Prospect Heights Winter D&D

Defeating Vannifer and closing the portal
Our heroes triumph

Our heroes descended into the unknown depths in grim silence. Sora and Hillborne stood shoulder to shoulder, eagerly gripping their weapons. Prior stood at their side, his fingers deftly and deliberately adjusting and calibrating the gadgets and machina about his person. Minerva and Faint sat back to back, each with a leg dangling over the edge of the stone disc. Baz stood behind them, a hand resting firmly on each of their shoulders. Olivyn held a bold pose, one hand on his hip and the outstretched, gripping his staff.

The red glow grew brighter as the stone disc lowered into the center of a large cavern. Lava burned and boiled below in a lake of fire below, surrounded by smoothed obsidian walls broken by three alcoves. In each one was a member of the Cult of Eternal Flame. As the disc slowed to a stop, metal posts rose from the lava forming a treacherous, but traversable, path to the center alcove.

One of the cultists shouted and flung a ball of fire at the group. Prior reached out a hand, guiding a small antennae on his back, and the fireball dissipated into a shower of embers. “Nice Try!” Prior said, as Sora shouted “spread out!”. She blinked away, and appeared behind the cultist guarding one of the side alcoves. She lashed out at him fiercely with Fang.

Faint gripped Minerva’s hand and they teleported behind the armored figure with his spear leveled at HIllborne trying to make his way across the lava. As Faint scurried to safety, Minerva plunged her daggers deeply into the enemies vulnerable back and tore off sheets of his elemental-powered armor. He roared and whirled to attack Minerva, but she had already slipped back into the shadows. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a raging half-orc pounding towards him. He turned just in time to be assailed by fierce blows from Hillborne, and then a flurry of blows from Olivyn. Oliyvn smashed the orb at the cultist’s heart and, as he fell to the ground, his armor exploded in a shower of burning metal. Hillborne and Olivyn leapt out of the way, but took painful wounds from the shrapnel.

Meanwhile, Prior kept the fire priest at bay by turning his own fears against him. The Priest, in a panic from Prior’s eldritch illusions, flung himself into the lava and flailed in a confused panic as his body fought to keep the fire at bay despite his blessing from the Prince of Eternal Flame. Baz, calling upon the blessings of Moridin, bestowed a lightness on the party’s feet that would keep them from sinking into the deadly lava. He strode across the lava, kicking at the priest who grabbed at his boots with fiery hands as he passed. As Baz reached the alcove, he turned and flung his Dwarven Thrower as Prior also launched an eldritch blast at the doomed priest. He perished and sunk into the lava. Prior furtively hopped and skipped across the metal studs, his feet smoking and steaming from the heat until he reached the stone alcove.

The first wave of guards had been dispatched and our heroes had made it to the network of caves and passageways surrounding the lake of lava, but they were not out of danger. Minerva, Olivyn, and Hillborne had attracted the attention of the second line of defense: another razerblast, who was warming himself by a pillar of streaming fire, and a fire giant, reclining on a stone ledge overlooking the passageway. With a roar of fury, Hillborne charged forward and smashed into the razerblast. Olivyn gracefully raced along the side of the wall, onto the ceiling above the enemy, and dropped down atop him with a punishing blow from his staff, and then slipped away. The razerblast, distracted by the onslaught from Hillborne, could barely keep track of Olivyn’s rushing, shadowy form. Then Minerva, sensing an opening, leapt atop Hillborne’s back and launched herself at the razerblast, plunging her daggers in for a killing blow. She rolled out of the way to safety, letting Hillborne take the full blast from its exploding armor.

Sora had emerged from the other passageway to see this fight unfolding, but attracted the attention of the fire giant. The fire giant, clad in formidable and expertly crafted armor, was an imposing figure towering over the room. He grabbed a large stone, infused it with elemental fire, and launched it at Sora, catching her full in the chest. She had to take a knee to steady herself from the blow. As the giant hefted another stone, though, Prior caught its attention with several eldritch blasts that exploded around him. As Hillborne and Sora used this distraction to charge him, Prior took aim and caught the fire giant with a powerful blast, sending even his huge form reeling back. As he fell to the ground and struggled to get back on his feet, Olivyn bounded forward out of the darkness and landed a killing blow to its head with his staff.

As the rush of battle faded, the party gathered and took stock of their condition. Sora and Hillborne were bleeding from multiple wounds and struggling to stay on their feet. Prior, Minerva and Olivyn were also hurt. Baz ministered to the worst wounds, though no one was unscathed. As the party rested, they noticed the low roar from the lava and fire of the caverns, occassaniolly interrupted by a violent tremor or a geyser of exploding fumes. To the east, a passage led to another lake of fire, this one flowing north into other chambers obscured by smoke and waves of heat, with no other obvious way forward. Within arms reach of the ledge was a gong hanging from metal posts in the lava. As Sora eyed the gong, Minerva shouted as she emerged from a small passageway she and Baz had found and explored. There was another chamber beyond, filled with strange light. The party followed her through.

After a short climb up the tunnel, they emerged into a chamber with walls lined by skulls. Each skull was filled with a colored flame, pulsing and glowing. But the adventurers barely had time to take it all in before they began wheezing and coughing. The room was filled with a noxious gas. A few party members coughed up blood and struggled to maintain consciousness. They fled in a panic down another tunnel, but quickly realized this lead to a roaring wall of flame. They seemed trapped between the malodorous danger of the chamber of skulls behind them and the burning death of enchanted glame in front of them. But Baz and Sora kept a cool head, and peered into the flame to notice that it was a thin veil of flame, though they were burned and singed as they did so. Within they noticed bound figures, and faintly heard them calling for help. They leapt through the sheet of flame, leaving their companions anxious and concerned.

Within the prison of flame, Sora and Baz found several members of the Dwarven peace delegation from Mirabar, imprisoned by the elemental cultists. They urged our heroes to stop Vannifer, the Prophet of Eternal Flame, from summoning Imiz to this plane of existence. “We hope it’s not too late. We must get out of here and warn Waterdeep and Neverwinter! They must send help immediately!”.

Prior came up with a clever way of getting the prisoners out of their fire prison unscathed: he used his eldritch powers to heave a pile of dirt from the floor onto the fire barrier, banking a section of the flames for a few critical seconds. Baz and Sora shoved and tossed the delegates through the opening and then immediately followed them as the flames roared back into place behind them.

While they were freeing the delegates, Olivyn and Minerva uses their intense focus and training to block their longs and investigate a way to clear the chamber of the noxious gasses. They found a lever behind one of the skulls that opened a valve, and with a rush of air the noxious fumes were cleared out and the room became merely oppressively hot. But not all of the skulls along the wall were completely inanimate: as Olivyn tried to remove his hand from the skull, it crushed his hand with its jaw bone and spat magical flame at him, and then flew around the room cackling. Two other skulls shook and then took flight, cackling and shooting jets of flame over the heads of our adventurers. With some eldritch blasts and swings of their weapons the skulls were turned to bone shards and powder, but not before leaving several nasty blisters and burns amongst our heroes. Baz administered more aid to his comrades, and they looked at him with silent gratitude, their faces covered with soot and sweat.

Faint grabbed the delegates by the hand and said “I will lead you out of here! Friends…continue on without me!”. Faint disappeared through the tunnels back the way they came from, hopefully to reach the safety of the surface without trouble. Minerva silently waved goodbye and turned away, ears drooping.

The remaining adventurers pressed onwards through another passageway, where they found a narrow metal catwalk swaying across a pit of lava. It passed through a column of stone in the center of the pit with a hole hewn into it before leading to another system of caves. Fire snakes seethed and spat at each other in the roiling lave below. As the heroes passed over them, the creatures half-heartedly launched wads of liquid fire at the catwalk and hissed in what might have been mean spirited laughter.

Once across the lava pit, Prior sent Flere ahead to scout the next chamber. It found a sumptuously decorated chamber with an altar to Imix on the far side. A group of powerful cultists knelt before the altar. Hoping to destroy and defeat them quickly, Prior developed a plan for an ambush. Hillborne swigged a potion of invisibilty and loped off to cut off the exist at the far side of the chamber, while Olivyn and Minerva crept around the edges of the chamber, hiding behind pillars supporting the vaulted cavern ceiling. Prior stepped into the room boldly and penetrated the minds of their enemies with an unspeakable fear. They fled in abject terror as the party descended on them in their vulnerable state. Olivyn stunned one of the feeling cultists and so he was paralyzed but still trembling with fear and a desire to flee. When the other feeling cultists reached Hillborne, he cut them down mercilessly. The chamber quickly grew silent as Minerva ended the last cultists with her twin knives.

The party barely had a moment to take in the luxurious surroundings and erotic art in what must have been Vannifer’s chambers before Sora began to smash everything in sight. Within a minute, the entire chamber was ransacked, but luckily other members were able to snatch some helpful magical items and potions before Sora destroyed them. The party gathered themselves and nodded before pressing onwards.

The emerged from Vannifer’s chambers into a titanic cavern filled with gently undulating magma. A rough causeway of natural rock led into the center of the chamber where, obscured by distance and the shimmer waves of heat, a figure stood, arms upraised, before a great altar of obsidian. Two crooked pillars of the same stone leaned towards the altar from either side. Beyond the altar, emerging from the lake of molten fire, was a gargantuan stone colossus towering over the chamber. It’s head was thrown back, as if in agnoy, and tears of fire streamed down its face and lava poured out of its gaping mouth. Hovering above the head of the collossues was a great orb of fire and light, roaring like the mouth of a furnace, muted by the distance.

Hillborne immediately strode towards Vannifer, followed quickly by the entire party. But before they had taken a dozen strides, they heard the beating of huge wings and a low rumble. A shadow rushed over them; a red dragon landed and towered in front of the party. “Where do you think you’re going, tasty little treats?”

Without missing a beat, Prior strode forward and boldly confronted the dragon, who was polite, but firm, in his intention to devour each and every one of the adventurers. Ever the diplomat, Olivyn shushed Prior and graciously introduced himself and the party to the dragon, but his disinterest was obvious, as he licked his teeth with his steaming tongue. Olivyn pulled out his lute and played a mournful sound about the damage that being alone can have on one’s soul. The dragon listened patiently and then said, “That was a lovely tune. I’ve never enjoyed such a talented snack.”

As the dragon reared and spread its wings, Prior took action. His mechanical turrets extended from his back and pulsed with energy as they launched multiple eldritch blasts at the dragon. He was launched back, roaring with anger, and he flew off, concealed in the smoke and shadows of the massive chamber.

Prior remained behind to keep an eye out for the return of the dragon, while the rest of our heroes charged forward. Vannifer lowered her arms and turned at the sudden interruption. As she screamed in anger, Olivyn whispered a spell that stilled the air around her, silencing her cries. But they didn’t stop her elemental defender from coming to her aid. Out of the lava emerged an elemental myrmidon, magma dripping from its red-hot armor. Hillborne fearlessly charged straight at it, and they began to exchange a series of furious blows, blocking and dodging, and sparks occasionally flying as Hillborne scored hits. The half-orc grunted and roared as he was seared by glancing blows from the myrmidon’s dual swords, his tough skin smoking and sizzling. Vannifer turned back to the altar, weaving intricate symbols in the air with a trail of sparks and embers.

As Olivyn, Baz, and Minerva rushed forward to aid Hillborne, they looked up to catch sight of the silhooute of the dragon against the weeping colossus, wings spread wide and snout aimed directly at them. It dove and opened its maw and spewed out its flaming breath upon our heroes. They knelt down and tried to shield themselves as best they could, Olivyn and Minerva cowering behind the sturdier forms of Hillborne and Baz. They were dowsed in the dragon’s breath as it flew low over their heads. Baz, with his well-crafted armor and enchanted protection from fire, bore the brunt of the attack. The dragon banked and turned in a tight spiral to make another approach at our heroes, this time from the side.

While the rest of the party dealt with the dragon and Vannifer’s elemental bodyguard, Sora remained focused on Vannifer herself, recalling that the last portal to the elemental plane that they encountered was closed only with the prophet’s own weapon. She stepped between worlds to appear on the altar in front of Vannifer and buried Fang deep in her side. She screamed silently before disappearing. She too could walk between planes, and she suddenly appeared perched on a small outcropping of rocks in the lava about 20 strides away. Sora followed on foot, striding over the lava with the gods-given ability provided by Baz.

