Three Tears Of Ardanthor

A Plan Goes Awry
Session 52

The Heroes hid behind the ice statues that littered the base of the spiral ramp leading up into the Fortress of Frozen Tears. But they are discovered by an investigating Cyclops, who calls for support from nearby Winter Fey.

As the heroes unleash their full powers, more and more forces are attracted by the commotion, and the alarm is raised.

Even so, the group fends off the Fey, who don’t seem to operate as a properly coordinated unit.

Then Halani unleashes a blast of Summer Fire, and a moment later, The Prince of Frost himself enters the scene. He looks on, curiously, as the heroes continue to fight against his forces in the tower. A hint of admiration for their tenacity creeps onto his face before he freezes them all. All but Halani.

The bladesinger lowers her weapon as he approaches, and then sheathes it. Everyone around her, friend and foe, turned to icy statues, there is no point in further, pointless, violence.

“Aren’t you an interesting one, " the Prince says, one white eyebrow raised.
“Follow me…” He strides up the ramp spiralling into the tower.

She does.


Anika receives a sending from a Marut. He wishes to speak with her in person, about the consequences to She who bears the Crown of Blades. The speaker claims to represent a small contingent of Marut who do not cleave to the same philosophy as the whole. A group who recognizes that the Crown has chosen a different path from it’s makers; that the mending of reality is more important than the doctrine of Order. That fighting for possession of the Crown is a distraction.

They agree on a meeting place in neutral territory in a hidden grove within the Feywild. A lone Marut appears in a clap of thunder, and walks towards them, hands open and head bowed in deference.

“Great One, bearer of the Crown of Blades. I come to treat with you.”
“I’m listening. But if you start on with that whole ‘Give us back the crown’ thing again, I’m not going to be happy.”
“Not at all. Two things are obvious to us. You are far more powerful than the best of us. And the Crown has not deserted you for another. Together those lead a small group of us to believe that reality is best served by serving you.”
“About time.. "
“That said, I have some questions.”
“Hmm.. go on.”
“Are you willing to do whatever the Crown asks of you?”
“I think a quick survey of my history will confirm I am willing to do just about anything. I have, thus far, done everything that has been asked of me, and more.”
The Marut nods.
“And if the Crown requires you to give up your freedom to travel the universe as you see fit?”
“Yes. If that is what must be done.”
“And if it requires you to sacrifice your mortal existence?”
Anika looks to her companions, and gestures at the torturous devices embedded in her flesh – a Shadar Kai habit.
“Do I look like I give a crap about mortal existence?”
The Marut nods again.
“And if the Crown required you to give up your sense of self, your independence, your very essence of being?”
Anika’s eyes flare.
“It won’t.”
“But would you?”
There is a long pause, as Anika’s ire rises, and shadows dance between the blades of the Crown, as it fans out from her head to encompass her neck like a collar.
“The Crown and I are in agreement on this : It is a sense of self that it craved, something that the Marut could never impart or understand. It will never ask that of me, or anyone.”

Anika sensed a change in the Marut’s stance, and tensed, ready to summon Staff and Wand should things get ugly.

“Then you have our undivided loyalty.”

Well, that’s a surprise, she thought.

A hundred thunderclaps heralded the arrival of Marut en masse; appearing from thin air before them.

“We are the Heretics. And We are yours to command.”

Anika interviews the main Heretic Marut whom she calls “Franklin” for want of a better name. The Heretics are not great in number, and will serve her to the best of their ability, as advisors, administrators and soldiers, should she wish it. They might be immortal, but they are not invulnerable, so “Franklin” advises her to deploy them where they will not be wasted.

Also – reality is scheduled to end sometime tomorrow – and this has happened before, will happen again, and has never happened, all at once. Which they don’t quite understand. Anika points at Amata and says “Ask him.”

Meanwhile the others discuss their next move : With Lyneth’s plan to thaw the Prince of Frost their best hope, they decide the best chance to learn the Prince’s True Name is to reassemble Sharaea and ask her.
They meet with Quarion, and inquire of him his motives. When he learns that Everything Ends Tomorrow, he says “my motives are irrelevant :what do we do?”

That’s when Ator squirts out a Sending to his Master Shard Amata, informing them of the heroes imminent capture by the Prince of Frost himself.

The Epic’s fly into action, summoning Eagles to carry them into the Vale of Long Night. With the hours stretching in front of them, and nothing to do but stare at the stars in the cloudless night sky, that is when Lyneth hears them : the whisperers in her head.
“Help Us…” they cry again
and one by one, the stars are vanishing.
“He Comes ! Malagoroth! The Devourer Comes!”

They arrive at the Fortress of Frozen Tears to see the last part of an army filtering through a portal in front of the gates, a thousand empty camps arrayed across the glacier speak to it’s original size.
A small cohort of guards challenge them, and unleash a hail of arrows at them when they advance, but with a wave of Anika’s Staff, the arrows are brushed aside, and the guards break in fear.
From the Fortress’s gate, a lone Eladrin walks forth, and beckons them to enter.
“The King of Winter will receive you.” he says.
Anika turns to Martin.
“He must be pretty damn confident if he’s claiming that title.”

The Eladrin leads them to the Fortress’s pinnacle, in to a grand throne room.
An array of icy statues decorate the hall, and Winter Fey of all kinds mingle at the edges. Some cast their eyes at them with fear, others with wonder, and a few, with contempt.

“The Court of Winter recognizes the Fey styled as ‘Lyneth’, … and her esteemed companions.” the Eladrin chamberlain intones.

Anika inspects the nearest ice statues, searching for familiar faces. A Half-Orc here, and a dwarf there : all of the Heroics are here, except Halani.

The Prince of Frost sits regally on an icy throne, waiting for them to speak. Under his left hand, embedded in the ice of the armrest, is a large crystal orb – Dalastra’s Orb.

Lyneth cuts to the chase :
“Where’s the Eladrin?”

Galendin, I presume
Session 51

The Paragons enter the Bright Tower, whose listless guards are rapidly succumbing to the ennui of the Shadowfell.

Grimnar asks the retainers for an audience with Galendin, and they are instructed to wait in the reception room. After 15 minutes, they figure no one is coming, and make their own exit…
They ascend the tower, floor by floor.
The place is nearly deserted.
Several corridors are lined with mirrors, but the face they show is not their own — rather everyone has the reflection of a tall half-fey male, with extremely attractive features.
Every one of them shows Galendin.

As they near the top level, they come across a room with various notes and maps arrayed about on tables.
Finally, it seems, they’ve attracted some serious attention, as several warforged guards enter the room and attack.

Animated arbalests enter through gaps in the rafters and rain bolts of fiery brilliance upon them. Their construction is somewhat unstable, so when Baern blasts one, it explodes, taking out another nearby.

After the guards are dealt with, they inspect the maps, which are drawn on translucent paper designed to overlay each other. The most recent set of guide lines indicate Morack Hold will overlay Letherna almost exactly.

The door to the stair case opens and a figure gestures to them :
“Ahh Grimnar. I believe you have some questions for me… this way please.”

It is Galendin.

Preparing for a confrontation after their recent reception, they follow him up the stairs to the next level.

The open chamber is encircled with mirrors. On a level above them is a circular balcony, and it too has mirrors all around it. Two levels of reflections, and every one of them shows Galendin.

Lyneth's Plan
Session 50

The Paragons make their way to the Pentatome League in Haven, where the Bearer of the Fifth Book is organizing the remaining mages of the city in the clean up and shoring of the defenses. When Baern appears asking for access to the Portal chamber, he lets him know that “when this is all over, I have another book for you to hold” , alluding to a promotion in the Pentatome League to the position of Bearer of the Fourth Book. Baern uses Grimnar’s Astra Veloce to open a portal to the dwarf’s sanctuary and the Paragons move on to get some well-deserved rest.

Lyneth, meanwhile, lays out her plan to deal with the Prince of Frost. The only way she thinks she can divert his attention from his plan for the domination of all creation under the sway of Winter, is to melt his frozen heart with love.

She plans to marry him herself.

The others are more than a little surprised, since Lyneth has often expressed her disgust at the Pale Prince, especially after he showed his power over her in the Court of Stars, forcing her to stop singing the poem El’Lath’Argenum.

She explains that she can almost remember the Sunlit Prince — the man Sharaea once held in some affection — possibly because of the part of Sharaea that she still holds in her. Her hope is to restore the Sunlit Prince with her love, and he will give up his plans.

She wants to talk to Quarion and his father The Prince of Hearts, and ultimately Tiandra, the Queen of Summer, to get them in on her plan.

The Epics travel to Mithrendain to meet with Quarion as their first step. When asked why he has Sharaea, he answers “You know my heritage — you know why.”
Lyneth assumes this means Quarion is the reincarnation of Hayne Kasar, but he disavows any knowledge of that. On further questioning he says “I am my father’s son.”, which she then takes to mean he is acting on behalf of the Prince of Hearts.

They then meet the Prince of Hearts in Senaliesse. The Summer City is shrouded in a depressive gloom, it’s glorious verdant leaves tinged with red and gold. Autumn has come to Summer, and the Prince of Hearts cautions them not to visit Tiandra. She is “not herself” at present, and he fears as she fades, so too will all of Senaliesse , and the Summer Court.

When Lyneth tells the Prince of her plan, where she will formally Name the Prince of Frost her Pact Lord, in return for a Name of her own, he asks “And with what Name will you address your new Lord? Will you call him Pale Prince? Or Name him by that which has been struck from living memory? the Name of the Sunlit Prince”
Instantly Lyneth sees the Prince of Hearts’ point. If she Names the Sunlit Prince as her Pact Lord, the Pale Prince will be forced to recognize that aspect of himself if he is to accept her Pact completely. Either he surrenders much of his power over her, or he must allow the frost in his heart to melt enough that she might have a chance to turn him from his current path.

But who still knows this name? His power is such that only the Arch Fey themselves would be ones still to remember his ancient name. Tiandra, his mother, certainly. The Prince of Hearts might, but Lyneth feels that she is on the edge with him — he has already given her much without exacting any price or favor from her. For now, their aims are aligned, but she would avoid some unspecified future favor.

Martin suggests that, only those who were out of time when the Pale Prince expunged his name might remember it — like Sharaea herself. Lyneth or one of the other shards might be able to recall it on their own, but they think their best chance is to make Sharaea whole and question her directly.

When she suggests that Quarion is but the Agent of his father, the Prince of Hearts wonders why she thinks that is.

“He said as much.”

“Did he? What words did he speak.”

“He said ‘I am my fathers son.’ "

“And whom to do I serve?”

" .. you serve .. yourself?"

“Quarion is, indeed, his father’s son. In that we are much alike, for he too, serves himself.”

The Epics decide to go get the Heroics and contact Quarion again, so to put Sharaea back together — preferably somewhere far from Vale of Long Night. Then they can ask her the Prince of Frosts True Name.

While they are formulating this plan, Martin hears whispering whenever he is looking at Lyneth. Even Anika can hear the low voices. Lyneth is at first oblivious, but when alerted to the phenomena, she switches to Deep Speech, to test out her theory that the voices are related to the Dark Pact. Martin doesn’t know Deep Speech, but to his ears, the whispering cadences match with her words, so that her vowels are completed with whispered consonants, and vice versa. Anika, who knows Deep Speech doesn’t recognize words within the whispers.
After a while, Martin thinks he can hear some words in common tongue : “Help usssss.”

