The group prepared to leave for Westwatch to seek out the sandal at the abbey of the Transcendentalis Ordo Virtutis, a paganistic religious order that resides in the mountains to the northeast of Bitterwall. The monks therein are said to practice planar travel and have been generally overlooked by the Orders—they are deemed pacifistic and largely self-responsible, despite their penchant for non-sanctioned magic.
Before they departed, Sable Warde approached the party and suggested seeking out a moon elf paladin called Theokirta, a "good friend" of hers who will likely be at the abbey.
The group began their journey and soon ran into an older farmer with a rusty harmonica named Joe Greenwood. He told the party that he sailed over to the countryside surrounding the abbey from another region a couple of months ago, after his wife died and his two sons abandoned the family farm to become "daggone bureaucrats" in a nearby city. He was running a small farm of his own until something strange started happening at the abbey. He explained how "storms" have been emanating from the abbey's tower, sending the monks into "a tizzy" and destroying significant portions of the towns and small communities nearby. As a result, thousands of displaced townsfolk have sought refuge at the abbey, but Joe noted how resentment toward the monks has been steadily increasing despite centuries of friendship: the locals have been blaming the "Boom Brothers," ostensibly two monks, for this catastrophe, and many are calling for the abbey to be shut down for good.
Moreover, many of the storms have been making people severely ill. Joe notes how he's seen people with sallow skin and blackened eyes at nearby farms, and he's heard that even the monks cannot deduce how to help them, so they usually end up dying within a few days. He's also heard that the Orders have descended onto the abbey, out of suspicion that all of this has to do with an extra-planar magic run wild. Beyond that, he was too busy helping out his fellow farmers and townspeople get the help they need to know much about what was going on, so he and the party amicably part ways after Sod offered the group's assistance if he needed it in the future.
The party reaches the abbey where they find the moon elf paladin named Theokrita, as Sable promised, engaged in combat with an Abyssal Basilisk. Everyone decided to help her defeat the creature, which they successfully did without much trouble. Theokrita explained how she traveled as a kind of freelancing paladin, loosely connected with the Orders but suspicious of their authority in the main, and how she heard that there were reports of extra-planar demons at the abbey. Hence, given her expertise against them in combat, she decided to make her way over here to investigate the matter for herself. The group does not reveal the real reason why they are at the abbey, but they convince Theokrita to join their party. Theokrita informs the group that the abbey is essentially being overseen by two people: Abbess Falatar, a female half-orc who has run the abbey for a few decades under normal circumstances, and Commander Solona, a high elf who arrived with the garrisons of Order troops.
The enter the abbey's tower, known as The Pillar of Awakening, and find a sprawling refugee camp, a supply cache, and a base camp of Order soldiers.
The Refugee Camp
Peggy and Cheryl
The group decides to travel to the refugee camp first. They stumble upon two human women, one younger one named Peggy who is crying hysterically, one older named Cheryl who is attempting to console her. After convincing Cheryl that they have good intentions, Peggy can longer control herself and runs off weeping, at which point Cheryl explains what happened to the group. Earlier that morning, when the most recent attempt to travel up into the tower occurred, Peggy's children, a boy and a girl around the ages of 13 and 14, went missing. She explains that Peggy has always mentioned that they were "different" and that they "felt funny" upon coming to the tower as refugees. Cheryl eventually gives the group a crumpled piece of paper that has the phrase "Anub Arak" written on it four times so that a square is formed, and she says that Peggy, out of a maddening grief, gave that to her in case she happened to stumble across the children. Seeing as the group is much more capable, Cheryl gives it to them.
When asked more generally about her assessment of what's going on, Cheryl blames the "Boom Brothers," two monks who she claims are behind this--she mentions that they're called Manu and Yemo, though she distrusts the former much more, calling him a "rat bastard." She also thinks that the monks should be driven out of the countryside; while she acknowledges their strong relationship with the local communities (the reason why the refugees came to the abbey in the first place), she things they pose too much of a threat, and likes the stability that the Orders bring to the place.
