The Garden of Ehnkieridian
The Garden of Ehnkieridian is a chronicle of a D&D campaign run by a DM/writefag named The Prophet !2QMM/7mJM. It currently consists of two parts, originally posted on May 29, 2011 and September 25, 2011, respectively. It contains elements of horror and awesome. The original threads are archived on suptg (part one, part two). The second thread contains both parts, with some minor edits to part one.
The group was quite accustomed to the more common fair of Dungeon, so I did my best to give them a crawl that had very little to do with actual combat.
Traveling on the way to some other adventure, the party came upon a very well to do town. The party very soon noticed the many signs posted for "Adventurers wanted!" and promptly went to the mayor of the town to inquire about the extremely generous reward that was offered. The Mayor explained it like this: there has always been a presence in the town, something benignly nefarious, that doesn't seem to take hold on a person until they've stayed for quite some time, a year to three he responded after an inquiry by the Cleric, and even when it does; it's not in the slightest threatening. He began to digress into how he's lived here his whole life and it hasn't-
The barbarian cut him short, shouting at him, as politely as he could, to tell them what this "presence" was.
The mayor stumbled for words, it wasn't exactly easy to describe. Nightmares and dreams shared by multiple townsfolk, flickering shadows that shouldn't be there, and whispers so quiet you're not sure if you've heard anything at all.
But as benign as it is, it is stunting the growth of his town. Merchants move in and become comfortable, only to be scared away by the phantasms.
The Ranger then asked the obvious question: what can we do about it?
The Mayor told them that as far as they could tell the source of these delusions came from a place deep within the neighbouring woods, some distance away.
Quashing all further questions, the Mayor hesitantly directed the party to seek out a man named Malovahn, the last adventurer to seek out the source, but cautioned us to take what he said with a grain of salt, as his "mind is more feeble than it was".
Curiously this only seemed to raise a red flag for the Barbarian.
Malovahn was easily enough found. His first words after the party greeted him and told him of their intentions were "Don't do it."
He then immediately interrupted the Cleric to ask if the Mayor even them what he meant when he said "he was the last adventurer to seek out the source?"
Of course not. He was the last to come back alive. Since Malovahn and his party had gone into the 'Whispering Woods' to find the cause of the town's troubles, maybe a dozen or so lone adventurers had sought him out to be briefed on what to expect, and where to go. Only he had ever come back. Noticing his many battle scars and ornate, magical equipment the Barbarian, with uncharacteristic concern, asked what the danger of the place was. Malovahn wasn't of much help. "I... I don't know what it was. It wouldn't die. We couldn't kill it, but it's so much more than that. You don't understand. Not even they," gesturing to the townsfolk "believe what I say anymore, and they've seen it themselves!"
The Cleric, leader of the party and a firm believer of the 'we do what we must because it's the right thing to do', told the party to disperse and prepare for the journey ahead, and to gather whatever information they could from the locals.
He then resumed questioning Malovahn alone. Malovahn knew exactly what the Cleric was doing of course, saying that he had already made up his mind to go despite the potential objections of the party, and that was even more reason not to go.
The Cleric remained firm, however, and countered that since he had already made up his mind, Malovahn might as well tell him everything he knows to help their chances of survival.
A bit begrudgingly, Malovahn agreed.
Malovahn had been a former adventurer who had sought to retire in this pleasant town, but as the phantasms took hold in him, he and his old friends resolved to rid the town of the fiendish influence. He admitted, however, that most of what he could relay about his his last dungeon crawl would be of little or no use to the Cleric. He would have to experience it for himself. He relayed what he could, but more importantly, he would give the Cleric something he had held onto for all this time: his map of a keep, the suspected source of the influence deep within the forest, since the Cleric and his party were as of yet the only ones to undertake this task as a group. He warned him though, pointing to a long corridor filled with row upon row of doors at each side, once the party reaches this place, they might not find their way back. The Cleric kind of scoffed at this sentiment, but returning to his very pious and concerned self, he somewhat unfortunately asked Malovahn what had happened to the members of his party.
Malovahn became very distraught and inarticulate. He said they were still with him, he could hear them and see them at times. He knew they were still alive because he had seen them in the garden. Despite his concern and his attempts to help the man, at this point the Cleric was unable to do anything more for Malovahn, and took his leave.
The party had done as the Cleric had asked, and, unsurprisingly to him, had began to doubt.
