Briefed by the recently resurrected “eccentric warlock” Argenon Remel, the Party learned new details surrounding the gateway structure beneath the overrun city of Korem, and its connection to the Time of the Void. Being a conductor for the faith of The Dark One’s worshippers, the network of suspended architecture would feed on the evil religion’s triumphs, with the more visible or damaging to the Assembly of Light desired over any others.
To that end, the Church of Endless Night had been compelled by their patron deity into a crucible or test of their faith, with the ultimate intent being to eradicate the Order of Light. Though unable to destroy the opposing church, the campaign had been cause enough for a conclave of Bleslelna’s most senior clerics to be formed in the coastal city of Zoa – location of the faith’s holy seat, and where the colossal Eyes of the Deep sought to recreate the devastation it once visited upon Cosdol…
Katarday, Seventeenth of Harvest, 1044 Y.K.
Reassembled back inside the safe confines of the once-lost temple of Brovadol, and with a night’s rest now behind them, the Circle of Exarchs again met with Argenon Remel – intent on receiving an update regarding his blueprints of the constructed gateway. Though nearly complete, the rendering would require more time, which would provide the Group the opportunity to handle the next matter he brought to their attention… the safety of Maldus’ family with the wizard Daresh.
The immediate demand for an explanation came as no surprise to the former dark Aspect, who explained that during their tenure as agents of The Dark One, he and the other murdered heroes had made contact – through letter and other indirect methods of communication – with persons they had known in life. Persons who they had previously been trusted by, and most importantly who had not learned of their transformation into servants of an evil god.
As a former ally on occasional adventures, Aldus Randorian had been once such person. The revelation angered Maldus, who took great offense to the admission of deception against his father. Remel raised a hand then, urging the cleric to hear the remainder of his tale, so that the involvement of Daresh – and the potential for danger to his wife Olelita and daughter Mindoleen could be reached. The cleric of Selandi begrudgingly obliged, and fumed as Argenon continued.
Remel sought to soothe Maldus’ risen hackles, reiterating that Aldus had been one of many people contacted. Some, like Aldus, had only been used to gather updates of goings on in their respective areas or unwittingly carry out small tasks. Others were used in more direct ways, being forced to conduct secret missions or made to serve Manfred against their wills. In some, more rare instances, people close to the original contact were used as well.
Although not involved until many years later, Daresh was an example of the third contact type. As the boyhood friend of Maldus, he had been known to Aldus at the time of the letters, and garnered sporadic mention. His tertiary association would hold no significance until further in the future, after both Randorian men had left Durven following the death of a wife. Daresh’s solemn vow to track down the orcs responsible for Mindoleen’s kidnapping would later serve as the rationale for why he never returned.
Pausing momentarily Argenon revealed that he Torment had imprisoned Daresh, forcing him to study the arcane arts and implanting hidden commands in the Dejy man’s mind by way of brainwashing. Having heard his friend recount the story of his intervening years in Almven weeks before, Maldus denied the claim, stating that Daresh had willingly studied alongside the spirit of his grandfather, preserved through magic into an item placed inside a family shrine.
Retorting, Argenon pointed to convenient holes in the story. He noted it as strange that a scroll received from an unknown person in an orcish slave camp had led Daresh to this “family shrine”. Strange that the family member inside had been a projected entity contained within a crystal ball, eerily similar to his own creation with Dokari. Strange that this family member would trap their loved one and force them to digest knowledge in the hopes of eventual freedom. Stranger still that he Argenon know the story by heart, despite having not been present to hear it.
Rarnok spoke next, asking after the reasoning for Daresh’s instruction in wizardry, and the methods used to effect the brainwashing. Argenon responded with a list of various orders implanted during the years of forced tutelage, and revealed them to be imbedded by way of Gaze attacks made by the projected entity. Looks circled the table as all thought back to the rubble strewn stairway of Argenon’s tower cellar, where Dokari’s first action had been to Charm Stoat by way of a Gaze.
In simplest terms, Remel continued, a wizard whose will could be suppressed and his actions dictated via implanted command words was a far more valuable agent to cultivate than an “angry tribesman”. Daresh’s enraged quest had merely made him easier to abduct without arousing suspicion. Using the concept of hope that Aldus had dedicated much of his life to preaching about as the motivational tool for the Dejy’s instruction had served as delicious irony to him as Torment.
Convinced, the Party requested Argenon continue his work on the blueprints and turned their attention to plotting their course of action. While certainly a concern, Daresh would be safe so long as the command words were not spoken. Time was also short with respects to the coming solstice. For the moment at least, the best they could do was isolate Daresh and make their next move against the Time of the Void. With all in agreement, the Circle concluded the meeting and departed.
Arriving to the reserved teleportation chamber inside Forberon’s antiquities shop in Cosolen, the Party was surprised to find the broker noticeably absent. Inquiries with the junior acolyte on duty led to the disheartening news that the Group’s long term friend and ally had passed away the day before. In disbelief, Maldus exerted the divine powers gifted to him by Selandi, and attempted a True Resurrection, even though he knew the magic would fail on a soul departed from advanced age.
