“You fools don’t think your attendance upon me was unexpected?” the humanoid Atholian sneered.
The heroes had infiltrated deep into the heart of the Iron Keep, up to a huge interior chamber which seemed to act as a focal point for the blasphemous energies siphoned into the Shadow Tower. The circular room was lined with five equally spaced recesses in each of which rest towering spiral staircases topped with a glowing energy sphere. Blue runes traced from each staircase to the center of the room to converge in a ritual circle bearings some passing similarities to the one Amcathra had in his library, but this one was defined by hellish inscriptions and terrible incantations celebrating the name of Athola. In the center of the ritual circle confidently stood the humanoid draped in the vestments of an Athola cleric, wielding a huge staff topped with a terrible, stylized head frozen in a silent scream.
“My agents told me about Amcathra’s meddling works and the servants he had summoned before you had even learned that the wizard had duped you into being his pawns. You were tracked as soon as you interfered with my first binding ritual. By all rights, the agents I sent to find out what you were up to should have finished you in the streets of Waterdeep, had they lost you to whatever cloaking charm was draped over your souls.” He said, the words ‘cloaking charm’ laced with sudden, angry contempt.
“But all that is over. You have quested so long to find your new master, to find the one whose destiny it is for you to serve. Celebrate that your quest is over. I am Athola.”
Snapping out like whips from each of the five glowing spheres in the room, ensnaring green energy leaped out to grab each adventurer and yank them through the air, depositing and holding each along the ritual lines of the pentagram ritual circle Athola stood in. Simultaneously, entering the room from the doored passage was none other than the hulking keep commander, Sulimac, two of his strongest lieutenants, and a handful of Atholian demonguards.
“You see I could easily kill you, but I have a better idea in mind. You will become my unerring acolytes, as I take not just the world, but Everything. Those fools Mephistopheles and the like shall see that they are not even a pale shadow of my grandeur!”
Green energy poured out of Athola’s eyes, streaming back around his face and head, causing a reciprocal lumination to burst from his staff and from the gemstone in the amulets that each attending demon wore around its neck. The doors to the chamber magically closed and locked with an echoing clang. A shimmering transparent green sphere formed around Ahtola and for a moment, the immobilized heroes felt as if their souls were being torn from their bodies and pulled into Athola’s infernal chamber, but flashing out of the obsidian orb which had held her leaped the ghostly form of Vyrellis. The Eladrin princess entered Athola’s ritual sphere and materialized as a semi-transparent specter inside of Athola’s circle, grappling with him and disrupting the ritual which would have consumed the adventurer’s souls.
Away fell the illusion Athola had been manifesting, revealing a hulking Devilish form of the creature. Athola roared in rage, but Vyrellis channeled the energy of the ritual sphere herself to counteract him, grappling with the bellowing devil inside the nigh invulnerable energy bubble.
“I will hold him as long as I can, but this is a fight neither you nor I can win!” Vyrellis spirit yelled. “You must shut down the five energy spheres to get out of the chamber, but hurry, I can only restrain him for a short while!”
Still restrained in the weakened and now escapable energy lines, Tin and Feral forced their way free of the green energy and split up, Feral shifting into the form of a hunched werewolf and teleporting half way up a column stairwell, Tin leaping at the chance to bloody a nearby Demonguard. In a shocking change of tactics, and showing either cunning brilliance or utter madness, Drengy teleported towards Athola intent on grappling with the towering devil. Lengara similarly teleported forward, seeking to get closer to the devilish foe. Both men found that the force field around Vyrellis and Athola was impregnable to anything but spectral souls, and changed their directive to head off towards separate columns. Klemnon struggled to escape the energy holding him, but remained stuck for moments as the demon soldiers began encircling his position and pummeling him with brutal attacks.
Running up the spiral stairs, Lengara could hear the clamoring roar and labored breathing of the demon guard right on his heels. The demon was still roaring in anticipation of an easy kill when, in a blink, Lengara’s form collapsed into green, oozing mucus covering the stairs. Already moving at full speed, the demon ran right into the mess, slipped, and sailed off of the stairs, falling forty feet to the unforgiving stone floor below. With a gurgle that sounded like a laugh, the ooze-form Lengara flowed up the stairs, headed for the energy sphere at the top.
