The party is scarred and weary as they drag their way off the lift and slump to the floor. The noise from below is becoming a cacophony, and the reverberation makes it feel as though you are still surrounded by hordes of the undead. It’s a small comfort to see that the rogue appears to be breathing normally, and you try to put it out of your mind as you settle down for whatever rest you can find.
There is an odd comfort in being so close to the shadowfell, for even as your enemies pour through the rift, the opening rings with the presence of the Raven Queen. As you drifted toward an uneasy slumber, you could feel the weight of your patron’s gaze settle upon you, and your sleep became a link with the goddess of death.
The was no reproach, only a sense of purpose as through the her eyes the rift swam into view. Though its physical form was confined to the gateway below, you could see the tendrils of its magic growing, searching out new anchors in the world. Two of these fingers had already found purchase somewhere close at hand. In a tunnel carved from the same stone as the keep, but worn slick by water’s slow passage. The second in a natural limestone cavern, where rats scurried away from the unnatural opening. These sights burned themselves within your mind for an instant before the goddess withdrew, leaving you to your own fitful dreams.
As the party prepared for their next assault, unsure of what would greet them down by the destroyed lift, Taskar slid his shield onto his back, forgoing it for a better grasp on sheathed Aecris. He reached into his bag:
“Tavarius, I was jerking you around earlier. I sure don’t care what Bahamut thinks about his little statues.”
Taskar raised his voice so all the preparing party members could hear him: “I’ve got five of these little guys, so anyone who wants one is welcome. I think we’re going to need all the holy attention we can get.”
Tavarius: “Thanks, but you can keep your statues dragon. The Raven Queen affords me all the protection I need.”
The statues have continued to glow fiercely, increasing in brilliance to match the increase in noise from below.
Aosid stands up quietly, looking exhausted but oddly serene. “If Bahamut wants to intervene, I am certainly not one to protest. I’ll take one of those statues.”
As Taskar hands the statuette to Aosid, it briefly flares brighter as both their hands touch it. Taskar sighs and looks at the pit. The cavalier ring in his voice from just a moment ago is gone. He makes eye contact with Aosid, and says to no one in particular, “I don’t know if we can do this.” Aosid nods ever so slightly. Regardless as to whether Taskar was thinking aloud, it would appear the tiefling agrees.
As the troupe finishes preparing for battle, Taskar delays their rush toward fate ever so slightly: “We can’t wait for, or count on, help from Winterhaven. And it would be foolhardy to not bring everything at our disposal to this fight. I’ll stay here and stand guard. Someone, I don’t care who or how many, need to go back to Sir Keegan and ask for guidance. And do it quickly.”
With another slight nod, Aosid dissolves quietly into the darkness in the direction of the tomb of the fallen knight
Tavarius: “But why are you the one to stay on watch Taskar? You hold Aecris, and surely it would be more fitting for you to ask Sir Keegan for guidance. Don’t worry about the watch I will stay and keep my blade at the ready.”
Taskar nodded. He was reticent to leave, but it was true, he had taken up Sir Keegan’s mantle. He turned to Caelyn and Arista, “You two stay here.” He grinned as best as a lipless lizard mouth could, “Don’t let anything bad happen.” With that, he jogged off down the corridor after the warlock.
Aosid and Taskar:
You wind your way back through the deserted stronghold, leaving the moans of your enemies behind and descending into a sepulchral stillness. The antechamber of Keegan’s tomb is still lit with a pearly luminescence, the image of Bahamut clearly outlined in the starry dome. Opening the door to the inner chamber, you find the ghostly form of the damned knight standing behind his casket, head hung low. Though he gives no sign of noticing your presence, he soon speaks.
“The rift is open. I can feel it’s power… It lends me strength I do not ask for.” He lift his head, though his sockets are sunken his gaze has lost none of the strength it must have possessed in life. “It seems my damnation must continue then… what brings you back to my cell?”
Aosid: I pause to catch my breath and collect my thoughts. The warlord’s heavy strides echo from far down the corridor, but I am in no mood to wait for a more proper diplomatic approach.
“Sir Keegan, we failed our task so far, but we do not intend to leave this keep until Kalarel is forever silenced and you are relieved of your curse.” My voice is steady and sure except for the slightest crack at the last word. Taskar huffs in as I continue:
“We will fight this new scourge alone if need be, but if you have any further aid or advice, we will stand a far greater chance of succeeding.”
Having drawn Aecris as Taskar moved through the dungeon, he tightens his grip as he passes the knights’ burial chamber, being sure to hop a little as he passes the last row of coffins. In the light of Bahamut, and with no skeletons in sight, he lets out a sigh of relief. Hearing voices ahead, he cautiously enters the room, expecting the worse, hoping for the best. Seeing Aosid and Keegan already speaking, Taskar places the tip of his weapon on the ground inside the doorway and bends to one knee behind it, trying to slow his breath enough to hear what is being discussed. He offers nothing himself, waiting to be addressed, somewhat ashamed to be returning so soon in such dire circumstances.
