Back in the suite, Mirr declares that he must return to his clan as his mission of outreach and search for allies was well accomplished. He must now return to protect his own kind. “Think twice before shooting Drow, well… maybe not.” He says that kind, the “good” Drow, will not attempt to capture and kill the adventurers as a horde of Drow normally would, and use of Mirr’s name will further indicate alliance. After his abrupt departure, discussion commences of what to do and where to go next. There is talk of the cursed gate, evacuation and Sieffre’s pending arrival.
They take watches. On first watch, there is a knock at the door. Aven answers it to find Galarion, who proceeds downstairs with the group, apart from a very sleepy Fraas, to discuss various matters. Galarion suggests they all align together for the betterment of the mote. Offers to work together against the simpleton rule of Lord Garland, and he makes promises to help deal with him, if he manages to return. At this point, Bork makes a stolid but defiant exit. The group inquires as to the emissary’s ability to aid in the evacuation of Griffton, and he thinks he would be able to arrange for refugee status in Belheim. Sentinel makes a clear statement of unbroken allegiance to Draugarland, not wanting in on Galarion’s political scheming. It seems clearer now that Galarion may have devious plans in place that would mean he should not be expecting Lord Garland’s return. The emissary returns upstairs to his own tavern suite.
Still down at the empty bar, a broad-shouldered, scruffy looking fighter type wanders in. Zinn recognizes this weathered face, hirsute with a three-day shadow, as Horacio Beck, one of the townsfolk drafted into the guard after the first Gnoll attack. He offers his blade to the group’s cause, however, a skeptical Zinn, who does not want to have another fairweather or fallen companion challenges him to a duel for his place with the adventurers. Beck’s uncertainty at facing more undead does not work in his favor. Beck further speaks, in an attempt to validate his potential, and a certain undesire to fight the mage-orc, “well,… I do still have both my hands.” Although this is not satisfactory, as he and Zinn make there way outside to commence a first-to-two-hits duel.
Zinn strikes first with the flat side of her longsword, registering a swaggering hit, but Beck forms a duel counter, hitting with his first, but Zinn sidesteps out of the second. Several more thrusts, jabs and swipes are exchanged until finally Beck connects. Zinn yields, begrudgingly. “How does he fare?” Zinn replies, “As long as he stops talking…” Beck is invited up to stay the night in the group’s suite.
Back inside, Bork was waiting for them anxiously and leads everyone (except the still-snoozing Fraas) down to Archibald’s office. He tells them that while spying on Galarion next door, Rand paid the emissary a visit setting up a clandestine meeting at Jack’s tower, two hours from now. Rand had fluttered off leaving Galarion audibly distraught. The group makes quick plans to beat Galarion to the tower in order to spy on the meetup. Fraas is awoken and Shah, using Boko’s dagger, becomes an invisible parting of fog and tails Galarion and his men to determine the best route for the gang to take. He returns, “They are all leaving now. We must hurry.”
Upon arriving at Jack’s tower, Bork espies three large direbats hanging from the eaves. The group stops there and sees three torches moving up the trail to the tower. Beck stumbles, attracting the attention of one of Galarion’s men, but luckily the noise is dismissed as nothing and the Northmen carry on. Even before the emissary and his men begin discussions, Bork can see that something is wrong. Tahgen has flown down and is feeding on one of Galarion’s men. Before the party can rush the scene, Rand swoops down, knocking Tahgen over and shouts, “STOP!” While Gfed and Sentinel sneak up for a closer look, Bork seems to think that Galarion’s strange interactions during this suggest he and his men are ensorcelled by Rand’s powers. Cautious as ever, Bork chugs an expeditious retreat potion. Rand scolds, “Tahgen, you had a dog earlier. You’re fine.” “And don’t worry about them,” referring to the conspicuously hidden adventurers, “they won’t do anything.” And thus, the three vampires haul the three clerics up the tower. Rand can be heard apologizing to Galarion and declares his need for daywalking eyes, to keep tabs on the Knights of Griffton. He fills Galarion in on the group’s backstory and finishes with, “all of us can work together,” in his cold and suspicious tone. A rapt and emotionless Galarion responds, “We will do all you ask without question.” The vampires fly off, and the party returns back to town to finish their watches.
A new day has dawned. First thing, the group catch up a very haggard-looking Durri and Archibald. They find out that boats, potentially Sieffre’s, have been sighted, but unwilling to approach in the fog that has apparently been flowing further off-mote. Beck excitedly announces his new membership in the group to Archibald. “I was in an adventuring group before. Then I lost my eye and my hand. Best of luck to you.”
As the party heads into the storeroom on way to seek the Heart, they notice it is not quite as they left it. There are humanoid tracks, which suggest ambush or someone wanting to follow along. Beck is able to obfuscate the group’s direction to suggest that instead of down the spiral stairwell, they went into the “fire” tunnels. When partway down, sounds from above suggest the subterfuge worked.
The group moves into the chamber where they previously fought a gang of were-rats. Bork hears chewing sounds from behind one of the woodpiles and advances seeing a single ghoul chewing on a stray femur. It sees Bork, looks up and drops its meal and growls. Two other ghouls emerge. Fraas flings magic missiles. Aven assembles a crossbow turret. A fourth ghoul shambles from the back room. Sentinel bludgeon one. A fifth enters. Beck’s defensive attach spatters one. Zinn’s immolating arrows and Gfed’s weird words finish off the last of the ghouls.
