((The following texts are copied from the Peltarch Defenders and ODS files, all revolving around the Mor'Salen plot. Now that it's concluded, I thought it might be nice for everyone to get to partake in the road that lead to the siege, as well as the story of what happened within the Nexus itself. I haven't trimmed or altered anything, simply arranged it after date of publishing. This is no bards tale, but I hope you all enjoy anyway!))
Jul 23 2015:
"Garagossans: Defilers, Prophesy, Threat
I have made a request for men to be stationed upon the outer walls as the threat of Garagossan assaults has now crossed into the City's territory. The Guard alerted us to an injured woman dressed in red robes, she had obviously been injured. She informed us that she and her companions had been attacked whilst praying at the wayshrine dedicated to Tempus along the main road by Garagossan soldiers. Not the first assault upon the shrine by followers of the Lord of War, The Reaver.
A full troop of Divine Shield ordersmen along with myself and Anna Blake of the Archangels rode out to meet the enemy. They were informed of their transgressions and unsurprisingly showed neither remorse nor any intent of quitting without a fight. Therefor all but one was dispatched in combat. The one survivor is being held in the city cells, awaiting formal charges and interrogation no doubt.
The priestesses we rescued/assisted all shared a prophetic dream that I had originally passed off as being stress related, one that Anna has also failed to report on I should add. Regardless, the prophetic nature of the dream is that we must hinder and halt the Garagossans in their attempts to seek and defile the Red Knight's marker within the great forest. A place which I and several of my companions that night know well enough as the exact spot where Sergeant Shallyah [a long winding doodle, a strike-out, and a scribble mark a spot where several words have been attempted and passed over] … disappeared.
As stated, Anna Blake of the Archangels may have information. Also there are Legionnaires who may know of Garagossan troop movements according to their man Akseli.
Cerulean Third Star - Walter B. Feebleheart"
Aug 02 2015:
"Walter and Archangel Anna recruited a group of us to journey to Mintas Rehlgor to protect the Shrine to the Red Knight established in the place where Shallyah fell. There were eight of us in the party: (Walter, Anna, Aelthas, Nica, Artemis, the paladin Charles, Far Scout Vick, and I.) Walter urged us to move swiftly because he had been warned that Gargossan blood warriors were searching for the Red Knight's Shrine so they could destroy it.
We began encountering Blood Warriors before we even entered Mintas Forest. The warriors themselves were no match for our strong party, but they were accompanied by Blood Priests and a few of the Reaver's Favored, who summoned elementals and cast mighty spells at us (mostly Flame Strike and Hammer of the Gods). We defeated them all, as well as the dire animals, and arrived at the gates of Mintas Rhelgor. There were found the ground covered with dead orcs, many of them demonic in nature. Apparently they had been battling the Gargossans for control of the ruins.
We fought and killed all the Gargossans we found, both in front of the old temple and in the large tower. One chieftain there had a key that we needed to enter the temple. It was protected by magical wards, but once Artemis carried the key, the wards were dropped and we could enter.
In the lower level, we found several more Gargossans in battle with Red Knight priests trying to protect the Shrine. We killed all but one Favored of the Reaver, who held the last priestess hostage and was trying to place a corrupted stone on the altar to break it. But Shallyah herself appeared behind him and slew him with her axe. She then took the corrupted stone and thanked us all for coming.
Shallyah warned us that Garagos' goal is to eliminate all other dieties of war so that he will be the only one. Darius has been brought to Narfell as an Avatar of War to help him. There undoubtedly would be other attempts to destroy the Red Knight's alter, and so she and some Red Knight champions would be called there to defend it. But she could not leave the shrine, so she needed us to take on a dangerous task.
The High Reaver, Commander Lana'thel Bloodletter, has obtained a powerful artifact called The Mor'Salen. Shallyah did not know how it works, but believed that it was powered by death, the more deaths, the stronger it became. This is why the Blood Warriors are so intent on slaying everything and everyone. The Mor'Salen is not complete, however. Three shards from it were scattered by the gods, one in Narfell and the other two in unknown Celestial planes.
Shallyah charged us to find the Mor'Salen and take it from the High Reaver. Once we had it, the Red Knight would tell her what to do with it. She warned, however, that this artifact and the shards were dangerous to hold because they would corrupt whoever held them.
Cerulean Second Star"
Sep 05 2015:
"Garagossans: Defilers, Prophesy, Threat II
After some time of inactivity it appears that the Garagossan threat has once again raised it's ugly head out of obscurity. Within the Western woods, not far from the city. He wished to speak with us - though I'm sure it was an attempt to goad us - he asked us to tell him where other Red Knight shrines were located, besides the one in the old ruins far to the East, in the ruins within the Mintas forest. He was denied that information and so attacked, and was slain for his troubles.
It occurs to me that the Garagossan threat is too weak to reattempt an attack on the Mintas shrine, especially with it so guarded these days. I fear that their seeking out other shrines may weaken the defenses of that shrine and that in destroying all other shrines in the region they will sufficiently weaken that last one, special to me personally, enough to attack it successfully.
I would like to propose a journey to the other shrine, or request a two-way teleportation spell that would allow me to discuss our next strategy with the guardian there - who is a hero of the Red Knight and may offer us some valuable direction.
Cerulean Third Star - Walter B. Feebleheart"
Sep 07 2015:
"Garagossans: Defilers, Prophesy, Threat III
It is as I had feared, the Garagossan threat has risen again, and stronger than before. They have within their possession it seems one of the three shards of Mor'Salen and their drive to recover more pieces of the artifact is palpable. We were right to make our attempt to return to the Red Knight's shrine in Mintas forest's ruins. I believe our timing in doing so was quite ideal as the Garagossan numbers did not appear to be at their fullest - not that they fought any less hard.
The information we gained is that our task is now two-fold. First, we must seek out and secure a second shrine of The Red Knight, I have been informed that to find it we must work with the Order of The Divine Shield. It is my intention to split our forces down the middle and have the Order take up this task if they are agreeable.
Second, we must seek out and secure at least one piece of the Mor'Salen. Of three shards, we know of two that are within our reach. One is currently in enemy hands - and they must not MUST not have the other. The shards are direly malevolent and will corrupt even the purest heart who is charged with carrying it. I have a number of ideas on how to nullify this effect entirely, or at least dampen it. Though I would prefer to speak with my superiors directly as the words I fear are not for these pages, as they could well be used to discredit me for all my good intentions.
Fortune appears to be with us, the Shrine in the Mintas ruins is incredibly well fortified and I suspect we need not worry for its continued safety so long as we find and defend the second shrine. A matter of great importance which I cannot stress enough! Another fortunate turn is that we have apparently caught them in the act early on, and perhaps we are afforded some time to consider our next coarse. In this time I expect to speak with Sir Shannon of the Order of The Divine Shield and with my own superiors to discuss what must be done next.
In the mean time, if I am not being bold in my position, I would like to request the assistance of our Far Scouts to keep us notified of enemy movements. Those who are not currently engaged with pressing city matters at least.
Cerulean Third Star - Walter B. Feebleheart"
Sep 09 2015:
"Garagossan Threat: Preparation I
First experiment: Containment.
It appears to me that we will require some form of containment for any shards that we acquire. I have in mind several ideas, some of which totter upon the edge of morality but if the cost of one's good name is the price to pay for the safety of the city (if not all of Narfell) then I can see no error in the attempt.
For my first experiment I will require the intact remains of one of those 'Magic Eater' creatures from the Underdark. That means I cannot use the remains of one that has been smashed, shattered, broken or - by way of its own design - exploded. Perhaps a team of archers or a skilled sword arm can assist without the use of magical means. Bring the remains to me, here, at HQ for study and await further instruction.
