A testament to change (a failure of fate)

Destinies Discovered


TO HILLSIDE FARM


After coming down from Cindrthril to Ridge Peak, the party recuperated while waiting for the ferry. After it arrived, the party and the rescued boy rode it a day to Thomas’ home. Corbin and Drust stayed behind: Corbin to help Thomas with ferry repairs and maintenance, and Drust so that he wouldn’t scare the livestock at Hillside Farm. Everyone else rode north to the farmstead.

After a tearful reunion with his family, Nerick took the party to where he knew his sister Ariella would be: a cave a few hours’ walk north. She spent much of her time there, he explained on the walk. He said everybody there knew she was special, and he said he knew he would have to keep an eye on her and help keep her safe.


A SHINING HOPE


They reached the cave to find her inside, deep in prayer at a plain stone altar. Rousing her, the party gave her the Angel’s Tear—which shone with a blinding light that coalesced into a pendant. This was proof: Ariella was the Destined One.


...AMIDST GATHERING DARKNESS


While the party promised to explain what it all meant as they walked back to Hillside, any chance to explain was cut short as soon as they exited the cave, as Viscoth was waiting for them. He sought to woo Ariella to join him: “I will make you an Empress,” he said, promising riches and power; “these people only want to use you.” As he skillfully wove partial truths of the Titanites’ plans and intentions while promising nobility and untold wealth, the party realized something: Ariella’s choice of destiny had to be made with free will. They called Viscoth on his half-truths and requested time to explain their own offer to her. This seemed to amuse Viscoth, who assented to return on the morrow for her final decision.


A CHOICE


Ariella’s head was swimming; she was near to shock after this whirlwind of major happenings. She walked back to the farmstead alongside Nerick, who worked to calm her. Upon their return, she and Nerick went home while everyone else prepared for a feast to celebrate Nerick’s safe return. During this time the party surveyed the perimeter for threats, and Wraya had a discussion with Ariella’s great-uncle Jake. He was an extremely old man, both wizened and grizzled, who drank directly from a jug of incredibly potent moonshine. He seemed to know something of Ariella’s fate, and said that she had to leave the valley as soon as possible. After their talk he left the village on foot… curiously, humming “Waltzing Matilda” as he walked away.

After the communal dinner, Jason asked Ariella if they could talk. She had begun to process the earlier shocks. He explained what the Angel’s Tear was, and about the Ages of Prosperity... and that she had the power to bring one about, if she chose. “I can’t promise you an empire or riches… and I can’t promise you that there aren’t people in our Society who won’t try to use you, as Viscoth said. I can’t promise you that the road ahead will be safe, or short. But I can promise that we are working to build a better tomorrow. I can sense that you’re a good person. I felt that in the cave. I have faith that you will make the right decision.”

Ariella wanted to pray on the choice, and Jason asked if he could join her. Rounding up the party to keep an eye on them from a discreet distance, the two went to an old willow tree just outside of the farmstead. This tree exuded an aura of peace, and both Ariella and Jason knelt and prayed. Hours passed, until finally at approximately 1am she stood, ready to go home for the night.

Sleeping in shifts in a guest bunkhouse, every member of the party was awake and ready by mid-morning. As Ariella joined them, Jason asked her if the night had helped clarify things, and if she had made her choice. Viscoth took this opportunity to appear: “Yes… Have you chosen?”

“I… don’t want an empire, or money. So yes, I have chosen. I will stay with them.”


DEMONIC RAGE


Viscoth grew visibly enraged, the first display the party had seen of any emotion but “smug superiority.” “So be it!” he snapped, then muttered an incantation and disappeared. The air filled with brimstone as a fiery rift opened in the center of the farmstead, from which emerged a Vrock and two Babau.

The villagers scattered as the party closed in to engage. As the yawning maw of the rift came together once more, the demons summoned more Babau to join them. Jason stepped up to challenge the Vrock, while Henry, Wraya, and the others spread out to keep the Babau away from Nerick and Ariella. As the fight ensued, most of the party found that their weapons, even enchanted as they were, could not harm the Evil creatures. Ariella closed a hand around the Angel’s Tear and prayed, and the party felt themselves infused with holy energy that would give their blows strength to penetrate the demonic defenses. As the summoned Babau began to close on Ariella and Nerick, Timothy tried a desperate move and successfully dispelled the summoning incantation, sending them back to the Abyss. The other fighters sent the remaining demons screaming back home in a more old-fashioned manner as Zaylan crept up behind the Vrock, striking at its vitals while it focused on Jason, who would in turn drive his hammer home when the Vrock’s attention turned away.


