With the Lady of Shadows defeated, the Blades returned to the thankful people of Secomber. As word of their freedom spread through the streets, citizens emerged from their homes and gathered in small groups to discuss their future.
The half-elven bard Rolan, emerged from the inn to see what the commotion was, only to hear the Sacred Blades had freed the city. With shock he went to speak to his old companions. They had not seen each other since Spellgard, where the ghost had separated them using magical compulsion. Rolan was not sure how he arrived in Secomber. The only clue he had was a scroll case with ancient Netherese writing on the outside. Nothing was within. The other Blades had similar memory loss, though they had partially remembered an encounter in Oreme. Rolan was welcomed him back to the group.
A 24-hour guard was posted at the portal entrance in the castle’s basement while the Blades took a much-needed rest. Hours later the guards reported the portal acting…strangely. A simple brick wall had been visible through the portal, but now several of the bricks in that wall had “floated” away, showing blue sky beyond. Rested and prepared, the Blades decided to enter this portal before its magic infected Secomber. There they may find some clue as to the Lady of Shadow’s alliances, or perhaps a hint as to how Loudwater was involved.
Thinking with Portals
Entering the portal, the Blades found themselves in a tower that floated hundreds of feet above the landscape. An odd magical effect permeated the entire structure. It caused bricks, doors and even entire walls to float mid-air. If a floating brick was picked up, it once again gained a normal weight and could even be thrown. However, it would not land, and only inertia seemed to act on objects pushed away – not gravity.
Below their floating tower was an entire castle and surrounding buildings and walls, all floating at various heights and in different stages of breaking up. The central keep was in the worst condition, barely recognizable as a castle as parts of it floated about. There was no hint of which castle this was, or even where the Blades were. On the ground far below a band of orcs were spotted stalking the ruins.
As they left the portal room and explored, a section of the floor below them separated and floated away, leaving nothing but air below them. The Blades carefully made their way down the tower, running down stairs that came apart as they moved and jumping on platforms that floated in the air. Unless they had a way to fly, there would be no getting back to the portal. As they reached the lower levels of the ruins, Rolan realized the castle itself was built of an odd stone and very old. Kriv thought the trees looked foreign as well; clearly they were far from Secomber.
Clearing the Ruins
On the ground below the Blades saw several armored knights. It was too far to see and they could be Zhents, Netherese or something else. The men saw the Blades making their way down and waiting for them. While the knights waited they did not watch behind, and were attacked by a band of trolls and ogres
The Blades assisted and fought off the trolls, though only one knight survived. He was a paladin of Elturgard, sent here to watch over Darkhold and prevent the forces of both the Zhents and Netherese from bleeding over into their realm. His army was encamped outside the castle and had mostly observed until today. As the knight told it, the Netherese had besieged Darkhold for many days with their mercenary armies. Something odd happened though, wiping out or hiding the Zhentarim defenders and creating this magical low-gravity zone. Since then, the Netherese generals had abandoned their mercenaries, most of which left though some stayed to loot the ruins.
At that point the Elturgard knights decided to act, clearing out the ruins of looters and determining what had happened to cause this. The esteemed paladin, Jaryn, had arrived yesterday as well. He had gone into the central ruins alone to defeat what he called a temple of evil. He had not been seen since.
The Blades had a run-in with Jaryn before, in Elturel. He was certainly a Zhent agent and most likely a Cyric worshiper. If he had gone into the central ruins, the Blades must follow. They departed at once and left the knight to report back to his camp.
Madness of Cyric
As the walked deeper into the remains of Darkhold, the magical effect became stronger and more chaotic. Entire buildings spun in the air like tops, bricks formed odd shapes in the air. At the heart of it all was a temple of Cyric, remaining mostly on the ground though a large portion of Darkhold floated far above it.
The Blades battled several groups of demons on their way to the ruin’s heart. Their source seemed to be clear. Entering the temple at last, they saw a ritual in progress, an Abyssal portal nearly open and Jaryn guarding the proceedings. The three ritual participants stood on separate floating platforms, at various heights. Red mist like fine blood floated from each ritualist to a large pool of blood on a central altar. Before that altar was the nearly-formed portal.
Jaryn attacked at once. As he battled Kriv, something massive emerged from the portal. “Vrok!’ shouted Rolan. The birdlike demon flew out to attack, clawing at anyone in reach. Smaller demons poured out of the Abyssal portal and in the distance, something truly massive was approaching. It had to be stopped at once.
The ritual participants, though old and feeble, seemed immune to harm. Fibbit burst into action, first toppling the altar and disrupting the red mist, then jumping to each platform to slay each Cyricist in turn. At the same time, Kriv dealt a killing blow to the traitorous paladin Jaryn. The vrock proved a far more difficult foe, clawing and flying about. As the last Cyricist died, the portal shuddered and closed. The massive shape behind it was not able to enter this world.
Flames of Chaos
Gravity did not return to Darkhold with the ending of the ritual. Blue flames erupted at random all throughout the keep, springing from nothing. All Blades save Rolan were immolated at once, but instead of burning flesh it seemed to enter their minds. They stood vacant and glassy-eyed while Rolan was left wondering what just happened.
Fibbit, Kriv and Raven found themselves in Oreme. They recognized it instantly, as if they had been there before. They were in the middle of a riot or invasion of some sort; guards ran through the streets, citizens screamed, bodies lay in the road. Several Netherese guards attacked at once, as if the Blades were their targets all along.
As two guard surrounded and stabbed Fibbit, Rolan saw Fibbit’s true body bleed from the nose and eyes. Clearly the chaotic flames were having some lethal effect, though Rolan wasn’t sure if he would catch “fire” while attempting to help. He didnt have time to react as more blue flames burst from the walls, engulfing both him and the vrock.
Rolan found himself in a keep…a familiar one. Their own, the citadel in Llorkh. Before him stood the town elders. A map was spread out before them. In his hand Rolan carried the scroll case from before…or is it after…and the scroll within held plans for war. Troop numbers, mercenaries to hire, supplies needed, everything required to defend Llorkh and other nearby cities.
“Yes sir, we have ordered our militia to occupy and fortify your stronghold as requested. We will be ready for the coming storm. Anything else?” asked an elder. Rolan played along, not sure if this was real or a memory. He knew that his true body was engulfed in spell-flames at this very moment. Yet he had no memory of this event, only knowing the empty scroll case. Had the lady of Spellgard tasked him with negotiating defenses for the Grey Vale region? Why?
Before he could make sense of it all, awareness shifted back to his body.
Thus Ends Darkhold
Fibbit pulled the bard away from the false flames. All four Blades were now free of it, though the Vrock still burned. Its eyes were vacant now, and perhaps it was engulfed in a demon’s nightmare full of puppy dogs and sunshine. The Blades didnt wait to find out.
Spell-fire consumed nearly the entire ruins now. The bulk of the castle floating far above them shook violently and parts fell to the ground. Gravity made a dramatic return.
The Blades fled as quickly as possible. Darkhold crashed to earth, slamming the ground and scattering Spellplagued debris everywhere.
They were too late to escape. Rubble buried the Blades as they fell unconscious.