After the creature atop the Akashi Temple dome leaps into the building, Erasmus, Freya and Captain Hamilton Raleigh agree to investigate where Edris went. They’ll also remain out by the temple’s entrance to prevent the creature from leaving. Malakai, Ivan, Ria and Amaryllis agree to forge on and decide to return to the temple’s catacombs.
Venturing inside, they find Arius, the tribe’s collective memory represented as a blue flame, in a brazier. After Amaryllis brokers peace with the flame, Arius warns that his children are “whispering” and have shunned the mind. He explains some tried to “shout down” the whisperers and were silenced. Arius also tells the party that within the catacombs is one who is “whispering.” The party takes this warning to heart and prepares for a fight.
They venture further into the crypt, finding dead bodies wrapped tightly in linens and stashed in cutouts from the rock. Ivan attempts to cut off an arm to see if there is treasure inside the wrappings, but is attacked by the blue flame, which stretches around the corner to strike him. The party realize that Arius will protect the Akashi in the temple from outsiders, but refuses to turn on one of its own.
Further down a hallway, they heroes find a few Akashi bodies, seemingly torn to pieces by claws and teeth. The party find a bloodied spear with a silver tip that Ivan takes up as his weapon.
Using his spirit brother, Malakai converses with one of the Akashi’s spirits. The monk, named Putarum Findor Durneston Arius Faldrus Werneston Arius, explains what happened as best he can remember: recently, a strange stone crashed through the ceiling of the temple’s library, it’s most holy place.
The temple’s elders thought the stone was a gift from Irori, their god. However, those who studied the stone grew irritable, then filled with anger. Some in the temple realized the stone had corrupted them and attempted to stop those affected, but were attacked. The elders changed into wolf-like beasts and the Akashi monks and Putarum grabbed a ceremonial spear and fled to the catacombs to hide. Inside, they found a monster and fought it, but failed to defeat it.
Putting two and two together, the party realize they may be dealing with a werewolf, but they’re unsure why, since it was daytime and there was no full moon. They take time to properly care for the Akashi bodies nearby and Malakai helps their spirits pass on. As they tend to the corpses, a pair of yellow eyes peer out of the darkness: it’s the werewolf!
The werewolf — a hulking, muscular monstrosity of gnashing fangs and sharp bloodied claws — howls and strikes fear into the heroes. Ivan readies himself with Putarum’s spear. Meanwhile, Amaryllis notices a gaping open wound on the werewolf’s side. Malakai uses his necromancy to enflame the wound and Ivan strikes with the silver-tipped spear, pinning the creature to the wall.
As the werewolf thrashes and swipes at the heroes, Ria is overcome with a singular emotion: compassion. Realizing she may be able to save the poor creature, she calls to the power of her mother’s staff of Sarenrae and purifies the werewolf. The wolf’s muscular frame fades away and the hair on its body is blasted away by light.
In its place, stands an emaciated-looking Akashi woman, young, hairless and completely naked. She collapses to the floor, and Malakai quickly wraps her in his cloak. When she comes to, the Akashi teen is unaware of what’s happened. She realizes with horror that she was responsible for the deaths of her fellow monks.
She identifies herself as Shana Durneston Arius Sentalor Woarg Findor Reiiar, an assistant to the elder council. She verifies much of Putarum’s story, explaining the elders were sure the stone was a gift when it landed a couple of weeks ago. All the Akashi monks touched the stone, but not all were affected. Only those that spent extended time studying the stone were changed.
Shana described the affliction like a growing hunger and rage inside her that she couldn’t stop. She says her memory of that time is hazy.
The party ask Shana to tap into the Akashi collective mind to find out about Orren, the Akashi boy Kristoff told them about who knew something of the Black Buck.
Shana explains Orren is dead, and vaguely recalls his memories — she sees him murdered in a burning city as his friends are cut down by an angry woman and a man wielding a shield. But she warns that her ability to access her ancestors’ memories is clouded.