Cerulean Third Star - Walter B. Feebleheart"
Sep 09 2015:
"Garagossan Threat: Preparation II
Shallyah had told us to contact the Order of The Divine shield to defend a secondary shrine of The Red Knight, Archangel Anna Blake and I managed to secure their assistance in doing so. Hopefully we've also secured the aid of at least one knight from their order as we prepare for our assaults.
We have a time-frame of three tendays to prepare for our first assault against the Garagossan threat. We will be attacking their southernmost outpost deep within the Rawlinswood to cripple what we believe is a rift between planes that the enemy is using to seek out the shard of Mor'Salen that has not yet been found.
We will be seeking a group of eight to join us in our sudden strike on their stronghold. Any who wish to be a part of the assault should volunteer to me directly and in person for more details.
Cerulean Third Star - Walter B. Feebleheart"
Sep 22 2015:
"Walter, Jonni, Nica, Artemis and Shannon recently took action against the Garagossans, successfully launching a surprise attack on a poorly defended area and closing a rift location from which Garagossans were searching for one of the Mor'Salen's shards. I'm expecting one of my Ceruleans to write a full report, but for now, your next step is to meet with Shallyah once more at the Red Knight's warcamp.
Oct 03 2015:
"Nica informs me that an important piece of information has been intercepted by the timely intervention of Leena, as she stumbled upon two agents of the Red Knight and one Garagossan fighting just outside Jiyyd.
The Garagossan took both Red Knight faithfuls out before she could aid, though was grievously wounded doing so. Leena unleashed magic and cold steel to finish him off, finding a magically sealed envelope in his pocket.
The message inside comes directly from their commander Lana'thal, and suggests in no uncertain terms that the Garagossans have discovered the whereabouts of another Shard, and will be moving towards the nearest rift where they can access it with full force.
Nica and Leena managed to forward this information to Shallyah already, and I expect we must take action soon. Gather those allies you deem trustworthy and able enough in the meanwhile. Should Walter be absent, Jonni will take the lead on this one.
Oct 06 2015:
A letter is delivered to the Order of the Divine Shield by Nica's own hand:
"To the Order of the Divine Shield,
As Sir Shannon has already been made aware of, a dire threat has emerged with the blood-crazed Garagossans who currently plague Narfell. While these followers of Garagos are strong and relentless enough by themselves to pose a threat, the real danger is the item in their high commander's possession - an ancient artifact known as the Mor'Salen.
Intelligence gleaned through Legend Lore and through the Red Knight's faithfuls based in Mintas Rhelgor suggests the Mor'Salen is a scepter-like object, onto which three separate shards can be fitted to power it. The Garagossan leader, Lana'thal Bloodletter, currently has the main artifact and one of the shards in her possession, as well as knowledge of the whereabouts of a second shard. The third resides on the prime, somewhere in Narfell.
The Mor'Salen and all of its shards are a terrible and powerful thing, a potential doomsday device. It feeds on blood and death, and when fully charged, it can unleash devestating destruction. To make matters worse, each piece of the Mor'Salen has a strongly corruptive influence, the like of which not even the purest of souls can ward themselves from.
Our objective, as the situation stands now, is the following - to strike against select Garagossan camps in the region, in particular those that hold an altar. Weakening Garagos sway over the realm should aid in our fight to come - and on that note, make certain that the Red Knight's altar in your own premises is well guarded. Don't think they're not crazy enough to try something right on your own doorstep, because they are.
Secondly, we know something the Garagossans don't, at least not yet. Red Knight intelligence suggests the third shard has been found by someone in Narfell, though who is yet unclear. The corruptive influence of the shard itself would make this person prone to excessive bloodlust and violence, so we are on the lookout for anyone, monster or person, who may be stirring out of the ordinary trouble out there. Be very discreet about divulging this information though - the Garagossans appear to be focusing most of their efforts on storming another realm for the second shard, and not yet searching for the third. We might be able to find it before they do.
Both the followers of the Red Knight - lead by Shallyah herself who has been given the grace to return for this particular mission - and the followers of Garagos, have set up war camp in Mintas Rhelgor. The Garagossans have fortified themselves in the main building, and we have been rather strongly dissuaded from attempting to strike at them there. The Red Knight's base is situated at the bottom level of the temple where the shrine stands, erected after Shallyah's fight with the massive demon. Anyone not of black heart may seek her out there for council, though she is unable to leave herself.
I'm currently looking to further our list of allies in the fights to come and can think of few more suitable to the task than the Knights of the Order. Any aid you can provide would be welcomed.
Oct 12 2015:
"The situation is more grim than we feared.
A small group consisting of myself, Walter, Leena, Theaon Thorn and Frances Darkhaven infiltrated a Garagossan base north of Peltarch, posing as acolytes. Our cover story seemed to hold water at first, though we still had to go through a test in order to proceed. As we stood before their recruitment officer, I caught the words 'conversion chambers' from another. I wonder if this is a ritual tied to the empowerment of their warriors? I think we've all felt it, that sense of a dark power fuelling their side on, making them stronger than they ought to be.
After passing the test (naturally failing it meant death), those of us that are human were then allowed entrance into their main hall, where their commander Lana'thal Bloodletter was about to give a 'rousing' speech.
I am still chilled to the bone.
Their numbers alone are enough for concern - in that one base, which is not even their largest one, there were easily more than 150 heavily armed warriors and priests. Walter's estimation is closer to 175, of which at least 50 were clergy. To put things in perspective, three or four of theirs at once is plenty enough to have posed a challenge in our previous encounters.
In the middle of the room, a giant waraxe dripping blood on his shoulder, stood the man they call Darius, said to be an avatar of War. He was frightening to behold, but it's their commander's words that really scared me.
She said that with the second shard of of the 'Blessed Artifact', which the Reaver has put into her hands, an assault on Peltarch is but a few months away. Once the Artifact is ready, they'll 'break the so-called Jewel' and claim it for their own. This includes the destruction of the Red Knight's altar, within the Temple of the Triad.
And it's no idle threat, no empty words just to give the soldiers something to cheer about. They're really not afraid of anything at this point, believing there is no one and nothing that can stop them. With the Mor'Salen, with Darius risen as avatar of War, with the Reaver's blessings empowering their warriors, the city and then the world will be conquered. The ultimate goal appears to be for Garagos to usurp Tempus' domain of war.
As you know, Shallyah has played her hand cautiously so far, avoiding open war. We've worked small, covert operations, strategically hitting their weak points, but this new information will change matters. We're to meet with her soon and discuss strategy for what's to come.
Our cover was blown as we tried to make a quiet exit. I was recognized and we had to fight our way out, only just managing to shake our persuers off in the complex tunnel system leading out of the base. Clearly they're keeping a close eye on any allies of the opposing side. While we have lost any element of surprise this information gave us, I believe their plans will not change. Peltarch will give them the most casualties, the most blood for the Mor'Salen, as well as the opportunity to weaken the Red Knight's powers in the region.
Oct 14 2015:
"Garagossan Threat: Preparation III
It has now come to a point where the Garagossans may come at any point to our city. The guard has been doubled, we have soldiers moving throughout the city more and more. But I am deeply troubled with the thought that this course of action is simply playing into the hands of our enemy. They 'want' us to fight them openly, they 'need' our soldiers - and theirs - to sacrifice themselves at our walls. If not a single Garagossan boot breaches our walls and all their army lies dead in the field before ever reaching us, do they not still win? Consider that this eventuality will also charge their "super-weapon" and invite total destruction to the city regardless.
I wonder if it might be best if I have a conversation with Lycka soon. I think a different approach may be less damning to the city and to all who live here...
