Saggitarian Nexus

Onward to the Bluff
Aosid disappears and Suln arrives.

And so the party gives their final farewells to the town that owes them quite a bit more than it knows. The newly-bolstered group (complete with Caelyn, who was found stalking a forest lizard a few miles from town) departs along the road heading west seeking clearly-defined ADVENTURE. They explain to the occasional passerby that they are headed to Tor’s Mesa, a landmark whereat a vision of the Raven Queen told them they would fight Azalin, the lich who destroyed Tavarius’ every hope and dream. Don’t worry; it will probably make sense eventually.

Spirits are abnormally high, even for the borderline-masochist Nexus. Everyone fiddles with his or her new toy, menacing squirrels with disappearing daggers or carving meaningless-but-eerie symbols into rocks with unnaturally sharp blades. Adair, Stormsoul swordmage and newest Nexus constituent, trades his strange story for those of the rest of the group. At one point, Taskar even flips a coin to a completely irrelevant transient who is obviously sleeping off a hangover in the ditch. Yep, that transient is definitely not significant.

The distinctive cumulonimbus outline of Tor’s Mesa becomes clear on the horizon just in time for it to be silhouetted by a fantastic prismatic sunset. The recently-and-supposedly-wizened party completely fails to keep their jaws from dropping for a full fifteen seconds. Soon, though, the sunburst burns through the world, leaving a piercingly clear starfield after the shortest green sigh of an afterglow. The group begins to set up camp as soon as they recover basic motor function.

The stories continue over a roaring fire and a fine skin of wine (yet another parting gift from Fallcrest). As the fire and the lively Draconic and Elven jests die down, the full moon rises to the east with the shape, vitality, and comforting air of a very pregnant mother. Again, the possibly fate-touched Nexus (even Adair, always lost in his own thoughts) reacts as one with a soft sigh.

Aosid, though, eyes the smiling orb with a curious intense gaze. He sighs again, but louder. “She’s showing me something,” he states softly and distractedly. “I have to go.” He stands and offers the smallest grin and a sad little look to the rest of the Nexus.

“I’ll find you.”

Before anyone can react, the air folds around him and he is gone without a noise.

Taskar looks to the other devotee of Sehanine questioningly. He then asks a question: “What was that about?”

Arista studies the moon for a long moment, then absently replies, “He has always been a seeker. He has no ties. Even when he is not in the midst of a battle, his presence is illusory.” She sighs and lowers her gaze so that it falls on Taskar’s face. “He will keep his word.”

Arista spends the remainder of the evening in quiet thought.

Taskar found himself reflecting on his life to this point. Beyond the hideous demons and killers of men that he and his friends continually faced, he thought what most unnerved him was the blind acceptance of new faces that his short time in the Nexus had ingrained in him. Between new allies coming out of every other door and disappearing into the nearest bush, it was dizzying. He thought this as he stood over the humorous, unconscious dwarf, unsure how to proceed. The little man had just helped them tremendously. And he was certainly affable enough. On the one hand, the guy could definitely handle himself. On the other, Taskar felt uncomfortable leaving him alone, especially knowing what dangers were out here. Taskar crouched down next to the dwarf and looked over at his comrades, who were just finishing patching themselves up from their last scuffle, and considered the situation.

With the last reserves of a healing surge, Sūln hazily returns to consciousness to witness rows of razor-incisors curiously scrutinizing him. His brow furrows as he attempts to reconcile this vision with his absent memory…

Nothing.

Very well, step two. Without moving overmuch, he wiggles his extremities until he can be certain they are all attached and more or less functional, and that his hand still grips his axe. Feeling slightly more at ease with the situation, he attempts to subdue the fierce looking reptilian with tact and charm.

“Um… hello? What’s going on?”

“Hello.” Taskar stands up, giving the strangely unagitated dwarf some space. “We just finished up with those shifters of yours.” Taskar wasn’t sure the dwarf had any idea what he was talking about. “The one’s you got into some sort of scuffle with?” Taskar couldn’t for the life of him read this fellow. Time for a new approach. He extended his hand. “My name is Taskar. These [he gestures over his should] are a few of my friends. We’re on our way to either kill a lich or save a blue dragon hatchling. You’re welcome to travel with us and assist in either venture. The benefits aren’t great, but the pay is good.”

“Scuffle? Yes. Yes. They…. took some things. Tried to take some things. I think. Hit me on the head a little.” Then, matter-of-factly: “That happens sometimes. Still, that’ll make two times I’ve scared them off and two times they’ve rendered me unconscious.” There’s a note of triumph and gravity accompanying this pronouncement.