The party are disappointed to learn she has no further information to share about the Black Buck. After she meditates at the blue flame in the catacombs, the party bring her to the front gate, where Freya, Captain Raleigh and Erasmus will shield her from danger as the party return inside. They decide to try to destroy the stone.
They head back up to the wall, wanting to get a better look inside the library by climbing up the dome. Ivan makes it up and sees three werewolves skulking around in the library room. A fire of Arius is contained in a large brazier in the center of the room, casting blue light on the walls. A series of bookcases wrap around the walls, and the center of the room features meditation mats laid in a grid pattern. Ivan spots the small smooth stone lying near a mat on the far side of the room.
Ivan scurries back to plan a way in with the party. But when he arrives, he notices Edris has snuck up on the party. Ivan, in turn, sneaks up on Edris while he threatens to kill Amaryllis.
Edris explains he’s a Pupil of the Unseeing Eye, sent to the temple to destroy the powerful moonstone that corrupted the monks here. He also demands to have Malakai’s sword, but the necromancer refuses. Edris, clearly perturbed, warns Malakai not to unsheathe it.
Edris is dismissive of the party, but eventually, the party and Edris agree not to attack each other and will work together to destroy the stone. Edris hands them a vial of perfectly clear liquid, saying it’ll melt the stone away. Reaching into his coat, Edris impossibly draws a rapier from one of its pockets and hands it to Malakai, telling him to use that instead of his own sword.
They decide to split up. Malakai and Edris head downstairs to serve as a distraction while Ivan and Amaryllis lower Ria into the library with a rope. She’ll then use her magic to pull the stone to her, and destroy it with the goo in Edris’ vial. The first part of the plan goes off without a hitch. Malakai and Edris pull the werewolves out of the room by making a loud noise. This gives the rest of the party enough time to grab the stone, but the moment Ria touches the stone, she falls unconscious.
[FOR RIA’S EYES ONLY]
Ria finds herself floating in perfectly black nothingness. Then, slowly, pinpricks of light appear, as if someone is poking in holes from the outside. Eventually the spots of light multiply, forming the cosmos and the stars.
A butterfly with a moon, sun and star symbols on its wings flutters into Ria’s view. A breathy voice echoes in the heavens and asks what Ria’s purpose is. The half-elf explains she’s there to help the Akashi by cleansing the temple of the evil within.
The butterfly is silent. Then it speaks, explaining Ria will suffer a curse as well. Ria has no time to protest before the stars are sucked away and she is left in complete darkness.
[END FOR RIA’S EYES ONLY]
Ivan and Amaryllis see Ria’s body go limp and quickly pull her up. Ivan attempts to take the stone from her right hand, but find she’s gripping it tightly. Her eyes flutter back and forth, as though she’s dreaming. With no other options left, Ivan uncorks the vial and pours the liquid over the stone, trying to avoid Ria’s fingers.
The stone immediately melts the moment the liquid touches it, but some splashes onto Ria’s fingers. Immediately, she wakes up to find her right hand in agony as if it had been frostbitten. She watches in horror as her fingers and knuckles seem to wither and blacken.
Using her mother’s staff, Ria calls upon Sarenrae to heal her, but the staff is blown away by an unseen force the moment she tries the prayer. Amaryllis sees the staff falling and rappels away from the wall, catching it at the last minute.
Meanwhile, Malakai and Edris had been running from the werewolves when Edris tripped Malakai, leaving him to be attacked by the werewolves. Malakai was prepared fight but the wolves suddenly stopped in their tracks and shrieked. Grabbing their heads, the wolves backpedal. Their bones snap as they transform into naked — and dead — human monks.
Malakai picks himself back up, only to see Edris approaching him. Edris again demands to have Malakai’s sword, but he won’t give it up. Edris explains he’ll have to kill him then, and activates two blades of pure psionic energy that appear out of his arms. Malakai, in turn, draws his own sword — Epilogue. Though the sword appears normal, Edris immediately takes a step back, and his hair flutters as if blown by a gust of wind.
