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The Second Choice

The Second Choice

The Span of the Silver Hunger

Thelek

As a fish cast upon the shore, Iofel twitches, gasping her last. Her blackened wings are clipped in places and missing large patches. Her eyes roll upward. Her lids close. Stripped of divine power moments ago, she felt mortality for the first time; three minutes later she died. Even mayflies live longer.

The cavern walls and smooth tiled floor extend beyond Iofel’s prostrate, bleeding form. A tingling energy seeps faster than blood from her corpse, washing over those in its way as it pours down the long corridor like an invisible stream. The air stinks of something slightly sweet and alchemical. And footfalls rebound off the walls before dying in darkness far away.

The tiled corridor continues, emptying into a giant span overlooking a dramatic fall. No rails or embankment guard the 10ft wide walkway, just open, stagnant air. Two figures wait at the far end of the span, the thin, heavily scarred Thelek and a sitting girl of eight, are held aloft by a few feet of stone over the massive, 1000ft fall. Lost in her own world, the girl plays with toys, spinning a copper top every few seconds and scrambling to pick up jacks, while Thelek watches something far beneath the span’s edge. Both are bathed in a silvery, rippling light; an effect similar to the sun cascading off a pool of pristine water. Yet, miles beneath the surface, no illumination comes from on high. Whatever the light source, it exists far below.

Thelek opens his palm and briefly glances at the symbol within, an open hand bearing a watchful eye, before clenching his fist and crushing it. “Triad, two then one,” he says without turning his back, his voice as sonorous and clear as when he took the guise of an Avowed Brother.

Dust trickles between his fingers as static builds throughout the cavern. Hair and skin become electrified moments before a shock wave explodes out from his hands. While loud, the wave washes over all without force, failing even to disturb the layer of silt lining the floor. The static abates and the the air, cavern, and world feels the same yet paradoxically different. Here the Light of Selune, the Mercy of Illmater seem farther away, as if masked by a series of darkening veils. Their spiritual presences are but rough, crude connections compared to the previous bonds felt between cleric and divine.

A cord of bright scarlet encircling his wrist and forearm, Thelek opens his hands, watching the last vestiges of his old holy symbol seep through his spread fingers. “Thought it would be bigger,” he confesses, turning to the group. “A race, twelve fanatics, and a thousand years of plans…. And it comes down to a girl, a bit of string, and a handful of dirt. Doesn’t seem right.

Aiden

Aiden immediately began to charge forward. Training dictated a forward posture, shield in the front and weapon leveled above his shield ready to pierce. It was only a few steps the seemed like fields before he stopped with a horror stricken face. Caution had halted his assault. This wasn’t a sahuagin baron and his lackeys, nor an undead horde, nor a green dragon, but a thief holding a treasure as ransom. The highest of ransoms. The smell and surroundings diminished with his pity for the fallen servant.

“You son of a bitch! Give her back, let her be… how dare you!” Frightening and crude words that he meant but had never shouted with conviction. “You’re nothing but a liar and beguiler who takes the innocent who have suffered and now forces your own shortcomings on them. Give her back now demon! How the mighty divine servants have fallen indeed! You’re banter and bullshit has lead you here, and, like before, you cannot comprehend us. You do this for our sake but at our expense.”

“To the hells with you! This is what you wanted right? Not a choice for man but to see man take the other path, the one your master wouldn’t.” As Aiden stood there he dropped his shield to his side and gripped Sky Clearer tightly with one hand as if to take out his frustration on the handle. “Fine! I will kill you, your god, ALL the gods and even my Moonmaiden! That’s what you want to hear right? You want to build a world where we are devoid of, distant from, bereft of all love.” The blood was rushing to his head, like so many times before, but with a different effect. Thelek was the catalyst and the anticatalyst, he had snuck into Aiden’s home, deceived and worried his family, snatched Summer and caused her current mute disposition, and ignored so much that could have been avoided. “I can’t even find pity for you now and wouldn’t if I were a noble king or even a god. Give her back or the last thing you will feel is my hand on your throat before Ghaunadaur’s pet takes us both. GIVE HER BACK! Summer, move away from that man!”

Malcolm

Malcolm bore a strange smile reflecting both anger and happiness as he stared at the two figures directly ahead of him. The wretched fiend had at last been found! He would pay for his crimes against Ilmater, and the world at large! The suffering he forced others to bear would be avenged, and those slain could find peace at last! He felt a rage boiling inside, a violent impulse that would incite him to action against the atrocious defector. Malcolm readied his divine prayers to level at Thelek, taking special attention to spare the innocent to the beast’s side. Yet his confidence wavered when the little girl turned and showed a small smile.
The vision. The Banites of the vision, she was one of them! How could it be? His righteous fury was muffled by the overpowering confusion of the sight before him. The girl was young, too young to be the twisted conniver of the tale, but the resemblance was striking. It had to be a trick, a desperate attempt by the depraved fiend to make them waver from their righteous quest. But the girl gave no aura of evil, no indications of machinations or trickery in her eyes. A simple girl was all she appeared, but could it be that she was not part of this evil? That she could still be a righteous follower of the light? Could she still be converted to the cause of the Crying God in due time?

Or, in due time, would she fall into darkness to serve those that would oppress and destroy? A terribly chilling theory was gaining momentum in his mind. Aiden had once mentioned their odious quarry had the gift of foresight, to see the future as if beholding the reflection of a mirror. Could their foe have known of events yet to come, to capture one of the greatest tools of evil before her ruinous descent? The child looked so halcyon and yet it appeared fate dictated she would bring annihilation upon the good of the land. It could not be, such a thing was too wicked to even consider. Yet their foe knew no end of devious means to forward his goals; could this merely be part of his elaborate gambit?

Malcolm briefly emerged from his troubled thoughts to find Aiden engrossed in a fiery aspersion against Thelek. “To the hells with you! This is what you wanted, right?” Malcolm reflected that he had pursued this villain with a single minded determination. But… is that not how he always approached obstacles? Were they not all simply all oppressors that had to be purged from the world? There was no question that these tainted souls committed foul acts against the uncorrupted, but he had neglected to ever ask ‘Why’. It seemed so trivial before, as if their reasons would be a quotidian evil agenda to further their selfish designs. But why was this girl here? To what end could she possibly serve when the betrayer was so close to his long-belied intent? Was she truly to become the menace he had been led to believe?

Malcolm finally had to ask the question he had for so long unconsciously avoided: “Why? Why bring us here, entwine our fate to your decrepit plan and force us to play as your unwilling pawns?” His voice grew with fervor and intensity as he continued. “Why force us to kill, to manipulate us into always being exactly one step behind you? Is this some game? Some cruel final merriment before you overthrow the very divinity of the realms?” Malcolm’s prevailing fiery temper returned to him as he came to the crux of his fevered query. “Why bring us here merely to watch you commit such a blasphemous act? Why harbor an innocent girl and torture us with perverted visions of a tenuous future? If you have any sense of dignity or regard left, then TELL ME WHAT THIS IS ALL FOR YOU CONTEMPTUOUS DEFILER!”

Zioran

Even before Thelek had Bent the Oxbow, Zioran’s blade was at the ready. The weapon rested easily on the shadar-kai’s shoulder. The blade ran almost parallel to the ground, with the weapon’s single razor edge pointing to the cavern’s ceiling. Beads of blood, those of a freshly fallen angel, crawled slowly down the length of the blade, their journey only slightly facilitated by gravity as they streaked the flat of the blade with a magnificent crimson. The stench of death upon that blade was already significant, but the fresh wet blood only helped exacerbate the smell.

The swordsman’s keen vision, halved as though it was, picked out the forms of Thelek and the other early, but he held his charge. This was not the type situation in which to lose one’s head. Fervently running with a sharp object at an immortal archangel wasn’t the best course of action. Besides, he mused, Thelek is a foe to be savored, like a fine wine. To rush is to spoil the experience. Yet, he could not help but feel the pull of battle for the brief moment that Aiden rushed forward, but still he proceeded slowly, sauntering slowly, savoring.

Aiden’s words gave Zioran pause. Certainly they were fierce, but there was something more to them. The swordsman had been traveling with the group long enough to recognize the difference between simple righteous anger and personal fury. His brow furrowed, distending the scars covering his face momentarily as he scoured his brain for the reasoning behind Aiden’s fervor; but the answer came with the name. Summer. His eye went wide for a moment with the recognition. That cunning fiend, the swordsman mused with a grin.

What part does she play in all of this, I wonder…? The thought repeated in his mind once or twice as he looked between himself and the end of the platform.

He turned, however, pulled from his thought, at Malcolm’s growing tirade, looking at the angry man for a moment, stripping the zealous language from his speech before considering the question. Then he turned back again. His sword made a gentle swoosh in the air and the force of the movement plucked a few crimson droplets from his blade. Eying his yellow-eyed doppelganger, he spoke. “None of this journey has been without reason. We are to decide our fate for ourselves. It has always been about choice – though what that choice is now, I could only guess.”

Regdar

Regdar looks on with wonder trying to figure out what Thelek was planning to do with this girl and also wondering who she was to Aiden, judging by his reaction to seeing her she was obviously important to him. Then Regdar’s mind went to the vision of the Banite woman and he noticed the resemblance, could that vision have been from the future, or some kind of a trick. “Thelek enough with these games we have come here to put an end to this.” Regdar looks around at his companions.

Thelek

(Hope I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes with the quickness of events but the five minute timer on the Oxbow makes philosophical bantering problematic and will only dilute the intensity. Charge in at your own peril. Expect another post or two before things get hairy… and remember have epic fun…. say it now or forever hold your tongue)

Silver light plays across Thelek’s face as he listens, taking the rage and frustration vented forth against him as one would a moderate wind. Statuesque he waits for the storm to pass, just another phenomenon to be endured.

“Reign yourself priest,” Thelek warns politely and without threat, “The next few moments will live forever. Don’t let rage decide the course.”

“You’re nothing but a liar and beguiler who takes the innocent who have suffered and now forces your own shortcomings on them.”

“Innocent?” Thelek askes, glancing at the girl. “Summer hand me one of your toys,” he says, his voice softening as he kneels close. “Just one,” he asks, “Show them you understand.” Without notice, Summer continues to play. No wider than a broom handle, her tiny arm reaches for the spinning top before Thelek picks up the toy and shows it to her. He waves it in front of her eyes before lightly tossing it into the precipice. Summer pauses… and reaches for a tin soldier instead.

“No cries, no whining for food, water, or family. She feels nothing,” Thelek said, standing up to his full height. “Summer died on the Annie’s Song when you failed to stop the monsters from taking her family. Fear and horror ate the shy, little girl whole, leaving but a hollow shell to fester and grown within. You know as well I what’s to become of Summer’s remains. Bane will come, whispering, and the darkness will listen. To escape fear, she’ll make herself feared.”

“Fine! I will kill you, your god, ALL the gods and even my Moonmaiden! That’s what you want to hear right? You want to build a world where we are devoid of, distant from, bereft of all love.”

