Forums    Newsletter    Guestbook    About    Search    Updates      
         Copyright © Randy Bowers. All rights reserved.


The Unholy Wars: A Visit to the Past (part two)

In the Spring of 2521AC the party of adventurers rejoined their forces. Tellzan had completed his training as a one channeler beneath the tutelage of the Baranar shaman called Ur'Uk. Al-Rathis returned from fighting alongside the dwarves led by Indam Gul. Elena returned from her time in the courts of the Djinni Amir in the Plane of Elemental Air. Sasha had finished her research and studies among the druids. Together they contacted Ayoi, who had spent much of her time traveling to the southern reaches of the continant. Together they teleported to her position, on the outskirts of the Eastern Empire.
    Traveling eastward they encountered a group of stone giants. Able to converse with them, Sasha reported to the party that ahead to the east was a dangerous site which the giants warned them away from, a chilling valley whose treasures were guarded by an ancient and mighty beast. Perplexed, they traveled towards that direction anyway and found a towering wall of stone that cut through the middle of the forest, as though a mountain had been unexpectedly and traumatically thrust up from the earth. Navigating to the top of this barrier they were able to look out and upon a desolate frozen landscape, so cold that it was unbearable to remain for long without the aid of magic. The party retreated a couple miles and Sasha transformed into an Air Elemental and left to explore the place. She returned a few hours later and reported seeing the great guardian of the place, though she did not approach close enough for a good look it was indeed a very large and powerful creature.
    The next morning they set off once again and entered into the Eastern Empire. The first town that they entered was desolate. Able bodied men had been taken from the place and gone to war, leaving behind bitter elderly and womenfolk. Disease had also found its place in the village. The villagers showed great contempt towards the non-human members of the party and they quickly moved on.
    Since they expected a similar unwelcome greeting at the next civilization, they carefully skirted human settlements until they found a large coastal city. A military force camped outside of the city and there appeared to be a number of bonfires burning the diseased dead. With magic they disguised themselves as humans and approached. After a brief checkup with a quarantine officer they were allowed admittance into the city of Duranmere. They hastened to an inn before the illusions wore off of Al-Rathis, Sasha, and Ayoi.
    The next day, under careful disguise, Ayoi and Tellzan traveled down to the harbor to look for a boat builder of suitable skill. After asking around a bit they were directed to the abode of Master Rininsman. Though retired from the shipwright business, the offer of gold that the party made was simply too much to turn down and so he went to work. It would take many months since men would need to be found to harvest the lumber, cure it, and build the ship. A crew was pulled together, many having been branded as criminal in hiding from the militia since most legitimate and able-bodied men had been sent off to fight in the Unholy Wars. The party relaxed as the months slowly went by with the exception of only one side trip: investigating the strangely frozen area and looking for what treasure might be had there.
    Once again they traveled to the top of the ridge that encircled the strangely wintered land. Protected by magic they descended down into the wasteland. Frozen trees dangled sheets of ice and the ground was covered in a permanent glaze of frozen snow and ice. Small fog banks of super frozen air drifted about, which Tellzan had the misfortune of stumbling into at one point - a mistake that would have quickly cost a lesser man his life. In the distance could be heard the bellows of the guardian beast.
    After a little exploration a sunken courtyard was found, in the middle of which was erected a slender black monolith covered in arcane runes and icy rime. The party descended down to investigate. Tellzan approached the monolith, reached out to brush away the frost which covered it, and quickly recoiled as a ghostly, skeletal hand reached out to grasp at him, spreading strange black flames up his arm. Alarmed, a variety of magics were employed in attempt to extinguish the life burning flames, but then they strangely went out on their own accord. Just then Sasha noticed that a strange fog was settling over the sunken courtyard. Recalling how badly Tellzan had been frozen by his accidental entry in to one of the fog banks earlier in the day, the party quickly left the site of the monolith.
