Chapter 5, Part VI: Bloodmoon Ascending

You make your way down the long dark path in the woods. There is nowhere to go except forward. The darkness creeps in around you, swallowing up the forest behind you as if it never existed. The light of your lantern struggles and dims to the overwhelming power of this strong darkness. Suddenly in front of you, the darkness parts around some trees at the end of the pathway revealing a large open field. In the middle stands the remains of a tree. You can see the darkness pouring relentlessly out from the stump like a broken faucet. The stump itself is charred from what appears to have been a recent fire. Finally, there resting upon the blackened stump is a glass coffin with a young girl inside. The darkness twisting its way around the coffin and into a large plume creating a dome around the area.

"That's far enough" you hear from the edge of the clearing. Two sets of glowing eyes appear in the shadows. A tall slender man steps through with pale skin and dark black armor. He wears a cape with gold trim and on the back of it is a picture of a long flaming spear...the same one you see held in his hand. The second figure gracefully slips out of the shadows greeting you with a strange smile. She is wearing a long black cloak and leather armor. You see the smile with more clarity now, it is not a smile, but rather a gilded dagger in her mouth.

The Platinum Talons, having skillfully made their way through the Darkness-consumed Northreach Glades, emerged into a clearing where the source of this blight was flowing freely from the center. Firebrook recognized all three figures before them instantly: His father, Hellspear, his mother, Deathblossom, and his younger sister--trapped in a crystal coffin-- Bloodmoon.

Hellspear took one look at Firebrook and his team and gave a single warning: leave now or die. When they refused, Deathblossom taunted her son, calling him a traitor and a weakling. She dismissed the rest of the Talons as weaklings and losers, feeling entirely unthreatened by their arrival.

Firebrook attempted to strike a deal, to trade himself for Bloodmoon in the ritual, to which his mother replied sharply that he was nowhere near as strong as Bloodmoon was, and that she was the only one who could withstand being the vessel for the Darkness. She also explained that the reasoning for the ritual was to house the power of the Darkness into Bloodmoon so that she and Hellspear could better control it. Their original attempt at containing its power resulted in the chaos spreading across Evervale-- an effect they had not intended.

With his connection to nature and keen perception, Nohki recognized that the ragged and charred stump underneath Bloodmoon had been the original source for the Darkness's power, and that the burn marks around it were likely due to the Sianfete and the Order of Righteous Conflict's attempts to extract the power from the tree that originally housed it. This botched attempt set the Darkness free, and any control the Order had over this power was quickly coming undone.

A group of elite Righteous Conflict members come out from the shadows and make their way to the stump where Bloodmoon is writhing in pain inside her crystal coffin. They begin to chant around her and the coffin begins to glow. Another set of footsteps this time from behind you, and you hear a familiar voice. "Sorry for the delay, took a wrong turn or seven."

Tali and Ricotti arrived in the clearing, having navigated their way through the forest as quickly as they could. Hellspear's words implied that he had met Tali before, but she appeared to ignore him. Firebrook starlight stepped around his parents, heading toward his sister to try and free her. Xerxes took the opportunity to cast Bane on Hellspear, whose retort is a powerful spell that knocked Xerxes to nearly half health. Firebrook continued toward his sister, but before he could reach her, the moon overhead clicked into position.

The ritual has started. The moon now glowing with a deep crimson color positions itself high in the sky above the coffin. The darkness that had been twisting itself around the coffin begins to make its way inside, covering Bloodmoon completely. The sounds of her excruciating pain are squelched by the heavy darkness within.

A few moments later, the chanting becomes louder and faster. Cracks begin to form on the outside of the coffin and darkness seeps through. Then, with a violent eruption, the coffin shatters, sending shards flying in all directions, which instantly kills the chanters. You see her before you, at the top of the hill: Bloodmoon, draped in long flowing whisps of darkness.

Her eyes glowing a bright yellow and she tilts her head to the sky and releases the most unsettling and blood curdling scream.

Floating above them, Bloodmoon speaks, and her voice is wrapped in another that sounds nothing like her own. "It is time to snuff out the light and let darkness fall." The darkness around the edge of the clearing begins to circle like a turbulent storm. It swiftly makes its way into the clearing separating you from Hellspear, Deathblossom, Ricotti, and Tali. You begin to hear whispers, screams, movement from all around you. Thankfully the pure light lantern has created some sort of light barrier and it seems to be holding back the darkness...for now.

