The Shield of Heaven

Wild New World
This town ain't big enough for the two of us

The next day, Goldenjaw and Barrowhawk summoned Ivy and Obed to attend the follow-up meeting to determine Shieldus’s fate. Romulus and Remus attended as well. When Aoric mentions that they still haven’t found any clues to the whereabouts of Prince Alexander, Obed revealed that his soulless body is hidden within the upper tower of the citadel. Upon hearing this news, Crubren Ironhouse ordered his men to retrieve the prince to place him on the throne, soul or no.

After spending several weeks on Brinkmoor Isle, Goldenjaw relayed the news that King Pritchett is sending patrols to continue searching for those responsible for the destruction of the Heaven’s Shield. He suggests they retreat to Sawtooth, a nearly lawless town across the Gulf of Brinkmoor on the edge of civilization, and find Sheriff Porter for work. The intrepid heroes join a skeleton crew on Lord Oruthel’s ship, the Valiant, which is protected from the seas of acid by a wizard who must continually concentrate to create a barrier around the ship’s hull. The ship is eventually beset by pirates who sneak aboard — invisible — and attempt to overtake the ship. Captain Tamriel takes the helm as the heroes fight off the pirates and their giant thunderbird. During the battle, Cain reappears on his griffon mount, Vegavis, and assists in defeating the brigands. He slices off the head of the pirate queen, a gnome by the name of Queen Honeybrew, and takes her ship (appropriately named The Honeybee), utterly dominating its elven captain, Lanliss. When asked about his apparent survival, he remains elusive.

When they make land, the heroes travel to Sawtooth and discover a rugged town on the border of Norgaard. They witness a duel involving two people and weapons they’ve never encountered before. One wins and takes the body into the sheriff’s office. When they speak to Sheriff Porter, she admits she has no work for them but points them to the Golden Trinket, a local watering hole. When they settle in at the Golden Trinket, they meet Agna Goldvale, wife of owner Feral, who points to another adventurer sitting in the corner with a shrouded figure. This adventurer, Agna explains, is known only as the “The Sorrow of Kirkmoor”.

Agna explains that the town is beset by the local gang of “Skull Boy Bandits” who are continually raiding incoming shipments. A grizzled town drunk, Sid, approaches them and attempts to tell them his conspiracy theory about the mayor’s involvement with the Church of Asmodeus and his plot to sacrifice the entire town to the dark god. Before he can finish his story, a knife plunges into his back and the cloaked figure slips out in the ensuing chaos.

As the heroes attempt to chase down the figure, they attempt to question The Sorrow, who intimidates them into letting her leave the saloon. Meanwhile, Cain heads to his room at the inn and apparently begins building something.

That night, a murder occurs at the Mineshaft Theater owned by Archibald Curnow. As the PCs investigate, they also meet with the owner of the Sawtooth Bank, Ulysses McDermott, who employs them to stage a false shipment in the hopes of ambushing the Skull Boy Bandits.

Vegavis tracks the cloaked figure and leads the heroes to Mayor Micajah “Cage” Kipling’s residence. They confront the mayor, but are unable to learn anything of interest; however, Romulus and Remus convince his butler, Jeeves, to allow them to spy on the mayor later that evening.

A second murder occurs on the outskirts of town — Sid has been torn to shreds. Sheriff Porter makes the heroes temporary deputies and grants them authority to investigate. The heroes follow a blood trail to the theater and found a clue leading them to Isaiah Curnow, Archibald’s son, who has been acting strangely lately. When they meet the schoolteacher, Mary Frances Holloway, a sniveling woman who sneers at everybody with disapproval, she claims that the doctor, Doc Thorne, checked the kid for a bleeding cough recently. The heroes questioned the Doc and discovered others around town have experienced similar symptoms.

With Sheriff Porter’s consent, the heroes assign deputies to patrol town that night to observe the afflicted citizens. Meanwhile, they split up to observe Archibald Curnow, Mary Frances Holloway, and the mayor. Obed and Remus witness Archibald visiting the local potions shop, Gozreh’s Apothecary, and pleading with the owner, Beth O’Connell, to cure his son; however, she says that there’s nothing she can do until a shipment makes it past the Skull Boy Bandits.

Romulus sees Mary Frances Holloway attempting to leave her apartment above the schoolhouse and tries to follow her. However, she detects him and he casts Darkness to prevent his identification. Holloway retreats back into her home.

The next day, the heroes decide to confront Mary Frances Holloway at the next opportunity; however, McDermott’s false shipment is leaving in a matter of hours. They attempt to get Cain’s attention, but he fails to respond. They break down his room door and discover a wooden box in the middle of the room — when they open it, they discover Cain, lying with his arms across his chest, sleeping.