A NEW JOURNEY


The urgency of the situation now dawning upon her, Ariella packed her bags and said her farewells to her family. Nerick insisted upon traveling with the party as well.

They rode south, back to Thomas’ ferry, to find that he, Corbin and Drust had been busy as well. The bodies of ogres and goblins were piled high. They had come up the river on a raft, but were stopped in their tracks here. Unfortunately, the ferry had been damaged in the attempt, so Thomas had to finish repairing it. He recommended disembarking in Green Pasture and meeting Rorik Steelsunderer at The Ancient Mug. The party got a good nights’ sleep as Thomas’ father kept watch outside; he set up an emplacement for a crossbow as large as he was, and vowed they would be safe. Since the party had seen this crossbow’s wrist-thick bolts embedded into rock, they could believe they would be – or at least that they would be awakened by a ruckus if anything should happen.

After an uneventful night, they set off for Green Pastures. When they arrived at the end of the day, Corbin stayed on the ferry with Norgrid while everybody else went to the Ancient Mug. They shared the good news with Rorik that the kidnapped boy had been saved, and shared his fine dwarven ale. Nerick tried to keep pace on drinks with Henry, but found himself on his back while the evening was just getting started. Rorik, recognizing their titanite stones, allowed them to stay after close for further discussion. The party was understandably sensitive about the potential for ambushes both in Valor Pass and at Lodrin Village, and sought knowledge of another way out of the valley. Rorik said he’d heard of an old Dwarven tunnel to the north; it passed through the mountains and exited near the Burning Light of Apollo Temple. There, they could cross the old dwarven aqueducts that spanned the Jesibil River. They thanked him for the advice, though Wraya was a bit reluctant to travel back, and lodging for the night.

The next morning, Timothy and Nerick took Norgrid outside of town for an ostensible scouting mission. Once away from the city, Timothy sent Norgrid ahead to scout and exhorted Nerick to kill him: he was a hobgoblin, nothing but a threat. Nerick uncomfortably declined; he was unwilling to shoot him unarmed, and went back to the city. Timothy ended Norgrid’s life with a scorching ray. When he returned to the rest of the party, he said that Norgrid had run as soon as he had the opportunity. ...Not everyone believed him.


THE SILENT TUNNEL


Everyone journeyed north; they arrived at the tunnel at sunset. The entrance was sealed with a heavy stone door. It radiated divine magic, and no amount of force could budge it. Under examination with true seeing, which Gwarryn cast from a scroll, dwarven runes appeared: “Only those blessed in Moridin’s way may enter.” Timothy pulled out a flask of whiskey and his jeweler’s hammer – similar to a smith’s hammer, of course – and sipped from the flask as he tapped the door with the hammer. It slowly rumbled open. The party set up camp just inside the door, which closed back up after a half hour.

After a night of sleep, the party walked down the tunnel. Small sealed stone tombs lined the walls, 3 paces apart; on each was inscribed in dwarven its occupant’s name and a brief history. After a full day of travel they reached a chamber with short stone beds, and passed another night somewhat uncomfortably. Halfway through the next day’s walk, the tombs ended. Around what felt like mid-afternoon, they came upon a body in the open in a niche where a tomb would go. There was archaic dwarven writing etched into the wall: this was an architect or engineer of some sort, and the only other phrase that could be made out was a reference to the “end of an age,” “end of an era,” or perhaps “end of an empire.”

After another half hour, the party came to another magically-sealed door. Timothy’s whiskey and hammer did not open this one, and Gwarryn’s last scroll of true seeing did not reveal any clues on this side of the door. He and Henry quickly traveled back to the body… and found further glowing script here.

