return to the village, and check to make sure the hunters haven't raised a mob to chase down the ogre. When they get back to the village, what they see isn't very encouraging.

The dead teenager's father is surrounded by a large group of villagers, calling for action against the ogres he believes are responsible for his son's death. Theranion steps forward, and begins challenging the validity of the father's claims. One after another, he begins informally presenting evidence to the crowd; evidence which shows the teenagers were attacked by an umber hulk, not an ogre. The teenager's father continues to protest, but the last few doubts are laid to rest when Roc dumps the pieces of fresh umber hulk shell onto the ground in front of the crowd.

The crowd slowly disperses, having finally been won over by Theranion's words and Roc's dramatic demonstration, leaving a dejected and mourning father to contemplate his loss. His two hunting companions slowly escort him away to the inn, where they can drown their pain in drink. It proves to be a muted victory for the party, for they know that despite being right, there is little they can do to ease the hunter's woes.

When morning comes, the two surviving teenagers recover enough that they are able to relate what happened. When all is said and done, it turns out the ogre was a hero, and is the only reason the teenagers survived at all. Even the father of the dead teenager finally accepts the truth, and humbly asks the party to apologize to the ogre on his behalf should they ever come across him again...

Shadows in the Woods

The party has been investigating the cause of a series of brutal killings in the Umar Hills, and they have so far only met with limited success. They originally began investigating the legend of the Umar Witch, a necromancer who lived over five centuries ago. This lead proved fruitless, and a chance encounter with a wrongly accused ogre helps cast doubt on a second lead in their investigations.

The party is down to one last possibility - the pack of wolves known to hunt in the woods northwest of the village. The village's missing ranger protector, Marella, had intimate knowledge of the surrounding forests, and may have known where the wolves' den lies. The party decides a search of her cabin may reveal more clues as to her whereabouts and where to find the wolves.

When they get to the cabin, they can tell something is amiss. Though the outside of the cabin looks calm and unblemished, the front door is hanging wide open. Once inside, the party begins searching the place for clues. In the bedroom, they find spots of dried blood on the blankets, and a small diary tucked under the bed frame. The last few entries send a chill down each party member's spine as they read it in turn:

12th day of Autumn
Dark creatures roam the forests. Several townspeople have been slain by some unknown predator. Everyone seems to have their own opinion of what is doing the killing. The strangest thing is that the bodies are disappearing in the morning. This leaves me baffled, for most signs point to a pack of wolves that have been in the area for a long time. Wolves don't steal bodies.
13th day of Autumn
Or perhaps I should say wolf-like creatures. At night while I've been patrolling I've often caught shadowy glimpses of these "wolves" running alongside me. I've tried to attract their attention, but they ignore me. I find this most strange, as if the pack is being controlled by someone else. Years ago I spoke with the pack leaders, and they were quite cordial. Now they either flee from me, or perhaps even stalk me.
21st day of Autumn
It is near noon and still the wood outside my cabin seems full of shadows. I've been hard pressed to hear birds and most of the larger animals have long since fled. I plan to find the wolf's den this afternoon, and have drawn a map to it. All signs point to them as being the culprits, but what wolves act like these? They are wolves with the cunning of men.
And there is something else, a whispering in my mind. It is faint now, in the waking hours, but while I sleep I dream only of this voice and the face behind it. Whether it is connected to the wolves, I do not know. I suspect by the time that the sun sets tonight, I'll have answers to my questions...

Tucked in the pages of the diary, the group finds the map. With night quickly approaching, the group heads back to town to rest up before embarking on the journey to the wolves' den. They plan to head out first thing in the morning, so they can get there and back before night falls once more.

Even with the map, the party's unfamiliarity with the area slows their progress, and it is almost noon before they near the location on the map. When they approach within a mile of the site, they all immediately notice something unusual about the woods ahead of them. Though the sun is high overhead, no sunlight seems to penetrate the darkness of these woods.

Once inside the darkened woods, the sun appears no brighter than a dim orb, and the woods around them are silent except for occasional noises which echo unnaturally through the trees. To his own dismay, Roc finds that his personal light source can only penetrate a few feet into the darkness beyond...

