The Beginning of the End

Bastion of Broken Souls

17th March, 1371 DR

As the party exits the portal from Rigus, the guards ask where they’ve been for the last year. Stunned by the question, the PCs look around to see a light dusting of snow covering the new growth of early Spring. As the full weight of what they’ve seen and heard hits them, they now understand why Brian the Swordmaster had said that he had been in Imperagon’s fortress for a few weeks rather than just a few days. Whether it took a year or a day, the outcome is the same: they saved a few dozen forgemasters from an eternity of service to Imperagon, and they saved the Realms from an imminent invasion. (They also rescued some treasure from imminent dust)

After returning to Waterdeep and speaking again with Lord Piergeiron, the party takes a few days to rest and redistribute their wealth. During this time, the party hears two very interesting and disturbing rumors: 1) A number of babies in The City and the surrounding areas have been born “soulless”; the infants are alive, but unresponsive. 2) Cormyr is expanding its borders. They have already taken Sembia and are slowly conquering the Dales one by one.

Having traveled through Cormyr, Hucknor and Valkor find the second rumor to be unlikely at best. The first rumor is troubling though, and Piergeiron asks the party to investigate. He sends them to ask Malchor Harpell if he has any helpful information. They prepare to set off, then teleport as close as they can to the Twilight Tower. Within seconds of their arrival, another creature teleports in close by and charges (slithers) quickly toward them. Their enemy is a six-armed woman with writhing chains wrapped around her body and a long snake’s tail instead of legs. As combat ensues, the creature ruthlessly wields her chains against Kevros, then catches and constricts him in her tail. Through a combination of well placed blows, timely spells, and sizable about of luck, the party slays the creature in just moments. Their victory could not have come at a better time as the thief was already unconscious and at the brink of death.

As the creature drops to the ground, the PCs hear someone else approaching. They turn to find a man in leather armor standing in amazement with his short sword still raised to attack. After a few minutes of explanation, the party learns much about this man and the creature they killed. The man’s name is Nurn. He serves a being named Hethradiah as a spy of sorts, tracking and monitoring the Cathezar (the creature they just killed). The Cathezar serves a Demon Lord of the Abyss named Aameul. The Cathezar herself is half-demon/half-devil; born of the Abyss and the Nine Hells, but shunned by both. Nurn explains that the Cathezar has been trying to find and capture a descendant of the famous druid Dydd. Nurn doesn’t know exactly why the descendant of Dydd is so important to Aameul, but he did overhear the Cathezar make mention of something to one of her lackeys. She said that the descendant was needed at a place called The Bastion of Unborn Souls so that" the wyrm might be tamed". While Nurn doesn’t know what any of this means, he knows that Aameul believes he can increase his power through this quest he set the Cathezar on, and a Demon Lord gaining power is never a good thing.

Nurn asks to work together with the PCs to solve the mystery of the soulless newborns and stop Aameul from growing more powerful. They accept and travel together to the Twilight Tower. When they arrive, Malchor is waiting for them. After chastising the party for not having done their own due diligence on the situation, he answers what questions he can and gives them some good information to work with. He tells the party that the reason Waterdeep’s clerics and mages were unable gain any information about the soulless children is due to an ancient edict called the Ban of the Unborn. The Overpowers decreed that deities were in no way allowed to interfere or involve themselves with pre-incarnate souls. This, Malchor believes, is why the deities are silent on the subject of the soulless babies. Malchor vaguely remembers reading something about a deity who was banished by his fellow deities for attempting to claim unborn souls as part of his portfolio, but he does not remember the name of the deity, nor how long ago this was. Malchor suggests that the PCs go to the Church of the Elements in the High Forest for further information

The party teleports to the location Malchor described and find themselves standing at the bottom of a treeless hill with a circle of large stones near its top. They climb the hill and speak with Dorus, the current guardian of the mystic sapling Semphelon. She explains that the tree has all of the knowledge of every Druid who ever lived, but only one of their order may speak with it. Through Dorus, the party asks the tree a number of questions regarding the Bastion of Unborn Souls, how to get there, and what the significance of the descendant of Dydd has. Semphelon can give very little information about the Bastion, but says that if the descendant of Dydd is involved, the “wyrm” the Cathezar mentioned must be Ashardalon. Kevros is told that he is a descendant of Dydd, and he can play an important role in defeating Ashardalon. If he faces Ashardalon, he can gain a small advantage over the dragon if he says “In the name of Dydd, whose blood is my blood, who slew your heart, feel again the pain of your heart’s demise.” The dragon will be lessened slightly in his presence, and Kevros cannot be harmed by the wyrm for a short time if he does not engage it in combat. Since the gods will not speak of anything concerning unborn souls, the druids, and therefore Semphelon, have no further information on the subject. However, the tree does recommend that they visit “the Dreamer” in the Guild of Sleep near Zazesspur in Tethyr, for “the Dreamer can reveal what the deities must conceal.”