The Ranger, the Rogue, and the Sorceress mildly objected to going. The druid wanted to investigate. The Barbarian didn't care.
What they had found from the towns people was quite detailed, but of little use. They had been told that for most, the voices were disconcerting, but what made them feel more unsettled were the shadows and the occasional nightmare.
To the party's surprise, the town's shared dreams, that often came as the memory of another person, as well as dreams of a strange garden or long, wandering maze were a topic of much interest and pleasant debate.
The Cleric, taking again his stance of 'We're not doing this for the money, we're doing it because we're heroes!' leads the party into the forest where the real story begins.
As they progress deeper into the forest the first person to hear the drulling noise is the Ranger.
No one else really takes notice or care, but the Ranger begins to step lightly. The druid takes some time to notice, but is suddenly appalled at the state of the forest as they travel deeper and deeper. The trees are in a state of Autumn when they should be in full bloom, but worse than that they seem sickly and dieing, and have been for many years.
As the rest of the party begins to hear the drulling noise one by one, the Ranger realises that it is articulate, there are syllables and words to quiet to make out. While he relays that it must be the whispers the towns people spoke of, the Sorceress points out that the townsfolk said it was fleeting and intermittent, and quite uncommon to happen during the day. The Cleric doesn't admit it aloud but he has second thoughts about this undertaking already, yet immediately squashes any suggestion to turn back.
The party spends their first night in the forest. They all have strange, fleeting dreams, and can barely recall any details upon awaking. During the morning, dark as it still is, the Ranger quickly spots the Rogue intently staring at a tree as the rest of the party begins to move out.
She quietly tells the Ranger and the Cleric that she saw a standing shadow there, flickering in time with the campfire and behaving exactly as it should, but there was nothing there to cast it, even as the Ranger was looking at it.
When she turned back, the shadow seemingly darted to the side, and disappeared.
After a few unremarkable combat encounters and a second night, in which the Cleric had a dream about very gloomy garden, the party arrives at a smallish Keep in the middile of the forest, and at this time they are all catching small phrases of whisper just outside hearing.
The Cleric recalls something that Malovahn had told him, that "they had all seen the garden but none of them could reach it" before taking out the maps and planning the start of the crawl.
He, again, noticing nothing awry with the maps but the Sorceress immediately points out that something is very, very wrong.
According to the quite detailed maps that Malovahn has provided them with, the keep runs well over eight times deeper than it runs high, and towards the end of the map passages and doorways are overlapping each other.
The Cleric scoffs and says Malovahn was a madman and a drunk, but the Sorceress points out that even where the map overlaps itself, Malovahn had maintained his level of detail, that something didn't seem right. The Barbarian gets tired of the arguing and begins to advance alone. As the party enters the keep the Cleric has them fan out in twos to scour the rather open upper levels, finding very little. The Ranger, however, holds back near the entrance with the Druid, and proceeds to investigate something that was overlooked by the rest of the party. In an unlit corner he just barely noticed a glint of something that otherwise went unnoticed. A body, almost skeletonized now, that had died in a most spectacular fashion. It would seem it's heavy armor had been torn apart and he had been thrown, and then crushed by powerful arms. More disconcerting however, is that this close to the body they hear the first fully audible whispers in the group. The corpse seems to be talking to itself, without inflection tone or urgency, saying over and over again "I was so close I could have got away I was so close" along side other just as meaningful phrases. The Ranger resolves with the Druid that they should keep this between themselves, but the Druid tells everyone as they regroup about to head into the lower levels.
The rest of the party admits to having similar such encounters. As the Cleric and the Barbarian were searching through the upper rooms, the Cleric opened a dresser to see his shadow cast against the empty wall. He turned to see that there indeed was torch lit on the opposite wall that would place his shadow there, but as he and the Barbarian turned back they both noticed that the Cleric's shadow had not moved with him, and remained exactly in place as the Cleric backed away from it.
The Barbarian then promptly hacked the dresser to pieces.
As the Rogue and Sorceress worked their way through a hallway the Rogue suddenly froze, hearing someone whispering into her ear from behind "What do you hope to find?" She turned to find the door they had just moments ago walked through shut, and locked. The party resolves to continue, but are unsure of the best way to proceed into the depths. As they discuss, the Barbarian again tires of the debate, and strides ahead alone. Indeed there had been nothing encountered thus far that he would not have been able to kill alone. The party of course runs after him.