The Shadowed Ruins

The party has been investigating their last lead into the cause of a series of brutal killings in the Umar Hills: a pack of wolves that has been known to hunt in the woods surrounding the farms of the village. They have aquired a map to the wolves' den drawn by the village's resident ranger, and it has lead them northward to a section of woods cloaked in an unnatural darkness.

As they finally near the wolves' den, they encounter a small pack of wolves prowling the area outside. Nataya tries to use her animal empathy on them, but is blocked by some greater malevolence within their minds. The wolves attack with intensity and cunning, and their unnaturally large size boasts of fierce strength. As each wolf is slain in turn, their corpses release a foul black mist which dissipates into the air, leaving behind the dead form of a normal grey wolf. After the last wolf has fallen, Nataya silently mourns them, and swears under her breath to take vengeance on those responsible for the unholy transformation of the wolves.

As the group finally makes it inside the cave that serves as the wolves' den, they encounter the older members of the wolf pack, each horribly transformed. The wolves are not alone, however. As the wolves engage the party, shadows move along the cave walls and circle around behind. These turn out to be creatures of living shadow, and the party finds themselves surrounded and trapped.

Though the party eventually manages to overpower the wolves and the shadow creatures, the strength-draining attacks of the shadow creatures leaves the party members sick and weak for the better part of an hour before the affects wear off. Tired and nearly out of spells, the party returns outside only to hear more howls off in the distance within the depths of the wood. It has become clear to the party that the woods have fallen victim to some unknown dark magic, and whatever is causing it is most likely behind the murders in the Umar Hills.

They wearily continue deeper into the woods, following the distant howls as best they can. After an hour's travel, they come to the site of several old, crumbling ruins that appear to have been a temple complex long ago. The buildings themselves have been reduced to nothing more than a few moss-covered walls and piles of stone from fallen columns. In the center of one of the crumbling buildings is a huge crystal which gives off a faint light, similar in hue to sunlight, but much dimmer. About 30 feet on either side are the remains of the building's walls, with 2 tinted glass windows still intact.

While Theranion examines the crystal, Roc and Zendril scour the area around the walls, curious about the 2 windows that have somehow survived intact. As it turns out, the glass in these windows isn't glass at all, but some kind of dense translucent material with highly reflective surfaces. Zendril moves the window a bit on its hinges, and discovers that the 'glass' reflects the crystal's light into bright patterns on the ground and the opposite wall. Hitting on an idea, he and Roc tilt the 2 windows so they reflect the crystal's light back onto itself, effectively doubling its brightness and creating a bright pattern of light upon the ground around the party.

As they do this, they suddenly hear something moving in the darkness beyond the pattern of light, and small flashes of glowing yellow eyes appear out of the darkness all around them. The party finds itself surrounded by shadow creatures on all sides, and prepare to draw their weapons. Oddly, the shadow creatures do not advance, staying well away from the pattern of light shimmering on the ground around the party.

While the party knows shadow creatures have an aversion to light, the pattern of light from the crystal shouldn't be bright enough to be a problem. Rather, as Theranion quickly surmises, the light must have some magical property which keeps the creatures at bay. This is small comfort, as the creatures have the party surrounded and accurate counts of how many creatures there are is made difficult by their constantly shifting movements around the camp. The party rests within the confines of the protective pattern of light for the moment, trying to come up with a plan to defeat or escape from the shadow creatures.

Zendril begins a careful survey of the immediate area, hoping to find some means out of their current situation. From the one corner of his vision, he notices a slight shimmering on a section of the lit floor. Upon examination, he discovers a shadowy illusion covering a stone staircase leading down under the temple complex. The shifting light from the crystal had partially dispelled the illusion where it touched, which was just enough to reveal it to a pair of sharp eyes.

Given few other options, and fairly certain the shadow creatures would not be able to pursue them, the party begins to descend the stairs into the dark depths of the ruined temple. As they descended the stairs, the darkness of the stairs pressed in around them. A nagging feeling started to well up in each party member; a feeling that they were somehow being herded, forced from the outside world into a lair of darkness...

The Ruined Temple

The party has been investigating the murders around the Umar Hills, and in their search, have discovered the possible cause of the murders. However, they have stumbled upon a far greater threat than at first thought. The wolves which once hunted peacefully in the Umar Hills have been horribly transformed into nightmarish beasts, and accompanied by creatures of living shadow. And worse yet, it seems that the victims of the murders have been transformed into shadow creatures themselves, thus explaining the victims' missing bodies.

