Fruit of the Fallen

Darkness Unbroken

Hope All But Lost

Part 31 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion

Vargard Garodin, The Twilight Forest
The flash of light almost blinded the warrior, and when the spots were gone from his eyes, he found himself still in the center of the odd temple. Perin was nowhere in sight, however. Equally disturbing were the new surroundings, trees that seemed to reach endlessly upwards, to a sky amber with twilight. The dark beasts were still circling as well, and darker shapes loomed in the distance. Their masters, Vargard realized.
“We… we just plane shifted,” Lesani said, breathlessly.
“To where?” Vargard yells, brandishing his sword menacingly, trying to keep the beasts from advancing.
“No idea,” Lesani replies.
“How the hell are we getting out of this?” Jorduna asks, covering another of the entrances to the temple’s platform.
“Marwyn, cast invisibility on us, if you can,” Lesani suggests, “Make sure to save yourself for last or yours will wear off. Common beginner’s mistake.”

There is a pause, but no sudden surge of magical activity one would expect from a bard casting multiple spells.
“Marwyn!” Vargard yells, thinking the half-elf had been paralyzed with fear. Turning, however, he finds only two others with him, and no sight of Marwyn. “Where the hell…”
Further explicative would have followed if what happened next hadn’t stunned the warrior completely. A portal appeared at the center of the temple, on the other side someone he’d never thought he’d see again.
“Get in!” yelled Cletus, beckoning them inside the portal.
“Cletus?! How?” Jorduna yells.
“No time,” the dwarf says, urging them.
“There is… no illusion…” Lesani says, almost speechless, “It really is him.”
“Canna hold the portal forever!” Cletus yells looking off to the side, “They’re almost on ya’!”
Vargard follows the dwarf’s outstretched hand, and notices the dark beasts were circling closer still, sensing the distress. Horrid, dark humanoid figures were also beginning to leech out of the tree line, and towards the temple.
Left with few options, the three entered the portal without delay.

Coming out the other side, they find themselves in what appears to be a moderate library. Certainly different from where they had just came, but they weren’t out of danger yet. Three others stood behind Cletus, and the two groups sized each other up in the seconds following The Split Falchion’s arrival.
“That all of ‘em?” the half-orc asks.
“No… where’s Marwyn, Var?” Cletus asks, looking for the bard.
“Gone, when we got here at… what the hell is going on, Cletus?” Vargard asks, the full weight of the past minute hitting him, “You died! I saw you, there was no way you could’ve…”
“Please, just let us explain,” an eladrin interrupts, “But we mean you no harm. We’re as stuck here as you, actually.”
“Alright,” Vargard says, yielding the initiative for now, “Start explaining.”

Il’yena brought the three up to speed on their current situation. Once Cletus had joined them, and upon realizing that they were in one of the most dangerous planes in all of existence, they had fervently begun searching for a way to anywhere else. Lesani had challenged the existence of Marvor, until they had moved the conversation to his room.
It was during that research when Cletus heard the voice of his friends, from the ritual circle in the library. A portal was quickly activated by Marvor, through which the three had been saved.
“Yordrik is still… recuperating,” Vaertrouse says, looking reluctantly towards the bedsheet, “I check on him once a day. Or at least, I try to. His form is slowly… regenerating? But he has yet to gain any semblance of consciousness.”
“We’ve put Carver in a room for now,” Dorian continues, “Still incensed by The Mourning. Can’t believe it’s all gone.”
“You were the one who figured out the Mabar bit?” said Vargard, a little skeptical.
“Why? ‘cause I’m half orc?” Dorian bites back.
“No, because it seems like you handle your sword the same way a farmer handles his plow,” Vargard points out.
“Fair,” Dorian concedes, “But you’d become a bit of a bookworm yourself if you were trapped in a shadow dimension with only a wizard’s chambers and his library.”
“It could be worse,” Marvor adds, “We’re lucky the library came with us.”

“But how did we get here?” Jorduna asks, so far not trusting anything the Cyrians had said, “We’re not dead.”
“That temple…” Lesani begins, thinking, “It was right where your portal was,” she addresses Marvor. “I doubt that was a coincidence.”
“When I was reaching out, trying to find some other semblance of a material world, I found a soft spot,” Marvor explains, “Where planar boundaries were weak. I thought nothing of it at the time, just some luck finally. But now, perhaps others were using it for their own gain.”
“Cletus said the junction was devoid of life,” Il’yena replies, “If what you say is true, perhaps that structure is used to ferry hunters between the planes. To find fresh victims…”
“We can use it to get back!” Vaertrouse exclaims suddenly, “We have to wait a little, of course, I didn’t like the look of what was beyond that portal, but…”
“That doesn’t explain what happened to Marwyn,” Vargard cuts the cleric off, “Where the hell is our fifth man?”
“Maybe he wasn’t transported?” the cleric answers, taken aback by the ferocity of the question, “He’d certainly be better off than us.”
“I’m not sure if the temple will phase again for some time,” Lesani cuts in, dashing the cleric’s hopes, “From the limited time I was in contact with it, I got the feeling that the temple worked off of charged power. I have no idea when it will be active again, though to gain the power to plane shift twice… we would die of starvation or thirst before then.”

