The Shadow Rising

Phantoms

(to be continued)

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Remembrance

She’d heard fractions of their tale, half-remembered in splinters of memory. Memory had never been a gift she posessed.

She redoubled her focus, vowing defiance to the torpor that threatened to overwhelm her. Her Mistress ruled the lands of the dead, but she walked the lands of the living. This was here battlefield, these lands, hers, these people, hers. The lie almost tore her apart. Again she struggled against that insurmountable weight, dragging bloodied hands through the torn flesh and ragged wound that was left of her mortal mind. Around her the battle raged, but it was nothing, never. Life was struggle, pain, suffering, then death that brought all to the bosom of Her Embrace.

She recounted the tale. The Baron fled, Sora, dead. Good, he deserved it, he was always her favourite. Kaltharin too was lost. Taken by the serpents of law.

An orc’s screams as it died. New enemies, new allies. The stoic githzerai stood beside the furious sun-maiden. Both found together, prisoners of the astral plane. As she was. Their mistrust belied their ferocity in battle. Doubt each other all they wished, they lived and died beside each other’s blades.

She thrust herself deeper into her wounded psyche, forcing herself forwards, she new where this tale ended.

She felt herself drift beside them, as she had ever since they walked the dominions, the endless sea that washed upon her, its only shore her frail will. An endless burgeoning of life, of Truth, that yawned forever to the depths of being, transformed by its touch.

The chasm yawned. She fell into that endless serenity as awareness struck, streaming into her mind, opening her vision to all that was lost.

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Chaos. So opposed to that endless unity that embraced the dominions, and yet at once the same. Its shifting banks bent to the lesser wills of elementals as the Final Sea was spun about the minds of gods and their immortal servitors. Each but the reflection of the other, one pure thought, the other raw living substance.

The Githzerai travelled to Sanzerathad, guiding her wards to their sanctuary. They were besieged by the Chaos, lost in an acidic mire, her wards on a broken plain where thunder pooled like rain, and lightning forced itself from its earthly prison to join its brothers in the winds.

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Zim alone had walked forward, confident, crazy, without question the best choice to face a slaad. He began the bargaining as he should when facing a slaad. With treachery. Had he meant to give his companions like chattell? Probably. Their twisted path of insanity and bluffs wound about each other like the bladed chains of the shadar-kai, cutting each as they tied them to each other. A maelstrom rose behind the slaad, it’s will untrammelled by reason or respect. Zim just smiled.

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She fled from the chaos as their words spun about each other in snarling lunacy. They danced like lost shades, maddened by despair, luring the unprepared into depths the mind could never escape. Her wards guardedly approached, bent to the task of escaping the mire that burned into the sides of the ship, while Githzerai smoothed the seamless construction by sheer will.

She didn’t know how the violence started, but what did it matter? Death was a single path, madness a never-ending ruin. They set upon themselves without recognition, each one’s madness unaware of the other. Her wards lost in their tiny lives, the slaad fractured between them all. It knew it though, had learnt the truth of its suffering through long ages of sorrow, and forgotten it all. So much the same as she, she yearned to quiet its broken heart. It thrust its mind upon the splinters of itself, drawing them towards each other, as each one turned its attention upon her wards.

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Suddenly her vision shattered as reality converged upon itself. An explosion of consciousness drove her from lucidity, as the waveform rippled with untold violence and collapsed upon itself, tearing reality into sheer contrast with the dimly forgotten memory of the moment before, a new singualrity of perception, broken, immense, but perfect, true.

Her wards slipped from waking to their old awareness, beaten into submission, fallen, crumbling apart. She felt as if her heart would freeze in her throat, the loss overwhelming. The bled upon the creeping earth that licked towards their wounds, and the hope of this world began to fade.

The green-skinned newcomer, wise to the danger of this place, lifted a feeble broken hand, and her mind was swept away in an awful tide, a concussive force that reasserted the broken unity the slaad had wrought, as each becmae reflected upon itself, howling with the agony it inflicted. She saw the faint glimmer of gilden scales on a wooden card, and lost herself to oblivion.

