Nightfall in Brelindia

53 - Infestations
The hospital gives up a few of Doctor Kravoss's secrets, and the Gryphon's assassin lets the slayers know they have her attention.

The search for the assassin begins at the hospital — where they also can pursue the objective of Dr. Kravoss’s effects and notes. They search Kravoss’s office both for private journals and knives. The former isn’t in evidence — the only books here are innocuous medical texts. But they do find a variety of knives designed for surgical use. The most likely-looking one is a large blade with a notch in its edge. Honora evaluates the tool, and surmises it would have been likely to slip and taste Kravoss’ blood when a bone notched the blade.

As they search, Baden notes a single rat watching them from concealment. He feigns ignorance, then turns swiftly and cleaves it in two. The dead rat shifts form, becoming two halves of a slim, severed finger. Convinced that the Faceless Gryphon’s assassin is keeping an eye on the hospital, they move quickly.

Kravoss’s quarters reveal a little more of use. They discover a secret journal strapped to the underside of a desk, in which the doctor details the creation of the Stoic Man. Kravoss knew a Sevenstrong mason who led him to the lightning forge below Lanthorn; he remarks that the dwarf had a penchant for a white cloak. The notes also mention that the doctor had an assistant who was badly hurt when the Stoic Man came awake. This assistant, Kulvick, survived but currently resides in the insane ward of the hospital.

The other find of note in Kravoss’s quarters is a black hair on the pillow. Kravoss being white-haired, it seems that the assassin has indeed rested here lately, though the bed is made and the room tidy. The group decides to withdraw as if they have noted nothing, and return later in hopes of catching her while she sleeps. Baden keeps a careful eye open for rats as they look about, though none come to his attention.

They make a point of leaving the hospital visibly. The next step is a search for accommodations. By an hour past midnight, Abbron leads them to the Devil’s Tail, a less than fastidious tavern with a pair of rooms attached. The group chooses one of the rooms for their rest.

After a few minutes in the room, Abbron announces he’s going to go out and have some drinks. Honora says it’s dangerous, but Abbron notes that if he doesn’t go through his evening ritual, it’s going to look even more suspicious. Bralta offers to keep him company at the bar. The two leave Honora and Baden to rest. Baden attempts to go more thoroughly through Kravoss’ journals, but the combination of their technical content and the day’s fatigue overwhelms him. The elf nods off almost instantly.

Abbron and Bralta do rather better for themselves for a time. But shortly after two of the few remaining tavern patrons leave, the door opens, and a pair of bulky men swagger in. Their forms are oddly shaped under their cloaks. They belly up to the bar, and one rests his arm on the surface as he smiles at Abbron — but his arm is huge, greenish, the arm of a troll. Abbron’s lightning storms up to the surface, and the thunderbolts are already on his fingertips as the troll-grafted men attack. Not alone, either — three rats shift into humanoid shapes and join in.

Badly outnumbered, both Abbron and Bralta are wounded before Honora comes charging out of the back, and Baden shakes off sleep and fatigue to follow her. One of the wererats, hidden in a corner, marks Honora as she emerges, but this simply riles the half-orc’s temper. The few patrons of the Devil’s Tail still in the common room either flee or cower under their tables as the battle breaks out.

For all the strength of the troll-grafted, and all of the cunning of the wererats, the heroes are fiercer and more durable. The four ignore their wounds and give better than they receive. One of the rats makes the mistake of leaping up on the bar, which incenses the already harried and angry Abbron. The rodent cutthroat is thundered down almost immediately. The troll-grafted fall under sacred axes, and the final surviving wererat tries to flee, but is cut down in the streets.

The bodies of the wererats revert to human form. But in a particularly unpleasant discovery, it’s found that they have small wounds over their hearts — small holes, from which the tips of rat muzzles protrude. Large rats have eaten hollows into the chests of each of these shapeshifters. Though nobody can recall a specific precedent for this, it seems in keeping with folklore that the rat queen must be creating her followers in such a fashion.

A small troop of understandably nervous city watch shows up to ask questions. The slayers explain, citing their commission from Countess Vainharte to do what they can about the plague and the killings. Once the sergeant is satisfied with their side of the story, the group searches for somewhere to take a safer and more thorough rest.

52 - A Plague of Rats
The return to Lanthorn is fraught with sickness and death.

The four set off downriver for Lanthorn. They discuss their plans along the way. Abbron is concerned that the Stoic Man may rampage through the city, destroying everything in his path. The unnamed assassin mentioned by the mist giant Orinor is another concern. Nobody likes the thought of being caught between them. It’s decided that they will have to move quickly and quietly, possibly to draw out the assassin.

When they reach Lanthorn, however, all is less than well. Yellow pennants hang from the towers and walls — a sign of plague within the city. Between Honora and Abbron, they deduce that the quarantine is in effect. It is unlikely that the guards will deny them entry, but if they enter, they might not be allowed to leave.

Their first stop is gathering rumors outside of town. A fishwife on the lake’s shore is able to describe something of the disease’s symptoms: blue blotches around the eyes and lips. She also speaks of doctors and priests being murdered in the disease’s wake. Unfortunately, her gossip is unable to provide more specific detail. The group combs more of the outlying houses for rumors, but thanks to the quarantine, those outside the walls are unable to speak too precisely of the events within.

A short discussion ensues, in which Baden suggests the possibility of simply bypassing Lanthorn and searching for their next target. Honora will have none of it, though; she is determined to see the Stoic Man dead before the spring storms empower the dwarven lightning forge for him. The group advances on the city gates the next morning. The guards try to warn them away, but let them in without trouble.

