They enter the eerie palace and retrieve the black box, and help the lord, Tanris, find Elomir. The party is split, and Zil’dejin, Garmeth and Tanris are all killed by Elomir before the others catch up. Zil’dejin’s body is taken and offered to the dark stranger by Elomir, but the party tries to take it back. The dark stranger runs, but Zan-kyri and Elyas are also killed in the fighting, leaving only Derli standing.
Notes: Deaths all around. A veritable massacre. This all came about from a partially successful skill challenge which led to the party being split. Ikar the Black, a half-orc with one eye, cuts off Garmeth’s finger, and some vague information about the Magebred and their empress, Donata, is given.
Sul, Barrakas 22, 999 YK.
When Zil’dejin recalled the details of his station at Fort Earthpass, he was also able to remember its approximate location in Cyre. Though the landscape of the Mournland has changed much since then, the five have no other orientation to follow, and so Zil’dejin leads them northeast, where he believes Metrol is to be found.
The journey takes only one day, but they are waylaid on the path by the spirits of those who died on the Day of Mourning, and the trip depletes the last of their food, accounting for what has been eaten since entering the Mournland and what the Godforged stole to feed their slaves. They are beginning to concern themselves with acquiring more here in the desolate Mournland when they see smoke on the horizon, first spotted by Zan-kyri and Elyas, the latter having now returned to consciousness. The source of the smoke soon becomes apparent as they spot a small camp, built around an apparently restored landship, previously owned by Cabor’s Chains. The landship is stopped at the edge of the ruins of Metrol. Around the camp are various people, but they are mainly half orcs and goblinoids. Zil’dejin calls out to them as the Collective draws closer, and the camp seems alarmed by their approach.
“Are you men of the Chains?”
A pause, then: “No. Approach.”
They do, tentatively, and they see that the apparent leader of the camp is a half orc clad in armor, with a patch over his left eye. The party begins to question his reasons for being in Metrol. Garmeth is particularly inquisitive, and Ikar’s frustration grows rapidly.
“I’m Ikar the Black,” he explains. “I run Ikar’s Salvage, the only salvage company brave enough to go into Metrol. We take what we find here and sell it in Karrnath and Aundair. Sometimes people hire us out to get something specific.”
“We’re here looking for something,” Zil’dejin says. “The Cyran Regalia.”
Ikar laughs. It is a loud, harsh sound. “Good luck with that. Donata’s got the Regalia, and she’s not giving it up anytime soon.”
Garmeth raises his hand. “Who is Donata?”
“Put your hand down. She runs this city. Even we only hang around the edges; you’d be a fool to go too far in. She—” He stops, and squints at Zil’dejin.
“You, I know you. Yer one of Balin’s boys, ain’t ya?”
“Yer master took my eye in the war,” he yells, pointing at the patch. “And then he died before I could get my revenge! Seems to me, you owe me for this.”
“I can’t give you your eye back,” Zil’dejin responds, looking only for a moment at Zan-kyri, who shakes his head.
“I know that,” he snaps. “But ya still owe me.”
“Ah… excuse me,” Garmeth says quietly, raising his hand again.
“I told ya to put yer hand down. What do ya want?”
“I need some information about a monk who I believe passed through here. He looked kind of like me, and he was looking for someone. Have you seen him?”
“Yes,” Ikar replies slowly. “But that information will cost you. Ya do something for me, I’ll consider my debt with the Dawntreaders settled, and I’ll even tell you a bit about that monk.”
“What would you have us do?” Zil’dejin asks.
“Like I said, my company doesn’t go all the way into Metrol, and nowhere near the Palaces of the Vermishard. That’s Donata’s territory. But a client, some bookworm up in Fairhaven, is paying us a lot of money to bring something back for him. The item’s in the Sixth Palace, and it’s a black box with gold on it. I want that box.”
“So we get you the box, and we’re even? And you’ll give us the information?”
“Yeah. So we’re agreed?”
“Good. One thing ya should know. Do not open the box. There’s a seal on there, so I’m gonna know if ya break it.”
“You’re just making them want to open it more,” Derli mutters. “That was the wrong thing to say.”
Garmeth raises his hand once more.
“Ya raise that hand one more time and I’ll cut yer finger off. What is it now?”
“Could you… also give us some supplies? We’re out of food,” he says quietly.
Ikar sighs heavily, and has one of his men bring a bag of “scraps” out from the landship. They are the worst parts of the monsters Ikar’s Salvage has hunted in the Mournland that can still be considered edible, but it is, at least, food.
“One more thing,” Zan-kyri adds, after the “food” is brought to them. “We’d like some information on Donata.”
“Fine. I’ll tell ya what I know when ya get back. Not much to tell, anyway.”
