Marpenoth 24th, 1479 DR
It has been four hours since the mercenary band – nay, heroes – of Balasar’s Avengers has returned triumphant from the sliver queen’s hive. The mood in the camp is lighthearted and joyful, and there are small groups of men and women laughing and sharing rations and drink around bonfires. The group that returned came covered in blood, guts, and other unsavory substances, but now most of them laugh and join the men in their revelry. One of the sorcerers from the academy casted a brief ritual on those that were willing, and now they are as clean as if they had just come from the baths. Truly, today is a day of miracles, great and small.
It has been a long day for us, however, and I was glad to pitch a tent and get into my sleeping bag. Now, I would jot down these thoughts and drift off to a peaceful… A noise outside, an alarm has been raised. I must go…
Seems it was a false alarm. A large sliver force, at least 30000 strong, tailed by a huge black dragon that could only be the ancient wyrm from Chelimber’s marsh that the legends speak of, was spotted headed north, about a mile from our position. Tension was high for a bit, and it looked like we would be fighting the entire horde, bent on revenge over the death of their queen. Oddly enough, they completely ignored us, as if they had some other task before them
Damnation, I thought this was over! The slivers move to some other place, leaving devastation in their wake. Will we have to kill every one of the vile creatures one by one? I doubt even the Avengers are up to this task. And where were they going, anyway? Well, as long as they’re not living in the Vale, it is little of my concern. With any luck, they’ll go up into Netheril and consume the remains of that empire of shadows.
—Journal of Kimit Clearos, Lieutenant of the guard, present at the battle of the sliver queen.
* * *
“Another leg of lamb, Shaia,” yelled Ender, eager to gorge himself on the best that the keep had to offer. “We’ve no legs of lamb left sir, you’ve eaten everything we had,” Shaia said, eyeing the massive plate of bones on the table before the rotund Halfling. “By Sune’s magnificent rack, iss is how the keep treats its heroes?” Ender bellowed, an odd sound for a small humanoid, although few in his hometown would have called him “small”. “Ahh, forget it, looks like the captain’s abou ‘ta make a speech. “
*Conan and Blaze make their speeches, rousing a great cheer from the assembled soldiers and civilians*
“Well, that was inspirin’,” Ender mutters to himself. “Inspirin’ me to go snatch that fullblade outta Blaze’s room and sell it for a copper! Has he forgotten who was handling all the logistics of the guild while everyone was out killin slivers and GETTIN’ PAID? I swear, Balasar had better tap someone else for this guild clerk job, I’m sikka it. Ever since Jarvis left with the res ‘ta the Resplendent Blades, sayin’ sumthin about a “great evil” a commin’, I done nothing but bookwork. Ah whatever, at least I get ‘ta raid the guild’s larders whenever I want.”
*Across the room, Ender spots Ibok, master of duels at the academy, rousing the mages off of their table and off to their rooms. One of the mages, drunk on spirits, complained and threatened Ibok, but after a few calming words, Ibok sends them all out of the dining area laughing like schoolkids. Which, in reality, they are.*
“Feh, mages. Don’t let the door hit you in the arse on the way out! An’ take that crazy bitch Azaerai with ya!” The revelry continued through the night, with much singing and dancing, food and drink. Soon enough, the other Avengers and soldiers trickled out of the dining hall, leaving Ender alone, passed out on his table, dreaming of plates of lamb served by beautiful Daughters of Sune.
* * *
Kill the two-legs. Leave none alive.
Zamira, former court mage at Feyshadow keep and current queen of the sliver hivemind, sent her servitors into the academy. They’d already sounded the alarm, but it mattered not. Zamira knew that Marovic, the headmaster of the academy, would have hedged his bets against Feyshadow keep falling, and would have cut off all communication and transportation via the schools portals with the mages in the keep. Therefore, there would be no one to reinforce the academy against what was about to come.
The mages fought hard to protect their beloved school, but all of the arcane might in the academy was no match for fifty-thousand slivers. In the space of an hour, the entire school’s population had been decimated. The survivors, fleeing for their lives, were quickly caught by the sliver horde and devoured on the spot. What few that managed to escape did so by hiding, fleeing into pocket realms or skipping ahead in the timestream.
Amidst the mayhem, Zamira sought out Headmaster Marovic. He alone could open the vault where the school’s most prized artifacts, including the one that she came to retrieve, lay. She sent waves of slivers against him, but he set up an arcane circle against fey creatures and mounted a counterattack, sending out shockwaves of kinetic energy to blast the slivers to pieces. Zamira finally tired of this, and sent her champion, the ancient black dragon Kazmonix in to subdue the powerful mage. Once captured, she imposed her will on him, and forced him to open the vaults. She raided the vaults and took various items, including a dagger that had been used to imprison a powerful being she’d accidentally summoned while a student at the school.
In the school’s Founder’s Hall, she analyzed the dagger briefly, and figured out how to release the being. Once freed, the being said, “Sorceress, you have freed me yet again from an earthly prison. The terms of our last bargain have not yet been met on your end, give me a reason I should not strike you down and leave this place at once!” Zamira replied, “Strike me down, mighty caliph, and you will never return home. However, I am now prepared to send you back there, but I need but one more favor from you.” “And what would this be? I tire of your games, mortal,” replied the being. “Lend me a portion of your power, that I may complete a ritual linking the school’s portal with one within the plane below permanently,” she said.