Sore reached the outcropping and climbed upwards towards Vannifer, who turned and unleashed a wave of fire from her hands. Sora managed to duck out of the way, grabbing Vannifer’s hand with her own and directing the flames into the air. With her other hand, Sora struck her again with Fang, digging it deep into her chest as they grappled nearly nose to nose amongst the boiling lava. As Vannifer breathed her last, she erupted into a pile of ash and cinders, which swirled around Sora before being blown away. In the pile of clothes left smoldering in a cleft of rocks sat a cruel looking dagger, Tinderstrike, Vannifer’s weapon. As Sora hefted it, she could tell that it held a spark of elemental power similar to Fang. She looked up at the brilliant orb of fire and light hanging over the colossus and wondered how she would get the dagger through the portal to close it.

As Sora had fought Vannifer, Hillborne held off the myrmidon through strength and sheer determination. Minerva managed to slip in carefully and deal several damaging blows, and Prior’s eldrictch blasts weakened its armor until finally a blow from Hillborne’s axe shattered it and the creature collapsed in a fountain of flame.

Olivyn, meanwhile, kept his eyes on the circling dragon, and cast a cloud of darkness about its head. Roaring in surprise and frustration, the dragon dove again, shouting “I can’t see you, crispy morsels, but I can still smell you…”. He flew by and tore into Olivyn as he passed. “…and I will taste you soon!”. It turned again for another pass flying low with its claws reaching out from the darkness as it came towards Hillborne and Minerva. Baz flung his hammer at it, but the dragon didn’t slow. As it flew low, Minerva clambered up Hilborne’s back, with her dragon-slaying sword drawgn and ready. With perfect timing, and assisted by Hillborne taking a knee and lunging up, she flew into the dragon’s path. She plunged the sword deep into its chest and, as it flew by, left a huge gash in its scaly underbelly. As Minerva landed and rolled to her feet, the dragon’s claws tore at the adventurers, leaving bloody wounds in its wake. But as it passed over their heads, Hillborne kept a careful eye on its path as he hefted a javelin. As the dragon banked to turn, Hillborne let fly. The javlin flew into the cloud of darkness, and a stream of dragon blood flew out on the other side. The dragon roared but it was a ragged, choking sound as it plunged down into the lava below. With a splash it landed hard into the magma, sending ripples of liquid fire in all directions. Its body smoked and sizzled as it slowly sunk into the lava.

With all enemies vanquished, Baz whispered a blessing to Moridin and the party felt his healing touch. Blood hardened, gaping wounds were sealed, and blistering burns were salved, but the party was weak and nearing exhaustion. Suddenly Prior shouted and they looked to see where he was pointing. A glowing ember was rising from the corpse of the elemental myrmidon and floating in a steady, straight path towards the flaming portal. As it grew level with the face of the weeping colossus, a streaking bolt of fire lanced out of the portal and joined the ember. It grew, and grew, and grew into a massive ball of living fire. The party shielded their faces from the intense heat, and squinted through the nearly blinding brightness. Limbs emerged, and a humanoid form took shape, its head rising slowly. Our heroes realized that they were witnessing Imix, the Prince of Eternal Flame, emerging into their plane of existence.

Sora heard Prior’s voice in her head, “Bring me the dagger, quickly!”. Sora looked over to see Prior running full speed towards her along the stone path. Sora leapt from the rock outcropping and sprinted towards the gnome, the dagger outstretched in her hand like the baton in a game of sport. As she reached Prior, he grabbed the knife and then disappeared. The adventurers looked up and saw his diminutive form clambering on top of the head of the weeping colossus. But they lost track of his progress as Imix roared, a terrifying wave of heat and fury, and then rained down bolts of fire on them. They leapt out of the way and began to retreat towards the chamber entrance, clothes aflame and sweat pouring down their brows.
On top of the colossus, Prior looked up at the portal, which was still a good 30 feet above his head. With a shrug he hefted the knife and threw it straight up with all his meager strength at the flaming portal. The knife flew upwards, but is it neared the portal it slowed, and came to a stop, its tip just inches away from the portal’s surface. But just as it began to descend back towards Prior, Flere flew up and bumped the pommel of the dagger, pushing it through the portal. The massive form of Imix was pulled, tugged, and then sucked through the rapidly collapsing portal. With a rush of sudden silence the brilliant flames winked out as the passage into the plane of elemental fire was closed. The chamber grew dim.

The heroes stood and stared up anxiously towards the colossus. The chamber slowly began to tremble and a low rumble grew into a shattering explosion as the head of the weeping colossus erupted in a shower of stone and magma. The adventurers stared in awe and sadness as they colossus collapsed into a massive avalanche tumbling into the lava below. For a terrible second they were sure that Prior had perished, when suddenly they heard a shrill scream, and what Hillborne would later swear was manic laughter. Prior came flying through the air, propelled by a jet of smoke and green sparks spewing out of small nozzles emerging from the bottom of his robes. His gadgets had come through for him again. He flew over the heads of his smiling and relieved companions, tumbling to the ground in a confusion of robes and limbs, both gnomish and mechanical. The remains of the colossus splashed into the lava and sent a chest high wave of magma rushing towards the party. Hillborne grabbed Prior by the belt and hauled him to his feet as our heroes fled the collapsing chamber.

As they reached safety, they stopped to catch their breath. They weren’t sure who started laughing first, but they didn’t stop until they were all wiping tears from their eyes. Little was spoken after that as they slowly made their way back to the surface.

It was dark when the party emerged into the Sumber Hills. As day broke, a rider from the Feathergale Knights spotted them and landed to find the entire party asleep. He wisely waited until they had awoken, started a fire, and had breakfast, and Baz a beer, before giving them a report. Thanks to their efforts in exposing and opposing the elemental cults, the forces of Waterdeep and Neverwinter had finally understood the true nature of the unrest in the Dessarin Valley. A joint force of veteran knights and battle magi was on the march to root out the remnants of the elemental cults. Our heroes had stopped the threat of the apocalyptic elemental cults. They had closed the open portals to the elemental planes, and destroyed the focus of the elder elemental eye’s power on this one. They had saved the lives of countless thousands. They deserved a rest. The realm was safe…for now.

Would others take up the millenarian cause of the elemental cults? Would the elder elemental eye find a new focus, a new way to twist the minds and souls on this plane? Would evil ever stop lapping at the shores of mortal hearts? Likely not. The only assurance the world could offer was that there would always be those who would not falter in the face of evil and chaos. Those that would be ready to lasso their fears, misty schlep into the roll zone, start juicing and hexing, and prepare to blast ‘em.

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The Cult of the Eternal Flame
Stopping the fire before it spreads

The party rested and slept fitfully throughout the day, and at midnight they awoke to a smoke filled sky bathed in the silver light of a hazy full moon. As everyone coughed and rubbed red, smoke stained eyes, Sora donned the claws of the umber hulk and began digging through the rubble of the tower. She dug a pit nearly 10 ft deep before she uncovered a wooden flap covering a tunnel with rough stairs leading deeper into the earth. The party clambered down and made their way through the winding cavern until it broadened into the ruined byways of ancient Tyar-Besil. After an hours marching, they saw a red glow in front of them, and as they crept forward they heard the voices of a hobgoblins. They were standing guard behind a waist high barrier of rubble, and beyond them a staircase led up into a chamber glowing with torchlight.

Prior strode up confidently with Sora and Hillborne behind him and angrily ordered them to stand aside and throw down their weapons. The hobgoblins looked at each other in confusion for a moment, and then with a shout their captain lobbed a javelin at them. But though Prior’s gambit had failed, our heroes quickly overwhelmed the hobgblins. Sora leapt over the barrier and crashed into a group of the enemies, while Minerva crept behind to dispatch one while distracted. Baz’s throwing hammer zipped across the room, smashing armor and skulls. Hillborne felled another hobgoblin with two swift strokes of his axe. Within seconds, the room was quiet and the path forward was clear.

Minerva took the lead and crept silently into the next chamber, where she found two cult devotees in elemental-powered armor standing in the shadows of four large columns. An orb of fire pulsed in the chest plate of their armor and they held flame tipped spears at their sides as they stood at attention, unaware of the intruders in their midst. Minerva gripped her daggers tight and leapt out at one of them, slamming her daggers down into joints in his armor. He roared in pain, but Minerva’s daggers got caught on the finely crafted clasps, and she rolled around to his flank to leave him exposed to her comrades. The rest of the party rushed in to engage. But before they could reach her, the cultist scarred Minerva with several burning swipes across her face and chest.

Eyes widening in surprise, the other cultist cried out “Imix protect us” as Hillborne stabbed at him with Drown. As he spoke the words, magma began dripping down the four columns in the center of the room, and waves of heat poured out of the now molten pillars. The air shimmered and our heroes gasped in pain at the oppressive incandescence. As they grimly battled these formidable opponents, Prior hung back, sending eldritch blasts into the fray when he could. He knocked one of the enemies back with a powerful bolt, sending him sprawling against the wall and he struggled to his feet. Baz’s hammer exploded the stone above his head, narrowly missing him, and he charged at Baz in fury.

In the other corner of the room, Sora and Minerva finally pierced the armor of the first cult fighter, and he fell to the ground grasping at the orb at his chest. He laughed maniacally with his last breath as the orb began to tremble and glow. Suddenly he exploded in a shower of molten shrapnel, shredding and burning Sora and Minerva. They stumbled away, ears ringing. Sora looked up and saw the last remaining cultist stabbing at Baz with his flaming spear. She charged him and shoved him back with such force that his armor collapsed and pierced his body, and his head slammed against the stone floor as he fell. Our heroes leapt away and shielded themselves as the cultists exploded, sharp pieces of his armor clattering against the walls. The party quickly leapt to their feet and fled the powerful heat of the chamber.

In a large, empty passageway, they caught their breath and Baz used his skills as a cleric to tend to their most grievous wounds. They nodded to each other and continued onwards. They came to an intersection and found a long passageway lined with stone statues inset into the walls. Baz also spotted a tripwire along the floor, and they gingerly stepped over it. Sora paused to inspect the statues as they walked by and noticed something odd about one of them. She reached out and pulled at a protruding detail, and a the statue slowly swung backwards. A secret door! Behind it they found a pair of tombs, which they opened to find two ornate funerary masks. Baz shook his head in consternation and left the room.

At the end of the statue-lined hall, they heard the flatulence and crass discussion of a group of ogres, likely guarding an entrance from another party of Tyar-Besil. They avoided an unnecessary engagement and headed back the way they had come. They took a southern passage which was a wide street leading to set of stairs that descended into a massive room, its cavernous ceiling dappled with a red glow. To their left was a smaller hallway lined with doors. They opened the first few and found the empty living quarters of cultists, sparsely decorated with cult symbols. The other doors were locked from the outside, as if used as prison cells. They decided to find out who was being held inside, and so Sora opened one of the doors to the left and entered the small chamber.

Inside was a Salamander, a snake-like creature of the elemental plane. It stood as high as a human, with a sinewy torso coiled up behind it. It hissed in anger and surprise and said “Leave me be, I just finished my shiftsssss! Let me restsssss!”. Sora and Prior explained that they needed help with a task, and the Salamander glared at them with distrust, but begrudgingly followed them. When they came back to the intersection and hesistated, the salamander said “you aren’t one of the cultsistsssss. Who are you, what do you want with me?”.

They explained that they were here to defeat the Cult of the Eternal Flame and could help the salamander gain his freedom. The Salamander hissed with excitement, and his pupils widened at the idea of liberation. He explained that he and his brethren were imprisoned by the cult, and that their taskmaster was an efreeti, an evil elemental genie. They were forced to create weapons and armor using their control over fire and the elements.