The two come to blows, with Edris swinging wildly at Malakai, pushing him back. The necromancer retreats back toward the library, reaching a garden. By that time, the rest of the party has rappelled down into the library and see that Malakai is in trouble. While Amaryllis remains with the fire, Ivan and Ria rush to their friend’s aid.
Edris is knocked off balance, and Malakai seizes his opportunity. He weakens his foe with necromancy and rains blows down on his foe. Edris grows weaker and weaker until Malakai bashes aside his psionic blade, leaving him open to attack.
Red runes appear along Epilogue’s blade and glow red as Malakai slashes across Edris’ chest, killing him in one stroke. Blood from the Akashi’s wound splatters before freezing into droplets in mid-air and being sucked into his sword. Malakai, for a brief moment, felt undeniable pleasure from using the sword, but quickly regains his senses and sheathes his blade.
Lacking a cloak, Malakai takes the brown overcoat from Edris. He discovers it contains a extra-dimensional space in its inside pocket that could hold a weapon of any size, and slips Epilogue inside. Ivan searches Edris’ body, and takes a strange ring he finds on the dead man’s finger.
The party return to the flame, and Ria is still reeling in pain. Before they can tend to her, Arius announces in a booming voice that the party is “accepted by the Mind.”
The blue flame then asks the heroes to step inside. Innately curious, Ivan is the first to enter, immediately bursting into ash and evaporating. The rest of the group is stunned, but Ria is driven to find answers about her strange affliction and trusts Sarenrae will protect her, so she steps inside as well and is also vaporized.
Malakai, realizing this may be his best shot at learning what happened to his brother, also steps inside and is destroyed. That leaves, Amaryllis, who is hesitant to enter the flame. She is concerned Arius will seize her own memories, endangering the safety of her secret organization. But she is convinced she can resist and could use what she learns inside to share with her group. Plus, Ivan — who worked with her in the past — has likely already given the Collective Mind more information than she would. She enters.
On the other side, the heroes find themselves standing in a strange white environment, where grey clouds of fog loom a few yards away. A sharp pain strikes their heads; Amaryllis and Malakai are able to resist the pull of the Akashi, but Ivan and Ria give their memories to the Collective Mind.
A face appears before them in a flash of blue flame. He appears to be a human, but as he speaks, his features shift from man to woman and back. He explains he is Arius, the parent of these Akashi children. He thanks the party for helping to bring his children peace, then asks if they have any questions for the Akashi.
Amaryllis asks about her withered hand and immediately the party loses consciousness. They wake in the mind of another — an Akashi named Reyo Alistair Orthus Arius Petrani Loriin — and experience his memories.
Reyo is slumped over his desk, having fallen asleep over his papers again. No matter how hard he looks, there appears to be no cure for his wife’s affliction. There’s a knock at the door and Reyo turns to find his wife limping in, her foot blackened and withered. The tips of her toes appear to be translucent and black, like the night sky. She urges him to come to bed, telling him there’s nothing that can be done. With a sigh, he agrees.
The vision flashes forward. Reyo’s eyes are filled with tears as his wife, almost totally transparent and twinkling with starlight inside her, lies on a bed. Reyo begs for forgiveness, saying he didn’t do enough to save her. His wife reaches out a hand and touches his face — it’s cold, like ice. She tells him they will not be apart for long and that Desna’s wrath will not keep them apart. Then, slowly, she fades from existance, leaving Reyo sobbing.
The party suddenly wake up again in the Collective Mind, their cheeks wet with Reyo’s tears. Arius is there and asks for another query. This time, the party ask about the Black Buck.
After falling unconscious again, the party see scattered memories jumbled up and nearly completely destroyed by a crackling white film. They can hear conversations, events, the clashing of swords, but its all muffled and overpowered by a screeching static. Occasionally the name “Black Buck!” can be overheard, but the voices’ discussions are unclear.
