Previously, the heroes had succeeded in breaking the curse, but before they could lift it from the queen found Callum dead after he had read from one of the tablets they had liberated from the dragon’s hoard. Hurrying to the queen’s side they needed to convince the queen’s spirit to stay in the land of the living. Halfway through the ritual they were interrupted by the lord steward Gabriel and princess Mildred. In the struggle that occurred both ended up being killed. The queen drew her last breath and died, only to be reawakened with a frightening infernal glow in her eyes.
Seventh Day, Third Ride, Autumn Red, 1262
(Silvermoon is waxing. Bloodmoon is waxing. Darkmoon is waning.)
While the queen slowly regained her senses and got her bearings both lady Annabella and lieutenant William lost all interest in the heroes. Luca, who was concerned for Dr. Arkenward’s well-being, could not get the handsome lieutenant of the palace guard to focus on anything but the young queen and repeated pleas for him to arrange for some warm broth fell on deaf ears.
At the same time James, who had a strong suspicion that the heroes were not out trouble yet and would surely be persecuted for the murder of the princess and her lord steward husband, asked Luca whether he was still able to use his abilities of translocation to portal them out of the palace.
When the heroes finally managed to peel lieutenant William’s attention away from the queen and ask him to take the two dead bodies away he seemed ready to comply. The heroes first wanted to get everyone’s story straight, but the naive lieutenant did not understand why that would be necessary; the heroes were interrupted in their revival of the queen and princess Mildred made use of strange magic in order to disrupt their efforts. Those who were allied with the steward might not interpret things that way, but for now that understanding would allow the heroes to walk out of the palace unhindered, so they felt satisfied.
Luca and Emrys tended to Dr. Arkenward and saw that the man was still almost catatonic and unable to move under his own strength. They carried the man, now no more than skin and bones, from the bench in front of the queen‘s bed to a sofa close to the window. The allowed the frail man to lay down and rest. Outside, the weather had turned particularly foul. Almost as foul as the smell inside the queen’s chambers. Luca used his abilities to conjure up a more pleasant smell which would mask the smell of sickness and death that lingered in the room.
Before someone would come to take the princess away, the heroes decided to investigate her body and that of her husband. They had hoped to find some explanation as to why she had interfered with the revival of the queen. While they could not find any incriminating evidence, they did find that the princess wore a bracelet that was nearly identical to the choker they had found in the possession of Xamael, likely part of the same set. Soon the pieces started to fall into place. They knew that Xamael had many names. Dagnamiir to the dwarves, Lathorael to the elves, in his human guise named Melchior, had amassed many followers from all walks of life. They also knew that Melchior had visited Blackbough under the name of Fedor, a scholar who had stayed with lord Oswin and had investigated the abandoned church. Fedor had travelled in the company of three guards and a noble woman. When they had travelled downriver the took passage on board the house boat of the same Acadian family that the heroes had travelled with. Alex and Stephane had explained that the woman was called “lady Mildred” and that she had made their twin daughters uncomfortable by repeatedly touching their hair. It seemed the princess had been wholly or partially responsible for what had happened to the queen.
Emrys suggested to James and Luca that it would not be a bad idea to check Dr. Arkenward’s personal chambers at the palace. Quentin, who had just been helping lieutenant William sort out some guard rotations, overheard the suggestion and reminded the others that Dr. Arkenward was supposedly in the possession of another tablet.
Luca took a moment to prepare a ritual which would allow him to see the weave of magic all around him; he was keen on understanding whether their mundane investigations of the chamber and the corpses of their enemies had missed anything of arcane interest. While he did not find anything on the corpses of princess Mildred and lord Gabriel, he did notice that there was a lingering magical aura that surrounded the queen which was a mix of conjuration and necromantic magic. Turning to Blackstar, Luca determined that the queen had an echo of another soul linger like a shadow behind her own, which was not unlike what he had found with lord Destan when they found him being cared for by Isobel the witch. Blackstar, predictably, commanded Luca to reap her soul and take her piece off the chess board. When Luca refused it appeared that the staff became belligerent.
A young, half-elven guard with a thick auburn braid was assigned to escort the heroes to Dr. Arkenward’s chamber, which was in a different part of the palace. The chamber was much like Callum’s room; so much so that the heroes drew the conclusion that it was somewhat of a standard layout for the members of the Circle of Magi. Luca felt at ease enough to explain that he had found the echo of another soul in the queen and James wondered aloud whether or not they had made matters worse rather than better. Emrys did not agree and believed that stopping the princess, who was working for Xamael, was undoubtedly a better thing than letting the queen die. Regardless, James cautioned Emrys to be mindful when dealing with lady Annabella, implying that whatever he shared with the queen’s handmaid would undoubtedly get back to the queen.
Investigating Dr. Arkenward’s chamber did not reveal anything that satisfied the heroes. He hardly seemed to use the place and most of the tracks that could be found ended at a wall. Upon careful inspection of the wall the heroes found a thin ring of tiny lyrium crystals on the wall, further solidifying their belief that any arcane translocation efforts spawned the crystals. The more impressive the magic, the more prominent the crystals. The heroes had found lyrium crystals at the site of portals and other translocation events; the appearance of the skaven and the orcs underneath the Sheridan estate and when they met the rapidly aging figure of Ser Florianus on their way to Pinefall. James, who was getting impatient did not think there was anything to gain from philosophising about the nature of lyrium crystals and he wanted to move on.