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Aftermath
Into the Shadow Plane

Moments after the destruction of the Heaven’s Shield, Ayla was whisked away to a heavenly landscape and met with Iomedae, who offered the paladin the chance to work by her side battling evil in the heavens; however, it would mean the separation from her adventuring party.

Without hesitation, Ayla accepted the offer and disappeared in an intense flash of light.

Runa, still grief-stricken over the death of Dietrich, took his corpse and returned to the citadel with Hogarth Hammerfist, leaving only Obed and Ivy atop the Shield Pedestal with Wrenstarr, the great silver dragon who approached them after the shield fell.

Wren warned them that the King of Kirkmoor would be sending his ghostly legionnaires to destroy those who caused the shield to fall and mentioned something about his complete belief in the “Containment Prophecy”. She suggested they go into hiding and leave the citadel behind, which would become a death trap.

Obed and Ivy climbed upon her back and she took flight, flying low to avoid the dragons entering Shieldus. After several hours of flight, she landed just north of the Heaven’s Shield barrier and led them to a large maw suspended several feet off the ground. This, she explained, was a “Shadow Maw” that led to the Plane of Shadow and would offer a shortcut to Brinkmoor Isle where her friends, Goldenjaw and Barrowhawk, awaited. To prove their alliance with Wren, they only needed to tell them that “The path is dark, but Apsu lights the way.” Wren instructed them to enter the Maw and head east across the shadowy bridge, then find the Material Maw on the opposite side.

The Shadow Plane iss a twisted, shadowy duplicate of the Material Plane. The sky is a strangely lit twilight while the ground is darkened, like soot, and the remainder of the world is blood-red and orange hues. When Ivy and Obed entered the Shadow Plane, they scanned their surroundings. To the west was a dark and foreboding duplicate of Hell’s Tower; just south of them lay an ominous version of Thrax in which the only light visible emanated from the dark version of Prince Reginald’s keep; to the north, shadowy mountains ruled the landscape; and finally, a bridge made of black stone and strangely jutting parapets lay to the east.

Once on the bridge, they faced a tenebrous worm which managed to paralyze Obed and take a few bites out of Ivy. After defeating the worm, they were beset by roguish fetchlings who appeared excited to mug denizens of the Material Plane.

After knocking the fetchlings into the strange murky, viscous black liquid streaming below the bridge, Obed and Ivy met Romulus and Remus, tiefling warriors who were traveling through the Shadow Plane to escape the Dragos Empire.

Once they crossed the bridge, they encountered a strange group of bipedal insectoids hunting a tenebrous worm. After felling the creature, they used the light from a lamp to weave a strange light-sword. The kender, intrigued by this strange development, approached the termite-like humanoids. They did not attack and seemed equally intrigued by the kender’s appearance. Their language, a smattering of clicks and clacks, was incomprehensible until Ivy cast tongues. She learned that the maw lay within their hive and that they would guide them to it if the two tieflings would strip off their armor.

Through conversation and attempts to trade, the insectoids revealed the name of their race to be D’ziriak. The heroes traveled through the hive, found the maw, and passed through. Once on the other side, they found themselves in a wooded glade inhabited by elves who called themselves the Rivenwyld. As their leader, Lord Oruthal, led them to Goldenjaw and Barrowhawk’s cave, the heroes caught a glimpse of a new constellation in the sky resembling an armored warrior.

Goldenjaw and Barrowhawk, two large gold dragons, learned of the falling of the shield and quickly opened a scrying channel to Brookfield, where the leaders of Shieldus were convening a hasty meeting to determine the fate of the land. Shieldus faces three main problems: The shield is down, exposing the land to attacks from outsiders; Prince Alexander has not been seen since Thanatos overtook Blackwall, leaving Shieldus without a king; and currently zombies and dragons run amok across the land. Ivy hesitated to tell them that, being the daughter of King Edward, she was the rightful heir to the throne; she also did not mention that they knew of Prince Alexander’s whereabouts or his soul-drained condition.

Goldenjaw, upon learning of Ivy’s terrible choice, suggested they reconvene the meeting the next day.

Upon researching her lineage further, Ivy has discovered the terrible truth that her dragon lineage traces back to Malum, the evil dragon who posed as the god of death in Shieldus. She alone must now decide the fate of her country.

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The Shield Ritual
The Battle of the Gods and the Collapse of the Shield

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.

Lhaksharut

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]

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The Abandoned Keep
The Calm Before the Storm

At Ayla’s instructions, the heroes returned to Brookfield to drop the three dragon eggs off with Aoric Usted, the headmaster of the College of Brookfield. Aoric mentioned that Talathel Aventail, the elven Lord of Aruthel (in the Locked Forest), had a request for them.

