…Leads to a Bloody Battle…
…and a bloody paladin.
The rest of the party did not pause to think too hard about the revelation that Delis is also known as the Huntress of the Winter’s Eye. They went to the basement to explore the voices Rinoa and Delis heard chanting rituals below the bottom floor of the tower.
There they found a hole in the floor. Looking down they saw a Shadar-kai witch and a few Githyanki thugs, along with a large number of troglodytes whose odor could be smelled wafting up through the hole even as they peered down. Delis tied off some ropes and showed the rest how to rappel down.
Garen Bladerun showed a strange reluctance to show off his platinum wings. He recently won them when he was accepted into the the Platinum Temple, an ancient shrine where dragonborn can practice a particular form of esoteric mysticism which allows them to take on the features of Bahamut himself. The wings might have allowed him to fly past the Githyanki and surprise the witch far to the rear of her main forces.
Delis and Maggie, followed by Sam, showed no such hesitation, bounding and sneaking far into the caverns and concentrating their damage on the witch, who bore a striking resemblance to another witch that Storm Johnson once dispatched in the tunnels beneath the Happy Beggar in Overlook.
The agent of the Winter Court remembered hearing that Storm made sure he killed the witch all those months ago, but he never found the body. This was rumored to have disturbed him at the time because Sharshan was using a giant magical bat as well. Delis had heard stories that Storm Johnson was worried that the bat had spirited the body away to some place where Sharshan’s healers could bring her back to life.
Zumos asked to the HIgh Council where his friends had gone.
“Oh, we had to send them off to Talar,” Elder Cadrick explained. “You weren’t around. We needed someone to ask Megan Swiftblade some questions.”
“Talar? Isn’t that some village south of here, near Brindol?”
“That’s the one. We think Megan may know who was behind General Zitheruun’s attack.”
When the new archer peppered every concentration every concentration of enemies with rapid shots, Maggie heard several party members suggest that “no one will ever take Karic’s elf license away.” She figured this was apparently some reference to the bouts of inaccuracy Delis’s archery occasionally suffers. Leaping easily across the Blood Chaos which flowed across the floor, she executed her best strike on the witch.
While the rest of the Band of the Raven concentrated their fire on the Shadar-Kai witch, Magdalene leaped up on top of the three pipes which dominated the north wall. Two of them were spewing Blood Chaos: One appeared to be providing the flow which threatened the village of Talar; the other appeared to be filling the moat and weakening the foundations of the tower until Maggie turned it off. The plucky assassin quickly turned her attention to shutting the other off, finishing the job before Delis could do more than offer to help.
She was just as surprised as everyone else when the witch, plunged through a wormhole into the middle of the Blood Chaos, was able to leap free of the acidic mixture. Maggie guessed that the Githyanki can give those telekinetic leaps they love so much to their allies as well.
Learning that Elyas had helped his friends get to Talar, Zumos was able to convince the invoker to send him to the same portal, which eventually led him to the hilltop where Megan lay, nursing a broken leg. “Your friends took him inside. They needed him. You’ve got to rescue him!” she shouted at Zumos.
“The old man,” she explained, even though an old man was right there, trying to help her to her feet, despite the splinted leg. “Falrynth! He’s helping them go through the portal. But he may have trouble getting out of the tower in time.”
Grigore recognized the witch immediately, remembering that his old friend Storm Johnson had developed a particular dislike for her. He was sure she had gone down in the battle, but he remembered that her pet bat survived.
The bat’s preternatural intelligence might have just been enough for it to get the witch’s body to Sharshan’s healers. While she was definitely unconscious back in the tunnels beneath Overlook, Grigore never checked to make sure she was dead.
This time, when the witch collapsed to the rough floor of the cavern, Grigore shouted to Magdalene, “Take her head!” He was somewhat taken aback when the young woman sliced off the witch’s head without the slightest reaction to the gore.
“Perhaps Maggie has seen enough blood that it does not bother her,” he thought.
The stone structure didn’t seem like much of a tower to Zumos until he had hopped across the rocks in its moat (which has filled with a strange purple-orange ooze). As he began to climb down its stairs, the inside seemed much like a tower. The wizard made his way down four stories and then through a hole into the caverns below. A portal was still active when he found the old man. But Zumos wasn’t sure the elderly sage (identified by Megan as Falrynth) could climb the rope to get out of the hole without help.
Once the troglodytes and Githyanki were dispatched, Karic was able to pick up a silver sword. While he knew he was not much of a swordsman, the elf felt better having a backup weapon he could use in melee.
The old sage was able to tell them some details about the chalk circle the witch was using for her ritual. “It was apparently being used to escape,” he explained. “It seems to be set up to take these miscreants to a swamp far to the south. That particular swamp is familiar to all sages, famous for its large trees and primordial fauna.”
Once Magdalene was able to convince Megan she should think of them as her friends, the rest of Karic’s new-found friends were able to help him pry some information from her:
- Three assassination attempts have so far been made against Megan and the Freeriders. The rest of the group have scattered across Elsir Vale in an attempt to prevent further attacks.
- Through a mercenary band that escaped from the failed attack on Overlook, the Freeriders discovered that a shadar-kai arms dealer — Sarshan — was providing mercenaries, intelligence, support, and even arms and armor to the githyanki assault.
- Sarshan’s current plots revolve around something called Blood Chaos, with which he means to take retribution against Overlook and Elsir Vale.
Although Megan did not appear to understand what Blood Chaos is, Karic could tell Falrynth knew the name. “I’m guessing the orange ooze is the Blood Chaos,” he said. “Hidden portals and secret weak spots connecting to other planes are all over Elsir Vale. Sarshan’s knowledge of planar magic probably give him the power to deliver Blood Chaos anywhere in the vale.”
Karic’s heart sank as he realized what this meant: The scene of destruction he had just witnessed in Talar would be repeated all over Elsir Vale unless Sarshan can be stopped first.
Most of the rest of his new friends seemed to realize this as well, but not the paladin. Badly wounded in the battles, Garen seemed to be on his last legs. Only a stirring speech from Grigore and the ridicule of Megan were able to convince the dragonborn paladin to let Falrynth send him through the portal to the swamp with the rest of the group.
Just then, Zumos felt the ground shake and the entire cavern felt like it dropped 20 or 30 feet before stabilizing again.
“Can you hear it?” the old man asked.
“The only thing I hear is water gushing down towards us. Maybe it’s that orange stuff.”
“Oh, it’s the Blood Chaos all right. I guess there’s only one way out.” With that, the old man rushed through the portal. Zumos had no choice but to follow.
As Sam shifted through the haze of the portal, the entire party emerged on a wooden platform set upon the skeletal branch of an immense oak tree. The oak tree stood in the middle of a dismal, fog-shrouded swamp, the tree surrounded by a lake of Blood Chaos. Its huge roots snaked through the boiling ooze like great vipers, while above you, a thick canopy of leaves cut the light to a perpetual gloom.
Urging quiet, Sam made his way to the thick mud below. Some of the roots blocked his path around the tree, but someone had apparently dug tunnels beneath them. Beyond the second tunnel, the Master Thief found his way blocked by the Blood Chaos itself.
There Maggie was able to demonstrate her leaping abilities, ghosting across and tossing a rope back to Sam. Fastening both ends, they were able to rig a crossing for the rest.
Scouting through two more tunnels, Sam found an entrance to the caverns beneath the giant oak. Unfortunately, the caverns seemed to be guarded by two large green dragons. The dragons did not here the stealthy hobbit, but voices could be heard further around the truck of the giant tree.
The dragons heard the voices as well. And one of them took off to investigate.