Feral raced up the column he had chosen but also not without company, as the ominous Sulumac was flying after him, intent on pulling the shifter off of the tower with strikes from the demon’s mammoth flaming steel whip which took huge chunks of stone with it when it missed. Tin also moved up a column to begin manipulating the energies atop the same, pausing only slightly on the way up to brutally chop a demonguard into multiple pieces. Klemnon finally escaped the ritual’s snare only to be swarmed and locked down by enemies at the base of the column he was to disarm. And to make maters worse, even when a demon enemy was slain, its body was shattering into random piles of still animated gore which would lash out and injure any adventurer who stood near it.
Having reached his column top, Drengy as best he could held off a demonguard attacker while manipulating the sphere’s energies. He was first to shut down the tower and redirect a gigantic blast of energy from the powering down sphere into a demon attacking Klemnon. Lengara and Tin also solved their puzzles, and channeled the resulting blasts into Sulimac, the Iron Keep commander. Feral next shut down his energy sphere, using its energy to critically blast Sulimac head-on with its overwhelming energy. Leaping off of the column rather than taking the stairs, the always-lands-on-his feet Feral rushed over to help Tin free Klemnon from a duo of attacking demons.
With Tin, Feral, and Klemnon working their way up the last column and the flying Sulimac waiting for them to expose themselves to his ready assault, Lengara moved over closer to the center of the room.
“I hope you have a way to get out of there!” Lengara yelled to his cousin, Vyrellis. She was either too busy to respond, or chose not to offer the sad truth that her sacrificial assault on Athola was a one way trip.
While the battle was still raging in the Focus Chamber, Feral’s heightened sense of hearing noted the unmistakable sounds of a massive battle coming from outside the chamber. Though not sure who or why, the sounds of large scale warfare had erupted outside.
With a smirk that defied the almost suicidal risk, Tin rushed out from behind cover of the column while half way up the staircase and advanced on the flying Sulimac, who had readied a brutal attack but missed the impossibly nimble halfling hatchetman. In a spinning assault, Tin dazed the flying demon and knocked the beast out of the sky, causing it to tumble to the ground below. Lengara and Drengy began dropping ranged blasts onto the beast, and Feral dove off the tower to execute a flying critical hit on the prone demon, who immediately returned the favor with a critical hit on Feral that knocked the man-beast unconscious.
Solving the last tower’s energy sphere’s puzzle before Sulimac had a chance to demolish anyone else, Tin directed the final energy blast into the great demon commander, melting his head from his body.
Clearly struggling in a test of will and might she could forestall but not win, Vyrellis yelled, “I’ll open a passage to the surface and hold Athola here, but you must run, now!” A sudden shocking burst a brilliant energy rocketed from the forcefield around Vyrellis and Athola, melting through layers of iron walls and supports to create a direct passage up and out of the iron keep.
Klemnon and Drengy rushed into the passage up to an inner courtyard. Recalling something his friend Reggie had once told him about there always being time to grab loot before running away, Tin grabbed the huge sword that had been wielded by Sulumac and a handful of the strange necklaces worn by the Atholian demons before darting up the escape passage. Lengara and the awoken Feral remained at the edge of the bubble which contained Athola and Vyrellis, Feral handing to Lengara the now vacant obsidian sphere which had been Vyrellis’ spiritual prison.
Feral who had won Vyrellis’ trust and come to consider her an honorary member of his tribe said something to Vyrellis in the low-noted Primodial language, solemnly bowed his head to her, and ran up the tunnel without another word.
Lengara tried to pull Vyrellis back into or at least magically re-link her spirit to the Orb of Vyrellis, but had no apparent or at least immediate success. Accepting that he too must go but nothing more than that, the Eladrin warlock’s strangely colored eyes focused into a glare intense enough to pause the wildest foe.
“You, stay alive,” he ordered Vyrellis. “I’m coming for you,” he ominously announced to both Vyrellis and the would be devil-god Athola. Only then did he dart up the escape tunnel to join his allies above.
Though some were a little burned from having to pass though a passage which had just been melted through solid iron walls, the adventurers emerged into a chaotic scene in a large outdoor courtyard within the walls of the Iron Keep. Twenty five foot walls with battlements facing into the courtyard lined the square, and bodies of dozens of slain demons littered the courtyard and walls. From the spread of destruction, it looked like a beam of energy had exploded out of the center of the yard, centered on a fixed summoning circle etched into the courtyard floor. Closed solid gates leading out of the courtyard were firmly set into the far walls and the sound of combat rang out around the other side of the courtyard walls.
