Session 53 – The End

The heroes gather what information they can from Mindressa, and, as peacefully as they can manage, fulfill her request.

Advancing once again through the magical fog, they emerge on stone steps winding their way around the exterior of a black spire.

Black clouds and shadows spin madly around the periphery of this spire, under the dark sky. The party feels a life-draining hunger emanating from within the swirling darkness, which is dotted with thousands of glowing spheres – which can only be the souls of the dead, trapped here by the late Kalarel’s foul ritual. The spire’s center holds a dark swirl shot through with smeared starlight, which shudders between four sculptures of fossilized black bone. Suspended within the vortex hangs a cage of iron and twisted bone, and within, the limp form of the orphan boy Jonno.

Partly obscured behind this ebony vortex is a huge, night-black dragon. This is Urishtar, her nearly translucent scales seeming to shimmer in the dim light. The dragon roars, momentarily disrupting the swirling clouds above. It rumbles something in Draconic, then sneers as none in the party can reply. It takes flight, circling the spire , then suddenly attacking as the party approaches the vortex.

Urishtar is joined by several wraithlike smaller dragons, and the battle is long and bloody. However, with their hard-won power and experience, the heroes of the Hand of the North fare well, supporting and protecting one another. However, Pype is overcome, pinned to the ground beneath Urishtar’s claw, and mortally wounded.

Eventually the great dragon falls dead, and it’s minions scatter. The spire begins to collapse, and the vortex grows larger and becomes violently unstable, and seems to eat away at anything placed within. The dying Pype volunteers to enter the dark energy and free Jonno, and does so, hurling the boy to safety even as he himself is torn apart.

The remaining heroes flee the increasingly unstable spire in a mad dash, plunging back into the strange fog. As the sounds of destruction roar behind them, they find themselves approaching the exit of the Tomb, and burst through the doors and into the Gloomdeep caverns. The ground still shudders violently, so they dodge falling rock and stalactites and emerge from the caverns just in time to see the black comet explodes in the sky. Dust and fragments are blown high and wide across the horizon, and rain down across the land …

Returning to Exridge, the city rings with joy at the end of the troubles. Sadly, upon their return they find Lenina is unable to be raised – her soul has passed beyond. Andra, Balgo, and Missa held a private service for her, and asks the heroes to return her ashes to Winterhaven, to scatter them to the winds in the hills north of the So’West Vale. The heroes quietly slip out of town, and Phaean summons great eagles to return them to Winterhaven.

They return to Winterhaven as heroes, and find that Lord Padraig has begun work of restoring Shadowfell Keep. The tomb of Sir Keegan has been consecrated and locked after consulting with the spirit.

They hear news that there have been several attempts by remnants of the Bloodspears to attack the town, but a band of goblin raiders has driven them away time and again. No one knows who organized them or why they fought to defend the town … only their war chant – “Splug! Splug! Splug!”

Oddly, Mitchell Indistel’s body was found torn to pieces deep in the swamp. The prime suspect is Vella, who had been spotted a few times wandering the swamp, wild eyed and seemed to be searching for something. She hasn’t been seen for a while now, and is presumed to be dead.

Jonno is happily taken in by Ella Indistel, who returned from hiding after her father’s death. She’s relinquished all Indistel claims to land in the Vale, living on her own on a small plot of land far from her family’s former property.

(The following closing summaries for each character was created with the player’s input.)

Ramor
Although Ramor felt the time with his companions was worthy, he long felt the pain at the of loss of his clansmen.

With his days of adventure with the Hand of the North at an end, he bids farewell to his friends, and ventures deep into the icy wastelands beyond Old Nerath.

Many years pass before rumors reach Winterhaven of the rise of a powerful barbarian clan far to the north. Some say the blood of Nerath himself returns, uniting the northmen under a common banner … but some in Winterhaven still remember the name … Ramor.

Peren
With his adventures with the Hand of the North at an end, Peren departs Winterhaven in search of Irel and the Blood Brotherhood.

Although Zirithian, Paldemar, and Kalarel have been defeated, House Oramis survives. Peren eventually finds Irel, and under their leadership, the Brotherhood roots out the influence of the Orami throughout the Vale, breaking their evil influence and restoring order and safety to the land.

