The battle with Thair and the duergar lasts a while and seems to be going badly at first, but soon they recover and proceed to free the slaves in the kitchens. There are only a couple, but they indicate Paldemar is not with them, and was never a slave at all. He has, however, had dealings with the late Murkelmor, and also with the Blackfang gnolls, who are led by Maldrick Scarmaker. On returning to the Seven Pillared Hall and meeting with Orontor and Talbot, they determine that Maldrick and the Blackfangs hide out in another part of the Labyrinth called the “Well of Demons,” and this is where they go next. Talking pillars in the entrance to the well inform them that trials must be completed, and are soon after attacked. Eshunu is killed in this battle, and so the party returns to the Seven Pillared Hall immediately after to have a raise dead ritual cast upon him while they sleep at the Halfmoon Inn.
Notes: Eshunu was, technically, killed by Cecil, though it was certainly no fault of his — he targeted a spell at a choker that had grabbed Eshunu, and the choker used the shardmind as a shield. Still, the Eclipse Collective never did forgive Cecil for this. He brings back some very vague memories when he is revived, recalling surreal landscapes and whispers of his pre-amnesic past, but no specifics.
Sar, Barrakas 14, 998 YK (Day 28).
Thair Coalstriker has returned to life shortly after his suicide, resurrected by a duergar theurge who recognized the dire situation and the immense strength of the short-tempered dwarf. The party is now being attacked by Rundarr the champion from one direction, the theurge and Thair Coalstriker from another, and an invisible scout from yet another.
After being shot by the invisible scout, Eshunu is able to clearly point out to the other party members where the scout is. Tam’elanath takes the opportunity to fire on it, revealing its position more clearly as it is pierced with arrows, and finally Cecil is able to finish the scout off completely. Meanwhile, Eshunu falls under attack by the theurge and Thair Coalstriker, made vulnerable by being alone on the bridge. Thair quickly beats him down to the ground, and Stahlstrauss rushes away from Rundarr to aid him.
The theurge uses psychic abilities to suppress Stahlstrauss, limiting his usefulness. But Eshunu is able to miraculously recover, and runs away. Thair Coalstriker follows, leaving the theurge to fight the warforged warrior alone. At the same time, Garmeth and Lucan struggle against Rundarr, with the two-on-one battle staying at what is basically a stalemate.
Thair hammers Cecil to unconsciousness with scarcely a second thought, and then apprsoaches Lucan. The ardent fights back, but is eventually cast down as well. Garmeth hits Rundarr with a decisive blow, but now that he is fearing the end of his life, the champion expands, becoming massive and more powerful. He knocks down Garmeth, leaving only Stahlstrauss, Eshunu, and Tam’elanath standing.
Thair charges at Eshunu, who has assumed his insect form and is hiding among the diamonds. He knocks him yet again into unconsciousness, but Stahlstrauss has arrived immediately behind him. With a great swing of his flaming warhammer he crushes Thair entirely, breaking most of his bones and rendering him completely lifeless (again). But this attack leaves him vulnerable, and Rundarr approaches him from behind, now enlarged and furious, and knocks Stahlstrauss to the ground as well. Only Tam’elanath is left, and he too is quite injured.
Rundarr approaches him for the final blow, but just as he is about to reach Tam’elanath, he is shot twice in vital locations, causing him to tumble to the ground, lifeless. Tam’elanath helps his allies back to their feet, and everyone takes a moment to rest. The six then approach the slaves for questioning.
They confirm that Paldemar is not a slave, and that he has dealings with the Blackfang gnolls under Maldrick Scarmaker. They also note that they are the last of the slaves and request that they travel with the Eclipse Collective to safety, who once again refuse, but are willing to arm them. The slaves are not combat-trained and are quite weak, but Stahlstrauss insists they burden themselves with an excess of heavy armor and weaponry if they are going to move with the Collective.
“You must be hungry. Humans like salt, right?” Stahlstrauss extracts a heavy bag of salt he carries with him.
“No, look… humans don’t just eat salt. Here, salt this dried meat I have, and we can feed that to them.” Cecil presents some dried meat for this purpose, but Stahlstrauss pours an inedible excess of salt on top of the meat.
As the slaves move out of earshot and raid the duergar food stores, Stahlstrauss leans in close to Tam’elanath.