Talathel told the heroes of his friend, Alexander, a scholar who disappeared while exploring an abandoned keep in the Locked Forest. Alexander was searching for a library inside that contained the histories of Shieldus before its quarantine from the rest of the world. Talathel requested that the heroes search the keep, and he suggested they can keep whatever magical items they may find and that they may find something useful in the battle against Thanatos.

The heroes traveled to the Locked Forest via the flying citadel and explored the keep. Rawlin Adair, their chief security officer, accompanied them on the journey.

Once they found the library, the heroes encountered keep’s current resident — a vampiric Alexander. After defeating him (and witnessing his distraught wife’s suicide), the heroes discovered a book detailing King Edward’s lineage.

Only one day remains until the Shield Ritual must be completed to dispel the shield and release the souls into Asmodeus’s grasp…

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The Forgotten Shrine (Part II)
Wizard rivalries, demons, dragons, the Shield Ritual, and the wrath of a god

The heroes stepped into the Forgotten Shrine, joined by Goladin, Crank, and the mysterious face in the wall named Pelethor. Upon entering the first dimly-lit room, the floor fell out beneath Dietrich and Ayla, dumping them into a viciously spiked pit. Once the trap door opened, the spikes began churning within the pit, threatening to grind them into meat.

Obed, Ivy, and Cain Silverkin worked together to disable the device, sending waves of magical power into the pit to demolish the spikes or nimbly working the gears to slow the turning spikes. In the pit, Ayla and Dietrich shattered the spikes with brute strength.

Eventually, enough of the spikes were destroyed to allow the bloodied Ayla and Dietrich safe passage out. Pelethor congratulated them on a job well done and opened the door to the second Trial.

The second room contained a standing pool of water with four pulleys situated on high ledges in the corners. Four large stone blocks stood near each pulley. Upon entering the room, Pelethor once again closed the door at the far end. Tentacles sprouted from the pool and whipped about the room, striking and clutching the heroes. Obed found that the pulleys were attached to a large net under the surface of the water and worked to tie the anchor rope to the large stone blocks while Cain, Ivy, and Ayla worked to keep the tentacles at bay. Dietrich, seeing Obed’s progress, worked on one of the other stone blocks.

Finally, after some struggles in teamwork and with the help of Cain’s summoned elementals, they managed to tie all four pulleys to the stone blocks and kick them into the pool, raising the giant squid out of the water and suffocating it. Pelethor granted them access to the final Trial.

A large sand pit with the elvish numbers of 1-12 written in onyx blocks sat square in the center of the room. Glowing symbols graced the wall on the far side, which Cain immediately began translating from Sylvan. Once they entered the room, the door behind them sealed shut, two stone golems came to life, and the ceiling — filled with holes to allow large spikes through — began sliding down, threatening to crush them. Ayla and Dietrich held off the golems while Obed and Ivy dug around Cain’s first translated number “3”. Meanwhile, Pelethor made corny quips at them regarding their use of time.

Cain successfully translated the symbols as a series of numbers: “314”. Dietrich immediately realized this as pi, the ratio of a circle’s radius to its circumference, and suggested they draw a line in the sand from the “12” to the center of the circle.

Ayla stepped away from the golem and did exactly that, which shut down the golems and raised the ceiling back to its original, non-threatening position. Pelethor declared they had passed the Trial of Skill, the Trial of Might, and the Trial of Time, but had one more trial to endure. The heroes scoffed, but were led into a final chamber in which Goladin and Crank were pinned to the wall. They requested that Crank be released and Pelethor acquiesced. However, he asked them to pass judgment on the “god” of chaos, whose actions led to the creation of the Heaven’s Shield and brought ruin to the land.

Goladin argued with Pelethor, claiming that it wasn’t his fault Pelethor died at the hands of Ordinem. Eventually, the heroes unanimously voted to spare Goladin’s life and Pelethor, admitting his judgment was clouded by anger, reluctantly released his rival. Cain then asked if Pelethor would like to transport his soul to the citadel, and Pelethor agreed to consider the offer.

The heroes entered the next chamber and climbed down a circular staircase whose walls were covered in Abyssal scribblings. Cain translated some of them and relayed the information back to his friends. This chamber, it seemed, led to the gateway through the Heaven’s Shield, and its existence was possible only through the usage of planar rifts. Such rifts would not please certain powerful beings on the Outer Planes — perhaps Ordinem was one such powerful being, thus explaining his appearance during the ritual to raise the Heaven’s Shield.

When they reached the bottom, they found a set of white-hot iron doors. Above the doors sat a plaque with an inscription written in Abyssal: “Fire beyond this door to burning bodies maim; whence thee pass, thy soul thou must reclaim”. Dietrich soiled himself in fear, realizing that this was a gateway to Hell itself.

A single stone basin sat beneath the stairs. When Dietrich poured some of his own blood into the basin, it disappeared and filled a small crevice on the door. The others gave some of their own blood until crevice was filled, and the door opened.