Ionoa
With her adventures with the Hand of the North at an end, Ionoa remains in Winterhaven for a year, helping the village deal with the blighted crops and evil infestations within the swamps.

She then bids farewell to Winterhaven, and returns to the Winterbole forest with the ice bear Fyro. Ionoa returns to Brynnan’s cabin, and sets about carrying on with the care and defense of what she considers her lands.

Many years later, those with ill intent who enter the forest still tend to not return, and those that do tell fearful tales of a ghostly ice bear and its eladrin mistress who haunt the wood.

Phaean
Phaean spends several weeks with his family in Winterhaven, bestowing on them financial security for the rest of their lives. He also purchases much of the abandoned Indistel lands, and on them lays the cornerstone of what will eventually become a temple of Ioun.

As the years pass, it grows to a shining tower on the land, and the small hamlet of Winterhaven grows to one of the most vibrant cities of the north, and at the center, in a park that now encompasses the majority of the original town, sits the gleaming tower of of learning that Phaeanites the world over flock to to learn the arcane secrets that Phaean has spent a lifetime uncovering.

After many years, and uncovering so many of the arcane secrets that have been hidden for so long, Ioun speaks to Phaean in his dreams….the time has finally come….after 200 years of preparation, Phaean is needed on the Astral Plane to join with Ioun and lend his vast intellect to that of Arcane’s supreme deity.

On the second new moon after the autumnal equinox Ioun appears to him and places him on the road to godhood. While the road is long, and the tasks arduous, Phaean eventually proves his value to the god of knowledge, and is called home to serve him on the Astral Plane.

On the 50th anniversary of being placed on the road to godhood, Ioun reaches down and places his hands on Phaean’s head. Heat rushes through his body, burning the away his remaining mortality. As he stands on the roof of the Tower of Phaean, he ascends in a beam of light to the Astral Plane. The sight is seen as far away in Moonstair, the second city of Phaeanites, where the second temple of Phaean is nearing completion.

From this moment on, through time immemorial, the night of the second new moon after the autumnal equinox is forever known as Phaean’s Night.

On this night, those who seek enlightenment in the ancient tomes of knowledge create pillars of light, and point them to the northern sky seeking the enlightenment of the greatest digit of the Hand of the North … the Immortal Phaean, seeker of arcane knowledge and lost truths!

 

the-end-old-movie

Session 52 – The End in a Barrow

The party rests for the night, and in the morning ventures into the fog. They wander for a while before the mist begins to thin, and the tunnel opens into a large room, occupied by another of the giant undead creatures they defeated in Al’whar – an Eater Lord. The heroes attack the creature and its Eater minions, and eventually defeat their enemies.

They rest again before moving on. They pass through more of the strange mist, and enter another large open room, the center of which rises to a wide platform. At its center stands a large crystal, colored deep violet. In the four corners of the room there are again huge, grotesquely animated mounds of sharp bone and bloody body parts. These barrows are surrounded by the flickering, ghostly images of other adventurers doing battle with them. Sensing the PC’s presence, the barrows advance.

Phaean is the first to examine the crystal, and discovers a familiar Eladrin woman trapped within, her mouth sewn shut with rough black thread, her eyes filled with sorrow. The barrows prove impossible to defeat, so the party concentrates on destroying the crystal to free the woman. However, they have spread themselves thin, and one by one the party members are defeated and drawn into the barrows. While trapped, they feel as if years pass, and find themselves among the ghostly figures, forever fighting a losing battle. There is a sudden “snapping” of time, and they find themselves again undamaged at the entrance to the room. Everyone concentrates their efforts on freeing the woman, and quickly destroy the crystal. As she steps clear of the enchanted prison, it turns to dust, the ghostly combatants disappear, and the barrows themselves seem to “stutter” through time to a point where they lose their evil animus.

The woman, Mindressa, was the first to suffer the ritual and be made an Eater, and all those created after her draw their power from her soul. No new Eaters will be able to be created without being able to consume part of her essence, and when she dies, they will all die with her. She tells them that only Urishtar herself now stands between them and young Jonno, and asks a favor after the heroes have rested and are ready to move on. Mindressa asks that they kill her to ensure an end to the plague of Eaters.

Session 51 – Phaean has never wanted anything as badly as he wants this jeweled skull (MSRP 45,000 gold).