    Traveling by wind walk they surveyed and explored over the chilled landscape and found a round temple-like structure near the center of the wasteland. Pillars held up the domed roof which sheltered a strange cylindrical alter around which three miniature versions stood of the black monolith they had attempted to divine earlier in the day. Sasha approached the seal and touched it, letting her gift of Annos reveal what it could of the device.
    Returning from her trance she quickly related to the group that she had a vision where she watched a strange ceremony from the eyes of a man present there, sometime in the past. The alter was actually a seal, entrapping a powerful creature of winter beneath the earth, and three young men had given their lives to empower the monoliths, which acted as a second ward against any who should attempt to break the seal. At this information the party decided that it would be best to leave the seal unbroken and not do battle against the powerful guardian that also roamed the place. They left from there and returned to the city of Duranmere.
    Six months and more passed by, and by the middle of Spring Elena had finished laying the enchantments upon the very fine long ship which Master Rininsman had built for the party. It sailed into the harbor with everyone aboard, destined to travel southward and follow the oracle's directions for returning to their native time and escape from the past. Ayoi brought with her Aran, who had bravely volunteered to come with the adventurers and attempt to return to their time with them. Once out of sight of land, the ship rose up into the air and began it's magical flight.
    Many weeks passed by as they quickly spend towards the southern horizon when one day a message was brought to Ayoi, whom the ship's crew seemed to favour with extraordinary enthusiasm, that a tower had been seen upon an island most recently passed over. Sasha and Al-Rathis tasked themselves with flying out to the tower to see what was there. The building speared upward from the mountainous stone of the island's south face. It looked cared for, yet it was closed up tightly as though obviously neither expecting nor welcoming guests. Deciding to leave the place in solitude, undisturbed, Sasha and Al-Rathis returned to the ship and nothing more came of the strange sighting.
    Though storms would rage about the ship, none harmed it as Sasha used her mighty druidic powers to control any winds and clouds that dared approach the ship. During one storm, however, the adventurers would not escape entirely untroubled. In the distance they saw vast worm-shaped clouds which sparked with purple lighting. Apparently two of the cloud-creatures had observed the long ship as it flew through the air and they quickly moved to intercept it. The party flew to the ship's aid and in a dangerous battle the strange and powerful creatures were defeated. Tellzan's sword slipped from his grasp during the battle and plunged into the ocean, but once again Sasha demonstrated her command over the elements and summoned a swarm of huge water elementals which were able to recover the valuable blade.
    As they traveled further south the weather became very cold. Icebergs could be seen floating beneath the ship; in one was seen the remains of an ancient vessel, preserved by being trapped to midship within the ice of the iceberg. Over a great cracked ice field they flew for days until, rather unexpectedly, the weather began to grow warmer and a few days later they found themselves flying over increasingly tropical waters. After a day of this, a cry came down from the crows nest that land had been sighted. Excitedly, the party massed on deck to watch land come into view when suddenly the ship plunged out of the air and crashed hard into the ocean waters fifty feet beneath them. Quickly action was taken to repair cracked timbers and leaks caused by the disastrous fall, but most mysteriously of all, the party discovered that no magic they had would function.
    When the ship was repaired it was put to oar and rowed away from the land until once again the flow of magic was felt by the party's spellcasters. Having established the boundary of the strangely magic absent area, the ship was again turned around and very slow progress was made to take it within sight of shore. There, a skiff was dropped and a landing party taken to the sunny beaches, beyond which could be seen jungles.
    The party said their goodbyes to the captain and crew and began to head inland. Since they were so far south, the days had grown longer and longer till the sun never set, though it hung far against the northern horizon. Cutting their way through the jungle greatly slowed their progress. Strange creatures could be heard calling from all directions. It was only a matter of time when they encountered their first hazard. Out from the bushes leapt two saurian raptors of great size. One snatched up Ayoi and quickly fled while the other attempted to do the same with Al-Rathis, but found the dwarf to be much harder to grapple within its mouth. The one that remained was quickly dispatched and the party chased after the one that had eaten Ayoi, hoping to rescue her before she perished. This task was difficult, as no magic would function, but with quick thinking they were able to save Ayoi just in time before she perished in the creature's gullet.
