The journey begins as Hari, Ariana Nailo, Kroll and Gerbo set of for the five-hundred mile trek to the Arcane University. More join their company as they venture forth into the mountains. Their sponsor is Hans Steinbrecker, a wealthy Dwarf noble of Stahlberg who fancies himself a wizard. The contract is simple: provided that they can find him the Robe of the Arch Magi, the rest of the plunder is theirs to split.
Also joining the company is a team of diggers from the Miner's Guild, Stahlberg local, and a pair of ogres named Gon & Hon. Luckily, ogres are not barred from permit status on union sites. Over a month of uneventful travel leads to small steps in tinkering by Kroll and Nailo learning a handful or Dwarvish curse words.
On one quiet afternoon the company crosses yet another mountain bridge. The chasm beneath gives an impressive view as fluffy wet snow blankets the area. A distant sound catches the attention of the party. It could have been wind, but the snow continues to fall almost vertically. No sooner had they decided it was not the wind then from beneath the bridge rose a massive white dragon! It's claws and teeth dig into the ogre Gon and before anyone can get their wits about them the brute is ripped from the bridge and plummets into the gorge below. Kroll and Hon are blasted with the dragons icy breath. The party takes a stand to distract the dragon while the rest of the company dashes madly get off the exposed bridge. Kroll and the ogre engage in a desperate melee, teeth rip into the ogre's belly when a series of fireballs from Hari finally drive the beast off long enough for everyone to clear the exposed bridge. Nailo stays on over watch long enough to see the beast's two small offspring begin feasting under their parents watchful eye at the bottom of the chasm.
Licking their wounds, the company pressed on until finally coming to their last stop before the Arcane University itself. Before them are gentle rolling hills of lush green, carved by innumerable streams and rivers from the white caps of the Central Mountains. The low shrubs and scarce trees give plentiful sun to patches of yellow, white and violet flowers whose scent hangs lightly in the air. At the center of one of the largest dales lies a bowl of golden wheat and water mills around a considerable collection of buildings: Onoltesbach. The shuttered windows of many buildings speak to a time when this town was considerably larger, but many have moved away since the trade brought by the Arcane University vanished many years ago.
Children come out in droves to see this new curiosity of half-orcs in plate harness, ogres with shovels, humans (of any sort) and even elves! It seems this generation has never laid eyes on the like before. The grown ups about town are just as curious if not quite as nosy. Rumor has already spread of a venture to dig up the Arcane University with fond memories of lucrative trade aroused.
With little delay other than to stock up and sleep in a warm bed the company sets off again to their final goal. Nestled into the mountains at the mouth of a valley a dozen or so buildings stand behind a perimeter wall with a tower on the slope of the mountains just beyond. Upon approach the gates are, just as Gerbo remembers, held only by a simple latch with no lock at all. Within the buildings are partially buried. Gerbo suggests a few sites of particular interest: the senior student dormitories, the faculty's quarters, the library, and the Headmaster's quarters in the tower.
The digging crew sets to work by night to take advantage of the ease of digging under a full moon, while the party along with Gerbo and Hans Steinbrecker explores the unearthed buildings as they are exposed by the following morning. Over the course of a week they find items of great wonder including Bracers of Defense, a Cap of Waterbreathing, and two Superior Healing potions! Better still, the larder still has fine liquors that have not spoiled!
The library holds a strange mystery: while many books have rotted, many others seem to have been burned in piles. Digging around the grounds is also beginning to reveal signs of conflict such as arrow heads, humanoid remains left where they died, and rusted armor bearing the telltale decorations of knights of the Tarrasque.
Finally the Headmaster's quarters are revealed. Old mine tunnels have been converted into proper hallways leading to an entrance at the base of the tower. The cloak room by the entrance holds a cloak that seems to be leather that does not dry out and is always proof against water! The remaining cloak in the room is of course a mimic, because really what else would it be?
Looking further into the complex they come across the treasury. For curiosity or greed, they venture in. Immediately they are greeted by a debilitating cloud of stinking gas triggered by magic wards placed around the door. Undeterred, they press further. They are hesitant to use Gerbo's limited quantity of dispel magic, opting instead to simply let the half-orc take whatever the traps can dish out. Miraculously, Kroll agrees. With their bulwark and their lockpicker they push through deafening thunderclaps and portals whisking a fortune in diamonds away before their eyes. Clever use of mage hand does yield a tidy sum in coins without triggering whatever defenses lie around it. In the final room of the treasury a single fist sized diamond rests in the outstretched palm a massive iron statue of an armored humanoid. Within arms reach of the figure stands a seven foot tall sword. They elect to leave this treasure be.