“Good point,” Jorduna nods, “What’s food like here?”
“It isn’t,” Dorian replies grimly, “Or rather, it’s whatever you have. We don’t get hungry.”
“Damn,” the hobgoblin curses, “We’ve got to get out of here. Stupid prophecy.”
“Prophecy?” Marvor asks, picking up on the word.
The rogue looks abashed, angry at herself for spilling the secret. Vargard relieves her of this though, when he takes the chance to relate the knowledge to the Cletus, and indirectly, the rest of the group. For good measure, he briefly explains how they had gotten to the temple as well.
“So, to summarize,” Il’yena says, after some silence, “We’re stuck in what may be one of the hells that people go to when they die, some of us here aren’t actually dead but will be soon, and our only option of escape is covered by things that did that to the first sentient thing they saw,” she continues, while pointing to the bedsheet. The reference to it was discomforting, as most had been trying to avoid glancing to that corner of the room. Lesani had briefly considered taking a look herself, but had soon killed the thought. “And now there’s some prophecy, which is vague as hell by the way, probably doesn’t have anything to do with us.”
“And my bard is still missing,” Vargard adds at the end.

“So… we’re screwed,” Jorduna says.
“Perhaps not,” Marvor cuts in, who had dismissed his humanoid form whilst he concentrated. “The prophecy essentially foretells a new linkage between Siberys and somewhere else, hopefully Eberron. The line cautioning against good intent is troubling, though at this moment we really have no choice. I must think, and by the looks of it, you must rest,” Marvor observes, noticing that those living assembled were starting to wear their fatigue, “One of my rooms is taken up by Carver, though any of the others would do. How long can your supplies last?”
“A week? Maybe two?” Vargard says, making some mental calculations. His thoughts again turn to Marwyn. The bard hadn’t been carrying much food at all, he might not even last a few days. If he hadn’t been killed already. He wished he could take everyone here and storm the portal, try and find any trace of him. But this was uncharted territory, containing opponents they knew nothing about. All he could do was hope, and it was driving him mad.

Lesani and Jorduna had already entered one of the rooms, uneasily setting down for rest. Vargard, however, had remained outside, and talked quietly with Cletus. It was the first chance he had alone with his former compatriot.
“Damn,” Vargard says simply.
“Damn,” Cletus nods, returning the sentiment.
“Why’d you do it? Jor made the call,” Vargard asks suddenly, looking straight into the dwarf’s face.
“Dunno,” Cletus shrugs, doing his best to hide any tells, “’m older. Thought I should be the on ta’ go.”
“Cletus,” Vargard sighs, and stops himself from reprimanding the Dwarf when he detected the lie. He thinks for a moment, trying to figure out how to proceed. “I’m not even sure who’s in charge any more. We lost our client, and now we’re lost in damned Marab.”
“Mabar,” Cletus grunts, and says, “Far’s I’m concerned, you’re the boss. Dunno how the hell we’re gettin’ outta this one though.”
“Les and Jor are taking it well, at least,” Vargard says, “Damn Cletus, I really never thought I’d see you again.”
“’s fate, I guess. Prophecy ‘n all that,” the dwarf responds, trying to feign optimism, “Death canna even take us down. ‘ll look good on a flier.”
“Heh,” Vargard chuckles, “We get out of here and we might just have to start putting up some.” He lowers his voice even further, and asks, “That flame thing. You trust it?”
“Don’ see any reason not to,” Cletus responds, “Even if t’s a damn wizard.”
“Well, if it really can punch a hole through planes, we may have a chance,” Vargard says. “We let Lesani loose in the library, maybe we can really make something happen.”
“Probably tha only one of us who’ll enjoy it,” Cletus agrees.

Vargard stares back at the open passageway to Marvor’s chamber, and to the darkness beyond it. “Ever try seeing what’s out there?”
“Both sides,” Cletus nods, “Darkness. Just darkness.”
“Damn,” Vargard curses. With little else to say, he retreats from the conversation to get some rest.