Jane and Sod tracked down Peggy successfully and found her weeping in between two tents somewhere else in the camp. After consoling her, she tells them that she suspects that her children are capable of the extra=planar magic now loosed upon the tower and the countryside; when they were much younger, she found them out behind the farm opening "a dark rift in the air" with their hands, and, out of guilt, she was compelled to tell a monk who frequented her part of town, Brother Smith, about what happened. He told her not to mention it to anyone, but gave her the paper that Cheryl gave to the group. She confirms what Cheryl told the party about the children having a "funny feeling" upon coming to the tower as refugees, and she fears that they snuck up the stairs among the Order soldiers earlier this morning. She implores Sod and Jane to search for them if they ever go up the tower, which they agree to do.
Sun Green and Earth Brown
Later, the group encountered an elder wood genasi painting with some old paintbrushes and a rudimentary canvas. He refused to talk to the group, but stared menacingly at a mountaineer standing next to chest near the supply cache. His daughter approached the party and apologized for her father's reticence. She introduced herself as Sun Green, her father as Earth Brown. She tells the party how the nearby wood genasi tribe was hit especially hard by the recent events at the tower; while out collecting water with her father the day the storms hit, they returned to find their entire portion of the forest aflame, and they are confident that they are the last of their kind in these parts.
She mentions how her and her father are split on the question of what should happen to the abbey following the events now taking place, just like many of the refugees. She respects the monks' ancient practices and commitments to peace, but doesn't think it viable to let their planar magic go unregulated anymore, lest more people suffer the same fate her tribe did. Hence, she embraces the Orders' presence in the abbey. Earth Brown, on the other hand, is distrustful of the Orders and finds them oppressive and ultimately hostile toward different ways of living that are not deemed "acceptable" by them. Sun Green mentions how, at a very early age, Earth Brown was given his first painting supplies by a monk, Brother Turner, whom he became very close with. He takes comfort being at the abbey, then, despite his settlement being destroyed, and he is wholly committed to the monks' sensible use of magic and pacifistic teachings and enmeshment with the local communities.
On the question of the "Boom Brothers," Sun Green reiterates that they are two monks named Manu and Yemo, but that she and her father do not want to rush to judgment until the official investigation is through--the monks' inquiry was suspended for the time being, but the Orders are in the process of interrogating them, and the two believe it's wise to wait for more information.
Sod eventually asks Sun Green why her father is glaring at the mountaineer near the supply cache, and she says she doesn't know. He has apparently been glancing at him and his chest ever since he arrived, but he refuses to tell her why.
Sod and the group decide to confront the mountaineer, a human male, about what's going on. He is an unusually exuberant fellow with an enthusiastic grin on his face and a silver tongue. He admonishes the group for coming too close to the chest, but they ardently demand to know what's inside. Claiming to be in search of "fortune" and "adventure" without any malice, the mountaineer claims that he doesn't know; he found it in the mountains several miles south of the abbey, but, after encountering the devastation and danger in the countryside, followed the refugees up here to the tower.
Gunnar promptly punches him in the face, which breaks him like the very low energy baby boy he is. Meanwhile, Sod closely examines the chest and determines that the carvings on it depict an old wood genasi mythology: an anthropomorphized sun blows onto a sapling, which, in turn, emerges from the ground as a fully-formed humanoid. He informs the group, and they decide to fetch Earth brown and Sun Green. Upon their arrival, the mountaineer confesses, thanks to a zone of truth spell by Theokrita, that he stole it from the wood genasi settlement while it had just begun to go up in flames, and he admits that he sees himself as "an opportunistic heathen bent on attaining a mass fortune." At this moment, Earth Brown glares at him intensely: his eyes roll into the back of his head and, after a few gutteral noises, he falls over dead. Earth Brown then glances at two nearby Order soldiers, who quickly turn toward the mountaineer's body and take it out of the tower, believing him to be another victim of the disease Joe Greenwood first described.
The group demands an explanation. Earth Brown says that the chest was the "community chest" for his tribe; wood genasi could give and take from it as needed, and it served not so much as to actually sustain the community, but to illustrate in a visible way the bonds of honesty and connection that were at the core of the people's beliefs. Sod, Jane, Garfield, and Gunnar agree to let bygone be bygones and to give the chest to the community of refugees as Earth Brown suggests, but Theokrita is incensed. Earth Brown then gives Sod the painting he was working on earlier, which is emanating a magical blue energy, and tells him to use it when the time comes.