“Let me free my brothersssss. And then we need weaponsssss to attack”, it said as it slithered down the hall and released two more salamanders from their cells. They then led the party up another staircase to the cultists barracks and living areas. They explained that most of the cultists were gathered in another part of the city in preparation for their assault on the surface world. Now was the time for the salamanders to fight for their freedom. They grabbed some spears from the wall as the adventurers looked around the cultists living quarters. One side of the barracks opened onto a narrow stone bridge that led across a deep chasm filled with a narrow river of molten lava. The river of fire slowly flowed down a spillway beyond a thick wall of stone, with an open gate suspended above the passage, like a sluice gate.

“Quickly, let’s attack!”, the salamanders hissed and slithered back to the top of the stairs that led down into a large foundry. The high ceilings reflected the pools of magma that flowed in through the sluice gate, and pooled in four reservoirs where it could be used to forge weapons. At the head of each reservoir was an anvil with a creature chained to it, slaving away at armor and spears. There was one salamander working, and three azers. Azers, as you know, look like dwarves with flaming hair, but they’re actually native of the elemental plane of fire. They had been captured and enslaved for their expertise in crafting armor and weapons.

Running the workshop floor was the efreeti, a large genie with an evil grin and stubby horns. At the moment he was beating and berating a salamander. Hissing quietly in anger, the freed salamanders rushed in and surrounded the efreet and began assaulting him. He roared in anger as he realized he was surrounded, and suddenly blinked out of existence and back to his native elemental plane to fight another day. The salamanders hissed in frustration but quickly worked to free their comrade. Meanwhile, our adventurers stood near one of the chained Azers who whispered urgently for them to free him. “If you don’t, they’ll kill us as soon as they get the chance!”, he said, nodding towards the salamanders. Baz quickly broke his chain and the freed Azer begged them to free his friends still chained to their workstations while he rushed back to the prison cells to free another of his brethren.

As they stood speaking with the grateful but desperate Azer, the salamanders turned to them and said “We see you’ve decided to help the filth as well. Typical of the peons on this plane.” With a derisive snort they all leapt into the river of magma and swam swiftly upstream. The newly freed Azers looked visibly relieved at their departure. As a token of their appreciation they quickly applied some of their elemental craft to the party’s plate and chain armor, and mentioned that Vannifer had ‘gone below’ for some final rite or incantation. They then floated down river on the slow moving lava flow.

One side of the foundry opened onto a massive open shaft that tunneled downwards for hundreds of feet of darkness. At the bottom was a faint red glow. Floating in the center of the shaft was a disc of stone about 10 ft in diameter. Unsure of where this would lead them, the party decided to explore this part of Tyar-Besil further. They snuck past hell hound kennels and storage rooms, and came across a small machine room containing levers and gears that controlled the lava sluice gate. Prior pulled some levers and shut down the flow of lava, and the river began to slowly fill the chasm below with a growing lake of fire.

Around a passageway and down some stairs, our heroes came to a central gathering area of the cultists, for the moment unoccupied. But from behind a door painted with symbols of the cult they heard the roar and shout of a large mob. They heard one faint, angry voice exhorting the crowd, and then they would erupt in a loud chorus of fervent cries. The party exchanged worried glances, and then noticed Sora eagerly hefting Fang and beginning to walk towards the entrance. Cooler heads prevailed and they decided to retreat back to the foundry. There they surmised about where the floating disc and the deep tunnel led. It was clearly built after the time of Tyar-Besil, thus likely built by the Cult of the Eternal Flame. They gingerly stepped onto it and realized that it magically held their weight. Carved on the floor of it were runes in ignean. They realized that the platform was likely controlled with command words, but what? They tried a few random guesses, but to no avail.

Suddenly Prior realized what creatures spoke Ignean: fire elementals, which he could summon if he must. And he decided he must. With some fiddling with his instruments, suddenly a flame-wreathed form appeared and strode to do Prior’s bidding. He looked at the first glyph and Prior said the word “ember” and the disc began to rise towards the ceiling just dozens of feet above. He quickly had the elemental read the next symbol and spoke the word “ash”. The platform began to descend. After several minutes of travel through the dark, they gently floated to a stop at a cleft in the stone. The party realized that they had decided into the Fane of the Eye.

From below the red glow grew brighter. They realized that it must be the elemental node. With grim determination they decided to continue their descent. Why delay the inevitable confrontation with Vannifer, the Prophet of the Cult of Eternal Flame? Their last remaining enemies grew stronger with every delay, and threatened to bring further destruction with every day they were left alive.

“Ash”, Prior said, and the disc began its slow fall into the unnatural dawn gleaming below.

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Defeating Aerisi and stopping Yan-C-Bin
The wind grows quiet but a fire still burns...

Our heroes strode determinedly through the dark caverns, the elemental gale and their pounding pulses roaring in their ears. Prior and Baz struggled to keep up with Sora and Hillborne, who charged boldly forward. In the chaos, they had lost track of Minerva, but there was no time to regroup. As they rounded a corner, they saw flashes of lightning and the wind howled even louder.

They looked up to see three spikes of stone jutting upward like immense claws and a churning thundercloud roiling above them. Amongst the cloud was a silvery window suspended in the air, and through this portal they could see an endless sky with dark clouds rolling ceaselessly. Floating in front of this was Aerisi, the Prophet of Evil Air. She was hissing and rasping in an unknown language, violently thrusting her spear, Windvane, towards the portal.

As the adventurers entered the cavern, the fleeing priests ran up raggedly and interrupted Aerisi from her incantations. She spun around and shrieked in anger and frustration at the party. “You useless pawns! How dare you interrupt my incantations! You’re beyond useless to me! Begone!” CRACK SIZZLE A bolt of lightning lanced from Aerisi’ spear and pierced Sora’s body, traveling through it and shocking Hillborne and erupting at Prior’s feet in a spray of stone. Aerisi’s bodyguard stepped forward, it was an Air Elemental Myrmidon swinging a hardened crystal flail. It swept forward and pummeled Sora, who struggled under the blows. The priests sent witch bolts against Sora’s armored form, but she managed to turn just right so that they glanced off her breastplate. She and Hillborne swung their weapons in panic. Bleeding and dazed, Sora took a misty step backwards from the fray. As Hillborne stood alone against the mighty elemental warrior, Baz whispered to himself, and to his God Moridin, and then clapped his hand against his hammer. The elemental disappeared with a loud sound, like a tailor’s shears slicing closed.

In the chaos of the battle, Prior had noticed a shadowy form making its way along the edges of the cavern. Suddenly the priest near the chamber wall gargled in surprise as a shadow passed over his neck and a bloom of blood spurted out. Aerisi screamed in frustration and called down a violent storm on our heroes. But from Prior’s diminutive body popped out a small metal dish that aimed at Aerisi and gyrated ever so slightly. Suddenly the gusts of wind died down, Aeris’s spell neutralized by Prior’s arcane power. “The forecast is clear!” Prior quipped.

Hillborne strode forward and stabbed at the remaining priest as Baz threw his Dwarven thrower, which knocked him back. Prior’s gadgets whirred and shifted, and his eldritch cannons emerged again, launching bolt after bolt at Aerisi. With a shriek she flew back through the storm cloud, but quickly righted herself and flew back, attempting to call down another storm of elemental energy. Prior continued to fiddle furtively with his controls and widgets, chuckling to himself as he countered another of her spells. The angrier Aerisi became the more Prior seemed to be enjoying himself.

Aerisi’s face screwed up in anger and frustration, and she opened her mouth to castigate our heroes. But no sound came out, only blood. She looked down in shock at a pair of shadowy daggertips emerging from her chest. Her head fell, and she began drifting to the ground. Hanging grimly onto her back, gripping her Drow daggers, was Minerva. She had scaled up the stone claws to get up to Aerisi and had launched herself off in a daring assassination. As Aerisi approached the ground, her body disappeared in a puff of air, and Minerva landed gracefully amongst the pile of Aerisi’s robes and belongings. Minerva looked at her daggers, wiped them off, sheathed them, and then stood awkwardly with her head down, occasionally glancing sheepishly up at her relieved companions.

Prior spared no time in inspecting Aerisi’s remains. He took hold of Windvane, which was twice his height, and began inspecting it. The rest of the party picked up the ostentatious jewelry she had been wearing. They then looked up to see the silvery portal into the cloudy expanse hovering ominously above their heads. As they debated what to do, Prior noticed that Windvane trembled and seemed to be drawn to the portal. He began climbing up the stone claws to get closer to the portal. As he did so, Baz surmised that the portal likely led to the elemental plane where Yan-C-Bin, the prince of evil air, resided. Closing the portal was probably the wisest course of action, but how?

Sora saw Prior struggling to poke the portal with Windvane, being both too short and the weapon being too tall for him to use effectively. She climbed atop the stone claw and hefted the gnome on her shoulders. He gingerly pushed the spear’s through the portal, and as he did so the edges of the portal grew ragged. His hypothesis proven, he proceeded to push the spear further into the portal, and as he did so, the portal shrunk accordingly until it was just a tiny sliver of air around the base of the spear’s handle. Wind squeaked around Prior’s fingers as he held it there for a moment before flicking it up. The portal disappeared around Windvane and both were gone.

Exhausted and wounded, the party trudged out of the elemental node, through the Fane of the Eye, and back out of Tyar Besil, emerging in the Valley of Sighs. They saw Feathergale Spire in the distance and were soon spotted by the winged riders. The mood at the Spire was grim, and they ate rations somberly as the Feathergale Knights quickly told them about events on the surface. Beliard had been burned to the ground, and numerous parties of fire cultists were wandering the Dessarin Valley, leaving destruction in their wake. They had all come from the same place: the massive column of smoke in the Sumber Hills. At dawn the next morning our heroes flew off to investigate.

Alighting at the end of a broad valley filled with a haze of smoke, they saw the tip of a tall tower at the crest of a rocky hill ahead. They marched towards it, and as they approached the smoke thickened. As they began ascending the hill they came across evidence of a large gathering. They found several campsites, most of which were abandoned, though some held the bodies of murdered druids and their animal companions. The party came to a crumbling stone wall surrounding the courtyard of a small keep. They skirted the edge of the keep and scouted the area.

There was a pair of fire priests in the courtyard kneeling in front of the smoldering remains of a massive bonfire. The tower itself was in disrepair, with its ground floor entrance covered in rubble, and surrounded by scaffolding that once was for repairs but now looked to be part of the supporting structure. There were guards posted on the scaffolding hefting crossbows. The keep’s walls deteriorated on the north and east side of the keep into a pile of stones about waist high. This area of the keep appeared to be used as kennels, as a pair of hellhounds lay on the rocky ground, smoke wafting from their snouts.

Hillborne was drawn to the hounds, hellspawn though they were. He approached them slowly with his palms up. Sora, more of a lion person than a dog person, transported herself amongst them and began laying about with Fang. The rest of the party rushed forward and dispatched the hell hounds as Hillborne stood, sad and perplexed as one of them gnawed at his ankle. With a shout of alarm, one of the sentries on the scaffold launched a bolt at Sora, and a priest came over to investigate. The priest was quickly blown away by blasts from Prior, and the guards tried to retreat within the tower. But as the nearest sentry on the scaffolds realized he was in danger, Sora, astride Langston, leapt up onto the scaffolding and struck him. He reeled back…into Minerva’s daggers. She had crept up the scaffolding and snuck up behind him. She dispatched him and pushed his body to the ground below. They gave chase to the other fleeing priest, who was trying to hide inside the keep. He launched fireballs at Baz and Hillborne as they followed up, and as he struggled to climb the scaffolding, Prior blasted him off. Olivyn finally raced around to cut him off and put him down with a blow to the skull from his staff.

Unsure of how many defenders lay in wait inside the tower, they began to smash at the towers foundations and scaffolding, hoping to bring the whole thing down with the enemies still inside. But as they began to pull down beams and walls, a wall of fire erupted, surrounding the tower. They stepped back from the heat, except for Sora and Minerva, who, unaware of the plan to bring down the tower, snuck inside. They overheard a conversation between a cult guard and someone named Elizar, who seemed to be in charge. He was confident that his wall of fire had burned away all attackers. Sora began to charge up the stairs, but Minerva grabbed her by the shoulder and pointed at walls and floors of the tower, which had begun to sag and crack. They rushed out the door and leapt from the scaffolding just as the tower, creaked, groaned, and then crumbled over in a shower of masonry and timber.

