A group of adventurers in the world of Caelum; a previously thriving world, a massive portion of which has been made all but unlivable since a former King attempted to make a deal with the God of Death, Orcus, for immortality. This ruined part of the world is now referred to as "Where Angels Fear to Tread".
You come to a city on the threshold of this area on the River Des, called Des Nekketh. While this city and outlying farms had lived in relative peace, attacks had been reported, most recently on the outermost farm on the other side of the Des, a detail of soldiers losing several men. Upon order of the Lord Warren, you were commissioned to investigate. Here you discovered two, presumably priests, with ability to summon Chaos Demons, with signet rings bearing the mark of Gruumsh, God of Chaos.
Arriving back in the city, after selling some wares found at the farm, you stopped at the blacksmith, as well as the Tower serving as home for the local Wizards College. Here, you were given permission by the head of this order to use the extensive library for research of your findings in Where Angels Fear to Tread, and permission to acquire services from other members of the college, including rituals and enchantments.
Receiving permission to use the library, you are directed to several scrolls which reveal two (pertinent) things. One, is that those who worship Gruumsh can learn Supernal Speech which means "Beckon Chaos" in order to summon Chaos Demons, matching what you encountered earlier on the farm. Second, that Caelum fell apart when a High King in ages past made a deal with the Orcus for immortality, sparking the series of events that led to most of the kingdom falling apart. When you come back with your findings, you are told the probable location of this cult is a tower about eight miles to the South-West, the former home of another part of the Mages Order established at the college.
Armed with your new information, you head back to the Lord Warren's passing through the tenement district of the city that sprawls out from the wharfs. Here you see the squalor of Des Nekketh, and it's contrast with most of the city. Upon emerging from this district you once again take the switch back up the plateau's side leading to the Keep, where you see a funeral procession heading into the Catacombs, the body of a soldier bore upon a pallet. You go up the path in the processions wake and arrive at the Keep, greeted by a flustered Lord Warren. After a few curt words, he relents that you were right in attaining more information, yet given the circumstance you must understand his concern. Upon rewarding you with gold as well as an array of magical items, he requests you go out to exterminate this threat, and upon arrival at the tower, five former Des Nekketh soldiers guard the path into the tower, now turned to Wights by some dark magic.
As the skirmish ended, you note that the bodies are punctured in multiple places; a tell-tale sign of a Cadaver Collector's handiwork. As you laid down to rest before heading to face whatever lay in wait in the tower, you are awoken by something odd; one of the bodies is talking. It asks you why you are here, making a grim reference to the decimation of the legion from Des Nekketh, and whatever possession was over the body is broken. In the morning as you approach the tower, you take notice of what the bodies had given sign of; a Cadaver Collector. By careful maneuvering and clever use of the towers architecture, the collector is handily defeated, one of its spikes claimed as a token. As you head through the rotted library, you approach the third floor, knowing that whatever has taken residence in the tower will be waiting for you there.
As you entered the top chamber in the tower, the room was dominated by four stone pillars, in the center of which spun a golem heart, seemingly levitating. As you make a move toward it, the pillars seem to smoke, some dark presence taking them over. They burst, and manifest themselves around the heart, creating a stone golem, twelve feet tall and wielding a great sword. The creature seems able to not only control the stone of the tower, but the possession still evidenced itself, as its sword seemed to emit a necrotic energy. Though it was defeated, one member of the party still suffered grievous wounds, and lies dying. Yet whatever had inhabited the tower now seems gone.
As you leave the tower, bruised and bloodied from the previous encounter, you are greeted by three Stoic figures; Angels bearing the signs of Bahamut, Kord, and Avandra, each holding a weapon that seems to radiate not only power, but a sentience of its own. As darkness once again encroaches, these divine weapons are a means for your deities to act in this world through you, and they have an intelligence of their own. While any other sword, staff, or bow is a tool, these artifacts are the god acting in the world through you. You have been deemed worthy to wield them, and it your charge to earn or betray that trust.