So the being granted her this power, and she casted a ritual on the school’s great portal. Instantly, slivers as far as the eye could see were reduced to ashy replicas of themselves, and a gate sprung into being. Then the being, Zamira, and Kazmonix entered the gate, and passed into what lay beyond, leaving only corpses and the frozen ruins of the academy to witness her departure.
* * *
“Damn, the snow is heavy in this area. Isn’t it almost Spring yet?” Azaerai thought to herself, as she rubbed her hands vigorously under her cloak to keep them warm. The small group of mages, as well as a few heroes from Balasar’s Avengers, had been traveling for almost two days through the Feyshadow Forest to get back to the White Lotus academy. The winter hadn’t been particularly harsh, but the group had gotten caught in a blizzard and was forced to find shelter or risk injuring the horses. The faster they got back to the academy and into a heated building, the better.
Up at the head of the column, Ibok, the bardic master from the academy, called a halt to the group’s march and had everyone rally. “There’s something not right here. You see that column of smoke?” he said, pointing to a thin line of smoke in the distance, about two miles away. “We’re well outside of the school’s disguising ward, we shouldn’t be able to see any signs of its existence this far out. Tomil,” he said, pointing to a young warlock at his right, “go up to the school and see what’s there. It’s probably nothing, but I’d rather not be walking into a trap. Look around briefly and come back.”
The young students of the arcane, including Azaerai, dismounted and tended to their horses. One of them, an Eladrin swordmage named Zirlina, sniffled and let out a small sneeze, and was quickly shushed by a few of her classmates. Tension among the group grew with every passing minute until Tomil returned. One look at his face as he barreled headlong into the group told everyone that something was definitely not right at the academy.
“Master Ibok! The school has been overrun by the slivers! I found not a living soul within the compound, and the shielding wards seem to have failed as well.” Tomil untied a pouch from his belt and handed it to Ibok, who took a look inside and passed it to Azaerai and Ella. “What is it,” Azaerai said, passing the pouch to Ella. Tomil replied, “Some kind of ash, Lady. All of the slivers I found in the compound had transformed into the stuff where they stood.” Turning to Ibok, Azaerai said, “Could this have been part of the academy’s defenses? A spell unleashed by one of the senior mages to kill all the slivers?” Ibok considered this, then said to Tomil, “How many slivers did you say there were there?” “Thousands, sir. They were spread out over the entire campus,” he replied. Answering Azaerai’s question, he said, “No, I know of no mages in the school strong enough to kill thousands of enemies at once, especially if they were surprised. And they must have been surprised, or they would have called us at the keep for help. But I suppose that explains why we couldn’t open the great portal back to the school from the keep.”
“Tomil, is there any danger in the school now,” Ibok said. “Didn’t seem like it, sir. School grounds were quiet as a grave – er, sorry,” Tomil said, as some of his classmates began to glare at him. Addressing the group now, Ibok said, “Well then, let’s head up to the school and look for survivors. Once we’re there, split up into pairs to search. We’ll meet at the Founder’s Hall with any survivors in an hour.”
The group quickly made their way into the school and spread out, looking for survivors. Although a few survivors were found amidst the rubble, there were far more corpses, which bore the distinctive slash marks of a sliver’s victim. Eventually, the group met up at Founder’s Hall when one of the students let out a shriek near that building.
Azaerai ran up to the building, moving as fast as her chainmail would allow. When she passed through the doors of the building, she let out a gasp and immediately brandished her weapon. A bluish-white gate, 20 feet across and emanating freezing cold winds and snow stood in the middle of the ruins of the hall. Small elementals whirled around the gate, or trudged through the snow at its base. Azaerai brushed her hand back over her head, removing her fur-lined hood and exposing her short, bristly hair, and charged the elementals. The other students roared and followed suit, as did Azaerai’s compatriots from the Avengers. Soon enough, not a single elemental moved within the shell of the building [note: no xp for this for Hazarak and Ella –NT]. Ibok moved quickly, and with all of the mages’ help, casted an Arcane Lock ritual on the gate, sealing it temporarily.
Azaerai eyed the locked gate warily, and knew that it would not hold against a determined force from the other side. “Master Ibok, that can’t last long. What should we do about it now?” Furrowing his brow, Ibok said, “Sealing the gate is beyond my ability, even with everyone else here. We need to find someone that knows the proper ritual to seal a portal for good, and is strong enough to cast it on this one. Azaerai, return to the keep with the other Avengers and tell them of this. We will set up a beacon here, so that any that managed to escape can return. We will wait here and research a way to seal the gate permanently, as well as rebuild the school.”
Ella voiced an objection, claiming that she had come here to study rituals, but Ibok silenced her with a glance, saying that rebuilding the school and dealing with the gate took precident over that. He invited her back once they managed to clean the grounds up and account for everything. Azaerai reported what she saw back to the rest of the Avengers, then the three guildmates began the long trip back to Feyshadow Keep.