After defeating the bodak and resuming their journey, the Stellar Alliance travelled to the city of Freeport, a lawless town on the fringes of Elandrian society. To gain entry into the city, the party came across a group of suspiciously dressed ‘guards’, who used their authority to search the heroes, and in a strange coincidence, Stephon and Candy’s coin purses were fifty platinum lighter that night.
Stephon and Daryl, seeking to buy clothing to fit in, found themselves in a tailor shop that was being shaken down for protection money. The shopkeeper, relieved, took advantage of the presence of strong heroes and shooed away the thugs. He sold the two some fine clothing, selling a fine white shirt and dark green vest to Stephon, and a hooded, pocketed, floor-length black dress to Daryl. The kindness the two showed in their interaction with the man softened him up, and he offered them some information: the town is corrupt, with no imperial guards, and is run by different gangs and thieves guilds. The Black Hand were the least terrible of the lot, and they have a street captain by the name of Michael Dawes who frequents the B&G Tavern.
The rest of the crew of Watchers retired to the Freeport Guildhall where they encountered a silver dragonborn Knowledge Keeper by the name of Nikolai. Knowing that the Cult of the High Dragon has a silver dragonborn member, Kat had the others investigate him and make sure that he was safe to interact with. Together, as everyone congregated at the Guildhall, the group of adventurers established a lead that they could use to hunt down the cult, and subsequently the location of the Key of Shadows.
According to Nikolai, the cultists were all congregated together with undead thralls in a mansion that Purity has been operating out of. Unsure of how to separate all of them, the party decided to sleep on it, and come up with a plan of attack the next morning.
Heading out the next day, Candy flew out as a seagull to try to find the mansion where the cult was hiding. He found it quickly, and performed some surveillance, watching for comings and goings. What he discovered was that the mansion appeared to be guarded by a few men and women dressed entirely in black cloth that covered any exposed skin, as well as a few crossbow wielding skeletons that were posted out of sight on the roof. Nobody came nor went, so he headed to the docks to see if he could find any sign of the cult there, where they may be seeking out a boat to get them to the location of the Tomb. He found nothing telling, and so he returned to the party.
The party had made their way to the bank, after having been robbed the previous night, and they managed to deposit a good sum of their money as robbery prevention.
Everyone then converged on the B&G tavern, where they intended to meet with Michael Dawes, who may be able to show them a way into Purity’s mansion through the sewers. He wasn’t there, but Purity was. The warlock attempted to introduce himself to the party under the guise of a human man, but was found out when Bob Ogden tried to detect his thoughts and failed. Instead of hearing the surface thoughts of the man, she was greeted by a grim sight of a desiccated hand with a bloodshot eye in its palm. When she tried to convince everyone to get out, he dropped all pretense and introduced himself for who he was, claiming to want to meet Katariah “before everything gets bloody”. Daryl would have none of his unsettling taunting, and snuck up behind him, stabbing him. This resulted in Purity’s patron, a succubus, rising from his back, and the other cultists sitting at other tables in the inn leaping into action. A battle ensued, but the day was won by the Stellar Alliance in the end.
Agreeing to repair the damages and then never returning to the B&G tavern again, they asked that the owners, Greta Green and Bertrand Boeling send Michael to them. From there, they decided to go to the docks in search of any sign of the other cultists, realizing that they were weak, and not necessarily read to fight all of the other four cult leaders at once.
Unfortunately for them, their investigation at the docks was not without confrontation as they’d hoped. Using keen investigative skills, the Stellar Alliance made it towards a warehouse owned by one ‘Yriupt’, the alias Purity used while living and conducting business in the city. Hoping for some clue as to when the cult would be leaving, and on which boat, the party wasn’t prepared for the warehouse to be a trap. Within the building, hidden by illusions that only vanished once the group entered were gruesome undead caricatures of themselves: a very young lady with a lute impaled through her hand, an elderly gnome with animal teeth and claws, a human woman with bony ‘horns’ in her forehead and an assassin’s blade, a human man whose ears had been replaced with that of an elf donning a shield with an inverted holy symbol of Delarys, and lastly, was Berrian, wielding a defaced version of his Methu’Ni, with a woman’s dark hair grafted onto his previously shaved scalp. The party defeated them, but the battle was even more taxing than the last. Deciding that they were better off retreating away from the influence of the cult, they went to Magnus.
