The next day, Sig brought back Zaden Holdstein from the Iron Giant to Corneria, leaving it under the guard of the soldiers from Wilson’s Point. With the group back together, a discussion was held to decide on the next possible action they could take. During this discussion, a minion of Viktor came to them, saying the high judge had more updates for them. They noted this, and the minion let them get back to their discussion.
Namely, the most important task was to find the Orb of Air, yet finding the location via magic had all but failed for some unknown reason. However, stopping the Floating Continent of Slingham from falling upon the land was important as well, a point Luvais Ziegler strongly stressed. He made it a fact he needed to get back to the Continent and assist the army against the Githyanki, for the Dragon army was weakened, and there was no telling the state of the Protectors at that time. More so, he pointed out how he was going to be King in place of King Jörg, and would need to revive Felix and Ulrich for those goals.
The party were a little against Striker’s intentions, given it involved a kingdom that was not their own, and they had their own issues to deal with. Slingham was otherwise still at war with Corneria, and they could fend against the Githyanki on their own. Reviving two of their former combatants didn’t sit with them as well, for they would likely just retaliate on behalf if their now dead King. Striker pointed out Felix and Ulrich were simply under orders of the King, and merely did so for the necessity of peace. In addition, they would be needed in order to command the Dragon Riders and Protectors not only for combating the Githyanki, but for the continuing existence of Slingham. Despite the overall rejection of Striker’s intentions, he was still strong on going through with them. Razeil Kashar made it clear he would not be able to support Striker if he did so, and he would probably have to rely on himself.
Before the conversation could escalate any further, Viktor’s man continued to intervene their conversation till at last they tabled the discussion and came before the High Judge (Zaden begrudgingly following). Viktor greeted them all warmly save for Zaden, whom he immediately set upon with his men to arrest him. Raziel took offense to this, saying he has helped Corneria greatly with his actions, having even completed his Quest as promised. Viktor made it clear he was a criminal in Corneria all the same, and that if he wished to keep his life he would submit to his rule. He did concede that Zaden’s usefulness in the coming battles was necessary, however, and until they figured out where he was needed most, he would be jailed as necessary.
In regards to what the party would do next, Viktor informed them on new developments: Corneria the Shire (which the party had passed by earlier in the week while traveling in the Iron Giant) had fallen to Lycanthropy, via an army mostly of wererat’s lead by the wolf tainted Jorell Hellion. Where they were at now was unknown, but wherever they were didn’t bode well, for the Curse of Lycanthropy was now stronger. Where hearty fellows could resist the taint before, they were falling to the curse like flies, which meant Jorell’s army was growing stronger and faster with each new victim. While they did have a Lycanthrophy quarantine (which Silas/Calintz helped found) to assist in dealing and curing Lycans, it never accounted for the disease becoming harder to resist.
Not only was Lycanthropy harder to resist, but all diseases in general as well. All this occurred on the same day the Iron Giant had its last stand, and not only the party but all living creatures felt a strange sensation of something missing from the world. Immediate quarantines were set up for the populace, where it was discovered a new disease was forming in the population as well. It was being dubbed the Living Rot, causing victims skin to erupt in pus-filled blistered that when burst left bloody craters behind. Rotten flesh eventually fell from bones, and organs would protrude from through these craters. Worse, not only was the disease spread through contact, food and even the air, it was supernatural as well, making even Zacharaia and others susceptible to it.
And on top of a plague, scouts looking for the Farmonian army returned, noting that the army was traveling to them up to a point…then disappeared entirely. Realizing that thousands of soldiers couldn’t physically disappear without magical assistance, Viktor pointed out that King Farook was a powerful Cleric, capable of sending his army to another plane via Gate. As such, there was no telling when and where Farmonia’s lead army would appear next, for he could make a Gate appear anywhere he wished. As such, blocks from planar travel were being placed at key locations throughout Corneria, yet Viktor made it quite clear that he could not block all locations from Farook. And on the Material Plane advancement of the Farmonian army, the naval fleet had taken over the island of Orochi, with the fleet surely coming towards them in at the very least a few days.
Once all updates were given, Viktor focused back upon Zaden, who would need to be under a Quest if the party wished to have his assistance (despite the angry protests of Raziel). As such, they needed to decide on what they would do next, which they were in huge conflict over. Eventually, despite being against assisting Slingham, doing so would likely convince them to stop their war efforts and allow them to recollect their dragon mounts. As such, the Quest for Zaden was to fight back against the Githyanki invasion until it was pushed back.