Beyond the door stood a guardian Devil, who offered them the ritual in exchange for removing the offspring of Vermyntherinax, a great Dragon Overlord, from their midst. On some occasions, he explained, Vermyntherinax is an ally to the minions of Hell. On this particular day, however…

The heroes entered the lair of the dragon, who seemed intent on eating each one of them. After an intense battle, in which the dragon and Obed exchanged taunts — the dragon specifically warning that his father would hunt them down for their insolence — the dragon fell before the might of the party. They recovered the dragon’s treasure hoard and found the ritual, which was written in Celestial. After copying the ritual to parchment, Ordinem appeared and declared his/its intent to deliver swift justice for tampering with the natural order of the planes.

The heroes ran for their lives, and when they returned to the Forgotten Shrine Pelethor caused several ceilings to collapse, slowing down the angered god and giving them time to escape.

When they exited the Forgotten Shrine, Goladin raised his hands dramatically and lowered them, magically crushing the Shrine into the ground. The ground continued lowering, however, and sunk into the Blood Marsh, forcing the heroes to retreat to the citadel and watch helplessly as the southern portion of Shieldus sunk into the ocean.

In the citadel, Ayla read the ritual and explained that it could only be performed on a night of the full moon. Cain, an avid student of the phases of the moon, said that the next full moon was only two days away.

Thanatos will be executing the ritual to lower the Heaven’s Shield two days hence.

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The Forgotten Shrine (Part I)
A slight detour -- for more power!

After liberating the town of Brookfield, the heroes decided to plunder the wreckage of Hell’s Tower, which came crashing down into the Fields Eternum after suffering the awesome power of the hydra eggs. When entering the main entrance, they discovered the tower’s reversed gravity was no longer in effect, forcing them to move about the ceiling. Upon reaching the main floor, they found a few zealot stragglers and put them down quickly. It was in this battle that they discovered Order of Malum zealots have their tongues removed.

During the battle, Zarkhesh nearly succeeded in possessing Cain’s body; however, Cain managed to suppress the evil force within him and continue the battle.

The tower was split at the base, allowing the heroes to climb out of the chasm-turned-skylight. This chasm originally lead to the Heaven’s Shield chamber, but the PCs used it to crawl out of the tower and into the chasm’s now-horizontal mid-section. Rubble filled the chasm, forcing the PCs to wade through the tunnel until they came upon a tourmaline gem large enough to fill the tunnel. They determined the area was unstable and likely to collapse, but Dietrich disregarded the warnings and produced a piton and a hammer to prod the gem, causing a cave-in that buried the PCs.

Ayla dug herself out and continued to dig her companions out. Afterward, all the companions save Cain and Obed left the crumbled Hell’s Tower, passing through a hollowed-out exterior filled with souls before they emerged into sunlight. As they returned to town, Cain was overtaken by Zarkhesh and his wraith minions, forcing Obed to retreat to town. Cain managed to suppress Zarkhesh’s will before sundown and returned to Brookfield to plead with the local Temple of Virtus to exorcise the wraith.

They agreed to perform the exorcism for a small sum of money. As the priests prepared for the exorcism, the other heroes debated how to retrieve the massive gem from Hell’s Tower — surely it was a power source comparable to the crystal in the basement of their own citadel (of which they were careful never to mention to Ayla). However, as they debated their next course of action, Goladin transformed into a giant blue dragon, swooped down to the remains of the tower, and carried the massive gem back to the flying citadel of Blackwall. However, he dropped it upon the battlements and destroyed a watchtower in the process.

The heroes filed into the temple to witness the final moments of Cain’s exorcism. The priests successfully pulled Zarkhesh from Cain’s body, but Zarkhesh took form on the material plane and attacked the heroes in an attempt to possess any of them. After a struggle to find weapons that would debilitate the wraith, the heroes managed to dispel him — hopefully for good.

The next morning, Brookfield held a feast for the heroes and gave them a gift of 10,000 gold each for their efforts. They used the money to equip themselves, and then used the remaining daylight to track down Priestess Runa, who had retreated to low-income housing on the edge of town. Ayla convinced her to join them in the citadel and to learn the ways of Iomedae.

After preparing for their journey, the heroes headed to the remains of Thrax to check on their Heaven’s Shield. However, the area beneath the former Green Dragon Inn had been excavated and the Shield was clearly gone. Cain and Obed scouted the area, only to run into the members of the Double-Blooded Crusade (Anya Carpenter, Reaver Redwood, and Calathes Silvertail). Cain convinced them to come along, and they agreed to join the heroes until they reached Selbina, a small coastal fishing village.

Ayla was not happy with their presence — she attacked Anya and threatened her to turn her ways. Reaver suggested they head straight for Selbina and part ways. Cain settled the group down and instructed Goladin to direct the citadel to Selbina.

