The Black Company had finished saving Castle Corbinec and obtained the Rod of Zidane. One by one they met with Prince Lohengrin to receive their reward. Obrican took a flask of water from the Holy Grail, Manny received enchantments on his axe from the Grail water. Sid revived his familiar using the Grail, and Titus asked to speak with the entities in the realms beyond using the strange pool he found. They spoke to him and him alone and whatever secrets they granted him are not for mortal ears. Hirzon’s gift was also a mystery. From there, the party left for the Elsa. After a brief argument about how to get it working, they placed an owlbear feather in and the tower activated, taking them home. On the way, Obrican improved on the Hilbert Effect and generalized it.
Arriving back home the party rested and thought on the next steps. Things became very strange when one of them looked up to see that the stars were moving. Moving and smearing, becoming nebulae and galaxies and alien symbols in the sky. Before they could even begin to investigate, their rest was quickly interrupted by a loud crack. Looking around they found that nearby trees in a line had all been damaged as if a line of lightning went through them. Bang! Another crack opened up nearby. And then another. They took to the air to find the source, but the cracks were just all over the place. Merry, Titus, and Hirzon used the Rod of Zidane to peer into the cracks and they determined that these cracks were somehow cracks in the plane itself, like bigger versions of the familiar rifts. Worried, Manny took the ship to the nearest village to find that the cracks had been happening there, too. They had impaled many villagers, some mortally and others not, but the locals couldn’t free any of them. Then Manny came along and pulled them straight off the crack, magically sharing their pain and taking it onto himself. Hirzon followed along with a wand of healing to help the survivors and examine the cracks more closely.
Once finished, the party met to compare notes. The cracks destroyed anything put inside and they appeared to be connected to various other planes. No one had been able to find any patterns, but Hirzon said that the cracks that had impaled people had a special glow to them. Obrican deduced that this must be the work of Lachesis and attempted to get ahold of Nephrale, but the connection between the goddess and the badges had been severed. With no divine assistance, the party decided to travel to the last place they had seen Lachesis: on the mountain-top fight with Xark. The Dawnstriker flew them there in no time, but an ominous silence had fallen over the group.
At the mountaintop Hirzon used the rod to locate the traces of the portal Lachesis had used. He tracked it down to the astral plane. Obrican and Carina opened a door to the location and they found an old ruin on an island. Traces of portals indicated that this place had been used as a traveling ground. Most of the portals led back to the material plane, a few led somewhere interesting such as the plane of shadow or of fire, but one was particularly odd. As Hirzon described the signature, Sid informed him that it was a demiplane – a small plane either found or created by a powerful wizard. Figuring that must be the headquarters for the Cabal, the party plane shifted through.
They arrived in a garden, well kept and clean. In the center there was a pool and above it a large obsidian obelisk inscribed with an alien script. Support columns extended from the top of the obelisk out to infinity. Around the garden were six white gravestones. They were not marked save by a glowing sigil floating above them, slowly rotating in space. Obrican recognized them as the slain Cabal members: Simon, Galas, Bael, Alderac, Frigate, and Siltheros. Hirzon examined the gazebo of the obelisk and the strange pool within but could determine nothing except that one shouldn’t fall into it. And that’s when a voice rang out across the gardens.
Severus had appeared, clothed in extravagant red robes and bearing his trademark emerald staff, he smiled and proclaimed himself to be XII. At this, Xark and two clerics appeared beside him: Vespa, wearing demonic red armor and holding a trident of dark flames, and Sithern, clad in greenish armor bearing symbols of the moon and holding a silvered mace. There was little to say and combat began. Obrican, Merry, Titus, and Hirzon went invisible. Manny and Sid charged forward and were met first by Xark. He wove around Manny as Obrican flew up and cast Grope of Erick on the clerics and Severus. Sithern cursed Manny and Vespa summoned a great demon, who summoned several smaller demons to assist it. The demons attempted to take on Manny, which allowed Xark to tumble around and find a weak spot in Manny’s defenses. Titus chased Xark and Hirzon used the Staff of Frigidus to attack many of the enemies at once. Had the battle continued like this, the party might have won, but they were betrayed.
