A group of heroes are set on the road to their destiny after becoming embroiled in the machinations of the noble houses of Nibenay. A fell enemy seeks an ancient power to bring darkness to the world, while those who champion the freedom of all the peoples of Athas seek it to rekindle hope. The heroes have the opportunity to help herald the ultimate rebirth of Athas or doom it to its final ruin. Their travels will take them all across the known world and beyond as they uncover the secrets of that which was lost. Will the forces of freedom triumph or will darkness reign? Who will become the Lord of the Lost?

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Journey to the Last Sea Part 10: Past, Present, and Future
Having cleared the obstruction as best they could, the heroes pushed on through the narow tunnel ahead. The twisting and turning passage opened into a large, flooded cavern with a number of side-passages leading back into the water-filled labyrinth. Only one passage, on the far side, had anything of the distinctive architecture of the seaway remaining so the heroes quickly realized that this is the way out. There were jumbled stones scattered about the cavern, and many were once part of the walls and support pillars that formed the seaway tunnel. Slightly phosphorescent kelp grew from patches of silt that had settled between the piles of worn, broken stones, casting a dim illumination in the chamber. Rokkon swam ahead as quitely as he could, but the lapping water echoed off the ceiling of the flooded chamber.

Ahead, he saw figures moving in the dark water. They were scaled humanoids with sharp teeth and fin-like crests, all armed with tridents of sharpened coral. Two larger figures moved with them, dark creatures like cloud rays, with long, stinger-tipped tails. They swiam towards the heroes, ready to attack. The heroes engaged the scaled humanoids as they darted forward, deftly evading their spears and harpoons as they retaliated with blade, staff, and spell. Rokkon shrugged off poison stings from the diabolic rays, even as he and Gurthmore hacked at them with their axes. Chuka-Tet and Sark used primal and arcane magic to harry the ferocious cretures while Arshaka encouraged them with his music. Blood filled the water as the largest among them, a four-armed brute surrendered as Chuka-Tet demanded to know why they were attacked. He revealed that they were afraid, as other, darker things were stirring beneath the Mind Lords' hidden redoubt.


They were like cloud rays. Only underwater. And evil.

Following the long passage leading out of the cold, murky water, the hereos emerged in a circular, and partially flooded chamber. Piles of rock jutted out of the murky water in places, and Sark's inner light revealed what must be the remains of a stair spiraling up the side of the long shaft that led up and out. The stair was fully eighty feet off the ground, and apart from a few, spare handholds in the slick, stone walls, there appeared to be no other way up. As Gurthmore bounded across the mossy rocks, the flutter of wings could be heard somewhere above, and something stirred in the murky water. There was a blur of activity from above. Half a dozen man-shaped insect-like creatures with dusky blue-and-purple carapaces and long, sword-like forelimbs buzzed down from above. The murky water eruptedin a spray as two, strange creatures with fish-like bodies, long tentacles, and burning, three-lobed eyes emerged from below. Though they were caught off-guard, the heroes retaliated swiftly and decisively. Axes flashed as fire and freezing winds blasted through the chamber, felling the aboleths as the swordwings fluttered in and out, slashing with their sword-like limbs. Before long, they too were dropped out of the sky. With the aberrant creatures defeated, the heroes scaled the wall and surmounted the broken stairs.


Despite all appeareances, they were not Chuka-Tet's cousins.

The stairs spiraled up into a cave-like chamber behind a roaring waterfall. A pair of great, stone valves on the opposite end opened into a sort of memorial chamber. There were eight statues here, six man-sized ones carved from black basalt and two large ones carved from obsidian, with three of the smaller statues flanking each side of the central floor. All were carved to resemble what must be scholars or teachers of a past age. The two larger statues flanked double doors on the far end, and both resembled great warriors clad in spiked armor. A balcony ran around the periphery of the room, accessed by short stairs on either end,and doorways led off from the middle of each side.

The floor was tiled in white and black marble, with designs inlaid in gold. Sark recognized them as the patterns made by Athas's sun, moons, and planets in the night sky and what appeared to be a star-based calendar of some sort. The calendar appeared to mark events occurring over a 9,000-year span of history, with the calendar coming to an end on the current date. This was enough to rattle the heroes. Sark saw something else – a word that was incorrect, as if it were part of a misplaced phrase. Moving into the room, he saw another...and then the heroes all heard the sound of grinding stone. The statues begatn to move, and Gurthmore and Stonedarr moved in to attack, hammering the spiked, obsidian golems with powerful blows as Chuka-Tet shattered two of the smaller statues with fast-growing vines. Sark and Arshaka found the remaining parts of the phrase, which turned out to be a command. Saying it out loud, the half-orc wizard stopped the animated statues.

Continuing into the redoubt, the heroes began to explore the area. They found training rooms used in the mastery of the Way, and ancient scrolls scribed with powerful symbols and psychic enchantments. Beyond these, they found a laboratory of some kind. Theroom was split into two parts. The first, smaller section held a strange, stone table set with a lattice of crystals and precious metals that had a hollow receptacle on one end. Niches lined the wall, and a few held cracked obsidian spheres, while a few others had what appeared to be humanoid body parts carved from solid obsidian. The larger part of the chamber was lined with what appeared to be crystal cylinders or coffins containing the withered, mummified remains of nearly a dozen people. Nearly all were cracked and dark, though one appeared to be intact. Several figures stand there, stock-still, all of which appeared at first glance to be suits of metal armor. An odd arrangement of rods, plates, and gears of iron, brass, and gold was set in the center of the room in an upright stone cradle of some sort. Four large rods of iron wrapped in thick, copper wire topped by luminescent crystals satt near the corners of the room, equidistant from the stone cradle. Stone steps in an alcove on the far wall led down to a pair of huge double doors crafted from solid iron.

As the heroes investigated and moved towards the strange device a sudden flash of lightning from the four metal posts drove them back. One of the crystal coffins flew from the wall to embed itself amidst the metal components supported by the cradle. They folded up on it, forming a conveyance of a sort, one with four, clawed metal arms. It took a staggering step forward. And then another. And then it began to move with a strange, mechanical fluidity. The armored suits started to move as well, brandishing their wicked-looking spears.“None shall pass,” a hollow voice said in a mechanical rasp. “The Mind Lord has decreed that which was shall be no more, and all the sins of the past shall be undone. You will not be allowed to stop him.”


What was left of Arshaka apparently suffered from separation issues.

