We’ve made a huge mistake
Having successfully eluded the insane clutches of Veroxx but unable to proceed past his guard in their current state, the party decided to retreat to the relative safety of the antechamber just outside of the teleporter room. There they set up watch and began to plan for how they would get to the crystal.
After much preparation, they decided to apply a bevy of buffs to protect them from Veroxx’s wrath. Ignomine extended the protection of Abadar against Chaos to his companions, while Vyktor requested Calistria’s protection from and resistance to fire and make him invisible, and provide a boon of Haste to the party and Polycarp in particular. Drael likewise made himself and Polycarp invisible, while Artas cast his own protective shields. The plan was to try to distract Veroxx long enough so that Polycarp could bypass whatever protections were on the stairs down and use the Chisel given to them by Etzio Damien once he had found the Soul Gem. If he was unsuccessful, or the party was unable to distract Veroxx, or anything else went wrong, the backup plan was to attack Veroxx with everything they had.
Rested and prepared, the party executed their plan. After triggering the portal to the mountain’s heart and Veroxx’s lair, Artas led most of the group into danger. Polycarp held back, waiting for an opportune moment to sneak past. Right off the bat the plan started to go awry. Before Artas had even gone thirty feet into the room a skeletal warrior with a dragon skull wreathed in flame and magma crawled out of the fiery pit and blocked their way. Immediately Artas attacked. Far off, lying directly on top of the gate down, slept the form of the lava drake they had battled the previous day.
Ignomine charged in alongside Artas to deliver the killing blow, splintering the skeleton and dropping its flaming skull upon the path. Invisible to the rest of the party, Drael cast Spiderclimb and wall-crawled his way above the party for a better vantage point and began summoning fire elementals to combat the dragon. Artas, seeing an opening, signaled to Polycarp to begin his assault. He sprang from the shadows, nimbly flipped over the ten feet of lava separating the paths to the way down, and sped across the remaining distance… all completely invisible and impossible for the rest of the party to see. But it was awesome-looking, I’m sure.
Artas and Ignomine continued farther down the main path, tentatively waiting for Veroxx to make his appearance, which Veroxx obliged in suitably dramatic fashion. He emerged from the magma, molten rock dripping from his obsidian scales. “Oh, it’s you again. I thought I had allowed you to leave with your lives. No matter now.” With a glance, he set off the flaming skull in a burst of acrid smoke, blocking the path back. Thankfully, Drael and Vyktor were high above the poisonous cloud and avoided the worst of its effects.
Polycarp, meanwhile, prepared to eviscerate the still-sleeping drake. He readied his rapier, chose his target, and struck… only to have the illusion disappear, and as his invisibilty faded he realized his mistake. Luckily their plan to distract Veroxx seemed to be working, so he set to work disarming the traps and locks on the gate now barring their passage forward.
Veroxx attacked Artas and Ignomine, showering them with a blast of his furnace-hot breath and shattering their hope that they could solve this with words. Thankfully the wards cast on them by Vyktor held, and the heat of his attack did not reach them. Ignomine’s curved blade, bound to the principles of Law, slashed out in retaliation, and Artas struck home with a mighty blow of his greatsword. Veroxx decided it was best to attack from outside the range of these fighters and flew up beyond their reach.
Drael continued to summon allies to the fight, clinging to the walls and invisible to Veroxx. The fire elementals, unable to fly, were ineffective once Veroxx became airborne, but he summoned a swarm of lantern-archons that pelted the dragon with multiple beams of light. Vyktor boosted Ignomine’s size, trying to get the dragon within reach, while Artas followed suit with a scroll of his own. Faced with the two fighters and a swarm of impinging fire, Veroxx retreated to the archway to the stairs, feet away from the no longer invisible Polycarp.
Polycarp faced a dilemma: having already disabled the poison gas trap, he could unlock the gate and escape down the stairs but risk alerting the dragon. Alternately, he could use the element of surprise and attack the dragon and extract every advantage he could… but at the risk of incurring its wrath and far from the help of his compatriots. Instinct fought with reason, but in the end reason won out. He eased his lockpicking tools into the gate and was satisfied with an audible “click” as the lock sprang free… and a booming voice said “Oh, hello.” Despite his best efforts, Veroxx had noticed.
The rest of the party looked on with dread as they realized that Polycarp had been spotted, and far from their help. Vyktor launched a bolt of energy, sapping the dragon’s strength with a wave of exhaustion. Seeing the path wind off into the distance and far too long to help Polycarp, Ignomine instead clumsily launched himself across the lava, teetered on the edge, and blessedly regained his balance before falling back in. He waved to Artas to follow him, only belatedly noticing the red-hot tentacle waving menacingly between them… and that had just missed pulling him into the molten rock. He paled, but figuring one heedless act deserved another, he charged into combat with the dragon once more.
