Stuck crossing the lava flows of Avernus, we continue our battle against the magma demons and flying hellwasps that have attacked, which is complicated by the need to avoid being hit by the cinderstorm of flaming debris hurtling out of the sky—whether from volcanic activity or something extraplanar, we do not know. It takes quite a bit of time, but we finally manage to defeat the creatures. After the battle is won, both Jack and I feel the urge to continue south, though whatever is guiding me is closer than what is guiding Jack.
As we continue south, the cinderstorm eases and a cathedral appears on the horizon. We’re getting much closer to our first destination. The cathedral is the only thing nearby; while there are mountains much further south—the Darkspine—it’s clear that the ring is leading me to the cathedral.
While we move closer, we learn from Addis that the entire planet was the site of a battle of gods and demons long ago, and that this particular cathedral was built in honor of a god whose name has since been lost to time. Still, we continue closer, the pull on my ring getting stronger, and begin to notice that this area has not been heavily traveled and that the cathedral itself appears deserted.
Eben feels a sense of foreboding around the structure, and has the sense that not everything is as it seems. Regardless of this, Jack and I start for the entrance. Neither of us sense any traps and Aideena doesn’t sense anything arcane, but Targoth feels a surge of religious fervor when he scans the door. He describes “fingerprints” that have been left behind—not physical ones, but metaphysical—and reports that they feel both recent and evil.
The cathedral itself is large; the doors are massive and the windows are high up. Jack, nevertheless, is able to climb to the window and peeks in. All he can see is darkness, though the cathedral is intact. It also appears to be empty from outside.
At this point, we’ve done all we can to check for and disable any traps, so we open the doors. Jack’s first sense is that many things have died here; he also senses death nearby.
In his own way, he attempts to explain how he feels, that there are seemingly two different types of death: one that is old and ancient, likely from the battle fought many years previously, and one that hasn’t happened, but is inevitable—the sense that something is moribund.
As we enter, bright lights suddenly illuminate the darkness. All around us, we can see humanoid carvings, and while we recognize some of the races, none of them are defined enough to tell what or who they are. We make our way carefully down the nave as I’m pulled in the direction of the altar by the ring. I approach it and see a chalice filled with clear, viscous liquid, an empty plate, and a rod with a damp cloth. Only the plate has dust; the other two items have been handled recently.
As we inspect the items, Targoth mentions that he feels the same evil signature on all of the items that he did before we entered the cathedral.
Targoth inspects the ring that I have—suspicious, since it led me to the altar—but he determines that it does not have the same evil signature. He asks me where I got it and I reluctantly tell the party that Jalmari gave it to me.
A closer look at the chalice, rod, and plate show that they are all old and have been defiled. Targoth approaches the altar with me right behind him; in the liquid—which appears thicker than water, though it is clear—I can see a reflection.
Carefully, Targoth drops the cloth into the chalice and the lights immediately go dim, the room darkening dramatically. The liquid inside the chalice darkens, appearing to take on the look of blood; similarly, a blood spray across the rod and pooled on the damp cloth becomes visible in the dim light, which makes it appear all the more sinister. At the same time, the entire cathedral changes, growing grimmer: pillars are broken, shadows linger in corners, pews are shattered, and long dark streaks of something stain the stone floor in long streaks up the center aisle, as though sacrifices have been dragged in or out.
Where once a chandelier hung, a glance up now reveals a cage dangling from the ceiling. Inside is Jalmari—grievously injured, nude, and slumped; he is apparently unconscious. Blood drips down from the cage and there are clear signs of torture on his body. Around his cage are the implements of torture—long devices with hooks and blades and terrible devices meant to rend and spread and crush.
Before we can mount a rescue effort, however, the creepy humanoid pillars begin moving in the shadows, and then step out into the dim light. We’re shocked, because we’re facing ourselves, only they’ve been corrupted.
One is a broad-shouldered, hirsute human in black armor. He is missing an arm. Another is a tall eladrin woman, but her skin has the appearance of burnt flesh. Another is a short, wiry man who hunches around himself, whispering nonsense quietly. Occasionally he makes a sound halfway to weeping as he stumbles forward. A dragonborn with one tattered wing steps forward, a terrible curved sword of red and black in his claws. Last comes a woman, incredibly pale, with deep-set white eyes. She is dressed all in black, wearing a shroud and a veil like a widow.
It takes some doing, but we finally defeat the corrupted Horsebane, and as we do, the sound stops. Silence gathers and the evil that some of the party have felt becomes palpable to everyone.
That’s when a demon appears. “I am Andromalius, the Reaver,” he says. He raises one of his six arms, holding the goblet aloft, then drinks deeply from it. He tells us that he knew we would come and that we cannot have his prisoner. At this pronouncement, he throws the rod at Jalmari where he is still in the cage. The rod is clearly on a course towards the cage, but Aideena steps in and blows the rod out of the air.
While the rest of the party battles the demon, Targoth ascends to the cage and tries to bash the lock open. It takes a few tries, but he finally manages to get the cage open and carries Jalmari down to the ground. He’s not only been physically tortured, but his soul has been tortured as well. We finally defeat the demon and I run over to Jalmari, looking him over. He’s a mess; there are a mass of wounds and he’s still unconscious. Through the ring, I can tell that he’s in bad shape, so I administer a potion to help stabilize him, in addition to transferring some healing to him through the ring.
It takes him some time to swallow the potion, but he finally does and opens his eyes. “Kaiva?” he asks.
“Hello,” I say quietly.
He’s very weak and his voice is shaky when he says, “I never doubted you would come for me.”
There’s not much that I can say to that, but I manage, “I’m glad someone believed.”
At that, Jalmari manages a nod and then falls unconscious once again. It’s less urgent this time, more like sleeping and less like being on the brink of death. Still, he’s in bad shape and our efforts have done no more than stabilize him.
Targoth determines that the evil signatures of the place remain, but nothing is immediately threatening, so we decide to take a moment to rest and decide what our next move is.
Targoth wonders about the nature of the doppelgangers that attacked us, but Addis is only able to say that he’s never seen anything like it before. The rest of us are at a loss as well.