While the party prepared for travel to the Floating Continent, the animated shield Randall Thay had been working on was given to Thad, along with a message to the party to be ready once things went down. Also, Striker took the initiative to call upon higher powers to revive Felix and Ulrich, whom he impressed upon his need for them to make right in Slingham. Ulrich was still deviant, though Felix understood the severity of the situation. With the King slain and their armies in disarray (Felix and Ulrich being dead), Githyanki from the Astral Plane attacked, using their Pact with Red Dragons to gain their intimidate servitude once their rider was slain. To the Githyanki, Slingham was nothing more than a treasure trove waiting for them to boost their numbers, for Slingham had been clearing continents of Chromatic Dragons for over 1000 years. In concern that their dragons were already rampant throughout the country, Felix explained that was the point: Slingham would eventually be called upon by whomever they were warring against to contend with the dragons, for no one but the dragon riders could contain them.
In regards to the falling Continent and restoring someone to lead the One True Way, Felix knew of a place Ulrich didn’t, which King Jorg dubbed the Heart of the Continent. Felix was taken there by the King when he had shown enough loyalty to the country (he was never born there), and gained his dragon tattoos via a monument to Tiamat, the Goddess of Chromatic Dragons. It was there that Felix believed one could find a means to lead The Way, though getting there was the trouble. It was blocked by all physical and magical means of travel, requiring someone to call upon powers greater than themselves to will it. It was deduced that Tongaitihi was perhaps going to use the Wish scroll of Randall Thay to do so.
As a means to make it to the Heart right away and stabilize the Continent, Striker brought forth a Solar via Gate, who could cast a Wish for them. Bidding Felix and Ulrich good luck (they claimed they could return to Slingham of via their own methods), the Solar Wished they go to the Heart of the Continent, and arrived in a circular room with a huge upright silver cross in the center of the room, a magic circle and inscription in front of it. Lining the room were nine other doorways, leading down hallways unexplored. Dim light seemed to radiate from the stone walls, not requiring them to rely on torches or magical light. Before exploring further, Striker promised the called Solar a proper tithe should he assist them in their task, to which the Solar accepted. In the midst of exploring, Thad walked upon the magic circle and a light from the red gem of the cross beamed down upon him. Fearing what they were doing, Thad quickly jumped off and had someone read the description he noted (he couldn’t read)…
“A piece of the world is missing. The heart moves to the will of the way till the piece missing is sealed. Those who have the will to bear the burden of the way, present yourselves. Should the way be broken, present yourself again, so that you may have the chance lead the way.”
Beliving this would allow Striker to bond with the island in order to lead The Way, Striker presented his silver cross tattoo while within the magic circle, and while the light did shine brighter, nothing more happened. The other doorways around the room were then explored, which had the names of individuals etched into the archway, those being: Frale Stone, Catherine, Jorg, Ozymandias, Qui Quee Quod, Griffith, Tiamat, Bayonetta, Jonathan Storm. Within each of them was a monument and description that spoke of their character, rule, or fate, which the Solar was able to elaborate the history of to them.
It was deduced that this room was a graveyard/memorial to note each individual who was a leader of The Way, with Qui Quee Quod being the one who started it, via his inscription saying, “The way is set in motion, and one day the piece of the world missing will one day remain so.” This would perhaps explain King Jörg addition, and that this level was also mutable. Each room was similar in design and concept save Tiamat’s, whose stone monument actually contained a huge glass sphere where swirls of color swam. The Solar was able to identify them as Chromatic Dragons, and the sphere itself contained an Aspect of Tiamat, a piece of her godly power made flesh. Their investigation of it was purely visual, and feared to touch it, returning back to the silver cross.
Deciding to experiment with the cross, Zaden was asked to step upon the magic circle and repeated some of the actions Striker took, whom repeated them again on his own: stepped into the circle, then opened up clothing to present chest, the light getting stronger with each action. Concerned at what they could possibly do to continue, the party thought they should destroy the other monuments, perhaps as a gesture to say that their rule is now over, and a new rule is in its place. They made sure to break every monument but Tiamat’s, fearing it would release the Aspect. Upon returning to the monument and discovering nothing new, they eventually decided on that course of action, feeling they had no other choice.
