Shields of the Vale

It's snowing and a baby is being born .. it must be the christmas episode
Shanna shows Razor what a cold-ass killer really is like

The Battle is done.

Silence settled over the Palladine estate as the fallout of Bahamut’s essence spread through the vale.
The other gods mourned as could be seen by the never-ending snowfall and the sudden resurgence of plant life to the ruined landscape.

Meanwhile … and previously

Shanna and Dinnan had made their way to the edges of the forests near the old hills safely but the forest was swarming with demons and on fire. The trees were resisting the fire with the help of the elven community living within, who also were busy hunting the demon invaders.
Shanna and Dinnan slew all the demons that crossed their path as they made their way towards the heart-tree of the elven community. They hooked up with several elven hunting parties as they strategically withdrew back towards the center of the forest. The elves formed a ring around their heart tree and the tree-speaker himself as the demons started to surround the community and the trees really started to burn.
The elves prepared to face their final fate as divine energy blasted through the forest vaporising all the demons and extinguishing the fires among the trees.
The elves knew that the danger was over for now and they chose to celebrate. Dinnan decided to stay end enjoy the elves company and be part of the revelry. Shanna knew that there was more to be done and shouldered her pack heading south towards the other Shields.

At the Palladine estate the inhabitants clustered in small groups trying to understand the amazing events that had just occurred here. The Shields too were still stunned and slowly began to take in their surroundings.
Myrcinda Goldspinner and several bodyguards from Hammerfast were there. Captain Nathan Farringray and several adjutants were there. The halfling merchant, Bairwin Wildarson, and Captain Rond Kelfem from Winterhaven were there. A contingent of Orcs from Gardmore Abbey were there. Forest elves were there. Lord Kobol from the Academy was there. Iron Circle generals were there. Elves from the south-eastern continents elven nation were there.

Saran was no longer there. She had once again faded out at the call of her Lady.

The peoples were ushered into the mansion to the main hall as Chef came over to greet the Shields. He had quiet words with Victoria quietly sharing their grief over Uncle Bastien and ’Tianna. He wished the Shields the best and left to make his way to the citadel, carrying greetings and news from ’Droth to his grandfathers.

The Shields headed into the mansion and were directed down the hallway to the main hall by several of the farmer defenders. At the halls double door stood several of the estate’s guardsmen who tllted their spears and opened the hall’s doors for the Shields. They entered into the hall to see Victor and Juliana Palladine at the head of the hall on their large chairs while around them were the cheering faces of the smallfolk and nobles whom had been rescued from the demon incursion.

The Shields made their way down the hall and were all warmly greeted by Juliana and had their hands shaked by Victor. They were all offered seats and the people in the hall were seated.

Victor stood before them all and spoke “I was concerned and upset when Victoria chose to not follow the family’s tradition of being Paladins of Bahamut. I was worried as I heard of the companions she had chosen to ally herself with. I was wrong. This day we have been shown the bravery and loyalty of her Shields. This day we have been shown Bahamut’s belief in Victoria as his disciple. We will not forget this day. Miracles occurred and the cost was unimaginable.
Victoria and her friends still have much to do. I love you Victoria and I will not doubt you again.”
“To the Shields” he shouted.
“To the Shields” yelled the hall.

The Shields gathered in Victoria’s rooms upstairs. They had all been offered a room now that the people were leaving the mansion to head to their homes, in the case of the smallfolk and guards, or back to their homelands, in the case of their visiting dignitaries.
Nesh received a sending from Lord Commander Xinto “Halva is due. You need to come here”
The Shields discussed the Goblinoid army heading through the Vale to get here and Nesh’s disturbing message. Plans were made and the Shields went to sleep.

The snow still gently fell through the night.

Next morning there was a Shanna knocking at the door.
Shanna shared an awkward hug with Victoria and greeted the rest of the group.
Shanna was filled in on what happened and considered the implications of the effects on nature.
Flea had divined that so much God’s power being released had affected the environment and that it would probably be that way for several months.
Shanna divined that Melora, goddess of Nature, was crying at the loss of her brother.

They were both right.

Under the light coating of snow, plant-life was still nourished and repaired and grew itself towards Pelor’s life-giving light.

The Shields left the estate early and without fanfare on Berredin’s phantom steeds. They made their way out of the sheltered valley and headed North-West towards Fallcrest. They spotted the horde moving towards them and waited for the vanguard to reach them.

The hordes General, Grokken Gronchek :) , came forward to parlay with the Shields. Now that the immediate demon threat was gone the goblinoids planned to continue south and cull the Gnoll and Demon infested ruins of the old Nerathi empire.

The Shields asked for a sitdown with the general and his top soldiers. Bugbear and Hobgoblin colonels arrayed themselves in a semi-circle facing the semi-circle of Shields.
The completed circle discussed the horde’s movements. The Shields gave the 5000-humanoid strong army 20,000 gp in copper pieces, silver pieces and gold pieces to pay for food and other essentials on their journey. The hobgoblin was also asked to pull-out his soldiers laying siege to the orcs of Gardmore abbey. Grokken acquiesced and promised to not pillage any communities on their journey from here onwards. The Shields gave 2 of their phantom steeds to the bugbears that would ride to Gardmore Abbey to hasten the end of conflict there.

The Shields rode to the Academy and pulled up before the locked gates. The crier announced them in his own fashion and Lord Commander Xinto greeted them as they came through the opened gates.

Halva had been 3 months into her 6 month expected term when overnight she had almost come to term. The Shields went to her chambers encountering Grik in the foyer. Grik, Nesh, ’Droth and Berredin stayed outside to catch up and drink dwarven ale while Flea, Shanna and Victoria went in to see to Halva.

Halva’s belly was definitely distended more than they expected and the room was filled with ambient divine energy. As Victoria put her hand close to Halva’s belly, gossamer strands of energy passed from Halva’s belly through Victoria’s hand and up her arm into her body.