Paragons get Grimnar moving. Tregan goes off on Grimnar’s suggestion to tap on the shell surrounding Morack with some sort of tool Grimnar makes to help diagnose the source of it’s power

Grimnar then offers to complete making some items for the group from his stash of incompletes.
When Amata asks for a Mirror Of Opposition, Grimnar repurposes a magical mirror he used to communicate with Galendin.

They get to the Shadowfell using a portal Grimnar used last time, and they make their way on Phantom Steeds. As they ride, an ominous mist rises before them, and they fear entering it, lest they be trapped by a Dark Domain of Dread.

They try to circle around it, but it appears to block their every avenue towards the Bright Tower. They take their steeds over it, hoping it will not rise too high. Once in the air, it seems that the mists are covering the entire area around the tower. As they make their way to the center, it’s clear that the mists are enshrouding the land beneath them, all around the tower. In the distance, the Tower rises from the mists, a clear circle around it where the mists do not go. They rise high, like an ocean crashing against the rocks of the invisible barrier. Then , over the course of their approach, gradually recede, leaving the tower silent and alone in the landscape. When the mists leave, the landscape below them has changed. Where once a forest stood, a rocky hillside appears. etc.

When they pass through the invisible barrier, their Phantom Steeds dissipate into so much smoke — whatever keeps the mists at bay works as well against their magical steeds.
They proceed on foot. Klaw sees a road through the marshes and woodlands, so they make their way towards it.

As the cobbled road passes through a dark marshland, they are attacked by rotting corpses rising from the fetid waters, led by a Bodak DeathKnight, his death-gaze laying Ash low before he himself was dispatched. With Klaw’s aid, Ash is saved from certain death,.. They look around desperately, hoping they can catch their breath before another wave of corpses attack.

Betwixt The Walls
Session 49

After blowing up the Blizzard Sphere using his Spellstorm access, Baern discovers that the rift between the worlds which was stabilized and controlled by the artifact has now become sustained by his own connection to the spellstorm. He tries reaching out to it, but he is unable to access it. Not knowing what else to do, he calls on the Epics’ aid… (cut scene)

Last session the Heroics were at a cliff-hanger, at the beginning of a combat.

We pick up with them again, as two blasts of freezing wind engulf the front ranks, just as they are inspecting the icy sarcophagus in the crypt in front of them.

The ice begins to crack.

From outside the range of their dark-light, arrows fly from the darkness, and two ghostly wolves leap upon them. Ghostly versions of winter-wolves, from whence the frigid blasts came.

Within moments, the icy coffin explodes in chunks and from within an armored barrow-wight emerges, his full plate covered in centuries of rime, twin points of cold blue fire gleaming from deep in his helm, his fullblade swinging in mighty arcs.

Voices from beyond the light utter words in ancient Elven
“Hunters were we, but whom did we hunt?”

Ator notices a plaque affixed at the base of the sarcophagus "Here lies Vaerlan, Twice Cursed, let his whispered name stand as warning.’

As Vaerlan cuts a swath through the party, his overwhelming, inexorable onslaught is cut short by Karash, who interposes his shield to save Halani from the fullblades path. Durgan keeps a wolf occupied while the others concentrate fire on Vaerlan and the other wolf.

The eerie voices continue
“But she was vanished from our sight,
so Curse was our coin”

and the arrows fly again.

Ator remembers Vaerlan’s story. An Eladrin Knight from a time of myth, belonging to the Order of the Silver Hart (now long since disbanded), he was said to have loved Sharaea, even as he was set to guard her for his liege, the Summer Prince, her betrothed. But this love was unrequited. When Sharaea vanished, he was cursed a second time by the vengeful Prince, for aiding her escape.

Halani, hearing this, has a sense of deja vu, and a spatter of recognition of this ancient knight overcomes her. She steps up to him and begs him to see the part of her that is still Sharaea.

“My Lady!” he exclaims as recognition courses through him He staggers to one knee, and his blade halts in mid-air. With great effort he struggles against it’s arc, and the curse which compels him to guard this secret passage.

The hunters call out
“Warders are we now, but whom do we ward?”

The party collectively hold their breath, waiting to see if Vaerlan will resume his assault.

Instead he turns towards the darkness
“Run, while you still can!” he cries as charges the archers still yet concealed from the party.

“We ward Vaerlan!” they cry and arrows plunge into the chinks between his armor. But Vaerlan’s flesh is no mortal flesh and he continues, the two curses upon set against each other, and his love for Sharaea momentarily supreme.

The party runs towards the exit, coming upon the archers, who they make short work of, with Vaerlan’s help.

As the last of the warders and their guardian wolves fall, Vaerlan turns to Halani

“My Lady, my .. love.. I have waited for you.. I give you … all that I have left.” and he falls to the ground, his armor falling apart, revealing a dessicated corpse.

Halani is overcome. Normally reserved, something about this knights story touches her deeply. Perhaps it’s the part of her that is Sharaea, or perhaps it’s the fact that even after millennia, his love was still strong enough to overcome the Prince’s geas.
As her teas touch the knights armor, the grime and frost falls away, revealing pristine plate armor with a polish so bright she can see her reflection in it.

With some reverence, she packs up his equipment while the others loot the cursed hunter’s bodies which they find embedded in the ice walls in the north of the chamber, along with their guardian wolves.

They continue north through the narrow passage for several hours, till they come to an opening that leads on to an icy bridge over an underground river. Below them, a large boat sails up to a shoreline, where upon several eladrin sailors disembark, and go up to an icy wall across the shore. Two large icy doors swing open, and several winter fey emerge, along with a couple of large Firbolgs who wade into the water and start unloading barrels and barrels of cargo from the ship.

The party hangs back, hoping to remain hidden. They contemplate sneaking down to the water and to the shore, but as Halani gets closer, she sees that the wall only reaches half way to the cavern ceiling, and atop it are parapets patrolled by guardsmen. They wait and watch.

A Frost Giant walks between the doors and calls out
“What are you doing? The Prince is waiting for this shipment. " With a disgusted look he raises he hands and ice bubbles up to the surface of the bay making a walk-way to the very side of the boat. Now all the fey can assist the firbolgs, and unloading proceeds at a much greater pace.

The Frost Giant returns to the sheltered area, and the party waits till the boat is unloaded and leaves before venturing across the bridge. The ice is slippery, but they make painstaking progress, and their travelers camouflage helps them blend from sight. They get to the other side without drawing the attention of the guards on the walls. This deep in the Princes demesne, there is little to fear and the guards lack vigilance.

The heroes proceed deeper under the glacier until they come to a place where the passage emerges into a bowl-like cavern. Below them, the icy walls are jagged, and slope towards an uneven floor, stewn with stalagtites and what appears to be icy statues. Knowing the Prince’s reputation, this could be where some of his numerous victims ended up after they’ve been turned to ice. To the left a large archway leads off into a dark tunnel, while in the center of the bowl, a tall spire stretches all the way from floor to the domed ceiling. An icy ramp fully as wide as three frost giants walking abreast curves around the spire and up above the dome.

They have reached the bowels of the Fortress of Frozen Tears itself.

Halani is overcome with a vision of the place as it once was – the Spire before her all agleam with silver, and the branches of an ancient alder tree embracing it, all white in the summer sun.

She consults her dragonmark, but the tug forward is no longer there.

“I guess, as far as Dalastra is concerned, we’re here.” she says.

They slip down the side of the walls, Karash and Durgan lowering Gramaine, in his heavy chain on a rope. The others, slightly more nimbly, make their own way down.

Halani moves to investigate the statues. Ever since her time in Dalastra’s halls, she has wondered about her burgeoning abilities to melt away ice. Seeing the plight of all these people, she cannot help but try to undo the prince’s curse.. She’s never been wholly conscious of how she taps into Sharaea’s Aspect of Summer. Usually , things just happen. This is the first time she’s attempted anything of such magnitude through her own force of will.

She reaches out to one of the statues, the ice worn smooth and indistinct since being discarded here.

A warm tingle begins in her fingertips.

The others keep to the shadows, as sounds of movement — boots crunching on ice, and casual conversation — echo from the large cavernous exit. The unseen creatures continue on their way as Halani continues to concentrate.

The warmth soon becomes a glow, which soon emanates and reflects around the chamber, filling it with light. Tensions increase as risk of discovery increases with each pulse of light. Within moments, Halani is emitting he heat of a midsummer high noon, and the glare of an unclouded day. The ice at her feet has turned to water, and wisps of steam rise from the pool. The statue blurs slowly beneath her hands, and she fears that stopping would leave the victim in a state between ice and flesh.

The light, however, has finally attracted some attention from the dark cavern.

“What’s doing that?” a deep voice rolls into the chamber from beyond their sight, and heavy steps crunch through the ice.

Halani’s hands grip suddenly soft flesh and a confused woman’s face appears as the last of the ice flows away. "What’s the meaning of this? How dare… " the woman, dressed in flowing attire of surpassing quality trails off as she takes in her surroundings. Seeing the others huddled behind statues, and hearing the approaching footsteps of something rather large, she takes her cue, taking a similar position.

(cut scene)

Baern enlists Anika, Amata (and Athelia) and Lyneth to improvise a ritual to sever the connection with the Spellstorm sustaining the rift. Amata and Anika analyze the situation and discover that the rift, while initially anchored to the Vale of Long Night in the feywild, is now subject to Planar Drift as expected. Amata also realizes that this effect may be wandering through time as well. It is far too dangerous to allow to continue to exist.

With Anika’s mastery of planar magic at it’s peak, and Amata being a Shard of the Mind of Time, they put their heads together and come up with a plan. It will take a great deal of concentration, and Baern will need to be part of the ritual. They approach the rift, and Anika’s presence prevents them all from being sucked into the chaotic portal. Joining hands, with Baern standing right in the rift itself, Anika unleashes Dimensional Cascade on the connection with the Spellstorm. and it’s connection to the rift is severed. No longer self-sustaining, the rift will slowly collapse in on itself naturally.

Baern collapses, unconscious. Martin revives him with a Cure Serious Wounds, and the Paragons decide to return to Grimnar and get some shut-eye before approaching Galendin.

The Epics try to decide on their next steps. Martin wants to get to the Fortress of Frozen Tears as soon as possible, believing it to be the City of Silver, and the key to revealing what has befallen the Raven Queen (as her last communication with him indicated, when this all started a month ago).
Lyneth suggests that facing him unprepared on his home ground would be fatal. As yet she still doesn’t know the extent of his power over her pact, and fears that he would be able to turn her against them. She advises they meet Quarion first (as they agreed) in Mithrendain, They no doubt need him , since he holds Sharaea’s body (and last quarter of her soul) , and he obviously needs them for whatever he’s planning, as they hold the other three quarters.

The others agree, and Martin acquiesces.

Of Spheres and Walls
Session 48

Belisar looked down at his hands. The illusion was impenetrable. As far as he could discern, he was an Eladrin Knight astride a phantom steed. His companions were equally convincing.

They hovered inside the storm. The Rocs which patrolled Winter’s army were busy engaging the enemy on Haven’s walls, and so their troupe had entered the unnatural blizzard unchallenged.

