The Later Levels
The companions continued adventuring after the first winter set in. Drewen became a more proficient fighter than he had been the previous summer. Through practice Lana also grew more capable with her dagger, also acquiring new magical spells and improved casting ability.
Threy also developed spellcasting ability, as his Immortal patrons acknowledged their servant's progress, and his powers of turning the undead increased. The acolyte was, however, plagued by dreams and dark tidings, for the Immortals of Chaos whom he served were displeased that their cleric was doing little to convert others to their ways of free-thinking. Qualities such as anarchy and hedonism were contrary to the teachings of the more established faiths, yet Threy made no attempt to compete with the local and more popular ideologies. Rather, he seemed solely concerned with improving his personal circumstances. Thus Threy received warnings that he should pursue his faith more strictly, lest his clerical powers be denied him.
It was around this time that the heroes met the ruler of the village of Verge near Threshold - Lady Halia Antonic, herself a magic-user and a keen geographer and historian. An uneasy relationship formed, since Lana was unsettled by the fellow mage whose spells mirrored those within Lana's own repertoire. Halia explained how she and her husband, Sir Retameron Antonic, were given no respite from gnoll raids upon their village.
At Sherlane Halaran's suggestion, the companions and their retainer Otto tried to protect Threshold against the threat of lycanthropy, as they battled nightly against werewolves emanating from the dense woods outside of town. Lana used some of her savings to purchase a dairy cow named Bella, which she tethered outside her master's tower. Tragically, Bella was devoured by the werewolves while the party's attentions were diverted during a cloudless night of the full moon.
Drewen, Threy and Lana ventured to Fogor's Isle to clear the town mill of an insect infestation, befriending a gnome named Bifgug in the process. During this adventure the party acquired a man-sized statue made of solid silver. This was transported to Threshold's treasury using a Floating Disc spell, then onward by boat to the merchant city of Kelvin where it sold for thousands of gold pieces.
Led by Drewen, the companions also journeyed to an abandoned dwarven stronghold of Sith Hergon, deep within the Black Peak mountains. Within this vast underground complex the companions' minds were exposed to a unique magical phenomenon, resulting in knowledge of the history of the dwarven nation of Rockhome being implanted within the minds of all three.
Other adventures followed - such as uncovering a group of scheming doppelgangers within Threshold and fighting bugbears outside the town of Luln where the party befriended the local ruler, a female swordswoman named Sascia. They were made to feel welcome in the newly-founded town, and spent several days there.
A charming fellow ... the theft of the ring
One night while in Luln, an unusual-looking man entered the Inn's bar room and seated himself at a table. He was tall and obese with an equally chubby face, and balding. There was an odd air to this man, a charm which none present could place their finger upon. The stranger would quickly befriend whichever patrons he spoke with. Stranger still, people offered him gifts after mere moments of conversation - drinks, trinkets of jewellery, even amounts of money were seen to change hands. This unusual behaviour aroused Drewen's suspicion and warily the dwarf went to speak with the man. Lana watched from a distance as the two conversed, and was startled when her friend returned with nothing untoward to report. Was there a glaze across his eyes, though? Lana next introduced herself to the man, seating herself at his small table. The stranger's name, he revealed, was Yuri Kopurnikov, yet he would say nothing about his background or trade, or what brought him to Luln.
As her mind wandered for the briefest of instants, Lana found herself staring into the man's pig-like eyes... and realised she was entering a complacent, enthralled state. There was nothing she could do to resist, the man had beguiled her. The mage found herself handing over her most powerful posession - a solid silver ring, highly magical, enchanted with the power of telekinesis. The man decided he would accept the gift, pocketedthe ring and gave Lana his thanks.
Protest as she might, she could do nothing to get her ring back. The man took his leave, stepping out of the inn and into the night. When Lana later came to her senses, irate at having been duped, she vowed to recover her stolen property. There was definitely more to Yuri than met the eye.
A further concern was that on the same night as Yuri had appeared in the town, a barmaid was found dead in an alley - her chest looked to have ripped apart by inhuman claws. The companions suspected Yuri to be involved, for no such crime had been committed in Luln's history... until Yuri arrived.
The threat of the black dragon
After a week enjoying Luln's hospitality, the party ventured into nearby Blight Swamp. A young black dragon named Falaryx was reported to be holding the town to ransom under the threat of mass killings. Blight Swamp was known as a desolate place - rumours abounded of zombies, ghouls and more potent undead roaming the marshes. After scouring the swamp for days, the dragon's lair was located and the three companions engaged the beast. The young wyrm was haughty and arrogant, gifted in tongues and capable of casting magical spells. The fight brought all four party members close to death; Drewen, Lana and Threy were blasted in turn by the dragon's acid breath. Threy nearly died from an especially heavy blast, falling to his knees amid the mire, but kept breathing through the intervention of his Immortals patrons. The fight was close but the rewards were great. Drewen acquired a quiver of magical crossbow bolts and an enchanted shortsword, Threy a rod of cancellation magic, and Lana a new scroll - one to conjure lightning, though this was a spell she could not yet master. It was decided to visit Specularum, the capital of Karameikos to have other acquisitions properly evaluated.
