The heroes return from Wintersgreen House through the magical portal in Valorn Tower. Though they have traveled across the world, explored Fal Galen, traveled across and into the ridge between Martira and Rivals, and penetrated the inner sanctum of the Withershadow Combine, they have been gone for just four days.
The shadow copy of Kyle's ride towards Dispater is still in its frame, and the portal remains active.
Unaware of what has transpired, Alliama finds that the men of the Enclave have continued their search for Ivy, using the images that the heroes had provided before they left.
Anderann reports that the men did not turn up a woman matching Ivy's description in the Enclave. Alliama is no longer surprised by this news, but thanks the men anyway.
Blasse sends the brothers home to their family and friends with the message that Kaolus returned home safely with his brother.
Annoura releaes them from the grasp of the lords of Bluetspur with assurances that Curtullen Rank has been rescued from an equally dreadful fate, and a coin will be given to him.
Their battle through time and space seems to have come to an end.
The heroes divide the treasure that they won during their time in Martia. Dechan has used his magic to identify the heroes' new gear, while Beatrice has used her skills as appraisal to evaluate their nonmagical discoveries.
During this time, several heroes also train. Master Ioan trains David, while Annoura meets with him on the nature of ESSPA. Beatrice trains under Harriet Armeikos, finding surprising approval for the bravery she showed in Withershadow. Kyler and Anson are also able to train with their mentors.
Gwendolyn visits Calemaria only to find that the archer has visitor. It is the eladrin, Gail, who came from the Feywild to train Alliama just a week and a half ago. Gail is trapped in the Lands of Mist. When she attempted to return to her home, she found all the paths blocked, including the ones throught the Nightmare Lands.
Gail tells Gwendolyn that she would like to help the heroes in some way. She cannot just sit still and do nothing. But if she reveals herself, or provides information that Alliama could not otherwise possess, then the Feyliege's enemies would bring the war to the Lands of Mist.
She cannot bring direct aid to Alliama, but she can help indirectly. She tells Gwendolyn that, while she traveled the Nightmare Lands, she heard ripples that one of Gwendolyn's friends put the Withershadow Combine on notice. She would like to help Dechan, but she can't be spotted inside the Enclave.
Gwendolyn agrees to make the trip and bring Dechan to Calemaria's home.
With Bartholomew long gone, Dechan must leave his work in the tower to answer the door when Gwendolyn arrives. Though he is uneasy leaving his research behind, Dechan agrees to accompany Gwendolyn when she is assertive, and confident that he needs to accompany her. Alliama sends Big upstairs to watch the experiment while Dechan is gone, even though the panther rankles and complains to her that this is one of Dechan's "bad smelling" fires.
Dechan and Gwendolyn arrive at Calemaria's house to find Gail waiting. The eladrin explains again what she heard while in the Nightmare Lands regarding the Withershadow Combine and Dechan. She says that she cannot help Dechan directly with Withershadow, because they are aligned with both Law and Evil...they are her opposite and all of their wards defend against her.
However, the power the drives another of Dechan's enemies is fueled by Chaos and Evil, meaning that only half of their wards defend against her. And she might be able to skirt along that rough weakness to get Dechan past their doorstep.
Gail offers to send Dechan to Rappan Athuk.
The journey will involve just Dechan, and even then only through the Nightmare Lands. Calemaria has prepared some soothing tea, which Gail encourages Dechan to drink. She explains that after he sleeps, she will move his consciousness into the halls of Rappan Athuk that most impact him. These would be the halls where Jasmine lurks.
Dechan agrees. He sits in a comfortable chair. He waits for the tea to help him calm, and then he slips off into sleep. A moment later, he vanishes.
Dechan is alone in a corridor. His jaunt through the Nightmare Lands has equipped him and granted him a torch. He does not know that he has vanished, though he is aware that all five of his senses are reporting the dust, the stone floor, the rough wood of the door in front of him.