When they reached Selbina, they noted the village had no ships or boats. When asked about this, Cain — who was born in Port Iven, a similar fishing village — revealed that the seas were comprised of acid and thought this was common knowledge. The fishing villages use magically-enhanced fishing gear to catch fish that have adapted to the harsh acidic waters.

They dropped off the members of the Double-Blooded Crusade and headed to The Forgotten Shrine in the Blood Marsh, where Goladin said they could find the ritual that Thanatos intended to use to release the souls and drop the Heaven’s Shield. On further questioning, it was revealed that Goladin originally constructed the ritual 500-600 years ago before he constructed the Heaven’s Shield with Malum’s help. Crank joined them and when they reached the Shrine, they found a door with a face carved into it. The face came alive upon approach and introduced itself as Pelethor before explaining to the heroes that they must pass three tests before acquiring the ritual. Pelethor revealed that he helped Goladin create the Heaven’s Shield, but when the ritual was complete Ordinem appeared and slew him — he managed to preserve his soul in The Forgotten Shrine. By his tone, the heroes deduced that Pelethor held Goladin responsible for his death.

Pelethor opened the door, allowing the heroes to step inside.

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Counterattack
Or "How Ayla Returned to Kick Ass"

Ayla took the heroes down to the staging area of the citadel and introduced them to a brood of griffons at her service. Each hero was paired with a griffon of similar countenance, and upon examination they realized these were the same griffons whose eggs they previously recovered. In the staging area, one of the griffons pounced on a figure hiding behind a stack of supply crates: Izora Moonhallow, their former barmaid at The Green Dragon. She admitted to stowing away and preparing the meals — she wanted to stay with Rawlin as he took up his new duties as the citadel’s security officer. The heroes agreed to let her stay.

In Blackguard, Ayla confronted Priestess Runa Cardillo and claimed she was a heretic and a charlatan who led others astray in the name of false gods. Strangely, Runa did not deny this charge and admitted that she had not been in contact with Virtus; in fact, she had never known of any clerics of Virtus who had truly spoken to the god. As she retreated to her chambers to meditate, Cain requested her assistance in removing his surreptitious alter-ego, Zarkhesh, the wraith that has been attempting to possess him since his foray into the world of death. But Runa’s faith was shaken and she could not act on behalf of Virtus.

That night, Runa slipped into Dietrich’s room and attempted to end her celibacy. Dietrich, however, dissuaded her from such actions and asked her to remain true to her faith for a little while longer.

In the morning, upon receiving word from Aoric Usted that the hydra eggs were ready, Ayla held a war council that included Crubren Ironhouse, Fargen Stormbellow of the Storm Giants, Dolgrin Ironhammer, Talathel Aventail, Lord of the Aruthel in the Locked Forest, and Periwinkle Buzzlebee, High Flummox of the Great Gnome Clan of the North. All save Talathel voted to assault Brookfield. Talathel agreed that the fall of Thrax and Blackwall cannot be ignored and offered to send an army of elves in support despite his initial hesitance.

The heroes decided to send the citadel, guided by Goladin and Rawlin, to the rear of Brookfield as a diversion while they assaulted the front gate. The initial battle went well and the heroes overtook the gate without much trouble. Balor made an appearance to direct the Blackwall soldiers, but retreated to continue supporting the others (and perhaps to avoid a confrontation with Ayla).

The heroes moved into Brookfield and encountered a squad of goblins with bombs strapped to their chests. After making short work of the enemy, Balor reappeared and set upon the heroes a Cauchemar, a super-powered Nightmare with devilish powers. The Cauchemar summoned several Hell Hounds and sent them after the heroes before attacking them as well. After a struggle in which Ayla tested out her new Paladin ability to smite evil, they defeated the Cauchemar and its minions.

Waiting inside the Brookfield College was their old friend, Aoric, who gladly handed over three explosive hydra eggs. As they made the exchange, a new citadel appeared upon the horizon; Hell’s Tower was fast approaching, clearly converted into a flying fortress. Aoric suggested that the heroes use their new toys on the citadel.

Ayla led the charge on her griffon mount through scores of dragons and, once they were within range, let loose the hydra eggs upon the flying fortress. Malum, perched atop Hell’s Tower with Thanatos upon his back, hurled insults and curses at the heroes, but that did not dissuade them. The hydra eggs impacted the tower and shattered it into a blossoming flower of orange and red explosions, sending the tower crumbling down upon the Fields Eternum in a heap of stone and earth.

Malum and Thanatos made their escape and the heroes returned to Brookfield for some well-deserved rest.

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What Once Was Lost...
New foes and old friends appear...

