The Blades agreed they had worn out their welcome in Loudwater. It was time to pursue other interests in the region. Griegor head rumors in town of a haunted ruin to the east, a place called Spellgard. It seemed a good enough place for adventure, removed from the regional politics of late, and the Blades made plans to visit, first stopping at Llorkh to check on the town’s new government.
Before leaving Loudwater, the Blades made a closer investigation of one item they found on the dead Pilgrim leader, Kessel. It looked like a small obsidian stone, radiating planar magic. After some research they determined it was a Loadstone of the Planes, able to find the nearest planar portal. This specific one seemed keyed to only one plane: the Shadowfell. Potent magic indeed, and curious that the Pilgrims had such an item. As the Shadow Plane was a deadly place, the Blades kept the stone safe and unused.
As a sparsely attended closed-casket funeral was carried on for the slain Pilgrims, the Blades rode out towards their tower in Llorkh. Travel was peaceful; along the way several caravans passed from Llorkh. Trade had resumed, proof that Llorkh’s iron mines were producing once again. There was no sign of goblin raiders or the other threats that had plagued travel during colder months.
Just outside town they met up with an old friend, the tiefling ranger Yarnon. She had traveled on her own for several weeks, north into the High Forest in search of her origins. Nightmares plagued her at every rest, demons chasing and clawing her, and always ending just as before with her at Hellgate Keep.
She tried to find out the meaning of these dreams, traveling north to do so. As she wandered the forest, skillfully avoiding its many hazards, she felt a pull coming from the forest center. Arriving at the source, she found ancient stone ruins overgrown by the wild. As she began to explore the ruins, a party of elves made their presence known; they had been following her for several days. They warned her to steer clear of the ruins. When asked about Hellgate Keep, the elven guardians laughed and said that place was now a forested crater, ruled over by a treant lord – there was no longer evil there.
With no clear leads she decided to return home to Loudwater. She joined with the Blades once again, glad to have company after weeks alone in the forest. The group continued to Llorkh.
Halfway through their journey, Operious received an urgent sending from his teacher and mentor, Crasous. The old man’s voice whispered in Operious’s ear as magic delivered the message. Whatever was said made Operious turn pale and tell the group it was time to turn around. They had to travel to Yartar as soon as possible.
Crasous found a way to remove the curse, the devil tattooed into Operious’s hand. Crasous warned that failure to remove the beast would cause his old master, Draigdurroch, to come searching for the devil. The old warlock had been freed when the Blades destroyed his icy prison, releasing him from…somewhere. What relationship Draigdurroch had to the trapped devil Zathraxa was unknown and best not asked.
The Blades agreed, abandoning their nearly-complete journey to Llorkh and plans for Spellgard, instead making for Yartar. They planned a route taking them through Loudwater followed by the High Forest. Best to avoid Secomber and its ruler the Lady of Shadows, they reasoned.
As they traveled, the Blades met two plate-clad paladins of Torm: Simon and Jaryn. The two humans hailed from Elturgard, a theocratic nation south of the High Moor. They had seen the dragon head in Loudwater and heard of the Blades’ good deeds. The paladins were on some sort of crusade, seeking wrongs to right, and heard the untamed lands of the Grey Vale held much evil. The Blades found them agreeable enough, extending them an offer to stay at their recently liberated tower in Llorkh. The presence of several paladins of the God of Law could be a stabilizing influence in that town.
Riding swiftly through the High Forest, the Blades noticed they were being followed. Fibbit determined that elves were tracking them, which gave Rolan the idea to parley with the fey. Elven diplomacy won the day – an arrow struck a tree near Rolan, a note attached. It read “Leave this wood untouched and you will not be harmed.” The Blades made haste to leave the forest, their unseen escort always a few steps behind.
As they traveled through the forest, Yarnon again felt the call of the ruins, a strange desire to travel in their direction. She ignored it, making no mention to the Blades.
Arriving in Yartar, the Blades quickly found Crasous’s mage tower – and were greeted by none other than Curuvir, mage of Loudwater. They had not seen him during the ill-fated celebration and it now seemed he had traveled here to be with Crasous. The two mages had once been students of Draigdurroch and remained in touch even now, many years later.