The ancient knight draws a rattling breath. “Unfortunately my physical powers of aid cannot extend past this room, it is my curse. Though perhaps I may aid you still. The magic of the rift is my lifeblood now, I know it as you would know your own breath. Tell me, where you there when the ritual was cast? Did you glimpse its secrets or methods? The enchantment must be found and broken if the rift is to be sealed.”
Aosid throws a short glance at the humbled warlord. “We fled before the ritual was completed, but before that, we saw rivers of blood and some Thing reaching through the portal.. What should I try to describe to you?”
Keegan: “What you must find is the one element that binds the rift open. Though blood, script or words may be components that fueled the ritual’s creation, what you seek is an object of more significance. Some magical containment or symbol.
“Whatever the element may be, I’m afraid I have disturbing news. Such a ritual was cast from within the mortal world, and the culmination was establishing a link to the shadowed realm. In order to forge that link, the magic transferred out of our world, and now exists within the Shadowfell. To sustain its power, it cannot be far from the portal, but traveling to that realm may be the only way to dispel it.”
At this, Taskar rose, though he did not step forward. “Knight-Protector, forgive me. The one in our rank who has knowledge of rituals has returned to Winterhaven to seek aid. I cannot speak for my compatriot here, but I know little of wizardry. What would we be seeking? Kalarel used a large sigil on the floor, he had at least one magical amulet, he’s erected an arch over the rift, and he himself was different somehow when he returned from the Shadowfell. Would we be seeking an object, a creature…something else? And do you mean to say that this item itself has crossed over, or that it’s power has been transferred to the other side? Finally, I would ask what stain or blessing animates your knights in the antechamber here. Do you have any sway over them? They served you in life, surely any possible remnant of their spirits must stir as you do against the darkness flooding this keep. We stand alone against swelling odds. Everything possible must be brought to bear against this evil, knowledge and weapon and uncertain ally alike.”
Keegan: “My men. Yes….” The knight eyes smile. He seems lost in thought. “This keep has had many tenants over the years, and I know that much of what was valued has been removed, but perhaps some secrets remain. Those that rest in the chamber outside were the holiest of Bahumut’s warriors. In life, each was given an object of power as mark of their loyalty. In death, these objects were hidden from those that could abuse them. If anything of that loyalty remains, it would be these charms that could compel them to service. If the altars in the chapel still remain, search the underside for a hidden clasp. A chest was hidden within, where you may find several small statuettes of the Platinum Dragon. Present these to the entombed warriors, and although their senses have rotted, your intent may be channeled through these tokens. Not even the Shadowfell could corrupt the hearts of these men, or so I hope.
“As for the magic of the seal, I wish I could be of more help. The enchantment could not have been carried or moved; perhaps the sigil you described will prove to be the source.”
Still unsure whether the trek here had actually revealed a way to break the portal, but unwilling to let his ignorance show any longer, Taskar accepted what the knight had told him.
“Thank you, Sir Keegan. [Taskar raised his blade to sheath it, gesturing to it slightly as he spoke] You’ve already proven to be the most helpful ally yet. We really could not ask for more, and still you provide us with precious information from your Order. Thank you.”
Taskar let his hands fall to his sides, slightly covering the bag of holding containing the statuettes on his belt. The knight wouldn’t notice, but if the warlock took the effort, he would clearly see possessing the aforementioned secreted statuettes was a source of shame for the Dragonborn. Taskar carefully looked to Aosid to signal that the warlord’s business was done. He was satisfied.
Aosid nods slightly to Taskar, then turns and offers a full bow to the cursed Knight. “I hope that we will not meet again in this world. Thank you and farewell, Sir Keegan.” With a decisive turn, Aosid strides from the room, offering a hopeful wry grin to Taskar. He doesn’t fully understand the Dragonborn and his odd little cycles between pride and shame, but he has always preferred his companions to be a little inscrutable. Doubts about religion or grave-robbing? Time will most likely tell. At any rate, Aosid harbours no reticence about using the stolen statues of a deity he doesn’t worship – really, an invocation is a form of praise, and fortune favours the prepared (if not wholly pious) adventurer.
Taskar bowed deeply and followed Aosid out of the room, closing the door behind him. Now out of sight of the knight, any guilt he felt at having discovered Sir Keegan’s secret statuettes before being told of them had washed away. Turning his back to the door, he pulled out the four miniature dragons, minus the one Aosid already carried. Looking to the warlock, he spoke, “I don’t suppose you have any necrotic experience. It’s always been kind of a policy of mine to keep magic two degrees away from myself, with an expert safely between us.”
As he spoke, Taskar stepped over to the alter and set the statuettes down. Then he went to the first coffin and heaved it open, stepping back quickly in the event…in the event of anything, really. He shot a glance to Aosid.
