Piety and Poison

The Shadow Rift Conflict

Wherein new allies join the battle, much blood is spilled and troubling secrets are revealed.

Sanctuary of the Dead

Deep below the Shadowfell Keep, the heroes struggle onwards towards the Shadow Rift. A small army of goblins and a host of even more unsavoury creatures fall before them as they advance.

Sanctuary, and a brief respite comes in an unlikely form. The ghostly remains of Sir Keegan, former protector of the Keep. After convincing him of their benign intentions, the party is offered refuge within Sir Keegan’s tomb while they rest and recover from their wounds.

While others shift uneasily in their sleep, Lamp questions Sir Keegan’s ghost, and he tells her many things that have come to pass since her hiatus from the waking world. She discovers that the civilization she once knew has crumbled and justice and peace have all but left these shattered lands. Disturbed, she settles into the same restless sleep as the others.

Before he sleeps, Aldris the Inquisitor questions his very purpose for being here. Offering a prayer to Bahamut, he meditates on the path chosen for him by his master Balthazar, and his misgivings about the Grand Inquisitor’s methods. He does not sleep well either.

Amelie contemplates the dragon-gem they unearthed, which she has now discovered can be fitted perfectly into a socket in her rapier. It all seems to have the terrible feeling of destiny about it, and it makes the jaded teenager uncomfortable. Hiding behind her cynicism and bravado, she has never had true responsibility in her life and now that fate is calling, she wonders if she really has the courage to answer. True rest does not come to Amelie.

The only one who sleeps soundly of the four is Keridyea. Despite the funereal surrounds and the malevolent presence of the Rift, she swiftly descends into a deep sleep. She dreams of a strange, immense city, filled with colossal statues, hanging gardens and majestic fountains; a city whose marble streets are flooded with impossible radiance. It is a city she has dreamed of since she was a child and it fills her with a comfort and peace she has never experienced in her waking life. Of course, when she wakes, the city is gone and only the dull, painful waking world remains – a fact that never fails to anger her.

And wake they do, to the sounds of battle. Arming themselves and moving north, they emerge in a previously unexplored part of the dungeon to find a prison break in progress…

Jehane

The first of the prisoners in question is Duskwalker Jehane Sunshadow, a fey ranger from the bizarre city of Precipice in the Feywild.

Violet fae eyes shine eerily as the gold-haired duskwalker works her longbow with deadly speed and accuracy. Two goblins fall to her bow, before a larger hobgoblin charges at her, hefting a war-axe. The duskwalker calmly steps backwards, shimmering and vanishing. The hobgoblin strikes at empty air, bewilderment his final expression before he is cut down by single arrow fired from precisely five yards behind him. The fae lowers her bow, her serene expression unreadable.

Jehane is one of the elite rangers of the Violet Enclave, sent to the “doldrums” to gather information and resources for her enigmatic masters. Her title, Duskwalker, refers to her ability to cross between the fae world and the mortal word during the hour of twilight. Captured by the goblins in a cowardly ambush, she was drawn to the Shadowfell Keep by little more than her natural curiosity.

Brun

The second of the prisoners… is Brun.

Snarling, the massively built, tattoed and dreadlocked barbarian whirls to keep all his attackers at bay with his flaming torch. The hobgoblins fan out to surround him with military discipline, confident in their strength of numbers.

“Arm yourself!” calls out an ethereal female voice as Jehane throws the Redstag warrior’s great-axe to him.

Brun drops the torch and catches the axe, his eyes dipping briefly to behold his beloved weapon. He looks up slowly at the hobgoblins, and a wide, predatory grin breaks across his face like the effortless fury of a breaking storm.

Like all healthy boys of the Redstag Tribe, Brun was born to fight. His tribe, the only humans known to live north of the Nentir Vale, have been locked in conflict with the Bloodspear Orcs for as long as anyone in the tribe can remember, and as long back as their stories tell tales.

Brun has only recently seen his seventeenth spring, and is yet to prove his worth as a true warrior. Sent on a vision quest by the wise women of his village, Brun has been wandering the wilds alone for a month. He was discovered by the goblins, lying unconscious at the bottom of a cliff beside the shattered remains of an ogre.

The Warband Assembled

Seeing the worth of further allies, Aldris wastes no time in recruiting the escaped prisoners to aid in their efforts to defeat Kalarel and close the Rift.