The party has slain most of the wolves, but find themselves being lured deeper into the woods, to an ancient ruin which may hold the key to the shadowy curse placed upon the area. They have thus ventured down into the depths of the ruin, searching for a way out or perhaps a way to end the curse. At the bottom of the stairs, they come to a long hallway which curves slightly to the left. The hallway ends in a wall of pure shadow some fifty feet down, with an archway just before it on the right wall.

They enter the archway into what appears to have once been a shrine where family members and friends would come to honor their dead. Here, they discover a small group of wolves ripping a mummified body to pieces. The wolves turn their possessed gazes toward the party, and another battle erupts. When the party defeats the last wolf, they examine what remains of the mummified body, but can find nothing significant about it at the moment.

They press on past the room into another hallway, and are beset by what Theranion identifies as an Invisible Stalker. Having slain it, they find a strange key on it, which goes to no known lock they can think of. A slight murmur draws their attention to one of the doors along the hallway, and peeking through a hole in the door, they spy a human female shackled to the wall by shadowy chains.

Thinking she may be the missing ranger, they enter the room and free her, using the strange key they found on the stalker's corpse. She is beaten badly, and shows signs of dehydration. After a healthy drink of water and having her wounds bound, she hesitantly identifies herself as Mazilyn, a member of the first adventuring party hired by the townsfolk of Umar Hills. Her party made their way to the darkened woods, only to be overwhelmed by the creatures lurking within. Most of her party was killed or transformed into shadow creatures, but she was captured and brought here, with only a brief mention that 'The Master' had plans to use her body as its next host.

Though she is still weak, she offers to lend whatever aid she can to the party in exchange for her rescue, assuming they can escape from the ruins. She also informs them that she has discovered an ironic piece of information regarding the ruins at the heart of this mystery. This was once the holy temple of the ancient sun god Amaunator, but has now been infested with all manner of shadow creatures. She fears that the master these creatures serve is using the ruins as a base of power, and is quickly spreading its influence to the surrounding lands. Unless the evil infesting this place is stopped, there is no telling how far the corruption of these shadow creatures and their master will spread.

After a bit of rest, the party continues down the side hallway, heading toward a faint light in a room at the other end. The room at the end of the hallway is lit by the glowing gems imbedded into a large statue in the center of the room. Zendril approaches the statue to examine the gems (being the treasure-hunting rogue he is), and a voice suddenly echoes through the room.

"Know, my children, that when the holy rays strike the earth and dawn flows across the land like music, thou must offer the Morn Ritual that is pleasing to mine eyes and ears. Malign the Ritual at thy peril. Perform it only as I have written. Speak only when you are ready to take the test."

Zendril quickly steps back from the statue, startled by it's sudden outburst. Not knowing what else to do, he consults with Theranion for insight on ancient lore and Nataya for any knowledge of current or old rituals of the god Lathander (the Morninglord). After a few minutes, Zendril steps cautiously toward the statue, and announces he is ready for the test.

The statue responds with its first question: "As the sun first rises over the horizon, and its light strikes the earth, name that which you must do first."

After about a minute, Zendril calls out his answer. He is met with, "You have failed the test, and must suffer to become worthy." Immediately, a column of fire rains down on Zendril from the ceiling, burning him badly despite the fire protection his magical ring provides. If he had not been wearing his protective ring, he would surely have been left near death by the flames.

It has become clear the statue protects something of great importance to the long-forgotten sun god, perhaps even the key to destroying the evil infesting the temple. However, guessing the answers will only get the party killed. They must find the answers to pass the statue's test, or they may never leave this place alive...

Secrets Revealed

After investigating a series of murders in the Umar Hills, the party has found what they believe to be the cause of the trouble. They have found an ancient temple crawling with all manner of shadow creatures and animals stricken with an unusual form of undeath. The party must now search the ancient temple in search of a way to stop the spread of the evil, as the evil that infects the temple continues to grow in strength.

After attempting to solve the riddle of one of the temple statues, the party decides to follow the left-hand passage out of the statue room. It goes straight for a few dozen feet before making a sharp left. The passage leads the party to a small room dominated by a large pedestal displaying a brilliant glowing gem, which lights up the whole room.

