It was near dawn when Kyor, reading feverishly, his index finger sliding across the page to keep his place, gave a small yelp, waking Lockheed, who had been sleeping, draped over his shoulders. “I think I found it!”
Several researchers and Jarett rushed over while Gilmore waited to hear more.
“Kas the Bloody-Handed. Once a princeling of Zeidel, he came to rule briefly after his six older brothers died under mysterious circumstances. Known for punishing his political rivals as harshly as he punished criminals, he was fond of death by torture, and liked to place the bodies of those who had crossed him on public display. Eventually overthrown by his own people, he was one of the first of the nobility to bend the knee to Vecna, who bestowed on him the gift of eternal undeath.
“So highly favored by the archlich for his cruelty was he that the god of whispers forged for him a relic blade of great power. With a penchant for gore, the vampire prince took pride in never cleaning his gauntlets after battle, earning him the moniker Kas the Bloody-Handed.”
“And the weapon?” Gilmore asked.
“It doesn’t say,” Kyor said, looking up in dismay.
Jarett read grimly, looking over Kyor’s shoulder: “He was known for impaling enemy leaders on his legendary greatsword and leaving them for the crows.”
Lockheed hissed at Jarett while he read, annoyed at having been awakened from its nap. The dragonet’s hissing made the passage sound even more sinister.
“A greatsword, then,” Gilmore said. “I don’t suppose it has a name.”
Jarett shook his head, reading further, and dodging when Lockheed snapped at him.
“Very well, then,” Gilmore said. “Then we’ll call it the Sword of Kas, for now.”
“But what happened to it after this final battle with the Beacon of Arms?” Jarett asked. Sources on the battle itself were scarce. What few survivors there had been had apparently not wished to talk of it.
“Your Highness,” one of the librarians, a bronze-skinned dwarf, said. “If the Beacon of Arms was the main force sent against the necromancer’s armies, there may be records in the temple of the Dawnfather which the priests have access to, but are not public knowledge.”
“Will you send to them to find out?” Gilmore asked.
“I can do better than that,” the dwarf said. “I’ll go myself.”
“Perfect. In the meantime…” Gilmore looked around at his companions. “I would say the possibility is strong that the sword remained in the city once the archlich was defeated. Unless the survivors took it with them, it could be that the sword remained where its wielder fell. Which would place it in the Shadowfell, in the city of Thar Amphala itself.”
“Let us hope not,” Jarett said.
“I think, until we know for certain, we should prepare ourselves as if it is,” Gilmore said.
“This is a lot,” Jarett said. “I want to discuss it further. But first, these pups need to get to bed.” The sun was already starting to show vaguely through the windows.
“Oh no!” Kyor said. “What about school?”
“It’s up to you,” Gilmore said. “But I personally feel you’ve both done enough studying for today.” Though he did know the main reason they attended school was to socialize with other young people.
“Hurray!” Kyor said, jumping up and hugging Reginald, who’d dozed off over a cup of tea.
“I say, what what?” The rottweiler realized he was being hugged after a few moments, and leaned his head on Kyor’s shoulder.
“Hunin?” Gilmore glanced over to see what the elder aasimar thought of all this.
“I want to keep going, if that’s alright,” Hunin said. He glanced at his brother. “You should go sleep, though.” Kyor opened his mouth to protest, so Hunin spoke first, “You have to take care of Lockheed. You know it needs its rest.”
“That’s true,” Kyor said, petting the dragonet’s head, thoughtful. “You’re not going to do anything fun without me if I go to bed, are you?” he asked, glancing up at Gilmore and Jarett.
“If we leave while you’re asleep, I promise we’ll come in and say goodbye first,” Gilmore said.
“But not to the Shadowfell!” Kyor said, looking dismayed.
“Hopefully not,” Jarett said.
“Okay.” Kyor turned away reluctantly, like someone who knows he is being lied to but has little choice but to accept it. Hunin stood up and hugged his brother goodnight, whispering something to him as he stroked Lockheed’s spines. Kyor nodded and left with one hand on Reginald’s back.
Once his brother was gone, Hunin turned around to face them. “You are going to the Shadowfell, aren’t you?”
“Most likely, yes,” Gilmore said.
“Not necessarily,” Jarett said simultaneously, wincing when he heard Gilmore’s answer.
“Not if we don’t have to, of course,” Gilmore said.
The aasimar glanced from one to the other of them. “If you go, you’ll both die.”
“Now--” Gilmore began.
“You can’t go into a battle with defeatist--” Jarett began.
“I’m going with you,” Hunin said, resolved.
“Absolutely not,” Gilmore said.
“You have not yet seen your first battle. I’d like you to survive to see a second,” Jarett said.
As the sun rose over the windowsill, Gilmore began to get a queer feeling. He couldn’t help looking to the reading lounge next door, which had windows that faced north.
“What is it?” Jarett asked, knowing that certain look Gilmore got. Did he know Vox Machina were close by? To Jarett’s knowledge, no one had told him of their arrival in the city last night.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I might need to scry.” Jarett escorted him to the nearest pillowed chair, where Gilmore sat down and shut his eyes. “Show me what I need to see.”
A battle was taking place inside a cavern, at the top of a ziggurat which looked much like the one in Whitestone. A prismatic sphere blocked the apex, and all around it stood the bedraggled forms of Vox Machina. They were battered, but none of them seemed grievously injured, unlike the bodies of several robed cultists which lay around them–clearly worshipers of the lich by their missing left eyes. But the adventurers looked like they’d had a scare more than anything.
