Folk rejoiced as spring bloomed throughout Eamonvale. Blue skies replaced gray, snows melted, and flowers bloomed on the hillsides of high mountain valleys. Traveling minstrels strode the open roads singing lays of the “Prince Returned to Delver’s Dale”, and the impending tournament and coronation was the talk of every taproom and manor. Merchants, and herders, knights, and ne’r do wells were all on the move.
Amongst the bustling crowd in The Vintner’s Rest sat two sturdy souls, a dwarf and a swarthy, bearded man, listening intently to a pair of shepherds tell of ravaged flocks near the vineyards of Angleheath: “In years past, the Knight of the Manor, Jaeruun, would have sussed out the problem. He’s not called the Pillar of Light for nothing. Aye, but that lights gone missing. The Pillar hasn’t been seen about since first thaw. Maybe he’s training for the joust in the Dale this summer… maybe Danzig got ‘im.”
The dwarf grunted and tapped the hammer amulet that held his beard in place, “I begin to understand why Master Mallet sent me on this wine buying mission. Seems it won’t be so mundane after all! Har!”
“And perhaps I’ll earn that gold you slipped my way, oh dwarf” the swarthy warrior said as he quaffed his ale and wetted his jet black beard with foam. “Ah, but its good to get out of the Grey Citadel and feel the sun again. I’m afraid the winters chill will last through summer in that dour town.”
The day dawned clear and crisp as it does only when Spring is fresh and new, secure in place in the season. Clouds scudded up the valley to nest above the Grey Citadel along the flanks of the World Mountain, but that was far away. Here, in the lower end of the Eamon Vale, as the halfling town of Angleheath drew nearer, the sun did indeed warm the beards of the stolid travelers as they led their mule amongst the vines heavy with grapes and along a muddy cart track.
A scream rent the peace of the day and a small child burst through the hedge a few paces from the travelers. “Help! we are beset! Dragons from the sky! Father! Mother is in the house! Help!”
Cursing and grunting, the two warriors drew their weapons and followed the child to a small glen where two winged reptiles the size of horses terrorized this bucolic farm. A red drake atop the farmhouse tore at the thatch roof, while a green one stood athwart the small form of a halfling farmer. Somewhere, a pig snorted.
The battle was joined! Javelins flew! Prayers were sent to Moradin and mighty hammer blows punctuated them. The drakes were swift and elusive opponents, and their talons rent the boiled leather cuirass of the southern man, but nevertheless, these two hardened warriors soon slew the beasts.
After a short rest, the two followed a pig to a neighboring farm where another drake pawed at another helpless farmer, only this lizard wore an elaborate saddle complete with saddle bags, and seemed to have no interest in eating or violence. In fact, it seemed fairly docile, so much so that the servant of Moradin attempted to mount the beast, which lead to a comical state of affairs involving a foot caught in a stirrup and a drake which flew away, leaving the dwarf left holding a saddlebag. In the saddlebag was an ancient dagger, elaborately exotic in design, and still smelling of the dust of a millenia. There was also a small vial filled with a very viscous fluid.
Finally, at the village, a mob children armed with rocks and pitchforks were sorely tempted to take matters into their own hands against a fourth drake who seemed to have crash landed in town. The children were dissuaded by the martial types who approached the lizard, which bore an iron collar, a brand of Ouroboros, and many, many scars of a life lived in torment. The creature seemed to be speaking some ancient language as it shook violently, spasmed, and finally lay still, a tragic creature laid to rest.
The townsfolk feted the two warriors for their brave defense and gifted them with a great many barrels of wine, now if only they would discover the source of these reptilian depredations! So the duo set early the next morn, still drunk from excess, hiking east, toward the singular figure of the Morningfall Mount. They discovered the be-saddled drake in a small clearing in the forest, dead now, at final rest at the foot of a strangely armored warrior whose crumpled form lay half buried in the loam due to the impact of some unimaginable fall. The corpse was that of an Eladrin (that in-bred race of fey who are most commonly found amongst the corrupt fleshpots of far off Asgulan), bearing arms of another age. Amongst the gaunt man’s effects were found ancient coins and a map of the region with the Morningfall Mount dead center.
“Well,” said the dwarf, “We’d better get climbing.”
The ascent of Mount Morningfall was an epic tale in and of itself, not one to easily be forgotten by any man, and a lesson in frivolous undertakings, for the Mount exacted its toll for passage. But the view was spectacular.
Finally the ascent was finished, and the heroes crested the ridge at a dizzying height, to find a wonder to behold. Suddenly, the name of this mountain took on new meaning. The bowl shaped valley that opened beneath their feet was littered with massive pieces of sundered marble and stonework overgrown with bushes, moss, and trees. the debris was not merely scattered across the ground but suspended in midair throughout the valley, as if frozen in place and weathered over a millennia. Not even the passage of time could disguise the catastrophic event that must have taken place here. Pieces of elaborate architecture, both embedded in the ground and hovering above it, radiated upward and outward from the lowest point in the valley. The most prominent edifice amongst the airborne flotsam was a nearly undamaged tower near the bottom of the valley but well above the surface.
Descending into this valley, the dwarf discovered that chunks of rock as large as a table could be pushed as if it floated in water, and would even hold his weight. What strange sorcery took place here?
A ring of statues guarded the final pitch into the center of the hanging vale. These statues were rooted to the earth. Each depicted an armored sentinel wearing armor of a similar style to the fallen rider. As the duo approached, an apparition appeared before them.
The phantom spoke in a town ancient and mournful, like a cold wind whistling on a barren heath: “This is no place for the breathing. It is a said tomb meant for the dead. My name was Tiburcaex Verak in life, but now I am something less. My soldiers and I mean to do you no harm, but our honor may require that preference to become meaningless if you persist in this place. We are duty bound to the last remaining scio of a once glorious house of warriors and scholarship. It causes me great torment to siphon the life of living things, and yet we must carry out the will of our new steward, even as doing so compromises the entirety of our noble history and brings the Worm that much closer to final victory. Such are the vagaries of honor. LOSo be it. This is your warning. Leave while you can or forfeit your lives to our necrotic swords. We can only stand idle a moment longer.”
The sorrow evident in the ghost’s voice led the scion of Moradin to believe he could reason with this honorable ghost, and so he attempted to parlay. The spirit answered some questions, and told a tale of the Last War of Autumn, when Danzig’s giants forced the Elder sky city of Urustranes to crash into this mountain, killing thousands and crippling the defenses of those who stood against the Winter Imperium. Gut all this availed the dwarf little, and soon enough he was convinced to make a break for it. Too late, elven spectres appeared about these heroes and so a battle with the chill breath of the grave began.
The spectres of ancient eladrin warriors unleashed the cosmic sorrow that had pent up for a thousand years, crying forth their anguish, driving the two warriors to their knees. Phantom swords clashed with hammer and spear. But soon enough it was over, for these ghosts had little of the fighting spirit in them.
Exausted, tired, and well spent in the favors of Moradin and Mithras, the two mountaineers looked down the valley at that hanging tower which had become their goal.