The first stop is the Tower of the Vigil. The news there is grim: Tangryph is dead, murdered in his bed. The new leader of the Vigilants, an Alvorite named Annith, tells them a note was left on the scene: “Perhaps we are desperate.” Four priests and doctors have been similarly murdered since the sickness began. Disturbingly, Doctor Kravoss is himself missing.

Baden demonstrates great knowledge of medicine, comparing the disease to a similar affliction known to the elves of Tirasel. The most efficacious remedy he can recall is a tincture brewed from the leaves of one of the star-trees: the closer to a god of healing, the better. The four decide to take the knowledge to Countess Vainharte.

The Countess’ court is thick with tension. Vainharte takes umbrage at Baden’s suggestion that she could easily have prevented the assassin’s killing streak by dispatching more guards. She explains that the assassin is clearly on a different plane of skill and strength than the guards of the city, and that many men have already died easily to the killer’s baldes.

While the courtiers are clearly distracted by the events surrounding the city, they listen carefully to the four’s story of the Gryphon’s vassalage and the enemies that have targeted Lanthorn. Baden also explains the possibility of assistance coming from the star-oaks. The group offers the scrolls of phantom steeds taken from Tythoas Nil’s belongings, that a rider might gather an infusion quickly. The Countess accepts, and sends her lieutenant Tenneth on a mission to Stormcrown.

The Countess’ men have had no more luck in tracking the assassin than the group has; there are no clear patterns to the killings, apart from the targets all having some healing skill and having tended to people affected by the plague. Vainharte advises that the group seek divination from the Tower of the Vigil, who aided her family in such a manner.

At the Tower, the Vigilants teach Honora a ritual that calls upon the wisdom of the dead, drawing advice from the deceased spirits of the order’s scholars. The group contemplates casting the divination, but first ask to see Tangryph’s room, in case the assassin has left some clue there.

Tangryph’s quarters have no obvious ways of entry other than the door and the undisturbed window. But a small hole in the corner of the ceiling offers another possible explanation. Baden investigates it, finding a small tunnel through the mortar — worn as if by the passage of hundreds of rats.

Certain now they know something more of their enemy, the group turns to divination. Honora beseeches Valysa for a vision, some form of guidance. The ritual reveals a story:

There was a young girl, who fell ill when a sickness came over her village. She lay weak and frightened among the stinking bodies of her family. But she was spared — given a hundred hearts to beat where her one nearly failed, a hundred pairs of eyes to look into the night. The girl now wanders the night, but she cannot sleep where it is filthy. She needs to smell the scent of cleanliness and healing herbs to be able to rest.

The group deduces that the rat queen must be taking over the quarters of a doctor or priest. They begin to search for a way to detect the proper site and corner the Gryphon’s assassin.

51 - Inquiries and Evasions
With Nil gone and Rivenin restored, the group sets back downriver to Harrowglen.

After some meditation, Honora is convinced that she can use a ritual of Valysan power to pull Rivenin’s spirit from the book of his life and return it to his flesh. If he hadn’t been bound into the book, she notes, she wouldn’t have had the ability. She prepares a sacred vigil. Most of the day passes, with the paladin in deep prayer, before the ink peels from the pages and transforms into Rivenin’s breath.

The elven scout is clearly rattled by the experience. Honora stresses that he shouldn’t have to return to his order’s tasks — he’s already given his life in its service. Rivenin asks about Nil, and Baden says that Nil is gone, but they weren’t able to get the phylactery. Rivenin contemplates for a moment, and then says that their mission in the land is ended for now. He stresses that he must return to Tirasel. Baden agrees, but says he’ll remain in Brelindia to continue his current mission. He gives Rivenin information about the Gryphon’s vassalage to carry back with him.

Elimsera speaks of the other star-trees during the wait. She says she fears for her sisters — according to the wanderers, the witch of the Shroud Tree is dead. She points out the Thunderbolt Tree in particular to Abbron, mentioning that it stands on the Stormcrown mountain southwest of Lanthorn. Its power may be relevant to his.

Before night falls, the group crosses the river to the town. Rivenin commits to his plans to travel north to Tirasel. The others pay a call on the poet Iaverine, and tell him that Rivenin is alive, though somewhat heartsick and given to solitude. He asks for details on the clash, but Honora is terse. They also tell Madrood some of what they’ve learned. The dwarf surveyor is clearly disappointed that they didn’t take care of the sphinxes while they were at it.

Abbron manages to find a boatman, one Corbran, who’s willing to make an off-season run downriver if the price is right. The next morning, they depart for Harrowglen. The journey is without any real trouble, though Corbran carefully passes Selpike on the far side of the river at their behest. The fortified town has a pair of ballistae trained on the river, and the group is glad to see the town pass without incident.

In another three days time, they reach Harrowglen. Another barge rests at the dock here, adorned in the yellow and green of Selpike. The group disembarks cautiously. The Harrowglen locals give them some surreptitious warning that the Selpike troops are here investigating the death of Cyr Egran.

The four run into the first batch of Selpike men-at-arms in the White Hind tavern. The tavernkeeper is eyeing them with no small hostility, though they don’t seem to notice. The Selpike troops recognize the four as slayers, and mention that there’s a large bounty on Bron the Brigand, particularly if brought to Selpike alive.

The next stop is their visit to the knight’s manor, and to Kindrevin. The acting canton-master is hosting the other five Selpike troops at the time of the group’s arrival. Their leader, Despeth, is a stern woman who wears her blond braids coiled around her neck. While the group is able to answer each of her questions with such careful omission that they never actually lie to her, she seems to be a canny sort, and still suspicious. After exchanging some pleasantries, Kindrevin invites them to dinner, and they accept.