Crubren Ironhouse reluctantly informed the heroes that the council had locked Priestess Runa Castillo in a chamber guarded by dwarven warriors for her protection — specifically from Dietrich, whose soul would be claimed by Balor within the next 12 hours. The council also ruled that Dietrich must leave the Blackguard Mines within the hour.

As the heroes were preparing to depart, Thomas Cormyn revealed that one of the members of his spy network had found Thanatos’s secret lair within the crater beneath Blackwall citadel’s former resting place. Only somebody with demon blood could open the door, he said, and that this may be a chance to sabotage whatever Thanatos had been working on. They would need to talk to the spy, “Tik Tak the Carnivorous”, if they wanted more info. Meanwhile, Rawlin Adair, a mercenary who aided in the evacuation of The Green Dragon during the destruction of Thrax, offered to guard the citadel and act as their security officer. He asked for nothing in exchange but a clean cot and hot meals. The adventurers agreed.

The heroes decided it was in their best interest to head to Blackwall and open the door to the secret lair before Balor arrived to claim Dietrich’s soul, so they met Tik Tak in a deeper chamber. The kobold, who had captured KazKaz, was willing to help the group in exchange for payment; luckily, kobolds have minimal understanding of monetary value and he did not ask for much. While negotiating with Tik Tak, Cain was suddenly overtaken by a shadowy figure who called itself “Zarkhesh”, and three wraiths erupted from his body. Tik Tak helped the heroes defeat the wraiths, proving his worth in combat. When he led them out of the caverns, he affixed a comical pair of tinted goggles onto his face to prevent blinding by the sun.

When they boarded the citadel, they found a banquet awaiting them. Rawlin refused to eat, but Goladin and Alyssa were heartily eating. After Goladin admitted to not having prepared the food, Rawlin suggested they may have a stowaway aboard.

The citadel sputtered and drifted along weakly, but eventually made it to Blackwall. There, the heroes deliberated on their next course of action. Dietrich suggested they affix zombies to the citadel’s core to power it, but Ivy recalled that Branislava, the vampire caretaker of the citadel, said the bodies affixed to the core must be sentient.

They descended to Blackwall and found it filled with zombies. After engaging in battle with several plague zombies near the former site of the citadel, they met an elven family consisting of the father Aradriel Evergreen, his wife Tarulae, and his two daughters Prism and Eolanda, huddled inside an old magic shop. In the presence of Prism and Eolanda, the Spine Dagger came to life and overtook Obed, casting fireball in an attempt to kill them. Ivy took the dagger for safekeeping, and they sent the elven family to the citadel.

The crater was guarded by a zombified tyrannosaur, which the party was able to successfully sneak past — until Dietrich opened the door. It shone brightly and the tyrannosaur attacked, swallowing Dietrich whole but not before he could toss a healing potion into its stomach, ripping its innards apart and tearing a hole in the beast’s stomach. Dietrich slid down the throat and through the hole, landing in a wet, sloppy mess, and the party was able to escape into the door leading to Thanatos’s lair.

Thanatos’s lair was more than just a hiding spot — it was a laboratory for unearthly experiments. Inside, they found a series of rooms, each with experiments more horrific than the last. The first contained the bodies of enlarged humanoids, grotesquely engorged to the size of supersoldiers. The second appeared to contain failed attempts to meld regular humans with other creatures, likely ones Thanatos found in the sewers; horrid, twisting appendages unleashed a stench nearly unbearable. The third was the largest and cleanest and contained rows and rows of racks meant to hold small gems much like Alyssa’s. They only found six gems and took them out of the lair through a secret exit.

When they emerged, they could see the citadel under attack by three dragons in the distance; the citadel was spewing trickles of lightning bolts that fizzled weakly, but was clearly an attempt to maintain its defense. Cain flew up to the citadel and was struck by a bolt while the others crossed the field to the citadel. When they boarded, they found Rawlin shooting at the dragons with a ballista. Cain took the soul gems down to Branislava, who immediately took one, cracked it open, and drank the soul within before affixing four others to the crystal and bringing the citadel’s defenses to full power. Cain kept the remaining gem for himself.

As the citadel began to repel the dragons, Balor appeared to claim Dietrich’s soul, whipping him with a vicious spiked chain. The party tried to subdue Balor, but the devil prince was far too strong — it was clear that Dietrich would be lost.

In their moment of failure, however, Ayla reappeared in a bright flash of light and drove the demon back, citing her new status as the Ambassador of Iomedae.

Ayla described her journey in the afterlife and her encounter with a goddess named Iomedae, charging Ayla with the task of disrupting Thanatos’s ritual to release all the souls within the Heaven’s Shield to the dark god Asmodeus. On top of that, it was revealed to Ayla that Virtus, Chaos, Ordinem, and Malum are false gods. Whether Iomedae is truly a god or not remains to be seen…

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The Souls of the Heaven's Shield

Goladin revealed his true nature: He is the god known as Chaos, and seemed willing to help the heroes. To begin, he offered to control the citadel while the heroes continued downstairs to clear out the remaining enemies. They encountered an invisible stalker which, due to Ivy’s ability to see invisibility, was easily dispatched. Two Order of Malum zealots remained in the dining hall; Dietrich successfully flipped one’s cape over his head, blinding him for a full six seconds and giving the others the opportunity to defeat them.

