Journal Posts

Tag: discovery

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 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 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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