In Magnus, they went to consult Cornelius about whether or not their new ally, Nikolai, was trustworthy, but found the archivist was away in Rangorin. Next, they went to finally see about hearing Stephon’s future from Cassandra, as he was the only one who had never heard his fortune.
Cassandra’s vision was unsettling:
I see a stag the color of ash. On either side of it are a beautiful elven maiden and a stern faced human, and they are pulling as hard as they can on the tortured creatures horns. On its back sits a knight in a winged helm, flogging it. The beast is dying.
Immediately concerned for his family, he had Bob Ogden commune to learn if they were okay. The communion was strange, however. Previously unaware of whom she was communing with, she learned in this time that it was Delarys, the Queen Arcane herself. Instead of the usual three questions, this time Bob actually spoke to Delarys, or at least her disembodied voice. They learned a few things from that discussion:
- Stephon’s family was safe
- Nikolai was trustworthy
- The Cult was an immediate threat that needed to be prioritized
To end out their night, the party met with a high-ranking member of the Black Hand, who wanted to gain information about the hoard of the dragon, Berylbane. In exchange for that information, he assured the Watchers that if a diamond was found in the hoard that could resurrect Vera, he would give it to them. He also informed them that the Cultists left Freeport two days earlier, and were presumably already at the Tomb of the Fallen Lich. He also revealed to them that the reason they sought the hoard was to support Hadah in the Hasadhi Civil War, and revealed that Keemara was there, in a bid for power.
That night as they went to sleep, Katariah, Bob and Stephon were all taken to a mysterious place, where Delarys spoke to them, showing them the way to the Tomb of the Fallen Lich, and urging them to deal with it soon. They witnessed that the cultists were not worried about the threat the Stellar Alliance posed to them, assuming that they couldn’t be divined upon. They also saw the creation of an onyx structure in the middle of the island. When they awoke, they received a brand on their foreheads: a tattoo in the shape of The Open Tome, the holy symbol of Delarys. With it came an innate sense of the location of the remaining High Dragon Cultists.
The next day, the party chartered a ship from one Captain Nemo, paying an exorbinant amount of money to travel to the Tomb of the Fallen Lich through the intense storms that surrounded it. Unaware of the brutal, magical nature of the storms, the ship was taken unawares, and thoroughly destroyed by the gale. Managing to save themselves on lifeboats, however, the party made it to the shore. Resting a short while in an old wine cellar, they plotted an attack on the work force of the cultists. Upon attempting to execute it, they were interrupted by an attack from three of the remaining Cult leaders: Jackie, Therovel, and Caelia. In a taxing battle, they slew Jackie, and the other two fled the scene.
Knowing that resting meant letting the cultists potentially find the key first, our heroes pressed onwards. They found at the bottom of the lighthouse a small crypt, with five alcoves holding sarcophagi. Four of them were still closed, and when the curious Watchers opened them, they found a slew of bodies with vampiric fangs. Katariah sensed a slowly-fading aura of necromancy on them, but ultimately it was determined that the bodies were not going to rise against them.
The fifth sarcophagus lay open, its lid smashed on the ground beside it. As the party looked over it, they noticed that it had an inscription carved into its surface that read:
IREENA, MY BELOVED
MAY YOU FINALLY REST IN PEACE
In the sarcophagus itself was a white mist that obscured its bottom. Bob Ogden, with her ability to innately detect all magic in the area, looked upon it and noticed an aura of conjuration magic, the school associated with teleportation. With some little tests, they felt it was safe to travel through, and they all leaped into it one after another, not giving any time for the portal to close, assuming there was devlish trickery involved with it.
There was trickery involved. As they passed through the portal they all fell from a 30 foot tall ceiling, one on top of the other. They found themselves in a room with six massive skulls, their maws large enough to fit a person through. In each mouth was another wall of mist, each one colored differently. Next to each skull were chalk marks, reading out a few words: might, fortitude, understanding, brilliance, presence, and control. Identifying them as portals with necromantic energy surrounding them, the party began to throw stones and shoot arrows through the portals… raining them down on their heads. Each one appeared to cause whatever went through it to teleport to the top of the thirty foot room and fall. With no other way in or out of the room, Candy boldly stepped through the door labelled ‘understanding’ to see if the portals would react differently to a person travelling through them. He promptly repeated the 30 foot fall he had previously felt. At the same time, he felt a haze come over his mind, making it hard for him to focus. Stephon wouldn’t chance such an effect, and cleansed the gnome with his touch.