They soon find him standing above another corpse. This one had apparently drug himself a very long way, stained as the ground was with old blood, leading farther into the depths. What was more strange was that here, very faintly, you could hear the sounds of his last struggle, and as they followed the path of blood they listened to the sound of the man painstakingly dragging himself, foot by tortured foot. Where the blood trail finally began they could hear a conversation taking place. Supposedly, the man was telling Malovahn to get another of his party members to safety, before the sounds of a struggle end it in silence. Apparently this man's name was Deavon.
The Barbarian aside, the rest of the party is at odds about continuing. The Cleric however stands more resolute. These deceased must be put to rest. With that, he and his party disregard the remaining sections of the upper depths, and begin to go deep. As they are descending one of many staircases, the Druid, rearguard as he is, feels something grab onto his shoulder, and turns just in time to see a shadow fade into the wall and whisper "be careful".
Things get progressively worse from there. More whispering corpses. More shadows. It becomes darker and darker, despite torches on the wall or carried by the party, until it seems that the only light that pierces the gloom is the magical light that seems to have been present since the beginning. They then realise there are far more shadows acting around them than they had realized. Whispers around them become coherent from time to time, but all are foreboding. While some speak to the group, ranging from questions to threats others seems to be talking to someone else, or themselves. Not all seem to make sense, however. In the depths they come across another yet another body, and like the second one they encountered it seems to have been a part of Malovahn's group. It whispers "Where are you, Malovahn? Deavon? I can't see you, where are you?" As they go deeper and deeper Shadows begin to flicker constantly out of place around them until they extinguish their torches. At Last they reach a great hall, just large enough for the group to walk through side by side, with sixteen doors on each side of the wall.
Here even the Barbarian faintly feels negative energy radiating from below. The Cleric tells the group he has felt it ever since they set foot in this place.
The Cleric admits to the group that once they pass through the door at the end of the Great Hall, the true challenge begins, but doesn't relay any other details given by Malovahn to the group, except for "if I say to run, we run."
The Barbarian scoffs.
The Sorceress puts away the maps, thinking they will be of no further use, as misconstrued as the map is after this point, but points out that it appears none of these doors were explored by Malovahn's party. The group finds the first few sets of doors to all be unlocked, and all leading straight into a nondescript stone wall directly on the other side. The Rogue proceeds to unlock all the other doors. There is nothing on the other side but a wall. Taking their time, they find three hidden doors behind the first set. All three lead to yet another false door. The party satisfied to leave these doors alone, the party heads to the door at the end of the hall, a small distance away from the other thirty two doors.
The Druid sees that this door is unique. All the other doors are in good condition but this one seems to be rotting, and just barely holding together. As they approach, from between the rotting timbers the Rogue exclaims he saw something move on the other side. When they are no more than five feet from the door, it seems to magically pull itself together, back into the condition of the other doors. As they open the door there seems to be yet only another poorly lit hallway on the other side, and they one by one go through. The Cleric, just as he crosses, turns and notices that all thirty two doors they had opened, and had left opened, were now shut again.
He says nothing.
The hall winds, and twists, and slopes gently downward. The whispers are growing louder. Once in awhile a door appears to a branching path. The Druid volunteers to explore it, since the only branching paths seem to appear from doorways now, but the Cleric says the group MUST stay together now. After only a short distance, however, the Sorceress stops. Opens the maps, and points out that not only has their path been completely different from Malovahn's detailed path, it has, as Malovahn's map points out, lead them in an imperfect rectangle, but they are not at any kind of junction. Standing where they are, there should have been two branching hallways, one that they came from and left down, as well as the one that they now are traveling through, but there is nothing. The Cleric says to continue, but the Sorceress says she wants to go back to make sure she's right. And begins to head off on her own. With no choice, the Cleric and the party follow her. However, as she begins to ascend a very long, gently sloping hallway, it prematurely levels out, and to her horror, begins to slope downward again. She turns to the group and exclaims this is utterly impossible. The Cleric tells the group it doesn't matter anymore, and that they just need to continue on as a group.
The party continues their winding path slowly downward for a very long time without incident.
Eventually, frustrated, the Sorceress says they should try going down one of the branching hallways through a door. The Cleric consents, but says they MUST stay together. The Rogue, also frustrated, demands that the Cleric tells them anything else he might not have shared with the party. He simply replies "If I say to run, we run." After a very long time, the party at last comes to a great hall, just large enough for the group to walk through side by side, with sixteen doors on each side of the wall. They stop. Cautiously proceed to the other side to find there is no door like the one they originally entered through, just more hallway, before they go back and open all the doors. They are all unlocked. They all lead to nowhere. The party resolves this is as good a place to rest as any as the Rogue and the Ranger check for any hidden doors behind the first set. As per the Cleric's mysterious instructions, when they are done searching they close all the doors.
