Xanzilisa

INTERLUDE: THE DEMON'S STONE

Ripped from the material plane, presumably saved by his deity from a Primal trap, Brock Goldenleaf tumbled through time and space before arriving in a black and swirling dimension. There, a monstrous demon introduced himself as Nebu Zerasu and claimed, among other things, that he had put the Xanzilisa into the world.

He struck a deal with Brock: kill an elf king named Avenfal. Brock refused, so he made a counteroffer: simply deliver a large ruby to Avenfal's temple at his castle on the Black Spire and place it in a sacred bowl of water there. With no other way home, Brock agreed and the demon dismissed him with the ruby back to the material world.

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5. Assassins of the Light

While traveling quickly through the Orcish side of the Mountains, the party heard the sounds of battle and carefully approached to find a group of orcs whose camp was under attack by large white-furred wolfen creatures. 

Coming to their aide, the party was able to save on Orc before the creatures were slain and the group was surrounded by mounted Orc warriors who escorted the party to their encampment. There, the survivor was taken before a war chief, who then asked to speak to the heroes.

Grundergap – the War Chief of the this band who called themselves Infinite Legions – explained that by saving the Orc warrior, they had robbed him of a rightful death and shamed him in the eyes of other Orc. The party apologized, but there was nothing to do for it now. The Chief revealed that he was in a similar prediciment. His own son, Hu-thor, had left recently on pilgrimage with a small group to a temple where he would make offerings to his ancestor spirits.Having not returned, Grundergap feared him dead or taken prisoner and wanted to send aide to him, though doing so would shame his son as unfit to be a warrior. He asked the heroes to travel with the rescued Orc warrior to the temple and try to locate his son. Their ploy would be that they were now slaves to the Orc warrior and he was traveling to the temple to atone for his shame. If the party returned with his son alive and kept up the ruse, Grundergap promised them safe, escorted travel to the land of the Sky Elves, the border of his land and a just reward. If they brought back his corpse, they would be free to go, but he could offer no protection.

The party agreed, and restocked their goods in the encampment, including picking up some fine Orc bows and throwing axes as well as poisons and potions. They named their Orc companion Scrote, and made way to the temple.

At the temple, the party found a desecrated site, with no signs of pilgrims or clergy. Entering, they found the place in ruins, though it had probably been in use just a few weeks prior. Scouring the temple, they came across ritual chambers (some of which they performed to pass on, others they simply strong-armed their way through). They discovered a colony of goblins that had taken up residence in the ruin and promptly defeated them. Moving on they found more goblins, their bosses wearing strange, primitive religious symbols, very unusual for goblins.

The party found a barricaded chamber where Hu-thor and two surviving members of his group had holed up. On their journey, they too found the temple abandoned but moving through it came across something larger and much worse that goblins. Over powered and unsure of what they had found, they retreated, but found themselves trapped. They had been waiting for days. With some convincing, the wounded Orcs agreed to help the heroes finish off the evil and cleanse the temple.

Eventually, the heroes discovered the source of the infestation – a Bugbear cleric of a cult calling themselves the Assassins of the Light, worshipers of Hruggek of Acheron. Along with two bug bear acolytes and his legion of goblin slaves, he was here to extinguish the sacred flame of Bahgtru, ancestor-diety of the Plains Orcs who summoned the flaming Hellstone from the sky to crush his mortal enemy Gruumsh, ancestor-diety of the Highland Orcs.

Setting aside religious history, the party struggled mightily against these formidable foes who took the life of one of the surviving warriors and knocked unconscious both Eli and Scrote. Defeating the acolytes, the party disrupted the ceremony being performed by the head cultist on the eviscerated corpse of the temple shaman. His profane ceremony interrupted, the Bugbear Cleric became partially consumed by a black-tendriled entity that control part of his body, while he slashed out with a mace with the his other half. Beating him down, the tendrils eventually destroyed their host, before consuming themselves, finally falling apart into a dark ichor on the temple floor.

Their task done, the party returned triumphant and were rewarded. Grundergap's own Dread Axe and Hu-thor's Helm were given to the party, along with fresh mounts. Together with members of the Chief's warband, the party rode hard for several days south, finally reaching a forested area where their caravan was met by mounted Sky Elves. Peace gestures were nervously exchanged, and the party was handed over into the keeping of the Elves, with promises from Grundergap that if they ever entered his lands again, they would be welcomed as Orc, and full members of the Infinite Legion.