Casting true strike and using power attack, Sid attacked Manny with his chain imbued with vampiric touch and in two strikes, murdered the exalted barbarian. The party was stunned as Sid revealed himself as XI. Furious, Obrican attempted to disintegrate Sid, but the duskblade was too strong for him. Severus took advantage of the momentary lapse in Obrican’s defenses and flew up to strike him with imprisonment, sealing him in temporal stasis deep underground. In less than a round, the party was fleeing. Carina held up a scroll and rallied the troops, but Sid strode right in past her protections and broke her neck. Severus spoke a word of death and Merry fell next. Grabbing the scroll, Hirzon touched himself, Amoss, and Titus and used it. They teleported to the pool and fell in.
Wyltine Fair, Lyrise
Night had fallen and Thom was packing up shop. His father hadn’t sold too well today, but the fair would last for a few more days. They weren’t worried but they had to do better. The payment on the farm was due and the baroness had already given them one extension. If the yield had been better this year perhaps they could have worked out a deal but the baroness’ man had already appraised their crops and livestock and found it wouldn’t cover the payment. Sure he could take the whole crop, but that would be just as bad as taking the whole farm for Thom’s family. So the baroness said they had until fair’s end to make ends meet. It wasn’t that bad, Thom’s dad had said. In the old days, under Queen Miku it would have been a death sentence, but now the Church of Echoe would help the family find new homes and new work. They would have to be split up for a few years, but it would be better than death. Still, Thom was afraid of what would happen to him and his mother. So tomorrow, and for the rest of the week, he vowed to work even harder to sell their crafts and their leather.
Thom finished strapping the grain down. The cart was full so he told his dad and hitched up the horse. Fair rules said no one was allowed to stay in the fair after it closed except for a few battlemaidens hired to keep Echoe’s peace. One of them stood nearby as Thom shook the reins. Her name was Elone. She had come around to introduce herself at the beginning of fair to all the merchants nearby. Thom thought she was rather pretty with her dark hair. She kept it short, of course, but she had woven a few feathers in the left side and Thom thought it made her look more adventurous than the other battlemaidens. She talked once in a while and gave him a wave as he drove the carriage out. They hadn’t been able to afford a good location, so their camp was a good half a mile away from the fair.
A few minutes later and Thom had passed the fairgrounds and the majority of the campgrounds. He could see his tent in the distance with his sister around the fire. Strangely, there seemed to be other people there. He didn’t know they were expecting guests. In his curiosity, he shook the reins to speed up the horse. The cart ran over a rock and so he didn’t notice the thud in the back right away. Had anyone been looking they would have seen something glowing, but most people were asleep. The strange skies and mysterious wracks in the air wouldn’t keep fair from happening, but that didn’t mean people wanted to be outside in the night either. Only the moons and the sun were exempt from the forces that had twisted the skies, and old folks everywhere were muttering about evil omens.
Thom pulled up the cart and hitched the horse. “Evanna? Who are these guests?” he said, more loudly than necessary.
“Oh!” His sister came rushing around the tent to greet him. “Shhh! I was fixing dinner and there was a light to the south. I didn’t see anything at first, but then all of a sudden a thief appeared and asked if they could stay with us for a bit. He said they have their own food, but they also had weapons, so I couldn’t say no. You and Dad and Mom were still at fair so…”
“Shh, it’s alright. Come introduce me and I’ll let you take the cart back to find Mom and Dad. Tell Elone, too. I know she’s guarding the fair but the church should know about this.” Evanna nodded and she led him around to the fire. Three people sat there, eating rations quietly. Their faces were worn and the woman had been crying. She was equipped with a large weapon and imposing armor while the other two were clearly thieves. Nothing was different about them except one had a golden rod at his side. “Greetings, travelers,” Thom said, joining them with what he hoped was an air of confidence. He knew from the stories it wouldn’t take long for them to kill him and his sister and steal the horse if they were bandits. But then again, bandits probably wouldn’t have sat by the fire or be crying, would they?