Cerulean Third Star - Walter B. Feebleheart"
Oct 20 2015:
"Garagossan Threat: Update
We've managed to avert total catastrophe, for now. Jonni, or even Anna Blake should make a point to come and have a conversation with me with all due haste. At present it has been suggested that the enemy is not in fact in control of multiple Mor'Salen shards, but that the one they do possess still has incredible destructive power.
It wouldn't be a good idea for me to say too much about all of it right now. I can only say that we are in a better place than we were a few days ago.
Cerulean Third Star - Walter B. Feebleheart"
Oct 29 2015:
We've had our first real step forwards, finally. While the situation remains grim and the odds stacked against us, we recently managed to find one of the Mor'Salen's shards (the one known as Void) and bring it to Mintas Rhelgor where it was placed upon the Red Knight's altar and through the godess' hands, taken away from this plane.
This still leaves two shards and the main artifact to deal with, though Red Knight intelligence tells us the second shard is in fact not yet claimed by our opponents. They are waging a bloody war for it, but have as of yet not been successful.
There's more, though. Shallyah and her intelligence officers have long suspected someone or something else behind the Garagossans, guiding their hand, feeding them information they could scarcely get on their own. This someone has now been identified as one of the demon princes of the Abyss, though exactly which one, I think remains unknown.
This information was strongly verified when we encountered what looked like Shallyah herself and a pair of Red Knight soldiers, just as we neared the ruins of Mintas Rhelgor. Shallyah, the real one, cannot leave the temple where she left her mortal life, and as the thing wearing her face asked at once for the shard, warning bells resounded in my head.
Akseli yelled to run, while the demons revealed their true form - a Glabrezu and Vrocks, summoning Succubi to their aid. Outside the main temple in Mintas, thirty or more Garagossans stood on high alert, but we managed to run past them all and through to the Red Knight's encampment.
It seems the Garagossans holy war is in fact manipulated by these demons, a fact that would severely shake their zeal if only they would believe it. But that would take irrefutable proof, the like of which we don't yet possess.
Meanwhile, every death in this conflict fuels the Mor'Salen.
I'm troubled, but there's also hope. With the demonic involvement being clearer now, we can perhaps gain additional allies. And I have a feeling we're not so alone. As we neared the Long Road on our perilous journey with the shard, a vision rose before our eyes. Garagossan swords poised to strike our flesh were suddenly not there anymore, for another had born the pain for us. Ilmater gave us his blessing, granting a moment of much needed peace of mind for me who carried the shard.
One step forwards, but a lot of risk and work remains. Also questions and concerns over intelligence, as the demons knew what we carried, despite that knowledge being kept very close to our chests until we departed for Mintas.
Beware of manipulation, ruses and deception - with demonic involvement comes a different type of game to consider, whereas the Garagossans have been anything but subtle. Keep your wits about you and discuss nothing of a sensitive nature to this case when not in places warded from spying.
Nov 09 2015:
Nica returns to the temple of the Triad, again spending some time in earnest prayer at the Painbearer's altar before seeking his servant out for a quiet word upstairs:
"At last, the good news are starting to outweigh the bad. Though the main threat remains, as potentially devestating as reported previously, we have now taken yet another shard - Destruction - out of the equation.
The Garagossans still have the Mor'Salen artifact itself and one of its shards, which is enough to cause considerable damage. Shallyah estimates that shard ought to be as much as 70 % charged by now, as the heavy losses the Garagossans took in attempting to storm Bahamut's realm worked in the sense of adding to the existing shard's power.
Still, Red Knight intelligence suggests this suicidal campaign has decimated their forces to half of the strength of before, and that they have been forced into retreat for the time being. Their main army is licking their wounds in Mintas Rhelgor, while the remainder are protecting the Reaver's shrines within Narfell.
Destruction, for all that the dragonic might proved overwhelming to the Garagossans attempt of seizing it by force, was still taken, through deception and betrayal by the dragons own ranks. Vilarah'xiltria'nosima, once an honourable silver dragon, was revealed as the traitor, corrupted gods only know how far back.
Proud Bahamut, who initially rejected the Red Knight's offer of cooperation in the matter of the shard, has come around after the theft. It was his agents who revealed not only the shard's wrongful apprehension, but the identity and location of the thief. Moreover, some of Bahamut's strongest warriors have been promised in aid, should open war break out. And the blessed Lady Daisy herself has made a similar vow, adding celestial power to our growing list of allies.
A location device was given to Walter before our party set out; a small magical stone which pointed the way to our corrupted foe. The Garagossans were yet unaware of the shard being claimed, though Captain Varus strongly suspected that the plan was for them to find it, nudged and prodded in the right direction by the demonic forces guiding their hands.
We followed the stony beacon below ground, into the Underdark and roughly eastwards. A short distance into the antmen's territory, we came upon some dwarves barring our path, gruffly denying us passage as they claimed to be prospecting and didn't want any long-leggers stealing their ore. They looked just like proper dwarves, warriors of Moradin in Aura Runedar far above, but something didn't add up. Artemis and Akseli's magical probings soon revealed the ruse - they were demons, Hezrou and Vrocks to be specific.
We called their bluff and fought our way through to a passageway, leading deep within the earth. Stony hills and plateaus rose around narrow canyons, the advantage of high ground claimed by numerous Succubi archers while Vrocks and their ilk tore into us below.
Finding shelter from the arrows proved difficult, the sheer cliffsides being too steep to climb without finding a way up. We were at a distinct strategic disadvantage from the start, and almost lost several in the party during the first assault.
Slugging our way through, we eventually found paths leading up to higher ground, where the fighting was a little more even and the hail of arrows could be more swiftly disrupted. Eventually, our path was blocked again, not by stone but by a glowing green wall of magic, seemingly inpenetrable. But in the distance, on a high plateau, a green light shone in the darkness.
I reached it first, and doubled back at once to warn those behind me - the hill was occupied by demons, lead by a particularily powerful looking succubi. We stormed the hill together, hitting them hard and fast, though the succubi proved troublesome. But try as she might, she could not charm a single one of those she fought up close and ended up with a broken nose to dilute her dubious allure further.
A round shield, or rather a hovering disc, dropped to the stony ground as the succubi fell. When Walter picked it up, the green lights faded - the item was a key of passage, though it also fit on his arm in a protective manner.
We continued on, finding fierce resistance on the next hill crest, a beefy demon with a great many succubi sidekicks, all of which took an instant liking to Akseli. He held his ground beside me, then life faded from his eyes, sudden and abrupt.
All we could do was grit our teeth and continue the fight, a dire wildcat Leena taking point beside me and eventually grinding the resistance down. We claimed another key of sorts, this one in the form of a cloak, from Mister Beefcake demon.
But afterwards, a stillness settled on the hill. While a distraught Walter kneeled before Akseli's slumped form, a kindly old man came walking up towards us. He smiled as though in recognition, though spoke not a word as he approached Akseli. The man seemed to pass through him, restoring the life force drained but withering himself, so that when Akseli stirred and came to, the man had vanished completely.
I can't tell you what that meant to our efforts or our morale... really, any words I utter will be too small and too feeble, instead I'll just offer my sincere and heartfelt prayers to Ilmater. Akseli was sorely needed, we could not have managed what was coming without him, and the miracle of his return breathed fresh hope into all our hearts, I dare say!
We passed a red barrier, parting at the presence of the cloak on Sheserai's shoulders, reaching a courtyard of sorts. There, a huge and hulking figure awaited, a guardian of the gateway, its dark and leathery hide rippling with muscle. With a roar, it denied us entry and the fight was on.
More demons joined the fray, succubi and Vrocks, but my focus was on the big guy, Akseli and Walter flanking. It's all a blur, I tried to get the demon's full attention, but it shrewdly saw weak spots elsewhere and exploited them to the fullest. Shouldering past us to take a whack at Sheserai, swinging at Leena, hitting an already bleeding Walter with a deadly pummelling fist.