Halva was ready to give birth. She clenched Victoria’s hand but was feeling little pain as the energy still flowed between the two of them. Flea and Shanna assisted in the childbirth and within a few minutes Grik’s daughter was born. A half-Orc child.

Shanna and Berredin both knew that this was unprecedented. Tiefling blood ran dominant in all births. Tieflings only bore full-blooded Tieflings. Grik felt that his manliness was enough to change that :)

Berredin pondered and came to the conclusion that Bahamut’s diffusing essence had broken the connection to the devil-pact that the tiefling’s had long ago made with Asmodeus. He wondered how far the effect would go and if it would mean the end of Tieflings as a race if it did cover the whole world. Berredin kept this to himself. No reason to overshadow Halva’s moment.

Victoria caught up with her sister Helena who was attending the Draconic Academy in her first year. Nesh was introduced to Helena, who was quite surly about Victoria’s accomplishments feeling that it was making it difficult for her to make her mark. Nesh took her for some drills to burn off some of her teenage angst. She was not too badly bruised by the experience.

The Shield’s spent some time with Grik to congratulate the new father and then they climbed aboard the Gleaming Endeavour and sky-sailed to the Dwarven floating citadel.
It was their goal to regain Icicle. They parked on one of the two landing pads, the other pad holding the gnomish balloon vehicle that Stasi had been given.

They were met by ’Droth’s real grandfather who had come out of his coma last night. He pointed out the Hammerfast irregulars that were training on the parade ground. Shanna went to talk to Captain No-Beard who was happy to see the Shields and seemed happy with his lot.

The Shields made their way to the control tower where Stasi and Dargrim worked to upgrade the Citadel. The Shields were curious if the dwarf-forged could power the citadel in place of Icicle or whether an elemental wizard could be used as a power source. Unfortunately they would not provide sufficent enough power for the task. Stasi was asked if there were other options. Stasi mentioned the Flame Imperishable, a Gold Dragons ever-burning heart that was supposedly still burning in the ruins of old Nerath’s capital city. He had been considering an expedition to retrieve it. Shadrach, Rez’zine and Cerulathillian were now on their way to recruit Phazen Stormbellow to accompany Stasi on the mission.

With the demon threat ended Dargrim decide to land the citadel and return Icicle to Victoria so the Shields would be fully armed for the trials ahead of them.

The Shields headed to Hammerfast to re-supply, gather their wits, rest and recover, and figure out their next objective.

Shanna spent time in Moradin’s temple to see if she could reconnect to Melora. ’Droth also spent time in his cell there in between arranging for the restoration of his ancestral home. Some … incentives needed to be offered to convince the builders to pull their finger out. Victoria was called before the guildmasters of Hammerfast to explain the events at the Palladine Estate and discuss the new alliance forged there [except for the Iron Circle who were considered unreliable].

Victoria visited Bahamut’s temple and revealed the bad news of Bahamut’s demise to Harmon , the temple’s head cleric. Harmon was stunned at first but decided to keep praying. Several days later Victoria heard rumours that Harmon had healed someone at the temple. Victoria went to the temple and found Harmon conducting an enthusiastic sermon to a large group of people about Bahamut giving his life to protect the world and through faith how people could get Bahamut to return.
Victoria chatted to Harmon who revealed that he had received some of his spells. He was not able to cast some of his more advanced effects but had been supplied some divine energy.

The Shields decided to go to Thunderspire Labyrinth, to the seven-pillared hall of the Mages of Saruun, to find Razor and get back Shadowhunter, the dawnforged battleaxe once wielded by Grik.

After five days rest in Hammerfast, the Shields travelled to Thunderspire Mountain located several entryways under the mountain and journeyed deep under the mountain to the seven- pillared hall.

The seven-pillared hall was a large chamber above the ancient Minotaur ruins of Saruun Khel. Built over sewer grates and the undergound cave-lake system within the mountain a large shanty town of market stalls for Duergar, Drow, Svirfneblin, Dwarves, adventurers and entrepeneurs surrounded a large stone building 80′ × 80′ with a central open doorway in each of the walls, in front of which stood 9’ tall Great Axe wielding stationery Bronze Minotaurs.

The Shields moved through the markets towards the building. Shanna spotted Razor within the building eating and drinking with several Drow women. He was not expecting trouble.

The Shields surrounded different entrances to prevent Razor escaping while ’Droth and Shanna went inside. The building had serving counters running around the entirety of the inside wall where food and drink could be obtained. Bench seats ran up and down the food hall filled with eating and drinking humanoids. In the center of the room was a large blue teleport circle covered in runes which the patrons avoided.

‘Droth moved down an aisle towards Razor. Shanna stared hard at Razor and then jumped on one of the serving counters. Faster than most patrons could see, arrows flew from Shanna’s bow at the unsuspecting Elf.
Four arrows in as many seconds struck him in the chest leaving him stunned. Razor was horribly injured and badly bleeding and shook off the shock of the sudden attack. Shanna fired two more arrows into him sending Razor backwards off his chair gasping from his arrow filled neck. He died quickly.

‘Droth looked at Shanna in shock." He wasn’t armed, he didn’t even know we were here."
Shanna replied, " that wouldn’t have stopped him doing it"
’Droth spat out " That is meant to be the difference between us and him" He shook is head.

Then there was pandemonium. Patrons screamed as a purple energy covered the doorways and the Minotaurs became active. Several robed figures within the building stood raising rune-covered wands towards the killer. One of them fired a purple ray at Shanna blinding her.

The Shields that were outside found that they could not pass the purple energy walls. Bronze minotaurs disappeared from their stationery positions to reappear within the building’s teleport circle and moved aside towards Shanna and ’Droth.
Flea grabbed the leg of one as it teleported and appeared inside with it. It struck at him and marked him.
Shanna was struck by one as another Minotaur moved to cover an underdark adept of Saruun who was being threatened by ’Droth.

