1 Deepwinter 459 (New Year’s Day)
An eerie silence hung in the crisp morning air, the chaos so readily hidden by the gloom of night having fled ere the sun’s gentle rise above the eastern peaks. From one of the many tiny alcoves that surrounded the temple’s crowded sanctuary, Alyssa watched as the grey light of dawn crawled steadily across the frozen cobbles. New Years decorations, once suspended from lantern posts and skybridges and the walls of nearby structures, lay trampled in the mud. She shook her head. There would be no parade, no Festival of Dreams. Dark omens lurked in the shadowed streets of Gate Pass.
There was movement in the sanctuary. Alyssa peered between the sheer draperies that separated the alcove from the prayer chamber. Similar curtains hid most of the walls and numerous niches surrounding the room, an element common to temples devoted to the Order of the Aqualine Cross. It added an etheric quality to the chamber, diffusing the sunlight and isolating worshippers from the harsh realities of the world outside. The temple was a house of healing, but little succor could be found herein for the man who now made his way through the chapel.
Alyssa remained hidden, unprepared for any further drama this night. Too much lay between her and her brother Joshua… too many secrets, too many lies. The shame no longer threatened to consume her, but it lingered far too near when her brother was nearby. Much like the people of Gate Pass, she would carry scars of her own this night.
Having received far too little rest but sufficient treatment to heal their wounds and restore their vital energies, the party makes their way through the quiet streets of Gate Pass to Gabal’s School of War, the magic academy more often referred to by locals as The Castle. A mob has gathered outside the academy’s gates, but is calmed in fairly short order by the appearance of one of the school’s more charming prefects, a magus named Diogenes. Recognizing that the heroes mean no harm, Diogenes admits them to the courtyard and leads them inside, inquiring as to their business. A brief conference in the academy’s kitchen reveals that the young wizard is fairly confident that he can identify their missing Shahalesti agent, an elven sorceress named Shealis Amlauril, who keeps company with midnight visitors and, upon occasion, a lantern archon.
Diogenes warns the heroes of the wizardess’s power, however, cautioning them against a confrontation. He does suggest, however, that he could help subdue the woman by challenging her to a spellduel, if the party would be willing to pilfer her spell components before she enters the ring. The heroes agree, sending Basil and Jasmine to attend to the necessary bit of larceny in newly-acquired vestments appropriate to the school. Meanwhile, Derek steals away to locate Shealis’s chamber in the west tower and determine whether or not she is in residence. Once she has left for the dueling chamber, the remainder of the party makes their way to her room, where they discover her guests.
With an oath to the archon that they would do no harm, Joshua and Elessar are allowed to interrogate Shealis’s guest, a Shahalesti spy named Larion Prevarieth whom the party most recently encountered disguised as a misshapen gnome. Larion, though unwilling to aid the party directly, eventually reveals that the metal case the heroes seek is in the hands of Shahalesti agents secreted in an elven ghetto two city wards to the east. He additionally cautions them that the case will not be taken without a fight, and urges them to leave it in the care of the elves.
In the dueling chamber, Diogenes soon manages to subdue the sorceress and leaves her in Jasmine’s care. She and Basil secure the woman, rendering her incapable of using her magic, before Jasmine sets to questioning her. Suitably convinced of her captor’s moral flexability, Shealis proves unwilling to give up the names or locations of her contacts, but is quick to try and negotiate her freedom, offering the name of the wizard to whom the case would be taken in Shahalesti. Jasmine accepts her terms and leaves her breathing, if bound, whilst she and Basil rejoin the others.
The party takes to the streets again, making their way deeper into the city. The ghetto for which the heroes are searching proves to be easy to locate, but difficult to find a way in to. In attempt to locate the most likely place for a secret entrance, Jasmine scales a nearby apartment building, peering over the walls to note the location of the buildings beyond. Selecting the most likely length of wall on their end of the compound, she returns to the street and helps locate the door. Once the party has gained entry into the ghetto, they begin their search in earnest for the gatemaker’s shop described by the elf. A group of elven children playing in the street proves to be some assistance in this endeavor, indicating that the party should proceed to the north side of the compound.
Ironically, the gatemaker’s shop sports no obvious entrance, having instead a painted door and windows decorating the face of the structure. Further aid presents itself, however, in the form of a disappearing/reappearing talking rat, who directs them to the entrance and warns them that it’s trapped, in return for a promise to turn over the case that they seek… though the contents are theirs to keep. Despite the enigmatic nature of their benefactor, they agree to the terms and make their way inside. No one is struck by the trap in the door, but the party fails to prevent an alarm from being sounded.
The lower story of the gatemaker’s shop is an obstacle course comprised of wooden doors in various states of construction, many of which hang or swing on free-standing frames. The resident Shahalesti elves descend onto the staircase across the room and begin launching arrows across the intervening space whilst their guard animals, a bad-tempered trio of celestial badgers, attempt to slow the heroes down. The party divides its efforts, and Joshua and Elessar make for the stairs as the others deal with the beasts. The elves retreat to the top of the stairs, the nearest of them drawing his blade to confront Joshua in the confines of the stairwell. The large cleric is grievously wounded, but Jasmine, Elessar and Charmalina press the attack. The others follow, bringing the fight to the upper story, whilst Torrent pauses to revive their fallen comrade. The battle is bloody, but the heroes are victorious.
With the carpentry tools downstairs, the party manages to break open the case and retrieve the contents. The rat, which has since transformed into a raven, alights upon the broken case, reveals itself to be some sort of tiny devil, and disappears with its prize in a gout of flame and smoke.