After discussion, the party determines that it needs more information in order to determine its next move. Dareus and Oriseus head off to see Korr Boxgrinder and ask if he can bring them into the old city to visit the Royal Library. The idea is to find out additional information regarding Xak Tsaroth. Korr says this would be possible, but that they would have to wait until morning. They decide to head back to the Merchant’s Rest (their inn). Meanwhile, Dinsdale and Arrakes head into the outdoor market. Dinsdale plans to find his way into the darker corners of Ostohar’s social strata and see if information can be gleaned that way. He finds a textile purveyor and after purchasing some overpriced imported silk, persuades the salesman to organize a meeting with a somewhat shady gnome by the name of Namfoodle Timbers. They turn to go to the Merchant’s Rest as the bazaar is closing.
A block away from the inn, Dareus is suddenly struck with a fine needle in the back of his neck. Turning to see its origin, Dareus catches a glimpse of a black-clad figure ducking into an alleyway some yards away. He instinctively darts in that direction, but almost immediately falls to his knees with poisonous paralysis gripping his legs. Oriseus helps Dareus into the Merchant’s Rest taproom and drags him into Dareus’s room, dropping him onto his bed. The proprietor, Willa Hartzell, seeing the group come in, sends her bouncer for the guard. Thinking quickly, Arrakes casts a lesser restoration spell on Dareus and while the poison appears to have been neutralized, Dareus remains unconscious. Dinsdale goes outside for a look and sees a black-clad figure down an alleyway climbing the side of a building and disappearing onto the roof. Two members of the guard arrive at the inn and take a statement. Dareus awakens.
When the guards leave, Oriseus notices that there are three black-robed figures in the corner of the common room, their faces covered with black sashes. He approaches and asks their business. One of the mysterious humans, a woman by all appearances, stands and explains that her mask is designed to cover a skin disease that she and her companions recently contracted. She shows her face and it is indeed covered with lesions and boils. The bouncer, whose name is Ibal (unfortunately pronounced “eyeball”) agrees to run and get more guard to assist the ailing group. When they arrive, the guardsmen take the dark figures out of the Inn. Moments later, the guard returns indicating that the dark clad group gave them the slip and says that their skin looked fine. The heroes bed down for the night, being cautious to prepare for another assassination attempt. None comes and in the morning, Dareus and Oriseus go with Korr to the Royal Library. There, they are able to discover some general history of Xak Tsaroth.
Also known as the “city of gold,” Xak Tsaroth was once a prosperous city of white marble on the south end of the Greenlands in southern Unther. The city was a cultural center, boasting fantastic arts and social and political sophistication. Near its zenith, however, Xak Tsaroth was sadly struck by some form of cataclysm. The earth split and swallowed a vast portion of the city. Other areas remained on the surface, but were ultimately claimed by jungle fauna created by the magic of the Greenlands growing out of control. Now, it is said that the jungle is home to all sorts of nasty creatures and the remains of Xak Tsaroth are likely infested with dark and dangerous monsters. Meanwhile, Dinsdale and Arrakes are visited at the Merchant’s Rest by Namfoodle Timbers. Namfoodle is an exceedingly confident, rather foppish gnome wearing loose, colorful clothes and a jaunty hat. Namfoodle explains that he is a student of ancient culture and geography as well as a dealer in antiquities. He is obviously excited by the prospect of participating in a journey to Xak Tsaroth and claims to have esoteric knowledge of the city that would be valuable to the party.
