After discovering that the Keep on Storm Mountain had become re-occupied, a return was inevitable. Even the High Chancellor seemed to think this was an important mission. Unfortunately, no one had been to the keep in a very long time and it is said that it cannot be found unless you have been there before. The Chancellor decided to send Prince Rhys ap Rhys to garrison the Keep which was a bit of a questionable decision based on the evil that stirred there. In this case arguing with the High Chancellor would have gotten us nowhere since he was adamant about the Prince being the one to guard the Keep. Perhaps he is trying to provide for a strong succession when the current Brenin is no longer able to rule.
The Prince and his entourage set out for the Keep led by several adventurers who had been there before. While I didn’t have first hand knowledge of the Keep, I did have the stories my father told me about the adventures he had there and what he encountered. My mother told me a few things as well since she had first hand experience in the Keep as well. It was once the fortified refuge of the High Wizards of Gyruff. High Mages Lucien (Rhola) and Vargalian convinced a third High Mage, Alasdair, to support them in using the Well of Souls to aid Gyruff in its war with Keoland. But the Well is altogether evil and cannot be used for good. The two mages unleashed a hideous undead army in the Stark Mounds that killed anyone that had even a trace of Keoish blood, a side effect they likely did not anticipate.
As soon as the Well was activated it had devestaing effects on the mages and the troops stationed there. They became suspicious of each other and believed that the other was plotting against them. In the end, the mage Alasdair poisoned all of the guards and was himself destroyed by Ariel Firehart who had strongly opposed the plan from the beginning. Unfortunately she was overwhelmed by the mages Vargalian and Lucien and locked in a cell where she died. The two mages then loosed the evil of the well on the world and it suffered until Ban Cant 31 discovered the Keep, destroyed the two mages and the throne controlling Well of Souls. The controlling device was fractured but not completely destroyed which came back to haunt Gyruff as we found out later. The Well of Souls is a portal to the Negative Material plane and could not itself be destroyed at that time. If only a powerful Positive Material Plane artifact could be found to counter it.
The trip back was marred by two separate attacks by Orcs of the White Skull. Both were repulsed with no significant casualties but they were definately well organized and planned. There is still a spy in Gorna despite Lady Eldoran’s purges. We were accompanied by High Mage Thomlin Pebblebottom, or so it seemed at the time. He would have nothing to do with anyone in the camp and stayed distant at all times. Every night he dissappeared only to reappear in the morning, quite strange indeed. This activity became much clearer later.
Arriving at the Keep we found the main gate closed and locked and the battlements manned by skeletons. After pitched battle, we were able to take the gatehouse and open the gates. The monk led the charge to the gatehouse by scaling the walls and attacking the skeletons inside. Unfortunately he was overwhelmed but was able to open the gates before he fell. This gave me an opportunity to climb the steps to the gatehouse and try to draw some attacks. The party cleric, Morrik was able to rouse the monk by casting a healing spell through the murder holes of the gatehouse ceiling. The monk finished off the remaining skeleton just as I dropped in on them. The remainder of the party headed for the Keep’s main doors and found them locked. The dragonborn rogue that had accompanied us was able to pick the locks and open the doors.
Once inside the entry hall we found that the table that we had overturned in the previous fight had been set back in place indicating that someone had reoccupied the Keep again, or more likely had been in the lower levels which we did not explore on the prvios trip. After a systematic search of the upper levels we cleared out the remaining goblin skeletons, obviously the reanimated corpses of the goblins we had killed on our last visit. My arrows of acid were particulary effective against these foes. We carefully avoided the most dangerous of the haunts in the Keep and the party wizard, who had not accompanied us before, experienced the vision of Ariel Firehart’s incineration of the mage Alasdair after he had poisoned all of the guards. A fairly “safe” haunt so I was not concerned for him. The Griffon Guards secured the territory behind us and helped finish off the last of the skeletons but many were overtaken by fear as the haunts continued to assault their senses. Being aware of these haunts and having experienced them before gave me some protection from their affects but it was still disturbing.
