The party spends a restless night in the ruins of the castle, keeping a tense watch out for more undead. Fortunately, they make it through the night undisturbed, and the large group of soldiers packs up their belongings at first light and prepares to head out. Though some soldiers were lost in the battle, with the addition of Sam’s followers, the party’s group of recruits has actually increased in size on this trip. The party now must decide where it is they’re all headed.
The party and their growing pool of recruits are committed to bringing the Empire of Nerath back to power. However, there is no seat of power to return to. Verind’s Edge, the last bastion of the empire, was wiped out by the Arinfax Colossus and the goblinoids of the Torin Plains. More importantly, political rulers are paranoid of any semblance of the empire sprouting up in their domain. After decades of fighting and bloodshed to earn their independence, the nobles that rule the dotted city-states and regions throughout the northlands have no interest in giving up their newfound authority to a reborn Empire of Nerath. If the party is open about the heir’s heritage he would likely be exiled from anywhere they go, or possibly even assassinated.
The party’s growing pool of recruits is impressive, but it is clearly not a large enough force to let them strike out on their own. So, they decide it would be best to return to Arastur for now and to keep the babe’s, and Queen Larindra’s, identity a secret. Eager to rest in a place of relative safety, the Queen agrees to pretend to be a servant of the party’s named Lori.
Erik’s Fiery Relationships
As the large group makes its way through the deep forests of Quinalyn, headed back to Arastur, Erik falls in step with the Queen for a time. The wizard is surprised he hasn’t had the chance to ask a simple question, yet. “What’s his name?”
Queen Larindra replies, “Marin. The third.” Marin was one of the most famous and renowned emperors in the Nerathi line, and the choice of the name clearly shows that Larindra is dedicated to restoring the greatness of the empire. Erik nods and looks down approvingly at his son.
The wizard then turns his attention back to Queen Larindra. “So, it’s been some time since we… uh… last saw each other. In Verind’s Edge.”
“Yes,” the queen replies curtly. She looks away, seemingly uninterested in the topic Erik has brought up.
Erik is not sure that he has any real feelings for the Queen. He truly only shared her bed because the prophet Missyus told him that doing so would let him learn of his birth parents. Nonetheless, he can’t help but explore the topic. “Do you think about that night still?”
Larindra fixes Erik with a cold stare and icily says, “The past is the past, and I have no intention of revisiting it.”
Erik shrugs, “I understand.”
He puts the issue out of his mind and turns his thoughts to another matter that has been distracting him. Erik was ecstatic to master his latest spell, Wall of Fire, while in the heat of battle last night. The rush he felt in unleashing such awesome magical energies was exceptional. But, it seemed it unlocked something more inside of him than the simple mastery of a new spell. Over the course of the day, Erik experiments with a variety of his spells that draw upon the elemental energy of fire, and finds that he is beginning to master the art of Pyromancy. His fire spells are growing more potent with his increasing arcane skill. Moreover, looking into a small silver pocket mirror, he notices what Aramil glimpsed the night before – his eyebrows appear to be turning red.
The Zaza Receives a Message
After reaching Arastur, the party promptly heads back to their house on Wystra Lane. Hunrit answers the door and looks over the huge pack of recruits with disappointment. “Masters, how is it every time you leave you come back with more people?” The half-orc sighs and says, “I will make arrangements for additional rooms in the city.” The party smiles and heads inside to enjoy the comforts of home.
The Zaza however, feels anything but comfortable. Ever since she entered the city, the paladin has felt a growing restless energy. Now that she has entered her home, she feels an overwhelming compulsion to leave. The Zaza is starting to get used to having her mind intruded upon, and she is certain that the artifact she wields, the Axe of Light, is responsible for the feelings. She promptly informs the rest of the party that she needs to head out into the city and unsheathes her axe.