Generation by lemmy x

She awoke in a frozen wasteland, the corpses of demons sundered by icy spears laying all about the stoic form of the desert nomad, impassive, stanfing alone against the onslaught, holding back a cloud of teeth and blood. He stood with freshly shaven scalp bare to the icy wind, fresh scars carved deep within his flesh in arcane runes that bore the mark of the spirit-talker. The concentration emanating from the others was immense, a focussed pillar of thought.

The darkened skies were clearing as the gnawing swarm fled their dying brethren, encased in the ice, and a new vista opened before them all. Sanzerathad beckoned. The strength that emananted from this place was palpable, the pure directed force of a thousand minds, united in a single will that spoke to the chaos and proclaimed, this is so.

And so it was.

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Floating palace by jonone

Their words of greeting, parting, she cared not. At the centre of this place lay a grove, in the centre of that grove a life if fire burned with the light of knowledge. It was he they sought, he who would bring them home.

It seemed to drag into eternity as they deliberated, weighing themselves down with petty gifts of Githzarai artifice, their elder’s mind brushed her own, deliberate, yet passing. He spoke of her, as they had spoken in the True Depths of the Endless Shore. And then her wards stepped tyowards their goal, and turned their attention upon the Sahaar, the planeshifter of Sanzerathaad.

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The ritual tore her asunder as the world convened, her fragile force of will that clung so tentatively to the presence of her wards. She could feel them rushing towards the cold horizon of the plane above, as the space between the worlds was folded upon itself.

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Her Mistress was beside her here, she could feel it, the presence that rested within her always grown to a crecsendo, the ringing of a thousand bells, their music sweeter to her than the breath her body had forgotten, lying comatose in Idria’s hall. Her mission flooded upon her with renewed strength. No. No this wasn’t right. The raven perched upon her shoulder wept tears of blood. No. The music screamed at her, the bells discordant, agonising. No. Why would her mistress forsake her in her time of .. No. the blood hammered in her ears, throat, heart, as her body was torn between the veils, agony suffused her every gasping mouthful. No, he shouldn’t be here, she had tried, tried so hard but failed again, caught up in that struggle, was that why her mistress condemned her to living sufferance? Why was he here, hadn’t she failed? She hadn’t failed, why would she say that, what was wrong with her? The blood pounded in her ears as the bells became screams, wails, terrified and urgent, but she had triumphed, torn him from the unholy grasp that bound hat pathetic creature to the spirit within. Tal’Lorvas? He … NO. This was not Tal’Lorvas, he was gone to Arvandor, it was, NO! A thousand chains erupted all about her, and for a single moment the bells rang clear. Her covenant, her purpose, her life flowed from her in inky rents that tore with jagged spines upon the flesh of the Sea. A darkness clawed at her, touched the part where she had enfolded Tal’Lorvas in her Mistress’ embrace as she screamed defiance and rage, the chains binding him to her Mistress wound about them both as a sickness washed through her, revulsion at its touch burned within her as she retched, grasping towards the edges of her obscured sight, and she screamed. Screamed with an agony that knew itslef too well, screamed as she watched herself fall into the trap like a fool, screamed as she saw her inevitable prison, bound ever tighter upon itself, avery struggle meaningless, drawing her inexorably into the void of a horror that she railed against with every fibre of her being, as undeath seeped into her every pore. She screamed, screamed as she saw herself broken and screamed as a part of her smiled, revelling the transformation, revelling the pain, seeking only power and control and lashing out with pain and fury at everything about itself. Her hate washed upon her in an endless drumming rythym that broke everything else in her mind but the beating grating screams of suffering and misery, of the dead that couldn’t die.

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She cast her hate aside herself, a monstrous winged thing, a vessel of hunger formed about the emptiness of undeath, and she smiled, a rictus grin that knew only sorrow, joy could never touch those lifeless lips. The darkness watched her, and she watched it back, reflecting itself with grim mockery whilst a distant storm raged, psychic tendrils whipping across her mind, ever softly, the silent screams of the forgotten and oppressed, the famine death that never rose above a whisper, tearing itself apart with the very will that sought to live.