They coughed in the dust and did a quick count of everyone. Some had taken some bumps and bruises from falling debris, but were not severely injured. But from the pile of rubble they heard faint groans and coughs. Sora donned the claws of the umber hulk and quickly cleared a path to the body of the cult guard, barely hanging onto life. She then found a swarthy man with a thick beard and a broken pipe dangling from his mouth. Elizar Dryflagon was his name. In a pain-addled haze he told the party that Imix, the prince of Eternal Flame, would soon be summoned by Vannifer to bring a cleansing fire to the world. He mentioned that their lair was below the rubble, and laughed at the chances of the adventurers making it through Tyar-Besil, into the Fane of the Eye, and down into the elemental node to stop them. Little did he know who he was dealing with…

But was the Cult of the Eternal Flame close to summoning their elemental prince into the world? Our heroes felt a growing sense of urgency as they discussed how to quickly end the threat from the fourth, and final, elemental cult.

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The Howling Caves
Into the gathering storm...

As the safe confines of Faint’s tiny hut dissipated, the adventures once again emerged into the gloom of the Fane of the Eye. Faint and Olivyn decided to sneak quietly back to Tyar-Besil and make a deal with the Dao to purchase the powerful claws they had seen her forge. They brought Marlos’ head along as proof that she could deal with them in good faith.

The rest of the party peered into the depths of the pit that Windharrow had indicated would lead them to Aerisi. As they debated how to descend, strong winds gusted up from below, occasionally laced with lightning, bursts of rain, and even sleet. Elemental powers were astir deep below. Sora summoned her celestial lion, Langston, and boldly jumped astride her as she appeared. The pair bounded into the pit, the lion leaping confidently from wall to wall. The rest of the party carefully climbed down the rough walls. As they neared the bottom they, heard Sora bellowing in rage as she fought something.

Sora and Langston had landed on the floor of a cavern in the center of a windstorm. As it pounded them, they realized they were in the living center of an air elemental. She lashed out at it desperately with Fang, and the rest of the party dropped from the ceiling of the cavern and helped her fight it off. The air elemental was a furious red cyclone. Our heroes were spattered with blood as it whipped around them, and they saw that the cavern they were in was littered with limbs, corpses, and pools of blood. After several breathless moments of chaotic combat, they dispatched the deadly elemental, and quickly found their way out of the charnel cavern.

The party carefully explored the complex of winding tunnels, with powerful winds constantly blowing from the east. They found curving natural passages where the wind howled in a changing pitch as it fed through alcoves and fissures, sounding hauntingly musical. They shivered as they passed over a frozen lake, with the corpses of deep gnomes suspended in the ice. Ice glittered on the walls and ceiling, and icicles as big as a man hung from the ceiling. They came to a dead end where small holes in the tunnel created a suction that sucked the breath out of creatures. Corpses of spiders, cave lizards, giant bats, and an unlucky Drow explorer littered the cave. While some party members wheezed and coughed, trying to catch their breath, Minerva scuttled in and relieved the fallen Drow of a fine suit of elven chain and two ornate daggers. As she hefted the daggers, the party gasped as she grew darker and faded into the gray of the cave walls. These daggers were made to aid in stealthy endeavors. Minerva’s eyes went wide and her ears perked up as she sheathed them.

The party found their way blocked by a chasm filled with swirling clouds of fog. They doubled-back and crept onward, through a cavern filled with stalagmites carved into interesting, and often disturbing, images. Sora stared at them for a moment, and then proceeded to smash each and every one of them to rubble. Shaking dust off her scales, she grunted and led the group forward, through a small forest of mushrooms, and into another chamber where they heard faint groans and the clanking of chains. They pressed forward to find two humans, an aarakocra, and a drow hanging from hooks connected to chains. Their pain-wracked bodies dripped blood into pools on the floor beneath them, and they twisted round and round in the ever-present wind.

As our heroes freed these prisoners and began administering aid, they heard a rasping, deep voice boom “Who’s disturbing my delicious, dangling treats?”. A corpulent, winged demon stomped into the room wielding a cruel-looking axe. It was a Nycaloth. With barely a pause, Sora and Hillborne rushed at the fiend, and he was pushed back under their vicious assault. He was surprised, but not daunted. With a chuckle, he teleported behind the group, and swung his axe at Prior, who barely managed to step aside as it came crashing down next to him. Prior blasted him back against the wall, and before it had time to realize the fight was not going well for him, Langston and Sora pounced on him, pinning him to the ground as the party finished him off.

The freed prisoners had mixed reactions to their freedom. The two humans were cult members, and appeared near-death. The Drow was an explorer, and as soon as she was able to, she cloaked herself in darkness and stumbled away, to return to the safer regions of the Underdark. The aarakocra politely and perfunctorily offered to wait for their return, at which time, he expressed to them, he would very much like to return to the surface to “fly under the open sky once again”.

Our adventurers rounded another corner, and paused to look in awe at the remains of an ancient deep gnome settlement amongst a large, high-ceilinged cavern. Their dwellings were carved into and hanging from the cavern walls, connected by a series of stairs and ladders cut into the stone. But their wonder was interrupted by the presence of undead sprits, as specters emerged from the rubble and advanced on the party. Baz grunted, annoyed at the interruption, and performed a rude hand gesture as he turned and walked away. The specters disappeared in a puff of ethereal dust.

Minerva led the group down a path towards a beautiful underground pond. The crystal clear water was only a foot or two deep, and tiny fish darted amongst the smooth rocks. At the center of the pool was a stone column with a yellow casket atop it. The party struggled to clamber to the top of the column, but Sora, Prior, and Minerva made it to the top. As Minerva scraped aside the layer of thick yellow dust that had accumulated on the casket, a cloud of yellow spore filled the air. Sora and Prior coughed, gagged, and leapt from the stone column. For a panicked few seconds, they couldn’t breath, but luckily they hocked up a disgusting yellow loogie and were able to breath deeply again. Minerva’s Drow instincts had kicked in and she had closed her lungs to the stuff. She sounded out the Dwarven symbols on the casket, and Baz impatiently corrected her: “Here rests Godwyd the Wyrmbane, dragonslayer and peacekeeper”, it read. Minerva pulled open the casket and found a perfectly preserved short-sword atop a dwarven skeleton. Holding it aloft, its hilt was the mouth of a dragon, with the blade emerging from its jaws. It was exquisitely crafted, perfectly balanced, and fiercely handsome. Minerva’s ears laid back on her head as she settled the scabbard on her belt and leapt down from the column.

Noticing another passageway beyond the lake, the party determinedly continued onwards through it, but they quickly came to a dead end. They then noticed a heavy dripping sound, and looked up to see the ceiling moving and shifting. A black ooze dropped from the ceiling onto Sora, sizzling as it tried to burn through her armor. She panicked and ran through the tunnels, the party shouting and frantically trying to attack the ooze and remove it from her. Hillborne’s axe separated the ooze from Sora, but split it in half. The party quickly destroyed one piece of it, while the other slithered away, squeezing back into tiny openings in the stone.

During their thorough exploration of the cavern system, the party had found a central junction point, where a number of paths lead east, where the wind continued to blow from. Unfortunately the paths all joined at a central chasm, connected with narrow ledges along the edges. Prior sent Flere across to investigate, and he found a group of Howling Hatred cultists swaying ecstatically in the winds. The party began carefully sidling along the ledge as Sora blinked herself across the planes to appear in the room with the air cultists. They were too caught up with their stormy communion to notice. She lowered Fang and turned to help the party traverse the dangerous chasm.

Once across, the party carefully avoided disturbing the entranced cultists. They passed through winding tunnels and had to double back as they took a wrong turn. Then they came across a passage that widened around thick columns of stone stained with blood. Torn ropes surrounded some of them, and two of them still held miserable looking prisoners. As our heroes approached, they looked up in terror and shook their heads. As they were freed, one quietly whispered “no…the invisible demons…they’ll…” and then passed out.

Suddenly they heard a pair of loud thumps and throaty growls. The party gathered with their backs together. There was a rush of air, and massive, gorilla looking demons with blood red fur leapt across the room from opposite directions. One landed in front of Hillborne and dealt him heavy blows with its powerful fists. The other confronted Sora, roaring in fury as spittle flew from its huge fangs. Minerva rolled around between her companions’ legs, launching bolts at the beasts. Prior blinked out of the scuffle to launch eldritch blasts at one of the dangerous demons. Hillborne’s axe swung, Sora’s weapons struck true, and the beasts were cut down.

The air around them crackled with elemental energy as the wind picked up. They pushed forward towards the source of the winds. As they neared the end of the next passageway, they found their progress slowed by the strength of the tempest rushing against them. They bowed their heads and strode forward, hair blown back, cloaks billowing in the wind. They had to shout to be heard. “Forward!” Sora bellowed.

They looked up to find their way blocked by four emaciated priests of the Howling Hatred. Their eyes glowed with devoted fervor, and they raised their hands, energy crackling on their fingertips. Prior gave a shout into a small device on his shoulder and above the noise of the gale the priests heard a horrific sound, unnaturally amplified, that sent two of them running in terror. One of the remaining priest’s bolt of energy sputtered at his fingertip, but the other lanced a blast of energy into Sora. The party charged forward against the roaring cyclone, cut down the priests, and gave chase to their fleeing comrades, with Sora in the lead.

What lay at the end of these tunnels? Was Aerisi behind this perversion of nature’s power? Where did this elemental energy come from, and how could they stop it?

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Much ado about a Fang
Aerisi awaits...

Marlos Urnrayle, the prophet of Black Earth, was dead. The obelisk with a connection to the elder elemental eye was destroyed. Our heroes were unsure of the ramifications of their actions yet, but they knew they needed to keep moving. After a brief rest, Rukh and Baz’s curiosity for the Underdark led the party back to the northeast, where they found an abandoned mining tunnel. A rusted iron track with an old cart on it led into a pile of rubble that concealed a collapsed vein. As the party quietly explored the area, four specters emerged from the stone walls, wailing with the pain and fury of the undead. Others in the party quailed, but Baz stared at them grimly as he muttered incantations to Moridin. In a burst of bright light, the specters dissolved into ethereal particles. As they disappeared, a shining apparition of Hendrel Foebreaker appeared. Clad in golden mail, he bowed formally and then pointed towards a pile of rubble.

Baz curiously strode towards the area indicated, and began digging through the stones and scree. After some digging, he beheld a rare treasure: a Dwarven Thrower. Imbued with a divine bond with its bearer, this hammer could be thrown at an enemy and it would fly back to its wielder afterwards. Baz hefted it with joy and awe.

At this point Rukh and Garreth, the human they had rescued from Marlos, had had enough danger and adventure. They decided to sneak back up the stairs to Tyar-Besil and find a way to the surface. As they departed, Prior noticed that his enchanted mirror was glowing. He pulled it out and examined it, and saw the surface fog up and then the mirror image of a short phrase was quickly scrawled on the surface. “Beliard!” was all it said. The party considered returning to the surface to investigate this vague message. Was it a cry for help? A warning? A suggestion for further investigation? They decided that they were too deep in the cult’s lairs to return to the surface yet. Instead they decided that they should return to the Cult of the Howling Hatred and confront Aerisi. They had fulfilled the task she had given them – killing Marlos and obtaining Fang- and it was time to either claim their reward or deal with the ramifications of refusing to hand over the weapon. They decided that they could likely locate the passage back to the Cult of the Howling Hatred’s lair through the Fane of the Eye. Recalling the guidance of the hill giants, they headed southwest through the winding passages of the Drow.

They emerged into a cavern with an Air Elemental Myrmidon standing impassively over a dozen corpses of the earth, water, and air cults – evidence of some recent fighting between the cults. The Myrmidon was wreathed in elemental armor and held a massive flail. As our heroes entered, he pointed his weapon at them, the flail floating unnaturally, and asked them “Whom do you serve?”

Prior stuttered a bit, and then responded with a cautious “Aerisi and…”. He trailed off. Baz, his mind racing, suddenly had a name come to mind, which he whispered into Prior’s ear. “Yan-C-Bin! We serve Yan-C-Bin!” Prior shouted awkwardly. The myrmidon lowered his flail, and gestured the party onwards. They passed him cautiously.