    Since a Ayoi and Elena were badly wounded from the experience they and Aran were sent back to the ship where they could rest up for a couple of days while the rest of the party moved onward into the jungle. Unburdened by those with a less developed stamina, the warriors and Sasha, the druid, traveled long into the jungle, seeing many other saurian creatures, until Al-Rathiss suddenly stopped. His ears had picked up the sound of creatures moving to surround the party. Sasha glanced about and observed that indeed a group of primitive humans had surrounded the party and seemed ready to launch an ambush. Some of the natives approached the party and peacefully, weapons were put down and the natives agreed to lead them to their village.
    The village was built within strange and ancient ruins of unknown origin. These humans had obviously not built them, but they used them for shelter. Al-Rathis, Tellzan, and Sasha were put under guard and left in a squalid walled in, roofless ruin that perhaps had once been a simple stone-walled home. They passed the night there, eating food brought to them and waiting to see what would happen. On the morning of the next day most of the village rose up and went to the southern side of the village to greet strange and exotically dressed creatures. Obviously, the villagers revered these sumptuously dressed in gold humanoids who kept their faces hidden with masks and towered twice the height of the small jungle-men. The strange beings were brought before the adventurers and seemed to be satisfied with what they saw. Al-Rathis and his companions were let out and then, escorted by the entire village and the strange new creatures, they were led southward on an ancient road.
    Out of the jungles they traveled and to a massive city which rested upon a hill, overlooking broad grassy plains. Beyond the city could be seen more hills and mountains. They were brought into the city, where a great celebration appeared to be taking place by more of these tall, kingly dressed, and masked beings. None of the villagers entered into the city. Through its streets they were led until they came to a great ziggurat at whose base stood richly dressed guards which burned with a golden flame.
    They were escorted up the steps of the ziggurat and led to a chamber which had a large pit within it. When Al-Rathis spoke a question their hosts reacted poorly, commanding him silence and not to speak his heathen tongue within their holy place. They were left there with one guard and told to wait, that there was to be a celebration later in the day. Curious to see what would happen next they decided to wait.
    Meanwhile, Ayoi and Elena recovered from their injuries. Two days time had passed since they last saw their companions and it was worrisome that they had not yet returned. Gathering together six men from the ships crew they set out to brave the jungles and track down their companions. The path which the warriors had hacked through the woods was not difficult to follow and the traveling was much easier. After a few hours they arrived at the village in which their companions had spent the night, but the place was empty of its residents who had not yet returned from the city on the hill. They gave the ruins wide berth and found the road leading southward from the other side. Following it they arrived at the edge of the jungle, where they could look out over the great plains and see the city where Al-Rathis, Tellzan, and Sasha waited. They camped off of the road, avoiding any encounter with the natives.
    That night Ayoi brought out her dream speaking crystal ball and spoke into the dreams of Tellzan. In this way she discovered much about the warriors experiences in the hilltop city. Instructing Tellzan to eat nothing and accept no favors offered by these strange beings, she said that they would rendezvous in the next day.
    The next day, Aran snuck up to the city gates and peered through them to see what was going on. He returned with stange tales that the inhabitants of the city were dwarves, Tenerthor elves, and humans, not the tall and furred beings that Tellzan had reported. Stranger yet, they all wore plain masks of gold which completely hid their faces and every resident was in the process of picking up the city's stone buildings as if they were no heavier than tents and moving them about, changing the layout of the town. Further, the demeanor of its residents seemed suspiciously happy, as though in anticipation of some festival. Aran gifted the tongue of the strange city's citizens into the minds of his companions and Ayoi created a glamor to garb them in similar festive clothing as the city's residents. This done, they walked up the hill and into the city.