The withered figure seemed to look straight at Arshaka. “You are one of the greatest of those sins, Arhat Shathan Khan,” the mummified figure rasped in its hollow voice. “Or perhaps I should say that we are. Or do you not recognize yourself? You are the memory and the voice, a mind and a soul ripped free from its mortal shell and encased in unliving obsidian. You were to record the words and deeds of the Champions of Rajaat. Such was part of the price the Mind Lords paid to ensure Saragar would remain unmolested. But did you forget what you were? That you were once human? Did you forget the mortal remains you left behind, locked in a crystal coffin? I am what remains of you! I am your shell, the ghost of what you were, never allowed to die but unable to live. I will end our suffering!”

Facing the mad, mortal remains of the once-human bard, the heroes attacked the strange clockwork reliquary with axe and spell. Arshaka wove enchantments that blunted its attacks while Rokkon and Gurthmore drove it back with blow after blow. Chuka-Tet and Sark blasted the clockwork soldiers with spells and staff, destroying them all in short order. Despite tearing claws, withering blasts of psychic lightning, and strange pulses of radiance that withered flesh, the construct empowered by the bard's mortal remains was brought low by Stonedarr's axes as one blow shattered the metal framework and the other the crystal coffin. Thus laid to rest, Arshaka's body was set aside. After a moment of silent contemplation, the heroes went forward.

The doors led to a short hall, at the end of which doors of gold led into a circular chamber beyond. A lone figure stood in the room, peering into the pool at its center. Flashes of light from the cloudy, swirling waters reflected off crystal strands running through the stone floor and off the liquid in the nearly two dozen stone basins sitting around the circular chamber, each of which contained a brain, ranging in size from that of a child to that of a giant. But they did not seem to illuminate the male elf with silvery hair and sea-green eyes. He was dressed in a simple vest and blue kirtle, and his smile had a manic intensity. He speaks without looking up. “You are too late!” He laughed with anticipatory glee. “Oh heroes of the outer lands,” he continues, “I foresaw your coming. But I needed you here to witness my greatness. I will remake the world entire. Even now, my pool opens a window to the far distant past. Over nine thousand years ago, when the Green Age began to give way to the Cleansing Wars of the Red Age. I needed strong minds to stabilize the window. I will send a message to myself, undoing an age of ruin and devastation. I may even prevent the rise of the sorcerer-kings! While it is certain that you shall likely never be born, you will face oblivion knowing that you helped create a better world.” Power began to ripple through the air surrounding him. “Or you may try and stop me, though,” he looks at you with eyes aflame, “that would be a much shorter route to oblivion!”

Gurthmore wasted no time rushing forward, axe in hand, smashing one of the stone vessels. With a scream of rage, Kosveret transformed into a kirre made of living flame and leaped to attack. Sark realized the mind lord was insubstantial, a psychic projection, albeit one with enough substance to be hurt. But Kosveret proved a powerful foe. His form shifted, becoming a naga with brilliant scales and a horrid, clawed aberration. He seemed to be in a dozen places at once, unleashing attacks that could shred mind as well as flesh. Despite his power, the heroes fought back, evading blows and resisting his mental assaults until at last, Kosveret's form was dispersed.

A ripple ran through the air, and the world around them changed. The pool was dry, the doors hung off their hinges, and the cliff beyond had collapsed. Beyond, the valley of Marnita was naught but desert wastes and the Last Sea was nothing more than a sink of silt. The heroes found an obsidian sphere and a silvery blade in the rear of the chamber, and Kosveret's image flickered and flashed, appearing before them. Sark realized this was his phylactery, the repository of the mind lord's essence and power. Weakened as he was, Kosveret was only able to relay that the message he intended to send to the past was one that his master, the ruler of Saragar at the end of the Green Age, had already received! By defeating him, the heroes prevented the message from being sent in the first place, and the garbled warning he gave the ancient lawkeeper had never been received. As a result, Saragar had fallen to the forces of the crusading armies of Rajaat, the first sorcerer. Realizing what had been lost, the heroes agreed to set things right. They would travel in time and deliver a telepathic message to the lawkeeper, ensuring the future they knew.

There was a way to undo this. Using the heroes' own strength of will and vitality, he was able to send their minds and souls to the ancient past of Athas. They awoke as part of the armies of Borys of Ebe, the champion of Rajaat, miles from the shores of Marnita. Senaking out of the camp and shedding their uniforms, they rode through the night on phantom steeds to Saragar. Entering the city in illusinary disguises, they made their way the palace of the lawkeeper. After a misadventure or two, they were able to deliver the telepathic warning. With a flash, they awoke in their own bodies, the world restored to what it had been.

Thesik sent the heroes home with the artifact they needed. As long as they promised to never, ever monkey with time travel again.

A bald-headed man with vulture-like features in black robes awaited them. This was Thesik, chief of the mind lords, and like his comrade, a psychic projection. He explained that Kosveret had gone mad over the last nine thousand years, but that his mind might yet be healed. He agreed to aid the heroes in their quest, providing Gurthmore's horde with steel weapons and trade for the Bandit States. He provided them with Annulus so that their destiny could be fulfilled, and allowed them to transport back to Tyr via a magical portal.

The heroes arrived as the moons were rising, and presented the Annulus to Ushas. The sorceress emerged from her cocoon, healed and fully transformed. But the necrotic poison had tainted her, made her unable to fulfil her destiny. The mantle of the Child of Light had to be passed....to Sark! They had learned from Thesik that the first sorcerer, Rajaat, had been a half-orc. It seemed only fitting that one of his blood would take up the challenge of re-building the world he had helped destroy. Ushas revealed that they would have to find a key that was lost, to a place that is no more, and there they would find the power of the gods – or die trying!
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Journey to the Last Sea Part 9: Into the Deep
After about four hours of travel, the heroes arrived at the island known as the Lonely Butte. As they approached they saw the forested island plateau loom up from over the horizon, a wall of brown rock topped by a lush, green crown. There was no beach, only a wall of cliffs and reefs rising from the waters of the Last Sea. Their phantom steeds flew over the reefs, and they landed atop one of the stone quays jutting from the base of the cliff. A great cleft or chimney cut into the rock face rose nearly 200 feet to a huge, cave-like opening near the top. An elaborate mechanism consisting of wooden frames and platforms, giant's hair ropes, pulleys, huge stone counterweights, and an iron grate protecting the top of the chimney appeared to act as an elevator to the this cavernous cleft. A cluster of wooden and stone buildings squatted there, jutting out on rickety platforms over the sea far below. They were informed by a couple of men unloading a haul of fish from a nearby boat that this was Blufftown, and that if they were looking for drinks, the two inns above were always open. One was owned by a man named Sitko, and was generally safe. The other, owned by an old skinflint named Ordean, was a bit rougher. The heroes figured the rougher one was where they would find the dwarf. They dropped their illusionary disguises and headed over to the cliff face.

