Deadly Covenant

Chapter Two - Session One

Having driven Elder Arantham from Death’s Reach, Adamas and Sar returned to Sigil. They knew Arantham had been sending black rocks – fragments of the Blackstar Host, pieces of the primordial Timesus – through a gate to an unknown location. They also knew that Lord Barrens had been providing other members of Sigil’s upper class with Blackstar Host statues as gifts. Lacking other leads, they made their way to the inn known as Moradin’s Mantle. Here they talked with the proprietor, a dwarf named Grundi, about various sages throughout town, some rumors, and making the inn a base of operations.

After a conversation with the cambion Tannerli they learned that Elder Arantham had returned to Sigil in a panic, summoning all members of the Ashen Covenant to a location in the Lower Ward. Tannerli had gone to the meeting to avoid being identified as a defector. Arantham talked of a disasterous setback, but gave no details. Members of the Covenant were instructed to lay low. Tannerli stated that many members of the group were anonymous, but when asked said she did not believe Lord Barrens was in attendance or that he was an actual member of the Covenant. She was able to provide the location of the meeting place.

Adamas and Sar discussed visiting a sage or Lord Barrens, but decided to go to the meeting place. They found it a ruin, the site of some sort of battle. After some time spent poking around they found evidence of a lower level and spent some time excavating. Entering the concealed basement they discovered the scene of a massacre – dozens of sacrificed humanoid corpses piled haphazardly in a corner of the chamber. Their bodies were in different stages of decay and a blood-stained channel sliced through the sloping chamber, feeding a red portal shimmering in the far wall.

Sar quickly recognized this as the other end of the portal Elder Arantham had fled through in Death’s Reach – though construction of portals to or from Sigil was supposedly impossible. The making of such a portal posed a question without an immediate explanation. Sar spoiled the runes keeping the gate open, and Adamas uncovered vile tomes of Orcus rituals on a make-shift alter.

The place had clearly been abandoned in a hurry. Not only had the tomes been left behind, but each of the corpses was wearing a small silver necklace with a charm – something like a double-headed hammer with an eye between its heads and a handle tapering to a point like an obelisk. Though mostly junk, there was an arcane residue about the necklaces suggesting they’d been used in a ritual of some sort.

Investigating a rune set on the wall triggered an attack as several Mercykillers, Rot Slingers, and a Marut Concordant materialized in the chamber. As the battle progressed the Mercykillers, the closest thing Sigil has to a police force, surrendered. But the concordant and undead fought on to the death.

Interrogation revealed that they had been acting on behalf of a trade organization known as House Thaevian, through the direction of Lord Barrens himself. Lord Barrens had helped negotiate a contract between House Thaevian and another group of individuals (the Ashen Covenant, the heroes deduced) and that group had reneged on the agreement. For several days no new shipments of material had come from that location, leaving House Thaevian incapable of supplying Lord Barrens or any of their other customers the goods the Covenant had disinterred from Death’s Reach.

The Mercykillers, under the direction of a Warden named Isaac Grissom, had been directed by Lord Barrens himself to aid House Thaevian and the concordant in punishing the breach of contract. Investigating the rune on the wall – keyed to the broken contract – had alerted the concordant someone was present, and the attack had commenced. Grissom had been surprised to find undead among the assault force, and even more surprised to find an unholy altar and a pile of corpses. He was quickly convinced that Adamas and Sar were not involved (they’d spared the Mercykillers’ lives, for one), and provided them with a good deal of information about the Prison, Lord Barrens, and House Thaevian. Adamas and Grissom had a disagreement on whether sending the dead to the Mortuary to be animated as zombies was an appropriate act, and they ultimately burned the corpses.

Upon leaving the area, Sar fell suddenly ill. Arantham had left something behind for them in the tangle of bodies – a lethal disease. They interrupted their investigation and set off to find a healer capable of removing the affliction.

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Thwarted

Having received the Raven Queens blessing after ridding her temple of Black Riders, the party ventured to the forbidden realm of Death’s Reach -a plane within a plane, an ancient part of the Shadowfell where souls were diverted by primordials to feed upon during the Dawn War.

Dealing with agents of Orcus, and others of less certain allegiance, they were able to summon an aspect of the Raven Queen to the very heart of Death’s Reach. Their conversation was cut short by an attack of the Great Beast – an aspect of Orcus summoned by the Ashen Covenant. After dealing with him they pressed on to the Reliquary of Timesus. Here, the Raven Queen told them, Elder Arantham was disinterring weapons from the Dawn War.