They depart, and you look about the place you stand in; at the foot of this massive expanse of bones, strewn about you are the bodies of the Des Nekketh soldiers, cut down in their prime. After some hours of preparation and what ceremony and prayer can be afforded the dead in such a place, you ignite a funeral pyre. As their bodies are burned, a few hundred yards off spectral figures stand on the edge of the Bleached Hills. As two of you approach you recognize them for phantoms of Crusaders of the Fallen Caelum, and as you draw near, they thank you. When the Fallen King committed his betrayal, Bahamut all but abandoned men, though some fought on, and those that did found undeath to be their fate. Some are bound to the place they died; battlefields or holy sites. Others still wander, seeking to do what they can to abolish the evil they couldn't vanquish in life. Yet as evidenced by the artifacts, and new found favor, you carry, perhaps the gods see some hope in mortal races yet. And as darkness encroaches, this boon to mortal races may not even be enough. Some of Caelum did survive; but fractured into what is now known as the Surviving Kingdoms, the darkness of the Hells that once again masses is posed to wash over all.
As you offer the soldiers what ceremony you are able, you once again turn back to the city. Tired and dirtied from the recent encounter, the Lord Warren and a small detail await outside the gates with horses decked in the same white and silver the knights wear. As you tell him what you've learned, he asks that, for now, you would let the people rejoice, and be merry. As you ride through the city to thunderous cheers, half of the population seems to line the street between the southern gate and the market, the length of it carpeted in white roses. As tables and gazebos are set, barrels of wine and mead begin to be tapped, and music and dancing punctuate the cheers. As you move past the market, the crowd tapers off, finally leaving you and the Lord Warren riding to the keep. At the base of the switchback leading to the top of the plateau, the statue in the square is covered in red roses, and as a sort of centerpiece is a sword and shield, the latter bearing the same insignia as the Lord Warrens breast plate. He tells you each rose signifies one life lost, and the shield marks the death of his son; whose company stayed behind to allow the others retreat.
The rest of the night is spent in merriment; first with the soldiers, followed by drinking and dancing with the townsfolk. Tomorrow morning will be more serious discussions with the Lord Warren and other figures in the city.
The next day, your presence is requested in the Main Chamber, and upon entering you find not the long dining table, but a round table, at which are already sitting The Lord Warren, his wife, the Archmage, and several other dignitaries. As you sit down, discussions begin of how to deal with what you have uncovered. Though at first reluctant, as you reveal the artifacts you have received and that the identity of the Geist at the Bleached Hills was a former Lunarch of Astu Fides, the representative of the theocracy becomes more willing to aid you. However, Des Nekketh, Astu Fides, and Fastigium have no real choice in the matter. While the Dragonborn can be somewhat relied upon to supply some support, which ought be taken cautiously, the Elves as well as the Dwarves will also need to be brought into the fight. With this direction given, you are requested to speak with the current Lunarch of Astu Fides. Additionally, the Archmage has informed you that he and his acolytes may be able to perform a ritual which may give you direction.
After dignitaries have departed, you speak once again with the Warden and his wife as well. They tell you that this morning, they will be pleased to know, preparations have begun. The city has begun looking for recruits for the army, and long abandoned outposts are once again being turned into barracks and defensive positions. Men have been dispatched to the south to have the farmers take all their stores and livestock and relocate inside the city. Provisions for siege are being counted and added to, as defenses are repaired and reoccupied. Yet with regard to your departure, the Warden requests that you take a low key approach. Possibly by a portal at the Wizards Guild, though the catacombs below the keep could be a viable option. This request on your minds, you take your leave.
As you start toward the switchback, you look out over the city. At the base of the plateau sits the square outside the Western Gate, and you see much of the city's guard kneeling before the statue decked in roses, as prayer is offered by a Priestess of Avandra. From the Southern gate, wagons filled with barrels and furniture creak toward the market square, followed closely by livestock herded North of the city. Far off on the Des sits the squat guard tower overlooking the South Western corner of the city and the emptying farms that lie beyond the city walls.
From within the guard tower come several bright, crimson flashes. Slowly, then in quick succession. Your eyes, as well as those of the guards in the square, are immediately drawn. After the flashes cease, something trailing a thin wisp of smoke and a trail of orange sparks soars from the tower, and turns a barns roof into a blanket of fire. More bombs begin to streak over the farms and now the tenement district of the city as well, as those filing into the city from the south devolve into a stampede, and the guards begin a dash for the docks. As the city, and the men at the keep, fall into a scramble the Warden approaches, mounted and with more horses in tow. With a few curt words, you start for the wharves, the warden's mount in the lead.