Behind him, Gail prepares Gwendolyn and sends her after Dechan. Gail teleports to the study of Androlov Manor, outside the aura of the temple focus, and does the same with Alliama. What Gail does not know is that David is in meditation, and once again he travels through the Nightmare Lands to find Dechan when he is in trouble.
The four heroes find themselves in the same area.They stand at the end of a very long hall. It ends in a door, and the thirty-foot stretch illuminated by Dechan's torch has two more doors, both in the south wall, as Alliama determines direction.
Opening the first door reveals an area where the north and east walls have been blasted back, revealing four earthen tunnels that wend off around corners that the heroes' light cannot reach.
David suggests that this might, indeed be where Jasmine's lair exists. Dechan and the others are not convinced, and they turn back from the chamber to investigate the other doors.
The next door opens into a very long corridor running north-south, making a right angle with the first.
The other door is locked, but moving to it reveals a third door along the south wall.
Dechan uses the Bartholomew Amulet to scry through the eyes of a mouse. He explores the dark chamber beyond, finding that the broken floor is littered with broken chests and boxes. As a mouse, he is unable to find anything else of value, and he sees no other exits.
As Dechan ends his exploration of the chamber beyond the locked door, David and Alliama hear the sound of creatures coming up the north-south passage. The voices give the image of large creatures, which Alliama refers to as "baby giants."
The heroes know that they have no time to waste. The creatures will easily spot Dechan's torch if they can't get way from them fast enough.
The heroes run to the next door, but they find it is locked. They race to the next, which is also locked. Finally, they reach a fifth door in the south wall, and it tugs open. They dash through as the "baby giants" call out from the distance and break into a run, chasing the heroes.
The room beyond is strewn with eight dead rats of enormous size. The south side of the door is scratched, and a hand ax has been embedded into it. The doors the heroes have found in Rappan Athuk have all been of metal-reinforced, sturdy wood, some two inches thick. Gwendolyn pulls the ax from the door and wedges it securely into the space between it and jamb.
The "baby giants" reach the door and try to follow the heroes. The door does not give. When the creatures give a focused effort, the wood shudders but holds.
Alliama spots a flight of steps leading up in the middle of the east wall. She leads the way up the steps, which lets out on a broad cavern fed by a number of much narrower tunnels. The far end of the cavern is blocked by a rubbled heap that would take some time and concerted effort to clear.
As Alliama and Gwendolyn crouch to find any sign of tracks here, a score giant rats, and almost a half-dozen wererats pour out of the tunnels.
The battle lasts less than five minutes, and the heroes begin to make headway against their numerous foes. Alliama calms almost half the rats; though they don't leave the fight, they stop attacking the heroes. At the same time, Dechan blasts the leader with shadowy fire, causing him to retreat into the shadows. David strikes with a silver kama, and Gwendolyn launches silver arrows, killing one of the wererats outright.
The heroes suffer their own wounds, though, including numerous small bites, and several injuries inflicted on Dechan and Alliama by the dread lycanthropes.
And then, abruptly, the heroes awake--or end their meditation--back in the Enclave.
Gail stands over the chairs where Dechan and Gwendolyn drifted off to sleep and subsequently vanished. When she sees their wounds, she gushes apologies and offers to use her most powerful healing magic on Dechan. Dechan declines, though, telling her to use that power on Alliama. He then runs out of Calemaria's house, bound for the temple.
Gail, not knowing where Dechan is going, teleports to Androlov Manor and makes good on her offer. She uses some of the most potent healing magic in existence to remove all wounds from Alliama's body, but she steps back, admitting that she does not believe even that would be enough to remove the taint of lycanthropy.
Some time later, and not far away, Dechan meets with his mentor, Moss Charles. Moss agrees with Dechan's fears. He cites Morgan Abira as the last person to successfully treat lycanthropy in a victim who survived, and he says that no one has duplicated those efforts since.
