1 Richfest, 103 CY (Concluded)
The party cast their final preparatory spells and slipped through the secret door and into the narrow passageway beyond. Jarvyk astride Fer Lomarcan burst through the second secret door to reveal, at last, the Tree of Shackled Souls. The massive elliptical chamber glowed with a hellish light from the lava bubbling through shaped channels that formed a familiar pattern on the floor. The rivers of lava flowed along the floor along deep troughs that had been carved in the sign of the Carcerian Eye, and from the eye’s “pupil” grew a horrendous sight.
A large tree of metal erupted from the lava there, and thirteen massive branches sprouted from a central trunk several feet across, twisting menacingly around the chamber to increase the diameter of the area occupied by the tree to nearly sixty feet. The branches were covered in wicked barbs, but each branch tapered to end in a hook. From each hook hung a cage, and within each cage the adventurers could see the slumped form of a humanoid figure. These had to be the Shackleborn – individuals cursed by fate to be the keys to unlocking the gate to Carceri.
Below the tree stood a tall and bloated, vaguely humanoid figure, and Grehlia breathed the name “Dyr’ryd.” The massive demodand turned as dwarf and bearhound crossed the threshold of the large chamber, and as it did, the party could see that it was actually two entities inhabiting the same monstrous body. Dyr’ryd looked like a normal shator, standing over ten feet tall and about as wide. Large, bat-like wings sprouted from its back, and pale slime dripped from its bulbous flesh as well as the corners of its frog-like, fanged mouth. The demodand differed from others of its ilk because of a second, loathsome face and a small, stunted arm and leg that protruded from the side of its head. The creature leaned casually on a massive guisarme held in one of its hands.
Dyr’ryd greeted the adventurers, which gave them all a moment’s pause. They filtered into the room as the Cagewright leader welcomed them to its organization’s crowning achievement. Dyr’ryd congratulated them for making it so far, and seemed genuinely impressed and gratified that they would grace the Cagewrights with their personal attention. When it became clear that the creature was simply stalling for time, Jarvyk tensed in anger and started to charge. Before the dwarf could clear the distance, Ashton summoned the ubiquitous black tentacles which held Dyr’ryd in their strong grip and prevented it from moving while the dwarf bored down with his recently acquired holy avenger.
The rest of the party’s assault was no slower, and no less swift. Greyjek expertly dispelled the spells Dyr’ryd had up, Bransen cursed the demodand, and Karamus cleared one of the lava channels to impale the Cagewright with his blade. The twin-souled shator struggled free of the tentacles for a few brief moments, but it was unable to mount a sufficient counterattack.
A few seconds later, Dyr’ryd fell.
Working quickly after the demodand’s death, Karamus looted Dyr’ryd’s corpse, while Jarvyk and Ashton wrapped the length of the collar of dispersal around the jagged trunk of the Tree of Shackled Souls. Bransen examined the Shackleborn in the soulcages but he could tell that there was nothing he could do for them. The Ritual of Planar Junction had drained them of their lives and souls, and they would not even survive any healing magic he could apply. Once the tree was collared, Grehlia read aloud from Freija’s notes that the process of draining the ritual energy would take at least half an hour. Jarvyk called Karamus over to the double doors on the north half of the west wall to stand guard against any other Cagewrights that decided to investigate. Everyone settled in to wait.
Ten minutes later, the doors exploded inward.
Another shator demodand, backed up by a bald human with a crystal imbedded in his forehead stood in the hallway, and the latter reduced Karamus to dust with a short prayer resulting in a destruction spell. The shator came in fiercely, taking on Greyjek, Ashton, and Bransen all at once, while Jarvyk and Fer Lomarcan moved to the south to fend off a tiefling that had almost punched through Grehlia’s head in the first blow. The bearhound grappled with the unarmed outsider while Bransen attempted to dispel the gem-encrusted priest, but the man simply vanished, confusing everyone a great deal. The Cagewright cleric continued casting debilitating spells, and things were looking grim for the adventurers after an invisible foe also entered the fray to the south and did the Fer Lomarcan grievous injury.
Then Grehlia abjured an area of anti-magic around her, removing all magical enhancements on those around her. Initially, this dropped Jarvyk and his mount out of the air, as well, but when she circled around and rendered the assassin visible once more, they smiled grimly and finished the man off. This done, Jarvyk left Grehlia to deal with the monk and rushed back to his allies’ aid. Ashton’s mirror image spell had saved his bacon and taken up the shator’s attention long enough for it to make the difference, and the tide of the battle turned. Greyjek managed to dispel the source of the Cagewright priest’s invisibility and then evaded the man’s harm counterattack. The shator and cleric were defeated shortly thereafter, and although the tiefling had killed Grehlia in the interim by tossing her into the lava stream, the remaining Cagewright realized she was outmatched and fled through the secret doors.
. . .
The remaining time passed until the low hum of the Tree of Shackled Souls went silent. Breathing a sigh of relief, the Silver Phoenixes collected Karamus’s possessions, and prepared to leave. Experimentation showed that the ban on teleportation effects was still active, and so they made their way as swiftly and silently as possible back to the cavern into which they’d originally teleported. On the wings of another spell, the adventurers returned to the surface outside of the city.
The planar junction in the sky above Cauldron had been quelled.