The Barbarian, while on watch, later relates to the group that sometime during his post he saw a shadow standing almost just out of their campfire. However, unlike all the shadows he had encountered before, and indeed unlike the many standing and moving shadows cast by the fire onto the doors and walls, this one was not cast upon ANYTHING.
It just stood there.
And he watched back.
Upon awakening, and after the story related by the Barbarian, the Cleric has a odd feeling, and orders all the doors to be open again.
They are locked. Each, however, open to the same nothingness as before, except for one, which seems to permeate whispers louder than the ambiance.
Upon opening this door they find a very short hallway, no longer than six feet, containing only another emaciated corpse. The Cleric says he will investigate the corpse alone, much to the displeasure of everyone. As he approaches he can hear it whisper "I can't get out I can't find the way out there's no way out" and to his displeasure it would seem to be another of Malovahn's companions. As he stood and began to tell the group there was nothing of interest, on a whim and with a smirk, the Barbarian shuts the door on him.
The Cleric's voice is abruptly cut off.
To the group's shock, when the Barbarian opens the door there is nothing on the other side but a wall.
The group pauses in horror for only a moment before the Barbarian bellows at the top of his lungs.
In reply there is a very feint response a long way away. The group races down the twisting hallway, the Barbarian screaming the whole way until they find another door branching off, and opening it find their Cleric running to them.
As you can imagine, the Cleric quite angrily screamed at his group that that was why 'they needed to stay together'. Calming down, and changing the subject very quickly, he has the party set down, and asks them about the dreams they had just had.
The Rogue says she dreamed about a strange, very gloomy garden, and that there was a standing shadow within it, watching her. It was saying something, and gesturing, but she could not hear it. As she walked closer to it she very briefly caught a glimpse of a face within, horrified, and realized it was trying to warn her of something.
The Druid said he had an odd dream. He was a man in a village. He farmed and worked with his hands. As he was mending tools and talking to someone,he looked down to discover his hands were only shadows, and looked up to find all color was gone, and that the person he had been talking to was only a shadow.
Sorceress said she had a dream like someone else's memory, that she saw Malovahn in it, acting as the group leader.
The Barbarian reluctantly states that he had a dream like a memory as well, of someone running through these corridors horrified at something.
The Ranger relates that he saw a terrible figure, huge, armored, and with a face like a skull asking him strange things as "Do you remember?" and "Open your eyes." as he slowly advanced on him
The Barbarian regards the Cleric suspiciously as asks him where he came from.
The Cleric says when he opened the door he saw another branching hallway, and trying to lead the group to where he was soon became tangled in an apparent change of the pathway.
The group continues their way down.
The voices which constantly goad at them now seem to take on inflection and emotion.
"They haven't seen it yet."
"Why did you come here?"
"It is like a wheel ever turning."
"We see you"
"You can't get out."
The Rogue, after a time, becomes visibly upset, and to the fright of the party shouts out of nowhere, after a long period of nothing, "Why do you think that is?!" to a whisper that apparently said something unsettling to her.
To her alarm, it answers back "because you haven't seen it yet." This incident has the party spend some time trying to communicate with the voices, yet none seem to respond back. One, however, addresses them and all at the same time and all of their inquiries with "In every shadow, a warning."
After a very long way of traveling, the group comes at last to a great hall, just large enough for the group to walk through side by side, with sixteen doors on each side of the wall. The group regards this in a manner I can only describe as a disheartened "Really?" However, they nearly immediately spot a door at the end of the hallway very similar to the one that they opened at the start of their trek. They begin to proceed down the hallway, not even bothering to open the doors beside them, when suddenly one, a short distance ahead of them, slowly opens by itself.
A single shadow strides out of the doorway, and stands in front of the group.
The other thirty one doors all begin to open at the same time, except for one that the Barbarian holds shut.
And from these doors thirty more shadows emerge. They all stand, staring at the group, until the Barbarian roars and charges forth, and then they all begin to attack. The shadows are dispatched with little trouble, their numbers being the largest threat. As the last one is defeated, all the doors in the hallway, row by row, two by two, slam violently shut.