“Keep your Moonmaiden. You again confuse means with motive. Keep all the gods, all your crutches if you possess the fortitude the Crying Lord lacked. Summer is gone. Yet, this girl will bring the winter. Killing a dragon before it eats is not murder; yet mercy will stain your hands with the blood of its every slaughter. The girl is the walking dead. Ebonscour was forged to release damned souls. Use it, prove Ilmater’s coddling has not robbed you of manhood and I’ll spare your Hobbled God,”

Thelek’s hands brush against the cord. He raises and twists his forearm, tightening the red sash against the wire thin veins and muscles held beneath layers of tightened flesh. His fist clenches and relaxes and again clenches and relaxes in time, feeling and securing the end of the cord between two long, scared fingers. “Or,” he says, his gold eye flashing bright as a cat’s caught in lantern’s light, “Believe in fairy tale endings as he did. Keep thinking you can save her, subvert her nature, teach her to mingle with sheep. Yet if you take but one thing from my past, know how immeasurably difficult fate is to thwart. For the sake of an empty girl, what race would you sacrifice?”

“Yet there were two rituals. What Twelve borrowed is now returned,” Thelek steps behind Summer to the span’s edge. One foot would send him plummeting into the metallic abyss. He raises his arms and voice in unison, his speech shattering the cavern’s stillness, “Golurark, I came as agreed. Awaken, old foe, and consume all till the world be done. Goruk grr gorum.”

Finishing the words inscribed on the homage stone, lancets of light dig and slice outward from his chest, severing skin in twelve, vicious gouges. As light tears his chest open from inside, Thelek struggles to stifle a scream. His features contort into a grotesque parody of a face, scars bunching together to look like rows of scabrous bark, before his defeated lungs open and vent a scream that rebounds off the far wall and gathers in intensity until shattering the massive struts holding the span aloft. Thelekanos the Fallen collapses as the pale light empties from his body and descends beneath, feeding the monstrosity below. His scream dies as hairline fractures creep through the ancient stonework.

“Chose,” Thelek says, visibly weakened, “Less Ghaunadar’s dog take us all.”

Regdar

“So you say to choose between the death of you and Ilmater or the girl that you say will bring about such evils and destruction?” Regdar looks from the girl to Thelek. “I see only one choice and that is to choice, if we choose to give up the girl’s life there is nothing to stop you from just doing this all over again since you would still have your life seeing as how without Ilmater’s death you are immortal. So if you are asking me my choice it’s the only one we are able to make, the only one that you won’t just undo when you so choose to.” Regdar tightens his grip on his Mace and slowly brings back his arm readying an attack as small lightning bolts can be seen striking along his mace and electricity can be felt increasing in the very air about him.

Aiden

“Shut your mouth you failed daemon! She isn’t damned, dead, or hollow. And if she grows to be a lion then it will be a righteous one, not some evil vessel. I would sacrifice all the races to bet on her rather than gamble on you.”

It wasn’t untill hearing Redgar’s calmness that he remembered that none remain who were there that night except himself and Zioran. He glared at Thelek as if to do him serious harm with his stare. “You have lived so many lifetimes, yet you are nothing more than a blind doomsayer and a fool. These moments won’t live forever, they will pass and I will move on, with her, and you will remain where you belong, in our memories. And if a black hand comes for her then I will sever it.” Aiden pointed Sky Clearer at Thelek, “I will direct my blade at the throat of the God responsible and every one of his ilk.” Aiden looked sideways to catch a glimpse of his companions, thinking and taking stock of friends and foe. ”Zioran wants Thelek’s head, I’m sure of it. Redgar has a strong sense of family and has never spoke truer words! He wouldnt kill a younger sibling, not if there was a chance. And Malcom, if there is any conviction in that man towards his God then he will stand by Illmater’s original decision… all of them wouldn’t… probably.” Whether true or not, it was all Aiden could do to convince himself that Summer would be spared from having any chance at life taken away by Thelek.

He stabbed Sky Clearer into the ground, taking note of the significant distance between Summer and himself. He took a few steps forward, “Choose? Then I choose you to die. You would even suggest that I take her life to secure mine? Ridiculous! I will give her my life and she will know friendship, family, love, and peace. All the things YOU want to deny her.” His steps quickened into a walk. “Don’t call her damned, her name is Summer Jomeran and you don’t know a thing about any of us!”

Adien’s walk had developed into a full run. The feeling of thunder in the air had never felt as pleasing as he thought, ”Thank you Redgar, I’m glad to know you and Jett have more in common then I ever knew.”

Every ounce of his plate armor felt like it was damning him to fail again, like he failed Emmiven and Lora, and now Summer twice over.

Malcolm

Malcolm was, for perhaps the first time in his adult life, at a loss for words. He had seen the little girl’s reaction and saw the truth to the traitor’s words. His fire, after a brief resurgence, was quelled once more and he felt cold without the confidence that spurned him forward. Questions, such torturous questions! They were a curse that now beset him to no end. It was as if after years of silence they formed a mighty chorus damming him to indecision and inaction.

Malcolm turned to his side and looked for Lora to guide him before realizing his mistake. Lora… she had come so close to their goal, to be snuffed out minutes before coming to the quest’s end. The principles of Illmater dictated that he suffer and bear the pain as all suffering was for a reason. But her death seemed unfair, she had served his will faithfully only to be denied the victory at hand! He could no longer look to Lora for guidance, but… could he look to Illmater either? By Illmater’s teachings he should end the fallen servant to remove his treacherous influences from the world. But would that not leave those who depend upon Illmater’s daily blessings without any aid? Would not Illmater’s death be far worse than any machination of a disgruntled servant?

He looked around at his companions, hoping for some wizened reassurance on a course of action. To his left Zioran looked on with a quiet determination, a perplexing gaze leveled at Thelek. To his right stood Regdar, weapon drawn and a heavy grimace adorning his features. These details, however, were lost on Malcolm as all he noted was Aiden with an unquenchable fire in his eyes. The man was solely focused with a determination of ending the foe. Aiden’s anger consumed him, making him appear as almost an animal caught in a battle for supremacy. Was this what he himself always embodied, a barely checked rage that served only to destroy? He wished Lora was here. So sure of herself, she always seemed to know the best course of action. But he was alone now. He had to start thinking before acting instead of relying upon others to curb his zeal.

As Aiden started to move, unsheathing his blade with a murderous tint to his eyes, Malcolm knew that Thelek’s trap had been sprung. They would kill him, and in turn kill Illmater. But why, why kill the god who had tried to prevent such evil deeds? It wouldn’t matter why if Aiden succeeded; he had to be stopped from committing the ultimate evil. Action without thought was aimless, but reflection without resolve was meaningless. He had thought long enough; now was the time for action bolstered by reason.

Malcolm ran into a sprint, putting all of his energy into closing the distance before it was too late. When he was but a few meters from Thelek and the girl, he spun around and stretched him arms to block the way. “Do you know what you are attempting to commit? What foul acts you are intending to proceed with? If you would kill Illmater, the one this quest was to save, then what was the point of it all? You say this is for the good of all, but this deed will doom the world to unchecked suffering! If you are truly meaning to end the Crying God, then you must suffer the same fate upon me, for I cannot live in this world which you intend to create!”

Zioran

As all of this was happening between the close end and the far end of the cantilevered platform, the chaos, the shouting, and Thelek’s ritual, the Shadar-kai swordsman watched with growing anticipation. The shadows around him deepened, almost seeming to flicker, as though they moved to an invisible pulse. His pulse, fueled by adrenaline, quickened in the face of the impending battle. For him, the tension in the room was not merely an emotion, but he could feel its effect physically; it was as though it tightened his muscles, causing them to be twitchy and hyper responsive. The pit of nerves in his stomach churned, and he had long accepted the feeling, using it as an affirmation of life – a sensation appreciated for the mere sake of sensation.

This heightened emotional and physical state was, for Zioran, for any shadar-kai, pure bliss. It was a slap to the face of the depressive nature induced by the fusion of the shadow and material planes. This was the only way to buck grey nothingness which pervaded his existence. But it was still swiftly escalating, racing like his own deafening pulse, soon to crescendo in an explosion emotional and physical violence. He was nearly drunk with the feeling, but still needed more, desperately craved this sensation as an addict craves a substance of choice.

Time slowed to a crawl, dilating and widening within Zioran’s mind, Aiden and Malcolm ran ahead. Aiden’s heavy footfalls thundering against the stone platform, each one an eternity apart as he moved. Malcolm, shouting syllables far too slowly pronounced to be understood following in the same slow fashion. Zioran turned his head to follow the pair with his eye, not hearing, but understanding, Malcolm’s plea, “If you are truly meaning to end the Crying God, then you must suffer the same fate upon me, for I cannot live in this world which you intend to create!”

The swordsman was already in motion. His limbs moved into action like molasses as he swung the massive blade from his shoulder. The last few drops of uncoagulated crimson were thrown from the blade, creeping through the air in graceful arcs. The shadows about him churned, and grew. They gained what seemed to be a texture and mass, as fog can seem to possess, wrapping him in an embrace as they did so. The shadowy fog spread from Zioran’s center to his limbs and down the length of his blade, as might a fire spread when touched to an accelerant. Unlike fire, however, the roiling shadow did not persist upon Zioran. Instead, as it spread, the areas previously covered simply vanished as though completely consumed. What happened in an instant seemed like an eternity for him in his present state of mind. The turbid shadows washed over him like a wave, causing him to vanish.

Within less time than it takes for the blink of an eye, a shadowy arm materialized draped over Malcolm’s shoulder. Whispy tendrils of shadow evaporated from the arm as quickly as it had been subsumed only an instant before. The razor edge of a massive blade was held to his neck. The crescendo was here, and perception and time came racing back together for Zioran with a rush unlike anything he had felt in years. Holding the blade to Malcolm’s neck, he leaned towards the man. “I accept the terms of your death.” And then, he sliced.

Malcolm

Malcolm focused on his compatriots, waiting to see their reaction to his stand. He attempted to read their expressions but he could sense no change in their intent. The only occurrence he noted was upon Zioran’s face. Was it… satisfaction? Left with little time to contemplate this Zioran faded from the world leaving no clue as to where he currently resided. Instantly a blade rested upon Malcolm’s neck, almost as if tempting him to try to escape what was coming. Could it be the wretched traitor staging a final attempt to crumble his resolve? A voice told him otherwise: “I accept the terms of your death.” Zioran?

His world dissolved into a swirling pool of red as he felt a burning pain that threatened to black out his senses. Malcolm collapsed to the ground, his hands instinctively clutching his neck hoping to stem the tide of blood flowing from the fresh wound. Murky shapes moved around him in a predatory manner, instilling a terror like he had not felt in his lifetime. His eyes darted wildly from side to side, hoping to see some salvation from the madness that was plaguing him. But all he saw were devils dancing about him in maniacal glee. They were about to destroy the world, and all he could do was watch in horror.

Thelek

“A devoted man you’ll slay.” Thelek says, attempting to understand the sudden betrayal, “Yet a girl who brings nothing but ruin is worth preserving? Worth killing a friend for?” Thelek gasps in pain as he pushes himself into a sitting position, his knees and legs under his body. He laughs. The sound is anything but amused. Bitter irony and disappointment fills his voice. “Do you fight to save her… or to kill me?” he asks.

