|Blood of Wintersbreath|
|The Unwoven Tapestry|
Just a day after accepting the title of Duchess, Sloan received word that the druid enclave of Crystalhurst had completed their analysis of the ley line damage at Norvathskul. At the same time word arrived from Lastwall that Durgan's superior, Captain Dalton Malferre had marched south from Vigil with several hundred soldiers after Hangwall Keep fell to an orc attack. Sloan, frustrated that she wasn't able to investigate the fort in time at Durgan's request, quickly gathered up her team and prepared to travel north to Crystalhurst.
On the outskirts of Crystalhurst, the refugee camp from a month prior had been replaced by a sea of temporary barracks, horses, supply wagons, and camps. The knights from Lastwall made their presence known, occupying the territory surrounding Crystalhurst as a base camp. Before she was able to meet with the druids, Sloan was approached by a runner from Dalton Malferre and invited to an audience with the Captain. The meeting was a tense affair, with Dalton beating the drums of war and insisting that Lastwall be at the front of any investigation into the orcs. Dalton pressed Sloan and her team for any information pertaining to the orcs and informed Sloan that scouts were already out in the wild looking for trails to follow. Dalton also revealed that Hangwall Keep was destroyed by the annihilation of a ley line crossroad, shunting half of the fortress into solid rock and warping presence of magic in the area. After the meeting, Durgan commented on how the loss of Hangwall Keep weighed heavily on the Captain and that he seemed more agitated than usual.
Sloan and Iandra alone met with the druids circle. The circle indicated that the destruction of the ley line crossroads appears to be an attempt to forcibly re-route the path of ley lines across Nirmathas, but that doing so is wreaking havoc with natural forces. Animal migrations are changing, weather is being impacted, and sporadic primal magic zones are cropping up around areas where crossroads were destroyed.
With three ley line crossroads already destroyed, the druids of Crystalhurst had no idea what the current ley line configuration of Nirmathas would look like, but they had come up with a means to correct this. Sloan was told of an ancient astarium tower constructed by the fallen empire of Thassilon nearly ten-thousand years ago. The druids believed an orrery in this astarium was capable of charting the placement of planes, planets, and even ley lines. However, the tower lies in what is now the blighted heart of the Fangwood, the source of the fungal parasites Sloan and her group encountered weeks prior.
The druids, with their resources stretched thin, pleaded with Sloan to investigate the astarium and return her findings to them in the hopes of getting ahead of the orcs before another crossroads is destroyed. Sloan agreed to investigate, but returned to Fangwood Keep to plan accordingly before braving the dangers of the Blightwood.
With the approximate location of the Thassilonian astarium provided by the Crystalhurst Circle, Sloan and her allies set off into the Fangwood in search of that ancient ruin. The first leg of the journey to the Blightwood was a peaceful one, though all the while the party was reminded of the encroaching winter cold, worse than any other year in memory.
On the outskirts of the Blightwood, Sloan's group encountered the "burn line", a demarcation of the Blightwood's edge marked by several hundred feet of burned forest, observed and tended to by agents of the Crystalhurst Circle. Beyond the burn line the Fangwood was overgrown with moss and mold, trees bristling with exotic fungus and strange mold-like polyps. Not far in, the group was set upon by human corpses riddled with fungal infestations, much like the dogs encountered a month prior. The corpses came from a failed Pathfinder Society expedition that was attempting to research the source of the darkblight. The journey into the Blightwood proved to be as harrowing, with repeated encounters with diseased or otherwise infested creatures native to the Fangwood, twisted by the darkblight's influence.
The journey to the Astarium took two days by foot, forcing Sloan and her entourage to camp within the tumbledown ruin of an ancient elven settlement after clearing it of blighted inhabitants. That night, Sloan dreamt of the stag and the tangle of ley lines she had seen so many times before, and how the trees surrounding it were encased in layers of dark ice.
Beyond the elven ruins, the Blightwood grew sparse and a clearing became visible where a mile wide portion of the forest floor collapsed into a deep bowl valley sinkhole. As Sloan's group descended into the lowland clearing they could see the Thassilonian astarium rising up out of the lowest point of the bowl-shaped depression. While the tower stood over 300 feet tall, its location in the depression meant it only extended fifty feet above the average ground level. At the peak of the tower, two narrow spires of metal and stone rose up another twenty feet. The entire black stone structure loomed ominously over the rough, vegetation-clear land.
Halfway to the tower, a terrible crashing sound echoed from the Fangwood as a massive dire boar riddled with parasitic fungus exploded from the treeline. The boar trampled down the hill and collided with Mechiam, sending the soldier flying into a deadfallen tree. The infested boar proved to be the most challenging and terrible creature Sloan and her allies had ever encountered. But in spite of these seemingly insurmountable odds, they managed to slay the corrupted creature and tend to the injuries sustained in the battle before moving on.
The tower's enormous doors were unlocked, allowing entrance to the crumbling interior. Though overgrown with vegetation and laden with dust, much of the tower's interior withstood the ten thousand years since the fall of Thassilon. A statue identified as the Runelord Belimarius of Xin-Edasseril stood proudly at the center of the tower's ground floor, guarding a locked treasury. With some combined muscle, Sloan, Durgan, Mechiam, and Ashera were able to force the treasury doors open and unearthed a collection of magical and mundane treasures from the age of Thassilon. After most of the treasure was secured, the group made an attempt to ascend the stairs, but were briefly detained by carnivorous plants known as assassin vines that tried to snatch them from the stairs. The vines were quickly dispatched, allowing the group to make the ascent up three hundred feet of winding stairs to the astarium roof.
On the roof of the astarium laid an ancient Thassilonian orrery, designed to chart the movements of the planes, planets, stars, and ley lines. Skeletal corpses surrounding the astarium belonged to a team of Pathfinders — the remainder of the group found earlier in the forest — who were attempting to study the astarium. An accident with the device killed the Pathfinders and damaged the machine, causing it to wildly channel random planar energy. As Sloan moved to try and examine the device, the tormented spirits of the Pathfinders arose as a pair of poltergeists and a gearghost.
Though the battle was difficult and depleted most of their resources, Sloan's group was able to dispatch the spirits and repair the damage to the astarium, putting their tormented ghosts to rest permanently. On studying the Pathfinders' notes, Iandra discovered where they made incorrect adjustments to the orrery and helped Sloan calibrate the device to map the new position of the ley lines. With an explosion of lights and runes, the astarium displayed coordinates and mathematical equations in the air. While detailed and precise, the calculations were in a ten-thousand year old dead language and would require both geographical expertise and translation before the information therein could be of use. Sloan deactivated the orrery on leaving, but chose not to destroy it when given the opportunity.
With these discoveries made, Sloan and her allies agreed to return to Fangwood Keep until such a time as they had the necessary information translated to present to the Crystalhurst Circle.
|Continued In||Aftermath II|