After searching the dining hall, they found a trapdoor beneath the dais and slipped down into the murky basement. There they found a door, which Obed naturally opened, and were led into a chamber containing a vampire by the name of Branislava Dubravka. Above her, embedded in the ceiling, lay a crystal with three figures bound to it. Branislava explained that the citadel required the power of souls to maintain its magical flight; without them, it would careen to the ground. Brim found this particularly disturbing, but the heroes decided it was a matter best tended to later. They disregarded Branislava’s contract to ensure her peaceful service and returned to the control room.

As they returned to the Blackguard Mines to meet with Priestess Runa Castillo, they could see thousands of figures ambling across the Fields Eternum away from Blackwall. When they reached the Blackguard Mines, they found Crank just outside, trying to find a way in through a mass of zombies. The heroes attacked the zombies and Brim managed to turn undead and force two of them to flee; the heroes defeated the final plague zombie and entered the Blackguard Mines.

There, they sold most of their equipment and used their remaining stores of gold to purchase a flawless diamond to be used as a focus in the ritual needed to resurrect Cain. Cain’s spirit was still available and willing to return, and so he appeared in the room with no lava/fire injuries. When he appeared, he relayed information that the Heaven’s Shield was preventing souls from moving on and were instead being consumed by wraiths and shadows. The party decided it was probably best to lower the shield to restore the natural order of souls and their place in the universe.

A similar attempt to bring Ayla back from the nether-realms of death was unsuccessful, leaving the heroes nearly bankrupt.

After waiting a full day to give the Priestess an opportunity to attempt the spell (and so that Cain could memorize his spells and write them down in a spellbook), the Priestess requested that the heroes search for Crubren in the Blackguard Forge, a legendary forge used by his ancestors. He had asked for the council’s help to recover the Golden Urgrosh, a legendary weapon forged by his ancestors; however, they denied his aid and he left on his own several days ago.

Meanwhile, Dietrich’s brand was beginning to glow white hot. The deadline to accomplish his mission for Balor was that midnight, and the heroes decided to aid Crubren in the forge, unsure of what other options they had.

When they reached the forge, they could see Crubren’s lifeless form lying near the Golden Urgrosh. They couldn’t discern whether he was dead or simply unconscious; but, as they approached his body, a demon attacked them and cast Greater Darkness, plunging the entire cavern into a supernatural blackness that prevented them from effectively warding the enemy.

Dietrich managed to stumble toward the demon and cast Dispel on it (after several unsuccessful attempts). Obed slipped up to Crubren and gave him a healing potion, waking him. The dwarf joined the fight, thoroughly demolishing the demon; however, he was unable to prevent it from striking a lethal blow to Dietrich and decapitating the experienced rogue.

After the survivors finished the demon, the heroes recovered multiple magical items from the forge and Crubren donated a sizable chunk of gold toward yet another diamond to cast the resurrection spell. After some deliberation, Cain realized Balor would be able to pull Dietrich from the Astral Plane; therefore, it would be better to resurrect him. Dietrich was successfully resurrected, but he only has 12 hours before Balor comes to claim his soul.

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Heavy Price Paid
The Revenge of Thanatos

As the heroes prepared to cross the bridge leading to Hell’s Tower, the blue dragon swooped in from behind the ancient structure. Beginning his evil monologue anew, he alighted on the bridge only to have it crumble beneath his feet and send a large clump of stonework masonry plummeting into the lava below. Grunting in surprise, he spread his wings and took flight, taunting the shoddy craftsmanship that could not, in his words, “fool him twice”. However, the dragon was caught by surprise as the bridge’s arch toppled onto his head and sent him tumbling toward the lava below, uttering curses as he disappeared from sight.

The dragon may not have been successful in its attempt to rend the heroes, but the sudden destruction of the bridge was enough to slow them down. Cain, whose face was still covered by the mysterious Mask of the Barbarian, was able to cast his one and only “Fly” spell to cross the chasm, bringing some of the other heroes with him. Ayla and Dietrich used their rope and grappling hooks to cross. On the other side, they discovered a magical trap on the tall wrought-iron doors (unsuccessfully disabled by Dietrich) as well as an unknown crest painted into the outer walls above them:

When they opened the doors, they were met with a magical darkness that prevented them from seeing into the tower. As they passed through the doors, they mysteriously found themselves on the opposite side of the bridge; however, they soon realized that anybody who didn’t pass through would not be visible until they, too, plunged into the magical darkness.