Moments later, Sod, thinking to find treasure he can abscond with, opens the chest to find nothing. However, within a few seconds, the chest mysteriously fills to the brim with clothes and foodstuffs, which the refugees notice and rush toward. Sod makes the chest produce a pile of these items and puts it in front of a tent for the refugees to take as needed.
After that, the group decided to head toward a tent surrounded by a crowd of refugees in the far corner of the camp. They arrive to find a large tent with a sign affixed to it that reads "Finkatonk Maxilicus: The Last Great Prophet." They make their way through the crowd of refugees who are fighting with each other over this prophet's legitimacy: some claim he helped them reunite with their families, while others claim that he is taking advantage of the weary and downtrodden for financial gain.
As you reach the opening of the ten, you find Finkatonk's "administrative assistant," Simple Sam, who is overwhelmed as he simultaneously thanks customers for their kind words and tries to fend off the more confrontational skeptics. He tells the group that they can see the prophet for 100 gp, but Gunnar successfully persuades him that they can see him for free, on the condition that only one of the party members can enter the tent. Garfield volunteers and he makes enters into the prophet's chambers.
She finds a male gnome seated in the center of a square of four candles flickering dimly with purple flames. He is adorned simply in white robes, and a white cloth blindfold is wrapped around his entire head so that his eyes are covered completely. His hair is a nacreous white that is sticking straight up in rows of jagged spikes. In place of his eyes and attached to the blindfold are two jagged, starkly black pieces of obsidian. He gives Garfield the following prophecy in a "grievously raspy" voice: He pines for her, yet she lies bare. But, with you, he need not dread. A mother kissed will always turn red.
As soon as he finishes, Garfield is pushed out of the ten by a supernatural force, and the refugees promptly swarm the party demanding to hear what has been delivered by the prophet. Simple Sam quickly ushers them away as the crowd becomes increasingly belligerent.
The Base Camp
Private Carr (part the first)
The party goes to the base camp next. Everyone except Jane approaches a group of three male human soldiers from the Orders surrounding a male dwarven monk. They discern that the soldiers believe that the monk, who was assigned to tend to their wounded friend and fellow soldier, Private Carr, killed him with some kind of planar magic. As proof, they nervously present to the party a necklace ostensibly found on his body after he returned injured from an attempt to ascend the tower: it is a brown leather strap looped around an orb that glows in amalgamated shades of orange, purple, yellow, and red. The soldiers believe that, since they had no knowledge of Carr ever owning something like this, the monk placed it on his body to hasten his death, which would have never occurred in the first place, given his rather treatable injuries.
The monk, meanwhile, is adamant that it was on his person when he came to him, and that his injuries were far more serious than the soldiers make them out to be. He suggests that everyone go to Carr's tent to search through his belongings and see if there is proof that this necklace can be connected to Carr himself. The party agrees to this proposition and make their way to said tent.
While there, Sod detects a magical scroll tucked within the bed roll. It is written in an inscrutable code that only people with an expansive knowledge of such magic would be able to decipher. The soldiers propose that it be taken to their Commander, Solona: she would be able to adequately determine the message, they believe, and they maintain that, since Carr was an Order soldier, this matter belongs in their hands. The monk, however, advises that it be taken to Abbess Falatar: she also has the capacity to decipher the scroll, he argues, and, since he, a monk, is the accused party, he believes it only fair that this incident be made aware to the head of the abbey. Gunnar successfully convinces the soldiers and the monks that they will take the scroll to the individuals they advocated for, and the group tucks away the scroll while they contemplate what to do with it next.
Meanwhile, Jane approaches Commander Solona, who is exhausted from the whole ordeal at the tower but generally amicable and engaging. She tells Jane that the Orders arrived about a week after the events at the tower started happening, given that non-sanctioned planar magic was suspected to be involved. She acknowledges how instrumental Abbess Falatar has been in holding the abbey together in spite of all the chaos--she says that this is something some of the best commanders within the Orders wouldn't even be able to dream of accomplishing. She also states how she's come to appreciate the monks' dedication to using their planar capabilities in a pacifistic and beneficial way, for the good of all of the surrounding communities with an emphasis on accessibility and transparency. In fact, the Abbess and she have been successful at generally ensuring good working relationships between the monks and the Order soldiers.