They emerged into a cavern whose ceiling extended upwards into the darkness, its walls uneven with ledges and fissures. At the center of the room was a bronze torch glowing with an eerie green light, and beneath the torch lay the corpse of a shirtless man with a crab shell shield and shark-toothed sword. As the group shuffled along the walls of the chamber, looking upwards nervously, they heard singing – enchanting female voices in a bizarre harmony. “Harpies!” one of them shouted, and they covered their ears and hurried into another passageway. As they gathered in the gloom, they realized that Minerva wasn’t with them. They glanced back and saw Minerva standing still in the chamber, staring up, glassy-eyed. As they rushed back to grab her, they heard the fluttering of heavy wings as two harpies descended on her and tore into her with their claws and talons, with a third hovering dangerously in the distance. Sora and Hillborne beat one of them to death brutally before it could take to the air, and Prior blasted another one in a cloud of feathers and blood. It flew back upwards unevenly, taking a bolt from Minerva’s crossbow and their spell faded. The two surviving harpies screamed hatefully at the party as they clawed back into the ledges above. Our party grabbed Minerva and retreated back into the passageway.

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They found themselves staring down a dark pit with a narrow ledge that led around it. Beyond the narrow ledge was a tunnel carved out of the skeleton of a gigantic underground wyrm. Its rib cage buttressed the stone and led down to another cavern. The room of this cavern was a shaft that led straight up. A strong breeze led from the pit, through the wyrm hallway, and up this shaft. They could see a dim light at the top of the shaft. Lying in the corner were odd-looking backpacks. Prior put one on and pulled a handle on one of them. A bubble made of thin animal hide burst out and inflated. Prior lifted off the ground and began floating up the shaft. The rest of the group grabbed a backpack and followed.

They emerged into the a large room that they recognized as the lower level of Aerisi’s temple in the area of Tyar-Besil claimed by the Cult of Howling Hatred. Before heading upstairs to confront Aerisi, Prior insisted they investigate something to the north. “Academic inquiry trumps all!” He said as he strode out the doors, across the causeway, and into a plaza with a large statue of Moridin at the center. As Baz knelt at the statue, Minerva hovered behind her, curious about what she was doing. The rest of the group looked around at the ruined plaza. It looked like it was once a marketplace, but was mostly ruins and rubble at this point. Olivyn wandered towards what looked like a collapsed villa, but quickly retreated after hearing the sound of massive claws scraping against stone. Prior noticed some Kenku peering out of empty store windows, but they quickly retreated across the plaza into another building when he approached. He heard a thump and a Kenku’s off-putting stolen shouts of alarm.

At the end of the plaza was a pair of imposing stone doors that were locked from the outside with a pin and hasp. Prior boldly opened the doors and strode in. He stood amongst gravestones and sarcophagi. It was a large crypt, the headstones receded into the darkness. They heard some scraping and moans as ghouls began to emerge all around them. The party cautiously backed out of the crypt and resealed the doors. Better to leave some things be.

Prior pulled out a tattered map and compared it against his surroundings, and referred to some other notes. Finally he said “Ah, this must be it” and strode into one of the ruined shops. It was a tailor shop, and inside he searched around until he found a tattered box with the faded image of a needle on it. Inside, wrapped in oiled cloth, were two seeker darts. These powerful weapons could seek out enemies around cover and obstacles and deal deadly damaged to them. Pocketing these treasures, Prior turned to rejoin the group.

Olivyn had followed Prior into the shop, and ventured further into the building searching for other treasures. He noticed a leather cloak hanging on the wall and went to reach for it. As he touched it, it unfurled and a white, maggoty-face appeared with teeth bared. A cloaker! The lurking predator wrapped its leather wings around Olivyn and attached itself to his head. Olivyn was blinded and terrified. He stumbled out of the room and bumped into a wall next to Prior. Prior launched a bolt of energy at the monster, but it seemed to enervate Olivyn as much as the creature. The rest of the party rushed in and fumbled with the cloaker, and Olivyn finally tore it off himself. Prior blasted it against the wall and Sora rushed in from the other side and pierced it several times with heavy blows from Fang. The cloaker collapsed in a pile of leathery flesh. Olivyn, pale from terror and the loss of blood, felt ashamed that his desire for treasure had put the group in danger and led to his humiliating attack. Prior, unaware of Olivyn’s feelings but pragmatically calculating their party’s overall efficacy, handed him the seeker darts. “I trust you’ll find these helpful”, he said matter-of-factly.

The party returned to the central temple and debated how they were going to play things with Aerisi. They finally decided that Olivyn would attempt a bait and switch, and if things went south, they would be in close quarters where they could quickly defeat Aerisi. Olivyn deftly managed to convince Sora to briefly relinquish Fang to him for the ruse. They had to practically rip it from her hands, and she stared at it hungrily as they ascended the stairs to Aerisi’s chambers.

In her chambers, they found not Aerisi, but Windharrow, the humiliated leader of the Windwyrds, conspiring with a small group of cultists. As the group entered and demanded an audience with Aerisi, he responded in a dead-pan, monotone voice that she was unavailable. Instead, he offered the party a chest full of gold and diamonds in exchange for Fang. Though he didn’t express it, the subtext of his offer was that he was full of disdain for the party as they were unbelieving mercenaries, but he was confident that they would no longer be needed soon.

The party was unwilling to part with Fang or deal with anyone but Aerisi, and they struggled to get a read on the unexpressive Windharrow. With an apathetic shrug, Windharrow relented and told the party that he would lead them to Aerisi if that were truly what they desired. He led them downstairs and then stepped into the airshaft that the party had taken up from the Fane of the Eye. He and the cultists gently floated down and bade the party to follow.

They landed back in the Fane of the Eye and he led them to the edge of the deep pit the party had passed previously. He gestured down and said that Aerisi was down there, and that they were welcome to descend if they wanted to meet with her. Olivyn, tiring of their fruitless dialogue and itching with a desire for destruction, stepped up to Sora and handed her Fang. He nodded meaningfully, and Sora’s eyes lit up and she stepped forward and slammed Fang into Windharrow’s chest.

The cultists shouted in alarm and rushed forward to attack Sora, who shrugged off their blows. Windharrow, gasping in pain and surprise, managed to send a wave of thunderous air against our heroes. They stood firm, gritting their teeth as the wave of energy jarred them but left them standing. Prior stepped to the side and blasted all four of the cultists off the ledge. A few of them screamed as they plummeted to their death. Others were dead before they hit the ground. Baz’s Dwarven Thrower slammed into Windharrow’s chest, and then Olivyn finished him with brutal blows to his battered chest.

Aerisi’s pawn Windharrow was dead, and the path to her lair in the elemental node appeared to be clear. But the party needed a rest to recover before a potentially deadly confrontation. So faint began the familiar incantations and they settled into a cozy night in the hut. Further adventures awaited them when they emerged…

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In the Fane of the Eye
Marlos must die

Our heroes slowly descended the staircase cut into the stone column, emerging later into a cavern hewn from the deep stone of the earth. Faint and Minerva, who they caught surreptitiously holding hands, awkwardly explained that they thought it would be a good idea if they guarded this staircase entrance. They sheepishly walked back up the stairs a few flights to be alone in the darkness.

Rukh rushed forward eagerly and began examining the stone work in the chamber. Baz joined him and they were both drawn by curiosity and awe towards elaborately carved stone doors. The hallway leading to the door was carved with images of kneeling dwarves facing towards the chamber beyond. Baz felt the stirrings of Dwarfish pride in his breast, and pushed forward into the next room. Within he found a stone sarcophagus on a raised dais. He ran his fingers along the carvings on the tomb: “Here lies Hendrel Foebreaker: Bow your head, and remember valor”. Baz and most of the group bowed their heads, and felt blessed with renewed vigor and fortitude. Even Prior, ever the cynic, gave a curt nod and felt himself slightly fortified.

The group pressed onwards, and found their way into another chamber filled with eery violet light emanating from crystals lining the walls. At the center of the chamber were two hill giants stooping over a game of tic-tac-toe, using rocks and a crude hash drawn with charcoal on the floor. One of the giants was pouting after losing another game, and demanded to play against Sora. Sora tried to bargain for help should she win, but the giant made it clear that he would be very upset should he lose again. Sora managed to lose several games against the foolish giant, and he was thrilled with his simple victories. He pledge to give the group a tour of the area.

While Sora matched wits with the hill giant, Prior had slipped through a passageway in the crystals that spiraled down deeper into the earth. After several minutes of exploration he found a massive cavern with two stone statues towering at the end, with a passageway guarded by two soldiers in stone armor. He quickly returned to the group as the triumphant hill giant eagerly led the party out another stone door.

He ushered them through another tunnel to a cavern with a statue at its center. The statue depicted an amorphous body with thick tentacles and a large purple crystal representing its eye. The party inspected it and realized that the statue depicted Ghaunadaur, a drow god of oozes. They realized that they had ventured beyond the realm of the ancient dwarven civilization of Besilmer and were now in the outskirts of the underdark, the realm of the Drow.

The hill giant explained that all four elemental cults had a presence in the Fane of the Eye, and gestured towards each area that they occupied. He gestured down a hallway to the southwest and said that they couldn’t go that way since that where “Marly” went. Our heroes assumed he meant Marlos Urnrayle, their current quarry.
Prior stared intently at the purple crystal eye of the statue and began to reach towards it, but the entire party, including the hill giant, expressed their concern and hesitation. He stared at it hungrily but left it alone.

The hill giant then enthusiastically showed them into a room full of large subterranean mushrooms. As our heroes peered through the gloom at the fungal forest, Sora asked the hill giant if the mushrooms were good to eat. But the hill giant had no interest in scavenging fungi as he was well stocked by the cult of Black Earth. He recalled specifically a wheel of cheese they had left and shouted out “I have cheese!” He pounded away back to his lair for a snack, leaving the party alone in the damp cavern, with Sora munching at a handful of mushrooms.

They turned to leave the cavern, but suddenly Sora shouted out in surprise. A spiked tentacle descended from the ceiling and slipped between her armor, and she fell unconscious as the tentacle pulled her towards the ceiling. A beaked creature with a body that looked like a brain lowered itself and pecked at Sora, and then dropped her body to the ground and lunged at Baz. Baz retaliated with a blast of divine energy, and Prior blasted the creature back along the ceiling. Olivyn shadow stepped towards it and lashed out with a flurry of blows, but was immediately wrapped up in another tentacle and dragged away as the grell, a subterranean hunter, tried to escape with a tasty morsel in tow. Baz obliterated it with another divine blast, and shards of tentacle and brain matter flew in every direction. Olivyn dropped to the ground in a clutch of mushrooms. However, these mushrooms were not the edible, immobile type, but a semi-sentient predatory variety. They lashed out at him and began to eat away at his clothing and skin with necrotic oils. Olivyn rolled away and scampered back to the group, as Sora stumbled back to her feet in a daze from the grell’s poisonous touch. They backed out of the cavern cautiously and returned to the central cavern.

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After recovering from their encounter, they decided that there was no reason to delay a confrontation with Marlos. They discussed their plan of attack, and how they would deal with Marlos’ petrifying gaze. Prior and Baz had their mirrors out, and Olivyn would cast his cloud of shadows as quickly as possible, assuming that if they couldn’t see him and he couldn’t see them, then they wouldn’t be turned to stone. With grim nods they advanced through the corridor.

They emerged into a large cavern with pools of flaming oily water around the edges. At the center was a stone ziggurat capped by a huge altar of black granite. Kneeling at the altar was Marlos and four of his devotees. They had a captive bound and gagged in front of them. Marlos had a head of thick hair that seemed to sway and move of its own volition; the party realized that he was truly a medusa, with living snake hair.

His voice imbued with Eldritch energy, Prior shouted an ultimatum at the group. Two of the cultists stumbled backwards and ran off in terror. Marlos turned in anger and surprise, and two gargoyles, previously unseen, launched themselves from their perches towards our heroes. Olivyn reached out and covered Marlos in impenetrable shadows, but the pool of darkness began moving towards them.

