The party plans their next moves in the mansion of the man they killed. Orryn, Andrazel, and Hardy are safe in foreign bodies but are worried about lack of progress. They continue participating in cult gatherings, and the latest brings them over a line they may not be able to cross back.
The party steps from the entrance of the stairwell and into above-ground darkness. Around them they hear polite mayhem, people calling for the authorities and running feet. The party are still dressed like nobility, but their clothes are bloody and torn.
They shuffle outside the darkness. A well-dressed woman runs to them, asks them what happened.
Hardy takes the lead navigating the chaos. He fabricates a story of the sudden magical outburst to the people that have come to their perceived need. Someone hails a driven cart to take them home. They agree and get on. The driver kicks the animals forward.
Police and military units are streaming in. One of them stops the taxi to interrogate and harass the party. Hardy again, through diplomatic deftness escapes the jam. The party directs the driver to bring them to Ukhlar's mansion.
They are let off, walk to the front door and knock. As soon as one of Uklar's staff opens the door, they force their way in.
The party quickly canvasses the rooms of the house and gather and bind everyone and put them into a room. Hardy explains that if they cooperate, they can help. If not, they'll die.
The party more thoroughly explore the mansion. It's filled with wealth. They fill their pockets. Secret drawers are found with jewel-bound idols and items worth the cost of a house outside their neighborhood. From their study, they log books and other records.
They party slips some of this wealth to the mansion help, setting them for life, but also binding them to the party's deception and murder. They release them, knowing they won't escape.
The party stays a couple days to recover and sleep in luxury. On the second day, a group of police knock and the party answers. Hardy gives a good explanation for their presence, and details the story of Ukhlar's death by the Shield Guardians. They take notes, thank the party for their time and leave.
The party is still no closer to finding their way to the fortress. Ukhlar was a dead end. Although they did learn critical information about the underbelly of the Royal Community.
On the horizon is a second meeting with the cult. They decide to attend. This time they come early to spy on the gathering. They head down the exterior stairwell and jimmy the lock open to the ballroom.
They head to the front of the room, find the side door that opens to the space behind the ballroom walls, and find a scrying point behind a dime hole. They look in and watch as people arrive. The head, Amel, arrives in plain, workman clothes. He reveals a gold torc with unknown symbology as he takes off his outer robe. Several trailing members are carrying chests. They set the chests down near the riser at the front of the room.
Amel opens each chest and removes a chalice and sets each chalice on a constructed alter. A few small glasses are set in front of each chalice.
Cloth is laid and banners are hung. Incense pours from an open bowl. The room is nearly full. They party decides to exit back into the main ballroom.
Nobody appears to notice or care about their entrance. The party keeps to themselves.
Amel speaks. He speaks of the coming wave of magical power. He's a captivating speaker. He ends his sermon with a gesture towards the chalices. He says that there are five chalices, each with their own reward and punishment. Towards the left -- safety; towards the right -- salvation.
People begin to move up and use the small glasses to dip and drink. Most drink from the left chalices. Very few drink from the right. A many drinkers double over in pain. A couple are paralyzed.
Most of the party, save Hardy, decide to drink from the right-most chalice. Each has to fight off a sudden ripping knot of pain within their body. Orryn and Edwyn fail, and they watch in horror as their skin and limbs and finally their head and body begin to crack and solidify into solid stone. Those that succeed, feel free and at peace. Amel nods and blesses each of them.
The ceremony ends. The dead and injured are removed. The room is cleaned. While the party debates what to do with their petrified members Amel approaches and says he knows a cure: cockatrice feathers. He knows of some of the public arenas that might have such animals underground.
The party slips Orryn and Beldroth into their bag of holding and leave.
Although Amel spoke of the public arenas, the party is more familiar with the underground Royal Community arena.
The party rests and tries for access in the early morning. Hardy uses their connection to Ulkhar (they're coming to pay their respects)at one of the front gates to the Royal Community and convinces the guard to let them in. They find a good access point with Orryn's help, head underground, and eventually reach the arena.
The space is still dark and looks unused. The party heads to the bottom, step into the sand, find the outline of one of the trap doors, and pull. It's difficult without a conscious Edwyn but they manage to force it open. Five feet below is a catwalk that is barely suspended above a tar sludge. The area is hot and humid smells of death. They descend.
Bits and chunks of flesh are wedged within metal framework. Metal support pylons that support the catwalk and stage decent into the muck. The air is thick. It requires constitution just to stay focused and not throw up. They have to crouch and duck to avoid hitting the bottom of the stage. Every now and then the thick liquid below will bulge and rise and then fall back.
The party covers the area for nearly two hours. Eventually a cry, someone has found the remnants of a cockatrice, several feathers on a pound of dessicated flesh. The party unloads the stone bodies on the catwalk and rub the feathers on them. Nothing happens.
Andrazel steps in. He know the proper way to initiate the transmutation. With his help the bodies are transformed back into flesh, and Orryn and Edwyn, now covered in bits of cockatrice flesh, are conscious.
The party is whole again. They gather themselves and head back to the trapdoor. As they prepare to leave, a bulge 30 feet away breaks open and a Aboleth breaks to the surface. The party turns to protect themselves and prevail. The dead Aboleth slips into the muck from which it came.
Selene and Edwyn are in the good standing with the city and can freely enter and exit the city. Selene takes advantage of the freedom and takes walks on the outer edge of the Cauldron.
After the ceremony, the pull of the Cauldron has been greater. On one walk, in revere she looks up. In the incalculably distant horizon, is the faint outline of a colossal shape, vaguely similar to a dragon. She is comforted. The next night is isn't there.