As you near the burning section of the city, you pass by men with axes, and lines of bucket brigades, all desperately trying to halt the advance of the flames. So close, you can identify the fire bombs as a crude version of Dwarven Fire, a naptha like substance. As you draw near the inferno itself, your skin begins to pull tight to your skull, your cloaks and hair whipping from the suction caused by the flames. The Warden in the lead, you dash down a narrow street, ducking and weaving from the flames, debris, and Dwarven Fire. Some of you are caught by debris and a bomb thrown awry, but you all emerge at the wharves, where the cities walls and a stone building give you succor from the flames, but not the heat.
By overturning two longboats, you manage to cross the Des to the island on which the guard tower is situated, and a cleft of rock defends you from the firebombs. Yet three of what you recognize as barlguras descend upon your group. The Warden in the lead, they are quickly cut down, yet only a narrow path leads to the tower. The Warden trudges the steep grade, his shield licked by caustic flames, though he remains unscathed. Using the fey step as well as magic belonging to the fey, several party members reach the top of the slope, as does our rogue, climbing the steep crags. Once there, several characters begin assaulting the door, the wards of which fail, as our rogue climbs the tower. Once at the top, he lights one of the crude bombs and makes his descent. After about 10 feet of descending, a chemical conflagration engulfs the top of the tower and the caustic flames begin to inch down the sides, the chemicals allowing the fire to adhere to most any surface it would seem
As he descends, the outer door finally fails, and you walk into the tower, its wards once again failing. Upon entering, to your left and right are two spiral staircases, though in front of you is the entrance to a central chamber. Upon the floor are etchings pulsing crimson, and in the center three men in dark, hooded robes, surround a man, one the three holding a knife to his throat. Upon the man's breast plate is the same crest the warden bears.
The Warden hefts his claymore, and with a yell charges forth. Despite efforts to restrain him from such a mad charge, he rushes forth only to come to a staggering halt as he visibly weakens and falls to his knees, eventually collapsing totally. Upon observation, the ritual being performed in the room beyond is revealed by the runs in the floor, which read "Hand of Gruumsh', the right hand of the God of Chaos. Upon completion of the ritual, where noble blood must be spilled and the performers of the ritual are sacrificed, this demon is brought into the world. Working quickly, the wizards work to defeat the ward but to no avail as one more falls. All the while, the chanting has increased in speed, as one of the performers of the ritual pulls the knife, letting the stained blade fall as he backs away. The Wardens son collapses, his throat a ragged tear. As his blood pours out, blood drips from the hoods of the casters as they fall to their knees, their faces hidden in the depths of the robes.
For a moment, the bodies lie on the stones, blood spilling from them, yet with no sign the incantations have worked. Then the runes begin again to glow, growing luminescent in an eerie light spiraling out from the center of the room as the blood fills small channels carved in the floor, eventually reaching a thin trench around the perimeter. There a halo of red light circles the room, as the same chanting is heard faintly in the background. The glow steadily increases until the rooms is bathed in a blinding light. It does not pour forth from the archway, but rather seems almost as a liquid. As the glow once again fades, in the center of the room stands a large form. Human, but... wrong. The... creature is dark in color, wings with a sharply contrasting red membrane emerge from the creatures back. Long arms end in talons, its legs are bent back in an a way reminiscent of an animal. Across it's chest, the beast bears a white scar in the shape of the Wardens family crest. A wide, muscular neck becomes the beasts head, human, yet unmistakably beast like. Bastardized human features dominated by flat, red eyes.
Though it seems physically unimpressive. As it flies clumsily toward you, you fixedly in its gaze, the clerics arrow strikes it and the brilliant radiance that flashes as the arrow contacts the beasts flesh seems to sear it. Yet the creature does not lash out physically. Rather, it seems to emanate a psychic energy. Soon the cleric is held under the creatures sway, and the Dragonborn with Coward's Bane falls to the creatures Crown of Madness, taking a wild swing at the Paladin dealing a grievous blow. Yet despite this psychic domination, a paralyzing attack followed by a charge from the Warlord rallies the party. Even the Dragonborn under the Crown of Madness breaks the creatures domination and lands the killing strike, casting it to the stones upon which its incantations were inscribed.