However, she disagrees with the Abbess' willingness to fully embrace this kind of magic again once the events at the tower cease. She believes that she could manage to find a way to oversee the abbey to ensure that such an event doesn't happen again, allowing the planar practices of the monks to continue under more regulations, all while continuing to siphon endless funds from the Orders under their noses. She reveals that she maintains a general animosity toward the Orders themselves, as she refers to the lot of them as "imbecilic bureaucrats." She has not followed their commandment to "eliminate the threat," (i.e. the monks) but believes that she could manipulate them to provide the abbey with the financial support and resources to rebuild that they would not have access to otherwise. This, again, would happen under the condition that she would oversee this reconstruction and instill sensible measures of control over the monks' magic along the way.
She also tells Jane that the "Boom Brothers," Manu and Yemo, are both currently being interrogated offsite by Orders officials. According to official reports, both maintain their innocence vehemently and usually stick up for each other, but the refugees are split over which one is more responsible for the cataclysmic events. Jane, without revealing the group's intentions, offers to ascend the tower with the rest of her party in order to find out what's going on. The Commander is not entirely convinced that Jane, let alone her party, will be capable of doing this, but she admires her willingness to help the abbey, and tells Jane that she will ponder it for some time.
The group is rejoined by Jane, and they next make their way to talk with Abbess Falatar. They begin to converse with the Abbess, who reveals much information:
A few weeks ago, two monks, Brothers Manu and Yemo, were attempting to investigate the magical character of the tower and the relic of Brother Crandall therein. TOV’s official investigation into what occurred has been suspended until this predicament passes, but, as far as they can tell, one of them or perhaps both, became obsessive—they began using their extra-planar magic with reckless abandon, travelling to prohibited planes, communicating with forbidden entities, and so forth. One day, the energy from a plane that has never been discovered by the monks was unleashed and soon tainted the tower. The Abbess' fear is that the relic has also been afflicted by this, but any attempts made to travel up the tower to reach it has been wrought with disaster and heavy losses. The locals have been damaged by this as well; the planar energy has caused vicious storms that have destroyed entire villages, which, of course, is when the Orders stepped in. From that point forward, the monks have been taking in refugees from all across the countryside, but resentment toward us is growing. The ancient trust that once helped the abbey and the surrounding communities thrive, the same trust that caused the refugees to come to the abbey despite it being the source of the problem, is quickly eroding now.
The tower is called The Pillar of Awakening. Each novitiate in the TOV must undergo a scared ritual before becoming fully incorporated into the monastic ranks. Every floor of the tower presents a spiritual test attuned minutely to their individual experiences and psyches. Every floor also entails a process of both intense self-awareness and a mystical self-emptying, as each acolyte must confront what lies deepest within them while also surrendering themselves to the order along the way. At the top of the tower lies the holy relic of Brother Crandall. If they are deemed successful by the extra-planar powers imbued within the relic, they are granted access to them. If not, they are denied the status of monk and usually end up leaving the abbey. The final visions, of course, remain strictly personal experiences. The only true way to successfully determine the outcome of the ritual, however, is the implementation of the planar magic thereafter.
Her opinion of Commander Solona is, in the main, positive. Under normal circumstances, she would have expected a high-ranking official from the Orders simply eliminate the monks upon their arrival— their magic, which is deemed “un-sanctioned” by them, of course, is now responsible for everything that has transpired. Solona, however, has displayed a great respect for the Abbess and the monks, and she is not shy about criticizing the Orders’ evaluations of them, so long as they uphold their commitments to peace and prudence. The Abbes mentions how they have no soldiers of their own, so when Solona's forces arrived they spared the monastic tradition from becoming virtually extinct.
The Abbess is concerned, however, about Solona's skepticism of their planar magic in a general sense. She acknowledges that the abbey will likely not be able to recover without resources as vast as the Orders', but she rejects Solona's desire to oversee the reconstruction of it. She fears that the "control mechanisms" Solona wants to put in place will not only interfere with centuries of a monastic tradition that has consistently proven benevolent and harmless until now, but also gradually give way to an increased Order presence that will result in the eventual extermination of the monks' very way of life. The abbey's numbers, after all, are a fraction of what they used to be already, and the Abbess fears that they will be overwhelmed by Order influence.