The entire party, particularly the Cleric, is then alerted by a huge surge of negative energy as the last door at the end of the wallway begins to open. The Cleric reacts first.
The party follows.
Until the Barbarians roars and charges towards the door.
The figure that steps through the door has to duck through the doorway to do so.
It is just as the Ranger described him. Larger than the Barbarian, armored, with a skull for a head, and a bizarrely fashioned helmet, made from many skeletal hands.
It asks "Have you seen it yet?"
The Barbarian plows into him and is thrown aside.
"Have you seen the Garden?"
The battle that follows is hard fought, the figure asking questions all the while.
The Barbarian ends it with a powerful strike, and the figure seems disintegrate, and the aura of Negative energy subsides. As the party sets down to rest however, an impatient knock comes from a door behind them, and the negative energy surges back.
The knock begins to splinter the door. The Barbarian is the first one through the door at the end of the hallway.
They run. They run for a long time. The negative energy subsides, and the voices screaming at them return to whispers.
Hesitantly, the party sets down to rest.
Their dreams are more disturbed than before, but the Cleric has confidence that all their progress is still leading them forward. Suddenly, among their paths are ways leading up.
Though some are hesitant, the Cleric has his party avoid these paths. Another day of walking, with two instances of fevered running, though it is of some note that when the Cleric attempts to answer the figures questions, the figure tries to take him instead of horribly mangle him, and that through their dreams the party has deemed the name of this horror to be Ehnkieridian. One dream in particular has the Ranger chained down towered over by three ancient, highly ornamented skeletal figures.
Perhaps their strangest encounter came later that day, when along their path the group stops to hear the sound of heavy foot steps behind them, only a moment before they begin to run, they freeze to hear Ehnkieridian ask "Where are you? I can't... I can't..." It rounds the corner, and staring directly at the players says "I can't see you." It calls out another person's name, and seems to fumble, looking for something. Still approaching the group, they only remain by the Cleric's motioning them not to move. It stumbles and almost falls, calling out names that the Group has never heard, before finally collapsing saying "I can't see you," and evaporating.
At last it seems that no path leads the party down anymore, until no path even is level, it would seem the only way left to go is up.
The Cleric has the group set down to rest.
When they wake, the path is open to them again.
Stairs leading down.
They find a large door. It seems to be on the verge of falling apart, but as the party stares at it, seems to renew itself ever so slightly, before falling apart again.
They open it to find a garden. Everything seems... off here. There is more light here than the rest of the dungeon, but gloomy, without color, and the feel of negative energy is intense. It's quite open here, but the garden itself seems to be in a state of eternal Autumn. The trees and plants seem to be just on the verge on falling apart just as everything down here, but as soon as a leaf touches the ground, a shadow flickers and appears back on the tree.
The party is unsure about how to proceed, however, more so than before, they agree they need to act as a team. The Ranger sees through the thin mists to see figures moving in the distance, and several man made structures.
The Cleric instructs the party to move slowly, as one, and check everything down here.
The Rogue notices the whispers are gone. She only hears people talking in front of them. As the party approaches the first building a figure spots them, and shouts. The rest of the figures spot them, and they altogether disappear into the mists. One solitary grey shadow dashes towards the party. Though it is devoid of features, it is moving as though panicked, perhaps being the one thing that stops the party from attacking it. It shouts "What are you doing here? You're not supposed to be here!" before it turns around to be annihilated by something unseen.
The party begins to work through the buildings one by one. They find shadows doing all kinds of things. Praying to small alters, practicing martial routines, speaking about things that make little sense to the group. As soon as they notice the party, however, they appear surprised, and evaporate. Few attack the group however.
Eventually, after many other non consequential events, a shadow runs to the group and urges it to follow them. As the Cleric feels a surge of Negative energy building, they agree.
Curiously the place it takes them to is devoid of the light that is everywhere in this place.
It is of little use to the group however, as the first thing it tells them to do is flee this place as soon as it's master is gone. The Cleric remains suspicious of the shadow, however. It would appear Ehnkieridian, the armored figure that attacked them, is something of a Wight or a Lich, the shadow can't be sure ignorant as it is with such thing, but it is harvesting all positive energy from this place, trying to return itself to life. But it is also seems to be doing its best to maintain all life here with it's negative energy. This is only the shadow's speculation, however, and the shadow admits to not understanding much else, how or why this is.