“So… a blue dragon? Never seen one. Sounds good.” He promptly sits, empties a waist pouch and begins munching solidly on some manner of condensed grain. He puts out his unoccupied hand. “I’m Sūln. Where is this hatched lich?”

On our way to the mysteriously smoking bluff that hopefully houses the stolen dragon whelp, the Nexus has encountered an inordinate amount of shifters. The first couple were involved in a pursuit, one way or the other, involving a curious dwarven fellow who’s proven exceedingly helpful. The second bunch were accompanied by a gibbering acid hyena of some sort that was genuinely unsettling, and some fancy dire wolf mounts. After taking care of the hyena and the shifters, one unfortunate pup was slain. The other, however, was scolded into submission by Taskar and subsequently befriended by Caelyn, leading to the Nexus’ first mount. So this path has proved a huge boom to the party as a whole. Caelyn may want to watch out for bone spikes when riding, though.

As Caelyn wrestled with his new friend, Taskar stepped over to Sūln.

“Where did you come from, Sūln? You’ve crossed shifters like these before, have they all been following you? Are they native out here? That last band seemed rather well prepared.”

View
Aftermath of Kalarel
Enter Adair

Before leaving Sir Keegan’s tomb, Taskar paused next to the alter in the antechamber. He touched the makeshift dragon amulet around his neck and considered leaving it where it had be found. He felt he owed this fallen champion and his knights a great debt. However, something tugged at the back of his mind, that perhaps Bahamut wasn’t finished with the Dragonborn, so he kept his statuette and began making his way out of the underground.

As the party stepped out of the collapsed keep, Taskar wondered what had become of the elven ranger. They had called to him down the wells, but perhaps the moving water had carried their voices away. Surely he had had the wherewithal to get out of the Shadowfel. Taskar resolved to find him once the Dragonborn had gotten those still under his charge to safety. Whether Caelyn would be grateful for his efforts, he didn’t know.

The trek back to the village was long and quiet. No words were exchanged between the new stranger and the battle weary party. The paladin slid his sword into fallen zombies they passed on the road, but even that was half-hearted. They were all very tired. When the torchlight of the village came into view, Taskar heaved a sigh of relief. He would just have to trust this Adair fellow, for tonight Taskar planned to sleep with both eyes closed.

While the party had been calling for Caelyn, Arista’s mood had been much more somber than usual, worried as she was for this elf that had somehow become one of her closest friends over the past couple of days, she hoped that he had made it safely out of the nether regions before the magical gateway failed. But, now that they were finally out of the keep and under the glorious star-filled sky, she could not keep herself from letting out a gleeful shout while spinning around with her arms outstretched. The rest of her companions trudged all the way back to town, but Arista was feeling more and more refreshed by the minute and continued to dart through the trees, touching, smelling, and even sometimes kissing the beautiful foliage around her, so great was her joy at finally being surrounded by the living.

Once they reached the inn, she elected to rest in the tree outside their window, offering to keep watch while the others slept. So, when the tiefling arose after a long rest, Arista watched him wander downstairs, and after about ten minutes, decided to join him in the tavern. It was time for a decent meal, after all. (And, she thought, a couple of drinks couldn’t hurt, either…)

Of course Aosid wakes up first. His blessed coma lasted a mere one and a half days. In sooth, the bloodbath beyond the portal had rejuvenated his mind from the ravages of that foul keep more than he cares to acknowledge; if it hadn’t been for his treacherous sleep-dependent body, he might have wandered the town the day they returned.

At any rate, he has some time to kill. He wanders down to the tavern, orders a tall one, and sets himself to the not-unpleasant task of starting a raucous celebration. It would be easier if the locals knew the horrors they nearly met, but Aosid’s mood is infectious.

Once the shindig is in full swing, he starts asking celebrants surreptitiously whether they know anything about a Stormsoul named Adair.

Tavarius had found it difficult to contain his manic glee on the first leg of the return journey, but then all at once his activities during the past few days caught up with him. Where he had just been ready to fight another horde he then found it difficult to prod fallen undead lying in the road on the way. It also seemed that he had left his mind in the shadowfel. That adventure had been the most contact he had ever had with the Raven Queen, and now back in the physical plane away from her visions, the absence of her presence left a void that left him feeling vacant and detached.

