15 Mirtul, The Year of the Trusted Covenant (1479 DR)
Sore, exhausted and relatively grief stricken the party finds itself knee deep in glowing gore as they survey the aftermath of the battle for the wall. Rejoined by Bohdan, who had fought further along the front, the party witness the last act of the encounter as Mintarn guards let loose the drakes of war upon the plague deformed creatures, now retreating through the rubble to The Chasm beyond.
Congratulated on all sides for their bravery and timely arrival at the breach, both Mintarn and Neverwinterese have nothing but praise for the heroes, if not for each other, as even the uniting force of battle against a common foe does little to ease the tension between the old towners and Neverember’s mercenaries. “What do they care,” says Fenton Wilkes, “it’s not their city, is it?”
Thoughts turn to the appropriate disposal of Lucan’s body, as each member of the party denies knowing him that well really, when a figure appears from nowhere, propelled by grief through the plane of the Feywild, who seems to have something of Lucan’s intense mien. After a brief moment of mourning, he introduces himself as Paelias, an eladrin avenger and brother to the fallen, who commits himself to continue the quest against the defilers of ancient eladrin sites.
Returning to their billet, the party see General Sabine examining her men for evidence of plague wounds, sending the worst affected for treatment at Helm’s Hold, the monastery on the edge of Neverwinter Wood famous throughout Faerun for its research, treatment and tolerance of the plaguechanged and the spellscarred. None of the chosen seem too upset at the break from duty, courtesy of a Silvery.
After a quick ritual burning to return Lucan’s spirit on the winds to Neverwinter Wood, the party retire for a nightcap at the Moonstone Mask to enjoy the last of Neverember’s tab while the landlady coos over Kierke’s overdeveloped swordarm as the story of his specatacuar coup de grace quickly circulates.
And so the first day ends, should all days be so lived. Yet it would seem the adventures continue for the heroes even in the realm of dreams, as each of those exposed to the plaguechanged monstrosities fall victim to unsettling visions.
Rok Alim is dozing beneath a clear blue sky, only to realise he is not looking up at the sky at all, but down, falling down, towards a roiling sea of mad blue fire that pulls and pulls at him until he is consumed by it, unable to breathe, drowning in the insane miasma.
Talak stands in front of a huge audience at spectacular party, the biggest crowd he has ever faced, on the brink of the performance of his career, all the great and the good waiting for him to entrance them – but Talak is silent, lost for words or memory of words. No song comes to his lips and no lute string to his finger. The crowd are first bemused, then unsettled, then angry; a piece of fruit is thrown. But the humiliation is not complete as a human steps from the crowd to take the stage, lute in hand, then launches into an awful populist cover of the Voyage of the Sunseeker, its dreadfully clichéd stanzas of adventures on the Trackless Sea still manage to get the party absolutely rocking. Worst, the bard turns out to be that damned third rate balladeer Brandis Middard, general pia nemesis and sarcy scumbag. Talak, head bowed, slinks from the stage, hastened away by Middard’s triumphant leer.
Malus looks up to find comfort and bliss in a clear night sky lit up by the stars. Never has he seen the constellations so clearly, never has pure and total knowledge seemed so close to comprehension, when, gradually and one by one, the stars disappear. And with the snuffing out of each point of light so Malus’ grasp on the big picture weakens and fails, until knowledge itself becomes but a shadow memory, leaving him only to gaze into a deep black void of less than emptiness.
Mani finds herself in the wood sitting among a circle of elves, fellow spirit guides drawing their life force from the abundant natural energies that surround them. She is accepted and safe as the elven spirit companions weave and spin and dance around their contented masters, deer and panthers and brown furry squirrels, until Mani’s bear spirit raises its head and roars a great bloodcurdling bellow before launching right into one, tearing into the spirits with razor teeth and sharpened claws, ripping and biting and crushing, savaging all before it. Mani is left, bereft and shunned, as the elves turn their back on her, excluding her from the circle, leaving her only to taste their malevolent scorn.
Bodahn can see nothing, he is blind perhaps, or blindfolded, or trapped in a lightless space, unable to move. He is paralysed by bedwetting fear. He can hear, though. A flapping. The sound of great reptilian wings getting louder and louder until he can bear it no longer. Then comes the light, and the sight, the bulk of a great green dragon filling his view. Now he can move, so move he does, filled with rage overflowing, anger taking hold of him, reason deserting him. Murderous, furious, boiling emotion negating all control as he stabs and slashes and cuts while the dragon unlooses scream after scream that echo through time. And there is no comfort this time, no platinum scaly sheen to cool his acid burning mind. It is forever lost.