Berredin had found a nice display table of pretty magic items and commenced to haggle with the owner. He was quite enthralled by their beauty.

Nesh teleport charged inside to face a Minotaur. Victoria oathed the underdark adept, threw her spear at her and teleported to Icicle. A mage of Saruun took cover at the other end of the room among the fleeing patrons and began casting magic missiles at the blinded Shanna.

Shanna cleared her eyes and engaged the mage as the building started to shift and lower itself into the lake below. Water started to fill the building very quickly. The room became very difficult to move in and Flea had to stand on a table or drown. He put on a ring which allowed him to move and breathe underwater.

The Minotaurs were not affected by the water and continued to target the Shields. Nesh saw that the many patrons were likely to drown at any moment. He yelled out.
“We surrender. Don’t kill these people. They did nothing wrong.”
A loud sibilant voice came from a device on the ceiling twenty feet up. “then drop your weapons.”
Shanna dropped her bow into the water from the table she was standing upon.
“I will need you to put Thundercrack, The Rod of Portals, Icicle, Flameshadow and Gods’ Bane onto the teleport disc.” said the Squid King Ovaad Zeer.
“No”
“Then you will all die here” the Squid King replied.

Nesh yelled at the Mage inside with them to help or they would die as well. The Mage was cowered into submission.
‘Droth turned Gods’bane into a long spear and tried to brace the entranceway to prevent them sinking further. Bronze Minotaurs commanded by the mage inside came to his aid, helping to brace other doorways with their axes.

The purple wall near ‘Droth faded away and Berredin popped his head in. " Anyone need a hand. Be quick I can’t keep this shield open forever." The Shields rejoiced at their Wizard’s appearance and started moving the patrons out. Shanna checked Razor’s body for Shadowhunter. It was not on him.

The Shields and everyone else had cleared the building. Patrons were streaming out of the seven-pillared hall to the exit caverns.

Nesh looked at the mage with them, “Take us to the squid king.”
The mage nodded.

until next session. Phew.

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No plan survives ...
Torog and Orcus in final conversation

The smell of brimstone wafted around the large cavern as a 15’ tall figure appeared from the center of a bloody summoning circle carrying a rod of obsidian topped with a human skull.

Orcus’s face was split in a huge disturbing feral grin and he strutted towards the solitary figure in the middle of the chamber.

Torog was kneeling listlessly among the loops of chain that were gathered around him.
Orcus waited patiently and eventually Torog looked up into his face. There was almost a look of revulsion in Torog’s eyes but it was quickly cloaked.

“Great News” Orcus expelled.

“Hmmm” replied Torog.

“It cost a legion but one of my greatest enemies is gone forever. You should be pleased”

“My grimlocks are extinct. The illithid have all gone back to their far-realm to defend against the Githyanki invasion. Gnolls are barely useful except as arrow fodder. The suface dwellers have forged themselves into a united army.” … and my brother is dead, he thought.

“Things have gone against you, that. is. true. I really will enjoy this next part.” Orcus savoured the moment. “Our alliance is finished”

Torog just stared at him. No expression.

“I have made new arrangements with someone who still has influence, and they are very interested in increasing their holdings.”

Orcus turned and headed back to the circle._ “Farewell Torog. The surrface dwellers are very likely to pay you a visit one of these days.”_ he smirked as his hoof rubbed out part of the blood circle._ “Don’t call me anymore.”_ Orcus faded out of the material plane.

Torog shook his head at the Demon King’s audacity. Nothing had gone right for him ever since he had allied with the demon’s lieutenant and brought down that dwarf from the tomb city.

What was so special about those accursed surface dwellers that Bahamut would end himself to protect them. The Platinum Dragon could create new followers elsewhere in the universe, why did these vermin matter so much. They were all so short lived, just faceless hordes to be ruled by those with divine right.

Some were no longer so faceless. Bahamut’s spear-maiden, the Dragonbear, the living vermin, death’s right hand, the captive’s get, the keymaster and the seeking arrow. These were now known to him and haunted his nightmares.

It was time for a reckoning. Let the summoning ritual begin.

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This is what it sounds like when God dies.
The siege of the Palladine estate

Victoria remembers her death after what seemed like an eternity of fighting. She saw Uncle Bastien disembowelled by a Bebilith and he still managed to fight until he bled out. The Scarecrow had locked it’s gaze on ‘Tiana and delivered scytheblow after scytheblow to her before finally removing her head. Maldrak Scarmaker had cursed Victoria and in return she had oathed him. The other demons backed off and allowed the two to fight mano-a-mano. Maldrik received many blows but his demonic constitution allowed him to outlast the single human foe he faced. Eventually the blows took their toll and Victoria slumped next to her childhood friend and Uncle. The last thing she saw was Maldrak’s triple flail swinging at her head.

Victoria awoke in a white space, alone. There was nothing but her in this realm and so she waited for judgement.

Light shone around her and she felt the presence of her lord, Bahamut, around her.
VICTORIA, MY STALWART FOLLOWER. YOUR TIME ON THE MATERIAL PLANE IS NOT YET OVER. I HAVE NEED OF YOU AND YOUR BRAVE HEART. WILL YOU COME WITH ME”

Victoria could barely nod.

The ancient and majestic body of Bahamut folded into the space with her. He waited for her to mount his neck. Silvery Elven Metal flowed over her and covered her like a second skin. It was warm to the touch. She leant forward and gingerly held her arms around Bahamut’s neck.

“NO NEED. YOU WILL NOT ALIGHT FROM ME WITHOUT MY PERMISSION OR YOURS.”

The whiteness began to have fringes of colour and then they were flying through clouds. Clouds! Far below was her family estate. What was left of it anyway.