The eye of the storm was clear before them. The Prince’s general, Anadon “The Tyrant”, casually directed his forces from the center of the eye, where he could monitor the magical artifact that generated the unnatural weather. The Blizzard Sphere, a swirling orb of ice and glass, more magical than physical, hovered a few feet in the air over a black stone dray, drawn by four frost giants. The cart was ancient, obvious in it’s primitive construction, a single axle held it above two huge wheels of stone and wood.

Belisar glanced around the area. There were few of the Fey in the clearing around the Sphere. He guessed most of them were already up against the walls. He could hear the rumble of something in the distance, pounding hard enough to make the ground shudder. Anadon gestured to his left and a small cluster of fur clad berserkers charged through the eye towards the wall.

Even over the howl of the winds, they heard Anika’s Sending
“The Prince is occupied.”

That was their signal.. It was time to make their move on the Blizzard Sphere.

Ash peeled off to the rear, hoping to approach Anadon in his blind spot. The others, relying on their illusions, hoped to approach him unchallenged.

At first, Anadon did not appear to react. When they got closer, he turned toward the larger group and then quickly scanned around him. Seeing Ash alone at his rear, he started immediately for the sphere to protect it, yelling orders to the giants. Winter Knights they might appear, the general knew them to be out of place.

Belisar and Ash both charged him, intending to cut him off so that Baern could inspect the sphere. Anadon was not easily thwarted, and the giants also bore down to intercept the wizard. When Baern landed, it was within reach of all four giants. But the canny dwarf already had his staff in hand, and from the back of the flying steed he launched a maelstrom of confusion into the area covering the dray. The Frost Giants, not known for their towering intellect, found themselves turned around, and retreating rather than advancing. Baern invoked his fire-shield spell and flames licked around his feet. Each time a giant struck at him, the fire would react, torching them, and the zone of confusion would send them off in another direction.

Klaw hovered nearby, calling on the Great Panther Spirit to aid his companions. As he always did, Tecum’seh appeared in the thick, harrying their enemy. Athelia, one of the three aspects of the Mind of Time, took station in the air on the other side of the combat. With a wave of her staff, she lifted two of the giants into the air. For a second they floated there, bewilderment on their dull faces. She flicked her wrist and flung them twenty feet into the other giants and they tumbled together.

Ash stood upon the back of his steed, his full-blade in both hands and a feral gleam in his shifter-eyes. Without a cry he stepped into the sheer air a dozen feet from the ground, and flickered from sight. From the shadow to Anadon’s rear, cast in the wan morning light, he rose again, sword swinging like a scythe. Within the arc of the blade shadows stirred, like ink in water, and swathed his target in a persistent fog. Ash had placed the Raven Queens mark upon him.

Anadon ducked the strike, then ignored Ash at his flank. A chilling gale rose around him. His black armor glistening and crackling, lines of frost tracing a web across it’s surface, he stepped into the wind and it carried him into the air and away and to Baern. The general swept the winter court blade from it’s sheath and across where the wizard’s head would have been, but Baern dropped to one knee, his Staff rising up to deflect the attack. His Fire-shield engulfed the icy blade, singing Anadon’s hand, but the eladrin was undeterred.

Baern needed help, and fast.

Ash vanished again, exploiting his divine connection to Night to appear behind Anadon. While that mark remained, he would never be more than a step away from those welcoming shadows. Even the generals keen senses would be hard pressed to locate him within them.

Belisar landed next to Baern, completing the Circle’s two-pronged assault.

“In the name of the Raven Queen — judgement is at hand!” he bellowed, forcing Anadon’s attention.

The two devotees proceeded to harry the general, keeping him from the wizard, while the others concentrated on the giants.

Baern reached out to the Blizzard Sphere, his stubby fingers tracing the runes which appeared on it’s surface when he opened his inner eye. The script was ancient. An ancestor of elvish before the elves existed. Before Corellon became a God. The sphere itself was not nearly so old, but knowing the power of those glyphs, Baern hesitated. There was no time! No time for study, no time to estimate what might happen when .. if .. he unraveled those bindings. He wracked his mind, rummaging through the corners of his memory, delving deep, searching for that image : a diagram of arcane symbology, a treatise on Eladrin High Arts, a footnote in the Catalogue of Esoterica.. anything.

Reunion outside Haven
Session 47

Jasen hunkered down against the stone farmhouse wall, his collar turned high up to his cheek. Though the wind was spare, still the cold bit through his cloak and mail. He hadn’t used any magic to hold it at bay since he took the field. The Duke never liked to set himself apart when he was on campaign. Every man in his militia knew the depth of power Jasen could bring to bear. They saw the least of it every day: when he called upon the Shadowfell to stretch their stride fivefold; when their supply crates were full again each dawn. They never once considered him just another one of them : they held him too greatly in awe. But he kept his small conceit. They loved him all the more for it.

The farm had been abandoned in the face of the marauding Winter Fey. The army had come across several small groups of them during the ten day march from Reikenwold. His much larger, more disciplined veteran force had dispatched the disorganized fey with no losses of their own. When at last they neared the vale, he had dispersed the militia into small units throughout the surrounding farmland in order to approach the city without giving away his numbers. He trusted his commanders to avoid tangling with the roaming bands on their own. They were to keep low, out of trouble and report in to each other regularly. The Duke wasn’t a grand strategist. He led from the front, and had a knack for choosing just the right people. Some called it luck. Whatever it was, he had every confidence that his, sometimes vague, orders would be executed with efficiency. His men hadn’t let him down yet.

Jasen shifted to get a better view of the valley.

He needed information. Martin’s strike force had scouted the enemy several days ago, and there was little reason to believe their composition had changed since then. Knowing that an unnatural storm concealed a substantial force of all manner of men, fey, and creatures at home in Winter was valuable, certainly. Yet the full extent of the enemy remained unknown. He had to learn more.

Jasen himself was arguably the best scout in his entire militia, and there was nothing like first hand knowledge. So he’d given his men their standing orders and set out alone several hours ago. Now he found himself within sight of the City itself.

In the valley below, Winter had come in full force to the city of his birth. Haven was surrounded by a harrowing windstorm. Ice and sleet shielded the outer walls from view. Intermittently, he could hear the sounds of combat, men and steel screaming, over the fierce winds. There were few options. No sane commander would send his men into that storm. The losses would buy him nothing. His men would die and Haven would still fall.

Only one thing remained to him. He must destroy the Blizzard Sphere : the artifact at the heart of the enemy – a conduit to the loneliest corner of the Vale of Long Night, and source of that raging storm. Baern, the dwarven wizard working with Martin’s Circle, had described the sphere to him : a swirling orb made of ice and glass and magical force in equal measure, hovering above a low heavy black dray, drawn by a team of four Frost Giants.

Destroy it, and the enemy would lose it’s advantage against the walled defenders, and their full strength would be known.

Destroy it, and his men could be deployed and, with luck, the siege lifted.

Destroy it, and the advance of Winter would be stymied.

But how? Jasen rose from his crouch, ready to set into the open vale, toward the storm. He’d work out the details when he got there.

In the still air, a flurry of snow rose in a spiral from the ground. Jasen stopped in his tracks, hand on the hilt of his song-blade. The snow assumed the vague outline of a man. From within stepped a tall Eladrin man, his white flowing tunic cinched loosely over his leathers, chest bare to the freezing cold. Like many of the Winter Fey, his skin was a pale blue, not unlike a man taken by frostbite.

The Prince of Frost held his hands at ease, showing no sign of hostility, his cold longsword still sheathed at his waist. He moved with a grace and confidence common among the Arch Fey and few others. But there was a turn to his smile that spoke a callous disdain.

“Mortals… So ephemeral. So delicate. "
He inclined his head toward the besieged city.
“But so fierce – raging against the inevitable, inexorable creep of your decay. Such clamor. Such noise. Harken to the quiet night. The still cold silence of the fall of snow. That is the future. Why scream into the storm? “

Jasen kept his hand on his hilt. The Arch Fey played by their own rules, but what he knew of them said the Prince might be making some new ones. He was not about to drop his guard.

“Haven’t you got somewhere to be?” he countered.

“You race to defend this city. Why? In a blink of my eye, it is but dust. All it’s people long dead. The Havenburgs and their kingdom remembered only in a brief paragraph in a discarded text. At the last, it is all the same. The north wind sweeps the land bare, and there is quiet once more. What’s the point of your noise then?”

Jasen ignored the gibe, and asked “Why are you so eager to destroy us?”

The Prince’s smile grew hard.

“There is a time for beginnings, and a time for endings. And Winter, perhaps, is an agent of both”

“But why now? Since you’re in a chatty mood.”

The Prince turned to face Haven, his carriage full of ease and confidence.

“The endless cycle must end. The time has come to wipe the board clean, to start again. The Fey will thank me when I’m done with the mortal world.”

“Not if I’ve got anything to do with it.” Jasen narrowed his eyes.

“Do you think you can prevail? Is that why you’re here? Is that what keeps you going, keeps you screaming into the storm, standing against the tide? Hope?”

Jasen’s hand tightened on the hilt of his blade, and imagined it buried between the Prince’s shoulders.

“How can you plan when your opponent is concealed from you? You cannot know his numbers. There is no way you can win a head-on clash. Your only hope is to deprive this army of command. "

The Prince turned his cold gaze on the Duke, and Jasen felt the scorn in those eyes.

“If that is your hope, you have none. There’s not a one, not ten, nor a hundred in your midst who could stand against the Song of Frost, with Bitter Edge in my hand.“

Jasen leapt on the opening.
“Is that a challenge, your Highness?”
He carefully shielded his eagerness, but the Prince raised one brow slightly. Jasen had caught his mis-step, and he knew it. For all his talk of clearing the pieces from the board, he was still bound by the geas-like formality and honour of the Fey.

“You may take it as such, if you wish,” he replied, and Jasen thought he could detect a sliver of doubt in the Fey’s smile. "Array your finest champions. It matters not how many, and I will face them alone. When I win, you will quit the field and leave Haven to it’s fate.”

“And if I win?”

“If somehow you force me to concede, I will do the same, and I will take the Blizzard Sphere with me."

The Prince looked around the vicinity and spied an abandoned farm house on a small hill not far away. He waved towards it.
“I will await your champions in that field. Consider my offer for as long as you like. Every moment spent, your city is dying.”

With that, he stepped back in the snow and vanished into the wind.

Jasen dashed back to the shelter of the stone wall. This changed everything. Of course, he could ignore the Prince’s offer. He could let him languish there until he tired of waiting, all the while moving his own forces into a better position, and attacking the sphere himself. It was a tempting thought. But it was a fleeting one. He could not rely on the Prince keeping to the field for any useful length of time, and the opportunity to test the Prince’s mettle, while almost suicidally dangerous, was too good to pass up. He might never have a better set of circumstances — any other contest between them would most likely be at a time and place of the Prince’s choosing. This challenge would allow him to influence the terms of their clash.

He pulled out his Sending Stone and contacted his companions, hoping they were in a position to respond. Jasen had no illusions about taking on the Prince by himself. While he was formidable with a blade, the Prince of Frost was one of the Arch Fey: creatures so powerful they rivaled the Gods themselves. Everything hinged on convincing his friends that this was worth interrupting whatever they were doing right now..