(In which your DM returns from surgery and the holidays, and everyone finally manages to get together again.)

The heroes climb the broken tower, ascending into a hazy gray fog. The tower is sharply slanted, and they eventually find it leans against another structure, breaking through what appears to be a castle wall of some sort. They scramble over into an empty hallway, and spend some time exploring the seemingly abandoned area.

Eventually they descend into what seems to be a subterranean church, with an altar featuring a faceless angel with her arms stretched high, flanked by smaller statues of two rotting crows. Phaean becomes convinced they party needs to remain in this room and figure out their next steps, and begins acting strangely. Suddenly black sludge begins to fill the room, cutting off their exit and pouring from the walls.

After several argumentative minutes, Phaean attacks Ramor, who is trying to pry the bars from a grate that seems to be the only other exit. Shorty after, Phaean shivers and explains that something had possessed him, a presence that wanted to remain in this room at all costs lest its soul be consumed by some evil presence. This spirit proceeds to take control of the various members of the party, driving them to attack each other or obstruct their exit from the rapidly-filling room.

The heroes manage to make it out in time, and leave the presence behind to unknown ends. They take a short rest and proceed down the tunnel a few hundred yards. They emerge into a small featureless room, at the center of which sits a bejeweled skull with a round hole or slot of some type in the top. As Ramor enters, he notices Nightbringer has vanished.

The skull speaks, “Welcome, lost souls, to the end of your journey. Approach, lay your hands upon me, and surrender your lives to Urishtar. Your deaths will be unavoidably long and painful, but so much more enviable than life after she awakens the Sleeper.”

Not ones for outright suicide, the heroes search the room but find nothing. They make several attempts to shoot the skull off its pedestal with arrows, or destroy it with other attacks, but strong magic protects it.

After some thought, they remember that the last time Nightbringer vanished, it was in their bag of holding, so they check there and find it. However, it is no longer in the form of an axe, but rather a small stiletto, seeming to hide from them among the bag’s other contents. The party decides to place Nightbringer in the slot in the skull, and it tells them they are making a mistake. They proceed regardless, and the skull thanks them and invites them to place their hands on itself.

They do so, and as soon as the last person does so, the skull laughs, and the entire floor of the room plummets away beneath the party. They all fall 90 feet into a rubble-strewn chamber below, and have just a second to regain their feet before the ceiling above also detaches and comes crashing down on them. Everyone manages to dodge the full impact, but they all take a severe beating from the falling rock.

When the dust settles, they see an exit to the north leading down a short hall that disappears into gold-tinged mist.

Session 50 – Through the Dead City

The party arrives at a rune-covered pool before a locked door. Within the pool a serpent made of water guarded the key. After several near-drownings, the group defeated the magical beast and traveled past the door.

They exited into the crumbling remains of a dead city; in the distance a decrepit tower rose from a skull-shaped hill. On the first floor of the tower, the adventurers defeated a mob of zombies and wights.

Climbing higher, they then encountered an undead mass of bones and body parts, a moving barrow that tried to consume the party. Phaean found himself near death, impaled on sharp bones jutting from the barrow, but his fellow heroes managed to save him and defeat the creature.

Session 49 – Bridge of the Tortured Visage

The heroes advance down the hidden tunnel, which remains straight and featureless. After several hours, their path opens up to exit the sheer face of a giant obsidian cliff. Across an unfathomable gulf, a wide bridge of floating stones leads to an similar opening two hundred feet away.

Fearing a trap, the party tests the firmness of the stones, the strength of the wind, the composition of the cliff face, the quality of the air, and the presence of traps (no) or magic (yes, very). Peren advances a short way onto the bridge without issue, so the rest of the group follows behind cautiously.

As they approach the center of the bridge, several magical flames appear, flickering softly over empty areas at the edges of the bridge. Some of the party also begins catching brief glances of a white, ghostly face hovering at either end of the crossing. When Peren crosses the halfway point, rows of ghostly figures appear across the width of the bridge – one at either end, trapping the heroes between them.

The ghosts move forward in their lines, driving any who resist back with terrifying screams or lashing tentacles of mist. The PCs are pushed back to the center of the bridge, between four of the magical flames before the ghosts cease their advance and stare at the party. Any attempt to move past the is met with powerful attacks which fling the attacker away. Ionoa attempts to Fey Step past them, but finds herself seemingly snared within one of the misty forms until she escapes back to the center of the bridge.