Roc, wanting a bit of treasure, removes the gem from its pedestal. Immediately, several shadow creatures step out from their hiding places, the light from the gem no longer keeping them at bay. The party finds themselves in an ambush, and must fight their way back out of the room. Roc gets an idea that helps the party, by using the gem's glowing light to fend off the creatures as they try to attack.

The creatures are defeated, and the party opens a doorway leading to the next room. This room shows signs of a collapsing ceiling from years of disrepair. The walls of this room are covered in relief murals and strange writings, which Theranion eagerly begins to study. While the party takes a brief rest, Theranion attempts to decipher the writings to determine if they hold any clues to the current infestation within the temple.

He discovers the writings tell of a battle long ago between the ancient sun god and his nemesis, a powerful lord from the Plane of Shadow. This lord wanted to establish a base of power on the Prime Material plane, and spread his influence to every living creature in the land. Though the lord was defeated, the writings say he was not destroyed. They also warn that the lord will most certainly try again once he has regained enough power to cross over from the Plane of Shadow.

The writings provide the party with a vital clue as to the source of the infestation within the temple, and they begin to search the rubble in the room for any other hidden clues or writings. Within a small compartment of one of the broken pillars, they find several old parchments, one of which contains some verses which Theranion recognizes are from the Ritual of the Morning. Though part of the ritual is missing, it brings them one step closer to solving the statue's riddle.

When further searching turns up no new information, the party returns to the main hallway to tackle the problem of the wall of shadows that barred their progress down the hall earlier. They try several methods, including attempting a Dispel Magic. When everything else they try fails, they finally try to use the gem they found (the only item they hadn't tried yet). When touched to the wall, the gem flashes brightly, destroying the shadow wall and using up the gem's stored energy.

They continue down the hallway a few dozen feet before finding that the passage has collapsed, making it impassable. There is a side passage here, which leads to a small chasm with an old stone bridge across it. They cross the bridge and enter into a room that has been partially compromised by a pool of lava. They maneuver around the pool to another small room to the north. It is here they encounter several more shadow creatures, including a new breed of creatures known as Shadow Fiends.

The party quickly backs out of the room and back out to the bridge. Once across, Theranion pulls out a vial containing Oil of Slipperiness, and smashes the vial on the stone bridge. The regular shadow creatures try to venture across, but lose their footing and are easily pushed over the sides using the party's quarterstaffs. The Shadow Fiends, however, are powerful jumpers and easily leap across the chasm, pouncing on the party members as they land.

Nataya attempts use her Turn Undead ability on the creatures, and is successful in forcing half of them to flee. The tide of battle quickly turns in favor of the party, as they are now able to concentrate their firepower on the two remaining creatures. Afterward, the party hunts down the remaining creatures that fled and destroy them.

With the creatures out of the way, the party returns to the small room to the north, and find a second statue like the first. This one, however, speaks of the Test of the Noon Ritual. The party thoroughly checks the room and the one before it for any clues to this new test. In a cubbyhole concealed by a stone plaque, they find parchments containing parts of the noon ritual, but there is too much missing from the pages to make out the whole thing. It does, however, provide them with a possible clue to the correct answer for the Test of the Morning Ritual.

They return to the first statue, and make a second attempt at the test it gives. Again they fail, but with the knowledge they have gained thus far, they reason that there must be a set of parchments containing an Evening Ritual somewhere in the temple. These may provide them with the last clue they need to solve the riddles, and gain whatever useful magic the statues protect. It is simply a matter of finding them.

To that end, the party begins searching for a way around the rockslide, and looks for any secret panels in the walls. In the room with the small pool of lava, they find a door concealed by soot and time. It leads to what appears to be a burial chamber with a collapsed wall at the south end opening up to the main hallway.

When they enter the room, 3 ghostly visages appear before them, two of which appear to have once been bodyguards, and the other a teenage boy dressed in ceremonial clothes. This boy was one of the last priests of Amaunator, murdered by dark forces just before the downfall of the temple. The two guards next to him were the guards charged with protecting him in life. Because of their failure, however, they are now forced to guard over him in death.

