Freeday, Patchwall 7, 552 CY (50 AN)
As the spirit screeches, exorcised by Thava’s arcane power, a low, sinister chuckle sounds. Dhavita recognizes the tell-tale signs of some manner of illusion or message, set to convey when specific triggers are met, while Thava recognizes the signs of a teleportation trap about to spring shut. A thick, black mist forms over the area, and a grinning, leering skull forms from the mist, speaking with Lazghul’s voice. As he begins to speak, Croitus, Dhavita, Marguerite, Southie, and Thava all start to leave. When they reach the outer boundary of mist, however, it triggers the trap prematurely — Lazghul absolutely seems the sort to want to monologue, and to punish interruptions — and everyone feels the eldritch vertigo of transitioning between realms.
When they return to their senses, Croitus, Dhavita, Marguerite, Southie, and Thava, as well as their five horses, are standing in a rocky valley full of howling winds. They appear to be at the intersection of five roads with an ancient and unreadable signpost marking the spot. Lashed to the signpost is an ancient, leathery corpse. The mournful demeanor and perpetual twilight unbroken by a sad and haze-covered sun suggests they are in the Shadowfell, the shadowy realm forming a boundary between the living in the dead. Surprisingly, Resh is also at the crossroads; his demeanor has taken on a significant pall, and wisps of smoky ectoplasm waft off him. Notably, he bears a heavy axe wound in his chest, and his right leg bears a bleeding wound where the bone is visible, with only a few scraps of sinew joining the top of his thigh and the bottom. The last thing he recalls, through a dream-like haze, is traveling through gloomy burrows and rocky tunnels before finding himself here. Whatever place he found himself, it felt like home.
Lazghul unceremoniously appears at the crossroads and Southie instantly hefts his axe at him. He is dejected when it passes through him, like an apparition. Lazghul indicates they must have cut his message short. He apologizes to Croitus, Dhavita, Marguerite, Resh, and Thava, indicating it was not quite his goal to send them here. He notes that he has regretted letting Southie go, since the dwarf attempted to kill him, and rigged it so killing his Executioner and the other undead would transport them to the Shadowfell. Since Southie apparently sent an angel back to its domain with the knowledge that he would kill the Raven Queen, it seems an appropriate place to send his foe to meet his final fate. He notes, however, that if they escape from the Shadowfell, Lazghul is willing to let the matter drop. If he comes after Lazghul again, however, he has a ghost following Manny and Quithyra, and will use the location of the Creation Forge to his advantage. Although he has not yet decided if he will use it or destroy it. With that, he disappears.
After discussion, Croitus indicates the Dead Man upon the sign will answer questions regarding the locations of things by pointing. He asks which way to the House of Black Lanterns, an inn that often appears in the victinity of Dead Man’s Cross, and the corpse points off to the right. After asking about ways to escape and where the Raven Queen’s domain might be, as well as Southie asking where Bahamut’s domain may be (although he keeps calling him “Bathmat,” to the consternation of some of the others, particularly Thava) and if the Dead Man wishes to be destroyed (he does not respond; Croitus suggests he is cursed to remain here for choices he made in life), they decide to investigate the inn. Before they walk to it, however, a mournful bell tolls three times and a mist rises in the direction the Dead Man pointed. When the mist falls, an ornate two-story inn with black lanterns bearing blue flames appears. It is surrounded by a courtyard of cobblestones, and someone has apparently set up a haphazard and ragged tent city near the inn. Croitus, Resh, and Southie decide to go to the inn while Dhavita, Marguerite, and Thava investigate the tents.
Inside the inn, the place appears to be occupied by several sad, grey shapes in dusty corners, as well as the innkeeper, a woman in a kimono whose mouth has been slashed. She has a broad knife tucked in her obi. As Croitus, Resh, and Southie enter, a quiet voice accusingly mutters, “You.” They look to see Zafira Shulud, who looks momentarily angry before returning to her mug. She no longer has the sores around her mouth, but her neck is now bent at an odd angle and bears rope burns. Southie goes to talk her while Croitus decides to talk with the innkeeper. Southie learns that Zafira was executed as an accomplice to the Scandshar Six — the Peacocks wanted someone to blame, and she formed as good a target as any. He apologizes for his part in these events, as well as for decaptiating her before, and asks if she wants to accompany them on her journey; she agrees.
Resh listens for a bit, and asks why she has not moved on — introspection, she says; she wants to be truly ready before meeting her deity — before deciding he’s more interested in seeing what is happening outside.
Croitus speaks with the innkeeper, learning her name is Nishimura Kumiko. She seems a bit off-kilter — not too abnormal for the lingering dead, though — but otherwise like a normal innkeeper. He orders a drink, and determining that this place probably doesn’t care about such things, removes his hat of disguise.
Meanwhile, Dhavita, Marguerite, and Thava investigate the tents. It appears to be composed of whatever scraps of fabric the inhabitants were able to scavenge, and more likely forms one tent with several flaps. Nine skeletal horses are tethered outside. The tents house several military men — Dhavita counts eighteen, and by their markings, notes they are likely mercenaries. They appear to have been battered or crushed. In the middle of the tent is a dark-skinned man clad only in a loincloth and tied to the supports of the tent. He bears a couple of arrow wounds in his shoulders, several stab wounds in his abdomen, and a vicious abdominal wound that appears to have started small in his back, like a rapier point, but left with much more force, leaving a terrible crater. It looks like some form of magic, perhaps. Ancient whip scars mar his shoulders, and in addition to his bleeding death-wounds, he generally appears to have been mistreated. He bears the angry, sullen silence of a slave or prisoner.