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4. The Demon's Blade

The party continued south, riding the edge of the Khadûm Mountains, eventually stopping and making camp in an enormous fortress ruin overlooking the vast Xanzilisa. Taking it in turns to keep watch while they camped in the bailey of the fort, the party awoke to find their paladin, Brock Goldenleaf, missing!

Searching around, his footprints were tracked to a plate in the ground with a nearby ground sconce and a crystal. Placing the crystal in the socket, the plate lowered revealing stairs down. The party, minus Roland, proceeded to climb down where eeiry green light (like that in the Trial of Champions) washed over them. They felt their bodies stiffen and pain come over them until the light reached the Artifact, when it promptly retreated. Another series of platforms lowered from the ground to form stairs and the party stepped down further to a lower level.

Here, a great detritus-ridden room spread out with all in ruins but a large, shallow bowl upon a pillar. Activated by and drawn towards the bowl, the Artifact pulled slightly in Marco's hand edging towards the vessel. Placing the item there, it began to spin and wheel quickly, the runes and glyphs upon it reordering and reshaping themselves. A pure white light began to fill the room and a vision of another place filled the party's eyes.

It was difficult to make out clear shapes in this place, since everything seemed to emit its own light. Still, some balconies, arcades and towers could be seen against the backdrop of a beautiful blue-white sky and several very large humanoid shapes were moving slowly, ethereally about. One in particular turned and seemed to actually see the heroes. It's shaped buldged with armor, and feather-like tendrils, but it retained the shape of a human, albiet some 10 feet or taller in height. It carried a massive mace upon its shoulder and its eyes glowed a bright azure. As it =s eyes flashed with color and it moved closer, Marco felt an intrusion in his mind from the Old One and, though it usually communicated through indistinct visions and symbols, all party members heard its immortal voice groan,"No. See … This …"

The scene swirled and changed. Ripped from the pseudo-paradise the Artifact had connected the party with, their field of vision became distorted, purple-blue and foggy. Indistict shapes formed into laborers, chipping away at the walls of a mine. Mercenary guards looked on, chatting with the workers as foremen inspected carts of stone and ore with pleasure. The vision swirled again as a voice cried out "Over Here!" The vision focused on one worker breaking through a stone wall into a chamber room. Inside, the workers and guards ran their hands over a wealth of gold and gems, as well as many primal artifacts. Some seem to be weapons or tools, others were strangely shaped oddities of indeterminable function. One, a small pyramid, floated above a workers hand before simply blinking out of existence. One worker held aloft the Artifact.

As it turned and whirred with its morphous glyphs, workers were phase-shifted into walls or out of the room to gods-know-where. Panic began to creep through the ranks of workers as the mercenaries ran in. Rifts opened in the walls and creatures began to step through, some only half-formed and writhing in madness and pain. The mercenaries tried to fight back. One raised a sword and his arm was shifted for an instant, coming back niether quite here or there. Even his blade seemed to moving between the planes as one moment it was in his hand and another simply gone. His arm smoldered with purplish energy. As he raised his head, the heroes clearly saw the face of the Lord Commander of the Night Marauders, the same one who attacked their caravan. 

The Commander rose, inspecting his arm with horror before looking around the room at the chaos that was erupting. He rushed forward, cutting down a worker begging for help and taking the artifact. Spinning on his heels he ran from the room, indiscriminately hacking at workers, warriors and phased creatures to make his exit. As his cloak swirled behind him through the gap that had brought them into this room, the vision dissolved, leaving the party back in the room, the Artifact now coming to rest in the bowl.

Outside, a cacaphonous clap heralded a storm on the way. Rushing outside the party saw no ordinary storm front, but a rolling wall of magical energy crackling from the sky, white lightening striking out from it at all sides. Riding the thermals in front of this magical maelstrom were the bat-riding sky elf Night Marauders.

