Two days. That’s what the message from Klotonk and the others in Hestavar said they needed. They wanted us to meet in Glimmer, the city in the Shadowfell, because the Material Plane was no longer accessible. To anyone. We didn’t have a clue why, but at least getting to other planes was feasible, and with luck, the Magi of Night would have answers.
I sipped on my drink, lost in thought at the bar of this overcrowded inn that I had already forgotten the name of. The others had gone off to make better use of their time here in the Feywild. We weren’t exactly jumping at the prospect of staying in Glimmer.
A hand squeezed my shoulder and Lysandra rejoined my side. Oh, right. The others had gone off, but not her.
She grinned at me, “You look miserable.”
I shrugged, finished my drink and signaled for another. “It’s nothing. We’re just heading to the Shadowfell to talk to a Magi even my father feared to find out what could possibly stop planar travel to the Prime Material.”
Her grin widened. “It’ll work out. It always does. Why not just make the most of now?”
The barmaid returned with my drink, and I pushed it towards Lysandra.
She took it and drank, but we sat in silence. It's not like I knew what to say. I was still trying to figure it out. Eventually, she got to her feet. “It’s late. I’m heading up to the room.” She waited, but I didn’t move.
Say sorry, Taelim, I thought miserably. Instead, I hesitated, managed a nod, then watched her go.
“Dammit all.” I groaned when she was gone, burying my face in my hands.
“Have another drink, hon.” The barmaid returned to the table, placing the pint down.
Was that pity in her stare? Probably.
Admittedly, it took a few more moments before I realized I couldn’t shy away from her forever. I had to try eventually. I downed my drink and practically bolted up the stairs toward the room.
Lysandra was leaning against the wall, gazing out the window when I stumbled in. She stared at me quizzically, and I realized I was trying to catch my breath.
I pushed forward, taking her hands. “Lys, I’m sorry. I’m so, so sorry for—”
Her fingers were on my lips. She shook her head, but she was smiling. “You don’t have to apologize.”
I wavered. Then, “I’ll never let anything happen to you,” I promised.
I kissed her. I half expected her to pull away, to remind me I had pushed her away first. She didn’t. I had almost forgotten what it felt like, to be with someone you wanted and that wanted you back. I quickly stopped complaining about the wait. Those two days were some of the happiest I had in months.
Glimmer was a dark, sprawling city of black stone. Looming monuments were carved with the stoic faces of forgotten deities, and sharp spires pierced the skyline. Shadar-kai were the predominant race, but I spotted slugmen and creeping robed figures watching us. Maziel ranted on about vampires, so we kept close.
We regrouped with the other party at a tavern. Some of them decided to stay behind; I hadn’t the slightest clue what they did in Hestavar, but they look exhausted. The goliath twins were bickering about a sword called Dawnbringer, and Yaup was determined to commune with his god about Harthoon. Apparently, they learned the demi-lich was the one who casted a supercharged time bubble on the Material Plane. On top of it all, Lysandra was recruited by Klo to reach out to some of her contacts in the arcane, and I begrudgingly watched her go. So, it ended up being me, Klotonk, Maziel, and Feeps heading off to speak with the Inculabram.
We stopped to ask for directions, since we couldn’t be more out of place if we tried. The guard bearing the symbol of the Raven Queen felt like a safe enough bet. She led us toward a sleek obelisk, and on it was an engraved map of the city.
The Worm’s Gullet, that’s where we were headed. We trekked across the city and found the mummified body of a purple worm protruding from a pit. Outside the maw of the Worm’s Gullet, the eerie figure of an Inculabram stood guard. I could see the bandages wrapped around their arms, a legacy of their memories. Their spiny head turned to greet us as we approached.
“We’re looking for the Magus of Night,” Maziel declared, producing a shocked expression from the Inculabram.
“Does this one have information to barter?” they asked.
From what I remember after first encountering Inculabram in Freeport, they traded in information. There was nothing more valuable than accumulating more of it.
Maziel studied the party. “Between all of us? I think we’ll have something useful to exchange.”