The Next Day?
Unable to do much else, the 4 members of The Split Falchion assisted the Cyrians in pillaging Marvor’s library. A brief conversation between the mage and Lesani revealed that it wasn’t actually his library, per se, but rather the royal Cyrian library that his chambers were adjacent to. After a brief moment of celebration that the knowledge trove survived the Mourning, somewhat, she got to work. There were two problems, however.
First was that Marvor had no idea how the library was organized, and the second was the constant distraction of their impending doom. The Cyrians had somehow survived life (or rather, death?) in Mabar for two years without an incursion from any of the other denizens. Yet even if demons didn’t kill the three, hunger would. Death on Eberron was already somewhat of a mystery, no one wanted to find out what would happen if you died in Mabar.
Vargard, completely out of his depth, decided to check on the only other Cyrian he hadn’t encountered yet. He nearly got a sword to the gut as Carver lunged out of the door at the first opportunity. The man was almost gibbering, swearing all kinds of death threats and blood vendettas. A quick shield bash knocked him back into his prison, and the warrior readjusted the piled up furniture that was serving as the lock. The man inside started throwing his entire weight against the door, to little avail.

“Didn’t think he’d be this far gone,” Dorian observes, from behind Vargard, “Probably should’ve let me do that.”
“Was he always like that?” Vargard asks, grateful that there was at least one other person here who he could talk to. The rest of his team was helping with the research, a topic he wasn’t too helpful with. Marvor was an option, but he still didn’t trust the flaming wizard. The breach in his wall was also disquieting, to say nothing of the broken man lying beneath the bedsheet.
The half-orc, however, seemed simple. Maybe he was palace guard, or simply just a soldier caught in whatever spell hurled Marvor and company to Siberys. Whatever the case, it was someone he felt a strange kinship towards.
“Carver? Man was close to retirement,” Dorian sighs, “Then it all went to hell. At least he had the thought of the rest of the kingdom going strong without us, until that dwarf showed up. Not sayin’ it was his fault,” the half-orc reassures hurriedly, not wanting to offend, “Just that the news he gave us broke the last thing holding Carver together.”
“What’ll you do with him?” Vargard asks, flinching slightly as the slamming noises coming from the door started to take on a different noise. Carver must be tearing himself up trying to get out.
“No idea,” Dorian shrugs, “Long as that door holds, keep him there I guess. If it gets too out of hand… we might have to just let him go.”
“Where? Out there?” Vargard asks, glancing again towards the darkness, “Any of you ever try going out there?”
“Never,” Dorian shakes his head firmly, “Don’t have a lot of rope, and we weren’t sure if gravity would hold up too far out. Might’ve tried eventually if you hadn’t showed up.” The Cyrian pauses for a moment, not sure if he should ask the question. He gets over the feeling though, and continues, “What’ll you do when you run out of food? Assuming we don’t have an answer by then?”
“Honestly,” Vargard sighs, “I don’t know. I’m sure as hell not going to starve to death. Maybe I’ll go through that portal, try and get a good death out of it. You… haven’t heard any half-elves through it, have you?”
“No,” the half-orc replies heavily, “Just some snarling, not from anything I’d want to fight. Let you know if I do though.”

Vargard looks around, sensing the conversation coming to an end. There wasn’t much else to do at this point, it wasn’t like he could help in the library. He wasn’t even needed when they were deciphering the prophecy wall, despite being in charge of at least half of the people chosen to relay it. Instead of forcing himself to ignore the hunger pangs rationing was inflicting on him, Vargard thought it’d be better to try and hone what skills he did have. So, he challenged Dorian to a sparring match. The warrior needed work on his dual wielding anyways. The half-orc heartily agreed, having not had a true sparring partner for quite a while.

The half-orc was skilled, no doubt. It was also somewhat jarring to face an opponent who had no concern for their own safety, as the dead half-orc surely didn’t. Vargard could tell Dorian was trying to keep proper form, but the half-orc’s stance was far more aggressive than normal. Both ended up collecting a few wounds, Dorian more so, and they were midway into the match when there was a scream from Marvor’s chambers. It wasn’t the wizard, however, and it certainly human.
By the time they had gotten to the chamber, it was already over. Tendrils of fire were suspending what had been Yordrik, incinerating the thing. Vargard was taken aback when he recognized it, it was one of the humanoid figures that had led the dark beasts. Going from what Cletus had said, it was also the same type of demon which had tortured Yordrik.
The flame had almost consumed it when the rest arrived, and with its last gasp it uttered words which chilled all assembled. “Hidden from us no longer. The light fade as shadow grow stronger. We come for the bright and the light and the life. We come for you now, hidden from us no longer…” it finishes, with a wicked grin on its face.