Making quick work to fortify their position, Marco and Kevril noticed that a vessel, identical to the bowl and column below, had risen on a platform in the fortress. Between dodging the incoming fire bombs, magic missiles and arrows of their attackers, the pair made a break for the bowl. Placing the Artifact in, the entire fortress began to move and rearrange itself. As bat riders landing, some dismounting with scimitars at the ready, they made their way to a second and then third vessel, each time the fortress rearranging its enormous pillars and platforms into different configurations like some kind of giant clockwork puzzle.

Finally, the fortress arranged itself into a kind of great bridge, terminating in a fifty foot drop into a churning vortex of ethereal energy. Kevril and Marco jumped in, followed by Eli (now riding a stolen bat mount), then Roland and a mysterious Dwarven Cleric who had shown up amidst the battle to aid the party.

Tumbling through the vortex, the party found themselves falling into a long-abandoned feasting hall full of fine dishes and golden utensils. But this was no primarl ruin, and in fact the craftsmanship and artwork suggestion a much more contemporary source. That source was confirmed, when the party left the Hall of Feasting to find themselves high in the Khadûm Mountains – now on the Western side! – overlooking a vast steppe, the distinct sight of a mounted Orc hunting band pursuing game on the plains below. 

Having crossed over into Orc land, the heroes decided to continue south. The Dwarven Cleric – revealed to be Arthrac, a self-described Oracle of the Sands, told the heroes that he was a hermit who traversed the Great Desert. He felt the stirrings of power when the heroes took up residence in the fortress, which grew as they used the artifact. Arriving, he surmised they were in danger and aided their escape. Unable to convince him to travel with them, Arthrac encouraged the heroes to destroy the artifact if they could, or seal it away if they could not. He felt confident their paths would cross again, and bid them farewell.

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3. The Forest King

When the heroes emerged from the Primal Ruins, they found themselves surrounded by Halfling Warriors of the Thunderclap Tribe, who collected their weapons and took them to their encampment. In their stone and clay homes built into a protected cliff side, the Halflings explained that they had found the heroes through the visions of their Shaman, Garog. The Shaman claimed that he saw visions of their Tribal Leader, Andiron, become a great king over all Halfling Tribes. These desires fueled Andiron's imagination, so much so that he betrothed his only daughter to Garog. The party also learned that the Artifact had transported them nearly three weeks ride south of Dago Town.

Over the course of the day, the party learned that Garog had acquired a strange fruit which Brock sensed was evil. When a village girl accidentally consumed the fruit, she was driven mad by visions of a Forest King who would envelope the world. Confronting Garog before the chief, he admitted his treachery and fled under an invisibility spell. Tracking him through the stables, where he had been poisoning animals to sneak through unobstructed at night, the party found a small tunnel that led into the Mountains.

Through the tunnel, the party came to a great grove of Ancient Trees, with one larger than the others. The ground was littered with ancient corpses. Soon the largest tree came to life, with the Shaman proclaiming him the Forest King, a great living evil tree with visions to cover the world in a Great Forest. Corpses rose from the dead and the party battled the tree with the help of Luco, a Halfing hunter. Defeated and set on fire, the forest grotto burned as the Shaman was crushed under the falling Forest King.

Back in the village, with Garog's lies unraveled, Sonee the local loremaster told the heroes of legends of an ancient human kindgom that had once had a terrible collapse in these lands. Legends of their ruins led the Thunderclap to claim their current encampment, while other stories told of a massive slaughter, with corpses dumped into a sinkhole, presumably the grotto. Though perhaps once a good and noble spirit, the Forest King had been corrupted by feeding off of the dead for so many years, and had been driven mad. Using his cursed fruit, he influenced the mind of Garog to serve him. Most recently, it desired the Primal Artifact that the heroes carry.

Equipped with horses and fresh supplies, the party headed out into the desert, on their way to the Tormaline Valley.

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2. The Trial of Champions

Rushing back to Dago Town, the party discovered the trading post in ruins with no sign of Trimark or the other two surviving guards. They entered the city and found slain giant bats, elven night maruaders and villagers. Checking out the Halfshell, the team discovered a group of survivors in the basement. Just then, a horn sounded.

Outside, Eli spied a group a hoard of goatriders, raiders who quickly descended on the town. A figh erupted around and inside the Halfshell that ended when the Goatrider Leader grabbed the Primal Artifact and started manipulating it. In a blinding white flash the heroes were transported to an underground ruin, with their attackers grotesquely fused to the walls and floors.

