Not wanting to risk waiting any longer the party immediately continue down the hall in front of them. They discover that the hallway is of solid black stone covered in vibrant blue runes that in many places have been defaced with a glowing red chalk. The hall's floors are covered with black dust and large, irregular stones and the ceiling of the hall is and indeterminate distance above, leading the party to the conclusion that until recently this hall had been hidden thanks to some sort of cave-in in the past. Eventually, the party discovers a small side-chamber along the hall that contains a pump on its ceiling that links to an aquifer somewhere between the citadel and Valehallow itself.
It isn't long before the party reaches their destination, the open stone door at the hall's end that emits a powerful red glow and is the source of the strange chanting they have been hearing. After quickly ensuring that Ali is a safe distance away, in case anything were to go awry, the party approaches the door and takes their first look at what it is they have found themselves opposing.
Inside the chamber, the party discovers a group of ten robed fingers standing in a ring atop an intricate, glowing blue seal that is inlaid on the black floor. The figures wear white robes covered in red runes and the figure with the most intricately decorated robe stands at the center of the circle. The parties watch as the robed figures chant in a strange tongue of which they are only able to pick out one word, Averaak—which is a general term for a great evil that exists in many ancient languages. The magical energies at work in this room are visible even to those in the party that have no talent for magic, like Ardeth and Harold. The energies find their nexus with the central figure and as the party begins trying to decide their next move the energies reach a peak and suddenly three of the figures are twisted and compressed by the energies at work, eventually dissolving into nothing but pure magic which proceeds to infuse the central figure. This results in a huge flash of red light which temporarily blinds the party and sends them reeling.
After recovering from this the party tries to approach the cultists, who are so enraptured by their chanting that they are incapable of noticing them. They discover that they are prevented from approaching too closely, however, due to some sort of magical barrier that has formed itself around the circle. Wasting little time Kalise attempted to breach the barrier using a blast of fire but the spell's energies were only added to those already at work. Harold also made an attempt at shooting the central figure but was unable to make the shot. At this time history repeated itself and the party watched as three more of their opponents dissolved into energy and flooded into their leader. At this time the blue light of the run atop which these figures stood was beginning to fade and the party realized they were running out of time.
Quickly devising a new plan the party pooled together the gunpowder they had retrieved earlier in their adventure and used it to trace a wide circle around the barrier. Before the party could take their next step the final three members of the circle disappeared and infused their leader and the rune at their feet suddenly went dark and began to crack. Hoping to prevent things from proceeding any further the party quickly lit the gunpowder and dived back into the hallway to take cover. And not a moment too soon, for moments later a deafening roar filled their ears and the entire citadel seemed to shake as the powder detonated.
After the smoke began to clear the party cautiously made their way back into the room and found that while the explosion had dispelled the barrier the leader of the cultists was still standing. Burned beyond recognition with his robes hanging in tatters around him, but still standing. The man gazed at the party as the rune at his feet continued to crack and made ready to speak. Before any words could be said, however, Harold quickly took aim and fired a single shot that blew through the man's chest. The man became unsteady and blood began to spill from his mouth but still, he did not fall.
Only moments after Harold's devastating shot a red fog begin to slowly drift out of the cracks at this man's feet, filling his mouth and nostrils until it disappeared. The man cracked a sudden smile and the party watched in disbelief as his burns began to heal and the gaping hole in his chest started knitting itself together again. Eventually the party was left standing in front of a handsome young man with a mocking grin on his face and something dark in his eyes. The man made no move to attack the party, seeming to be more amused at what had already transpired than anything.
Eventually, the party cautiously attempted to probe the man in front of them for information. The only concrete fact the party was able to glean from this was that the stones left behind with the robes of the nine other cultists were the key to escape. Otherwise, he remained cryptic. He seemed amused when the characters asked after Dalayn and also when they asked him if he was Averaak. After some time, however, he seemed to grow bored with the party and waved a hand to summon a strange black door that led out into a sea of nothingness and sending a blast of fire up toward the ceiling, and presumably beyond, with a wicked smile on his face. As the man did this the party was able to see the man almost cast three magical shadows behind him, but they flickered out of existence almost before they could be seen. Once done with this little pyrotechnics display the man bid the party farewell before disappearing through his doorway, which promptly disappeared as well.
The structure around the party began to shake in distress but before the party could begin to figure out how the stones that Roy had gathered up functioned a voice spoke clearly, but weakly, in their mind. It was the lich they had met up above ordering them to return to him, with runes along the citadel's walls lighting up to lead them back. The party gathered up Ali and wasted no time making their way back to the lich's throne room.
The party discovered the lich to be in dire straits when they arrived in his throne room. His form appeared to be cracking and crumbling apart, and the light in his eyes was quickly fading. The lich petitioned the party to seek out "those who wear the symbol of the Coldfire," and presented them with his ring—which revealed itself to be emblazoned with the symbol of a blue flame with a star at its heart. He also tells them that, while there are none alive to remember or care, his name was Eskaer when he still lived.
With little magic left to sustain him, Eskaer continues by telling the party that while their involvement in the current situation might seem random they have been tangled up in it for much longer. At this time Eskaer's form deteriorated to the point that he could no longer speak, but he leaves each member with a final message that he tells them directly, telepathically. He also promises to guide them to their exit point before crumbling into nothing, with the last dregs of his energies leading them to one of the citadel's magical exits and bidding them his final farewell.
The party—Ali in tow—concentrates on the rune lightly scratched into the wall that matches one of the stones they took from below and with very little effort are able to teleport out of the citadel, appearing on a darkened field just outside of Valehallow. Looking around to determine their exact location the party discovers the glow of a fire just over a nearby ridge and quickly find themselves confronted by the still-burning remains of the mayor's mansion, with a fire brigade hard at work to contain the blaze. The party speaks to one of the members of this fire brigade and learn that they are the primary suspects and, not wanting to answer some awkward questions, the party attempt to make a quick exit. They are recognized, however, by another member of the fire brigade—the party's old friend Hada! Hada proceeds to loudly make the party's presence known to all in the region, which draws the immediate attention of Kensa and a large collection of her militiamen. The party quickly surrenders against these odds and allow themselves to be escorted away, with Ali being ushered off by others—to be returned to her parents.
It is here that the party ends their tale to the magistrate, having mostly caught up to their current predicament—sans an uncomfortable night sleeping on the hard beds offered in their cell. Surprisingly, the magistrate believes the party's story wholeheartedly but isn't sure if the mayor will be as open to listen. He promises that he will plead their case to the mayor, but since it was her home that burned down it will be up to her on how the situation is handled. Some time later the magistrate returns with the mayor, who speaks with the party in private. First, she asks them to examine the portrait in her locket and asks if the man they encountered below and the main in the portrait are the same. The party is able to quickly determine that that is indeed the case and tells the mayor that it is so, which she takes rather well considering it means her son was some sort of cult leader and is now possessed of some sort of dark power.
Miria quickly moves onto other subjects, telling the party that while half of the town believes they are arsons the other half believe Ali's fantastical tales of their actions in the citadel below. In order to placate those that disbelieve them she requests that the party does some sort of service for the Valehallow region, which they agree to readily. The party signs the necessary forms and contracts to get their belongings back and work on their task as official agents of Miria and take their leave.
The task that the party has been given is to make their way to the town of Bellwater across the Ahraem River and determine why no news has been heard from them in over a month. The journey is expected to take about a day but with bandits and beasts aplenty travel through the Silverwood is treacherous even for the most battle-hardened.
—END OF SESSION THREE—
—TO BE CONTINUED—