Day 9, Solar Month, 757 years since the Fall of the Gods, early summer
The Hammers of the Dawn managed to find a safe place for the long night. Drícia was still being slowly consumed by the living crystal of the aldarian temple – her arm was now half crystallized, although the maiden-priestess felt no pain or impairment. Quite the contrary, she discovered that she could hear her allies’ thought while they dreamed. From the aasimar’s mind, Drícia caught glimpses of the Celestial Ark, journeying through the Void between the Orbs; from Garet, she saw scenes of the halflings training with Corbie (strangely, the female halfling appeared to note Drícia’s presence*). Of all her friends, the most disturbing dreams came from inhuman mind of the Heian, the elf – for a moment Drícia thought she saw a flash of the roguish wizard walking side by side with the drasendór cataphracts.
The maiden-priestess’ psychic awakening wasn’t the night’s only surprise. During his watch, Hilguen received the visit of a lone and tattered warrior, named Banidras, who asked for water. After a short and tense conversation, the human left the camp and disappeared in the night, not leaving any trail or mark that the party could follow.
With the coming of another hot unlit morning, the Hammers found Whisper, the wolf companion of the druid Cadimus, one of the survivors from the Circle of El’dar party. The animal was hurt and once healed led the party (theoretically) to his master. Along the way they’re attacked by giant red tigers, fire drakes, thoqquas and fire serpents – making for a quite “pleasant” morning.
Whisper finally led them to narrow doorway on a massive wall. The gate emanated a palpable unnatural aura and only through the paladin’s presence the group managed to enter. Delving through twisting corridors, they found a chamber filled with lava – at its center a small rock altar and, upon it, the gnome bard Ruudninb, another member from the Circle of El’dar. The little humanoid played an enthralling song with a harp of obvious magical nature, keeping at bay a score of fire elementals. The Hammers successfully retrieved the gnome from the cavern, running away from the swarm of fire spirits.
However, things didn’t got better. Waiting for the party outside was the massive rage drake that had stalked their forces a few days ago. Without the army’s explosives, the battle proved harder. While Garet climbed the draconian beast, Hilguen and the remaining Hammers charged ahead. The party’s tactic was considerably improved by the intervention of Cadimus, followed by three dire wolves and a scarlet mountain bear.
With the rage drake vanquished, both groups headed back to the Middle Scales – stopping along the way to fetch the red tigers’ kittens.
Day 10, Solar Month, 757 years since the Fall of the Gods, early summer
The next night was marked by the return of Banidras. The party by now knew that they’re dealing with a ghost. Hilguen discovered that the spirit was once a member of the Dol Valdar’s Furious – a famous warrior band. Banidras and his brothers-in-arms fell during the War of the Dark Banners, but not against drasendór blades or kundravian witchcraft. Their demise came from a deadlier force – the Burning Lords, arch-elemental beings that lived at the top of the Mountains of Eternal Fire, also known as Gromunfang’s Jailers. Potent summoned creatures bound to guard that elder red dragon’s resting place. Banidras returned to thanks Hilguen for the water and to warn the paladin: he should never climb the mountains higher than the Middle Scales.
Drícia’s psychic talent kept growing and the priestess could now establish mental contact with her friends.
Upon awakening, the party resumed the search for the goblinoids’ secret passage. Cadimus and Ruudninb left, returning to the Eye of the West to report their discoveries.
Avoiding the higher tracks, the Hammers crossed a gap in the mountain range, reaching a dark valley, untouched by daylight since Gromunfang’s fall and nestled among towering volcanoes. The place was covered by a strange “forest” of corals, whose flowers were crowned with small red gems. Between the “trees” there’re strange rents in the ground, constantly regurgitating a sickly green gas.
The surreal valley matched the “Stone Forest” description given earlier by the mephit Spark. Further exploration revealed that the coral’s were fire-proof but that the local gas was flammable (and slightly explosive). Hid amid the Stone Forest lived a tribe of troglodyte pygmies, that attacked the Hammers with spears and ridding flailsnails. The great number of foes forced the party inside a series of caves – not coincidentally the tribe’s lair. The troglodytes’ leader was an old acquaintance of the Hammers, a petulant kobold sorcerer called K’buk (captured at Baer’s Tower but who escaped during the army’s march).