Before dinner they stop to check up on their horses. The stablehand has apparently treated the beasts with great respect, and Honora sends him outside with a generous tip. They discuss the way to proceed while in the stables. All share a suspicion that the Baron of Selpike is acting irrationally from grief, and that he may be of low enough temper that he has nothing left to lose — and therefore might be an ideal target for the Rider in White’s recruitment.

They share dinner that evening with Kindrevin and Despeth. Again they deflect any possible admissions that they know where Bron might be, or that they believe him innocent. However, they cannot help but admit that they knew Kindrevin from before, and Despeth is well aware Kindrevin was Bron’s man. She is clearly still suspicious, though she leaves after dinner with no real proofs. The group stays the night in the manor house at Kindrevin’s encouragement.

The next morning, the group makes ready to move on. They discover that the Selpike troops have already gathered up and cast off back for home. In speaking to the others, they realize that Despeth managed to speak with the trapper Haerick — no friend to Bron.

They pay a call on Haerick. When they knock on the door, they hear a scramble as the trapper slips out the back and starts bolting for the treeline. Baden looses an arrow directly into Haerick’s path, and when the trapper halts, Baden encourages him to bring the arrow back.

Haerick quickly confesses to being a friendly witness. He says he may have told Despeth that Egran fell at the hands of wandering slayers, and confirmed that Kindrevin was one of Bron’s loyalists at the time. The group lets him be without any further sanction, though it’s clear the rest of the town will be little pleased with the trapper.

With that information, they discuss the possibilities with Kindrevin. Abbron is clearly worried that the Selpike troops may be back, and more numerous, to take over and spend the Baron’s wrath. Kindrevin responds by telling the slayers not to worry. If need be, Harrowglen can hold for a while; Selpike is too far to easily spare a large number of troops. He tells them to go to Lanthorn and speak with the Countess Vainharte — there are more pressing matters to deal with still.

50 - Nothing to Nothingness
Baden and his companions come face to face with the nihilistic lich Tythoas Nil at last.

The scriptorium, like most of the library, is silent. Not because it is unoccupied — but because the occupants are deathly quiet themselves. A pair of skeletal scribes look up from their work, a hulking hollow steps to intercept the group, and a yellow-robed wraith flits from an alcove.

Abbron opens with a charged bolt of lightning that arcs between each opponent, staggering them and opening them up to attack. The others charge into battle. The hollow takes the lead against them, offering one more riddle.

The maiden’s first love,
The warrior’s drum,
The artist’s great work,
Now tell me their sum.

Honora’s guess of “heart” does not satisfy the hollow, and it fights more aggressively against her. The others target the undead. Baden, his axe pulsing with holy light, tears apart the yellow wraith swiftly. Abbron is able to badly damage the scribes, but takes heavy damage himself in the process, drawing Bralta to bolster his strength. After several passes, Honora proves she has the better of the hollow by hewing its helm from its pauldrons with a lightning-charged strike. The scribes falter, and then are obliterated by a pulse of sacred energy. The scriptorium is taken.

They spend little time at rest. The doors to the labs beckon them. Once they feel their strength is at its height, the four push open the doors and enter the arcane laboratory.

The laboratory is a large double room, with a lower level once used for the testing of spells, and a walkway across it to the work tables. One of the tables is familiar, to those who read Rivenin’s last chapter — the shackles are still visible. At the far end of the room, beneath a chart of the spaces between the stars, surrounded by dark metal lightning rods driven into the floor and by mirrors on the walls, stands an elven cadaver in a simple gray and purple robe.

Tythoas Nil regards them, and speaks. His voice is dry, somewhat unpracticed.

Do you have any interesting justification for this disruption, or is it more ephemeral tedium?

Baden levels his axe at the elf-lich and announces that they have brought the sun to purify his corruption.

Nil regards Baden with cool disdain. “The sun will grow red and pale and burn out, like any flame.”

Abbron admits that they’re committed to the action all the same — even if Nil’s philosophy proves eminent, it doesn’t do them any good to surrender to it.

The lich sighs. “And so the grain takes up arms against the millstone.” He gives a dismissive wave, and a sword and shield materialize next to him, each one made of solidified darkness. The four need no more cue.

Baden, of course, is first to cross the gap and engage Nil. But the lich is far from a harmless target. With a gesture, he steals the breath from Baden’s lungs, nearly asphyxiating the elf on the spot. Things worsen as the conjured void shield draws near, a face emerging from its surface. The shield’s mouth opens wide, and an ice-cold tongue of quasi-solid shadowstuff licks at Baden, drawing away more of his life force. Staggered, he attempts to cling to life. Abbron lashes out at Nil with a bolt of lightning, but the attack is drawn away and into one of the lightning rods nearby. Honora advances more cautiously, choosing to engage the void weapons while remaining well away from the mirrors.

Tythoas Nil continues his attack. He lashes out with more of his signature spells — void talons to tear away protective magic as well as life force, and the web of nihil, fanning ribbons of oblivion that sap the vitality of anyone caught within. Lesser beings would have been annihilated by the attacks — but the four are something more.

Abbron transforms his body into lightning and blasts through the area, but it’s a dangerous gambit — he’s nearly sucked into one of Nil’s lightning rods. Bralta’s runesong brings Baden back to his feet, and he lunges again at Nil. Light flashes, and he transports Nil right beside Honora. The paladin winds up with a massive swing at both lich and a nearby mirror, but Nil teleports away before the blow lands, and she manages only to smash the mirror.

The lich continues to unleash spell after spell. He draws the breath from Baden a second time, but is blasted aside before he can finish his rivalry. He teleports across the room away from one attack, but runs into another. The sword and shield continue to exact a toll from his enemies, yet it isn’t sufficient to keep them from focusing their power on the undead scholar.