Crasous and Curuvir explained the situation: the tattoo could be removed by a ritual they knew, though it would not be easy. If successful the devil should be trapped in the prison originally intended for it, a magical jewel.
Curuvir, Crasous, Operious and Rolan made preparations for the ritual while the other Blades looked on in suspicion. Something seemed odd here, the mages seemed too eager to help. It seemed wrong to some to not trust in the Church, instead relying on magic. Hadn’t magic caused enough problems already – the tower of Draigdurroch, the Benadar mansion, the failed soul-trap ritual leading to the tattoo, and now this? What if Curuvir and Crasous were secretly in league with Draigdurroch? What if they turned over the trapped devil to their old master?
A pentagram with uncomfortable similarities to a symbol of Asmodeus was drawn at the room’s center. Operious stood within; Rolan, Crasous and Curuvir stood equally spaced around him. The ritual was over quickly, all four arcanists chanting from scrolls penned in red ink. Operious fell asleep immediately as the others waited.
Operious awoke in the circle, no sign of his friends around. Mists drifted around the room and it seemed that people stood at the edge of the room. Two of the faces came into view – it was his mother and father, here in the tower! Before he could call out to them they dissipated into smoke. Others from his past flitted about – memories of friends, allies and even enemies.
Turning about to take this all in, he found himself face-to-face with the barbed devil Zathraxa, very much real. It rushed towards him, claws ready for a killing blow – one that never came, as Zathraxa was held back by the arcane symbol on the floor beneath Operious. Try as he might, no magic of his could harm the devil either. The two were at a standstill.
Zathraxa laughed upon realizing their predicament. The devil began to look around as well, taunting the various memories that floated past in this dreamlike place.
Operious thought of his friend Kriv, wishing the dragonborn were here to smite this monster. So many times had the paladin saved him, taking blows meant for the mage. As he thought of his friend, the face of Kriv appeared from the mists. Clad in armor and seeming even larger than normal, the dragonborn rushed towards Zathraxa, striking a telling blow. Surprised, the devil turned and ripped Kriv to shreds. As the paladin’s head hit the floor Zathraxa said with a sneer, “You call on the zealot to harm me? He worships an uncaring god, a god of war! Strange allies indeed for someone who wishes to do good.”
Back in the real world, Operious’s sleeping form began to bleed. Blood ran from his nose, causing alarm in those waiting. They had no idea what was going on, and started to look towards Crasous and Curuvir for explanation.
Operious felt weakened as his memory of Kriv was torn to shreds. He began to concentrate again, pulling a memory of Griegor into the fight. Griegor had proven a loyal Blade from the day they met in Zelbross, willing to face evil wherever it rose. The warrior charged out of the mists, catching Zathraxa unawares. Recovering from the wound, It turned and easily gutted the man. Entrails fell to the ground as it turned and said, “You trust in this mortal, a Zhentarim agent? You are foolish indeed!”
The bleeding became worse now as Operious’s sleeping form seemed near death. It thrashed about in the pentagram as if in battle. Curuvir warned all present to prepare themselves for battle if the devil became free.
Realizing his predicament, Operious wished that Rolan could be here to heal his wounds. The mage recalled a song Rolan used to hum, as the half elf emerged from the mists. The memory of Rolan began a tune, singing a cadence that brought clarity to Operious’s thoughts. Just as the mage recovered, Zathraxa ripped Rolan to pieces, a cry of ‘not in the face!’ being the last thing from the memory’s lips. Zathraxa laughed as the bard, muttering something about “Luskan scum.”
Searching through his memories, Operious recalled Crasous and Lady Moonfire. Crasous loosed a blast of fire into the devil before meeting a grisly end; Zathraxa said something about him being “A fool to seek his old master.” Operious had never seen Moonfire in battle but predicted she could work some sort of magic. Moonfire too let loose with a blast of shadow before meeting death.
Stronger now, Operious brought forth Yarnon and Fibbit, remembering all the good they had done. Yarnon fired from a safe distance as Fibbit emerged from the mists with a near-fatal backstab. Mortally wounded, the devil got its revenge, slaying the halfling as it gloated about the “Spellscarred thief.”