“What… what happened?” Il’yena asks, distraught.
“Apparently, ugh, they turned Yordrik,” Marvor says, pain now evident in his voice. His normal humanoid figure wasn’t present. It appeared the wizard was pouring everything into his speech, “The conversion was… hidden… under the sheet… Didn’t notice until… too late…”
“Marvor, are you ok?” Dorian asks.
“No,” the wizard replies, “Whatever that thing was… hurt me. I wasn’t sure I could even kill it, it took all my strength. Apparently, we were hidden in a far corner of their realm. But they know where we are now.”
“What do we do?” Lesani asks, looking between Vargard and Marvor for answers.
“My life force is draining,” Marvor says, “It was tied to this flame ever since we set foot here. And that beast seemed to drain it like nothing…” There was a pause, and then, after gathering more strength, Marvor continues, “Go, fortify the library. Collapse both hallways if you can. The breach here makes this room less defendable, and in this state it appears they will finish me quite easily. Warlock, you seem skilled enough to activate the portal. If all else fails, you may try to escape through the junction.”
“You’ll be defenseless,” Vargard points out, “If one almost killed you…”
“My life is forfeit. Or my soul, I should say,” Marvor corrects himself, “My experiment may have saved some from the Mourning, yet what is happening to you now is still my fault. There is nothing you can do for me, besides try your hardest to survive.”
“What about Carver?” Vaertrouse asks.
“He’s too far gone,” Dorian answers, “May be helpful to release him on whatever tries to approach the library, but not much else.”
“Hell no,” Vaertrouse answers sharply, “I’m not throwing him to the wolves because life dealt him a bad hand.”
“Fine, we’ll get to library then. But we’re not taking him with us. Marvor, anything els?e”
“No, but you should hurry. I have no idea when they shall arrive,” Marvor says. Remembering the beast that had been Yordrik, they all leave without further word.

The bookshelves within the library were fortunately of good quality, sturdy. Most of the books themselves were thrown about and trampled amidst the struggle, unfortunately, but that was no of concern right now. The hastily-decided upon plan was to barricade the two entrances, and use any remaining supplies to build cover. The room wasn’t big enough to establish fall back positions, though they were fortunate that the ritual circle had been established in the center of the room.
“Honestly, it won’t matter at all if they just break through the ceiling,” Vaertrouse observes mournfully, “Or the floor. Or the sides. Or just teleport in.”
“That’s not helping Vaertrouse,” Il’yena chides him, “If you want to go through the portal now, go ahead. Secure that side for us if you want.”
“I…” the cleric falters, and resumes helping the rest. They soon finish, leaving Dorian and Vargard as the front line on either side, while the rest stood in the center. They had no idea what they’d be facing, or if they could even kill it. All they knew, was that it was coming for them, and that the best fate they could receive from their enemy was a quick death.

Then, there was only silence, save for a few coughs from all the dust thrown up by the moved shelves. Carter was also relentlessly banging away at his door, though this sound was muffled.
“Les, how quickly can you activate the portal?” Vargard asks.
“Marvor’s spell is in a state of stasis,” the elf answers, "It took an immense amount of power to cast.”
“He’d been working on it ever since he found the soft spot,” Il’yena replies, “Will it… go out if he does?”
“No,” Lesani answers, “It’s a form of enchantment. It’ll stay until the spell ends, which won’t be for a while.”
“Anyone hear that?” Dorian asks suddenly.
“What?” Jorduna replies, she too had been keeping her senses alert.
“Pounding’s stopped,” Dorian says, “Think Carver finally got out.”
“Poor bastard,” Vaertrouse sighs, “We should try to…”
“I’m not taking down this barricade,” Dorian retorts, “If he wants to get in here, he’ll have to damn well force his way like the rest of the demons coming for us.” As confident as his words were, the half-orc would find that he would soon come to regret them.

The barricade which led straight to the darkness jolted suddenly, and Vargard, who was closest to it, readied his weapon. He still held a shield in his off-hand, not quite comfortable with his newer techniques to employ them against the oncoming horrors.
“Shit!” Vaetrouse yells, startled by the noise. “Are we sure they can’t open the portal?”
“The breach can only be opened from this end,” Lesani reports back, “Which I will only do in case of emergency.”

