The Shadow Rising

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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Session 5

The adventurers interrupt a goblin shaman performing a dastardly ritual within the temple district, involving no small amount of urine. Also skeletons, fire.

The group activates the second scroll to search the area for the slaying stone. Ellariel and Sora have the following vision:

“As the scroll flares up, you’re nearly overwhelmed with dizziness. A vision plays before your eyes: you’re trapped. In the dark. You get the sense that you’ve been trapped, a long, long time. A skeletal hand… yours, but weakened, scratches fruitlessly at a magical barrier in front of you, clawing at it, but only half-heartedly, like you know it won’t do any good.

It lasts only a second, and you take a deep breath to regain your balance, finding yourself back in the temples again."

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Session 4

The PCs enter the library of Winterhaven.

Kiris library

Inside, they confront a large ogre in the process of torturing and killing goblins.

Hilarity ensues.

The ogre appeared to have been branding an image into the goblin’s faces:

Ac symbol small

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Session 3

The PCs sneak into Winterhaven by crossing a river near the Kobold Slums. Jarr takes them to his home, expertly guiding them through the trap filled warrens.

Sora and Jarr go to visit Irontooth, King of Winterhaven’s kobolds, with the intent of gaining the kobold’s aid.

The PCs manage to get the kobolds on side, and with a little flirtatious encouragement, the kobold war party (all 20 of them) rush off into the night, Irontooth at the front.

The PCs head deeper into Winterhaven, managing to move mostly undetected through the city, though a couple of goblins do see them and run off in fear.

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Session 2

PCs are close to Winterhaven when wolves attack.

Dire wolf

They fight their way through them to Treona’s tower.

Treona tells them how Winterhaven was over-run by goblins a number of years ago, who renamed it Gorizbadd. She asks the PCs to recover a “slaying stone”… the last of a number of deadly artifacts that can only be used in and around Winterhaven as a weapon to kill nearly anybody / thing. Only way the slaying stone can be destroyed is by Treona’s ritual, or by using it.

Promises to give Sora some information on the one he seeks in exchange for help, and has asked Idria to locate some documents/scrolls in the library of Winterhaven (or Kindling Shop, as Jarr calls it). Also has agreed to pay the group 400 gold should they succeed in returning / destroying the slaying stone.

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Session 1

PCs save Gavaren (stuttering priest of Chantea) from thugs.

Gavaren asks them to head to Winterhaven to meet with his mistress. On the road, admits to knowing Sora before hand, says his mistress will explain more.

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