The coffin grinds open, revealing the unmoving skeletal frame of a dead warrior clad in rusting armor, his sword clutched to his chest.
Aosid: “I haven’t much experience with making the dead move, but I have dabbled in darker things.” Aosid hops forward, entirely too excited given the events that had transpired in this room before. He grabs his statuette with some degree of reverence and raises his voice to a piercing recitation.
“Knight of Bahamut! I would not insult you by pretending to be an agent of the Platinum Dragon, but I act on his behalf nonetheless! Sir Keegan believes your heart to be yet pure and seeks one last favour of your loyalty: rise and help us close the abominable rift that binds you here!”
As Aosid’s voice fades, the statuette pulses with silver light, and the matching symbol on the corpses helmet flares a bright response. The skeleton clatters into motion, lunging forward out of its coffin and standing before you, sword at the ready. The nine identical coffins laid along the walls scrape open, and Sir Keegan’s champions pry their way out to stand motionless before you.
Taskar set aside the warlock’s comments, his eagerness, and the ease with which he commanded the dead to life to be pondered at a later time. The warlord was primarily relieved the skeleton was still, as Taskar had foolishly left his weapon undrawn. He barked out a hollow laugh. “That was awesome.” He strode over and collected the other relics. Bagging three and holding one in his large hands, he stepped to the warlock. “I wonder who all they’ll take commands from.” With that, he strode purposefully to the other end of the room, to the door that led to the rest of the party, turned to the assembled skeletons and tiefling, clutched the shining dragon piece, and raised his voice and drew his sword: “Knights of Sir Keegan! Knights of Bahamut! Follow me and together we can rid this keep of the evil that even now swells to fill it!” Taskar took a step toward the door and paused to observe the crowd’s response.
Though the assembled undead do not react as you speak, as soon as you finish the statue glows in your hand, warming slightly as your intent is transmitted to the company. As one, the ten soldiers march stiffly into ranks, dust clouding around them as dry joints creak into motion. They stand ready to follow you out.
Aosid is a little giddy, this time in an understandable, relatively unmenacing way. For the first time since entering this dark hole, he is the relaxed, odd Tiefling you first met, not the nervous, brooding shadow who has been scaring you more and more.
“I’m picturing a tavern and a few rounds of cold mead. Let’s end this.”
With (almost) surprising aptitude, he makes a subtle gesture and flows out of the chapel. Five of the skeletal knights turn and march after him.
Taskar takes a deep breath, exhales, and smiles. This is what he has trained for for so many years. Well, not this specifically. He salutes the assembled skeletons and turns to jog off after Aosid. The skeletons follow behind him, trotting briskly
Arista, Caelyn, and Tavarius:
As soon as the dragonborn and tiefling are out of sight Tavarius turns and, with a sense of purpose burning in his eyes, begins to search the room for any sign of a water source in the room.
Caelyn broods in the corner, still disgruntled that his repeated volleys of arrows failed to fell Kalarel. He sharpens the few arrows he’s managed to scrounge up, and also his rarely-used greatsword. “Half-blood, tell me what sort of things we can expect from the other side of that portal. And what will bring them the swiftest demise.”
The realm beyond that portal and everything therein would seem a shadow to your bright eyes, elf. Any bit of gloom that wanders out of there is dealt with like any other sort of darkness: the light will drive them away. If you were to learn how to channel the fury of a sunset into the flight of your arrows no shadow would stand before us.
Caelyn: “Rogue, are you usefully awake yet? I think we should have a look-see down below.”
Tavarius, though he peers about the room he sees no evidence of water. He strains his ears but can hear little over the noise coming from the zombie rabble.
Tavarius: Frustrated with the results of his search he returns to the others. For a second he seems to be struggling to remember the minute details of something and then with urgency in his voice he asks them, “Tell me, have either of you noticed the flow of water anywhere at all in this keep, anyplace where a natural cavern of any kind could have formed?”
Arista: To Caelyn- “Aye. What are we looking for?” She then turns to Tavarius, “Not that I remember… why do you ask?”
Tavarius: I have… had a vision of sorts. Somewhere in this keep there is another link to Shadowfell, and we must find it.
Caelyn: “Eladrin, search your memory. It was not long ago that we pushed a certain goblin down a well (which took far too long thanks to our dragon’s weaksauceness), and we saw him splash at the bottom and then float away. In the next room, we looked down an identical well and saw the body float by. There is your water flow, half-blood. What are you proposing?”
Tavarius: “That could very well be the place I have seen. The presence of Shadowfell is very strong here. The portal below is not Shadowfell’s only anchor to this keep. Let’s have a look down below to see what the undead are up to and whether or not it would be safe to investigate the well.”
Tavarius cracks a sunrod and shines it down into the pit.
Caelyn: “I agree. It does no good to just sit here while the enemy plots.”