Then the crackling film partially parts, and the party enter the mind of Shelly Arius, a young Akashi girl. Shelly experiences the same dreams each night: a land by the sea engulfed in a blinding explosion and destroyed.
The Akashi elders tell Shelly that her visions may be a gift from Irori. They decide to send her far from the comforts of the Akashi temple to a school of magic that could explain her strange dreams: the Somon School for the Arcane on a mountain in the Circle Sea.
The memories flash forward to her schooling days. She sees the school for the first time, a vast complex of columns and temple-like structures perched on the side of the mountain. She works and studies hard; magic does not come naturally to her but she is ultimately able to tap into her own power, however limited.
She remembers her friends. One is a teen named Hal Bartob from the First City to the north across the Circle Sea. Hal is an immature, boisterous boy, and loves to skip his classes. He was never born with innate magical talent, and Shelly suspects it was his rich grandparents who sent him to Somon to learn more about magic users.
Her best friend is a boy from the southern continent named Elias Renten. When he first came to Somon, Shelly overheard her teachers mention that his hometown had been destroyed by the constant fighting there. Elias is a studious and ambitious teen, and rarely likes to discuss his past. Shelly knows it causes him pain and doesn’t bring it up.
She respects Elias and his loyalty to his friends. Despite having great magical prowess, he chooses to associate with Hal and her and not the other students who are more talented.
It’s just after a round of exams when Shelly walks past the docks, and up the mountain to where her friends are waiting. Elias motions her inside the nearby pub: “The Black Buck.”
The vision suddenly becomes engulfed in disruption again, and the party hear arguing voices. Their words are muffled, as if spoken through a wall. For a moment, the disruption fades. Shelly is a few years older now.
She sees the mountain she now calls home ablaze in fire. The dormant volcano has been ruptured, sending lava flows cascading over the Somon School.
“Thank the gods we got Hal away before all this,” she murmurs.
As she steps through the rubble, Shelly is horrified to find the bodies of her fellow students, charred and mangled and twisted. A fury rises inside her. She climbs higher up the mountain, to the destroyed remains of the pub. There among the wreckage, stands a familiar figure.
Shelly screams to Elias, demanding to know what he’s done.
“I must do this,” he replies in an even-keeled tone. “No other mortal can. They’re too afraid. It has to be me. But first, no one can remember this place … or me.”
Elias turns to look at Shelly, a pained yet determined look on his face.
“Not even an old friend,” he says as the memory is torn apart and vanishes.
The party reawaken again and quickly realize they’ve somehow accessed a memory showing the Black Buck’s origins. This must hold valuable information for them in their fight to bring him down.
Malakai asks the flame to show him how his brother, Deacon died.
The party are transported to the body of another Akashi, an advisor to King Oala during the “War Without End” named Kilian Durneston Faldrus Arius Pugol.
Kilian is traveling from Mejas to warn of an impending Dravidian raid against their ports to the east. He and his bodyguards decide to make better time and cut through the nearby forests around Undermountain.
The caravan stops. A knight is standing near the forest, motionless. When the soldiers compel him to move, he refuses, saying in a voice that echoes through the trees that the caravan is intruding. The bodyguards attempt to strike him down, but their swords find no purchase. More knights suddenly drop from the trees, dangling on nearly invisible strings. One by one the bodyguards are slain, and Kilian is dragged from his cart by a giant spider.
Kilian is bound in silk, dragged into a mine and hung from the ceiling. He becomes dizzy and passes out.
When he awakens, the Akashi stands before two drider, a King and a Queen. The queen, seemingly disinterested, says she would choose to spare the man, as he intrigues her. But the king will hear none of it, shambling over to the Akashi and baring his fangs at him.
The Drider King asks Kilian if he knows what the fangs are, but the Akashi doesn’t know.
“These were a gift from my creator, Rovagug,” the Drider King explains. “They will kill any I so choose, should they cross me … even a god.”