Klemnon, Tin, and Lengara moved through the carnage to cross the courtyard and examine the far sealed gate. Drengy scampered into the iron rubble of a partially collapsed wall to find a sniping position of his liking. Feral climbed up into the walled battlements to survey the area, and reported that all around them in and around the keep demons were scampering to battle stations, obscuring smoke and fire had erupted around the exterior warscape, and that in the distance there was some kind of flying warship engaging in a full blown moving battle with demons trying to board and overwhelm it.
Swooping through a drifting smokebank to land with a thunderous roar, a gigantic demon-possessed draco-lich frost dragon entered the courtyard, its partially skeletal form still mostly covered with dead but withered black skin and musculature. A towering monstrosity larger than a house, it glared down at Tin, Klemnon, and Lengara, near whom the abomination had closely landed.
From the far side of the courtyard Drnegy began shooting at the gigantic dragon and Feral lept to the courtyard to move closer to the beast. The dragon unleashed a freezing spray of dragon breath onto Tin and Klemnon, encasing them in thick entombing ice. Lengara from atop a battlement unleashed a blazing assault with a torrent of burning fire, and Feral moved in draw the dragon’s attention away from his frozen and mostly helpless allies. Bursting from the ice, Tin emerged like a miniature avatar of fury hacking necrotized flesh from dragon bone with unmatched power. But even while taking massive damage, the dragon twisted, clawed and bit his way around the battlefield, inflicting grievous injuries upon the heroes. Then a perfectly aimed shot from Drengy struck the dragon in the spine which caused the entire beast to shake with overchanneled decay. In a gigantic flash of flying flesh and dark necrotic energy that spread across the entire courtyard, the dragon exploded and crumbled into a pile of denuded bones.
Animated by the release of necrotic energy, the bones from the dozen demon corpses nearest the exploding draco-lich shuttered and rose to attack the heroes, their skeletal eye sockets illuminated by red points of glowing hatred. Worse still, the flesh from the other demon corpses littering the courtyard began to roll and slough upon their own power towards the dragon’s skeleton. Mistaking these crawling piles of flesh for lesser problems, the heroes at first focused on bringing down the skeletal foes. But when the animated demon flesh began coalescing and merging with the draco-lich’s pale bones to reform the terrible dragon’s fleshy body, the party realized the immense danger they were in. Scrambling to destroy and disrupt the reanimation of the draco-lich, the adventurers began attacking the fleshy nodes to stem the tide, but it was too little, too late.
Reformed by the animated flesh of fallen demons, the dracolich rose up to again blast freezing ice onto Tin, Legagara, and Klemnon, and then stun the Feral and the lot with a glaring roar which spread supernatural fear. With Klemnon now knocked unconscious, and most of the other warriors frozen or taken out of the fight, the dragon charged across the courtyard to rake Drengy with its sharpened claws. Drengy kept the creature’s attention long enough for Tin and Lengara to escape the ice, and for Feral to rush over to use a healing potion and the empowered life energy of his magic shield to get Klemnon back on his feet. The five adventurers surrounded the draco-lich, beating the creature into a broken, shattered hulk to finally end its horrible threat.
Having defeated an ultra-powerful draco-lich, the band searched the courtyard for treasure but found slim pickings. Lengara and Tin rummaged through the remains of the draco-lich for scales or bones which could be valuable magical components, but little was left undamaged by the battle. Under a pile of demon corpses, Klemnon found three screaming human faced, foot long hell-maggots tortuously squirming. These were evil souls given form in the afterlife to suffer for their mortal sins. As horrible as it might sound, there is actually a high price paid in certain foul black markets that deal in such oddities. Glancing around nervously, Klemnon stuffed the hell-maggots into his bag of holding.
A new giant shadow appeared over the courtyard, but this time emerging from the smoke was the flying ship- a bit beaten up from battle, but still a majestic sight to behold. The heroes could see stern faced humanoids with glowing skin and feathered wings moving about the rigging and the deck – angels from one of the outer dimensional planes. The flying ship descended low enough to drop rope ladders down to the heroes, and a familiar wizard’s face appeared leaning over the quarterdeck railing.
“I am so glad you’re still alive!” beamed a visibly relieved Amcathra. “Now if only we can figure a way to escape the Abyss, we might all have a chance to stay that way.”