At last Nil staggers, slivers of his undead flesh falling away from his frame. Abbron seizes the opportunity to bring down a crash of thunder. The lich’s animating force flees his body, which is blown into a spray of bone fragments and grave dust.

The shield and sword, still animated, lose much of their potency with Nil’s destruction. They are broken and dissipated shortly thereafter.

The group sets about binding their wounds, using what healing magic they have left, and gathering the available spoils before they return to the star-oak. Elimsera is quite surprised to see them, but makes them welcome. The four settle in for a rest. They don’t get it yet.

When the sun goes down, a strange presence draws near the tree. A rider on a pale horse, in white cloak and garments. The four hastily gird themselves as he slowly rides up the hill. Finally they look on the Rider in White face to face. The wraithly figure seems almost mortal, an ageless man in a deep hood, save for the powerful aura of death that surrounds him.

“I wish to speak to you,” says the Rider.

Baden replies. “Maybe we should destroy you right now.”

“If I were at all afraid that could happen,” replies the Rider, “would I be here right now?”

The Rider describes himself as here to present an offer: If the group agrees to withdraw and work no more against the Gryphon’s vassalage, then he will give them Tythoas Nil’s phylactery. Baden is at first dubious, but the Rider claims that he is the one that hid it for Nil, and can retrieve it as needed. If he doesn’t, he asserts, then it will remain out of Baden’s hands until Nil returns and can rebuild.

Baden quickly rejects the offer. He argues that the very offer means that the Rider and his master are desperate — that they are trying whatever they can, and failing. The Rider remains dispassionate throughout his tirade. Baden finishes by claiming that they’ll destroy the Faceless Gryphon just as they’ve destroyed all their other targets. Only then does the Rider respond.

“Perhaps you will. Perhaps you will even triumph and survive to a peaceful end of old age afterwards. And then, when you lie weak in bed, waiting for the end to come, knowing that Tythoas Nil is returning, that your children are left in this world with him, will you be content?”

The Rider in White turns and rides down the hill. Baden thinks for a while, then returns with the rest of the group to rest and meditate.

49 - Breaking the Silence
The hunters return to the library, pushing through the mustered defenses.

The group wakes well before dawn, sore but well-rested. Elimsera offers them a warm breakfast, and without much said, they set out for the Library. Before she departs, Honora discreetly leaves one of her history books at the shrine.

The ruins of Mathraine are quiet. No gargoyles are to be seen, although they sight one of the immense sphinxes, marching with uncanny quiet along a street a few rows downhill. They are careful to avoid its notice.

Once at the Library, the group decides to try a different entry, this time at the Western Equinox door. Though the door seems largely undisturbed, Baden notes that the shadows of a pair of reliefs on the walls are strangely formed. He quickly deduces that a duo of Tythoas Nil’s void vestiges have concealed themselves there as sentries. Scouting quietly around the building, he sees that more vestiges have placed themselves at each entrance. The group decides to try getting close enough to the semi-sentient fragments to destroy them without raising the alarm. The effort falls through, though — one is destroyed, but the other outpaces Honora and slips through the crack in the Western Equinox door. Honora doesn’t slow her pace, and shoulders the door open.

The explosive entry attracts attention quickly. A small patrol of defenders arrives soon after the group is inside. Baden recognizes the apprentice he saw investigating one of their last battles, an elf who then returned up to the observatory at the uppermost level. The apprentice has one of the scrollbound wooden constructs with him, as well as another of the yellow wraiths and a rune-graven gargoyle, possibly the one that refused to engage the group yesterday.

Baden is ready for the yellow wraith this time. He immediately engages, his sacred axe blazing with holy fire. Before long, the wraith is so many dissipating shreds of phantasmal fabric, having failed to do any real damage to the elf. Honora is similarly unforgiving, dealing a serious blow to Nil’s living apprentice. The mage retreats, calling up tendrils of nullifying mists to protect himself while the gargoyle closes as well.

While Honora cleaves into the gargoyle, Baden pursues the scrollbound construct. It responds by vanishing away, and binding him with a powerful shackling spell. When he tears free, he’s worse for wear. But the gargoyle is soon smashed into rubble, and then Honora is able to charge the apprentice while Baden continues to chase the scrollbound. Finally the apprentice dies in a flurry of Abbron’s lightning, and shortly thereafter the scrollbound perishes under Baden’s axe edge.

After catching their breath, the four locate the stairs down to the scriptorium level. Again Baden spots something wrong — in this case, a sigil subtly inscribed on the landing. Abbron manages to identify it as a magical trap, binding a powerful curse of silence on anyone unlucky enough to trigger it. He sends a burst of magical thunder into the sigil. The sound is swallowed entirely, but the sigil strains at the effort. A second thunderclap overloads the glyph, destroying it, and the path to the scriptorium is cleared.

48 - Blood and Stone
A fighting withdrawal targets the stone horrors between the four heroes and a possible refuge.

After a few minutes of debate, the group decides to withdraw. The star-oak to Ianavath might prove a safe resting point. They decide to spend their strength attempting to draw out the rune-graven gargoyles patrolling Mathraine, and eliminating Nil’s advance guard if at all possible.

They leave via the same door, and begin the march across the city. Soon enough, the gargoyles spot them. The group manages to trick the gargoyles into following them into a tight street, and then they turn on their pursuers.

There’s not much room for the gargoyles to maneuver. But the beasts are still much faster than their stony forms would suggest, and they close with intimidating speed. Two take the lead, clawing at Honora and Baden. Another four-horned beast, lights behind the front line. He reaches out a claw, tears free a stone from a nearby building, and bounces it off Honora’s pauldron. A fourth gargoyle, a female, fights from a distance with a powerful gaze, while a fifth — this one with no runes carved into its hide — circles around to cut the group off.

