Little did the party know, as they made their way through the Cloak Wood, that they would soon be fated to cross paths with a former ally. At that precise moment, Smug had found himself captured again for trespassing—this time, not by a community. Instead, a headstrong goblin vixen called Smash had caught him rummaging through her home, taken his weapons, tied him up, leashed him, and begun to drag him along on her adventures as her servant and toy. As the pair made their own way through the Cloak Wood, Smug caught sight of the party and, recognizing Codrus and Culgeka among them, called out for help. Though the party halted Smash so they could speak with Smug, he discovered that his two old companions were no less than amused by his present condition. Still, when Codrus explained their reasons for journeying through the wood, and the extent of the impending Yuan-Ti threat, even Smash heard the call of their need for aid. She agreed to release Smug so that he could help them, at their request, and also offered her services, at least insofar as dealing with the Stormcrow orcs. Together, the newly bolstered party continued their journey to the Stormcrow encampment.
When they reached the area of the Cloak Wood where the Stormcrow could be found, they discovered an ancient tower rising up out of a dead clearing. Lorzod overheard a whispered exchange between Codrus and Culgeka, in which Culgeka told Codrus he had wandered these woods many a time and this ancient tower had never been there before. Lorzod was quick to speak up, explaining that Culgeka must be mistaken, for he had also traveled these woods many a time since his birth, and the ancient ruins had been there since well before his own childhood. Rather than wasting time arguing over the matter, it was agreed that something strange must be at work.
Not wanting to move forward without further information, the party sent Lorzod to scout the ruins and investigate. What he discovered along the structure’s perimeter was a small number of shambling, undead orcs, awakened by some fell energy, and aberrant, leather-clad humanoid creatures with indescribable, tenticular flesh. Regrouping with the party, they worked together to rush the creatures and test their mettle. The conflict was short and brutal. Thereafter, the party worked together to pry open an ancient entrance into the tower, only to be greeted by a huge creature of animated flesh, wrangled by an orc whose physiology had been altered by, no doubt, the same fell and aberrant energies which had animated the dead. Codrus and Culgeka were struck with a sense of familiarity as their thoughts returned to the horrors discovered among the ill-fated Gnawstubble clan, Smug’s brethren…
After making short work of the flesh golem and its aberrant orc master, the party carefully crept through the decrepit halls of the tower. Along the way, they encountered an orc woman whose pours secreted a strange, clear slime as her flesh, before their eyes, slowly mutated and changed. Wracked with pain, she still stood with several of the leather-clad aberrations and demanded the party explain what they were doing in the home of her people. Due to Lorzod’s insight, the party realized the woman, who identified herself as Denvuh, was terrified of and resistant to the change taking place within her. Buteo and Smug reasoned with her, explaining that perhaps they could help her escape her fate if only she would help them. At last, she gave in, agreeing to tell the party anything they wished to know about her leader, as well as how to reach him safely, if they would help her return to the orc refugee camp to receive healing and aid.
Before she could make good on her promise, the aberrations furiously attacked. Acting swiftly, Smash stepped between Denvuh and the aberrations, protecting her and taking the brunt of their blows as the rest of her new allies beat them back and cut them down. When the battle was finished, Denvuh thanked the party and answered their questions about Malachi: he was not an orc, and had come to the Stormcrow many years ago, prophesying that this day would come, and displaying miraculous powers which brought the orcs into his service. Everything that had happened, every step the Stormcrow had taken against the Sky Eagle, had been a part of his years-long plan leading up to this very moment. She could not tell the party what he was, or even where he came from, and only advise that they would have to see the full extent of his power for themselves.
Using advice she gave them on how to navigate the tower safely, and reach Malachi, the party succeeded in avoiding any further conflicts before finding their way to a long battlement, where Malachi stood flanked by two aberrant hounds called Destrachan. He held up the eye of Gruumsh, asking if the party was truly prepared to die in their quest to recover such a “trifling little thing”. The ensuing combat was furious, as Malachi let loose his Destrachan, and summoned into being one of the very creatures which Codrus and Culgeka had fought against in the Sea of Residuum, during The Chaining of Tharizdun, to further aid his battle. When Buteo summoned Sandahoku to aid the battle, Malachi joined the fray as well, wielding a sword of pure Residuum and wielding that essence of creation itself as a weapon, which also generated an aura of psychic destruction.
It was Smug who ultimately slipped through the ranks, driving one of his daggers into Malachi’s chest and twisting it, throwing the wounded tyrant to the ground and ending the battle. Malachi rolled and rose to his feet, backing away. The party watched as the psychic essence which enveloped him began to emanate widely, tearing flesh and sinew away until only Malachi’s soul remained. Then, they watched as his body re-knitted itself around him, revealing his true identity.
When the ritual finished, they saw, staring back at them, fully healed, none other than the goblin sorcerer Gnash. He smiled a fanged smile at Codrus and said, coyly, “Well played, old friend.” Then, laughing and tossing the petrified eye at Codrus’ feet, he waved a hand and the party watched as reality itself peeled apart behind him, not unlike the manner with which they had already observed the goddesses open strange portals into places beyond time and space. The vortex reached out, grabbing hold of Gnash and snapping him away, his laughter echoing even as the portal faded, and Sandahoku charged after him, weapons drawn, determined to catch up with his old friend, his new enemy, through the tear, into the void, continuing their hunt…