Having successfully rescued the “Void Mother” Hanadrel Rolendar from the prison cell of the Dark One’s infernal servant Yarkovius, the Circle freed her next from the grip of insanity, a feat accomplished with powerful divine magics. The revelations she then shared brought to light a fact that the Party had not expected… that their progress in the quest to stop The Blacksoul’s minions and avert the Time of the Void was not as advanced as it appeared to be.
From the recent saving of the Kasite capital of Bet Kasel to the more dated slaying of the Aspect of Rage in the Odril Hills of Cosdol, the steps taken by the Group had thus far left the plans of Manfred largely unhindered. Worse still, there was little time left before the final portions of the plot were enacted. The upcoming winter solstice on the twenty-first of Harvest approached quickly, and with it came the potential destruction of Tellene’s sun…
Godday, Thirteenth of Harvest, 1044 Y.K.
Leaving his companions to discuss the matter of the phylactery with the antiquities dealer Forberon, Azravan exited Cosolen, traveling by way of greater teleportation magic to the distant city of Zoa in the region known as Reanaaria Bay. It was there he would seek out the woman Ziliana Abeilua, purported by his research as one of the foremost authorities on the subject of golems and constructs. Of this pensive lady he had but a single request, to purchase one of her many creations.
His near death at the hands of Yarkovius had planted within the Halfling Exarch a desire for a personal protector, a lightning rod to place between himself and the ire of the Circle’s numerous and mighty adversaries. Though largely shielded from the effects of magic, Azravan remained highly susceptible to physical attacks. The Void Warden had only needed to connect with one strike to force him into the protective barrier of a prismatic sphere and out of the fighting.
Elsewhere, the remainder of the Party continued preparations inside the Cosdolite capital, tasking Forberon with gathering the necessary records to substantiate his accusations against Duke Ilthan and notating every possible detail from Hanadrel in regards to the catacombs on the plane of shadows where she and her teammates had faced The Blacksoul and been defeated. Entering a location that was once, and might still be, frequented by an evil god would be no trivial matter.
Veshday, Fourteenth of Harvest, 1044 Y.K.
Returning with his purchase in the early part of the day, Azravan promptly located Maldus, petitioning the cleric to assist him in supplementing the automaton with a selection of runic enchantments. Maldus nodded his consent, knowing that the job would also afford him the opportunity to catch the wizard up on the latest details of their impending mission. As the pair headed off, Alamir set quill to parchment, drafting instructions for Guardian Strond should the operation end in disaster.
Meanwhile, Stoat maneuvered through the halls of the military academy, stopping in to visit the interim quarters he had attained for Hanadrel following her arrival to the city. His rapport with Headmaster Volren and other administrators amongst the institution’s faculty served him well these days, granting him nearly unlimited access to the grounds. His companion, the projected illusion Dokari, gave greeting to the academy’s guest eagerly, drawing the woman into a loving embrace.
Though initially jovial at the sight of the girls chatting and enjoying one anothers’ company, a realization slowly dawned on Stoat. They had hugged… Hanadrel had hugged Dokari the illusion. Saying nothing, he continued to watch, analyzing their movements and expressions. The fact that the two knew each other well was not surprising. Certainly as one of Argenon’s teammates, Hanadrel would have likely met Dokari in the past. But to hug her… that was strange.
The visit concluded a short while later, with Stoat telling Hanadrel that the Party would almost assuredly be moving to the catacombs the following day. She agreed to be ready and the Exarch departed with his projected escort close behind. Given that Maldus and Azravan would be busy working on the golem for the remainder of the day, he would be forced to wait until the morrow to inform the Group as to what he saw transpire moments before.
Diaday, Fifteenth of Harvest, 1044 Y.K.
Assembled and ready to proceed, the Circle made haste to the Palace of the Prince, stopping only to collect those individuals who would be necessary for the meeting ahead. His Highness viewed the records provided by Forberon and listened as both Stoat and the broker made sworn statements under a Zone of Truth spell from the Truthseeker paladin Grandon Minguld. A summons was issued for the Duke, and within the hour, the noble man arrived.
Unable to perpetuate his falsehoods in the presence of the Truthseeker, the Duke hung his head in shame and admitted to the charge against him. He attempted to explain how the statue held a power over him, but the Prince would hear none of it, and ordered Ilthan to hand over the piece without delay. The Duke nodded weakly and escorted the Circle and the Prince’s inspectors to his estate within the city. Carefully, Stoat removed the unholy item from the Duke’s collection.
With the phylactery in hand, the Party moved to the military academy, to pick up Hanadrel so they could leave for Cunvden. Whilst still en route, the infiltrator told the Group of his earlier observation, taking care not to allow Dokari to hear him. A quiet agreement was made to monitor Hanadrel during the catacomb mission, and moments later the Circle welcomed her back to their ranks. The Group transported itself near the city limits of Cunvden and crossed the planar threshold.