Prepping themselves with plenty of spells for the creatures release, Striker busted open the sphere, the color coalescing into a beautiful black haired woman, Tiamat’s humanoid guise, who thanked the fools for releasing her. When she realized she would have to fight her way out, dragon heads sprouted from her back, transforming her body into a huge black dragon with five heads, one for each Chromatic Dragon. They quickly discovered that each head had a will of its own, which could bite at each other them if they weren’t careful, and utilized a breath weapon. She even had a stinger which dripped wretched poison, Zaden feeling the pain of it. The party was more than prepared for Tiamat’s release, however, and her form rotted away into a black cloud, leaving nothing of her presence but the shards of the former sphere she was imprisoned in.
Upon returning to the silver cross, the party found nothing had changed, and they were still missing something that required them to proceed. It suddenly occurred to Zach that perhaps they should attempt kneeling as well, given the inscription asked to have someone “present themselves” who has “the will” and kneeling was usually a sign of submission to receive judgement. With this action in addition to what the rest, the light from the red gem shined brightly on Striker’s chest, and another magic circle appeared before him. Upon stepping on it, he was teleported away, with the rest of the party following soon after.
They were along the edge of another circular, the flooring of the center of which was made of metal, and was covered with bronze dust. In the center of it was an inactive teleportation circle, with three impressions for something round to be placed in. Around this metal floor were three basins, each which contained ten black, polished, and smooth rocks. Through the Solar, they were able to find they were Loadstones, and the dust was actually an inactive Bronze Locust Swarm, waiting to be activated. Believing they needed to place at least three Loadstones within the teleportation circle, Raziel and Thad used the stone from the walls to create a crude idol via Stone Shape, and animated it to distract the Swarm. The moment the animated idol stepped on the metallic floor, the Swarm coalesced around it. Not only could the idol not harm the Swarm in general, but the few construct insects it smashed were reforming and attacking anew. Realizing they had limited time before the idol was destroyed, three of them took a Loadstone to the teleportation circle, being rid of its curse the moment it was placed within the circle. With the circle active once the third stone was place, they rushed in right after the swarm decimated the idol.
Now within a square room, they stood before two constructs: one a Mithral Golem, the other an animated marionette. Behind these constructs was another inactive teleportation circle. The marionette bowed in their direction and said, “In order to pass this room, you must first challenge, battle and destroy the Great Guardian. Battle does not start until you make the challenge. Battle can only happen between the challenger and the Great Guardian. All others cannot interfere. The teleportation circle will not activate until the Great Guardian is destroyed.” The party immediately began to set about who among them would challenge the Mithral Golem, believing it to be the guardian. Right before they ordered the Solar to give its challenge, the party began to question if perhaps they were being misdirected, and had the angel challenge the marionette instead, which crumbled immediately from the Solar’s assault. The teleportation circle activated, and the party was on their way once more.
They now stood before two hallways separated by 5 feet of stone. Each hallway was ten feet wide and tall, and extending 60 feet before ending at another wall. They cast Detect Snares and Pits, and after not seeing anything, had Raziel cast Detect Magic to find that the whole of the hallways had strong magic auras. Afraid at what would happen to them should they walk down the hall, they had the Solar summon a celestial elephant to walk down for them. Choosing the right hallway first, the elephant squeezed through and slowly aged with each step it took, eventually “dying” when it walked too far. A second elephant was summoned to walk the other hallway, and this one reversed in aging till it “died” by becoming nothing but an unborn elephant. They at first thought they needed to walk down both hallways at the same time to offset the magic, but two more elephants “died” in the process of trying this. Instead of experimenting further, the party had the Solar continually cast Great Dispel Magic, which suppressed the magic of the hallway long enough to reach the end of the hallway (youth hallway taken), and touch the wall, teleporting away.
Now standing in a square room without light, their attempts to light the way were hindering by a suppressing force which dimmed illumination by half, and while it could be dispelled, it would eventually return. Four entryways lined the square room, and every room appeared to be the same as the one they entered: 45 × 45 feet, with the symbol of the silver cross in the center. They hoped to map the rooms, but the rooms seemed to go on forever, and when they finally decided to start over and retrace their steps, it was found they were walking over their own tracks several times over, and were somehow going in a loop. Through trail and error, they eventually discovered they were in a set of rooms 3 × 3 which were simply looping to the entryway of other rooms. While they eventually discovered where all the loops lead to, they still couldn’t leave the otherwise endless maze.