At the edge of the Awzera Fen, our heroes were reunited with Irthelia and a full squadron of the Iskaron dragonflight. The dragons were eager to aid Astrid and her companions. Although they could not lift the sizable – and heavy – rig, Irthelia tasked her dragons to escort Titanis to Port Ice, where Hibok could direct the rig safely to Skywatch through friendlier Brevoy territory.
As for Astrid and her companions, Irthelia urged them to return with her to Skywatch via the more direct route of dragonback. Arion had left Irthelia with the daring news that gillmen refugees had made their way to his call – Orin and his father were no longer the last of his kind. Even more pressing, Irthelia revealed the arrival of yet another visitor – the great dragon Umbrath, of the Rostland Five, of whose number the Iskaron dragonflight had been borne and the Rogarvian bloodline with it.
Orin, curious at this news, stepped aside to consult the Frozen Heart of Orphys. Through it, he contacted his father, Arion, who assured his son that Irthelia spoke true – the gillmen had arrived safely. Satisfied, Orin agreed to travel back, albeit under his own power and his own greater teleportation spell.
Astrid and Thorgur, meanwhile, returned to Skywatch via dragonback, leaving Hudson and Rhodin to escort Titanis the rest of the way to Port Ice, with a full company of red dragons.
As this occured, indeed, Rhodin Skyking stood over the motionless forms of his companions, Astrid Rogarvia, Hudson Graves, Orin and Thorgur Fireborn. At his side stood Amber Wallace, gunslinger, the only warrior not to fall prey to whatever affliction drew his companions into their unerring slumber. As he attempted to examine their condition, Amber and he were surprised by Benjamin Holt, emerging at last from within the Titanis. The old gunslinger was unresponsive, however, yet seemed intent on pressing onward into the swamp without escort or word.
Thorgur, frustrated and hoping to delay Benjamin’s flight until answers could be retrieved, attempted to knock the gunslinger out cold. Yet his blow had an uncanny effect – the back of the gunslinger’s skull caved in, exposing inhuman, fungal growths within his mind.
Amber drew her revolvers, Akiton and Castrovel, commanding the man in black to halt. He ignored her, distancing himself from the rig. Rhodin, convinced that whatever they were dealing with was no longer – if it had ever been – Hudson’s old nemesis, ordered Amber to fire.
A single shot was all it took, and with a surprising result. Benjamin’s head exploded in a shower of spores and sickly fluids.
Meanwhile, Rhodin’s companions did at last rouse – much like Benjamin. Unlike the gunslinger, they showed no signs of infection. Like him, however, they seemed intent on moving deeper into the swamp. Rhodin and Amber gave pursuit, hoping to find some way of stirring them from their reverie before they got to wherever it is they were going. Both warrior suspected their destination to be less than desirable….
Yet while Rhodin dealt with this, Orin was outside the swamp, teleporting back to Skywatch. There, he spoke with his father, confirming the gillmen refugees’ story: they had found the SIghtless Sea abandoned after Mountainfall, and managed to safely navigate its once forbidden waters to Arion’s call.
Orin found the gillmen amicable, and he summoned his magnificent mansion to grant them rest and reprieve.
Astrid and Thorgur flew atop Irthelia and her dragons to reunite with their companion. As they stopped to rest for the night, Thorgur was struck by a dream – a dream he found more real than his waking world.
In his dream, he found himself deep underground. He passed through a burning flame beneath a stone arch, finding himself before a grand tomb. A hooded figure, of dwarvish height with blackened skin, stood at the tomb’s side. “The gate is open,” the figure spoke to Thorgur. “And the way to the tomb with it. Your faith…. is yet to be tested.”
Thorgur woke at this, and shuddered as he recalled heresy he once bitterly knew – that the symbol of a burning flame beneath a stone arch was the symbol of none other than Droskar, the dark god of the duergar.
Yet as they continued their activities, all three heroes began to suspect something was not quite right. Like an itch they coudn’t scratch: a corrupt swamp appearing altogether healthy, a dream within a dream.
Rhodin, in another world, appeared to know just what that itch might be. In his reality, all four of his companions were still in the swamp, insistent on their north-westerly path. A wall of holy ice failed to stop them – they threw themselves against the wall, even to the point of injuring themselves. A heal spell appeared to halt Orin’s advance only slightly. The dwarf prince was running out of options, and he knew it.
In their world, it was the next day, and Astrid and Thorgur reunited with Orin in Skywatch. Irthelia ushered them to the Clocktower to speak with the elder dragon, Umbrath. Umbrath was indeed waiting for them, a dragon unlike any they had ever seen before. His skin shimmered in the afternoon light, his scales white and pure even as they appeared to be translucent.
The dragon introduced himself, telling them that the time had come to make a stand against the being responsible for mountainfall. A being known as Tawil at’Umr had opened the Gate, and now the Gate – and the Key, for they were one – had come unto Golarion: the Lurker at the Threshold, mighty Yog-Sothoth.
Umbrath was unimpressed with Astrid’s possession of the Dragon Watch. Malam Fol, he said, was ineffectual, and his toys could not help them now. Orin insisted otherwise – the Dragon Watch had brought them here, and it could take them back. “Impossible,” Umbrath said. “For the device is inert, and Malam Fol is dead. There is nothing we can do.”
The party was aghast at this news. According to Rhodin, however, even if this was so, Castle Ouroboros stood out of time. They could still find their way there, they reasoned, and use its power to return to the past.
Umbrath agreed to escort the party back to Hospiena’s Perch, where they could confer with Kelvennan Duskwalker. The group set off immediately, landing at the mountain’s base and traveling by foot to the caldera, as they had before.
At the sight of the dead dragon that fed the caldera’s ley line, Umbrath grew somber, however. He went to its side, and spoke no more to the party. Yet there was no sign of Kelvennan Duskwalker, nor of his camp where they had met him before.
Astrid went to Umbrath’s side and found the dragon weeping. Comforting him, she heard him speak. “She was the best of us,” he said. “We fled here to escape the Dominion, but she did not survive the trip.”
Something appeared to come over Umbrath then, and he turned to Astrid and her companions. “This is not right,” he said. “This place cannot be.”
At his words, the veil was pierced, and Astrid and Thorgur saw through it at once. This world, they knew, was not real.
They were not in Skywatch.
They were still in the swamp.
Rhodin followed his companions the rest of the way. At last they came to a clearing, and he saw a shocking sight.
A great red dragon, far larger than Irthelia, lay dead in the middle of the swamp. From the ancient dragon’s corpse grew an enormous, cage-like growth, as large as a house, shedding foul spores into the air. And standing next to this foul corruption was Umbrath.
And the mighty dragon was infected, the same as all the rest.