The party stood before a solid brick wall, at the top of a flight of stairs, trying to get away from a multi-planar sarcophagus before the wards they had placed around it expired. Kevorkian melded himself into the wall and, via the scrolling marquee of his thoughts written on the wall, informed the others that the opposite side of the wall was a small room with no apparent exists, dominated by four, large, iron statues.
Kevorkian dove out of the wall as Traithe shattered it. At the same time, the far wall of the small room also shattered, spraying the statues with bits of broken masonry and revealing Morgianna, the dark-skinned elven paladin who had sometimes accompanied the party, and her new companion Ayla, a fiendish monk. They waved to their companions across the divide, then the statues started moving.
Melastasya, her vision blurring across the planes, suddenly shouted that the room was full of pixies and that they should kill them with fire. Damascena and Grimnir obliged, filling every square inch of the space with walls of fire. Ash opened a dimension door across the room and they all ran for it.
They area past the two detonated walls and the animate statues was a wine cellar, and not a particularly well stocked one, with a set of wooden stairs leading up to a trap door. Melastasya opened one bottle and took a sip, recognizing it as a Mondaviak vintage. Hearing the vintage, but apparently forgetting that the Mondaviak fortune was made as wine merchants, crafted a small "nið staff":https://ruins-of-adventure.obsidianportal.com/wikis/runes and shoved it in the bottle, thinking that it qualified as Markos' property. Obviously it failed to work.
They came up the stairs into a scullery, where the Kryptgartians stopped to wash up, then out into the kitchen of a small Hillsfarran townhouse. The scullery maid was unconscious on the floor, apparently having be clouted over the head with a sap. They skipped out the back door and into the early dusk of a hot, Hillsfarran summer night. On their way out, Grimnir noticed that the garden attached to the small townhouse included small shrines to Tyr and his servant Torm, which he and Morgianna proceeded to desecrate...by painting mustaches and goatees on the statues and writing 'Captain Doofus' on Tyr's forehead.
Once they were out, they realized that they had probably just unleashed some horrible, apocalyptic vampire on the world and that they should probably turn around and go deal with it. Rather than do so immediately though, Grimnir put out an APB throughout Hillsfar for a gnome tinker to help construct an anti-vampire weapon for him. While Grimnir sat down with the gnome to quickly manufacture a shoulder-mounted, double-barreled, holy-water super-soaker, the rest of the party got what sleep they could.
The next morning the party woke up (thankfully without any bite marks on their necks), suited up, and headed back down the stairs under the Tormite shrine (much to the chagrin of the shrine-keeper and his much-abused scullery maid). Ash ferried them past the guardian statues with another dimension door and they hurried down the stairs, through the pool of blood, through the ethereal gate, and to the sarcophagus.
They reached the sarcophagus to find it just as they had left it, save that the notes Kevorkian had left were slightly askew. After considerable debate they decided to try to open the sarcophagus. It did not respond to shatter or knock spells, and had no apparent lid or hinges. They tried placing two mundane swords into the slots on the top of the sarcophagus, also with no effect, then deduced that it must require a pair of magical swords to open. As none of the party were willing to part with their enchanted weapons, or risk them falling into the hands of whatever rested in the sarcophagus, they turned and left.
But not before giving the area one more look-over. Dame, shifting to animal form, caught the scent of...a cat? Right by the small hole through which the ashes had come. She followed it, across the ether, through the gate, through the pool of blood--through which she briefly lost it, but there was only one way out. The others followed.
After clearing the smell of blood from her nostrils, she caught the smell of the cat again. Up the stairs. Past the statues. Past the defaced Tyrran shrine. Through the streets of Hillsfar to the walls of the city and out. Over the wall near the south gate. Through the forest, crossing the main road at many points. Finally the scent trail ended by a single stone monolith, covered with elvish script.
