Castle Anwyn

Castle Anwyn, a dark keep lying deep in the Lyserian Hills, was re-discovered just 8 months ago, after lying dormant for millennia and being populated only by the undead. The path leading to this ancient abode was shown to us by none other than Terate himself, during one of his desperate searches for the Stones of Virtue. As it happened, one of the Stones was found in the castle later that eve, in the deepest part of the dudgeon, inside a massive chest with equally massive traps and locks.

After the Stone was removed from the premises, Anwyn fell again into obscurity, though now populated by daring adventurers seeking to release the undead from their torment, and perhaps earn a bit of cash doing so. It wasn't until almost half a year had passed that the castle again received attention.

Terate had just died, and in doing so sealed the Veil shut, locking the Vvrael from our world. As he lay dying, he gave his sword to his beloved, Rayyne Gold. It was a powerful sword, and in it lay the tale of Terate's past, which it revealed to us when sung to by Krackenstar.

The tale it told was of an ancient castle and the royal family that dwelt therein. For years the family ruled over the surrounding lands with a just hand, until one day a stranger arrived at their door, weak from travel and asking to spend the night. He was admitted, and given a room in the guest quarters of the castle. However, during that night the stranger died in his sleep, leaving the family with a confusing set of belongings, including a satchel full of scrolls, some recently penned, along with others obviously far more ancient in nature. The Prince, knowing more about the mystical arts than the rest of his family, set to deciphering the scrolls. Most were of mundane use, containing cantrips already known to the young man. One, however, was different. Unlike the others, it seemed almost alive; the words changing each time he read them. It held far more than a single spell, it held mysteries that he desired to unlock, one after another, until the last of the scroll's secrets lay open to him. But the scroll was not satisfied with being discovered and understood, it wanted more. It wanted to be used; it wanted the fell power that had created it to again be unleashed upon the world. And thus was Terate, the young prince, drawn into using the scroll to breach the Veil, and unleash the Vvrael on the world.

An uneventful month passed as the lands recovered from the onslaught of the Vvrael. Occasionally people would tour the ancient castle, wondering what secrets it still held. It was on one of these tours that Anwyn again became a point of interest to the lands.

A small group of sightseers-Neq, Icefox, Shalli, and Norandar-were wandering through the ruins, and eventually came to the room deep beneath the castle where the first Stone of Virtue had been found, locked in its massive chest. Also in this room-more of a niche-was a large mirror, framed with wood carved in the image of writhing serpents. The mirror was more than it seemed; when looked into, it showed not one's own reflection, but rather the image of a cruel yet beautiful woman, laughing out at you.

The group of questers stood in front of the mirror for a time, conversing with each other over its secrets, and occasionally prodding it with their weapons in hope of eliciting a response. They received none from the mirror, but their reverie was broken when their newest member, Norandar, opened the previously locked chest, pulled out an ancient scroll, and disappeared with it. The remaining three were, of course, confused by this, and elected to return to town for the night, rather than risk further oddities in the castle.

The next eve the author of this text happened to encounter Norandar outside of Hearthstone, and believing him to be a fellow researcher, asked him about the castle, and the scroll he had found. Norandar appeared nervous, and led us to a secluded section of the Manor, where he pulled the scroll out of his cloak and offered it to me for inspection.

It was obviously much more than a simple rune; the entire paper was covered with an ancient elven script that writhed and danced across the paper, confounding my attempts to read them. Seeing that I was unable to invoke the scroll, I handed it back to Norandar, who explained that he was able to understand only snippets of it. Noting that he was a bard, we (several people had congregated by this point) asked him to sing to it, hoping that we might learn more that way.

Norandar agreed, and attempted to sing to it. But rather than learn of the scroll, he was struck down by an unseen force, and lay stunned at our feet. When he recovered, he explained that the scroll was to powerful to be learned of through song. We were at a loss for what to do when someone suggested that an elderly wizard attempt to use the scroll. As Dartaghan happened to be in the Manor with us, he took the scroll and attempted to read it. Rather than invoke, as it should have, dark tendrils of anti-mana snaked their way out of the scroll and along Dartaghan's arms, stunning him. When he recovered he attempted to detect the scroll. However, as with singing, the scroll proved too powerful, and Dartaghan dropped dead at our feet.

