Before meeting with the leader of the Followers, the Party remembered their contact from when they last were in Kalrathia: Noxis, a Dragonborn agent. With Antinua’s spells, they sent him a message, informing of their desire to meet him. And soon enough, they did. In the same place where they received the map to Karanox, Noxis, in cult clothing, came to meet them. He had had no contact with Thivaraxia and had spent the time infiltrating the cult. Apparently, Kalrathia was a sort of trade nexus, where supplies were collected, logged and shipped to some other location or locations. Only their leader knew the actual destinations and orders from above, and he was reputed to remember everything without relying on paper. Before departing towards Dusk Coast, Noxis told of caravans heading southward, into the desert.
After night fell, the Party decided to see if the logs from the ship would be a lead worth investigating. Lady Antinua transformed herself into a cloud of mist, silently sidling into the ship captain’s cabin from the lake. Unfortunately, there was a problem: A caged crow, apparently left there to guard the cabin. With her spell diminishing and no time to improvise, Lady Antinua simply transformed back, snatched the book and fled in the same fashion as she appeared. The guardian crow cawed at the intruder, alerting the ship and ultimately the Followers to the theft.
Outside the city, the ship’s logs were of no use; Apparently the ship had met with the cultists in Kurrach and had arrived here, with no clue to its destination. With the town alerted, the Party took to the Sparrow and flew south to spend the rest of the night and recuperate. Unfortunately, their departure was witnessed by sharp-eyed wizards, who were flying around the city, looking for the book. Unable to catch the Sparrow, an orc group was sent to give chase.
Despite the best efforts to disguise their landing spot, the orcs’ scouts found the Sparrow in the middle of the night. Althaea, standing guard, spotted the orcs and managed to use her musics to trick them to stay their attack, purchasing enough time for the rest to rise up and depart. As the Sparrow rose, throwing spears peppered the hull, damaging the flying machine badly. But they made their escape and landed again, this time far away, in a safe spot.
On the next day, 9th of Hearth, the Party decided to resort to trying to find one of the caravans, as returning to Kalrathia would be a difficult prospect. But despite the grave odds, fortune, or more likely the Essence, favored them. Antinua spotted a camp site in the middle of the desert. Clearly a caravan had spent a night here, heading further south-west, where the Party also took off.
With wits, sharp vision, a stick and some sand, the Party managed to decipher the route the caravan was taking. They stopped and changed direction at certain landmarks: Statues, ruins, smaller patches of vegetation. And most importantly, they were not the first ones to traverse this path, as the Party found evidence of previous travel in each of these landmarks. A couple of days later, on the 11th of Hearth, way ahead of the caravan, the Party had finally found their destination: A ruined fortress on the easternmost tip of the Throat Ridge. It was bustling with activity: Tents, livestock and lots of people, all Followers of the Guardian.
So the Party infiltrated the ruins, by Carric’s magical disguise and Antinua’s ways to provide communication. Now seemingly a band of orcs, the Party made their way inside, searching for the significance of this place. Despite the cult being alerted to their presence by the mages on Kalrathia, they managed to deceive the welcoming party, who stated that this was the most important location of the Followers of the Guardian. On the ruins the Cult was building a stable place to live and putting up fortifications, while down below the surface, wizards were congregating.
Antinua managed to use her scrying abilities to explore the underground: Below the partly ruined cellars was a heavily guarded trap door that led to a long, wide underground chasm. On the bottom of the chasm, where an elevator’s lowest access point was, were a collection of tunnels. They contained wizards, arcanists, books and arcane equipment. In the middle of this place was a huge chamber, its floor full of runes of summoning and binding. And one door, a normal door, locked with magic, preventing Antinua’s inquiries.
While Antinua concentrated on exploring, the rest of the Party discovered another entrance to the cellar level, one that potentially bypassed the heavy guard post. Now certain that something big was going on, the Party left discreetly to wait for nightfall, when they would try to use Carric’s invisibility to get to the chamber, and to the door.
Night fell, clear and star-studded. As the Party made their way towards the fortress, they were surprised to hear distant music from the desert: Someone playing a lute. Curious about this, they took the Sparrow to discover the source: A shambling group of walking people, heading straight towards the Followers. Satisfied that this might be a good diversion, they landed and made haste towards the ruins.
As they arrived, the Followers had clearly spotted the newcomers and their nature became apparent: They were undead. This gave the Party a pause: Was this Ixthoth? Should they help the cult take down the lich monster Borel had let loose?
Deciding that whatever was below the fortress was more important, the party continued on as the undead and the Followers engaged in battle; Battle that seemed to be evenly matched. With invisibility weaved by Carric, they faced no difficulty in locating the secondary entrance to the depths: A covered-up and locked well. Using the last magic from Dulkan’s unlocking chime, they broke through and landed in a dried-up reservoir. The reason why the Cult did not consider this route important to defend became unfortunately clear as huge, snakelike carrion monsters, nearly indistinguishable from the rocky walls, attacked them. While just a few months ago this would have been a hard-fought battle, now the Heroes of Dusk Coast did not even flinch as they cut, pierced and blasted the creatures dead in scant moments, never breaking stride as they continued on their way.