“This is too good to be true, " Lyneth said. “He’s up to something.”
“When is he not up to something?” Anika replied.
“I mean, something intended to deflect us from our own purposes.”
Martin’s voice joined the others emanating from the stone.
“But can we afford to ignore him? We let the enemy approach Haven because it was the least threat. Given what we now suspect, The Prince is close to the center of this whole mess.”
“Exactly my point: If he’s willing to meet us face to face, then he’s got some hidden agenda working in the background.” Lyneth’s concern leaked into her voice. “If he wants us there, we need to look elsewhere. Trust me — the Arch Fey think circles within circles. I should know”
“And you ask us to trust you, " Jasen imagined Anika’s sardonic smile on the other end of the stone.
Jasen flipped his collar up to shield his voice from the wind.
“We could all be walking into a trap, I suppose. Or worse, leaving those near us vulnerable while he distracts us. But this is our best chance to deal with him outside his domain, and to take out the Blizzard Sphere at the same time.”
Jasen closed his eyes. His voice dropped to a whisper.
“And I can’t do it alone.”

That seemed to clinch it.

“I’ll open a portal. Be there in a minute.”
“Seems like you’ve learned another trick or two since we parted ways, Anika.”
“You have no idea.”

They walked abreast up the path toward the ruined farm, stopping fifty paces before the first broken building.

Martin turned to his old friend, “The strike team is nearly at the storm front. Even if we fall, they’ll be in position to assault the sphere within moments. All we have to do is keep him busy.”
Jasen smiled encouragingly.
Cur hefted his great hammer onto his shoulder, "We’ll do more than keep him busy, " he grunted.
Mongrel growled in agreement.

Lyneth bit her lower lip. She kept to the half-elven shape in which she felt most comfortable and familiar, but still she couldn’t help but fidget, fingers tapping on the handle of the winter court blade she wore at her side. As he’d so ably demonstrated in the Court of Senaliesse, the Prince of Frost held her Fey Pact, and he could use it, and had used it, against her. She had been so young when sworn into the Dark by the Cabinet of Faces, none could have faulted her choices. The Dark was all she’d known for years. Then, the lure of her heritage had drawn her towards the Fey. Perhaps foolishly she had sought to lessen the hold of Dark by tempering it with another source, another promise. While she remained indistinct, unnoticed by either Source, the power flowed freely and she broke free of the Cabinet, made her own way. The wellspring of dark and fey powers seemed endless.
Now everything had changed.
She had been noticed.
How naive she had been. From the streets of her youth, she’d only learned one road to freedom : power greater than those around you. She’d fled down that path, and yet it had taken her on a detour — a route that took her to the doorstep of the very Masters she had sought to avoid. She’d refrained from the Naming of a Pact Lord for years. Such a relationship was far too ..intimate. Swearing fealty to one Lord, it marked you.
But it also protected you. Protected you from what was happening to her now. Her Pact had been taken up by her enemy within the Fey Court. Only an Arch Fey could provide the source of power she now commanded, it seemed. The irony was not lost on her.

When she faced him in battle this day, what would he do? He’d compelled her once before. Would he do so again? Would he staunch the flow of his Pact? She’d have to rely only on the Dark.
Lyneth shuddered. She had been distancing herself from that source for years. Each time she fell back on the Dark she felt diminished, somehow less Lyneth and more of whatever loomed on the other end of that conduit.

The Prince was waiting for them when they crested the hill. He stood with his back to them, deathly still; staring in the far distance, as frozen as those hapless fools who found themselves captive in the Fortress of Frozen Tears. At the sound of their approach, he turned.

When he saw the champions Jasen had selected, he smiled.
Jasen smiled right back.
“You did say not ten, nor a hundred, did you not?”
“That I did.” The Prince’s smile faded slowly. He stepped sideways, keeping his distance, measuring their response as he slid Bitter Edge from its sheath. The cool air turned colder, gusting away from him, lifting the twice-blown snow from the ground.

“Well there’s only six of us.” Jasen shrugged and drew his song-blade. Cur’s hammer swung down from his shoulder. Anika’s Staff and Wand appeared instantly in her hands. Martin and Amata stepped apart from the others, and Lyneth brazenly drew out the Winter Court Blade she wielded- a trophy from a previous encounter with the Prince’s coterie.

“I did wonder if I would be seeing you today .. or at all, " the Prince said. He swept his blade through the air in a graceful salute. Crystals of ice formed in its wake, a musical arc glittering as they fell. The winds grew stronger, and the hilltop was wreathed in a laurel of white.

Jasen returned the salute and circled in the other direction.
“I wouldn’t want to disappoint you, your Highness.”

Faster than thought, the Prince launched into the space between them. But Martin had been readying himself for the opening move. He’d already raised the Shard of the Citadel. The air crackled and a storm of flame laced with black light descended from the sky, enveloping the Prince of Frost entirely. Windstorm and firestorm met, flame and frost. An elemental of cold would have been consumed by such a conflagration, but the Arch Fey are not so easily overcome. The Prince emerged, barely singed, steam and ice trailing him, each step taking his blade closer to Jasen’s chest. The rising snowstorm clouded their view of him, and the shadow of his passing made it seem as if he were in several places at once.

The Prince flourished his blade, and the slurry of sleet beneath Martin grew harder and stronger, rising up around him, and the Prince continued to advance. Jasen strode out to meet him, Cur and Mongrel at his side. But which one? There seemed to be a handful of Princes in the whirling snow.

“Straight on!” Martin shouted. “He comes at you from the center!”

Lyneth sprang into action. Pointing her eldritch blade at the indistinct figures of the Prince, she quietly uttered a single word of terrible purpose; a word that carried the echoes of screaming beneath the earth, of blackness and torture, of an age before the Gods had made order from chaos; a word she wrested from the clouded mind of a recluse driven mad by the knowing of it. A year and a day she’d spent preparing herself to even contemplate it’s alien pronunciation.
The winds parted before her careful diction, as the word hammered through the air in front of her. Every one of the Prince-like figures halted in their wind-borne stride as the word bore through them.

Jasen and Cur kept to Martin’s guidance, converging on the center. It was soon clear which was the real Prince: the other figures resembled him in form, but their features were coarsely made from snow. Only in the concealing storm would any mistake one for the other. As their target became clear Cur and Mongrel charged together. The great wolf leapt for the throat and the Goliath’s hammer followed, a coordinated strike few could withstand. Even the Prince’s blade-song training was not sufficient to avoid the both of them at once. He stepped squarely in the path of the wolf, rolling with him down to the ground so that Mongrel shielded him from Cur’s blow, guessing the Ranger would not strike his life-long companion. Mongrel twisted against the Prince, trying to latch onto him with a set of jaws strong enough to snap a man’s leg in two, but the lithe fey slipped away. Cur’s hammer slammed into the packed earth a hairs breadth behind him. The Prince smoothly rolled to his feet. It seemed the icy ground itself was his ally – he skated over it without pause or effort.

Anika turned her left side toward the arena. Shifting the Staff in her right hand so that it rested vertically at her back, she aimed the Wand at the Prince. A jagged line traced from it’s tip, reaching out to the Prince of Frost, a crack between worlds. Reality warped around that aperture and for a moment, she tapped into that phantom, replacing the Prince’s reality with her own will. His senses now would be subject to her influence, casting the illusion of enemies over his allies, forcing him to step where she willed.

At least, that was the plan.

The Prince danced across the snow, his blade flashing. Anika bent her will to force his steps to her own path, and exulted when he moved away from Cur as she directed, towards one of his own facsimiles. Then her joy turned to dismay as the ice bore him onward, past her target and directly toward her. The Prince grinned and glared as Bitter Edge slipped beneath her guard before she could raise her Staff in defense. Red stained her white robes and he continued past, faster than she could respond. Bitter Edge was a blur of burning blue.

What had happened? Her connection with the spell was still active.
She had her answer a moment later when one of the Prince’s decoys lunged at another one.

“Beware the snowmen.” she alerted the others. “They’re not just distractions.”

Indeed, they proved to be much more than mere annoyances. They moved to obstruct and attack whichever champion was closest, even using rudimentary tactics in their favor, as if imbued with their own evil intelligence. None of them were of any particular threat on their own, but together they served to give the Prince some extra room to maneuver. And when one dissolved in a bath of fire, or was obliterated by a hammer-blow, another would rise from the snow in the Prince’s footsteps.
Perhaps their most frustrating property : while any one of them existed, the Prince was all but immune to many of their more potent powers, for one of the snowmen would suffer it instead, a mystical lodestone for detrimentality.

Martin gripped the Raven Queen’s symbol tightly. Although the ice encasing his lower torso had risen in moments, he was not concerned. The Prince of Frost may be a powerful Arch Fey aspect of Winter, but Martin was favored by a Goddess with even greater power over that domain. Admittedly the Raven Queen had been mostly absent since this whole thing started — which was of some concern. Still, an icy tomb was not his destiny. With concerted effort, he broke free of the freezing block, and flung a bolt of gleaming black energy from the Shard. The Prince ducked Cur’s hammer, but Martin’s bolt caught him a glancing blow, spinning him. A cloud of dark energy coruscated from the strike, like a rising thunderhead clinging to him, racing around his shoulders.

The storm grew rapidly over the next seconds, expanding until it covered half the hilltop, and then bolts of deathly radiance reached out to each of the snowforms, destroying them.

Jasen’s song-blade sung in harmony, adding the destruction to it’s haunting refrain, resonating with the loss of each snowform, another voice in the chorus. Jasen called out, his lilting tenor in counterpoint with the magical blade : “Press on, press on! He falters!”

A dark scowl passed over the Prince’s mien, before his usual equanimity returned. The edge of his white tunic fluttered red in the wind, slashed and torn. Jasen glanced at his own sword, and there was blood along the edge.

Beset by perhaps the greatest heroes the mortal world had known in more than a thousand years, the Pale Prince knew this battle had turned against him. Still, he was an Arch Fey, and arrogant. The sight of his own blood threw him into a cold fury. He passed like a gale amongst them, foot and blade flashing with supernatural speed, the intricate dance of the Song of Frost, and so fast was he, that not one of them remained untouched. Then the blood that flowed was not his alone.

Jasen gritted his teeth, pressing his hand on the wound in his abdomen, and sprinted to the left, blade humming in an subtle feint : a move designed to force his opponent to his right, into Cur’s reach. The Pale Prince was not so easily deceived, and sprung into the air, somersaulting over the outstretched thrust. Cur’s hammer found only empty space.

So it would go, back and forth, cut and parry, snow and flame, ice and storm. A master bladesinger, the Prince rarely made a misstep. But in the end, it came down to just that, a forced mistake. In the chaos, the Prince slid towards Amata, seeing an opening where the shard-mind was unprotected. His strike was devastating, but it had been a gambit. Cur loomed out of the storm to his right, and this time, he could not escape the hammer. The bones of any mortal man would have been crushed, pulverized.

The Prince dropped to one knee for a second, then recovered, swiping at Cur’s throat with his blade. The Goliath stepped back, giving the Prince some space. Jasen had stepped in, thinking the Prince defeated but the Prince rolled backwards, coming up under Jasen’s guard, and slipping Bitter Edge between the links of Jasen’s mail.