The mercenaries greet the ladies as they approach. When questioned, they explain that they were killed in what they determined to be an engineered rockslide. They’ve been waiting here for the rest of their mercenary company for…well, time passes strangely, but perhaps three or four months. They’ve set up this tent city because they’re not welcome in the House of Black Lanterns; when they arrived, there were nineteen of them, but one got handsy with the barkeep, and she stabbed him to death. (Whatever lies beyond death in this realm, anyway.) The man they’ve captured is the man responsible for killing them — they waited at Dead Man’s Cross for someone to pass through who looked surprised to see them, and found him within a day of their passing. Resh, having joined the ladies by this time, inquires why they keep this man bound and why they have not yet moved on. The sergeant indicates they mean to punish this man and to wait for the others to return so that they can properly determine what to do with him. For emphasis, the sergeant strikes him; he winces, but says nothing. Resh asks why this matters, and the mercenaries seem to think it is important for nonspecific reasons. Dhavita asks if she can speak with the man, and the sergeant shrugs. She and Margot step into the tent, and ask how the man came there. He says he should not have let the halfling go; he was an assassin sent to track down some robbers who burglarized a merchant’s house and burned it to the ground. This group of mercenaries he killed was collateral damage, as he was instead supposed to assassinate their employer, an adventuring band. Before he was an assassin, he was a hunter from the Kinamsitu region of ’Ichi. He was captured and sold into slavery, only to be purchased by House de Rais. At hearing them mention Southie, he indicates he knows the name as they were owned by the same master, Revaz de Rais, and he heard it with some frequency. As the de Rais family sometimes does, they hunted him for sport, but he was so skilled at evading the hunts that by the time he was freed, his greatest skill was hunting men. So, he became a professional assassin and moved to the Isle of Anhak.
He remarks that one is never free of slavery; that it continues to shape one’s destiny, even as a free man.
Dhavita and Thava ask if they mercenaries can be hired, and after some deliberation, they say they can: 30gp should cover costs for a month. When inquiring about the man, they say they will free him for 150gp.
Southie then exits the House of Black Lanterns with Zafira, and reintroduces her to the rest of the group. She looks briefly angry when she sees Dhavita, but then apathy reasserts itself. He says she will be coming with them and trying to help them find the way out of this plane. She seems a little surprised at Southie’s change of heart and profuse apologies for decapitating her, and the others indicate that Southie has grown since last she met him. Southie makes note of the tents as Croitus comes out, and while the rest of the group tries to keep him away, Southie ends up striking up a conversation with the mercenaries anyway. When he finds out they can be hired for 30gp, he agrees; he waves aside most of the explanation for the bound man and deigns not to purchase his freedom, partially because he is running short on money. Dhavita and Thava decide to split the cost for the bound assassin’s freedom.
Dhavita asks his name, and he introduces himself as Osvanpyw de Rais. She tells him he is free to go, but he explains that he does not want to pass to the afterlife with a debt on his soul, so he will assist them in returning home. He is a skilled tracker, and although he does not know this land well, he will offer his services. She asks about the strange wound in his abdomen, and he explains it is a wound from a device called a firearm. To lighten the mood, Thava ignites her arm with magic; this prompts Marguerite, barely keeping herself together in the face of being in the lands of the dead, to begin sobbing uncontrollably. While comforting her, Dhavita asks the man to proceed; he explains that it is a rod that forces a projectile out by means of igniting smoke powder. He says a man called Giblets gave him the wound.
Once that line of questioning is finished, Dhavita takes her wife aside to try to calm her down.
Southie indicates that he wishes to find the way to the domain of “Bathmat”, as he wishes to make him a deal — if Bahamut will help him deal with Lazghul he will willingly go to one of the realms without gods Bahamut mentioned. Although he may, of course, have to delay leaving so that he can deal with the slavery problem.
While the others are deliberating, Croitus returns to the Dead Man’s Cross. When he is certain no one else is around, he asks where to find Pluton, dead Nerull’s domain. The corpse points to the mountains.
Also while the others deliberate, Zafira returns to the inn. Seeing that Zafira is gone, Dhavita and a still-shaken Marguerite enter the House of Black Lanterns to find her inside. She again seems displeased to see Dhavita, but apart from grimacing and threateningly reaching into her robes, she says nothing. Dhavita asks why Zafira sought her in the first place, and Zafira explains that she was given a quest to serve Cihuacoatl, whom she understands to be Zehir, god of serpents, poisons, and murder. She was to find Dhavita, remove her appendix, and if she survived for a week, take her back to her temple so that she could be sacrificed. This was not the only mission she had, though; among other things, she was also tasked with cutting out the heart of an enemy’s child, but placing it in the home of still another enemy and being caught in the process, for that is the only way for her to get close enough. Dhavita asks to what she was trying to get close — she responds simply that it was her goal. Now she waits in the hopes that she can prepare herself before she must stand before Zehir. When Dhavita inquires further, Zafira turns on her and draws a knife, a mad gleam in her eye.