    Upon entering the city Elena noticed that the walls of the city were not visible from within. In their place one could look out over the valley below and see a vast city stretching in all directions. More disturbingly, the gates of they city were also not visible once passed through but for a wispy and barely discernible ghost in the air. Ayoi, wisely, used a spell to memorize the location of the gate, in case the residents should begin moving buildings around again. In the distant center of the city could be seen the massive ziggurat where Tellzan, Al-Rathis, and Sasha reputedly waited. They traveled through the strange city until they arrived at the courtyard beneath the ziggurat where two radiantly dressed warrior-beings stood at the base of its steps. They wore helmets with golden rays spreading out from them, like a peacocks plumage, and they burned with a golden flame. These creatures were obviously not like the other residents of the city, but more like the beings that Tellzan had described to Ayoi during their dreamspeak. Growing apprehensive, Ayoi used her helm of telepathy to contact Tellzan within the ziggurat and warned him to partake of nothing that was offered to them by the city's residents and that they should leave the place.
    Ayoi, Elena, and Aran climbed past the strangely polite guards of the ziggurat and ascended, meeting Tellzan, Sasha, and Al-Rathis near the top. They briefly conferred as to what should be done next. From the vantage of the ziggurat it was plain to see that the city was much larger than it appeared from outside of the city gates. The descended the steps to the guards below and asked where the ruler of the city could be found, to which the guards replied, "The Golden One will arrive after the party, in about two hours. She is not here now." Enabled by Ayoi's memory, the party flew directly to where the gate was and discovered that a building had been moved into its place. Sasha turned into a xorn and ate her way through the side of the building. Within was one of the city residents, as they had originally appeared: tall, furry, dressed lavishly in festive silks, and wearing an emotionless golden mask. Tools for use in goldsmithing lay upon worktables and on a center table rested five golden masks.
    The goldsmith welcomed them in, not remarking upon how the xorn had made a hole in his workshop wall and beckoned to them, saying that their masks were ready for the coming party. "Why should we wear these masks? Why don't you take yours off?" the party asked. The man-thing replied, "So that you are more comfortable at the coming party," and removed its mask to show them that behind it the creature had no face, but smooth skin where a face should be. Replacing the mask, as though having no face beneath it was not important enough to remark upon, it then said, "come, take a mask, I have made them just for you."
    While the party debated about what to do, Ayoi went to examine where the gate had been, but was unable to pass through it. "How can we leave," she asked, to which the creature ominously replied, "Why would you want to leave? This is the City of Desires, it is paradise. One does not leave this place."
    Of all the adventurers, Sasha elected to take a mask, but she did not put it on. They decided to explore the ziggurat some more and so flew there. Ayoi went to the chamber she had previously visited and created a circle of warding to rest within while awaiting the coming party and the arrival of the 'Golden One.' The rest of the party explored the chamber where Sasha and the warriors had spent the night. Al-Rathis lifted away the strange lid to the pit in the center of the room and then noticed Sasha was just about to put the mask on her face. Acting with speed he snatched it from her and hurled it into the pit before she could don it. Sasha didn't even realize that she had been about to wear it.
    Al-Rathis descended into the pit to see if there were hidden passages there, but found none. Yet, while he was down there, he too nearly succumbed to inadvertently putting the mask on his face. Apparently there was a magic upon it to compel its possessor to wear it. Al climbed back out, bringing the mask with him, and it was put in Sasha's portable hole for later examination.
    They then explored up at the top of the ziggurat where a great gong was hung before a bas-relief depiction of a six armed woman with the lower torso of a snake. Tellzan attempted to lift the massive hammer that was meant to ring it, but quickly dropped it as his body shriveled and withered. Sasha quickly restored the energies that the foul device had consumed and the hammer was let be. As an experiment, Al-Rathis tried to fly up and out of the city, but he was unable to leave its boundaries and so he returned to his companions.