With Otto in tow the companions set out for Specularum, following the Duke's Road and stopping at hamlets and farms along the way. Frighteningly, they were pursued by an unseen apparition. An Invisble Stalker had been sent by the wizard Bargle the Infamous, of whom the black dragon Falaryx had been an ally. On learning of his associate's demise, and having lost a useful pawn, Bargle wished the heroes dead. After fleeing and strife all the way along the Duke's Road, it was only with the intervention of a powerful cleric in one of Specularum's cathedrals that the assassin was banished. The exhausted travellers were grateful to have survived their harrowing ordeal.
An enemy within ... the founding of the Inn
Whilst in Specularum, the adventurers discovered that the remnants of the doppelganger clan they had driven out of Threshold had regrouped in the capital, and were seeking to replace figures of state. This, it seemed, was part of a greater plan to erode Duke Stefan's power. Unwittingly stopping by the doppelgangers' headquarters, each of Lana, Drewen and Threy were confronted by replicas of themselves - assassins meaning to dispose of and replace their counterparts. Surviving the attempt on their lives, the enraged companions traced the ringleader to his home in the affluent residential area known as Bricktop. The lead doppelganger was a magic-user and had for years been masquerading as the sage Deceptus Vezaron, a collector of paraphernalia and obscure magical items. The party's attempt to expose this villain culminated in a magical chase between Vezaron and Lana Budanter through the city streets. Lana kept him from fleeing beyond the market place until finally Drewen's hammer, before a crowd of hundreds of onlooking citizens, put an end to the scheming shapeshifter's life.
Word of the party's accomplishments reached Stefan Karameikos himself. As a reward, the three were granted ownership of the doppelgangers' estate. Much of this had been transported away however a considerable amount of gold remained on top of spell scrolls, potions, and by no means least the house itself which had served as the doppelgangers' headquarters. The acquisition of this property gave Lana and Drewen the chance to fulfil one of their shared dreams - to run an inn. Thus the interior was renovated and became Specularum's newest lodging and dining establishment - The Flying Ferret. Lana was an expert cook and would manage the paperwork; Drewen would staff the bar and take care of drinks; it was suggested Threy might assume responsibility for the stables. It was also agreed that the sullen cleric should keep watch over the Inn's patrons each night, and step in at the first sign of rowdiness. Thus the Inn was set to run smoothly for months.
While in the city, Lana made use of the laboratories of the Magicians' Guild to create a new spell - a variation on Magic Missile, comprising many smaller missiles which could each be directed at separate targets. The spell was named 'Amber Shards' and Teldon, Head of the Guild, expressed his approval.
A return journey to Threshold had been talked about for weeks. The route would take the companions over a hundred miles north, upriver past the merchant city of Kelvin. Lana was eager to teach her master Amber Shards, and to catch up with old friends. She was startled when a letter arrived from Threshold, in which Valtanivark described to a man who sounded disturbingly like Yuri. This spurred the companions into action and they departed for the north immediately.
Return to Threshold
Arriving in Threshold, the companions found Yuri and confronted him publicly, accusing him of being a shapeshifter. Yuri laughed in their faces, belittling their claims and mocking them with an inordinate amount of charm. Same as before, the three friends felt a strange influence clouding their minds, emanating from the man's piggish eyes. Lana was familiar with the Charm Person spell, which had an effect such as this, however the man made no spellcasting gestures nor did he speak any incantation. This time Drewen, Lana and Threy proved capable of resisting whatever magic was at play. They had other hurdles to overcome however, as Yuri had worked to engender the goodwill of many within Threshold. After all, he had been in town for weeks. Thus the party's allegations of Yuri's suspicious nature fell on deaf ears. Lana even watched as the obese man used her ring of telekinesis to alter the outcome of dice games he played with unwitting townsfolk.
The companions felt justified when they broke into the luxurious suite Yuri was renting in the inn, in an attempt to unearth evidence of his motives. And they found some - gnawed human bones beneath his bed. This evidence was presented to Threshold's overseer - Patriarch Sherlane Halaran, a high-ranking cleric within the Church of Karameikos, who accepted the party's evidence and sent his guards to apprehend Yuri. It came to light that Yuri was indeed a devil swine, a powerful lycanthrope capable of transforming into a huge boar. The gloves he wore on both hands were NOT to conceal claws, as the party had suspected, but were to keep his flesh from coming into contact with the solid silver of Lana's ring.
Now back in Threshold, the companions were able to unwind, meet friends and rest. Drewen moved back into his small cottage, while Lana moved back into the room which was kept for her in her master's tower. After persistent cajoling from Lana, Threy was persuaded to take up residence within the tower walls. It was during this period in Threshold that the party would gain two important additions.
Read the next instalment - The Later Levels, Part Two
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