Approaching the elevator, they saw an obsidian orb floating above the winch mechanism that appeared to drive the elevator. Upon entering the great wicker basket at the bottom, the thing lurched to a start as the obsidian orb began to hum and the winch turned. Rising slowly and unsteadily, the heroes found themselves ascending the cliff. An unexpected complication reared its ugly head as the heroes ascended towards the trading settlement, As with the guardians and servitors that protected and maintained Saragar, the obsidian orb that controlled the lift was apparently old and prone to malfunctioning. When they were halfway to the top of the cliff, the orb slowly sank down to ground and the lift shuddered and stalled, threatening to plunge into the rough waters far below. Gurthmore used his enchanted boots to fly down to the winch, holding it in place while the rest of the heroes climbed off onto the cliff and anchored the lift. With Arshaka's telepathic guidance, the mul gladitator repaired the mechanism and they ascended to the top. They could only hope the orb would recover giving them a safe way back down.


Blufftown, overlooking the Last Sea. It was a long way up...and a long way down.

Consisting of two large inns and a handful of wood and stone buildings, the settlement was little more than a trading post used by the various hunters and scoundrels who eked a living off the island's flora and fauna. The two inns stood out, both being near the lift, and in the light of the lanterns hanging there, it was apparent one was in much worse shape than the other. Entering the run-down building with its creaking, stained floor and rickety walls, the heroes saw a motley assortment of hunters, pirates, ruffians, scoundrels, and thugs drinking cheap plantain beer from jacks made of dried gourds. A rough bar of bamboo and wicker ran along one wall, and a squint-eyed old man with stringy, white hair ppraised them as they entered. After plunking down a few gems to buy a round, the heroes saw a scruffy looking dwarf at a table in the rear corner, doing his best to go unnoticed. Despite his obvious fear the dwarf, Granuto, began to speak with Arshaka after the obsidian bard approached him in a calm, reassuring manner. . Before he could get his story however, the rough and suspicious crowd took issue with their presence. One, a scarred mul, stood up and began to challenge the heroes.

“You looking for a fight?” The mul growled. He was a ferocious looking mul with weather-beaten skin, squinted eyes, and several nasty scars lightly swinging a pair of cahulaks. A dozen or so pirates and ruffians stood unsteadily behind him, deep in their cups, making angry glares at the heroes. “Well, you got one strangers! I am Xiphos the Red-Handed, scourge of the Last Sea!”


He looked tough, but he didn't realize that Gurthmore and Rokkon looked TOUGHER!

Gurthmore and Stonedarr roared a challenge back, and a brawl broke out in an instant. There was an open hatch in the middle of the ramshackle bar's floor, one that opened to a two hundred foot drop to the sea below. With a mighty blow from the flat of his axe, Gurthmore sent the mul pirate flying after Stonedarr had bashed him upside the head with his twin blades. He had struck a couple of mighty blow with his swinging cahulaks, and they saved him from a long fall as he anchored them in the wood of the inn's floor before he could drop. The other patrons jumped in, but Chuka-Tet blasted some with sudden gusts of wind while Sark stunned the rest with a chain of lighting. Arshaka had punished a couple foolish enough to charge him, and managed to convince the scourge of the Inner Sea it was a better idea to just give up. He opted to take a dive – literally – and the fight was over. The heroes sat down to talk with Granuto, who was grateful for the plantain beer they provided.

Looking about furtively, the grubby dwarf began to speak in a harsh whisper. “It were about a month ago,” he rumbled, “that a feller came to Kharzdun, looking for a crew to do some digging up by Rivertown, at the base of Big Falls. He were a twisted, old half-elf or so it seemed, Said we'd be digging for some kind of old treasure, though he weren't too clear on what it was. Took us a week or so to get there and start to digging. It were tricky work, what with the Big River crashing down all around us and the like. But we cut through the rocks and found an old, worked cave beyond.

“Tunnels in the back wound down beneath the mountain, and he had us clear fallen rock from some of them places. When we was finished, he...the fella...he changed. It were Kosveret, sure as I'm sitting here. He laughed, and told us we was all done. But he also said, he couldn't have us talking. Old Arbanus dropped dead right there, blood leaking out his ears. The rest of us run, but a group of storm giants from up in the Thunder Mountains were waiting near the falls. They fell on us, with big hammers and lightning, and only me and Graucus got away. We knew it would only be a matter of time a-fore he got us, but I figured I could lose me self in drink until then. I don't know what he was a-wanting there, but I know that it were no good for anyone. But who would believe me? I guess you outlanders might, but the folks of the valley couldn't believe that one of the Mind Lords would ever do 'em harm. Even I still don't, and I saw the whole thing!”

When the heroes asked more about this hidden place, and the giants he had seen, Granuto replied, “It were a hidden place, buried under tons of rock, and located behind the Big Falls at the base. The tunnels looked old, like they hadn't seen the light of day in thousands of years. Saw all kinds of strange stuff down there, too. All kinds of crystal and metal stuff, and some skeletons. And them giants? One of the tribes from up in the Thunder Mountains most likely. They said they was serving him, the laughing lord, and that they'd see the world go back to what it was supposed to be. Said that nothing would get past them. That was a few weeks back. But,” he added, “old Arbanus said he saw tunnels down below that reminded him of the stories of the seaways, the passages that legend say the Mind Lords built beneath Marnita during the Green Age. Don't know if them stories are true. I suppose the Kuo-Toa might know more, what with Undertown being under the sea and all. I guess if you're looking to get there in a hurry, you could try and talk with the fish-men.”

With less than a day left, the heroes figured that was their best shot to reach the far-away mountains in time. After a sack of gems and a few words to Xiphos, the now-waterlogged scourge of the Last Sea, the heroes managed to get passage on his ship. He knew where to row to avoid the fish-men...and where they would likely attack. Leaving an hour later, under cover of darkness, the heroes, the pirate captain and his half-drunken crew rowed out from the Lonely Butte, looking for trouble.

The sound of wet feet slapping lightly on the deck could barely be heard over the creak of the mast and oars and the slapping of waves against the ship's hull. Through the half-light of the lanterns, Chuka-Tet saw several of the strange, slick-skinned, scaled humanoids the natives called Kuo-Toa moving over the rails and onto the deck. Their large, round eyes gleamed with ill intent under the light of the two moons. But the heroes were ready, both to fight and talk. After battering a few of the fish-men back into the sea, freezing them with gusts of icy wind and thunderous staff-blows well-placed alongside scaled heads, the Kuo-Toa were willing to listen to Arshaka's attempts at diplomacy. One of the fish-men cast a ritual using the Way that let them communicate, and after hearing what the heroes had to say about saving the Last Sea, he cast another that let them breathe in the water. He insisted they accompany him to speak with the Kuo-Toa's leader, and the heroes complied.


The Kuo-Toa took the bait. Get it? Fish-men? Bait?