Thelek looks down at the dark satin rug, feeling the weave against his hands. The thread is bare and faded with age. His head tilts, lost in thought, till sighting one of Summer’s toys. A metal soldier. He picks it up, uncaring of the peril rushing at him. “Pawns,” he says, “Just pawns.” He sets the soldier next to Summer. She slowly reaches out and returns it with the others.

Thelek rises to his feet in a quick, jerking lurch. His body sways unsteadily, but he finds his center of gravity. “Until the hand is severed,” he says, shadows gathering around his palm, “We’re stuck playing games.”

The cavern trembles. The light flickers, disturbed. The span vibrates as the light below begins to pulse with movement. Slow but definite. The Silver moves… so to must it hunger.

A sword of pure shadow emerges from Thelekanos’ outstretched hand. The dire blade absorbs light, sending a dark pallor across the former archangel’s face. Thelek glances at the blade. “Black,” he says, saddened. His eye lingers but for a moment and his face, bathed in black light, hardens. “Come,” he implores, clenching his fist and tightening the cord wrapped around his forearm, “Slay those more deserving.”

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Homage Stone Inscription

Writing outside Temple of the Crawling Dark:

(Undercommon) "Praise to the Unseeing Lord, the Dweller in the Dark. Trespass not upon these sacred stones of He that Lurks less offering forth all flesh. Praise be to Ghaunadaur the devourer, first and last. Garuk grr gorum! Consume all, Boiling One, till the world be done! Ghaunadaur! Ghaunadaur! Ghauna… "

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Information at the Bridge of Bone

Thelek:

“Knowing now of my curse, knowing that I have seen and relied on every move you thus far made, you peruse me still without question or pause? I have released you from slavery as I have done countless others; yet, still you follow. Do you for a second question your part in this? You could flee… live out a normal, perhaps, happy life, innocent of the things to come. You would have children and time enough to watch them become as men. Your memory would be wiped clean of the Godwars. With or without your presence, the crutch of mankind will not last; yet my offer is of contentment and peace is genuine.
The choice is yours alone, but long have I known your answer. Fate or not, understand in the years to come you chose not to turn away, not to cleanse yourself of all this horror. Know I never forced your hand. Continue with the understanding that your judgment alone is responsible for the death to come. Follow me… and you’ll have your answers…. stained though your souls will be.”
The image of Thelek walks back to the tatooed elf. “I need time. We they persist, kill them.” Finished, the image fades as the elf nods and unfurls his spear. “A Hundred Fold,” the elf promises, “Before the debt fulfilled.” Preparing, the elf closes his eyes and breathes deep.

Herlox, Angel of Necessity

“Mortals, I apologize for the previous actions of my order. I, if not my brethren, understand your intent. You have suffered much for the benefit of others. Yet, the stakes you play at reach far beyond your own presence and life span. I will allow you go as you please or even to transport you topside should you wish, but I fear I cannot allow you to pursue Thelek further. Leave the rest to us, you have done enough and deserve far more then what waits in the depths below.”

Answer why Thelek is here:

“Here, this place- Thelekanos’ presence can mean but one thing. He seeks to awaken the monstrosity he vanquished here in the service of Helm millenniums ago. Golurark, the Silver Hunger, Exarch of the Lurker. Of Golurark or Thelek, I can say no more for I have already broken far too many vows for one sun’s passing. Go, I implore you. Although I wish you nothing but long, fulfilled lives, I will not, can not stay my blade should you linger.”

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Thelekanos the Thrice Beacon, Champion of the Triad

(Thelekanos’ past as understood by the Court of the Vigilant One at Everwatch)

Empowered by the Triad with immortality, Thelekanos, an archangel servitor of Helm in charge of the Greater Good, led numerous assaults against abyssal forces including the followers of Asmodeus and Graz’zt. His efforts largely kept Faerun unaffected by demonic forces during its formative years. However, a battle at the Temple of the Watering Eye led him into direct conflict with Hexallup, the hermaphroditic child of Graz’zt’s major domo Verin. Upon slaying Hexallup, Thelekanos inherited the demon’s curse of perfect foresight. Soon after, the angel’s methods began to change.

Frustrated with the inability to prevent any of the countless conflicts that had yet to come, Thelekanos no longer felt satisfied stamping out the occasional evil. He began to see Faerun, the planes, and time as part of a much larger picture. He became obsessed with altering the future and stopping the endless bloodshed that haunted his waking moments. In the end, he came to a single conclusion: the godwars must end.

Feeling Thelekanos’ torment, Ilmater confided in Helm and the two confronted their champion. Thelekanos hid nothing and confessed his intentions: wean mankind of their dependence upon the divine and to alter the future regardless of cost. He admitted such a path entailed countless acts of violence and sacrifice of innocent life. He told the pair to end his existence if they wished to prevent his misdeeds.

Without deliberation, Helm drew his sword and attempted to subdue or slay his wayward protege but was stopped by Ilmater. The Tortured One would not allow a noble and proven champion to be executed before even committing a single transgression. There’s always a choice, he argued.

A tense compromise was made, Thelekanos would be stripped of the majority of his powers. His immortality, however, could not be revoked while the Triad remained alive. The disgraced servant was banished to the material plane. While Ilmater hoped Thelekanos wouldn’t have the heart to do as promised, Helm was convinced they’d live to regret their leniency.

He was proved right.

Thelekanos determined Ilmater’s compassion to the be the root of the continued conflict. Evil persisted because the pantheon of good lacked the stomach to do what needed to be done. Thelekanos didn’t have to look hard for a plan to undermine The Chained Lord’s pantheon. He simply had to peer into his own future.

While hundreds of years passed in relative quiet, Ilmater could no longer turn a blind eye to Thelekanos’ activities after the former celestial orchestrated a Yaun-ti sacrifice of over 3,000 souls and began to infiltrate and subvert the teachings of his church. Ilmater turned to Helm and the two eventually captured and imprisoned Thelekanos in the Heartlands.

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Letter From Candlekeep
Bending the Oxbow

A certain interested party in Scornubel relayed a description of the ritual performed under Wyrm Wood and expressed a desire that any findings should be relayed to you. Initial reports from scholars confirm that a strange dementia affects the Yuan-ti, driving the millennium old race towards murder and mass suicide on an unprecedented scale. Obviously, a spell of such magnitude- one whose equal hasn’t been performed since the fall of the Netheril Empire- causes great alarm among our order.

Oghma’s adherence to details has led us to conclude that gaining the entity a corporeal form was not the ritual’s true purpose. In all likelihood, Thelek may have planned the effect (possibly another result of his followers transferring their powers) to coincide so as to disguise his true agenda.

As to the spell’s actual effects, I believe we have found a possible candidate of the ritual. The Netherillian tome Kevlsas Hollaew Urs, or Constant River, alludes to a massive alteration spell nick-named “Bending the Oxbow,” which was constructed to delve the extent of fate’s hold on reality.

Previous to the spell’s castings, all attempts to change an ordained future had met with failure. Any attempt to circumvent an undesired event would serve the future to manifest in an alternative manner. Minor changes could be made but the ultimate destination remained the same. Dismissing efforts to contruct alternative futures as foolish ventures, Netheril mages coined the phenomenon “Taking an Oxbow.” Fate, they concluded, could not be avoided.

Yet an order of Archmages known as The Cowled Nine sought an alternative approach. Fate, they posited, was unavoidable only because any effort to change it by a terrestrial being had already been accounted for. Therefore, an outside source of change might force the future to reshape itself.

The Cowled Nine spent the greater part of their magical arsenals and fortunes designing a ritual that would temporarily create a pocket dimension. While the dimension would, for most intents and purposes, be an exact mirror, it would be entirely new and therefore unbound by the same past and future as its progenitor. Sacrificing the sanity of the Caellons(a sentient race of homonculi manufactured by the Netheril) to fuel their magicks (a direct correlation to the yuan-ti), the conclave reportedly created a new “Faerun” for a little over five minutes.

In the “pocket world,” the copies of the Nine committed acts contrary to the result of former divinations, such as smashing an urn shown by their augurs to exist hundred of years later. They theorized that when the two worlds merged back as one, one fate would either subvert or incorporate the other. Thus allowing the possibly of new outcomes.

Despite their new take on Oxbows, the Nine’s experiments reached the same conclusion as their predecessors. When the two worlds became as one, divinations revealed that an individual seeking to revive the Caellons would later piece the urn back together. Likewise, all other alternations were incorporated into a new “weave” without any significant change. While the Nine concluded the ritual a success, they abandoned future experiments as cost-inefficient when results would likely be the same.

If my theory proves correct and Thelek did indeed cast the Nine’s ritual, he undoubtedly disagrees with the conclusions drawn by the Netheril. Since you did not describe any temporal or planar displacement, I can only assume the entity is delaying the spell’s effects for a more appropriate time. He seeks to change something; that much is clear. While Thelek is unlikely to succeed, I am not so easily convinced he would be satisfied with a single attempt.

Distracted by Caprul Amrin, I believe our order ignored the greater threat. You now have our full attention and capability at your aid. Envoys have been dispatched to the clergy of Torm and Illmater. No longer are you alone. My only hope is that we are not too late to rectify our oversight.

Jurius Morley, Keeper of Tomes

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Death of the Fourth: Thelek's Introduction

GM Death of the Fourth: Thelek’s Introduction

Pleasant smells roll from a kettle placed upon the fire. A chisel crossed with a sprig of wheat adorns the copper surface, marking it as a creation of Gilvarr and one of the namesake kettles from which his former hall derived its name. Now it brews tea at the hands of a doppelganger. Smiling at the soothing aroma, she would neither see it left behind in ruins or to serve purely as a memento.

Satisfied with the preparations, Emmiven divides cups and pours. The heat issuing from the warmed tins helps ward against the chill autumn air. Soon the temperate weather will give, allowing the bite of winter to assault exposed skin, but for now the weather is tolerable and the sky uncluttered and clear.

Finished, she sits cross legged on her bed roll and gently blows against the dusky liquid. Jasmine, with a hint of whiskey. Her favorite. The two tastes complete for dominance, but the relaxing properties of both harmonize well. In a few cups she’ll call it a night, snoring peacefully as soon as her head hits the knapsack she uses as a pillow. Though enamored by luxury and fond of complaints, she sleeps as quickly in the dirt as on a bed of feathers, a trait common for those used to living on the run.

The trees of the Heartland have already changed. Their leaves die in brilliant shades of sunburst yellow and crimson red before time brings them falling to the ground. A light breeze stirs their painted boughs and gently feeds the smoking fire. In the winding down of night, it’s hard to remember the enemies that plot in the shadows, let alone the one lurking behind a familiar eye. Such things appear distant, as far removed as the ill-fated voyage aboard the Annie’s Song. Not since has the being manifested or desired his presence known.

