Entering Castle Umbra
After travelling to a more secluded location away from the watching eyes of House Alas'thil, Cyne Undria shifted the party back into his demiplane to discuss the logistics of their travel - namely, who would join them, and who would stay behind. Knowing that Ashlyn's paladin might would be needed if they faced trouble, and knowing that Cyne only had one more chance to shift them back to the demiplane, they decided to bring almost everyone - Lirien, the mesmerist, would stay behind to keep an eye on the demiplane. Unfortunately, their trip back to the demiplane wasn't without incident. The moment the larger group arrived, the traumatised elven woman Ashlyn had been keeping an eye on seemed to undergo a vicious transformation, launching herself at the blindfolded paladin... who proceeded to cleave her in half. Removing the bandages around the girl's neck revealed that her head had been separated from her body some time before. The group wasn't too concerned with this, making the connection between her and the infamous Matriarch of House Umbra - who, as they learnt in the previous session, seemed to be able to possess others - almost immediately. Instead, they finalised their plans and headed back to Vaermyrhel, to sneak into the premier Aletheian Drow House's castle. Thankfully, the map's marked entrance point was an old, unlocked door that seemed to lead down a long hallway. Less thankfully, Aniks - who'd taken point due to his rogue abilities - rounded the first corner to find a set of mirrors. Failing a will save (of course) allowed him to see a phantom beginning to chase them down the hallway.. one nobody else could see. It seemingly continued to follow them until they found the first room, one filled with old, dusty furniture covered in sheets. Upon closer examination, the 'sofas' in the room were actually undead mimics made of human flesh. The party chose not to bother them, and continued on into a hallway filled with a strange mist. The mist stunned half of the party, evoking strong feelings of pleasure in them that made it a challenge for them to progress. As those still able to maintain their thoughts dragged their lustful friends out of the mist and further down the hall, they managed to avoid a nasty trap that would've lulled them to sleep missing the past 5 minutes of memory... the implications of this, in the House of Lust and Shadows, were not pleasant to dwell upon. They met with little other challenge as they travelled through until they reached another room. Whilst it was mostly empty, the 'door' to the path marked by Aniks's sister was blocked not by a standard wooden door, but by a deformed, scarred female drow with a carved inscription on her bare chest marking her as a traitor. Aniks executed her after a brief conversation that outed her as one of House V'drath - the vile worshippers of Lamashtu and previous rulers of the Underdark, who had recently been exiled from Vaermyrhel after brutally losing a war against House Umbra. Unfortunately, this seemed to have played right into what his sister had planned for them, as he discovered a note from her afterwards. It simply asked him if he'd enjoyed the treat. Shuddering and now slightly paranoid about the route, they continued on into a smaller antechamber that provided them with a good viewpoint of the next, larger room - where a trio of drow, one female and two male, stood talking. This was an issue for the party, as they knew the matriarchal drow society would not look kindly upon a male drow - like Aniks, or Cyne in disguise - trying to get the trio to leave. However, their alternatives were Pin and Kraia, who could only disguise themselves as short drow or drow children, or Celuriel, who couldn't speak Undercommon - Yiranna and Ashlyn were both far too Good-aligned to pass, and Cid's plantlike features would not have disguised well. After a brief discussion, it was decided that Aniks, as the most familiar with drow culture, would be dressed as a woman. Kraia bequeathed him her whip, and Celuriel assisted with makeup and dress (even adding a corset). As fem!Aniks stepped out of the room, a pressure plate triggered with a quiet click. This served to deactivate the floor of the antechamber, dropping an unlucky Celuriel and Pin into a pile of red pillows on the floor below as a scantily-clad male drow opened the harem's door. Pin, ever quick to act, grabbed Celuriel and used her Dimension Step ability to quickly send them both back upstairs to safety (and teasing from the rest of the party, leading to Celuriel threatening to harm Pin in her sleep after a comment about leaving Celu down there to play with drow men). Aniks, meanwhile, began crossing the room to speak with the other drow. His dominatrix attire was immediately noticed by the submissive other woman, who asked 'Mistress' if she would be attending the orgy later that day. Aniks agreed, telling her that he'd meet her there. She seemed to be happy with this answer, and led her two men away, granting the party access to the final