Surrounded by the Darkness, the Talons saw it shift at the edges that were barely being held back by the lantern. And from the depths, figures began to emerge with the visages of loved ones strangled in shadow, their voices distorted as they scratched at doors guarding the guilt and fears in the Platinum Talons' hearts.

As they battled, Bloodmoon, corrupted, swooped into the arena and inflicted lightening damage across the field After Firebrook reached out to her, to try and break through the hold on her mind, something seemed to reach her, and her bolts began to heal them instead.

The party began praying to the gods as the fought, sometimes reaching them through the dense darkness overhead. The battle was clearly one of deep import, if the Celestial Plane was focusing their attentions here in this moment.

After fighting off wave after wave of shadows, through Bart's parents, Nohki's family, Xerxes's family, friends, and deadly nemesis, as well as Vance's ancestor and a dragon--encased in Nohki's Bead of power and punted into the forest--, they were able to weaken the Darkness enough to break through with their lantern, joining their light with the light from the lantern Ricotti held.

The Talons could see Ricotti locked in battle with Hellspear, and Tali taking on Deathblossom. As they began to reassess their new surroundings, they noticed something more urgent changing within the Darkness.

The howling and shrieking from within the darkness begins to pick up again. Bloodmoon descends once again to the battlefield crackling with dark energies. She lets out another blood curdling scream as the twisted darkness around her begins to take on a life of its own. Dragging Bloodmoon with it, the mass of shadows disappears into the blackness around you. As you look around, you catch a glimpse of things stirring at the edges of the darkness. Piercing red eyes, a large gaping mouth, and two very long tentacles protrude and retreat from the darkness. That is when the picture becomes clear, the turbulent darkness is alive and it wants you dead.

Vance used some quick thinking to cast Slow on Hellspear, Deathblossom, and the eyes peering through the shadows, giving the group a better advantage against such formidable foes.

Using a clever combination of speed, power, and divine intervention, the Talons were able to defeat the eyes of the Darkness, and deal substantial damage to Hellspear and Deathblossom.

One of Hellspear's attacks knocked Bart unconscious, and as the group fought to push back the Darkness, she began to slip closer and closer to death.

However, the pair seemed to be weakening Ricotti and Tali as well. And Deathblossom cut through Tali, destroying her and revealing her to be an illusion the entire time. As the illusion of Tali disappeared, Ricotti faltered, and Hellspear use the opportunity to deal a fatal blow through the halfling. The flickering illusion of Tali attempted to protect Ricotti, but as he fell, the Talons' efforts did not slow and both Hellspear and Deathblossom realized that the conditions were no longer optimal for a victorious battle and began to run into the Darkness.

Firebrook caught this moment, and only able to stop one of his parents, he chose to stop his mother, letting his father disappear into the Darkness.

Furious, Deathblossom unleashed cruel but careless words at the Talons, and using her Starlight Step, she appeared before Bart and stabbed her poisoned dagger into the dying Tabaxi, killing her.

Rage overtook Vance as he watched Bart die, and he whipped an attack at Deathblossom, ending her life as she cackled with unhinged laughter.

For Bart, everything became very hazy as the shouts of battle around her faded away. The sounds became muffled, and as Deathblossom's blade struck through her, Bart's vision turned black. She found herself in a void she had seen before and she was positioned in front of a familiar gate, on the inside. She watched as the gate swung open, and she was suddenly yanked through the gate and out the opening, jettisoned into the void. As she slipped further away, she could see the gate closing…and that feeling, that yearning for something greater she had inside of her since she touched that mirror in Boymin years ago, was gone.

On the battle field, a crack formed in Bart's chest and a bright ice blue beam shot directly out of her chest and high into the sky. And what the Talons don't see is that bright blue beam of light traveling in a flash around the entirety of Fynali, looking for something...and finally the beam crashing into the middle of Platinum City.

Moments after the death of both Deathblossom and Bart, in the final moments of the ritual, Bloodmoon descended once again onto the battle field.

The heavy darkness begins to condense, making it nearly impossible to see even with the lantern. You hear Blood Moon's voice, "It's okay, I'm okay," as you see her glowing with a yellowish light. She raises her arms over her head and then throws them sharply down, as if commanding the darkness itself to yield to her. It begins to slowly swirl around her, creating a thick shield of shadows with Bloodmoon in the center. The looming darkness overhead and the tendrils seeping through the trees are siphoned from around you as all of it--every wisp and cloud-- draws tightly around Bloodmoon. The forest is visible now, filled with tall, rich evergreens as it had been before the darkness settled in, and the sky is dimmed with the natural darkness of night, the red moon shining high overhead. And with a sharp burst, like a dying gasp, the circle of darkness around Bloodmoon shatters, leaving her swaying unsteadily but looking otherwise unscathed.

