Welcome to the New Age

Pursuit, finale
The Death of Black Mantle

The town hall in the upside-down of Grayson is watched by alert (but not too alert) guards and a pair of Zombie Fire Giants.  With a priority on confronting and ending Black Mantle, Illuvere and Simbar volunteer to hold off the zombies and the strange dark humanoids that guard the outside.

Once inside the Heralds are confronted by a small collection of cannon fodder creatures as well as the last of Black Mantle's high powered servants, an armor clad warrior and a Tiefilng wizard.  The fight was brutal, and several times only Aideen's newfound power of healing kept the group up and active.

In the end, Gareth struck down Black Mantle as she tried to flee, awakening a new power in the sword that struck her down.

But in the aftermath of the battle, Illuvere fell.  Simbar admits that they both expected this to be their last mission.  His intention is to return her to the Keep of the Ravens and join her on the far side of the gate…

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Rebirth

I was woken by two things – an annoying tingling numbness in my right hand and arm, and an equally irritating dripping noise.  As I blinked my eyes I realized I was not where I had fallen asleep.  It was very dark, but I could tell I was in a large, cavernous room.  Large brickwork columns supported the ceiling, and I could make out a large trench in the middle of the floor, running side to side and out of range of my vision (the source of the dripping, from what I could tell) and filled to the brim with a slow-moving liquid.  Farther away, I could make out what looked like the bottom of a large set of stairs.  The air held the sharp tang of iron.

I realized that my arm wasn’t tied or bound or anything, it was simply resting upon the wall – door, on further inspection – that I sat leaning against.  As I thought to move it to a more comfortable position, I realized there was another person there.  

Quill sat next to me, entirely too close.  He perked up when I awoke, clearly waiting for me.  

Asking him where I was didn’t reveal any useful information, and the exchange asking why we were there was equally cryptic:

“I was sent to talk to you.”
“By whom?”
“The Keeper of the Door.”
“This door?”
“Yeah, probably.”

We circled through a long, tangled conversation.  He talked, at times, about how he had come to serve Her (the capitalization emphasized and clear from his speech).  He contrasted his search for a being with whom to make a pact with my situation, more of a “recruitment” as he put it.

He remarked that I’d had a hard couple days, intimated that his mistress was interested in our – my – activities.  The reason we were there, then; She was prepared to offer me power.  Power to keep my friends standing, power beyond the “paltry” (Quill’s words… at my sharp look he added a very non-apologetic “though efficacious”) powers I possessed naturally.  

There was, of course, a cost.  I would have to give myself to Her, devote my life to her goals.  My choices would no longer be made based just on my own moral compass, but on Her teachings.

My attention was again brought to the Door (I realized my hand still was still resting on it – curious, I thought, but Quill again distracted me from my thoughts of moving it).  He explained that She guards the Door, the passage where we all must go.  That She abhors those that draw spirits back across the threshold, that try to break the natural course of life and death.

He went on: “The Door is about Fate.  The Dragons and their Queen are going to break a lot of people’s Fates.  Even the “helpful” ones can interfere.  Things that break the course of events must be dealt with…  sometimes the choices aren’t easy, but if you put your Faith in her, it will end the way it is supposed to.” He paused a moment to stress that it wouldn’t necessarily be happy.  

It was terribly tempting.  I knew we were in trouble, and if what Quill said was true, outside forces were running out of ways to intervene on our behalf.  I had a chance, here, to improve our chances in a potentially significant way.  I was, as Quill pointed out, the one with my hand on the Door (which reminded me that my hand was still numb, and I still hadn’t moved it).  I was closest to her, and I was worthy of the power, in a way (he implied), that not all of my friends would be. 

But she would require a lot from me - everything, in fact.  I would lose the power of my forefathers, and I would shatter that lens that I was used to seeing the world through.

It was a scary thought, and I said as much.  Trying to verbalize my feelings, I expressed that my powers were the tools I used to manipulate the world around me, that they were the way I interacted with the world.  Quill’s eyes lit up as he discovered a way to potentially help me see his perspective, and he asked if I still used my beginning crafting tools.  I shook my head, and while I said that it had been scary to lose those, and that I had questioned at that time whether I was worthy of the next thing, I also understood was he was driving at.  Was her offer the next step for me?  Had I achieved all that I was meant to with the current tools I had at hand?

We sat in silence for a long while as I contemplated my feelings, and tried my best to overcome my fear.

“Alright.  I accept.”
“Ah, ah, it’s not that easy.  Now we go to see Her.”

He asked me to strip down, which I did, with some trepidation.  Likewise unclad, he led me to the channel in the floor.  “I’m going to follow you partway, but you need to swim to the bottom.”
I nodded nervously, and asked “Is there anything I should know?”
In response, he simply held up a witchlight, and in revealing the liquid to be blood, confirmed my horrible suspicions.

I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and began to swim.  He held my hand at the beginning, and I was now glad to have him so close.  At some point a little ways into our swim, I felt him squeeze my hand twice, firmly, and then I felt a shove on my back, pushing me further down.

Alone now, I swam.