As Marlos approached in a cloak of shadows, the gargoyles swooped in with their claws out. One flew at Sora and tore at her, and she cleaved at it with her axe, smashing it into pieces. The other was blasted back by Prior at first, but continued to come at him tenaciously. He blinked away to gain some distance and then blasted it into a spray of dust. By this time, Marlos and his followers and closed the distance, still hidden in darkness. Prior sent Flere in to scan the area, but as the construct found Marlos’ gaze, its gears froze and it crashed to the ground.

With a roar, Hillborne rushed into the shadows and began swinging his axe. His comrades heard grunts and the sickening, wet sound of his axe cutting through flesh and bone. The darkness moved forward and covered Sora, and a confusing melee ensued.

Baz called upon new found powers and raced across the pool of flaming water, ready to attack Marlos from behind. Olivyn shadow stepped to the ziggurat and began untying the prisoner. Prior readied his mechanical cannons, and helped his flying mechanical companion recover from near petrification.

In the pool of darkness, they heard Sora, Hillborne, and Marlos exchanging blows and shouts of anger. With a grinding rumble, they heard the sound of stone being rent apart, and then Marlos emerged from the stone floor, climbing out of the stone as if he had been swimming in liquid earth. He had escaped the pool of darkness and now bore down on Baz. Baz held his mirror out to his side, refusing to meet Marlos’ gaze and trying to keep track of him in its reflective surface. With a shout of fear and anger, Marlos attacked Baz and knocked the mirror out of his hands. Before he could do any more damage to the dwarf, Prior blasted him back.

Then Hillborne rushed out of the darkness with an angry roar, and with his head down, he turned and charged at Marlos, swinging his axe wildly. He pushed him back with his furious blows. Baz, seeing Marlos off balance, summoned a column of divine fire that erupted at his feet. His figure was lost in the bright light, and Hillborne staggered back in surprise. The column of fire burned away, and all that was left of Marlos was a puddle of boiling mud and a war-pick, glowing red hot from the fires. As it cooled, Sora stepped forward and hefted it. This was Fang, the weapon Aerisi had desired. She felt that it was a powerful weapon, and held it in her hand opposite Drown.

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The prisoner they had freed was named Derreth, and he had been abducted from Womford by the cults several weeks ago. He was terrified and desperate to return home. The party discussed what to do next as their adrenaline dissipated and they caught their breath. They looked at the black obelisk and wondered if they should destroy it. Baz, after a prayer to Moridin, reached out and touched the obelisk. He was overwhelmed with a powerful force that shocked him with its evil intensity, and his mind was filled with visions of a huge eye racing towards him.

Whether as an experiment or as a first step in destroying what he found to be evil, Prior wasted no time in leveling his cannons at the object and blasting it. Sora pointed Fang at it and cast a shatter spell against it. She then struck it with a furious angry, but was wracked with psychic pain from another plane. While Baz and others stood back nervously, Prior and Sora continued to attack the obelisk. It’s surface became riddled with cracks and veins, until it finally exploded in a shower of obsidian shards. As Olivyn kicked through the shards, he found one particularly large piece that glowed with mysterious puissance. He tucked it into his satchel for future use.

With another prophet of elemental evil destroyed, and a mysterious obelisk destroyed, our heroes wondered what their next move would be. Where would the cults strike next, and how best could they continue their fight against them?

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Following Marlos' trail
Demons, Daos, and Puddings

Our heroes stood at the edge of a dark chasm and peered into unknown depths. Before venturing further down, they decided to continue exploring the lair of the Cult of Black Earth while they were distracted fighting off the Cult of Howling Hatred. They ventured down a hallway and heard the sounds of a smith’s hammer coming through a stone door, and so they pushed it open and stepped inside. They found a Dao, a type of genie, working diligently at an anvil. Two surly duergars spared the group some suspicious glances, and then continued about their work. After nearly a minute of standing there awkwardly, the dao finally put down her hammer and said “Well, you’ve already interrupted me, so what do you want?”

The dao, Xharva Deem, turned out to be a contracted smith for Marlos Urnrayle, and her only loyalty was to her own enrichment. She was working on a curious set of claws that looked like they would be effective as tunneling apparatus as well as weapons. The adventurers were keen to strike a deal to obtain these claws, but Xharva was hesitant to betray Marlos without extravagant payment. “Bring me his head, though, and I will cut you a discount”. Our heroes checked their coin purses and weren’t ready to pay her the asking price, so they left her, hoping to return later for a better deal. Before they departed, Xharva offered some important information about Marlos: he was a medusa who could petrify anyone who met his eyes. They realized with no little dread what a dangerous opponent they were pursuing.

Our heroes decided that they should investigate Marlos’ chambers, and find out who his mysterious “majordomo” was. They reached his chambers and entered a large hall filled with stone statues randomly arranged throughout the room. Upon closer inspection they realized they were petrified victims of Marlos’ gaze, all frozen in various poses of terror, shock, and pain. They weaved their way through the stone forms and most of the group entered his personal quarters while Baz and Hillborne loitered outside. They found large amounts of treasure and several valuable, finely crafted artifacts, and in a chest they found an expertly crafted suit of elven chain. Faint slid it on and found it fit naturally, offering significant protection with almost no weight to it.

Meanwhile, Baz noticed the shadows behind Hillborne solidify into the form of a vicious looking demon. As he shouted helplessly to warn Hillborne, the shadow demon dug its claws deep into the half-orc’s hide. He roared and spun around with a sweep of his axe, but the demon slid right through it and disappeared into the darkness. The rest of the party rushed out and pressed themselves against the walls, peering frantically into the darkness for any sign of the demon. Minerva lit the room with magical lights and scampered atop one of the statues, ears perked up and here eyes wide. Baz, separated from the rest of the group, gripped his axe and began muttering divine incantations under his breath.

Perhaps a dozen tense seconds passed as the group saw and heard nothing in the darkness, knuckles white around weapons and eyes wide. Out of the corner of his eye, Baz saw the shadows shift ever so slightly. A claw reached out at him, but he was ready. With a shout he completed his incantations. The demon, emerging fully from the shadows, loomed over him. With a clap and a boom the demon collapsed through a porthole into the abyssal plane. Baz stared at the empty space, sweat beading on his forehead as he made sure he had well and truly banished the demon. As he focused, Prior strode forward and clapped him roughly on the back. “Well done, dwarf!”

With a sigh and a glare for Prior, Baz relaxed and leaned against the wall. The demon was banished. With a purposeful nod, the group left Marlos’ chambers and continued exploring. Sora strode forward and led the group around a corner into a high ceilinged chamber with four thick columns. Between two of the columns stood a large stone statue. Sora gazed at it, and then its head turned roughly to gave at her. It was a stone golem. It’s rocky fist rose and came crashing down on the dragonborn, who was dazed by the golem’s gaze. Baz, Hillborne, and Faint rushed behind the construct and began attacking it. Dust and pebbles flew from the golem as Faint used a shatter spell and Baz launched a divine bolt. With a practiced swagger, Hillborne tied his rope to a handaxe and deftly lassoed the construct’s legs. Meanwhile, Minerva and Prior tried to distract the golem away from Sora, who struggled toe to toe with the construct.

As it lunged forward to swing at Sora, it lost its balance and fell to the floor with a crash. Olivyn leapt atop it and punched its hindquarters with ki-powered fury, his fists cracking and crumbling the stone. He leapt away as Prior launched powerful bolts into it. Baz roared and sent another guiding bolt into the golem, and it exploded into a spray of dust and rocks. As the dust settled, our heroes discovered that the golem had been guarding the passageway to the headquarters of the mysterious fire cult.

One final set of doors remained for the adventurers to explore before their curiosity was sated and they were ready to descend below Tyar-Besil. They pushed them open and found a sunken pit with a dark obelisk at the center. Before the obelisk was a post with a gnome manacled to it. Standing on a raised floor above this was a Black Earth Priest. With a few nasty sounding syllables the priest finished an incantation and a black ooze seeped out of the obelisk and began creeping towards the gnome, who was screaming and shivering in terror. As it covered his foot, he screamed in agony and his skin sizzled and smoked.

Taking careful aim, prior blasted the ooze with eldritch power. It flew back towards the wall and landed on the priest, dripping across his face and shoulders. He screamed in agony as the acrid smell of flesh and chemicals filled the air. Sora rushed forward to free the gnome, breaking the manacles with her axe and carrying the small creature in her arms. The rest of the group frantically launched attacks at the priest and the ooze from across the room, hoping to dispatch them without having to get close. Hillborne hurled a javelin that skewered the priest and pinned him to the wall, and the ooze slid off of him revealing exposed bone and burned skin. Faint sliced the ooze with a cloud of daggers, and it split into two smaller puddles. The terrified gnome screamed in panic, but Sora quieted him and began healing his burned foot. But our heroes quickly destroyed the black oozes were destroyed, leaving disgusting black stains on the stones.

The gnome introduced himself as Rukh Glitterstone, an explorer who was drawn by academic curiosity to the ruins of Tyar-Besil, and the even more ancient Drow ruins rumored to be below the dwarven city, known as the Fane of the Eye. He looked at Prior, knowing he would understand his motivations. He was grateful for being freed and was at first eager to return to the surface alive, but as soon as the party made it clear that their purpose was to pursue Marlos into the Fane of the Eye, his eyes sparkled with interest. His Gnomish tendencies for inquiry and exploration were insatiable, and he assured them that he was a capable adventurer.

The group reached the deep chasm leading down to the Fane of the Eye and discussed how to get past the alarm spell cast across the walkway to the stairs. Rukh quickly displayed his prowess for subterranean exploration and suggested that they go around the obstacle using their ropes. They peered through the darkness and realized that it was possible to swing from the walkway down to the lower staircases. Olivyn proved the point by stepping from the shadows of the walkway down to the dark staircase and launched a rope back towards the group. Sora and Hillborne anchored the rope around themselves and the group began swinging and sliding down the rope, past the alarm spell and onto a lower level of stairs leading down to the Fane of the Eye.

Most of the group had passed around the walkway trap when Hillborne and Sora heard the sounds of approaching cultists. Hillborne quickly leapt down, and then grabbed the rope. Sora leapt off of the walkway, trying to run along the cliff wall. She lost her footing and feel for several gut wrenching feet until the rope tightened and she swung to a stop on the level below the group. She carefully climbed onto the stairs and released the rope. The group gathered and began to descend the stairway down to the Fane of the Eye.

They descended deep into the unknown darkness.

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Defeating the Cult of Black Earth
Back to Tyar-Besil

The citizens of Red Larch, led by Harburk, thanked you for returning so quickly to help them. Their gratitude was genuine, but unenthusiastic, as they realized the gravity of the threat to the Dessarin Valley. The Swinging Sword Inn and the other buildings that were on fire collapsed into smoldering rubble, but the fires seemed to be contained. Our heroes coughed and squinted in the thick smoke, eyes bloodshot and watery. Smoke rose from the hills to the south, where the unnatural heat continued to wreak devastation on the environment.

Seeing your exhaustion, Harburk arranged for bedding and a warm meal in the common room of the now deserted house of Waelvur. He and his family had fled Red Larch after being exposed as members of the Believers, leaving their large house and workshop abandoned.

Our heroes were exhausted but their sleep was not untroubled as they dreamt of the horrors and monstrosities they’d witnessed; the cruelty they’d seen perpetrated on the innocent; and the knowledge that further danger lay ahead.

They awoke to the hazy light of the sun filtered through the lingering smoke over Red larch.

Baz and Sora went to investigate the bodies of the fire cultists. As he took a closer look at the armor, Baz stiffened and a pained look came over his face. He responded vaguely to Sora’s inquiries. He took some of the armor back to the group as Sora saw to burying the bodies.

Prior wandered over to Vallivoe’s Sundries and perused the odds and ends that the little man had to offer. He happened upon a pair of mirrors, hinged together like a large locket. They seemed to have arcane qualities that reflected the effects of one surface on the other. He purchased it and waddled back to their quarters to investigate the item. After a night’s work, and borrowing some materials from his companions, he had a functioning communication device that could transmit messages over long distances.

