The Black Rift

Into The Black Rift

Heading back into the Vast Swamp the Party passed through the portal in the Lost refuge and made their way to the path that led off form the Monastery of the Ebon Dome. Once it descended from the bluff the ground grew increasingly swampy underfoot. About an hour later, having avoided a potentially nasty encounter with an eight headed hydra, the party rounded a bluff to see a squat stone cabinSwamp Cabin dimly illuminated by flaming posts. To the west of the building was a short pier with two rowboats tied to it, also lit by a flaming post. Beyond the cabin, the roar of a waterfall announced that the swamp emptied itself into a vast unknown expanse somewhere below. Across the expanse a wooden walkway was suspended disappearing into darkness. The cabin was empty save for a couple of canoloths, apparently left as guard dogs. These sere swiftly despatched and the Party began making their way cautiously across the walkway swaying over whatever chasm the waterfall fell into.

As they crossed the walkway Garan spotted light ahead, coming from two posts on either side of a doorway near the top of what looked like a tower made of some glossy, black, chitinous substance. Several walkways led off from this tower including one which led down to what looked like a bone-strewn plateau below. The tower was guarded by a Blood Golem, which proved a formidable foe, badly wounding both Garan and Erik before finally being destroyed.

After pausing for some healing, the Party chose one of the walkways at random, which led them to a rounded grey structure jutting from the cliff face. Garan uncharacteristically charged in, attacking the occupants a cleric and her guards, swiftly followed by Calita and Erik.

Once their opponents were slain, the Party turned their attention to a large accordion-shaped, bellows-like structure that whooshed with dark energy. Erik quickly decided that, whatever it was, it must be destroyed and stuck it a devastating blow. The bellows immediately exploded with a blast wave of dark energy!
Fortunately the Party managed to evade the worst of the blast and soon set  off down a narrow stairway cut into the cliff-face.

Malkarian's Demesne

Heading down the steep stairway. Garan  suddenly spotted a dark shape arrowing across the abyss towards them at great speed.  He barely had time to shout a warning before a black dragon flew by, hitting him and Erik with its breath weapon. Calita unlimbered her bow and began firing it as the dragon swept by a few more times biting at them, and then unleashed a final attack with it's breath weapon before disappearing off into the abyss. Pausing briefly for healing, and keeping a weather eye out for the dragon's return, the Party continued down the staircase which descended into a cave. 

The cave was apparently being used to stable a gorgon which snorted wildly and attacked, but fortunately no-one succumbed to it's breath weapon  before they managed to despatch it.  Two exits led out from this cave, though one quickly appeared to lead to a dead-end the other, a walkway accessed via an elevator, led  to a  squat tower a surrounded by a sea of writhing black tentacles. Within the tower Erik was challenged to single combat by it's black-armoured inhabitant and after a brutal fight eventually emerged triumphant, though sorely wounded. There were two exits from this tower. One led back to the tower where they had fought the blood golem, while the second, which proved extremely troublesome to pass due to the writing tentacle trying to grab them, led down to a pit. The pit had a ramp spiralling down along the inside edge, circling to eventually reach the floor which contained another shadow bellows. The bellows was tended by three Dark Priestesses. 

Erik used a potion of spider climb to get down the side of the pit quickly and attack the priestesses while Gran ran round the descending spiral ledge and then leaped off attacking one of the priestesses with a might swing of his blade. Calita meanwhile fired off arrows from above. As the Dark Priestesses struggled against their assailants they called upon their dark goddess for aid, she responded by sending an ephemeral hangman to aid them. However it was to no avail and after slaying all before them, Erik destroyed the bellows with swift blows from  his adamantine mace.

The Mysterious Biers

Heading from the exit that led from the pit, the walkway led to a hemispherical chamber with tapestries covering the wall. Garan spotted a square covered in strange runes and sigils near the western corner and went to investigate while Erik examined the tapestries, all of which except one were of various humanoids kneeling in supplication before a black disk high in the sky. Calita hung back, warily covering the room with her bow. As he went to examine the tapestry , Ephemeral HangmanErik suddenly spotted something moving in the darkness beyond and was attacked by an ephemeral hangman which grappled with him.

Garan meanwhile had spotted a patch of unusual looking darkness and drawing his sword hacked at it, striking something solid hiding within - another ephemeral hangman. The ephemeral hangman struck back and Garan suddenly felt himself slowing, his normal reflexes sluggish. Calita, seeing he was in trouble, moved to help. Erik meanwhile was in serious trouble, unable to break the grapple the ephemeral hangman was slowly crushing the life out of him! Fortunately Garan and Calita managed to deal with their opponent and rush to Erik's rescue before the paladin was slain.