“I’m going to dimension door through!” Scanlan announced to the group. So the gnome was back with them after all.
Looking at it again, Gilmore noticed the bubble did seem to be hiding approximately where the siphon should be. If they were using it as a portal, perhaps the cultists didn’t want Vox Machina following them back through to the Shadowfell. Which was smart of them. But prismatic sphere was a ninth level spell...which meant that the lich had some powerful allies.
Gilmore was distracted by an eerily familiar roar from above his vision of the battlefield. He turned his Sight upward and was shocked to see a young red dragon crouched on the ceiling of the cavern, raging because its prey was behind an impenetrable wall of magic.
It was Keyleth. She’d taken on draconic form–his exact form, in fact–to fight this battle. Gilmore was incensed. That she could steal his lovely boy, murder his children with her bare hands, and then mimic their divine form was the deepest of personal insults. Gilmore let go of the scry, clenching his jaw so hard, his teeth groaned.
“My lord?” Jarett asked, seeing his emotional state.
“I’m not angry,” Gilmore said. “I’m just disappointed.” In a way that made him want to burn Zephrah to the ground.
“But what has happened?” Jarett looked confused, and rightly so. Gilmore’s ire had distracted him.
He took a deep breath. “Vox Machina is engaged in battle atop the ziggurat.”
“At least they were not killed, like the emperor’s party,” Jarett said, both hopeful and grim at once.
"So far, at least,” Gilmore said. Not that he wished them ill, irate as Keyleth’s mortal sin had made him. “We can’t even begin to assemble our party and what we’ll need until we have information from the temple of Pelor. I slept far too long yesterday, but I recommend the two of you get some rest for now.” When Jarett and Hunin both started to protest, Gilmore pressed on. “You’ll need it for the fight ahead. This may be your last chance to get any sleep.”
Hunin nodded reluctantly, and left the library. But Jarett stayed where he was, looking at Gilmore with puppy eyes. “J’arett darling. I mean it,” he said. “Get some sleep. You've been through a lot in the past day.”
“You would not leave without me?” Jarett asked, looking anxious.
“I might,” Gilmore said. “But I’ll need at least five other people to go with us, and you would doubtless see them arriving and preparing for battle.”
“True.” Jarett leaned in for a kiss. “I will be close by,” he whispered softly, tempting.
“Thank you, my love,” Gilmore said. “That is comforting to know.”
After they’d both left, Gilmore took a look around to see which researchers and librarians looked too tired to be of use, and ordered them to bed. He stayed with the few that remained, looking for any clues to the location of the Sword of Kas, or any details about Kas the Bloody-Handed or Vance of Rotthold that might be helpful.
If it came down to it, Gilmore could scry himself, or have one of the royal seers look into the location of the sword. But knowing what it looked like first would give them the best chance of success. And even then, Scry was not the best spell to locate an object of legend, especially one that might well be on another plane.
Gilmore felt better now that he’d sent his eldest and his lover to bed. And Jarett knew him well; Gilmore was sorely tempted to leave without them in order to keep them out of danger. But that would just be doing to them what J’mon had tried to do to him.
Still. This was going to be the most dangerous task of their mortal lifetimes, and he did not want to risk losing them. Gilmore could see his mate’s point of view.
For now, he pushed those thoughts aside and scried to check on Vox Machina again. They seemed to have emerged from their battle unscathed. And though they all looked shaken and upset, they were going about the business of exploring what was left of the cavern before pulling it down to hide the ziggurat, assuming that would render the siphon useless as a portal. Not a terrible idea, but very non-magical thinking on their parts. If Tiberius were still with them, Gilmore felt certain they would not be attempting to solve the problem quite so melee-minded. But Tiberius had returned to the gods to whom he belonged more than a year ago. Strange to think how long it had been.
Watching Grog and Keyleth bring down the heart of the mountain, Gilmore shook his head. It was a good thing his party would not have to journey to the ziggurat. Moving all of that rock--or moving through it--would have been a pain.
But where should they begin? Were there other gods they should consult or call upon? Should they visit Pelor’s temple in Vasselheim to see if the more ancient temple contained more extensive records of the Beacon of Arms’ last battle? Or was all of this just stalling before they had to make the inevitable journey to the Shadowfell? Gilmore’s gut told him that would be their ultimate destination.
Just then, the dwarf librarian returned from his errand to the Dawnfather’s temple, looking flushed and windswept. He must have run all the way back. Again, very non-magical thinking, but Gilmore supposed Sending a top secret message from outside the palace would have probably been unwise.
“I must stress to you that there is no official account of what happened,” the dwarf said. “This lives as a bit of a legend only.”
“Very well. Rumor is better than nothing,” Gilmore said, gesturing for the dwarf to continue.
“It was believed that the sword, once its wielder had been slain, still retained a piece of the vampire’s consciousness. So, for safety, the remaining members of the Army of the Just buried it in Thar Amphala before they left.”
Choosing to leave a cursed object in a cursed place did not sound like a wise choice. But Yos Varda himself had perished in that battle as well, and gods knew what minds had remained at the time to make such a decision--if this legend was true.
“So the Sword of Kas is buried somewhere within the lich’s city in the Shadowfell,” Gilmore repeated, to make certain he understood correctly.
“So it seems, Your Highness.” The man bowed, nervously.
“Very well,” Gilmore said. “Then I suppose we should begin our preparations.” The first step would be to inform the emperor. Gilmore just hoped the brass dragon didn’t insist on going as well.