The king says Rovagug is trapped in his cell now, but will someday return. “There is a story whispered of in the shadows,” the Drider King says. Two brothers, one of great wisdom and one of great power, will be born and they will usher in the return of the Great Devourer.
“Are you concerned your death will hurt?” the Drider King asks the shaking Akashi.
“I am,” Kilian replies.
“Oh, it will. Terribly.” The drider springs forward.
The party are jolted awake as they began to feel the hot burning in their chest of the king’s fangs sinking into them. Arius asks again if they seek any other knowledge.
Ivan asks about the ring he found on Edris’ body. The party are bombarded by visions of similar rings, all which appear to have the quality of making it easier to see through illusions. The heroes return to the Collective Mind.
There, Ivan asks to see the memories of an Akashi named Orren.
The party are transported into the mind of Orren Arius Alistair Durren Faldrin Faldrus Durneston, a young Akashi boy who has nightmares each night: he sees a land engulfed in a blinding explosion and destroyed. His elders are ashamed of him, telling him that his dreams are just that — dreams and nothing more.
One night Orren eavesdrops on the elders’ conversation. He hears them talk about how dangerous Orren’s visions are. None of the elders seem to be able to remember what he describes, but they agree that some things are “so powerful, they crack history and leak into memory.” They advise isolating the child, since his nightmares are clearly a curse from Irori.
“The boy is impure,” one elder says. Hurt, Orren packs his bags and sets off from the temple, running away from the only home he’s ever known. He wanders the world for two years, searching for ways to expand on his dreams.
One day, Orren finds a mercenary camp, and despite his age, impresses the men by winning a duel through the memories of his ancestors who were great warriors. One wanderer wearing a floppy hat is particularly impressed. He introduces himself as Jarkko Stepanek, a traveler from the destroyed southern continent.
Orren and Jarkko become fast friends. They set out on many adventurers together, ultimately heading to a small town in the south called Longbranch.
The party are pulled out of the vision briefly, as the crackling static and disruption overtake their vision and their hearing. A high pitched ring deafens them until everything goes completely white. Arius’ voice thunders into being.
“He shunned the mind,” Arius says. “He filled it with lust and distractions and his own foolish ideals. But he returned.”
“Tell me,” the flame’s voice continues. “If he was your child, would you allow him back?” The party feels the answer swell inside their minds: Yes.
The vision of Orren’s memories is restored. He’s now about 10 years older and a counselor for a duke in the Dravidian city of Bayherst Falls. At first, Orren uses the Collective Mind to sabotage the Duke’s efforts, rationalizing the deception as necessary to save his adoptive home. But eventually Orren comes to love the city of Bayherst Falls and its people too.
His vision flashes forward to his bedroom high in a tower overlooking the city. But the city is on fire, as an Oalan army lays seige. Warning bells chime through the night as whole sections of the city are burned. Siege engines destroy the walls of Bayherst Falls and Orren quickly packs his bags.
“Where are they?” he mutters to himself.
Then, the door bursts open. A group of Oalan soldiers push through the doorway, swords drawn and advancing slowly to Orren. But before they can strike, Orren feels a hand on his shoulder. Jarkko has leapt through the window behind Orren to rescue him. He leaps into action, taking out the soldiers and the pair rush down the steps.
At the base of the tower are the rest of Orren’s oldest and dearest friends: Tevala, the gruff half-orc ranger, bares her teeth in a typical smile; Starhammer, an ever-joking half-elf turned hero, bows dramatically; and the dwarf Sven Stonestein appears to be completely drunk, but happy to see him. For the first time in months, Orren finally feels he is home.
Jarkko explains they have the Pandora waiting for them at the top of the plateau overlooking the city, but an army of Oalans wait between them. Orren and his friends run along the walls, charging through the army’s ranks and slaying many of the men in their escape.