He dropped like a bag of flour, right beside me. I didn't even reach for a balm, I know that type of punch. Time for teeth-gritting, knee-kicking, jaw-breaking efforts... between arrows and spells flying, between Akseli's shield and my fists, the giant demon fell with a thunderous rumble. A pair of intricate wristguards fell off its muscular arms, our key to the next seal.
The courtyard proved a defensible spot and finally, we had the moment of respite so sorely needed to raise Walter to his feet and push on to whatever lay ahead.
Through the gates we marched, aglow with fresh spells, into what seemed much like Hell, bubbling lava spreading a haze of sulphurous gas into the air, ruddied by the glow of molten rock. A long and narrow bridge spanned the red sea, two hulking figures just about visible at the far end - a pair of Hezrou.
Akseli and I lead the charge, running as fast as we could to the other side. The Hezrou blinded me, magic sizzled and sparked in the air and I could suddenly feel my protections being stripped away. Once my vision cleared, I saw the cause - a giant mass of a demon, too grotesque to describe with any accuracy but looming in both height and girth to more than the size of our whole group combined.
We took the Hezrou down jointly, but the blubbering mass of a demon kept dispelling, stripping me of every single spell by the time we got physical. Its breath was like the essence of sewer tunnels, sickening and acidic, spewing out like bile at Akseli and Walter beside me. We fought and fell back in turns, attempting to keep the demon occupied enough to keep off our more fragile party members who pelted it with arrows and spells.
And it fell, at last it fell - though as it did, one of its eyes popped out, sinew and all, in the form of an amulet of sorts. I must add a hearty 'Ew!' because.. EW!
This gruesome necklace was our key however, heavy stone doors awaiting us at the far end of the room. All our finest protections were dispelled and whatever lay beyond was sure to be our greatest challenge yet. I'm not too proud to say I was disheartened at this point, but took a deep breath and attempted to steel myself - and that's when He padded up once more, our dear old man, smiling benignly.
I looked into his kind eyes, so filled with wisdom and compassion that my heart too seemed to overflow. I felt a surge of courage and hope, and a sheath of stone suddenly coated my skin protectively as He walked past and through us, lending his strength to our cause.
The doors swung open with a heavy creak.
A vast room beyond, the ground glittering and shimmering with gold and precious jewels of all shapes and colours. In the middle of these riches, with two giant stone dragon statues hovering over it like guardians, lay a glistening red gem, immediately catching the eye and tugging at one's mind with desire: Destruction.
We all felt it wash over us, that tug, the longing to possess, yet most managed to resist the pull. Most, but not all. Artemis and Sheserai made a beeline towards the shard even as I unpacked the bag of Holding meant to contain it, and we had to physically restrain them both from seizing it. Luckily they are relative light-weights, at least if you make sure to tackle them bodily to the floor, heh...
Careful not to touch the shard, I upended the bag of Holding over it and scooped it safely inside, closing the flap and hiding the bag itself within my pack. While Artemis and Sheserai both seemed put off, I knew they wouldn't go so far as to attack me for it - least of all when we were suddenly extremely busy with other things, such as fighting for our lives!
A bellowing voice rang out, demanding I let go of the shard. Moments later, stone shattered and broke as both dragon statues revealed themselves as actual dragons, one silver and the other a burning coal in hue. The doors slammed shut and sealed behind us.
Looking back, I'm still not certain how it is we all survived. Ilmater's blessings were a boon that may well have tipped the scales to our slim advantage, and again I give thanks. I fought tooth and nail, shouting out for Artemis to unleash the devestating lightning magic I knew he had kept in reserve for just this type of dire emergency. And the air crackled, blinding lights flashed before my eyes, dragon flesh twitched and burnt.
One dragon infront of me, then two, then one again as the others lured one off my back to give a heart-thudding chase around the room. Little by little, through teamwork and pure determination, we defeated them both. A large ring fell off each dragon's clawed foot, snatched up by Sheserai before the whole room started to shake omniously. In the utmost haste, we grabbed a few handfuls of the treasure and then ran, all the way out into the Underdark proper.
We made it to Mintas Rhelgor and the Red Knight's encampment without incident and placed the shard onto Her altar, to be disposed of as the godess sees fit. Likely it, like Void before it, will be hidden away into the furthest reaches of the realms. This is about as safe as can be managed in regards to this terrifying artifact.
Lastly, Shallyah revealed that there may be more than demons involved on the other side of this conflict. The draconic gods Faluzure and Garyx are strongly suspected of having their own agenda, favouring the Mor'Salen's unleashing for their own purposes - the raising of countless undead minions and creating a new age for dragons through the destruction of the old.
But with these foes revealed, new allies flock to our side also. And while we can't rest on our laurels, we have at least a respite now, in which to plan and prepare for what's to come.
Perhaps, should Lana'thal Bloodletter learn that her holy crusade is not of Garagos making, but engineered by demonic forces, she would not unleash the Mor'Salen. But is she too far gone to listen to reason, even if we present her with proof of some kind? Does she know and is too corrupt to care?
These are questions that fill my head, but for now, I'll rest."
Nov 10 2015:
"There have been important new developments, with possibly some good news at the end. Although the Mor'Salen remains in the hands of the Gargossans, their strength has been sapped and a small group of us managed to retrieve the shard known as Destruction from their demonic allies. The biggest news, however, is that dragons are now involved too.
I met with Cerulean Third Star Walter in a secret place, along with Nica, Leena, and the mages Artemis and Akseli. We were joined there by one of the Red Knight leaders, Captain Varus. He told us that the shard Destruction sought by the Gargossans was stolen from the realm of Bahamut while a huge battle was going on. It was an inside job and the suspected thief was an ancient Silver Dragon called Vilarah. (Actually, her name is much longer, but I had trouble spelling or pronouncing it, so I'll just call her Vilarah.) The fact that a heretofore loyal Silver Dragon could be so corrupted by the shard indicates the strength of its evil power.
Bahamut was concerned enough by this theft that he decided to cooperate with us, and gave the Red Knight a key piece of information. The stolen shard was not yet in the hands of the Gargossans, but was hidden and guarded in Narfell. Varus gave Walter a stone that would point in its direction. It pointed underground so the six of us set off for the Underdark to try to find and retrieve it.
In an out of the way corner of the eastern cavern in the Underdark where the Formians hang out, we came across a dwarf guarding a new mining tunnel. A suspicious Akseli detected magic and discovered that it was a demon in disguise. When it tried to prevent us from moving into the tunnel, we called its bluff and it revealed itself as a Hezrou, summoning Succubi and Vrocks to help it. We defeated them all and entered the cavern.
Inside we found a nightmare. Numerous rock ledges with pillars above us filled with succubi archers. Many were highly spell resistant, and due to their location, we could not close with or melee them. In addition to pelting us with arrows (they were highly competent archers), they cast numerous spells on us, freezing us in place with webs, socking us with confusion spells, and draining us with negative energy. Nor were they alone. We also fought more than a dozen vrocks and several Hezrou and a Glabrezu.
Akseli, severely drained by the succubi, fell to a great hairy demon that Nica and Leena, in wildshape form, eventually defeated. But some of the gods were on our side. Ilmatar sent an old man to bear away Akseli's pain and return him to us.
We pressed on through a gate into a hidden demonic fortress where we fought a Glaberzu and many more demons. Walter fell during this battle, but the rest of us finally defeated them and found the place quiet enough to rest and renew our spells. After praying to Mystra, I attempted to raise Walter, but one of the demons hit me with a disease that lingered in my system and prevented me from casting the spell. Luckily, Akseli found a Raise Dead scroll and used it to call Walter back to us.