According to the runes here, this dwarf was Morin Underthane. He was a king and an architect of renown, and he presided over the downfall of the dwarven kingdom. He saw the withering of his society through corruption and greed; he believed there was some sort of outside influence. During a series of battles, Underthane realized what was going on and attempted to stop their development projects and pull the society back together. (Cindrthril was one of these projects.) When this failed, he exiled himself because he believed it was his own failure, and left to die among the oldest ancestors. He hoped he would be sealed away until a better time.

When Henry lifted the magical pick next to his body, the bones and armor crumbled into dust, and the runes faded away except one word: “Hope.” There was a box next to where the body was, and inside was two rings, a crown, a brooch, and an amulet. After some discussion – would he want them to use these to bring about that better world for which he hoped? – Henry and Gwarryn took both the pick and the box back to the door.

They tried “Hope” as a keyword and the door did indeed open. While the door opened on a dreary evening, they could see a beacon of light blazing in the distance: the Burning Light of Apollo Temple. It was still three days off, so the party camped inside the door for the night. The pick was discovered to be known as the Pick of the Dwarven Kings: in addition to being a mighty weapon, it also recounts – and records – the history of the dwarves. The next morning they set off, and traveled three uneventful days.


THE BURNING LIGHT FLICKERS


They arrived at the stone pipes of the aqueduct; the Pick said this place was a reservoir to turn something into lush farmland. Below was the Sun and Water Shrine. They crossed the aqueduct, and as they approached the temple Wraya was recognized by one of the priests in the Garden. He welcomed her back and invited her and Jason to High Sun services; acolytes would tend to their friends and show them around the Gardens and the Shrine.

Wraya and Jason cleaned up and went to High Sun service. At High Sun, the sunlight came down through the Offering Lens, which focuses the light into a strong beam; in most temples, this is used to burn incense or other offerings upon the altar, but at this Temple a line is formed and everyone bares their chest and stands under the beam, burning their chest. One’s ability to tolerate this pain is considered a measure of their faith. The High Priestess Sol Serine stood underneath the beam for 10 minutes. Most priestesses managed a few minutes; Wraya stood underneath for 9 minutes before voluntarily stepping out. Jason, shocked by this display, managed only 30 seconds. This didn’t seem to him to fit the profile of a god of healing…

Visiting some of her friends around the temple and arranging for horses in the morning, Wraya noticed that all of the Poseidonites were gone… and there were no men anywhere, either. She heard that many people had been sent out on distant missions, just like she had. She didn’t see any other pilgrims, either. All told, there was a lot that just didn’t add up…

After the sun fell, any pretensions at holiness left the temple grounds. Jason and Wraya, sensitive to the divine, noticed immediately that this no longer felt like a temple to Apollo. The party, in discussion in the pilgims’ quarters, decided it was time to collect their horses early and leave. Quickly.

They packed up their gear and exited the pilgrims’ quarters at sundown…
...to find Sol Serine and several women standing outside waiting.


RETRIBUTION


Sol Serine accused the party of disrespecting their hospitality and swore they would face justice – at which point both Wraya and Jason recognized that she was truly a priestess of the Cult of Erinyes. “You could have been one of us!” she screeched at Wraya. “You enjoy the High Sun ceremonies, and delivering swift and deadly justice! But you are too blinded by your light to see!”

The party moved forward to engage the priestesses and fighters, urging Nerick and Ariella to stay back in the pilgrims’ bunkhouse. As they advanced and began to cross weapons with the forward line of fighters, Sol Serine, clad in a thoroughly evil and twisted armor, was receiving buffs from her attendant priestesses. Though slowed slightly by a few hold person spells from the priestesses, the party cut down the front row of cultists: Corbin swept their legs out with his flail, and Henry used the mighty Pick of the Dwarven Kings to end their lives. Through all of this, Wraya’s eyes never left her desired foe.

As the party closed on her, Sol Serine threw some sort of device towards the door of the pilgrims’ quarters and readied herself for battle. Lashing out with her mace and the claws of her armor, her blows strengthened by the spells of her comrades, she was a one-woman wrecking crew who stood toe-to-toe with Wraya, Jason and Henry. She channeled her dark power into mighty crushing strikes, and with every blow she landed, her wounds closed. As they tried to reduce Sol Serine’s reserves, Zaylan, Gwarryn (who had shifted into the form of a bear) and Corbin slew the priestesses that accompanied her, and Timothy moved back to examine the device she had thrown.