A veritable swarm of undead mill about in the room below. Many more have entered since you left, filling the space. Skeletons, ghouls, zombies and other distasteful creatures shamble about. Many stare vacantly upward as the light of the sunrod pierces the gloom, while the more intelligent fiends shy away from the glare. Two hulking figures have just emerged from the portal, a pair of undead reaching a dozen feet or more in height. You are glad that the ceiling is still out of their reach. The undead wander back and forth through the portal, seemingly without direction. You cannot make out Kalarel among the crowd.
Caelyn: “Crap, giant undead. If we’re going to investigate that well, we’d best do it soon.”
Tavarius: “I couldn’t agree more. If they did find a way out we wouldn’t be able to stop them anyway. Let’s go take a look at that well.”
Tavarius starts off in the direction of the well.
Caelyn spits into the pit, then turns around, sheaths his sword, grabs his bow and arrows, and follows.
Deciding that the undead in the pit are either 1. totally trapped or 2. not trapped… and that in either case it won’t hurt the situation to leave the room unattended for the moment, Arista quickly scrawls a note on the wall with some of the blood that had stayed pooled up from that previous encounter, “Taskar: went to the well to search for Shadowfell. Meet us there.” and follows the other two out of the chamber.
Moving away from the temple, the sounds and odors of the horde recede into the distance, leaving a sense of enveloping silence and peace.
You arrive at the eastern well. The torches set around the room have died, leaving the pit dark, but the sound of burbling water drifts upward.
Tavarius pulls a rope out of his pack, attaches it the the closest, sturdiest thing he can find, and descends into the well, sunrod tucked in his belt.
Caelyn has an arrow trained over Tavarius’ shoulder, in case anything vile springs out of the darkness to attack him.
Caelyn: “Well…? Should we come down?”
Tavarius lowers himself surely down the rope, reaching the bottom some dozens of feet below. He is in a narrow, man-made tunnel running east to west that seems created to channel the water. The stream curls around his ankles in a quickly moving flow no deeper than a foot. The walls and floor are slippery with moss, but navigable.
The upstream end of the tunnel bends slowly away to the north as far as the sun rod can reveal. Further downstream to the east, the shaft of the second well is visible, and the stream splits towards the north and south. The northern branch slopes dramatically downward, leading the faster flowing water deep underground. The southern branch remains more level, running back towards he temple and the rift.
Caelyn sees the paladin standing safely at the bottom looking quizzically in both directions, and begins to climb down himself.
Tavarius: “Well… which direction should we take?”
Caelyn: We’ll never make it back upstream if we take the swifter current north. And we seem to be looking for things associated with the rift. So south is my vote.
Tavarius: “So we go south.”
Tavarius holds the sunrod out higher and makes his way down the tunnel.
Arista calls down to the elf and half-elf just as they begin to move out of her line of sight, “I will stay here to stand watch and wait for Taskar and Aosid to catch up to us. If you encounter any hostility, do not engage in combat. Come back here immediately. We cannot afford any more casualties.”
The ranger reappears at the bottom of the well. “Rogue, get the others. Make haste”
Caelyn and Tavarius:
The passageway winds straight for some hundred yards or so before slowly curving to the left. You can hear the familiar sounds of the undead horde growing louder, echoing uncomfortably in the confined space. A draft of air precedes the tunnel opening into a large, low chamber, supported by a forest of thick pillars. You are directly below the temple now, the twin grates visible only a few feet above, still dripping with blood.
Before you, lodged unnaturally between two pillars is a patch of hovering quicksilver, barely large enough for a man to squeeze through. The edges are ragged tendrils, swaying to some interdimensional breeze.
Tavarius stops suddenly in front of the portal and realizes that he has no idea what to do with the portal at this point. He is immensely grateful for the help the Raven Queen has lent him so far, but he wishes he could just get one more clue. He turns to the elf and says
“We better go tell the others about what we’ve found.”
Caelyn is clearly debating whether or not to simply rush on forward through the blasted thing. His boldness has gotten him far before. He takes a closer look, hoping to aid his decision.
Sensing Caelyn’s intentions he puts out his arm out to stop the hasty ranger.
“Just think for a minute Caelyn. We don’t know where exactly that portal will take us or what exactly is on the other side, but we still have the element of surprise. Once we step through that portal that advantage is lost, and that’s too much of a gamble. We want to be able to go full force with that advantage in hand, and we’ll need our allies for that.”
Caelyn grumbles something under his breath, then nods. “We need to hurry. We must rally the others.” With that he turns and begins sprinting back to where they left the rogue.
The paladin is close on his heels.
Arista, Taskar and Aosid:
Arista: You stand guard over the well for several quite moments, when you hear the sound of heavy footfalls approaching from the west. After a tense moment, Taskar and Aosid resolve from the darkness, leading a group of nearly a dozen skeletal warriors.