Emmiven kicks off her boots, lays her toes close to the fire, and leans her head back, looking upward. Silver pinpoints, Selune’s presence shines strongly, pure in their intensity. Emmiven takes a drink and traces the stars encompassing the eyes of Selune with an outstretched finger. “Pretty,” she admits, “You think she returns our gaze with fondness?”

(When you post a response edit the page and put your character’s name in bold before the text you add. Continue to edit this page after each response.)

Redgar
“After what we’ve been through if not Selune there is definitely something looking out for us. Praise the spirits that we won the battle with that dragon… I thought I was a goner when that bastard nearly bit me in half.”

Zioran
Zioran sat, quietly smoking the long, slender pipe he’d had for quite a while, half-heartedly carving a new pipe from a sizeable horn. The pervading gloom of his people pressed on him, and darkened his mood as he stared into the fire. Even now, a crushing melancholy loomed on his mind despite the excitement and adrenaline of the past few months. It was a burden he carried. It was a gift given by Narfell and her people’s legacy of shade, a legacy to which Zioran tangentially belonged.

He set down his carving and quickly ate his soup when it was passed to him. He savored the flavor, but even moreso savored the feeling of the burning liquid as it scalded his throat. An experience, any experience, was an aid in pulling him from the bleak grey which assailed his mind. It was the reason for his recklessness and thrill-seeking. It was the reason for his current situation.

He sat back, resting his body on his elbows. He cast his single eye to the sky and puffed on his pipe in silence and thought for a long moment. After some contemplative silence on his part, he spoke. “Who’s to say they watch at all? Though if any watch for us, Selune would be my choice of patron – if only for her opposition to my peoples’ dark legacy. Bah – now I just sound like I’m kissing Aiden’s ass. I don’t need anyone watching over my shoulder. I’ve got problems as it is, and what good have the gods done me?”

He slumped back, chewing on his pipe a bit as he thought more on Emmiven’s comment. “I do like them though,” he said. “…the stars. There were many nights spent like this for me in Narfell. Colder – but still…”

Aiden
“You’re kissing whose ass?” Aiden asks with a smirk as he strides over to sit on his bedroll by the fire. “I feel light without it on, it seems like I’m always wearing it recently” he thinks to himself as he pushes his armor a little further from the bedroll. “They’re done” he reports as he gestures to the three faint eyes around the campsite. “If you hear a few dozen owl hoots tonight, then we have unexpected visitors.”

Nursing a cup of Emmiven’s best, Aiden looks up at the familiar skyward scene. A genuine smile grows across his face as he agrees, “they are very beautiful.” Yet they remind him of pain, of every time he invokes her name to channel that same heavenly light towards his companions. “What have the gods done for you?” He thinks to himself, “at least she’s always been there, for all of us.” As he sits his mind races with thoughts of the moonmaiden, of home and his family, and of the things he wants to accomplish before the drink begins to kick in. A long yawn lets him know that his body wants a reprieve from the rest of the night. Laying back and closing his eyes, he tries to remember everything from the evening and if anything was neglected. “Emmiven’s drink was too good…” he thought, and the mention of her made him smile again. “I don’t ‘think’ she looks back with fondness, I ‘know’ she does…”

Zioran
Zioran grinned, clenching his pipe in his teeth. “Well.. I’m certainly not kissing your ass. That’s for certain,” he jokingly chided. “You’d have to tidy that backside up before I plant one on it, priest.”

Redgar
Redgar takes a deep breath letting the scent of nature fill his nostrils and stretches his arms letting his upper body be embraced by the chill of the night reminding him of his homeland. “So how long have you two been betrothed? You bicker like a couple who can’t come up with a date for the wedding.” Redgar gives Zioran a smile “My recommendation is some time in the fall so your blushing bride can wear his armor without the sweats.”

Emmiven

Her eyes still resting on the heavens, Emmiven wanted to believe the gods watched, even protected them, but the realities of her past and the horrors she’d seen inflicted upon others caused her lingering doubt. Gods. They are like us, she thought. Capable and with good intentions, but distracted by rivals and unable to save everyone who invokes their names. No the gods are not all powerful and some in their apathy wouldn’t help even if they could, but no bother, people like the Harpers, her companions, even herself would fill the gaps and keep the floodgates from overflowing.

Emmiven refused to grin at the bantering; although, she did find the trivial subject matter a welcome relief from heavy thoughts. As the only girl she felt as though she lived in a barracks. In her experience men who live on the edge, whether soldiers, thieves, or sailors, had little need for pleasantries and euphemisms. Why should they? Outside the protection offered by most societies have they not wrestled the right to call a sword a sword? When life is short and brutal, picking one’s words tends to waste valuable breath. Breath best spent elsewhere. Such men are foolish if not direct.

Her eyebrows arched with amusement at Zioran’s emphasis. Your ass. So that meant the dour swordsman engaged in the practice. As she couldn’t remember a single time the man had been overly nice to anyone, she could only take the phrase in the literal sense. The Nereids? She shook the thought from her mind and would inquire as to the proper interpretation if she didn’t fear she’d picked right. Undoubtedly, such questions would bring about yet more barrack flavored levity.

She downed the dregs from her cup before filling another. She loved the warmth it brought her stomach. No one is sad with a warm belly. It was one of Drustenna’s homegrown proverbs. The Dwarven daughter of a famous general had never been one for propriety either. More than once she’d drag her husband upstairs after telling Emmiven to mind the kitchen. Gilvarr, she’d say, has his own fires to attend. Least to say, the young doppelganger had sought to place such thoughts far from her mind as well.

Emmiven took a moderate pull before raising the kettle to all. “More?” she offered.

Zioran
Turning his attention to the barbarian, Zioran cocked an eyebrow at the chiding. “Not to worry, wildman. We’re not exclusive. There is room in our hearts for you. No more will you have a bleak and lonely existance.” He puffed on his pipe, as if to emphasize his point, and turned his attention away from Jett’s brother. He was mostly joking, though his words had an implied theme of acceptance as well. Given time, he would likely accept the wildman as a member of the group, barring anything to the contrary, at least.

When Emmiven offered a refill, Zioran batted a hand at her, his thoughts mostly elsewhere. He was staring into the fire again, and it consumed his attention. He let his pipe smolder and burn the leaf he’d stuffed in it, chomping on the stem of the tool absent-mindedly as a trickle of smoke rose from the bowl and the fire crackled.

Redgar
Redgar looks at Zioran with a smile “Aww I’m touched that your feelings already run so deep.” Then Redgar let out a hearty laugh ending with a genuine smile. Redgar then let out a long sigh and looked back up to the sky “This reminds me of the first time father took me and Tragen, er Jett out camping” Regdar looked around at the others “It was much colder of course, heh you get that far north and everything is a lot colder, it was a peaceful night, and in the morning I was to prove myself to my father that I had what it took to be a Stormrunner.”Regdar smiles while thinking of his family and wondering what has been happening since he set out.

Aiden
Aiden laid there with steady breathing and eyes closed. “Seems like sleeping is out of the question… makes me wish I hadn’t set up those sentries’ now” he thought as he mulled over the idea of giving up on sleep for the time being. He concluded that leaving his eyes closed and listening to the north man and Zioran chatter was the best choice. He could listen in and maybe be entertained without incident before sleep came. “Besides,” he thought, “I don’t quite trust Redgar yet. He may have ‘escaped from Wheloon’ more than once in battle, but I’ve been on duty enough to learn you don’t just trust strangers with open arms, no matter how much you might want to believe in the goodness of others.” He felt like the thought was a little unfair; after all, he traveled with Zioran, a man who you wouldn’t call good nor necessarily evil, just… flexible or morally predictable. “And then there’s Emmiven. Not a chance in the hells of figuring that one out. Everything from hairy bartenders to kings, and everything in-between makes up the Harpers. I couldn’t begin to predict or profile one.”

A short while passed as he listened to the sounds of the campsite. All the noise around him and his own thoughts made him unable to sleep and he was feeling more and more restless these past months. The idea of getting up and writing was beginning to sound appealing. He could compare this place to the King’s Forest back home. He would have to describe it in great detail for the next time he saw his father, since the man just wouldn’t be sated unless it was in perfect, full detail. It would also give him something to read to Alex without her being worried or mad at him for what she would surely call a, “severe lack of prudence” and “a gross negligence for the consideration of others”.

He laid still but opened both eyes slowly to see if anyone was fully aware that he wasn’t asleep. “I’ll as her for another cup…”

Zioran
Curious, Zioran turned to the wildman. “How well did you know your brother? What was he like when you knew him? He didn’t speak much of his past – which I guess is because he hadn’t known. So he’s a barbarian like you? That’s sort of amusing, considering his skill with the Art. I don’t imagine tribesman as mages. Was he hotblooded, like the stories I’ve heard of the northern tribes? He never really seemed to spoil for a fight, but he had no trouble holding his own.”

He adjusted his feet, shuffling them about into a new position, as the parts closest to the fire were getting exceedingly warm while the rest was beginning to feel a chill. And then the one-eyed swordsman looked to the wildman for answers to his questions, gnawing on his pipe in thought.

Regdar
Regdar looks at Zioran and says “I knew my brother quite well we were only two years different in age with me as the eldest, growing up he was always more of the type to think before acting.” A very broad smile crosses Regdar’s face “Well that is except for when I was around or so I’ve been told, there were many times where I had seen him start fights for fun, mother always said that he was trying to get approval from me and father. As for him being a barbarian like me, can you really say anyone is like me?” Laughter echoes from Regdar “He was of the same tribe as me and bore the same family name as I do however when it became his time to commune with the spirits and prove his ability as a member of the Stormrunner family he had failed to produce any results.” A grim look comes over Regdars face momentarily. “This was an unusual event but not so uncommon that we blame the children as cursed or worthless mind you, but I always felt that my brother took it very hard. That’s when he dedicated himself to the way of the sword and became a great swordsman. Then he and I decided to leave the village to see the world and agreed to return to the village and tell one another the tales of what we endured. When I returned to the village I found that he had not, there were the letters that he had written to our parents telling of what he had been doing and where he had been, which is what gave me the lead that I had to get this far. At first I had not had any luck if not for someone recognizing my description of my brother only with blue skin.” A very sad and worried look comes over Regdars face as he remembers the rumors and tales he had heard about what had happened to his brother at the mage’s tower, then the expression fades as he changes the subject slightly. “That’s also when I heard of his new abilities and how he has finally been able to harness the powers of a storm, I do not know how it happened but I know that father would be proud that once again there has never been a Stormrunner who could not wield a storm as their own.”

Emmiven

Emmiven listened to Redgar’s story, intrigued and confused. Jett was stoic, standoffish, not impulsive. Had Langmor’s and Caprul’s experiments altered him that much? Would Redgar be able to see through cosmetic differences and recognize the brother beyond, or was Tragen, a person Emmiven had probably never met, dead in all but form? Who was Jett? Another being imprisoned in the body of another? A willing hijacker? Or simply Tragen as he would have become had he never known family or friends, merely servitude? Redgar stuck Emmiven as uncouth and obnoxious, perhaps unjustly so, but she felt for him. Did he have any idea what awaited him? Perhaps he’d better off never finding his sibling. What if Jett wasn’t the same being as Tragen? Would Redgar allow the boarder to continue? Or would the North man never rest until flesh rejoined spirit in the afterlife? Redgar had a tough battle and many questions without adequate answers ahead of him. She didn’t envy the path he walked.