Ilmatar intervened again, sending the old man to bless us all. We entered a firey chamber with a narrow bridge across it. There we were confronted by a dozen more demons including Hezrou, Vrocks, and Succubi, many of which cast spells on us. We defeated them all and then faced the biggest guardian. It was another huge, hairy demon much bigger and stronger than the first. It dispelled many of our magics, particularly among the front liners, but in the end we defeated it.
Our party was strong and resolute (and we had brought a lot of potions). We entered the final chamber and saw a hoard of gold, gems, and treasure boxes guarded by two huge stone dragons. In between them was the most beautiful gem I have ever seen. Transfixed, I began walking, then running towards it, unable to stop myself. So did Artemis. But Leena pulled me down by my cloak and kept me from reaching it. Akseli did the same to Artemis, allowing Nica to stuff the item (it was the shard Destruction) into a bag of Holding.
That's when the two dragons awoke and the final battle began. One was Silver (Vilarah), the other was a Crimson Coal which breathed fire and acid. Luckily, our spells, arrows, and the strength of Nica wore them down and we killed both. Then the whole building began to shake and fall apart. We each grabbed a few things for the chests and ran for it. We made it out into the Underdark and walked back.
When we reached the Red Knight's Shrine, Nica placed the shard on the alter while I closed my eyes so I wouldn't be tempted by it again. I heard the sounds, but I don't know what happened to it. I presume that the Red Knight sent it away to hiding someplace safe. I hope never to see it again.
Shallyah, upon hearing our tale, warned us that it's not just Garagos and his followers, but a demon prince and possibly ancient Draconic gods Faluzure and Garyx that are involved in this plot now. She also had good news. The battle between the Gargaossans and Bahamut had reduced our enemies numbers by about a half. We have taken two of the shards away from them, but they still hold the Mor'Salen itself, which is about 70 percent charged. But Bahamut is on our side (along with Ilmatar), and perhaps other Celestials. The battle is not over, but the odds at least are a little better in our favor than before.
I am going to use the Cerulean library to research Faluzure and Garyx, and see if I can discover what could possibly make an ancient Silver Dragon corrupted. Unless Walter prefers to take on that mission himself. If so, I stand ready to help.
Shesarai Foutopolis, Second Star"
Nov 16 2015:
"I have done some research on ancient Draconic Dieties. Here is what I found out about the ones Shallyah mentioned.
Faluzure is an aspect of the draconid deity Null, a dual deity revered by all kinds of dragons due to its connection with death and the dead. Null's other aspect, known as Chronepsis, Guardian of the Lost, is a spiritual guide for fallen dragons, much like Kelemvor would be for humans.
However, Faluzure is a vile aspect that promotes necromancy, profanation and death. Curiously, Faluzure is also known as The Reaver, and is addressed as such in prayers.
Known as the All-destroyer, Garyx is a dragon deity of chaos, destruction, usually revered by red dragons, but also worshipped by some druids, due to this "renewal through fire" aspect of Garyx, acknowledging that some devastation is necessary at times for new life to make way. Garyx is known to have travelled himself to the material at times simply to wreak havoc and destruction, burning whole cities and fields in his wake before returning to his home in Pandemonium.
There are no known temples to Garyx in the material, though some carvings of Garyx's symbol have been found occasionally.
Shesarai Foutopolis, Second Star"
March 30 2016:
"After many months of calm, Garagossians have returned to the cave near Mintas Forest. A group of us were searching there for iron ore to help ransom Ferry Captain Sticks when we came across a blood warrior guarding the north entrance to the Cave, the one reached from the Long Road east of Jiyyd. He refused us entry and told us to go away. Elvadriel recognized a badge he was wearing as a symbol of the Garagossians. There were 8 of us (Elvadriel, Brumir, Gnarl, Alvaniel, Hen, Dermin, Isolde, and myself) and only one of him, so the ensuing fight didn't last long.
We then entered the cave and were surprised to discover there were no dire animals inside. We heard voices arguing deeper inside so Hen went forward to investigate. She reported that there were several more Gargossians, including at least one priest. We moved forward to encounter them a few at a time. The blood warriors were very though and carried weapons with wounding spells. The priests, which all seemed to be women, were much tougher. We eventually defeated about a dozen warriors and half a dozen priests, including one Favored of the Reaver like we encountered during our first trip to Mintas Rhelgor in search of the Red Knight Shrine.
When we reached the deepest part of the cavern near the southern exit, another Gargossian priestess came running out of the long passage out the south exit, but we turned back to find what she was running from. It turned out to be half a dozen large earth elementals, including a colossal one. They were very difficult to hit and immune from most magic. A long epic battle ensued in which we gradually whittled down and destroyed the normal-sized ones, leaving only the colossal one. It killed Hen with one blow after she tried to rub a Stone to Flesh stone on it.
I went through 100 arrows while only hitting it three times and it was immune to all my magic. So I cast Greater Sanctuary and tried to heal the fighters to keep them in the battle. After my spell wore off, I used all my healing spells and most of my potions. When the combined efforts of all of us finally wore down the colossal elemental, we found the crushed bodies of several Gargossians in the deepest part of the cave and many boxes of ore including iron, silver, and platinum. They apparently were mining it for some "holy" purpose, according to the guard we first met at the entrance.
While the miners went about their business, I rested and prayed to Mystra. She granted me the favor and raised Hen from the dead. We all were able to return then with the ore, including what the Gargossians had mined.
Cerulean Second Star"
April 25 2016:
"Things are stirring now, after a prolonged lull. Reports are flooding in of Garagossan soldiers bleeding monsters dry all across Narfell, charging the Mor'Salen for unleashing - but where? I'd thought Peltarch the obvious target, but it's becoming increasingly obvious that the other players in this game have their own agenda, and are now beginning to show their hands.
The Red Knight encampment is under siege, the path in and out blocked by demonic orcs, demons and others of similar ilk. The scout who made it here was but one of many, mercilessly persued by demons who made every attempt to end their lives. Should he leave the Temple of the Triad, he is a dead man.
We needn't worry about our allies in Mintas safety, but it's clear that these forces mean to take the Red Knight's faithfuls out of the equation for what's to come, as well as hinder communication between us. I was provided with a stone of Recall previously though, that will allow myself and a small number of allies to travel from the Witch and Seer to Mintas Rhelgor. We can use this, if there's pressing need - but our instructions are clear on one thing - we are not to waste our efforts and resources on lifting the siege.
Instead, we must focus on the one thing at the center of all this - the Mor'Salen itself, still held by Lana'thel Bloodletter. She has been cautious so far and remained outside our reach, mostly within the Garagossan stronghold, but as the time draws nearer destruction, the Garagossans are getting more reckless. Including the high priestess, hopefully.
We must retrieve the Mor'Salen itself, and hide it away where it can do no more harm. Easier said than done, of course, but everything revolves around that artifact. We must claim it, before it brings about destruction.
I will begin informing our allies, gathering as strong a group as I can muster. I have a feeling we're going to need it.
April 27 2016:
"The other night, we got a word from Peltarch guards that demons were located at the crossroads. A party went to examine the place, and we found Captain Varus of the Red Knights killed by several succubi, vrocks and hezrou.
We brought his body to the Witch and Seer, where Shannon attempted to resurrect him. The end result was that his ghostly apparition appeared to Shannon and I. His soul was ready to go to Red Knight. This is what the ghost told us.
'We were attempting to reach the Witch and Seer Inn and Temple of the Triad to warn our allies. We failed.
Mintas is a ruse. Peltarch is a ruse. The Garagossans are a ruse. They have misdirected us, and gained all the time they needed. We face worse than Narfell's destruction.
