The party had just defeated Murkelmor Grimmerzhul, paladin leader of the deurgar clan, and freed the slaves from Riverdown. However, two of them were still missing, and one among their number was clearly not a commoner. The young man introduced himself as Izaak Clearly, relative of the fallen Chris Clearly, the PCs former adventuring companion. Upon learning of his relation’s death, he composed himself and declared that he would continue adventuring with the party. The PCs learned that Chris had been adventuring to raise funds to support his large extended family south of the Nentir Vale. When the funds stopped, Izaak was sent out to investigate why the money was not coming home, and to help Chris in any whay he could. For the good of his family, Izaak decided to accompany the PCs for the near future.
The PCs (now including Izaak), rummaged through Murkelmor’s belongings, and soon found a cache under his bed, which contained most of Izaak’s gear. They also found some letters to Murkelmor from “Maldrick Scarmaker,” thanking Murkelmor for two of the Riverdown slaves. There are a few other letters, detailing Maldrick’s followers as the Blackfang gnolls, and a location circled on a map: the Well of Demons.
The PCs backtrack to the Seven-Pillared Hall and take a much-needed break, and begin the next day and set out for the Well of Demons. Timandrius and Adrie escort the slaves back to Riverdown and agree to meet the rest of the PCs in Fallcrest, at the crossroad of the King’s Road from the Harkenwold and the Trade Road from Thunderspire.
As the PCs follow the trail to the Well of Demons, they enter the first chamber to find an empty room with several horrific pillars of moaning faces. As one, they speak of Baphomet’s glory, and only those who prove themselves worthy by finding the “mask, bell, blade, and tome” shall find power beyond mortal reckoning. They proceed through the door to the east and peer down a long hallway, where hyenas begin cackling and baying wildly. From out of a room nearby, a savage gnoll emerges, and yells for an ally to release the hounds.
From further down, a gnoll archer bounds to the hyenas’ gate and releases them, nocking an arrow in the process. The PCs make short work of their canine adversaries, and proceed south, and enter a set of double doors to find a terrible scene of torture. There is a badly wounded dire boar in a crude wooden cage, peppered with arrows and being harrassed by several hyenas. As the PCs enter the room, the gnolls focus their attention on the them. Clubbers tries to soothe the savage beast while Tailia makes a break for the archers. Once again, the PCs emerge victorious.
Exiting the shooting gallery through a southern exit, they see another hallway. Through a door they hear some chanting, and Dawn can decipher it as demonic communion. Without exploring the rest of the hallway, they bust open the door, interrupting a gnoll scourge in prayer. Furious, she speaks a command work, and with a crack like a whip, the PCs can hear growling in the room next door. As they battle the scourge, a Barlgura emerges from the adjoining room to join the fray. As the fight wans, the PCs notice a pair of figures that had been watching the fight, seemingly nonplussed.
They are tiefling brothers, Azkelak and Katal. Katal is tight-lipped, but Azkelak freely speaks with the PCs. He says taht he and his brothers are adventurers, and had found a book of Baphomet on a previous expedition and journeyed to the Well of Demons to try and sell it to the current residents. The PCs, filled with pride in their recent successes, intimidated the brothers into giving them the book. The tieflings, seeing the odds stacked against them, left while the going was good.
The PCs backtracked to their original chamber and proceeded south, only to be greeted by three ghostly spirits, all disfigured. Before the PCs could speak, they spoke in unison: “The guardian has laid us low/ But our failure may lead to your success./ Prove your worth so you may know/ The way to pass the guardian’s test./ Spirits trapped ehre after death,/ Our efforts ehre all but erased./ Heed our words without breath,/ For if you fail, you’ll take our place.”
The PCs eventually appease the spirits, showing them that their motives were true and their skills were satisfactory for the advice of the spirits. The spirits tell the PCs about the guardian of the Proving Grounds, and how to activate the trial. They must collect the four components and place them in the magical circles, kill or outlast the guardian, avoiding the traps, and exit through a door to the east. Confidant, the PCs press on.
Going through a nothern chamber first, the PCs find a small room encircled by a curtain. As Clubbers peers around the curtain, he disappears. Izaak too, disappears as he peers around for Clubbers. Unknown to Dawn and Tailia, they have been teleported to a chamber that is extradimenionally connected to the mirrors beyond the curtains. In this chamber, a keeping, high-pitched screeching assails their minds, causing pain and horrible visions. Shortly, Izaak manages to wrench his mind from this place, emerging back beyond the curtain, while Clubbers remains behind, seeing the skin slowly bubble and fall from Tubbers, his closest ally.
Dawn and Tailia manage to navigate the room, breaking mirrors along the way. They find another, longer curtain at the end of the room, and beyond that curtain is an altar of brass, and a mark carved from a dark wood in the visage of a minotaur. Guarding the mask are two skeletons, that attack as the curtains are pulled back. Clubbers eventually wrenches himself from thesecret room, and walks with his eyes closed along the perimeter of the wall, and finally meets up with the others as the battle draws to a close. With Book and Mask in hand, the PCs are halfway through gathering the items.