The Duke staggered back, gasping for air, his face instantly pale.

“I am true to my word, Your Grace.” and with that, the snow spiraled around him and he vanished into the winds.

Jasen slipped to the ground, his fingers and toes stiffening, solidifying, turning to solid ice. In mere moments, the Princes curse had taken his whole body, and his companions looked on with horror.

Martin reached for his hand. He would not let this happen. Whatever the cost, Martin would pay it. He had already lost too many good friends. He began to pray.

“Why so glum?” Jasen asked.
“Did I?” Martin started.
“The fates have a greater destiny in mind for me, than becoming an ice sculpture.” Jasen smiled.

There was a flash of light the enemy forces surrounding the city, and seconds later they were swept from their feet by a shock wave.

Tether To Celestia
Session 46

With the Mind Flayer invasion thwarted (in this part of the world, at least), the Paragons look to Grimnar for their next target.

“I’m afraid I have not had time to do any research on the next tether. Galendin’s recalculations took much of the time between our last encounter and our meeting. So I only have the Inthurlian sigils he gave me.”

“That does not bode well,” Belisar raised one brow ridge. His slitted irises narrowed.

“Nevertheless, it is what we must do. My Astra Veloce will guide us to the tether once we are near.”

The artificer plunged his hand into his magic satchel and pulled out a plain iron ring like those he wore around his forearm, and then a mithril stylus. With practiced strokes he inscribed a set of runes around the ring, cerulean light flashing as the symbols scored into the metal. Baern marveled at the ease and speed with which his cousin enchanted the ring. What would take him an hour of dedicated work, Grimnar completed within a few minutes.

Ash and Belisar spent the time conferring quietly, possibly in prayer, and Klaw put his hand upon the lakes surface, his eyes unfocused. The shifter was even more quiet than usual. The strange crystalline creature that called herself Athelia hovered at the periphery, as if not quite sure that she were yet welcome in this small group who had grown so close in such a short time.

Tregan stalked the perimeter restlessly. His eyes sought every avenue of approach, apparently alert for potential enemies. In truth, it was merely the habit of years of training. His eyes were unfocused, turned inward on his inner turmoil.
He was still reeling from the sudden reversal. He’d spent years at Grimnar’s side. In a single day, those years had come to naught, when the newest Morack Clan Leader had seemingly betrayed everything Tregan stood for. Betrayed the entire Clan’s purpose. Tregan had not believed it. Oh he’d known of Baern’s fall from grace, all those years earlier. He’d never quite accepted the official story, but Baern never put forth a different version, and Grimnar was the son of the Clan leader. For the good of the clan, Tregan had accepted Grimnar’s tale. They all had. Twenty years is a long time, and memories fade .. even dwarven ones. Thorin’s son, for all his arrogance, his self-righteousness, had proved able enough to succeed his father in that time.
Tregan even came to call him his friend.
He was last to admit that his friend had stolen the Oathrod. Last to accept that Grimnar had done the unthinkable – opened the gates to the Whisperer’s Below.

Now he found himself one of the last to accept that Grimnar’s actions may have had a higher motive, after all. The last month had stripped him to the core of his being. As one of the Wardens of the Seals, Tregan’s entire life had been dedicated to a singular purpose : protecting the world from the influx of creatures that he knew would flow from beneath Morack Mountain should the Warden’s waiver in their defense.

The Oathrod had been the lynch pin of that defense. And Grimnar had stolen it.

Now “The Betrayer” was adamant that this act was but the first step of a grand plan to forever sever the world from any link to that reality.

If Grimnar had only confided in him…
He tried to convince himself that he would have stood by him in that. Then he bowed his head. He had to admit, Grimnar was right. He could not think of a time when he would have been receptive to the idea. Not a single moment when he would not have looked upon his old friend as having lost his mind. He could barely consider it even now, and he himself had assisted in the madness!

Tregan turned back to the camp and watched as his old friend finished the iron portal ring that would catapult them across the world to who knows where. Another secret Grimnar had kept all too well. He was truly a prodigy. But perhaps that too, was best left unspoken. Thorin would have wanted his son to remain firmly planted as the noble leader. If word got out that Grimnar preferred the company of forges and golems, doubt might have been cast on his ability to keep Morackhold united.

“The portal is ready when we are.” Grimnar grinned. With a nod from the others he tossed the ring to the ground at the shore of the lake and stepped through it. The motley crew of his former sworn enemies went through after him.

Tregan cast one final look around the lake, and followed them.

The cool evening lake breeze vanished. The air was still and dank and their steps were muffled in the darkness. If anything, it was even colder than the mountainside they’d just left. Baern held aloft his staff and brought forth a soft warm glow from the top of it. The light revealed a square chamber barely fifteen feet across. Large enough for the portal circle, but not much more. The walls were masoned from large stones fitted together so carefully that no mortar could be seen binding them. A single heavy wooden door stood in one wall.
Baern put his hand on the nearest wall. It was biting cold, and he could hear a rushing wind just on the other side.

Grimnar was already staring at several lines of runes carved in the lintel above the door.

“Cousin, can you read this? It appears to be Draconic, but not in a dialect with which I’m familiar”. Absentmindedly, the artificer had one hand in his magic satchel, imagining some crafted solution to the simple translation problem in front of them, and searching for just the right item to solve it.

Baern stepped forward and held the light closer.
“One doesn’t see this grammatical construction very often. If I’m not mistaken, the last time this dialect was in common use was during the height of the Arkhosian empire.”

Belisar moved next to the wizard.
“My people have not been united under one banner in a thousand years. Has this building stood since then?”

“Probably.” Tregan grunted, as he surveyed the masonry.

“Welcome, Pilgrim.” Baern said.
The rest of them looked at him quizzically.

“That’s what it says.”

“Four lines of runes and it says ‘Welcome, Pilgrim’.. Are you sure?” said Tregan

“It’s a very formal, grammar.” the wizard shrugged.


Ash had spent this time studying the floor. The flagstones were even larger than the ones which made up the walls, and the portal circle was etched from some kind of silver metal directly into the top of a single large grey stone fully ten feet across. Where the floor met the walls, dust and grime were prevalent, but the portal area was much clearer.

“It may be Arkhosian, but it’s not lost.” He pointed out the scuffed tracks to the others.

Grimnar produced his Astra Veloce from the satchel. His fingers danced across the metal casing that protected the primordial crystal, and the brackets clicked and slid around the ball until they formed a single band around the center. The mithral needle suspended in the center of the crystal spun rapidly for a second, and then pointed at an angle above the edge of the wall.

“Looks like we’re going for a climb. Not much point waiting around here.” and he yanked on the door. With a bit of effort, the door swung inwards, and a wall of snow and ice slid into the chamber.

“What now, genius?” Baern yelled over the howl of the wind.

“Digging first. Then climbing, cousin.”

Baern clambered to the top of the drift. He couldn’t see more than thirty feet in the blizzard. The others kept to the shelter as he worked the magic to summon the phantom steeds. His hands shivered through the intricate ritual, and stumbled over the final phrases. The others joined him when he was done. They had lashed themselves together with heavy rope.

“Should we wait out the storm?” Klaw had suggested.

“A furious blizzard?” Belisar grinned in the merciless manner he had. “Might not the Winter Court be at work here?”

And that had been that. They would meet Winter head on.

Ash took the lead, his shifter-senses alert to the treacherous terrain in the low visibility. Grimnar was right behind him, calling out changes in direction if they veered from the straight line to their target. They took it slow and steady. More than once Ash felt the ground change beneath him in time to set their steps away from a crevasse breaking before him. “Which way now Grimnar?” he would call. “When in doubt, head up!” was the reply.

Over an hour of this arduous crawl through the blizzard took it’s toll on all of them. Ash only had the robes of his Order to protect him, Even the shardmind seemed to be affected by the adverse conditions. The three dwarves were accustomed to winters on Morack Mountain, and fared the best of the group, but even they breathed a sigh of relief when the storm finally abated.

As the snowfall cleared, the mountain came into view.

Curving up and away to the right a ridge led up to meet the mountainside.
“Look… There.” Athelia pointed. Dotting the ridge were small piles of stone that stood out against the sky.
“Way stones.”

As they moved towards the path, Tregan looked back the way they’d come. The snowfall was deep, but he could still pick out several buildings clustered together. Only their roofs poked through the snow.

With the sky clearing, they picked up their pace. The Phantom Steeds were immune to the cold, and moved at a speed unmatched by any mortal horse. As they reached the first way marker, Baern paused. The stone was weathered beyond any recognition, but it was obviously not a natural outcropping, showing evidence of similar construction principles they’d found in the portal building.

The Astra Veloce pointed directly to the mountain top, and so they continued their journey.

Soon the ridge narrowed so that it was little wider than the path, and edged like a knife. Tregan would have preferred to have his boots on the solid ground. He’d spent more years trudging beneath the earth than borne on the back of another creature. Still, he reassured himself that the Phantom that bore him now was magically sure-footed.
It might have been better if they could fly. Baern had made them fly once before. But when he’d asked, Baern had bombarded him with some arcane formulae he knew would make no sense to Tregan, then rode off looking a bit embarrassed.

The last vestige of the blizzard fluttered away, fleeing the gaze of the Sun staring down from it’s vantage above the eastern ranges.

Something on the mountain glinted under that gaze.

They soldiered on. The sun may have looked down on them, but it’s warmth did not reach them.

The way stones higher on the ridge were less dilapidated. Some gleamed in the sunlight, capped with some metal. On closer examination, the way stones had obviously once been covered in a sheath of platinum. On the top of the stone there were signs that something had been attached to the base, and had been hacked off in the distant past.

When they reached the larger mountain at the end of the ridge, the mystery was solved. The last several way stones were topped with small statues of dragons, all made of platinum.

“Platinum Dragons… Where is this tether anchored, Grimnar?” Baern asked.

“Ahh. Yes, you would be correct if you had guessed this is a Tether to the Dominion of Celestia, cousin.”

“Bahamut.” Baern shook his head.

“Could very well be something linked to him, given what we’ve seen so far, yes.”

“Great,” muttered the wizard.

The pass looked for all like a heavenly axe had cleft the mountain in twain, two crests on either side of the narrow path. Set in each rock face were carved images of Bahamut, his regal features inscrutable.

As they moved single file into the pass, Ash held up his hand.

“We’re not alone.”

The company halted their steeds instantly, and dismounted, loosening weapons.

“What did you see, brother?” Belisar moved to the front to join Ash, hunkering down.

“Building ahead. Maybe a temple. Some tents. No movement.” and he slid between the boulders into the pass to reconnoiter.

The dragonborn paladin returned to the others, without concern. The Raven Queen had chosen Ash to bring the touch of her Talons as silently as Death itself. And should the unthinkable happen, and the shifter got in over his head… The ring on his left hand was linked to it’s twin on Ash’s left hand. With a thought he would be able to tell if the Avenger was in trouble. In an emergency, either one could blink to the other’s side in an instant, although it would take the rings some time to recharge afterwards.

Once past the dragon carvings, the mountain’s walls curved around much like the caldera of long dead volcano. The path snaked across the floor of the canyon. On each side of the path, a half dozen large tents clustered close to the stairs of a grand temple rivaling in size any Ash had seen. Even in the shade of caldera walls, the white marble of the temple gleamed, it’s walls merging with the rock of the mountain at the rear.