As he sat in the bar half-listening to the conversations and celebrations of his compatriots he began to feel less and less satisfied with their success. The Raven Queen’s connection was a drug, and he needed more. Her commandments were simple: stamp out evil where it is found, and have no pity in taking their lives.

He could stand it no longer, so he stood up to leave the bar. Somewhere someone’s time had come.

Having been abandoned by the S. Nexus, Caelyn stumbles his way out of the Shadowfel, back into the underground tunnel system. Unable to muster much strength, he follows the stream, more blood than water now, several miles until it finally emerges into a sparse forest.

After days upon days of being beneath the earth and in other planes, Caelyn is quite unable to tell what time it is, on top of having little idea where he is or how to get to civilization. After an effort, the elf manages to climb a tree and establish a safe perch before passing out.

The next morning…

Early that morning, Taskar wandered around town. He visited Thar Thunderstriker and picked up his polearm, chatting the dwarf up and dodging questions as to why it’d taken him so long to claim his weapon. On his way back to the tavern, he noticed a small book shop, hidden away in an alley. Stepping inside, he was greeted by a wizened old man. The shop was decorated in all manner of holy symbols. Perusing the shelves, Taskar found a couple tomes of interest, politely paid for them, and returned to the inn to begin studying.

Prince, tactfully tracking Taskar by at least 500 yards at all times, viewed all the same storefronts and specialized merchants which the fiery Dragon-Man patronized. He pays no attention to the fierce dwarf peddling his rickety poles, bows, and other assorted weapons, as Prince carries his own weapons in his mind, mouth, and heart. However, five minutes after the Gigantic Lizard Person left the tome shop, Prince placed his foot in the door and made his own way into the treasury of knowledge. The bookkeep, remembering his face from his last few escapades, gave the wizard a brisk nod as he made his way to the back of the store, behind the little velvet curtain. Back at the tavern, in the privacy of his room, Prince sighed a deep, soul-exhausting smile whilst reclined on his freshly-groomed bed. He was tired. He was more than tired; he was running completely on empty. It was time for some R&R. It was Prince Time. Oh, he knew the others thought it was just a mite disgusting, but his interests were unaffected. He took a deep draw on his magical pipe. He stroked his shimmering, magical beard he grew over the course of the last few hours just for this purpose. He opened the first book on his personal stack he purchased that day. Ah, the Bare-Chested Elven Maidens of the Northern Ridge never disappointed.

The common room of the inn is babbling quietly, with only a few merchants eating their breakfast. The bartender wanders by and reminds those of you present that she’s keeping a tab.

The door slides open, admitting slivers of early morning light. Lord Padraig stands framed in the door, an incredulous stare leveled at the party. Behind him the guard captain looks equally haggard. Without waiting for a hello, he grabs a chair, pulls it to your table, and begins a loud address.

“What the hell, pardon my language, have you lot been up to? Did you just traipse off into the wilderness? Do you have any idea what’s been going on here? You’ve been gone four days, we weren’t sure if you’d been killed or just decided to abandon us!

“Two nights ago Valthrun told me that the portal had been opened! Where were you ? What happened? We’ve been bracing for an assault these past two nights!”

As he finishes his speech the wind seems to go out of him, and he sags in his seat. The room has gone silent as everyone turns to stare at Padraig, it is obvious that this is the first these people are hearing of the trouble.

Confident of the party’s full control of the situation, Taskar takes a slow pull from his mug as he waits for the Lord to finish. Licking his lipless mouth, he hunches forward in a pantomime of conspiracy that is clearly menacing. He speaks in an even tone, so that anyone in the tavern may hear if they wish, and the oblivious can keep their precious ignorance:

“Your Honor, if you wanted continuing status updates, you should’ve sent messengers with us. And if you didn’t want your little town overrun with undead, you should have continued investing in a keep and soldiers years ago.” Easing out of the sarcasm, Taskar sits back: “As it stands, you had a rather prosperous neighbor in the form of a cult of Orcus under the keep. The emphasis, you’ll be thankful to know, is placed on ‘had.’ The cult has been wiped out and the portal has been closed. None of us are particularly powerful ritual casters, so we can’t be sure, but the rift itself may well be shut. The place appeared devoid of any arcane presence once we had finished. Perhaps you have someone you can send to verify this.” Taskar’s voice shifts once again as he both takes pity on the man and realizes he still has business to conduct: “You were right to prepare for the worst, however. Again thankfully, you’re efforts were for naught, but they were wisely taken. We now find ourselves requiring your services. One of our own, a prisoner of the goblins under the keep, is lost. We have reason to believe he’s in the woods on the other side of the hill. With your grace, I’d like to take a few of your soldier and go search for him. Our friend is a supremely competent ranger, it won’t take long to find him if he wishes to be found.” Taskar gestures the barkeep over. “Come, sirs, let me get you something and we can talk business.”