After some observation, the party notices that these ghosts all seem to be the same woman, and that her mouth is sewn shut, as they have seen with the various Eaters they have fought before. Peren steps within one of the magical flames and, while to himself unharmed, appears to burn to death in a spectacular fashion – reduced to bones and ash within seconds.

Eventually four of the party step into the flames, leaving Ionoa standing alone, the subject of the spirits’ pleading gaze. They appear to be attempting to speak, but are hindered by their roughly sealed mouths. Several tense minutes pass before Ramor, mostly in passing, utters an apology, at which those forms nearest him immediately disappear.

The party remembers the only words they ever heard an Eater speak, so long ago at the beginning of their adventure – “I’m sorry.” Each of them in turn speaks those same words to the ghosts here, and one by one they fade away. With the last one gone, the flames also wink out, leaving the party alone on the bridge.

Not wanting to tempt fate or invite further visitation, they advance quickly across and into the entryway at the far end.

Session 48 – Svades Maroul

The heroes rest for the night, and in the morning set off for the Gloomdeeps. According to the map they obtained at the library, the entrance lies two days hard ride to the northeast of the city. Phaean again summons ghostly steeds for the party, and they are able to make the trip in under a day. 

A small but deep crack in a low cliffside leads to a series of caves. With careful exploration, the party enters the mapped area within an hour or two at the point marked “To the Surface”.

The group carefully makes their way deeper into the caves, and begin to hear several guttural voices chanting, “Turog! Turog! Turog!” The walls and stalagmites of the cave system glow with phosphorescent fungi as a passage opens into an enormous cavern. The ancient corpse of a monstrous wormlike beast with lavender scales stretches across the ground. Four large, one-eyed humanoids circle the corpse, chanting the name of the Crawling God, Turog. A 10-foot-long wooden chest with black iron fittings rests against the southeast cavern wall. Combat ensues, and the party then notices an enormous wormlike creature crawling across the ceiling of the chamber. After a short but bloody battle, the heroes slay the Cyclops cultists and the huge Carrion Crawler they had mistaken for Turog. Within the chest, the party finds a large iron key, which radiates strong magic.

The party takes a short rest and moves on deeper into the caves. 

They eventually reach another large cavern, lit with flaring torchlight which reveals a smooth wall of worked stone set with iron double doors to the south. Two pools of water in the cavern floor are surrounded by four statues—a pair of ancient kings standing along the west wall, and two gargoyles crouched on basalt pillars to the east. The area around the doors seems oddly shadowed, darker than it should be considering the bright light.

Etched above the doors is a cracked and stained phrase, covered in moss and written in Draconic:

Beyond these doors lies not treasure but disaster.
To breach this portal is to invite the doom of a bloody and gruesome death.
Unholy, unholy, unholy is The Tomb of [Dreams].


The party notices that the last word, “Maroul”, actually has a chunk missing from the wall. It lies on the ground nearby, and when it is replaced, the word reads not “Dreams” but “Horrors”. Faced with the entrance to the legendary Tomb of Horrors, they decide to rest for the night before opening the doors.

After waking and preparing themselves, the group uses the recovered magic key to open the great black doors and enters the tomb. They find themselves in a long, empty stone hallway which leads off into darkness, and the doors close softly behind them. 

The party advances for a while – for how long seems hard to say – but eventually the hall collapses into a great round chasm. A steady outpouring of black sludge flows over the edge from great cracks in the walls and ceiling. A greater torrent jets out from faults in the rough rock of the chasm, falling as the hissing curtain of a black waterfall into the depths of the “well”.

Rough ledges jut out from the well’s walls as the rain falls 70 feet to fill a wide pool below. Above the surface of the pool, a circular slab of white stone is set with four trapdoors, each one bearing a different rendition of the symbol of the Sleeper’s Eye (closed, slightly open, half open, fully awake). There is some discussion of the best method to climb down, when it is noticed that the “rain” seems both damaging and sentient in some way, twisting to lash at and pull anyone moving into the chasm.