Ragged cuts leave the beasts torso distended, yet do not bleed. As it lies there, the wings break apart like wood in a searing blaze, cracking, chipping away, and finally crumbling to dust. The body, black as soot, seems to melt. Dark Ichor dripping like thick candle wax, slowly revealing a human form. Crumpled, the Lord Warrens son lies before you trembling violently yet breathing. The Cleric, free of the domination, quickly invokes Avandra's hand to keep this soul from Death's Gate, and the trembling slowly ceases. Unconscious, yet stable.
Leaving the Cleric and a Wizard behind with the nobles, the rest of the party takes inventory of what is in the lower level. Several small rooms branch from this bottom chamber, some containing cots, others containing filthy hay. Yet of interest is a chest of gold, several scrolls including the ritual to summon the Right Hand of Gruumsh. Also four Dwarven Fire bombs and the ingredients to make such weapons. Finally, some of the ichor from the beast was saved in a small glass vial.
As the Warden stirs, he gathers himself to his feet, staring in disbelief at the crumpled man on the floor as he stumbles toward him, speechless. As the Cleric chimes that he is stable, the Warden asks what could have happened. As you relate more information, the conversation with the Warden yields that it is possible a traitor at the Wizards Guild is responsible, as much of their research is focused on the Supernal. Armed with this information, you set out from the island, your hawk taking a note for boats to be sent. Though in the meantime, you manage to find the scrolls do contain the fact that the King who betrayed Caelum did achieve immortality; as a death knight. A mighty warrior in life, bound by eternal service in death.
The Warden and a small detail take his son back to the keep. Now in the burned out portion of the city, you see the havoc wrought by the fires. Nearly a quarter of the city is ash, pools of glass and charred masonry remaining as testimony to the intense heat. As you pass into the market, the entire square is filled with tents tending to the wounded. Men, women, children, young, and old suffering terrible burns, their agony creating a dull, heart wrenching roar as Priestesses of Avandra tend to the wounded. Many of the shops and homes are shuttered as you pass scene after scene of agony.
Soon, you come to the Wizards Guild. Remembering the word that allows entry, you soon find yourself surrounded by locked doors. After investigation on part of the rogue, you take to the staircase, and speaking with the elderly acolyte in the library. After a lengthy back and forth, you relay the information of under what circumstances you found the scroll, to which he stands jaw agape. Either what you faced was not the Right Hand of Gruumsh, or the beast was but a shadow of its former self. Though he does inform you that such a scroll as that with which to summon the Right Hand of Gruumsh may be found in the Head of the Guilds personal study. A man whom you remember on your last visit reading from a scroll in Supernal.
Entering the chamber, a chill runs through you as you notice the similarity between this and the ruined tower in Where Angels Fear to Tread; the stone, the pillars, the vaulted ceiling lost in ink. Yet here there is lighting, carpet, and tapestry. With a keen eye, a wizard immediately notices the symbol of Ioun is altered. Not blatant, but there. To alter a holy symbol is not only to blaspheme, but to remove whatever protection that god might offer. This knowledge in store, you cross the room to find upon the altar an open book in Supernal, with runes marking the far wall, flanking the door. Upon examination of the book, the scrawling, chaotic script tells the commands of Gruumsh, God of Chaos. Reaching for the book, as your hands nearly flit the pages, the runes begin to turn an opaque red hue. The fighter, Coward's Bane at his side, clutches the book and is tossed to the center of the room with a crimson flash of the runes. Upon a successful dispel magic, the runes flake from the stone, and the tome is retrieved. Now all eyes turn to the door, a careful examination of which revealing a Ward of Vampirism.
Leaving Hanabi behind, you explain the situation to the librarian of the order. Suspicious of you at first, your story and sincerity brings a disbelieving man to see with his own eyes. His eyes, too, notice the altered tapestry, as his face slowly takes on grim realization. With a powerful stride, you come to the Ward guarding the Leader's private quarters and study. Elderly, yet with a mind honed with arcane knowledge, with the aid of the two wizards the Ward is broken as you take to the stairs to the topmost chamber. Here, you stop cold, shock followed by purpose overtaking the elderly mans face. In the center of the room the Head of the Order lies convulsing, his head buried in his arms, every muscle in spasms. Around him are crumbled pieces of ritualistic chalks as he convulses in the center of a golden ward. In his final moments in control, evidently he had performed a Ward of Containment. Dashing to the back of the room and pouring over tomes, you find it; Exorcism.
