Lir's Deputy - Reborn
Camp is set atop one of the large stone pillars dotting the canyon, and everyone takes part in the watch. A restless night has almost passed when the voice of Val-Drek booms from the distance.
“You owe me dearly. My best lieutenant lies dead on the rocks below. The Blood Changeling has served me well for many years. But, I am willing to forgive you.”
“Perhaps you will reconsider my offer. You are skilled warriors. The Emperor has uses for talent such as yours.”
The small band, alert to danger and searching the darkness for the dragon, hurtle back insults.
_"See the reason of my words. The box is a danger to you. Even now the canyons and mountains are alive with Zatch’s agents. They know you are near but can’t pinpoint you. But it is only a matter of time. These mountains hold other sinister secrets and creatures you would be wise to avoid. I can give you safe passage." _
The party refuse to bargain for the box. The death of Andel to this creature cementing their determination.
He continues, “Should you change your mind, I will be in Kantan. It is neutral ground, and we would be free to discuss your predicaments more candidly.”
To this, the party responds with much jeering and goading, but alas, all that is heard in response is the flapping of wings as the ancient beast departs.
Everyone returns to their watch and rest for the last few moments before the predawn lights the horizon. In the early hours of morning a decision is made. Having seen Mika wield the powers of shadow in their defence, when lesser people would have fled or betrayed them for coin, they decide she should know about the treasure they have fought so hard to protect. Rannor reveals The Secret. Mika confesses that she can sense its power, which panics Garret, who fears the hiding ward placed by Bugard may have been broken. He confirms that the ward remains and consequently that Mika’s skill in the arcane is formidable indeed.
So begins the telling. Rannor, Pau, and Malharath recount the defeat of Wo-Jern, the breaking of the wards protecting Mur’s temple, and the conflicts with Zatch and Ro-Rex that have lead to this point. Garret explains the role of the Veiled Alliance and the seeking for the Iron Riders.
After all is told, Malharath turns to Mika and petitions her, ‘Our burden is great. If you wish to leave, you may. If your choice is to join us, we will require your bond and an oath upon The Secret.’
She agrees, Rannor presents the chest, and in the presence of all, she swears an oath to protect The Secret and it’s bearers from harm until it can be delivered to the Iron Riders. With that done, she turns the ancient chest over in her hands and examines it’s markings.
This is Fey writing, she murmurs, and then reads aloud, “The Heart, The Essence, and the Sea Above”.
The mostly illiterate groups takes notice of the woman’s remarkable talent. Pau draws forth the coin hung around his neck and hands it to her.
“And this?”, he inquires. She looks it over and recites the meaning of the inscription, “Key of the North.”
“There is another?”, Malharath gestures, removing Wodewick’s medallion. “This is…‘Key of the West’”, she replies.
None among them have any ideas what this all means, nor do they have much time to discuss it, as they break camp and resume their pursuit of QQ’s captors.
Travel eastward in the canyon progresses quickly. The steep walls rise higher, providing shade from the scorching sun. Several among the group, even locate water for their skins and some hearty lichens and small game to supplement their trail rations. As night approaches, Garret begins surveying for a site to shelter for the evening. His keen senses pick up the scent of open water, leading him and the party to a small slot canyon concealing a permanent spring and fire ring inside a shallow, but spacious, cave. Everyone rejoices at the good fortune and draws for shifts on watch.
Good fortune is short lived on Lir, and so it is that late in the evening, while Malharath is on watch, the sound of a snarling skulking beast is heard off in the darkness. He silently wakes each member of the party with a telepathic nudge and turns his keen senses towards the approaching figure. When it gets within 30 feet, everyone springs from hiding, catching the beast unaware. Weapons cleave the darkness, and a minion of Zatch falls to the onslaught. It barely has time to snarl in defiance before dying. Far above, something dislodges from the canyon wall, and a shrill shrieking is heard trailing off into the night.
The wary adventurers immediately break camp. Zatch is master of night and shadow, and there is no doubt that where there is one of his followers, a horde is soon to arrive. The party moves slowly but persistently eastward, keeping a sharp eye on the tracks. Before dawn, the tracks turn sharply north, diverging from the main canyon into a narrow box canyon to the north. A short while later, the party overtakes two armed men, a Bull and a Beastman.
The two are ready for the approaching party and the Bull brandishing his battle axe, lowers his horns, and bellows. “Halt! Surrender yourselves, or face our wrath” (What did he say?…)
The party, having faced down the terrors of Ro-Rex’s chaos touched servants, and further bolstered by Malharath’s protective mantle, are not moved in the least. The tension of the confrontation soon dissipates, as both sides quickly recognize each other from their time together among QQ’s company.
These two new arrivals are Bami and Tarak, experienced members of QQ’s company. QQ had sent them north of the tower on water detail when the company made camp. By the time they returned, the camp had already been pillaged and burned. They’ve been pursuing QQ’s captors ever since. The two parties, having common cause, join ranks and continue onward.