The Standing Stone is a huge plinth of glossy gray rock, incised with elven runes that wind about its base in a series of bands. The stone itself is over 20 feet high, and may be found where the Moonsea Ride joins Rauthauvyrs Road. The Standing Stone was erected 1,367 years ago by mighty elven mages to commemorate the pact between the Elven Court and the newly arriving Dalesmen. The winding script at the base of the Stone states the terms of that pact: that while there are elves in the forest, the people of the Dales may settle in those lands at their borders, but not reduce the woods or invade elven territories. The wood has been reduced severely since the stone was erected, often by other human agents (in particular the Hillsfarrans), who have had little love of the People. When the Sembians forced the road through to Hillsfar, the elves responded by routing the road to pass at the base of the stone, ironically pointing out that not all people need to deal at the point of a sword. The Standing Stone has some enchantment upon it and radiates magic. It cannot be defaced or marred, for stains or cuts on its surface heal within days.
On top of the stone was...a fat, black tomcat, sleeping with its tail curled under its head. Dame, now in feline form herself, addressed the cat in its own language. It yawned, opened one eye, and responded in Common. Kevorkian then used create food and water to conjure some fish for the cat to eat, at which point he became much more talkative. As they talked, the cat constantly shifted coat colors and patterns: white, orange, gray, tabby, tortoise-shell, and so forth.
A few things quickly became clear from their conversation with the cat. Or rather, not so quickly and not exactly clear, but less obtuse:
The cat was the Maalthiir, or "Meowthiir" as Melastasya insisted on calling it, and was an ancient being, a kind of ur-cat from which other cats derived (or so Grimnir speculated, though the cat claimed to have no knowledge of or interest in any offspring he may have spawned over the millennia). Grimnir asked if he had any relationship with the Rakshasa, but the cat dismissed them as "posers".
The cat was captured, held, and experimented on for many centuries by the Myth Drannan "Guild of Naturalists", leading him to have an undying hatred of elves (as well as dwarves, halflings, gnomes, and pretty much any other "lesser" species that did not treat felines with the reverential worship and respect they deserved). The red metal crowns worn by the rulers of Hillsfar were an extension of the cat's will and power. The fat, lazy pampered lifestyle of the 'Maalthiir' of Hillsfar, as well as their racial prejudices and magical might, were a direct result of the cat's influence. The crown (singular) was stolen from the cat shortly after he had escaped the elves, and the cat had been disintegrated by the thief (and apparently bound in the urn to prevent his return). He also claimed that the crown would, over time, replicate itself, and that the existence of three of them meant that it must be between six and eight hundred years since it was stolen.
When they asked about the red-metal tetrahedron that had taken their fingers, the cat explained that it was "The Mogramidian", a device the cat had constructed with the power to alter reality and grant knowledge in fundamental, but random, ways. The cat had been experimenting with it prior to his destruction, hoping to find a way to make itself truly immortal. There was some debate over the nature of immortality and whether the cat was not already immortal, given his great age and his ability to restore himself after being disintegrated, but the cat was insistent that the simple fact that he had been killed proved that whatever pseudo-immortality he had was insufficient.
The cat filled them in on a few of his experiments with the Mogramidian, explaining that his first inklings were to leave "Steel" and "Flesh" as the active runes, though that clearly did not work. They, in turn, explained the strange changes they had undergone and knowledge they had achieved from leaving "Secrets" and "Electricity" out. Melastasya finally speculated that perhaps "Secrets" and "Death" might be the ones the cat was looking for. The cat suggested that if they could find where the pieces had relocated themselves to, they might try again together.
They asked what was up with the vampires, whether he was a vampire, and why he had vampires guarding his sarcophagus. The cat explained that he had no idea about the vampires, assuming that they were put there by whomever had killed him and trapped him in the urn, and that the "sarcophagus" was actually his litter box...
The party, meanwhile, filled in the cat, who suggested that they call him "Mog", on what had happened since his demise. He was particularly interested in the fall of Myth Drannor, and seemed quite pleased that the elves who had imprisoned him had been overthrown. He seemed even more pleased when he learned that it was the nycaloths Aulmpiter, Malimshaer, and Gaulguth, claiming responsibility for first calling the yugoloths to the material plane.