The cleric grasps her pendant for reassurance, and with chalks in one hand and the book in the other, she begins to outline the second stage of the Exorcism; Halt. As the wizards and the elderly librarian offer in aid their own arcane power, it looks up, eyes as dark as ichors. In a snarl of Infernal speech it yells "I will break him!" The first ring of Halt complete, you feel something lash at the ward, yet it holds. So begins the second stage, as runes and incantations strengthen the second layer, upon completion connecting four golden rays to the central ward. Spiderwebs of Ichors that had begun to overtake face and hands halt and begin to retreat, as the creature again spits a curse in supernal.
The final stage, yet the crux of the ritual; Banishment. The first circle drawn, the creature screams in agony, lashing with ferocity at the ward, which contains it if only barely. In a stream of the Hellish Tongue, the creature calls upon Gruumsh, the spiderwebs of Ichor ceasing their retreat on the neck and face. As the second layer of runes are inscribed, the creature seems to be seared by the radiance beginning to fill the room. This strike at the chains that bind it is half-hearted, yet asked for its name it but spits. Runes ever more complex are inscribed as the Paladin readies Bahamut's silver great sword, the blade beginning to glow with an opaque white light. This time, rather than dark ichors a frightened pair of eyes meets you, set in the sunken eyes of a man all but broken. Its hold is weakening. The wizards step to the side as the Paladin approaches the cross that adorns the top of the final circle. Nearly yelling the final words of Banishment, the cleric channels it now through her Pendant, wrapping its chain around the hilt of the silver great sword. Slowly, the silver begins to glow with radiant energy, the two items seeming to create a thunderous crescendo of energy and excitement that only their wielders seem to hear. With one mighty plunge, in the center of the cross the blade buries itself in the stones turning the floor into a network of brilliant light that fills the room. As the runes at the central circle light, a heavy presence seems to lift from the room as the Head of the Mages Order falls chest heaving. The Sword and the Pendant together seem to be in rhythm with new power coursing through their silver.
Faded and scuffed chalk runes cover the room as he falls to the stones, drained. So soon as he is given water and a place to lie, you are only able to exchange a few questions, his answers becoming increasingly more labored. When reading such texts, powerful entities look back through the pages, and whomever changed the banners that keep them from more than looking was possessed of this knowledge. While it is possible a traitor or doppelganger is amongst them, there was one past acolyte who absconded with knowledge of the dark arts. After all too brief a talk the Mage falls into a death-like sleep, such possession sapping his strength.
Distracted though you've been, the Armies of the Nine Hells continue their massing in the south. As Spring fades to Fall, a noticeable chill has taken to the air while across the gently rolling hills of the plains harvest has just begun as sickles are sharpened and wood stored for the winter 'round the bend. As you enter the city you can see that while the charred tenements make a black scar on the town, the sick and dying, the families with neither shelter nor proper food, have begun to give way to tents, temporary houses, and provisions rationed from the Keep Silos. The market square and country to the North are now home to these camps as wagons and workers begin long, sorrowful work in the ruined district. But now your attention must turn elsewhere, for this is but a taste of what may come. So stepping out through the eastern gate with neither pomp nor circumstance, you look to a recently risen sun and plan your direction. Once again chalks and ritual books are used as a sweet music of nature fills your ears, and from all directions in front of you, eight steeds of wispy appearance soon stand before you. Slinging yourselves and your provisions upon your conjured beasts, with weightless, silent hooves the creatures take to the river and as their hooves strike the placid surface, there is not a ripple. Mist upon water, you dash down the Des as to your right the farms soon give way to rolling country side and grasslands, likely horse country, and lo, some of the wild beasts still make their home so close to the heath, and of a notably heartier stock for it. Yet to your right, clinging grass and sparse, sickly trees form a thin border between the river and the heath. For hours the horses, incapable of exhaustion, make steady progress along the river until the high sun glints off the distant white cliffs that are the bulwark of the Aurean Vale.