Two doors, each over ten feet wide, reached up forty feet to the very lip of the roof of the temple. Each door was plated in gold, with reliefs of dragons in various poses, clearly visible even from this distance. The stairs to the temple themselves were nearly forty feet wide, and each one was more than a yard deep, so that they made a gentle slope to the promenade around the first floor of the temple. A third balustrade divided the steps into two parallel approaches. Each balustrade was punctuated with columns topped with large platinum statues of Bahamut. Ash imagined the Waystones leading up the ridge may once have looked much the same.

Wind whistled through the pass and up the mountain walls, shifting even the tied down leather entrances to the tents.

Ash moved with it, alighting next to the nearest tent, as if blown there. He closed his eyes, better to listen. He could hear the sounds of those inside, moving around, the normal sounds of a camp huddled against the weather. With no one yet outside after the recent storm, it was trivial for the avenger to approach the temple itself.

As he considered the best avenue to the temple, sounds from the camp cautioned him to take cover. One of the tents opened, and a man peered into the sky, perhaps assessing the weather.

“Not long now” he called back into his tent.

Ash kept still behind the heavy leather and waited. Sure enough another person poked out of a nearby tent. Soon the camp began stirring, as people from the various tents traded hellos and “how long do you think?” , and “About a half hour, I reckon.”

He could not loiter where he was without being discovered eventually, and so he quit the camp for the cover granted by the boulders tumbled down the caldera over the years. From rock to rock, he flit like a ghost. At the point where the temple wall joined the caldera wall, Ash flew up the rock and rolled onto the temple roof. The roof was square as he expected from his earlier survey. But in the center, hidden from below, was a shallow dome, also apparently of solid gold. Concentric rings circled the dome at various heights, and lines radiated from the center like some strange geometric flower.

He scurried to the lip to watch the camp come to life. As he waited there, the sun crested the lip of the caldera and its rays touched upon the roof and the dome behind him. Warm light began to fill the entire mountain, and a few minutes later a great rumbling came from beneath him.

The dome split apart long the lines inscribed, and each leaf slowly opened, the segments along each circle retreating one into the other until only the base of the leaves was left, yawning open to receive the blessing of the sun.

He slid along the cool marble roof and hazarded a glance down into the temple.

A platinum pillar pointed towards the sky above from the center of a shallow basin, a mirror of the dome above it. The chamber below was perfectly cubical, forty feet high, and the same on each side. Dragonborn in regalia adorned with the symbol of Bahamut moved ceremoniously through the chamber, each one tending a large mirror so that the light reflected from the leaves of the dome was captured and cast about the temple. From the front of the temple, two of them returned from opening the front doors, and the first of the people outside entered.

A human in platemail embossed with a platinum dragon came forward to meet with the first group. A middle aged man dressed in lavish furs knelt before the plated priest, and gestured behind him. Ash couldn’t hear their words, but soon four strapping men entered the temple carrying a huge coffer suspended between them on bowing wooden rods. With some difficulty they lowered the chest to the floor and the priest moved to inspect it. The bearers lifted the lid and Ash was nearly blinded by the glittering jewels and coins it contained.

He beckoned towards the back of the temple, and Ash heard more rumbling and two large doors, these made of stone, but otherwise the same as those at the front of the temple, swung slowly open.

Four dragonborn priests entered, carrying a wooden platform between them. On the platform, braced upright, was a shield of ancient construction with Bahamuts emblem blazoned on it’s face.

They placed the litter atop the pillar, and holes appeared in it’s surface, from which clear water poured in great gouts that soon filled the shallow basin.

The human led the noble into the water, and he pushed him bodily beneath the surface. Sodden, but apparently pleased, the noble emerged, and was led through a small door near the rear of the temple.

The next group approached : a small group of people led an ailing elderly man to the priest. A much smaller chest was proffered. The priest seemed to examine it critically, and then he pointed towards the door of the temple. The young man leading the group fell to his knees, begging to be reconsidered, and the priest paused. Then he pulled the young man to his feet and nodded. More words were exchanged, and they seemed to come to some sort of agreement.
Dragonborn approached the group. Two of them helped the old man towards the pool, and two others led away a young boy, who followed them with a bewildered expression on his face, not comprehending his new fate.

The palsied old man emerged from the pool with renewed vigor, and he was led away through the same door. The noble then emerged, no longer in his soaked noble regalia, but clad only in a coarsely woven robe.

Ash considered returning to his companions, but the next group entered the temple, dragging a man on a travois. With nothing more than hope in their eyes, they appealed to the priest for aid.

The priest cocked his head to one side quizzically. He asked them something, and they shook their heads, eyes on the floor. The priest put his arm around the main supplicant, and took him aside, and after a short conversation, the group left, their bedridden friend still strapped to the travois.

Ash slipped down the outside of the temple and made his way back to his friends to report.

“They are priests of Bahamut. Might we parley with them?” Belisar wondered.
“They aren’t like any priests of Bahamut I know. " Baern frowned. “One of their primary tenets is to protect the weak.”
“They could be a much older cult, from the Arkhosian empire.” Athelia suggested.
“Hmmm, I suppose so. It is said the Arkhosians were forsaken by the Gods in their war with Bael-Turath. Maybe this is why.”
“I don’t think we have enough information to judge.” said Belisar.
“Did you see anything which might be the Tether?” Grimnar asked, focused as always on his quest.
“There’s a great platinum pillar that points to the heavens. That could be it.”
“Besides, " Tregan turned to Belisar. "What are we going to say? ‘Please, sir, can we come in and smash your relic, destroy your source of income, and probably your entire purpose for existence? We promise it’s for the greater good. honestly.’ "
“You .. have a point.” the paladin grunted.

They planned, and so as not to be disturbed, Grimnar used the infamous Rope Trick to make them a temporary refuge from prying eyes.

When night fell, they emerged, sneaking to the nearest wall of the temple. The roof and doors were closed for the night, but they’d planned for that.

Baern scaled the sheer marble wall with ease, using some magic bracers that Grimnar whipped up on the spot. Once settled under the eaves, he placed his hands on one of the crystal windows that dotted the walls only at this height. Concentrating, he rapidly shrunk the window to a tenth it’s normal size, plucking it from the frame before it toppled. He searched inside for signs of a guard, then waved to the others lurking behind the boulders. They ran forward as he opened an arcane gate between the caldera floor and the temple floor, and then he pushed himself through the window opening. His staff caught on the frame. The scraping it made, he thought would surely give him away, but no one came to investigate. Gingerly he adjusted the leather loops and joined the others in the temple.

Grimnar pointed his Astra Veloce at the pillar in the center of the room.

“No. That’s not it.” he said, as the needle steadily pointed towards the rear of the temple.
“Was there something else that stood out?” he asked Ash.
“A shield. Placed on the pillar. "
“Hmm- could be a relic of some ancient connection with Bahamut.. such a thing could definitely accrete a tether to Celestia over time.”

He looked down the length of the needle at the huge doors.

“Those doors look as heavy and loud as the front doors.” Tregan whispered.
“Side doors.” Ash pointed, “Look well oiled.” and he moved off to investigate.

The first corridor seemed to branch into antechambers for receiving the healed supplicants. On further consideration, he decided to explore the other door. Probably the supplicants chambers would be secured against the rest of the temple to discourage wandering.

After a brief reconnaissance, they proceeded deeper into the mountainside.

“Someone’s having a good time.” Tregan smiled. It wasn’t as raucous as a Dwarven Ale Tasting night, but there was some celebration going on deeper into the temple.

Ash scouted ahead, past the somewhat austere sleeping quarters, till he discovered the room on the other side of those second set of great doors. It was filled with treasures “donated” to the temple over the centuries. Through the center of the room, platinum scroll work edged a path from the large doors to a smaller set on the other side.

The Astra Veloce continued to point in that direction.

Ash moved to listen at the door, and Athelia did likewise, her own senses were highly attuned to the minds of others.

Baern closed his eyes and let his mind clear, opening it to any arcane energies that might flow through the area. His eyes opened, blind to the world, pupils and irises both glowing silver as he scanned the area. Magic pervaded the room, each treasure sealed with a spell of preservation and alarm. Several of the items were enchanted in their own right, including a strange painting that has aspects of illusion and scrying. Beyond the doors he could feel a much more powerful field of force.

The light faded and his vision returned to normal.

“I’d hazard the shield is on the other side of those doors.”
Ash held his hand up for quiet and whispered. “So is at least one armored guard.”

Grimnar was gazing at the painting.
“Have you seen this?”
“What is it, Grimnar?” Baern’s frustration at his cousin was barely contained. After all these years it was as if Grimnar had no clue of the injury he’d done him. The artificer continued to treat him as if they were still on the best of terms. As if all their efforts to stop him were merely misguided annoyances and now that they were working together, they were all friends again.
It was infuriating.
It made him wonder though, if Grimnar just didn’t understand people at all. It would explain a lot.

“This painting.. Watch.” and the painting changed. Instead of the simple pastoral scene it had shown a second before, it now depicted a forge powered by magma.
“That’s my forge!” he whispered excitedly.
Baern stared intently at the painting and it suddenly changed to show the room they stood in, showing each of them clearly preparing to enter the next room.
“Hmm — better fix that before we leave,” Grimnar nudged him. Baern almost punched him in the nose.
With a bit of concentration, the scene changed again.
A plate armor shoulder obscured the lower right half of the frame, but the rest of the room was clear. A raised dais dominated the center of the room, bearing the wooden litter that held the shield. Arcs of lightning, frozen in time, encased the shield in a deadly lattice, projected from the crystal heads of the four pylons that encircled the dais.

“Only the one guard.. that’s encouraging.” Athelia added. Baern nodded and turned to Grimnar.
“How long will it take to do .. what you need to do?”
The artificer looked at him directly.
“It might take a while. I cannot guarantee it will be quiet, either.”
“Would it be quicker, " Baern paused, dreading the answer, “with the Oathrod?”
“Duerents mace would allow me to focus my will more .. precisely. It could act as a conduit for additional power. If I were to have assistance from the ritualists in the group, I might be able to complete the ritual in as little as half a minute, give or take.”

The wizard looked to his companions. They would follow his lead on this, he knew. Certainly, when it came time to debate a course of action, he could count on each of them having a strong opinion. But when it came to questions of the magical arts, his was the last word.

“Then lets do it. Quickly and quietly.” He handed the Oathrod to Grimnar.
“If we can get it done before the party is over, they may never know what transpired here. "

“Dark Lady, willing, " Belisar added.

Baern motioned to the others to take up positions on either side of the doors. His camouflage ritual would blend their outlines into the background, so long as they didn’t move. Even Athelia and Grimnar, who weren’t exactly inducted into their tactics, took up position instinctively.

He started with a lure – a simple cantrip to produce some smoke from beneath the door. It didn’t take long for the guard to investigate. The hapless dragonborn was too slow to react. As he stepped into the dark gallery, his large halberd still at ease in one of his hands, six separate foes focused on him. He never stood a chance. With a muffled blow to the back of the head, the guard toppled to the floor, and they dragged him into the gallery chamber and hid his unconscious body behind a suit of armor. He didn’t even have time to call out.