It was quickly appearing as if such a fallback plan would be needed. Whatever was throwing its weight against the barricade wasn’t quite strong enough to push it down, yet. There was no reason to believe the horrors wouldn’t increase in numbers as time grew on, and it was becoming increasing clear that little, if any hope for survival remained.
Overwhelmed by the scenario, Vaertrouse collapses in prayer as everyone else rotates to cover the besieged entrance. Dorian, Vargard, and Cletus were attempting to support the barricade with their strength, while the rest readied an attack against anything that managed to break through.
“Why aren’t they coming from the other side?” Jorduna wonders aloud.
“Marvor,” Il’yena guesses, “Buying us whatever time he can.”
“Think that cleric’ll actually do something?” the hobgoblin asks her, in a low enough voice as to not carry to where Vaertrouse was praying.
“His powers have been extremely limited since our arrival here,” Il’yena answers despondently, “He hasn’t sensed the divine at all. I…I’m afraid he may be losing it, like Carter.”
“Just what we needed,” Jorduna sighs, and then redoubles her focus on the barricade.
“We should just… leave him,” Il’yena says, “He wouldn’t be of much help anyways, without his spells. I’ll worry about him if we have to pull back.”

“Hits are getting harder!” Dorian shouts to the rest, drawing the attention of everyone, “Don’t know how long we can hold.”
“Les, I want you to open the portal as soon as they overwhelm us,” Vargard orders, “We’ll try to make it, but don’t let more of them through than you can handle.”
“I am not just going to abandon you to…” Lesani starts.
“That’s an order!” Vargard yells back, grunting from the force of an especially heavy assault on the barricade. The warlock takes this in stride, defaulting to her loyalty to the mercenary captain. She’d do anything he told to her to, even if it meant stranding him in hell.

Eventually, Vargard and Dorian exchange looks, and then report that they won’t be able to hold the barricade for much longer. Dorian volunteered to hold last, while Cletus and Vargard got into a stronger position. Finally, the half-orc bolted from the near-shattered wooden bulwark, taking a position beside the two others prepared for melee.
The bookshelves splintered finally, as a massive shadowy figure steps out. Most of its form appeared fluid, the dark shape writhing with a black miasma. The face however, was stable, and holding a sickening grin. Smaller shades slipped through the rift in the barricade, advancing slowly towards clustered defenders. They showed no signs of fatigue after breaking through, only a fiendish determination to assault those who had trespassed in their realm.
They were all carrying cruel blades, though fortunately only that carried by the largest seemed to have any magical enchantment. Ten in total poured through, then at last the wave of darkness ceased. What was attacking them seemed to be merely a scouting force, and they had already breached through the first line of defenses.
Torches which lined the library began flickering, suppressed by the mere presence of the shades. The leader seemed to drink in the fear that its opponents were helpless to stop. It was especially pleased with the state of the only apparent divine threat, Vaertrouse, whose prayers were now almost incoherent. With an inhuman laugh, it ordered the other shades forward with its sword.

The nine lower shades rush forward. Instead of attempting to dodge any hindering obstructions, their forms simply changed to accommodate them. This tactic was less adept at dodging aimed projectiles, however.
Cletus let loose a small volley before the shades could get a chance to close, while Jorduna went to work with her knives. Lesani and Il’yena, for their part, loosed several spells. Their targeting was wild and disorganized, however, and nearly all shots missed. The few that did hit were scattered amongst the group, and appeared to have little to no effect.
“Focus fire!” Vargard yells, and his authoritative tone in spite of all that was happening did bolster the groups resolve somewhat. The three at the front positioned themselves to receive the shades, Cletus hurriedly pulling out his short swords.

The shade’s primary form of attack seemed to be the swords they carried in their hands, thankfully. There were too many of them to immediately attack the front line, though the blades that did act furiously cleaved at the defenders. Vargard, spearheading the formation, took the brunt of the assault. A shallow cut on his arm was the only real damage, thankfully, as his absorbed most of the abuse. The shades attacks were savage, but not skilled.
The defender’s push back was even less effective. Vargard himself was occupied with keeping his shield up, while Dorian and Cletus were struggling to hit the shifting demons. Their leader remained at the barricade, however, enjoying what appeared to be an entirely one-sided fight. Its focus was so drawn to the melee, that it completely missed what happened in the back line.
Vargard himself was just as surprised when twin knives carved horrible gashes into the form of the shade directly opposite of him. They vanished just as quickly as they appeared, and while the shade survived, it was clear that the knives had injured it.
“Jor, what the hell?” Vargard asks to the open air, not seeing the rogue anywhere. Both confusion and relief were clearing evident in his voice.
“One of my projects,” Lesani answers for the rogue, “Improved invisibility! Cannot cast again, make it count!”
The new development had surprised the larger shade as well, who had arrogantly assumed the group before it wasn’t capable of such tricks. With a snarl, it moves to engage, but not before the hobgoblin finishes the shade she had attacked previously. With another dual stroke of her daggers, the rogue causes the dark figure to completely dissociate. It simply melts into the ground, and as a result the surrounding torches grow a little brighter. Jorduna keeps her silence, however, trying to keep the other shades guessing.

