Warning: Plenty of spoilers for Monte Cook’s online D&D adventure Black Rain appear below.

To get an item they knew only as the Orrery, once created by the legendary wizard- priests of Ni-Gorth as a means to locate the only way into the Seven Jewels of Parnaith, the intrepid band of heroes formally challenged the item’s current holders, House Vladaam.

The day of the challenge loomed close, and many allies gathered. In addition to Mara, Shurrin, Aliya, Zophas, Serai (recently returned from forays against the dark elves), and Canabulum, the challengers had as allies Lord Kirstol Dallimothan, his friend Andach the druid, and a celestial named Mooncry. Andach, of course, was already known to the heroes and owed them quite a favor for rescuing his soul from the Dark Reliquary. Mooncry was one of the Malkuth, the group of earthbound angels in the city. She represented the angel Falstef, whom the heroes had also rescued from the Dark Reliquary. Since Falstef was still convalescing, she would pay back that favor for him.

The challenge was held in an ancient and hidden ceremonial spot in a crevice partway up the Spire that overlooked the city. The challenge was moderated by the mysterious and ancient figure known only as “the King,” who seemed to be only a spirit. House Vladaam responded to the challenge by sending Gattara Vladaam, an extremely powerful cleric/wizard, as well as various rogues and fighters associated with the house, and their “ringers”: a beholder, an ancient vampire fighter, and two pit fiends.

The challenge for the Orrery of Ni-Gorth was an epic battle. It quickly became clear that House Vladaam’s strategy was to focus most of their attention upon Lord Dallimothan. Since this challenge stipulated that no one slain in the battle could be raised, the Vladaams were very interested in eliminating the head of a powerful rival house. The beholder and the vampire, led by Gattara, attacked the others. But underestimating Dallimothan’s allies was their undoing. Shurrin killed the beholder with one thrust of his grandfather’s rapier. Andach obliterated the vampire with a spell that called down the power of the sun. A concentrated effort even managed to overcome Gattara herself, who thought she was invincible in her arcana form (which Serai managed to dispel).

Thus the heroes came to Lord Dallimothan’s aid, lending him support and healing as he vanquished the pit fiends. In the end, a few of House Vladaam’s representatives fled the challenge area and the rest died. Miraculously, all the heroes survived.

House Vladaam turned over the Orrery to Shayla the magical dagger, whom the heroes represented. With Shayla and the Orrery, they would be able to reach the Seven Jewels of Parnaith.

The adventurers took a few days to prepare for their journey. As they readied to go, however, the unexpected happened. A strange storm blew into Ptolus, and an odd black rain began to fall. They had heard of such a thing before: While the storm lasted, they would be cut off from the power of the gods, they knew. Clerics were without any spells. A dark day indeed!

But it got worse. Almost as soon as the storm struck, in early morning, the word spread: The Holy Palace was under siege!

The huge and lavish home of the Prince of the Church had for the last few years—since barbarians had sacked the capital of the Empire—also been home to his father, the Emperor of the Church. The Holy Emperor had recently declared himself to be not only the Empire’s religious leader but its secular ruler as well. This move harkened back to the early days of the Empire, when the Emperor led the Church as well as the realm.

While most of the heroes wanted to go see what was going on at the Palace (particularly the Lothianites Mara and Zophas), Canabulum ran off to check on a cleric friend of his, to make sure she was safe. On the way to the Holy Palace, Mara, Zophas, Aliya, Shurrin, and Serai ran into Sercian and Tellian of the Company of the Black Lantern. They were also out and about trying to figure out what was going on.

At the Holy Palace, a strange sight greeted the heroes. Today, as the black rain fell, the characters saw the entire building surrounded by the city guards, marshaled by the Commissar himself. These troops held a mob of rioting and chanting people at bay on one hand and attempted to gain entrance to the palace on the other. They were failing at both. The rioters shouted about the overthrow of the current establishment. But stranger still, the group found the palace surrounded by an energy field that no one could get through.

The heroes approached a woman they knew: Aoska, a half-celestial member of the Malkuth. She was also one of the Twelve Commanders, a group of powerful individuals who worked directly with the Commissar and oversaw the city’s well-being. She explained that the palace, and therefore the Emperor himself, was under attack. Events began just as the storm appeared, as if the attackers had known the black rain was coming. Somehow, the attackers appeared within the palace and erected the energy barrier to keep the palace guards from getting reinforcements. Aoska knew the guards were still fighting off the invaders inside, but no one could guess how long they could last.

“Who would attack the Emperor of the Church?” Mara asked Aoska. The Commander told the heroes they had captured enough rioters to determine that the attackers belonged to the Republican movement—a group interested in helping Ptolus become an independent republic rather than remain part of the Tarsisan Empire. The questioned rioters bragged that their leader would kill the Emperor himself. This leader was Helmut Itlestein, who was alive today only because the heroes had once spared his life.

Clearly, the group had to do something.

Next: They do something. And another old friend shows up. This one’s a demigod.