The group does not inform her of their true intentions, but they offer to go up to the tower to check out the problem. The party mentions that they were sent by Caedmon Warde, who the Abbess seems to think fondly of, and she accepts the proposition. She tells the group to talk with her or the Commander when ready.
Private Carr (part the second)
After consulting each other about what the Abbess and Commander had to say, the party decided to call them together to present the encrypted magical scroll they found in Private Carr's tent earlier. They do so, accompanied by the three soldiers and monk from the earlier confrontation, and both the Abbess and Commander begin to work on the scroll.
All of a sudden, the symbols on the scroll glow brightly in the same colors as the necklace on Carr's body, and an assortment of variegated light bursts forth into the air above the party's heads, forming the following words:
I write with what will probably be my last message. We’ve only just arrived at the monastery, and we’re almost depleted. Tomorrow my battalion will be called up. I stood atop the hill tonight and watched the sunset. I will do the same when dawn arrives in the morning.
My visions have been intensifying. I saw us together in a vast garden. The shrubbery, the trees, the grass—all of it was manufactured and staid. The sky was overcast and heavy. You took my hand and we ran through it like children, carelessly scraping our fingers across bushes, laughing as we lifted each other up onto sturdy tree branches. My head was pounding with exhilaration and I felt eternity glide through me.
The joy you have given me is inexpressible. I will come and go, as a daydream or a fever, but all must continue to receive you. Dawn and dusk are born of the same star. Expand! Ascend! Live!
P.S. Do you remember that necklace I gave you? Keep an eye on it tomorrow.
The soldiers are astounded, and the Abbess and the Commander ask where this was found. Commander Solona confirms that Carr is deceased, and, in consultation with the Abbess, agrees to place the necklace back on his body where they think it rightfully belongs. Commander Solona mentions that she will hang onto the scroll and see if she can send it to the intended party. The monk, however, remains irate, and accuses the soldiers of knowing about this all along and trying to frame him out of sheer spite for his magical capabilities.
Abbess Falatar asks the group what they know about this, which eventually leads to the group condemning both parties as misguided. The Abbess agrees, and urges the soldiers and the monk not to find excuses to fight before everyone knows what exactly is going on.
Preparing to Ascend the Tower
Shortly after this, Gunanr suggests that the party take the disgraced soldiers and monk with them up the tower, but the Abbess reveals that she, along with Commander Solona, have devised another plan. The door to the tower opens, followed by jeers and shouting from the crowds of refugees. A squadron of Order soldiers approaches you, and Commander Solona comes over to greet them. They bring the brothers Manu and Yemo in manacles, and they tell Solona that continue to maintain their innocence but wish to do everything in their power to alleviate the immense suffering. Abbess Falatar turns to the party and tells them that both the Commander and she believe it wise that Manu and Yemo accompany the party: they have researched the tower and artifact extensively, been through the tower's ritual themselves, and are capable in combat, an offensive-oriented cleric and a fighter, respectively.
The group is hesitant, so they decide to question the brothers using Theokrita's zone of truth spell. Manu speaks first. He notes how the two of them were tasked with writing a report about the Crandall artifact and its relationship with the tower. A few months into their investigations, things took a turn for the worse. As they both remember it, they were up at the top floor analyzing the relic when it emitted a blinding light, which made them both unconscious for some time. When they awoke, they were back in their private rooms in the abbey, and they heard all sorts of clamor coming from outside--mass hysteria, villagers from the countryside running around wounded, and so forth.
Yemo confirms this. He says that his brother and he don't agree on much, but they do in this instance. Since Abbess Falatar knew about their task she sequestered them just to make sure they wouldn’t do anything else damaging, which he finds sensible, given the nature of the catastrophe. The Orders came a few days after that, upon hearing that extra-planar magic was likely involved, and took them in for further questioning. He says that they've been repeating the same story to them, but they don’t seem to be buying it. He knows they didn’t cause anything, but feels they cannot stand to see the communities which the monks worked with for so long suffer, so they both feel obliged to join the party.
The party eventually agrees to have the brothers accompany them, and they begin their journey up the tower.