“We had a mission, save the queen. We’ve done that. Fine. Now we go to the second part; saving Astrid.”
– James White
The heroes returned to the queen’s chamber and found that the bodies had been removed. The queen seemed to be doing much better and Emrys managed to convince lady Annabella to keep an eye out for anything strange during a brief chat with her. The heroes decided to depart the palace and were escorted to the gate. The heroes decided to return to the Circle of Magi and they decended down Garamond hill towards the queensbridge. The weather was miserable and the streets were still next to empty.
When the heroes came to the Circle, Olafur welcomed them inside. The heroes wanted to speak to the archmage Esmeralda d’Ortega, the wizard who had replaced Dr. Arkenward as the head of the Circle of Abjurers when he was appointed the royal abjurer. It was their intention to hopefully convince the archmage to replace Dr. Arkenward as the royal abjurer as he recovered. The archmage was busy tending to students and during that time the heroes spoke to Olafur and shared a stiff drink with him. He shared that the word of their exploits had already travelled throughout the city and that there were rumours that the plaguemaidens had been seen moving north. He also referred to the heroes as the Champions of the Lyrian Throne, which was a title they could add to their collection.
Archmage Esmeralda was not as receptive to the idea of taking Dr. Arkenward’s place at court as the heroes had hoped. She briefly lingered to chat with the heroes before going back to tending to the students. Luca had wandered off to relief himself and spontaneously decided to depart the Circle and make his way to Steward Square.
During that time the grand archmage Réonan came to join the heroes. James seized the opportunity to ask them some questions, which lead them to learn a lot from the enigmatic head of the Circle of Magi.
James learned that the “Demon of the South Western Winds” referred to a demon named Pazuzu. Not just any demon, but the first demon, and the lord of Pazunia, the first layer of the Abyss. That layer was also known as the “layer of portals” or the “layer of doors.”
When the heroes stood on the verge of being defeated by Xamael a myserious figure appeared and turned the tide in the conflict. Xamael had called that figure “Aurion” and referred to it as his brother. When James asked Réonan if they knew who that was, a wry smile came over their face. It was a complicated question to answer according to Réonan. Aurion was once called called Auriel and had been a messenger of Paladine.
Then they became a renegade and Auriel was stripped of that name and became known as Aurion. But once, long ago, they were called Aureus, the Golden One, when they were stripped of their divine animus and were made a mortal. Their crime? Getting too involved in the affairs of mankind by starting the Silver Crusade.
Lastly, James asked what about the Blood War, and Réonan explained that Tharizdun found the Shard of Evil and plunged it into the elemental chaos and thus formed the Abyss, from which spawned all demons. The god went mad when they saw what they had done and was punished with imprisonment. The celestials fought the demons but became corrupted by their presence. These corrupted celestials were an affront to other celestials and were cast out. They became devils and made their home in hell. Devils and demons fought one another to a stalemate. Devils, like celestials, were beings of law and order, were disciplined and regimented and achieved success through a tyrannical hierarchy. While demons were chaotic and wanton and achieved success through sheer force and numbers.
The demons, the heroes learned, had one goal; destruction. They were driven to consume and destroy until there was nothing left. The devils were driven to eradicate the demons and oppose them at every turn. They wanted to bring the multiverse back to order by any and all means. This was the blood war.
When Quentin challenged Réonan on why they did not broadcast this information far and wide, they became agitated. Réonan claimed that humanity was not ready to accept the full weight of that information and in light of that they decided that they would shepherd humanity as best they could instead. That was an entirely dissatisfying answer to Quentin.
In the meantime, Luca had made his way towards the Careless Wanderer and gazed across a mostly empty Steward Square, looking at the Cathedral of the Platinum Father. He entered through it’s great, vaulted doors. The mood inside was quiet and reverent and Luca saw that small groups of people had taken refuge inside and were praying in the pews along the centre aisle and the alcoves dedicated to the different saints. Luca walked down the aisle to the alter at the transept. On either side were the two main chapels; one dedicated to Saint Catherine of Dunagore, the other to Saint Aureus the Golden One. Having remembered that the chapel to Saint Aureus was the one that the inky darkness was descending down onto prior Benedict during his sermon, Luca stepped inside that chapel and knelt at the altar.
Luca had started to understand the nature and possibly the identify of his mysterious patron and he felt he was at the right place to talk to Aurion. He folded his hands together, like he had seen some of the worshippers and clergy in the cathedral do, and he began to speak. Getting a quick response from that voice like dark honey bolstered Luca’s confidence; it was the first time he had been so forward.
The conversation explained a few things; who Aurion was and why Luca had been lead to believe that he served a dark master. Aurion was a renegade celestial who had not stood idly by while the Age of Fear came upon mankind and he had been stripped of his immortality for it, becoming Aureus the Golden One, leading the Silver Crusade. He was forgiven and had regained his celestial status, but went renegade under the guise of a much darker identity. He left Luca to ponder a choice; would he prefer to continue to serve Aurion the fiend, with all the benefits and detriments, or would he rather serve Aurion the celestial?
Luca decided to stand in Aurion’s radiance and serve his celestial master.