The whole of the inner valley had been rampaged in by the demon horde. The crops were charred, homes were broken and burning, the livestock was nothing but chewed upon bones. Bahamut’s Grace still stood though. The legends were true, evil could not pass the astral wall.

The demons were recovering their force from some sorty. As they flew downwards in a tight spiral she could make out individuals among the defenders. NESH! ’DROTH? BERRADIN… the Shields were here and helping defend her home. Her heart soared even as they descended into the courtyard around the awestruck onlookers.

Victoria slid off Bahamut’s back in as dignified a manner as possible. Victoria’s eyes roamed over the defenders but where was her shield?, where was her Nesh? He was no longer within the walls and neither was ’Droth. They had vaulted the astral stone and were now laying down a swath of damage among the encroaching demonic forces. Their rash move had given them some advancement but the demons were rallying and would over-run them quickly.

“I HAVE BROUGHT BACK ONE WHO WAS BORN TO FIGHT THESE BATTLES.’

Bahamut began to reduce, eventually becoming a man-sized Platinum skinned Dragonborn. He pointed at the demons across the wall from him and his power manifested. The demons expanded and then popped, their essences dispelled back to hell. He gestured at the whole circumference of the wall and all the demons suffered the same fate. Bahamut concentrated further and ripples of energy poured out of him and into the astral stone wall around the Palladine mansion. The wall shattered and became dust motes scattering on the wind, accelerating from Bahamut’s Grace out of the valley to cover the whole Nentir Vale. No demons would be able to enter the Vale again. Bahamut’s decree was inviolate. But there was a cost.

Fissures and cracks appeared in Bahamut’s platinum scales and his body began to disperse. “I THOUGHT I WOULD HAVE MORE TIME. I HAVE BROKEN THE COMPACT AND NOW I WILL PAY THE CONSEQUENCE. JUSTICE NEVER DIES. I SALUTE YOUR COURAGE. BE STRONG AND FINISH YOUR GREAT WORK.” Bahamut’S essence faded on the wind and he was gone.

Saran’s Raven-Queen shadow bowed deeply, acknowledging the sacrifice given this day and the new addition to her court.

Bahamut’s followers felt deep loss at the passing of their god. But Bahamut had given them a cause and justice must prevail.

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Die Hard: in a mansion
The Shields arrive to save the Palladine estate. But are they too late.

The Shields had completed their rest in the feywild, only losing an hour, and continued on their path towards the Palladine estate.
For each step in the real world they moved six. They barely noticed the world around them, except Shanna.
Demons roamed the land, marauding all over the Vale. All the towns and communities they passed were under siege by horrors from hell. Shanna did not wish to distract the team from their vital task so she sorrowfully absorbed the sights and moved on.
The Shields arrived at a road junction that would lead south down to the Palladine estate and here Shanna stopped. She planned to head north to her homeland and protect her people, if necessary, from any demons that crossed the leaf barrier. Dinnan offered to come with her to watch her back. None of them should be alone now.
Berradin continued the spell and the Shields moved south. As they approached within visual distance of the cliff barrier surrounding the Palladine estate they noticed a rider at the tunnel to the estate.
A plate-mail armoured Dwarf atop a Dire Boar. It was ‘Droth!
But the joy of seeing ’Droth was soon tempered with the terrible news that Victoria had fallen and that Icicle was at the Citadel. Three cracked human skulls lay at the gate entrance among many demon bodies. Very few other bones remained. ’Droth gestured at the skulls and stated that Icicle was found next to them with a blood soaked tabard with Bahamut’s sigil. The Palladine Estate was still under siege and many demons roamed the Vale killing indiscriminately and laying all the holdings under siege. They would not leave until their objective had been achieved.
To be sure Saran summoned her fey spirit and commanded it to find Victoria. The wood woad picked up one of the skulls and delivered it to Saran.
Flea communicated with the surviving local plant life to find out what had occurred here. They spoke of much fighty-fighty with the burning things and some walking things. One of them sounded like Victoria.
Berradin was commanded by Nesh to speak with dead with the skull.
The skull acknowledged that it was indeed Victoria’s resting site.
Berradin summoned the group a herd of phantom steeds and they moved at a gallop across the ruined lands beyond the wall towards the mansion and it’s white-walled barrier.
The demons were fully intent on their enemies behind the astral-stone barrier and were taken by surprise as the Shields flung themselves headlong into the demon horde.
The demon horde around bahamut’s grace consisted of the Giant Gnoll-demon warlock Maldrack Scarmaker and several of his acolytes, a flaming pumpkin-headed scarecrow demon, more than twenty bebiliths[fire breathing spider-like demons], maw-demons[demons who heads opened from chin to forehead exposing a tooth filled maw that could enclose a man’s head], and scores of gnoll demons and undead skeletons.

The Shields hit hard badly damaging Maldrak but Berradin was separated from the Shields and the scarecrow demon attacked him mercilessly. ‘Droth came to his aid while the other shields beat down and killed Maldrak, who could not lay a hand upon them. Many of the skeletons and gnolls were destroyed by Flea and Berradin’s area attacks but the bebiliths came in breathing fiore and rallied the demon horde.

A maw-demon latched onto Berradin’s head and he had to cut his way free. ’Droth dealt harshly with the scarecrow demon whenever it attempted to hurt Berradin and weakened it enough that Berradin could finish it off.

But the demon essence possessed a demon-gnoll next to Saran and manifested in its full glory once more. Saran’s shadow now had taken on the outline of the Raven Queen and when he stabbed the scarecrow cold death seeped from the wound and covered the scarecrow entirely leaving him frozen in place. He was then shattered by the Shields.
The Shields had made a deep incision in the enemy ranks but all the demons around the walls were now heading towards the Shields location and the mansion’s inhabitants pleaded with the Shields to get across the barrier to safety.

The Shields formed on Saran and she teleported all of them to the inside of the walls.
No attacks could come in but no attacks could go out either.

