At the base of the Altar-shaft of Vela, the Starhunters shine their lights on surfaces that have rested in the quiet dark for unknown years. Motes of dust kicked up by their trespass flicker at knee-height. Below the church they explore ancient rectory facilities—a dormitory, a kitchen—and ossuaries where the bones of many hundreds of dead lend their shape and sculpture to the Shrine’s deep sanctum. One by one, they discover the remains of the fearsome yet pitiful ghosts haunting the nave above. Mistress Ursula sits in a corner, the very portrait of despair. Her husband, Zenon collapsed in the columbarium; apart from his beloved. The immature bones of their child, fetal-curled, are found in a font between them. Its little skull is cracked and delicate, like a robin’s egg.
The only things stirring down here are a handful of undead, though their minds are hollow and they simply paw at the walls in hopeless stupefaction. Rather than silence their misery, the Starhunters simply give them each a wide berth. Leonidas adds to the stirring of the dead by using a mystic scroll he found in the choir of the cathedral above. They have discovered some prior explorers who did not escape the ever present death of this place. The bard’s scroll grants a crude mockery of life to one of them so that it may speak and tell its tale. The dead man’s skull hisses out a name, “Peter” and that “the spirit of Corinth is beyond the Ossuary…”. Peter and his fellows died in this place, expiring to the ‘wails of the dead’, some 300 years ago. Fendrys takes a bearded axe and A’Kelah a dagger (a ‘geminate’ blade); she informs them that both of these weapons are enchanted.
During their charting of the crypts and rectory, something above cuts the rope they used to descend the shaft. Damir doubles back to investigate but finds nothing. The Starhunters have been cautions and as yet unmolested down here beneath the cathedral. Only two things remain for their investigation: a blasphemous ‘soul forge’ found in one of the ossuaries and a corridor of total blackness entire, such that no light will penetrate it. The soul forge is an anvil ringed by skulls set beneath an iron web for catching spirits. A’Kelah says it can be used to transpose spirits into physical objects. This information confirms for Aelish and Leonidas that at least one of the rumors they have heard about the dastardly and unsavory secrets of the Velan priesthood must be true.
At last and (mostly) unaffrighted, they each pass into the ‘Tenebrous Stair’. Their conduct through this causeway of abject darkness is born on many dozens of spectral hands. The hands are of course unseen, but they each feel them under their heels, tugging behind their knees, curling fingers around their toes, and brushing against their belts. They are deposited at the foggy threshold before Knight-Commander Athyxander’s tomb. At their encroachment upon his throne, Athyxander rises; dust spills out of the folds of his ancient tatters. The death knight musters the sorrowful remains of his once mighty army. A’Kelah, kept safe by her protective scarab, opens with a salvo of magic. A stygian blast of wind and ice pours from her palm. Leonidas, finding the spirit world so close in this place, animates the lids of sarcophagi and other debris with an incantation. The animated stones buy everyone precious time to scramble for cover as the death knight launches a blast of hellfire from an outstretched hand. Eagle-eyed Fendrys sinks arrows into the chinks of the knight’s armor while the last of his soldiers fall to Aodh’s fire-hammer. Leonidas calls upon the grey wolf spirit for aid and the beast crosses swords with the knight. A destructive wave from Athyxander levels the gathering, but the prayers of Aelish keep her companions intact. A second blast of fire, this one from the bard, topples crumbling columns which crush an undead soldier, narrowly doing Aelish the same harm. She rises from the wreckage, cursing the death knight just in time for Fendrys to deliver the killing stroke.
The tumult of the battle has sundered the floor, exposing a venous cavern of total darkness below. Issuing from those cracks are the cries and roars of a large and terrible beast that seems to be suffering, as though caught or injured. Fendrys calls upon the newly met dryad spirit for guidance. In a voice that hums like wasp wings, that babbles like a clear stream, the elven maid indicates it is within Aelish’s power (if she joins with the Lawstone) to abolish the Night-twist tree—the hateful roots of which penetrate well into Athyxander’s sanctum. The Starhunters approach the Lawstone—the mysterious skull found buried beneath a turtle shell hidden within a giant’s graveyard is assumed by the obelisk. Each member of the group this time conjoins with the quintessence that wheels around the Meridian; each is changed forever—in a way unique to them—by the union.
All that remains in Imris for the Starhunters is to gather the spoils of their deed and exit (though they must admit they do not know the way ‘out’). An extravagant hoard of platinum and silver, ancient coins from dwarven and elven times, is amassed at the empty throne of Athyxander. Each Starhunter though, takes only a handful. Aelish outfits herself with the powerful armaments of the death knight—his sword and shield—decorated in yellow gold with leonine devices. While sifting through the trash and treasure, A’Kelah discovers perhaps the greatest wonder of all the precious items gathered here, a mirror.
The mirror is enchanted and its potent magic can trap an entire person, from their soul down to their every last hair, behind its silvered glass. A’Kelah has discovered that one entity yet remains held within one of the mirror’s twelve chambers and she knows how to release it. After some debate, and plenty of arcane and sacred protections, the Starhunters elect to summon the entity housed in the mirror. An enigmatic fae creature whose very name is ‘a lovelorn sigh’ arrives in immediate protest of the Truth Tallow’s light. He offers a ‘ring for a ring’. His bargain: they unbind him from the magic circle they have placed around the mirror (that he has stepped into) and in exchange, he gives them a golden ring meant for his previous master. He is coy about the ring’s magic, but they ultimately decide to release him. He flings the jewelry at Aelish and vanishes in a puff of glitterdust. A’Kelah determines the ring’s power—and she is nearly as coy as the fae man about its properties.
It is at this point that Leonidas reveals how the Lawstone has affected him, what he has ‘seen’ on the souls of Aodh and Aelish. He says the souls of both the halfling and the cleric are augmented somehow. Their ‘shadows’ are not their own, though in truth his facility with death magic and the gods are both too shallow to fully understand the meaning of this observation. The Starhunters discuss these comments nervously, mixing accusation with conjecture.
Relieved to find the Tenebrous Stair is no more, and now just an ordinary staircase, the Starhunters depart the crypts of the shrine, leaving the beast below to howl alone in the darkness. In the cathedral above they discover parenthetical chapels of Athemay and Eladriel. A magic blindfold is found tied around Athemay’s head. The halfling, growing accustomed to the works of sorcery, takes ownership of the item. In Eladriel’s chapel the twin for A’Kelah’s ‘geminate blade’ is found (and it goes to Fendrys). There in the safety and grace of Eladriel’s chapel, Aelish announces to the group to profound power made clear to her by the Lawstone.
She will enact a miracle beyond the minor wonders promised to the elect. She will visit Atho’s will upon Em and an angel will live; a new star will brighten the firmament ever after. Aelish prays. Outside in answer; in the black bog, a blazing white light streams through the cracks of the desiccated cathedral. The angel Levesath, that spared them all from the certain death of a volcano, arrives. Damir weeps at the sight. Levesath washes Fendrys with its merciful pity. Then, a single shot from its golden bow unmakes the Night-twist tree in a mighty flash not of destruction, but Creation.
The Starhunters return to their senses, dazed and face down in the silt. They are back in the wasteland of Imris where, in place of a dark tree and empty shrine, there is once again a stone monolith.