In Which it’s Their Party and They Will Scry if They Want To
Godsday, 10 Fireseek, CY 596
Upon arriving at his fortress, the party finds Tenser looking dubious and serious, accompanied by the always-serious Celeste. He wants to hear about the journey to Kuluth-Mar first, and when the party delivers their report he appears intrigued by the visions they all experienced periodically throughout their quest, especially the ones involving prophecy at the end. He notes that the last one was not the one of himself telling them the prophecy would be fulfilled, but the one about the Whispered One’s Hand and the Faceless Mage, implying, the great wizard suggests, that it is prophecy that is being fulfilled right now. The Hand of Vecna has been found.
While the party was in the jungle, Tenser was conducting research on Kyuss, Balakarde’s disappearance, and the Ebon Triad. On this last point he reports the disturbing discovery that this Cult may just be a front for the Cult of Kyuss. In all of his research, the name of Alhaster keeps appearing. Alhaster is the largest and most prosperous city of the Bandit Kingdoms, a collection of warring city-states located in the devastated region on the north side of the Nyr Dyv. It had been a completely lawless place until it was taken over by a fallen paladin named Prince Zeech and his fallen angel cronies, about eighteen years ago, and now it is a shining beacon of order, safety, cleanliness, and oppression. It is also the major port city for a large swath of land, controlling everything that goes in or Bandit Kingdoms. It is under constant attack, but the insane despot Zeech has many powerful allies, including, it is rumored, a black dragon (possibly Illthain).
Alhaster appears to also be the birthplace for the Cult of the Ebon Triad, home to a surprising number of the cult’s leaders. Celeste adds that her own research led her to Balakarde’s favorite Greyhawk libraries, where she found the lone copy of a book called A History of Alhaster, written by a cleric of St. Cuthbert named Rhorsk. It told of a cult of Hextor, believed to be the root of the Cult of the Ebon Triad, known for the use of the writhing dead, that was defeated by an elven noblewoman named Lashonna, one of Alhaster’s most powerful sorcerers. Somehow, the leaders of that cult escaped prosecution.
Celeste further reports that her research uncovered a sort of task list for Balakarde: talk to Lashonna, talk to Rhorsk, research more about Ebon Triad, etc. Tenser advises the party that Alhaster should be their next destination.
Most of the party seems poised to agree when Riddle says, “Hold a moment, please.” He goes on to explain that he feels as though the party is being led and wants to try to circumvent it. He is far more concerned with arresting the efforts of the Faceless One than with Alhaster at the moment. Tenser cannot find the bearer of the Hand of Vecna and suggests that Vecna himself may be shielding the enemy from his eyes. Jane offers to scry the Faceless One, though with little hope for success.
Using the mask from the Faceless One’s simulacrum and finding a convenient pool of water in Tenser’s fortress, the druid casts the spell. An outdoor location appears in the water, filthy, with torn ground strewn with rubble and rocks and faint patches of limp grass. The rain in the vision is nothing like the constant rain the party has lived with since the beginning, but a torrential downpour. Right in front of the vista of the scrying vision, as far as the eye can see in all directions, is an enormous wall of vapor and clouds, as if behind a sheet of glass. On the ground is a 10-foot-wide obsidian disk etched along the rim with druidic runes that Jane translates to read, ”Return my eyes to me and I shall gaze through the storm.” The Faceless One is there, with his green robes, leather mask, and iron studs. Beside him stands a towering humanoid clothed in flowing blue robes decorated with eyes along the trim. His face is protected from the wind and the party’s scry with a cowl. He carries a wicked-looking mace, crackling with frost, in one hand, and the other hand appears to be a twitching, rotting skeletal appendage with visible chunks of black and rotting flesh attached to it. These two fearsome figures stand before the disk, but atop this disk is one of much slighter frame – a purple-robed kenku, and in her hand, three crystals. She appears poised to place the crystals into three stylized eyes with shallow indentations along the circumference of the disk. Two others look on, lithe cloaked figures dressed in tightly wrapped silken scarves of red, with horned heads and fiery eyes identifying them as tieflings. Finally, off to one side, a surly, immense, twelve-foot-tall red-skinned humanoid whose flesh turns the rain to sizzling steam. The falchion on his back dances with flame and he is covered in bronze jewelry. “An efreet,” Scar-Eater whispers.
As the party watches, fascinated, the kenku places first one and then another crystal. Before she places the third, the blue-robed Hand of Vecna raises his mace and the entire groups steps onto the disk. The observing party holds their breath as the kenku cautiously places the third crystal – and there is a sudden blast of violet light! The Hand is blown completely out of the parameters of Jane’s spell and all others are driven back off the obsidian disk. The Faceless one follows the Hand, about eighty feet back where he landed amongst two more collapsed druidic stones. The Hand stands, heals himself, and both eye the kenku with an unspoken question. She shrugs and beckons them back to try again.
