Looking around, the party finds themselves in a strange circular chamber. The walls are lined with arches, and each arch seems to lead to a strange place. One is cloaked in moving darkness and shadows. Another seems to a series of broken landmasses, floating by some unknowable force. When they see one they recognize as their home, they realize that they must be looking at portals to different planes.
In the middle of the chamber Durth sits facing a grand Tree unlike anything they have seen before. Before the party has a chance ask any questions of Durth, a portion of the Tree begins to take the shape of a woman.
[Music: Lothlorien – Enya]
“I am a representative of your True Mother. Her voice is my voice; Her will is my will. She is the beginning of all things and the Mother of all that is.”
“In the beginning She saw that She was alone and despaired. She bore two children and created worlds for them to play with. She gave them power to create. She took joy in their joy as they gave form to all manner of life.”
“But one boy began to grow envious of the other. He could not make toys that were as beautiful as his. He designed his to be fearsome and powerful, that they might dominate those of his brother. From him came the creatures you know as demons, devils, monsters, horrors, abomination. He took upon himself the name Asmodean.”
“His brother made toys that were not as strong or fearsome, but bore other qualities. His toys possessed great courage and ingenuity. With these they were able to stand against the forces of Asmodean. He took upon himself the name Elysius.”
“The Mother was not overly concerned about the game of war Her sons waged. Life itself was a clay to be molded in Her hands. When a creation of either of Her sons perished, the life energy was collected and reborn. So the cycle of war and destruction continued.”
“But recently, one of Her sons proved to be far more clever than She imagined possible. Asmodean has found a way to disrupt the cycle. When one of his creations dies, or those of his brother are slain by his own, Asmodean is able to steal that life energy and make it his. Neither the Mother nor Elysius understand how he is able to do this. The war has been thrown out of balance. The creations of Asmodean surge as those of Elysius dwindle, and the Mother is unable to stop it. It is only a matter of time before Asmodean is able to overcome all things once and for all. When he does so, none will be left but him and his creations. He will be the undisputed Lord of all that is.”
“You have all sought me out for reasons of your own.” She looks at Xull’ree “For power and vengeance…”. She shifts her gaze to Zaknithra, “…to free those in bondage…”. To Arrow, “…to find answers to your past…”. To Samuel, “…to protect those who cannot protect themselves…”. To Brieck, “…or to find the truth of these things.”
“You have been brought here because the Mother needs Her children to step forward and find a way to learn how Asmodean is doing this, and to stop him. The powers that you have received were not granted by Her; She simply unlocked the powers of your soul. All living things harbor a portion of the essence of their creator. All living things are Gods in chrysalis. What you did back there was unleash the full extent of what resides within you. Unfortunately, bringing forth that much power while you were still unprepared to wield it almost killed you, but it was a risk that needed to be taken. Nevertheless, the toll has been taken. You have been asleep for approximately one year rejuvenating your broken bodies and fractured souls.”
The party looks at each other in shock. They then notice the difference in Durth: he seems stronger, more confident, more sure of himself. Indeed, he looks as if he has grown much.
The speaker continues. “Though you do not know it, you have been worshipping the two sons. They reward their creations according to their faith. All those known as ‘evil’ Gods-Lolth, Vecna and the like-are only different manifestations of the same being: Asmodean. The other hand holds true for Elysius. Given their creations’ tendencies to squabble and fight amongst themselves, it is best that you do not reveal this to any others.”
“But that is not the only reason you must keep silent on the truth of things. Asmodean’s power has grown in such a way that he is able to take more direct action in the war. Since the truth known only to a select few, he is able to identify them should they even speak the truth of things. You have all been marked by the Tree.” The party looks down and sees that they have each received a mark, their weapon of choice colored in an aura to match the manifestations of their souls. “These marks will act as a failsafe. For your own protection, should your tongue slip and you reveal yourself by your knowledge of the truth, you will be silenced so that Asmodean may not find you.”
“You must prepare yourself for Asmodean in three ways. First, you must master yourselves. Harness and discipline the power within you. As you grow in power, you will unlock memories of your past lives, little by little. As Asmodean has done with his creations, I could extend my hand and give you a full recollection of things, but, as it has done with his creations, it would cause immense and unpredictable harm to the integrity of your soul. It must be done over time. Prove yourself to be the undisputed Master of your element: that is the only way to fully manifest your power. There can only be one of each element among Her children.”