Paelias gets a good night in, mind.
A hearty breakfast does something to ease the burdened minds of the party, made easier still by a showering of gifts from the grateful. First Talak is approached by the doughty Mintarn lieutenant Borya Vilovic, who tells the tiefling that the lads had been so affected by his performance in the bar the previous night that they’d had a whipround and come up with suitable gift, a traditional charm crafted from flakes of an anchor from a Mintarn ship. Vilovic also offers up the opportunity to join his squad for an afternoon rat hunt, as the Mintarns hope to press the advantage against the Dead Rat Gang, opened up by the foiled ambush of the day before.
The party are summoned to the Hall of Justice, expecting only coin for their endeavours on the wall. On their way Bodahn is gratified to see priests of Torm about the place, and also to identify the beautifully Spartan and unassuming temple to Bahamut on the Avenue of Kings. The heroes arrive at Neverember’s court to interrupt an argument between Soman Galt, General Sabine and Neverember himself, as Galt tears a strip off Sabine for the loss of the drakes, so pointlessly wasted by the men who let them loose from the wall. “500 gp each and they’re set on the plaguechanged? Once they’re retreating? For Moradin’s sake, they only arrived yesterday, they weren’t even properly trained. We’re not made of money, you know. The city can’t stand much more taxation.”“Well, the garrison enjoyed it,” replies Sabine, “and there was sod all else to enjoy on the wall last night.”
The arrival of the heroes halts the argument as Neverember welcomes them. In addition to the payment for their night’s work, he presents them with two longswords forged in Waterdeep for the defenders of that great city, along with his renewed thanks for their presence and their support. He is open with Talak about the challenges he faces in imposing order in the city, and agrees that the Sons of Alagondar are one such problem to overcome – lots of mailed fist in a velvet glove sort of stuff, followed by the heavy is the head that wears the crown speech, or doesn’t actually wear it in his case.
Sabine is happy to encourage the party to join in the rat hunt but it appears the heroes are set on a far more perilous course. Haunted by their dreams, by the horrors of the night before and by simple a desire to play with fire, the heroes decide to investigate the chasm.
“The chasm! Are you mad? That place could swallow an army whole.” Says Sabine
“The chasm! Are you mad? So few return from that place.” Says Galt
“The chasm! Are you mad? When you have only just got here.” Says Neverember
“The chasm! Are you mad?” says pretty much everyone else they come up against.
‘The Rats can wait’, the heroes reply, ‘Anyway, it’s only just over there. Just want to take a look, that’s all.’
- * *
After some light shopping the party find themselves at the lower door of Neverdeath tower, the guard making all sorts of good luck signs with his hands while shaking his head as he opens it to reveal the rubble strewn landscape beyond.
Threading their way through the ruins, the party approach the nearest lip of the great gash that splits the heart of the city like a swordstroke. Waves of dried heat and dust billow up and around them, a penumbra of glowing blue light above. More threatening are the dozens of winged things that hover about the place, neither advancing nor retreating, heads slowly scanning the debris of the ruined quarter of the city. Between the chasm lip and the party, Malus spots a sinkhole that seems to offer an alternative route to their objective. Unfortunately one of the creatures, identified as some form of plaguechanged harpy, spots them and attacks, strafing Malus with its claws before the heroes manage to gain the safety of the opening into the ground.
The opening leads into a tunnel of sorts, obviously opened up by the cataclysm and that indeed seems to lead towards the chasm, the air around them heated and sulphurous. Scratching sounds in the walls and flickers of blue light ahead draw the party on into a large cavern, where they find out what happened to some of the drakes loosed by the guards the night before, although by the look of them they are unlikely to return to Neverember’s service.
Glistening with the flickering azure of spellplague the drakes stand their ground, until one of the party decides to pre-empt any danger by launching an attack.
In minutes the party are engaged in a furious melee – plaguechanged drakes spitting acid and growing blisters of blue fire that burst to leave smears of residuum; swarms of vile blue miniature replicas of the cursed beasts biting and clawing at Bodahn and Rok Alim, and the more straightforward snarl of the guard drakes as they leap at the heroes and bite at their necks with an unfamiliar rage.
Then, as the party fight their way further into the cave, the discovery of a pool of the nightmare stuff and yet another warped drake, larger than the others, looking hungry . . .