    Returning to the goldsmith they waited for the coming celebration to begin. Outside, a great festival began as the residents of the city flocked to the streets and danced about, making music upon strange instruments and lifting their voices. Sasha opened her portable hole to retrieve some items and inadvertently brought out the golden mask, Tellzan, spotting it in her hand reached for it and took it away before she put it on, but then clapped the mask to his own face, unable to resist its lure. The goldsmith merely smiled and continued his work.
    Tellzan briefly complained of dizziness and then made his way out into the streets as at about that moment there were heard terrible screams from the party-goers outside. They observed one celebrant draw a dagger and viciously plunge it into the back of the nearest one, who slowly died. Soon it was apparent that all of the city residents were bent on murdering each other, doing so in a disturbingly festive and violent manner. Tellzan rushed into the street and engaged in the melee, his friends unable to stop him.
    Clearly, Tellzan was the greatest warrior of the city. Mercilessly he roamed the streets and killed all that he came upon, dealing death with his sword in such capacity has he had never done before. Slowly the screams of the dying faded and only occasional skirmishes remained. The rest of the party sequestered themselves within the goldsmith's place, except for Sasha who kept watch from the building's roof for a sign of Tellzan. When every resident had been slain there was heard a great ringing from the ziggurat and it could be seen that a gargantuan demon with golden flesh had appeared there, her six arms each holding terrible weapons of destruction. Tellzan arose from the carnage that littered the streets and sped towards the apex of the ziggurat.
    The rest of the party moved in quick pursuit, but could only get there just in time to see Tellzan attempting to commit suicide before the great marilith-like being. Fortunately the warrior's armor prevented him from completing the deed just then Bravely the party engaged the demon while trying to prevent Tellzan from sacrificing himself before the creature. Behind the creature could be seen a great misty portal, a possible escape from this City of Desires. The creature was clearly too powerful to fight, especially armed with the terrible weapons it possessed. In the ensuing chaos they were unable to stop Tellzan from murdering himself. The demon spoke dark words of primal evil, whose power corrupted all who heard it. Aran fell dead at the terrible sound and corruption entered into the hearts of all who heard it. Fearful of the fiend's great power and thinking quickly, they recovered Tellzan and Aran's body before more could come of it and used magic to create an escape route past the terrible marilith and into the gate behind it.
    Through strange mists they traveled, crossing into the Realm of Terror, known as Oon, where they arrived behind the massive throne of the marilith in the demons feasting hall. Tortured souls stretched upon chains above, raining the vile banquet set before the demonic crowd that had assembled with their tears and blood. Al-Rathis, first to pass through, used his amulet to quickly escape from the realm of fiends and return to the Material Plane, finding himself hip deep in the tropical waters of an island far in the ocean. Sasha, Tellzan, and the rest of the party escaped by means of Elena's planeshift spellcasting.
    It was plain that the group had suffered not merely physically from the marilith's blows, but that many members of the party had been spiritually corrupted from the dark words of power that the fiend had uttered aloud in their presence. Ayoi and Elena took the bodies of Tellzan an Aran to the Elemental Plane of Air, where they would seek out the Ki'Rin, Melehsee once more, hoping that she would know a good and powerful being who could raise their fallen companion from the dead and cleans their souls of the taint that the marilith had inflicted upon them. Sasha decided to scry upon Al-Rathis and travel to where he waited on the tropical island.
    Ayoi and Elena spoke with Melehsee and she agreed that she would introduce them to a mighty shedu of ancient and great power. Traveling with Melehsee they were taken to a warm desert land where amidst an oasis the celestial being held court. Melehsee spoke with the tanned angel that stood by the sleeping creature's winged equine body and the Ki'Rin was told that they could make their supplication at dawn.