Water demon

Ellariel shuddered, far distant now, on rainswept parapets of earth and stone. In death her mistress returned, ever waiting, but every life left fresh scars upon the broken mind. She had come so close to tearing them apart, her wards, so close to ushering them into the hands of whom all life and death despised with equal fervour. As those manifestations of rage and psychosis had been purged by the fire that swept from the sun-blessed maiden, Leta, Amaunator’s morning ray, bladesworn of Pelor, her broken form had been reshaped about the will of her mistress, yet even then she had almost condemned them, as the dark presence clung to the vessles surorunding her, had almost consumed the will of this newfound ally, the Githzerai Bjork, had not the enigmatic face-dancer, the shadow-walker, been able to commend him to the void, containing that fury long enough for the exorcism to begin, so that the lost scion of the sands might plunge the knife that emptied free his spirit while the spirit-talker herself mended his torn flesh. The darkness contained, the demonologist-sahaar delivering them safely to that pit where she awoke, naked, bleeding, whole.

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Eye of the Beholder

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He slumbered. The spelljammer drifted through the astral sea, effervescent clouds of thought and feeling made flesh that parted in the wake of the force unleashed by the spelljamming helm. It pleased him to consider this truth, just as the mind bends before superior will. Such had his own acceded to the agreements in accordance with the will of Vlaakith, upon The One In The Void. He too slumbered.

Gith city

Their seekers and pirates raided planar disturbances accross this passage. The Dominions were at work, that was beyond doubt. Some great purpose drove their mortal agents in a flurry of necessity, a futile exercise that grasped at mere scraps of the power already in the hands of the Gods. Why these races worshipped such tyrants he could never comprehend. The Great Mother knew all, and as such was to be feared. One did not seek her counsel. Her blessings were insanity, and death. He saw no difference from these others. Perhaps that was it, they had already taken one blessing, and but sought the other to escape it.

Chaos above decks, something had been found. Noise, as the taste of ice and pain mingled with blood and fury. No doubt that hard-edged captain sought to prove himself. The taste of these screams was different, the dying were the Githyanki. The pact. He woke more fully from his slumber, made his way towards the chaos. Those abominations followed him. If it were not for the pact. He let the thought die. The pact.

Planejammer

The deck was in chaos. Scores of the dead drifted admidst the clinging ice and radiance, the seas awash with the substance of their tormented demise. One of the fools made its way towards him, and screamed in anguish. Such it went, they advanced and they retreated. They screamed. Such it always went, until they died. The captain engaged some of them, floating in a whirlpool of blood. One careened in circles, their lopsided figure carrying more momentum than its pitiful frame could account for. Fools. The perfect form was a sphere.

Beholder coloured by natures fury

The captain retreated, his marines decimated. Good. Bring them closer, to devour. His exultation was short lived, to be replaced with wry amusement as one they kept prisoner impaled the captain on the sword he valued so highly. Fools. What greater weapon is there than one’s own being?

This new one would suffice, he turned its will against itself, made it battle these others. Ha. One of them, the taint of undeath upon it, screamed at her touch. Good. He gazed upon the others, any who dared approach, and they too, screamed. Agony was the only reward for such arrogance. One of those abominations was destroyed, his imperfect form, his imperfect will, unable to match results with it’s pure brethren. Good. It died the death it deserved. A tiny one stood before him, defied his will, approaching the holy perfection of the true form. No, that was something else, something it wore. It too screamed, in sorrow, and defiance. His gaze was turned. How dare it!

Some of those under the pact remained – causing bloodshed amongst the others – but not many. He growled, these ones were bent by his will with ease, but recovered quickly. They were tools of the Dominons, he saw. He contemplated, and dismissively kept those beside him battling each other. Such futility pleased him. Perhaps they would learn how futile their own lives were, but small hope of such wisdom comprehended by these. The taste of suffering once more brought him from out his reverie as one of those shielded by the pact died, its agony expulsed unto the sea, clouds thick with torment. That other hated abomination was fleeing, half-dead, barely a distraction. The newcomers had regrouped, edging ever closer, just at the outskirts of his gaze. No matter, with concentration they would still fall beneath it. Nevertheless, the frustration he exuded was palpable, its taste bitter. Now his thoughts must be fully upon this folly, rather than his higher contemplations.