When Dartaghan was once again on his feet, he handed the scroll back to Norandar, professing that it was beyond his ability to read. Norandar then, against our wishes, attempted to sing to the scroll again. As before, it resisted his efforts, this time striking him dead. As we stood arguing over what had happened, a fog appeared in the room, concealing Norandar's body from us. A few minutes later, when the fog cleared, Norandar was gone.

The next day, I again encountered Norandar outside of Hearthstone. Concerned for his health and safety, I took us to a table in my House, and we spoke for a bit about what happened the previous eve.

He claimed to be unable to remember what had happened, and that he had woken up in the forest that morning, the scroll in his hand. I related to him what had happened, and our conversation turned to more inconsequential things. It turned out that he was quite smitten by the lady Rayyne, whom he had met just once before. As I was a friend of Rayyne's, I promised him that I would introduce them, when next I had the chance.

As it happened, that chance was to happen soon. Norandar and I ran into Rayyne not an hour later, as well as Neq and Icefox. Everyone was concerned about the scroll and its connection to Anwyn, so we headed out to the Castle for an evening of stories, serenading, and drinking. However, as the evening was winding down, talk again returned to the scroll, which Norandar produced. Against our warnings, Norandar again sang to the scroll, and again died. We were discussing the best way to return him to the living when, with no warning or sign of arrival, an Ahrani Witch attacked Icefox. Fortunately, the witch was weak, and quickly dispatched. However, it was only the first of dozens of creatures to gate into the cellar with us. Unable to leave Norandar's body to them, we fought off waves after wave of undead, until at last a Vvrael Witch gated in.

The creatures we had fought up to that point were relatively small and presented little challenge. The Witch, however, was far beyond our ability to destroy, and slew Rayyne almost instantly. Having managed to hide from the Witch, I decided that it would be best to leave Norandar's body for the moment, and fog the rest of us out of there. When I had returned a few minutes later, Norandar was still dead, and several Vvrael witches were rampaging throughout the castle. Norandar was dragged to a safer part of the castle, where we raised him, hoping that he could shed some light upon what had happened. However, something had changed in him while he lay dead. The lure of power from the scroll had proved too powerful, and like Terate before he was consumed with the need to unlock and understand it. His last words of the night were to me, swearing that he would unlock the secrets of the scroll and lay them at Rayyne's feet.

The next evening found Norandar again with us, but much more subdued. Claiming to have lost the scroll, he had decided to embark on a journey to his homeland, for a period of rest and seclusion, where he could be sure no one else would be harmed by his studies of the scroll (despite having claimed to have lost it).

Days passed, and things seemed to have returned to normal (such as it is). However, the peacefulness was broken at Anwyn later that week when a series of small invasions occurred, consisting of Ghosts and Sorcerous Acolytes. These creatures proved to be extremely powerful and resistant to nearly all magical attacks directed against them. It was only through the determined application of a blade and the use of Voln's symbols that these creatures were finally released.

For almost a month these invasions occurred with increasing regularity, sometimes lasting hours before the last of the hiding creatures was rooted out and released. Throughout this time, Norandar would occasionally return to us, and one night spoke a bit of the history of Anwyn. His tale was sparse, but he related to us a story of the Castle, and the Queen that lived therein. A powerful sorcerer, she went insane after her son, Terate, was consumed by the Vvrael and turned to their uses. For years she ruled tyrannically over an ever shrinking populous, until finally the kingdom itself collapsed and the castle became an abode of the undead, with the spirit of the Queen trapped inside.

Approximately two weeks after the invasions began at Anwyn, the Queen began to make her presence known, by stealing the Lady Rayyne from us. Much like Norandar had vanished from us before, odd mists congealed around Rayyne, and when they lifted, she was gone. At that point our business in Anwyn ceased its exploratory nature, and took on a desperate tone as we repeatedly scoured the castle for any hint of Rayyne. Following kidnapping, the invasions continued almost daily. However, occasionally not all of the spirits would attempt to destroy us; a few seemed interested in speaking to the living once more. From these creatures we learned more of the castle's history, of how the Queen once ate her cook after deciding his food wasn't good enough, and the mass executions that took place in the village during Anwyn's final days. One ghostly bard by the name of Keat told us a sad story of his love, who had been slaughtered in the village thousands of years before, and now lay in a mass grave south of the town. From Keat we learned that most of the castle and surrounding village had worshiped Onar, who the Queen spurned in her final days of mortality. A shrine to Onar supposedly still existed somewhere beneath the castle, buried by the Queen in one of her fits of madness.