    In the morning they awoke to find that their bags had been emptied out, their contents carefully organized and neatly laid out upon the warm sand. Nothing had been taken except for one sword, a sword imbued with chaotic energies which had been a sometime favorite of Tellzan. Melehsee appeared to them and said that they were expected to appear before the shedu. Arriving at the round courtyard in which the shedu reclined upon a massive block of marble, it turned its gaze to them and they were humbled, forced to look away from the halo of pure goodness that it commandingly radiated. The tanned warrior-angel still stood by the shedu's side, holding at its side the chaos infused sword. The shedu welcomed them into its presence, inquired of the fell sword, and they agreed to surrender it for destruction. The shedu then listened to their supplications; they asked for an atonement to cleanse their spirits of the effects of the marilith's black words and for the return to life of Tellzan. The shedu listened to their reasons for why the two fallen adventurers should be returned to life and once satisfied that the powers of good would benefit from the deed it agreed to raise them from the dead in return for oaths of good action and intent from Ayoi and Elena. In a brilliant white light the shedu cleansed the spirits of those assembled before him and in the same breath brought both Tellzan and Aran to life.
    Meanwhile, Sasha traveled to where Al-Rathis bided his time upon the tropical island. The marilith's words had broken his will to continue adventuring for the cause of good and he had resigned himself to dwelling there on that isle for the time being. Sasha spoke with him for a time, then decided to explore the island as a suitable location for a druid's grove while waiting for Elena to return with their friends. During this time Sasha made her first use of certain ancient knowledge passed on to her from Borsaeg, the druidic Steward of Fire, and created a magical backroad between the island and the Watering Grotto of the Baranar giants. A unicorn answered her call and became the guardian of the backroad.
    Elena brought Ayoi, Tellzan, and Aran to the island where Sasha and Al-Rathis waited. With conversation they persuaded him and Sasha to join with them and travel once again to the southern most reaches of the world in search of the City of Ancients, as the Oracle of Aken had bidden them to. Sasha gathered them with her and took them through her newly created backroad from the isle and to the Watering Grotto of the Baranar, then she showed them the way to the stronghold of the druids where she used the great scrying pool to transport them several miles further south from the wicked City of Desires.
    After some travel through the rough and broken hills they came across an ancient looking stone doorway set into the side of a gulch. The simple inscriptions over the doorway required magic to decipher, "The memories of the ----. The Reliquary of Dreams." Strangely, one of the words failed to translate and remained a mystery to them. After some discussion amongst each other, having considered the danger they experienced when entering the City of Desires, the decided it best to leave exploration of the reliquary for another day and to continue on their quest.
    Using magical means they quickly traversed the primitive hills by flying over them until they arrived at the edge of a great desert that was shrouded in eternal twilight, the hills behind them nearly blocking all light from the sun that never sank beneath the northern horizon. As they traveled into the desert a bleak exhaustion slowly began to creep into their bodies. Even Al-Rathis and Tellzan felt the slow drain on their mental and physical facilities. Several times did Elena and Ayoi pass out from exhaustion; an event which quickly elicited magical revivification and healing just in case something worse should happen if they were allowed to sleep. Everyone was aware that they had bypassed the mysterious locale only named the "Reliquary of Dreams" and none were certain if an effect from that strangely named place was upon them now. Days passed by while in the distance the vast black shadow of the impossibly large mountain continued to grow. No sign of life, wind, or other travelers were seen.
    Finally, the exhausting journey across the desert came to an end. Before them was a great cliff of stone as black as obsidian, stretching left and right to the horizon. Piled up against it was a sea of bones from a vast variety of creatures known and unknown, rising from the desert sands to one-hundred feet high or more. Sasha attempted to fly up over the bones but found herself enveloped in darkness as she crossed over their threshold. Cautiously, Tellzan, Sasha and the others ascended the mountain of bone on hand and foot, till they reached the black cliff wall. If they could not fly to the top of the treacherous cliff, then where were they to go from here? Crossing the desert would surely be the death of them as the supernatural exhaustion continued to mount.