Baden cuts through the line to isolate the female petrifier. The two of them vanish into one of the empty buildings, where they tear at one another. At the same time, the stone-throwing gargoyle plunges its talons into the street. Its runes flare, and the earth and stone buckle, tearing across the heroes’ line.

Tired as they are, though, the four still have reserves of strength, and they win the battle of attrition. Honora puts the finishing blow on one of the front-line gargoyles. Abbron calls up a wind that slams the battered stone-thrower into a wall, shattering it. Baden is nearly off his feet before Bralta’s voice reaches him, and the healing chant renews him. He presses the advantage and cuts the petrifier down. The runeless gargoyle doesn’t even stand a chance.

The last gargoyle screws up its face in alarm. It attempts to escape, but opens itself up to a flurry of attacks from Honora, Abbron and Bralta in the process. It doesn’t make it, and its head goes bouncing down the street.

As the group catches their breath, Baden spots the sixth gargoyle roosting on a building nearby. It doesn’t move as he looks at it, clearly attempting to pass for a sculpture. They leave it to find its own way back to the library, or out of Mathraine, and press on to the star-tree.

The Oak of the Lamp is hung with several lit lanterns in its lower boughs, and set about with small shrines to Ianavath. The caretaker, a slender young autumn elf notices the approaching group soon. She notes that they are not pilgrims, and although she seems initially distrustful, Abbron has success in pointing out that they’ve recently destroyed Nil’s rune-graven gargoyles. The witch introduces herself as Elimsera, and agrees to shelter the group. She mentions that she has suffered loss at the gargoyles’ talons herself. When Abbron asks about that loss’ nature, she points at a broken lantern hung from the tree’s branches. It belonged to her mother, she explains.

Elimsera leads them into a cavern underneath the tree itself, a cozy hole lined with bookshelves. They make themselves at home, unrolling bedrolls on the floor, while the witch prepares a few bowls of simple food from a peculiar quern.

Baden slips away while there’s still light. He takes a short pilgrimage to the sacred tower where Amaelin and Inielin were once venerated. Along the way, he sights one of the sphinxes — a towering stone beast, forty feet at the shoulder, with the face of an elf-woman. It does not seem to notice him where he hides, and continues down the street. Once the path is clear, Baden continues on to the tower. He meditates at sunset, and then moves cautiously through the night back to the oak.

That evening, they discuss what they know of Nil and Rivenin’s fate with Elimsera. She is appalled at the way that Rivenin’s life has been bound into the book. She isn’t sure how best to release it; perhaps it could be restored to his body if it were near and intact, given the proper ritual power.

As they elaborate on Rivenin’s findings, the witch becomes particularly worried about the prospect of both the void astrology and the lightning rods. She suggests that the lightning rods perhaps weren’t crafted with the Stoic Man and his works in mind — it seems very likely that they are meant to draw down the void from above. She fears that Tythoas Nil’s true target are the star-trees of the elves. To destroy them would be to remove their protection, and make it easier to draw Brelindia into a lightless future.

The heroes reassure Elimsera that they will do what they can to stop it. Even if they can’t finish Nil for good, they can destroy his laboratory and his works — gods willing. With the last of the exhausting day behind them, they sink into slumber.

47 - Silence in the Library
The four discover the fate of Rivenin, and the last things he learned of Tythoas Nil.

The band swiftly and quietly retreats down a floor after the fight. One of Tythoas Nil’s apprentices, accompanied by another hollow shell of a knight, approaches the area to investigate, but unable to follow the intruders’ trail, returns to the 5th-floor observatory. The group quietly returns to the entrance to the sealed records section after the apprentice leaves.

The doors are sealed with a complicated puzzle lock designed in a spidery snowflake motif. Abbron and Baden attempt to help Bralta solve the lock. Her first attempt is a failure that puts the runecantor in a bad temper. But it also sharpens her wits, and she opens it with ease the second time.

The sealed records section is filled with shelves that have locked drawers, panels or covers to protect the books and scrolls within. Many of the shelves are covered with dust, but the signs of more recent activity are somewhat gruesome. A robed skeletal figure sits at the main desk, copying from a large volume, a pale and deathly owl seated on the desk. Behind it, nine elves wrapped in lengths of scrollpaper hang from the walls in various states of desiccation. Weapons rest at their feet, and Baden recognizes Rivenin’s own weaponry under the freshest of the motionless bodies.

The skeletal scribe looks up at the band as they approach. It shakes its head, and snaps its bony fingertips twice. The two oldest and most withered scroll-mummies pull themselves free from the wall, and take up their weapons. The owl takes to the air fading instantly from view, and the hunters rush to engage.

Abbron moves first, throwing a lightning bolt at the scribe. It impacts the desk, though, and the noise it creates is utterly swallowed by an aura of silence surrounding the undead scholar. Honora and Bralta move to intercept the withered elves, and Baden leaps the desk to attack the scribe, translocating it into a corner to keep its silent aura away from his allies.

The owl establishes itself as one of the deadliest opponents, striking from invisibility, fading to an ethereal phase, and then vanishing again before repeating the process. Honora, Bralta and Abbron focus their attention on the desiccated elves, and strike down a few void vestiges that begin materializing through the walls. Two more of the scroll-mummified elves leave their positions on the walls and take up weapons before Baden finishes the skeletal scribe. Honora channels a burst of Valysa’s divine presence to destroy the last pair of withered elven dead.

The four drop into readiness to wait for the owl to reappear. When it does, it dives at Abbron. The sorcerer steps away with a thunderous strike, and Baden channels a burst of solar energy into it. Badly seared, it attempts to flee, but lands too close to Honora’s feet. Earth Dragon descends, and the deathly harbinger disintegrates into wisps of vanishing color.

