Freeday, Brewfest 7, 552 CY (50 AN)
The next morning, Croitus, Dhavita, Manny, Quithyra, Resh, Southie, and Thava awaken and breakfast. While Southie discusses selling stock in his organization with Croitus and Resh — Resh buys 100 shares at 1 gp per share, while Croitus buys only one — Dhavita speaks with Manny. Despite his ramblings, she finds that when he speaks of being “many,” he claims this is not a mental illness; that he has physically been split into many. His memories of his past are fractured, although he claims that “no good can come of [asking].”
Once breakfast is over, the group continues on its way.
Travel is uneventful for the next several days. Dhavita has vague, uneasy dreams as she often does while traveling with Southie, but it is only on the morning of Godsday, Patchwall 4, that she awakens from a full-blown nightmare she cannot fully recall. In the light of day, the group continues on the road back to Duchy Jepson, and the memory fades.
At least until they spot the vultures.
Vultures circle high overhead, over a spot down the road. The party proceeds with caution until they notice something in the road. Southie, having acquired a spyglass in his travels, pulls it out to check.
It’s a male human merchant, kneeling in the middle of the road, his arm outstretched and holding a scroll. The blood on his clothes and lack of movement suggests he’s dead.
As the group passes around the spyglass, Dhavita recalls the morning’s dream: she found herself adrift in a sea of bones, sinking downward, drowning. She warns the others — Southie claims he had the same dream — and the group continues to observe the corpse while contemplating their next move. When Dhavita looks at the body again, observing for weaknesses in case it is an enemy, its head snaps upward and makes eye contact through the spy glass. It rises and begins staggering toward the group.
Croitus and Southie step forward to meet the creature. As it approaches, it holds out the scroll. Once Croitus takes it, the corpse collapses, dead again.
Disappointed and annoyed at the lack of challenge, Southie dejectedly decapitates the corpse.
Croitus opens the scroll and returns to the group with it. It reads as follows:
You are cordially invited by
The Esteemed Personage of
Lazghul, the Opal of Chaos with Teeth of Jet and the Dress of Silence
for a lunchtime reverie with tea and cakes and ices.
Fear not the broken jaw of our lost kingdoms, but revel in this valley of dying stars!
Croitus and Dhavita recognize the name — Lazghul the Lich-Lord, a bogeyman of legend. He hasn’t been reliably sighted in the Sorrowfell Plains since the Cackledread War, but his undead depredations have been feared for a long time. The references to “tea and cakes and ices,” “the broken jaw of our lost kingdoms,” and “this valley of dying stars” bring to mind the work of a wartime poet, Elias the Twin, who wrote about the decay and ravages of the Cackledread War.
After some deliberation, they decide they’re probably going to encounter the lich whether they want to do so or not. As such, Southie sends Manny and Quithyra to take the long way around, cutting through the plains to avoid the lich-lord’s invitation. Their job is to take the stocks and contracts to the bank at Duchy Jepson to establish the official Freedom Unlimited, Ltd. presence there. Dhavita also requests they send word to Margot, and deliver the gold necklace she purchased in Vonseloth. The pair agrees, and wishes the group luck in their upcoming encounter. They then set out across the plains.
As prepared as they’re likely going to get, Croitus, Dhavita, Resh, Southie, and Thava head down the road.
It’s only another hour or two when they see it — the shattered remnant of a merchant caravan. The sounds of nature fade; only the circling vultures are visible, and they make no sound. There is an army of roughly a hundred skeletons in the vicinity, as well as about three dozen freshly-minted zombies, likely the dead merchants by their look. The dead are bustling about a table that has been set with a richly-prepared feast. Sitting at the head of the table, by the broken ruin of the caravan, is a giant, crouched, crab-like structure made entirely of bone. Within is a robed, skeletal figure — the visage of Lazghul himself, red pinpoints of light in the empty sockets where his eyes used to be. Next to Lazghul is a skeleton playing a harp; the framework is bone and the strings are evidently some manner of gut.
The group approaches.
Croitus gives greeting. With a rasping voice like a fetid wind across dead reeds, he returns the greeting. His bone chair lurches forward so he can get a better look at the assembled party. Southie offers him a goblet on the table; he accepts it and pours the liquid into his mouth. It immediately spills through his empty jaw, leaving a darkened, spreading patch of wet across his robe. No one else eats or drinks, even when he insists. He presents a very cheerful, jovial demeanor despite his ghastly nature.
He explains that he wishes to discuss a shared problem between Croitus and Southie — the Raven Queen. The existence of death, and the dichotomy of the living and the dead, is a flaw, a tool of oppression that should not exist. Southie replies that he appreciates the ability to kill his enemies, but Lazghul replies that one must take the good with the bad in matters such as this. Southie concedes the point.
Lazghul indicates he wants them to find the Shard of Evil, a flaw introduced in reality at the beginning of time. It has the power to slay gods, and has the advantage of being much easier to find than Godenschemering — it is located at the bottom of the Abyss. Lazghul believes this group is formidable enough to do the deed, and he will gladly assist them in destroying the Raven Queen with it.
Distracted, he then inquires about Dhavita. He says she looks familiar and asks if they have met before, and it is a while into the conversation before he determines she strongly resembles someone named Shyamal Khundhury, a Raktrishi of the Brahmin caste. She says she is not nearly so high born as to be a Raktrishi, and Lazghul replies that is too bad, as if she is a relative, she ought to be a princess of Nadhi.
As conversation continues, Southie seems interested and tentatively expresses interest. Lazghul says he can keep an eye on Southie, but Southie doesn’t like the idea, so they agree to meet back at this location if Southie or any of the others decide to take him up on the offer.
As they are preparing to leave, Southie decides that Lazghul is probably a bad enough person to merit death. He launches himself at Lazghul, but is surprised when the bone cage of his throne closes around him; Southie knocks out a notable chunk of bone, but the shifting cage whirls to close the gap. Dhavita, recalling something from the visions in her sleep, is already fleeing; she is halfway across the field when the skeletons all take aim and pepper the area with arrows. Croitus, Resh, Southie, and Thava all seek shelter under the table, and although Resh takes an arrow in his hand for his trouble, they all manage to avoid death by a hundred arrows. As they redraw their arrows, Southie notes he was just testing Lazghul, to make certain he was strong enough. He says he’ll be on his way. He then steps out and begins walking down the path. In a fit of pique, Lazghul recites some spells that causes Southie to feel intense pain in his abdomen, and indicates he may or may not now keep his word. He otherwise lets them leave unmolested.
After they are safely away, the group chides Southie for antagonizing the lich-lord. Despite their increased paranoia, the rest of their trip is uneventful.
The fivesome arrives in Duchy Jepson in the late afternoon on the following day, Waterday, Patchwall 5. Given the colorful vardos and wagons outside Jepson, it appears a caravan of Vistani have made camp outside the town. The group enters and sets about their business. Croitus goes to the Wizard’s Tower library to perform further research on the Shard of Evil. Resh goes to the Wizard’s Tower to see if the spare dormatories are still available. (They’re not; Resh returns to the Addled Alchemist to find lodging for the night.) Southie travels to the offices of the Jepson Treasury to meet with Manny and Quithyra and continue contract work. Dhavita and Thava go to the inn — Dhavita to look for Margot, and Thava to have a drink. They find Marguerite and Vianibrar, and give greeting. Dhavita and Thava proceed to retell the events of the past several days on the road, prompting alarm (particularly from Vianibrar) with the revelation that Lazghul is again sighted in the Sorrowfell Plains. Resh returns to the inn during their story, and fills in details as needed.