Delving deeper beneath the keep, the six defeat the main force of Kalarel’s hobgoblins in a vicious and bloody battle. The captured Warchief of the hobgoblins, Horka, agrees to trade information for his life. After revealing all he knows of Kalarel, he proceeds to volunteer further information about his rivals, the Bloodreaver Orcs. At Brun’s prompting, Horka is quick to volunteer the rumour that the base of the Bloodreaver’s slave-trading operation is somewhere in Thunderspire Mountain.

However, it is the warchief’s talk of Kalarel’s efforts to permanently open the shadow rift that holds Lamp’s attention. While there is still a chance to stop Kalarel and seal the Rift, she has a chance to redeem herself. At the mention of Kalarel’s live human sacrifices, Lamp’s eyes and sword catch ablaze with hellfire. Suffused with resolve and infernal energies, Lamp proceeds directly towards the confrontation with Kalarel, leaving scorched hoofprints in her wake.

Confrontation

Through undead and cultists alike, the party hews their way to the Shadow Rift chamber. Along the way, they discover some of Kalarel’s notes, which reveal a little more of his grand plan. He speaks of his former master Balthazar betraying him, and he betraying Balthazar in turn. He also speaks of a woman named Felicia and her influence on his decision to leave the Covenant of Erathis to find his own path.

It would seem that his path had led him to Orcus, demon lord of the undead.

Confronting Kalarel at the very threshold of the Shadow Rift, the party uses everything at their disposal to defeat the mastermind and his followers. Mocking them, Kalarel describes them as “Balthazar’s lackeys” and muses aloud as to how long it would be before they too were betrayed by their master.

Despite Kalarel’s arrogance and confidence in the arrival of his undead legion, and the aid of his undead and disfigured lover, he is slain inside his own ritual circle. His remains are gathered by Aldris for consecration and burial.

Approaching the Shadow Rift, and with the timely intervention of her allies, Lamp conducts the ritual she had been taught over two centuries earlier. Though shaken by a voice she hears from beyond the portal, that of Lord Dust, she swiftly activates the glyph of binding. And just as the Rift’s power waxes ascendant, it is forcefully shut down. Lamp, last of the Sisters of the Veil, fuses into place the glyph that closes the Shadow Rift permanently.

At last, the evil at the heart of the Keep is laid to rest.

Return to Winterhaven

Upon their return to Winterhaven, the party finds a town under siege. Undead are attacking and the townsfolk fear for their lives. After receiving counsel from Valthrun, the party readies itself once more and sets off to tackle the undead threat at its source: the local graveyard.

There, they battle skeletons, gravehounds and stirges while being sniped at by Ninaran, Kalarel’s spy who had raised the undead. In desperation, Ninaran calls her secret ally, her werewolf sister Hesteran. But even the intervention of the hulking and swift beast cannot save Ninaran from Brun’s axe-blade. Soon, the werewolf also falls to the group’s blades, ending the sisters’ tragic story.

Arriving back in town, the group is welcomed as saviours of Winterhaven. One of the first to greet them is the newly-arrived Lady Dahlia Kamroth, introduced to them as the lawfully-sanctioned acting Lord of Winterhaven in the absence of Padraig.

Amidst reservations over the town’s new leadership, the party gathers to discuss their next move…

Comments

Liege,

Duty; isn’t it a quaint concept when it all comes down to it? That is what we Inquisitors do. We cut through ambiguity, reveal the dark desires of tainted souls, and delve out judgment based on the dictates of righteous indignation. We look into the hearts of believers and Infidels alike and are trained to see through the masks of the later while converting them into the likes of the former. Or so that is what the “concept” of what our titles would suggest. That is not how you trained me. I see now what that duty really is. We are really architects, architects who devise clever mazes to confuse our foes and keep them at an arms length. Destruction of evil is entirely impossible; as soon as we win the battle against a foe of the damned, another creeps in to replace the last. I guess I should have expected such. Damn you, old man, for always being right. I could just as easily stab you in the throat as I could lavish you with affections at this moment. But you like it that way. And in some sick way, I do as well. But I digress… You sent me to look in on Winterhaven; to make sure that her people on the outskirts weren’t causing a stir. Well I can rightfully say that your fears were realized. The Shadow Fel rift was never sealed properly. It might strike someone silly to think that a partially opened rift to the Shadow Fel lay dormant for 400 years beneath a ruin. It’s not really that silly though is it? It is with the very same sword that the Inquisition smites its foes, that it, in the same motion, slashes its throat. The culprit, now dealt with and purified, was one of our own. I speak small biting words when I suggest that you know the villain with which I speak. Rest assured that that mess is now cleansed. I used some of the same soap upon mine own eyes as well. Rest assured that my master has learned over these years, to choose better students. Danger has not yet passed however. I need to keep an eye on Winterhaven. Though the rift is sealed, something is out there lurking. I feel it. If you wonder why it is that I do not return in haste, note the conversation we had once high atop a bell tower. The skeins of fate are thick here, my master. The gods are certainly at play in these lands. It is duty that compels me to stay here and observe. So I shall, until Erathis wills me otherwise.