The PCs go to the westernmost chamber of this complex, and find a huge, open room, filled with pools of blood. The room is divided in half by a walkway, and on either side of the room are ferocious, thirty-foot tall minotaur statues holding barbed whips. The party clambers from platfrom to statue, statue to walkway. Dawn teleports to the walkway, and as her feet tough ground, the minotaur statues attack with the whips. The PCs scramble, seeing they have to attain the blade and the hilt of a dagger on two platforms at the far end. Tailia explodes into motion, leaping from platform to platform as her allies trudge through the blood and get assaulted by the statues. As her allies fumble, she leaps around, grabs the items, and returns to the entrance. Most of the group is badly injured, but the slaves cannot wait for the PCs to take an extended rest. They press on.
They travel through the Proving Grounds to the southern chamber, and find a room of pillars, seemingly made of controted bodies. They being wailing and moaning, reaching for the party. They manage to make their way through the chamber mostly unscathed, but when Dawn gets to the end of the room and grabs the bell on a table, demons emerge from the pillars and attack. For some reason, perhaps afflicted by the madness of the place, Dawn rings the bell. Spikes shot into her hand, locking her grip and dealing massive damage to her. All combatants, allies and enemies alike, went into a frenzy, attacking with little thought to defense or personal well-being. After the fight, the bell was extracted from Dawn’s hand. The party, beginning to show signs of fatigue, was about to awaken the guardian and take on the challenges of the Proving Grounds.
Each of the four PCs took one of the items to a separate chamber in the Proving Grounds. The items had to placed in a magical circle simultaneously. Once each PC dropped their item, the traps were sprung! Clubbers was assaulted by grasping skeletons chained to the floor, Dawn was attacked by swirling pools from the Elemental Chaos, Izaak was attacked by magical crossbow turrets, and Tailia was mentally assailed by wailing traps. A Death Ball rolled around the central track of the Grounds, and with a guttural roar, the guardian awoke.
Slowly, the doors in the southeastern chamber began opening. Clubbers called his allies to his side. Dawn made it to him with little trouble, and Tailia likewise met little resistance. Izaak, weighed down by his armor and gear, had to deal with the Death Ball, narrowly avoiding its crushing charge. However, at this point, the guardian had him in its sights.
Flying with fury, the green dragon guardian attacked with abandon, clawing and biting with only a few successful hits on Izaak. Determined, Izaak regrouped with the rest of the party, creating a bottleneck where the dragon could only attack them from within the track of the Death Ball. The dragon would not go down so easily, and the battle raged on, with it’s stinking poisonous breath injuring the party with several blasts. When the dragon finally fell, the PCs took several moments to ready themselves for the final battle against Maldrick Scarmaker and to save the final slaves.
It shold be known that at this point, the party was down to about 4 healing surges between them all. Dawn was out of surges and wasn’t fully healed when they entered the final battle. This was truly stretching the party to their limits.
As the party bursts into Maldrick’s ceremony chamber, they take in a ghastly scene. There are two slaves strung up over a glowing circle, boiling pots of some stinking liquid churning, several demons howl with pleasure, a large skeleton weilding a greatsword faces them, and a large, mechanical minotaur, one of the bronze warders, turns his gaze to the party. Worst of all is the leader of the Blackfang gnolls, Maldrick Scarmaker. Standing over six feet tall, this gnoll has made sufficient sacrifices to his demon lord Yeenoghu to be “blessed” with demonic features: Extended fangs, curling horns from his head, and large bat wings. In one hand he held a scroll, and in the other a macabre wand made of bone topped with skulls.
The PCs, already against the ropes, were fighting for their lives and the lives of the Riverdown slaves. Maldrick began by cursing the enemies nearest him and began shooting eldritch rays at them. He used the demons and skeletons as bodyguards and fodder against the PCs. The PCs made quick work of the skeletons, and advanced into the inner scantum. Maldrick had just purged the Well of Demons of Baphomet’s influence, and was finishing a ritual to gift it to Yeenoghu, his own demon lord. At the death of the last two slaves, the ritual would be complete.
Amid the chaos of battle, Dawn and Maldrick pulled the arcane strand of the ritual back and forth, maldrick pushing it to completion and Dawn counterspelling his incantations. As they were locked in battle, the rest of the PCs took down the demons and moved into melle positions around Maldrick. As a last ditch effort, Maldrick tried to flee, abandoning the temple for now. Under the concerted effort of the PCs, he was slain before he could flee the complex.
Ultimately victorious, the PCs were battered and bloodied, and without the fortitude left to recover from their wounds. They freed the last two slaves, looted the fallen enemies, and made their way to the door. However, they were accosted by a pair of tieflings. Seeing their advantageous position, the tiefling brothers turned the tables on the PCs, and tried to make quick work of the bloodied group. Claming they wanted their proper payment for the book the PCs “stole” earlier, the tieflings made a final attack on the PCs. It seemed the PCs had one more battle in them, and managed to kill the interlopers before anyone in the party dropped.
The rest of the trek back to the Seven-Pillared Hall was uneventful, and after the PCs met with some contacts that had given them some quests. They shortly retired to the Halfmoon Inn,resting up and getting ready to set off the next day to meet their allies in Fallcrest, and then onward to Winterhaven.