The kenku seems to take her time and make her placements with more care on the second effort, but upon final placement there is still a burst of that violet light. However, when it fades, she stands alone on the disk. The others have disappeared, and with their disappearance, Jane’s spell dies.
“They have left the plane,” Scar-Eater explains grimly.
The party engages in serious discussion, culling all they can from the details of the vision. Jane recognizes that obsidian is a material prized by druidic spellcasters throughout the ages for its use in epic-level casting to create massively powerful one-time effects, or milder effects intended to last for eternity. Tenser cannot identify the location but some discussion over the placement and age of the druidic stones keeps bringing Jane, Riddle, and Long Fist back to the legendary Order of the Storm, a name which Scar-Eater recognizes as being associated with a famous battle with Kyuss about fifteen centuries ago. While the Order is believed to have died out, Scar-Eater disagrees with that assessment. Tenser adds that there is a legend of a library connected to the Order, a repository dedicated to its lore, filled with thousands of years of history, memories, dreams, and secrets, and wherever this library was built, the Order supposedly drive some sort of bargain with primal elementary forces to whisk it off the material plane until the time came when it was needed.
Tenser offers the party a scroll of greater teleport, and after a brief period of preparation, the party is off and away in search of the obsidian disk.
Not surprisingly, the party manages to teleport right into an ambush of orcish pirates. Archie fires an opening salvo at the captain, who fires back with a devastating hit. Scar-Eater moves in for some of that action while Long Fist activates his aura of justice. Tyrrell cat’s graces himself up with a wand while Jane blasts the captain with an empowered flame strike. Long Fist and Archie take some damage in the pirates’ counter strike just before Riddle blasts all of them with lightning bolts.
Archie easily drops the captain on his next attack, and turns to focus on another poor orc. Scar-Eater knocks another off its feet and delivers a crushing deathblow while Long Fist and Hyaeliotrope gang up on another for some face-kicking. Jane shifts into her powerful Bast form and charges one while Tyrrell jockeys into a better position. Two of the remaining orcs charge Archie and two attack the big sudden tiger in their midst. Tyrrell manages to avoid being flanked but Long Fist is not so lucky as two crowd in on him and deliver a couple of mighty blows. Riddle sends his spiritual weapon into the fray and directs a few more lightning strikes as well.
Despite being plugged with arrow after arrow from the ranger’s bow, several orcs remain standing and open to the half-ogre attacks. Scar-Eater sends another to the ground with a scorching ray attack, giving several of his allies the chance to tear at the foe just as Tyrrell skewers another with a vicious strike. The great cat transforms into the towering Willow, who slams another orc into oblivion before turning on one of the only two left standing. One is dazed and the other chugs a potion when it has the chance, just before Riddle’s weapon smacks it upside the head, dazing it as well.
As the party looks over each other’s wounds and ties up the two dazed orcs, Riddle is suddenly stabbed by the heretofore unseen kenku! Riddle manages to stave off the poison from the kenku’s blade for the moment but the attack was devastating. As the party gains their footing to resume the battle, five versions of the kenku appear. Archie dispels one of them with a quick arrow, but Jane, quickly shifting back to human form, manages to catch the real thing with an empowered moon bolt, draining the kenku’s slight strength and knocking her unconscious.
No longer necessary to the party, they kill the remaining orc pirates and are free to investigate the site further. They examine the sarcophagus. Inside, wrapped in white robes, is Jane.
The sarcophagus cannot be opened. Scar-Eater notes two spell effects upon it, both wildly beyond his reckoning, one of abjuration, and one of necromancy.
While the rest of the party heals itself and gathers all of the pirates’ magical equipment, Jane transforms into a Athena and flies to the top of the tallest tree she can see. Transforming back, she uses the trees branches and leaves to lash herself amongst the foliage and against the storm, to bathe in the rain and the wind while she communes with nature. She sees the island they are on, in the center of the Nyr Dyv, and she understands that unnatural as the stormclouds are to their eyes, the natural world itself does not identify them that way. But nature can tell her nothing of her twin in the sarcophagus.
Scar-Eater suggests that when an outsider dies, their soul reforms from the material of the plane they are from, but since Jane is human and currently alive, the theory does not seem to apply. He can offer normal options from the arcana perspective as well – notably the most obvious, that someone or something has traveled through time at some point and before them is the evidence of the disturbance.
Jane examines the sarcophagus more closely herself. Even without touching it she can tell that the Jane in the coffin is dead, and perfectly preserved. And without question, her.
There is some discussion about trying to open the sarcophagus or take it with them but Jane objects, strongly, without quite knowing why.
Riddle casts locate object on the crystals from the vision that were used to activate the obsidian portal. He feels a pull towards their location – if the party is to pursue the Hand and the Faceless One to the lost library, the crystals will be key. With everything gathered, the party must decide their next move – return to Magepoint with their captive, or press on to find the crystals!