Rarnok, hit perhaps hardest of all by this news, went into immediate denial. Over the five months since his liberation from Melnul Corguld’s slave ship at the Party’s hands, he had grown immensely fond of Forberon, visiting his shop on a near daily basis using teleportation magic. The man who had been one of his closest contacts and best friends was gone, and he wasn’t coming back. Worse still, with Forberon’s sons deceased, it was uncertain who would assume ownership of the business.
Despite their sadness, the Circle had to press on. They still needed to place Daresh in quarantine, and strike a blow against the Church of Endless Night. To that end, Alamir used Sending magic to converse with Brendolm Minel, friend and former Party member. He requested permission from the Lord of Tigden to transport him to Cosolen to assist in the matter of Daresh. Upon reception of a response in the affirmative, Maldus used the corresponding charm on his Bracelet of Friends.
With Brendolm ready to assist him in segregating Daresh at the once-lost temple, Azravan bid the others continue, stating that he would rejoin them once his task had been completed. As the pair of halflings began to depart, Alamir called back to them, requesting they include the young warrior Lellana in their efforts. Time had not afforded Alamir the opportunity to properly further the girl’s training as he might have liked, but she was certainly far from helpless.
The Party moved next to the Palace of the Prince, where they soon located Folikar Pateris exiting a meeting with various advisers to the Crown. Never considered a true friend to the Group and at odds with them ever since the disagreement over funds for the services of tracker Holcrel, Pateris nonetheless greeted them politely, if not especially warmly. The Party’s request for his assistance against the Knights of the Black Pit caught him off guard, but being a trader of both merchandise and favors, he recovered quickly, and bid them to follow him.
Folikar hastened the Group to the Golden Alliance guild hall, where the privacy of his personal office seemed to set him at ease. There the Party spoke of their intent to neutralize the Church of Endless Night’s chief cleric, the Nightmaster, Hercuul “The Crow”. With the evil faith seeking high profile victories in the days leading up to the solstice deadline, the loss of such a prominent figure would be a humiliating defeat, one that might cause the Knights of the Black Pit to question their belief in the certainty of their victory.
Being “merely a humble businessman”, Pateris questioned after the extent of his role in the plan, which to his delight, proved to be minor. The Party disclosed that the Nightmaster was shielded from their attempts to magically locate him, just as they were from the attempts made by Manfred’s minions. The Golden Alliance, as a far reaching merchant’s guild with thousands in their employ, would surely have reports from every city, town, trading house and caravan route that their members staffed or had access to.
If the Nightmaster, as the Party believed, was leading the unholy crusade from the front lines, someone somewhere in the Alliance’s vast network might have seen a hobgoblin leader with a large religious entourage. Even if the viewer were unaware of the specific church or office of the humanoid in question, such a report could drastically narrow the Group’s search. With only a few days left before the solstice, any time-saving information could prove invaluable.
Agreeing with a slow nod, Folikar rose from his desk and moved to the back wall of his office. He uncovered a large hanging mirror, and spoke a lone command word that elicited a feint swirling cloud to appear inside the reflection. With the device so activated, he spoke again, reciting a name: Kilapa Pesar. Within moments, the cloud had dissipated, and a woman’s face could be seen. Pateris explained that Kilapa was a Golden Alliance contact in the Free State of Ek’Gakel, located in the Young Kingdoms on the northeastern border of Korak.
When told of the information sought by the Group, Kilapa spoke of news she had been given from merchants in her service that had traded with the deposed human forces of Korak under General Garnak. By her estimation, the Nightmaster had in all likelihood returned to Korem, given the resurgence of the General’s army and their push to retake the capital. Descriptions consistent with high ranking Krangi clerics also indicated the hobgoblins to be taking captives back to Korem.
Checking with the Party for satisfaction, Folikar thanked Kilapa for her time and ended the conversation. The Circle exited the guild hall and returned to the city’s market. There, Maldus took the opportunity to again use his Bracelet of Friends, expending the charm attuned to his father, Aldus Randorian. The cleric spared but a moment for reunion before getting to the reason for his summons, that of telling his father the story of Remel and the others, and obtaining the item that they had reportedly wanted from him as dark Aspects.
The item, a non-magical ring that Aldus stated as having once belonged to Miaroo Xookaer, was assumed to be an “intimately known” target for location spells and collected without delay. Ever the devious sorcerer, Rarnok began speculation on ways the Group might use the piece to their advantage. With this done, Maldus introduced his father to his wife and daughter, and requested the elder Randorian watch over them in his absence.
Disguises followed as the Party prepared for teleportation. Being unable to verify the information given to them remotely, they would have to confirm it manually, a process that required them to enter Korem and seek Hercuul out. Stoat assisted Alamir and Maldus with a disguise kit, while Rarnok altered his appearance with a Shapechange spell. Their insertion point would be the shop previously occupied by the merchant Fanam Hana, though who or what was presently there was anyone’s guess given the high probability of changes to the city under Krangi occupation.
A final Sending spell was directed at Azravan, alerting him to the Group’s newest information and the plan. With the message away, the magical travel commenced, placing the Party inside the enemy occupied city. Hana’s shop, once a busy smithy under the human residents, had been converted into a crude storage facility – with contents ranging from swords and spears to catapult wheels and balista bolts. In a stroke of luck, the structure was found to be devoid of guardians.