My muscles burned, my lungs ached, but still I swam.

I was sure I was going to lose consciousness.  My arms were weak, my entire body screamed that I needed air.

And then, through my eyelids, light shone.  And a voice. 

“Open your eyes, and come to me, child.”

I obeyed Her.

A huge masked figure held her hands to me, and I found a little more strength to push forward.  A little voice inside insisted that it would be easier if I could breathe, but I ignored it, continued swimming through my pain.

I felt pieces of me fall away, things that I now saw were unimportant, mere peripheral bits to my true self.  Everything tied to my flesh, rather than my soul, simply washed away.  The trappings of my former power were left behind me as I struggled towards the light.  The thunder under my skin quieted for the first time in my life.  The lightning in my muscles, which had accompanied every step I had ever taken, ceased.  

All of it was stripped away as I swam to Her.  I was Aideen and nothing more.  Empty and alone I approached, and I began to feel flooded with a new strength, a new certainty.

I am Aideen, and that is all that matters.  She accepts me as “just” Aideen.

There was a pang of loss as I thought about the forces I would never touch again, the powers I had shared with my brother, the connection broken to my mysterious ancestors.  That ache was soothed, however, the hole filled with the confidence that this was the Correct decision.

I was ready to be Her Raven.

My hand reached towards Her, closed on Her merest fingertip.  She gathered me up, and I felt power nestle within me, as ready for me as I was for it.

I broke the surface.

Quill (now clothed and clean of blood) held his hand out for me, and I desperately grabbed for it, accepting his help to climb back out into the chamber (I noted abstractly that the Door was now gone, but that fact felt so minor it was swept away in the maelstrom of my emotions).  The air stung as I took in deep, gasping breaths.  I sobbed with both anguish and joy, tears burning tracks of white through the blood on my face.  He placed a hesitant hand on my naked shoulder as I cried myself out and calmed myself down, as I searched within to discover what I had lost and gained.

It felt as if my journey had taken an eternity, and at the same time no time at all.  I was sure that by the time I returned to my friends, that they would have solved all of our problems (although a new, more confident voice within me answered that they couldn't do so without me, and thus they must still be waiting).  

Quill broke into my thoughts.  “So, you're going to be waking up soon.  Things are going to be different.”
“But I’m Aideen.”  I answered automatically, echoing the thoughts I had had when I was swimming.
“They'll be suspicious,” he said quickly, but with understanding.  “You tell Iluvere and Simbar you are The Raven’s Champion, they’ll accept it.” 
I nodded as he continued, “She’s given you more than this power, certain gifts, things you were carrying will be gone, replaced.”

I was about to respond when I felt the world start to rush away, replaced by Gareth’s concerned face, and I found myself once again gasping for air.

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Pursuit, part 3
Forged Anew

AN52, 4 Yluj 

Aideen wakes changed.  She has a new faith and confidence in a higher power: The Raven Queen.  She has sacrificed her old life for a service to this strange and distant goddess.

Her new powers are put to the test as the party must guard Illivere, Simbar, and Desmond while the trio work together to infuse Black Mantle's wedding ring into Gareth's sword.  Shadows of strange distorted people and animals attack the ritual, forcing the Heralds into a tight ring around the participants.

With the successful rite, now all that remains is to use the weapon against Black Mantle…

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Pursuit part 2
Bright Siders on the Upside Down

AN52, 3 Yluj

The fight with the spider creatures goes poorly.  One by one, each member of the Heralds falls before the creatures until only Desmond stands over the bodies of the last two foes.  

Finding his friend's bodies, Desmond brings the body of Declan to the basement of the Homely Sheep.  When he returns to collect the others, he finds the bodies are missing.  In desperation, Desmond begs his mysterious patron for help.  A distant voice tells him only to sleep.

The Heralds all awaken in the basement of the Homely Sheep, still in the strange world of the "upside down" or Shadowfell.

Deciding to explore the tunnels under the town of Grayson, the party finds a series of tunnels with trapped doorways.   One room reveals a map that seems to indicate dangerous areas of the town.

Further exploration also introduces the party to a pair of native elves, Shadar-Kai, named Iluvere and Simbar who offer to ally with the party to destroy Black Mantle.

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Pursuit part 1
Into the Upside Down

July 3, 25NA

The decision is made to pursue Black Mantle.  When the trail under the Homely Sheep leads only to the strange calendar stone, and signs point to a ritual.  Reactivating the ritual leaves the party in a strange, dark, and seemingly empty copy of Grayson. 

But not empty enough…

Strange spider-like creatures pour out of the river, attacking the party in the streets of a darkened town…

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Interlude: Columbia part Four

The battle at the Homely Sheep was bloody and hard-fought on both sides.  After felling Aideen, Black Mantle cut down Desmond and Gareth before seizing Aideen’s corpse and teleporting into her network of tunnels.

The remaining Heralds and their allies fought the rest of her men, although a few of their opponents fled the area.  The group did not give chase, instead ensuring that no one else on their side was lost.