As the evening progressed, Baz grew sullen and became very drunk. He suddenly shot to his feet and shouted about the quality of the cultists armor, and wondered who could make use of such a thing. Never one to turn down free assistance, Prior spoke up and said that if it could be made to fit his diminutive form he would proudly sport it. Baz grunted and stomped over to the blacksmith’s. Luckily Minerva scurried along beside her, and helped to assure the blacksmith and his family that Baz just needed some time alone at the forge.

As Prior emerged from his makeshift workshop triumphantly waving around his new device, Baz stormed back in and tossed the now Gnome size armor at him. It fit perfectly, and offered him more protection that his faded leather pauldron and cuirass.

At dawn the next day, they mounted the Giant Vulture’s and set a course back to the Sacred Stone Monastery, where they would commence a frontal assault on the cult of the black earth. Before they took flight, Prior handed one half of the arcane mirror device to Harburk, and imperiously explained its functions. Then the party took to the air, and soared away over the Sumber Hills.

They alighted at the monastery and quickly made their way inside, downstairs, and to the iron door that led deeper underground. Minerva picked the lock, and they began descending down into the darkness. They followed a trail of blood around countless flights of stairs, their ears popping with the changes of pressure.

At the bottom of the stairs, they followed a stone corridor that widened into a throughway similar to others they had seen in Tyar-Besil. They soon found themselves at a stone bridge that arched over a dark ravine. It connected to another arch built 40 feet to the right, the two arches connected by another stone bridge linking them. As they crossed, Baz looked up and saw three stone statues, gargoyles. He froze, as one of them turned its head, and he barely had time to shout a warning before the gargoyles swooped down to attack in a cloud of dust.

They tore at Sora in the rear and Hillborne at the front, and tried to push them off the bridge. Sora held firm, but received vicious gashes from their stone claws in return. Prior and Baz blasted one of the gargoyles into pebbles, but another swooped in and shoved Prior off the bridge. He let out a shrill shout before blinking back onto the bridge. His arcane trickery had afforded him a narrow escape. Not wanting to risk a similar fate, Faint grabbed Baz and teleported them to the far side of the bridge. Minerva and Hillborne fumbled with one of the gargoyles, trying to subdue it with a make-shift rope arrow, but as Hillborne yanked the rope, it came loose. The remaining gargoyles, sensing a losing fight, tried to fly off. Baz blasted one of the feeling creatures into dust with a bolt of divine fury.

Baz and Faint moved forward into a plaza beyond the bridge. Before them stood a massive stone door half blocking a main entrance into this section of Tyar-Besil. The other half of the stone door lay fallen on the ground, and in front of the stone doors lay an iron portcullis. Baz strode forward curiously but was suddenly ambushed from both sides of the plaza by crossbow bolts loosed from arrow slits. Baz and Faint jumped back, as the rest of the party finished crossing the bridge and caught up with them. Olivyn suggested they use his cloak of darkness to cover them as they crossed the exposed plaza and tried to open the portcullis.

Suddenly the group was blanketed in darkness, and Olivyn led Baz and Sora forward to the gate. They heard grumblings and shouts of confusion at moving pool of darkness from Dwarven voices. Sora leaned down, grunted, and flung the portcullis up to about waist height, where it caught on a mechanism and stuck. Baz lowered his head and stepped through, while Sora bent nearly double to slide under the gate. Olivyn sprinted back to the rest of the party to help escort them across the plaza. As soon as Sora and Baz emerged from the cover of darkness, they heard a low rumbling, like a pile of rocks slowly rolling in a metal drum. They looked to their right and they saw a Bulette, a large underground beast capable of burrowing through stone. Astride the beast was a rider with a long cruel spear. He spurred his mount forward and stabbed at Sora, his mount snapping viciously, nearly taking off her fingers.

As the rest of the party made it across the plaza, the battle was joined with this fearsome mounted warrior. They were in a large courtyard with a series of stone pillars rising to the cavern ceiling above. From the other side of the courtyard a small stone door opened, and an ashen skinned dwarf with a bald head and bone white beard emerged, wielding a crossbow. Baz saw him and recognized him as a fellow dwarf, but couldn’t bear to do him violence, so he charged over and tackled him, trying to restrain him. The two struggled on the ground, Baz trying to explain to him that he was a fellow dwarf and would not hurt him, but the grey-eyed dwarf fought stubbornly and had no interest in racial solidarity. Baz saw the stone door begin to slide open, pushed by another enemy, and he reached over and blocked the door with his hammer. Minerva rushed over and managed to firmly secure the door by sliding her knives beneath both sides.

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After taking some brutal wounds, Sora was joined by Hillborne, Olivyn, Faint, and Prior in fighting off the underground warrior. Hillborne clambered onto the beast’s head and took swings at the rider, and Olivyn followed suit, finally felling the rider with a well placed blow his quarterstaff. With his rider dead, the bulette panicked and tried to flee by burrowing into the rough stone floor, but our adventurers weren’t content to let it flee. They felled the wild beast before it could completely tunnel beneath the surface, so it lay with its rump sticking into the air, legs kicking desperately until the last bit of life fled its body.

With the fight over, Baz though he would finally be able to talk some sense into the white bearded dward. But he was a duergar, a race of dwarves twisted by generations of enslavement and cruelty. Now that they were free their only thoughts were for self-preservation and cruelty. Baz’s face fell as he realized this bitter creature was beyond redemption. Prior stepped over to the duergar and blasted him as Baz looked away.

As they caught their breath and their pulses slowed, they heard the sound of battle coming down the hall to the south. Prior sent Flere down to investigate. He beheld a fearsome battle between the forces of the Cult of the Black Earth and a host of the Cult of Howling Hatred sent by Aerisi. The Howling Hatred host tried to force their way across a chasm, Hurricanes leaping across to engage stone-armored foes. The air crackled as wind cultists sent bolts of lighting at their enemies, and the air was filled with dust and flying stone as the stone shattered around them from spells cast in response. Stone cultists were flung from the chasm edge by gusts of wind, but the front lines of the air cultists were cut down and forced back.

As they considered their next move amidst the battle between the two cults, the party grew still as they heard the approaching footsteps of another enemy. They arrayed themselves for an ambush and, after Sora dazzled his mind, the rest of the efficiently cut him down. He was a spellcaster wielding the elemental power of stone, and his hands seemed to be pebbled and rough. He had an odd-looking mace, and as they tried to take it, it collapsed into sand along with the hand wielding it. They left the body where it lay.

Realizing they needed a guide, they opened the door they had blocked shut earlier and grabbed the other duergar that was angrily beating against it. He proved a bit more pliable to an exchange: his life for his services in guiding the party to Marlos Urnrayle, the prophet of Black Earth. The duergar led them to the west, past doors leading to barracks and quarters for the cult. They were all empty, with all forces rallied to repel the attack from the Howling Hatred cult. At a small plaza, they came across a crudely constructed statue built to honor Ogremoch, the Prince of Evil Earth.

“If I was going to double cross you, I would lead you to the right, where Marlos’ chambers are. However, he’s not there, and you would find only his…major domo. Marlos has gone down to the Fane of the Eye, to ask for assistance from the Elder Elemental Eye. This way,” the Deurgar said as he led them to the left. Their passage turned again to the right as it led to the edge of a deep chasm. They heard echoes of the battle and saw flickers of lightning bolts, shadows of figures and floating dust captured in the occasional flashes. They also heard the rhythmic pounding of a smith’s hammer from nearby. All of these sounds carried through the cavernous expanse of the chasm in front of them.

At another intersection, Prior sent Flere out ahead of them, where he spied another front in the battle between the earth and wind cults to the south. A small group of Howling Hatred cultists had penetrated deeper into the Black Earth lair and fought a contingent in a small plaza with a fountain at the center.

The duergar led them further along to the west, through a vestibule that led into another deep chasm, this one about 50 ft in diameter and plunging down into darkness At the center was a stone column with stairs carved around the edge, winding down into the chasm.

The duergar stopped and turned to face the party as they stood at the foot of a narrow stone bridge leading to the central column. He gestured behind him and said, “If I was going to double cross you, I wouldn’t tell you about the alarm spell set across this corridor. But it’s right here. Marlos is down these stairs. I can lead you no further. My part of the deal is complete.” He nodded and cautiously walked through the part and away into the halls of Tyar-Besil.

The party considered their next move. How could they best take advantage of the chaos of battle? Should they pursue Marlos into the Fane of the Eye? Should they join forces with the Cult of Howling Hatred to turn the tide of battle?

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Red Larch in Flames
A new threat emerges

Our heroes rested uneasily in Gar’s temple chamber, hoping that his death had broken the spirit of the remaining cult members. Baz and Olivyn were brought back to good health, and everyone’s wounds were tended to. Sora took up the weapon Drown that Gar had wielded, a slim trident that hummed with magical abilities. Suddenly they heard a small noise, the fluttering of wings. It was a bird, a starling. It was exhausted and barely staying aloft. It landed on Minerva’s shoulder and, in a chirpy, small voice, recited its message: “Friends, Red Larch in peril. Signal us for pick-up when you emerge above ground.”. Attached to the bird’s leg was a small wax seal of the Knights of Feathergale Spire. The party, which had been debating venturing further into Tyar-Besil in order to confront the Cult of Black Earth, quickly changed their plans, deciding to return to the surface immediately.

After a quiet hour, they heard the main door grind open, and spotted a reaver trying to sneak into the room. Prior fired a warning shot at him and Sora grabbed him. He explained that he had snuck in to try to claim the treasure Gar had kept hidden in this chamber, since everyone else was leaving their hide-out in Tyar-Besil. Patch, the name he offered them, appeared to be a typical, if not particularly bright, opportunistic pirate that had fallen in with the cult to make some easy coin. He eagerly led the party through a hidden underwater tunnel to a cavern where they found several trunks filled with treasure, as well as piles of Dwarven books in waterproof leather satchels. Patch eagerly threw them over his shoulders and volunteered to haul them out for an extra coin or two.

As patch heard the group debate how best to get out of Tyar-Besil, he suggested that he could repair one of the broken boats that they had found earlier in their adventures. The party marched back through the ancient Dwarven city, unchallenged by any cultists. It seemed that they had indeed fled. They reached the shore of the underground lake where two dilapidated boats remained. Patch was confident that he could have one of them sea worthy in just ‘two shakes of a lamb’s tail’.

While he worked, Sora and Minerva investigated the unexplored sections of this region of Tyar-Besil. They crossed a bridge to the east to find abandoned dormitories and an empty room the cult used as a jail. To the north, they found a room with walls and columns collapsing into rubble, but with a stone fountain miraculously still flowing. The water looked clean and refreshing, and as Sora poked the pool with Drown, the water froze in captivating patterns of ice. As Sora gazed at the fountain curiously, Minerva crept through the rest of the room. As she crept into the back corner of the room, she stared into the darkness and noticed a large eye blinking open. And then another. They blinked out of sync, and as Minerva furtively muttered to get Sora’s attention, two horrifying forms detached themselves from the walls and stalked forward. They were Nothics, one-eyed creatures attracted to magical places and magical items, with the ability to peer into their enemies minds. They had sensed that Sora possessed an item of great magical power, and were desperate to take it from her. Minerva rolled backwards and began firing her crossbow at them and Sora fought off their vicious claws. The creatures tore at Sora and bloodied her until she cut one down, and then Minerva’s bolt took another through its eye. Sora limped back to the fountain and took a sip and felt immediately refreshed. Their eyes widened with wonder at its magic.

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They pushed open the stone door to the north and gazed into a long, dark passage leading deeper under the mountain and into unknown sections of Tyar-Besil. They assumed that this was the passageway that would eventually lead them to the Cult of Black Earth’s lair beneath the Sacred Stone Monastery. They took note of this and then quickly returned to the group. The boat was nearly ready, but our heroes were impatient, and so with Patch literally patching the boat as they stepped aboard, they shoved off. After a few paddles, they floated by another stone quay to their right, which the party was curious to explore. Patch stayed on the boat guarded by Hillborne and Faint. As the shore party stepped into a dark chamber, Patch called out that he had no interest in visiting the “Drowning Chamber”. Their hackles rose as he mentioned this, but it was too late. Minerva turned a corner and was mobbed by a group of ghouls. Her comrades rushed to slay them, and Baz ultimately dispatched them with a word of prayer to Moridin. The chamber had nine stone wells cut into the floor. Peering into one, they saw another struggling ghoul below the surface of the water. They were sacrifices drowned to honor Olhydra, their feet tied to a stone and thrown into the waters. With their souls departed, their bodies continued to struggle with mindless wrath. The party shivered and hurriedly left the Drowning Chambers.