From the other side of the room three haunting voices can be heard echoing, “Fraaaasssssssss.” Preemptively, Fraas casts daylight on a coin and tosses it in the direction of the voices. A shadow emerges, apparently larger than one’s the group has seen before. It lunges at Aven and attacks with it’s chilling grasp. Shah, Fraas & Aven make immediate attacks. Sentinel retrieves the daylight coin to bring it closer to the battle, as it seems to distract the shadows and makes them easier to see and thus to hit. Beck slashes at the evil thing. Two more normal-sized shadows emerge. They swarm Fraas and sap his strength. Zinn makes a strong attack at the larger shadow using her longsword and channeling shocking grasp. Bork bombs. Fraas casts a flaming sphere. Gfedcba chants weird words. The shadows drained Beck of nearly all his strength, as he collapses and appears on the brink of becoming shadow himself. Fraas desperately casts fireball to finish off the smaller two and Sentinel’s flurry of blows demolishes the final shadow.
The room is again quiet. Bork gives Beck a restoration potion, and a lesser restore and emergency bull strength is given to Fraas. From the direction the group entered, they hear a single entity moving closer, trying to sneak in the were-rat chamber. The group dashes to hide behind the rubble and wood piles. Sentinel hides the daylight coin by tossing it down one of the other tunnels. At this, perhaps hearing the coin his the ground, the oncoming steps briefly pause, then continue forward.
Aven sees Rand enter the room. Bork walks out from cover, wielding a readied bomb in his hand. Rand requests a peaceful entreaty, saying he heard of the party’s ruckus with the shadows and came to offer to hold onto the spyglass for them, as he seems to be good at dealing with the undead. Instead, the gang asks Rand to join the further into the tunnels. He leads the way.
The passage leads into a very big room, with a large arch marked with an unknown language and wavering a dark aura. Translated, the symbols read, “The Path to the Heart.” On each side of the arch a low pedestals, one with an intact twelve-foot-tall spear-carrying statue, the other with only a pile of rubble. Bones and tattered cloth are scattered on the floor.
Suddenly, there is the sound of stone grinding on stone echoing throughout the room. The intact stone golem moves off its pedestal and charges at the group. Gfed quickly bolsters the group’s courage. Beck attacks swiftly with a vital strike. Bork firebombs, Rand charges forward. Zinn uses her bull strength and charges with a strong sword strike, but barely seems to scratch the monstrosity. Sentinel pummels. Aven sends a blade drone to attack. The golem’s aura begin to slow Shah’s movements like molasses. It hits Zinn hard, twice. Beck vital strikes again, misses. Gfed casts weird words. Rand makes a significant, strong hit. Zinn uses her arcane pool to make another strong strike. Sentil uses his elemental fist and obliterates the golem to rubble.
With the immediate danger settled, Fraas take a moment to scan for magic on the large gate. In consequence, he blacks out and falls to the floor. After regaining consciousness and composure, he says the gate contains and overwhelming aura of unknown origin or magical school. Rand asks about the translation, Bork answers him honestly, and both of them move as if about to enter the gate. Sentinel grabs Bork, but Bork makes a case to let him go forward. Bork dips his head into the gate, feeling a cold, sick pain registering, but it fades into a gentler, lingering malaise. Gfed and Fraas follow Bork through, feeling the same chilling pain and sickness. Inside, necromantic energy and curses abound. The space seems to be connected to the negative energy plane. Wispy fog-like forms fill a long hallway. Rand walks across the threshold following Bork and Fraas down the hall. Beck crosses and follows with Gfed further in. Sentinel, Zinn, Shah and Aven, hesitantly follow at the rear, however Aven doesn’t seem to feel the same malaise as everyone else upon crossing. They walk for hundred of feet, through tendrils emanating blackness that even darkvision cannot penetrate. At the end of the hall is a bright, blue light.
Upon reaching the hall’s terminus, they emerge into an egg shaped room, formed from impossibly, perfectly cut together stonework, as no mundane craftsman could make. Obsidian stone lines the walls, like black scales. Above, gangways stretch across the rooms, with metal steps from planks of iron. No discernable pattern, no apparent exits.
The blue light comes from high above, where a single enormous object is creating it, a roughly spherical boulder surrounded by rings of platform. There are objects, not moving, on a nearby platform. They start to climb for an indeterminable amount of time, as time is confused in the negative energy plane, Beck using his tracking skills to assist the trek. As they get closer, the boulder seems to be roughly in the form of an anatomical heart. Gfed sends his eagle to scout a closer look. “Glow. Rock. Dead person. Kind of like him,” looking at Bork. “No… more like you,” at Gfedcba. “Path this way.”
After more time, they finally reach the top. The light here is very bright. They can see a desiccated form in the shape of a gnome, complete with a pack and various tools. The stone heart appears to be mostly rock, with only one sliver emitting the blue light. This piece looks slightly outset from the rest of the heart.
The group moves closer to it with the hopes of using Zinn’s longsword to chat with the deceased gnome. Whereupon, Rand brusquely declares, “Don’t go any closer. It’s very strong. I’ll retrieve the body and bring it to you.” In a clear act of defiance, Fraas moves closer. Rand’s face shifts and enflames with rage.