In the stillness after the fight, Baden lowers his colleague’s body to the ground and mourns quietly. Abbron and Honora look at the book that the scribe was copying from. Although they’re unable to read elvish, Bralta and Baden discover that the book is a very thorough biography of Rivenin, detailing things he would never have revealed under interrogation. The group surmises that the book is Rivenin, in a sense — his life force extracted and transformed into the tale of his life. Searching the sealed records room, they find another bookcase that has seen recent use, containing more biographical volumes that may match the lives of the other eight deceased elves hung on the walls.

Baden reads the last hours of Rivenin. The book recounts his final trip into the Library, where he was spotted by one of Nil’s apprentices and a yellow wraith, and then subdued. He regained consciousness in Tythoas Nil’s laboratory — seemingly one of the arcane laboratories below the library. Nil declined to interrogate Rivenin, preferring the more efficient form of extraction into a book. Before Rivenin was taken away, he caught glimpses of a strange anti-star chart of the spaces between the stars, and what appeared to be some peculiar lightning rods under construction. He also noted that a particularly large hollow guardian seemed to keep watch over the stairs to the lower level.

The account galvanizes Baden’s determination to see Nil overthrown. Abbron agrees that it’s vital to press on, concerned that if they don’t finish the job the lich will certainly send reprisals after them. Honora voices her doubts that they’ll be able to fall back if they go much further, but shoulders her axe and follows. The group descends to the lower levels, searching out the path to the scriptoria. However, they aren’t quite subtle enough. One of Nil’s mortal apprentices discovers them, backed up by a pair of the scrollbound banishers.

Baden’s axe bites into the apprentice almost before the muted wizard can draw a breath. He retaliates by drawing runes in mid-air to repulse the lich-hunter, but it does little good. He dies swiftly, and although the scrollbound constructs are able to inflict more damage, they too are no real match for the group. Silence descends, and the four pause to reassess their health and consider moving below or leaving to hunt gargoyles and find a safe resting place.

46 - Entering the Library
The hollow guardians of Tythoas Nil strive to keep the heroes from the library’s secrets.

The discussion winds down and spirals out before the heroes retire for the evening. They eat breakfast the next morning in the Highland Shade’s common room. After a meal of hearty proportions, Abbron announces that he’s all for the direct approach. They consider the structure of the library, and decide that a good possibility for Nil’s location would be the sealed books section, on the highest floor of the Winter wing.

They strike out to one of the near bridges crossing the north river. Mathraine is blanketed in a thick fog, which muffles the sounds around them but also protects them from being sighted from above. By the time they reach the library, the fog is burning away, and the gargoyles can be seen stirring in the air several blocks away. They quickly enter through the Eastern Equinox door.

The main building of the library has endured well through the years. The ceiling remains intact, and is visible through the central well that rises through the second through fifth floors. However, the building is also occupied. The group has to move carefully to avoid the attention of the occasional purple-robed apprentice, or the fragmentary wisps that flit from shelf to shelf in the shadows. Honora proposes moving through the Vernal wing up to the third floor, on the grounds that Nil likely has no interest in its contents and therefore it is probably sparsely occupied. From there they can cross the main building to the Winter wing.

The plan works well for the first part. The Vernal wing is indeed mostly empty of enemy presence, and the group makes their way to the third floor safely and quietly. But as they approach the Winter wing they are discovered. Two hollow suits of armor guard the door to the walkway, and they are not alone. A strange scarecrow-like figure bound mummy-fashion in strips of scrolls regards them from an alcove, and a faded figure drifts into view from another portion of the room: a yellow wraith.

Honora moves down the center aisle to engage the hollow shells. As she advances, one of them turns its empty helm toward her and recites something in elvish. Bralta and Baden quickly translate for the others’ benefit.

“Call me by name and slay me

Die for me and I am yours forever"

Honora puzzles somewhat over the riddle as she meets the guardians in battle. She finally guesses “A secret!” — but the answer isn’t correct, and the riddling armor focuses its attacks more keenly on her.

Baden gets the first taste of the scrollbound construct’s ability. It extends an arm at him, and begins to incant — and a spell comes to life from the scrolls binding it. A blast of thunder disintegrates part of the bookshelf between them, and sends the elf reeling. In return he closes and severs one of the construct’s arms with a divinely guided strike.

Abbron takes to the air, winds lifting him onto one of the bookshelves so that he can get a better vantage point. From there he sees Honora battling both shell-guardians as Bralta moves to support her. The second one asks a riddle as well:

The warrior-king sinks into red oblivion, and his subjects bespattered by the blood find it beautiful.”

Again Baden and Bralta translate. But this time Honora guesses correctly — “a sunset.” The shell continues to fight on, but it’s clear that it is deferring some of its skill, and is unable to engage Honora as fiercely as it had.

Then the yellow wraith closes in on the Valysan. It meets her gaze and exposes the roiling madness beneath its hood. The sight clearly overwhelms the paladin, if only for a moment. She lashes out in a fever, smashing a portion of the bookshelves under Abbron’s feet. The storm sorcerer wobbles a bit, then leaps to a nearby bookshelf. He lands successfully, leaps again — but this time he does poorly with the landing. The bookshelf comes toppling down under him, smashing into a second and sending that one down atop Baden and the battered scrollbound construct. Baden and Abbron are both lightly injured in the tumble, but the construct is smashed into flinders. Baden pulls himself free from the wreckage and moves to support Honora.

Free of the temporary madness, Honora channels a portion of Valysa’s heavenly wrath. A peal of thunder rolls across her foes. Surprisingly, the noise seems to disrupt the yellow wraith, and its form takes on a brief solidity. The others take note, and redouble their efforts.

