Game Night - April 4, 2017 Edit
Ground Floor of the Ice Cavern Edit
After the enormous ice elemental took its leave, the group looked around the ice cavern more. Only a tiny bit of light was filtering in from the hole at the top of the ice cap, and it was just enough to make the group aware that they were in a very large, very dark place.
Putting some effort into it, Dave conjured up a small squadron of tiny lights that he sent spinning out into the darkness. The effect was similar to twilight, casting just enough light to be able to see the extent of the giant cave. It was a solid mile and a half to the opening in the roof, and the cavern curved up around them like a nearly-perfect hemisphere, marred only by a few distant ice stalactites.
All around them was mostly flat ground - ancient limestone, compressed gravel and hard-packed dirt, interspersed with the occasional patch of ice. While not uniformly flat, there were only a few small hills and ripples in the ground. They could see where trees and shrubs once stood, now flatted and crushed by unknown forces before being buried under ice for untold ages.
The Castle Edit
The ruined castle of the giants sat heavily on the ground. It was circular, and almost perfectly centered on the South Pole's ley line nexus point. The broken and tumbling walls still tower over 100 feet high, and the castle could encompass the Colosseum of Rome twice over. Overall, the castle looks similar to a giant version of Restormel Castle in Cornwall, back on Earth. The second story level of the castle is crumbling down, only a few stone spires are left of the towers. The entire castle is tilted slightly, a little more than five degrees askew, with back side embedded several feet deeper into the ground than the front side.
Shadow Reflection Edit
Paul shifted his sight to the shadow plane and perceived a radically different scene. The shadows of the cavern were slow and sluggish, as if they were ancient memories with barely any remaining connection to the world. Shadows of the giants who long ago lived and worked in the castle peered out at him, followed his movements and responded to his hails by raising their hands in salute. The castle, however, was entirely different. Rather than a circular fortress with fairly uniform and crumbling walls, the shadow version of the castle was a different shape entirely, with a very different building style, and was still in good repair! Instead of Restormel, the shadow castle closely resembled Caernarfon, in Wales.
This wigged Paul out a bit, as he had never encountered a place where the shadow plane differed so blatantly from the material plane. Still, none of the shadow giants seemed overtly hostile, and the main gates of both the shadow plane version of the castle and the material world version of the castle lined up closely with one another.
Astral Reflection Edit
When Dave and Darius shifted their sight to perceive the Astral Plane, they were nearly blinded by the magical intensity of the extraordinary powerful ley line nexus radiating instense light throughout the astral plane. Once they adjusted, however, they could see that the castle appeared much like it did in the physical world - circular and crumbling.
The spirits in this area of the astral plane were largely dormant, and clearly very old. Spirits of earth and land slept quietly in the hard-packed ground, while spirits of air and ice drifted lazily and without any apparent agenda. All of the spirits avoided the castle and an area around it.
Dave got the clever idea to set up a mind net spell so that Paul, Dave and Darius could all see through each other's eyes. After a few minutes of mental adjustment and some explanation about how the shadow planes and astral planes differ, all three could see that not only were the giant shadows in the castle aware of all of them, but that the trundling, barely awake spirits in the area fastidiously avoided the full area of the shadow plane's version of the castle. This seemed particularly weird, as spirits on the astral plane shouldn't have been aware of the shadow plane. Some sort of magic was clearly extending from the material plane to the two transitive planes - possibly extending to the ethereal plane as well, given its similar properties to the astral and shadow planes.
Into the Castle Edit
The group did some brief testing of the area around the castle, and found that some sort of mana barrier terminated spells about 25 feet away from the castle's outer walls. Paul, Dave and Darius decided to enter the castle ruins to see if the Last Bell was there, and to see what else survived the castle's fall. As they passed through the mana barrier, Dave's mind net spell failed, but no spells they had cast on themselves (such as Dave's armor spell) terminated, nor were any of their magic items disrupted.
Making their way into the guard house, they found that much of the structure was still quite solid. The archway over the entrance remained unblemished after however many hundreds of years and what must have been the insanely powerful impact from the castle's fall. Dave re-cast his mind net spell, and once again the group could see the weird overlapping images of the shadow plane and the astral plane over the material world.
A giant's shadow loomed twenty feet tall at the end of the entrance way. Paul hailed it, and the shadow lifted its arm in salute. Paul requested passage and assured the shadow that they meant no harm, and the being noiselessly slammed the shadow reflection of its fine-lined halberd onto the entranceway floor, then gave a shallow bow and stepped aside.
The Last Bell Edit
Moving past the gray and silent guard, the group moved into the castle's courtyard, and found the object of their quest - all 20 tons of it! The bell stood some 30 feet high and about 15 feet across. It was made of some sort of dark gray-green metal, and was absolutely covered with arcane writing that the group could not decipher. When Darius shifted his sight to astral, he noticed that some of the Bell's text shifted to a script resembling a very old version of elven, but seemed to be organized more like a very old version of draconic. He still wasn't able to actually read the script, but it was still interesting.
