The DFA’s, still broken and bleeding, decided to wait out the night. They barricaded themselves and Yezka into their familiar classroom lair and were able to catch a few uninterrupted hours of sleep. In the morning, they faced a decision — would it be best to confront Naria this morning, to silently whisk the children away, or to face this evil the next night. Drezen, So’Khra, and Behrtogg decided it best to seek out Naria. Faustus, disenfranchised with the entire campus, felt it best to take his new ward to safety and departed back to Kievstal.
The remaining DFA’s confronted Naria at breakfast. She again went pale as a sheet at their site. Quickly ushering them away from less loyal ears, she finally spilled the beans: Powerful forces had invaded the Archives; she and Luden were forced to enter a gruesome compromise. The children would be spared, so long as the forces of evil could collect some of their life force each night. This nightly horror was conducted in the dormitory’s atrium (where Luden was calling for help!). Naria had cleverly scripted magical connections with young animals as a way of sustaining the children from such a taxing excursion each night — hence the animals never leaving the children’s side. All in all, it was a horror that no faculty would ever wish to face, but the children were still alive…
Clearly understanding for the first time Luden’s reasons for calling on them, the party vowed to end this bullshit once and for all. They spent the afternoon scouting the atrium for an advantageous position to expel these evil forces. Climbing high atop the glass dome, they dropped down into a room covered in old grime — or old blood, it seemed. Examining a makeshift altar that dotted the center, Drezen finally realized the source of the burning symbol in his dreams…these were cultists of Orcus! The party gulped…
The atrium had a single set of double doors that led by staircase to the locked storeroom, which in turn connected to a long row of first floor dormitories. The party schemed for some time about what might happen that night. They decided to hang a fire trap above the staircase, position a concealed Behrtogg in the storeroom, and flank the atrium doors. Upon Behrtogg’s signal, So’Khra would light the trap and nuke any Orcian motherfuckers ascending the stairs. They crouched, chuckling over their brilliant plan, and awaited nightfall.
Soon, sounds began to stir from the dormitories. A long line of children, far more catatonic than they had been that morning, began streaming into the storeroom, interspersed by cultists and faculty. Far down the line, Behrtogg saw two cultists carrying a large spiked chair, upon which slumped a sallow, gaunt dwarf. Unsure what to make of this complication, Behrtogg thinked as only a Behrtogg can have thunked, which induced some level of panic inside him. Hastily, he signaled to his comrades. So’Khra followed through with the plan, igniting children, cultists, and one faculty member. A few more notches made the DFA’s belt.
Oddly, the ritual seemed utterly unfazed by the party’s incendiary ways. Around the time the first child would have reached the top of the stairs (had they not been ashy), a cultist lobbed a curious gilded orb into the room and a smoky haze began to fill the atrium. As Drezen and So’Khra felt themselves sliipping from consciousness, they saw children entering the room and slumping onto the floor as if to sleep for the night…
Several moments passed, and Behrtogg heard little noise. Were his comrades going to signal for him?? By now, the chair had passed by, and the stream of children had ceased. A strange chanting had started — by now he knew to distrust that sound. Behrtogg decided he’d better check in and quietly ascended the stairs. What he saw was ghastly. Children, faculty, and his comrades lay strewn about the floor, rivulets of blood streaming from them. Flowing toward the altar, the blood appeared to pool upon the altar. Strapped atop the altar was the chair, and dozens of tubes protruded from the now-even-paler dwarf, draining him of lifeforce.
Behrtogg knew this wasn’t a good sign. He covered his mouth, then quietly roused his teammates without disturbing the ritual. They groggily stood up…and all launched into battle!!
Several cultists fell, but the party, still hazy from the gas effects, was ineffective. After several moments, the pool of blood began to bubble, and a giant pulsating eyeball burbled out of the roiling liquid. It’s bloodshot and stony gaze turned on the party. By this time, Behrtogg had managed to ascend the altar stairs and swung his hammer for justice! Unfortunately, he managed to catch himself and the slumped dwarf, instead of the enemy. The dwarf crumpled off the side of the altar, seemingly broken. The party soon joined them — the petrifying gaze of the eye was too much for a bunch of damned fools. Had Luden placed his faith in the wrong group?!
Holding a glowing stone in his hands, Symon shoved the panic back into his gut. His summoning disc had only alerted a few times in his whole life. This could only mean dire straits! He dropped his venture immediately and sped towards the Archives. Why would Master Luden summon him?
Within two days, he ascended the path to the Iron Gate. The path and the Archives were eerily quiet. Normally, an area livened by comings and goings, the only travelers he had seen were a cleric and a young schoolboy wearing the white cloth of apprenticeship. They seemed nice enough, so Symon let them pass without question. But now, as he approached the gate and the sun dipped, his fears were confirmed. The always-secure gate lie gaping open and unattended. The Archive grounds, normally scattered with schoolchildren practicing their wizard crafts, were abandoned. Only a light from the dormitory atrium signaled life in the area.
After checking in Luden’s empty quarters, which were oddly unlocked, Symon dropped in on Midos. The frail librarian scrambled out of his quarters in a nightgown, looking utterly frantic. At first, Midos tried to play off his lack of sangfroid by explaining that he was about to settle in for a bath, but Symon knew him better than that. Before telling him about the awful things that had happened in the past weeks, Midos begged Symon to flee from the Archives for his own good! Symon pinned him down, however, and Midos sobbed the details about the Terrible Compromise that had befallen the grounds. Outraged, Symon vowed to stop it.