Nesh moved around the wall away from the other shields and jumped back over the wall to unleash hell on the demons. ’Droth followed after him.

During the battle there had been the constant background noise of cracking thunder and once the Shields crossed the barrier there was one more mighty crack.

Diving from the sky above was a gigantic Platinum Dragon and riding on it’s shoulders was Victoria Palladine. She was garbed in a white-silvery metal but was unarmed.

The dragon descended into the courtyard around the awestruck onlookers. Victoria slid off Bahamut’s back [for indeed that is whom it was] in as dignified a manner as possible. Victoria’s eyes roamed over the defenders but where was her shield?, where was her Nesh? Nesh and ’Droth were now laying down a swath of damage among the encroaching demonic forces. Their rash move had given them some advancement but the demons were rallying and would over-run them quickly.

“I HAVE BROUGHT BACK ONE WHO WAS BORN TO FIGHT THESE BATTLES.’

Bahamut began to reduce, eventually becoming a man-sized Platinum skinned Dragonborn. He pointed at the demons across the wall from him and his power manifested. The demons expanded and then popped, their essences dispelled back to hell. He gestured at the whole circumference of the wall and all the demons suffered the same fate. Bahamut concentrated further and ripples of energy poured out of him and into the astral stone wall around the Palladine mansion. The wall shattered and became dust motes scattering on the wind, accelerating from Bahamut’s Grace out of the valley to cover the whole Nentir Vale. No demons would be able to enter the Vale again. Bahamut’s decree was inviolate. But there was a cost.

Fissures and cracks appeared in Bahamut’s platinum scales and his body began to disperse. “I THOUGHT I WOULD HAVE MORE TIME. I HAVE BROKEN THE COMPACT AND NOW I WILL PAY THE CONSEQUENCE. JUSTICE NEVER DIES. I SALUTE YOUR COURAGE. BE STRONG AND FINISH YOUR GREAT WORK.” Bahamut’S essence faded on the wind and he was gone.

Saran’s Raven-Queen shadow bowed deeply, acknowledging the sacrifice given this day and the new addition to her court.

Bahamut’s followers felt deep loss at the passing of their god. But Bahamut had given them a cause and justice must prevail.

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The return of a Shield
'Droth takes up arms once again.

The Citadel hovered majestically three hundred feet above the Nentir Vale plains below.

“Is it ready?” asked ’Droth impatiently.

“Last adjustments have been completed ’Droth. Whenever you wish.”

‘Droth reached into the power cell and gently withdrew Gods’ Bane from it’s housing. He waited for a second but the Citadel did not fall.

" I must go. I will meet the Shields at the tunnel and then there will be a reckoning for these demons" he angrily spat.

“Are you sure that they will come. Grik saw them fade out in the Academy” stated Stasi.

“I have seen it in my dreams. " ’Droth emphatically replied.

‘Droth adjusted Gods’ Bane into a dagger and slid it into a waiting scabbard. He slung his heavy backpack over one shoulder and began to walk for the door. He hesitated and spent a moment looking at the new power source. A single tear trickled down his face and he turned and moved off.

A constant but pleasant sounding hum was emitted from the Citadel’s power source. The housing was the new home for Icicle.

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A Distant sound of thunder
The Palladine Estate must withstand the war's first sortie.

Chef tapped the door-frame before entering into the smithy. The blacksmith was hunched over, facing away from Chef, grey hair matted with sweat from exertion and heavy concentration.

“I believe you have a nag for me” stage-whispered Chef.

The blacksmith’s head turned, for a second anger flashed across her face and then realising that she was being teased, ‘Tiana revealed a shame-faced grin that brightened the room and warmed Chef’s heart.
_
“So they finally getting rid of the dead weight I see. Might get some decent food now. I’m fading away to skin and bones”_ she laughed.

Chef smiled back at her and was surprised when she lunged forward and gave him a crushing hug._ “I’ve already saddled crossbow for you. She’s at the wall.”_

Chef was astounded. Crossbow was Victor Palladine’s favourite horse, fast and not easily startled.* “I will take good care of him”*

“You better. We want him back in the same condition he left in. So you better come back.”

Chef grimaced. " I really do not know if I can. There is much to be done at the Citadel"

‘Tianna chewed on her lip and bit her tongue._ “Good travels old Chef”_

She wiped her hands on her apron, undid the clasps and threw it into the corner of the room on top of an unwashed pile of clothes.

“Let me walk you out.”

They exited the smithy and made their way from the homestead towards the astral-stone walls ringing the compound. The walls were barely 4 feet tall but legend said that they were blessed by Bahamut himself and no evil could cross.

’Tianna grasped the reins of Crossbow and walked along Chef up the ramp that would take them over the wall and down to the grounds around Bahamut’s Grace.
Fast moving feet could be heard behind them and then Victoria Palladine vaulted the ramp in a single bound and landed in front of them. She bowed low and came up with a huge grin on her face. “You’re not questing without me”

Chef’s thoughts flashed back ten years, he remembered ‘Tianna and Victoria “slaying dragons” and “questing after holy artifacts” and most commonly “driving off gnoll hordes and taking back Nerath”

Chef looked down the main pathway to the estate’s gates and saw a dark cloaked figure leaning against one of the walls.* “I see that you have planned this out. Your partner-in-crime down there will no doubt be escorting me to the citadel”*

“Uncle Bastien happens to be going that way” Victoria haughtily remarked and ruined it by letting out a girlish giggle as ’Tianna elbowed her ribs.

“You three! Still inseparable. That man lead you astray.” he smirked.
They walked down the rolling hillside pulling Crossbow behind and warmly greeted Bastien at the gates. He looked younger than his brother Victor but still the family resemblance was there.

“Why didn’t you meet us at the wall?” asked Victoria.

Bastien looked a little uncomfortable and shifted his backpack.

“They’re still not made up?” she questioned ‘Tianna.