Meeeeanwhiiiiile, back in the forest…

Caelyn awakens at the sound of a forest creature in the ground nearby his tree, most likely a red-tailed deer or an achlis. Despite his multitude of aches and bruises, there are only two things that seem to be bothering him.

Firstly, his right hand, charred black from the Shadowfel fight—it would be several days before he regained the subtle touch needed for archery. No wonder his final two arrows had missed so terribly. He jumps to the ground and begins searching the undergrowth, quickly recognizing several healing plants. Taking their leaves, he peels off the outermost layer of blackened skin from his hand and wraps his palm and fingers.

The second thing that is bothering the elf is his stomach. He has eaten little in the past week. Walking to a clearing on the valley floor, he spots some kind of fortress, surrounded by a high wall, about a half-days walk away. Deciding this was likely the town the S. Nexus spoke of, he sets off in that direction.

View
Session 10: Death of Kalarel
End of a Module

The extradimensional party rushes in to attack as zombies swarm around them. Before long the entire battlefield is covered in flames and the party is separated. Kalarel stands wreathed by the fire, landing blows from afar while commanding his troops. On the other side of the portal, Taskar and Prince attempt to stem the tide by launching attacks through the ceiling above, but progress is slow. Knowing that his friends’ lives depend upon his actions, Taskar repels into the morass with a retinue of skeletons. Undead press upon them from all sides, and it is all the dragonborn can do to keep the press of corpses at bay.

Back in the Shadowfell, a bolt of lightning suddenly strikes one of the horde, and in the smoking ruins of its corpse kneels a Genasi, his face filled with sorrow and confusion. Transplanted and lost he may be, in a moment he is able to grasp the significance of the situation, for not ten feet from the site of his appearance lies a rune of all too familiar power. He whips into action, dispatching undead with ease. The party recognizes an ally, and soon enough they have isolated the necromancer and move in for the kill.

Wading through the horde, Taskar and company manage to push their way through the portal, to the surprise of those in the shadowed realm. The skeletons hold back the volume of zombies from returning to the Shadowfell while the party surrounds and finally fells the dreaded Kalarel.

Quickly turning their attention to the portal, the rune is analyzed and disrupted by collective effort. With the rift fast collapsing, most of the heroes rush through the arch, leaving the Ranger to scamper through the underground portal lest he be left in the realm of the dead. As the untold hundreds of zombies in the temple proper are cut off from the power of the Shadowfell, they collapse, returning to their rightful state of eternal rest.

View
The Portal Is Open!
We almost died a few times, but picked up some new friends along the way.

Forum Material

Everyone:

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.

Tavarius:

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.

Everyone:

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.

Everyone:

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.

View
Sessions 8 and 9

Awaking to the sounds of activity, the party finds a group of hobgoblins investigating the zombie slaughter. After some manner of argument with a hooded figure, the troop departs and the party slinks after. They follow the goblins back to the entryway of the dungeon’s second story, surprising an unlucky straggler. A battle of dejua vu is fought over a familiar well, and the patrol is vanquished.

Following a cowardly archer, the party finds themselves on the wrong side of a portcullis. As goblins flee their approach, the stealthy types teleport in. Since this provokes no response, some awkward bag-of-holding techniques are utilized to get everyone inside. Creaking open a side door, the Warlord has an unfortunate encounter with a flail and quickly becomes trapped by the deluge as more goblins burst in from the south. The goblins seem more concerned with staying alive than repelling the invaders and a truce is struck as the party chases down the fleeing captain.

The panicked Hobgoblin nearly makes it to fresh air before he falls under the mental assault of the Warlock. Securely tied and thrown in the ever useful extra-dimensional bag, it’s back to the gross room for a nap.

Player Contribution: [ The hobgoblin commander is propped up awkwardly in one corner of the makeshift camp. It is difficult to tell whether he is sleeping: the area around his eyes is burned and swollen and his breathing is pained but steady. His wounds have been cleaned to the best of the party’s rudimentary ability; he should be able to speak again after a few hours.

After several days in the keep, the party has begun to lose track of time. The standard practice is now to sleep whenever the opportunity presents itself; the unnatural, irregular cycle has left everyone’s thoughts dismal and ragged, and the only useful pastime appears to be to sleep more.