The Second Floor
The party travels up the stairs and to the second floor. The room largely resembles the ground floor, with the exception of various holes in the stone ceiling, floor, and walls through which outer space can be seen—celestial particles and nebulae of all different colors illuminate the room. Immediately in front of the group stand four elementals—water, fire, earth, and air. At the center of the room, the party sees what looks to be a male elf chained by some magical apparatus. His face is covered with some kind of linen, and he is suspended by his hands by brightly glowing white chains while kneeling on the ground.
He attempts to articulate words to the party in a sort of panic, but the elementals attack and momentarily distract the party. Each time damage is inflicted upon one of the elementals, the elf lets out a paniful, muffled scream. Manu grows concerned and insists that someone should go over and check on the elf to see what's wrong, while Yemo maintains that the immediate threat posed by these elementals needs to be eliminated. Manu subsequently refuses to attack the creatures, but Yemo continues with full force.
The group sides with Manu. Gunnar, followed by Garfield, sneak away successfully from the elementals and make their way toward the elf. They eventually remove his magical confinements and blindfold, and, gasping for breath, he reveals that the elementals are actually his family members (his wife and three children) who were transformed when they were swept up in the chaos of the morning's earlier assault on the tower. Theokrita casts a repel evil spell on the elementals, who recoil slightly and begin emitting a blue light, which is the same hue as Earth Brown's painting. Sod stabs the painting, unleashing its magical energy and transforming the elementals back into elves.
The prisoner thanks the group profusely and says that, as a cleric, he will have no trouble restoring his family to full health. He was also active in the refugee camp before being abducted into the tower, and is happy to return to helping the sick and wounded. He takes his family back down to the ground floor, and the group begins to explore the room, which has returned to normal.
They first approach a boulder covering a hole in the wall, which, thanks to Yemo's strength, they successfully move. In the room they find 100 gp, one rusted longsword, one wooden spoon with the letter "C" engraved into its handle, one oil of timelessness, and one old yet stylish panama hat.
They next go to a wooden door at the far end of the room. It leads to a square room with five pedestals at the center; each pedestal has an image of an owl on it, and the wall is inscribed with the following phrase: "The largest owls hold their prey in their left talons." The group determines that the puzzle is solved according to each party member's wisdom score, and, upon solving it, a hidden chest is revealed. It contains one brilliant ruby (3,000 gp), one brilliant emerald (3,000 gp), one steel plate armor with gilded trim (3,000 gp).
The Third Floor
The party reaches the third floor and encounters a dense jungle at high noon. They follow a dirt road in front of them and stumble across a ladder descending into a hole in the ground. They make their way down the ladder and reach a circular room. Jane detects a secret wooden hatch with a handle and a faded picture of a crescent moon on it. Gunnar opens the exit door, which, in turn, reveals a hole in the ceiling through which light shines through and onto the hatch. He opens and closes the door repeatedly until the moonlight shines through the hole in the ceiling, and the hatch begins glowing with a magical blue energy. Sod subsequently uses Mage Hand to open the hatch after the party determines that they cannot do so through material means. The group finds a golden jar in the shape of a wolf's head inside that has the following inscription on the back of it: "She splits in two when I touch your tongue." Thanks to Theokrita's arcana check, it is revealed that the jar contains two doses of epiphany powder.
The party exits that underground passageways and emerges above ground in front of a small lake surrounded by massive, ancient trees. They see their old traveling companion, Coriander, floating ethereally above the lake. She demands to know who they are and why they are here, threatening to attack at any moment. Sod perceptively holds the wooden spoon found earlier aloft, which evacuates the green energy swirling in Coriander's eyes as she falls to the ground. She thanks the group and says that she recalls Gunnar's kindness, but, before she can continue, the group is attacked by a tree behemoth.
Theokrita performs a vicious coup de grâce on the behemoth, severing its head entirely. Coriander again thanks the group and offers to accompany them up the tower, claiming that she has retained some of the powerful druidic powers from whatever had possessed her earlier. Manu rejects this. He claims that the tower is designed to present dangerous tests to novitiates, and that Coriander is simply a dangerous figment of the collective's minds, to which the tower has attuned itself. Yemo, however, is shaken by the tree behemoth and says that Coriander can provide some much needed help if such other encounters are to take place--what do we have to lose?
The party hesitantly sides with Yemo and agrees to bring Coriander on board, with the stipulation that she will be at the front of the party at all times during their engagements and so forth.
The group sets up camp near the now placid lake and calls it a day.