Borderlands Campaign, Part VI: The Pillars of Night
After leaving the burning village, our heroes felt uneasy despite the natural serenity of the river. Before stopping for the night to let the giant pikes rest, Alethea invoked a magical ward. Immediately, this revealed the presence of a tiefling lurking invisibly at the stern. He said he knew of your mission to the Pillars of Night, and that you were too late to save Jaryn. It became clear that this was Dajani, the paladin’s last companion, for he wore ragged vestments similar to Sister Sister Emesha’s. It was equally clear that he was up to no good, for he answered your questions by attempting to slit Lucien’s throat. The return blow met empty air, as Dajani used his infernal powers and magic cloak to disappear from that spot, and reappear by his next victim to attack without warning. In this manner he carried on, while the heroes lurched across the pitching deck of Glasur’s moonboat, to assail him, first in one spot, then another. He evaded the icy grasp of Alethea’s summoned ice hand, and was knocked into the swift current by Lorun’s ferocious charge, only to rematerialize back on deck moments later. Finally, a shot hit true, piercing the half-daemon’s wicked heart.
Dajani wore a tunic of the Bane-worshippers under his old, Pelor-blessed vestments. His journal told of the journey with Jaryn as they left Grayhollow full of confidence; how they lost their other companions fighting goblin raiders; Jaryn’s obsession with destroying the cult turning to mad determination; and finally, enigmatic talk of “setting aside his old life for the power of the new age”. He was buried under a small cairn after the heroes put ashore at the closest point to the temple before they would be spotted. Lucien performed the rites befitting a lay member of the order, in hopes that there may have been some good left in him.
Glasur promised to return to that spot every second day at noon, to bring them back to Adamant falls should they survive. From atop a hill, they could survey the temple. True to its name, twisted obsidian pillars rise from a central mound, surrounded by ancient ruins interspersed with a newer camp. Hundreds of cultists in the now-familiar tunics busy themselves with daily chores, worshipping their dark god, and military exercises. It would be nearly impossible to storm the compound by force, so the heroes decided to infiltrate wearing the cultist tunics they’d captured, and try to sneak in.
Blending in among the cultists, the heroes learn bit by bit that Jaryn was brought to the temple as a captive, but defeated the cult leader, Larkazh, and assumed command as the new “Voice of Naarash”. Under his leadership, the cult transformed from undisciplined raiders to a professional military force, and was preparing to lay siege to Adamant Falls before continuing its campaign to purge the lands of the weak and unworthy. Unable to bluff their way into the inner circles, the heroes opted to hide in the ruins, which had been left from the time of the giants, and sneak their way to the temple gate at night.
Stealth and magic got them up the temple mound to one of the eponymous pillars, but the massive door and grand stairway leading up to it were well-guarded by well-armed, night-eyed goblins. With no way to sneak everyone in unnoticed, the heroes made a bold frontal assault at the gate, starting with a huge explosion of fire summoned by Alethea. Desperately, Lorun and the others fended off goblin soldiers until everyone could get inside, and held back wave after wave until the giant’s door mechanism could be operated. When the fat goblin cult priest and his minions attacked from inside the temple, the heroes found themselves assailed on all sides. As the huge doors swung slowly shut, crushing one goblin between them, a circle of arcane wards glowed upon their face.
Quickly they dispatched the remaining goblins from the foyer, and stormed in to the grandiose temple itself. Before them, in flickering torchlight too weak to illuminate the high vaulted ceiling, was an enormous idol of orange stone, with grinning mouth of dagger-like teeth, and empty socket eyes despoiled by looters. It holds a blood-soaked sacrificial basin before a bloated stone belly where the remains of some unfortunate captives can still be seen. A side room contained the priest’s quarters, containing among his effects a pair of ritual scrolls. Through the barred window in another door could be seen blood-splattered cells where ravenous, ghoulish creatures fed on more remains.
Past a series of traps, hidden doors, and a wide stone hallway carved with bas relief of ancient giant nobles & warriors, the heroes were once again attacked by a group of cultist warriors and priests. This time, they saw a blonde, proud human warrior calmly watch the fight from across the room – Jaryn at last! Strangely, he helped them slay the last of his minions, and then offered them rest and refreshment before he would face them in single combat. Besides a makeshift living space, crumbling walls, and a fountain, the room housed a large, blood-red crystal in a raised alcove.
In response to the heroes’ questioning, Jaryn confided that by defeating Larkazh, he had become the new champion and leader of the Hand of Naarash, now they have a chance to face him and try claim that position for themselves. His adopted religion held that only the strongest and most capable are worthy to inherit the coming age – the weak and unable must be swept away. To him, this would be the pinnacle of mercy, to remove the unworthy from their suffering on this world. Once rested, the heroes took up his challenge, and threw everything they had at him. He fought well and honorably, wielding his greatsword to impressive effect. But in the end, was not a match for their combined strength. As he died, he lamented his own unworthiness.
Exhausted from this hard-fought battle, the heroes were horrified to see the torches dim, the paladin’s body spontaneously burn to ash, and a huge demonic form appear before the red stone in a fountain of flames. It’s hideous body was apelike and heavily muscled, covered in dark red fur, with bat-like wings sprouting from its back. It’s eyes were pure malice, and it wielded a vicious Morningstar. Announcing himself as Naarash, servant of Bane, it offered command of the cult army to whichever victor would claim it, with power and glory beyond their most ambitious dreams. The heroes would not give in to such temptation, and attacked the daemon instead.
The brute was incredibly tough and strong, fighting with savage fury. The heroes, already battered and worn out from their previous encounters, looked like they would never survive his hellish onslaught. Perceiving a link between Naarash and the crystal from which he drew his power, the heroes turned their attacks upon the latter, while trying to evade the hulking daemon as best they could. Its hard stone surface barely yielded to their weapons, but each chip that fell was reflected as a wound in the creature. Fighting with every last bit of strength to keep the daemon away from his companions, Lorun fell before its ferocious onslaught. Lucien dashed to his fallen comrade as Alethea and Darius carried on the battle – harassing Naarash with a steady hail of arrows and clouds of summoned daggers. Tending his wound and reinvigorating him with a divine infusion, Lucien brought back Lorun to the fight, as they all looked for a weakness in the daemon’s power. Taking the blessed altar-piece of the Grayhollow temple from Alethea, Lucien blasted the crystal with divine radiance, causing it to crack and splinter. Corresponding gashes appeared on the daemon’s apelike body and membranous wings, dealing a final blow to bring him to his knees. Naarash’s demonic corpse burst into flames, nearly immolating them all, then vanished in whiffs of brimstone and ash.