Dinsdale agrees to discuss a potential partnership with the rest of his companions and Namfoodle agrees to come back for another meeting to explore that possibility. After completing their research on Xak Tsaroth at the Royal Library, Dareus and Oriseus begin reading up on Malebranche. According to the musty old texts they find, it appears that Malebranche is from the 143rd level of the Abyss, sometimes referred to as the “Fetid Sorrows.” Malebranche is clearly a demon of sorts and was an adjunct of Orcus until he betrayed his master and was chased out of the Abyss to the Prime Material Plane where Malebranche founded a stronghold from which to hide and defend himself against the wrath of Orcus. Thus began the Long Night, as Malebranche sought to recreate the ambiance of his former abode in the southlands of Chessenta. Having been an acolyte of Orcus, Malebranche has great powers in raising and controlling undead and it is surmised that Malebranche’s ultimate goal is to usurp his former master in both power and standing. Oriseus thought back on some of the events occurring in recent days and some of the lore that he had learned and deduced during that time. Lixandthiar (“Lix”), the gold dragon whose remains now lay at the bottom of Emerald Lake in the heart of Willow Glen, had been the only creature with the knowledge and/or power to imprison Malebranche in the Shadowhold more than 3,000 years ago. Smitty (or so he called himself) was the last living member of the White Guardians, a group sworn to the protection of Enlil’s people, and had been an ally of Lix. Remnants of Lix’s magic impregnated and sustained ancient life all around the Emerald Lake, infusing the Weeping Willow with both life and sentience. The power had also kept Smitty alive for all these millennia as he was tasked with the responsibility of protecting the gate to the Shadowhold.
However, Malebranche was clever and in time, reached out to a warlock agent, calling himself Felthavian Shallowheld. In exchange for awful secrets, Felthavian was convinced to free Malebranche. But, Felthavian was evil in his own right and conceived a plan to immediately absorb Malebranche’s power once freed. Ultimately, Flethavian’s plan failed and the party was there to witness, in part, the events of Malebranche’s liberation. The apparent king of a plucky band of small frogmen explained some of this to the party in the darkness of Malebranche’s shadow and sent the party off to find Xak Tsaroth and, more particularly, the Heart of Dragonkind – a mysterious gemstone lying somewhere in its depths that had the power to bring Lixandthiar back to life with the hope of defeating Malebranche once again. The party was given no description of the stone or any sense how to use the talisman or even what it might do exactly. Dareus and Oriseus are unable to find any information on the Zhentarim and eventually returned to the Merchant’s Rest. The group decides to hear what the gnome, Namfoodle Timbers, has to say. They summon the gnome.
During their conversation, Oriseus attempts to read Namfoodle’s mind. Namfoodle indicates that he knows the location of the hidden entrance to the underground portion of the city. He wants to come with the party and wants to trade his service and knowledge for a share of the findings. The Heart of Dragonkind is not discussed. When asked if he really knows the way to the underground passages, Oriseus is able to read images from Namfoodle’s mind – blurry images of thoughts described to Namfoodle but not actually seen by the gnome. In his mind, Oriseus sees a ruined temple built of white stone and marble, caving in and overgrown with large leafed jungle plants and vines. Inside the entrance is a once grand worship room. On the mosaic floor, featured prominently, is a large stone of red granite, depicting a large altar. That stone appears to be the entrance. The party then asks Namfoodle what creatures they might encounter in Xak Tsaroth. Oriseus immediately sees a picture of a black dragon in his mind.
Then, suddenly, Oriseus experiences a white flash in his mind’s eye as if struck by a psychic blast. He has the sensation of floating up and out of his body, breathless. Travelling into and through a black void with hundreds of thousands of points of light in every direction, Oriseus looks back to see a silver cord emanating from his body and extending backwards out of sight. His travel ends at an enormous and irregular block of stone bearing bright green grasses growing in the dim light of space. In the distance, across the fields, Oriseus can see a castle of great craftsmanship. His involuntary flight takes him through the front gate of the castle, down the halls and through chambers decorated with fine furnishings and art of various styles alternately depicting a king and a red dragon in various battles. Then, Oriseus finds himself in a throne room, kneeling before a human king with blazing red hair and beard. The kings looks at Oriseus and says “Our time has come. You are to visit me at the Great Temple in Cimbar.” At great speed, Oriseus us pulled away from the throne and hurled back to his body in the Merchant’s Rest. Yet, as he is thrown backwards, Oriseus can clearly see the king’s form change first to a twisted black freak of nature, then into an enormous red dragon. In that moment, Oriseus discovers that his great and revered patron, Tchazzar, has for all these years hidden his true nature and that he is in fact a power of great evil and something to be feared by all. The jolt of his return knocks Oriseus’s body off his chair at the Merchant’s Rest where he falls unconscious. The session ends at 4:30 p.m., Wednesday, September 23, 1372 (DR) Third Age.