They stood in a large, round, domed room, perhaps 50 feet in diameter. A sturdy wooden stairway spiraled upwards along the wall to a large, metal double-door some 30 feet above them. The heart-sinking, hopeless chill of the Nemesis lay heavily on the air, making it hard to breathe. The floor of the room was carpeted with bones. The bones were shifting and rattling in an agitated wave. A deep, rasping voice spoke to them in elvin, echoing through the chamber from all directions.
The hollow voice told them that they did not look like pilgrims. It sniffed at them accusingly, and responded to their attempted justifications by asking why they, Kalyx especially, smelled “like that hypocrite, Bexlornillexiphal.”
The party didn’t know what to make of that, but Ink was able to pick up from context that they must be near the resting place of Persephone, the legendary first and last queen of the elves of Lobenahl. When They sought to reassure the ominous voice that the group was here to pay respects, the bones rippled again, and began pulling up and coalescing into the form of a truly enormous skeletal dragon.
A silver dragon, by the look of it. A silver that must have been ancient when it died, perhaps during the Blood Wars when the followers of Khalipanofax hunted the silver and bronze dragons to near extinction.
The skeletal wyrm was draped with the translucent memory of flesh and sinew. It’s massive head swayed ponderously above them, seeming to sniff at them. Ar length it told them that it did not believe them, but that it would let them pass to be judged by the temple’s next guardians. It then collapsed into a layer of bones, and its voice told them to climb the stair and cross the causeway.
At the top of the wooden stair stood a double-door made of steel, and inlaid with what could only be mithril, the mining of which was, of course, the foundation of Old Cormorell’s legendary prosperity. The mithril was etched in the guardian tree (avenlorae) symbol of the royal house of Lobenahl. At the edges of the mithril inlay, the metal was growing dark and tarnished-looking. Thinuan, tainted mithril that absorbed the souls of those slain while touching it.
Cautiously, they pushed on the great steel doors, which opened almost noiselessly, onto a raised stone causeway some thirty feet above the streets of the cursed, dead, city of Cormorell.
The city was vast. Far larger than any of the Seven Cities of Mokiir, and larger, even, than the great coastal metropolis of Jen. A relic of the old empires, though it had belonged to none.
The sky was overcast and what little snow had fallen there during the winter still lay in drifts throughout the city. The air was bitterly cold, and oppressively quiet. A faint, shadowy pall flowed and drifted through the streets, despite the utter stillness of the air. The broken, pock-marked buildings of the city rose row-by-row up the hill to the north, on which stood the black and withered spires of the royal palace, obscured, at that distance, by the strange, shadowy mists that rose up from the streets. And, surrounding it all, a great dome of…something. Some invisible force made visible by the buildup of the black mists along it’s inner surface.
The ancient stone causeway stretched some 60 feet to a large, round, domed building ahead of them. Other causeways were visible to the left and right, connecting the central structure with other towers like the one they’d just left. The dome of the central building was made of some manner of glass, or perhaps crystal, shining cleanly and defiantly against the otherwise sorrowfully corroded surfaces of the rest of the city.
At intervals along the causeway stood life-sized stone statues of elves, humans, and ashai, clearly once people of import in Cormorell, At the end of the causeway was another great double door, above which, atop an arch, stood a giant, stone statue of an armored warrior, massive sword thrust downwards into the lintel above the door. In front of the door stood a large, unassuming hacholan man, in a plain brown robe, far too light for the frigid weather.
He stepped forward as they approached, and bade them stop. He asked and they told him who they were, and that they had come to pay their respects at the tomb of the Elven Queen. He seemed at first to take them at their word, but recognized Eirlys, “the Cold Heart,” and singled her out. He told her to lay down her sword, and approach him. He took her hand in his, palm to palm, and looked her directly in the eye while asking her again why she had come. Convinced by her answer that she meant no harm or trouble, he told her that she must leave her sword behind, but that if she would do so, she and her companions would be allowed to enter the Temple of the Silver Bow. Eirlys, to everyone’s relief, agreed.
At a gesture from the robed hacholu, the giant stone statue above the doors gave a grinding jerk upwards on it’s massive sword, pulling it out of the doorway’s arch. The steel doors, which matched the ones they’d just passed through, opened quietly inwards.
As the party walked foward, they were shocked and awed by the juxtaposition of the bleak and corrupted city against the interior of the temple. Inside, the air was fresh and clean.