Wasting no time, the disguised heroes grabbed crates or bundles of the equipment, and exited the building under the pretext of delivering the arms elsewhere in the city. Stoat furthered the falsehood by assuming the role of an abused goblin lackey, using the humanoids’ love of dominance to draw passing attention to himself, and away from the Group’s flimsy story. As they neared Garnak’s conquered fortress, another delivery caught the Party’s eye.
Also approaching the capital’s keep, a line of human captives provided the heroes with a stronger cover story, as they joined the ranks of the humanoids shoving the prisoners forward. Upon closer inspection, the poor souls making up the line were viewed to be followers of the Assembly of Light, beaten and half starved prior to being brought to Korem. Clearly they had been kept prisoner someplace else for weeks, and were now being brought to the capital to coincide with the solstice.
Without a word, Stoat slipped to the inner side of the prisoner line, surreptitiously cutting the bonds around the wrists of those he passed. He motioned for silence as he made his way up the line, leaving the captives confused, but in possession of a fighting chance once they arrived to their final destination. Maldus also adjusted his pace, allowing the silent proximity healing of his divine gifts to close wounds and restore vitality to the prisoners.
The line eventually moved into the stronghold itself, passing the heavy gates and entering the keep. Having spoken with General Garnak there on their first trip to Korak, the Party was familiar with the place, and slipped away from the prisoner line, using their knowledge of the locale to avoid appearing out of place. They marched confidently through the main corridor, toward the grand chamber that previously housed the General’s court.
It was there that the Group encountered its first problem. Nearing the entry to the chamber, the heroes could see inside, and despite the presence of dozens of clerical officials, the Nightmaster was not among them. The room did hold another villain however, one they did not wish to face in their present state… the being they had seen from a distance on their last Korak trip, the individual whom Argenon Remel had identified by name following his resurrection. The Godspawn son of The Dark One and Hanadrel Rolendar – Shadmus Blacksoul.
Instinctively the Party ducked into a nearby alcove, then silently cursed themselves for what would have been an obvious giveaway had it been seen. They resumed the previous mannerisms of familiarity they had displayed and backtracked to the last position of the prisoner group. The captive path lead downward, toward the keep’s dungeons. If Hercuul were not in the grand chamber, perhaps he was to oversee the impending sacrifices.
Cautiously, the Group headed down the stairs, staying “in character” and entering the lowermost levels. Suddenly, the relative quiet of the dungeon was interrupted by shouting and the sounds of fighting ahead… the prisoners were attempting their escape! The heroes leapt into action, discarding their wary pace and entering the fray. Stoat dove into a shadowed corner and drew his bow as Rarnok raced past him and used his momentum to slam an enemy soldier into a wall.
Alamir rushed forward as well, dropping the bundle of swords he had carried since the storage room onto the floor and shouted for the prisoners to arm themselves. He shouldered off a blow from a hobgoblin fighter and returned the humanoid’s attack, to much more devastating effect. Arrows zipped past him then, a deadly reminder that though unseen, Stoat’s presence would always be felt on the field of battle. Maldus brought up the rear, blinding several of the enemies with a Flash of Lightning spell.
The advance of additional humanoids from deeper parts of the dungeon prompted the Group to adjust tactics to preserve the safety of the captives. Rarnok ordered them behind him as he moved to intercept oncoming combatants, his divine gifts of insight and potent magic items making him virtually impossible to hit. Maldus followed up his blinding spell with a casting of Greater Command, instructing another grouping of enemies to fall to the ground and remain.
Alamir turned to spell as well, sending a Blade Barrier down the right side of the corridor filled with inbound hobgoblins. Those not nimble enough to sidestep the deadly effect were cut down, leaving the agonizing sounds of their demise to echo throughout the dungeons. The quickest amongst the humanoids had avoided the bladed death, crowding into the left side of the corridor. From that position, they could stand, or advance only.
Those options however, were short lived, as Maldus added his own Blade Barrier to the mix, sending it down the corridor’s left half. New death throws joined the cacophony of horror, as escape became impossible and only choice remaining to the reinforcements became that of which Blade Barrier to perish in. The retreat of those troops who had yet to enter the death corridor sounded the beginning of the end for the fight, as the few soldiers left were now alone, with no way to withdraw.
The Party cleared the final enemies with ease, those not falling to the arrows of Stoat succumbing to the combined attacks of Alamir and Rarnok. The retreating reinforcements would surely return in greater number soon, and the sound of the struggle had no doubt been heard back up the stairwell, meaning the Group would end up with attackers on both sides in short order. The lull in fighting did grant them time to get the prisoners to safety however.
That task fell to Rarnok, who made a Greater Teleportation trip with roughly half the captives and returned alone moments later. He informed the remaining trio that he was taking the liberated men to the once-lost temple, and that he would alert Azravan to the current situation. With that done, he disappeared from the dungeon, taking the last of the rescued humans with him. Would those Group members still in the dungeon receive assistance in time for the inevitable second engagement? They would know before long…