We were taken inside; it was eerie navigating through the corpse of this colossal creature turned hub. Within a peculiar gallery that served as waiting area, a floating black stone that called itself 98 Methods of Consuming the Souls demanded we identify ourselves. In turn, we did, watching as our names appeared on its surface. The 98 Methods then lead us through a labyrinth of halls, winding farther and father down. By the time we stopped outside a heavily guarded door, the air was frigid.
The stone rotated as if to face us. “These ones wish to speak to the Maw of House Insatiable, yes?”
We assumed that to be the Magus of Night, so we agreed.
Its voice echoed: “This one will protect the information given, but nothing else.”
“That’s reassuring,” I said under my breath, and Maziel quickly elbowed my side.
The door opened into a circular room, and from the ceiling hundreds of bandages hung like a weeping willow's branches. In the center of the space was an iron coffin with a grate, and the base was stained with dried blood. Something shifted inside the coffin.
A raspy voiced called to us. “I smell a magus pact on one of you.”
The others looked at me, and I shrugged, genuinely uncertain.
Maziel stepped up. “We’re here to talk about Harthoon and Graz’zt.”
“And what information could you possibly have to offer in return?” Maw asked, mocking.
Granted, it took us a few tries until we found something Maw hadn’t been updated on. That was learning Viceak was dead, and his quarry, Primus, released. We had spent a good chunk of our time figuring out how to defeat Primus, then never actually needing to since he was trapped in a time bubble in the Asimba Mountains. Still, Maw was...curious.
Maw, satisfied, retold what it knew.
Turns out, Harthoon was once a centaur sage that got his hands on the Wand of Orcus, then he went mad. When Harthoon was killed, Orcus made him a Lich King, turning the Wand of Orcus into his phylactery, and putting Harthoon in charge of leading demon armies of the Abyss.
As for Graz’zt, Maw wasn’t sure about his end goals, only that the demon prince tended to make double agents out of everyone, including Erevan Ilesere, the elf god of trickery, who allied with him.
When all was told, we lingered uneasily. A Lich King, whose god we killed, making Harthoon align with Torog, and in turn Graz’zt, who were all likely out for our blood.
“Wait, what did we say we were giving in exchange?” Klotonk piped up, looking visibly concerned about something.
Maziel hesitated and cocked her head. “I’m sure we came to an agreement.”
Maw of House Insatiable cackled. “I have what I need.”
“Taelim,” Maziel turned to me. “Did you want to ask about the collar book?”
I stared at the coffin blankly. Did Maw take something from us? I can’t remember...
“Oh, and what interests you there?” Maw inquired, almost politely.
“Nothing. It’s lost.” I replied reluctantly, afraid of what Maw might want if I asked for information.
It chuckled knowingly. “I’m sure it will turn up, especially if you’re after such powerful targets.”
I gritted my teeth. Go figure. Thankfully, Maziel was as eager to leave as the rest of us.
We had hardly stepped outside the Worm’s Gullet, when a voice called out to us. “Look who it is: the Main Attraction!”
Maziel muttered a curse under her breath.
The group collectively known as Ornamental Chaos approached. I tried to remember their names since last we met, back when I kidnapped by Timony and we fought our way out of a black dragon’s den.
“Taelim!” the halfling, Naora, ran up to me. “We did it! We destroyed all the dragon masks!” She proclaimed proudly.
“Holy shit. Really?” I gaped, not expecting a silver lining in anything today. Well, that’s one less higher power to deal with I guess.
“Dis is not something you brag about aloud,” the blue dragonborn, Dmitri, growled, glancing over his shoulder.
“What brings you guys here?” Klotonk asked, shaking hands with the elf, Erdan, a studious wizard like himself.
“We’re here to speak with our buddy, Maw.” Erdan declared nonchalantly.
“Something’s up with the Prime Material,” said the half-elf, Xillali, twirling a lock of her rainbow-colored hair.
“That something is called Harthoon,” I responded, “but we paid for that information from Maw, so go have fun giving your share to get more.”
“Harthoon?” Xillali repeated.
