Our story begins somewhere in the Wilderlands of Zaran, on the westernmost outskirts of the Jalaad ruins. Four strangers awaken on the ground, with no idea of where they are or how they got here. Their heads are pounding, but they none bear any wounds or injuries that they can find. The same cannot be said of those around them. Pulling themselves to their feet, they introduce themselves.
Morgan Raven and Ember Diver are both Sarista. Friends from childhood, Morgan’s father and Ember’s mother disappeared while adventuring 20 years ago, and the two dedicated themselves to one day learning what happened. While Morgan trained as a warrior, Ember devoted herself to more stealthy pursuits, until a relationship with a wandering Mandalan taught her the ways of mandaquan unarmed combat. Neither had seen the other for years, however. Morgan’s last recollection was leaving Sarista in search of adventure, and Ember had just left the east to head back home. Even stranger, Ember finds a strange grey orb in her pouch, but with no idea of what it is or where it came from.
Legoom aka “the Seed” is a gnorl wizard, specializing in divination spells. His last clear recollection was of studying in his home in Werewood. The final member of the group is Kedar, a jaka beastmaster and hunter. He had left Yrmania on a personal quest and had gone as far as Arim last he recalled.
Taking in their surroundings, the four find that the immediate vicinity is a scene of terrible carnage. The remains of a Djaffir caravan are scattered about the area, wagons smashed or burning, bodies everywhere. Examination of the scene raises more questions than it answers. The parties footprints simply appear out of thin air a hundred yards or so to the south, and then directly towards a large building, apparently only recently uncovered. A distinct chill can be felt emanating from the structure. The caravan apparently approached from the east, and the party’s footprints veer off towards it, stopping a dozen yards or so away and not moving from that point. However, there is a fifth set of footprints that appeared with the party’s, and this set does continue on to intersect with the caravan. The dead caravaners bear no obvious weapon wounds. Many seem to have simply died without a mark on them. Others were smashed to death against the ruined walls. Still others appear to have been burned alive.
Turning towards the strange building, the party discovers three more bodies lying half-way between the entranceway and where the party awoke. Three Arianes, all dead. One burnt to death, the second’s heart apparently burst out of his chest, and the third with no wounds whatsoever, aside from a small trickle of blood trailing out of both ears. Like the party, the Ariane apparently appeared out of thin air. Searching the Ariane, the party finds two violet stones which Legoom identifies as Ariane memory stones. The party decides to take them for future study. Examination of the bodies indicates both the Ariane and the Djaffir were slain no more than an hour or two before.
As the party moves toward the building, a scream pierces the air. The party takes off to the west and finds a Cymrilian woman trying to fend off 6 Araq from her 2 children. Nearby lie the bodies of 2 more Araq and 3 humans. A battle ensues and the Araq are quickly defeated. The last attempts to escape, but Kedar drops him with a single well-placed arrow before he can get out of range.
The woman, somewhat distraught, introduces herself as Lyneth. She explains that she is from the Refuge. Her husband and friends – the deceased – were gathering stones for their craftwork. She asks the party for help in returning the bodies to the Refuge for proper burial. Somewhat confused by all that has happened, the party agrees and discovers that they are in fact in the middle of the continent on the outskirts of Jelaad near the Maruk mountain range.
Lyneth leads the group to a valley in the sand dunes. A ½ buried building with vast doors flanked by huge stone reptilian humanoids welcomes the wayfarers. This is the Refuge, founded some 6 years ago by the survivors of a Faradun slave windship crash. The huge temple has many tents pitched inside where crafts people make pottery, baskets and other trade goods. A large dias with a huge bowl overflowing with offerings stands at the far end. Rooms with closed doors line the central isle with the tents.
Telpek, an aged Arimite and his ever-vigilant Kharakhan giant Arcus greets the newcomers and invites them to dinner. Over dinner the adventurers learn that the year is now 652 in the month of Ardan. A wave of disquiet goes through the party as their last memories date from 650. Legoom and Ember pull out their maps. “Their” in the sense that they had them when they woke up and they have each written upon them. The writing, however, is in an unknown language and there are several mysterious circles, squares and hatch marks at various places. Legoom’s map appears to be of the Western Lands, Ember’s of the surrounding area. Telpek identifies the squares as the location of cities, but the circles do not appear to represent anything he is familiar with. The party rests for the night and agrees to accompany the Refuge’s men when they go out on the morrow to investigate the caravan’s demise.
That evening, Ember shows her strange gray orb to Sala, the Refuge’s gnomekin druid. Sala tells her that she has never seen a stone of this type before, and that it is strangely “heavy” and possessed of an unfamiliar power. She offers to study it if Ember wishes to leave it behind, but the monk declines and decides to hang on to it.
The next day the party and 8 men venture forth to the site of the massacre. As they examine the scene, the 4 Djaffir nearest the cold breath of the ruin reanimate as zombies and attack the party. The zombies are easily defeated, but the 3 Ariane bodies are gone.
As the party enters the building, a palpable current of cold emanates from the entranceway. Within lies a huge meeting hall with floor and raised pulpits. As the party examines ancient evidence of benches and explosions, skeletons arise from the wreckage and attack. After disposing of the skeletons, the party finds a preparatory room behind the pulpit. “Free us”, “Free us” plead many voices. Once out of the room, those voices are quiet. The party resists the evil voice which prompts them to split up and explore the myriad of hallways before them, and engage in a systematic search. A magical ring, a pair of bracers, a rod and an ornate carved wand are found with little injury thanks to Ember’s trap skills and Legoom’s spells.