All eyes were on Hanadrel as she led the Party away from the settlement, and in the direction of the coast. The normal gently sloped coastline of the material plane existed not in the shadowlands, being replaced by a steep cliff that loomed over the water below. Flight permitted the Group access to a cavern just above the surface of the waves, a large opening that contained low floodwater from the Bay’s rise and fall over countless years.
The close confines of the cave system took the Circle deeper into the earth before finally widening into a massive open space. The broken remnants of a defensive wall jutted up from the water, having clearly once divided the area into an ‘interior’ compound for the partially ruined keep that could be seen just ahead. The Group moved with cautioun to the structure, and upon receipt of confirmation from their guide, battered their way past the antiquated gatehouse.
Once inside, Hanadrel took the lead position, guiding the Party unerringly through the dim chambers and darkened corridors. She led them down a narrow stairway, into the lowermost levels before stopping in front of a caved in section of flooring that plunged into unnatural blackness. The Exarchs steeled themselves, producing what lighted spells or items they had available and climbed downward.
The catacombs beneath the shadow keep were oppressive in nature, reducing the distance of effective visibility greatly and sloping steadily downward as the Group moved forward, soon forcing the ceiling out of sight. Still the Circle moved onward, deeper into the black and further down. When the ground finally came to a natural level, none could be certain how far below their original elevation they had gone. A tense moment passed before Hanadrel stated that they neared the site.
Pressing onward, the Party soon came to an angled column of solid shadow. It was as thick as a man’s arm and stretched from the ground to a point beyond their field of visibility. Hanadrel recounted the events of her encounter with Manfred then, speaking of how He had used the very darkness around her company to hold them in place and slay them. Rarnok stepped forward next, ordering the Group to back away before slashing at the ebony pillar with his sword.
Being utterly black, the shadowy structure appeared undamaged, but had vibrated slightly, causing a feint echo throughout the catacombs. The Gnome dug through his pack, pulling forth the magically lighted coin he had long possessed. He held the item next to the pillar, finding the mark his blade had left by sliding the coin’s edge upward along the length of the column until it slipped into the groove made by his attack. He forced the coin deeper and watched as the inky surface slowly regenerated around the item, soon enveloping it.
Satisfied with the results of his experiment, Rarnok urged the Group onward. They soon encountered a second oddly angled shadow column, then a third. Steadily the appearance of the pillars become more common, eventually coming to resemble the strands of a spider’s web more than oddly angled columns. As the way became progressively narrower from increased numbers of strands, Alamir silently cursed the seemingly wasted investment of permanent enlargement.
Before long, the only persons capable of moderately normal movement were the Party’s small-sized members, the normal and enlarged people being obstructed too greatly by the ever increasing number of strands. Stoat volunteered to scout ahead, slipping through the web-like landscape to where Hanadrel insisted the remains of her companions would be. Ducking, crawling and sidestepping his way forward, the Halfling Exarch soon located the scene.
Four skeletal corpses hung suspended by the strands of the shadowed web. Their arms and legs had been enveloped by the black, and several thinner strands had plunged through the midsection of each. Stoat returned to the Group, describing the scene and helping to determine which remains belonged to whom. Based on his information, the Party determined that the remains of Argenon Remel were the closest, with Gonjeyla Sarazi following next, then the fighter Kovayl, and lastly the rogue Lombord Talrek.
Rarnok moved to the suspended remains next, calling upon Azravan to strike the area with a maximized fireball spell. Having seen that the strands regenerated, but slowly, the Gnome surmised that a hefty blast could jar the remains free, allowing him to pull the corpses loose and out of the web. Azravan confirmed the request, then did as Rarnok asked, blasting the area with both a maximized fireball, and a quick cast one immediately after.
The explosive magic reverberated throughout the catacombs, sending rocks falling from the distant ceiling and causing a violent reaction by the web’s strands. Like arrows from a volley of archers, new strands flew down from the blackness above, punching into the ground in such numbers that they began to close the area off. At the center, Rarnok found that the strands had a second purpose, that of bending to grapple and envelop anyone within reach.
Being in possession of a Ring of Freedom, the Gnome proved immune to the effect, slipping loose from the strands as quickly as they looped around him. He grabbed the nearest two remains, those of Argenon and Gonjeyla, and hurried back the way he had come. The remainder of the Group had already withdrawn, and the Gnome could hear them shouting to him into the black. Larger rocks came then, massive chunks of stone that shattered portions of the web and cut off entire sections of the catacomb’s area.
Running low on both time and space to move, Rarnok dashed onward, jumping, diving and maneuvering as fast as his legs could carry him. With a final leap, he cleared the worst of the debris, coming to within sight of his allies and joining them as they fled the crumbling catacombs. The Party hustled until they were clear of the dilapidated keep, and returned to the material plane. From there the Group teleported to the reclaimed temple of Brovadol.