The party was, thankfully, fine, and made their way through the ruin which ended up being a Trial of sorts, a Primal dungeon where warriors were tested in battle and made into heroes or kings crowned in riches. Crystals produced from chalices on pedestals opened a series of gates which led to rooms where different puzzles and challenges were overcome including a Chimera, 60 skeletons, riddles and an enormous armored knight trapped under rubble. 

In the final room, the heroes met with an undead frozen monstrosity who screamed in silence and blasted the heroes with paralyzing charms and cold blasts. Once defeated, another chamber appeared: a room with a stone relief of past heroes, that magically added the party to its walls and produced four pillars that showered them in … mostly long-rotten armor and weapons. A goodly amount of gold and jewels was scavenged, as well as four magical artifacts to aide the heroes in the quests.

Beyond the treasure room, another room opened up, the ceiling of which collapsed offering a way to the surface (wherever that may be). The heroes made camp before leaving the next day.

 

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1. Through the Horned Gate

Roland awoke with a start as fetid water splashed on his face and ran down his body. After a night of drink and fight, he had been rounded up by the local militia and thrown in the brig. Freed by a familiar face – Trimark – she offered her old commander a job guarded a caravan headed out of Dago Town the next day. Roland accepted and agreed to help recruit additional muscle.

At the Halfshell, a tavern and inn inside an enormous tortoise skeleton, he found Marco Maestarr, an elven mage with a far-away look in his eyes. Roland recruited him to the cause and the two soon witnessed a tough Halfling ranger take out an Orcish bully in short order. Eli Bookof was ushered into the group as well. A peculiar Gnome Paladin named Brok Goldenleaf attempted to heal, cheat and then join the group, having seen the slaying outside. Eventually, they agreed. Finally, outside, the team was joined by Kevril Silentread AKA Duke Rope, a rogue and con-artist with sticky fingers.

The group prepared for their journey and drove two wagons pulled by Mandoos out through the enormous horned gate and into the Xanzilisa. The first leg of the journey was briefly interrupted when, while trying to track down a strange metallic clinking noise, Kevril discovered four giant centipedes attempting to devour the team's rations. The problem was dealt with quickly. Besides this event, the only thing of note was that Trimark's group seemed rigid, professional and more battle-ready than your run of the mill mercenaries.

That evening the group made camp and took two-person rotations all night long. During Kevril's first watch he discovered the source of the sound – military weapons stored and ready in the false-floor of one of the wagons. During his second shift, some hours later, the camp was set upon by enormous bats being ridden by elves in dark desert garb. They fought with lances when mounted, and scimitars on foot. Their leader, overheard to be called "Lord Commander," wielded a spectral blade that could appear in his hand at any time and which glowed with a blue-white vapor. He cut down two soldiers and proceeded to oversee the ransacking of one of the wagons, before Brok engaged him in combat, sensing that his sword had an evil nature.

The mysterious Lord Commander fled, perhaps frustrated that his search turned up nothing he was looking for (it should be noted he left the weapons, gold, armor and other personal effects of the caravan untouched). He called down a bevy of arrows from the dozen or more riders still circling in the sky and made a move to withdraw. As he tried to flee, Eli tagged him with a poison arrow and got a quick glimpse of his face, scowling in indignation. A giant bat rider carried him off.

Trimark was badly riddled with arrows, but Brok was able to stabilize her. The group heard her tale: 

King Luka, the regent of Rahar had uncovered an object which was stored in the secret compartment in the front wagon of the caravan's driver's bench. Once recovered, Marco was certain it was a powerful Primal artifact, but stopped short of messing with it too much. Trimark explained that the King felt that it was adamant that the artifact travel to the Tormaline Valley and reach the hands of a being called the Ard Ra. 

Uncertain of what to do with this information, the party salvaged a partial wagon and two Mandoos to carry Trimark and the surviving three soldiers back to Dago Town. They set out into the desert, intending to meet up with the soldiers back in Town that evening and decide what to do.

Rewards: a few small arms salvaged from the weapons cache, and 30 arrows poisoned with giant centipede venom (Eli).

XP: 300 (per character)

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