Empires can be rebuilt. People can be replaced. Faluzure, Garyx and Dagon. They are the puppet masters. They wish to destroy the Nexus between the prime and ethereal. Collapse the planes, destroy existence itself. All have their reasons. Faluzure is nihilist, Dagon believes this will create a rift though which demons will roam free through the planes. Garyx believes he can bring back a golden age where dragons dominate.
They are planning to use Mor'Salen on Nexus.
Get to the Nexus before they do and stop them. We can not while being besieged at Mintas. Best we could do was send our most veteran scouts to reach you. This is how far we got.
There's a connection to the Nexus in the old gypsy camp. You need to take it. Everything is at stake. A magical tree which belonged to a magical lady. (Shannon said it's Cera's tree.)
Please tell our commander we did not go down without a fight. we were proud to serve under her command.'
April 28 2016:
"We made our way into Mintas Rhelgor using the Stone of Recall I've been provided with by Shallyah, finding ourselves in the middle of a warzone. The temple is surrounded by half-dragons, demonic orcs, fiends and Garagossans, bombarded by catapults - but inside, the wards are strong as ever. We needn't worry about the safety of our allies, they have set themselves up securely - but their isolation means more of the burden of what's coming will fall to us.
Shallyah warned us that it is very likely that Peltarch will suffer the same treatment as Mintas Rhelgor, besieged by similar armies intent upon stopping us from reaching the Nexus. It will be a trial for the city, but we are not without allies.
Firstly, Lady Daisy has promised celestial aid to the cause. I would think there are none so suited to contacting her as the Knights of the Order, and leave that task in your capable hands.
Secondly, Bahamut has promised aid also, after the Garagossan incursion into their realm. But to reach out to this ally, one must travel to Bahamut's nearest shrine, Mount Frailcrag to the east. The Nexus party have no time to spare for this, but it is important someone sees it through. I suggest a trustworthy and well balanced party, including people known to be friends of dragon-kind.
Thirdly, Scout Captain Varus had upon his person a very important scroll, when he died. I believe Akseli recovered this. It's the Red Knight's Battle Song, to be sung by either a true faithful or a bard of sufficient skill. This song will call forth the godess' fury and armies of celestial. It will be vital to the Jewel's fate, Shallyah stressed.
I trust the Order will be the beacon of hope the city needs in the trying times to come. Any of you who wish to join me in tackling the Nexus, you have but to approach me. Just beware that while inside, we'll be unable to fight anywhere else, for as long as it takes to see the task done.
((Someone asked around in game about information about the Nexus war, the other day - so I thought I'd bump this thread for those interested. It contains the collected posts from the Defender and the Order of the Divine Shield's forums about the plot, though nothing that describes the many dramatic fights taking place in Peltarch itself during the siege. Apologies in advance for the length of the entries, it was somewhat easier to read on the old forums! I view this mostly as an ooc gathering of otherwise scattered posts, but one might also imagine it as an unpublished folder of copies in my character Nica's possession.))
May 16 2016:
Report from the Nexus (I)
As the sieging armies approached Peltarch, a follower of the Red Knight rushed in, giving our party the signal to move with all due haste. Being caught in the city was not an option, no matter how it tugged at my heart strings to leave my home and my family behind to fend for themselves.
Jonni and I, Shannon and Charles of the Divine Shield, Walter, Akseli, Artemis and Rasuil - such was the party sent rushing down the Nars, demons at our heels. At the entrance to the Gypsy Camp, the looming blood-red dome barred all passage, and big burly Fell Orcs rushed into the fray, guarding the entrance. Ironically, we have them to thank for our successful bypassing of the ward, as covering ourselves entirely in their blood allowed safe passage.
Within the dome, all was painted in an eerie red light. More Fell Orcs awaited, and demon-tainted Garagossans of considerable power in the camp proper. We had all but lost Charles before we even got to Cera's tree, so fierce were our foes with their jagged red blades and relentless force, but Shannon's healing got him to his feet at the very last second.
The tree itself was locked however, warded by magical means. We could not break or dispel this lock, a specific key was needed - and we found it, in the pocket of a Garagossan commander in a tent at the far end of the camp. Here, demons stood guard, Vrocks, Succubi and Hezrou. But within that specific camp, well… I would say it was fortunate we came upon their leader with his pants down, but the image will be a hard one to shake from my mind's eye. Suffice it to say, his attention was focused on the Succubi as we barged in.
The key took the form of a magical rod, which Rasuil took just a little too much delight in jamming into the lock's three slots, opening the door to the realm of chaos beyond. But the chaos magic was far from the only danger awaiting - three powerful half-dragon warriors fell upon us, very nearly ending Walter's life right then and there. Two close calls, and we had barely even begun our quest.
The furniture danced and swayed, Charles losing his cool to turn tables and chairs into splinters. Even Shannon felt the effects of this wildly chaotic place tugging at his mind, if only briefly. We dismantled the next lock barring our path with the same key, and with no little amount of trepidation, entered the Nexus itself.
A corridor, opening into a large chamber with chess-like tiles set into the floor, doorways lining each wall, opening to gods only know what worlds beyond - the heart of the Nexus, or so I thought. But standing at the centre of that chamber was a towering half-dragon figure, black as night, command and power exuding from his very presence. He appeared surprised, perhaps even a little impressed that we had made it this far, but declared we would go no further.
At least not without a fight.
And what a fight that was! As much as I oppose my foes intent, I must offer my respect to a fighter so accomplished as this one. He was swift and fierce, fearless in the face of our combined efforts to end him. He stopped every so often, focusing his powers to render him invunerable to attack as fires shot out from the doorways around us. We ran and dodged, pacing our offensive to when he once more could be harmed. It was sweaty, it was hectic and just when we thought him beat - our foe took what I assume is his true form - a dragon, large and gleaming black.
Blades flashed and arrows whizzed past me as we fought, magic crackling in the air. We won, but even while catching our breaths, the jarring thought came to me - had we been stalled enough, even so?
Doorways opening in every direction - which one would lead us onward? Or should we wait here, hoping Lana'thal Bloodletter had not yet brought the Mor'Salen through? Jonni sought Savras' guidance while Akseli and Shannon looked around. Fog... fog in his vision. Fog behind the doorway that opened, and a glimpse of something like it past the crack behind a book case.
With combined efforts, we shoved the bookcase out of the way and found ourselves standing at an abyss, another corridor and further doorways beyond it, on the other side. And there, in blood-red plate, Lana'thal Bloodletter. We shouted across, making a desperate plea to have her hear the truth behind the plan she was embarking on. Jonni and Shannon saw a glimpse of doubt, a sliver of uncertainty, but it was not enough - with a swirl of crimson, she left us, striding off into the fog.
With no way across, we sought to return the way we had come, only to find the doorway had closed behind us. And from the depths rose a horrific, gigantic tentacle, speaking words of despair. Our cause was lost, it was already too late, we would languish and die by the edge of the pit as the world fell apart around us.
So spoke Dagon, Demon Prince of the Depths. And while none of us would concede defeat, we were undoubtedly stranded."
Report from the Nexus (II)
Time has little meaning in a place like the Nexus, where reality seems warped and in constant flux, the air alive with screams and echoes, night and day indistinguishable from each other. Did a week pass, a tenday, a month? Or was it just one endless day, eight souls crammed together in that narrow space with the screaming, bottomless pit before us?
I found myself thankful, many times over, that the party we had composed didn't just consist of able people, but people who for the most part are bound by ties of trust and friendship, and at least get along sufficinently to ward off the strains of frustration and the ever constant tug of insanity.
Time stretched onwards, until suddenly it did not - something happened, a shiver, a ripple through the fabric of the Nexus, sending shakes and nauseating quakes throughout the planes. The Mor'Salen! Was it too late, were the worlds collapsing in on themselves, time itself about to end?