Garmeth raises his hand once again at this point, and Ikar stares at him for a little while before ordering him to put his hand down on a nearby table. Garmeth accepts that this is a consequence of his actions, and put his hand where he is told. Ikar then calmly removes an axe, and cuts off the index finger of Garmeth’s right hand. He is immediately tended to by a medic as Ikar begins scraping the flesh off the removed finger. The medic does not speak to Garmeth, but indicates to him that this is business as usual for Ikar.
“Get outta my camp now. And remember, if ya double-cross me, I’ll do a lot worse than take yer finger.”
Once Garmeth is taken care of, they quickly leave the camp for the ruins of the city itself, specifically the Sixth Palace of Vermishard.
During the Last War, the Sixth Palace was, for some reason, made into a particularly high-security zone within Metrol, but rather than deploying Cyran soldiers to protect it, mercenaries were sent instead. The Dawntreaders was one such group used to guard the palace, and Zil’dejin was among them. He remembers about a secret passage leading up to the Sixth Palace, which during his post was used to transport all kinds of goods in crates and barrels up to the top of the spire in secrecy. The passage was in a warehouse at the foot of the spire holding the palace, so they head here first. The Palaces of Vermishard still tower above the rest of Metrol, and they are able to navigate by this alone.
As they near the warehouse, a tall man emerges from another ruined building in front of them. He is completely outfitted in armor from head to toe, soot-covered plate mail with an unusual helmet. A greatspear is strapped to his back as he approaches them.
“Tell me why you are here,” he demands, before they can say anything.
“We’re looking for something in this palace,” Zil’dejin responds. “A black box.”
“You seek an artifact in the Sixth Palace? Are you with one of the salvage companies?”
“We were hired by Ikar the Black, but we aren’t part of his company,” Derli explains. “And who are you?”
“That is not important now. Is this the only reason you have come?”
He turns and looks up at the spire above them, and then back to the party. “The Empress has commissioned me to slay the lord of this palace. He has been infected with the sickness, and has been driven insane. He is a threat to our people. However, my forces have been wiped out by the dark stranger, and I doubt I can handle this on my own. If you will assist me, I will allow you to leave our city with what you seek.”
“Slow down,” Zan-kyri says. “Who is this ‘dark stranger?’”
“We do not know his name. He arrived in our city a short time ago, somehow avoiding detection, and he infiltrated the Fourth Palace, claiming it for himself. He has spread the sickness among the Magebred – our people – and our servants, but it was by his hand alone that my troops were lost.”
“What is the ‘sickness?’” Zil’dejin asks.
“A mental intrusion, forced upon us by the dark stranger. It causes our people to become turncoats, and slowly bends them to his will. Elomir, the lord of this palace, was once a trusted adviser to Empress Donata. Since he contracted the sickness, however, he has become mad, and very dangerous.”
The party consults with each other for a moment, and Zil’dejin steps forward. “If it means we can take the box, we will help you kill this person.”
“Good. My name is Tanris,” he says. “We will take the passage located in this warehouse to get to the Sixth Palace discreetly.”
“Your name is important now?” Elyas asks. Tanris turns.
“As long as you are fighting for a cause of the Empress, you are my vassals. It is customary for you to know my name.”
Satisfied with this, they enter the passage, exactly where Zil’dejin remembered it. A set of wooden stairs spirals way up into the distance. Derli leads them up, and at one point triggers a trap by falling through a rigged step, causing barrels with somewhat corrosive liquid to break upon them. This is the only interruption, however, and soon they find themselves in the Sixth Palace’s underbelly.
The first thing they notice here is a fresco on the wall, depicting dwarves in shackles, a humanoid clutching his or her head and screaming, and finally a black rectangle, marked with yellow lines. The hallway splits into three, and they open the doors on the sides first which contain nearly identical rooms; large, cavernous spaces with enormous pillars in the center. The pillars are riddled with holes just over a meter in diameter. Elyas looks into one of these holes and finds a skeleton packed awkwardly in the bottom, beneath a grate which appears to have been designed specifically to slide over these holes. There are strange markings carved into the bones, which he believes to be ritual in nature, but can say little about their purpose.
When they open the remaining door, they feel a freezing rush of air, and Elyas hears whispers but cannot distinguish the words. They press on, and in this hallway they notice a small passage branching off from the corridor. They shift sideways through it and emerge in a very small room, scarcely more than a hallway, containing a vault door at one end. Garmeth attempts to open it, but makes a mistake with the mechanism. As he does, the floor slides forward beneath them, revealing a deep pit carved into the rock of the spire. There is still space for all six of them to stand, and Garmeth continues with help from Zan-kyri. Another mistake, and the floor slides forward a bit more. Elyas and Tanris now stand at the very edge. Ropes are fastened to them and held by Zil’dejin and Derli while Garmeth and Zan-kyri continue working.