Once several healing potions were drank, Erik collected the  strange tapestry, which Calita had proclaimed to have magical properties, and the Party moved on down a narrow passageway. Garan scouting ahead could hear movement in the room the passageway opened into and peering in could see three grey-skinned humans walking there. They were more dark priestesses, staffs in hand and swords at their sides. In the south-east corner stood another of the strange bellows devices and along the north wall of the chamber were six black biers, with a table behind them, one of which had a body on it. As he watched the body faded to nothingness, but a different corpse appeared atop one of the other biers.

Garan signalled to his friends and sneaked forward into the room, attacking one of the priestesses. Calita and Erik also charged in attacking the other two. Although the priestesses managed to get off a couple of shots from their staffs, they were woefully outmatched and quickly slain. 

Before examining the mysterious biers, Erik suggested that the others retreat back into the passageway while he dealt with the bellows, which exploded satisfyingly after a couple of stout blows. That dealt with, they turned their attention towards the biers, noting corpses appearing and disappearing randomly, some fully laid out, some obviously embalmed, while other appeared to have been freshly slain.
Timing his move, Erik reached out and quickly dragged one of the bodies off the bier. As he did so however, a shadowy form began to coalesce on the bier in front of him.

Prisoners Freed

The Party quickly rallied round to support Erik against the shadow, Garan quietly cursing under his breath at the paladin's impetuousness in dragging the strange body from the bier. 

Once the shadow was slain. the Party's attention turned to healing and restoring the damage done bu the shadow's attacks. Erik pointed out the stone table behind the biers on which bodies continued to appear and vanish randomly, and Calita wild shaped into a bird and flew over to investigate, recovering several pieces of jewellery that had been tossed there, presumably by the priestesses.

The moved onwards through a library where they were attacked by flameskulls when Calita touched one of the books, but as long as they didn't touch anything the flameskulls let them pass peaceably. There were two exits from the library, down one of the exits from this room Erik sensed an overwhelming presence of evil, so they decided to leave that one till they had rested, and took the other which led to a strange cavern with a floating staircase descending down to the floor of the cavern.Teh room was guarded a  mezzoloth and some vargoille, but these were swiftly dealt with. Two exits led from this room, down one of them Erik sensed the "great evil" he had felt earlier, while the other led to one of the walkways spanning the rift. 

This walkway led to a tall tower, which they quickly discovered was a prison guarded by a mind-flayer warder. Fortunately the Party was well-armed with ranged weapons and drove off the mind-flayer, only Galen succumbing to it's mind blast. Freeing the prisoners within they quickly discovered they were the missing citizens they had been tasked with finding.

The Ritual Chamber

After resting, the Party decided to follow the passageway where Erik had sensed "great evil". 

Once they had fought their way through the Dark Disciples who were now guarding the "floating staircase" room, the passageway led to a huge chamber where the black dragon they had seen the day before, strange glowing markings covering it's scales, crouched on a dais in the middle of the room. Above it spun a black sphere. Along the walls were cages which held wasted-looking  humanoids in ragged robes, glowing blue energy floated up from them towards the spinning snarl of darkness.

The dragon immediately launched itself into the air with a roar and unleashed its shadow-shard breath weapon, after which it began a series of fly-by attacks mainly targeting Calita whose bow seemed to be doing most damage.  Erik readying his greatsword to strike when he could tossed Garan an scroll of enchant weapon witch the dwarf used on his bow, joining Calita's attacks. Calita then tried casting spells but the black sphere just seemed to absorb the first one she tried until she discovered her icelance spell seemed to work! After a frustrating period when the combat ebbed and flowed, the dragon unleashing its breath weapon whenever he could,  it made the mistake of touching-down briefly. Erik charged in blade swinging as the dragon snapped at him! Eventually as the dragon attempted to rise into the air once more following a second icelance from Calita, attacks of opportunity from Erik and the Garan finally slew the beast.

Freeing the surviving captives the Party began the long trek back through the shadow realm, stopping to guest overnight with the Sharptooth tribe in the Lost Refuge. Eventually arriving back in Wheloon, they were escorted Lord Redbeard's manor, where all the clerics in the city were summoned to care for them and those they had rescued. Among the clerics was Tunaster who paid them handsomely for their service, declaring them to be "Friends of Mystra". CLord Redbeard had summoned Cormyr's War Wizards, who when told the Party's story immediately set out to deal with the broken Shadow Gate and the Dark Lord's Passage.

Despayre Awaits