The overwhelming relief that the footsteps belonged to her friends and not to a horde of zombies was evident upon Arista’s face, “Oh! I seem to have forgotten that the way back to the temple led through here… Well, you’re here now, and I see you’ve brought company. You’ll have to explain that in a moment. You see, we got bored with waiting, and Tavarius thought that perhaps there was another connection to the Shadowfell somewhere in the keep, so we came here to look around a bit more thoroughly. He and Caelyn just headed south in that tunnel down there. I was waiting for you so that we could join them. Would you like a hand with the descent?”
Taskar’s smirk at Arista’s reaction fades to reluctance as he looks into the well. “Not really. How long have they been down there? I’d just as soon stay up here on guard…Unless, of course, they were expecting trouble down there.”
With an exasperated sigh, Arista explains further, “Well, I did tell them to come straight back here if they encountered any resistance. But, I want to go down there and see if they’ve found anything cool or creepy. Anyway, I still think I should have been the one to go, as I am obviously stealthier and more observant than anyone else in this party.”
Aosid is obviously hesitant to go anywhere that involves being “helped with the descent”, as he can’t imagine his charming newfound army would be able to follow, but he figures it is best not to get too used to having such bountiful support. “I’ll go with you. Taskar should probably be able to keep things in control up here with our friends here.”
Gleefully, Arista jumps on the rope and begins her rapid descent.
Reaching the floor of the tunnel, she shouts up to Aosid, “Hurry down, now, I’m getting impatient!”
And while he lowers himself down the rope, she splashes excitedly through the ankle-deep water, giggling somewhat maniacally.
Aosid sends one last sad glance at his new friends/servitors. They relax then turn to Taskar as Aosid leaps on the rope and descends after Arista.
Taskar watches his friends descend, then turns to the skeletons assembled behind him. He sheathes his sword and sets to task fastening a leather strap around the statuette’s neck and then hanging it around his own. After several minutes he straightens and barks to the skeletons: “Troop! Defensive positions!” The poorly constructed amulet glows and the skeletons assemble on each flank of the well, facing out, prepared for combat. After several more minutes, Taskar slumps down next to the well, assuming a meditative position and takes out one of his waterskins. He is somewhat perplexed at the impatience of his comrades. One would’ve thought both paladin and ranger training would’ve calmed one’s mind. Still, he’s glad for the break. He sits and thinks and eagerly awaits the party’s return.
Tavarius and Caelyn make their way back toward the wells, sloshing upstream. Rounding the last corner, you hear a splash, and make out Aosid and Arista climbing down into the cramped tunnel.
Aosid lands daintily with a hint of smoke around him. He grins in a way you haven’t seen since the tavern when he notices Tavarius and Caelyn approaching. “Taskar and I got you a present, but you have to come upstairs to see it. Did you find anything?”
Tavarius: “Yes we found the portal. Did Arista fill you in?”
Aosid glances amusedly at Arista. “Not entirely.. She was more concerned about finding your noisy, blind hides. Anything else?”
From the top of the well, you hear Taskar’s voice. It’s muffled, but vaguely sounds like he’s giving commands. He shouts down from the top of the well, “Can town hall be up here? Please?”
With a frustrated sigh, Arista takes hold of the rope and begins to climb back up it. “But I wanted to see the portal… you guys never let me do anything cool.” When she reaches the top, she lithely hops out, and pauses to witness the scene.
Aosid’s newly rediscovered grin widens a bit at Taskar’s call. With a step towards the rope, he seems to dissolve into a cloud that swirls up towards the waiting dragonborn.
Caelyn: “This had better be good, dragon. We have better things to do that sit around admiring your ass. Remember those silvery tendrils from Kalarel’s portal to the Shadowfel? We found some more.” The ranger was still making his way out of the well, grumbling about his warlord companion, but the rest of the party was not nearly so light hearted.
As each of you come out of the well, you are greeted by ten ambulatory skeletons surrounded the well in an attack posture, armor rusting, weapons at the ready. Taskar and Aosid stand before you, grinning and smirking, respectively. Taskar holds the three remaining Bahamut statuettes in his hands. As Caelyn pops over the top of the well, he falls silent. Taskar’s eyes are rushing over each of your faces. The paladin is scowling in disgust at the undead, but that’s about the only reaction. Taskar finds this disappointing, but isn’t sure what else he would’ve expected. He cocks his head over his shoulder: “Knights of Bahamut! Meet the rest of our compliment. Now, prepare to march!” As he finishes speaking, the statuettes he has in his hands and around his neck glow and shimmer. In perfect, mechanical unison, the ten skeletons step away from the well and form two ranks of five, facing off toward the [one portal Taskar knows about] portal room. The rogue loosens her grip on her daggers and Tavarius’ feature smooth out.
Taskar holds the statuettes out to you: “Anyone who is willing to take up the cause of the Platinum Dragon can command them through these. So, that’s what we found. [With ever the hint of sarcasm] How was your escapade, friends?”
