Research in Valthrun's Tower

Dyovek grimaced irritably, rifling through a stack of old scroll cases and shoving aside heavy vellum manuscripts. This was rather unglamorous work for a future archmage…

"What about 'Torthrius' Chronicle of the Serpent Vale?' that sounds promising…"

"Torthrius," Valthrun replied archly, "was a nincompoop. But I believe you are in the right stack, now. Keep looking." He glanced up from the black-bound tome through which he was leafing, and nodded with grudging approval; his eyes returned to the pages as he continued. "You have good instincts for research, Master Dyovek. You'd do well to do more of it, and retire from this foolish adventuring life. Ah, here we are! The Nerathi Annals references some business in the south - there's a margin note referring to - ah… er… Torthrius' Chronicle." He narrowed his eyes as Dyovek triumphantly snatched up the volume he had just set aside and began flipping through it enthusiastically, reading and paraphrasing aloud:

Two hundred years ago, this entire region south of the Serpent Hills was a stronghold of the cult of Orcus. The cult deliberately created a gap between this world and another realm – the Shadowfell. Although not inherently evil, the Shadowfell is fraught with dangers, and through the gap between worlds the cult brought forth skeletons, zombies, and even fouler creatures.

In those days, fortunately, the Empire of Nerath was still strong. A legion was dispatched to quell the threat. They destroyed the undead, sealed the rift, and built a keep to watch over the location and contain the threat.

Valthrun nodded soberly, face betraying concern. "That much we knew already, but it puts us on the right track. Does it make any mention of the Shadow Dragon?" Dyovek, interest and excitement growing, quickly found the relevant passage:

Orcus, undeterred, forged a pact with the shadow dragon, Shadraxil. He taught her the Fell Rite of Opening and sent her to slay the Nerathi garrison and reopen the rift. Much of Shadowfell Keep was destroyed in the battle which followed, but Sir Keegan Boareskyr, a lesser scion of his house, took command of the garrison and slew the beast before she could finish the reopening, while his ally Brother Timothy of Candlekeep closed the rift with a powerful divine counter-ritual called the Mirror of Refusal.

The green-robed sage shook his head in disbelief. "I came here merely to study history. But now I fear that the cult has returned, and seeks to open that gap between worlds once again. If that were to happen… without the Empire to respond…” He shuddered. "Run to the temple and fetch Sister Linora; have her bring any texts she has on demon-worship and ancient rituals."

Dyovek, grumbling, left to retrieve the priestess; they both returned a few minutes later, laden with yet more scrolls and books. Soon enough Sister Linora, with Dyovek's assistance, had located the relevant passages in the Testimonials of Rendyll the Blessed. She murmured aloud, summarizing as she read:

The worship or Orcus revolves around the practice of living sacrifice. But these sacrifices are not merely about death, they center around the collection and distribution of a victim’s blood. Cult rituals often revolve around filling a skull with blood, drinking it, and then filling it again for Orcus and pouring it over his idol.

If these cultists are trying to reopen a portal to the Shadowfell, then they must be attempting to tap into the ancient magic that first created the gap between worlds. There will be a sacrifice of blood and an idol of Orcus.

"People have been going missing in increasing numbers from the outlying farms - we assumed it had to do with the goblin and kobold raids, but now it seems their fates may be much more dire!" Sister Linora laid the heavy book down and the three scholars huddled over it; she traced a finger along a detailed, complex diagram, pointing out the numerous features of the Ritual of Opening. "The actual process of the ritual is not outlined here, but this does show something of the way in which it is done:"

The Ritual of Opening requires the presence of a powerful cleric, devoted to the Demon Prince; two statues in Orcus' likeness, to intensify his presence; a mystic circle of foul runes, to imbue the cleric with his power; a pool of sacrificial blood; and 'an angel's woe'… the blood of innocents and the Angel's Woe commingle in the pool and, vilified by Orcus' dark will, rip the Veil between this realm and the Shadowfell.

Valthrun's brow was knit with worry. "The Fell Ritual of Opening; the Mirror of Refusal - both spells are unfamiliar to me… I doubt any of my arcane sources holds a clue to their execution. Douven Stahl said the gnome who captured him spoke fearfully of his employer, a man named Kalarel; if he is a priest of Orcus, as the evidence seems to suggest, it may be that he is attempting to enact the Ritual of Opening. That would explain the rising tide of dread and darkness which is falling over the area; I fear it is merely the first sign that the seal on the rift is weakening."

Linora nodded her agreement. "Dyovek, you must rally your companions and bring them back here; time grows short. We will try to uncover all we can of this Mirror of Refusal spell; but it may be that no knowledge of it exists any longer. In any case, there should be other ways to interrupt the Ritual of Opening - stemming the supply of sacrificial victims; interfering with this Angel's Woe, whatever it is; disrupting the flow of dark energy from the statues; slaying this Kalarel - any or all of these things may serve to stave off Orcus' efforts."

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