Despite knowing what might lurk beneath the pool of lava for him, Artas leaped across the chasm as well, slashing away the tentacles and closing to the fray. Blocked by Ignomine’s enlarged form, he tried to shove past. The walkway was too narrow though, and he found himself stumbling over the blistering hot inferno. Drael’s fire elementals came to the rescue, sweeping beneath his gigantic boots and supporting his weight enough to escape the flames and fires of the mountain’s heart, while Drael himself summoned even more archons to join the fight. Soon nearly a dozen of the creatures were swarming about the dragon, blasting it with holy light and orbiting it like some bizarre star system.
Veroxx ignored all this, and instead unleashed his fury upon the exposed Polycarp. His serpentine neck snapped out, catching the rouge in his jaws and holding him in place. Veroxx blasted a wave of antimagic energy out, eliminating or suppressing the magics that the party had cast to protect themselves and hinder the dragon. Sensing an opening, Vyktor sent his thrush Raven to boost their protection once more, and slammed Veroxx with another exhausting wave. Unheeding, the dragon assaulted Polycarp with a barrage of teeth and claws, wings and tail thrashing. Faced with the focused onslaught of a wrathful dragon, it wasn’t long before Polycarp succumbed to his wounds.
Veroxx’s obsession would be his undoing. Focused on Polycarp, the dragon didn’t notice Drael summoning more archons to the fray, or Artas relinquishing his enlarged state to charge into melee, allowing Ignomine to use his magically enhanced reach to fight from behind him. One of the archons was able to boost Polycarp back to consciousness, allowing him to slip into the passage unnoticed, while Vyktor continued to keep the party on its feet. Under the assault of dozens and dozens of ray attacks, the dragon was clearly becoming overwhelmed. Victory seemed at hand… and then it all went wrong.
Ignomine, sensing the end was near but not wanting to see the end of such a majestic creature before its time called out for Veroxx to yield. Surprisingly, the dragon bowed its head in acquiescence, and Artas held up a fist and called for their allies to hold their fire. The archons, however, did not stop, and unleashed a final barrage. Veroxx exploded into a cloud of smoke and flame, washing over those near in a singeing wave, and Ignomine felt his protective shields fail. A shudder went through the entire mountain, and the party feels it’s beyond time to get their mission over with. They spend a few moments patching themselves up and descend into the room beyond the stairs.
Down there, the find a spectral figure with wings of radiant energy and a brilliant white hood with nothing but darkness beneath the cowl, apparently guarding the door on the opposite side of the chamber. To its left lay a decomposing corpse wearing brilliant armor. Close to them, and to their right, stood a ghostly shape of a hobgoblin. The ghostly hobgoblin introduced himself as Lancer, a paladin of Abadar, and greeted Ignomine as a fellow member of the order. “So the Guard has finally come? Good, it was about time. I was worried I would never get out of here.”
It took some explaining, but apparently Lancer had been part of a cosmopolitan civilization from before Arela was abandoned where Elf, Orc, Goblin, and Man all worked together. During Lancer’s time thousands of years ago, the races were all fleeing the continent because of some great cataclysm, and he had been ordered to destroy the crystal beyond the door facing them. The Angel standing in front of them had bested Lancer, however, and the properties of this room had prevented him from seeking his eternal rest, for it was his body lying before the door.
For the last thousand years Lancer’s ghost had been attempting to get past the Angel, to no avail. However, he believed that he could delay the angel long enough for the rest of the party to get through, as he had fought it multiple times to no long-term ill effect. The Angel stood silent sentinel while they debated what they should do. In the end, the agreed to Lancer’s plan, his allegiance to Abadar and his previous mission to destroy the crystal clearly easing Ignomine’s mine about their task.
As Artas advanced the Angel spoke its first and last words: “Begone from this place.” Lancer leapt into action, tackling the Angel’s spectral form and dragging it off to the side. “HURRY!” he shouted, and the party pushed through the door.
The massive chamber chamber beyond was nearly filled with an enormous crystal, 60 feet in height, 20 feet in diameter, and perfectly flawless, hovering slightly above the ground. Polycarp stepped forward with the Chisel given to them by Etzio and pushed it against the faceted surface, fighting against a field of energy before it contacted with a light “plink”. Using the hammer from his tool kit, he gave the chisel a solid thwack.