To your right in the heath are the ruins of what was most likely once a prosperous farming community, three centuries having taken most of the woodwork. Yet among the crumbling field stone and withered timbers spectral figures still move about the town. Of course unnatural you turn to investigate, trotting toward the ruined town. As you come near, you can spot perhaps a dozen or so of the figures standing as stoic guardians. Their garb is that of militia, the likes of which communities would have made when in dire straits; young men of the town with only basic training, their equipment plain leather and unadorned ironworks from the local tanner and smith. As you draw closer and halt to hail one of them, his bow is drawn and trained upon you. He yells, pleading, to not come further for any choice is not his should you cross the border of the haunt. The apparition pleads you save yourselves, for he would beg you not make him take another life. Though unclear on what exactly possess this town and keeps the mists that hang in a perpetual dusk, the falcon soon takes high to the air, and with what attunement elves have to nature by their history, you soon learn that to each of these near two score souls, chains lead to the town plaza, and a tall, cloaked figure; under whose cloak these chains have their nexus.
Tapping knowledge learned long ago, this creature is a banshee. A creature without heart, it binds enthralled souls to where its heart would be with links, and keeps the souls in the same agony that is all this creature knows. This ruined town has become its haunt, and the militia once here are its thralls. As banshees seek misery in their thralls, it is likely that this town met its end at the hands of its sons. Two points connect these thralls, one at the heart of the thrall, the other in the cold black wisps of the banshee, and to break either the chain of where it holds the enthralled soul is to banish the soul to oblivion; a final misery of the banshees enthrallment. Yet harming the banshee will cause the chains to break at this connection, freeing the soul from the domination of this black creature. You make your plan, and with muttered words, the southwest and southeast corners of the town are a commotion with imagined shouts, conjured lights, and tricks of the eye; cantrips of the wizards. As the fighter, paladin, and warlord approach from the south, the souls beg of you that you turn back, but to no avail. Yet as you enter the haunt as though by a snap of the fingers they begin to loose arrows at you, as the thralls begin to draw toward the cacophony in the south. Now the the archer, warlock, and rogue begin to head to the north to the church at the head of the center plaza.
Cantrips continue their cacophony, as the warriors of the party form a small phalanx and arrows begin to here find their mark. As the conjured horses are commanded to charge about the town, it's not long before all the thralls are drawn toward the south with a few remaining about the square. With spells of invisibility cloaking them the small group to the north draws toward the church, and melancholy seems to be in the very air of this place. The rogue takes position at the doors of the lone standing building as the cleric trains her bow. While this is prepared, the paladin pulls away from the hail of arrows and draws to the center of town from the east. Yet though it's flanks are unguarded they are not unwatched. Soon the banshee, despite the invisibility, discovers your presence. Two of the chains that drape the creature take on a life of their own as a piercing screech rends the air. The thralls turn their attention to the center of town and begin their advance back to their thrall master, yet their voices are still theirs and they take on a cheer. Though the chains reach out, one taking the rogue and binding him, body and soul, as a thrall of the banshee. Yet the Paladin, coming in upon one of the spectral steeds, soon charges blade held aloft, and strikes at the heart of the banshee. Another screech rends the air, yet they are followed with a sound of shattering steel and a the haunting sound of bound souls leaving this world. An angel summoned beside her, this angel also lashes out and again more chains shatter. Yet both are lashed with a psychic attack that is paired with the creatures screech. The Cleric also casts a circle of holy light beneath the swirling tatters of the creatures robe, as the wizards come near as well and use an icy grasp to hold the banshee as the air is now nearly ringing with shattering steel, as behind the banshees screams of agony the souls set free bid their last words as they leave this world. The ranks of the thralls are rapidly thinning. But then the banshees turn. Two more chains take upon their own life. One finds the heart of the noble paladin, the other strikes the heart of the cleric, and now the thralls ranks are bolstered for the first time in centuries. Arrows once again twang as the fighter and warlord make their way to the square, the new found thralls also let loose attacks, but perhaps the enthrallment is somewhat weakened in the cleric and paladin, for the attacks seem half-hearted.
Yet more thralls dissipate as more and more blows fall at the nexus of the chains. Though all attacks are met with a psychic lash, soon, one last piercing scream rends the air as the final chains that bind your friends shatter, and as the chains leave their hearts they are visibly shaken.