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That newest one seemed to have aligned itself with the others – these ones always did so when not commanded otherwise, the taste of their fear stronger than distrust. They tried to manouvere around him, unused to the perfection afforded by the true form, unable to comprehend its majesty. They were near death, he could see that. Their will was faltering. Several of them hesitated, just beyond his gaze. The last of the pactbound screamed a final scream, and the Geas lifted, a cape of water draped over his mind suddenly shimmering into mist. His joy had a taste full of sweetness, soured momentarily as one of those fools severed a stalk. Those were always a trial to regrow. No matter. Let them keep to their folly, he was tired of this dance.

“The pact is abandoned,” he said, as per the agreement. He now answered only to a will of his own.

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The Feywild

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The party had disrupted a meeting between the agents of Netheril and the Illithid. The Mindflayer, for reasons unknown, had tried to feast upon the brains of Sora. It is no surprise that he had gone hungry. With such scant information as they had found, they were left to wonder the meaning of the words Xaranax and Shadowdale. Husam had found a treasure of the sands, a scimitar enchanted like none the party had seen before, and his erstwhile leader guided them deeper towards the meeting of the tribes.

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Hyalety yem Shai M’hedn donned her worn and frankly disgusting boots, and roused this rabble from sleep, though Kaltharin seemed pale and sickly. In his stupor he wandered, lost as a child, aimless in the desert. He mumbled to himself, ‘my love. Treona.’

The enclave of the Sand Kings was dour, its words direct. Shadowdale was indeed seized by Netheril, and though the south had fallen to the might of Sakkors, some hope might right remain in the North. The Great Library must be searched. The greatest skald of the tribes, the Historian-Bard Maqil would lead them. Whilst Zim and Kaltharin faced the consequences of the Rod of Ruin, Sora was enamoured by a young priestess of Pelor Amaunator, tending to the refugees. Their reverie would be short lived, however, as before the desert vaults could be reached, they learnt the meaning of Xaranax.

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Fortunately the bard stood beside them, and though the fighting was fierce, they prevailed. The reckless Husam was exiled from the Library forevermore, and the people rejoiced.

Elder and student were bound by ritual, their hearts ever entwined. The tribes disbanded, forming a staggered series of strikeforces. The emboldened adventurers left, to Shadowdale. They spent their first night in a circle of protection, only to awake in the Feywild; Before them lay the corpses of slaughtered fey, noble Eladrin in shining amour caught between the twisted Unseelie and the dark mages of the Shadovar. The party, maddened by the Bright Beauty, their emotions unchecked, hesitated only for Zim—tortured by visions of the Rod of Ruin—to slit the throat of Netheril’s one survivor, what information he may have had bleeding from his smiling throat to nourish the tortured earth. For now, a dark swamp lay before them, and other survivors were close.

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Soon things descedend into chaos, as Spriggan Gnomes made butchery with their sickles. As the grass became slick with blood, envoys of the Unseelie descended upon the party, their meetings with Netheril gone awry once before. Minotaurs and Werwolves feasted with slaughter and Husam was stricken with the blood curse of the Lycanthrope. Yet all soon fell under the spells of the Night Hags.

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Allied with the Fomorians, these witches debated on their next path, each seeking the power Netheril and the Blood Lord promised. Yet the Hags were fickle, and their love of trickery brought the blade of their guardian upon themselves, allowing the beleaguerd party to rob them of their treasured keepsakes, andsurvive.

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It was then they met their first ally in the Feywild, a noble of the court of the Gloaming Fey, the servants of Sehanine. It was he who first gifted to the party what Kaltharin and Zim recognised as a fragment from a fabled artifact, a Card of The Deck of Many Things, a single word etched upon it’s surface. Moon. It was also he who directed the party towards where Shadowdale would lie, here in the Feywild, and the heart of corruption, the seat of Netheril’s power in these struggles.

Husam lifted his heart-mate, and carried her down the cliffs slick with moss, slipping falling, yet somehow managing to grasp hold yet again, burdened with the elder who had come to lead him. All whilst Zim enacted the ritual of mounting, riding his eyeball familiar to safety.

Beholder summoning

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It was perhaps due to this that Zim had the time to practice aim with his crossbow. Needing practice however, he struggled to avoid the bulk of Sora, who somehow got in the way, plummeting to the marshes below. Sora’s fall was caught by the swampy ground, though he lay, stinking and broken, until the party dragged themselves into a nearby cave. They stumbled over the corpse of a fallen elf, his climbing rope wound tightly about his torso.

