Barrakas 22, 999 YK.
Derli, the only survivor of the battle with Elomir and the dark stranger, gathers his comrades and meets a twisted-looking drow named Xulgos. His faction, the Excavators of the Mournland, revives the Eclipse Collective in exchange for the box… but Zil’dejin’s body is nowhere to be found, and Elyas’ body has been destroyed. Taking Xulgos with them, Zan-kyri, Garmeth and Derli go to meet Donata to explain what has happened and attempt to take from her the Cyran Regalia, which she has claimed as her own.
Donata seems understanding of the situation, and offers them a single piece of the Regalia if they will kill the dark stranger for her, who has caused much suffering in the Magebred. They decide to take her up on this, and go to the Fourth Palace of Vermishard, which the dark stranger has taken for himself. After a difficult climb, they reach the Palace and the top of the tower, where they learn the stranger’s true identity: Lythanis Zyk. After a long fight, they bring him down, and take a moment to rest.
Notes: Elyas has passed on to his next reincarnation, his body consumed in white fire at the start of this session. Lythanis implies that he is possessed by another, otherworldly entity, and infects Derli with some kind of mental disease.
Sul, Barrakas 22, 999 YK.
Derli lowers his axe, breathing heavily, for a single moment’s rest. He turns to survey the chamber, and as his eyes pass over Elyas’ body, it bursts into white flame, leaving behind nothing but residuum. He rushes over to examine the remains, and determines that a divine act has occurred. Never one to meddle with godly business, Derli heads back through the passage to the audience chamber. He decides to bring the bodies to Ikar’s Salvage, thinking that even if they can’t revive the fallen on their own they can at least help him find a means to do so. He heaves Garmeth’s body onto his shoulders, and drags it out into the hallway outside the audience chamber, where he is met by a patrol of orcs. One is injured from the battle in the briefing room, and wants vengeance.
Derli drops Garmeth in order to fight the orcs, though the odds are against him. Shortly after readying his shield and unhitching his axe, a savage cry emerges from the other end of the hallway, and another combatant, a half-orc, enters the fray. Unknown to Derli (and indeed, pretty much all of Eberron), this half-orc is Grumbar, formerly of the Vale Defenders Extermination Co. His reasons for being in the Mournland are unknown, but he seems almost entirely mad, and issues a challenge to the orcs. At the same time, yet another fighter enters in the form of a very unusual-looking drow, who enters behind Derli when combat begins. He has no eyes and tentacles in place of hair, but Derli knows better than to ask questions of a potential ally.
Despite having very little combat experience or training compared to the orc patrol, Grumbar fares reasonably well and is able to hold his own for a short time in battle before being killed. The drow fights from a distance while Derli attempts to hold the line, using a very unusual style of fighting where his crossbow is transformed back and forth from a spectral eye, firing rays instead of bolts. When the orcs are beaten, the drow makes some sort of signal, and another dark elf appears. Though he does not look unusual in most respects, his face – like the mutated drow – is tattooed with white markings.
The first, without eyes, gives his name as Xulgos. The relatively normal looking one is Zebith, who gives little information about himself, except that he is a priest. They are both with a salvage company that doubles as an archaeologist group called the Excavators of the Mournland. They demand to know what Derli is doing, and he explains honestly. Zebith offers to resurrect the rest of the Eclipse Collective, but demands the box they were sent to find in exchange for the service. Derli begrudgingly gives in, and hands the box to him. The resurrections commence, but Zil’dejin’s body is nowhere to be found. Derli curses the fact that he left the corpse behind, but this topic is moved past when Garmeth suggests reviving Tanris to shed more light on the situation and perhaps gain some favor with Empress Donata. Tanris, however, cannpt be revived, as the Raise Dead ritual works only on those who have not yet fulfilled their role in the Draconic Prophecy. Tanris’ life on Eberron is finished.
The party decides that since they have essentially betrayed Ikar the Black by giving away the box, they should go speak with Donata herself in hopes of obtaining the Cyran Regalia. Zebith scoffs, believing she will never part with it, but still sends Xulgos with them to “represent their interests to the empress.” With a new ally, for the time being, at least, the Eclipse Collective heads off to the Second Palace to meet Donata. They bring Tanris’ corpse with them.
Like the other Palaces of Vermishard, the Second Palace rests atop a great spire of stone. However, unlike the Sixth Palace, there is a clear entrance from the ground, used as the main point of entry before the Day of Mourning. They decide to forgo this entrance for now, and instead climb the spire, bringing Tanris’ body up with them. When they reach the top they are immediately stopped by guards who watch over the palace’s exterior, who bring them to the throne room to see Donata.
Her throne room is much as it was in the days of Cyre, and many of its banners and flags still hang from the chamber’s walls, though other banners with the image of a hippogriff are hung as well. Empress Donata sits upon the old throne with a bored expression on her face as the party, with Tanris’ body, are brought before her. They frantically explain what happened, and she stands up for a moment to inspect the corpse. She nods, returns to her seat, and looks over them.
“So, am I to gather that Elomir is dead as well?”
“Yes,” Derli says with a hint of pride. “We killed him, alright.”
“You killed the both of them?” She gestures towards Tanris.
“No, Elomir killed him. Tanris brought us in to help fight in exchange for letting us take something else.”
“And what would that be?”
The group exchanges glances. “A box,” Zan-kyri says flatly. “A black box. We were hired by Ikar the Black to get it for some client of his.”
“You took the box from the Sixth Palace, then. Show it to me.”
“We don’t have it anymore,” Derli grumbles. “I had to give it away.”
“No. To some drow. Like this guy, here.”
“What is in the box?” Garmeth asks.