Tavarius spits and practically shouts, “You two went and got UNDEAD to help us?!” You nearly need to make fortitude checks to survive his furious glare, and his sword blazes at his side, its radiance nearly igniting its sheath with molten white luminescence. “I physically cannot stop you from using them, but I will accept none of their aid. The Raven Queen showed me a vision of another entrance to the Shadowfel. The elf and I found it in a cavern below. I will not ask any of you to follow the path my Queen has set before me, but this is the way I must go, and I will not permit any of these abominations to follow. If you cannot part with them you have parted my company.”
Aosid chortles a bit. As he does, the same silvery light as that made by Taskar’s dragon statuettes gleams out of his satchel. The two skeletal knights nearest him turn to him and adopt what you could swear is an undead version of the tiefling’s jocular slouch. “I thought it might be easiest if we each took command of two. Taskar and I would be willing to pick up the spares if you find yourself unwilling to work with our new friends. Now, what’s this about otherworldly tendrils?”
Caelyn: “Curses, dragon. Do you plan on providing Kalarel more backup? How do you know he won’t turn these undead to his own control? They’re as much of a risk to hurt us as help. We may have found a backdoor. But it involves crossing the Shadowfel. And even if we do make it back and surprise them from behind…there are at least 2 undeadly fiends spanning over twice my height. Probably more, now.”
Determined not to let anything short of Orcus damage his calm, Aosid interjects with the tiniest heap of sarcasm. “You’re right. We are ABSOLUTELY capable of dealing with Kalarel by ourselves, particularly now that he is infused with fel energies and supported by an army of the evil dead. Sir Keegan swore on his knights’ purity, and the Platinum Dragon himself appears to agree. Our time would be better spent worrying about our strange little halfling, and that is a task I am relegating to a night at the tavern. Now, if we are in agreement, let’s move and end this thing! I am not particularly familiar with the Shadowfell, but the Feywild is my second home, and the two are but opposite sides of a single coin. I can take us where we need to go.”
Taskar: “What did you do?!...I…first thing’s first. These are Sir Keegan’s mightiest knights, and Bahamut’s blessed. I trust them as Sir Keegan would. Now, would someone please tell me what you’ve done. Start from the beginning, and spare no detail. You went to look for a second passage to the Shadowfel, one that Kalarel himself missed, and found it. And guarding it are his warriors? Or denizens of the realm itself? Did you try communicating with them? A paladin of the Raven Queen ought to have some sway in the Shadowfel.”
Taskar’s smile fades and he places his hand on the paladin’s shoulder before the half-elf can go back down the well. “Tavarius. I respect your Queen with everything a god deserves. But we will need everything we can get in the upcoming battle. I think a two pronged attack would suit us well. Before we part ways, let’s discuss.”
Aosid sighs silently. His almost frightening new enthusiasm won’t admit the thought, “I knew it wouldn’t be quite so easy,” but it still hovers unsaid somewhere outside his mind. “I have full enough faith in our skeletons on this side of the portal, but perhaps making them cross the planes is asking a bit much. I think a two-pronged assault might be prudent, if we can set it up. Now, let’s drop our various forms of race- and pulse-based prejudices and talk logistics like Taskar suggested.”
Tavarius laughs and fires back, “I can think of a faster way to send them to Shadowfell” with his hand resting on the hilt of his sword. “Let’s hear what you have to say.”
With a lighthearted chuckle, Arista gleefully jumps in the middle of the argument—literally. “If these two elves with the holier-than-thou outlooks refuse to take part in leading a skeletal army, I don’t much care to join their party. I’m sticking with you two. Statuette, please.” And then, under her breath, “You’d think the high-elf would be stuffier with regards to such subjects. Wonder what’s up with them… oh well, just goes to show, I’m more fun.” She holds out her hand and waits for Taskar to place a dragon in her palm. As she fastens it around her neck, she asks off-handedly, “So, since they don’t want any skellies, can I have theirs?”
Aosid gives Arista the same sort of members-only grin he and Taskar had been trading for the past half hour while gesturing subtly to a few of the skeletons. They turn to her and await her whims. Aosid turns back to Tavarius with a more composed neutral face. “Well, we don’t have much to say – you two were the ones on ‘frolicking through the keep’ duty. Sir Keegan believes that the focus of the rift is now in the Shadowfell, so we have two tasks ahead of us: clearing one or more portals, then traveling through them and ending this thing. So, having seen our opposition, what do you think? Where do we push?” Aosid takes a slow breath and glances at his troops again. “Now, forgive any assumptions on my part, but I believe that your fair Goddess has a vested interest in returning these poor knights to their rightful state.. They wouldn’t say it in so many words, but that is their sole motive as well. For your own peace of mind, please, think of them as the gallant soldiers they once were, not as slavering zombies.”