He then explains that the temple remained undisturbed for many generations, until the shadow creatures began infecting the temple. Their coming was no accident, as an ancient evil was directing them. This evil, he explains, is a powerful lord from the plane of Shadow, and one of Amaunator's most powerful enemies. As in ancient times, this lord is attempting to break through from his world into this one, and establish a base of power from which he can spread his darkness across the lands. This time however, he is using the temple of the ancient sun god as his base of power.

The young priest tells the party that the shadow lord has already managed to gain a foothold in this realm, by infecting and controlling the body of a host from this world. With each passing day, the lord's powers grow as the barrier between his world and this one grows ever thinner. The shadow lord has to be stopped soon, for once he has breached the barrier between the worlds, his army of creatures from the Plane of Shadow will be able to cross over into this realm.

As guardian of the temple, the young priest alone had the power to banish the lord from the mortal host when the shadow lord first infected it. However, several of the lord's minions found and violated his tomb, and tossed his remains into some dark corner of the temple. With his grave disturbed, the priest no longer has the power to confront the shadow lord. He asks the party to find and return his remains. In return, he will provide the party with the means to banish the lord back to his own realm.

The party agrees to help, and immediately begins to search the area. Theranion then remembers a scene from earlier, where the party encountered a pack of wolves near the entrance of the temple. He recalls that they were tearing and chewing at what appeared to be a small, mummified body. They rush back to the room containing the torn body, meeting with more resistance now that the purpose of the body has been discovered.

Upon returning the body to the burial chamber, the priest points to a small stone in the wall of sarcophagus, which opens a secret compartment in the base. Inside are 2 items. One is a small black stone with what appears to be a pattern of swirling mists inside, and the other is a large golden pendant with 3 'pie-slice' sections.

The priest explains that the pendant is part of the ancient talisman of Amaunator, a powerful tool against undead creatures. To complete the pendant, the party must find the 3 pieces of Amaunator's holy symbol, which can only be recovered by solving the riddles of the statues. Once completed, the talisman will protect the wearer from the draining attacks of undead, can Dispel Darkness or Dispel Shadows once per day, and can cast Sunray once per day.

The dark swirling stone, he explains, is a special ward against the shadow lord's "pet", a shadow dragon that he bribed into guarding the entrance to the lord's altar chamber. The priest prepared the stone using the last of his power soon after the arrival of the dragon. Since the party is not powerful enough to win a fight against the dragon, the priest tells them to use the stone, staying within 10 feet of it at all times. It will cloak the party from the dragon's senses, so that they may safely sneak past the dragon and into the shadow lord's altar chamber.

With that, the young priest and the 2 bodyguards fade away with a faint 'thank you', their spirits at peace once more..

A Test of Faith

From their investigations into the bazaar murders in the Umar Hills, the party has stumbled upon a much more sinister plot. They have discovered that one of the more powerful lords from the Demi-plane of Shadow is using the abandoned temple of the ancient Sun-god Amaunator as a staging ground for invasion into the realm. If he succeeds, his army of undead minions would grow until the whole of the realms was consumed by living shadow.

With the words of the dead priest still fresh in their minds, the party proceeds through the hole in the south wall of the burial chamber, and into the main hallway on the other side from the wall of shadows that had blocked their progress earlier. They continue down the hall until they reach another wall of shadows, and an open archway to their left.

On the other side of the archway is a large chamber containing a pattern of 10-foot square floor tiles, each tile with a letter engraved into it. An inscription at the near end of the pattern of tiles translates to read: "He who walks in my name, shall be rewarded". At the other end of the floor pattern are 2 archways, beyond which the party is unable to see at this time.

The party mulls this over a few times, but is unsure what they must do. Zendril (poor soul) attempts to detect for traps, and finding none, decides to try and run across the tiles to the other side to see if anything happens. Each time he crosses a tile, a bolt of fire strikes him from above. If not for the Ring of Fire Resistance he possesses, he would have died from the blasts. In his rushed experiment, he notices that 3 of the tiles he ran across did not summon a blast of fire, the letters of which spell "T-O-R".

In a glimmer of insight, Theranion (one can imagine a little light going on in his head) realizes the tiles that did not erupt in flame spell the last three letters of the ancient Sun God's name, Amaunator. Scanning the tiles, he quickly traces a path through the puzzle and makes it safely to the other side. Each party member in turn traverses the puzzle safely, while Zendril watches with a bit of embarrassment.