She sighed. More heavy thoughts. Why oh why would anyone wish to become an adventurer, she wondered for the hundredth time. She was fascinated by the lifestyle; that was never in any doubt. She collected stories of high adventures, of men whose deeds had elevated them beyond mortality. However, their hardships belonged in hindsight. Living through the day to day uncertainty, the grit and mire and pain, without an indication of either success or failure rattled her. Stories were the passing sport of children and fools. Reality proved far more arduous and debilitating. Her travels brought about a new understanding. Strength came not from picking up a blade in the name of necessity but from keeping it raised. Fighting the good fight. Enduring in silence. Till the end. That’s what separated heroes from dabblers. She wasn’t certain she belonged to the former, or even if she wanted to.

She took another drink, enjoying the pause it gave her. She adjusted her legs, almost sat back, but something bothered her. The tea. She swirled the liquid around, staring at it in the firelight. “That’s… That’s not right,” she mumbles.

Zioran
Halfway-turning to Emmiven, Zioran looks over his shoulder at her. “What’s up? Did you brew your drink with my smoking leaf again?”

Aiden
“Is something the matter with it Emmiven?” asked Aiden, “I wanted to have another cup.” He focused intently on Emmiven so that he wouldn’t have to make eye contact with Redgar. Redgar’s account of Jett was all foreign to him. How was he suppose to reply? Sure they had spent some long months together at sea, but family history wasn’t exactly the dinner table conversation. Aiden had spent most of his time trying to help fill the gap left by the deceased captain, watching Zioran’s behavior following the ominous dream, and tending to Summer.“Poor Summer,” he thought as the memory became fresh in his mind, ”at lease in Corymr she’ll have a chance.” Regardless of the time he had spent with Jett, he knew little of his history and broaching the subject further with Redgar, here and now, didn’t sound appealing at all.

“The first cup was good and I don’t mind if it’s not perfect.”

Regdar
Regdar sniffed the cup at his side, he had not drunk too much and it had begun to chill. Finding nothing wrong with the smell he took a sip. “Doesn’t taste bad, maybe you got something in your cup?.”

Aiden
Aiden looked to Emmiven and set his cup by the fire. He wanted another drink but he also wanted to write. ”The forest, I’ll get all the details of the forest…”, as he flipped though his journal, he headed for a fresh page, but he noticed an entry that he had forgotten. He was almost shocked to see it. He knew it and had forgotten about it. He refused to send it away with previous missives despite knowing its words by heart. His early life was filled with visions and dreams of being a proud Purple Knight, but these were the words he uttered at his sermon. The Silverstar that enchanted him so much, that gave him a calling in life, so much so as to change everything, asked him to write his own words to the moonmaiden. Without thinking, he read aloud his promise to Selune…

“The kingdom sleeps
And children scarify themselves day by day
Until they extinguish,
And they may never awake.

Such tragedy destroys
In front of them
Every beloved thing.

And in this neverending night
Look there, the real vision
On the edge, I will see you
And the next morning the time will awake.

An act is inevitable
Actions have consequences
And consequences always await
There are no exceptions.

While the kingdoms sleep
And children lament
While the night seems endless
And the consequences await
I will see you.”

He felt better, almost as if he had forgotten what he had set out to do. “I wanted to see again the man who defied mortality… but this, this is why I left those most dear to me.” He looked up in realization. There were familiar faces behind the campfire’s light. Looking down to his cup, it was still empty.

Emmiven

“Nothing, I guess,” she added, sounding unconvinced, “Just thought I saw something.” Emmiven looks at her hand and screams. Her fingers have turned the exact shade of bone.

GM

The concern in her voice unmistakable, Emmiven begins to shudder. Her eyes drastically loose color, becoming the milky pallor of a blind fish. A matching whiteness creeps up her hands and arms. Her hair follows. Lustrous black bleaches to white before bleeding through her scalp, staining her skin. In seconds all signs of humanity melt away. A doppelganger, rarely seen in its natural form, sits in her place.

Emmiven

“I… didn’t,” she mutters before collapsing face first into the dirt.

GM

The white pallor spreads further, spilling forth from Emmiven and stripping the dirt of its earthen hues. Far quicker than you can react, the egg white color gushes forth, drenching everything it touches. Trees, bedrolls, campfire, all converge as one. Only Emmiven’s cup remains. Spilled on the blanket of white, the tea issues forth, taking on form. A tree. A rope. A struggling man. The image stretches and folds upwards. No longer a picture on the ground, it becomes three dimensional, a scene transpiring in the distance. Even had you legs to run, you’d never make it in time. Once again, your role is merely to watch. To observe the passing of another follower. To bare witness to the coming of Thelek. Seconds pass, maybe minutes, perhaps even longer, but it matters little. In time, the fourth stops kicking and lies still. 4 of 12.

Color leaches back into the world. First a dark sky under foreign stars. Then, banners lancing the ground, some broken and askew, others imposing and standing tall. The ground is torn, fractured from battle. Broken bodies, mostly human scatter the landscape. Spears, discarded shields, and blooded gear- the litter of war- collect in heaps, waiting to picked apart and desecrated by scavengers. Sporadic fires dot the horizon like lighthouses amidst a sea of strife. The world is calm. Whatever turmoil existed is spent and gone. The conclusion reached.

Aiden, Zioran, Regdar, and Emmiven, back to her human vestige, stand in the wake of an alien war that feels eerily familiar. The banners are somewhat altered but their origins are still capable of being ascertained. Gods and Kingdoms native to Faerun. Their vision is clear. The land that bore and raised you…. has been leveled by cataclysm.

Regdar
Regdar crouches slightly taking a stance as if ready for combat and reaches for his mace. “By the spirits what’s happened? ”

Zioran
A shift in Zioran’s relaxed mood makes itself evident across his scarred face. A shadowed pall falls across his countenance as the devastation of the landscape sinks in for him. His smile flattens, one corner of his mouth turned downards due to the pull of his long, thin pipe. He clenches his jaw and surveys the scene. “What the Hells..” he says, unable to fully finish his thought. He turns a full circle, taking in the full breadth of the destruction. When he had finished, his mood had not improved, nor lightened at all. A firm scowl was set on the shadowy man’s face, his one eye drifting through the battlefield. His brow was furrowed, and he clenched his pipe in his teeth. “We might want to prepare ourselves,” he said, drawing a weapon, “…just in case.”

Aiden
“This can’t be real, it must be a trick” he thought. “I don’t hear them…” he said aloud, referring to the sentry eyes he had placed before. The landscape was confusing and worrying. None of it made sense to him. Was he looking at something that had happened, was happening, or was it an image of something yet to come? The last few moments were too much to take in at once. Any single thought about the surroundings was swarmed by a dozen other rapid deliberations going through his mind. “Calm down” he thought as he turned to observe his companions. They were acting normally given the situation. The humility on Emmiven’s countenance was an unexpected change. He never would have thought her base form would be so shocking; then again, she wore the same face for most of his time with her for a reason.

He grabbed Ebonscour, wrapped the belt around his waist, secured it, and picked up his own sword and shield. The careless relaxation he felt before from not wearing his armor was gone. He wanted it on now, but thought it better to make ready. Something was happening, something dreadful. Looking over the battlefield he took note of the countries and churches that he could identify. “I didn’t hear them…” he thought again. Could someone have slipped past the sentry’s and enchanted him? The North man couldn’t have done this. Was any of what he was seeing really happening? He didn’t feel like he was dreaming and previous image of the dead man struck a chord of fear. He suspected he knew its meaning. “Calm down damnit” he told himself as he began to watch Zioran intently.

Emmiven

Emmiven runs her hands across her face before checking them as well. The tip of an index finger turns white before returning to the normal human shade of her choosing. “I never lost control like that,” she explains, more concerned with her reversion that the savaged landscape. “Sorry you had to see that.”

Satisfied she can maintain her form again, she takes in the surroundings and whistles softly. “This is real?” She asks before turning to Aiden, hoping his divine connection would offer insight one way or another. “It can’t be? Can it?”

She grabs a piece of hair and pulls. “Don’t know if it helps,” she adds, releasing the strand to be blown away by the wind, “But it still hurts.”

GM

The heat is oppressing. The air scorched. Gray clouds drift overhead, threatening to block out the stars. The earth reeks of boiled tar. In places the black liquid bubbles up from some lower point. The pools move slowly and gather together. Accumulating. Their actions indicate motivation if not intelligence. Their purpose and origin remain unknown yet are sinister and unnerving. There must be thousands of pools.

A crack of thunder splits the skies and a shadow rolls across the empty battlefield. Gigantic and winged the shadow is as large as dragon but humanoid in shape. Fires flare up violently as it approaches only to be snuffed as soon they connect. The shadow paints the ground dark but leaves nothing to indicate the object creating it. Given the size, perhaps that’s for the better.

Gliding across the dead and battered, the shadow shrinks an inverse-purportion to the distance from the clearing. A hundred feet away it becomes no larger than a two story house. Twenty feet away, it becomes the size of a tall man. At the edge of the clearing, it stops and a face begins to rise up from the void. The shadow is pealed from the earth like the skin of a fruit as the form draws closer, growing taller with every step. In a matter of seconds the shadow is gone, replaced by a mirror of Zioran. A scarred man with a single, bright yellow eye. Dark cloth with gold highlights drape across his shoulders. Well fitting but antiquated. A suit fashionable among long dead royalty. The entity is unarmed, his hands unclenched against his sides.

“I have dwelt on the outskirts of your mind for some time,” he begins looking at Zioran, “Now I welcome you to mine.”

Zioran
Immediately, upon seeing himself/Thelek, Zioran’s look of concern drops, replaced, instead, by a look filled with murderous intent. “You!” he shouts, pointing the tip of his drawn sword at his double. He advances on Thelek by a few steps, raising the weapon, “Get the hell out of my body!”

GM

Thelek looks over the raised sword. “From one immortal to the next, what do you think a blade will accomplish?”

One face, two individuals. Thelek’s manner is altogether different from his clone’s. Relaxed to the point of weariness, he stands his ground without returning aggression. His voice is soft-spoken, without haste, and bereft of passion.

“As for your command, I will oblige in time. When I am again capable of wearing flesh.”

Regdar
Regdar looks from one Zioran to the other with a questioning look on his face. “So you’re the thing trapped within him?” Regdar grips his mace tighter while trying to figure out a way out of this hellish area. “So what’s your plan now that you have us here? I doubt that it’s to join our fireside chat.” Regdar digs his feet into the ground and readies his shield in anticipation of the fight to commence.

Aiden
Having one Zioran around was plenty. Now there were two. The past moments Aiden spent watching Zioran had proved fruitful and informative. Judging by the looks and Zioran’s reaction, this was the demon. Moreover, he didn’t have to worry about betrayal yet. The Zioran he knew was still with them and in the right mindset at the moment. Aiden didn’t waste time in following suit.