Anyone who hasn’t slipped into uneasy rest might see Aosid, the volunteer for first watch, staring unblinkingly at the hobgoblin. His eye trace the charred tracks where tiny rivers of imaginary fire flowed for a few horrifying, ecstatic seconds and he shudders almost imperceptibly every time the crusted riverbeds lead to raw lakebeds.

The only other hint of an emotion discernable in the tiefling flickers briefly across his face when his eyes find the purple branching pattern across the hobgoblin’s shoulder. Ordinarily, the tracks are deep and lead straight to their bearer’s heart, but something had led Aosid to disperse the hateful eldritch energy after the slightest crippling brush. This one would be a fruitful interrogation, most likely. Still, why would the thought of another terrified goblin’s idiot gibbering make Aosid smirk in that sad, understated way?

Necessity overtakes idle pondering, however, and any of the party still awake soon falls into a dreamless, suffocating darkness until his or her shift comes up. There will be plenty of time to analyze these six strangers back at the tavern.

Relieving the one-eyed-wonder of his post, Caelyn paces back and forth before the tied hobgoblin. Though his face is swollen shut, you can still sense the stare of resentment at his captors. Especially at the ranger, with whom he was in the reverse position not so long ago.

The elven ranger mulls over the possibility of stealing another light source from the paladin. After the chase to capture the captain, who was presumably heading for the surface, Caelyn is certain he could now find his way out on his own.

But there is nothing left for him out there. The world seems suddenly less important. The only spark left to drive his soul is the hatred for the foul dragonbeasts that took his love from him. He wonders…would he feel any remorse if he had not saved Taskar from that plunge into the well? Probably not…dragonborn from dragons be born. Then again, the paladin did seem to be presenting some sort of faith and moral trust in the rest of the party. Hmmm….

So he continues to pace, deciding that he might as well finish the party’s little excursion into the dungeon. They clearly would die soon thereafter if he didn’t stick around anyway.

But would he care if they did? ]

Awakening with an unruly prisoner, the party extracts what information they can before peeking in on their portcullis friends. Unfortunately, it looks as though dereliction of duty ended up being the highest calling for these fiends, leaving the underground complex eerily quite. Knowing where their destiny lies, the heroes bravely confront the last unknown.

A gruesome scene awaits, complete with blood channels and vampires and creepy hobbits. Though a frightening man wielding a great-axe manages to power through the Warlords defenses, his cohorts aren’t so lucky, and soon find themselves impaled, or dropped into large pits. Uneasily casting about for answers, the only option appears to be below. They climb down (with differing degrees of success) into the Orcus temple proper, to be faced with the mastermind behind the scheming: Kalarel himself, mere moments from his triumphant completion of an age old ritual. His lieutenants are few, and quickly dispatched, but the necromancer himself proves wilier, using the portal’s snatching tendrils as cover from the party’s approach. Though many blows are exchanged on both sides, the heroes are eventually forced to retreat to the antechamber, leaving the villain the time he needs to finish his work.

Player Contribution: [ Taskar didn’t sleep well that night. Who could’ve? The undead moans were bad enough, but that damnéd portal kept getting louder and louder. He did a lot of thinking during his watch. As he watched them, he was grateful to his new friends that they had saved him, that they had saved the rogue, and that none of them had proved traitorous. He was particularly grateful of that last bit, because he wouldn’t have had been able to rend anyone limb from limb if they had. And that would’ve been frustrating.

Taskar decided he was sorry for the goblin captain. And he realized he had decided to be sorry for him the moment he flung him in the magic-bag instead of letting the conversation about his fate finish. He didn’t need to die, but there were scant few alternatives available. If it was him or The Nexus, the choice is… there really isn’t a choice. He supposed he had it coming to him, being a goblin and all. Still… he finds this world’s reluctance to allow for mercy disturbing.

As Taskar pondered the next day’s plan of attack [mostly it involved wading through undead and not going to the Shadowfell], he noticed a new emotion creeping into his thoughts: Anger. He was angry at the people of Winterhaven for their incompetence. There was a reason a keep and a garrison had been positioned here, as The Nexus found out. Maintaining it wasn’t a job for five people. He was angry at himself for the fear he now felt when he thought of the upcoming fight. And as he pondered this, the spark of anger caught and flared. He was enraged. He was enraged at this man-thing, Kalarel. Not only for beating him in battle, but for what he was going to unleash on this world. Taskar’s world. He didn’t know who Kalarel thought he was, and for the first time, he didn’t care to. If this world was so adverse to mercy, so be it. The next day would see no mercy. Taskar would be sure of it.