“Secondly, you must learn how Asmodean is able to disrupt the cycle and prevent it from becoming even more unbalanced. If possible, reverse the damage that has been done.”
“Lastly, you must unite the creations of Elysius together. You fight a losing war, and to even have a chance you must all stand as one. This is part of the reason I selected you.” She looks at the two Drow, then the Half-Elf, then the Dwarf, then the Human. “By all rights you SHOULD be enemies. You should hate and fight each other. And yet, you do not. You stand and fight side by side. You have overcome the racial barriers that divide Her children. You must be the example to all others. Win them to your way of thinking. Show them the path to victory.”
Some of the party looks at Daniela. She looks just as perplexed as they are. They sense that she has lied to them about having been to the Tree. Seeing the accusations in their faces, she turns away, ashamed. Sensing this, the Tree speaks. “Do not fault Daniela for what she has done. Though I leave it to her to decide if she will explain her story, I will simply say this: she did not deceive you out of malice or personal gain. She was compelled to do so against her will. Whether you learn the truth of the matter or not, remember that.”
Brieck asks the Tree about the demon that seemed so familiar with him, who called him by an unknown name. “This war has raged for countless cycles. You have all lived innumerable lives. As I mentioned, Asmodean has unlocked the memories of the many lives of each of his creations and caused them irreparable harm in the process. The memories themselves become a swirl of chaos and fractured pasts in the minds of those unable to cope. Whether or not this creature truly recognized you, I cannot say, for I do not know. The children of Asmodean are beyond my influence for the time being.”
“Children, time works against you. You must move as quickly as you can. You are not alone in this endeavor, yet you are few in number. For the sake of all that is, for the sake of your Mother, do this thing. Durth has some experience in these things. Look to him for guidance.”
The party returns to their native plane just outside of Rekton. Durth explains, “Before we do anything else, I want you all to see Rekton. I want you all to see what awaits us should we fail.”
[Music: Field of the Dead – Age of Conan soundtrack]
Rekton is shrouded in a permanent gloom. The sky and land is not darkened in the vicinity of the town; rather, it is as if their perception of the world around them slowly darkens as they near the town. There they find lifeless husks of many bodies, solid gray but permanently formed in the likeness of their dying moments. Shadows emerge and seek to consume the party. One great shadow in particular threatens to drown them in sorrow, overwhelming them with such despair that they desire to succumb to oblivion. Nevertheless, they hold their ground and beat back the shadows. Durth in particular shows that he has gotten much stronger.
Leaving Rekton behind them, Durth explains further, “I don’t know if killing those shadows has made any difference. There are always more whenever I go back. But I like to think that each fallen shadow is a soul relieved from an endless Hell.”
“Though Rekton is the worst that I have seen, the forces of As-” Durth is seized upon and silenced. “Sorry. That was easier for me when I know you didn’t know. It will be harder not to let slip my tongue again. As I was saying, these demonic forces have begun to appear more often, though still in small numbers. People are becoming more aware of them, but few, if any, have come to realize how big a threat they are.”
“For now, we have much work to do in Cambria. With the loss of many suppliers, Rekton in particular, food has become a precious and rare commodity. Like a domino effect, the shortage has led to many more problems. A few of the richer nobles, true to form, have capitalized on this as a business opportunity and have made a fortune off of those who become desperate and pay anything just to eat. Elise is the worst of them. The Archmage Armon has taken it upon himself to police the city with his students, but they do so not out a sense of duty or desire to stabilize order: rather, they do so more as an academic pursuit. And I don’t know why, but he seems to devote few of his resources to the matter. As such, their effectiveness is…minimal. Things have gotten very bad. But there is hope: Jarvis keeps the people alive with his underground group. I was quite surprised to find that this master of thieves actually DOES care about the people. On numerous occasions I have watched him give up his rations to those who need it most. He seeks to normalize the economy again, but he lacks the muscle to stop Elise and the others.”
Durth stops in his tracks and stares levelly at the party. “We will change that.”