Caelyn: “Before we left the antechamber, we took a peek down below. There were several massive undead emerged from the portal. That being the case, we figured that if any trouble came crawling out of the hole, we wouldn’t be much good against it anyways. So we went in search of Tavarius’ vision, which is down this well and two right turns away.” He grabs a statuette. “I recommend that the paladin and I take some meat [err…bone] shield and take our chances to get behind them. Hopefully Kalarel is too busy with his current undead population to recruit any of ours. Meanwhile, the rest should go full frontal all out damage. Our main objective should be to neutralize Kalarel and/or the portal(s), and then deal with what’s left. Surviving is also good.”
Aosid is about to nod in agreement, but then pauses. “I just had a vision of what happened last time we tried a pincer attack. You’ll recall three strikers dragging three unconscious warriors through a waterfall dodging goblin magic the whole way.. Even with our admittedly suave posse, I think the odds will work out best if we focus our strength. I would like to believe that the Raven Queen is sage enough to send us to the most vulnerable spot in Kalarel’s defenses. Let’s not complicate things – let’s all push through the portal from Tavarius’ vision.”
Seeming to sense the ranger’s thoughts, Aosid chuckles and shakes his head. “As useful as our bagging obsession has proven in the past, I think that our skeletons will function better in an ordered regiment. Now, for the last time, let’s pack up and end this damned rift.”
Taskar waits for his companions to speak their minds and sighs deeply. Here goes. “Sir Keegan spoke of an object that must be destroyed. He said we must find the one element that binds the rift open. This key isn’t a mere ritual component. He said it may be a magical containment or symbol. However, upon opening the portal, the magic that did the deed transferred out of our world and to the Shadowfell. It won’t be far from the portal, but it may well be on the other side. Sir Keegan said it may be the magic circle Kalarel used to open the portal, but he couldn’t be sure. I for one suspect the rune arc over the portal. Whatever it is, it couldn’t have been carried or moved.
“That said, and with respect to the warlock’s concerns which I share, a two pronged assualt will locate this object fastest. I propose that I take Bahamut’s knights with me to the summoning chamber. [Taskar looks to Aosid as he says this:] Perhaps take one or two for your own protection. But leave me the majority. I would have the rest of you go with Tav into the well. However, if someone insists on accompanying me, I won’t stop them. I have to admit a fear of the shadowed realm, and I have no plans of stepping foot in it. We [he gestures to the skeletons behind him] will distract and humiliate Kalarel to the best of our abilities, and tear apart that room in the process. The hope being that one group or the other will drive this wretched necromancer into the other’s maw. This is not a moment for grace. Brutal force is necessary. Coordinate with each other. If you have abilities that provide boons to attack, use them to ensure your daily powers hit. If you have to engage a few creatures to get to Kalarel, so be it, but clear your minds of vengeance or duty. Whatever this mysterious object we must find is, undoubtably Kalarel must also be destroyed to close the portal. This is my plan. Thoughts? Concerns? Objections?” As he waits for a response, Taskar takes a moment to be proud of himself. He wasn’t sure he would be able to unveil his plot without mentioning that it would almost surely lead to his death. The fact that he had managed not to greatly improved the chances the party would be swayed to action on his terms.
With a sarcastic bow and a wink, Arista replies, “As my warlord commands…”
As the warlord’s earnest words fill the chamber, Aosid’s poise grows from a relaxed placatory diplomat’s to something considerably more unsettling. Taskar’s aspirations at martyrdom are not lost on the tiefling; he has known the feeling and is ready to know it again. The lines of his silhouette soften and mingle with the dungeon like wisps of vapor on a cold day while his igneous gold eyes sharpen and gain the subtle glow of hot iron. If you squint, you might be able to see the star tattoo on his left hand outlined in an otherworldly purple light, but you are probably too busy being unsettled by an unmistakable primal sensation: you are in the presence of a hunter who has caught the scent of his quarry. He growls with sultry certainty. “It is settled. The time for scheming has gone. Follow me into darkness and fate.” With a smoky feline pounce, he is gone down the well one more time. His skeletal companions follow him as best they can.
Tavarius can’t believe how ridiculous this plan is getting. “This plan is far from finished. There is no way a warlord and four undead can bring down or even survive Kalarel’s horde. Surely all of you can see that the warlord marches to his death, and yet you accept without question. You’ve even lost sight of our primary objective here today, and that is the demise of Kalarel. The brunt of our force should be used to take him down, while a few of us close the portal from behind. At the very least I beseech you, leave Taskar all of Bahamut’s knights. If you are already so attached to them then stay with Taskar. I have no doubt that the Raven Queen will provide for us all that is necessary to close the rift once we are in her domain.”
Tavarius looks at everyone holding a statue, does some math on his fingers, shakes his head, and gives up. “However many skeletons Taskar is going to have with him, it won’t be enough. He’s going to need some help. Also the Raven Queen might not even lend us her aid if we allow these abominations in our company.”