Vargard, however, had no such limitations. “They can be killed!” he shouts, which further bolsters the defender’s morale. Before, they had no idea if the enemy they faced were mortal. Now, it was clear. They had a chance.

As the leader moved to engage in melee, the other shades continued their assault. They now had a murderous, invisible hobgoblin to worry about, but it didn’t appear as though they contained any morale to break. Most of their blows were still directed at the warriors up front, but every so often one would throw out a strike where they believed Jorduna was. This split in their attention took away some of the pressure on the front, and with fervent spell support from Lesani and Il’yean, the fight was evening.
Two problems faced the defenders. The first was that the leader had finally joined the melee, battering through Vargard’s defenses and giving him a nasty cut than ran half the way across his torso. The wound bled fervently, more so than a normal flesh wound should have. It was only the quick use of a healing potion that stopped the bleeding before anything serious had happened, that blade was lethal.
This brought up the second problem: no one present was capable of mending wounds. Vaertrouse was the closest thing they had, and by now he was practically in a coma. Realizing this, Dorian pushes Vargard aside and takes the punishment from the greater shade himself. The half-orc earns a terrible rend to his left shoulder for his troubles, a blow that would have killed an ordinary man. Yet the fighter stood his ground, now at the head of the formation.

“I can take it!” Dorian shouts, voice altered slightly as the blade had cut throw one of his lungs. Vargard nods to the half-orc in thanks as he blocks two simultaneous sword thrusts from the other shades.
They had taken down three more shades when the invisibility spell ended, and Jorduna became visible once more. Her return to the visual also heralded a return to the audible, as she let out a curse. Without the assistance of invisibility it was harder for her to deal the devastating strikes which had almost singlehandedly turned the fight.
She took several cuts whilst retreating back to cover, though fortunately none were from the lead shade. Everyone was accumulating small injuries, even the back line as they were all forced inexorably backwards by the sheer brutality of the attackers. Had the shades any ranged support of their own, the battle would be near impossible, and now that Jorduna was stuck at range again, the tide of battle was once again against them.
Eventually, Dorian fell. The half-orc still tried everything in his power to fight, but his frame had sustained so much that it was simply impossible for him to move. It had taken the combined focus of every remaining shade, the leader and now two others, but the defender’s front was now breaking.
To make matters even direr, sounds of an assault from behind were beginning to be heard. The other barricade, supported by no one, lasted even shorter than the first had. The first enemy to spill through, however, wasn’t a shade. At least, not yet.
It was Carver, and he was mostly uninjured. Mentally, though, the man appeared all but gone. There was little besides murderous intent behind his eyes. The space behind him was completely dark, and probably filled with shades. Marvor, it seems, had also fallen.

“Shit!” Jorduna yells, and tosses a quick knife at Carver. He doesn’t even try to dodge it, however, even as it sails cleaning into his left eye. Vaertrouse was still mumbling to himself in the center, and, more importantly, Lesani and Il’yena were now exposed. The hobgoblin sighs when she realizes she was the closest thing to a buffer between them and the shades, at least until the other side got under control. It was with a growing sense of dread that she withdrew two of her longer knives and braced herself.

Vargard, meanwhile, had abandoned his shield and was now hacking away at the giant shade with both swords in hand, incensed at the incapacitation of Dorian. Cletus knew better than to try and correct his actions now, and instead focused on the remaining two lesser shades. They could do so easily, if not for the encroaching shades from the other side, led by Carver. There were easily twice as many as had breached through the other side, and many more of their number were of the larger variety.
And even as Vargard’s immediate opponent fell to a lucky strike, more shades began to pour in from the doorway he faced. The torches which lined the walls were nearly extinguished, and it was already hard to tell the darkness from the shades. “We need to go, now!” he cries, backpedaling towards the portal.
“No time!” Lesani yells, “There is too many!”
“I’ll hold them off, just go!” Vargard shouts back, resolving to buy as much time for his remaining allies as possible. It was fruitless, though. He couldn’t see. With a fizzle, the last torch dies, and total darkness falls.

Vargard swings out wildly, trying to take as many down before they did. But he didn’t seem to hit anything. Either the shades were taking their time, or, he didn’t know. He couldn’t see, and he couldn’t hear anything. Except that damned cleric’s praying it was still… audible. It was growing louder, in fact, though not because Vaertrouse was crying out in pain. In fact, the voice sounded confident. There was no other way to put it. “What the…” Vargard tries to say, before all heaven breaks loose.