We huddled by the edge of the pit, desperate. No way across, no pillar or hook or anything by which to fasten a rope. Not enough running space by far for me to try and leap across and even Akseli's familiar shook its head - it could fly across, but it could not find any way for us to do the same, short of growing wings.
Just then, a figure appeared through the mist, babbling to seemingly itself at first, but as our visions cleared, we saw a smaller, darker shape beside it. A woman in a flowing robe, and a black panther beside her. Cera.. and Mojo.
She spoke in scattered fragments of sense, not to us, but to Mojo, nonsense mingling with words to send chills down our spines. Something broken, something gone terribly awry. Madness, madness, who will mend the cracks?
We shouted, pleaded, called out across the chasm but it was difficult to say if any of our words were really heeded, if Cera's scattered mind could be reasoned with so directly - but she babbled and argued to herself, finally opting to act, responding to our presence in some way. She set up a portal to allow us across the chasm, and then vanished.
Before us lay a seeming endless maze of corridors and doors, doors upon doors upon doors, shrouded in patches of mist and mystery. There aren't proper words to describe the place, it's strange dimensions and changeable nature, out of time and proper space. Chaos overwhelmed us at times, endless screaming tearing at our sanity and ghosts of the Nexus rising to combat us. But worse than all of that, the doors.
So many, so confusingly similar - and going back through one did not mean going back to where you'd come from. We began marking the doors we had tried, but progress was slow and we seemed to be going in circles, always to the same doors. Follow the mist, Jonni said, but even that seemed to yield little result. On and on, door after door, fight after fight, repetative torture - but Akseli's systematic approach and Shannon's steadfast calm saw us moving ever on, eventually finding new ground, other doorways than those we had circled.
With progress came other ghosts rising, chilling and familiar figures from Narfell's past - the dread Herald Fendon, Jonathon of the Gypsy Camp, Vloss Orb, the infamous Bloodspider. As challenging as these fights were, our true challenge was still the Nexus itself, but finally, ~finally~ it seemed that we were on the right path.
One last door, and a chamber opened before us. Within, no ghost with death to deal, but a woman, youngish, beautiful. I suspect she was Cera's daughter, but no name was given. More lucid than Cera, and very upset as we entered. 'It's madness!', the woman exclaimed. 'They're mad, they're going back to the beginning!'
The Mor'Salen's powers had opened a rift, all the way back through space and time to the beginning, the first unleashing of the artifact. Tintageer, ancient homeworld of the elves, besieged by titans - the vision Jonni had seen, the white marble spires of the city torn asunder, the handful few escaping to our world, long before humans existed... this, the wicked forces would change, stopping the exodus, rewriting history.
But the rift had left an echo, magic of such power can be traced by hands of enough skill and so the woman chanted, reopening the pathway, back through tens of thousands of years, to a world beyond our own. Would we ever return? And if we failed, would the future that created us ever have existed? There was no time for hesitation, not with everything on the line - but was still not easy, stepping through that portal to leave all you know behind, possibly forever.
On the other side, war raged. The skies burned red and enormous giant-like beings glimpsed through the fog, the Titans, their steps thunderous. We fought one, then two, approaching what appeared to be a courtyard to the castle - but here, another powerful guard had been posted. Darius the Destroyer, his greataxe gleaming red, eyes like death itself as he looked us over, incredulous we had made it so far.
It could only end in battle, and he welcomed it, revelling in our destruction. 'I'll have 'you'", he said, marking his victim, relentless in persuit. Just one touch of that axe, when marked, would spell certain death, just one. Jonni was marked, then I, then others in turn - we ran and blocked and little by little, wore him down - but not before he had cut Walter down when our brave Cerulean tried to stop him from hitting his current mark.
I was just about to check on Walter's vitals when it happened. Even in death, Darius would bring nothing but destruction. An explosion, a blast... and then we were elsewhere. A vast, flat island, suspended in space.
Tentacles burst out of the ground, countless, writhing and ensnaring us. A booming voice came from the depths, declaring us trapped forever more, our fallen bodies left in ancient Tintageer. Dagon had woven a nightmare trap for our souls, and here, we would know no rest or comfort."
Report from the Nexus (III)
Dagon's Nightmare. The unchangeable flatness of the landscape, the constant vague light of neither night nor day, the passage of time marked by nothing. Constant weariness, sleep snatched in brief segments, always under threat of tentacles emerging to ensnare and tear at our limbs, our sanity. Constant worry, wondering if our mission was lost, if the world we came from still existed - and if it did, what was happening there? Were our loved ones dying, torn apart by demonic hands, by dragon claw or red jagged blades? Was all of this futile, would we be trapped in here for eternity as the voice from the depths mocked us with?
Visions came, illusions taking the form of loved ones. Their words and actions hurtful, cutting away at our dwindling resolve. Even knowing the lie infront of you, it's hard to ward off, harder still when the sense of futility permeates everything around you. I saw Vash't, turning away from me, discarding my love. It felt too close to the truth, his years of absence something I've hid away inside me without questioning the why, without ever truly letting go of hope. I knew this image was a lie, but it crept in close, tugging at truths I had long since buried.
Elaine, Orianna, Shallyah, a shadowy woman and a little boy on a horse - one by one, these images taunted us. But what little solace there was in this nightmare, we took from each other. My brother, near and dear, kept me strong when despair threatened to overwhelm me. Shannon, calm and collective, proved a rock to lean on throughout the nightmare, never seeming to waiver as the rest of us did.
Another image, suddenly, different from the rest. Tantalizingly beautiful, somehow vivid even in the eternally muted colours of our nightmare realm. A Succubi Queen, familiar to Rasuil, Jonni and Artemis. Who was she sent to torment? Would she point and cry out traitor, like the rest, bidding us to lay down our arms?
No, something about this creature was different. She was real, solid, and came with an offer. I know, I ~know~. Don't ever deal with fiends, right? Except it seemed as though she had dealt with several of the group already, and benefited for it - in fact, Jonni's most powerful demonfighting blade comes from that source. Perhaps she was favourably disposed to some small degree, but nothing such beings do is ever out of the kindness of their hearts - there would be a price, and the person she had elected to pay it was Artemis. She could wake him, bring his concious self back to his sleeping body, for him to attempt to rouse the rest of us.
It felt so wrong, so desperate, so very ill adviced to take the aid of a demon, while trapped in another demon's nightmare. I felt like forbidding it, Shannon was a hair's breath from bringing out the smiting but - but. What else could we do, that we hadn't already tried? If there was just the smallest chance that we could still succeed, don't we have to take it, no matter what the cost? Truth is, I would have payed the price, even if it went against my better judgement. But I couldn't, I just couldn't ask it of another, let alone Artemis. So I held my tongue and left the choice to him, feeling like a coward.
To say he looked hesitant is an understatement. But he stepped close, covered his eyes and she whispered something in his ear, a shudder running through him. Then they were gone.
Some time later, I heard his voice within my mind, bidding me to wake, pleading, promising sweets. I tried to focus, to will myself to follow his voice and wake, but to no avail. Then, I felt my body jolt with electricity. Small shocks at first, tingling my scalp and making my skin prickle, but then more violent, painful.
I woke, heart racing and muscles twitching, Artemis' anxious voice nearby. 'Nica!' I blinked to clear my vision, seeing a small prison cell, a door with metal bars and my friend's relieved face outside, urging me to get up. The door was locked, but I found a strange relief in finally kicking something other than tentacles, and the hinges soon gave way.
Outside, a narrow corridor, more prison cells lining it. And a Garagossan guard, drawn by the noise. The fight was on with no time to prepare protections, in quarters so tight I feared Artemis would be cut down fast, but he withdrew within his former cell, shutting the door and casting his aiding spells from behind that cover, swift and resourceful thinking.