Most interesting, though, was a scruffy female halfling that appeared to us after a particularly vicious invasion. She seemed to exist halfway between the world of the living and the dead, the result of a spell cast upon her by the Queen. Most of us who'd experienced the final days of the Vvrael saga in Pinefar recognized the halfling as Belle, the former proprietor of the Pinefar Trading Post, who had been missing for months and was believed dead. The halfling acted as a go-between for us and Rayyne, who she was somehow able to reach without the Queen's knowledge. Over the next few days the halfling would reassure us that Rayyne was still alive, but needing our help.

Over a month passed in this chaotic fashion, with nightly forays to the Castle in an attempt to find Rayyne, with no success. The invasions became fiercer and fiercer, until it came to pass that only the eldest of the Landing's citizens could enter the castle with even a hope of surviving.

It was in that dark hour, when many had begun to despair of ever seeing the Lady Rayyne again, that Norandar appeared to us with the news that he had learned all he needed from the scroll, and felt able to breech the defenses the Queen had erected around the castle, allowing us access to Rayyne. His words fell upon our weary and deaf ears, but we decided to trust the bard one final time, if only for Rayyne's sake. The Queen was especially active that eve, occasionally snatching members of our party away from us and dragging them through the stone walls of the castle, where she tormented them with pointless riddles before releasing them back to us.

Realizing that by breaching the Queen's magical barriers, we would be unleashing her might upon the world, many of us decided to bring in a contingent of the local militia, to help combat the inevitable swarm of horrifying demons that would pour forth from the castle to feed upon the world. Although most of the militia was slaughtered instantly, they proved to be invaluable in distracting the queen from the main thrust of the night's mission; getting Norandar to the mystical pentagram room located deep beneath the castle, where he could work the scroll's magic.

Deep beneath the castle, things were much quieter. Norandar had just begun the incantation that would open the way to Rayyne and the Queen, and those of us with him had taken to praying to our various Gods for aid and mercy. Norandar's ceremony consisted of a quiet magical phrase spoken at each of the pentagram's five points. As he completed the first two points, all assembled could feel the air begin to charge with power, as if great beings were watching and anticipating. However, on the third point, Norandar began to falter, and had to hastily fortify his magic to prevent it from collapsing. When he reached the fourth point of the pentagram, something went catastrophically wrong, and his magicks collapsed entirely, the runes upon the scroll and pentagram falling suddenly dead. A look of horror appeared on Norandar's face as he realized how truly powerful the Queen was, and we heard her laughing contemptuously at us from beyond the stone walls of the castle.

Several things happened simultaneously at that point. The first that we noticed was a sudden inundation of the pentagram room by various creatures representing all levels of the demonic, which began cutting into the crowd with ease. The second thing we experienced-as we were scrambling to our feet and grabbing weapons-was a searing, horrible pain on the back of our necks, as if we were all being branded by an unseen force. This shocked us all for a moment, and we didn't realize for a few seconds that the Lady Rayyne had appeared in the room with us, seemingly as confused by her situation as we were. With Rayyne appeared the scruffy little halfling we had encountered earlier, now apparently free of her bonds. Finally, as we were collecting our wits and trying to hold of the undead which had arrived in the room, the castle itself began to weaken and fade from existence, as if it no longer had the power to manifest itself any longer. Realizing that being stuck in a disappearing castle with a swarm of demonic was a poor idea, we gathered ourselves into a group and returned to town, with the Lady Rayyne and the halfling in tow.

Later that eve, with a relieved Norandar, we attempted to piece together what had occurred in those final minutes. The branding sensation we had all felt turned out to be exactly that; on the back of the neck of everyone who had been in the castle at the time was branded a tattoo of a white skull on a field of black, the symbol of Onar. Without being told anything by the deities, we could only assume that as Norandar's spell began to fail, Onar himself intervened and released Rayyne, perhaps because the Queen had killed many of his faithful millennia ago. However, Onar apparently wished us to all know that we owed him our lives, so he set upon us his mark, the tattoo on our necks.

It was an odd way to end events at Anwyn, but since the Queen's power was broken and Rayyne returned to us, none of us were inclined to disparage it. Onar's mark still rests upon our necks, signifying our debt to him, and waiting for the day that he calls us to pay it. Castle Anwyn is a mere shell now, inhabited only by minor undead, with no hint of the Queen's power. And up in Pinefar, a scruffy little halfling returned home.

-Mnar Akurion
House Phoenix Research Department.