They rowed quickly out of Tyar-Besil and emerged into the blinding sunlight in the boat basin of Rivergard Keep. The Keep was in disrepair and showed signs of flooding. At first there were no signs of life, but after a few minutes of wandering through the damp halls, a pair of commoners emerged. They were grimly determined to make a go of things at the Keep, no matter what misfortune befell them. They had seen no sign of Gheeragh after the attack by the Crushing Wave. Seeing their bitter looks directed his way, Patch took his leave and paddled the boat he had repaired into the Dessarin and quickly floated downstream.

The party sent signals into the air, and within the hour a pair of giant vultures swooped down from the sky. With a hurried explanation the Feathergale Knights strapped the party into the carrying harness and took off. Several days ago a large pillar of smoke had been spotted in the Sumber Hills, and then mysterious figures were seen winding their way along the mountain paths towards Red Larch. The citizens of Red Larch knew that the motley group of heroes would come to their aid.

They could hardly see the town as they approached from the air. Red Larch was wreathed in smoke from what looked like several large fires raging near the Swinging Sword Inn at the center of town. The vultures glided just feet above the road, the Feathergale Knights gave the signal, and the party unlatched themselves from the birds and rolled to the ground in a cloud of dust. Panicked townspeople swarmed around them as they fled the town. No one could give a clear answer as to who or what the threat was, but it was clear that some aggressors had marched destructively into town.

Splitting into two groups, the Heroes of Red Larch plunged into the heavy smoke. Baz, Sora, and Prior headed west and then turned north at the crossroads. Minerva, Faint, Olivyn, and Hillborne headed north and then turned west. As they approached the junction of streets, they could see figures arrayed in a circle around a central figured. They moved closer and saw the central figure holding aloft a pulsing red orb. Something evil was afoot.

As our heroes approached from the south and east, one of the figures stepped forth and warned them away. He was clad in finely crafted armor and wielded a plain but purposeful sword. They guarded a man in flowing priest-like robes that smoked as if on-fire, who chanted maniacally as he held the dangerous-looking orb. Olivyn shifted his weight from one foot to the other as he considered his options, and then he sprung into action. A veil of darkness emerged around the enemies, and he began sprinting towards them, his eyes focused on the orb in the hands of the priest figure. The guards, suddenly alert to danger as they stood confused in the darkness, sent fire coursing along their blade and swung them warily and hesitantly through the pitch black. Olivyn weaved his way through their flaming blades, nabbed the orb out of the hands of the priest, and sprinted away. The man shrieked in anger and sent a fireball blindly soaring out of the darkness, which struck a nearby building, setting it ablaze. The armored guards advanced towards Hillborne, who hefted his axe angrily.

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Meanwhile, Baz, Sora, and Prior approached the figures from the south. The flames pouring out of The Swinging Sword’s doors and windows illuminated them, and then the cloud of darkness settled around all of them but one. He wore leather breaches and was mostly shirtless except for a leather strap. His skin was covered in burns and scars and he seemed to hold embers in his hands. Prior saw the guards advancing on the other group and unleashed blasts of eldritch energy that knocked one of them forwards towards Hillborne. In a rage, Hillborne brought his axe slamming down once, twice, three times, and the armored figure was down, his shield, arm, and then face crushed by the half-orc’s fury.

Prior’s blasts drew the attention of the intimidating flame-wielding figure, and he launched a fireball at Prior and Baz. Sora began charging forward as it flew over her shoulder, where it exploded at the Gnome warlock’s feet. His diminutive figure was wreathed in flames and he was blown back, robes, hair and whiskers aflame. Baz resisted the heat and pressed forward at Sora’s back, unscrewing the weird tank as he charged. The man commanded flames with a powerful wrath: a Flamewrath. Sora swung her axe and Baz his hammer, but the water weird took the most decisive action. It grabbed the Flamewrath with a hiss of steam, and slammed him into the ground, and then raised him high in the air. Furious at being restrained by a creature of water, the Flamewrath rained down balls of fire at the enemies surrounding himself. Baz and Sora’s armor glowed with the heat, but they gritted their teeth and squinted through the heat. They finally slew the dangerous fanatic and he fell to the ground, a smoldering corpse.

Meanwhile, Hillborne continued to smash into the enemies with unrestrained rage, bringing down another flaming sword wielding guard with a flurry of axe swings. Faint and Minerva, firing from cover, managed to bring down the last enemy. The priest figure remained covered in Olivyn’s magical cloud of darkness, and it followed him as he attempted to escape it. Prior’s eyes glazed over as he tapped into Flere’s senses, and then plunged into the darkness. He found the flame priest crouched cautiously in the darkness and immediately blasted him back. The darkness flew away with him, as Prior emerged back into the hazy sunlight, standing shakily with his gadgets trained on the remaining enemy. Olivyn finally let the spell of darkness subside and the priest knelt, exposed and near death.

“You’ll all be destroyed, you can’t stop the cleansing flames!” the crazed priest of fire cackled, as Prior walked up, his blasters charing up. “The cleansing begins here,” he shouted, and ended the priest’s life.

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Olivyn stood in the street, holding the orb in his hands, peering into its pulsing power. But the constable, Harburk, rushed up with several other bold townspeople and urged Olivyn to take the orb out of the city, lest they discover what destructive powers it beheld first hand.

Olivyn ran as fast as he could out of town. As he crested a ridge more than a mile outside of town, the orb exploded. A wave of heat rushed out from it, covering the forest in an oppressive, dry heat. Olivyn stood unharmed, but as he began returning along the path to Red Larch, he was covered in sweat and struggling for breath. As he looked back, forest fires had already started.

The orbs were a destructive, chaotic force. They had to be stopped before more orbs were unleashed on the Dessarin Valley. The scale of the threat made their eyes widen with fear, concern, and, hopefully, determination. What would our heroes do next?

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Defeating Gar Shatterkeel
Water to water, dust to dust

Our heroes settled into the comforts of the tiny magical hut in preparation for a much needed rest. Having been underground for days now, they had lost track of whether it was day or night. They hoped the protective magics would keep them from being discovered or disturbed. But sleep did not come immediately, as their nerves and adrenaline needed to settle down first. Baz passed around some booze that he had on him, and the group engaged in a game of “Never hath I ever”. Interesting facts were discovered about all of our heroes…

Most of the group drifted off to sleep soon after. But about 3 hours after they had settled in, they noticed that the room outside of their protective structure was rapidly filling with water. Soon they noticed dark shapes swimming about the room. Suddenly the face of a troll slammed against surface of their hut, leaving an oily residue as he swam away, confused but wary. Their escape had become more complicated.

As they finished their rest, they began to prepare their plans in preparation for the end of the protective hut’s magics. Baz swam out of the protection and cast a spell to control the water, sending it rushing out of the door they came in. It took nearly 10 minutes for the water to drain, and as it did, a Dark Tide Knight rode the rushing flow of water out the door, likely to alert others about the change in events. As the water receded to a puddle, the bard’s hut finally failed, and the party faced a trio of angry and determined trolls that had no interest in parley or negotiations.

The quickest and nimblest of the group rushed around the trolls to the northern exit of the room. Olivyn stepped between the shadows, and Prior and Sora used their powers to step through other planes to appear at the far end of the room. Baz and Faint were left alone to face the trolls, but as Baz fought off a flurry of blows from the trolls’ claws, Faint grabbed him and they blinked to the other side of the room. The trolls were left grasping nothing, confused, and angered even further. They rushed at the group now quickly existing the room via the door to the north. Sora held them back as they slipped through the stone door. Faint left a cloud of daggers to cover their retreat, and then Sora again used her magic to transport herself to the hallway with the others. Hillborne used a pair of javelins to jam the stone door shut. The heroes rushed away from the angry trolls and towards a confrontation with Gar Shatterkeel.

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As they approached another room, they heard and caught glimpses of more cultists preparing a defense. Olivyn stole through the shadows to take a closer look, while Prior prepared an assault on their minds. Suddenly the cultists arrayed across the path forward were dumbstruck, swaying and drooling helplessly. The adventurers lost no time in assaulting them one by one. But another priestess of the Crushing Wave burst from a door to the south and launched a blast of icy energy, which burst into the ceiling above the group and showered painful ice shards onto the group. This priestess was quickly dispatched, but as the room quieted after the slaughter, the party heard the snap of wood and the slap of troll feet on stone. The trolls had broke through and were approaching. Sora blocked the nearest stone door to delay them further, and then with a purposeful nod to each other, they burst into the next room.

They strode into a large hall held up by several stone columns and bisected by a swiftly flowing moat crossed by a stone bridge. Three Dark Tide Knights astride sharks glided through the waters of the moat. The adventurers had entered through a side entrance, and so directly in front of them was Gar Shatterkeel leaning over a stone alter. Gar was once a man, but now was covered in barnacles and crustaceans, and one of his arms had been replaced with a cruel looking crab claw. He wielded a long, slim trident in his other hand. He jerked his head towards the visitors and demanded to know who had sent them to wreak havoc on his lair. “If you tell me who sent you, I promise to make your deaths quick and painless! Now tell me!” He slammed his fist down on the stone altar.

Prior let loose a salvo of verbal bravado, but Olivyn quickly stepped in to try to subvert Gar like they had with Aerisi, the Prophet of Howling Hatred. But his anger had erased any remaining patience he might have had.

“Ah, so you’re Aerisi’s pawns. And you want to cut a deal with me as well? You want to negotiate after you killed my deputies Morboeth, and Thuluna Maah, and defaced by temples here? You will DIE!”

As Gar slammed his hand down again, a great wave rose from the moat and slammed into our heroes. The waters pummeled them, and many were knocked to their feet. Faint was thrown across the room and pushed against the wall. The party got to their feet and rushed at Gar. With a desperate fury they lashed out at him. Olivyn lept atop the stone alter and rained down blows with his quarter staff. Minerva landed a well-aimed bolt that tore his face. Sora strode towards him an angrily swung her axe. Gar was bloodied and roaring in anger. Then Hillborne strode onto the stone alter in front of the furious prophet and dealt a fierce blow with his axe. He pulled back for another chop, and as he cut through Gar’s torso, he collapsed into a puddle of water. He was vanquished.

Roaring in fury and anger, the remaining Dark Tide Knights pushed their sharks forward, riding behind the wave Gar had cast. Their lances pierced Baz’s armor, and their sharks gnashed angrily at any enemy flesh they could find. Baz went down with a grunt. Prior blasted one of the knights back into the moat, but its shark flailed and bit Olivyn, whipping his thin body around before releasing him. Olivyn collapsed in a foaming pool of blood as his comrades rushed to fight off the sharks and the desperate Knights. Prior managed to penetrate their minds and bring a brief pause to the fighting, letting the remaining heroes fight off the Crushing Wave fanatics. But once they snapped out of Prior’s spell, there was no fight left in them. Injured and with their leader killed, they leapt back into the moat and swam away into the dark streams of the Crushing Wave temple.

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Our heroes stood dripping in the ankle deep surf as the waters receded back into the moat. Baz and Olivyn’s bodies floated in the crimson froth and then settled onto the stone floor. Prior immediately began searching for loot and interesting artifacts while Sora lay her hands upon her injured comrades. They would live to fight another day, but it had been a close thing.

They had defeated one of the prophets of these evil elemental cults, but at a steep cost. His weapon, Drown, was now in their possession. But what of the rest of his forces? And what of the Elder Elemental Eye below Tyar-Besil that had been mentioned? Was it a place? An artifact? Some creature or power from another plane? And what evil mischief were the other elemental cults up to? If the Cult of the Crushing Wave was able to use that orb to wreak destruction upon Rivergard Keep, what were the other cults capable of?

They needed rest. They needed hot food and a warm bed. But they also needed answers. They needed to see this thing through. And, with a feeling like cold steel filling their bellies, they realized that the battle was only just beginning.

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