Dechan asks Moss to prepare a room, with some silver chains, in case the full moon brings a horrible change over Dechan and his friend.
Moss agrees. He mentions that the full moon is still a few weeks off, which is some cold comfort. Of course, neither man realizes that by the time two weeks are up, Dechan will be in the badlands of former Arak, and far away from any help his mentor might provide.
Moss Charles finds Darius, and he speaks of a prayer that has to come to his attention recently. Moss explains that he has been tasked with investigating a group of priests who are Chaotic, but not Evil. They believe they are doing the right thing, but they're not doing it in the right way, as Moss explains it.
The prayer, which this group has used to confound Moss and his companions, changes the words written on a page into a chaotic script. After a time, the words form new sentences, often at odds with what was originally written there.
Those who know of the dweomer can still decipher what was written there, Moss believes, but the document no longer even radiates magic after the prayer has had a chance to set.
Moss recalls that Dechan returned from Darkshelf Quarry with some documents from the mad priests in league with the Slave Lords. The documents not only seemed odd, but they included some phrases that just did not make sense, such as sailing west from Darkshelf.
Perhaps, Moss suggests, a dispel magic dweomer might change some of what is written on those documents.
Everyone meets at Androlov Manor.
Dechan takes them the documents to an area that Keradre set aside for dispelling magic, without putting anything else in the manor at risk.
Two of the cultists' documents change.
Looking at these documents, the heroes realize that they have a new chance to stop the Slave Lords, or at least damage their operations.
The heroes leave Androlov Manor to pursue another lead that might help them find the Slave Lords. Earlier in the year, Labonita gathered some information about the Slave Lords, and in the process she turned up a name: Rufus.
Rufus is a warrior whose entire family was murdered by the Slave Lords when they resisted capture. He has worked with other parties in the past, but most often, he is the only member of these expeditions who survives to make it back to the Enclave.
The heroes find him at the Hall of Glory, just as Labonita suggested. It is All Hallow's Eve, and the evening is lit like afternoon by the bonfires that defy the night on this unique holiday. Suiting the evening, the Hall of Glory is full of its members, the most stories and glory-seeking hunters in eastern Darkon.
The price of entry is a tale of the heroes' own accomplishments. At first, the heroes are not known to the hunters gathered, but as Dechan tells the story of the green dragon the heroes slew, the hunters realize who is before them, and they become enthralled, hovering on his every word.
The only person who is not interested is a dark-skinned warrior sitting alone in one corner of the hall. After meeting the other members, the heroes approach this man, and they find that he is indeed the man they suspected.
Rufus greets them. When they mention their victories in Darkshelf Quarry, he becomes much more willing to speak with them, quickly assuming that they will travel together to stop the remaining Slave Lords.
He provides wanted posters from across the Core, referencing each of the Slave Lords. Further, he knows that the Slave Lords work together--owing to Feetla--have a large organization, and rule from secret base. They govern a fiefdom of sorts, held together by their combined powers, but if Feetla is killed, then the others will turn on each other.
The heroes know that they will have to leave first thing in the morning. Rufus did not want to wait till dawn, but Dechan convinced him to wait until the cleric of the Morninglord can prepare his prayers in the morning.
There is one important task that they have yet to complete. They want to return the Banite icons they recovered from Thorn House. The embassy is dark, the only hole in an otherwise unbroken canopy of light overarching the Enclave.
Dechan speaks for the heroes, greeting the guards and demanding to speak with Faust Alwina.
Instead, they are greeted by an inquisitor. The man demands information, and he is clearly detecting truth and lies in their words. When the heroes begin to speak, he listens, asking few questions as everything they speak rings true.
When the heroes are done with their report, Dechan again asks for Faust Alwina. The inquisitor listens, and then he leaves the heroes in the company of their guards.
Some time later, the door open, and Alwina emerges. She attempts to dismiss the guards, but the inquisitor's instructions keep them where they stand.