In the basement of the tavern, a ritual space and (later) a secret door were discovered.  Ilikan ran to bring Grumbar to examine the working, while the rest of the group worked to keep Declan from opening the secret door before backup arrived.

Finally, the group reformed and Declan took the chance to open the secret door.  Undeterred by the poison which it emitted, or any of the traps in the hallway beyond, the Heralds searched for their lost friend in the tunnels.  

Eventually the trail led them to a large room, where Aideen was bound to a stone block, alive.


——-


Though she would not remember it, or indeed anything of her time past the threshold of death, Aideen was questioned under a Speak with Dead spell.  The questions, and her responses, were thus:

Who sent you to kill Black Mantle, specifically? (It was Declan’s idea.)

Do you have unfinished business which needs to be dealt with? (Yes, I do.)

Would you forswear a grudge against your killer if you were restored? (Yes, I would.)

How important is your unfinished business to you? (It’s important.)

((A comment, at this point, to someone near the Questioner: “That seems to lack the drive we’re looking for…  yes, yes, they’re often gone… I don’t think it would change…”))

If you are restored this day, to life, how soon would you leave Grayson to go about your business? (I would go as soon as I could convince my companions to go.)

((Another comment: “Yes, yes, let’s bring him onboard, and he'll speak for her.”))

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Interlude: Columbia part Three
Vengeance at the Homely Sheep

July 1, 25NA

Two miraculous revivals occur as Grumbar Brighthammer calls upon the powers of the Gods to return life to Grunr Stormborn and Gwythr ap Llewellyn.  Heartfelt speeches by Aideen and Gareth help the ritual's success.

Illiken and Desmond rush to the prison where Isadore Consuela has been locked up by the doppelgänger.

King Courdry issues an order to Declan and Aideen: "Find her, and End HER!"

The Heralds head to the Homely Sheep, fighting off and ambush on the way. The fight that ensues at the Homely Sheep, comes of as onesies the other direction, as the Black Mantle's wizard and bard strike at the party before the she herself steps in and strikes down Aideen…

Howwillthis all end…?

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Interlude: Columbia Part two
Two for the price of one is a good deal...

June 29-July 1, 25NA

Dinner with the new King and his fiancé turns into a surprise announcement that the royal wedding will occur in two days.

Various errands are run over the next day.  Tailors are procured, providing the attendees with finery and some small number of magical enhancements.  Illiken is handed a mysterious warning by Red Simpson, who has fallen on hard times.  Gareth learns some of the secrets of the Sword of Sigurd and buys a wedding gift.  Aideen meets with Cogsworth to check on some old business.  Declan and Desmond meet with the town council before separating.  

The morning of the wedding arrives with pomp and circumstance.  As the ceremony reaches its conclusion Isadore Consuela, a ranger the party met previously, assassinates Gwythr ap Llewellyn and Grunr Stormborn.  Isadore is revealed by Iliken as James Anderson, jr.  The party kills him, but is the damage already done…?

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Interlude: Columbia part One
Birth of a New Nation

June 21- June 29, 25NA

The Heralds are accosted by a gang of aggressive centaurs on the way home.  After a tough battle, they emerge victorious.

Upon their return they find things are different in Grayson, the appointment of a monarch, King Bruce Courdry, has altered the flow of the town a little.  The livery now seems to house flying mounts - four gryphons - take a spot in the yard, and the two Panthrows garner much appreciation from Abram Dreier and his staff.

They are directed to present themselves before the king up on their return and are greeted warmly.  Bruce insists on having them all to his home for dinner that evening.

The group has errands to run, and each goes their separate ways, but Gareth and Iliken seek out Grumbar Brightaxe to seek his counsel about the possibility that  Declan and Aideen might be enthralled still by the strange fish they encountered days earlier.

Grumbar confronts each twin and removes the charmed influences on each, but they are surprisingly not as grateful as might be expected…

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Tortuga Part 2
But the fish is our friend...

The party made quick work of the Hydra, but as they searched the cavern, the diving bell started to lift!  A scramble for safety left them wet, but inside the sphere.

Unfortunately, shortly after they closed the door, the sphere stopped.  A voice, reminiscent of the fish-like creature they met at The Smithsonian, rang through their heads.

The Aboleth explained that it had thought that the Hydra would kill them, end the party’s lives in a heroic way.  It apologized that it had to betray them, but that they knew too much, and that it could not afford to let our heroes go.

Realizing that the safety they had worked so hard to attain had become a watery prison, the group worked fast to break free and attempt the swim to the surface.  

Before they could make the surface, though, the Aboleth himself attacked the party.  It made itself allies of the twins, promising to help them fulfill their deepest dreams.

With their help, the injured creature was able to swim off to tend to its wounds.  The twins, however, had to explain why their spells had turned against the rest of the party just as the fight was beginning to turn in the heroes favor.

At the surface, the pirates (strangely helpful, and offering no fight) gave the party the Sword of Sigurd and returned their mounts. Rather than make the trip overland, the group opted to teleport back to the great tree. 

Most of the Panthrows were returned to Wilks, and after a rest, the group turned its eyes to the next task ahead…

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