Pure light started radiating from where Vaertrouse had been kneeling. The cleric was there no longer, however. Instead, was a radiant knight, adorned with armor that shined so bright it almost hurt to look at. The shades which had been ready to end those gathered now cowered at the edge of the light cast. All except Carver, who madly rushed the figure, and was smote out of existence for his trouble.
“I am a champion of Dol Arrah,” the figure proclaims, voice strangely echoing throughout the library, “Your cleric’s prayers have been heard, and his sacrifice has secured your escape. Go, now,” it cries, activating the portal with a wave of its hand, “My light will not hold them for long. Go! And remember.”
“Come on!” Il’yena says, closest to the portal. She had tried to look for Vaertrouse, but the cleric seemed to have disappeared. Realizing the full weight of the knight’s words, a sadness touches her heart as she realizes she was the last Cyrian standing. That was quickly forgotten as the escape portal opened. She wasn’t sure what was on the other side, but it had to be better than here. The four of The Split Falchion quickly followed.
Vargard was last out. In the final moments before the portal closed, the knight stared directly at him and shouted, “Go! And Remember!” Just before the portal closed, the warrior could see some of the shades begin to assault the knight, despite its holy aura.

Outer Heaven
Vargard turns around to find himself in both the last and the first place he’d expect. It was a forest, but not that twilight realm filled to the brim with shadow monsters. Instead, he was in a brightly lit clearing, surrounding by gleaming trees. They shone so brightly, in fact, that it was impossible they were real. Entranced, he inspects one to find it made entirely of hard crystal. He turns to remark on this to find Jorduna trying to saw off a branch with one of her knives. Nothing shakes her, he thinks to himself.
He gathers the rest of the party together. All were relieved to find themselves in a remarkably better situation, though none were entirely sure how or why they were there.
“Vaertrouse… he finally got through,” Il’yena says breathlessly, taking in the landscape. It truly was inspiring. The sky was alive with colors, all of which radiated down into forests of crystal and mountains of gemstones, spreading the radiant patterns across the landscape. Rivers dotted the landscape as well, though what flowed appeared to be small shards of glass rather than water. Admittedly, this feature was also ridiculously lethal, and Vargard made a mental note to avoid any sounds of running water.
“Boss,” Jorduna says, joining back up with the group after finally freeing the crystal branch, “We go to work on this place for a few days, and we’ll never have to take a job again!”
“We should focus on getting out of her Jor,” Vargard reminds the excited hobgoblin, “We still don’t have enough food to last a we… I gotcha!” Vargard cries, catching a suddenly faint Il’yena. Jorduna and Lesani were also holding Cletus up, who had also collapsed.

Jorduna fumbles at the neck of Cletus’ jerkin out of instinct, and replies, “Var, his pulse is weak!” She wonders why the warrior looks at her as if she’s crazy, before she herself realizes the weight of her words.
“Healing potions, now!” Vargard bellows, pouring one of his own into Il’yena. Both coughed after it was administered, and they weakly came back into consciousness.
“Ugh… so, sore,” Il’yena complains, “And… hungry…”
“Var, I think they have regained vitality somehow,” Lesani reports, “I, I cannot believe it.”
“That champion guy probably did it,” Jorduna suggests noncommittedly, verbally shrugging, “Or something. Does it matter?”
“Not right now it doesn’t,” Vargard exclaims, as he drops his pack to withdraw rations. Unfortunately, the brief view of the landscape didn’t reveal any kind of wildlife, and Vargard wasn’t sure he would want to eat anything that drank out of a glass stream. The good news was that his friend was alive again. The bad news was that there were now two more mouths to feed and no way to replenish supplies.

Cletus and Il’yena were laid out on the grass while they recovered. The grass too was made of crystal, but fortunately it was of a softer variety. Walking on shattered grass would probably be a bad idea, but intact sections were safe to lay on. The rest tried to make sense of the situation.
“Dol Arrah,” Lesani says pensively, without prompt.
“Hm?” Vargard grunts.
“That was the deity named by the champion,” Lesani explains, “Patron of light, as well as a few other aspects. A fitting choice by Vaertrouse. I admit I underestimated him.”
“Shit, if all clerics can do that I’m never robbing a church again,” Jorduna banters, “Not that I’ve done that recently, Var.”
“The act seemed to have completely consumed him. Certainly not a feat performed twice,” Lesani observes, “It appears we owe that cleric our lives. If we manage to return to Eberron, it would be fitting to alert the church of his deeds.”
“Getting out of here is our first priority, but I’ll be the first one through the chapel doors once we do,” Vargard reminds everyone, “And another thing, we still need to find Marwyn.”
“Var…” Jorduna begins hesitantly, “Are we, I mean, are we sure he’s still alive?”
“We act as if he is unless proven otherwise,” Vargard says decisively, “Though honestly, I’m not sure what we should do about it. This situation is still pretty desperate, despite the change in scenery.”
“So what do we do besides consider worshiping this Dol Arrah guy?” the rogue asks, with a good helping of sarcasm towards the end.
“Get high,” Vargard answers.