Ayla and Dietrich once again crossed the bridge using their rope, leaving Cain, Ivy, Obed, and Brim on the far side. Cain attempted to cross, but his hands slipped on the way and he fell; the rope tied around his waist failed to support his weight and, as his companions watched in absolute horror, he plunged into the burning cauldron of swirling lava below. The mask separated itself from his face as his skin and muscle were burned away, floating lazily on the surface of the deadly molten liquid.

Unable to help their doomed friend, the remaining heroes managed to cross the chasm using Ivy’s final “Fly” scroll. Together, they determined that the crest above the doors was a divine symbol with magical properties that suggested honor, virtue, and respect. Seeing no other option than to continue through the doors in an infinite loop, the heroes knelt before the symbol and it glowed with a divine light, opening the doors below.

However, the heroes didn’t have a chance to pass through; instead, they were teleported into the tower’s entrance hall, a strange corkscrewed hallway that appeared to defy gravity. Portraits of long-dead adventurers lined the walls and as soon as the heroes appeared, the nearest portrait welcomed them and suggested they would not be leaving alive.

They continued through the hallway, eventually twisting with the floor so that they stood upside-down. To their perspective, the stairs at the end of the hall led down to a lower floor, but were in reality leading up to the top of the tower. The heroes continued into a series of rooms that seemed to have no exit.

One of the rooms locked all but Ivy inside and began filling with acid (strangely “falling” from floor to ceiling). Inside, they found treasure, an intellect devourer, and a strange plant that tried to constrict the breath from their bodies. Ivy found a lever that halfway opened the massive stone slab blocking the doorway, allowing some of the heroes to slip out before the acid could consume them. Another lever opened it fully, allowing the acid to spill out, giving the heroes more time to find a lever underneath a pile of treasure/rubble that forced the acid to bleed out in cracks in the ceiling. Ayla swiftly dispatched the intellect devourer and the party moved on to a large, bare chamber with a chasm in the center (strangely leading to the upper levels of the tower).

They rested for the night (fully aware that this meant Dietrich’s time was swiftly running out) and explored the chamber the next morning. A series of names appeared in the air, including “Vermyntherinax”, a name they had seen before in the tunnels below Brookfield.

The chamber seemed to have no exit, but the heroes found an outdoor viewing platform (the lava pooling above and the open sky stretching out below). As they continued searching for an exist, a massive flying citadel swooped in, dropped off a series of Order of Malum zealots into Goladin’s mansion, then crashed into the tower. Order of Malum zealots swarmed the tower, surrounding the heroes.

The heroes struck down the zealots and decided to take the fight to Thanatos and his followers — they boarded the citadel (suffering the disorientation of reversing gravity again), defeated its young red dragon guardian, and stormed the castle. They found it mostly empty, save for a little girl at the top level who called herself “Alyssa” and was found clutching a strange gem to her chest. In a nearby room, they found Prince Alexander of Blackwall in a trance-like state, unresponsive to all stimuli. Alyssa claimed that the gem she held in her hands housed the soul of her father — the prince.

Meanwhile, Ivy found a magical sphere in the same room that could control the citadel. She pushed the citadel forward, allowing Dietrich and Ayla the opportunity to swing across their ropes to the top of Hell’s Tower (flipping back to an upside-down orientation as they did).

As they approached the stone pedestal that supposedly contained the Heaven’s Shield, the tower’s guardian awoke — a clay golem that inflicted Ayla with numerous cursed wounds. Brim summoned numerous earth elementals that surrounded the golem and landed a few vital blows upon it, stunning it for several seconds and giving Dietrich and Ayla the opportunity to slice it into ribbons.

But the victory was short-lived; instead of finding a Heaven’s Shield, they found a note from Goladin: “Dear Adventurers, You will not find a Heaven’s Shield here. I have it with me. Your friend, Goladin.” And from the chasm above appeared Thanatos and a group of his Order zealots, surrounding the two heroes. Ayla heroically grappled with Thanatos, giving Dietrich a chance to escape to the citadel, where Obed was waiting to slice the rope and cut off the enemy.

Thanatos bit into Ayla’s neck, his acidic saliva tearing at her flesh and seeping into her body. She died a moment later, but gave Dietrich enough time to make his escape. As Ivy steered the citadel away from Hell’s Tower, Thanatos flung Ayla’s lifeless body into the pit of lava below, then pointed at the survivors as a malicious grin spread across his lips.

Dismayed at the loss of their compatriots, the heroes had no choice but to leave and live to fight Thanatos another day. The blue dragon appeared, landed on the citadel, morphed into the confused old man, Goladin, and uttered only five words: “I am the Heaven’s Shield.”

Dietrich has five days before Balor arrives to collect his soul.

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