“I do not know. It is known to spread madness in its immediate vicinity, and whisper dark suggestions to those who come to possess it. Further, it contains a great power – many have tried to harness it, but to my knowledge, none have truly succeeded. The former owner, the lady of the Sixth Palace, was driven absolutely insane just before the Mourning. It is said she murdered her family before taking her own life.”
“Is it dangerous, then?”
“It is most dangerous in the hands of those who do not understand it. And if it is ever opened…” She trails off, and looks over at Xulgos. “Do you think your people will be irresponsible with the artifact?”
“No,” he says. “The Excavators are scholarly and careful. They will not do anything they are not certain of.”
“Then let us speak no more of it. The thing is no longer in my domain. So tell me, why are you in Metrol?” she asks calmly. “Surely you did not just come to work for Ikar the Black.”
“No, we didn’t,” Zan-kyri affirms.
“Be careful what you say next,” Garmeth says quietly. Zan-kyri ignores him and continues.
“We came because we were agreed to bring Prince Oargev the Cyran Regalia.”
Donata laughs. The sound is followed by reserved laughter from some of the servants in the room. "The Regalia is a symbol of my power, of my dominance in this place. Giving it to you is out of the question. Although… perhaps I could part with a single piece of the set for the ruined prince. Not for free, of course – you’ll have to do me a favour, first.
“Elomir is just one of my lords infected with the sickness. For him, it was more dangerous than for the others, because it made him more susceptible to the madness that fills the air of the Sixth Palace. But the other Magebred, they become as puppets to the dark stranger. They slowly lose their minds, until they are replaced in full with… something else. Removing my lords who fall victim to the sickness does not truly fix anything. To ease my problem, I must be rid of the dark stranger.”
The party agrees to kill the dark stranger in exchange for a piece of the Regalia, and they are directed to the Fourth Palace, which he has taken over since arriving in Metrol. He occupies the highest room in the tower that is the centerpiece of that palace. The party asks for supplies, and the Magebred provide them with some food. One of the Magebred lords, Davros, even offers personal training for one of the party members for a “special combat technique,” and Xulgos takes this offer while the others attend dinner provided to them.
After a few hours have passed, Xulgos has grasped the technique (called the “Aerial Step”) and the rest of the party has eaten their fill. The four of them head back out into Metrol towards the Fourth Palace, to which all bridges have been cut off except the Fifth Palace. They briefly discussing going up to the Sixth Palace and crossing through the Fifth to get to the Fourth, but instead decide that it will be easier just to climb.
As soon as they begin, they are set upon by enormous, shadowy birds. Xulgos and Zan-kyri recognize that they are essentially solidified illusions, but are no less real for it, making the climbing much more difficult. Garmeth and Xulgos make it to the top of the spire, while Derli attempts to jump on one of the illusory birds with help from Zan-kyri. He is almost successful, and grabs a leg, but is clawed many times before being dropped to the ground from a great height, not able to climb up on its back. Muttering something about birds, he climbs up a rope dropped by the others after recovering from his fall.
At the top, they move around the outside perimeter of the Fourth Palace, which appears to be unguarded. Garmeth manages to locate a nearly-invisible secret passage leading directly to the tower, likely unused and forgotten even in the latter days of the Cyran monarchy. They use this to bypass the majority of the dark stranger’s forces. They are stopped on one floor by a group of creatures called Meazels, who were described by Empress Donata as a group of former Metrol residents that made a pact with dark entities to survive the Mourning. They were once human, but now are twisted, strange-looking versions of their former selves. They are aggressively dedicated to the dark stranger and fight to the death, which is delivered to them fairly swiftly, despite their alliance with a demonic minotaur — the former member of a very small cult of similar minotaurs that once occupied the outskirts of the city.
They reach the top floor of the tower without much more conflict. The windows that are found on every wall of the chamber are dirty and appear fogged against the misty world outside, just barely highlighted by the nearly-set sun. Here, assorted creatures await them, the scattered “army” the dark stranger has assembled from the dregs of the Mournland. With them, in the center of the room, the dark stranger stands and watches the party enter.
“So, you’ve come,” he says levelly. “The Eclipse Collective. Or what’s left of it.”
He pulls off the cowl covering his face, and his identity is revealed at last: Lythanis Zyk, now totally warped by the mindseed. Garmeth is the only one among the four who recognizes him.
“Lythanis!” Garmeth cries, with only mild shock. “I guess I should be surprised.”
“You are almost correct. This is the body of his Lythanis, but my mind is not his. His memories and abilities are still accessible to me, but his consciousness is trapped. It will never be freed.”
“If you aren’t really Lythanis, then what are you?”
“More than I am at liberty to reveal,” he replies, grinning. “I admit, I had not predicted you would come. You were nearly destroyed after our last meeting.”
“Where is Zil’dejin’s body?” Zan-kyri demands.
“Unfortunately gone. I had taken possession of it, but it was stolen from me. A pity; I had hoped to use the Mind Seed to make him loyal. He would have made an excellent commander for my armies. I assume Donata sent you, then?”
“She sent us to kill you,” Xulgos says flatly.
“As I expected. You may turn and leave now. Mercy is not my usual manner, but it would be… troublesome to fight you now. That is not to say, of course, that I won’t defeat you if you strike at me. I certainly will.”
The four adamantly refuse and draw their weapons. Xulgos manifests his spiriteye, and combat begins. The battle is long and difficult, and Lythanis persists long after his powerful minions are destroyed, but he is eventually cast down after they intercept his attempt at escape and execute him. While lying on the ground, he smiles weakly.
“You have killed a shell,” he breathes. “I will return in another body. Another body…”
As he trails off, he casts some sort of spell on Derli, who immediately feels his thoughts becoming clouded. He pushes the sensation aside for now, and they rest on the floor of the tower after the arduous fight.