The marsh itself was not empty, and the defenseless myconids tried in vain to defend their home from these invading barbarians of the prime-material. Before the bloodlust of these trespassers was sated, the myconid spores had infused the party, serving as-yet unrealised nefarious ends.

In outrage, the land itself rose against the party, and soon they faced their own simulacrums, born of Oblivion Moss.

Sora, in the valiant service of peace, blessed the remains the Myconid Sovereign, and strove to reconciliation. He was not deterred by failure, and, perhaps maddened by his submersion in the fetid swamp, helmed himself with the dying fungus, commited to unity, to an end to the bloodshed he flaunted.

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Sora’s efforts rewarded the party with the friendly intercession of the Dryads and Nymphs who whispered calming words to the treants that might otherwise have removed these interlopers, their gifts of living wood spurring the party onwards. A flute of marvelous construction, and a wooden box that contained a single leaf.

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The corruption they were seeking was close upon them. It was in the heart of this darkness, besieged by vine horrors and shadow trolls, that Husam first awakened to his new nature.

It was not long before all awakened to a greater horror. The Baron of Netheril.

Torn from the feywild into a twisted subplane of his own devising, the party was besieged by shadow, tearing at the very force of their life, draining away their blood and spirit. This baron would heed no calls for mercy, yet he offered some in secret, should one turn against another. Though some wills may have faltered, in the end they remained true. There could be no outcome here but death.

And yet, on either side it was denied. Though the party was able to fill the gloom with their last sunrods, they were not strong enough to defeat the Baron, who left the former safety of his besieged plane, leaving it tearing itself apart. Pain and madness filled the survivors with despair, driven to their knees in supplication for this sufferiing to end. In a moment of heroic martyrdom Sora thrust himself into the heart of the nexus, annihilating it. And himself.

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In the wake of his sacrifice the party regrouped. All save Jarr, whose torment and mourning overcame what semblance of hope he could muster. Yet it would not be long before this place collapsed. In their fear and hurry they searched the belongings left behind and discovered a half-penned letter, the ink still fresh. This mage was not only an agent of the Ashen Covenant, but of the Goddess Shar, an infiltrator who neverthless served dark purposes.

As these revelations settled, further remnants of the incredible artifact they had encountered were found. It seems this Baron was searching to reassemble the Deck.

Husam, in his folly, too quickly reached for the Baron’s chest, and was engulfed by a slumbering, ravenous mimic. Many treasures lay within, gold, gemstones, an elven statuette of finest silver, and items of mysterious enchantment that the adventurers would soon come to curse.

Though the party was able to free him, and the gold he had grasped, they had time for naught else. Rushing to the portals to escape, they were lost in a silvery void. …

Void space by maandersen

Hussam is the greatest. That is all

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a new chapter begins

So much was happening so quickly, the party found themselves on the road again with new members and new goals. They had barely escaped from the Mad Animator with their lives, fate had thrown them a scrap of luck to get them out of that damned place. It had shown them how woefully unprepared they were, each individual still only loosely held to the task in front of them. Unless they started working as a team there would be no hope for any of them. The young representative of the Sand people had the makings of a leader but was still too green and too brash yet. The Witch could see her task was to keep them on track until he could take the mantle, to keep them all alive as long as she could. The others seemed unsure and uncommitted, petty infighting and distrust abounded. Is it possible to turn this rabble into heroes?

Zim knew that if Idria had remembered him he would have been dead where he stood. He had thought her dead, it had shocked him to see her there. He had surprised himself with the conviction he had mustered to deny the accusation of Betrayer, it was almost as if he believed his own words.

Illariel had been left behind, her soul dragged into the abyss in search of the one she had bound it to, her body a useless husk until the right magic could lead them back into the light. This was a task of faith, a personal journey that could shatter her or return her to wholeness.

Kaltharen experienced a moment of clarity while under assault from the psychic attack of the Mindflayer. Forced to face the weight of his birthright he could no longer push the responsibilities from his mind with petty distractions of the world. Quiet meditation with his moonblade has brought him some answers, and even more questions.