Pype tests his luck by thrusting his arm fully outwards, and is pulled violently out into space. He falls, making and missing several attempts to grab one of the ledges on his way down, and lands gracelessly in the black pool far below. The rest of the party has similar difficulty navigating down the well, suffering great amounts of both necrotic and falling damage.

Meanwhile, Pype and those who join him attempt to open each of the trapdoors in turn, and find that all seem to be decoys – and trapped. Alternately unleashing fireballs, acid mist, poisonous gas, or necrotic clouds, none of them turn out to be true doors.

After some amount of consternation, the heroes search the rest of the well, and locate a passageway set twenty feel up the wall behind the black waterfall. They each manage to swing, climb, or jump their way into the hidden passage, and take a short rest to recover.

Session 47 – Mayhem in the White City

In the morning, the PCs cross the wasteland and return to the Keeper. 

The party gives him the amulet they recovered from Kalarel, and with glee he smashes it to pieces. He offers them a drink from his flask and happily inquires where they need to go –  If they want to go back to Phaervorul, they can return to the Bridge of Webs and cross back the way they came, but if they wish to go elsewhere, the Keeper offers them directions. One of the points he mentions is an ancient, secret way last used by the gnolls, which would place them in the hills two days west of Exridge.

The party remembers that they still possess Sunwrath, the ancestral sword of the Turol family, who reside in Exridge. They decide to travel to Exridge, return the sword, and plot their next direction. They bid farewell to the Keeper and pass through the orb to the Bridge of Webs. Following the Keeper’s directions, they travel a crumbling portion of the bridge to another orb, and pass through.

They find themselves at the dark bottom of a freezing lake, and make a panicked swim for the surface. It seems that this exit is in a basin that fills and empties with the seasons. Getting their bearings, the PCs notice two things – the weather seems unreasonably warm, and the black comet in the sky now appears as large as the moon. A check of the stars reveals that it is late summer – it seems for each day they spent in Deadhold, a week of time has passed here!

The party makes camp to rest, but at sunset, Phaean receives a Sending from Andra:  “Lenia slain by assassins. Temple cannot Raise her, cannot Raise anyone, something is very wrong. Come to Exridge if you can. Please. Will try to reach you again at sunrise.”

Phaean uses a ritual to summon ghostly mounts for the group, and they speed off for Exridge. Upon arriving, they realize this is the shining city from their last dream of Jono. They proceed into the outer ring of the city and search for Andra. They eventually find her in an old city inn called The White Ice west of Pelor Grove. She blames herself, and is certain she was not careful enough and was followed from Alwhar to here.

Andra explains that several people infiltrated Lenina’s home two weeks ago. They attacked at night, bypassing several wards she had set up, and slew her. She must have killed or wounded at least one of them, but the killers left nothing of their own behind. 

Lenina was looking into the cause of the black comet, and was trying to reach the PCs herself – she believed it was a physical manifestation of the Sleeper in this world as it worked to complete its ritual in the Shadowfell – the ritual created by Kalarel that involves the sacrifice of an orphan child. She whispered one word to Andra as she died – Urishtar. At its utterance, an ill wind blows, candles are snuffed out, and the very light seems to depart the room.

Missa and Balgo arrived last week as well, and are helping Andra tend to matters. Andra has paid twice for an attempted Raise Dead ritual, but they are not working – for anyone. Between this and the comet, people are in a panic, and she asks for the party’s help trying again. The churches are fighting, and ritual costs have skyrocketed, and the wait is now longer than a month – and the ritual is only effective if performed within 30 days. Some say the Raven Queen is weak, some say she is making a play for control, some say she’s finally turned fully evil. The party promises to try to schedule a third attempt, and leave.

They try to make their way to the Turol estate within the inner ring of the city, but are stopped at the gate and instructed to declare their “Heritage and Intent”. Their intent is easy enough, but no one has any idea what is meant by Heritage. The clerk instructs them that they will need to make an appointment with the High Clerists Office to have the Rite of Passing ritual performed to determine their Heritage, and that the current wait time is two weeks. After some back and forth, the heroes determine that each citizen of the nation of Turrion is born into one of thirteen clans that loosely affect social status. The clans are represented by animals, and the group remembers that they each saw a different animal in their dream. They proceed to declare their Heritage animal, and are permitted into the inner city.