He began to pray, going through all the motions to bolster his companions and weaken his enemies. “You look calm demon, composed, as if you aren’t afraid…” he spoke with an angry tone as he neared the end of the motions. The divine radiance built up in his symbol like usual, gaining strength before exploding all around him. He wanted to see if this immortal demon could be frightened.

The symbol hung, dull silver indicating nothing. No burst of energy or power, just nothing. Everything had been done right, yet nothing happened. No interruption, no interference, no results. He intended to put emotion on the face of the demon, to see it panic, but now he was the one in fear. “How…” he started to say before biting his tongue. The shocked expression on his face was enough to relay to everyone what had just happened. Whatever time or space he was in, wherever he was, even the god’s had been removed.

Zioran
Zioran lowers his weapon, a grudging acknowledgement of the truth of Thelek’s words. “You speak true enough, but what do you want? You’re giving us time in your mind, sure, but why the dramatics? What is your true nature – who are you, really, and how is it that you are so powerful? How does your hatred for the gods fit into it all?”

GM

“So you’re the thing trapped within him?” Regdar grips his mace tighter while trying to figure out a way out of this hellish area. “So what’s your plan now that you have us here? I doubt that it’s to join our fireside chat.”

“To witness what I cannot explain, that’s is your purpose here.”

The first holy word that spills forth from Aiden’s lips draws the immortal’s attention. Thelek’s composure remains steadfast, but the intense heat emanating from the ground increases with each syllable spoken. Thelek waits, unmoving. On the last quartet he adds his own voice to the incantation. A perfect recitation done from memory. Finished, he turns his head upward, looking at the stars as Emmiven had done only a few minutes prior. Again he waits. Silence. Satisfied, his eye returns to Aiden. He shrugs.

“How…”

Though Aiden bites his tongue, Thelek chooses to answer. “At this point,” he responds, spreading a hand out to indicate the battlefield, “Divine intervention has become an anachronism.”

“You speak true enough, but what do you want? You’re giving us time in your mind, sure, but why the dramatics? What is your true nature – who are you, really, and how is it that you are so powerful? How does your hatred for the gods fit into it all?”

Thelek watches his reflection in the rim of Redgar’s shield, seemingly taking little notice of Zioran’s questions. He runs a finger over his ruined eye and the multitude of scars cris-crossing his face and neck. He frowns. “Three mortal. Twelve superficial but nevertheless disfiguring. You’ve lived long to have died so many times, Shadar-Kai.”

Thelek tears his attention from the shield and turns to look at Zioran. “My true nature?” he asks aloud, thinking as he steps into the clearing. His footprints leave small crevices that fill with boiling tar. “In answer, I return the question, child of shadows. Are you so easily classified. You began as one thing but changed to something else; became both more and less than your origins. Have you told them the entirety of your past? Of those who hunt you? Do you even know what you are?”

“The Star Slave calls me Demon. Close. I was not so long ago, and such a condemnation would have earned the full brunt of my abilities. But now…,” Thelek shakes his head, pondering a choice of words, “Things have become complicated.”

“Power? I have always possessed much. As have all my kind; yet, I was particularly favored, or cursed, to possess powers well beyond normal. On Faerun, my glory is but a sliver of former incarnations.”

“But I think you ask the wrong questions. Concern yourself not with beginnings. Knowing personal history will shed little light as to vulnerabilities, and efforts geared towards my demise waste time and energy. Rather concern yourself with things to come. Are my goals irreparably dissimilar from yours? And if so, how do we proceed from here?”

“The gods,” Thelek states in a steady monotone that hides much strength behind two simple words. “To call it hate would be a simplification. I don’t hate them but rather hate how they make you. Their influence. That I cannot abide.”

Zioran
“Perhaps you are right, creature,” Zioran says, rubbing his chin. He resumes puffing on his pipe and muses “But what are we without our history? We are empty shells, nothing more. You may not find it the most relevant of questions, but it is still fitting. What I’ve told my companions is certainly no more evasive than you. They just aren’t direct enough to ask.” He rubs the scarred-‘X’ carved across his chest, a souvenir from a fight before his immortality, in thought.

“Regardless,” he says at length, “you haven’t brought us here to tell us nothing. I would know of you before I decide to become friend or foe. Tell us of your complications. Win us over with your Blackened Tongue, if you can.”

Aiden
“Zioran is right. You ask if your goals are so dissimilar from ours, but how are we supposed to know that without hearing you speak plainly.” Aiden kept his guard up, if he couldn’t rely on divine abilities, then it would have to be his martial skills that would defend him should things turn for the worst. “You call me a slave to my Goddess but it seems your pride blinds you to my relationship with her. Don’t presume so much about me or her or us. You speak of Gods and their influence as if it was coercive, you mentioned your goals, but all I see is death on a battle field.” Aiden was angry, “Star Slave? That godless snake may know hate but I’ll show him wrath”, yet he picked up on what he suspected was Zioran’s intention. This was a chance to get some information directly from the source of their troubles. Gesturing at Zioran, “He’s right, we are all here now, and for some reason, so let’s dispatch with your pungent charms and get to the point? What are we to witness? What are your goals?”

GM

“Zioran is right. You ask if your goals are so dissimilar from ours, but how are we supposed to know that without hearing you speak plainly.”

“I withhold pieces of the puzzle not to mislead but rather to shelter your perceptions. Even my true name would be enough to cloud your judgment. I desire your wisdom, not your biases.”

“You call me a slave to my Goddess but it seems your pride blinds you to my relationship with her. Don’t presume so much about me or her or us.

“Relationship?” Thelek laughs. The distant clouds spill forth vicious forks of lightning. Sparks from an impact against the ground ignite a large nearby oil pool. The fire casts a gentle, warm glow on the clearing. Thelek, however, still stands in shadow. “You talk of hubris. What of yours? Of us, only I have met your mistress. Shedding light into the far reaches, stymieing the machinations of her sister, and resisting the primordials, not to mention her pet project with the lycans, what makes you think she has time for every fool who procures a charm in the market? Your relationship exists with underlings, lesser beings through which her powers and messages are delegated, filtered and delivered. Likely she knows nothing of your wants and fears, only of your service.”

“You speak of Gods and their influence as if it was coercive, you mentioned your goals, but all I see is death on a battle field”

“You haven’t brought us here to tell us nothing. I would know of you before I decide to become friend or foe. Tell us of your complications.”

“This,” Thelek again points to the brutalized landscape, “was not wrought by my hands, but by those whom mortals pay homage. Another holy war between good and evil. Yet no god numbers among the causalities. Only men. It is but one mass conflict of hundreds that will transpire in the years to come. Again and again, ad naseaum, divine ambition will infect the world to spill mortal blood. I seek only to tip the scales, to see the cycle ended. No more will mortals be used as pawns to settle the disputes of the divine.”

Aiden
Aiden thought it was a little funny. All of the snake people before had spoke with cryptic words too, but at least they wore their intentions on their sleeves. Nevertheless, mincing words with Thelek was proving informative.

“Carrying out the will of a fine king or queen, despite never directly meeting them, does not diminish the quality of the ruler. When a Queen loves her lords, and they love their servants, as Our Lady of Silver does her Shards and priests, that relationship doesn’t diminish. The world is full of darkness, but it also has many small, bright lights that shone at night. You are merely the cloud that attempts to block the stars light, whimsical, moving elsewhere with a purpose. You will not break my faith with clouds and riddles, so tell me plainly, unnamed dark cloud, what wisdom do you wish from us? You speak as if you have some knowledge that would interest us, but withhold it.”

He was getting caught in Thelek’s pace. This wasn’t the theater for dogmatic conflict… "Zioran asked you, ‘What is your true nature – who are you, really, and how is it that you are so powerful? How does your hatred for the gods fit into it all?’ and you have yet to answer. Push aside the things you think you know about us, us “pawns”, and we might be inclined to respond in kind, and listen.”

Regdar
“Sounds to me like you plan to kill the gods because you believe that’s the only way to stop holy wars.” Regdar stands a bit taller showing some pride in his words but still keeps his shield and mace at the ready. “That may be true however if not holy wars we would instead have just wars, I have seen tribes go to war for something as small as one tribe hunting in lands they believed to be theirs, these tribes do not worship the gods you seek to destroy. Wars are fought all the time the gods do not force us to do it we willingly go to war for what we believe in to protect what we feel needs protecting.”

Zioran
Zioran’s face soured a bit as he looked at his yellow-eyed copy. He hated smug, and this guy was oozing it. “Look, I’m sure it’s fun to antagonize us with wordplay, poking ants and all that, but let’s not mince words. If this was a matter you could handle yourself, why make introductions? What are your goals, plans and troubles?” He chomped on his pipe quickly, puffing some acrid smoke from it, exhaling as he spoke “Because as far as I see it, all you’re doing is inviting us to – or possibly just showing us – a bloodbath.” He gestured to the battlefield to emphasize the devastation.

GM

“You are merely the cloud that attempts to block the stars light, whimsical, moving elsewhere with a purpose. You will not break my faith with clouds and riddles.”

“Soon men will have little need of night lights to sleep through the dark. Keep your crutch. I seek to wean mortals off the gods, not steal them away.”

“You speak as if you have some knowledge that would interest us, but withhold it.”

“Is this not knowledge? Evidence that the god wars continue without end? The bodies stack upon each other like stone and mortar until the end of time and you find this not worth knowing? Are you so inured to the passing of life as to think this the natural course? I’ve seen the battle transpire, and countless more. We can stop it. All I ask of you is the wisdom of an open mind. Decide not before hearing the course.”

Sounds to me like you plan to kill the gods because you believe that’s the only way to stop holy wars… That may be true; however, if not holy wars we would instead have just wars. I have seen tribes go to war for something as small as one tribe hunting in lands they believed to be theirs. These tribes do not worship the gods you seek to destroy. Wars are fought all the time. The gods do not force us to do it we willingly go to war for what we believe in to protect what we feel needs protecting.

“You mistake me North Man. I seek not to end war, but war imposed from on high. Inevitably men will let blood for land, women, and a thousand other causes, but the origin, blame, and choice would be yours. Free from the obligations and meddling of far away beings, the path of man will lie in his hands alone. Fight for your own prosperity and goals, not theirs.”

“Killing the gods? I purpose nothing so rash, nor would I have the means. I seek the demise of one. One whose coddling does man far more disservice than any malevolent deity. As the status qoe exists, the gods will spar and bicker until world’s end. However, an imbalance would force a conclusion one way or another. Done properly, we can ensure the light prevails, but nevertheless remains weakened to the point that man can decide his own fate for the first time. Mankind has long come of age. You need not pedagogues and parents.”

“Look, I’m sure it’s fun to antagonize us with wordplay, poking ants and all that, but let’s not mince words. If this was a matter you could handle yourself, why make introductions? What are your goals, plans and troubles?… Because as far as I see it, all you’re doing is inviting us to – or possibly just showing us – a bloodbath.”