The rest of the party can’t help but find this behavior a little out of the ordinary, so Aramil asks Palloth to follow The Zaza and keep an eye on her. The half-elf gives Aramil a smile, and stealthily creeps into the street, easily following the paladin in her gleaming full plate armor at a discreet distance. The Zaza ambles aimlessly through the city with her Axe of Light outstretched before her, letting the artifact guide her steps. The passing citizens give the armored, axe-wielder a wide berth, and luckily The Zaza does not run into any city guards while swinging her axe about.
She soon finds herself in the temple district of the city, as a number of stately churches line a quaint wooded lane. She passes several stone buildings of magnificent architecture and approaches a small building that seems to be crafted of living trees. Birds and other wildlife dance about the grounds of the temple, and the paladin immediately recognizes that she is entering a temple of Melora, her chosen deity. She passes under an archway formed from the intertwining branches of living trees and finds herself in a short shadowed hallway under a canopy of leaves.
The Axe of Light continues to guide her as she wanders through the halls of the temple. She finds that the temple is not a fixed construct. Rather, through some kind of awe-inspiring divine magic, the trees that make up the walls of the temple bend and move to reveal passageways and rooms. The paladin follows the pathway that opens up before her, watching with bewilderment as the roots of the trees before her pull out of the ground and shuffle aside, somehow leaving behind perfectly undisturbed earth with a blanket of soft, green grass.
The Zaza eventually finds herself entering a small ‘room’ enclosed on all sides by a wall of living trees. A small pond rests peacefully in the middle of the room. Its undisturbed, silvery waters reflect the surrounding tree tops in a mirror finish. A number of birds chirp in the branches of the trees, and a few squirrels frolic in the soft banks of rich green grass that surround the pond. There is no ceiling to cover the gorgeous scene, and The Zaza looks up to see the shining afternoon sky bathed in golden light as a few lazy clouds drift by.
Palloth follows The Zaza into the temple, and the living trees move and bend about to reveal several hallways to her, but she only finds that they lead to a few small wooded glades where a number of elven and eladrin acolytes offer to speak with her about the glories of Melora and the beauties of the natural world. She finds no sign of The Zaza, nor anyone who has seen a huge, armored dragonborn wandering the halls of the temple. After some time spent searching, the Jewled Cities rogue gives up and returns to the house on Wystra Lane to report what she saw.
Meanwhile, The Zaza kneels on the soft earth and takes in the beauty surrounding her. The feeling of compulsion from her Axe of Light has subsided and she knows that this is where the artifact sought to bring her. The paladin looks up to see a small ball of golden light hovering in the air across from her on the other side of the pond. Its light is brilliant and dazzling, and The Zaza finds herself transfixed by it. As she watches, the ball grows in size and elongates, taking on a roughly human shape. The light is intensely bright, and soon the dragonborn feels tears streaming from her eyes, but she still can’t bring herself to look away. The Zaza sees the pure golden light take on a female form and knows it is her deity, Melora. Afterwards, she would find herself unable to recall any of the features of the figure she saw, only that it was the most beautiful sight she had ever laid eyes on.
The light floats across the pond and approaches The Zaza, bathing the paladin in a feeling of immense awe and inner peace. She notices the Axe of Light is now shining brightly as well, seemingly reflecting Melora’s divine light. The dragonborn trembles as she hears the voice of Melora in her ears.
“Brave huntress, you are truly worthy of this blessed artifact. Know that when the time comes, it will be your light in the blackest darkness. Look for my guide on your quest, for I will be with you.”
The golden light slowly disappears and The Zaza is left alone on the banks of the quiet pond. But she has never felt less alone in her life. The paladin is overwhelmed at the divine experience she has just had. She feels immense fulfillment and inner peace, unlike anything she has ever felt before. The Zaza rests in the wooded glade for several hours, quietly contemplating the moment she shared with her deity.
The Zaza Goes Crazy
Finally, as night begins to fall, The Zaza picks herself up and returns to the house on Wystra Lane. The party is eager to hear what happened to her. The paladin can’t help but feel immense pride at being chosen to meet her deity. She relates her tale, somewhat boastfully, bragging that she got to be in the presence of Melora herself. She emphasizes the enormity of the moment she experienced and the awesomeness of seeing a goddess’s image in real life.