To describe Aosid as “restless” would be to commit the most flagrant of understatements. For the length of the rest, you see him following a manic cycle whenever you look: lie down for twenty minutes (tossing fitfully the whole while), jump up with an uncharacteristically loud huff, pace over to check on the rogue, throw a guilty look at the battered dragonborn, then spend another ten minutes throwing incantations at the wall and teleporting about. Sometimes he checks some notes he has hastily scribbled on the floor and then launches into what appears to be some sort of dance with his emptied traveling bag; after a few repetitions you realize he is reenacting (and revising) the skirmish, looking for steps he should have taken. Inevitably, after a few minutes of his practice, his movements become sluggish and his fel incantations slur; he fights fatigue for a short while, then slumps onto his makeshift bed. You can hear appeals to Sehanine and to some other deity whose name you cannot make out as he slows his frustrated frantic breathing and eventually slips back to another brief fruitless nap. As he slips off, you notice the light in the room dim ever so slightly.

Taskar sat bolt upright in his bedroll. He had been sound asleep, though his subconscious had been boiling away all night. In the corner, Aosid was staring at the floor, gesturing to himself. Races and individuals that didn’t strictly require sleep fascinated him. But he gave the tiefling little heed tonight. The portal! The rift was unclosable, which had led them to their current predicament. But it had only taken two men, some goblins, a couple undead, and a lot of blood to open the portal itself. He was sure that Kalarel was connected to the thing, and Taskar still wanted to kill the man. But if he couldn’t…surely he could bring the necromancer’s portal down around his knees. He grimaced, regretting not having gone with his instinct and attacked the portal the day before. So much to consider. So many variables. Taskar took a deep breath. He reminded himself there was nothing that could be done at this moment. No undead had yet found a way out the top of the room, so really the night was going very well. His mind reassured him that it would continue to buck and twitch as long as he wasn’t killing. So Taskar laid back down and retreated back into sleep, where he at least wasn’t aware of his unhappy subconscious.

Shadowfell. Tavarius had already seen it once, though his memory of it was as dull as the gloom that dominated that land. He wondered how the stronghold of the Raven Queen could be filled with her enemies, but he supposed this was the nature of the Shadowfell. He almost wanted to see it in the flesh, and was prepared to do so if Kalarel retreated through the portal once more. It seemed as if nobody knew the true essence of Shadowfell; even his mentors only spoke of the place as a legend, a place that few of the living ventured into and even fewer returned. This was, of course, for good reason, but still he wondered why the Raven Queen’s followers were so unfamiliar with the plane she commanded.

And how had she let them fail? Surely Kalarel defied her with his every action, and yet she did little to aid Tavarius and his compatriots in their pursuit of justice. There was no doubt in his mind that Kalarel had long overstayed his welcome in life. Perhaps his loyalty was not strong enough. The thought of Kalarel safely surrounded by a sea of undead made Tavarius’s blood boil. The Saggitarian Nexus had been so close to stopping that foul servant of Orcus. The cacophony of the tide of horrors below only further enraged him.

And how were they expected to close the rift even if Kalarel and the deluge of his servants were somehow dealt with? None among them knew any kind of ritual for the sealing of portals. Were they doomed to act as a physical seal until help arrived? And who would help them? Nobody in town was capable of damming the flood they had let loose. Perhaps they had already failed. They were, after all, already so close to the Shadowfell.

His only comfort was that he knew he would hear the Raven Queen’s call when the time to return to the Shadowfell grew near, and her piercing voice had not yet called his name across the void.

Though Eladrin never sleep, Arista had been knocked unconscious,a much stranger state of existence than others in her party might think. To be acutely aware of the happenings around oneself, but unable to interact with them, the setting taking on a dreamlike fuzziness (somewhat akin to downing 5 pitchers of mead in rapid succession, she had to admit), but at the same time, feeling one’s broken body heal and slowly recover strength… it was painful and disconcerting. The tiefling, especially, worried her. The others just sat and brooded or slept. Still, until she had rested enough to arise, she stared unblinkingly at the ceiling, her violet eyes glazed with pain, though, admittedly, less to do with her physical well-being than with her battered pride. She pushed the pain in her body out of her mind, and filled it instead with one thought: how wonderful it will soon feel to tear apart Kalarel and every last one of his minions, and to do so with the most epic rogue-like striking tactics imaginable—dealing staggering amounts of damage with every slice. No one beats Arista at her own game. Ever. The deliciousness of this thought is enough to revive her earlier than otherwise would have been possible; revenge is a force to be reckoned with. Though she was completely rejuvenated, the others looked like they could use a couple more hours of rest. The rogue took over the remainder of the watch. ]