Although the ruckus was brief, Athelia made a chopping motion near her neck and pointed at one of the doors. The sound of the revelry had stuttered momentarily, so they moved to take up position at the exits of the Shield chamber. Klaw summoned the spirit of the stalking panther to block off one, and Ash moved toward the other. Belisar and Tregan closed the double doors to the chamber, while Grimnar, Athelia and Baern all moved to the dais.

Grimnar examined the arcing pylons with great interest. From his own magic backpack, Baern produced a mystic tome, and holding his staff in one hand, the tome opened apparently of it’s own accord to a well worn page near the middle. Intoning the spell from it, Baern stepped towards the nearest pylons and with the final syllable, the pylons darkened and sputtered and died. Grimnar seemed almost disappointed. He took the long handled mace known as Duerent’s Oathrod and began a long circle around the outside of the dais, dragging the flanged head along the floor. In it’s wake a perfect double circle appeared, the space between the concentric rings filling with sparking runes.

Athelia, Klaw and Baern entered the circle as Grimnar sealed it. The artificer sped through the ritual. He’d internalized it months ago, and each time the movements required had become easier, almost a part of him. His muscles ached with the task of performing them so quickly. An untutored observer may not realize how precise they were, or recognize the strain on his body. Baern could see it though. When his cousin paused and stretched out his hand to those assisting him, Baern knew what to do – he grabbed Athelia and Klaw and the three of them breathed deeply out into the space between them, and Grimnar pulled on that essence, linking them together. Each of them felt drained just from that one breath. Klaw fell to his knees, and nearly passed out. Baern leaned heavily on his staff.
Grimnar coughed up blood on to the shield.
But he did not stop. Legs quivering, the relentless dwarf, spurred on by that strange seed of monomania inside him, sped up the ritual, pouring even more of his own soul into it.
The circle lit up and flashed with red and amber, the runes blazing.

Someone pressed on those double doors.

Tregan and Belisar held them closed. Lacking any sort of bar, the two of them had only their brawn and their tenacity to hold them fast. The push was repeated with a boom, as whoever sought ingress pounded on them with growing fervor. Tregan dug in low to the ground, and refused to budge. There were few forces that could move a dwarf against his will, and fewer still that could bowl over a Warden.
Belisar, on the other door, was not so fortunate. With two Dragonborn at least his size at work, the paladin could not hold, and the door swung wide, and he was forced back. These guards wore plate and bore halberds as their unconscious mate had. Following on their heels was the human Ash had seen dispensing the powers of the shield that morning.

“Surround them!” he cried. “No! Stop the dwarf!” he called when he saw what Grimnar was doing.

But the others were prepared for discovery. Athelia stepped forward to the edge of the circle. Focusing her alien mind on the oncoming guards she unleashed a blast of pure thought. All three fell stunned, allowing Tregan to move to engage them without fear of meeting their halberds on the way. Belisar took up the flank.

Ash kept to the shadows near one of the two side doors. Curiosity overcame him and he yanked one open to steal a glance beyond. Three dragonborn seated at a banquet table turned, and began to rise. He quickly shut the door. Baern pointed at the door with his staff, and a cluster of chains flew from the tip , forming a large man-like shape, to fill the doorway.

The other side door burst open, and a large dragonborn wielding a falchion barreled into the room, right into the jaws of Klaws stalking panther. Unable to pass through the menacing apparition, he slashed at it furiously, but to no effect. His blade passed through it without harm.

“How long?” Belisar called over the clash of blades.

Baern took a look at Grimnar, who had gone pale, but gritted his teeth through the pain. "Mere moments, cousin, " he grinned.

“Not long!” the wizard called back as he threw a bolt of black lightning into the chest of an advancing dragonborn and flung him backwards into the gallery.

Athelia held her own staff aloft and pointed at the two stunned guards, lifting one into the air, and then the other, and hurling them bodily at their human leader. All three landed beside their companion in the gallery, senseless on the floor.

Tears of blood coursed down the artificers face. He stumbled, and for a second, feared he had lost the threads of the ritual. Damn it, he didn’t have time to start it over… He hardened his resolve. Now was not the time to let the world down, Grimnar! Now was the time to save it!

The Oathrod was so heavy, but he raised it over his head, the final words of the severing ritual on his blood caked lips.

And he struck.

The adamantine head struck the center of the shield and there was a bright flash of white. Everything stopped.
And then the rush of blood to their ears as the report of the sundered Shield echoed around the small chamber. But their eyes remained as if they had stared at the Sun too long. Ash staggered through the room, seeking the rest of his fellows, forsaking his place by the door. His wild grace kept him from stumbling. Belisar and Tregan were forced to use their weapons like a cane to guide their steps, seeking out the dais and following Baern’s voice as he called to them .. “To me!”

Grimnar clutched the Oathrod in one hand as he slid the last of his iron portal rings from his forearm and threw it to the floor.

As their vision returned, the human cleric bore down upon them again, livid with a righteous anger.

A shadow passed over them, causing friend and foe alike to pause and look up.

Near the ceiling, wings fully outstretched as if to embrace them all, a silver dragon hovered. As they plunged into Grimnar’s portal, they heard it’s sonorous boom..

“Who has defiled Kututha’s Shield, The Shield of the Exarch?”

Though the human’s face was contorted in rage and fear, they could not tell if he feared his own failure, or the arrival of justice for his own crimes.

Grimnar’s sanctum had seen better days.
He hadn’t even had time to tidy up since Jasen, Martin, and their friends had tossed it over looking for him.

Right now, he didn’t care.

His normally sturdy legs buckled before he reached the bed. He would have lain there on the floor, but did not think it seemly, and so clambered up using only his arms. His eyes had stopped bleeding, but it still came up from his lungs until he could not help but cough it out or risk choking to death.

But it didn’t matter. He had done it. He had liberated Ardanthor from the Far Realm.
He thought about that again.
Actually, he’d had quite a bit of help this time. Grimnar had to admit, he could not have done it alone. Not in the end.

“We did it, didn’t we?” he whispered.
“What do you mean?” Belisar asked, and Grimnar blinked.. had they all been there, all along, watching as he got onto the bed? He couldn’t remember.

“We did it.. saved Ardanthor.”
“I’m reserving judgement on that, " said the paladin .
“That was the last tether.. and now .. it’s done!”
“There’s still the matter of our little chat with Galendin.” Baern added.
Grimnar laid back upon the pillow. He was so tired. But yes, he had promised to lead them to Galendin. And he had a few questions of his own he’d like to ask the reclusive Wizard of the Bright Tower. He tried to sit up.
“Of course, cousin. Of course. We can leave whenever you’re .. " Grimnar was unconscious before he could finish the sentence.

Cleansing of the Pool
Session 45

The Ulitharid strode purposefully into the chamber, leading two lesser brethren. Distinguished by their extra long tentacles, Ulitharid were almost a race apart, and so rarely did they arise, they inevitably were raised into positions of power.

He looked around the chamber with an expression that could only be called smug satisfaction. The preparations were almost complete. With the cap on the portal in place, the elemental energies entering this world were now being converted into those compatible with Ilithid procreation, and thus domination.

The mind-flayer larvae swam about the portal, miniature tentacles acting like cilia. In a different race, the sight of ones young might elicit a sense of paternal instinct, but the Ulitharid only regarded the creatures as, at best necessary, and at worst, potential rivals. In any case, the larvae seemed to be thriving in the small pool. All was as planned. Behind him, the entry hall stood ready, humming with the arcane power linking it to the Far Realm. Soon, that door would open.

He turned his narrow eyes to regard the chamber guardians. The two hulks were once mindflayers not unlike the two lessers who attended him now. Now their monstrous forms loomed nearly twelve feet tall, their humanoid musculature contorted almost beyond recognition.

He nodded to his assistants, and they raised their arms towards the pool. In unison they began a low keening which quickly grew to an unearthly wail. Eerie green crystals grew around the edge of the membrane covering the portal. As large as a mans forearm, they encircled the portal like a crown.

The Throne of the Elder Brain would soon be complete, and their invasion of this reality would enter a new phase. With the guidance of one of the mysterious Elder Brains, the Ilithid would spread out, conquering the humanoid races like never before.

When the awful sound of disused Ilithid vocal chords began, Baern exchanged glances with Grimnar and Ash. The three of them knew that no good could arise when the telepathic Ilithid gave voice to anything. The time for planning their assault was over. They had to move. They had to move NOW.

Ash slipped down the wall into the Pool. Avoiding the Ilithid Larvae, he dashed across the chamber towards the nearest Thoon Hulk before any of the mind flayers could react.
When he was free of the water, Baern let loose a coruscating lightning field upon the center of the pool, hoping to cook the spawn congregating in the viscous fluid around the portal. The others moved into position to engage the Mind Flayers.

The Ulitharid and the Thoon Hulks engaged the party, while the lesser Ilithids blasted the area with their mental powers.

Grimnar slipped into the water last. While the others kept the enemy occupied, he began the Ritual to sever this Tether.

Baern kept the lightning storm flashing as he divided his attention to the membrane covering the Elemental Portal. A volley of Force Missiles ripped three large holes in the edges of the disk, and a geyser of pure elemental water spurted from each with enough power to reach the ceiling of the chamber. It rained down in a thick mist, covering the area.

Ash took advantage of the Mind Flayers confusion, the mist covering his change in position. He slipped like shadow between them, his great jagged full-blade flashing, opening gashes in the creatures that bled a dark slow black blood into the water.

And the water grew deeper with every passing moment.

Tregan and Belisar charged into the fray from their positions at the side of the pool, being careful to avoid Baerns lightning storm. They divided the room between them, and tried their best to keep the mind flayers pinned down. The enemy were known for their slippery natures, however, and refused to be so easily controlled. Athelia added her own mental prowess in direct opposition, trading mind-blast for mind-blast.

Baern charged into the center of the combat. For what he was about to do, the wizard had to be in the very thick of it. Arcane winds rapidly grew about him, lashing out at each enemy in the room, battering them with pure force. The force plucked them from their positions, and teleported them by his will into the center of the feast of destruction – lightning wreathing each of them. Clustered together in the storm, the enemies tried to regroup, using their own teleportation abilities to escape the battering where they could.

A low thrum echoed through the chamber, setting the arcane wielders teeth on edge. The others did not even feel it.

The Ulithard saw one of his ritualists fall. His best hope was that the portal in the other room would open and the Elder Brain would arrive. With retinue in tow, they would make short work of these intruders. He called out telepathically for reinforcements. Soon the Kaorti and the Chuul would come. His confidence never flagged. He directed the remaining forces to focus on the Wizard. If they could take out the dwarf, the lightning storm would abate, and they could finish off the others at their leisure.

Baern saw the three Ilithids bearing down on him. Fortunately, he still had his Shield spell.
Belisar interposed himself, challenging the Ulitharid, even as Ash took down one of the Hulks, and transferred his Raven Mark to the same target. The two of them teamed together in the deadly dance of the Raven Queen, back and forth on the same target.

The Ulitharid felt fear for the first time in it’s existence. Fear, more that the plan would fail, than for it’s own demise. Death would mean a return to the Elder Brain.. to merge with the great consciousness. But if he were to die on this world without the Brain at hand.. without the Pool complete.. his existence would surely end.