Sora isn’t impressed with Jarr’s big head, but he has more serious things occupying his mind. Preventing the Blood Lord from rising is certainly a worthy cause but is this group really the best that can be gathered for such a task? Where are the mighty warriors, the just Knights and honourable Paladins to smite this fiend? Is he really the last? When faced with the Mindflayer’s trickery he had Roared in defiance. Sora would be a shining light of valour in these dark days, an inspiration to those who fought beside him, a protector of the weak (Jarr), and a terror to those he opposed. Bring on the adventure!

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Part 14

Meeting the white witch on the road to the mine had deepened the mystery surrounding their quest. Despite speaking little the party worked towards a common goal, at least superficially. She had spoken of desire and treasure, was it to sway them to her cause, or to divide them and make them weak? She was playing all sides. Distrust was evident between the party members. The Griffens were wild-eyed and skittish and they argued over whether to leave them behind. When the cavernous mouth of the mine loomed ahead the decision was made for them.

A hellish vision accompanied by the stench of death, a skull-like hole gaping out of the side of a mountain. The path lined with bodies stripped to the bone long ago by drying winds howling up from the ravines. They pressed on, eventually leaving behind all traces of the surface. Traipsing through darkness they saw a soft glow ahead, and stepped out from the dark into the light of a silent dungeon, a fireplace lighting each end of a large hall.

HA! laughed a booming voice, HA! HA! HA! ha! ha! ha… The voice died away as a huge Golem clanked and shuddered to life in the far corner.

Now faint cries could be heard from a pit in the centre, it was the last of the archaologists they had come to find. The information! So close, and yet so far.

Illariel moves swiftly to heal the prisoners. Hussam dashes to the bookcases at the far side of the hall, searching. The white witch had spoken of unkillable zombies, zombies with no weakness, but these are incomplete works. There has to be a weakness! Kaltharin and Sora advance towards the Golem, Jarr bringing up the rear. Zim has disappeared into the shadows.

The weakness is fire! Hussam yells as zombies start to swarm from nowhere. The Golem is making an ominous whirrring noise, like it’s charging up.

Suddenly the hall is aflame, a huge blast of power eminating outward from the Golem. Every party member is hit.

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Gaze of the Raven. - Session 13
The shadow sets.

Time had passed, momentum been gained on their quest, her quest, well, some there too.

A shadow hung over Ellariel. She was no stranger to shadows, she did not fear the dark, she embraced it; One had little fear of death when serving the Raven Queen. So she had always told herself, so she had always believed, as long as she could remember, what scant few years she had held onto. If only she could still believe it now.

Light pierced the cool embrace of the shadow, a knife of awareness, a sliver of consciousness that spoke to her fears, and her shame. She shuddered, it was not easy to face the light.

Ellariel knew death, and with that she remembered, remembered hurting and longing, joys and sorrows she had no right to. They fluttered from her grasp, shadows ever still, yet shattered, sundered, broken into fragments by the shards of light interspersed between them, fading, dissolving into mist whenever she looked at them. The light burned away, and consumed, first the veil that separaated her from everything that lay behind, and then what it had but momentarily revealed, consumed in pain, in hatred, in determination. In shame. In fear.

Fear. Fear consumed, and it should not, could not, not to her, not to any Shadar-Kai, but even then, not to her. She was sworn to serve her mistress, felt her embrace as a part of herself, guiding her hand, her thoughts. It was that which held her here, it must be. It must. Yet that sliver of light whispered to her, another reason, another, another cause, and she feared.

The raven perched upon her, a closeness, a warmth that flooded through her, the cool embrace of her mistress enveloping her will. If she dwelled upon it too long that embrace would grow distant, swallowed by the sorrow coruscating from her soul, a torrent that threatened to overwhelm her at every instant, would she let it. She couldn’t let herself waver, not now, not now her weakness was cast in front of her for all to see. Yet as she set herself upon the path in front of her, as she drew her mind away from that sliver of light, she felt more keenly an emptiness that she had but begun to realise, a hollow shape inside her that grew to fill her, yet it had been there, and always been. She was an emptiness, an echo. A shade.

Somewhere, a smile touched the lips of something far too old to know neither pain nor sadness, neither happiness nor contentment, warmth nor affection, yet if it could, it would have felt those things, and still, it smiled.