Mog claimed a great many other things, up to an including teaching the elven high mages of Myth Drannor how to create the infamous Mythal (and whether truthful or not, he did seem to know quite a lot about their workings). The party told him that the Mythal had been breached, or even destroyed, during the fall, but that it was apparently operational again. Mog informed them that the one and only way to destroy a Mythal was to kill all of the nine mages involved in its creation, and that there was no way that a Mythal could be re-established once broken, save by assembling nine new casters of sufficient power and weaving an entirely new Mythal. Melastasya told him about their undead scouts being destroyed on trying to enter the ruins, and he informed them that the original Mythal was not designed with any kind of undead wards (though he did mention that each participating mage could imbue the Mythal with one or two unique properties which would be hidden from the general citizenry and even the other participants).
After some coaxing, Mog agreed to teach the party some new tricks.
Mog accompanied the party back to Hillsfar and provided them with training. He taught Ayla and Melastasya the arts of pouncing and moving stealthily. He taught Dame how to assume the forms of more powerful feline creatures. He taught Kevorkian the cat-like arts of personal cleanliness (after some very serious flexibility training). He taught Grimnir further secrets of runes and immortality. He took on a humanoid form, not unlike the rakshasa he had previously denigrated (again leading Grimnir to suspect he was some kind of trans-planar ur-feline), teaching Ash and Traithe advanced magic and giving Traithe additional instruction in swordplay and the arts of surviving even in the face of failure.
Once their training was complete, Mog expressed his interest in seeing the extent of Myth Drannor's fall and agreed to accompany the party in scouting out the ruined elven city. The edge of the city was marked by a shimmering dome, clearly outlined even up into the sky by an area where the rain that had followed them through the woods just stopped, leaving a circular window in the clouds through which the sun could be seen. They cautiously approached the Mythal, and Mog agreed to go through the barrier first, to show them that it was safe...
They stepped through the shimmering dome, unharmed, into the ancient city, overtaken by the forest, with the crumbling remains of magnificent elven architecture everywhere. And babies. BABIES EVERYWHERE. The place was literally crawling with infants and toddlers. Mostly orcs and goblins, but humans and other creatures as well, none of them apparently older than three years or so.
Melastasya recalled something Ash had said about the Mythal's magic preserving the youth of its elven inhabitants, even to the point of reversing the effects of aging. Grimnir postulated that the invading "Army of Darkness", after disposing of the elven inhabitants, had settled in the city and then been reverted to infancy and been permanently preserved in that state by the Mythal's power.
Dame, curious, kicked one of the hundreds of thousands of babies towards the edge of the dome. As soon as the infant passed through the barrier, it instantly aged, growing to adulthood, venerability, dying, and then crumbling to dust in a matter of minutes, as if the entire weight of the six hundred years that had passed since city's fall came down upon it in a moment. Numerous others of the infants turned into tiny statues as Kevorkian, still visible only to children, came near.
A few minutes later the dragon flew away, the downbeat of its wings scattering wailing babies like so many dry leaves. The party waited, remaining hidden until they were sure the dragon was gone, then regrouped. Mog had completely vanished with the appearance of the dragon, and could not be found again. Agreeing not to touch the children again, they walked carefully toward the center of the city, admiring the ruins and looking for buildings of historical significance.
Wherever they went, they saw nothing living save more babies, crawling around peacefully--cooing, burbling, crying, or putting random bits of rubble in their mouths in their explorations. There was the occasional pile of scorched bones, mounds of ash, or burn stains on the stone, what you would expect from a city hosting a massive dragon, but nothing offering any direct opposition. It did not take them long to find what they were looking for, the Rule Tower, from which the Coronals once commanded the ancient city.
Light could be seen coming from the top of the immense structure, and the great gates of the tower stood wide open. They strode in, passing swiftly through the foyer and numerous galleries, keeping alert possible enemies, but finding none, until they came to the central atrium of the tower. The atrium was open all the way to the top of the tower and plunged down many floors as well. A great spiral staircase, wide enough for four horsemen to ride abreast, coiled up and down to the many floors, from the lowest basement, lost in darkness, to the roof of the structure.
They hurried up the stairs, Morgianna using her divine sense to search for enemies. When they finally came within a few yards of the door leading out onto the top of the tower she sensed a massive presence of undead, but also of goodness. Everyone else scattered, lurking in nearby rooms or melding into the walls where they could, and the drow paladin strode up and stepped out onto the roof...face to face with the immense form of the red-blue dragon.