Klo looked up at me pleadingly, expecting me to go into more detail.
I caved, sighed, then obliged. “Yeah. Harthoon’s a lich. He’s cast some sort of time bubble on the whole plane, like that one in Solstice. We’re going to go after him.” Then an idea struck. “You know...he’s sort of everyone’s problem right now. Why don’t we team up?”
“Let’s go!” Naora responded eagerly. The others exchanged glances, then shrugged, accepting the proposition.
Maziel cursed again, keeping her distance. I forgot how much she disliked Erdan, and in extension, the others of Ornamental Chaos. But I wasn’t about to pass up aid in taking down a lich who’s phylactery was a powerful artifact from a demon lord.
“I still have some business with Maw,” Erdan sniffed. “We’ll meet you when we’re done.”
“Fine by me, I’ll be drinking at the tavern until then.”
Dmitri snorted. “I like dis one.”
We hardly stepped through the door of the tavern when Yaup launched himself toward us. “He’s at the Tower of Orcus!” the half-orc proclaimed excitedly. “Mighty Kord has told me so!”
The locals stared at us.
I moved toward the bar.
“Interesting,” Maziel pondered aloud. “If that’s the case, I think I have means to get us there.” Just like that, the drow went back out the door.
“That’s fine, I’m going to enjoy what is likely my last drink.” I called out to no one in particular. It had dawned on me what we actually intended to do: take on a Lich King, on his turf, as he wielded an ancient weapon, likely surrounded by an undead army. It didn’t help that Harthoon was also responsible for killing me with a single word when we first crossed him. I was only alive because Klotonk happened to have a scroll to bring me back. One of us falling again was a very real possibility.
After a few hours, Ornamental Chaos joined us for a round. It was eerie how we all minded our limits while we waited for Maziel to return. The drow didn’t keep us waiting for long. Outside the tavern, two giant ravens cawed, large enough to carry all of us to the tower about two days out.
“It would seem followers of the Raven Queen are fairly eager to aid us in our quest to end our dear friend, Harthoon,” Maziel said, subduing a smirk. She turned to me. “Who’s on board?”
“Besides OC, Feeps, Klo and Odison. The others are going to hang back and make sure nothing backfires in Glimmer.”
Maziel glanced around the group, searching for one in particular.
“I’m still waiting for her to get back.” I said, clearly agitated. Most of the group was already packed and waiting by the ravens.
“She’s not going to be happy that you’re asking her to stay behind.”
“I know...” I said, dreading the prospect.
“Who’s staying behind?” Lysandra asked, as if on cue.
Maziel patted my shoulder and walked toward the ravens, mouthing: Good luck.
Lysandra studied the ravens, then me. She crossed her arms, waiting.
“So...we found out where Harthoon is.” I tried, smiling weakly. Lysandra said nothing, she just let me continue. I sighed. “And we’re heading there to kill him—well—try to.”
“I’m assuming that doesn’t include me,” she retorted dryly.
I looked away, trying to find a way to explain myself without belittling her. It’s not like she couldn’t handle herself, of that there was no doubt, she was an agent of the fey after all. I just knew I couldn’t function without worrying Harthoon would target her; I just got her back.
“I can’t ask that of you,” was all that I managed. “Please, stay here. It’s safer.”
I raised my gaze to meet hers. Yeah, she’s pissed. I inhaled and tried again. “I can’t bring you into this fight because you’re all that I’ll protect.” I pointed at the others, “I would let them fall if it meant keeping you alive. That, or I can stay behind, with you, and hope they survive. I’m not saying you’re the liability, Lys, I’m saying that I am.”
Her arms unfolded and settled on her hips. Slowly, she shook her head. “Go then. Be with them. I have something to take care of anyway.”
I faltered, unsure if that was actually the right choice. She was certainly upset.
“I’ll be back…” I offered.
I turned to walk away, but she pulled me back, kissed me, then pushed me away.
Reluctantly, I ambled over to the others.
“That could have been worse,” Maziel said as I clambered onto the raven’s back beside her.
“Shut up, let’s just go.”