Several Hours Later
Cletus and Il’yena had recovered fairly quickly after a second application of healing potions. The party was running low on them, but Vargard didn’t want to risk the delay. Once they fully regained their wits, both were extremely surprised to be alive again, and commiserated with the rest of the group as to their still-precarious situation.
Not seeing anything helpful from their vantage point, Vargard decided to try and scale one of the nearby mountains to get a better view. It was more of a hill really, and they were shortly above most of the crystalline trees. While Jorduna tried to pry a ruby the size of an egg from the ground, the rest looked for any sign of life.

“It is very beautiful,” Lesani remarks, “But just as deadly as before if we cannot find any food.”
“What’s the point of this place if there’s no one around to enjoy it?” Il’yena asks, “Why did the paladin send us here just to starve?”
“Good point,” Vargard replies, “Gotta be something here. I get the feeling it was a one way trip for the champion as well. Les, anything in the prophecy you think could be related?”
“’Once pure hands’ may have referred to those shades,” Lesani ponders, “I guess that makes us the Broken after all. Which means… mournful reflection is our salvation?”
“It’s out of order though,” Jorduna points out, having about half-freed the ruby. The tip of one of her knives had been destroyed so far, but it was worth ruining half of them if she could just get the gem, “Wasn’t the sea supposed to split or something?”
“She is right,” Lesani agrees, “As with all Draconic prophecy, nothing is certain. Though ‘dying of the light’ definitely sounds like an event that has occurred. Perhaps the ‘good intention’ was obscuring Yordrik under the sheet, preventing you from discovering his metamorphosis until too late. Or that he was rescued at all.”
“Marvor…” Il’yena sighs, “He was really the only one who kept us going. We really believed he would get us out of there.”
“He got you out,” Vargard comforts her, “And now it’s up to us to make sure his sacrifice was worth it.”

“Got it!” Jorduna exclaims, holding the ruby up with glee. “Damn Var, think this’ll get us at least what Perin promised us.”
“That’s great Jor, but I…” Vargard begins to say, but stops in his tracks when he feels a vibration on his belt. All except Il’yena feel it too. Their sending stones were lighting up with activity.
“Var!” a voice comes through, “Var, anyone, can you hear me?”
“Marwyn!?” they all exclaim, certainly not expecting to hear the bard calling them.
“Marwyn, where the hell are you?” Vargard asks, taking over.
“I dunno, some kind of crystal forest? He says you should be here too,” the bard replies.
“Where exactly?” Vargard questions.
“Hold on,” Marwyn says, and the connection ends.

Moments later, a brilliant burst of blue explodes west of their position. Assuming that north was where they had been facing, of course.
“Got it, on our way,” Vargard says, “Are you alright?”
“Yeah, kinda,” Marwyn replies reluctantly.
“What’s wrong?”
“It, it’s best if I just show you,” Marwyn returns.

It was a quick walk to where the flare had gone off. Vargard wasn’t exactly sure how the bard had pulled it off, but he really wasn’t questioning anything today. Even if there was a chance that the voice on the line was faked, and they were heading into a trap, he still had to try.
His fears were proven false, however, when he saw Marwyn nervously leaning against one of the crystal trees. The bard ran to Vargard the moment he saw him with a relieved laugh.
“Marwyn, where the hell have you been?” Vargard asks, after Marwyn had greeted the rest of the party. He was a little unsure about Il’yena, but trusted that the rest wouldn’t have traveled freely with her if she was a danger. He was absolutely ecstatic that they had found Cletus somehow, but Vargard had gotten in the first question.
“What is on your bow?” Lesani questions, overriding Vargard as she reaches out for Marwyn’s bow.
“Don’t touch it!” Marwyn exclaims, leaping back to prevent this. He brings his tone back down and tries to calmly explain, “It’s… a long story, but, you really shouldn’t touch it.” He carefully removes the bow from his back and brings it into view. To Vargard’s eye it was the same as it always had been, until he saw the dragonshard hanging off one of the sides. It glowed fiercely with power, evident even to his untrained eye.
“Marwyn, what in Khyber have you done?” Lesani asks, looking at the stone with a mix of fear and uncertainty.
“He’s not dangerous, at least, well, he kinda is,” Marwyn fumbles, “Look, just let me start from the beginning.”
“Marwyn, what happened?” Vargard explained, unnerved by Lesani’s reaction to the stone. It certainly looked powerful to him, but he didn’t see any immediate cause for alarm.
“Var, I think… I think I’m Winter’s Bow,” Marwyn answers.

Continued in Part 32, Winter Unleashed – A Song of Ice


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