The party looks at her somewhat dubiously. Erik shrugs and says, “Well, I guess that was the best moment of your life, then. It’s all downhill from here.” This draws a few hearty laughs.
Invicto scoffs and voices his disbelief, “I don’t know what you saw, but you didn’t just have afternoon tea with a god.”
The Zaza is appalled that Invicto would accuse her of lying about such a thing. “I swear on my life it’s true! Here, my Axe will back me up.” She unsheathes her Axe of Light and waves it about, commanding it to tell the others that her story is true. Unfortunately, the axe stays silent as the rest of the party backs up a step. They decide it might be best to just let the matter lie.
As the party gathers for dinner, The Zaza seems to still be transfixed on whatever experience she had in the afternoon. The party catches her talking to herself several times, seeming to believe that she is having a conversation with Melora. The group eyes each other with concern, but is confident a good night’s sleep will help. Unfortunately, the next morning at breakfast The Zaza still seems to be muttering to herself about Melora, and at one point asks if Melora is joining them for breakfast. When they tell her no, she seems downtrodden and sad at their answer.
The party can’t help but be reminded of Lock’s description of the ramblings of madmen that the priests of Io record. As Lock put it, the priests of Io believe that “sometimes insanity is caused by a weak mortal mind being overpowered by the awesome might of a divine message.” Perhaps there is some truth to The Zaza’s story after all.
Later that day, Aramil receives word from Lieutenant Bane that he wishes to speak about an urgent matter. Bane, a high-ranking officer in Arastur’s forces, expressed some sympathy for the ideals of peace and order that the Empire of Nerath stood for. Aramil is excited to meet with him again and promptly decides to head down to Bane’s offices. He figures that some fresh air might do The Zaza some good, so he implores her to come along. The paladin looks confused by the request, then asks, “Will we get to meet Melora?”
Aramil responds, “Uh, yes. We’ll go see Melora, too. Right after we talk with Lieutenant Bane.” The Zaza eagerly nods her agreement and excitedly follows Aramil out the door.
After reaching the large city hall complex, they are shown into Bane’s office. Bane greets Aramil warmly with a strong handshake. The eladrin turns to his companion and introduces The Zaza, “This is a trusted companion of mine, The Zaza. She is a sworn enemy of the undead, and has killed countless of them, all in the name of Melora.”
Bane extends his hand to her, “Pleased to meet you.”
The Zaza gives him a wistful look, “She talked to me…”
“Who’s that?” Bane asks.
“Melora… She talked to me.” The Zaza responds.
Bane lowers his hand and looks at The Zaza confusedly. Aramil quickly interjects, “Ah, The Zaza is um… she uh… has been feeling a little light headed today.” He turns to the dragonborn, “Why don’t you wait outside?”
The Zaza shrugs and steps out of the room. Aramil turns to Bane, “She may seem a… little crazy. But, her divine might and combat skills are unmatched. She is devastating against undead creatures.”
The Zaza knocks at the door and calls into the room, “Is Melora in there? I need to see her.”
The eladrin seriously regrets bringing the dragonborn along now. “Excuse me a moment,” he says to Bane. Aramil opens the door a crack and sticks his head out. He whispers forcefully to The Zaza, “The Zaza, Melora wants to meet with you again.” The paladin’s eyes light up. “Yes, you should go back to her temple right away, she’ll meet you there! It may take some time for her to arrive, though. You just wait there for her.” The Zaza excitedly runs off, headed back to the temple of Melora in the city.
Once she’s gone Aramil shuts the door and turns back to Bane, “My apologies. She’s really not the sharpest tool in the shed, but I promise you, I’ve fought with her for a long time now, and her prowess on the battlefield is amazing.”
Bane nods and takes his seat. “Yes. Some of the most skilled soldiers I’ve ever seen couldn’t put two marbles together to rattle around in their head. I know how it is.”