The descent took several minutes, and the water grew colder and darker around the heroes as they dove hundreds of feet below the surface. Eventually the heroes saw strange lights ahead through the deep waters, and a city of sorts appeared. The buildings were constructed of stone and giant shells, and had odd, almost organic, shapes. Their large, round windows served as doors, and leering statuary was set everywhere. They were escorted to a huge, central dome-like building at the center of Undertown. After swimming up a channel into an air-filled, arena-like chamber, they were taken by trident-point to meet the Kuo-Toa's chief. While the heroes could not pronounce his name, enchantments translated it as “Deep Eyes.” A large, squat Kuo-Toa with relatively deep-set eyes, he treated fairly with the heroes, explaining that many of his people had died under mysterious circumstances over the last few weeks. Although he was initially unwilling to believe that one of the Mind Lords is behind these deaths, the heroes were able to convince him and gain the aid of the fish-men.

The heroes were taken to the entrance to the seaways running beneath Marnita. “Deep Eyes” explained that the tunnels were ancient and may be damaged in places, but the conveyance that ran through the tunnels should still allow the heroes to travel far more swiftly than they could by ship. An airlock-like structure beneath the great dome at the heart of Undertown opened into a vast chamber beneath the sea floor. Several huge tunnels intersected in this chamber, and a gargantuan, circular marble platform with an obsidian orb floating over its center sat there. The Kuo-Toa's leader informed them that the orb was used to levitate the platform down the tunnels at a high rate of speed, and he pointed out the tunnel that would take them to the complex under Big Falls to the northwest. He will explained that it would only take about two hours to reach the end of the tunnel, which is over 100 miles away, provided the tunnel remained intact. No one had ventured down the tunnel for more than two centuries though. “Deep Eyes” wished the heroes good fortune, showed them how to command the orb, and then departed.


"Hey Rokkon, why do you think these tunnels are so clean?
"No idea Gurthmore, no idea."

Although the platform lurched a bit at first, the heroes quickly fiound themselves flying down the 20-foot wide tunnel, which was pitch black apart from a dim glow emanating from the widely-spaced strange, green crystals set in the walls. The first hour or so went by without incident. At that point, the platform will slowed to a halt in response to a partial collapse in the tunnel ahead. One of the great stone lintels supporting the tunnel's roof broke centuries ago, and rubble had fallen around it, enough to prevent the passage of the huge, marble platform. Dripping water had formed a large pool that sat in the sunken floor of the tunnel. Gurthmore and Stonedarr made their way forward to investigate when, too late to stop the mul's forward progress, Rokkon and Chuka-Tet saw something shimmer and move in the passage. Gurthmore ran headfirst into a wall of translucent, gelatinous protoplasm and was sucked in. A huge, cube-shaped, gelatinous mass oozed forward with a wet, sucking sound, the gladiator suspended in it's bulk. Smaller oozes, nearly invisible in the pool of water, shimmered with iridescent color as they slid towards the heroes. But they overcame their initial shock quickly, and the two warriors' axes made quick work of the gelatinous cube as the rest blasted, slashed, and exploded the oozes under Arshaka's strident musical command. With the oozes dispatched, the heroes cleared the obstruction and continued on, until at last the tunnel began to rise slightly. But it came to an abrupt end, a few miles from their destination. A crack in the floor led to a waterway, one that had the promise of letting them through should the rest of the tunnel remain intact. Having come too far to turn back, the heroes dove into the cold, murky water, the enchantments of the Kuo-Toa enabling them to breathe underwater still....
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Journey to the Last Sea Part 8: The White City
It only took an hour or so to reach the village of Tola. The village consisted of a few dozen huts of bamboo, set on stilts, and thatched with tough, woven grass. They were all arranged around a central village square with a rock-lined fire pit and a communal hall. Askellios insisted that the heroes stay with him and his wife, Melina, saying, “If you wish to reach the city of Saragar, a galley leaves come the dawn, carrying produce and dried fish to Saragar in exchange for cloth, beads, and metal goods. Until then, we feast! Word of the outsiders' arrival and heroism had spread, and the villagers had decided to throw an impromptu feast in their honor. They served plenty of fresh fish, hearty stews, fried cakes, and beer all cooked and brewed from plantains. The heroes soon found that the folk of Tola were friendly and easy-going, though excited by their arrival. Over the course of the feast the heroes also found themselves the center of attention, especially Arshaka and Chuka-Tet. They were bombarded by dozens of questions and requests, though Askellios shooed them off before the heroes were overwhelmed. Both Gurthmore and Rokkon indulged heavily in the light, fragrant beer and were nearly in their cups before the night was half over.

As the impromptu feast began to wind down, Askellios and his wife Melina sat beside the fire pit. “I thank you once again,” the dark-haired woman said, “for saving my husband's life. We are not used to outsiders in the Valley of the Last Sea, but you will always be welcome here.”

“Would that we could say the same of Saragar,” Askellios said. “I have no doubt that you will be welcomed by folk of the city, and that they will be polite, but you will be marked as outsiders the moment you arrive. You must understand, there is no crime, no prejudice, no whispered rumors in the streets – everyone in Saragar is happy. They must be. Those who break the law, those who complain or cause trouble, even those who dare to be unhappy are harmonized. The lawkeepers enact the will of the Mind Lords while the proctors enforce it on the streets. The lawtenders harmonize those who become...disharmonious.” He took a long gulp of plantain beer and continued. “But the city is far from a paradise. Parts of it have begun to crumble and decay, and the peoples' smiles are often strained. The law is the law however, and we all trust in the divine wisdom of the Mind Lords. I hear whispers of those who do not, those who hide in the shadows and share their discontent. Some say they make plans to oppose the proctors, to bring some kind of true happiness, but those are just rumors.”


The village of Tola was beautiful and friendly. The heroes were waiting for the other sandal to drop.

Melina stood up and said, “Perhaps...I can do something to help you. There are old ways, ways that are...forgotten...ways to help hide your thoughts. Know that if some among you practice these ways, they are considered great crimes by the Mind Lords. Sorcery and such knowledge is forbidden on pain of death in the Valley of the Last Sea. Watch what you do or say when in the city.” As she moved around the fire, Melina said, “I have no doubt you seek to enter Saragar for some reason, perhaps seeking something lost. Why else would you come so far? If the secrets are related to this knowledge, you may find it in the palace of the Mind Lords. But I warn you that no one who goes into their palace comes out the same as when they left.”