He redoubled his efforts, breaking free of the two devotees, interposing his own distractions to separate them. Belisar found himself with his own head in the grip of two separate Ilithids, each of them vying for a piece of his brain. Ash, however, was not so easily pinned down.

The low thrum repeated, and this time, even the non-adepts could feel it in the back of their throats. Behind their eyes, the arcane magic adepts felt a headache begin.

When the Kaorti entered the picture, Grimnar was nearly up to his neck in the pool, still chanting and gesturing frantically. The Water’s Gift meant he had no fear of drowning, and although the torrent of water had him bailed up against the back wall, he struggled through the ritual without pause.
It was just that.. the larva crawling on his shoulder was getting a little too close to his ear canal for comfort.

Baern flicked the creature into the lightning and it shriveled and popped.

Grimnar looked up with relief and gratitude. Baern nodded quickly and leveled his staff in the direction of the Ulitharid, enveloping it and half the Kaorti a Prismatic Sphere. His lightning continued to pulse around the portal, and the great rents in its fabric widened.

A Chuul Juggernaut scuttled into the chamber from the other exit, leading another group of Kaorti. To avoid the climbing waters, the kaorti clambered across the walls and ceiling as if they were part arachnid. From this vantage point, the chitinous kaorti fired Ribbon Daggers down upon the party, wreaking havoc. The daggers, attached by long cords of naked sinew which retracted back into their arms, were then instantly retrieved for the next attack.

Reminiscent of a giant lobsters, the aquatic Chuul must have been how the Ilithids were able to gain access to this chamber in the first place. Athelia knew that if the Juggernaut were to get into position to defend the Mind flayers, the tide of the battle might turn against the heroes. The Juggernaut emitted a low psychic moan almost constantly, and those near it would become more vulnerable to the ilithids mental attacks. She could hear it even from here.

“We can’t have that , now, can we?”
She levied her own psionic power at the mind of the crustacean. Centuries of selective breeding made the Chuul race powerful, but reduced their resistance the the Ilithids mental domination. This worked to the shardminds advantage.

The creature fell back, stunned, leaving it open to an overwhelm from Ash, who knocked it’s long legs from under it.

Just as the Ulitharid was about to bear down on the shifter, the membrane covering the portal finally gave way completely.

What had already been a torrent became an unstoppable force, and purest elemental water rapidly filled the chamber.

The low thrum sounded one final time, and the portal to the Far Realm opened. The Elder Brain was coming!

But where it expected a Throne, it found a flood. Water slammed through the aperture, pushing the stunned Chuul, and the bodies of dead Kaorti, gutted Mind Flayers and shriveled larvae back to the depths of the reality from whence they came. Far too alien are the minds of the Elder Brain, but if such creatures experience surprise, one may hazard that this one did at that moment.

In the chamber of the pool, the Ulitharid managed a hateful glance at Ash, and the other architects of his failure before the waters swallowed him and he vanished from their sight in the maelstrom.

The Heroes battled the currents of the now unblocked portal to the Elemental Chaos, but with their earlier preparations, the magic which sustained their breathing underwater also gave them unparalleled aquatic ability. They returned the way they came, and watched as the lake returned to it’s former state.

Anticlimactically, Grimnar completed the ritual at the lake edge with no further interruption.

Corruption of the Pool
Session 44

Meanwhile, back at Morackhold, Tregan is out patrolling (having lost several other patrols in the Duerendelve recently) and comes across a large party of Drow. The two groups fight, and at the end, of all dwarves and drow, only Tregan is left standing. As he returns to alert Morackhold to a growing force of drow in the Duerendelve, he comes across a huge crystalline wall. The wall is slightly curved. If it were to extend as a complete sphere, he’d estimate that it would cover most of the mountain.

Athelia and another Shardmind arrive and tell him that Morack mountain has been sequestered, by forces unknown, and that his presence is needed elsewhere. Confronted with an impassible barrier, the prospect of wandering aimlessly in the Duerendelve until starvation takes him is looking less attractive than going with the strange duo.

The larger of the two shardminds, a hulking masculine form, gestures intricately in the air for a few minutes, and a portal opens. They step through it and find themselves in what is obviously some sort of arcane laboratory. The larger shardmind knows where he’s going, and so Athelia and Tregan follow him down through the tower and out into a village that lies at the base of the tower. It’s night in this part of the world. One of the houses is on fire, and standing in the doorway is Grimnar. Tregan pulls out his crag hammer and advances on the dwarf who betrayed his trust, but the erstwhile Clan leader of Morackhold steps back holding his nose and shaking his head. Baern steps out after him, pulling back his fist.
“Heh. Braces of Arcane Might, cousin? I thought I recognized the design. Nice whallop.”
“Tregan?” Baern calls over his shoulder.

With all the curious happenings over the last few weeks, the appearance of Athelia and Tregan here on the other side of the world is barely questioned. Baern quickly fills the Warden in on recent events and their decision to aid Grimnar in completing his original plan .. despite their misgivings that they could all be patsies for Galendin.

Desiring to know more about what the Wizard in the tower had suspected of a Far Realm invasion before continuing to the Tether, they search for the town Elders. The first is already dead, and the second is mind-blanked – half his brain has been eaten.

In the second elders’ house, they find a tunnel dug into the cellar, and start down it. It twists and turns and they come across a couple of small chambers wherein they stumble on some Mind Flayer guards, who attack.

They obliterate the guards, but reconsider continuing into the underdark. Grimnar urges them to concentrate on the plan – they must disrupt the last two tethers within the next 3 days or so for everything to work. The more time they spend here, the less time they have for the next tether.

They return and Speak With Dead on the first Elder. He tells them at least a couple of dozen Mindflayers came down from the Wizards tower a few days ago and laid waste to the town – whomever they could not enslave they killed and ate their brains. They left a rear guard and used many townsfolk to help dig the tunnel under the house, while the majority of the Illithids went up the mountain.

The party discovers some burned papers in the fireplace of the second house and uses a ritual to make them whole again. The papers were the notes the Wizard made about the Far Realm invasion he had predicted, too casually disposed of by the Illithids. Properly studying the notes would require time they don’t have, but a cursory glance at his calculations (and the presence of the Mind Flayers) lends credence to his theory. The notes show that his celestial observations were quite detailed. It’s possible that in-depth study would reveal more about the actual course of Ardanthor through the Astral Sea. Baern curses the pace at which things are progressing, and yearns for his quiet study in Morack’s library.

Grimnar describes the tether to them. It takes the form of a lake filled from an underground stream created from a portal to a source of Elemental Water — a strong tether to the Elemental Chaos. He needs only to touch the water connected to this source to enact this ritual, so he would be able to do this from the lakes edge.

Baern suggests some preparation before continuing, and enacts the Traveler’s Camouflage, and Water’s Gift rituals to aid their exploration of the area.

They mount their Phantom Steeds and fly up the side of the mountain, as cautiously as their haste will allow, so as to avoid discovery by any more Mind Flayers. Nestled half way up the side of the mountain is the shallow bowl of a lake.

But the lake is dry.

As they discuss how to proceed, from the center of the lake, where there is still some mud, an alien organic orifice opens up – like a tentacled flower opening to the moon. Rising from the beneath the lake bed are several mind flayers. They stand upon a levitating disk fashioned from a dark blue crystal. The Illithids step down from the platform onto the dry lake bed and walk down the mountain side away from the village without detecting the camouflaged group.

The disk retreats into the ground, the orifice closing over it again.

Baern recognizes this as a tube transport that the mind flayers sometimes build to travel quickly to the surface.

The group quickly discounts traveling down the tube, without any knowledge of what might be waiting at the end of it. Instead they enter the grotto that was the lakes source, and slip and slide through the tunnel back down through the fissures that carried the elemental water to the surface. After some scrapes, they come to a place where a sickly green glow suffuses the cavern before them.

Baern sends his invisible Book Imp ahead of them to scout. The Imp returns with dire news. The elemental Water source has been capped with some kind of green mucus membrane that has vastly slowed the pools output, and worse, appears to be corrupting it’s pure elemental energy into a feed source for an Illithid Spawning pool. The area around the portal is filled with the “tadpole” larval stage of the Mind Flayers.
Worse yet, the spawning area is well guarded, not merely by Mind Flayers, but also several thralls and some other creatures from the Far Realm he recognizes as Kaorti – originally humanoid explorers of the Far Realm who have long adapted to the plane of madness.

Baern concentrates on the area, stretching his sensitivity to arcane energies outwards. Apart from the elemental water source in the center of the pool, he detects another strong source of arcane power further into the cavern.

The Far Realm is not so Far
Session 43

The Epics complete the ritual to contact Dalastra inside the Orb. The dragon’s spirit claims to be discharging an ancient duty laid upon her by the Raven Queen – to deliver the fragments of Sharaea’s soul into the Heart of Ice.

More than a thousand years ago, Sharaea begged the Raven Queen to be flung into the future, so that she could avoid the ire of the jealous Summer Prince. The Raven Queen agreed, for a price : Sharaea would owe her a favour when she returned to the land of the living.

Even the Raven Queen would have problems hiding the spirit of Sharaea from the Prince, for no far-flung plane in the Astral Sea would be denied his growing power. Instead, she split the girl’s soul into four parts. To Corellon and Sehanine, two of the Gods of Fey, she gave two fragments, and secreted another in Dalastra herself. The last part she kept hidden, imprisoned in ice, with Sharaea’s mortal shell. No fragment alone could be called conscious, but glimmers of memory or emotion would continue to influence Dalastra throughout her years.

Now that the other fragments are coming together, hidden inside Lyneth and Halani, the time for Sharaea to confront the fate she avoided is fast approaching.

With this information, the Epics contact Quarion (who they know have the last fragment, in Shareas’s body). Quarion agrees to meet them in a few hours, in Lyneths house in Mithrendain.

Meanwhile, the Paragons agree to help Grimnar with the last two Tethers.

Their first target lies across the other side of the planet. Grimnar opens a portal into a wizards’ laboratory, but the scene that greets them speaks of a struggle in the recent past. Cautiously, they step through the portal and search the premises. The tower looks over a small village, and the inhabitants move about their activities apparently oblivious to the combat that occurred above them.
When they find the wizard, he seems listless and barely functional, and they begin to suspect his mind had been wiped.
While Ash explores the village below, the others prepare rituals to investigate the Tower.

The villagers all show similar detachment, going through the motions of life without any true purpose, as if they were to give a semblance of normalcy, but without real motivations. When Ash notices the door to one of the houses closing furtively, he investigates.

Inside their worst fears are confirmed. Three Mind-flayers are in some kind of telepathic conversation. Ash uses his Sending Stone to contact the others in the tower, and waits a tense ten minutes as they summon their Phantom Steeds to fly down. As the time goes by, the Mind Flayers move about the room, out of sight from Ash. When the heroes arrive, Ash can only hear one of the creatures below.

The party enters the house, and the mind flayers lurk out of sight, waiting for the party to get into position. When they open one of two facing doors, the Mind Flayers strike.

As the illithids unleash their mental assaults, the thralls of the village converge on the house, climbing in windows, battering down doors, to protect their far realm controllers. The Thrallmaster stays outside, herding them in, until Ash goes out to meet him.

In the end, the Mind flayers are killed, but not before many of the villagers sacrifice themselves to aid them.


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