Much of the lower lip of the bell was buried in the ground, which was a good thing, because it kept the dangerous artifact from being properly rung. Dave and Darius could tell that the ley line nexus ran exactly through the center of the bell, and the bell itself rippled with magical energy. Dave could tell that the Bell was absorbing some of the ley line energy as the ley line currents traveled through it - it was a minute amount, but if the bell had been skimming bit of magical energy off of that many powerful ley lines for the last several... centuries? Millennia? More? He was awestruck at the amount of magical energy the bell contained. As an experiment, Dave tried casting a weak light spell inside the bell, and nearly blinded himself. The Bell seemed to amplify or harness, or... well, do something to the ley line nexus' energy with supercharged his magic. Casting a similarly weak spell on the outside of the bell created a monstrously powerful light spell that washed away all of the giant shadows in the courtyard and created severe shadow eddies in the immediate area of the Shadow Realm. Dave could also tell that there was a way to extract some sort of magical reagent from the bell, but couldn't determine how.
The Magister Edit
After deciding that further experiments with the Last Bell would be tempting fate, the group began to fully explore the castle, hoping to find some clues, some giantish texts, or maybe even some loot. There was nothing. Nothing remained except the (slowly reforming) Shadows of ancient giants, the (brightly lit) Last Bell, and the stone and mortar of the ancient castle. Everything else was simply gone. There were a few hearth spirits here and there, but the spirits were either very sluggish, or slumbering entirely.
Finally, opposite from where the gate house was, they found a second story room that mostly matched and overlapped a room that appeared in the Shadow Realm. There was an empty fire place, a giant's shadow that was curled up and resting on the shadow memory of a bed. A hearth spirit slumbered in the fireplace on the Astral Plane.
Acting on a hunch, Paul built a fire (with some cords of wood tucked away in the Stink Hat). Slowly, the hearth spirit nearby began to stir, as did the sleeping shadow, a few minutes after the memory of the fire appeared in the Shadow Realm. As the shadow fully woke, it saw that there were corporeal visitors and stood to greet them. The shadow was easily 19 feet tall, and appeared to wear sweeping robes. By its hair and the shape of its footwear and arms, Paul guessed it to be a woman. He raised his hand to hail, and the shadow figure did the same.
This shadow was clearly more aware than the other giant shadows, and quickly Paul worked out a yes/no code system with it, since it seemed to be able to hear him, but he could not hear the shadow. After a few minutes, Paul got wise and - with the help of his powerful vambraces - projected himself fully into the Shadow Realm to talk with the creature.
There he discovered Gwenllian (she pronunced it Jwane-li-an, leading Paul to call her Jane), who revealed herself to be the High Magister of the castle, and responsible for the protection of the Bell many ages ago. Jane had been Cloud Giant royalty, and though wasn't entirely in charge of the castle, the giants there deferred to her in matters of magic.
High Magister Jane reveled that the castle had been built to protect the bell and guard it from the demons that her people had been at war with. The Last Bell was an artifact of tremendous destructive power, and so the demons wanted it to destroy whatever they saw fit. Jane's people set up their fortress at the South Pole so that they could draw on the tremendous magical energy of the polar nexus to reinforce the Castle's structure, as well as an incredibly powerful spirit ward designed to keep out spirits of any type, but particularly those from the deep planes where demons, devils and angels come from.
After many, many failed attempts to breach the castle's defenses, the demons got wise. They, or creatures bound to them, tunneled under the castle, creating a vast void beneath the castle. Finally, the began melting layer of ice they couldn't affect with infernal heat. The effort must have taken years, but the giants - ever vigilant for threats coming from above, or from across the vast ice of the South Pole - didn't realize that they were being distracted from the true threat from below.
Finally, with one horrific crash, the ice beneath the castle gave way! The castle's fall down the icy shaft took almost seven minutes, in which time, Jane and her comrades frantically tried to figure out a way around the Bell's mana barrier that wouldn't weaken the mana barrier. Their efforts came up short, and almost all of them died the instant the castle struck the ground. Jane and a few others protected by powerful magic died a split second later as the Last Bell sounded with cataclysmic intensity. The only thing for fifteen miles in any direction to survive the Bell's sonic wrath was the castle itself. Everything else was blasted apart. The giants and their possessions were reduced to their component atoms - shaken to less than dust by the terrific power of the Last Bell.
And still, thanks to the spells woven into it, the castle and its defenses held. The demons never found a way to breach it, and were forever denied the Last Bell. Over the centuries, the ice of the South Pole reformed, slowly growing over the years until only the (relatively) small cavern around the bell remained.
Looking a bit concerned, Paul thanked Jane, and returned to the Material Plane to share the news with his comrades, and was overwhelmingly thankful that he didn't try to ring the bell.