Attempting to locate the original remains of murdered cleric Gonjeyla Sarazi and her companions, the Circle of Exarchs entered the fortified secondary structure on the Plane of Shadows after besting the undead guardians outside. Though unable to find their initial target, the Group encountered another sought after subject, the long imprisoned “Void Mother” Hanadrel Rolendar. Only her jailer, Yarkovius the “Void Warden” stood in their way.
While ultimately victorious, the Party’s hard fought battle against the Void Warden and his quartet of magically augmented constructs had been truly difficult, nearly bringing about the downfall of both Azravan, Exarch of the Riftmaster and Alamir, Exarch of The Valiant. Now, with Yarkovius destroyed and the Void Mother freed after two decades of torture and confinement, the Circle could at last gain some definitive answers to their questions…
Homeday, Twelfth of Harvest, 1044 Y.K.
Gathering around the torpid form of Hanadrel Rolendar, the Circle stood in silence as Maldus laid his hands upon the abused soul before him. The Exarch cleric said a prayer to Selandi, beseeching his patron deity to Heal her languid body and addled mind. Divine light slowly filled the chamber, piercing and soon overpowering even the darkness of the realm of shadows. In the brief moment before the light again faded, one would be hard pressed to identify that place as not being present on the material plane.
Pats of camaraderie found their way to Maldus’ back as Hanadrel’s eyes fluttered, and then opened. Gone was the vacant, horrified expression of the “Void Mother”; replaced by the serene beauty of the Elven hero of old. They helped her to her feet, and happily received the affections of her gratitude. Tears of joy streaked her face as she embraced or kissed each in turn, her saviors from an eternity of misery and despair as The Dark One’s prisoner.
The Circle was surprised to find that Hanadrel knew them all well, having been the forced witness of Manfred’s plot up to that point. As the “Void Mother”, she had been shown what was to come by the dark god himself, so that she could watch helplessly as each event came to pass. Such was the punishment for her defiance during her unwilling impregnation. She had spat upon the Blacksoul as he held her still and penetrated her – an affront that had demanded eternal retribution.
Her tone lowered then, as she revealed that the Circle was not so far advanced in their quest as they might believe themselves to be. The Aspect of Rage, slain in the hills leading up to the recovered temple of Brovadol, had not been truly destroyed. Similar to some powerful undead, each dark Aspect had an associated phylactery, an item that stored a portion of their life’s force. To successfully conduct the rituals that they had been given, those phylacteries would need to be found, and shattered during the ritual’s casting.
Additionally, Hanadrel stated that the city of Bet Kasel had not been saved from the prophetic vision of the Nightmaster, Hercuul the Crow. Though the hobgoblins had indeed been defeated, it was not to them that the women and children of Bet Kasel had been seen begging mercy. The Aspect of Malice had disappeared during the black dragon battle, and it was his mercy that the innocents begged for. There was another army awaiting Malice’s command, one far more dangerous than the invading humanoids.
This army, she continued, was already upon the walls of the city… literally. Despite having spent many days in and around the Kasite capital, the Circle had never possessed the time to stop and see the walls which they helped to defend. Had time permitted, the Group would have noted that the walls of Bet Kasel bore humanoid outlines in relief. Local legend held that during the winter solstice, the outlines moved. This was the army that Malice would command, on the eve of the winter solstice just nine days hence.
Being the day on which Tellene’s orbit was furthest from the sun, the solstice was thus the day when Bleslelna’s sun was smallest in the sky – and most distant from her worshippers. This served to both assist in The Dark One’s efforts and act as a symbolic timetable for his faithful. All of his pawns were in place and the table set for the endgame. If Manfred’s plan were not stopped, the twenty-first of Harvest would be the last day of sunlight for the world.
A long, silent moment passed as the Party digested Hanadrel’s news. Their ritual preparations would be for naught without the phylacteries, but where could they be found? It was then that the former Void Mother spoke once more, informing the Group that Stoat in fact knew the location of one of the items. He had even held it in his hand, unknowingly at that time of course. The Halfling infiltrator thought back his travels, coming at last to the answer.
Three months prior, in an exchange with the antiquities dealer Forberon, Stoat had secreted himself into the Cosolen estate of Duke Marren Ilthan, to verify the presence of an item the Duke had purchased on credit, and then failed to maintain payment on. Forberon had told him that the Duke had claimed it stolen, but that he suspected this was a falsehood. After sneaking in and searching, the item had indeed been discovered to be there.
The item had been a tiny statue to a deity that Stoat had not recognized. He had felt the presence of a vile evil upon touching the piece, and had seen a vision of the being later learned to be the Aspect of Undeath. It had not made sense at that time, but now with more information, it did. As Stoat recounted his experience, Hanadrel filled in the final missing detail for him. The deity depicted by the statue was The Laugher, patron god of Gonjeyla Sarazi, the Aspect of Undeath – removed from her person upon being murdered and made into her phylactery.
Stopping only long enough to destroy the mechanism that had been put into place to imprison and retain Hanadrel, the Circle departed the realm of shadows and returned to Cosolen. Much work still lay ahead of them, and despite the associated Exarch being amongst them, time appeared not on their side. Each member of the Circle spent the night in the presence of available loved ones, possibly the last such night they would have.
Godday, Thirteenth of Harvest, 1044 Y.K.
Saying their goodbyes and rushing through their morning rituals, the members of the Circle moved with purpose through the streets of the capital. While Maldus and Alamir visited their respective churches, Rarnok collected the needed material components for three additional rituals; bringing the Group’s total up to four, one for each dark Aspect. The tomes on shadow magic were housed safely within the city’s temples, and the pair of clerics each tithed as was their duty.
With these things done, Alamir had one final task before the Group proceeded. He made his way to the antiquities shop of Forberon, broker for the mage’s guild and dealer in enchantments and magical items. The cost of his permanent enlargement was expensive, but where gold for the Circle was plentiful, time in combat may well not be, and any enhancement not needing to be cast freed up the Party’s conjurers when it mattered most. It would also provide time to speak to the broker as to his knowledge on the phylactery…