The party move on to the tower of the Headmaster. It consists of only a spiral staircase and a master bedroom. As they explore this upper chamber they quickly find themselves confronting an abomination: a construct of the bones of many creatures held together by slabs of exposed muscle. It stands over a fallen warrior of long ago, apparently its last victim. The horrid creation blows are terrible but the combined might of the sword and spell gives the party the upper hand. Their foe laid waste, the party finds something of great interest on the creature's last victim. This armored warrior brought with him a unique protection in the form of a kite shield called Spellguard. Apparently he expected to confront a mage in these quarters. Despite this, the Robe of the Archmagi is not here.
Going back downstairs, the party is left with the new additions to the complex. These did not exist when Gerbo was a student here and he has no guess as to their purpose. Proceeding they notice that one of the old mine shafts looks like it was filled in much more recently than the rest. The digging crew sets to work and quickly finds a passage leading to a great chasm with climbing ropes already in place. The rope bears the telltale signs of Duergar construction. The company is not alone.
Back in the main hallway, the next turnoff leads to an arch featuring scholarly looking figures carved in relief reading from books, their free hands giving inviting gestures. Above the arch in Elven is inscribed “Vault of Knowledge”. Further down the hallway they come across a figure identical to the one holding the diamond they saw earlier, except this one holds its sword, and its eyes follow the party as they approach. Cautiously they pass by, the construct follows with its eyes but it makes no signs of interfering.
The next room is a site to behold: vaulted ceilings hold multiple rows of fifty foot high book shelves, each with mobile scaffolding to reach its highest heights. Strolling down aisles is another of great iron sentries. On the shelves are rolled sheets of bronze wrapped around rolling pins that unfurl with even a slight pull. On them are everything from simple cantrips to exhaustive treatises on edible and poisonous plants, but many of the scrolls are still empty. In fact, most are. Beyond this, most of the shelves are empty.
Leaving these scrolls in the Vault, the party passes through the exit without being accosted by its iron sentry. The only path left unexplored is straight ahead, deeper into the side of the mountain. The passage wide and leads to a single open chamber with a row of pillars and an altar at the edge of their vision.
Nialo creeps up towards the altar to ensure the way is safe. As she rounds the nearest pillar she finds herself face to face with an orc hiding there. She makes a dash for the safety of the group which surges up to join her, when out of nowhere duergar emerge to cut off their escape. Nialo curses her memory for forgetting that duergar can turn invisible as she chugs one of the greater healing potions they recovered earlier in the dig. As it first touches her tongue she immediately realizes this is not a healing potion at all! She spits out the contents of her mouth as she collapses to the floor. As the rest of the party struggles in melee around her she her vision blur, the forms and shapes flutter like flames in the wind, and all around black hands reach up from the floor to pull her down. An orc falls, slain by one of her allies. As its life fades it ages decades before her eyes, the same black hands pulling the vitality from it into the floor. The necrotic energy flows to the altar where a set of robes host a humanoid form coalescing inside them.
Nialo is revived by an ally, with a proper healing potion this time, as the party witnesses the formation of the figure in the robe. Taught grey leathery skin clings to its skeletal frame. Opaque, dead eyes survey the battle around it. “Traitors and usurper!” the form declares in Elvish as a lance of black energy pierces the nearest orc. It is felled outright, but slowly rises back to its feet with a drawn out moan, its eyes also now opaque and dead.
The momentum of the battle pauses, no one sure which is the greatest threat. The robed form examines Kroll, holding the knightly Spellguard shield. “I did not realize the knights recruited orcs now” it says as ghostly skeletal hands assail Kroll. Spellguard’s runes flash to life in bright turquoise as Kroll swats the hands away with his new shield.
The Robed Ones ire fixes on Kroll, but the fixation supplants malice with curiosity. “You are not Knights of the Tarrasque, who are you?” The tension in the room lifts, or at least the sense of impending doom. The Robed One identifies himself as the Headmaster of the Arcane University and learns that many years have passed without his knowing. He tells that he could find no worthy successor for the position of headmaster and therefore needed to take measures to ensure he could fill the position indefinitely. This of course required sacrifice, and who better than volunteers? The Knights and their mage allies within the university could be counted on to attack once rumours of necromantic practices reached their ears, and he needed only trigger an avalanche when they came to make good on their oaths to kill the unholy. His plan now executed, he turns to his eternal task.
“Spread the word, school’s back in!”