corridor before a flight of stairs. Said corridor, however, was trapped far beyond what they'd encountered before. Disintegrate spells, symbols, whirring blades - it seemed to have everything. Kraia used a summon to try and expend some of the spells, but only managed to expend Disintegrate's charge. Celuriel took advantage of her undead nature to possess the corpse of the drow woman from before and sent it through the corridor, disarming most of the traps and covering the corridor with a shower of gore. Unfortunately, this didn't disarm the mirror that waited for them at the end. Aniks, yet again being terrible with will saves, was the first to see it... this time seeing a disturbing image of their former party member, Licia, standing over the body of Kazric Szithna. Stunned, he watched as she turned, smirked and morphed into Lirien - who had been switched with Licia during the ritual to restore Ashlyn's memories - who smashed the mirror and ran down the corridor they intended on continuing down. None of the rest of the party seemed to see this vision, and in fact, saw an intact mirror. There was no blood, nor were there illusory shards on the ground. The final obstacles were very simple: a rose, and a door. The rose sat in the middle of the path, and speared Aniks's foot with a blade when he attempted to stomp on it. It seemed to cause those near it to hear something out of the ordinary - something they wanted, perhaps - and the group faced one last barrier: a door with mysterious writing on it, that... actually opened fairly easily. (There was intended to be a much more challenging lower floor, but at this point, the party had wasted 3 hours and the GM was eager to get to the plot. The monsters, drow tormentors and despair-based traps will just be used some other time.) As Pin bickered with the evil alchemist Elias via enchanted messenger notebook, the rest of the party began to head downstairs... which became significantly more challenging as the alchemist somehow caused a flood of grease down the stairs, despite his supposed distance. Following the stairs down allowed the party to discover a throne room with five thrones - four smaller, one large. Chained to one of the smaller thrones was the familiar (yet also unfamiliar) form of Kazric, restored to his original drow self and seemingly unconscious. A strange gauntlet had been placed over the arm that bore his Champion tattoo, with metal wires snaking back through a wall behind the thrones. Separating them from Kazric was a Wall of Force, and as they began to try and figure out a way to take it down, a taunting voice welcomed them to the room and asked them if they'd consider exchanging Cyne for Alysia... or maybe Ashlyn and Yiranna for her. He didn't seem bothered about which. This was identifiable as the voice of the Bloodwalker, the Dark Prince, the Knight of Shadow... the notorious tiefling, Riven Drast. Now knowing from Kazric's device that the power of gods was involved, the party decided to try to invoke their own. Kraia's powers of Gozreh allowed Artemis to become truly Colossal in size, and Pin's allowed her to speed up time for the party, granting them Mythic Haste. The power of Gorum, channelled by Cid, caused two extremely powerful bolts of disintegrate to remove the walls blocking their way, also revealing the hidden ritual chamber in which Riven, Alysia (the princess they'd come to rescue) and four elemental-based victims stood. Ashlyn and Cyne's attempts at channelling their Champion powers caused a little more chaos, however. Ashlyn's bolt of light, bolstered by a Daylight spell from Kraia, flooded Kazric's gauntlet with enough light energy to force-start the ritual. Cyne, meanwhile, accidentally tapped into his Prince's powers of insanity... sending the hapless Kazric into an insane rampage. As Ashlyn sliced Kazric's arm off in an attempt to stop the gauntlet, Aniks immediately began to recognise what the ritual was doing thanks to Riven's monologuing: the tiefling had somehow learnt of Aniks's research at the Temple of Celesthem, and was attempting to recreate one of the Shards. He was opening a portal to the void, using the combined blood of an ifrit, an undine, an oread, a sylph, and the joint divine surges of darkness and light from the gauntlet. Aniks took the initiative to dart over to the opening portal as the outsiders - barring Alysia, who'd been spared due to lack of participation - dropped dead in their circles, and thrust his arm in, trying to compete with Riven for the reforming Spiritblade. Cyne followed him over, striking at Riven and receiving a heavy one-handed hit in return that dropped him to one knee. Ashlyn and the insane Kazric had a frantic conversation in a moment of his lucidity, avoiding the cables as they attempted to latch onto a champion. Celuriel, who'd been rather quiet, fell unconscious as the ritual began. As the party moved in to initiate battle, Aniks began to feel something strange... something taking shape.... and that's where the session ended. To Be Continued.