Inside the temple, the Exarchs found themselves greeted by the many friends and allies they had not seen since their last visit nearly two weeks prior. Cosdrelita led the procession of joyous and welcoming faces that included Lellana the warrior in training, Guardian Strond and Senvus Broel, among others. The revelation that the first Aspect ritual could be conducted elicited cheers from the assembled clerics, workmen, and hireling guardsmen.
The Exarchs led the closest of their allies beyond the barricaded door and into the grand meeting room that neared the dreaded Inner Sanctum. Alamir cleansed the space, casting a powerful Miracle spell asking his god to watch over the ritual and its participants. Laying the remains of Gonjeyla Sarazi on the center of the table, the Party began the ceremony calling upon Maldus, Rarnok, Azravan and Stoat to read, interpret and cast the necessary magics.
The assembly of the physical components, the Exarchs left to the skilled hands of the finest craftsmen available from the rebuilding efforts at the temple. Carefully, the workmen did as ordered, taking their direction from Alamir. At the conclusion of the final ritual verses, Maldus stood at the head of the table, calling upon the power of Selandi to cast the ritual’s final spell, a True Resurrection. A vile, twisted shadow lifted from the corpse writhing horrifically before dissipating.
In place of the decayed skeletal form, Gonjeyla Sarazi, newly remade lay breathing deeply. Hanadrel burst into tears, rushing over and embracing the Forest Gnome with such force that Maldus instinctively intervened, fearful that the larger elven woman might crush the tiny cleric. Dokari joined the pair as well, a motion that prompted looks amongst the Circle’s membership. Gently, the Party requested a halt to the reunion, citing their need to speak with Gonjeyla.
As was their hope, the Gnomish cleric had retained the memories of her time as the Aspect of Undeath. She recounted her knowledge of the remaining Aspects and their capabilities, revealing that Malice had fragmented his consciousness, creating a sort of hive mind over the figures depicted upon the walls of Bet Kasel. Torment, remained with the Godspawn, being the bearer of the “portal key” and the one who would power the structure being constructed within the overrun keep at Korem.
The structure was linked to a similar device in the black void of space beyond the sky. She stated that once powered, the device would act as a gateway, allowing the Godspawn to take the sphere he carried – a fragment of his father’s essence – to within range of the sun, where the consumption by the dark deity could begin. In the days remaining before the solstice, the entirety of the Church of Endless Night would be tasked with destroying the Assembly of Light the final and most vital prophesied requirement to bring about the Time of the Void.
When asked as to the other dark Aspects’ phylacteries, Gonjeyla lacked specific knowledge, but knew that each was an item taken from the corpse of the person to which it belonged. Stoat asked the next question, inquiring as to how the pair knew Dokari. Confused by the sudden change in conversation the newly resurrected cleric answered simply… she was Hanadrel’s sister, and laboratory assistant to the wizard Argenon.
Looking to the rest of his Party, Stoat found his knowing glance mirrored in the face of Alamir. Without a word needing to be said, each knew the what the other thought. Dokari was Torment’s phylactery. Having been secreted away in the cellar of Argenon’s ruined tower, the item had avoided detection from the superstitious locals, ensuring it would be left undisturbed. If such were true, it begged the question as to who or what the Dokari they knew was.
The Exarchs thanked the ladies and allowed them to continue their reunion as the Group moved away from ear shot. Stoat pulled the crystal ball from his backpack, knowing that despite the projection being with Hanadrel and Gonjeyla, the item’s intelligence or mind would hear him. He demanded answers, overcoming the ego contained in the item with the power of his divine determination.
Reluctantly, Dokari explained that the crystal ball was indeed the phylactery of Argenon Remel, the Aspect of Torment. She, Dokari had been Dokari Rolendar, sister to Hanadrel and ally to the group of heroes. When they had gone into the realm of shadows, she had been left behind, attending to the laboratory work of Argenon. When he had returned, he slew her and bound her soul into the crystal ball. The magic he had used was beyond anything she knew, splitting her life’s force between the pair of crystal balls that he and she had used to stay in touch.
Her essence being trapped inside the sphere served to both conceal the aura of the phylactery, and act as a deterrent to the item’s destruction, for without first freeing her, conducting the ritual would destroy her utterly. She stated her hesitance to tell them previously was the result that they might destroy her. While she desired to see the Argenon she knew in life restored, she also wanted desperately to live once more herself.
When asked if she could scry the second crystal ball, she responded with a nod. It was, as it had always been, inside a Bag of Holding carried by a person she could not see from the inside. The Group discussed the predicament, stating that they would certainly like to both resurrect Dokari and stop The Dark One’s plot, but sadly, the latter had to take priority over the former. After a few moments more of additional discussion amongst themselves, Rarnok and Azravan turned back to the Group with devious grins on their faces. They had devised a plan…