Upon the second descent, all seems quiet. The party remains tense, unsure of what has occurred, and stand unfazed when Kalarel steps back through the portal, returning from the Shadowfell with his promised army. Knowing that to fail now could prove disastrous; the party bravely weathers the storm, attempting to take down the necromancer even as things grow dire. Unable to halt the encroaching wave of undead, a deadly retreat is staged. The lift is reached, but not before the rogue is brought close to death. She makes the ascent barely conscious, slung over the shoulder of the Paladin. Faced now with unknown numbers of foes below, the party settles in for an uneasy rest, tending their wounds and pondering the decisions they now must make.

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Session 7

The party awakens groggily to find that their elven ally has flown the coop. This information utterly fails to pierce the Dragonborn’s sleep-fogged mind, and causes some very unnecessary confusion when the elf begins pounding on the door. Not quite realizing that the frantic yells are in fact originating from outside the room, the party dawdles long enough for the Ranger to pry his way back inside, giving light to the somewhat strange situation. Taking it upon himself to reconnoiter a bit further, the elf had happened upon a couple unfriendly goblinoids, and a merry chase proceeded. Believing their prize cornered in the empty room, the poor hobgoblins are a bit overwhelmed when the illusory wall begins spewing malignant magic and heavily armored heroes. Goblins neatly dispatched, the party continues to the lower levels, a bit more prepared than perhaps they would have been.

A veritable platoon of hobgoblins waits at the base of the stairs, though their mobilization is slowed by the Warlock and Ranger trying to outdo each other with sneak attacks. Despite some fine shooting, a single goblin is left to activate Combat Phase: Zoological Wonder! A giant spider that I’m sure would be quite friendly under the right circumstances is released from its cage, and immediately leaps on the ranger’s face. Hobgoblins of all varieties pour in from various corridors, and general chaos ensues for several moments. Most of the party manages to hole up in an antechamber, leaving the warlock to his own devices, which apparently includes a huge arachnid.

As the spider is defeated and the tide turns to the favor of the heroes, efficiency is dropped in favor of a new imperative: Get the last hobgoblin in the well no matter the cost! Several rounds of incredibly awkward grabs later, the villain proves unable to survive the fall, and the party delves deeper.

A series of strange decisions are made, in which the lighted corridors are forsaken for the dark ones and the open doors for the ones that say ‘closed’. Nevertheless, the party remains optimistic as they attempt to batter down a door in a dead end crypt. As is so often the case with crypts, this action triggers a couple gooey, regenerating organ throwing zombies who attack the party with the undead equivalent of gusto. Things go well for a round or two before the dungeon resident de jour arrives. Though the Ranger may be the most perceptive of the group, not even his keen eyes spot the amorphous mass before it swallows him whole. Floundering in acid, he does manage to communicate the newfound threat and the party realizes that their exit is blocked by a gelatinous cube. A slightly more confusing battle is joined, and both Warlock and Paladin are enveloped before the thing is defeated. Sure that the other branch of corridors couldn’t possibly be this bad, the party backtracks.

If there’s one thing the party has learned, it’s that the density of zombies is directly proportional to the distance between evil rifts and themselves. The next chamber provides a suitable horde through which the party wades without undue calamity. A flying homunculus manages to escape the fracas, but not without a clue that the enigmatic BBEG may be close at hand. Considering their options, the paladin notices a slim crack in the dungeon wall, and following some cosmic impulse, worms his way through it. Darn, nothing but hideous, gory remains.

But the party is too clever! Knowing that zombies often leave untold riches with the limbs of their victims, a grisly search is performed, leaving them with their very first bag of holding, and a convenient if uncomfortable place to rest.

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Session 6

Well then, the door is about to be subjected to an age old tradition of being kicked in, when out flies an elf of questionable origin. Setting aside some awkward questions for later, he is quickly accepted into the group on the grounds that he kill the zombies that are comin’ the hell up.

Zombies, as it turns out, are (a): full of puss, and (b): really easy to kill when you can’t roll worse than a 15. Onward!