The shadow, on inquiry by the Rogue, admits it doesn't even know who it used to be. Every one's memories here seem to run together, as he was sure we've seen in our dreams, as we've seen in its.
He was abruptly cut off however, as it screamed and evaporated. The party turns to the entrance of the small structure to find Ehnkieridian staring at them.
"I see you."
The Barbarian roars and charges, taking the fight outside of the building and into the open the group is able to bring their full weight to bare.
Ehnkieridian is dispatched more easily than before. He has no more questions directed at the group. He speaks but to no one in specific.
"Who truly deserves to live?"
"Can you not feel it?"
As he is struck down this time he does not evaporate. He laughs maniacally, HATEFULLY, and with a greater surge of negative energy he gets back up, more terrible than before. His eyes glow, the joints in his armor pulse with energy, and from his back the ash of the garden and the shadows around him collect into wings. All the damage dealt to the garden during the fight reverts as he gets back up, but the entire garden suddenly appears slightly more ruinous, the light of the garden dims slightly, but most notably the shadows of the garden scream and writhe with pain, and become diminished.
The Cleric stands resolute, but he gives the command to run.
The Rogue insists they retreat the way they came, and think this through, the ranger points out the many corpses they found on their way in trying to escape. The Cleric tells the group that they have to find a way to put down Ehnkieridian, but not if it comes at the cost of the pain or whatever is left of the shadows who reside here. Malovahn said he knew his friends were still alive. Maybe they can be brought back. The problem is Ehnkieridian is no longer pursing the party with a slow walk. He is levitating much faster than the group can move, and they have been weakened by the last fight. The Cleric makes his stand, he'll hold off Ehnkieridian, go deeper into the garden and find what you can. The Druid says she will stay too, despite the Cleric's protests. The Barbarian tries to stay as well, but the Ranger convinces him wounded as he still was he needs to help them find anything.
With that they depart into the mists.
Furiously rushing through the garden, the group notices it getting visibly darker as they continue.
On a whim the Ranger attempts to heal a shadow, which thanks him as it evaporates. There are far too many shadows to heal however, especially without the Cleric and Druid.
They hesitate as they hear a scream a fair distance the way they came. The Barbarian takes command and orders everyone forward. As they start forward again however, the Ranger darts back into the mists. The Sorceress notices long after.
The Sorceress and the Rogue hesitate, but the Barbarian takes the rear position now and practically pushes the remaining two forward.
At last they find something of note, a gathering of statues, and at the center of which is a large amber statue. The Sorceress immediately notices runes and inscriptions, some which she can read and others she can't. There also appear to be multiple receptacles in the stone base of the main statue, and one in each of the seven others. The Rogue immediately sets to grabbing anything that can be taken from the statues and re-arranged, while the Sorceress sets to reading all the inscriptions she can.
"I can still hear them fighting." The Barbarian says, feeling useless.
"We know we're trying!"
"Try re-arranging the runes!"
"They're dying back there."
"Then go back and help them!"
Hefting his weapon, the Barbarian replies "No."
They only had enough time to ask "What?"
As the Barbarian smashes the Amber statue, there is a sudden and terrible roar and then a sigh. The voices of the garden place fade away, as does the unnatural light of the place, for just long enough for the party to see the garden fall to ruin.
They're left in complete darkness.
As the Barbarian lights a torch and runs back to where the fight was bellowing all the while, the Rogue and Sorceress take a moment to notice the trees and the structures have all collapsed into ash and dust, and general ruin.
They also quickly noticed blood stains quite far from where they could hear shouts in response, as well as ribs; torn out of an unfortunate body.
They found the Druid weeping, holding the Cleric.
The Cleric had been slain, gruesomely. Cracked open and agonizingly torn apart rib by rib, but the Druid managed to revive him.
He had not regained consciousness.
The ranger was seriously wounded but fine.
The party resolved not to spend the night here.
To their surprise their exodus was surprisingly short, however. No winding paths. No branching doors. The corpses they found as they left remained silent. The Cleric had awakened, but he remained mostly silent, content to let the Barbarian lead.
The Rogue asked if Cleric thought what they did was right.
The Cleric said he didn't know.
The trip back to the town was as uneventful. No shadows. No whispers.
When they arrived, as the rest of the group went to the Mayor, who paid their reward in full, cured as he was and by all accounts the towns people were, the Cleric said he was going to an Inn to rest.
He instead sought out Malovahn.