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Session 8

Our intrepid heroes head to the basement of the Kiris mansion. There, they see the following:

The room is shrouded in shadows. The only light emanates from four blue-green crystal columns, sculpted into screaming skulls and bones piled into pillars. A dais along the eastern wall holds a large altar bin filled with blood and floating corpses. Three naked hobgoblin bodies hang upside-down from the roof, their wrists and throats slit. You can still hear their moaning, even though they ought to be dead. Some unholy power seems to keep them alive, allowing their blood to continue to drip into the altar bin below. A leering statue of a ram faced demon stands behind the altar holding a skull capped wand.

Crimson streams of dark coagulated blood trail across the floor from the altar bin and terminate at a grate covering a hole in the middle of the floor of this shadowy cathedral. A mosaic of a grotesque demon head surrounds the grate. A human in dark robes stands in front of the altar, knife raised high, slicing at the bodies, singing a low, guttural prayer. A tattoo of a ram’s skull covers the man’s face. “O Great Master, Lord of Blood, we promise our souls to You Great Lord, we eat of your flesh and drink of your blood, and through You we will gain life everlasting. Receive this offering of blood and shadow, and bless us with your darkness!”

Sora, always the dramatic sort, manages to fool the cultist into believing he’d been captured, allowing the party to get close enough to attack before anyone in the room knew what was going on. With that head start, it wasn’t long before the party of four found themselves rifling through the clothing of their defeated foes, where they found a sheaf of papers. One has writting scrawled in the margins:

Seals on the prison can only be removed by one of the anointed guardians in a three stage ritual, allowing the opening of the prison.

Another mentions something called Winterhaunt. Of course, Idria recalls (perhaps from some long ago, past lifetime) that:

Once every 20 years, on the nights before the new moon that precedes the spring equinox, the Shadowfell draws near to Toril and its presence is felt more strongly: shadows grow colder, undead and creatures of shadow emerge to stalk the night, and the wards guarding rifts between the world and the Shadowfell weaken. These dark nights are commonly known as the Winterhaunt.

The third is a darkly foreboding poem:

Dreams of blood and shadow

It’s not long before the party meanders over to the grated hole in the center of the floor where the blood is running down, debating amongst themselves whether they should climb down the chains. Of course, in the end, who could resist seeing what’s behind door number two?

Kaltharin, Sora, and Ellariel nimbly make their way down the blood soaked chains… Idria not so lucky. Losing her grip half way down, she plummeted the rest of the way, luckily falling on Kaltharin’s soft head.

Shadow rift encounter

Darkness and dripping blood surround you as you climb down the slippery chains of the demon pit. You descend into a twisted nightmare. Crimson streams of blood spill from above and form a pool in the center of the chamber. You land in its middle, ankle deep in coagulated blood, with the smell of copper and decay in your nostrils.

A yawning, black portal of shadows dominates the northern wall of the chamber. Something strains against the darkness within, wisps of shadow forming hands and faces, reaching out, straining against it as if it were a thin film keeping back vicious clawed beasts within. A set of blazing runes has been inscribed on the floor before the portal. Echoing whispers from a hundred dim voices can be heard from the portal, chanting for you, beckoning you to open the rift.

Opposite the portal, a massive statue of a demon stands. It points toward the shadow portal with a skull-capped wand, as if ordering it to rupture.

To the east, a series of steps lead to a platform where a small pit is flanked by two smaller statues of the same demon. A shadowy form with two piercing eyes of fire and undeath stares at you and fills your hearts with fear.

To the west another set of steps ascends to an altar of bone flanked by wide pillars. A human clad in heavy armor and carrying a skull-capped rod stands behind an altar filled with books and scrolls, two skeletons guarding him.

His eyes are closed, and a book rests open before him. He chants a low, droning prayer. “O Prince of the Undead, Master of Decay, Bane of Life, we thrive in your shadow. Deliver unto us eternal unlife and fill the world with blood and shadows, O thou Lord of Misery!”

Though the heroes again try to pass Sora off as a captive, the plan falls apart once they realize two of the enemies assembled below are none other than Gevaren and Treona. Together, they seem to be casting an elaborate ritual, one that Kaltharin is able to deduce as a ritual of unbinding.