A room lined with coffins is discovered, and upon the warlords insistence, a skeleton is found within the nearest. Unperturbed, our heroes explore until the concussive bangs of coffin lids herald the arrival of undead legions. The ranger and the rogue are caught unprotected, and spend several tense moments weaving through skeletal limbs. Though the foes drop with ease, more bony types pry their way out of the coffins until the corridor is quite choked with the nasty things. As HP trickles down, some strange script on a nearby altar gives the paladin religiosity, and upon uttering praise to Bahamut, the fight goes out of the skeletons. Which doesn’t stop the party from making sure they’re good and knocked over anyway.

The next room shows itself to be the final resting place of the keeps former master, Sir Keegan. Despite bearing a strange resemblance to the mythical king of goblins, this spectral fellow is quite the gentleman once the warlord confirms their good intentions. Unable to leave his resting place, Keegan gifts the party with a fancy sword.

Olfactory assault notwithstanding, the party returns to the puss-zombie room to investigate some runes the ranger found earlier. A maze is explored, which manages to halt the party using awkward mechanics more than any real challenge. The paladin takes the brunt of the magic, and may require some post-dungeon counseling, as standing on two of said runes severely damages his calm. Spirits improve when more zombie fodder is wantonly destroyed.

About to descend to the keeps lower levels, the rogue notices some clever stonework which hides a very small, very empty room. Perception checks remain in the twenties however, and a secret room within a secret room is found via an illusory wall. Also zombies. Dispatching the animates allows the party to spend some quality time with a talking suit of armor, whose riddle is barely overcome in order to receive magic armor of the blackiron variety.

And what do you know, secret rooms turn out to be good places to spend the night, especially when doubly secured with one-way illusions.

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Session 5

In spite of recent successes, the dungeon looms. First door kicked down: A storeroom. Never mind. Second door: an actual dungeon, iron maiden and all. Crazy folk are given the what for, including an angry, slightly magical hobgoblin who wasn’t actually the boss. The Warlock puts a stop to any attempt at capturing the last goblin, but this prison comes with free captives! Splug joins the party long enough to get out of the cell, then sneaks off while everyone completely failed to pay attention during a rest outside.

With renewed confidence (HP represents a lot of stuff) the Rogue and Warlock sneak into the goblin quarters, rudely planting a knife in the back of another escaped prisoner (do we even remember him?). Goblins swarm the party, who methodically hack their way through the minions (of both hierarchical and stat-block variety) before defeating Balgron the Fat. The last goblin is unceremoniously executed by the Paladin while loot that no one can use is examined.

Everyone stacks up at the crypts. Really, you want to just post your initiatives now? It’s the door to the crypts, and life does has a few guarantees.

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Session 4

After taking a break on the goblinoid mattresses, the three-man, one rogue team cautiously approaches the storeroom, successfully sneaking up on boxes filled with delicious gobliny rations.

An excavation site is found, along with some perturbed worker types with crossbows. Rather than brave the interesting dangers of the scaffold planks, the party bunches the heck up and phalanxes the drakes the death.

Whittled away by the wizard’s once-every-six-seconds magic missiles, the goblins’ high flown terrain advantages prove marginal. One mighty leap brings the warlord face to face with a critically wounded goblin, who is unceremoniously grabbed by the lapels and dangled over the edge, only to be run through by the paladin a moment later. So disturbing does this display prove, that the last goblin quickly aquiesces to the warlord’s call for a yield.

Once in captivity, the prisoner proves… gobliny. Useful information is gleaned! Mostly, that the goblin leader is fat, and that the crypt is full of dead people.

The warlock appears, just in time to hang out for loot distribution. All in all a successful three minutes of dungeoneering. Much rejoicing.

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Session 3

Time expansion at its best! The group is joined by an anatomically extraneous teifling, and they tactically enter the hideout, tactically retreating moments later with two critically wounded teammates.

Trying their luck once more, Irontooth surrounds the party and manages to kill the Paladin before succumbing to horrible death himself. Another retreat. The two functioning casters carefully enter the cave to confront the last remaining kobold, who despite surviving three other encounters is put to rest. Marginally interesting treasure is found.

In town: the warlock bargains for the life and health of his friends while barely restraining the halfling from getting them thoroughly arrested. Deals are struck, and the party heads out to the much touted keep.

Things go well for about twenty feet, until the Paladin falls in a pit full of rats. Goblins come out to laugh at the party, and are summarily executed by a flurry of d10s from the ranger. Cake is served!

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