Abbron hurls thunder at the wraith, and then transforms himself briefly into his lightning form. He tears through the enemies, exploding one of the damaged guardians into its component pieces. Baden cleaves into the other, finally severing its animating spark. The yellow wraith slashes out at the intruders, backing away from the melee, too late. An axe tears through it one last time, and scraps of yellow cloth go fluttering down the central well of the library. The group then turns their attention to the doors, attempting to catch their breath before the other residents of the library are drawn to the noise.

45 - Mathraine
The hunt for Tythoas Nil arrives at the fallen elven city of scholars.

When the mist rises and the giant stones revert to ruins, the group heads for Whitemere to seek a place to rest. As it turns out, the town was largely abandoned a good time ago. The only resident is an old hermit who stayed with his fishing, and has deteriorated socially somewhat with only fish for conversation partners. The group leaves him to his own devices, camps in a sturdy building, and then sets out for Mathraine after a long rest.

Along the way, Baden tells the group more of what he knows of Tythoas Nil. The elven lich is notorious among the order for his philosophical insistence that undeath is a far higher state than life, his desire for silence and isolation, and his links to the void. It seems unlikely that he will employ living spies — more of a scryer than a spymaster, as it were — because his thralls tend to be empty or hollow in some fashion. Nil believes that nothing living can perceive anything of use, only its own mortality.

In another day’s time they reach Mathraine, and cross the river to the human portion of the settlement. They make arrangements to stay at the Highland Shade, a brewhouse that also offers lodgings to travelers. They then begin circulating among the townsfolk to gather rumors. The locals are clearly too isolated and conservative for the slayers to blend in properly, but they are welcoming enough after some initial conversation.

Honora visits the temple, where the high priest offers her hospitality, but seems to be far removed from the powerful questors found elsewhere.

Baden finds that his ally Rivenin is known locally, but hasn’t been seen for weeks. The Highland Shade proprietor Burstav produces a series of notes left for Baden.

- Tythoas Nil confirmed. I have dispatched two of his Hollow Guard; the craftsmanship was unmistakable. He is likely in the Library, location within unknown. I will continue to watch for an opening.

- The Star-oak is safe. The Beacon to Ianavath remains lit. I do not know if I can trust its keeper, though. She seems to know of our order and distrust it.

- I have monitored the stone sphinxes for clues of possible subversion. They do indeed seem erratic, degraded — but unmarked by Nil to my eye. Their resistance to kepherel may be a convenient coincidence for his purposes.

- I have entered the Library via the Eastern Equinox door. There are few wards but many servants. Has Nil been here for years? Decades? Avoiding servants until it is necessary or inevitable to make my presence known.

- Signs of living elves in the Library. Spoor. Nil has taken “apprentices” before; he fills them like wineglasses and then drains or smashes them in the same manner. Perhaps one can be taken and questioned.

- Sighted a yellow wraith in the library. Expect fear, madness.

Further investigation reveals that Rivenin was staying with a local autumn elf poet. This poet, Iaverine by name, turns out to have a bad leg that prevents him from traveling. Baden calls on him, and finds that Rivenin left another set of notes there for him. During the course of the conversation Baden attempts to ascertain Iaverine’s motives, and comes away with the impression that he and Rivenin became lovers. Now the poet is quite worried for the Amaelite scout’s safety.

Abbron, who hadn’t made it far enough up the Sawfell to visit Mathraine before, makes up for that oversight by making friends throughout the town. One in particular, a storyteller by the name of Illona, mentions that someone else has an interest in the ruins. She points Abbron to the allegedly insane dwarf surveyor Madrood. That evening, the group decides to go visit Madrood after convening.

Madrood lives in a multi-story building crammed with a variety of peculiar tools, presumably scavenged or bartered or tinkered. The bristle-bearded dwarf is brusque and eccentric, but seems glad to talk to people who take his project seriously. He elaborates on the difference between Thurvakki and Helvakki — deep magic and high magic — and notes that Mathraine is situated on a site where the two are both fairly strong. He has been attempting to map the lines of deep magic power, and has noted that they likely power the sphinxes.

He also notes that the winged creatures Baden spotted earlier are gargoyles, and rune-graven ones at that — Madrood has spied on their runes from afar, and believes them to be elven in design. Bralta confirms that this is likely making the gargoyles powerful, and they are likely acting at least partly in Nil’s interest.

44 - An Immense Mercy
The four are drawn into giant affairs, at the request of a severed head.

The morning comes that the group must leave Harrowglen. Honora is still gravely concerned about the possibility of the roaming agents of the vassalage catching them, and inflicting grave collateral damage on the townsfolk in the process. Bron and Brisery prepare to set out downriver for Lanthorn, and Bron promises Honora that they’ll go first to the Valysans. The four in turn cross the river, and begin the long loop around Selpike through the southern hills. They plan to aim for the town of Whitemere as the last stop before Mathraine.

They travel for several days, under the mixed advantage of particularly warm winter weather. The snow melts and the ground thaws. The hunting isn’t ideal, and Baden’s a little out of his element, but they make decent time through the hills.

On the sixth day they spy ravens in numbers. Approaching the site of the birds’ interest, they find the remains of a coarsely butchered immense elk, nine feet at the shoulder. Bralta recognizes it as likely from higher in the mountains. Immense footprints and the scoring of a crude stone knife along the bones confirm the group’s suspicions. Giants. Two of them, and headed north. The prospect of giants raiding Whitemere becomes a grave dread, and the four begin to make greater haste following the trail.