“Your father has not spoken to me since you chose the path of the avenger and turned your back on the paladin path laid out for you” replied Bastien.

“That was my choice” she stated bluntly.

“Yes. But he felt I had undue influence on you with my “carefree spirit” and “roaming lawless ways”. I should have “convinced” you to follow his directions." Bastien muttered.

“That was always MY choice” she repeated.

“I think he knows that now. Julianna has even told me that he is quietly proud of your achievements. But it is up to Victor to close this rift, after all he formed it” noted Bastien.

“You’re as bad as each other" Victoria spat.

“ENOUGH! I am still your uncle. Let’s get this tinker’s toy off the estate” he grinned.

Time passed peacefully as they ambled along the laneway leading around the Palladine Estates walls and out from the enclosed valley back into the Nentir Vale proper.
They made their way through the archway leading out through the high cliffs and were met with a sight of horror.

A giant “tear” in reality existed ahead of them in the Vale and emerging from it were demonic horrors that Victoria had seen before. Giant demonic spiders “Bebiliths” were at the head of a legion of warped, demonic beings that were making their way directly towards where Chef and his friends were standing.

“Great Bahamut’s eye-teeth” swore Bastien.

“Uncle, take the others and go warn the estate. Be quick” commanded Victoria.

“NO. My bow can slow them down. Chef, ’Tianna, ride now.” Bastien started lining up arrows in the ground in front of him.

“This pass is narrow. We should hold them momentarily” stated Bastien.
_
“Vicki and I at the front, you giving us covering fire. Just like the old days”_ said ‘Tianna as she took a hammer from Crossbow’s saddlebags.

Victoria shook her head but she did not argue. The whole estate was in danger and she trusted these people by her side more than anyone besides Nesh and Grik.

Chef swung himself into the saddle and spurred Crossbow into a gallop.* “Hold on. I will be back with reinforcements.”* He yelled.

Vicki, Uncle Bastien and ’Tianna smiled grimly at that. They knew help would not be coming.

Once warning was given, every able bodied person was to assist all those less able behind the walls of the mansion. Stockpiled food and the wells should keep them in supplies for weeks if outside help should come.

They faced the horde approaching and made prayers to Bahamut.

“Goodbye Nesh my Shield” Victoria gently breathed. “I will see you in the next life”

The horde washed over them and they were gone.

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The Citadel
Dargrim and Stasi attempt to return flight to the citadel's arsenal

‘Droth made his way up the circular stairwell to the “control tower” of the Citadel’s “lighthouse”.
Dargrim and Stasi were still up here and had been working solid on their project for nearly 7 days and nights. There were certainly some advantages to being a dwarf-forged.

“How is your grandfather?” Stasi asked, as ’Droth entered the chamber.

’Droth framed his reply to such an innocent query as his gaze wandered over the grounds of the citadel below. The Hammerfast irregulars were at their drills on the parade ground. They had started off a motley crew but were slowly forging themselves into a most capable unit. They might even be a worthy challenge for his fellow Shields. Moradin how he missed them and the simpler times of raining steel down upon their evil foes.
“He still is in his healing rest Stasi. He does not notice his surroundings but he seems to be drooling less.”

“Possession by such as that demon is not something that you easily recover from Boy” reprimanded Dargrim. “Not to mention whatever tortures he suffered while in Torog’s clutches”, Dargrim unconsciously made the sign of Moradin to ward off the evil.

“We are ready” Stasi announced. He rose to his feet, knees creaking from spending so much time kneeling next to their newly built device.

“Time for that axe of yours ’Droth” Dargrim quietly stated.

“No harm will come to Gods’ Bane. But a dawnforged weapon should have enough power to make this Citadel operational once-more if my calculations have not failed me” Stasi noted.

’Droth gingerly handed over his Gouge and Stasi concentrated, the axe morphed into a quarterstaff. Stasi inserted the quarterstaff into the center of the cylindrical machine and it touched copper points at each end of the tube.
There was initially a low hum, which then began to deepen and reverberate through the floor, walls and finally through the three men standing before the generator.
Dargrim nodded to himself and moved towards the major console. he jiggled some levers and then pulled a swivelling stick towards himself.
’Droth felt heavier and leaned into the decking. The view in front of him began to change as outside the window the ground began to recede and the mountains seemed slightly less intimidating.

Dargrim pushed a button and then stood back with a very satisfied look on his faux-face.
“We are hovering at a steady 300 feet above the plain below. Mission accomplished. We are now almost impregnable to outside forces.”

“Now we’re stuck” ’Droth dryly noted.

“Stasi has that Gnome disaster down there” Dargrim pointed at the dirigible that had been tied off next to the parade ground. “The Academy has the Shields’ Gleaming Endeavour. We can always lower this back down, but I won’t. We have the high-ground and this beauty was made to fly. I will not clip her wings again.”

“This is only a temporary measure as you know” Stasi helpfully pointed out. " We need a stronger power source than this. Something almost eternal."

“You obviously have something in mind Stasi else you would not have that cat-eating-mouse grin on your face” Dargrim sourly commented.

“There are legends of great artifacts in this world and one in particular could be what we seek.” Stasi took a long breath and waited to build suspense in his ardent listeners.
“The most important symbol of Nerath, The Flame imperishable, a brilliant white fire set within the highest ramparts of the Imperial palace. It is claimed that it burns even now. Legends say that Magroth took the flame after slaying the ancient gold dragon Ayunken-vanzen, who laired in the the land which would become Nerath’s capital city. The flame was a symbol of Nerath’s manifest destiny – brilliant, pure and undying.”
“Legends say that it will burn until the very breaking of the world. If even half of what I have researched about it is true then it will make this Citadel finally and fully operational.” Stasi had a wistful look on his face.

“What’s the catch?” ’Droth decide to cut to the heart of the matter.