At roughly that time, the cunning rogue had a thought. The center of the room had a large stone dias onto which they were all falling. Calling for help from her companions, they began to push the stone out of the way, revealing another white portal like the one in the sarcophagus before. Stepping through it, they found themselves in a new room.
This room led to a pitch black chamber, and a nother puzzle that they managed to outsmart, realizing that a list of city names was there as a list of directions they could use to navigate the treacherous room. Coming out the other side of the dark passage, they found an orb that was positively brimming with necromantic energy. They decided not to touch it, and progressed into the next chamber.
This chamber contained a large stone pyramid, with an altar of some kind raised in the middle. As the party approached it, they could see a woman’s body lying on the altar, with what appeared to be the Key of Shadows clasped in her hands. As they got closer, an illusory image of Balthazaar Von Henrik appeared, pleading with the party to leave her body alone, asking them to simply take the artifact and leave. Katariah convinced Candy to fly her close enough to the altar to grab the key, and when she attempted to, a trap was spring. The altar itself appeared to be an illusion, hiding a dessicated corpse, which exploded into black necromantic, energy. As the explosion closed, the heroes heard a deep voice cry out to “ATTACK NOW!” The rest of the High Dragon Cultists launched their assault on the heroes.
The battle that ensued was a masterwork of the Stellar Alliance’s accumulated skills: Bob Ogden managed to keep the casters from using their devastating spells; Stephon managed to keep Katariah safe long enough to heal her enough that she could help in the fight; Candy successfully controlled the battlefield with a wall of fire; Daryl did devastating amounts of damage with her weapons; and Katariah finally got her revenge, landing the killing blow on Caelia Stoneheart.
The party divvied up the loot from the cabal of villainous magi, and took a deep breath. While the cultists were killed, they still needed to find the key, evidently still hidden somewhere in this complex of caves and portals.
The heroes tried to get a good night’s sleep, there in the final room of the tomb. Candy took first watch as Bob Ogden created a tiny hut for them to sleep in, and they began to rest. However, as Candy was out keeping watch for the group, shades rose from the bodies of Caelia, Therovel and Soren. These wraiths attacked Candy, injuring him badly before the rest of the Stellar Alliance, roused from their rest, came to his aid and dispatched the wraiths. They all shuddered a bit from the ordeal, and Katariah pointed out that because they cremated the bodies, the spirits shouldn’t be rising. They all decided to sleep in the tiny hut without keeping watch, and noticed that after naught more than half an hour later the wraiths rose again.
The next morning, they dispatched the wraiths once more, and then looked into finding the key. They correctly guessed that they needed to dispel the magic around the false sarcophagus, and they heaved the lid off of the top of it. Inside was a small metallic ball covered in razors, and an illusory image of Balthazaar’s face, repeating over and over: “You’re an accursed wretch, Balthazaar Von Henrik. Let this remind you of that.” Correctly deducing that in order to activate the magic they needed to offer it cursed blood, Kat sought out a trap from before, taking a curse upon herself and then grasping the orb in hand. Upon doing so, it faded into a white mist that filled the coffin, which they understood to be a portal.
Two-by-two they filed into it, discovering inside a horrid sight: a banshee, bound and shackled by darkness, crying out in anguish and releasing necrotic energy as she thrashed around in anguish. Trying to harm it directly appeared to have no effect, so they rushed toward her and saw that the body the banshee was tied to had in its hands the fabled Key of Shadows. They took the key, and Stephon, feeling a great pity for the creature, plunged his sword through her heart, begging Delarys to bring her peace. The banshee’s form shuddered, and very nearly disappeared, so Katariah followed his lead, and also asked Delarys to end the entity’s pain. With that, the banshee was released, and a quiet peace overcame the chamber. Stephon used his magic to calm down the vibrations of the Key of Shadows, and they put it into the bag of holding next to the Key of they Fey, wrapping both in thick cloth to prevent them from knocking against each other.