Ow. But survivable ow.
We continued on, finding one sleeper after another to wake, mostly through a swift slap to the face. Walter, Akseli, Jonni, Charles, Shannon - and finally Rasuil. I slapped him twice, for good measure. I'm sure he's done something to deserve it!
Once gathered, we began the long and arduous task of exploring the fortress, finding it filled with guards of the fiendish Garagossan kind, and the simply fiendish. Vrocks, Succubi archers, Hezrou, narrow quarters making the fighting tight and tricky at times. At one point, I abandoned the doorway to dash inside the next room, hoping to allow the rest of our heavy fighters to surround the foes within swiftly, but found myself knocked to my knees, red blades near cutting me through and through.
I fumbled for my potions while trying in vain to block the next cut, when a powerful healing spell restored my health in the nick of time, phew!
Eventually, we found a staircase leading up. Here, the more higher ranked Garagossans stayed, bringing a world of pain with their dispels and walls of blades rising from the ground. In the crowded space available, this proved near fatal for Walter, and it was in the very nick of time that I yanked him back from being impaled on the flashing blades.
We were nearing the heart of the operation though, with resistance so fierce. The dwindling potion supply was dipped into one more time before the next room, a large and lavish one with but a single occupant - a huge and powerful Glabrezu.
I rushed it at once, hoping to draw the first spells down on my own head. And I succeeded, after a fashion - but oh, what an ill time to have my resistance pierced! I was stunned, blinded, hearing fighting breaking out all around me. But the beast did not strike me once, and when my vision cleared I could see that it was grappling with a huge earth elemental, likely the reason why I still stood. Back to fighting form, we fell upon the fiend and ended it swiftly.
Past the Glabrezu, a long corridor and a glowing barrier of red, preventing our entry to the final room. Here, we found her again - Lana'thal Bloodletter, the Mor'Salen in her hand, flashing with power. But she was not alone - in the other corner of the room, more lights, a barrier of blue and white, shielding the remnant of elves from the lost Tintageer. While they maintained the barrier, Lana'thal was unable to kill them - but all their efforts went into the fight, leaving no room for an escape. A stalemate, a desperate deadlock, but we were not too late!
Relief and desperate urgency filled me in realizing we could still make things right - but the barrier held us at bay, preventing anything but our words to pass through. Again, we pleaded our case, urging the priestess to see the truth of her deception. Akseli, knowing well the corruption of the Mor'Salens shards, argued with reason and clarity, Shannon spoke plain and true, but Jonni... oh, I'll concede that he will remain the apple of his mother's eye for good reason, because Jonni's moment to shine came when it mattered the most.
He gripped his Savras blade and prayed, quietly, earnestly, and the truth revealed itself. Lana'thal, blinded to the demons around her, even to the point of failing utterly to see the Glabrezu's enormous carcass down the hall, did not notice it at first. But like glittering snowflakes, the eyes of Savras filled the air and there beside her, plain as day, stood an Incubus, whispering dark thoughts into her head. 'What are you looking at?', cried Lana'thal, upset and struggling with doubt. She turned her head, following our gaze and oh, blessed be Savras, she ~saw~!
In that one pivotal moment, everything changed. Lana'thal slumped, dropped the Mor'Salen to the floor, the one shard set into the scepter falling loose. She fell to her knees in utter anguish, and behind her, the elves made their escape, with a few words of possible farewell or thanks to Jonni. Their tongue was incomprehensible, but perhaps he will yet make sense of it.
Defeated, everything she had believed in broken to pieces, Lana'thal dropped the barrier and would have let us end her life, then and there. She wished for death, punishment, but none of us would have it so. There's always room for forgiveness, for those who reach for it in earnest. And she could still make things right, strike back at the demon decievers, help the people threatened with doom. Jonni rested his hand upon her shoulder and Lana'thal Bloodletter rose, pale but collected.
There was a path back to the Nexus, to our time and our world. She would take us there, and then make her way to Peltarch to fight on the city's side. The Mor'Salen and its shard, Jonni and Shannon scooped up with utmost care, in the sturdiest containers they had.
We ran, tumbling out of the past and back to Cera's daughter, who gave us our final directions, a sense of intense urgency in her voice. We mustn't head to Peltarch, not yet - though the demons were now close to their goal, revealed at the last: to bring Dagon into the prime, via an old demonbinder seal below the city proper. Lana'thal would go, but we had an even more pressing matter to tend to.
'Go to the Observer, he must see the evidence and relay the message'.
We prepared, a final brief respite before this mystery task was taken on, and Cera's daughter opened a portal to the strangest place in all our quest so far. A glowing ~something~ within a large and spacious chamber, unlike any I'd ever seen or ever will, a sense of eternity prevailing. The creature hovering over a blue glowing transmitter of some sort... I couldn't describe it properly even had I the power of ten bards at my disposal, it was... light, stars in shifting constellations, vaguely forming the shape of a powerful entity which appeared entirely uncaring of our presence or our pleas.
Something being processed... our planet, our world assessed. A message to the Maker to decide our world's continued existence. Damaged, corrupt, the Observer declared. Message transmitting... termination.
It wouldn't listen, wouldn't see what we had done to fix the damage, and in desperation, we fought. We fought for existance as we know it, against a creature of ancient starlight and cold calculation. We hadn't a chance...
The Observer repelled all damage, striking swift and hard before it began to swirl about, creating a vortex around itself. Outside the whirlwind, meteors began to fall, raining fiery death down. We ran and dodged, until finally charging right into the storm's eye to try, just ~try~ to stop it. No matter the cost, we'd come so far. We'd fought so hard. It couldn't end this way, it mustn't!
Suddenly, we were elsewhere. A small chunk of rock, floating over the world, stars above and the blue planet below us. The Observer stopped spinning, we fought once more, but nothing seemed to penetrate the creatures defences. It raised its 'hands' and a fiery star began to fall towards us...
With nowhere to hide, nowhere to run, we could only pray - and the gods listened! A soft white light appeared at the edge of the tiny island, a refuge created by divine light and we huddled within, arms about each other as the fire slammed down around us. Fight and stop, take cover in the light, over and over. We would not, ~could~ not give this cause up as lost. He had to listen!
And finally, finally, the Observer clutched at its shoulder, injured. With a sudden flash, we were back in the observatory, and had its attention at last. 'A thousand upon thousand worlds, come and gone, wiped from existance's plate with rational thought and no remorse', it spoke. 'What if they were all like you, so full of passion?'. Our persistance, our care and committment had impressed this timeless being, and the message he sent the Maker was altered for it.
Our world lives on.
Now, we could finally return to our home and join in the last fight for the Jewel's survival! Back to the Nexus and through to Peltarch's streets, where the final battle still raged. The Balor Lord leading the charge landed on cracked cobblestones, but jubilation was in my heart at seeing my home still here, still fighting, heroes ragged and bloodied all about, but fighting, fighting! We slew the Balor, the blast of his defeat nearly ending Charles' life, but I had one, one last balm left in my pack and used it.
Then the ground began to shake.
At the center of the commons, the ground gave way, a seemingly bottomless pit opening up and spewing out murky water. Then came the tentacles, enormous, writhing wildly. And a face, the face of our tormentor at last. But everyone rallied, everyone fought with such fierceness, and Dagon never gained a true foothold - or tentacle-hold - on the Prime, beaten down and off into the Depths with that swift response.
It's over, it's finally over. And though the losses are likely higher than I would care to see clearly now, it could have been so much worse, but for the efforts of each and everyone who refused to give in to despair and kept fighting, with everything they had. I am thankful for a lot of things, but right now, nothing so much as the simple fact that I still have a home, with a bed I can curl up in and sleep.