It isn’t long, however, before more mistakes cause all four tumble down into the pit. The trap door opens, and a mechanism closes it above them, preventing them from re-opening it. There is a tunnel connected to the pit, and Zil’dejin squeezes through it to find the corpse of a spider in a tiny room with a shaft in the ceiling. He is soon followed by Zan-kyri and Derli, but Derli is uncomfortable being in the chamber with the spider corpse, sweating profusely and cursing. Tanris reaches out to touch the spider, and notes that it feels like it is moving. Derli prepares to leave, and Zil’dejin climbs up the shaft, finding himself in another small room. He tosses down a rope for the others to climb up, and finds some bags filled with animal bones in the room. He stuffs these into the shaft to prevent the spider(s) from emerging, and they go to find Garmeth and Zan-kyri.
They are still working on the safe, and at last open it, revealing a pedestal with the box upon it, and two paintings – one a landscape, the other a portrait. Garmeth takes the paintings and tries to leap across, but is unsuccessful, and falls into the pit. Zan-kyri follows suit with the box, and the two spend a significant amount of time trying to undo Zil’dejin’s blockage of the shaft to get out. They reunite with the others, and continue forward. They have the box, and now must kill Elomir to fulfill their end of the bargain.
The party arrives in what appears to be a kitchen. Zil’dejin tries to remember how it connects to the rest of the Palace, but spent most of his time stationed here guarding the secret entrance and cannot recall. Garmeth leads the room, pursuing some guards until he is able to steal their keys, and then follows them. Zil’dejin chases after him after a while, and the two find themselves in a briefing room of sorts, where they catch a glimpse of orcs and grimlocks being given instruction by an authoritative woman to “disregard Elomir’s orders, and abandon the palace.” They quickly slip out of the room, block the exit with a statue, and are led by Tanris to the throne room, where they meet Elomir.
Meanwhile, the others have much less success. Having gone a separate direction from Garmeth and Zil’dejin, Derli, Zan-kyri and Elyas find themselves exposed, their attempts at stealthiness utterly unsuccessful. Zan-kyri attempts to run away from them, but finds himself surrounded, and Elyas tries sneaking away, but is caught as well. Derli yells frenzied threats, invoking the name of his god, and gets them away from the guards. They attempt to find the others, but are unable, and wind up in the briefing room a few minutes after the others have left it.
In the end, the party is split; Elyas, Zan-kyri and Derli are caught in the briefing room, while Garmeth, Zil’dejin and Tanris make it to the audience chamber, where Elomir awaits. A fight starts out almost instantly in the briefing room, where Elyas and Zan-kyri recognize the presence of the assassin who killed Eshunu and stole his remains. The orcs are not particularly inclined to act on his commands, and fight independently.
Meanwhile, in the audience chamber, Tanris pleads with Elomir to surrender. Elomir does not listen, and laughs madly, but does not reply. Zil’dejin issues a series of threats, telling Elomir that his life is forfeit if he does not give up. Elomir responds by slowly rising to his feet, slicing his own throat, and sitting back down. The wound appears to close itself soon enough, but Elomir is covered in blood. After this horrific sight, the grimlocks in the chamber close in on the three. After the fight has gone on for a while, Elomir himself stands up and engages Tanris in direct combat.
Elomir and his grimlocks prove too overwhelming for the small group, however. Zil’dejin is killed while unconscious by psychic backlash from one of Elomir’s abilities. Tanris attempts to retreat, and uses some sort of power to escape in a blast of lightning, but Elomir intercepts and kills him as well. After this, he stabs Garmeth, finishing off the attacking party.
When Derli, Elyas and Zan-kyri have finished the assassin and most of the orcs, they quickly break through the barrier set up earlier by the others and follow through to the audience chamber. They see only the aftermath of the one-sided fight: bodies are lying everywhere, including Garmeth and Tanris, but excluding Zil’dejin. A passage has opened behind the audience chair, and descends somewhere further into the palace. After considering the situation for a moment, they decide that it is best to pursue, and follow the passage. Zan-kyri lags behind, not able to quite keep up with the others.
They find themselves in a very small room where an injured Elomir is speaking with a man dressed head-to-toe in dark Riedran clothing. Zil’dejin’s corpse lies on the floor, and Elomir appears to be offering it to the man in black. The stranger sees Derli and Elyas, and offers to spare their lives if they turn back now, leaving Zil’dejin’s corpse. They do not accept these terms, and ready their weapons. Elomir is quickly killed, but the dark stranger proves much more formidable. Even when Zan-kyri arrives, he is able to fight the three of them by himself. Elyas and Zan-kyri are killed midway through the fight as the stranger lights the air itself on fire, but Derli persists a little longer. When things seem to be most dire, the dark stranger comments that it is “too soon,” and turns to run, leaving Zil’dejin’s body behind.
Derli stands, nearly broken himself, and surveys his surroundings. Besides the dark stranger, he has been the only survivor.