The heroes had a few questions for Askellios and his wife, who explained that the lawtenders of Saragar used their mastery of the Way to remove evil thoughts and criminal behavior from those who were unhappy. They put them back in harmony with the community – even if they would wish otherwise. The lawkeepers included the proctors, who could be seen on the streets, from time to time. They wore metal mail and carried blades of steel. Above them were the robed lawkeepers, who oversaw the proctors. The heroes were also warned they might see the guardians about. They served all in the city, cleaning and repairing things as the proctors commanded. It was said that they were once criminals or traitors, but their minds were stripped from their bodies and placed in obsidian spheres. These spheres used the power of the Way to accomplish their tasks. Askellios also told them of the Mind Lords. “They are the divine protectors of Saragar,” he said. “There is Thesik of the black robes, who is the judge of the dead and protector of spirits. There is Barani, the all-mother who blesses the crops and sea to make them bountiful. And there is Kosveret the smiling, trickster and bringer of joy in a thousand forms. They have always been the Mind Lords, since the Green Age, long before the rest of the world was laid to ruin. Without them, the Valley of the Last Sea would wither and dry.”

With what questions they had answered for now, the heroes opted to get some sleep – or in Stonedarr's case, pass out for a time. Hours passed, and as dawn approached the village had grown quiet save for the lap of waves and the crackle of the fire in the great pit in Tola's center. Without warning, a horrid screeching bellow split the pre-dawn air, and it was immediately echoed by another. The sound of splintering wood was heard as the heroes jolted awake, and rushed out to see what had happened. Lit by the moons and the bonfire, they saw two, huge shapes trundling up from the water's edge. They were reptilian with slick, green, scaly hides. Steam and vapor curled from their nostrils as they bellowed again. The villagers fell back in a panic, running for long bamboo torches and heavy wooden shields so large it took two men to carry them, as the drakes snapped hungrily at them.


They were big, hungry, and hadn't been invited to the feast. Party crasher drakes!

But the heroes ran forward to fight the huge beasts. Rokkon drew his axes, charging one and laying a blow aside its head that caused the water drake to stumble back and fall prone in the surf. He unleashed a flurry of blows with his axe that left it staggered and bleeding. Chuka-Tet was close on his heels, staff twirling as he forced the creature further back with blasts of wind. Sark began to glow, his features elongating, transforming, his eyes becoming large, opalescent ovals as radiant wings unfurled from his back. He rose above the top of the nearby huts, unleashing a spell at the second drake that had if confused and stumbling, attacking things that were not there. Gurthmore leaped into the spray, striking the first drake with such force that the titanic beast was sent flying, crashing into the other, knocking both prone again.

Far from defeated, the two drakes lurched to their feet. With the power of the Way, they created doubles, which appeared farther back on the beach. Each conjured orbs of steaming or freezing water, the elemental globes exploding among the heroes. Gurthmore was frozen, ice rooting the mul barbarian in place. The creatures tore at them with claws and bites, but the heroes dodged and parried the mighty blows. Sark unleashed a terrific blast of lightning, chaining from beast to beast to psychic clone. Rokkon was slowed by the cold, but he sent his axes hurling into the scaled beasts time and again, their enchantments drawing them back to his hands. Chuka-Tet blasted them with cold winds and thundering blows, calling on the primal spirits to bolster his comrades. Rokkon slew one with a hurled axe, causing its clone to vanish, as Gurthmore drove the other back into the sea.

The grateful villagers cheered again, and Melina saw to their wounds. She also provided the heroes with a charm of protection, one that would fortify their minds against psychic attacks and casual scans by those trained in the Way to use telepathy. Askellios did not know why the water drakes would leave the deeps to attack, but surmised that if the Leviathan had been upset, that might be enough. When pressed, he explained that it was a huge creature, all tentacles and teeth, that had dwelt in the Last Sea since before any could remember. The Leviathan was capable of dragging down ships to the deep, but rarely troubled those who crossed Marnita.

Cleaning up and gathering their belongings, the heroes noticed that Arshaka was missing! The obsidian bard had vanished, without word. While this was not the first time he had left them, it was strange that their companion had left them without warning. With no time to spare, the heroes had no choice but to board the galley and head out to sea. While all of them found the pitch and roll of the deck beneath their feet unsettling, Rokkon was violently ill over the railing several times, though part of that might have been the effects of the plantain beer. Chuka-Tet had climbed the mast, and was watching as the horizon faded from view and soon all that could be seen was open water.


Yup. It was a mother&@%!@ sharktopus.

A breeze blew over the waters of the Last Sea, kicking up waves in the water and filling the sail of the galley. Apart from the lap of the waves, the creak of the mast, and the chatter of the men, the sea was quiet. All of that ends in an instant, as Chuka-Tet cried atop the mast. “There! In the water! It's the Leviathan!” Looking over the prow, they saw a massive fin break the surface of the water, followed by a wedge-shaped head with dead black eyes and rows of razor-sharp teeth. Tentacles from behind lashed forward with lightning speed, slamming into the hull and grabbing hold. The ship lurched to a halt, and all could hear the groan of the wood as it was squeezed by the gargantuan appendages. The ship shook, as if the impossibly huge creature were trying to pull it down. Gurthmore ran at the beast, but a tentacle snatched him up off the deck. He managed to get his axe free as Stonedarr followed, deftly avoiding a striking tentacle as he tore into its scaled, rubbery hide with his twin waraxes. Sark blasted the creature with a terrible spell, unraveling its flesh into energy in an attempt to disintegrate it. Chuka-Tet jumped down from the mast, undergoing a transformation of his own. The thri-kreen druid was swept up, becoming a huge whirlwind as he darted across the water, striking hammering blows at the Leviathan. It snapped at the druid, tearing elemental wind with rows of sharp teeth. The Leviathan hammered at the heroes with its flailing tentacles and the power of its mind. Sark realized the creature was intelligent, and impossibly old, doubtless the last of its kind. Despite its power, the blows rained down by the mul and the half-giant's axes hacked off tentacles and forced the creature to let go of the galley. Roaring in pain, it withdrew, sliding back into the depths. The ship's captain was grateful, and after some minor repairs, the ship limped towards the harbor of Saragar.

Late in the afternoon the nameless galley from Tola approached the city by the sea. Sails were the first thing they saw, dozens of them, as galleys, fishing vessels, and curious, curved boards capable of holding only a single person come into view. Towers of shining, white stone peeked up over the horizon next, followed by the stone and wood docks, and finally ringing beaches of white sand. The heroes noticed right away that there were no walls around Saragar and that broad, leafy trees and lush, flowering plants grew in broad lanes between the larger buildings. Drawing ever closer, they saw that the buildings were stained and pitted in places due to the water and salty spray, and that other structures farther from the docks seemed dingy and in ill repair. Some of the lots farther from the docks were choked with weeds, and the streets were cracked in places.