Malovahn almost seemed to know he was coming. Their conversation was quite short.
"You still hear the voices, don't you?"
"I do too."
And that's all there was.
Things went on as they had for some time. The quest that the party had put on hold to pursue the Garden resumed. The Cleric remained quiet and detached. The party was concerned, but their consternation was lessened over time. The Barbarian remained the "leader" of the group, often deferring to the Druid, Ranger, and Sorceress for their cautious, former Cleric-like nature. The details are unnecessary, but it's worth mentioning that there was a struggle between two groups over the inheritance of a kingdom. Neither good, neither bad, but both tried to enlist the help of the party. Eventually, prince they had sided with mildly betrayed them in a gambit to gain leverage, and the party retaliated by switching allegiance. The intelligence they had gained about their former employer would be invaluable, and so the betraying faction sent men out in an attempt to intercept the party.
For the time, the party's quest seemed quite simple. Get to the capitol city and rendezvous with their new faction's contact. The road ahead was long, and there was a large town still ahead to be crossed before they would reach the capitol. As they made camp at a crossroads, the Sorceress, very hesitantly, points out there is a short detour they could make here that would take them back to the town they had liberated from the whispers. Everyone turns to the Cleric.
The Cleric remains silent.
The party does not know, but suspects that the Betrayers may be tracking them and are mindful of their pace to their objective. They resolve to stay on the shorter course, and forget about that town and all it's bad memories. Ironically the Barbarian supports this course of action on the grounds of forgetting their encounter while still wearing Ehnkieridian's massive helmet of skeletal hands over his own helmet.
As the party sleeps, the Cleric attempts to slip away, intent on the detour, and is caught by the Rogue. She alerts the party, and while the Cleric would make this journey alone the Rogue insists on accompanying him. The party worriedly consents to his departure at dawn with the accompaniment of the Rogue. They will arrive ahead of them at the town ahead and wait for them there for three days, at which point they will re-join, and continue to the capitol.
The Cleric and the Rogue's journey to the town is quite uneventful, and uncomfortably quiet for the Rogue. She makes several reserved attempts to find out why the Cleric wishes to go back to the place, along side voicing some sincere concerns for him. The Cleric is appreciative of her efforts, but answers no questions. They arrive to find the town thriving, already much improved from its former state. The townsfolk were happy to meet two of the people responsible for the continued growth. None would say where Malovahn was, however. After a short time the two went to see the Mayor, who greeted them warmly. He regretted to inform the Cleric, however, that Malovahn was dead. He died not long ago, and the entire town mourned his loss. He had, however, left the party's members in his will, and while most of his possessions had been auctioned off, the proceeds given to charity, there were some specific items left to the individuals who freed the down of the unknown influence.
In particular, a sealed letter was given to the Cleric.
Upon reading it, the Cleric stared unnervingly at the Mayor.
"What are you not telling us."
The Mayor shifted uneasily, hesitating.
Malovahn had hung himself.
Again, as he had once before, he quashed all further questions by politely excusing himself as he had a meeting to attend. He encouraged the group to see Ranger Kalen for more details. Kalen was not hard to find, but he was reluctant to go into details. As the law of the kingdom dictated, a suicide was to be buried in unhallowed ground, and Malovahn was buried at the edge of the Whispering Woods, not far from here. Both the Rogue and Cleric could see that the man was uncomfortable talking about it. This time is was the Rogue who asked what the Ranger wasn't telling them. He started babbling about how bodies are often dug up that far from the town by wild animals when he ended the conversation by telling the two it probably would be best if they just visited the grave themselves.
They found the grave defiled, but they both saw something was horribly wrong.
The grave had been dug up, but there were no animal tracks at the grave, no tool marks whatsoever, and the only surviving tracks were leading away from the grave into the woods.
The grave had been clawed open from inside.
The only foot prints from it led into the woods, towards that dark keep.
The Cleric regarded this coldly, and said nothing. The Rogue's trepidation had her fearing for their lives. "What does this mean?" she asked. "I don't know," replied the Cleric. The Cleric started down the rough path towards the keep when the Rogue took his arm and begged him not to go back to that place. "Leave it behind you."
The Cleric stood there staring into the woods.
He stood there for a long time, the Rogue still pleading with him. And then he turned away. He walked to the grave and cast Malovahn's letter into it before turning to the Rogue. "Let's go back, there's nothing left for us here." They both started walking down the path they came from.
The Rogue did manage to see the letter.