“If my semantics offend, I offer apology, but I have long been without company. Those whom supplicate before absent masters try my resolve. I will not serve, and have little patience for those who do so willingly. Even less when they look upon bondage with gratitude. I harbor no ill will towards the rest and have opened communications as a courtesy. What I could take, I would rather ask. You need not oppose me. Killing you, any of you, would bring no comfort. But sacrifices have and always will remain a necessity.”

“I have set plans in motion hundreds of years before my imprisonment. I will succeed with or without your compliance. I have foreseen it. Do not force me to add your deaths to an already heavy toll. Future events will explain both my history and designs. With the knowledge comes a choice. Think on it… weigh it. That is what I ask. Nothing more.”

Aiden
“Looking on bondage with gratitude?!" Aiden says, clearly upset. “Where are my chains? Take my faith away and what does the rest of my life look like? It is still rich, if only lighter so, filled with love and family and respect, the stuff men dream of. I was accomplished before I followed the moon; I was wealthy in all things important.”

“You say you want men to decide for themselves, but you contradict yourself. I oppose injustice and do what is right, just as many others do, devout and faithless alike. I am no puppet and I won’t recount my deeds for you here and now. You say you want men to carve their own destiny, but what noble man wouldn’t oppose wanton death, starvation, or oppression? You come to us, show us death, and ask us to trust you? You offer us nothing, no reason, you ask ‘the wisdom to open our minds’ and then confuse wisdom with prejudice when the former advises caution. Clearly you are unable to separate one from the other and progress the dialogue.”

“If your intentions were as vindicated as you suggest, then why do you keep them so close to the chest? All I know of you is that you intend to do harm to those I cherish. All manner of creatures would oppose such a threat. Am I wrong? Do you mean well? Have you offered ANYTHING to suggest otherwise?” Aiden felt angry and wondered if there was anything about Thelek to understand at all. “You say ‘we can ensure the light prevails’ but against what? Don’t speak as some creature that knows what men want, unless you’re willing to offer something to an “open mind”. Were you to discuss something taboo or delicate, there is no reason to ignore your words. But alas, you don’t seek the commune with someone virtuous; in fact, you seem to harbor ill will towards me, perhaps a reflection of your own flaws.”

Regdar
“So if you do not want to stop all wars, only those fought at the behest of the gods, what is your plan? Also, I am curious if your plans will succeed without our help, why bother trying to get us to help? How does our help benefit us and you?”

Zioran
The Shadar-Kai smoked his pipe, casually, as though he were becoming disinterested with his copy. He glanced about the area, taking note of his surroundings. He remained silent for Aiden’s rant and Regdar’s subsequent questioning. Finally, he looked at Emmiven, and said “Got any more of that soup? My double here is full of shit, and I need a distraction.”

Emmiven

Emmiven turns to Zioran and laughs. The entity’s dire posturing and Aiden’s fiery riposte had created a tense atmosphere… a tense atmosphere while in the mind of a being probably older and more powerful than some gods. She didn’t know if yelling at Thelek as Aiden or even dismissing him as Zioran had done were wise, but she couldn’t help but laugh. The entire episode was absurd.

“Soup no, but if pulling hair hurts, I suppose mind tea is still capable of packing a punch,” she says, reaching for the kettle.

Aiden
Aiden wasn’t sure about what to do. He had given Thelek something to chew on, or so he thought and he wouldn’t let his questions be abated; this ‘thing’ deserved death yet hadn’t earned it just yet. “It knows only hate and I have prodded it all I can”, but even that might have backfired.

He had already fallen back on his emotions, something his training told him to do when lacking all else, but he found it hard to understand, this was all new to him, this primordial abhorrence. This ‘thing’ had made him angry beyond what he thought was capable. Nonetheless he continued, “Redgar is right as well, if you won’t talk to me, then answer him you cloud!” He suspected that Redgar, like Zioran, was well aware of what was transpiring. His angers said, “I’ll see this thing bleed. This thing is wrong! And if he isn’t, how am I to compare! He loves nothing, cherishes nothing, and if he did, then Moonmaiden forgive me!" He pressed further, " Here at-the-ready stands the North man, true in the face of battle and largely unknown to me, yet even he opposes your claimless beliefs, even he, the spirit worshiper, would need more than fancy words! But alas, you do not want to commune with me, but maybe you want to commune with him, daemon?"

Something near to rage fueled Aiden and knew he couldn’t do more with words with this demon, “Redgar poses the equal to Zioran’s question. You have not answered me, nor Zioran, but maybe the North man? He doesn’t fit within your narrow perspective, or does he? The Northern man, Redgar, is here, and like the rest of us, speaks for himself. You detest me, but what about him, and before his inquires Zioran, or do you intend to shun all that abide your will and open their minds?” He had listened to the daemon, it was all absurd, or so he thought.

GM
“…Also, I am curious if your plans will succeed without our help, why bother trying to get us to help? How does our help benefit us and you?”

“Careful thought benefits only yourself. I need no aid; yet, opposition will force me to end you. Something I hope you will find… unnecessary.”

As the priest rages, Thelek looks over the battle. Whether prodded, pressed, or trapped, the entity shows no reaction. His thoughts are an island, isolated from an unmoving countenance. The oilfields continue to churn from below and cover the remains scattered about the horizon. Soon there will be nothing left but a sea of black.

Hearing the priest finish or at least pause before another assault, Thelek picks up a scrap of cloth. A purple dragon on a white shield; the banner torn and fragmented. He stands and examines the symbol before letting it go. The wind carries it from the clearing where it is stained and submerged under the rolling surface.

Thelek returns his attention to the group. A zealot on the attack, a shadar-kai attempting to appear apathetic, and a doppelganger and a North man somewhere between.

“Nothing I can say would satisfy reservations. You have but my word. The word of a being caged beneath the earth for centuries by those sworn to protect humanity. What weight could they possibly hold? Even the carnage of this battle remains unverified. Easily denounced as illusion or false vision. Only a fool takes such matters on faith, so I came not to convince but to offer introduction. I have said what I intended. Heed it or not, at this point it matters little. But be not so spoiled as to assume you have heard nothing of worth simply because I refused to answer your queries. Knowledge will come. I care little you disapprove of the pace.”

“For you priest, a word of advice. Be not so easily goaded as to brag of family and love. Were I the demon you claim, your foolishness would be rewarded in blood.”

Thelek inhales sharply. The air leaves the world. The bonfires instantly snuffed. His form sinks into the earth, either merging with shadow or oil. The raging skies quiet and the alien stars smear and blur, returning to familiar forms. Gone is the destruction, the reeking oil. You are home, standing up in your campsite. The warding eyes remain undisturbed. Emmiven’s tin cup still lies on the ground; its contents long ago leeching into the soil.

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Temple of the Sleeper

The darkened hallway bearing the six bronze hands unfolds into a massive ritual chamber. Incense laden braziers light the room in a faint glow. Six sepulchral pyramids rise twenty feet towards the obsidian ceiling before cresting and being capped with serpentine statues. Trenches of human bone pile on the floor four feet high, damming thousands of gallons of blood from washing across the black marble floor.

A tide of undead troops stand silent before an elevated altar crouched beneath a depiction of Seth, the slumbering serpent. The skeleton host is heavily armored in dark gear that contrasts with bleached bone. Unmoving, their hollowed sockets stare straight, awaiting commands from their necromancer lords.

Five adventures guard a heavy stone bridge connecting the two ends of the chamber. The three in front, a dwarf and two humans, are encased in plate while a tiefling and elf stand further back. Despite their protections and obvious merits, as one their eyes are glassed over, containing nothing but void. Their faces hang slack. Whatever sentience formerly animated their bodies has been purged. Now they are no more alive or independent than the flanking horde beside them.

Two lumbering cyclops hold position near the altar. Their darkened flesh stretch like tarps to cover decayed contents. One giant holds a 15ft barbed khopesh in the remains of his hand while the other grasps a black morningstar, the vicious club possessing the girth of three men. Like the skeletons spread about the chamber, the undead giants take no notice of your entrance. They stand silent as statues.

Nearly two dozen Yuan-ti stand towards the back of the room. Some carry recurving long-bows and jagged sheaf arrows. Others are bedecked in crimson robes bearing sacrilegious symbols of tyranny, death and enslavement. And still more leisurely finger the scimitars strapped to the sides of their lithe, coiling bodies.

A lone pure-blood, beautiful in a sinister, alien way, awaits before the altar of her god. Her skin has an amber sheen and her emerald eyes bare the “V” shaped slits of an adder. A shoulderless violet dress of finest silk drapes across her small, subtle frame. Whether from her or the altar behind, power- clever and malevolent- radiates into the air.

“Thelek… pariah…,” she calls, her whispered voice carries across the chamber and is echoed from the statues topping the pyramids, “I’m saddened to see you dawn slave flesh. Why dishonor yourself so? There are so many more pleasurable ways to defile oneself.” She walks over to a ceremoniously armored guard and gently caresses his scaled face, “I have prepared a proper form. One that more closely mirrors your venomed soul. Let Kess’Slar slay you; take his body. Come back to us… to me. The ritual comes grows ripe…let us awaken father and together we shall bring these warmbloods crashing to their kneesss.”

In response, a disembodied voice rolls through the chamber, “No.” The reverberation of the word is enough rattle the stone necropolis, cascading dust into the air and cracking the skulls of a few decrepit skeletons.

The Yuan-ti priestess smiles. “You act as though you had a choice. The spirit is strong, but the flesh is weak. And I will see it broken.” Her eyes glint as she waves a hand. The puppet adventures draw their weapons and adopt martial stances. “Yet only four,” she whispers counting your numbers, her voice mockingly seductive. She sets her eyes upon on an imprisoned gnome and speaks a word of power. The chains restraining his malnourished form unclasp and fall. “Now six.” The gnome smiles but is oddly little phased by his turn of fortune. Quick to realize his fate entwines with your own, he stands and gives a quick nod. Chanting, a small orb of power manifests in his palm. Now armed, his smile broadens.

Satisfied the match has been balanced enough to prove interesting, the priestess continues, “Your followers prove resilient Thelek. Survive again… and again. Prove them worthy of the ritual.” Finished, her voice fades as the dominated adventures attack, their motions unfortunately betraying none of the sluggishness often coinciding with mental control.