As the galley pulled into the dock a sphere of pure obsidian drifted out over the water towards the bow. A powerful, telekinetic force seized the ship and towed it gently up to the dock. The ship's half-elf captain thank the heroes once more as they disembarked, warning them to be careful. “Saragar is not,” he said, “as friendly to outsiders as it might appear at first glance. Trust no one completely, lest you be taken by the proctors for harmonization.” The docks were fairly crowded with fishermen, sailors, and traders, and the heroes saw stalls and tents of colored cloth and bamboo set up at the foot of the quays. Merchants were hawking a variety of foods and small goods in exchange for other items, shells, and metal coins. The heroes noticed the locals were all polite, though slightly hesitant or nervous, and few initiated contact with the heroes.

Realizing that time was running short, and that the artifact they were after – the Annulus – could likely be found with the Mind Lords, the heroes asked for directions towards their palace. An obliging local pointed up the long, sloped streets. The palace of the Mind Lords was a vast structure, situated atop the low hill to the east of Marnita's shore, that overlooked the city. A trio of colossal statues, one of each of the three Mind Lords, floated atop a stone platform suspended over the palace by incredibly powerful telekinetic enchantments. Thesik's statue was of obsidian, Kosveret's statue was of marble, and Barani's statue was of jade, and all stood nearly 200 feet high. Making their way around the narrow streets and back towards the beach, the heroes found a great, wide street that led from the harbor up the long hill towards the palace.



As they made their way through the streets, a figure beckoned to Chuka-Tet from a nearby alley. Despite the light cloak which obscured his features, it was apparent that it was an elf, albeit smaller than the tall, long-legged folk of the Tablelands. He ducked into the alley as the heroes approached. Rounding the corner, they saw he had vanished. But there was something there – the body of a dead man. From the smock covered with drying clay, he was doubtless a potter. Apart from a strange deformity to his skull, there are no signs of violence. The alley led to a dead end, and its walls were too high and bare for any to climb them in the blink of an eye, so there was no mundane way the elf could have gotten out. Kneeling to examine the body, Chuka-Tet felt that his head was unusually light, as if his brain had been removed. But there was no sign of violence, apart from a small trickle of blood from his ears and nose.

Before he could speculate further, a voice called out behind the heroes. “You there! What is this?” A wiry man with a sallow face wearing armor of metal links, a plumed steel helmet, a tunic and cape stood behind them. As they stepped out of the alley, he looked past them. “What have we here? A dead body! You have much to answer for, outlanders! Perhaps you are responsible for the others that have been found, eh? Perhaps you shall have to pay...one way or another!” He swaggered closer, his hand on the hilt of a steel sword hanging from his baldric.

Although Gurthmore itched to teach this proctor a lesson using his axe, and Rokkon's offer of ceramic coins was met with derision, cooler heads prevailed and the heroes chose to accompany him back to the watch station of the lawkeepers. Along the way they passed through a huge, central square, fully a mile across, with fountains spraying fresh water that was gathered without cost by the locals. They passed a mul carrying a yoke with gourds hanging off of it, gourds full of beer that he was selling. He followed at a distance, the heroes noticed, and they supposed he must be a member of the Underground.

Unused to dealing with those who might resist their authority, the proctor escorted the heroes to a small room with benches, manacles, and a stout door with a small, barred window. The proctor on duty, a paunchy fellow with an impressive beard, told them to wait as a lawtender would be summoned to have them harmonized. The door was left unlocked. As they tried to speak with the proctor the beer vendor, Tranicos by name, arrived outside the station selling his wares. With some encouragement from the heroes, the proctor began to drink the merchant's wares and even let the heroes out to sample the brew, after they insisted they pay for the stout brew. The proctor was soon intoxicated enough that the suggestion he sleep in off in the cell was well received, and the heroes left with Tranicos the mul before the lawtender arrived.

He revealed he was part of the Underground, and escorted them back to an abandoned house near the palace. Tranicos explained the old housing had been used by slaves ages past, and then by the poor under the protection of the Mind Lords. But with no slaves and no poor, the houses in this district had been empty for centuries but still kept up by the guardians. Going through a secret door in the basement, he told them to continue into the empty drainage tunnels beyond to meet with his contact. Shortly after a female dwarf with a ring of tattoos on her bald pate entered.

“Welcome outlanders,” the female dwarf said in an honest but solemn voice, “to the city of joy and peace. Or rather, the city of enforced joy and false peace. My named is Demetria. While we know little of the world outside the Valley of Marnita, the tales speak of endless deserts and dead lands. Saragar must seem a paradise in comparison, but it is not. The Mind Lords have ruled here for years beyond reckoning and maintained the peace and prosperity of the land, but their rule has begun to fail. Perhaps it is the weight of years afflicting them with madness or lassitude, or perhaps time has simply made them cruel and indifferent. Whatever the case may be, we suspect that one of them has begun killing the folk of Saragar for some dread purpose. Witnesses claim to have seen Barani, the laughing lord, appearing around the city. Wherever he has appeared, the bodies of the dead have been found. More than a dozen so far, and all with their brains removed.”She looked at the heroes with pleading eyes, full of sorrow and hope. “There are too few of us, and we are too scattered and weak to uncover this mystery. I believe that fate has brought you here to aid us, outlanders. I ask that you find out if Barani is behind these monstrous crimes, and put a stop to whatever madness has prompted them. We have learned that Barani has been seen elsewhere around Marnita, and that a sailor named Lanae witnessed him murder a dwarf aboard her vessel. She is being held by the lawkeepers, and has been sentenced to be harmonized very soon. Save her, and she will doubtless be grateful enough to share what she knows.”

They learned that Demetria was a lawtender, but what she saw in the minds of the people of Saragar encouraged her to try and reform the rule of the Mind Lords. She would draw the proctors away from the watch station, allowing them to speak with the sailor and get her out of Saragar. Allowing the dwarf to go ahead, Sark cast a spell that altered the heroes' appearance. Now looking like a group of proctors, they made their way to the watch station even as an older man in robes and a metal circlet was dispatching other proctors to search for the outlanders who had fled the watch station. The unfortunate drunken proctor was being taken to be harmonized, and one of the others addressed the older man as “Chief Lawkeeper Efkenu,” who Demetria indicated was second only to the Mind Lords themselves in power. Stopping the heroes he said, “You, there! Four outlanders have been seen, and the Mind Lords wish to speak with them. They were peaceable before, and if you see them, assure them the Mind Lords will treat with them fairly. If they resist, subdue them, but do them no lasting harm.” Nodding, the heroes made their way inside without a second glance from the chief lawkeeper.

