“Danger was the grindstone on which the swordsman whetted his spirit.” — Eiji Yoshikawa
Vree’ree Everhurden, Arlan Strangeways, Loral Mezzaleereryie, and Tessa sorted through the Pesheour family cache, taking items that they desired. After the soldiers from Camp Vengence parted ways with bags of coinage and a few magical items, the rest of the party took a well-deserved rest.
Afterward, Loral decided to remain at the cache and protect it while the others entered the lower levels of the castle. They walked down the wrought iron stairway and discovered that a children’s nursery rhyme about magpies was engraved on the door in Elvish. Arlan and Vre’ree worked together to discover that the door required a Gift of Silver to deactivate the protective wards and allow entry into what they would soon find was called “The Black Keep.”
They found that the red glow came from the bricks and flagstones of the Keep’s interior. They radiated a blood red glow that made them feel unsettled and uncomfortable. As they entered the first room, they hear a low, throbbing moan echo from somewhere beyond. Was it some monster or a horn? They couldn’t be sure.
Investigating the room they noticed two hollow stalagmites filled with fresh, bubbling spring water. They also found a menacing green-faced demon door to the West and a reinforced oak door to the North.
The Northern door opened to a shrine of some kind dominated by a large statue of a robed figure. A pile of copper and silver coins lay at the base of the statue. However, as soon as the door opened they heard a loud, monstrous scream come from somewhere ahead and out of sight. Vree’ree immediately had his Unseen Servant close the door, moving instead to push open the green demon-faced door.
The door opened to reveal a large den. Four Spawn of Kyuss lumbered forward, growling and screeching at heroes. And as soon as the worm-infested zombies were destroyed, they heard more coming from the West, somewhere out of sight in the den. They ambushed the next six Spawn who lumbered into view, only to have the North door flung open to reveal four more of the monsters. Tessa cut one down with her Sun Blade, kicking the door closed in the face of the next one allowing enough time for Vree’ree and Arlan to get into position to used their spell when the zombies forced the door open again.
Arlan called on the divine might of the Tempest, turning the Spawn of Kyuss and revealing another threat: a gigantic dracofrog otherwise known as a DracoBeelzebufo. The huge monstrosity had been lingering invisible within the den waiting to ambush the heroes.
The DracoBeelzebufo spasmed, a glow coming from it’s hideous ribcage, and two Spawn of Kyuss tumbled from its mouth. The zombies lumbered towards the heroes, driven by their lust to infest the living with their green brain-eating worms. Strangely enough, a voice echoed from the huge undead frog, saying: “Doomed! Doomed! We are all doomed! Why have you come to the Black Keep?!”
To the surprise of the heroes, the DracoBeelzebufo opened its wide mouth and exhaled a stream of lightning into the room, scorching the heroes. Then as they recovered from the blast, they watched in horror as the monster phased through a solid wall to enter the room with them.
The DracoBeelzebufo chomped as Arlan, missing him but instead devoured Vree’ree. The Dark Elf tumbled painfully through the creature’s boney insides, torn by sharp shards of bones until finally coming to rest within its prison-like rib cage.
The battle continued, however, the voice continued to speak through the frog. During the dialog, the heroes noticed tat whenever they mentioned The Death Curse, the voice would say: “Doomed! We’re all doomed! Acererak cannot be stopped!” Realizing that the voice was speaking of the legendary lich Acererak (pronounced “ah-SAIR-ak”) they decided to begin bargaining with the monster to learn more.
The voice offered to tell them about the Death Curse and Acererak if they would leave the Black Keep and never return. (The Black Keep, of course, is the lower levels of Castle Adikos.) Agreeing, a lich appeared near the DracoBeelzebufo to speak with the heroes.
The Lich claimed to be the mighty King Pesheour himself. The explained that Acererak came to the Black Keep and tricked him into giving him a device known as The Soulmonger, essentially a super phylactery. In exchange, Acererak gifted Peheour with arcane knowledge. However, what Pesheour didn’t know was that Acererak had created a vile and powerful atropal which the lich combined with the Soulmonger.
Now, according to Pesheour, Acererak has built a new tomb called The Tomb of Annihilation within the Lost City of Omu in the jungles of Chult. Acererak is using the Atropal to power The Soulmonger, trapping the souls of the newly resurrected. The Soulmonger is also trapping the souls of creatures like liches who would usually be able to safely return to their phylacteries to await resurrection. With a resurrected body being deprived of the essence of its soul, the body and mind begin to slowly wither away, resulting in what is being called The Death Curse.
Acererak might be able to be stopped if The Soulmonger’s Atropal is destroyed. However, Pesheour believes it is foolhardy because few know the location of Omu, and Acererak had unleashed a horde of zombies within the Chult jungles to hary those seeking to find it. And then even if Omu is found, it would be impossible to penetrate the Tomb of Annihilation successfully to face Acererak.
“Doomed,” says Pesheour. “We are all doomed.”
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