Once the party is all together, they proceed through one of the archways on that side of the room, which leads to a hallway connecting the two archways with 2 doors directly opposite them. They peek inside the left-hand room, and see the third riddle statue standing there in the middle of the room. However, they do not notice the pile of bones right next to it, which suddenly forms into a Bone Golem when they enter the room.

This creature is a twisted blend of an undead warrior and a wizard's golem, sharing their combined strengths but without suffering any of their weaknesses. As the battle would soon prove, magic has almost no affect on it, and only the party's blunt weapons seem to do any real damage to it. It lets out a horrific scream, which sends chills down the spines of all the party members. Both Roc and Nataya are stricken by the scream with an unearthly terror that causes them to flee uncontrollably.

Without Roc and Nataya there to shield them from the golem's onslaught, Zendril and Theranion must beat a hasty retreat back across the puzzle. They hope to use the puzzle to their advantage, attempting to coax the golem across the tiles and take damage from the bolts of fire that are triggered by its passing. To their horror, the golem appears completely unaffected, and strides across the floor towards them.

As they run back down the hallway towards the entrance, the golem mere paces behind them, Nataya and Roc slowly come out of their magic-induced fear. Nataya is none too happy about being magically feared, and tears off toward the golem with vengeful zeal. Roc also joins the fight, adding his own frustration to each swing of his weapon. Finally, Roc scores a critical blow, and shatters the upper torso of the golem with a well-placed thrust of his sword. What remains of the golem falls apart onto the floor, and the party tries to find a place to rest and mend their wounds once more.

Once they have rested up, the party returns to the room with the third riddle statue. There, they find the statue has been tampered with, its sealed compartment ripped apart and its contents spilled out on the floor. Considering what they had just gone through, they had few doubts the Bone Golem was responsible. Among the bits of treasure, they find a second sun gem which will allow them to dispel the last wall of shadows that blocks their way further into the temple.

The party next goes to the door to the right of the room that contained the golem, and peers inside. Inside is a small storage closet, and a whisper of a voice calls out from a darkened corner of the room, "Have you come for the holy symbol, flesh-ling? I will tell you where I hid it, but you must help me first."

From out of the corner steps a shadow creature, and the party quickly readies their weapons for a fight. The creature, however, puts its hands up defensively, and pleads that it has no wish to fight the party. As it turns out, the creature has been trapped here as a form of punishment from its master. It's only wish now is to escape its prison, and perhaps get a form of revenge on its estranged master. If one of the party members is willing to allow it to hide in their shadow, and take it back across the puzzle to freedom, it will tell the party where it hid one of pieces of the Sun God's holy symbol, and leave the party as it found them.

The party is none too keen on this idea, but they also know they can easily defeat this single creature should it renege on its bargain. They also make it clear to the creature what their intentions are should it attempt any trickery. After much debate, the party leads the shadow creature back across the puzzle to freedom. It quickly describes the exact spot in the room where it hid the item, and disappears into the darkness before the party has the chance to consider whether or not to kill it.

The party searches the room for the spot as described, and soon finds a hidden cache of items, including the Dusk Symbol, and a scroll containing the first and second parts of the Dusk Ritual. With all three ritual scrolls in their possession, the party compares the known parts of each ritual and draws on Nataya's basic knowledge of priestly rituals to figure out what the missing parts of each ritual are.

They first return to the statue of the Dawn Ritual, and test their theories. To their surprise, they are successful in answering the statue's riddle, and retrieve the Dawn Symbol along with some minor treasure. They next go to the statue of the Noon Ritual, and try to answer its riddle, but fail the first attempt. After some more discussion, they try again, and are successful this time.

Once they have all three parts of the holy symbol in their possession, the party combines the pieces with the amulet given to them by the ghostly priest of Amaunator to form the Amulet of the Sun. With the Amulet of the Sun now complete, they have but to find the Shadow Lord and destroy his foothold in this realm before time runs out...

Lair of the Shadow Lord

While investigating a series of murders in the Umar Hills, the party has found themselves trapped in an ancient temple overrun with shadow creatures, and have uncovered a plot by a lord from the demi-plane of Shadow to invade their world. It is now up to the party to stop this shadow lord before he can amass the power he needs to open a permanent gateway between the planes.