“Nerath fell long ago. The empire met its finish beneath the rending claws of a seemingly endless horde of gnolls and demons which emerged near the capital from the bowels of the earth. With the central government destroyed, the remaining lords of the empire – fragmented, fearful and desperate – fell upon one another for survival.” Stasi’s tone was somber.
“Commerce ground to a halt. Famine spread. Hope withered, and the Flame Imperishable became a funeral pyre for the world’s greatest empire. To this day, the core realm of the empire is a scorched wasteland littered with the crumbling shells of cities and noble villas which once gleamed beneath the sun. Swarms of flies obscure the day and the land is infested with savage gnolls, or so they say” Stasi finished.

“We need to send an expedition into the heart of a fallen ancient empire which is infested by Torog’s worst and cruelest, collect the flame and get it back to this citadel. Simple.” Dargrim dryly said. “I don’t know why we didn’t think of it earlier”

“Hardest earnt is the most appreciated my da always said” Stasi replied.

“Let’s call the Shields then, Victoria will never forgive me if I don’t offer them the chance to die first” grinned ’Droth.

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End of a line
Torog sacrifices much to stop his enemies plans

The smell of brimstone filled the cavern as Orcus waited silently for Torog to acknowledge him. Orcus was willing to wait, Torog’s goals were of no consequence to him but they did keep their mutual enemies attention away from him and his plans.

“The surface dwellers are considering an alliance. We will show them the folly of standing together.”

“Our last encounter has reduced my abilities in that regard”

“What do you need. I will need your shocktroops to lay the fear of hell into these vermin”

“I need a sacrifice, a considerable one. This kind of ritual will draw on power that was unleashed in the dawn war.”

Torog had his surrounding chains lift him off the ground to eye level with the Demon Prince.
Orcus was then stunned to hear the offer from Torog.

“Well played. That kind of sacrifice brings great power. Are you sure that you wish to forfeit …”
“The decision is made. When can we begin.”

“Immediately. You will need to open up to me completely.”

“One moment. I must concentrate for this.”

Torog looked inwards searching for the connection that he sought. CONTACT!. Torog focused on his dreams, drawing in the fuel that would ignite the next phase.

Orcus was impressed. He raised his wand and began the process. Energy trailed out from Torog, seeking throughout the underdark, and connecting with his chosen servants. The wand’s energy flowed through Torog and out along the guide waves stealing the souls of all that were linked.
Orcus was drunk with power, now he could strike down his one true enemy and take her realm for his own. No no no no no no the power would not work that way. The gift had to be used to reward the giver or the ritual would fail.
Orcus focused above, to the surface, and opened a portal to the abyss, near his domain. One of his legions moved through the gateway and then he shut the portal down before it could be used by others.

“My legion is at your command.”

The ritual had taken it’s toll on Torog, his chains were flaccid around him. “And my Grimlocks are no more.”

“Genocide is a very powerful spell component. You may miss having such loyal followers.”

“It is worth every life to see those little worms broken. They will rue challenging my ascendance”

Orcus doubted that this would work. It would bring fear and death, which he appreciated, but was likely to have the opposite effect from what Torog sought. No matter. It did not impede him and if successful would gain him more converts.

Orcus bowed low to Torog and then headed home.

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Calm before
Chef prepares for a long journey into history

Chef pulled tight the fastenings on his canvas backpack and slung it over his shoulder. He rummaged at the back of his closet for several minutes and finally found his long buried walking staff. He nodded happily to himself and exited the room that had been his for the last two hundred plus years. His warforged body tirelessly made it’s way down the winding stairwell until he was at the final landing overlooking the great hall.
He froze in place, an unnatural stillness for most humanoids, as his mind wandered back through all his memories of living here at the Palladine estate. Generations of the family and their retainers had been raised here on his cooking, but it was time for Chef to leave.
Chef made his way down the final steps of the stairs and waiting at it’s foot was the Baron’s ever capable and loyal butler, Jurgen Pact-Breaker.
The Tiefling had aged well, but the deep scar running down the left side of his face from eyebrow to jaw had never faded in all the years he had steadfastly served Baron Victor Palladine.
Jurgen stared at Chef with that sharp-eyed look he used to cower misbehaving servants. Chef would have none of it. “Farewell Jurgen. Look after the place once I am gone.” That was a nice dig and it brought a quick smile, that was quickly hidden, to the Tiefling’s face.
“No doubt I will be able to keep the next head cook in their place, after so many years of dealing with such as you”, Jurgen muttered dryly. He raised his arms and gave Chef a hug that would have knocked the wind out of a mortal frame. “Take care you big lug”
Jurgen nodded over his shoulder to one of the anterooms. “They are waiting for you”
Chef had not been looking forward to this part. He slowly slid his feet carefully over the polished wooden floors to the meeting chamber. He paused his seven foot frame at the entrance and gazed inwards.
Inside the room Baron Victor Palladine, his wife Juliana and their daughter Victoria waited patiently for him, well except for Victoria who was tapping one foot ever so slightly.
The Baron strode quickly towards Chef and then clasped arms with him, wrist to elbow, in the old Nerathi fashion favoured by the older families. “I wish you would not leave Chef, it will not be the same here without you.”
The Baron almost had red-rimmed eyes. Very out of character for the stoic old Paladin. Chef was almost embarrassed by such open display of emotion on Victor’s part.
Juliana serenely gathered her skirts and glided across the room to Chef. She brushed her mouth lightly over his cheek and fondly patted his hands. “You will be sorely missed Chef. Helena will be dreadfully upset that she was not here to say goodbye.”
Chef sighed. He would miss Helena, but she had been at the Academy of Draconic Majesty all this semester so he had already dealt with missing her. “I plan to stop by the Academy on my way to the Citadel”
Victoria came forward. She looked slightly ashamed, not a common look for someone that usually was so righteous. “I am sorry if it was my stories that set you on this path Chef”
Chef smiled gently and clasped both her hands and looked directly into Victoria’s deep-set eyes. “Your tales did not convince me but they crystallised feelings that I had, a sensation of being summoned, directed out from here to a greater destiny.”
They all stood in the parlour silently mulling over this awkward moment.
Baron Victor stepped back and clasped his hands behind his back. " I was really hoping to offer the finest food my kitchens could muster while this summit lasted. I do not question the skill of those you have trained but I have never seen a finer leader in the battle to combat hunger than yourself." He sighed. “I have organised some transport for you. Please see the smith before you go.”
A few more pleasantries were exchanged and then Chef hoisted his pack and exited the room and headed swiftly for the main doors, hoping to evade any further well-wishers.