From her close vantage, Morgianna could see that the dragon was gaunt, emaciated, it's scaled skin dry and pulled tightly over its bones. A dracolich, or something very similar, yet somehow not evil. from the shadows Ash whispered the word 'Baelnorn', usually reserved for elves who chose to pass into undeath to become eternal guardians of their lands and culture. Morgianna addressed the dragon, politely.
Despite their collective confusion and intense scrutiny, the dragon not believing that a dark elf could become a paladin, nor the paladin believing that an undead red dragon could be a force for good, they came to an understanding. The dragon introduced itself as Garnetallisar, or Garnet for short, and explained how it was raised by the Guild of Naturalists, then perished in the war against the Army of Darkness, clinging to life in this form to protect the ruins that had once been its home. Morgianna asked if the dragon if it knew Mog the Cat, which it admitted it did, claiming that they had been kept together when the dragon was just a hatchling, going on to insist that the cat was not to be trusted.
The dragon explained that the surface of Myth Drannor, at least, was safe, and that, so long as she and her friends did not harm or threaten the infants, they were free to explore as they wished. It also informed them that its size prevented it from dealing with those creatures that dwelt beneath the surface of the ruins--drow, fiends, undead, and other monsters--and that if they were willing to deal with such creatures, they were free to keep whatever they found there.
The party agreed with the undead dragon's terms, and, after resting and partaking in a feast conjured by the dragon, descended the stairs. Once again, they passed on the many rooms and landings, this time heading strait down instead of up. When they neared the bottom, they noticed bight light shining out of a pair of large doors on the very lowest level, the twins of those that lead onto the roof of the tower, one of them cracked open about five inches.
She jaunted back and told the others what she had heard. They decided on the direct approach. Melastasya got out her lute and kicked the door open, preparing to introduce the party. As she stepped in, she saw a young human noblewoman, wearing a high-necked green dress, sitting on a wrought-iron patio chair having a chat with a tall, well-armed, jackal-headed figure. Mel stopped dead in her tracks and ceased her introductions as she recognized the woman as Elissa Bivant-Mondaviak, whom she had briefly served as a hand-maiden. Hanging from the walls were three massive Nycaloths, each held pinioned, with their blood running into a depression in the floor from which a blinding radiance was emitted.
Councilwoman Bivant greeted the party amiably and lamented that it had been nearly half a year since she had last had a chance to chat with Melastasya. The others followed her in and either greeted, or were introduced, to the Lady Elissa.
From conversation, they learned that the glowing recess in the floor was a Pool of Radiance, one of three. The second was beneath Valjevo Castle in old Phlan, the third was "lost" and Miss Bivant had contracted Sorrassar to find it. The pools, it seemed, were constructs of absolute Law, devoid of good or evil, and were originally located beneath the three great centers of civilization in the ancient north--Myth Drannor, Phlan, and the Noga city of Deckon Thar. Elissa, it seemed, desired the power of all three pools in order to found a new Empire -- for which purpose she had captured the daemons who had raised the first Army of Darkness which had conquered both Myth Drannor and Phlan, and was siphoning their power into the pools.
Elissa introduced her companion as "Lord Maram of the Great Spear", himself a daemon and general of the forces she was marshaling. She admitted her intent to use the humanoids that had overrun Phlan in the past as cannon fodder in her move to conquer Phlan, Melvaunt, Zhentil Keep, and the other city-states of the Moon Sea, rallying the orcs, goblins, and the like as a way of ensuring that their numbers would be greatly reduced.
She commended them on their work--disposing of the aboleth, for instance--and asked them to lend the aid of the undead army they had brought back from Deckon Thar to her efforts (something Melastasya postulated the Blessed Afflictor might be very amenable to). Despite her designs for the region and her alliance with Phlan's enemies, Grimnir seemed quick to ally himself with the lady when it became clear that she intended to dispose of the Council, and the Bishop of Tyr most especially. Her firm resolve for establishing law/order/civilization seemed (unsurprisingly) to resonate with the deposed arch-devil. Still, Grimnir asked if he might examine the Pool, and, while doing so, placed an Ysgard rune on the depression in which the pool sat, preparing to shunt the entire pool to another plane should it become necessary.