Shattered Star #71: Into the Dark Forest

At the end of last session, we left our heroes sheltering behind a magical stone wall. They had escaped the water elementals and their hydradaemon masters and now found themselves in a small cavern holding a strange black menhir.


About the menhir were arrayed three creatures: two caulborn and a chrestomach—a so-called living library. The three creatures made no move to attack and the party—relieved to not be fighting for their lives—spoke at great length with the strange creatures.

It transpired the caulborn were desirous of exploring the otherworldly Dark Forest. However, they could not breach the place’s ancient wards until the fragment of the Shattered Star therein was removed. Thus, they offered to transport the party there as their interests currently aligned with the heroes’. Although Thaladan was wary of the creatures—and strongly suspected they held something back—it seems the party had no choice, if they wished to avoid another battle.

The caulborn were knowledgeable of the Dark Forest and shared what they knew with the party. It seemed its ruler (the Dark Rider) was a dullahan—a powerful, headless undead warrior. Able to fight on horseback or on foot, the dullahan was bound to be attended by many servants—undoubtably many of which would be undead. The caulborn also knew much about the Shattered Star fragment hidden in the demi-plane and revealed it—the Shard of Gluttony —was powered with necromantic magic. This gave several of the group pause.

However, the quest lay onwards and so the party resolved to continue. They rested overnight in the cavern with the caulborn and gathered themselves for the coming trials. The next morning, when the heroes were ready, the caulborn activated the menhir and bade the party touch it.

Suddenly, the heroes were elsewhere—a dim twilight world of black grass, stunted bushes and odd-looking trees. They stood about another black menhir, but this one was pitted and old. About 100 feet away stood the reality-defying Black Keep—some parts of it seemingly hanging in mid-air.

Cortana used his innate powers to detect evil. As he did so, the menhir began to emit a sickly yellow glow and thousands of writhing worms or maggots burst forth. The swarms quickly enveloped the party. Karellia identified them as rot grub swarms and minor panic ensued as several of the party became infested with the foul things.

A quick wall of fire managed to burn some of the rot grubs off the afflicted heroes, but things rapidly got much, much worse. Grooble let off a sound burst to damage one of the swarms. The resultant loud clamour alerted some of the keep’s residents—three monstrously vast wyverns—to the presence of warm and tasty prey.

The wyverns burst forth from the keep’s ruined tower and were quickly upon the party. Karelia used a slow spell to hinder two of the creatures’ attacks but not before both Narfu and Zainnis were firmly in their clutches. Similarly, by this time, Cortana was badly injured and was forced to retreat from the fray along with Thaladan who was riddled with rot grubs.

As the battle raged on, Karelia hid under a tree with Zainnis’s leopard companion while Thaladan hid behind another. Only Grooble—cloaked in invisibility—remained nearby to aid Zainnis, Cortana and Narfu who were all deep in mortal peril…

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

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