After clearing out the lower levels of the forgotten keep, the heroes returned to the citadel and met with Goladin during a feast Izora prepared for them. Crank, Davward, and Rawlin joined them as Goladin explained the machinations of the Shield Ritual: First, the Shield Pedestal (protected by an invisible barrier) must be raised in Uriel’s Hammer and its spire must reach the Shield; second, the words of the ritual must be read aloud; third, the three Heaven’s Shields must be magically sealed to the spire; and finally, the spire must be destroyed using King Edward’s scepter. Goladin explained that Thanatos would likely add a second ritual to this involving the sacrifice of multiple participants to facilitate the guidance of trapped souls to Asmodeus. He also explained that the Shield Ritual would likely draw the attention of Ordinem, a being concerned only with the preservation of the planes, since the Shield Ritual slightly alters several planes to remove the barrier. The scepter, Goladin explains, should still be with the king’s remains which are still entombed in the rubble of Thrax.
Meanwhile, upon further study of the book found in the abandoned keep that details King Edward’s lineage, Ivy discovers she is his daughter, making her heir to the throne of Shieldus.
The heroes traveled to Thrax and encountered a fiendish Farengar and his three Nessian Hell Hounds, who made a pact with Asmodeus to grant himself demonic powers. Farengar, invisible and flying, specifically targeted Cain and turned him into a chicken via a baleful polymorph spell. After defeating the Hell Hounds and escaping Farengar’s nefarious grasp, the heroes explored the tomb only to find that King Edward’s scepter was missing. However, they did find a (worthless) ring on Edward’s finger that bore the symbol of Malum.
As they left the tomb, Hogarth Hammerfist approached them and explained that he left his mother with the elves to return to Thrax and seek any trace of Virtus, whom he still claimed was real — the Shield, he claimed, has such strong magical properties that if enough souls concentrate on a spiritual form long enough, it manifests in a physical body. Unfortunately, he says, the kender is one such manifestation, and will disappear once the shield falls.
The heroes spent the majority of the following day restocking on supplies and arming themselves, preparing for the upcoming battle against Thanatos and his minions. Aoric Usted provided them four fresh dragon eggs and Thomas Cormyn, the leader of the Ajit Bhatakna spy network, told them that he had sent Tik Tak “the Carnivorous” to infiltrate Uriel’s Hammer and discovered that the town was overrun by the Order of Malum and surrounded by dragons of all chromatic types, clearly to provide a defense against any who sought to disrupt the ritual.
That night, Runa Castillo approached Dietrich a final time, who finally gave in to her advances.
As midnight approached and a storm brewed overhead, the heroes assaulted the town of Uriel’s Hammer. As the citadel approached, the army of dragons took to the air and counterattacked the citadel, forcing Goladin to use raise the shield and activate the lightning bolt defenses. A contingent of dwarven warriors, sent by Crubren Ironhouse, unleashed the fury of their catapults and ballistae against the aerial dragons while Dietrich dropped a dragon egg on the unsuspecting grounded dragons, wiping out 40-60 dragons and clearing out a path to Uriel’s Hammer. With the way (mostly) clear, the heroes swooped down on the griffons and crawled beneath the invisible barrier that protected the Shield Pedestal.
As the heroes began the strenuous climb up the side of the rising Pedestal, the Order of Malum unleashed torrents of flaming arrows and dropped vats of boiling oil on them to slow their ascent. Hogarth managed to keep everybody healed as they rose. Eventually, they reached the top and engaged the Order of Malum in battle.
Soul gems covered the surface of the Shield Pedestal and, when shattered, released a wispy soul into the air. Four Order of Malum monks joined in the battle, but it wasn’t enough to hold off the heroes’ massive attacks: Ayla and Rawlin cleaved through numerous zealots, Obed shattered the barrier-powering gem with his crossbow, Ivy wiped out an entire line of zealots with a single lightning bolt, and Cain and Hogarth alternated between summoning beasts and healing the party. When Farengar appeared again, Ivy threw glitterdust to reveal his presence and Dietrich took him down with a precise arrow shot to the head. Crank and Davward swooped in on griffons to join the fight.
The heroes, battered and bloody, climbed to the final level of the Pedestal as the storm overhead intensified. Thanatos finished reading the ritual, which drew the attention of Ordinem — the god appeared from a rift in the air and immediately attacked Thanatos and the heroes.
From above, Goladin appeared in his blue dragon form and swooped in to grapple with Ordinem, protecting the heroes from Ordinem’s wrath.
From above, entrenched in his battle with Ordinem (and cackling in maniacal delight), Goladin shouted to the heroes and warned them that one of them must die to guide the souls away from Asmodeus.
Dietrich, hearing these words, charged Thanatos, who threw off his cloak and drew from its scabbard a Nine Lives Stealer. With one swipe of the sword, Dietrich’s soul was torn from his body. Thanatos produced the King’s Scepter and mocked the survivors, blatantly telling them that they never found the scepter because it never left the king. Thanatos — King Edward — then spread his draconic wings and took flight, sending fireballs and lightning bolts at the heroes. Ayla threw a grappling hook around his ankle and attempted to drag him down, but he flew higher. Cain summoned air elementals to catch him in a whirlwhind, but Thanatos pulled out and away.
As the heroes battled Thanatos atop the rain-strewn Pedestal, crushing soul gems in their wake, Dietrich arose in an incorporeal form and faced off with a dread wraith that looked much like Zarkhesh.
Thanatos, utterly surrounded by the heroes and the air elementals, suddenly turned into a huge red dragon and unleashed a gout of flame from his lungs, incinerating Cain and thereby dismissing the air elementals. He then turned his sights on Ayla and, in one series of bites, claws, and wing attacks, knocked her unconscious.
Obed managed to resuscitate Ayla with a potion of heal but Malum swooped in to finish off the party. Hogarth stepped out of the battle as former priestess Runa Castillo joined him on a griffon; together, they concentrated on the manifestation of Virtus and conjured his image from thin air, sending the angelic figure to battle with Malum and allow Ayla, Obed, Rawlin, Ivy, and Crank to concentrate on finishing Thanatos.
Thanatos, severely bloodied, leaped over to the Spire, returned to his human form and, with a final hiss of fury, smashed the King’s Scepter into the Spire and sent a shockwave up and down its entire length. The soul gems shattered as the scepter exploded, killing Crank in the blast. The shockwave shattered the Heaven’s Shield, which had crystallized over the years, dropping huge shards of magically corporeal chunks to the surface of Shieldus. One such chunk smashed into Rawlin, killing him, while others severely crippled Hogarth.
Dietrich, Cain, Crank, and Rawlin witnessed the return of Head Monk Plius, who appeared and assisted them in the battle against the dread wraiths for the souls. As a last ditch effort, the four dead heroes attempted to direct the souls away from Asmodeus and toward a natural ascension; some of the souls turned black, but the majority remained bright as they rose toward the heavens. Before he disappeared, Plius told Cain that he forgave him.
The four dead heroes started to ascend to the heavens.
As the dust settled, the surviving heroes witnessed a clear night sky and saw stars for the first time. Multitudes of dragons swooped in from outside the Shield. One, a large female silver dragon named Wren, landed next to them and revealed to them that the destruction of the Shield is a great deed, but has been prophesied as a signal of the beginning of the end of the world of Azatheir.
[END HEROIC TIER]