The heroes returned to once again consult with the High Mage looking for information about the portal and how to open it. Considering the high threat this portal could pose to Shraeltir’s safety, Tharik suggested something that hadn’t been done in nearly a century; ascend the archmage Aelizar’s sealed off tower in the keep and consult the library within. Hopefully, it would contain the knowledge they required.
Penetrating the tower was no simple matter, as the archmage had left behind several devious traps to guard his secrets. Upon bypassing the traps, Forin quickly rummaged through what tomes he could before the magical glyphs of warding could rearm themselves. He found mention of a portal in the Troll Mountains and the key with which it could be opened. The portal key was written on a scroll within the Great Library of Verbobonc. The very name of the cursed city was enough to send chills down their spines. Located several days north of Shraeltir, along the Old Track across the rolling plains of the Western Heartlands, Verbobonc was once a center of arcane learning. The arrival of the Spellplague changed that. In the Year of Blue Fire, the city became a rotten husk of its former glory, a sundered house of undead abominations from which visitors never returned.
As they were leaving Shraeltir, they were stopped by Kol Verdith, Warden of Shraeltir, who had heard they were venturing north. He requested that if they had time, they could check in on the furthest north of Shraeltir’s watchtowers that had not been heard of in several weeks.
Days later, the party came up on the tower and immediately noticed something amiss. The stone structure looked in bad disrepair, and no flag flew from its battlements. Investigation revealed a malevolent cult of Yeenoghu worshiping gnolls had slaughtered the tower’s guards and set themselves up as its masters. The Sons of Shraeltir cleansed the tower, level by level, and laid the remains they could find of the guards to rest.
The road north saw the heroes encounter a wagon coming south. The drivers turned out to be slavers, and Kothlar boldly attacked, inundating the wagon and its passengers with his lightning dragonbreath. When the dust of the fight settled, the slavers dead, the back of the wagon was opened to find slaves within. Tragically, most had been killed by Kothlar’s lightning. The two survivors limped away, cursing the band for “saving” them.
They traveled for several more days along the monotonous Old Track leading north. The miles and miles of miles and miles stretched on. Soon the distant hills began to grow in the distance, and on the horizon loomed a high bluff, the outline of a broken city set against the sky above it.
As they neared the bluff, the nearby countryside took an abrupt turn for the barren. What was previously rolling hills of thick grass and occasional tree, suddenly transformed to a barren wasteland of skeletal shrubs and dead, trampled grass.
The most noticeable feature of this barren landscape was its utter lack of life. The only things rising from its parched soil were the desiccated remnants of several dead trees withered by the unforgiving sunlight. Otherwise, only a few piles of bleached stones provided what little shelter was available.
They heard a man’s voice—weakened, but still with enough volume to carry—from a small cluster of trees roughly 20 feet west of them. “Please help me! I’ve been in this tree for days, and I don’t know if I can make it much longer! Please!”’
High in a tree on the edge of the desolate area, they saw a small man—a halfling—clutching desperately to some of the smallest branches at the very top of the tree. He was thin, gaunt, and frightened, and he peered at them with both fear and hope.
The source of the halfling’s fear soon became apparent, as a massive owlbear came into view, crawling slowly over a pile of rubble. It scraped its razor-sharp talons against the rocks, producing a dreadful, high-pitched sound. The owlbear reared up on its hind legs and bellowed angrily; in a few moments, its full-throated roar reached an awful, shrieking crescendo. After the display of dominance, the owlbear charged. Iyo-tar fought valiantly, his armor and shield shuddering under the beast’s brutal blows. The paladin was stunned several times, barely managing to defend himself. Hathawin, utilizing a nearby tree, pumped arrow after arrow into the beast, and Kothlar laid it low with eldritch rain from the sky.
The halfing bard, who introduced himself as Finnegan, pledged his undying loyalty to the group, and vowed to accompany them on any quest to log their epic adventures for the ages, particularly those of Hathawin Elderwin. The group begrudgingly allowed him to follow.