All it read was "I understand now."
"Perhaps, in death, you will understand."
The two's detour had been planned out quite well with the main group. Without any kind of delay, the main group would only have to wait two days at their town. If the two moved expediently they might even have meet up with the main group before they reached the town.
But they never arrived.
The group waited for five days in the town for the Cleric and the Rogue. They started down the path they had taken. Not far from the crossroads the group found a solitary knight wearing the insignia of the betraying faction, standing in the middle of the road. Restraining the Barbarian, the group advanced slowly, and alert.
The knight waited patiently for them, and when they were within speaking distance he said plainly "We have captured your Cleric and your Rogue. I will take you to them now. They are being held in an abandoned mine not far from here that our prince has been using to conduct operations from-" Once again restraining the Barbarian, the knight continued at a somewhat more hurried pace, but regarded the Barbarian with amusement. "If you arrive at the mine without me, one of your friends will be killed and the other spirited away. If you arrive at the mine and I am restrained, injured, or otherwise under duress one of your friends will be killed and the other spirited away, probably to some other hideout until we can figure out how to properly negotiate with you to some mutually beneficial understanding and return your people to you." The group was caught off guard.
They politely excuse themselves from talking distance, the knight tells them to take their time. The group is unsure how to proceed, and for a time entertains the idea of forcing the knight to reveal the location of the mine, storm it and atleast try to recover one of their group, as they could revive whomever was slain should they not act fast enough. Cooler heads prevail in dismissing this risky course of action. They know nothing about the size of the mine or the number of guards they would have to deal with, or even if the body of their friend would be left behind or recoverable. Reluctantly they agree to let the knight take them to the mine.
To everyone's horror, what they find is a slaughter. Seeing the large gate into the mine broken apart and the guards outside gruesomely mangled, the knight quickly rides off alone, leaving the group to slowly advance through the mine.
Their course of action would have been wise, this mine was no outpost but a full on military garrison. Working through the mine the group found signs of heavy offensive magic what was left of dozens of well-equipped guards and mages.
Many had their hands ripped off, and several had their faces removed or heads smashed, but the chief most common injury to them were their rib cages cracked open, and many had ribs torn out and tossed haphazardly through the mine. Some seemed to be partially stripped of their gear.
Finally they came to a prison, deep within the mine. searching through many empty rooms and cells they find a single barred cell occupied by the Rogue.
The Cleric and the Rogue had been ambushed on their way back to the group, she related. They had been shackled to the wall of this barred cell, informed that they would be safely returned to their group, and would not be harmed provided they did not attempt escape. The Cleric would have none of it, and raged uselessly against his chains. The Rogue would unsuccessfully attempt to pick the locks that bound then, before unsuccessfully trying to sneak the key from a guard, and being caught. When the Captain of the garrison came to personally discipline her, threatening to beat her, the Cleric flooded him with insult to his honor, his staff, his garrison and everything he stood for.
He struck a note with the Captain, who proceeded to stab the Cleric in the neck.
The Rogue screamed and cried as she helplessly watched the Cleric quickly bleed to death. As the Captain left, thinking the Rogue was properly admonished against escape, they both froze as they heard the Cleric's chains rattle. The Cleric stood, shaking, and began to reach towards the Captain. Walking forward, his chains bent and snapped . Turning in horror to the Cleric he had just killed, the Captain and the Rogue watched as the Cleric began to mumble something before bending the bars of his cell open. The Captain fled the room shouting for reinforcements as the Cleric slowly walked after him.
The Rogue was left alone, but was driven to frenzied attempts to pick her locks as the halls beyond soon filled with screams. Finally, after a length of time, there was only silence. More time passed, and the sound of heavy footsteps built approaching her cell. Still unable to escape, the Rogue screamed for the Cleric.
He arrived, his vestments covered in blood, wearing pieces of tattered and broken armor, garlands of intestines, and most disturbingly a helmet that seemed to have been fashioned from severed hands.
He walked slowly back into the cell, mumbling to himself, the Rogue uselessly trying to talk to him all the while. He hesitated for a moment before tearing off her shackles. While mumbling inconsequentially to her he mentions "I understand now." He then turns to leave, bending the cell's bars back in place before he does. Freeing her with a key taken from a dead guard, the group exits the mine, and begins to follow the path left by the Cleric.
A path that leads them to the edge of the Whispering Woods, heading straight to the Keep that they had hoped never to return to.
And that's all there is,