Fighting their way through the Reliquary, the party happened upon one of their oldest enemies – the cultist known as Kalarel. In defeat, the Shadowfell being he’d been attempting to free had dragged him back to it’s prison at the heart of Death’s Reach. Here, he discovered the remains of a fallen primordial known as Timesus. Subsequently, he had supervised excavation of the site prior to Arantham’s arrival. Eager to test his improved powers against the party, he was quickly vanquished and once again swallowed up, screaming, by the Portal Thing.

A combat with a weak aspect of Timesus haphazardly pieced together by a rakshasa noble could not keep them from reaching Elder Arantham. He was forced to retreat, leaving pieces of the Blackstar Host – animate beings that once comprised shards of the primoridal Timesus – behind. The combined powers of Adamas, Sar, and San Lobo were more than enough to defeat him, his undead beholder, and his Blackstar slaves.

The blood-red portal Elder Arantham had stepped through remained open, for now, leaving the adventurer’s to decide their next moves.

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Session One

City of Doors

Having returned to Sigil after defeating Urishtar, the heroes dreamed of the shadow dragon and the wraiths trapped in her Soul Vortex. They also saw other things. Some, glimpses of the past. Others, glimpses of the future.

“An ominous dream comes to you in flashes as you sleep. You see a temple on a mist-covered mountain, where thousands of ravens circle above its slender spires. The scene shifts to inside, where a knight in black armor atop a black steed pounds on a doorway beyond a mirrored altar. His crimson shield is adorned with the head of a black dragon. The scene shifts, and you see yourself and your companions locked in battle with an ebony dragon as ghosts wail in agony and the dragon cuts you down one by one. The scene shifts, and you are alone in an endless darkness. After long moments, you spot a dimly lit corridor containing a succession of seven locked gates. You try to open the first gate, and the scene shifts. Now you are on a wide, desolate plain, watching helplessly as a great black rock the size of a moon hurtles out of the sky. It strikes the land with a world-shattering impact. Sweat soaked, you awaken, these scenes of future doom still bouncing within your mind.”

Recognizing the shield and dragon as the emblem of the Ebon Riders, a division of the Ashen Covenant, they set out to uncover the meaning behind their dreams. San visited a temple to the Raven Queen, where he discovered that the Ebon Riders had not been heard of in some time, and that the leaders of the Ashen Covenant had also avoided notice. Tannerli, a cambion associated with the Ebon Rider known as Ghovran Akti, had been spotted in the Market Ward. While the priest didn’t recognize the imagery of a black moon striking the earth, he revealed that the seven locked gates likely referred to seven holy shrines in the Raven Queen’s temple of Zvomarana. He also mentioned that there had been disappearances lately, which had largely gone un-noticed and ignored by the Mercykillers because people often came and wentin Sigil, making it impossible to be sure people hadn’t left of their own accord.

Immobilo, San, and Sar discovered some more information from a woman near the market, who told them she’d seen the cambion on the rooftops from time to time, staring down at the market as if in search of something. Occasionally this cambion would be in the company of an eladrin male, though she was hesitant to mention it because this eladrin was a frequent guest of one Lord Barrens, a powerful member of one of Sigil’s numerous factions.

Scouting ahead, San climbed a building to see if he could spot Tannerli. Instead, he found ravens. They were sitting on the rooftop and watching him quietly. Somewhat freaked, he returned to tell his friends what he’d discovered. Upon return, Sar determined that the ravens behavior was in some way unnaturally influenced. At about the same time, the ravens looked to the end of the market – where a gang of Ebon Rider mercenaries had appeared rushing in the heroes’ direction.

Tannerli was flying and quickly landed on a stage at the northern edge of the market. Two dark clad knights on the back of Shadowclaw mounts followed, while Ghovran Akti approached on his own mount from the west. Sar quickly realized that the eladrin was actually a lich despite the lack of obvious undead features.

Tannerli was taken by surprise when San leapt nearly fifty feet through the air from his rooftop to the stage where she stood, striking her painfully. She was preparing to take to the air when Immobilo charged her, her necrotic shield almost collapsing under his powerful blow. Thrown from the stage, she could only watch in terror as the warforged barbarian followed up with a second charge, knocking her into unconsciousness mere moments after her arrival.

The Ebon Rider knights and their steeds were dispatched by the groups combined power, and the lich teleported atop a nearby roof. San followed him quickly, striking him with deadly precision. Akti’s body and possessions crumbled into dust and sifted down from the rooftop. However, his phylactery was not to be found.