“I think I’m going to get that armor back real soon.”
“Why? Are they going to sell it back to you?”
The party leaves with fistfuls of diamonds, and meets back up with Zil’dejin at the portcullis room. They give him the slaves to escort back and a small amount of money for his troubles. He grumbles, but does so anyway, never one to leave slaves stranded. They then discover that the diamonds only have this property when they are within the Horned Hold, and outside are nothing more than rocks. The group drops the stones and follows the map to the location marked by the half-orc, only to find that this is a dead end.
Tam’elanath is able to lead them back to the vicinity of the Seven Pillared Hall while they plan a new approach, and at this time Rendil Halfmoon locates them, informing them that things have calmed down at the Hall, and the duergar food convoy has left. It is safe for them to return, and so they do so, resupplying themselves and selling miscellaneous goods they acquired in the Labyrinth. Garmeth purchases three pounds of pickled rats from the dwarf-run House Azaer merchant post. Nobody questions this decision.
At this point, the group visits Orontor of the Mages of Saruun to discuss their findings and current course of action. Orontor provides them with the correct location of the Well of Demons and discusses the grim possibility of Paldemar having gone rogue. Lucan then describes his killing of the angel, and Orontor expresses his gratitude, with the angel and its troglodytes having been a great problem – they give a piece of magical hide armor as a reward, which Eshunu takes and wears. After this, they meet with Talbot, who discusses the situation further and decides to accompany the group to the Well of Demons.
In the entrance, they encounter four pillars with carved minotaur faces in them, who recite the following in magical voices:
At this, three long-limbed creatures (identified as “cavern chokers”) and a ghoul emerge from behind the pillars, while tentacles burst from the ground, attacking the party at the entrance. Eshunu identifies the tentacles as belonging to a beast known as a “phalagar,” burrowing predators with tentacles covered in small mouths that leak a caustic substance.
Greetings, seekers of Baphomet’s boundless glory. Those who prove unworthy of his attention shall be claimed forever as his slaves. Those who prove worthy shall be granted power beyond mortal reckoning. Mask. Bell. Blade. Tome.
The phalagar’s tentacles grab Lucan tightly, and burn and constrict him into unconsciousness, but the party kills it shortly after that. Meanwhile, the ghoul attacks from the front, and the chokers climb along the ceiling to gain access to the Collective members at the rear. Tam’elanath is choked by one of them, but is able to fend it off; the next one to choke him takes him down, and moves onto Eshunu, who is also rendered unconscious. Garmeth fights the third to keep it away from the rest of the party, and Stahlstrauss deals with the ghouls.
Cecil launches an eldritch blast at the choker grabbing Eshunu, but the choker uses the shardmind as a makeshift shield, and Eshunu takes the full brunt of the blast. The consequences are devastating; the already-wounded Eshunu is blown apart the blast, his life force basically diminished. He loses his conscious control over the crystals that form his body, and he shatters. Cecil is frenzied, and loses control over himself as well – his eyes go black, and the demon that possesses him, Lagrish, takes charge. He pulls down the choker with the Chains of Levistus, which finish it off for good.
Stahlstrauss breaks away into a frenzied run away from the ghoul to go to (what’s left of) Eshunu’s side. He cries out in rage and anguish over the loss of his longtime companion, and begins slowly gathering up the pieces. Meanwhile, Garmeth and the now-standing Lucan finish off the other choker and the ghoul. Talbot suggests that they might be able to revive him back in the Seven Pillared Hall, and they go to do so, each carrying an armful of shattered Eshunu.
At the “Temple of the Hidden Light” in the Hall, an Umbragen drow priestess trades Tam’elanath’s prison of Salzacas for the revival of Eshunu, and after eight hours his body reassembles around the pitch-black dragonshard that is his heart. He seems confused about what happened, and of his time in death can remember only a surreal, colorful landscape and vague voices telling him about his pre-amnesic past.
After this ordeal, the party goes back to the Halfmoon Inn to rest for the night. During his sleep, Lucan is plagued by dreams of pitch-dark tower, surrounded by enemies on all sides. Lythanis, bearing a strange tattoo, is leading a relentless wave of attackers against the Eclipse Collective. The dreams ends with uncertainty about their fate.