The party teleports (again) to Zazesspur and find the Guild of Sleep on a rise outside the city. Inside they find a number of humans, gnomes and halflings sleeping in alcoves throughout the building, all watched over by a trio of elves. One of the elves approaches as asks if they are here to “enter the dream”. When asked about the Dreamer, the elf states that “Dreamer Prime” is currently in the dream and should not be disturbed, but that if it is truly a matter of great urgency, they can attempt to address her briefly while she yet sleeps. They are warned, however, that she may not react well to someone distracting her from the dream, and will resist being awakened. They are directed to a large-ish room near the back of the building with fanciful paintings on the walls and vaulted ceiling. An image of a beautiful woman appears floating in the air in front of the them and, when asked, tells them that she will only answer their questions of awakened, but she will not wake herself and will fight the PCs if they attempt to wake her. So, of course, combat ensues. She casts a number of different spells attempting to control the party, but to no avail. Balian’s ghost touch axe strikes solidly at her incorporeal form and she is brought to bear quickly. As the image of the beautiful woman fades from sight, many of the fanciful creatures painted on the walls begin to emerge from the paintings prepared to attack. Before they can strike however, a trapdoor opens in the floor of an adjoining room and a harsh female voice rings out calling off the attack. As the creatures reenter their paintings, an object similar in appearance to a coffin rises from beneath the floor. When it stops at floor-level, a woman emerges and speaks with the party, … but this woman is far from beautiful.

Dreamer Prime is a night hag; a blue-skinned, straggly-haired, wart-covered woman. She tells the PCs that no one has defeated her projected image in many years, and is intrigued by what questions they may have, though she is still unhappy at being awakened. They party asks her about the Bastion of Unborn Souls, and she tells them everything they need to know. The only way to gain access to the Bastion is with an artifact called the Soul Totem. It was once carried by the deity Desayeus, who thought to claim pre-incarnate souls as part of his portfolio. Fearing that they might all be punished by the Overpower for violating the Ban of the Unborn, a coalition of deities captured Desayeus and banished him to the outer plane of Pandemonium. The Soul Totem was broken into 3 pieces during the struggle. Each piece has lost the power held by the complete artifact, but each still has the power to grant entry to the Bastion of Unborn Souls. One piece has been lost, another was found and used by Ashardalon, and the final piece yet resides with Desayeus in his prison. If the party wishes to gain entry to the Bastion, they need to parlay with the fallen god for his piece of the Soul Totem. The only way to gain entry to Desayeus’s prison is through the prison’s gatekeeper, Eco, a silver-skinned celestial being who was set to guard the prison. Dreamer Prime also reveals one other interesting tidbit of information: Aameul is the name of one of the two aspects of the Demogorgon, Prince of Demons.

The party returns to Waterdeep to prepare for their journey to Desayeus’s prison in Pandemonium. After learning what they can about Pandemonium itself, they ask Hucknor to commune with his deity in hopes of gathering more information about Eco and her location. The next day, the party plane shifts then teleports to arrive in Pandemonium near Eco and Branam, Eco’s planetar companion. No matter how much the party attempts to persuade her, Eco refuses to allow entry to Desayeus’s prison. Just as the PCs are about to give up hope of finding a peaceful solution, McSquid notices that for a brief moment Eco’s eyes focus on a point behind the party before a scared look appears on her face. The monk whirls around to catch a brief glimpse of a figure in a dark green cloak and leather armor standing at the edge of the shadows before the being disappears. Eco ignores McSquid’s questions about who they saw, but tells the party that they may enter the prison under two conditions: They must not allow Desayeus or his followers to escape, and should they obtain the soul totem, they must return the piece to Eco once they have completed their quest. When the party is ready to enter, Eco transforms into a large portal that grants entry to Desayeus’s prison.