K’buk easily took control of the troglodytes with his puny fire magic (and by controlling a small red wyrmling). The kobold was assisted in this by finding among the tribe’s junk a magic wand. Being naturally mean and vindictive (besides stupid), K’buk wanted the Hammers to be his tortured ad nauseam (especially the paladin) instead of just slain, what give time for Heian to attempt a charm person spell on the kobold.
That didn’t work too well; for Heian was interrupted by the wyrmling, who noted the elf’s spellcasting gestures. An all-out combat started, with the party surrounded by angry troglodytes, their “god” (K’buk) and his pet red dragon.
Nogard and Garet tried to capture K’buk, hoping to use him as a hostage, but the little vermin used his wand and blast the party with fireballs. Drícia and Hilguen held the troglodyte wave, while Heian cowardly run away by casting invisibility.
When death seemed certain, Hilguen summoned his Divine Spark, assuming avatar form**. The wyrmling was quickly slain, as were all troglodytes fool enough to face the aasimar.
During the ensuing chaos, Drícia detonated a technomagic light grenade against the troglodytes. To everyone’s horror, the entire cavern system shook and a rift opened over both the troglodytes and the party revealing a gargantuan reptilian yellow iris. The Hammers discovered that the entire Stone Forest was actually an ultra-orbian *** fungus growing on the back of a leviathan – a chthonic beast of mountain-like proportions.
The creature awakened and started to get up in its many pillar-like legs. Those mundane actions, executed on this particular situation and scale, provoked, respectively, an earthquake, a small magna flow and a big landslide.
Drícia, Nogard, Garet and Heian escaped using a giant flailsnail’s shell to skate downhill, between the leviathan’s legs. Hilguen, still locked in avatar form, kept slaying troglodytes until buried by the falling stones.
The leviathan left the dark valley, crawling yet deeper in the Mountain of Eternal Fire. His previous resting spot was quickly being filled by lava. A new and concentrated earthquake revealed that Hilguen successfully dug his way out to the surface before losing his semi-divine potency.
Using a rising steam pillar as reference, the Hammers left the Leviathan’s Lair and reached an adjacent narrow vale, filled with inviting thermal pools. The only living things here were small winged lizards and scarlet fireflies. Further exploration showed a rift to a walled lake covered in hot mists. The party heard the sound of drakes nesting above.
A narrow stone path led to the lake’s center, where the party found a small island and a beautiful tree of golden apples – the Tree of Summer. The entire place has a surreal quality and was the demesne of the fey Fyrdwaid (a fire nymph with oracular powers). Upon seeing the Hammers, she offered the magical fruits in exchange of “feats of valor” (apparently she did that because of an old geas). Nogard, Hilguen and Garet accomplished their respective tasks and were each given a fruit, gaining extra vigor and strength. Heian asked to be relieved of his goblin-form (a djinn’s curse). Hilguen was troubled by the nymph’s oracular words, which hinted that the paladin would be betrayed by the celestial spirit that he carried in his magical lantern.
During the meeting, a tall and dark warrior, encased in dark adamantine armor, entered the lake. His name was Virduk and he claimed to be the “nymph’s lord”. He promptly assaulted the Hammers, summoning assistance of the local drakes. Virduk disabled most of the party before finally falling. After the combat the group took Virduk’s armor and weapon. Fyrdwaid, pleased by the “show”, gave them a little pinch of magic dust and a clue – to search for the caves where the spider that could mimic songs lived. Beyond such place, the magic dust would reveal the Blind Passage – the secret trail of the goblinoids.
*Halflings of Isaldar are a dream-aligned race and have some kind of control over the Dreamlands.
**Hilguen reached the level where he could use his Divine Spark to temporally assume a lesser avatar form (almost like a planetar shape). Unfortunately, while in this form, he was under the All-Consuming Light of Himaeris, the Celestial Orb, and thus driven to vanquish anything unlawful and non-good (including some chaotic members of the Hammers).
***Orb = Planet. In Chronicles of the Seventh Moon “Planet” = “Plane”, so “ultra-orbian” is the equivalent of “extra-planar”.