They reach the Whitemere valley swiftly, hoping to be in time to prevent any giant mischief. The giants are easy to spot — on the near side of the lake, a good distance from the walled town. One of the twelve-foot creatures wears split bones across his clothing and along his club; the other has reeking clothes stitched together with moldering entrails. The two are playing some sort of ball game with a large object. Concerned that it might be a person in a bag or some similar victim, the group approaches. But as they draw nearer, they can perceive that the giants are playing with a severed head larger than either of their own. The head has a slaty grayish blue skin and pale hair and mustache, a dirt-smeared platinum headband still in place. As they draw nearer, its eyes open and fix on the party.

“Help me,” it mouths.

The giants are delighted to spot the approaching small folk. “I get the bones!” calls out the one bedecked with bone adornments. “I get the guts!” shouts the other. They stride to the attack, and Honora and Baden are quick to intercept. Baden claims one for himself and offers Honora the other, but she focuses more on keeping the attention of both and aiming her strikes at the group’s target.

The giants are just as strong and terrible as lore makes them out to be. But they are also crude fighters without much wit, and though Honora takes some terrible blows from them, she and Baden and Abbron pay back as good as they get, even better. Only Bralta has difficulties adapting to the huge targets, somewhat giving the lie to the rumor that all dwarves learn giant-fighting from an early age.

When the giants are overthrown, the group turns to the head. The head asks to be returned to its post before the mists rise again. He indicates a rise over the lake, where huge stones lie exposed to the weather — the remains of some giantish colonnade. The four craft an impromptu travois from the gear of the hill giants, and charitably load the head aboard.

As they make the ascent, they converse with the head to learn the tale of its curse. The disembodied mist giant introduces himself as Orinor, and says his fate was the will of his king. He had used his gift of divination to discern his king’s fate, and revealed the circumstances under which the monarch would lose his throne. The king took it poorly, as they often do, and sentenced Orinor to serve as an immortal sentinel.

On the rise, the players find several giant skeletons among the tumbled pillars, and a large stake set to look out over the water. An immense throne on a small stair is occupied by the bones of a headless giant. The group considers the logistics of getting Orinor’s massive head into place. But as Abbron is offering a solution, Orinor speaks again.

“You have been… kind to me. I had not expected that. I will return to my post, if you would place me there — but I ask that you consider more. If I were to be reunited with my body, and healed, this curse would be lifted. But it would be at risk to yourselves. I will not ask that you undertake this… but if you did, I would use my gift to see what I could for you.”

“To see into the future?”

“I see things in the future, if vaguely. I see many things in the present more clearly.”

“How much could you tell us?”

“I believe the customary number of questions is three.”

The four soon agree to the proposal. There’s little time to rest and prepare themselves for the trial, so they simply move Orinor’s head to the throne where it can be rejoined with his body, and wait. When night falls, the mist begins to rise off the lake. And as the mist creeps around the stones, they become whole again — the pillars become tall and uneroded, the colonnade gains a roof, the throne becomes smooth and whole. The mist also restores flesh to the seated giant’s body. Honora quickly levers Orinor’s head into place, and calls on the power of Valysa to make the wound whole.

Orinor shudders, and takes a deep breath — then he stands, and roars laughter. Baden and Honora tighten their grips on their axes. And the bones begin to rise. Four giantish skeletons, one of which has a single eye socket gleaming with pale fire.

“Will you fight along with us?” Abbron asks Orinor, his eyes warily on the hulking undead. The mist giant, though a mere scholar by his own admission, takes up one of the hill giant clubs and braces.

The giant skeletons are remarkably quick for their size. Honora moves to pin down one; Baden isolates a second. Abbron and Orinor challenge a third, while the cyclops fixes its missing eye on Bralta.

Fortune favors the heroes. The undead giants are strong, but the sacred power running through the paladin and the avenger is stronger. Abbron pummels a skeleton with thunder and lightning, and Orinor proves that although he may be “a humble scholar,” he is still a mist giant, with all the strength of their kind. Blow after blow lands home.

The skeletal cyclops has the most vicious attack. It claws away Bralta’s physical form, rending her insubstantial, then burns away a part of her ghostly form with its gaze. Honora pulls her back to physical form with a burst of divine energy, then finishes the cyclops. Her axe claims another skeleton, Baden’s a second, and Abbron finally blasts away the last.

Orinor bellows with laughter again. “You fight well, little ones! A bargain is a bargain. Think on what you would ask me, and I will answer your questions when you are ready.”

The mist giant strides down to the lakeshore while the four begin to discuss the questions to ask. He drinks deeply, strips and wades through the water with the delight of the recently re-embodied. Finally he returns, settles into the seat, and rests his hands on his knees. Abbron steps forward.

“Ask,” says Orinor.

“What is the Rider in White?”

Orinor closes his eyes, and pauses. “A wraith. The ghost of the last survivor of a lost village — the ghost of the entire village. He alone remembers all the names of those who died. He… despises the living for drawing breath while those close to him do not. He craves stillness and silence in the land.”

Orinor pauses, nods. “Ask.”

“How do we sever the link between the Stoic Man and his creator?”

Another pause. “There is a knife in Lanthorn. It has tasted the blood of the creator and the flesh of the created. Bless it to cleanse away the blood of the father, and drive it into the son’s flesh.

He exhales. “Ask.”

“Among our enemies are those who wander. Where can we take the nomads by surprise?”

A final pause. “The Fool watches from behind glass. He sees clearly… unless the glass is clouded. The Assassin sits in a tower in Lanthorn, called to aid his ally when the need is there. They are patient, and they are vigilant.

His divinations complete, Orinor rises to his feet. He thanks the small folk again for their aid, and wishes them well. Then he walks into the fog and is lost to sight. The mist clears, and the stones become weathered and worn again, as the sun rises.


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