Mortlock.

The Shadow Rift Conflict
 

Indescribable, the sensation I felt as the glyph slid into place, removing all traces of the Shadowfel from the Keep. When I fell back I could see where the gaping abyss once was now replaced with nothing more then harmless stone. A great wave of relief washed over me, followed by a lingering sense of sorrow that has yet to abate, not even after we destroyed Kalarel’s cohort Ninaran and stemmed the tide of undead she was summoning from a local graveyard.

Could it have possibly been so long ago when I left Mistkeep abby? I had been elated to journey forth. It feels like only yesterday I was on the road… I saw Minotaurs and Dragons, then more dragons. I uncovered a cult and was off to essentially save the Nentir Vale. I was almost proud. A great adventure lay before me with the promise of knowledge and self worth, a place among the sisterhood at last. Funny how little any of that matters now. For all this sense of excitement I cannot bring our triumph home. My duty is fulfilled and now that remains are questions. I find myself staring out at a future I have made no plans for.

My companions (most) seem to feel much the same way. Aldris wasted no time gathering the remains of the foul man that sought to open the rift. Kalarel. The lunatic had ranted and raved of being betrayed, but then set about betraying life itself out of some misguided attempt at revenge no doubt. I cannot be sure what the Inquisitor wishes to do from here, nor am I sure I feel inclined to wait and find out.

The woman who looks ever so much like Harkelle, Miss Amelie is clearly troubled, though I cannot say why. She looked uneasy at the idea of going to Fallcreast and where I am sure there is a story behind that, I am also sure it is not my place to pry.

Keridyea (or Keri) as she insists on being called drowns whatever troubles her with booze and men when she isn’t making lewd suggestions about what I could do with my tail. I am not sure I wish to know where she trained to become a paladin but I am certain they did not teach her that!

Lady Jehane… I would have thought that someone like an Eladrin would not deem the Umbral sisterhood worthy of attention, as I have read that the Mundane world bores them so. Yet, she informed me that the Sisterhood and her Violet Enclave had once been allies, and that as the last, that extended to myself as well. It was a warm sensation to hear her say that, despite the fact that her face remained as passive and enigmatic as ever.

Ioun help me I think the only person here I do understand is Brun. Who is currently engaged in cavorting with the town’s children while wearing a bag over his head. I dare say these kids need a little sport right now. I’d go out and join them, but I feel I should capture my thoughts now, while I’m still awake. Back to Brun. I find that while he is not as simple as most might believe, he is not as deceptively complicated as the likes of Aldris or Jehane. Brun fights for honor and glory, and the pride of his people and ancestors. It is refreshing to see someone without ulterior motives. I accidently informed him of my infernal heritage today, for a moment I was concerned for my safety until Staul stepped in and helped me explain. After a brief conversation explaining why I was not a demon, Brun did something unusual. He offered me a chance to find a place amongst his people. I can’t say it is easy for me to imagine living in a Barbarian village. I spent most of my natural life in a library! Yet it isn’t an entirely unappealing concept. I am sure there is much I could do to help his people in my own way.

This of course will depend on me not being chopped in twain when Brun informs them of the demon blood I have in my veins. Blood which it seems does have a startling effect. I couldn’t tell, but the others informed me that I had been literally brimming with hellfire until the rift was sealed. I wouldn’t have believed them until I saw my sword had changed. It has become much more twisted and now seems to glow a dull red.