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Tome of Maralues Kierbold

Having heard the expression, “Pity the man who outlives a child,” numerous times before, I’m curious what the author would have us do for the man who has out lived and buried a god. Without having experienced either, I can only sympathize with both. I came to Hill Haven an unwashed farmhand hoping to pick up odd jobs to help my father meet ends after a series of poor harvests, but a glance at the man who owned the two story farmhouse was enough to dash my hopes of finding a feeble old man no longer capable of maintaining the grounds. Despite the mantle of years wore across his face and shoulders (he must have been in his late 70’s then), Maraleus Kierbold retained a physical presence still capable of breaking a man in half. In dire need of copper for my mother and sisters, I swallowed my fear and asked if he required help. Maraleus stared me down for five minutes, taking in my shabby apparel and calloused fingers, before asking if I could read. “The eyes,” he explained in a voice far more refined than I had expected yet tinged with sadness, “Are the first to go.” According to rumors, he was last in line of peculiar family known for their spartan existence and stoic demeanor. Maraleus, who visited Triel twice a year to stock up on provisions, proved no exception. He kept to himself, speaking to no one besides the Tarmikos family and the general store owner. It was commonly believed that the family had presided over a merchant house in Scornubel before constructing Hill Haven and relocating 100 odd years ago, but why they chose Triel, no one could say. Some speculate that the Kierbolds had family here, or that they themselves were long ago natives who, having found success abroad, had become too proud to keep or acknowledge their traditional name. Eight years later afterI was taught to read and write, Maraleus, whose voice by then was wracked with a violent cough that spoke of his undoing, sat up in his bed and demanded I record the truth. Triel had been selected by the “Kierbold” family purely for location. Small and sparsely inhabited, yet possessing a great deal of traffic as a trade route, the town was the perfect place to construct and hide an underground prison without drawing untoward amounts of attention. Unbound by blood, the Kierbolds were members of the Vigilant Eye, a secret order of Helmites who serve as wardens for evils that cannot be vanquished but only contained. Whatever lies beneath the hills of Triel, Maraleus wouldn’t say; although I inquired numerous times before his death. I believe he felt the secret was safer to let die with him, or perhaps, the Vigilant Eyes were oath bound to never again speak the name of the imprisoned, least they be heard. However, he did say, “Should strangers come and families begin to die,” the tomb of his superior, where the armaments of their order were stored, could be found 873 yards east of the prison. To enter one had only to approach a marked stone and speak, “Vigilance without rest. Forever do I heed the unblinking eye.” I have recorded the Iron Hedge’s traditions and creeds down in cypher as Maraleus, Justicar of the Vigilant Eye and last of the Kierbolds, desired. I know, however, that he has withheld information. He still must fear whatever is hidden below, and I know he is deeply ashamed of something…. something his grandfather did in service of Helm that was a horrible but necessary evil. Helmites, he told me, were required at all times to do whatever was needed regardless of morality or consequence. To save and guard the innocent, they could not be above staining their own hands and souls. He also warned that though Helm was dead and all but forgotten, followers of other faiths will prove far more patient as they zealously wait their leader’s return. In payment for my years of service, he left me his armor, a chain shirt of dwarven steel that once belonged to his brother and colleague Reginold, a man who committed suicide in order to protect the prison’s location. Though honored by Mareleus’ gift, I have left the shirt here with this journal. I can write and read now, but I intend, Chauntea willing, to remain a farmer. I pray whoever finds these notes and armor has of little need of them as I.

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Adventure 2: Pact of the Autumn Mother

After speaking to Pastoral Hailwic, the PCs arranged to meet Mayor Tarmikos outside of The Three Kettles. The Mayor warns the PCs about the Autumn Mother. He claims she is sinister in nature, was old when his grandfather was a boy, and never does anything for free. The town had tried to run her off on two prior locations but the old woman always resurfaces later.

Maronin tried to enlist the aid of the PCs in filling in/collasping the underground ruins found in the hills north of Triel. He explained he wanted the ruins dealt with as possible as it posed a threat to the town and would attract unwanted types (other adventurers) to explore it’s depths. Negotiations broke down after Zioran rudely interjected and Marorin returned, “For someone who knows so few people in this town, it may not be in your best interest to be so brash,” before storming off.

After asking around town, the PCs begin to make their way to the Autumn Mother. She resides or can unusually be found near a pile of stacked dolmens. Before leaving town, the PCs are stopped by a messenger, a young boy, who hands them an unsigned letter before heading back into Triel. The letter reads, “Meet me outside the Shrine an hour before dawn. Tell no one.”

Convinced there is time enough to meet the Autumn Mother and still make the appointment before dawn, the PCs begin the 6 hour journey to the standing stones. Coming upon the sacred sight, the PCs notice from afar that the Autumn Mother rarely moves and is capable of standing still for long periods of time. When closer, she resembled little more than an old woman wearing clothes of a noble or possibly aristocratic nature. Screll, due to his relationship with the Fey, identified the standing stones as being associated with nature magic and communing with the feywilds. He surmised that the Autumn Mother is either a Fey herself or else a human that has aligned herself with one of the more powerful denizens of the realm.

The Autumn Mother asked why the PCs sought her out. Cyllene stated that they had some questions to ask to which the Mother returned that she had no answers but could summon sources that would. However, first they must come to terms on a price.

Judging the value of the answers, the Autumn Mother requested one year of life from each of the PCs. She claimed, “living the year from 60-61 mattered little,” when they were probably going to a meet a violate end from the perils of adventuring beforehand, yet the years for an old woman such as her self would be precious. Cyllene tried to think of a way that such an exchange of life would be possible and remembered that any magic dealing with the manipulation of life energy fell into the domain of Necromancy. While not inherently evil, Necromancy, due to its strong potential for power, was and still is often used for nefarious purposes, and thus has a horrible reputation.

Seeing the PCs are hesitant to comply, the Autumn Mother offers to do the first ritual for free as an indication of her power. She informs the PC’s that Pastoral Hailwic has been tampering with forces of the natural order and that the Sidthe and Fey desire things to return to the old fashion. She asks the PCs to steal a scarecrow from a farm near town and return to her. The PCs agree.

Arriving around 11 pm, the PCs arrive at Aperton farm after the owners have retired for the night and find the scarecrow at the edge of the field. Cautiously making his way up to the it, Screll has the feeling that something is either watching or waiting in anticipation. Attempting to sever the unwieldy pole that makes the base of the scarecrow, he slammed his sword against the wooden frame only to feel the painful reverberation coursing up his arm without even affecting the scarecrow in the slightest. Jett and Cyllene make their way closer and notice the burlap simulacrum has an arcane purpose of warding off something undesirable. Zioran smokes his pipe near the road leading to the house while Nova edges forward without entering the wheat field. Jett noticed a fast, small moving form after making his way deeper into the fields. He drew attention to the sighting, and Cyllene quickly surmised it to be one of the Fey the Autumn Mother mentioned.

Cyllene summoned her disc to make the transportation of the scarecrow less cumbersome as the rest of the PCs prepare for a fight. Screll and Jett yank the scarecrow from the ground and place it on the disc. Sensitive to the ebb and flow of arcane energy, Cyllene and Jett experience a popping sensation in their ears when the totem is first removed. Next, a sprite flew above the grains of wheat and bowed before unflicking a straight razor. Laughing, the miniature man dove back into the high standing grains of wheat.

Small and fast, the unseelie host provee formidable. Two attempted to delay and distract the PCs by aiming for the eyes and tendons while casters and more agile sprites darted in and out, trying to wear out the PCs from range. Screll, noticing the discomfort of the sprites near him and assuming it to be the result of their proximity to the scarecrow, jumped on the disc and rode it around the fields. Zioran entered the fields and engaged the ones who were attempting to stand back from the melee. Cutting one in half, he attempted to catch its remains in one hand. The sole surviving sprite fled into the fields while Nova and Cyllene tried to stabilize Jett and Zioran, both whom by this point have collapsed due to blood loss and injury.

The scarecrow is returned to the Mother. Mumbling about interfering corn priestesses, she disenchants the totem and uses the residual magic to summon a sprite. Far better looking and amiable, the sprite is nevertheless whimsical and provides the PCs with scant new information. A string of questions led only to the knowledge that several dwarves and plate wearing human built the runes nearly 300 years ago.

Feeling the Autumn Mother has not fulfilled her end of the bargain to a satisfactory extent, the PCs are unwilling to continue dealing with her without concrete answers. They decline her invitation to consult the powers of the stars. The Autumn Mother tells the PCs she can the get the answers they need but they won’t like the source. After a great deal of diplomacy from Cyllene, the old woman reveals the exact name of whom she intends to a summon, Balzel’athan, a prince of the outer world. Although Cyllene does not recognize the name, she knows enough about demonology and their hierarchy to know that daemon princes heed only higher daemons or Asmodeus, the archlord. The Autumn Mother admitted that summoning Balzel’athan will be dangerous and that they will have little time to ask their questions as the longer a demon remains summoned the greater chance of him escaping. Feeling the information is not worth the inherit risk and accompanying price, the PCs decided to peruse other options first.

The PCs arrive at the Shrine of Chauntea at the appointed time to find Claudia Agail, the Pastoral in training, waiting. She tells the PCs that a couple who were secretly married came across a depiction of Helm while seeking places to be alone together away from the eyes of their parents. The couple found the symbol at the back of a fireplace in an abandoned and burned down house. She gives the PCs directions before asking for a favor. She relates her desire to be allowed out of an arranged marriage with Maronin Tarmikos. She asks if the PCs would try to convince Pastoral Hailwic to break off the engagement. Nova and Cyllene tell Claudia they will at the very least try.

The burned down house is located, and the subsuming investigation revealed the ruins to be occupied by an elemental of soot and ash which soon coalesces and attacks. Though initially hard to hit, the lantern like center of the elemental is dissipated after a joint effort by the group. Thanks to Jett’s arcane wardings, it ultimately offered little challenge. A button located in the eye of helm at the back of fireplace that was pressed is found to have opened a chamber in the back room. After Screll examines and unlocks the trunk found in the niche, the group finds an exquisite Mithril shirt and small book written in ciphers. Although the book is not completely filled out, a symbol of Helm is found on the inside cover.

On the way back to town, the PCs encounter a series of tracks that was not there before. Cyllene discovers that the tracks belong to a good number of kobolds making their way to town. Fearing a raid, the PCs quickly pursue. However, they soon discover that the tracks turn and skirt around Triel. Locating the camp, the PCs notice that the kobold camp lacks the sheer number of weapons and warriors that would denote a hunting party. Identifying the apparent leader, Cyllene and Nova approach while the others stand not far away. The kobold leader, Keb-Nik, approaches the PCs and informs them he means no harm. Conversation reveals that the kobolds are fleeing their home after a change of power. Keb-Niks explains that Ur-Ak, the son of the chief killed his father and assumed control of the Broken Shin Tribe after listening to the Whisper Stone, an obvious source of malignant and corrupting power. Not wanting to fulfill the wishes of the new chief, Keb-Nik gathered as many loyal followers as possible and fled the cave. Since then he has heard that Ur-Ak has aligned himself with the “Brothers,” three bugbears siblings who supply the Yuan-ti with individuals for either slavery or kidnapping. Keb-Nik warns that the youngest brother is trained in forbidden magic and should not be allowed to live.

A possible alternative to whole scale slaughter is thought of over the course of the exchange. It is possible for a kobold to challenge Ur-Ak for the right to rule. While there are no suitable candidates in Keb-Nik’s band, the shaman reveals he has the ability to brew potions that will disguise the PCs as kobolds long enough for them to hopefully challenge, defeat, and replace Ur-Ak as Chieftain. However, Keb-Nik is not entirely sure that Ur-Ak, possibly far too influenced by the Whisper Stone, will abide by the ancient traditions. Nevertheless, the shaman sends a messenger to Ur-Ak to deliver the challenge.

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