As the priestesses fell before Corbin’s flail, Zaylan’s swords, and Gwarryn’s bear hands, Sol Serine was the last of her band remaining… but she was no less formidable for that. Even surrounded, she was barely slowing down. The claws of her armor inflicted some sort of pestilence in Wraya as they ripped into her, which Jason was able to cure with the power of Apollo. Soon they heard a shout from Timothy, who had discovered the purpose of the device that the high priestess had thrown—when it burst open a portal to the demiplane of retribution, and a grasping tentacle had wrapped around Ariella’s waist as she stood in the doorframe!


ONE LIGHT SNUFFED


At this, Corbin and Gwarryn broke from the battle with Sol Serine and began sprinting back towards the pilgrims’ quarters. While Nerrick grabbed her arms and futilely tried to pull her back, Corbin wrapped his arms around her and strained against the pull of the tentacles. With the help of Gwarryn’s shapechange-infused strength, they managed to slow the terrified Ariella’s inexorable draw toward the portal’s maw. While the four struggled against the tentacle, Timothy began to examine the portal to determine how to close it.

Sol Serine continued her grim assault on the warriors around her, but the combined Apollonian healing magic of Wraya and Jason was enough to keep them on their feet. Although Sol Serine’s wounds closed with every strike of her mace, she had exhausted her profane channeling powers and her vile healing could not keep pace with the damage dealt by Henry and the two Apollonians. As her cultists’ enhancement spells fell, so did she.

Wraya could not exult long in her long-awaited victory, however: though the high priestess was dead, the dire threat posed by the portal remained. Timothy continued to study the gate for a way to close it, but the tentacle was slowly and steadily dragging Ariella and the cluster of bodies around her, despite their best efforts. As the others began running towards the portal, Gwarryn was beginning to draw close enough to the gate that the negative energy pouring from it began to singe his fur and blister his back.

Timothy realized that because of the device used… the portal would be impossible to close from this side. Furthermore, no amount of physical strength brought to bear against that tentacle would be enough to keep Ariella away from it. He gathered his courage and leaped through the gate, and as the raw magical force of the plane of retribution wracked him, the last view everyone had was him weaving a magic circle that contained the rift from the other side, cutting it off from the material plane… sealing himself there as well.


RAGE, RAGE…


Corbin was… stunned. He and Timothy had grown close during their nights keeping watch together. He stalked away into the church, desperate for someone on whom to take out his rage.



Outline only beyond this point:

Jason follows Corbin, they end up in the dungeons under the temple, where some of the Apollonians and Poseidonites were kept. Jason recognizes some, and stays to free and try to heal some of them. Corbin leaves and goes to the the chapel, but is barred from it by one of the priestesses who has shut herself inside. He grabs a large brazier and begins carrying it toward the Gardens. Jason hears the commotion and follows, confronting him. They argue: “YOUR WEAK GOD LET THIS HAPPEN!” Jason refuses to allow Corbin to destroy the Gardens.

The next morning, in thanks, the freed priests offered the party the Ritual of the Shrine. At sunrise the first light hit the crystal orb and a beam of light passed across all the party members - though it skipped Corbin - giving them a blessing of light. The Poseidonites conjured horses of water and the Apollonians a chariot of light, offering the group transport to the nearest major city so they could be on their way.

They arrived at the Great Temple of Apollo in Hancher, to find Phalyn waiting for them. He didn’t expect them for another month, and was surprised it was Timothy who had sacrificed himself, he thought it would be Jason or Wraya. (He had a book of prophecy that had foretold the cleansing of the temple and someone’s sacrifice.) He said Viscoth was the last Destined One, who had gone into the East but rumor said had been turned into a vampire. He offered a few options for the party’s next task: find a sword from the heavens, a lost temple that would serve as a seat of power and a holy focus for the hero, or kill a local nobleman (Wladimir deVries) who had been said to be consorting with demons. He said the elves might have legends or records that would help track down the sword or temple.

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Falchen westwind

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