Araen Horizon Captain’s Log: 4 Bloodstain, 30 A.F.
The Dragontomb Islands are six weeks behind us, and for most of that time we have been completely off any charts available to us. Indeed, my officers and I have spent a great deal of out time creating new charts to be used by those who might come after. That is the hope, at any rate. Should any of us survive to return those new charts back to Elvedon. After the last few days, that hope is spoken as a prayer by some of us.
To be honest, the trip up until that point had been relatively peaceful. A few squalls and a storm or two, but nothing overly serious. The crew had been performing admirably, and the passengers had learned ways to be helpful or, at the very least, to successfully stay out of the way. A few days of rest for morale and to allow the officers to retake our bearings kept any minor difficulties from becoming more than that. And then, we came upon The Storm.
I have sailed these seas for most of my life, and weathered many a hurricane, but this… This was something more. Even as it sucked the wind from our sails, it dragged us inexorably toward it. A vast wall of dark and ominous clouds that stretched across the horizon in a lightning-lit mass of inescapable doom. My crew did its best to prepare the ship for when he storm hit, but their best would prove far too little.
Three days. Three days we spent tossed about like a child’s plaything as the waves crashed over us and the winds tore at the rigging. Most of the passengers clung to their bunks in terror and sickness, but those few who had proven themselves before did what they could to aid us in our battle against the elements. I lost four good men and a mast to the storm despite the aid these men offered, and feel the cost would have been much steeper without that aid. Finally, we broke free of the hurricane’s grip and limped into the eye of the storm.
An island awaited us there. A small and unassuming place crowned with a steep-sided, low-topped mountain. The adventurers took the ship’s boat ashore while the crew and I ascertained the damage to the ship. As we begin to work on repairing that damage, we await the return of our wayward passengers. I do not look forward to facing the storm again as we leave. I pray to whatever gods might look down upon this place that those adventurers find something on this island to aid us…
From the journals of Beriana Elorelen:
…and this is what they found. The gnome, Daziel, was first ashore and he used his innate gifts to listen to the stones. The island spoke first of centuries spent in peaceful tranquility, floating in a starry sea about a blue-green orb teeming with life. Tranquility was shattered with the death of a god that tore the moon asunder and sent this piece of it screaming in fiery anguish toward the planet below. The magics infused within the stones kept them afloat when they came to rest in the sea, and those same magics stirred the air about them until the great storm grew into an unceasing maelstrom. And then the stones spoke to Daziel of a cleft in the mountain, and it was with this information that he returned to his friends.
The group journeyed upward to the cave and entered the cool darkness within. It quickly became obvious to those of them who had spent time underground that, while the opening was natural, the tunnels hey found were the result of mining. Mining that was still going on, as their ears soon told them. Following the sounds, the group came upon scores of small automatons digging and slicing through the mountains interior. These creatures, as Zazumet attempted to explain to me later, were similar in scope to the clockwork creations some magi and learned scholars worked with, but were much more advanced. Zazumet was fascinated by them, though the creatures ignored the group, except to move around the humanoids as the mining continued.
Continuing deeper, the companions came upon more of the automated miners who continued to ignore them. Finally, the companions came to a vast metal bridge that led over a vast chasm. Crossing the bridge, they entered a chamber dominated by a massive glowing dais. It was Zazumet who fearlessly stepped upon the dais and instantly vanished. Zane and Mournwyn, the two most learned in the arcane arts, conferred with one another and determined that their friend had been teleported by the glowing disc. The group stepped up and were magically reunited with their more impulsive friend. They found themselves in another large chamber, this one looking more like a finished room than a semi-natural cavern. Hallways led off from the chamber, one on each side of the square room. As they currently faced the west-ward hall, they journeyed down this first and came to a door guarded by two more automatons. These ones were humanoid in appearance and they took on a defensive stance as the adventurers approached. Attempts to communicate were met with silence, and the automatons attacked as the groups moved within ten feet of the door.
The battle was fierce, but swift, and the door stood unguarded. Daziel and Zane worked together to unlock the door and it swung open. On the other side was a small room, empty save for a small glowing ball hovering in the center. It quickly became apparent that the sphere had some form of sentience, though communication proved difficult. It was Mournwyn’s bodyguard Talars’argt who solved the problem, carving the common alphabet into the chamber wall. The sphere moved from letter to letter, spelling out what it needed to communicate. It claimed that it was the divine essence of Verina, a minor demigod from the Third Age. Verina desired to be reunited with her body, but was unable to do so in her current form and asked for the group’s aid. There was some debate amongst them, but in the end they agreed to help her. Zazumet repaired one of the automatons enough for Verina’s essence to inhabit. This allowed her to travel with them and to communicate a bit more easily once provided with quill and parchment.
Verina led them across the great chamber they had first been teleported to, and down the east-ward hall. Two more guards stood in their way, but Verina’s essence was able to make them stand aside. She led them to a door, in which there were eight empty recesses. The group had passed eight doors on their way to this one, and it was explained to them that each of the chambers beyond held a “keystone” that, together, would unlock the door she needed. Unfortunately, the doors were sealed against her.