She inhales sharply and shouts: "Wiltspar" and then passes out, falling into a deep magical stasis.

Nohki rushed across the battlefield to Bart, yanking the diamond from his bag and tossing it to Firebrook who then channeled it into his revivify spell. He laid his hands on his friend, and with a warm glow that reached them all, Bart stirred, brought back to life. Although she was back in her body, she could still feel that something inside of her missing-- the yearning for more had not come back.

A noise on the forest floor drew the Talons' attention. Tali, weakened, urgently requested the Warden's shield. With her last reserves of energy, she focused intently, chanting the same words as Typhon. Cracks formed within her, emitting beams of light. The shield, accepting Tali's energy, began to glow. The cracks widened in her body and a brilliant light emerged, causing Tali to scream. She clung to the shield, finishing the ritual. In her final moments, Tali reflected on their centuries-old meeting, and told them that she knew they would do something great. She called to Bart and apologized for her illusions, professing her pride in Bart and seeing how she'd grown. Tali urged the Talons not to let her sacrifice be in vain. She told them that when they saw the lights over Clefshire, to think of her again. And with her last breath, Tali dissipated into light.

The shield, now glowing and unscathed, rested on the ground. Upon picking it up, the Platinum Talons sensed Tali's illusory power had been transferred into the item. The shield, adorned with a new bird, hummed in their hands.

The Talons collected their well-earned loot from the battle, and Vance pledged to use the dagger that Deathblossom had used to kill Bart to end Hellspear when they next met him.

As they made their way out of the forest, the party felt a sensation wash over them and they crumpled onto the dirt path. Together, they floated through the same void that Bart had seen when she died, but for the 5 members of the party who had survived the battle, they saw a new gate open in front of them, and a voice called to them, telling them that they had earned more blessings from the gods of this world. The group was able to ask one question each in order to determine which blessing they wanted. Vance took Nihm's blessing, granting him power to manipulate the earth. Nohki took Spriggit's blessing, granting him a power to alter potions. Firebrook took Marista's blessing, granting him the power over his enemies. Xerxes took Kiln's blessing, granting him the power of knowledge of his foes. And Drez took Nocturne's blessing, granting him the power to disappear into the shadows.

After they chose their blessings, they returned to their bodies in the Northreach Glades, and once they arrived at the entrance of the forest, they were greeted by Hellspear, who lamented that his efforts had not resulted in what he had hoped for. He expressed that he was pleased to have killed a Divine Protector, so at least the entire endeavor wasn't a waste. He told the group that they were allowed to keep "the girl" temporarily, with an ominous promise of returning to retrieve her. A pointed gaze and harsh words were directed at Vance, condemning him as a "disgusting spark of failure" and placing him at the top of his target list for his murder of Deathblossom. The ominous declaration ended with a warning that the Order of Righteous Conflict, previously concealed in the shadows, would soon emerge, leaving the group to ponder their survival until the next encounter.

When they moved to hit Hellspear, wanting to end him once and for all, their attacks shattered the illusory figure, leaving them, once again, alone in the Northreach Glades.

The Talons brought Bart back home, where she was embraced by the loving arms of her family. On the way out of the city, the remaining Talons had a rather strange experience on the reawakened streets of Boymin.

As you near the exit of the town, you notice a young human child who runs up to you, his face alight with excitement. "Oh MAN the Platinum Talons! I can't believe it's you!" He puffs out his chest, hands on his hips, and you see he is showing off his t-shirt. On it, you see in big bubble lettering, the name "BLAKE" and underneath that in smaller lettering, "And the Platinum Talons" And then you see somewhat crude drawings of figures that are similar enough to you all to be recognizable. An orc with blue skin and red hair, wielding a fireball in his hand, a drow with a fancy hat and a lyre, a tabaxi with a rapier, two elves, one with a bow and one with a wooden arm, and an astral elf wielding lightning. And then you see a seventh figure, in the center of your group, a large bugbear in a top hat and monocle, the sleeves of his suit jacket torn away. The picture of this group member is much better rendered, in full artistic detail and not at all crude nor haphazard. "Can you guys sign my shirt?"

The boy, Gavin, showered them in praise as the baffled Talons signed his shirt. As he ran off, the Platinum Talons realized they were once again at the center of yet another mystery just waiting to be solved.

Completed: December 2023