In one room the party battles three powerful skeletons, each possessing a piece of a four-part key. Once the skeletons are defeated, the party finds the fourth-path hidden in a large stone throne, and use the assembled key to open a massive iron door, revealing a dark, cold descending stair with the admonishment to “Guard well the light, lest you free the darkness” carved into the wall in Archaen.
At the bottom of the stair another preparatory room is found. Ancient robes with Golden Suns crumble to the touch. Legoom tells the party that there was an Archaen sect that used such a symbol. The group was supposedly devoted to helping others, unlike so many of their brethren.
The party continues on past a dark hall filled with coffins locked behind bars. The shadows in these areas seem to have a life of their own. Morgan is dissuaded from smashing one open. A pitch black, frosty iron door and a rusted iron door greet the party at the end of the hall. The party chooses to venture through the rusted door first and finds itself in a room full of ornate carved sarcophagi. “May the Holiest rest here in peace” reads the lintel. The sarcophagi depict knights and battle and as the party admires them, a golden light begins to fill the hall. A spirit clad in ancient, Archaen raiment appears. He is Lakellon, Champion of the Order of the Golden.
He tells the party that his Order was entrusted with a great responsibility, the safeguarding of a prison containing a powerful evil, confined in darkness. Then, “the night became like day, the earth shook, the sky cities fell or were blasted into the heavens, and many of our powers were lost.” On the heels of the Great Disaster, the sub-men rose up and attacked, seeking revenge for centuries of persecution and enslavement. The Order fought as best it could, but without their full powers, the final outcome was never in doubt. Once Lakellon fell, the head of the order, Kurvan, broke down and fled to the vault containing the dark prison to try to draw upon its power. He succeeded, but killed not only the attacking sub-men, but the remaining defenders and himself as well, binding their souls to the temple for all eternity.
Now, it fell to the party to end this and release the trapped souls by destroying the undead thing Kurvan had become. Now that the temple has been reopened, it is just a matter of time before Kurvan’s evil spread. If the party agrees to destroy Kurvan, Lakellon promises to open the way for them. He tells them to call upon him when they are ready, and that they may rest in this room without fear.
Kedar is a little perplexed by the admonition of the stairwell and would like to know what sort of light should not penetrate the darkness and what will happen if it does. Lakellon claims that all will be made clear. The party rests and ventures forth the next morning, Lakellon’s spirit leading the way. As he nears the dark door, his movements slow and with just before he touches the door, he turns and entreats the party not to let his sacrifice be in vain. His soul shatters as he touches the door, but it in turn disappears. A gleaming longsword lies where the door was, “Lakellon’s Vow” inscribed upon its blade. Morgan retrieves the sword, and the party continues onward. The hall here is colder than cold and rotting. It seems a loud noise could bring down the ceiling and walls. Doors line the long corridor and pounding can be heard behind several.
The party races to the room at the end of the hall where a skeletal figure awaits them. A huge sphere of solid darkness rests behind him on a dais. Kurvan charges forth to meet the party and a desperate fight takes place. The party looks to be winning when Kurvan suddenly disengages and retreats to the sphere. To the group’s horror, Kurvan draws strength from the sphere and his injuries begin healing before the party’s eyes. Morgan rushes forward to engage him upon the dias and Kedar joins him to try and push Kurvan away from the source of his strength. Ember rushes forward as well, and hits Kurvan with her torch. As Kurvan’s rotting clothes burn, sparks fly from his tattered garments and one mote of light is floats backwards.
Into the sphere.
The sphere contracts suddenly and Kurvan explodes into dust and as massive wave of magical energy rushes from the sphere, though the party is unaffected. Where the sphere stood now a a grey figure in formal Archaen robes appears on the dais, his eyes closed. Morgan steps onto the dais and the figure’s eyes open.
“We cannot thank you enough for securing our release from our most uncomfortable and unjustified imprisonment.” he says in Archaen. “We are Draxus, Master of Shadows, Lord of Shadowguard, and most sincerely in your debt.”
Morgan attempts to strike Draxus, but the Archaen catches his wrist and throws Morgan a good 20 feet through the air. Morgan is discombobulated, and feels a little weaker than he was before. Draxus seems slightly annoyed by the attack, but he acquiesces to tell his story. He reveals to the party that he was unjustly imprisoned by his jealous colleagues some 2200 years ago. A way to achieve immortality was his goal, but he wanted immortality without the nasty aesthetic side-effects and he found it. Enraged with jealousy, his fellow mages imprisoned him in the sphere which the party so kindly dispersed.
As Draxus leaves the room, the two Saristans attack. Morgan, angered by his loss of strength, plunges his sword into Draxus’ chest. The Archaen seems amused, then horrified as he and the sword vanish as the balck sphere forms around him once again.
The party spends the rest of the day collapsing the passageway leading to the room containing the black sphere, then returns to the Refuge to rest. Telpik informs that a few days distant is the Peak of the Oracle, who is said to answer questions for those brave enough to face his three tests. Having a great many questions and no answers to go with them, the party decides a trip to the Oracle is the next order of business.