The first room was one with a vaulted ceiling, columns lining the way up to a raised platform upon which the keystone could be seen. Two more of the humanoid automatons stood guard here, though these proved to be much stronger than the ones they had battled previously. The fight was complicated by the fact that the columns were warded. Any who got too close set off the blast sigils hidden upon the column’s surface. Eventually, the group was victorious and collected the keystone, and headed to the next room.
Zane was first to enter and, as Zazumet had been, was teleported elsewhere. He spoke later of a vast nothingness stretching on forever. As he floated within the nothing, his thoughts turned to hunger, and the food of which he thought appeared in his hand. As he watched the nothing changed to include the elements for creating the food as well. Understanding dawned, and Zane thought of the keystone, conjuring it into his hand. He next thought of the chamber he had entered before his teleportation, and he was returned safely to that chamber. Pocketing the second stone, the group moved to the third chamber.
It was Mournwyn and Talars’argt who entered this room, and they spoke of a chamber that showed them possible futures for them both. When I pressed them for details, both remained close-lipped, save to say that the stone was recovered and they moved to the next room, which was a well-appointed salon. In the middle of the room was a lyre that played, as I was told, the “sweetest, most poignant music one had ever heard”. Several of the group fell sway to the music’s spell and stood in rapt fascination. It was Tolfgar, for whom music is much a part of his passion, who touched the lyre and silenced it as they recovered the fourth stone. He kept it, and let me listen to the briefest of its tune. For a moment I was swept away by the instrument’s enchantment, and was left with a longing to someday have the ability to create an approximation of its tune myself.
The fifth room contained two invisible columns that rotated counter to one another around the small table that held the stone. Occasionally, and very briefly, opening in the columns would align. Through a creative mix of minor magics, the group was able to make this gap visible and retrieve the stone through it. The next stone was hidden amongst layered illusions. As soon as one illusion was defeated, another was seen in its place. Eventually, all of the illusions were found false, and the true stone collected. Which brought them to the seventh stone.
Tolfgar was first through the door, and disappeared as soon as he passed the threshold. The rest of the group looked upon a vast necropolis, teeming with skeletal undead. As they began to fight the divinely bolstered skeletons, they were given the sure knowledge that they had a short time to find not just the stone, but Tolfgar as well, who was now buried alive somewhere in the cemetery. Tolfgar, never one to wait for salvation and finding that the stone shared the coffin he now inhabited, began the slow work of digging himself out. Even separated, the companions were able to work together, and Tolfgar was unburied with plenty of air left in his lungs. Fighting their way back to the door, the party moved to the eighth and final door.
The door opened onto an empty chamber, except for the stone lying on a raised plinth at the far end of the room. Their first attempt to collect it failed, as the minor magics they had used previously failed to collect the stone this time. Even when one of the group entered the room they could not seem to get any closer. Only when all of them had entered the room did something happen. Thick vines and thorny brambles broke through the floor, entangling them all and digging painfully into their legs. All of them struggled to reach the stone with varying degrees of success, but it was the eidolon Zero who successfully tore through the entanglements to collect the stone. As soon as he touched it, the vines and brambles retracted themselves.
With all the keystones collected and placed in the recessed niches upon the doorway they had first approached, a small key appeared in the center of the door and turned. Inside was nothing more than a large circle drawn upon the floor. Verina stepped inside the circle and bade the others to join her. For a moment nothing happened, though Daziel swears to me that he heard a voice on the wind. A soft, feminine voice that spoke just two words: “I wish”. Whether the others heard this or not, I have not asked, but all agree that there was a blinding flash of light and that, when they could see again, they stood at the peak of the mountain inside an open-air temple. From the shelf of rock where they stood, a rocky bridge jutted across a vast pit to another shelf of rock. The pit did not look down into the mountain, however. Instead, one side was filled with purest positive energy while the other roiled with darkest negative energy…openings to those most primal if the elemental planes.
Verina crossed the bridge with the others in her wake, and the guardians who stood there moved aside for her. Beyond them stood her body. It appeared to be another automaton, though much more glorious and beautiful to behold. Verina’s essence left the vessel it had been using and flowed into its true home. There was a moment of silence, then a silent explosion that left them all stunned as those primal forces they had just passed over erupted around and through them. The explosion lasted forever, and was over in a second. When it was done, Verina stood before them returned to her divine glory.
She thanked them all for their aid, offering boons as payment, including repairs to the Araen Horizon and safe passage through the storm. With a final hint, or possibly warning, that touching the divine as they had would leave them changed, she returned them all to the ship where the captain and I both listened to their tale. The captain shook his head in disbelief and made to set sail from that place as soon as possible. Even in his disbelief, however, there was a hint of deference to the heroes that hadn’t been there even a day before. I can understand this, for though they have not outwardly seemed to change, there is something…different. Something more. And it makes me very, very glad to have come on this journey with them.