Finding the chasm, the Party jumped down, slowed by Althaea’s magical melodies. The last line of defense for the Guardian’s innermost sanctum waited for them, but did not manage to slow them down.
The sounds of battle died down and the Party walked the tunnels in silence. The books, research tables, bedrolls and half-eaten meals painted the area as a living quarters for arcanists, engaged in some feat of magic. Passing these hallways towards their ultimate goal, the Party finally found the summoning chamber. Full of cowering arcane researchers, clearly more interested in staying alive than fighting, the chamber seemed ready to fulfill its task. And sitting on the short set of stairs in front of the locked door was the Guardian, tapping on the floor with the end of her glaive.
So this was it. Thera had hoped for more time, mostly to gather more Essence, but also to prepare herself. The arrival of the so-called ‘heroes’ forced her hand; She would have to perform the summoning as soon as possible. Good thing the circle was as complete as it would get and no-one else would have to do a rush job with the magic.
As she was waiting for the wizards to start summoning Ochrana from… wherever she was, the sounds coming from the entrance told her that she had to deal with the ‘heroes’ first. “Keep safe. This won’t take long”, she told the wizards who looked very concerned. She did not want anything to happen to them. True, she did not want anything to happen to anyone, but that would have to remain a distant wish for now.
Then they emerged. Three of them, but it was likely one of them was skulking around, covered by some magic. No matter.
Thera tried to reason with them, she really did. She was doing basically the same thing as the people of Dusk Coast, just in a bigger scale. She had the opportunity and means to fundamentally change the hierarchy of the whole world. She could even let some of the Divines live just to keep everyone equal. Like Mishra, the people seemed to love her. But the ‘heroes’ did not possess the courage to take this decisive step. And as the half-elf, Carric, stated that they would have to stop her, she readied her glaive, saddened that she would have to use it to shed nondragonic blood.
So Thera attacked. She moved, twirled, thrust, slashed and cast. The bard’s charmed furniture were an inconvenience, standing in her way and dividing her attention. The man, Dulkan, came in with a flaming rapier and managed to disarm her glaive, but it was just a momentary setback as she summoned it back to her hand. The sorcerer pummeled her with elemental blasts and the wizard, some elf woman of apparent importance, managed to hit her with a disintegration spell.
Individually, Thera could have taken each of them down. But together, they were stronger. The wizard’s destructive spell sapped her strength. Dulkan’s oppressive attacks forced her on the defensive. The sorcerer kept gnawing on her stamina with his spells and resolve with his words. And the bard, Althaea, kept countering her spells.
With a mighty shout of determination, Thera called on her second wind and managed to strike the sorcerer down. She turned her attention to Dulkan, ready to duel him to his grave. But then, the sorcerer awakened to the tunes of the bard, pleading Thera to stop, calling her with her name. The fatigue from the fight made a crack in her confidence and for the briefest moment she stopped… But her mission was of too great importance. She readied her glaive, twirling it in the air. And the sorcerer gathered all his power and hurled a fireball so great it even overloaded her protective ring.
Her ears rang. Her mask had fallen off. Thera tried to rise up, but the strength had left her. From the numbness in her body, pain started to grow. The shadow of Dulkan came over her. She tried to speak, but only a bloody cough came out.
She had lost. She was dying.
“All that effort… wasted…” she said as the sorcerer leaned over her. The shadows in the ceiling shifted as the ‘heroes’ came closer. They formed the shape of a dragon… Sithrahk. Waiting for her soul. Waiting for her Essence.
No! Thera grasped the hand of the sorcerer. “This… cannot have gone in vain… It is up to you now…” And with that thought, she admitted defeat. She admitted that these people were stronger than her… Probably more noble than her. She hoped that they would see her reasoning and they would use the power she was giving them… But it was now up to them, not her.
The shadows in the ceiling seemed to grimace in annoyance. While she did not manage to kill the Divines, at least she managed to annoy them.
With that thought, Thera Ser allowed the candle of her life snuff out.
After the Dragonslayer’s life ended, the Party could witness Carric’s might. With Thera’s Essence, he was one of the most significant and powerful individuals in the world. He could feel the potential to rival even the Divines in his soul.
They did not have long to catch their breath. The unearthly music had arrived, heralding the arrival of the attackers. Ready to face another great foe, the Heroes stood. From the door came undead, with Borel’s walking corpse in lead. They did not attack, however. Behind the first wave of undead came a little kobold, playing a golden lute, as surprised to see the Heroes as they were to see him. It became apparent that he was serving Thivaraxia, who had sent the kobold to kill the Dragonslayer.
And yet another entity arrived. The summoning chamber bent into the far distance, accommodating eight newcomers who burst through the veil separating the planes: The Divines arrived. Congratulating the Heroes on their monumental task and Ochrana returning to Carric his memories of Edin, the Divines had one more matter to discuss: The Essence. Now that the Heroes possessed the might to challenge the Divines, they demanded the Heroes give up their Essence to keep up the balance.
None of them did.
Disappointed, the Divines departed, as per their pledge, giving a stern warning that the Heroes would be watched.
And, as there were no conflicts left, the kobold ceased playing, returning Borel to the land of the living, and left to find his master. The Hereos found no reason to harass the kobold, and were left in the sanctum of the Dragonslayer, ready to forge their own future.