They party enters to find 4 lillends relaxing on assorted pillows and cushions in a large chamber. They draw longswords and question the party about why they are there and how they got in. The PCs state that they are there only to speak with Desayeus. The lillends escort the party back to the chamber where Desayeus rests while remaining vigilant in a circle around them. When they are brought before Desayeus, he is very curious about why they are there and how they were allowed entry. When they ask him for the fragment of the Soul Totem, Desayeus bitterly refuses to give it up. It quickly becomes apparent that if they want to get it, the PCs will have to slay the fallen god. Desayeus give the party and ultimatum: leave in 1 minute, or fight. Valkor and McSquid decide they’re going to leave, while Hucknor, Balian and Kevros decide to stand and face him. As the minute ends, Desayeus raises his hammer to attack, and his minions engage the separated party. After a couple rounds of punishment from Desayeus, Hucknor summons an earth elemental, then grabs the half-ogre and the thief and dimension doors over to his other two companions. Together they finish off the lillends near the entrance, then prepare to face Desayeus as a group. When he arrives, they hit him with everything they have. The do bring him down, but not before Kevros (once again) falls unconscious from loss of blood. The party retrieves the Soul Totem fragment, then depart the prison.

The party rests to recover their spells before traveling to the Positive Energy Plane and the Bastion of Unborn Souls. Before they leave, Nurn comes clean and tells the whole truth: he serves the other head of Demogorgon. However, he wants to kill Ashardalon and his heart at much as the PCs, if for different reasons. He asks the party if he can still fight with them, and they agree.

Utilizing a greater plane shift, Hucknor takes them 100 yards away from the entrance to the Bastion, then casts a spell to allow everyone to adjust to their environment. When they reach the Bastion, a gigantic mass of crystal easily 10 miles across, the party finds an unfriendly welcoming committee of demons. Four wolf-crabasaurus-rexes accompanied by a Nalfeshnee, a Hezrou, and a larger than normal retriever, attack the PCs on site. The battle is long, but not too painful for the party thanks to many failed saving throws against Hucknor’s and Valkor’s spells. Their toughest enemy, the retriever, never even had a chance to attack. When the battle ends the PCs finally take notice of their surroundings. They see a smooth 40-foot-wide section of crystal with a circular indentation in its center.

The markings within the indentation match the markings on the piece of the soul totem that they have, so they place the stone against the symbols. As soon as they do, the section of crystal in front of them shimmers and fades, … and five cones of fire blast toward them. Only Kevros is able to avoid the flames completely, but everyone else takes only minimal damage. The party faces four half-dragons: a kobold, a chimera, an ettin, and a dire bear. The PCs look horribly over-matched for about 2 seconds. Then the ettin falls on his face, the bear takes 200+ damage from sneak attacks, and the chimera and kobold get teamed up on. The battle is ended fairly quickly, but a lot of damage is dealt out by both sides. While the party lets the Positive Energy Plane heal them, they search the bodies and collect a hefty amount of loot.

Choosing not to enter the bright light at the Bastion’s center, the party starts to make their way through the rooms surrounding the Core. In the first room they find a long-dead paladin with an impressive collection of magical items, including an incredibly powerful greatsword. In the next room, they are attacked by two crystal screamers. One makes a crystal tree explode, dealing damage to all nearby. The other shrieks at Balian, causing quite a bit of harm. Big and powerful as these creatures are, they cannot stand up to the might of the Obliterators, and they die quickly. As the party explores deeper into the room, they find that this may not be a room at all, but instead an endless forest of crystal trees. After walking for a couple of minutes, they find a half-dragon satyr that gives them some good information about Ashardalon, his demon heart, and the Bastion’s denizens. At the end of the conversation, he asks for the party to take him with them when they leave the Bastion and return home. The heroes agree to return for him… after they kill his father.

The party returns to the area where they fought their last battle, then continues to the next room. Here they find two incorporeal creatures (named soul marauders by the satyr) who let out fearsome roars. Balian and Nurn are weakened with fear, and McSquid is deafened. As the PCs engage in combat, the marauders begin attacking Valkor and Nurn. As their incorporeal tendrils strike, they attempt to rip away their opponent’s soul. They are successful at de-soul-ing both Nurn and Valkor before the battle ends. Nurn’s and Valkor’s souls return to their bodies, but they are very much weakened by the ordeal. As the party discusses how best to recover, an incorporeal creature that looks a four-armed person made of light appears. It restores the whole party to full strength and wishes them luck as they attempt to slay Ashardalon and cleanse the Bastion.