A Call for Help
Once Bane and Aramil are settled, the Lieutenant gets down to business. “I’ve called you here because when we spoke before you offered your help in defending the land. Many years ago, a small community of temples was founded high in the mountains on the Northern Ice Sheet. The place is incredibly secluded, and almost impossible to reach. It was known as a ‘divine sanctuary’ for priests to go and meditate and study – numerous temples were constructed to just about every deity there.
“The only way to really get there is through a teleportation circle, so the community was quite safe on its own. Nonetheless, occasionally some threats would arise to the small town. During the days of the Empire, a few select cities were chosen to be the guardians of this community. Each city constructed the appropriate teleportation circle in order to reach the town if it was ever in need.
“We recently received a… magical ‘distress call’ from the small community, urgently asking for help. Of course, now that the Empire is no more, Lord Prumoral does not feel that Arastur is obligated to protect this town out in the middle of nowhere. With the constant threat of undead attack, he has ordered that no soldiers can be spared to investigate the call for help. However, the religious community was also known as a repository for many rare religious artifacts. I fear that it might have been targeted by the undead forces because that collection of artifacts was a threat to them.
“When we last spoke, you expressed a desire to uphold the ideals of the Empire, to try to carry on its belief in order and peace. So, I wanted to know if you would be willing to help investigate this matter. Since you are not officially employed as soldiers for Arastur, Lord Prumoral can’t be upset if you journey to this small community to lend aid.”
Aramil needs little time to consider the offer. He sees a clear opportunity to help spread peace and order throughout the land, possibly in the name of the Empire of Nerath. He agrees to journey immediately to this small temple community.
Bane then dives into logistics – he has arranged for a court wizard to perform the Linked Teleportation Circle ritual to magically teleport a group to the temple community. Unfortunately, only four people will be able to travel with the ritual. Aramil is disappointed to leave his recruits behind, but is confident that he, Erik, Invicto, and The Zaza will be able to succeed on their mission. Bane also offers a scroll with instructions on how to perform the Linked Teleportation ritual to return home. Aramil accepts it graciously, assuring Bane that he will be travelling with a wizard capable of performing the ritual.
Finally, Aramil asks, “When should we be prepared to leave?”
Bane responds, “As soon as possible. Since the initial call for help we have received no other communication. I already fear the worst.”
A Simple Ritual
Aramil quickly rounds up the other party members and they prepare to leave. After spending another afternoon at the temple of Melora, without a divine meeting, The Zaza actually seems to have gathered her wits about her some. The paladin is finally returning to her old self. The party promptly heads down to the city offices where Bane meets them and escorts them up into one of the many spiraling towers soaring above the building.
Numerous robed students hustle about, and Erik immediately recognizes it as a place of arcane study. Bane brings the party into a large well-lit room with numerous windows looking out over the city. There are several tables covered with various arcane trappings and alchemical concoctions. In the middle of the room, a large elaborate circle is inscribed into the floor. A wizened old mage, along with several younger students, stand around the edges of the circle.
Erik is somewhat familiar with teleportation circles. He knows that the circle can be of any design but must perfectly match the design of the circle it is linked to. Somewhere in the mountains of the Northern Ice Sheet, in the small temple community, this exact same circle is inscribed on a floor there.
The old mage hands Erik a scroll, “The ritual. In case you need it to get back.” Erik nods his appreciation. The mage then motions the party to step into the circle. The wizard and his apprentices begin chanting in unison as the circle comes alive with magical energy.
As the ritual commences, Bane offers to the party, “Good luck.”
Soon the room starts to blur before the party’s eyes. They appear to be in two places at once, seeing the alchemical laboratory around them with the chanting mages, and, at the same time, that sight is overlayed with a cold, dark stone room, seemingly empty and lifeless. The party recalls the experience from when they battled Erik’s adoptive brother, Luwin. After the party defeated his guards, Luwin attempted to escape by performing a magical teleportation ritual. Fortunately, the party piled into the ritual circle with Luwin, teleporting with him and eventually finishing him off.
