The party’s search for the missing men and horses was wildly successful in all but one respect: although they found every horse and rider, Balthazar was lost to them, and although they searched for him, they were unable to find him anywhere. As they were deciding what their next move would be, a sudden darkness overshadowed the clearing where the group stood, draining away all color, and seemingly all life, from the land itself. Those more adept in the arcane arts knew this for what it was: a Darkfield, a roving field of energy so dark and negative that it saps life and color from anyone or anything in it, denies rest to those who die within it, and tends to attract powerful persons of a generally evil intent and/or persuasion.
As the group turned to flee, several skeletal figures appeared before them, and engaged them in combat. The group, already worn down by their fight with the gargoyles and death knights, struggled against the darkness and its agents, but could not gain the upper hand. Vampires were raised and slain, only to rise again at the command of powerful undead masters. Karath was set upon, and was killed by wheeling scimitars of death, wielded by four-armed skeletal dervishes.
As the fight looked lost for the party, a figure of light coalesced, the beams which created her outline warring against the darkness, as thousands of tiny bells tinkled in the air around them. Karath was raised into the air and restored to life and vitality, snatched, as it were, from the clutches of the Raven Queen. The figure of light solidified into that of a young girl who bore some resemblance to the would-be goddess Ilona, especially in the chestnut red mane that cascaded down her back, although she had some marked differences, like skin of a cool blue color. She proceeded to aid the party, although no one was quite sure how, since she did not say a word aloud. Krav, Karath, and Loreana all recognized the likeness she bore Ilona, but were a little too occupied to ask her about it. The girl tipped the balance, and allowed the party to destroy their foes. Krav fell to the violence, and the party was concerned that he might die, but he seemed to stabilize overnight with Ava the shaman’s ministrations, and was up and moving again the next day. The girl asked to accompany the party, and honestly, had they told her no, the emperor’s people probably would have overruled them and taken her anyway. She introduced herself as Neva, but more than that, no one really knows about her. Thus beset by strange tragedy in the loss of Balthazar, but having snatched victory from the jaws of defeat by means of an ineffable girl, the party did all it could to keep their wits about themselves.
Returning to Lespathia, the company was barraged by an unhappy emperor who blamed them for failing to take care of both the Malakite issue and the dragonflight problem at once, as he had requested (and believed he had made clear). In the adventurers’ absence, one or more white dragons had assaulted the city, snatching livestock, killing people, and creating general mayhem. Fortunately, Lori helped the party to stay on an even keel, the long journey and the losses sustained having exhausted the warriors’ patience with what they perceived as impotent rage and posturing. The emperor’s people vouched for the party’s story of Malakite’s being missing, and after being made to understand that Balthazar had been lost, and that the whole party would likely have been lost had they split up as the emperor had initially desired, his stance softened a bit, and the Emperor praised the party as heroic and entreated their assistance in ensuring the White Dragonflight was completely gone from Tiamat’s Clutch.
No one seemed to notice or mind that Neva accompanied the party, and they made their way to the mountains. Ascending the first 50-foot cliff with the help of Karath and his climbing kit, the party was surprised by a remaining white dragon. Rabadash and Neva both fell from the cliff, and sustained great injuries in the process, but the fight was not gone from them yet. The dragon dove, hoping to claim them before anyone else could descend to assist them; Rychard, the mage, quickly thought to paralyze the dragon before it could reach the fallen members, and Krav, in an act of ridiculous bravery, tried to leap down and bodily shove the dragon off of its trajectory. Although he failed to move the dragon, he did successfully leap upon its back, much to the dragon’s consternation. The dragon crashed to the ground with a great flurry of snow, barely missing Neva, who still lay on the frozen earth. Shaking off Rychard’s immobilizing magics, the dragon got to its feet and tried to remove Krav from its back, with little success, while Rabadash invited Hadar to gorge on dragon’s flesh. Once their foe lay defeated on the snow, Karath descended and, decapitating the dragon, began to remove anything of value. Neva had never seen anything quite so frightening, and she ran into the snowy waste, trying to escape the fearsome half-orc’s ritual butchery. Krav went after her, to ensure that she came to no harm in the tundra, and Rabadash stood by as Karath dismantled their former foe. Only Rychard, Lori, and Ava remained above…and now, there are only Lori and Ava.