Assuring the dark-haired, olive-skinned woman they were not, if fact, proctors she agreed to tell the heroes her story in exchange for her freedom. The heroes agreed, and she began to speak. “I was aboard my ship, the Red Dolphin, shortly out of the port at the base of Blufftown. We had picked up a cargo of timber and one passenger, a dwarf named Graucus. He said he wanted passage across Marnita, to the villages at the mouth of the Little River. He said he'd seen something he shouldn't have and that he needed to get out of the valley. It's my guess that he was likely to head to the South Pass, but I don't think he'd even thought that far ahead. He holed up in the ship's hold, waiting to make landfall. I went down on the first night out to bring him some bread and salted fish, and saw a figure standing over his dead body. It was an elf who looked like the statue of Kosveret that I've seen in Saragar! He laughed and vanished. All that was left was the dead dwarf. He had no mark on him, but his head was...light. Like it was...hollow. Graucus had mentioned that he was only one of two men in a dwarf work crew left who knew the truth, and that he had to get away before it killed him. I think the other one was in Blufftown, and he may still be there.”

The heroes escorted Lanae out of the watch station, and sent her on to the docks ahead of them. Night was falling and the heroes opted to head that way themselves. With ritual magic, they could summon phantom steeds that would carry them across the water under cover of darkness until they reached Blufftown, an outpost constructed along what the sailor called the Lonely Butte, a cliff-ringed island in the center of Saragar. With time running low, the heroes were ready to press on. But what of Arshaka....?
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Journey to the Last Sea Part 7: Fire and Water
The heroes awoke early, camped among the dead trees of the Somber Woods. Chuka-Tet had gone just before the sun rose, the tulgar calling upon his debt. Sark had returned though, in the gray hours of dawn, riding a giant, black crow. “There is no sign of this so-called sea yet,” he grumbled, “only more rock and sand. But we must hurry. This is the morning of the twenty-fifth day, and only five yet remain before the moons are once again where they were.

They met with Hassh'nek early that morning as the ssurran caravan master made his people ready to depart. “We grow closer to the next oasis, which lies more than a day's travel ahead in the desert of the Scorched Plateau. Once beyond that, we must choose which path to take to reach the Valley of Saragar. I would ask you to scout ahead, and make sure the way is clear.” Consenting, the heroes traveled over the sands on phantom kanks conjured by Arshaka's magic. As they approached the oasis, Rokkon saw strands of silk hanging from nearby palms, nearly invisible, drifting in the breeze. Arshaka knew that silk wyrms haunted the badlands of the Scorched Plateau, and the heroes were not surprised when half a dozen of the worm-like creatures with strange, armored heads wriggled through the air towards them.

“Ware that spot of ground,” Rokkon yelled, pointing to a shallow depression, “it's not solid!” Avoiding what was no doubt a pit covered by strands of silk and clinging sand and rock. He ran forward to engage a pair of the silk wyrms, which were normally solitary creatures save when they grew old enough that hunting alone became difficult and breeding was no longer an issue. It did not make them less deadly. Rokkon's axes slashed at one wyrm, and though they bit deep, silk strands that burned like fire sprayed from the silk wyrm and wrapped him up. Gurthmore had engaged another, sending it flying with a blow from his axe into another, as Arshaka moved up and used blade and song to harry two more. Sark stood back, blasting them with fire and lightning, as the silk wyrms closed in. They darted and bit, but the heroes were nimble and avoided the worst. But the wyrms wriggled with sinister power, their undulations unleashing a strange, psychic power that made them stumble forward in a daze. Sark and Gurthmore both nearly stumbled into the hidden pit, only to catch themselves at the last moment before falling in. Still, strands of the acidic silk clung to them, burning until it was scraped away.


Is that a silk wyrm in your pocket or are you just happy to see lunch?

In the end, Rokkon tore free of the strands holding him and rushed to join the others. The half-giant and the mul made short work of the wyrms with their axes, as Sark and Arshaka kept them contained. The last fled into the pit, becoming an insubstantial shadow that vanished beneath the sand. Resting and cleansing their wounds, the ssurran caravan reached the oasis as the sun set. Hassh'nek explained that two paths lay ahead, one through a pass in the Thunder Mountains two days ahead, or around their foothills and through a region known as the Burning Plains. Even with good time, the reptilian merchant explained, it would take at least four days to clear the pass. The mountains were the abode of giants, though they seldom molested the caravans passing through as the traders often brought them gifts. A smaller party would not fare as well, he thought. He said that the caravan would not take the Burning Plains, dry grasslands that would be hit by sudden thunderstorms. The grass grew quickly, but dried just as fast, and was ignited by lightning strikes. Fires would sweep the region every three or four days. The ground was a thick loam of ash, slow going for wagons, but he surmised that the steeds created by Arshaka's mastery of the Way would carry them across with no difficulty. Hassh'nek believed they could reach the shores of the sea in two days that way.

After careful consideration, the heroes chose the Burning Plains. They traveled day and night on their phantom kanks, gliding across the badlands as they gave way to scrub, and then to plains of tall, dry grass. The grass rustled, both from the breeze and the amazing speed of its growth. The first day was calm, but on the second the wind rose and they could feel drops of rain falling from dark clouds gathering overhead. Flashes of lightning in the distance instantly ignited the dry grass, and a wall of fire began to sweep across the plains. Racing ahead of it, the heroes were cut off by fire approaching from another direction. Two huge forms, beings of living flame, raced ahead of the fire igniting all in their path. They were elementals, summoned by the fury of the flames.


Fire swept across the Burning Plains, burning all in its path.

The heroes had no chance to go around them, and were forced into battle, Choking smoke and leaping flames surrounded them, but the heroes fell on the huge elementals with axe and spell. Shrugging off the worst of the flames, they dealt with the pair quickly, suffering only minor burns thanks to their supernatural fortitude. Their phantom mounts had been destroyed, rather than slog through the yard-deep ash and entangling grass, Sark cast a spell that lifted them on the wind. Flying ahead of the fire, they reached safety at the edge of the Burning Plains as the sun set.

Pushing on through the night, the grass grew short and thick around them and scrub trees could be seen. The land rose, and the air grew warm and moist. As the sun rose, they saw an unbelievable sight. The horizon seemed aflame, as the sun shone off a great body of water, more than ten miles distant, but stretching beyond what they eye could see. The day grew hot and humid, moisture clinging to them all like an uncomfortable shroud. As they rode, their steeds stopped as if hitting an invisible wall. The ground burst, and an obsidian orb rose. A voice shouted in their heads. “Halt! You may go no further! Entrance to the Valley of Saragar is forbidden to all outlanders. Only the Lords of Saragar may grant passage. You will leave now, or be destroyed!” Arshaka spoke with it telepathically, trying to convince the strange construct that he was one of the so-called Mind Lords of Saragar. He did notice a crack in the orb, as if it was very old and somewhat damaged. But this only served to confuse the orb. With a telepathic cry of alarm, four silvery humanoids materialized around it, constructs of pure astral energy.