Looking around, the party notices the cold stone room they are teleporting into truly is lifeless, as they suddenly spy several corpses lying on the ground in the room. The bodies appear to have suffered numerous gruesome, bloody wounds in a battle of some kind. Just as they notice this disturbing sight they feel a painful lurching sensation within their bodies. Back in the alchemical laboratory, they hear the old wizard leading the ritual call out, “There’s something wrong with the circle on the other end! The ritual is breaking up. I can’t hold them together!”
A wave of magical energy crashes over the party and they are blinded by a searing white light that engulfs them. Everyone feels a horrendous wrenching feeling, along with a sensation of being tossed about with no sense of up or down. Then in a flash, the feeling is gone and they return to their senses, each in a seemingly different location.
The Zaza is somewhat pleased that she has reached the appropriate destination. She is in a small, snowy village somewhere in a massive, endless range of snow-capped mountains, and she can tell by the architecture that most of the buildings do seem to be temples to an assortment of deities. Unfortunately, this great view of the village is afforded her because she has appeared about 80 feet in the air above the town. She immediately begins plummeting downward and curls into a protective ball as impact approaches. Fortunately, there are a number of snowdrifts built up in the village, and her fall is broken enough that she barely survives. She groans in pain as she slowly gets to her feet, but is thankful to be alive.
Invicto also appears in the village somewhere, fortunately on ground level. Unfortunately, he feels himself begin to materialize in the same spot where a large stone wall already exists. He feels a terrible ripping sensation inside of him as the magic painfully forces him out of the space that the wall already occupies. Like The Zaza, he comes out bruised and battered but thankfully alive.
Erik appears in the village as well, but finds himself somewhat below ground level. He appears deep under a large snow bank, effectively buried alive. He can barely move his arms and finds himself quickly suffocating under the crushing wait of the snow piled on top of him. Thinking quickly, he uses the little energy he has to utter the incantations to the Fire Sea Travel spell. Flame bursts out in all directions around him, incinerating the snow, and Erik slips through the elemental energy of the spell, teleporting straight up to reappear on top of the snow bank.
Aramil, through a stroke of brilliant luck, actually appears on the teleportation circle that was their original destination. He fears his friends may be lost, as Aramil’s eladrin upbringing taught him about the dangers of teleportation gone awry. He immediately sees the culprit of the problem when he looks down and sees where someone has jaggedly scraped into the stone floor to mark up the teleportation circle’s inscription.
The eladrin chooses not to assume the worst and focuses on his surroundings. He sees a number of corpses strewn about the floor – two humans, a dwarf, and an elf. It appears they died fighting as most of them still hold weapons in their hands. They seem to have suffered a variety of wounds as some of the bodies exhibit what looks like long, wicked claw marks, and others have clearly endured the stroke of a blade. The dwarf’s arm looks to have been cleanly severed off by a blow from an axe.
The rest of the room holds nothing of consequence – just some shelves and cabinets that appear to have been rummaged through. Aramil grabs a cloak off of one of the corpses, cursing himself for not dressing more warmly for the trip. The eladrin then heads out of the room he is in and begins making his way out into the village square. He can see by a number of markings that he has appeared in a temple to Boccob, god of magic.
Waking the Dead
Aramil eventually makes his way out of the temple and is relieved to see The Zaza, Invicto and Erik huddled together in the village nursing their wounds. They share their experiences and the rest of the party gives Aramil a few jealous looks when he relates that he simply appeared in the teleportation circle as planned. He mentions that the circle has been marked up to prevent teleportation rituals from working properly, and the rest of the party is eager to investigate.
They head back into the temple of Boccob, and Erik’s arcane training confirms that the teleportation spell was disrupted due to the scuffing of the inscribed circle. Erik assures the party that the wizard sending them here must have been an incredibly skilled and experienced mage to control the arcane energies in the ritual once it started going awry. They are incredibly lucky to be alive right now. Moreover, without fixing the circle, Erik would have no hope of successfully executing the ritual to get them home. It seems they are stuck here until they find a way to fix the circle.