With the upper floors secure it was decided to rest for the evening. This was a fateful decision as it turned out. Many of the Griffon Guard along with the Prince sucumbed to the haunts frightening presence. As adventurers we decided to push ahead and one of the Griffon Guards and a Sathweri joined us. Thinking back on the story my father told me about exploring the lower ruins, I vaguely remembered that there was an illusionary pit trap at the bottom of the stairs leading to the Well of Souls. We found and avoided it. We also found the remaining member of Llwyr Gaelyn Arweth’s lost party, still a stone statue in the hallway. Next came a lever on the wall. Honestly, I did not recall this being mentioned in any of the stories but took a chance and pulled the lever. A grinding noise was heard from behind the door and when we opened it only a corridor stretched into the distance. We found the cell containing the remains of Ariel Fireheart a short ways down the coridor. A permanent antimagic field filled the cell, obviously to keep her from burning down the door, where she had been imprisoned and died. The mage was very interested in the dagger that was in the cell, probably because he had not been able to affect it from the outside. I gave it to him as a souvenir since it was only an eating dagger, most likely. I asked Morrik to perform a ceremony for the dead and after it was complete we moved on. The bones would later be retrieved and given a proper burial by the Prince.
Proceeding further down the tunnel we cam to the main room containing the Well of Souls. It was of course occupied. Over two dozen skeletons including a pair of ogre skeletons were arrayed in the room around the Well. I and several others were able to sneak into the room and take up solid battle positions before the party was noticed. I loosed an arrow of frost into one of the ogre skeletons, damaging it with magic and slowing its movement temporarily. In the end this turned out to be important as the ogre skeletons were able to dish out tremendous damage and keeping it from reaching us quickly allowed the mage to lay down a grease spell that nearly immobilized the creature for several rounds. I quickly warned everyone to stay clear of the pool remembering what horror lurked withing. For the most part we were able to avoid attacks from the creature, save the monk who ventured a bit too close to the edge. Nobody got pulled in so we avoided the taint of the well. Ser Blodwyn ap Aeron, ap Aeron – I wonder, charged in and atacked the other Ogre skeleton. He was quickly surrounded and took a beating from the creatures. It over extended our right flank a bit which in the end probably prevented us from reaching him before he died. He fought bravely and should be remembered as a hero. After pitched battle involving lots of magic, we were lucky to have many competent spellcasters, we were able to take down the skeletons and the goblin clerics before their spells could do too much damage. It was the cleric, Morrik, that really turned the tide of the battle. Invoking the power of his god he drove away almost half of the skeletons attacking us allowing us to focus our attacks to devastating effect.
The throne had been repaired and as we finished the battle, Ser Blodwyn started to rise as a vampire spawn – animated by the magic of the Well. Fortunately, during the time we had been cleaning up the battlefield and finishing off the last skeletons, the mage approached the desicated figure still seated on the throne. The figure was missing his left hand no less. The mage pushed his way through the force buble surrounding the figure and knocked it off the throne, somehow even in death it was controlling the Well of Souls. The rising vampire spawn, now being joined by the spirits of the slain clerics, immediately disintegrated and the battle was finaly over.
We returned to the upper levels to recover from battle and inform the Prince of the results. Speaking privately with the Prince, I told him all I knew about the Keep and the Well of Souls so that he would know what he was facing and prepare for it. I also recommended that the Throne be utterly destroyed and scattered about the courtyard to ensure no one could rebuild it with the remains. I took a small piece of the Throne myself as a momento of this adventure. I am sure it still contains a small fraction of the evil magic the throne once contained, but hopefully separated from it, the fragment will be powerless. I have a message from the Prince to the High Chancellor to deliver so I must head back to Gorna. I also need to look into what is going on with High Mage Pebblebottom. He dissapeared immediately after the battle, almost as if he was keeping an eye on us and monitoring what we found and did. It appears that the High Mage that accompanied us was nothing more that a projected image, to what end I am uncertain.