After much fighting, Orren and his friends reach the top of the plateau where Bayherst Fall’s signature waterfall begins. But standing between them and the Pandora is a familiar face surrounded by her own ragtag team. Adira Solene — the right hand operative of the Black Buck whom the party once worked with — quietly reads a book through her small glasses. She’s holding the latest romance novel, “Temptation of the Centaurs.” She doesn’t appear to have aged a day in the 11 years that have passed since Orren saw her last.
Standing near the Pandora is the infamous tiefling sharpshooter himself, “Lucky” Marcel. Poking out of his dark trenchcoat, his mahogany hand crossbow — “The Devil’s Hand” — is decorated with a skull and hangs at his hip. He flashes a grin at Orren.
Then there’s the Oalan soldier who gives a wink. His face dissolves away and Jarkko’s eyes widen as he recognizes Bob, the shape-shifting doppleganger they once freed from Isete.
Nearby is a wizard with frazzled hair and wild eyes. Orren has never met him before, but his reputation as a blood mage precedes him: it’s Restalaan Ketch. Finally, an armored man bearing a shield walks off the Pandora’s ramp and flicks blood off his sword. Jarvas Sloane waves hello as he joins his fellow agents of the Black Buck.
“Hey guys,” Sloane says, resting his hand on his sword.
A pause passes between the two parties. The silence is suddenly broken as Orren can’t resist and shouts out the ending of Adira’s novel. Adira’s mouth purses and she snaps her book shut. She faces the party and shakes her head, sending her blonde curls bouncing.
“You know,” she begins. “He was going to leave you alone. He had no more use for you. But then you did this.” She waves her arm out over the burning city and her lip curls in anger.
“We leave you alone for 11 years and this is what you manage to do. This is the mess you’ve caused. Now we’ll have to clean it all up. Starting with you.”
Adira stares at Orren. “Really, it’s an honor, in a way,” she says. “Of all the ways he could have destroyed you, he sent us to do it personally. That meant it mattered to him.”
Orren shifts his weight. “Come on, Adira, we-”
A crossbow bolt lodges itself into Orrens chest. Orren grabs at his wound and slumps to the floor, gasping for air. Across the plateau, Lucky Marcel reloads his crossbow and laughs.
Orren’s friends scream in rage and attack. Tevala charges directly at Lucky, but is stopped in her tracks by Adira. With a wave of the woman’s hand, Tevala is lifted into the air and thrown off the plateau, tumbling into the mist of the waterfall.
Sven rushes forward, but his body is suddenly contorted and twisted as Restalaan uses the blood from his now-bleeding wrists to control the dwarf. Sven smashes against the ground, motionless.
Starhammer draws his sword, but is caught by one of Lucky Marcel’s shots and falls. Jarkko, still left standing, faces off against Bob. The two duel back and forth before Bob ultimately gains the upper hand, stabbing Jarkko and slashing across his arm. Jarkko tumbles to the ground.
His friends all fallen, Orren tries to crawl towards them but he’s stopped by the meaty hand of Jarvas Sloane, who props Orren up against a stone wall. Sloane pulls back his sword.
“Sorry, friend,” he says. “Nothing personal.”
The sword pierces through Orren’s body and the Akashi feels his life slowly draining away. Sloane rips out his sword and wipes the blood off before putting it back in his sheathe. Adira, standing nearby, looks down at the dying Orren and shakes her head. She and the Black Buck’s agents leave him to die, climbing into the airship and taking off.
As the ship lifts into the sky, Orren sees the bodies of his friends lying around him. His vision begins to darken and lose focus. As he fades, Jarkko, gravely wounded, pulls himself to Orren’s. He reaches out and clasps his friend’s hand.
“I’m sorry,” he says as Orren’s vision goes black. “I’m sorry.”
The party — Amaryllis, Ria, Malakai and Ivan — reawaken once more in the Collective Mind and ask to see no more memories.
The heroes find themselves standing at the brazier in the darkened Akashi temple. A chill fills the air as it’s now nighttime. The party realizes they must move fast to make it back to Umar in time, and rush to meet up with their friends outside.