The heroes offer Alwina a thorough explanation of their journey into Withershadow. With Beatrice, they broach the topic of the Stone Walks, the Withershadow Combine, and the events that transpired with them.
Dechan and Beatrice promise to write letters and leave them for Alwina when they leave in the morning. Alwina is disappointed; she initially expected they would leave with her in the morning to get to the bottom of the Withershadow conspiracy. The heroes mollify her with an explanation that they are going after the Slave Lords.
In those letters, Dechan and Beatrice write about Driftwood Ethel (though not the command words to which she responds nor the symbol of the Vigilant Fist of Bane). Beatrice provides a personal account of the inner sanctum, which only she saw.
Rufus is waiting at the stable, pacing as he passes the time before the heroes arrive. It takes only moments for him to lead the way south, galloping out of the Enclave and setting a relentless pace towards the badlands.
Rufus leads the way in both an unrelenting and unerring fashion. He stops long enough to rest the horses but not a moment longer. The heroes find that Alliama's use of the Holly Bell has brought about a growth of hearty grass, enlivened trees and shrubs that even the cold winter could not diminish.
Around noon, the heroes find themselves on a hillside overlooking the temple outside of Highport, and the fecund town itself.
Rufus has shown them the approximate location of a secret entrance in the southwest corner, but the heroes are also curious about the possibility of entering through the collapsed second and third floors.
After organizing a plan, they descend from the hilltop, carefully making their way through the burned structures that once stood proud around the temple. Near the east edge of the temple, David breaks off from the party.
Under cover of an invisibility spell cast by Carrie, David scales the outer wall in seconds, and there he begins an exploration of the tangled timbers and stones of what was once the upper two stories of the temple complex.
He is weightless, and able to avoid the majority of the risks inherent in this area.
His exploration finds three openings in the rooftop. One is in the center of a badly weakened stretch of ceiling; it opens over a region of the temple that is littered with dead bodies. Something moves among the bodies, and something else snorts like a beast to the south of it.
The other heroes locate the secret door in the southwest corner. Dechan explores using a mouse, uncovering two traps, one behind the first secret door and another behind a second secret ten feet deeper into the temple.
Beyond that, Dechan finds a corridor that leads to a door he cannot penetrate to the west, and a chamber that has new construction on the east wall to the east.
The heroes reunite and discuss their options.
David suggests that the portals in the roof could be reachable; particularly the two to the north. The heroes ultimately decide to start their first exploration through the secret door, though.
They wait for Beatrice to locate and disarm the two traps Dechan found, a feat in which she has more success with the first than the second. The awareness of the second trap helps her to avoid injury to herself or anyone else, though, even as it is accidentally discharged.
Inside, Alliama checks for tracks. She finds that humanoids with long, clawed toes travel this corridor fairly often, so much that they have left faint grooves in the floor. Their long fingernails have left similar, faint grooves along the walls.
The heroes turn east first. They find nothing of value or interest in the chamber with the newly constructed east wall. Gwendolyn suggests that the new construction might indicate that there is something in the temple that even the enemy is trying to keep locked away.
When nothing turns up to the east, the heroes travel west. The corridor turns north beyond the door, and the heroes soon find themselves before another door.
The wooden door to this room is charred with several boards missing and other planks obviously weakened. The handles, hinges, and other metal fittings are half-melted, soundly jamming the door shut. The room beyond, as seen through the holes, is severely burnt, its furnishings buried and ruined beyond recognition. The ceiling has collapsed for the most part, revealing another chamber on the second floor. About fve feet of the ceiling still remains around the walls of the room, forming a narrow jagged ledge. The floor is littered with beams, plaster, ash, and unknown pieces of junk. The air is filled with the odor of rot.
Alliama knocks the door open. She stoops to check for tracks and has only a moments warning to instead raise her bow. Something with hungry eyes, and long, long talons is dropping down from above...and it has many allies at its sides...