Aosid’s bloodthirsty voice echoes from down the well: “Surely the Raven Queen can speak for herself. Get down here before I am tempted to something especially foolish.”
Tavarius: “Do you even care that you have sentenced Taskar to death?!”
Caelyn mumbles in elvish under his breath, then looks at Taskar, shaking the GREATSWORD he was sharpening before tossing the skeletal figurine back to the dragonborn. “Luck be with you dragon, but I for one look forward to living to mock you another day. But I will enjoy shooting arrows in your direction.” With that, he hops down the well.
Arista: “If you don’t mind, I’d like to keep my statuette. It seemed to have some sort of protective power during the last encounter with Kalarel… and that just might prove useful.” With a small wave and a half-grin, Arista leapt onto the rope and disappeared down the well.
Tavarius: “If no one will listen to reason, then I have one request of you dragon. Wait until we come through the other side of the portal to begin the attack. You’ll still be doing good by keeping the horde in Kalarel’s pit until we can join you again. Had anyone other than the Raven Queen herself called me to that portal, I would stay and fight by your side. I promise you I will waste no time in closing the portal from the other side.” Tavarius resigns the debate and slides down the rope to join the others.
Aosid is still breathing hungrily through flared nostrils, but his words are regaining a bit of the reserved control you associate with him. His golden eyes flick towards Tavarius as he lands. “I am glad you came, half-elf. I apologize for my zeal.. I had to escape our word-traps before we were completely frozen. Our path is about to become very obscure. Hold fast to your trust in the Raven Queen, as it may well be the only recognizable ground you will have beyond this portal. Now, if you would kindly..” He gestures for someone to lead the way to the portal from the vision.
Without a word Tavarius sets off in the direction of the portal. When he gets there he steps through without hesitation.
Caelyn shoulders his bow and draws his sword as he follows Tavarius.
Aosid quickly follows the first two through the portal. After a brief pause, his skeletons step through as well.
Suddenly becoming totally silent, Arista puts herself into the stance of a predator hunting its prey and moves fluidly through the portal. Whatever awaits on the other side will be caught unawares, if she has anything to do with it.
Having watched his friends disappear into the well, Taskar makes his way back to the hole in the grate to Kalarel’s chamber. There he starts rearranging things in the bag of holding, replacing his scale armor with the magical dwarven chainmail, and communing with the other eight knights, running through the battle in his head as he’d like it to go, and trying to convey his intent and deep thanks toward them. Then he sits, meditates, and waits.
Arista, Caelyn, Aosid, Tavarius:
You step through the portal. The world warps and twists as you feel reality reshape around you to form the Shadowfell. It is a world of muted intensity; though the wind howls through your clothing, the sound is a distant whisper. Colors leech out of your surroundings, and the flat sameness creates a sense of darkness even as your eyes sting in the uniform light.
You stand on a smooth sandstone platform, surrounded by pillars of a similar make and arranged in the same fashion as those of the keep in the mortal realm behind you, but you are not underground. Some fifty yards in every direction, the forest of pillars opens into a featureless, wind blasted expanse. Judging from the landscape, you are on a platform rising above ground level. Above your head, the openings that were grated in the keep are open holes, through which you can distinguish a flat gray sky.
The faint sounds of undead moans are still audible, but their volume has lost much of its strength, and is difficult to separate from the wind. To the west a set of stairs leads downward, and a matching set to the east leads above.
Tavarius stops and listens, trying to discern which direction leads to Kalarel’s portal.
You can heart the faint resonant hum of a large interdimesional disturbance coming from the platform above you.
Tavarius strides over to the eastern set of stairs and ascends, drawing his sword as he goes.
Aosid follows Tavarius closely, flanked by his skeletal companions.
Caelyn grips his sword tighter as a shiver runs down his spine. This place reeks of the unnatural. He hears faint voices calling out to him…perhaps not to him, but rather to the skeletal guard he is following.
Arista shadows the others in her party, her movements ever more fluid, catlike, and ready for the seemingly inevitable unfriendly encounter.
The stairs are exposed to the elements, extending out past the shelter of the room above, and showing the level of your entrance to be the second story of the monument. They lead upward to the top of the structure, a flat stone slab that extends several hundred feet to the west. At the opposite end of the platform, a raised dais lifts a small altar. To your right, the familiar arch of Kalarel’s portal is silhouetted against the grey sky. A large circular rune is emblazoned on the floor in front of it, a mirror of the one that once graced the temple floor in the mortal realm.
Undead mill about the area, scattered thinly with a concentration near the portal. A gaunt figure leaning against the altar rises as you approach. The face is Kalarel’s, but his magical vigor seems drained. His eyes no longer glow, and no blood drips from the ragged wounds you inflicted earlier. He still holds his skull tipped staff, and uses it to support a shredded leg.