The Shield of Heaven

Between a Rock and a Hard Place
In which the heroes engage in dubious behavior

The heroes, battered and beaten after exploring the depths of the caverns beneath the kobold encampment, retreated to the camp of the Knights of the Cross where Captain Daryl Smith informed them that Sawtooth was currently enveloped in chaos. Sheriff Porter had gone missing and in her absence the leader of the Skull Bandits, Gavin Keane, took over the town and plunged it into disorder. They informed Captain Smith that the kobolds were preparing to attack and would be at their doorstep within two days. He requested the use of their horse and sent a messenger to Exeter to request backup from the Knights of the Cross.

Captain Smith directed them to Bishop Walter Cunningham, who offered to revive Konrad in exchange that the heroes promise to return the town to order. After agreeing, they returned to Sawtooth and left Konrad in the drunken hands of the Bishop.

As they approached Sawtooth, they could see that most of the town was set ablaze. On the outskirts, the heroes stumbled upon a pile of 100 platinum coins. These coins, however, had the profile of a person they didn’t recognize and immediately assumed it was a foreign currency. As they entered town, they were attacked by the Skull Bandits. Moving forward, and with the help of Codrus — who flung his axe at a Skull Bandit on the balcony of a store and decapitated him — they overwhelmed the bandits and saved the Golden Trinket. Inside, The Sorrow of Kirkmoor had taken on a large group of bandits on her own, single-handedly saving Feral and Agna Goldvale from certain death.

Emerald investigated the Sheriff’s office and found two things of note: A pile of platinum coins with the Sheriff’s profile on them, and a report from the Knights of the Soul describing a flying citadel on the warpath headed toward Sawtooth. Exeter barely managed to divert the citadel and suffered heavy losses, and managed to learn the name of its leader: Rawlin Adair.

Gimli, ever the entrepreneurial opportunist, took over a nearby General Store whose owner was slaughtered in battle and claimed it for his own.

During the battle, a cloaked figure escaped the Golden Trinket. The Sorrow gave chase and the heroes — including Konrad, who had now been revived — followed. The Sorrow searched the mayor’s mansion while the heroes plundered it, stealing several magical artifacts and the mayor’s gold. After failing to find the mayor, the Sorrow departed and forced the heroes/thieves out of the mansion, declaring that she had no love for chaos.

When they left the mansion, the heroes spent the night gathering the townspeople in an attempt to put out the fires. Uncru, Konrad, and Gimli organized a bucket brigade; Emerald searched and found a nearby well for the bucket brigade to use; and Hand-Over-Fist cast ray of frost to slow the fires. After spending a full eight hours, the heroes organized the townsfolk enough to save 96% of the town, and the town branded them heroes.

The next day, the heroes saw people scooping up the platinum coins in the streets. Believing the coins to be cursed people, they attempted to stop them but learned that Ulysses McDermott — owner of the Sawtooth Bank — hired them to collect the coins. They approached McDermott, but he was unwilling to part with his coins; however, he trusted the newfound heroes of Sawtooth had good reason to suspect something was amiss and offered to give them 72 hours to prove the coins were cursed citizens before he melted them down and re-minted them.

The heroes traveled north and returned to the kobold encampment, home of the Blackscale tribe. Upon entering the caverns, Korgoth was nailed by a trap attached to the entrance, suggesting that the kobolds had prepared for their arrival. Further exploration revealed that Grimhook Fellmaster’s first priority was the re-opening of a Shadow Maw, while breeding new werewolves was secondary. The heroes utilized a cockatrice to defeat a few kobolds, but were outmatched when attacked by the leader of the Blackscale tribe, Krakmoor Blackscale, who had two werewolves at his disposal.

After the wolves killed Korgoth in battle, the heroes decided to retreat and return at a later time when they had more resources.

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Northern Exposure

The Heroes of Sawtooth have made the Golden Trinket their home and spent five weeks working in the unruly town of Sawtooth. Konrad and Gimli have found no trace of Princess Rowena, while Emerald, Hand-Over-Fist, and Uncru searched the Horror of Sawtooth but found no clues to the whereabouts of the Heroes of Shieldus.

Not one to see adventurers remain idle, Sheriff Porter recruited the Heroes of Sawtooth to investigate a growing army of kobolds north of the Norgaard border, which she expects to eventually attack Sawtooth. After explaining that the town’s engineers were working on a palisade wall and a wizard or two were on their way to learn the secrets of the Horror of Sawtooth, she requested they head north to determine if these kobolds were part of the werewolf clan that scared Mary Frances Holloway into creating a new clan of werewolves.

The heroes excitedly accepted the opportunity to extricate themselves from the bowels of the Golden Trinket and duly departed the dingy town of Sawtooth. As per Porter’s instructions, they stopped at a northern Kirkmoor outpost and met Captain of the Guard Daryl Smith, who introduced them to their new guide, Korgoth, a half-orc barbarian from the northlands with experience in kobolds and their movements.

The heroes headed north with the aid of Korgoth and eventually came into contact with a kobold encampment. They surrounded the camp and attacked the kobolds, suffering no casualties and overtaking the camp with minimal injuries.