Questions, so many damn questions and hardly an answer to be found. One of the most disturbing of which being how I heard the voice of Lord Dust. Was he the one responsible for the fall of Mistkeep? I feel a pull to return there, to find the truth of what happened while I slept. There is a part of me whispers that it would be a fools errand, and that undoubtbly there is nothing left. More then anything, I think that must be fear speaking. I know I should return to make sure that none of their spirits remain, or if they do, assure them that we at last triumphed and that they might finally be embraced by the Raven Queen.

With that said I believe I shall go now and see if they have improved the taste of ale after so long.

-Lamp

The Shadow Rift Conflict
 

I’d always expected kobolds to be ratty, nasty little creatures. Having never actually seen one before, everything I read about claimed indicated that they were little terrors, small and parasite ridden, like some kind of scaly pigeon. Imagine my relief to find that the gold dragon worshiping clan we’ve stumbled across are exemplary and rather civilized. Save for the constant barking and feral behavior I’m quite enjoying my stay here. They even appear to have a wise woman. Currently Amelie is off having words with her, she is from what I am told a very elder kobold. Nearly 30! This is only considered elder for these kobolds because many only survive to 15 at the most. ...Which sounds strikingly like the male life expectancy of the Red Stagg Clan.

I’ve caught bits of the conversation. Gold dragons have been killed off, a single survivor remains, sealed away. Amelie could release her, but this could very well spell her own destruction as this Dragon is claimed to be the mate of the betrayer, the reason the Vendarian Crusaders decided to commit genocide against the Golden Dragons initially. (Of course they are also corrupt bastards. So it’s a gamble either way. Isn’t chance fun?)

I worry for the poor girl. Even a shut-in such as myself can see she has run from much and no doubt with good reason. What a fate to rest on the shoulders of one so young.

Life is kind for few in these times it seems.

*Below the tidy script are several kobold scales, various plant specimens, and a couple sketches of different kobold expressions and poses but they are very lightly drawn on the page. Off to the side another drawing, this one is of a half finished figure, masculine in features holding up an arm with a kobold clinging to his bicep.

The Shadow Rift Conflict
 

The following is written in extremely sloppy handwriting, and the page has several sections where the ink runs and the writing is smeared and illegible.

Brun beat up some barbarian woman with huge tits. I wonder if he’d wrestle me if I had giant boobs and a beard to match. –the next several lines are unreadable at best- I’m two hundred and thirty and lived like a monk! Sisterhood indeed… I had to spend my time in the library researching! Oh sweet Raven goddess I am a spinster! Preserving my virtue, hah! I know what was going on in the communal bath house. I bet they were just afraid of my tail and my awesome sexual charisma. Well I’m the only one alive now! Take that! –and it just goes on like that until…-

Massive headache. Woke up in my own bed thank the goddess.
The Shadow Rift Conflict
 

I apologize for being so very delayed in my scholarly duties. I have been rather preoccupied with the grand affair that is staying alive in this world. Since I last wrote I and my friends have been shrunk, assaulted by cockroaches, giant rats, giant house cats… we’ve been set on fire, poisoned, and met a Primordial god. That is merely a summary of our harrowing journey.

We’ve encountered much loss of late, I fear. Jehane’s compatriots and friends perished at the hands of fellow Eladrin in a blood ritual. Something so ferocious and horrible I wasn’t sure anyone had ever used it. I mean her friend was –still alive- as he was pinned to the blood gem tree. I had never seen Jehane express emotion before. Yet… I believe I saw her cry. I do not think I shall ever drive that image from my mind. I can only imagine what must be going through her mind. How furious she must be over these recent betrayals. Of course I cannot presume to understand the affairs of her people or the goings on in the Feywild.

Then there is Brun. He received the worst news anyone could get. His wife, and all but one child perished to the orcs. The Red Stag (A giant centaur like man with horns) whom we recently freed has gone to aid his children, but for all we know he might not make it in time. The Red Stagg clan has fallen, yet Brun continues on. I worry… yet I dare not ask anyone to sit and deal with their emotions… we haven’t the time for that. I wish dear gods that we did.

I feel so damn helpless in these times! Why should I be the only one to remain of all the old orders? Why has all the good gone from this world? The Red Stagg clan should not have stood alone to the orcs! Especially for as long as they did… If the orcs head North, there is no telling how long the new “Empire” will remain. My dear Ioun, what have I woken up to?