The party asks Erik if he can simply fix the circle since he has the ritual now, and Erik explains that knowing the ritual is not the same as knowing the specific design for this particular arcane circle. The ritual only activates an existing teleportation circle, it does not give the design for creating or repairing any. To keep it from being easily replicated, this circle’s design is incredibly elaborate and detailed, and Erik does not remember how to possibly recreate the inscription from simply looking at it briefly on the way here.
Looking around the room, Erik recalls the ‘Speak With Dead’ ritual he learned from the Thri-Kreen shaman in the deserts of Herkashor, and figures it might be of good use here. The party debates which of the corpses in the room to interrogate (of the two humans, one dwarf, and one elf). They settle on the elf, and Erik slowly goes through the motions of the spell, mixing together a number of (very expensive) arcane components. As he utters the final phrase, the elf’s corpse opens its eyes and fixes Erik with a blank stare. Erik informs the party they have three questions to ask of the corpse. After some debate they settle on what questions to put to the elf.
Erik speaks, “Do you know how to fix the teleportation circle?”
“No,” a hollow voice responds. The party is quite disappointed at this answer, but press on with their remaining questions.
“What happened here?”
The corpse replies, “We were attacked by Ice Trolls.” The party briefly debates if the Ice Trolls might have been undead, but Erik believes that the corpse would have been compelled to provide that information if it were so.
Finally, Erik asks, “What provoked the attack?”
The corpse seems to think a moment, “All I know is, as the trolls attacked they demanded to know where our ‘treasure trove’ of religious artifacts was.” As the corpse closes its eyes, Erik says in elvish, “rest well”.
The Heat of Battle
The party decides to investigate the town further to see if they can find any survivors or any other clues as to what happened. Heading out of the temple to Boccob, however, they spy movement in the village square. A pack of five hulking Ice Trolls is heading into town, a number of empty sacks slung over their shoulders. The party wastes no time in stepping out into the open to confront them. The lead troll looks down at the pack of adventurers and calls out in a deep, raspy voice, “How did we leave you alive? No matter, we’ll finish the job now.”
Battle is quickly joined, and the party feels well equipped for these opponents. They have heard of the disgusting powers of trolls before. Relentless monstrosities, they quickly regenerate any wounds suffered. Even lopping off a troll’s head will not stop the creature as it will instantly grow another head back. Their only weakness is fire, which is fortunately the party’s strength. As blows are traded, not a single troll ever draws on its regenerative powers as Erik and Invicto hurl seemingly limitless amounts of magical flame onto the creatures from afar. Erik summons a Wall of Fire across the battlefield and conjures a Flaming Sphere as well, making it impossible for any of the creatures to avoid the burning pain of their one weakness.
Unfortunately, the party is caught by surprise by another tactic they were not familiar with. Two of the trolls are Corrupted Ice Trolls, and their stinky, scaly hides ooze a horrendous nauseating stench. The creatures are capable of periodically spreading this black stench out from their bodies in waves. The nauseating smell causes wounds to fester and bleed, making it impossible for the party to draw on any of their healing resources while in the infested area. They discover this a little too late, as The Zaza and Aramil are surrounded by the creatures and unable to recover from the wounds they’ve suffered. Working together, they attempt to break out of the nauseating aura, but are cut down by the trolls’ vicious attacks as they try to withdraw.
This leaves Erik and Invicto to face down three trolls on their own, two towering Ice Trolls wielding massive two-handed axes, and one Corrupted Ice Troll. Luckily the trolls are already severely wounded, and the arcane duo is somehow able to finish the creatures off while barely clinging to life themselves. As they rouse their comrades they thank the gods that they were able to come out of the battle alive. Knowing what the Corrupted Ice Trolls are capable of, they are confident they won’t fall for the same trick next time.