As they head toward the southernmost “room” of the Bastion, Valkor’s Dragonhammer -induced spidey-senses begin tingling, indicating that a dragon is near. As they approach the entrance to the area, Kevros hears a slight scrape and a brief rushing of air. Kevros silently halts the party, and the PCs each take a brief moment to prepare for an ambush, including a disappearing Nurn. Sure enough, a red dragon (slightly smaller than the blue dragon they encountered in the Sunset Mountains) sticks its head around the corner and fills the area with fire. A fearsome battle ensues, lasting a torturous and grueling 24 seconds. The dragon casts a spell that damages the entire party, while they attempt to encircle their foe. Before the dragon can begin tearing his enemies apart, McSquid lands a powerful blow to its tail (yes, tail!) that leaves the dragon stunned (it only needed a 3 on its saving throw!). The pummelling commences and dragon takes a serious beating, including some painful stabs from a now-visible Nurn on his back. The dragon can’t recover from being stunned quickly enough, and is slain before he can retaliate.

As they head toward the next room, the PCs notice the charred and mangled remains of 6 vrocks and 2 glabrezu (wolf-crabasaurus-rex). In the next area, they hear two balors arguing over whether they should go take on the dragon again or not. While they are distracted by their discussion, the heroes attack. After attempting (and failting) to dominate the minds of their assailants, the balors attack with sword and whip. While their swords never reach their decapitating potential, they still strike home consistently. Kevros get wrapped up in a balor whip and drawn against the demon’s flame-wreathed body. Even with the devastating potential of the balors, the battle ends almost before it’s begun, and the demon’s explode in blaze of light that burns everyone around them. In the makeshift tower the demons had constructed, the party found 3 potions and some much needed (NOT!) platinum pieces.

The last room (North East corner) contains two large incorporeal lionfish; at least, that’s what they look like. Sensing fresh souls, they immediately fly through the trees (literally) to attack the party. Unlike the battle with the soulmarauders, these “soulsippers” are easily dealt with. Having dealt with a number of powerful foes, the party feels even stronger than before as they turn toward the Center and Ashardalon. As they gaze into the light, they notice that it has dimmed slightly, and a huge dark shape can be seen moving inside the Core.

Before entering, Hucknor and Valkor cast a half-dozen spells each in preparation for the battle ahead. After entering into the Core, the party comes face-to-face with the largest creature they have ever seen; a red dragon easily 3 times the size of the one they encountered earlier. Ashardalon begins to greet the characters and ask them what business they have there, but then Kevros declares his intent, curses the dragon, and all pretense of hospitality is dropped. Kevros begins to glow red and the great wyrm is left stunned for a few seconds as the battle commences. Ashardalon is unquestionably the most powerful creature the party has encountered to this point, so if course that battle is over quickly with PCs left virtually unscathed. (Again! How could this happen again!)

As they emerge from the Core, the heroes are met by five brightly glowing figures just like the one that helped the party after their encounter with the soulmarauders. They thank the party, then send a burst of energy into the PCs that leaves them tingling for a few seconds, but does no harm. With that they disappear. The party gets the satyr as they agreed, then leaves the Bastion by way of a greater plane shift spell. …except when Hucknor begins casting the spell, someone or something else takes control and sends the five heroes and the satyr (good-bye Nurn) to a forest clearing that they have never seen before. There they are met by a tall cloaked elf who apologizes to Hucknor for hijacking his spell. After allowing the satyr to go off with two dryads and a half-nymph, the elf addresses the party. McSquid tells his companions that this is Aranel Hawkeye, a newly raised (13 years ago) member of the elven pantheon.

Aranel tells them that he has been watching them for some time, and asks them if they will accept a task from the Seldarine (the elven deities) that will help to restore order to troubled lands in Faerûn. They accept without much question other than to ask for time to rest and to express a desire for equipment appropriate to the task. Aranel tells them that they will be provided with equipment fitting for such a task, and tells them to return two days after the Challenge of Champions. He also tells Balian that there are others who need his help, and that when they find him, he should go with them. He apologizes again for taking over Hucknor’s spell, then returns the PCs to Waterdeep.

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