Thus far, the party has managed to uncover a number of items leftover from a time when the church of Amaunator was at its peak, items which will help them defeat the shadow lord. With these items now in hand, they proceed down the temple corridor to a set of stairs leading further down into the temple.

The stairs end in a short landing, with an elaborate archway separating the stairs from the grand room beyond. This room is over 100 feet across, in the shape of an octagon. 20 feet out from the corners are elegant stone pillars, with large arches supported between them, and each pillar supporting a large golden mirror. Above all this is the ceiling, which once was a glass dome held up with an intricate metalwork frame, deisgned to maximize the amount of sunlight entering the room.

The room must have once been a beautiful sight to behold, but in the dimmed shadowy light, it has become a place of fear. The ceiling dome has since been shattered, the stonework and metalwork allowed to tarnish, and in the center of it all is a huge sleeping shadow dragon.

Upon first seeing the dragon, the party's first instinct to find a corner to hide in, fearful that the dragon might detect them. However, they quickly remember the ward stone they were given, the one that will allow them to pass undetected past this monstrosity. Roc gets a bit overconfident however, seeing the sleeping dragon as a chance to score an easy victory and perhaps gain whatever treasure it has no doubt amassed here.

The other party members, however, quickly warn him that the ward stone will only protect them if they stay away from the dragon. Any attempt to approach or attack the dragon will dispel the protection of the stone. Without its protection, the dragon will most likely wake and lay waste to the party. For the first time, there is a heated argument between the party members over what to do. Eventually, Roc concedes, and the party begins skirting the outside wall of the room, searching for the antechamber entrance where the shadow lord resides.

Once they find the entrance, the party begins spell and item preparations for the confrontation to follow. A strategy is laid out, protection and augmenting spells are cast, and potions imbibed.

Roc's job will be to engage the shadow lord immediately in melee, and as such, he is given the Amulet of the Sun for protection against the Shadow Lord's energy drain attacks and imbibes a few potions to augment his physical strength and endurance. Nataya's job will be to keep Roc healed as needed, and drive off as many of the Shadow Lord's undead minions as she can. Theranion and Zendril will take care of anything that remains, with Zendril running interference so Theranion can get off his offensive spells.

When they enter the altar room, they find the Shadow Lord has been expecting them. They are ambushed by his minions, but Roc's temporarily enhanced power allows him to break through the rush of the minions and engage the Shadow Lord directly. The spell protections and augmentations cast prior to the encounter help a great deal, and they are able to route the minions within a few minutes worth of battle. The Shadow Lord, however, refuses to die.

By this time, Roc has dealt a number of damaging blows to the Shadow Lord, more than enough to kill even the most battle-hardened warrior. Yet each time Roc landed a blow, the Shadow Lord would regenerate the damage less than a minute later. Roc is beginning to tire, and has taken quite a number of wounds from the Shadow Lord's own attacks. With the minions out of the way, the rest of the party joins in to assist Roc with healing and weapons at the ready.

Nataya stays out of the battle for the moment, concentrating instead on casting healing spells on Roc. Between casts, she catches a glimpse of a thin shadowy tendril that seems to emanate from the blackened altar, occasionally touching the Shadow Lord and apparently reinvigorating him. With the whole room cloaked in swirling shadows, the tendril would have gone completely unnoticed had she not stayed out of the melee battle.

She gives a shout to Theranion, pointing to the altar even as she begins casting a spell. The two of them bathe the altar in fire spells, severing the link between the altar and the Shadow Lord. The Shadow Lord turns and gives an angry shout, just as Roc lands a blow to his now exposed back. A deafening howl sounds through the room as the Shadow Lord falls, the swirling shadows around him suddenly being pulled into a small portal opening above the altar. As the last of the swirling mass of shadows is pulled through, the Shadow Lord's own essence is ripped from his host body and pulled through just before the portal closes in on itself.

With the taint of the Shadow Lord gone, the altar and the rest of room return to their original gold and white marble splendor. Lying on the floor where the Shadow Lord fell is the ranger Marella, her body withered and dying. She looks up at the party and whispers a faint "Thank you", before taking her final breath...