The intrepid duo of Cendred and Robin have been pondering a small quandary: why did Cendred have the inescapable urge to drink blood during their fight to free the captured dragonling in the Weirdling Wood?
Suspecting one of his newly gained magic items may have had something to do with it, Cendred decides—grudgingly—to call on the aid of the Summoner Deimos Phenom, who had much to do with the plague outbreak in Freeport months before, and whose decisions on that matter Cendred has never agreed with. However, Deimos is well-versed in magic, perhaps the most well-versed of anyone they know.
While Cendred is pondering this issue, Robin is approached by the dwarf Hagvar, who gave him his trial a few weeks before to enter the Black Cloak Hunters. At the time, Hagvar felt Robin needed more experience before taking the mantle of the Black Cloak. Now he has decided it’s time, and leads Robin into a nearby wood, where Robin meets three of the five Hunter Lords. There, he swears an oath to the Black Cloak Code and dons the namesake item. After some brief training by Hagvar in the finer points of hunting and destroying undead, Robin returns to Freeport to rejoin Cendred—only to find Cendred already gone, traveling southwest to find Deimos. Robin quickly follows after, and they soon meet on the road.
Cendred explains what he’d learned from Blade Commander Alturin at the now-rebuilding chapter-house of the guild: Deimos apparently has a tower not far from the river city of Vaarsuvius on the Dembram Republic’s western border. The two travel to Vaarsuvius without incident, and after a strange bit of illusory magic, find themselves in Deimos’ “tower” (it’s actually hidden underground).
Deimos takes a gander at Cendred’s newest acquisition, apparently a simple +1 ring of protection, only to discover the ring is not what it seems. It is in fact a very rare item once belonging to an adventurer from eons past named Corso Rayne. Corso was famous for battling the shadowy faction known as The Vassagians. Corso was also a vampire.
Deimos believes the ring does not actually bestow the curse of vampirism to its wearer, just its original owner’s thirst. Hoping to understand more about the ring and potentially cleanse this curse from it to make it a potent magic item (it actually functions as a +3 ring of protection) the two take on the task of finding two items that Deimos believes will shed light on the ring’s mysterious past: the first is the journal of Vargo Gryne, the man who is reputed to have finally killed Corso. The journal is encoded, however, and is useless without the second part, the cipher.
Deimos proposes that a man such as Vargo—who had a nasty reputation of his own—was probably too paranoid to keep the cipher anywhere but on his person, and was likely buried with it. He was rumored to be buried somewhere in Everwood.
The journal seems to be a much simpler task: Deimos has a friend in the king of Hyperion, one Marcus Rannos. The king has a copy of Vargo’s journal. Deimos writes a letter to allow them access to the royal library and the two begin by heading to Hyperion’s capitol city of Arcturus.
To absolutely no one’s surprise, the journey doesn’t go smoothly.
Once they reach the city by boat and present their letter to the city watch, Cendred and Robin are immediately arrested on suspicion of treason. They are disarmed and led to the castle, where they’re tossed unceremoniously into a parlor to await one of the Keepers of the Crown, the group who runs the kingdom in the ruler’s absence and after the death of the king, before a new ruler is crowned. (For more on the unusual customs of Hyperion, read about them on the wiki page for the Continent of Suinvar.)
They are soon met by Keeper Saran Kincaid, who tells them the king has recently gone missing. The reason they were met with suspicion is because Deimos, another Keeper, happened to leave the city on the same day King Rannos went missing. She does not believe Deimos is actually responsible, but the city watch is without leads. Upon learning the reason for their visit, she offers the adventurers a deal: find what happened to King Rannos, and she will allow them to take their copy of Vargo’s journal. She suspects foul play, but hopes the pair might find a different answer.
She leads the two of them up to the royal bedchambers, the last place King Rannos was seen. There, they find a bloodstain on the carpet next to the king’s bed. Robin, using his keen tracking and perceptive skills, notes it is not a bloodspray per se, but rather an unusually-shaped blood trail, leading to a nearby section of wall. Cendred’s sharp elven eyes quickly discern a hidden door, and the two find themselves in an old stairwell leading to an abandoned servant’s entrance on the other side of the castle grounds.
After asking around the nearby neighborhood, they discover that the night of the king’s disappearance, a man who appeared wounded was seen fleeing from the vicinity of the castle toward the dockside district. The shopkeeper alerted the watch, but no one was found. Following the clues, the pair learn that the wounded man was seen again near an abandoned warehouse. They investigate outside the warehouse and pick up the trail of blood there.
After that, Robin is like a wolfhound on the scent, and follows the blood trail through the dockside alleys to a pier, and into a nearby sewage grate. They follow it through the sewers, where they can see the clear signs of offensive magic having been used (specifically, the spell scorching ray). They follow deeper into the sewers, eventually coming to an exit grate above that leads them directly back to the castle—this time in the royal dungeons.
They head into the dungeons and come to a man sitting lotus-style in front of a door. It is none other than King Rannos himself. Rannos looks battered, malnourished, and a bit dehydrated, but otherwise he is alive. He explains he had two attackers, a master and apprentice. The master is dead, and his apprentice fled from Rannos and wound up locking himself in the room next to him. Rannos has been keeping vigil over the door, but detected a magic trap set up to disintegrate whoever opened it. He has been unable to leave for help for fear of losing the attacker.
Now that help has arrived, Rannos explains he will open the door and take the brunt of the spell. Whatever happens, he says, Cendred and Robin must get in there and take care of the assassin. While they are not giddy about the idea of letting the king take a disintegrate spell to the face, Rannos insists.
He throws open the door and suffers the spell. It does not kill him outright—a testament to the king’s fortitude—but the secondary damage drops him unconscious. True to their word, Cendred and Robin rush in to face the would-be assassin, an accomplished monk. However, it’s two-to-one, and eventually the pair finish him off.
Afterward, Robin revives the king with a couple of healing spells, and they escort him back upstairs. After he recovers, he throws a lavish feast in their honor. They explain the reason for their visit, and he is only too happy to give them the journal, being the least he can do for them. (It is Cendred who has to go into the library and attain the journal, seeing as one of the veteran loremasters who run it is an ancient lich known as The Archivist; since this creature is sworn to fealty to the king and a member of the royal staff, Robin’s newly acquired Nemesis Rage would force him into combat, causing no end of grief for the two of them had they survived—which is unlikely.)
In a flash of inspiration, Robin and Cendred ask if the king can offer them one more boon. It has long been Robin’s dream to one day return to his decimated home of Echinea and reclaim it from the undead horde that now resides there. He asks if King Rannos can spare warriors for this task when the time comes. Unfortunately, Rannos tells them he is already stretched to his limits fighting a war on two fronts: firstly with the armies of Velanaar to the North, who have been pushing into Hyperion territory for more land, and secondly with the armies of the Grindel Territories to the East, who sense Hyperion’s weakened state and seek to take advantage. Until his problem is solved, he is unable to give aid. For the time being, all he can offer is quick passage to Everwood to attain the journal’s cipher, by way of teleportation. Considering Everwood is several weeks of travel away, the two don’t hesitate to take his offer.
But even with this setback to Robin’s long-term goal, a solution is already formulating in his mind…