As the moons drew ever-closer in the sky, now almost as black as night, the adventurers were feeling increasingly worn-down. Their telepath, Teferi, had expended his last psionic energies targeting his friends, who he had been enchanted into thinking were Vol; his thrall Ankya had fallen to the same fate, only realizing her error after a flying charge sent her colliding with Siivrell, leaving the latter much worse for the encounter. Nebu still stood around helplessly, encased in his own personal antimagic field. Tyrian had expended his most powerful spells, many of them uselessly being countered by Vol’s immunities and resistances. And although Sovelom’s dragonmark-derived weather powers had devastated the battlefield, he too was running low on his reserves. Only the monk, Mike, and the jade phoenix mage Siivrell were still at almost full strength, grim determination showing in both of their faces.

Vol, conversely, had only grown more intimidating as the battle progressed. Her draconic features were now more prominent, with skeletal dragonbone poking through her cheeks and shoulder blades. Her lone emerald claw had grown into a monstrously large talon, and her eyes were filled entirely with a violent green glow. Gone was the innocent girl clutching her stuffed dragon and pleading with the adventurers to help save her; in her place stood a malevolent necromancer, her undead visage twisted into a mask of hatred and spite.

In the background, the activity above the emerald cauldron grew ever-more frenzied, with sparks of arcane energy and twisted, ghostly shapes spiraling out and into the sky through the blackened cloud funneling down. The immense Mark of Death, flush with necromantic power, writhed and twisted in the air above it, as if it were eagerly awaiting the death of the combatants below.

Suddenly, with a great cry, Siivrell leaped directly at Vol—still partially concealed by Sovelom’s sleet storm—bringing down her intelligent blade in one mighty, reckless swing. The lich tried to twist aside and bring up her magical defenses, but to no avail—Eiryavel had struck true. Ancient bones snapped and rotting flesh fell away as the sword continued its merciless path through Vol’s body, and with her last words she screamed out a curse in a foul language whose very words were filled with malice, spite, and treachery. As the strike came and the words of Vol’s curse echoed in the heads of all assembled, the blackened cloud funneling down into the cauldron from the Mournland sky split into three tendrilous parts. In rapid succession they wrapped themselves around the pieces of Vol’s body, snaking around her and drawing her into the air—and into the cauldron.

As the adventurers stared on in amazement, the three moons came into alignment, with the foremost blotting out the sky with its inky blackness. With a final surge of energy, the pulsing Mark of Death exploded brilliantly, funneling its power into the cauldron alongside Vol’s body. The cauldron gave a mighty shudder and with the sound of thousands of screaming voices, expelled its final creation into the sky: an enormous dragon, skeletal and black, with a green sheen on its wings. The beast gave out a mighty roar toward the sky, then spiraled off to the southwest, just as the cauldron crumbled into a mound ash.

A few moments of stunned silence passed as the group took in the magnitude of the events they had witnessed—and indeed, had set in motion. Their thoughts were interrupted by a ray of sunlight that fell into the middle of the chamber. Startled, they looked up into a sky that, surprisingly, was blue and full of hope.

Far to the north, in a cold fortress on a frozen island in the Lhazaar Principalities, a skeletal figure slowly faded into existence. As soon as she was able, the lich queen angrily lashed out at her nearest available attendant, paralyzing him in place and then tearing his head off with one mighty blow of her emerald claw. As her gaunt skin stretched over her jawbones into something resembling a smile, she thought to herself: Heh. The stuffed dragon trick… gets them every time. Pulling herself upright, she paused for a moment. A pity about good old dad, though. That will be a costly mistake to correct.

Descending from her throne, Vol contemplated her next move in the centuries-long game she played, even as she began the rituals for a spell to bring her father’s remains back to her.