Pursuit through the side canyon continues for three more days without event. As they move further north, ancient ruins, some not more than outlines of foundations begin to appear with increasing frequency. By day two, the ruins are also accompanied by strange glyphs etched into the cliff-side. At last, the narrow crevasse opens into a massive open bowl with ancient cliff dwellings and two sets of massive stone doors carved into the rock.
As soon as the doors become visible, Boroff begins excitedly sniffing the air. The hermit gestures erratically towards the far door, away from where the wagon tracks lead. “It is almost time! We must hurry!”, and then rushes off. Mika focuses her mind and senses powerful forces she has never encounted before on the winds. The party follows along, unsure of what is afoot.
Boroff pushes open the double doors and plunges headlong inside, revealing a hallway carved into the stone. The walls are an intricate relief. Upon examination they appear to show the ancient history of Lir, from Creation, through the Arrival of the Ancients, the Rise of Ro-Rex, the Great War, and The Forgotten Era. The intricate hall ends in a chamber enclosing a central stone basin in the shape of a turtle.
The awe-struck party stumbles into the chamber, which is humming with divine power. Rannor realizes that The Secret is also humming, draws the chest from his pack and places it along side the basin. To the amazement of all, the turtle basin is steadily filling with water. The humming intensifies, and as the water fills to the brim of the basin, it becomes tinged with red. Soon the humming is a near unbearable vibration in everyone’s mind, and the basin has gone from water to a frothing pool of blood. There is a massive clap of thunder that knocks everyone, but Boroff, who stand transfixed on the pool, off of their feet. A figure surges from the basin, gasping, groaning, and disoriented with pain.
Boroff grinning and raising his arms in welcome over the echoing thunder of the rebirth, “Old friend! It is good to see you again!”
The stunned party members regain there feet, while the still gasping and disoriented being lays at the base of the basin.
Malharath approaches Boroff, confused at what has just occurred, and asks, “Ancient master, who is this being?”
Boroff begins explaining, “Why this is…Well, I know him. I’ve known him many times.” The thoughts are there, but he can’t quite reach them.
Once again, Malharath reaches out telepathically to coax the memories from the ancient mind that resides in the wild hermit. The link that is formed is strong, and the visions rush to the fore.
A gigantic black dragon rears up from atop an ancient altar, bellowing furiously. It is near death but fighting on with a demonic rage. Several bodies, their blood freshly spilled, are strewn across the room. Two combatants remain among the living. The first, weary and on the verge of death, stands defiantly, determined to find the opportunity that will allow him to fell the beast. The second, a young man, gravely wounded and barely able to hold onto consciousness, is searching frantically through what appears to be the charred remnants of one of his companions. Suddenly, his companion feints, dodging the beasts rending claws, and then plunging in for the killing blow; but alas, the beast’s ancient hide turns the blade aside. As the massive jaws close on his sword arm, the room fills with light. The young man pulls something from the corpse. In Boroff-Drugal’s mind’s eye, the room is a flood of divine light. Time slows, as the nearly dead man clutches the source of the light to his chest and mumbles strange ancient words. Then suddenly, he and the light are gone, and all that remains is the great and terrible black beast roaring in triumphant. The roars grow distant, fading to maniacal laughter, and Malharath collapses, blood streaming from an ear and nostril.
Boroff blinks, momentarily unsure where or when this is. Regaining his composure, he raises his arms in welcome, exclaiming “Daren! It is you again!”
Malharath, still clutching his throbbing head, recounts what he saw, and Boroff elaborates on the vision, recounting the story of “The Undoing”. So it goes that everyone learns of the group of heros that failed to stop the plot of Garlic (Gar-Loa-Vox), destroyer of Lir, and father to the great draconian God-emperor. Daren, is the young man that survived that battle, by giving his mortal flesh over to Lir. Now he is graced with immortality, endlessly resurrected by Lir to do her bidding on this twisted husk of a world that was once an ocean paradise.
Heavy with the thoughts of all these ancient stories, the party presents The Secret to Daren, and departs to follow the wagon tracks through the other door. In the main entryway they find the smashed wagon and then several horrific flesh abominations. The creations are quickly destroyed, and as everyone wonders where such things could come from, Daren explains that they are like the ancient creations of Cordelia, but worse…somehow more twisted. Inside the compound the party finds room after strange room. Some are abandoned and have the dust of a thousand years, yet others have been put to odd uses. There is a room of dung, another is piled high in bones, one with vats of strange liquid, another with jars of organs, and one with an incomplete abberation. Lastly is the magically chilled room with many bodies on metal hooks.
Shaken, but undeterred, the party continues on determined to find QQ. At the rear of the compound they push through a set of double doors revealing a massive room. At the far end, over fifty feet away is a strange being, orange of skin with four eyes. He stands over a partially dismembered corpse on a table, with a wicked metal blade in his hand. At the sight of the party, he hisses and curses several words in an ancient and unknown tongue.
Continued in Session 10, The Price of Corruption.