House Turol is the family of Queen Margery Exridge of the eastern nation of Turrion. Etheran, who was slain fighting the troll king Skalmad, was the Queen’s nephew – the Queen’s late sister’s only son. His father, Nedwin Turol, still lives in Exridge at the Turol estates in Old City on Nobles Hill. Nedwin is Queen Margery’s late sister’s husband, and a Wolf, and is afforded high prestige.

His manservant Apano meets with the heroes and hears their story. Apano presents them to Nedwin, who, though deeply saddened by the news, thanks them for the return of the familial sword Sunwrath. He serves them a mid-day feast, and asks to hear their story. Impressed with their accomplishments, he offers to make arrangements for them to meet with priest of Pelor and schedule another attempt to Raise Lenina.

The heroes return to Andra with the news, and do some research at the local library to see what they can find about “Urishtar”. They learn that Urishtar is the name of a creature who lives in the Shadowfell, atop a black spire described very much like the one the heroes have dreamed of since leaving Winterhaven. To reach the spire, one must first find the entrance to the Shadowfell deep within a cavern complex called the Gloomdeeps, and pass through a place called “Svades Maroul” – “The Tomb of Dreams”. They also get some shopping done, then rest for the night.

The next day, they group gathers for the ritual attempt. A crowd stands around an open mausoleum in the graveyard on this dark, rainy day. They see a young priest of Pelor who wears a worried expression as he calls out, “Pelor, I beseech thee! Return this worthy woman back to life!” Beside the priest, Andra, Missa, and Balgo can barely contain their sobs of grief. The rest of the crowd looks no happier, and many of them make protective signs as they mumble, “Pelor has abandoned us,” or, “The Raven Queen has turned against the living”.

The young priest completes the final steps of the ritual. Lenina’s body doesn’t move, but suddenly a malevolent wind rises within the stone crypt, and a dark mist swirls wildly. “This one is mine!” screams an  otherworldly voice as the dark mist erupts from the open mausoleum and knocks back the priest and scatters the crowd. For just a moment, the mist seems to take the shape of a dragon, and then it disappears as quickly as it arrived. For an instant, a deep hush falls over the graveyard, then several members of the crowd remove their dark cloaks and attack the heroes – they instantly recognize Ena Indistel and the surviving members of her Dead Crows gang and battle begins.

Ena and her allies are aided by several undead creatures that burst from the ground, but in her lust for revenge against the party, she has underestimated their strength. The party responds with a savage counterattack, slaying her allies and mortally wounding Ena. She fights on to the death, finally falling, and cursing the heroes with her last breath for killing her lover Paldemar. “You have not killed us, but merely brought us together once again,” she laughs, then slumps lifelessly to the ground.

Session 46 – Kalarel Reborn

The party passes through the Gate of Shadow. Each member of the group finds themselves alone in darkness, and faces two mysterious challenges.

First, the darkness around them fades to gray. Ahead, they see a robed figure sitting atop a small pile of skulls. It holds a wand of bone in its left hand and a book in its right hand. The figure beckons them closer, and speaks to them – “All that lives dies. All that die come before Orcus, king of the dead. You are not dead. Yet. But you seek to enter his domain. I believe that you are lost, confused as to your true destination. Perhaps I must send you back from whence you came. Unless, of course, I am mistaken and you are indeed dead. You must demonstrate to me that life no longer courses through your veins.” Some of the heroes try to bluff the creature, others threaten, and others present reasoned arguments. Most succeed in passing this test, but two fail, and the creature writes their names in its book.

Suddenly, the party members stand before a monstrous being sitting upon a throne of bones. This creature has a pig-like face, red skin, and massive wings. It can only be Orcus, demon prince of the undead. The creature carries a jeweled rod in one hand. It points it at them as a voice echoes in their minds. He says, “You and your allies are pathetic. You cling to the light of good out of weakness, only because the path of chaos holds fear and uncertainty. You, above the others here, are strong and resolute. Slay Kalarel in my name and I shall grant you the power of an exarch.”

None of the heroes agree to this temptation, and Orcus shrieks with wrath, and the adventurers appear in a huge chamber within the peak of the black ziggurat. Atop a stepped platform, a horde of the mindless creatures knows as Eaters surrounds Lord Dust, a powerful lich who is performing a summoning ritual. The portal seethes with energy in time with his chanting. Several demons appear from side chambers, and the battle is joined.