Golden sunlight shone in through the great crystal dome. The chamber they entered was a garden-like gallery full of fruit trees and beautiful growing things, overlooking a lower level made of yet more of the same. A catwalk linked the upper gallery with a platform that thrust out, seemingly unsupported, to the center of the great domed building, hanging over the lower gardens. On the platform lay an elegant sarcophagus made of flawless glass or crystal. Clearly visible within the sarcophagus lay a beautiful, golden-haired elven woman, old enough to show wrinkles and greying at her temples.
Persephone Lobenali, first and last queen of the elves of Lobenahl, lay in state, a great, white bow beside her, a flawless bastard sword atop her, and a starkly black and shining obsidian dagger thrusting upwards out of her chest.
The gardens around them were being tended by perhaps a half dozen people, most wearing simple garments that seemed to indicate acolytes of the temple. One or two may have been simple pilgrims, pitching in to gather food. One of them, a tall, dark haired elven woman in simple green robes, approached them. She wore a sword at her hip, a longbow across her back, and a look of beatific peace on her smooth features.
As she walked towards them, she inclined her head and the massive doors to the dead city closed, shutting away the cursed streets of Cormorell. Indicating with knowing looks and graceful gestures, the silent priestess bid them welcome, and indicated that they might approach the Queen’s crystal coffin.
Kalyx and Ink approached first. They both lay a hand on the casket, and as they did, the sunlight streaming through the dome dimmed, and a slow roll of thunder was heard. A moment later, to everyone’s astonishment, rain began to fall inside the temple. After the thunder came a profound silence. Everyone inside the temple had paused to watch, and listen.
Each member of the party experienced something different, and private, when they knelt before the crystal sarcophagus, but everyone in the Temple could feel that each of them was welcome. This sense was so powerful and palpable that the mute priestess returned Eirlys’ sword to her, with a grave, but kind nod. She then led the group downstairs to the lower gardens.
There they met, working along side the acolytes and hacholan monks, another priest, an ashai woman with an open face and warm smile. She introduced herself as Sister Valteisis, and introduced the mute elven priest that had greeted them as Sister Paraneith. Valteisis bid them be welcome at the Temple of the Silver Bow, and spoke with joyful fervor of their welcome by the Elvin Queen, and the goddess Sephalia, in whose service this temple stood. She made some comment about the coming of the Stormborn at last, and said that the High Cleric, Tallmeriss the Blind, would want to speak with them. Mother Tallmeriss was absorbed in other matters at the moment, so Valteisis offered to take the party to quarters where they might take some food and rest while awaiting the high cleric’s summons.
She walked them out a different door from the one they’d come in, out again into the bleak and sickly city, more oppressive and chilling now in contrast to the gentle, soothing warmth of the temple interior. Across another elevated stone causeway was another tower, inside of which were dormitories. Several levels of monastic cells joined by a central spiral stair.
Acolytes brought them food, mostly fruits, but also some goat. Then they rested. Sardis slept a while. Eirlys meditated, after the fashion of her kind, haunted by memories of the war she’d fought in Cormorell and Setheris Om over a century ago. Ink returned to the garden, making notes in Their books, and taking in the feel of the place. [The GM doesn’t remember if Kalyx slept or spoke to people or what…].
An acolyte came to wake them and summon them to the lower gardens to meet High Cleric Tallmeriss and attend a Conclave of the Priestood, at which it was to be decided whether and to what degree the denizens of the Temple would aid the party in their quest to retrieve “something” from in or around the city.
Once in the lower gardens, the party found seats on mossy rocks and amongst the fruit trees. Soon enough, four priests entered and stood, each across the chamber from one other, bracketing the central stair from which High Priest Tallmeriss emerged.
Tallmeriss was a statuesque and grave elvin woman with a silk cloth across her eyes and signs of aging which, in an elf, marked well over four centuries of life. She stood on the central stair, with a stoic hacholan monk behind her. The monk was bare chested, displaying two large raven tattoos on his breast.
Tallmeriss introduced herself, and acknowledged that the party had already met Paraneith and Valteisis. She went on to introduce the two male elvin priests: Sorukide, who had a dour look about him; and Ornorall who bore himself with a haughtiness that one might normally associate with an eladrin lord.
After introductions, and welcoming the party, High Cleric Tallmeriss noted aloud that Eirlys Olwen would never again be known as the Coldheart by the followers of Sephalia. Those of the Order knew something of her actions during the redemption, and could see plainly that the spirit of the God had forgiven the eladrin warrior’s past transgressions.
She then asked that the party explain their objectives in Cormorell. The party answered, with more than a little digression, that they had come to search for a lost artifact stolen from the Kaenti of the Ruby Vale. They described the spearhead, and explained their belief that it had been taken to Cormorell, and their suspicion that it might be being used to anchor and power the mystical barriers that now surrounded the cursed city.