The memories did what Operious alone could not, slaying the devil within. As Zathraxa fell dead, Operious quickly felt faint. The two were more linked than he thought.
Operious collapsed, dead.
Say Your Prayers
The Blades looked on in shock as Operious ceased his struggles. The body stopped breathing and had no detectable pulse. Accusations flew as the mages were blamed for his death.
Operious awoke on a featureless grey plain. No sun shone overhead, no grass grew below his feet. All around him were other humanoids: there a drow, here an orc. They all seemed to be deeply busy, praying. The drow shouted out to Lloth for deliverance; the orc to Gruumsh. All around, souls prayed for release from this prison. The drow shouted out in ecstasy as its prayer was answered; it faded away to meet its fate. Operious realized where he was: the Fugue Plane, waystation of dead souls on their way to the afterlife. The ritual had failed and now he was truly dead.
Standing next to him was Zathraxa, a smug look on the devil’s face. “To whom will you pray?” it asked. Operious had not been a pious man though he strove to do good. He though back on teachings from earlier in life, to the lessons of Amaunator, God of the Sun. He began to whisper long-forgotten prayers, though they emerged strained and hoarse from his throat.
Zathraxa laughed and offered an alternative. “I know someone you can pray to. He will grant you power, listen to your prayers, save your soul from this place and bring it to His side. Asmodeus awaits your call.”
Operious thought on how odd it was for his dead spirit to not have gone to the Shadowfell first – travel directly to the Fugue was impossible. He must still be dreaming. Confidant in his assessment he ignored temptation, instead concentrating on his past and memories of Amaunator. He began to remember the prayers and recite them, calling on the Keeper of Time to deliver him from this evil. As he faded away, Zathraxa shouted “I am not finished with you yet!”
Operious woke in his body surrounded by concerned friends and allies. Looking down he saw the tattoo was gone. His hand had returned to normal.
Crasous held up a small gem, now glowing with a red light. Zathraxa was trapped within. The ritual was a success after all.
A squabble broke out over who should keep the artifact. Crasous and Curuvir insisted they should keep it safe, as the Blades lived a dangerous life and could lose it easily. Besides, it could only be destroyed on another plane of existence, something beyond all of their ability. They had no means to travel to or even find such a plane…
The Loadstone was retrieved from his safe location. Using it, they could find a portal to another plane, the Shadowfell. There, they could find the means to destroy Zathraxa once and for all. Curuvir told them to find a place hot enough to melt the gem – perhaps an enchanted forge or other similar contraption. It would not be easy.
Using the Loadstone for the first time, the Blades sensed the nearest dormant portal to Shadow. They felt a pull from about 100 miles due east, in the High Forest. Off they went.
Guided by the Loadstone, they quickly found their way outside a set of ruins. Ruins very familiar to Yarnon, the very same ones she had been warned about weeks ago. Had she felt the tug of the Shadowfell?
At the heart of the ruins stood a large building, barely intact. It contained a massive archway that could only be their portal. As they neared the portal, small fey creatures attacked from the forest. Spriggans, nasty little buggers with sufficient magic to make up for their small size. The fey awoke the spirit within a tree and it shambled forth after the Blades. Fireballs and arrows flew, and after a fierce brawl the fey were dead.
Weary and wanting to be prepared for their planar excursion, the Blades made plans to rest for the night beside the dormant portal. Their watch was interrupted within a few hours; elves had arrived, the same elves who had just sent spriggans to remove anyone from the portal’s vicinity. Negotiations went sour and the elves began firing at the intruders.
Desperate to escape the endless arrows, Operious activated the portal using the Loadstone. It filled with shadow and they all leaped inside, closing it behind them. The Sacred Blades had entered the Shadowfell, land of the dead. Their visit had best be quick.
|Sanctuary for the Paladins: 250 (level 6 minor quest)|
|Remove Taint from Operious: 1500 (level 6 major quest)|
|Fey Guardians: 1850 (level 7 encounter)|
|Fled Elven Guardians: n/a|
|Entered the Shadowfell: 250 (level 6 minor quest)|
|3850xp total, 641xp per person|
|Grand Total XP per character: 9571 (10,000 for 7th)|