Inside the chief’s tent rested a cage that housed a large minotaur. Gimli, fluent in the language of the Giants, learned that the minotaur’s name was Codrus, and was captured with the intent to be turned into a werewolf. Upon hearing this, Hand-Over-Fist released the minotaur, and Codrus declared that he now owed the sorcerer a life debt for his salvation.

The chief kobold carried a missive from one “Grimhook Fellmaster”, who none of the heroes had heard of. The missive ended with “Praise be to Alabaster” — and none of the heroes had any problem recognizing that name. It coincided with a malicious white dragon to the north.

Meanwhile, Uncru found a trapdoor leading to an underground maze. Leaving Codrus to guard the entrance, the heroes delved into the subterranean labyrinth.

Upon reaching a t-junction, Konrad and Emerald headed left while Korgoth, Gimli, Hand-Over-Fist, and Uncru headed right. Korgoth fell into a pit trap and while Gimli attempted to help him out, Uncru battled kobolds further down the corridor. After fighting off a swarm of spiders (via magical fire conjured by Hand-Over-Fist), Korgoth burst through a door into a room and sprung a swinging axe trap that sliced into Gimli (laughing all the while, no less). Bursting into the room, Korgoth encountered three giant spiders.

Konrad and Emerald met their match as they battled numerous kobolds down the other corridor. A darkmantle surprised Konrad and struck him square in the face, knocking him out and constricting its lengthy body around his lifeless form. Emerald was unable to pull him away from the creature and Konrad suffocated to death before her very eyes — but not before a terrible accident involving her bow left her bleeding to death.

After slicing the spiders into ribbons — and after Uncru decided to refrain from opening a strange dresser — Gimli returned to Emerald’s body and revived her. Korgoth and Uncru aided in recovering Konrad’s dead body and hightailed it out of the underground maze, surviving to fight another day.

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The Horror of Sawtooth Part II

Upon entering the Horror of Sawtooth, the heroes faced a Nightshade — a huge humanoid beast from the plane of shadow that threatened to kill them all. After Ivy successfully prevented its movement with a Wall of Force, a younger version of Goladin arrived from the upper levels of the tower; however, he didn’t seem to recognize any of the heroes. When he mentioned “the war”, Konrad told him the war for Shieldus was over, but Goladin corrected him and mentioned the “Phantom War”. The heroes immediately recognized this as a war from years past, in which Goladin played a crucial part in resolving.

Goladin performed a ritual that opened a portal and sucked the Nightshade into it; however, the portal was incredibly strong and pulled Goladin, Ivy and Obed into it as well. The resulting explosion severely weakened Konrad and Gimli. Where the heroes went, we can only surmise…

That same night, a stranger only known as “Hand Over Fist” arrived in town, followed shortly thereafter by a catfolk named Uncru Currin and a ranger called Emerald, travel companions in search of the Heroes of Shieldus at the behest of Rawlin Adair — suggesting our favorite Security Officer somehow survived the fall of the Heaven’s Shield. They met Konrad and , who visited the Church of Cayden Cailean to request Bishop Walter Cunningham investigate their weakened plight. However, the Bishop turned out to be a drunken man incapable of anything productive other than projectile vomiting, so the new heroes decided to follow on a lead the Sheriff suggested — clearing out the abandoned inn that the Heroes of Shieldus intended to purchase.

The PCs investigated the inn and found a pack of goblins that had taken residence; in the ensuing battle, the goblins were wiped out.

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The Horror of Sawtooth Part I

Konrad von Kutzburg and Gimli arrived to town and joined the heroes to buy an abandoned inn at the south end of town. After debating for some time whether they should purchase the property, Sheriff Porter requested they clear out the “Horror of Sawtooth”, the large tower on the edge of town.

The heroes entered the guildhall at the base of the tower, which purportedly held the means to open the tower’s iron gate. As they explored the guildhall — haunted by a General Carver, who was killed during a battle against the northern barbarians just after his family was murdered — they faced an omox demon that managed to teleport Cain Silverkin into the bottom of the sea of acid, effectively obliterating him. Before the omox could continue this strategy, the heroes defeated it.

The heroes burned the small wooden figurines of General Carver’s family, releasing him of his pain and revealing the switch to open the tower.

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Showdown at Sawtooth
Gunslingers and werewolves

The heroes, after determining that they had no choice but to cooperate with the now-vampiric Cain Silverkin, prepared the wagon to ambush the Skull Boy Bandits. As they were heading out of town, the bandits made their move and attempted to overtake the wagon. The PCs counterattacked the bandits, but were assaulted by Mary Frances Holloway’s werewolves.

Both Romulus and Remus were killed in the ensuing battle. The remaining heroes, Ivy, Obed, and Cain, retreated from the battle and ambushed the remaining werewolves during the day, killing them one by one until they faced Mary Frances Holloway herself and took her out. However, before she fell in battle with the PCs, she revealed that she was building a werewolf army to stand against a much more powerful clan in the north.

Sheriff Porter thanked them for their service for Sawtooth and removed their rank of deputy.

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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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