The entire crystal, chamber, and mountain seemed to give a sonorous toll as a wave of energy washed over the group, and a resounding CRACK revealed a foot-long fracture piercing the formerly flawless crystal. Two of the party were momentarily stunned by the wave of energy, but Polycarp pressed on with another blow. There was another ring, another wave of energy, and another crack that reached the very heart of the crystal and broke off a shard from its side, the tide of energy knocking most of the party unconscious with only Ignomine and Raven withstanding its effects to bear witness to what happened next.
First, the wave of energy came with the collapse of all the wards and barriers that had been in the mountain complex; runes, sigils, and other formerly visible arcane marks flared to visibility before collapsing to inertness. The barriers preventing the detection of magic and evil fell soon after, allowing Ignomine and Raven to see the effects of their handiwork. A hand reached out from the gap where the crystal shard had been liberated and began grasping around, while a portentious voice rasped freedom. One glance at the hand and Ignomine was blasted with a wave of revulsion, the Evil searing his sight and roiling his stomach. His unconscious compatriots groaned as the wave washed over them, all of them beset by horrible visions. Ignomine felt a wave of despair wash over him.
Then a crash from outside the room announced the approach of a gargantuan creature. With a smash, a figure thirty feet high crashed through the wall and slammed a hand the size of a wall against the breach in the crystal. In a booming voice the size of thunder it ordered them to “LEAVE, NOW! WE CAN’T HOLD IT FOR MUCH LONGER.” Veroxx swooped in, landing upon the outstretched hand and swathing it with his wings, lending what aid he could, his large body looking like nothing more than a pet bird perched upon his hand. The mountain shuddered ominously once more.
Ignomine stood dazzled, for before him stood Lawgiver himself, the aspect of Abadar, and what else but the creature that had yielded to him and been slain instead. Relief flooded him, because it would be all right now. “SAVE YOUR FRIENDS, AND GO! THERE’S NO TIME” the giant repeated. Ignomine stuttered an apology for releasing whatever evil was inside the crystal, and filled with the presence of his god’s aspect Channeled Divinity to heal his friends to consciousness. “YOU COULD NOT HAVE KNOWN, AND ABADAR DOES NOT BLAME YOU. BUT FOR YOUR ACTIONS HERE TODAY, YOU MUST ATONE.”
The healing energy still suffusing him, Ignomine felt his connection to his god, the sheltering warmth of his protection, and comforting weight of his presence lifted from him. He had Fallen. The mountain gave another alarming rumble, and the party scooped up the crystal shard and fled into the main chamber. From the far doorway they heard the sounds of the undead much closer and seemingly not as preoccupied with combat. With no time to waste dealing with their fear and despair, they took the door to the mountain top and surveyed the scene.
They saw that the army of the undead that had swarmed over the mountain and guarded it for ages had collapsed, and the other undead army was pressing to the main entrance. Thankfully, the side entrance they had taken still seemed unobserved. The party, however, could not say the same for themselves, as they saw large flying figures in the distance swerve in midair to point in their direction. They had to get down the mountain, and quickly.
Polycarp had his ring of Featherfall to protect him, and Drael had his Cape of the Mountebank. That left Drael to summon dire bats to carry the remaining three down the mountain to more passable terrain. With the aerial scouts bearing down on them, they scrambled under the protective and disguising layer of ice to their airship and began preparations for launch. Polycarp took the helm, while Vyktor and Drael manned the engine crystal. Artas and Ignomine relayed directions, as without his healing Ignomine could no longer power the engines.
His healing would have made little difference, though. When Vyktor and Drael entered the crystal room, they saw that the suspended Soul Gem had a large crack in it. In addition, it no longer glowed with the warm yellow-white light it had previously, but instead a sinister purple-black. It seemed the wave of energy that burst from the massive crystal had reached as far outside as here, and probably explained the collapse of the undead as well. In any case, the crystal had sufficient charge to get underway, though it was clear the crack was causing it to lose power continuously, and they had little enough time left.
Polycarp launched them into the air, and they made a speedy escape south going as fast as the crystal’s compromised state would let them. They outpaced their pursuers and spend a dark and fitful night traveling. They arrived near midnight at one of the border castles along the Great Northern Causeway, and eventually convinced the patrols that they were not undead and to allow them to pass. The last of the crystal’s energy was sucked out as they passed the gate, and the airship ground to a halt just inside the gates.
There they alerted the garrison, seemingly composed only of teenagers and other green recruits, and requested the presence of the Commander for the Ceres garrison as soon as possible. Looking at the stars revealed that, whatever their perception of time had been within the mountain, apparently nearly a month had passed in the outside world, and apparently many of the Great Cities were on the brink of war. When told that it would be a day before he could arrive, the party settled down to process all that had happened.