    In frustration, Tellzan struck his fist upon the cliff face. Suddenly a strange force knocked him back from the cliff, sending him tumbling down the hill of bones. Everyone's eyes turned to Tellzan's plummet, so they did not notice the raggedly cloaked being emerge from the dark cliff and slowly float towards Tellzan; maggots dripped from its sleeves, the hem of its cloak, and its hood. The creature offered forth a gruesome hand formed of writhing worms and spoke into Tellzan's mind, bidding him welcome to the Halls of the Dead. Tellzan moved away from the creature and there was a moment of tense silence. After a several moments of awkward quiet the creature withdrew its hand and floated backwards till it disappeared within the cliff, returning from whence it came.
    Deciding that they had yet further to travel, Al-Rathis was elected to scale the towering cliff walls with the rope that the party had available and secure it to something at its top so that the less able could ascend safely. Al-Rathis climbed, toiling up the many hundreds of feet until he pulled himself over the top of the cliff side. At the top he discovered there was room enough to rest and a couple hundred feet back from the edge of the cliff was a massive wall of ancient and thick trees, fully leafed, their branches so tightly woven together as to form an impenetrable wall. Again he set about climbing, this time up the trees, till he could see what was beyond. Then, descending, he fastened the rope to one of the massive roots and tossed the rest over the cliff to his companions who waited below.
    When everyone had scaled the cliff Al-Rathis explained to them that beyond the wall of trees lay a beautiful garden that stretched quite far and through which they would need to travel were they to reach the ever-dominating shadow of a mountain that was in the distance. Here, the party finally rested, the strange hungry drain of the desert upon their being having abated now that they had climbed the cliff side.
    They awoke after resting to find that while they had slept that a passageway had opened in the great wall of trees and that access to the gardens could be easily had. They entered into the place. It was clear that some entity kept the gardens groomed. The grass was cut, bushes manicured. Yet the fine touch of disease wilted every flower and yellowed each blade of grass. The air stung foul in their lungs. Sasha also noticed that there was no buzzing of insects or call of birds. These gardens were poisoned and dead. Not only did the gardens suffer in malaise, but here again the party found that all of their magical powers once more were ineffective; no spell could be invoked and even their most powerful devices did not stir with magic.
    Traveling through the maze of gardened courtyards and hedges they slowly made their way southward, avoiding the prick of poisoned thorns and circumventing dangerous looking plants. The "gardeners" of this afflicted garden were putrid creatures of bulbous flesh and tentacles, who used their claws to keep each bush and hedge carefully groomed. Though they posed little physical challenge to the group, they began avoiding these gardeners so that the noise caused by combat would not bring other unknown dangers to them. It was clear that in the direction that they headed that a great giant-like statue stood, like a colossus, it's angelic wings spread wide and shadowed in the half-light, it's gaze turned to the ground.
    Turning a corner they suddenly saw before them a great sized and mighty lion-like creature, but rather than fur it's flesh was covered with glistening steel scales and in place of one head it had three, the jaws of each wickedly appointed with a multitude of deadly fangs. The creature snarled and bounded towards them with unnaturally fleet speed. "Flee," shouted the bard, and they turned to run.
    Through the gardens they fled at as great speed as they could, but without magical aid, Al-Rathis began to fall behind and the wounds that the creature dealt him upon his back were terrible. Their flight suddenly delivered them to the center of the gardens, where on massive platform of stone stood the towering statue. Great droplets of blood fell down from the sky, as though the colossal statue wept and passing vocalizations of sorrow could be heard like wisps of breeze in the air. The creature struck at Elena and nearly slew her with its vicious claws, but Tellzan came to her aid and Al-Rathis bravely providing a vanguard. Tellzan took Elena up the brief stairs of the stone platform and returned to assist Al-Rathis's attempt to hold at bay the deadly beast while the rest of the party climbed the blood slicked stairs.