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The heart of the matter
The party fight through to the dead god's heart

Dinnan felt the black goo coalescing about him and scooted out of the aberration into a corner. Shanna brought the remaining group members through the mist doors safely as the demonic “dretch’s” containment circle was broken by the large black pudding flowing along the floor.
The “Dretch” shifted back into it’s true form, that of a Maralith – a 6 armed female demon with a long serpentine body, with no legs, ending in a tail. She drew her 6 scimitars, 3 of which glowed with blood-red runes from hilt to blade tip, and moved to engage the party.
The Shields attacked both enemies with several of the shields being pushed out into the corridor-throat. Nesh and Mal fought to stop being pulled all the way down the corridor through the mist-door at it’s end.
Dinnan forced the Maralith into the corridor and she fought the group’s front-line fighters until she was expelled through the mist-door and out of the Shields sight.
Shanna fired an anchoring arrow which allowed Nesh and Mal to force their way out of the corridor and back into Vlaa’kith’s treasure room and the fight with the giant black pudding.
The shields overcame the pudding and began to inspect the treasures.
Many of the treasure chests were trapped but Shanna and Dinnan overcame all of them except for a chest covered in a poisonous purple-mold.
Flea turned into a swarm and flowed through the chest’s lock into the chest but the lock sealed behind him leaving him stuck inside a tresure chest full of purple-mold.
The Arcane experts advised that sound was the purple-mold’s vulnerability so the shields backed off and let Nesh charge the chest which resulted in Thundercrack’s sonic boom blowing the purple-mold layer apart, while Berradin waited in reserve to blow a gale or freeze the left-over parts.
Flea was release unharmed, the Shields gathered up the magical items among the treasure and they set forth down the corridor, after some debate as to where to go next, where the Marilith had disappeared.
Shanna had Dinnan jump on her back, she held Saran in her arms and had Mal and Berradin hold onto her to traverse the mist-door without harm. Flea and Nesh both activated abilities that would give some protection from th mist-door’s danger and jumped through the door first. Flea and Nesh were shot out the other side of the door barely keeping their footing.
They found a large chamber which had some sort of 20’ high x 10’ wide mirror facng the dorrway 15’ into the room and behind that was a long table running parallel to the doorway covered in mucous-covered grey helmet sized eggs. Behind the table were two doorways concealed behind 30’ high flesh curtains. Standing in front of these doorways were 6 Duthka’Gith 1/2 Dragon warriors. The floors were covered in bones, Githzerai most likely looking at the skulls. There was no sign of the Marilith.
Flea and Nesh moved forward from the doorway to give the rest of the shields room to get in and Nesh found the mirror trying to draw in his soul.
Flea now noticed that the Marilith and a Fire-Giant were inside the mirror, futilely banging at the walls to get out.
The rest of the Shields arrived and battle was met. Berradin came out the doorway badly, landing in front of the mirror but it did not activate for him. Flea warned the Shields of the mirror’s danger and the group circumvented the threat and engaged the Duthka’Gith.
Nesh’s breath, Berradin’s spells and Dinnan’s blades all destroyed the clutch of eggs as they damaged the 1/2 dragons.
Dinnan managed to knock one of the Duthka’Gith into the mirror, and he was left trapped railing at the door.
The flesh-curtains were brought down, revealing a portal behind each curtain. Shanna could sense one would lead back to the material plane while the other travelled somewhere on this plane.
Berradin cast a speak-with-dead spell to determine if Vlaa’kith had indeed headed through here and to which portal she had entered. The right portal went back to the material plane to a hatchery on one of the south-eastern continents. The left portal was to the heart of the dead-god below Tu’narath.
The Shields head through the left portal and arrive underground in a large chamber with several passageways twisting out of it. The walls feel warm and welcoming.
Saran summons her wood-woad who can sense Vlaa’kith’s spirit. Shanna, Saran, Dinnan and Flea scout ahead, following the woad, and come across a chamber which has been set-up with a table and pair of chairs. The room looks recently abandoned with a half-eaten “sandwich” on the table. The Shields also find a viewing device that is watching the entryway portal.
The tracks of the guards head off in the direction they are going but branch off to the right at a T-Junction. The Shields head left towards a rainbow coloured light display. They enter a large chamber which has several smaller passageways leading out of it across from their entrance.
In the middle of the chamber is an energy sphere made up of 5 different coloured layers surrounding a sarcophagus with a small depression on top. A depression that might fit the “key” that the Shields had collected in 4 parts.
The entry to the chamber was protected by a forbiddance spell which the party activated and which would now need to be reset.
The party debated getting through the prismatic sphere and whether they should teleport in or not when they heard the roar of a large, now-awake Dragon.
The Shields decided to prepare for the dragon rather than get caught dealing with traps while it appeared. They took cover and watched the outside corridor.
Shanna felt that they were being watched and alerted Flea who used his gem of seeing.
He could see the two Duthka’Gith guards sneaking towards the chamber entrance invisibly. Then around the bend in the corridor behind them came a very large two-headed dragon, also invisible, gliding through the air psychically with his wings folded along his flanks. He thought surprise would be his.
to be continued

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