The heroes succeed in slaying many of the demons and Eaters, but are unable to stop Lord Dust from completing his ritual, and a hideously twisted form of Kalarel is brought through the portal – an undead beholder, Kalarel’s face stretched and twisted across a floating orb of rotting flesh. The tide turns against the heroes, with the reborn Kalarel lashing them with beams of evil energy and returning slain Eaters to life.

The party manages to win through at the end, slaying Kalarel, then Lord Dust, and finally the few remaining Eaters. Exhausted, the group loots the chamber, and retreats outside of the ziggurat to rest.

Session 45 – Making Evil Work for Us

As the heroes sleep, they again dream of the black comet and the orphan Jonno. This dream begins as the others have, with the crash of the black comet into the world, but then the dreamer finds themselves happy atop a spire in a bright city. All is right until a black-cloaked figure tosses a small animal over the ledge to its death – a different animal for each dreamer – bear, badger, horse, owl, and panther. Then the city crumbles into all-consuming darkness, they get a sense of some large creature behind them, and are flung from the spire to their death.

When the party awakes, they find that NightBringer has somehow escaped the bag of holding. Not only that, it has now taken the form of an axe and swapped places with Ramor’s normal weapon. The group has a brief discussion about how evil the weapon actually is, and what a terrible idea it would be for the wild raging barbarian to wield it in battle. They come to the natural conclusion that it’s probably OK, they’ll just keep an eye on him.

The group enters the black pyramid, and are attacked in a maze of walls and cages by a demon and wights. They defeat these creatures and move further into the pyramid, where they are again set upon in an open plaza – this time by an undead blood mage and her minions. Again, the heroes succeed and continue on. Finally, they come upon a large doorway seemingly made of pure darkness. The party decides to rest before advancing further.

Session 44 – “Let’s maybe try killing him?”

Despite NightBringer’s protests, the party decides they’d be better off with it stuffed in the bag of holding. After resting, they step through the portal and onto a stone platform suspended in a great void.

Ahead of them, bridges seemingly spun from spider webs stretch to other platforms in the distance. On the nearest platform is a strange black orb, its surface traced by flashes of crackling yellow energy. The group advances to the orb, and discover that it is a link to the realm of Deadhold. They pass through the orb and emerge atop a stone platform next to an exact duplicate of the sphere they stepped through at the web bridge.

Around them, a desert of gray sand and ash stretches as far as they can see. A dull sun hangs in the sky above, its light obscured by a thick layer of clouds, but its heat no less oppressive. A faint breeze reluctantly stirs the air, bringing with it the stench of decay. In the distance, they can hear the faint sound of untold voices crying out in torment.

The short, hunched figure of a human man stands at the base of the platform. Clad in tattered robes, he clutches a staff that ends in a curved fork. Floating between its tines is a severed human hand. A bell dragging behind the figure is attached to an iron chain wrapped around his neck. The human bows as he speaks. “I am the Keeper. Welcome to Deadhold, travelers.”

The heroes speak with the Keeper and ask directions to Hordethrone. The Keeper refuses unless the party has something to offer, and a bargaining process begins. At one point Ramor becomes frustrated with the delay and strikes the Keeper down with his axe. The Keeper’s body rots to dust, and a short while later he emerges, unharmed, from behind a distant dune. He wearily reproaches the party and resumes negotiations. Eventually the party agree to retrieve an amulet that is in Kalarel’s possession and deliver it to the Keeper. With a bargain struck, the Keeper points them in the direction of Hordethrone.

The heroes set out into the oppressive, choking heat and make their way across the desert. At several points they falter and need to rest, or need to change course to avoid a roaming army of the undead, and at one point are briefly attacked by a spectral dragon passing above. After a dozen hours, they finally see in the distance a small settlement rising from a wide plateau, surrounded by what looks like a river of shadow, which turns out to actually be a gorge around the plateau filled with an endless army of shuffling zombies.

Crossing a bridge of bones into the settlement, the party forces it way through a grisly gate constructed of animate severed limbs and are attacked by hags and a giant skeletal snake creature. After defeating these creatures, the group takes shelter in a small stone building outside a giant obsidian ziggurat.

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