Gevaren seems to be made of much tougher stuff than expected, weathering quite a beating without showing too many signs of slowing, until with a look of extreme shock, he’s pushed back into the rift, to be sucked in and instantly destroyed.

At just this moment, Ellariel’s faith falters, her prayers to The Raven Queen go unanswered, and the adventures fail to reverse the ritual unbinding the rift. With a stunned: “Fools, what have you done!? Run!!” Treona turns into mist, and flys up the grate in the ceiling.

The black, opaque barrier fades away. All is eerily silent. Behind the shadowy film, a tunnel stretches down, a cold chill of death emanating from the depths. (Ellariel recognizes it as an entrance to the Shadowfell) As a tremor is felt throughout the floor, the adventurers take that as their cue to retreat. Idria, Sora, and Kaltharin scramble up the chains, though Ellariel’s hands slip on the slick blood, and she slides back down. Something is coming up, out of the blackened tunnel. Ellariel’s curiosity gets the better of her, and she waits at the bottom of one of the chains, eyes straining intently into the darkness.

Out of the rift comes the stooping gait of what looks to be an emaciated ghoul, it’s eyes shining a vibrant green. The ghoul lays eyes on Ellariel, licks it’s lips hungrily, and starts forward, though not in time to catch her as she scrambles just out of reach.

As the foundations of the mansion begin to collapse, our four heroes find themselves gasping for breath, lying on the floor of the basement of the ancient Kiris manor.

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Session 7

Despite Jarr’s protests, the group abandons Thorn’s body in pursuit of the orc that made off with Sora’s precious disc.

The fleet-footed Kaltharin managed to run down the thief, only to witness the poor orc’s throat being slit by a group of humans in robes, within site of the northern entrance to the Kiris mansion. Sora, always one for subtlety, politely demands the group fuck off, or something along those lines. Surprisingly, combat ensues.

The party rummages through the now dead human’s belongings, Sora finds his disc, and the party notices the ring of Shar on one of the ruffians. Ellariel, Idria, and Kaltharin take the dark cloaks off the bodies and pretend to march the “captured” Sora into the Kiris Dahn mansion.

They notice dead hobgoblin guards slumped over the walls, and find a couple dead inside as well. Ellariel and Sora note a necrotic essence around the dead, which Kaltharin takes as his cue to decapitate the bodies.

The party uses the third and final scroll (to find the slaying stone) in the center of the dining room, only to have Ellariel and Sora fall to the ground unconscious, possessed by a vision of some terrible beast, trapped behind a magical barrier that’s now weakening.

Upon waking, they search the rest of the mansion, finding a room full of the hobgoblin’s plundering efforts. Of course, they greedily steal as much as they can.

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Session 6
The Death of Thorn

With a freshly looted wand of awesomeness The adventurers proceed to a well deserved rest at the volcanic springs of Winterhaven.

Less restful so much as terrible, what with the ambushes and the orcs, and in the fight to defend the mysterious heirloom guarded by Sora, brave, unconscious Thorn valiantly leapt into the path of Idria’s burning hands, drawing the orcs behind her, sacrificing herself so that the party may persevere. Thorn’s sacrifice seemed in vain, as a single orc survived to flee with the enigmatic disc, yet it is the thought that counts.

Who else to blame for this calamity but Sora? The mischevious Draconian wyrm, masquerading in the noble guise of a paladin, while his secrets and vendettas of personal ambition lead the poor, innocent, spellcasters to a doom of ineveitable misery and misfortune. A moment of remembrance for those spellcasters, and the burden that weighs upon the heroic, though clumsy, Idria, as she must come to terms with the terrible events of the day. Oh, and Thorn too.

Perhaps, in the shadows, Kaltharin now schemes, laughing maniacally in his misdirection and subterfuge, for behind all puppets lies a puppeteer – and Sora doesn’t have the brain-meat to pull this off on his own. No, none can know for sure, but would they know if he isn’t scheming? That is the true question that should be asked this day.

Ellariel tries her hardest to sustain these fools and villains, her heart torn asunder with the weight of her compassion, her blood and tears poured forth in selfless love and charity, but even her monumentous effort may not be enough to save them from themselves.

Rollvrole 04 03full
(Ellariel battles the orcs. Also some other things happened)

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