Upon interrogation, Tannerli revealed that she had actually been scouting for the party all along, the Ashen Covenant not wanting them interfering with another plan. The other members of the Ebon Riders had gone to the Raven Queen’s holiest of temples, Zvomarana, in an attempt to despoil it and perhaps strike down the goddess herself. Mauglurien believes that, if slain, the goddess could be raised as a powerful undead servant of Orcus.

She also stated her belief that the invasion was a ruse, designed to distract the defenders from the actions of Elder Arantham. This Elder, a type of undead known as a huecuva, had gone to the Shadowfell some months ago on a secret mission. Tannerli believed he was seeking a weapon of some sort, and when asked about the dream admitted Elder Arantham had been researching something about a great black rock.

She provided the party with a talisman that operated a specific keyed portal and the location of the gate the Ebon Riders had used. She cautioned that Mauglurien, head of the Ebon Riders, had taken a somewhat sizeable force and Ghovran’s phylactery with him through the gate. With this knowledge in hand, the party went to inform the rest of their fellows.

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What has gone before...

Urishtar

Some time ago, a group of unassuming young adventurers traveled from the city of Fallcrest to the forested town of Winterhaven. Initially seeking the missing explorer, Douvan Staul, they were quickly tasked by Lord Padraig to discover the source of attacks on merchant caravans and farmers. Their investigations led them to the dark priest Kalarel, who had infiltrated the ruins of Keegan’s Keep at the instruction of a group of powerful Orcus cults known as the Ashen Covenant. There, he was to reopen an ancient portal to the Shadowfell and release a long-imprisoned undead abomination upon the living world. The heroes thwarted this plan, trapping Kalarel in his own portal while the beast he’d sought to release tore him apart. The gateway collapsed, leaving the Ashen Covenant’s plans in tatters.

Then the heroes learned that the merchants and villagers who had survived sacrifice to Orcus were instead sold as slaves to a gang known as the Bloodreavers. Investigation indicated this gang made their home in Thunderspire Labyrinth, an underground maze that was once home to a great kingdom of minotaurs. Now, perched between the upper world and the Underdark, the Seven-Pillared Hall was a destination for those who sought to trade in goods far from the eyes of authority. Their quest to free the slaves brought them into contention with a duergar clan and then with a rogue mage, Paldamar, in the service of the dark god of secrets, Vecna.

Having rescued the slaves and vanquished Paldamar, they learned of a magical pyramid containing unimaginable treasures. They quickly came to realize that the pyramid was little more than a trap, housing the splintered remains of the tiefling wizard who had created the place. After slaying each of his incarnations, they were at last able to free themselves and attempt a return to society.

What they found instead were troll armies marching on civilized lands. Under the guidance of the chieftan Skalmad, given great power by an item known as Moran’s Eye and an artifact known as the Stone Cauldron, these troll hordes seemed unstoppable. Any time Skalmad was defeated he would rise again from the Stone Cauldron. The town of Moonstair lay in his path. The heroes infiltrated the caverns that served as Skalmad’s base of operations and pursued him into the Feywild. They survived confrontations with cyclops and fomorians and finally faced the chieftan at his Stone Cauldron. Destroying the Cauldron put an end to him, but not an end to the adventurers’ travels.

What came to them next was word of trouble in the Underdark, where the dark elves made their home. Anticipating the need to destroy the entire drow enclave, the heroes instead discovered that the dark elves were under attack by forces of Orcus – demons and undead who had over-run their city of Phaervorul. Matron Urlvrain enlisted their aid in destroying the undead menace and Zirithian, the rogue drow who brought worship of Orcus into their Lolth-serving community. Travelling to the Rotting Throne in the Shadowfell, they slew Zirithian and took the cursed sword Nightbringer from his hand. They then drove the sword through the Eye of Orcus, a faint manifestation of the demon lord in the Shadowfell, destroying sword and Eye alike.

The adventurers’ problems with Orcus cults was not yet at its end. With the help of the Ashen Covenant a great shadow dragon known as Urishtar had taken command of Nightwyrm Fortress in the Shadowfell. Here a Soul Vortex was constructed that diverted the souls of the recently deceased from the Raven Queen’s judgement. The heroes became involved when it was discovered that Raise Dead rituals could no longer restore departed souls. Instead, these souls were being harvested by Urishtar at the Ashen Covenants behest. The heroes slew the shadow dragon and destroyed the Soul Vortex, freeing the souls that had become trapped.

But the Ashen Covenant had noticed their constant interference…

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