The strange obsidian orb rose from the ground, issuing a challenge into the heroes' minds.

Rokkon and Gurthmore charged as the orb unleashed torrents of psychic energy, waves of pure force, and crushing psychic surges. Arshaka unleashed a powerful song, allowing his allies to strike as one, damaging the orb. He realized that once damaged, he may be able to reach out and manipulate the magic that animated the guardian orb. As the heroes fought on, destroying the astral constructs with lightning and blade, the obsidian bard and the orc wizard managed to unweave the spells controlling the orb, shutting it down.

The heroes learned what they could from the reanimated orb, namely that the city of Saragar lay on the north shore of the sea, some 50 miles distant. It was ruled by a trio of Mind Lords, ancient and powerful psions, and they had reigned for more than nine thousand years. They were Thesik, a grim male human, Barani, a beatific female human, and Kosveret, a mercurial male elf. Lawkeepers kept the word of the law and passed judgment, while lawtenders ensured that the people kept correct thoughts and remained happy. The proctors were beneath both of them, footsoldiers of the Mind Lords that sounded much like the templars of the city-states far to the south. Villages were found on the shore of the last sea, and the heroes decided to head there. They figured they could follow the shore line north, until they reached the city of Saragar.

As the heroes approached the shore, they could hear the strange sounds of the crashing surf and pounding waves, then above that came something else – shouts of panic. Cresting a sandy rise choked with grass, they saw a trio of men with dark, bronze skin retreating from a group of strange humanoids with silvery-green, slick skin, large, bulbous eyes, and lank, webbed limbs. A small vessel, perhaps a skimmer of some kind, sat on the edge of the water and nets on the ground held small, silvery animals flopping about. “Help,” one of the men shouted, “they are devils of the deep!” The strange humanoids burbled menacingly, raising barbed coral spears, hooks, and daggers as they moved to intercept the heroes.


The men called the strange humanoids "Kuo-toa," but the smell they made as Sark roasted them made Rokkon call them "dinner."

Arshaka wasted no time, and rode in on his phantom steed chanting a song of protection. Rokkon and Gurthmore followed, axes singing a song of death as Sark called down fire and lighting. The fish-men were fast and slippery, striking with blinding speed and razor-sharp coral weapons. But the heroes proved too much for them, and one managed to slink back beneath the waves, leaving the rest to die. The men thanked the heroes profusely, and their leader invited them back to their village to eat and rest. Expressing their need to travel to Saragar, he told them a trading vessel taking dried fish (whatever those were) and other goods to the city would leave early the next morning. He would gladly see that they could get passage across Marnita, the last sea. Agreeing, the heroes accompanied the man, named Askellios, back to his village of Tola.
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Journey to the Last Sea Part 6: Out of the Fire, Into the Woods
Mounted on the impressive fire drake they had pummeled into submission, the heroes rode hot on the trail of the ssurran merchants. Rokkon had rejointed them, and the half-giant ranger's tracking skills had been more than sufficient to follow their fading trail over the ash and cinders covering the rocky ground around the Lava Gorge. Sark had called down a reptilian behemoth of some sort with his magic, and flew overhead on leathery wings, scouting for the reptilian traders. They rode for a couple of hours, following the fading trail.

Cries of alarm from somewhere ahead could be heard, and meant that trouble had found the ssurran merchants. Rushing down a small rise, the heroes saw the edge of the Lava Gorge ahead. The air was like a furnace and the heat distorted their vision, but they clearly saw half a dozen giants with dark skin and hair like flames alongside a titan with skin like obsidian and molten flames for hair rise from a steaming vent nearby. One inix was dead and a wagon had been set alight, but the rest of the merchants seemed unhurt for the moment. But it was clear to the heroes that they were the only thing standing between the ssurrans and a brutal death at the giants' hands.


The fire giants charaged in, ready to slaughter the merchants.

Charging into battle atop their mount, the heroes engaged the giants in close combat. Gurthmore's axe cleaved into two of them, staggering the pair, as Rokkon cut one down in short order. Chuka-Tet and his scorpion leaped into their midst, claws and sting biting flesh even as his staff cracked a giant's skull. The titan roared, swinging its burning sword and unleashing a wave of flame. But the heroes endured, and Gurthmore sent it flying with a swing of his axe. Rokkon was on the titan in an instant, his axes cracking its stony skin spilling out magma-like blood. It brought its sword down at the goliath, but he parried with his axe, slashing a tendon in its arm before gutting the primordial creature. The remaining giants fled, not seeing any profit in further battle.

Hassh'nek and the other ssurrans thanked the heroes profusely, and expressed amazement that they had survived the shadowy assassins that attacked them in Ravage. The wily merchant was happy to see them though, and explained they would soon camp on the edge of a mysterious forest, the Somber Woods. They reached the woods no more than a day and a half later, and set up camp near nightfall. The forest was pale, the trees twisted and their dying bark covered in phosphorescent lichen and strange fungi. Chuka-Tet could sense the place was unhealthy, and that the spirits considered them intruders. The ssurran merchants set up a tent, explaining that they would sleep further from the edge. The heroes braved a small clearing.


The Somber Woods really lived up to their name.

As the moons rose, eerie wails sounded from the forest and ghostly figures emerged from the trees. They glowed like the strange, phosphorescent lichen that clung to the bark of the gnarled trees. All were powerfully built and had bestial faces crowned by jagged horns. They were armed with crude spears and axes, and a kirre with ghostly pale fur ran alongside them. "Tribute," the leader growled, "give us tribute, outsiders, or pay the blood price for entering our woods." Chuka-Tet could sense these were tulgars, primal spirits bound into mortal flesh. Dangerous and powerful, he thought it best to negotiate.


The tulgars emerged into the light of the heroes' campfire.

"We come in peace," he clicked, but his overtures were met with stony silence. Rokkon and Gurthmore put on a brave face, trying to intimidate the primal warriors, with mixed success. But Arshaka's words and Rokkon's insight were enough to get them to stay their attack. The goliath realized they would have to each give a mighty tribute. More than goods, each would have to be a personal thing, a part of what and who they were. Rokkon gave up Champion's Fang, the axe with which he slew Yarnath, the master of Slither. Gurthmore showed the moves he used to defeat the champion of Nibenay in the arena, exhausting himself in the process. Arshaka told the story of the heroes' struggle, sharing a piece of himself with the tulgars. And Chuka-Tet promised to serve them for a year and a day, coming when they would beckon without delay. Although spiritually linked and perhaps vulnerable, the heroes' tribute was deemed worthy. The tulgars vanished back into the Somber Woods, and the heroes rested in relative comfort, watched over by the spirits of that forlorn place.
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