Tam'elanath and Lucan return to the party after scouting the outside of the observatory. Eshunu is posted to keep watch at the entrance in case any more of the orcs' warband tries to enter, and the rest of the party continues onwards. Stahlstrauss kicks down a door, expecting the room to be full of hostile orcs, but instead it is a storage room. In addition to a water supply and some crates, there is another set of brass double doors identical to the ones they encountered in the barracks. These, too, are barred and locked, and disturbing it prompts the same muffled voice as before.
Eventually, Garmeth sees fit to pick the lock, and shortly thereafter the door is broken down by Zil'dejin and Stahlstrauss. Inside, they first find a cowering old man. After inadvertently intimidating him for a while, the Eclipse Collective is eventually able to clarify the situation. The elderly man introduces himself as Lahrut, the caretaker of the observatory and chief researcher. He has locked himself here, in the primary observation room with the observatory's telescope, for fear of the orcs outside.
He then explains the situation. The Arcane Congress first reopened research here after a travelling wizard investigated the place and discovered that the stars that can be viewed from the Starpeaks are unlike those anywhere else in Eberron. After a research group was installed, they discovered some old notes indicating why this is: the observatory was built on a very old portal to Baator. The stars observable through the telescope, then, are a mix of both Eberron's and Baator's. It was this same portal that drove the last researchers out, when their investigations on the portal led to its rediscovery and accidental opening. The result was an invasion of devils, and while it was eventually beaten back the observatory was then closed.
Some time ago, a band of orcs, trolls and ogres calling themselves the "Painchiefs" broke into the observatory, their leader apparently interested in the resurrected research on the portal being conducted by the Arcane Congress here. This oni, Sojin Karral, intends to reopen the portal to raise an army of devils for himself, believing himself to be a competent enough warlord to do so. He then mentions a dreadful discovery he has made in the meantime, and directs the party to the telescope to look at the sky.
They go to look in the telescope, but as they do, Lahrut pulls a book that springs a makeshift dart trap. Most of the party is able to dodge out of the way, and the poisoned darts do not do much to those they hit, but they slow the group down. Lahrut assumes a gaseous form and drifts between some bookshelves.
Stahlstrauss and Zil'dejin investigate the bookshelves, and pull them apart to reveal a hidden, vaulted door. Garmeth picks open the mechanism on the door, and they wheel it open and head inside. Here, they discover a room built in three tiers, with sinister statues on either side, trenches in the floor, and a large, black iron door at the far end. The oni, Sojin Karral (who Tam'elanath identifies as a night haunter, which have the power to disguise themselves as elderly humanoids) is guarded by a troll and two orcs. The ritual has evidently just been finished, and the door at the end is opening.
Sojin and his guardians prove little danger to the party, even as the portal opens further, causing more to change within the room with each increment. The trenches fill with lava, the statues emit fire, and the portal starts emitting fireballs at random. When all of the Painchiefs have been eliminated, Elyas sets about closing the portal. It is a three step counter-ritual, and once he has completed two steps, Stahlstrauss decides to look inside.
He is immediately sucked in to a whirling storm of red ash, and falls for a long time. The party votes to keep the portal open, and even once they have all scrambled to safety away from the fire-spewing statues they must dodge the fireballs being emitted. When Stahlstrauss stops falling, he finds himself on a plane strewn with ash and fire. A city of some sort is visible in the distance. This is Avernus, the first layer of Baator, the Nine Hells. He realizes that unless the portal is fully open on the other side, he cannot travel back through. Turning around, he realizes that oddly-shaped but vaguely humanoid beings are quickly advancing towards him from all sides.
Elyas, too, realizes this, and after consulting with the others, he forces it open. Stahlstrauss leaps through, but is soon followed by the devils. After a time, he reemerges into the portal room, but indicates to the rest of the group that he has been followed. This is shortly confirmed by a large shape entering through the portal after Stahlstrauss, which quickly reveals itself to be a powerful devil called a malebranche, better known as a war devil.
Elyas forces the portal closed with the help of some of the others when the war devil is only half through, but he is not forced backwards, and is instead only injured. Tam'elanath and Garmeth run, with Garmeth preparing to lock the door after the rest of the party can get to safety. Zil'dejin, meanwhile, is trapped by the malebranche, and with one piercing trident attack from the devil Stahlstrauss is knocked unconscious. Lucan and Elyas are clear to run, and Elyas does so, but Lucan stays behind. He uses his powerful emotions to distort space and swap places with Zil'dejin, now trapped himself. Zil'dejin takes the opportunity to grab the unconscious Stahlstrauss and drag him to safety, and outside the room, is prepared to slam the vault door shut so Garmeth can lock it if Lucan cannot escape in time.
Lucan sees how dire the situation is, and realizes he has little hope of surviving. In one last, desperate effort, he concentrates all of his power into one great cleave, which slows time in the vicinity of the malebranche. Seeing this and realizing Lucan has slowed him down too much to chase the rest of the party, he sets his sights on the half-elf and attacks him viciously with his trident, rending Lucan's midsection. He falls to the ground, lifeless.
|Lucan's last stand|
At this point, Zil'dejin is forced to close the vault door, and Garmeth re-locks the mechanism and attempts to jam it. They then flee the observatory. Of the six remaining, all but Tam'elanath set off for Askelios to meet the caravan before it departs. Tam'elanath instead camps out in front of the observatory in a hidden location for a few days. He then goes back inside to discover the vaulted door now open, and the malebranche still within, conducting some sort of strange ritual with the bones of the oni, trolls, and orcs, with Lucan's corpse apparently being some sort of focus. Tam'elanath then immediately leaves to Fairhaven, realizing he can do nothing here.
During this time, the party rejoins with Ephos and Roswyn, and informs them of the situation. They depart from the caravan to ride ahead and tell the Arcane Congress what has happened. The party reaches Fairhaven in seven days after leaving the Askelios (and ten days after leaving the Starpeaks Observatory), but must wait for Tam'elanath to arrive. Fortunately, due to his natural speed and ability to navigate the wilderness, the party has only to wait five days for him to enter Fairhaven.