Symon quickly stole towards his chambers in the dormitory. Knowing that the evil rite must be occurring in the Atrium, he decided to search for a covert way to enter. He had often heard rumors of a long-past alum that had dug a tunnel from his dorm into the storeroom, but it had never been confirmed. Surely enough, under a bed, he found a false-floored chest with a tunnel inside! Sneaking through, Symon found himself in the storeroom. Burnt bodies littered the stairwell, and Symon felt sick. Chanting and light came from the open atrium doors…Angered and emboldened, Symon strolled into the atrium.
Even as the sickening scene settled into his brain, Symon burst into action. He leaped at the nearest cultist, burying his sword within him. As he did, a number of the catatonic children grasped at his legs, pulling the paladin towards the pile. He barely escaped in time to revive Drezen, who in turn ran to aid his allies.
Although disparate in origin, this new group seemed allied in purpose to Symon. While the battle was not easy, they eventually succeeded in punishing the eye back to the depths of its hell-pool. Unfortunately, Drezen fell to his wounds, this time being all but devoured before aide could arrive. (Later, the party would send their fallen comrade’s body to be immortalized with his brother high atop the Kievstal Palace.) But not before it began to summon hell itself. Hellfire erupted from the floor, burning scores of children and faculty in its wake, before the beast was ended. Although the hellfire disappeared upon the eye’s death, those sad souls did not return.
Battered and confused, the four heroes blinked at each other a number of times before So’Khra finally asked Symon, “Who the hell are you?” Symon responded with the medieval equivalent of “WTF are you talking about.” A lot of blinking followed, but no one drew swords on each other.
Eventually, the group began to pick up the pieces. The chaos around them had stilled, and it now began to sink in. Specifically, Behrtogg began shaking, recalling visions of an hell-bound dire bear, back from the dead to torment him for his brother’s death, that had fought through the battle. They helped children from the floor, shielded them from their fallen schoolmates, and eventually tended to Luden’s broken body. The frail dwarf was breathing, but only to the most shallow degree. The general state of the wizard was most shocking to Symon, who had known the dwarf to be of heart only a few weeks prior.
After several attempts to heal him, Luden began to breath more easily, but still was unable to open his eyes. Sullenly, Symon carried Luden to his own dormitory, as Behrtogg and So’Khra assisted the children to theirs. So’Khra began telling familiar bedtime tales to the young wizards for comfort (although he wasn’t sure how he knew the stories).
In the morning, the party gathered in Symon’s chamber. They came to a mutual understanding of their recent pasts and understood that Luden had summoned all. While strange bedfellows, it seemed the wizard had united them in purpose.
Eventually, Luden’s eyes fluttered open and he coughed for a glass of water. His eyes met Symon’s with a loyal appreciation then turned calmingly to So’Khra and Behrtogg. He explained that the timeline of these awful events was accelerated by Swiften’s quick departure (Nadia had hinted he was very upset). He explained that Swiften was, in fact, a tool of evil, but one that was necessary to bring forth the destiny of the land. When he departed, he took an ancient protectorate staff with him — a staff forged from the ashes of a primordial witch — that had long protected the Archives. In its absence, the forces of evil were able to descend upon the school. Luden had given much to stop it, including crafting the Terrible Compromise, in order to bide time for the party to arrive.
With that, the party remembered their initial question, “Why us?” With that, Luden spoke to them of celestial prophecies, things that bewildered and amazed the heroes. He spoke of how each were destined to face Swiften and others, that they were ordained by prophecy. Seeing their bulging eyes, the wizard reminded them of the realm’s lore, which they promptly remembered:
— From Vehemine, the One-Eyed Warlock and Commune of the Pantheon.
“Behold, in the end of days, the Fleets of the Seven shall meet the Four White Heroes to tear asunder the Realm’s heart. The Worldbreakers shall rise upon command. On the final day, blood shall run light or dark with only the GodShrine discerning. If Light is to survive, a summons of the Lost must come from the winged afar, the hardened above, the slitherer below, and the ruler within.”
Things began to stand out about the familiar scripture that the heroes had never noticed before…did the “white heroes” refer to the characters that kept sprouting about their lives? Did this Worldbreaker have to do with the events in Kievstal? Luden confirmed that Zehir was a Worldbreaker poseur, but that his forces were included among the seven.
But then Luden dropped a bomb. Symon, So’Khra, and Behrtogg were among the four white heroes, destined to save the realm. How did he know? Luden pulled back the neck of his frock to reveal a glistening white breastplate. So’Khra remembered seeing a dwarf, albeit a younger heartier one, in his vision.
A little confused, the party questioned what to do next. Luden told them to seek Udacha, the mystical lost city, rumored to have ascended to the clouds, not the shitty pig village Behrtogg and So’Khra knew. Still unsure, Luden urged them to seek their past, particularly the past of So’Khra, ward of Slatine, if they hoped to achieve their destiny. Was So’Khra right in his hazy connection he had made to that name in the Archives. Luden was tight-lipped but confirmed that much would be revealed in due course.
Still a little confused, the party agreed to set out for Obsidian, once the necessary preparations had been made. After a hard day’s ride to the base of the Witherspines, they decided to detour and shelter in the Training Grounds, a tradeport near the mouth of the canyons. The Training Grounds were essentially, a large breeding area, with permanent ranges built into its perimeter for a variety of exotic animals. In the center of the city, a bustling trade economy had sprouted. The party quickly sought lodging, only to find a highly entrepreneurial bartender pushing bizarre animal-based cocktails on them. While strange, it was the closest thing to normalcy they had experienced in some time, and the heroes drank heavily.
Eyes heavy with exhaustion and inebriation, the heroes staggered up to their rooms for the night, eager to see what tomorrow would bring…