    Between the pillar-like legs of the statue was a contraption of three rings, connected such that the smallest could spin freely within the diameter of the next greatest and both within the largest steel circle, being twenty feet across. Machine works existed at either side of the device for adjusting the positioning of each concentric hoop. Elena, recognizing the symbols upon it to be like those of a magical gate, worked with Aran and Ayoi to manipulate the rings and activate the device, hoping that it would provide an escape from the beast. When the rings were finally aligned the view through the smallest revealed the side of a great cliff and they realized that this was a portal to the distant mountain that they had been steadily traveling towards.
    Quickly they moved the great rings, changing the destination that was seen through it until a safe place to arrive at could be seen: a pathway climbing up the side of the mountain. Then each of the party fled through the portal, launching them like birds through the sky with tremendous speed and then slowing them only moments before they would collide with the mountain side, setting them recklessly, but safely, upon the weather worn trail. The beast did not pursue.
    The air was thin and quick measures needed to be taken to ensure that all members of the party could breathe enough air to survive. This done, they began the ascent. For two days they climbed the endless stairs until they arrived at the top of a great plateau. The sky about them was thin enough, the sun far enough against the northern horizon, that stars could be seen in the sky, but most amazing was the great ring of tumbling obelisks formed of various shapes of stone, each the size of a castle or mountain, which slowly gyrated and moved like a great halo floating in the air high above the mountaintop plateau which they stood upon. A ribbon of golden light descended from the midst of the twinkling shadows of strange stone edifices high above them, descending into the center of a small walled monastery which rested at the geographical middle of the plateau.
    Exhausted, but curious, they traveled to the gates of the walled city and rapped upon it. There was the sound of a large bell being struck and on the third ring the gates slowly opened, revealing a welcoming party that had assembled to greet the adventurers. The men of the town looked human enough, but for three dwarvish looking beings who quietly stood behind them and said nothing. One of the men named himself Abharahab and welcomed them to the Monastery of Solace, pronouncing their journey to be nearly at an end. Cautiously, they entered into the place. As part of the welcome their hands and feet were washed, food and wine were provided to them, and oil was annointed upon them. Abharahab explained to them that the monastery was an ageless sanctuary and that the worst of their journey was behind them. If they were there in search of the City of Ancients, as many had come for in ages past, then they need only travel a bit further and climb the radiant path to the strange vista that revolved above them. Until they were recuperated ready to do so they were welcome to rest here in the monastery. Abharahab acknowledged that they probably had many questions unanswered and volunteered his knowledge to them if there was something they needed to know. Needless to say, a great many questions were asked.
    During their time there most of the party relaxed, but Al-Rathis learned that the god of the Daernarthor, Clannadigan, dwelt in flesh among the among the Aenod, the First Dwarves. Unable to contain his excitement, barely able to suspend his disbelief, Al-Rathis asked if an audience could be had with... Clannadigan! This granted, he traveled with the Aenod and into the stone of the mountain to a modest audience hall at one end of which rested a fairly modest forgeworks of dwarven design, within which labored the Earth Mason. Clannadigan spoke for a time with Al-Rathis and worked upon his powerful axe, sharpening it for him and binding the spirit of the axe to Al-Rathis so that he could always call it to hand. Then, presented with an amulet with its effigy, Clannadigan blessed it and returned it to Al-Rathis, saying that it would become the form of whatever Al-Rathis needed, once. In later adventures this amulet would prove instrumental in temporary victory over their foe Aoran, one of the Three of Shadow and bound servent of Titalus.
    When they had finished their rest and recovered from the trials they had endured to get to the Monastery of Solace, they contacted Abharahab and told him that it was time for them to travel onward to the City of Ancients. Abharahab agreed and showed them to the simple wooden gate at the center of the monastery complex. Beyond was a courtyard from which ascended a radiant staircase of light. Slowly they ascended it, leaving the world beneath them, till the tumbling monoliths surrounded them on all sides. At its top, the staircase faded away. It was there that each of the party completed the directive of the Aken Oracle and spoke the Chimes of Sanctuary: bestati, aravat, sthepesi. In turn, each of them was enveloped in brilliant light and vanished, returning from the past and to the future that awaited them.