While our heroes had only been in Hell for a short period of time, two years had passed in the mortal realm.
They returned to Dragonskeep to find the lands and the castle battleworn, ruined from two years of continuous assaults.
But to their relief they found Dragonskeep still standing and to add to the joy they found Thorga’s partner, the Halfling Ms Gentlefeet, alive and well. Furthermore, she had Thorga’s twins, Tjalfe and Røskva at her side, now 2 years old.
With som many questions, but exhausted from the journey, the heroes went to bed.
What had happened
At breakfast the next morning, The Hellbeners learned that after they left to hunt the trolls, the assault of the Necromancers had intensified. The Necromancers had only played a small part in the Battle for Dragonskeep.
But while the defeated Drow armies had retreated back to the Underdark, the Necromancers had used the dead of the battle to bolster their army making them a force to be reckoned with.
Furthermore, the infighting Necromancers had been unified under a leader only know as The Iron Lich, simply because the only known information was a vague description of a creature that looked like a skeleton of iron… the description had an uncanny resemblance to dreams Pestilence had had recently of a skeleton of iron.
The heroes also learned that High King Regulus Tappo had been killed early in the war and his wife, the ferocious and highly capable military leader, Juliana, the Beacon of Dragonskeep, had taken command of both the nation and the army.
Leading from the frontlines every day, she had become the hope of the people, the hope in a hopeless battle. For each time a soldier was lost, the enemy gained a soldier.
A rumbling from below
Suddenly, the breakfast was interrupted by rumbling noise by the nearby castle wall. From the base of the wall a hole emerged half from the ground and half from the cracked wall itself.
A horrifying creature made of metal and bones with a horse skull as head, emerged from the ground crushing stone in its mighty jaws.
The terrifying sight was too much for Thorga who shaken with fear for his family, was unable to gain control of his senses other than a paternal instinct to save the children.
Following the horrible Deathripper, a flood of skeletons came up through the hole.
The heroes quickly retreated, while the fear striken Thorga took the blunt of the attack while Mrs Gentlefeet and Kaari helped the children escape.
Kaari’s pet owlbear, Polly started screaming at the dull-minded. undead and successfully frightened several of them.
Pestilence ran into the middle of the undead and cast Arms of Hadar killed almost all before the next wave of undead emerged. The second wave of undead turned out to be magically enhanced with powerful metal augments.
The heroes realised civilians in the middle of the battle tried to carry crates to block the hole.
Kaari realised something bigger was needed and her and Thorga coordinated a move of a heavy cart.
Having regained his composure, Thorga jumped on top of the cart to make short process of several of the undead to clear the path and together with the civilians, the heroes managed to push the undead back and close the hole.
A deep dive in history and myth
Looking at the remains of the undead it became clear that while some where created from recent casualties of war, some where much older with unknown symbols and crests.
With the help of the librarians, the party was able to recognise the symbol of Castle Rostak, which was a sheaf of golden corn on a blue background.
Castle Rostak was previously thought to be a myth with fireplace stories of Thaddeus and Adelyn Rostak. Thaddeus had had an affair with an drow maid named Baltana Ilalal.
Thinking he was untouchable as the lord of the lands, they became embolden in their forbidden affair. But Thaddeus was not beyond his wife’s wrath. She made a pact with the Black Dragon Grindrax, who lived in Dragonskeep.
Grindrax, hating the Drow, readily agreed to exploit a secret way into Castle Rostak and kidnap Baltana to take her to Dragonskeep where the screams of her agony, amplified by the dragon’s foul magic could be heard all over the land.
Thaddeus too weak to face the dragon, turned to dark arts and sacrificed his wife to face the dragon, but too late as Baltana had died from the injuries inflicted by Grindrax.
What the Rostak story had to do with the undead attacking was unclear, but looking at the ancient tomes, it seemed Castle Rostak would have been located in the Lush Lands to the South… same direction the undead came from.
However, since the lands crawled with the undead army, the heroes planned to take the road through the menacing Elder Thorn Forest that the undead seemed to avoid… and for good reason: Any scouts sent that way had not returned either neither living or as part of the undead army.
What secrets Elder Thorn had, it intended to keep them.