The man with the rod looked up and gave Thom a handshake. “You must be Evanna’s brother. I am sorry we startled her. Do you mind if we stay a while? I promise, by the Seamstress, we aren’t here to hurt you or take anything. We just needed a place to recover and the night is…unpleasant.”
Thom nodded in understanding and sat down. The oath comforted him, but who knew if it even held anymore. He’d feel better when his Dad got here. “It’s alright with me, but we have to ask my Dad. He’s back at the fair. Evanna’s taking the cart to go get him.” The strangers nodded. “I’m Thom. Where are you from?”
“I’m Hirzon,” the man with the rod said. “This is Amoss and this is Titus. The last of the Black Company.”
“The Black Company?” Thom was curious. He wanted to keep them talking as Evanna took the cart. She might need the head start. “I haven’t heard of them in the stories.”
“Perhaps you heard of Manny the Barbarian?” Hirzon asked.
“I think so, didn’t he help stop the war up north?”
“Probably,” said Titus. “It sounds like something he’d do. I thought you might’ve heard about how he kills dragons.”
“The bards tell a lot of those stories, you get them confused easily.” Thom said. “But does that mean you traveled with Manny and killed dragons and demons?”
“Yeah, we did all that, too. Thought we were invincible, or at least we thought Manny was. Pride goeth before the fall.”
“And fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” added Titus. Amoss still hadn’t spoken.
The way they spoke, with sadness and regret in their words, told Thom something had happened to Manny, to all of them. Whoever they were, they weren’t here to hurt anyone. He sat with them for a while in silence, refilling their water when it ran dry. They offered to share their fare, but he turned it down. After a while, Thom could hear the horse and cart returning. He stood up and saw his dad and Elone coming from the cart. He ran to meet them but his dad spoke first. “Evanna told us what happened. Help your sister unload the cart. Sister Elone and I will talk with these strangers.” Thom was disappointed a little, but his dad wasn’t to be argued with at this point.
He walked over to the cart where Evanna was looking at something. “Where did you get this, Thom?”
“What do you mean?” He asked. “All I did was pack up the tent.”
“Well where’d this come from?”
Thom climbed into the cart to see what she was talking about. Inside, laying there as if it had fallen from the sky, was a glowing double-axe.
Six months later.
The resistance had been organized quietly and with Wilhelm’s help. With the destruction of the temples and churches, Prime Meridian Travels had finally surpassed the Church of Travyn, for all the good that did. Its headquarters had been destroyed just like the temples had, though reports had said only Ur-Lord Severus was present. Now Wilhelm stayed with Smaragd on Kal’renth, along with St. Amoss. The sainthood was new to her, but Hirzon had felt it would be better for the people to see her as a step above the priests, just as the old saints had been. With the Axalted, the holy relic of Manny, she was the symbol of the resistance and the new pseudo-religion meant to combat the Ur-Lords. On Kal’renth, she along with High Father Hirzon, High Father Titus, Father Wilhelm, and Father Smaragd managed the resistance and fought the Ur-Lords in their quest for faith and destruction.
Their chief aid, Brother Thom, had brought word that the resistance had located a new set of recruits. Experienced adventurers who had escaped from the Ur-Lords and had managed safe passage to Kal’renth. They would be arriving soon and the Black Council wanted to meet with them. Perhaps they could help against Exarch Lachesis.
(Prepare your new characters at Level 14. If you wish to continue using your existing ones, you may use them at their current level. New characters gain wealth by table with no item costing more than half of your available wealth. If you are using an old character, you may have 50,000 gp to ‘spend’ on items that you acquired in the past six months. Manny’s axe is now called the Axalted and is a minor artifact.)