The discussion ranged more than a little, touching on a number of topics, including Kalyx’s ancestry, Sa Ra Ink’s increasingly strange nature, the likelihood that Sardis had the blood of the Order of the Raven in his family, and more. Eventually, the time for a vote drew near.
It seemed clear that, at least Ornorall disfavored helping the party. However, before the Conclave gave it’s final vote, Kalyx spoke to the priests of humility and her simple desire to see the Jade Queen brought low. This turned Ornorall’s heart, and, in the end, the Priests of the Silver Bow voted to provide succor and solace to the party, as well as aid, as they could, in the quest to retrieve the Sarkana.
After the vote, Tallmeriss dismissed everyone but the party, expressing a wish to speak with them alone.
The party sat with Tallmeriss, who descended into the garden and bade them partake of the fruit of the trees there.
They spoke of many things. Talmeriss told them of the Temple’s creation, founded by Thukrix Icewing, with the help of the Necromancer who ruled Dead Cormorell. They spoke in passing of Kalyx’s ancestor Ageonexiphal, who had, the cleric believed, once traveled with Queen Persephone under the simple name Ageon. She told them that the Icewing had prophesied, before departing the Temple, of the coming of the Stormborn, who was, clearly, Kalyx. But mostly they spoke of the Necromancer.
High Priest Tallmeriss seemed certain that the party’s guess was correct, and that the Sarkana, the spearhead they sought, must be half of the broken Kaenti Guardian. She revealed, though Eirlys had already suspected this, that the Necromancer had broken the Kaenti Guardian as part of the ritual that brought about The Blighting. of Khalipanofax. It followed that, if anyone could help them to find the Sarkana, and/or help them understand how to use it, it would be the Necromancer. She also supposed that he would know more than anyone else about the mystical barrier that bound him and his city.
She revealed to them some of the deeper secrets of her Order. Knowledge of the Necromancer’s origins. In life, the Lich Shadriel had been Shadriel Lobenali, twin brother to Lady Persephone Lobenali.
The two had been raised in Cormorell before it fell, now almost 450 years ago. The city had been allied to the Elven nation of Ahlveral, but, for political reasons, the elves had not come to Cormorell’s aid when the goblinoid hordes had attacked. Those hordes had been working on behalf of the ancient green dragon Khalipanofax, though few had realized that at the time. The sacking of Cormorell was now believed to be the first major step in the dragon’s bid for ascendance.
Persephone and her twin brother had been refugees from Cormorell, and lived most of their adult lives in a rural province of Ahlveral. Shadriel had been slain some thirty years after the fall of Cormorell. In all the many tales of Lady Persephone’s adventures, he appears only as a memory, until the Redemption Wars, and the Blighting.
She cautioned them, saying that the Lich’s hatred of Khalipanofax was so terrible, and his lust for vengeance against her so great, that he was willing to blight great swaths of the Blessed lands, slaying thousands upon thousands, to see her fall. The priesthood believed that Shadriel’s ritual would in fact have laid waste to nearly every being west of the Throkkan Mountains, but for the Sacrifice of the Elven Queen, his sister. The faith held that, at the crucial moment, Queen Persephone, trusted and loved still by her undead brother, had taken her own life as part of a ritual that, set against Shadriel’s, had allowed for the death of Khalipanofax’s followers, but prevented the razing of the land that would otherwise have occurred, instead, blessing all the lands where the Jade Queen’s followers had been sufficiently scarce.
The High Priest went on to point out two things that she urged the party to remember: The first was that Shadriel had not brought down the Jade Queen to save the Lands of the West, he had done so out of a deep hatred for the goddess. The Second was that all the stories agreed that Shadriel loved his sister even more than he hated the Jade Queen. This, the cleric said, was the more dangerous truth.
Having spoken with them at length, Tallmeriss asked them if they would like her to send a raven to the Necromancer on their behalf, requesting an audience. They said that they would.
As she parted ways with them, promising to send the raven before she returned to her other duties, she hinted that, beyond having been the first High Priestess of this Temple, she had actually known Queen Persephone back when she was still only Lady Persephone. Despite this, she insisted that if they had further questions they wished to ask about any of these matters, they should speak to Ornorell, who was the Loremaster of the Temple. With that, she excused herself.
Over the next few hours several members of the party sought counsel with one priest or another.
When night fell, a message came from the Necromancer Shadriel. Mother Tallmeriss came in with a large raven on her shoulder, and told them that the bird had a reply. It cocked it’s head at them, and focused one bright, too-knowing eye on them, as if confirming their identities. Then it croaked:
Come tonight. Come to the Palace before daybreak, and I will meet with you.