*At the bottom of the entry there is a small sketch of the Red Stag, complete with a very brutish facial expression. Next to the Stag is a drawing of a stick figure with horns who comes up to mid-hoof. Written at the side it says “Scale is based on memory. But he was gigantic. And he smelled simply ghastly, as if he got up in the morning every day and rolled over dead animal carcasses in place of cologne. The Red stag was very blunt, as one would expect. His way of thanking Brun for setting him free was to toss the poor guy around then inquire as to why Brun smelled like his semen. It would seem the Red Stagg clan indeed sprang from his fluids. I have to admit… I was hesitant to release him when we came upon Brun’s ancestor. I’m still not entirely clear as to why I did. However, he seems to mean no harm… Ioun save us if he ever changes his mind.”

The Shadow Rift Conflict
 

Jehane’s spirit companion told me something disturbing recently. She believed she knew my heritage, the first humans to make a pact with demons. I am supposedly a direct decendant of those first misguided nobles. I found the idea repulsive at best. The creepy little girl informed me that eventually I would be approached by demons, as is tradition and offered a deal. Immediately Karavakos’s crusade came to mind. With the threat of an orcish invasion, an unstoppable army of demons would come in very, very handy…

Yet who would accept the aid of an infernal army? And the last thing I would want is to mess it all up and be sealed away for eternity. Forgive my wandering pen, the cold weather, dreary atmosphere and sense of impending doom ruin my mood. My mind keeps wandering…

The Shadow Rift Conflict
 

It is hard to remember the things that shape us sometimes. Inauspicious events, tiny traumas can have the most profound effect on people. I know that when I was little, I was a very impetuous child, and I disobeyed the Sisters constantly, delighting in the frustration of others. Hard to imagine now really. It seems that side of me was dulled as I grew older.

I was eight at the time. It was winter, and the Abbey was beautiful. Thick snow carpeted the hills and trees. Mistkeep’s roof was covered in a blanket of white, and the mountains practically shimmered. It was the perfect day to be a child.

I remember that a group was sent out to get the wood from our shed. Myself being particularly adventurous decided it would be much more fun to steal one of the sleds and find a large hill. At least, that had been the idea. Instead I ended up at one of the many frozen ponds. I was always curious, so I went out to test it. I put my foot on the ice and pressed down… then I tried it again, and the ice seemed firm. With little a care in the world I set out on the ice, skating (Yes it can be done on hooves.) and falling… While everyone else worked. I enjoyed my solitude for a while, but I began to grow cold, and decided to head back, maybe pick up a block of wood on the way. But the ice cracked and I was startled, I never even made it to the other side. I was dropped unceremoniously into the frozen water. The first moment was the most painful, and I could not even scream. I know, I know. Ponds aren’t usually that deep, but I was very short and did not know how to swim. The first few times I bobbed to the surface I simply gasped. But the third time, I managed to shout.

I was pulled from the water by Zirithian and Sister Elmsted. Much to my dismay I started crying. I couldn’t stop myself. Zirithian hauled me inside and I was lectured for straying, and lectured again for weeping. After all, I was going to be in the service of the Raven Queen. I had nothing to fear from death, and that were I to perish I would serve in Letherna. We were not supposed to be afraid. The drow bitch took me aside and told me I’d be laughed out of Letherna and made to stand outside the gates till the end of days.

I felt horrible, and cold, most of all ashamed… But I swore then that I would do better. I remember thinking to myself that one day I would grow up, and do mighty things and no one would ever laugh at me again. I would become a proper Umbral sister, and I would fear nothing in life, for death would be welcomed when it finally came. I would be brave and strong, and a champion for good.

That never quite seems to be the case, does it? Just because we grow up… That does not automatically mean we suddenly know how to take care of everything. I sit here on this cart and I would love nothing more than to be back at the abbey in my beloved library. I have never missed the smell of musty old books and dust as much as I do now. Ahead I can just make out the peak of Thunderspire Mountain, and though we may risk life and limb here, I feel this is only a mere pebble in the dam we must build to hold back the green flood. That is, if we even survive. The woman who trapped me so very long ago… (and managed to do it again!) assured me that if we went, we would perish. A good part of me wants her dead, but a tiny voice wonders if she may very well be right in all of this. With any luck, the Mages of Saruun, the last of the old orders, can shed some light for us.

The Shadow Rift Conflict
Entropicana

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