The party wasted no time in preparing for the journey. Spells were recharged at the temples, healing was received, and Prospero bought each member of the party a healing potion from the group’s cache of gold. While Captain Ward, Prospero and Simon tied up some loose ends, the rest of the party went to the inn for a meal while they waited. As they entered, Trish’s eyes were drawn immediately to a stranger in the corner who was eyeing them intently while the group arranged themselves around one of the larger tables in the inn. The stranger was tall, and covered with a red robe, but the thing that held Trish’s attention was the six inch long black tipped, yellow beak poking out from within the hood. A Vrawk! Trish had heard of them of course, but this was the first she had seen, and based on the bright color of the plumage poking out randomly from its robes, it was a male. Trish’s reverie was broken as a few members of the inn crowded in on Ellisandra as they were want to do when they saw her harp, since that gave the local lads an excuse to come up and talk to her. “Lass, could ya play us a tune?”
Without much coaxing, Ellisandra said, “I’d be delighted to play,” and moved to the front of the bar.
Taking out her harp, Ellisandra checked that it was still in tune, then, with a meaningful look in the direction of the Vrawk began to play a ballad about the great Air city of Orana and how it fell. The Vrawk, as soon as it heard the opening strains of the song, awkwardly stood, and moved towards where Ellisandra was playing, his wings flapping involuntarily and bumping into people as if he were not used to being inside a building. Finally settled in at the front of the crowd, he listened intently as Ellisandra sang of the Lazuri conquest of Orana, how the people of Air were driven into the Talon Mountains to escape their enemies who razed the city as they advanced, and of how the city of Air would rise from this defeat, throw off the yoke of Lazuri oppression and rebuild their glorious city. Applause filled the room when she had finished, and the Vrawk drew close to Ellisandra. “You know the history of my people,” he said, clicking his beak.
Ellisandra looked at him kindly, “Yes, I studied in the College of Air in Emancia. We often had your people and others from Orana come in as guest speakers.”
“I’ve noticed that you appear to be preparing for a journey,” said the Vrawk, “I too am on a journey and wonder if you need someone to fill your party?”
“I’m not in charge,” said Ellisandra with a chuckle, “I’d guess that would be Trish at the moment. I’ll take you to her. I’m Ellisandra, what is your name, so I may properly introduce you?”
The Vrawk cocked his head to one side and looked at her intently, then said, “My name is Susi. One thing, though, I’m not sure I can associate with the mouse that seems to be your companion.”
Ellisandra laughed at this, and brought him to the table where Trish watched them approach. “Lady Trish, this is the Vrawk Susi, he is wondering if we have space in our party for him to accompany us,” said Ellisandra.
Trish looked at the birdman and said, “We might have space, Ellisandra. Master Susi, where are you going and what is your profession?”
Susi replied, “I am an initiate of Guha, and I am on a quest to find his lost temples.”
Trish frowned, “I’m not sure if we are headed the same direction. Where are these temples supposed to be?”
Susi made a gesture somewhere between a spasm and a shrug that set his wings flapping out and said, “Guha is a trickster, as you may know, and his temple may be anywhere. I don’t have any firm idea on where the next temple may be, and your path has as much chance of leading there as any other I might take, although it would be arguably safer with your group than alone.”
Satisfied, Trish introduced Susi to the rest of the party. When she got to Walac, the Vrawk clicked his beak rapidly and said, “My people just love mice!”
Before long, Captain Ward and the others returned, and Trish made introductions. Captain Ward said, “Well, let’s be off. I’m ready to take my ship back from those scoundrels, and that’s not going to happen here in this inn!”
It was just past midday when the party reached the outskirts of the port. The area quickly became a dismal swamp, with moss hanging down from the trees like horrible green dreadlocks. There wasn’t any kind of road to speak of, because the swamp swallowed up any attempts to tame it in short order. Captain Ward had decided the night before after studying the maps that staying closer to the coast would be their best course of action. As long as they could keep the ocean in view, they ran less of a chance of getting lost in the swamp, or worse, finding the things that called the swamp home. As the evening came along, the party found a rare dry spot to pitch their camp, but as they were making preparations for the evening, Susi spotted something in the tree above them. He flew up and within moments, a corpse that had been hanging in the upper limbs of the tree came plummeting down into the middle of the camp site. Trish examined the body, and called Gilliam forth from Oblivion to see if he could determine anything about the body from the other side. When he could not find anything supernatural with the corpse, Gilliam returned to Oblivion and Trish began making preparations to bury the corpse. The mood was subdued that evening as everyone wondered what would have put a corpse twelve feet into a tree.
Between the discovery of the corpse, the bugs, the oppressive heat and the humidity, no one slept much that night. After a quick breakfast that did little to raise anyone’s spirits, the party continued to hug the coast. Around noon, Walac could see the remains of an old stone two story manor house rising out of the forest. “We’ve got to go check it out,” Walac said, whiskers twitching, “Who knows what treasure might be inside!”
The party continued, following something of a path that had formed and seemed to lead to the house. As they drew closer, it was clear that the house had been there a long time, but it was also clear that it wasn’t ancient, or Journeyman, in make. “I think I can smell the ocean,” said Brine, sniffing the air.
Walac scampered up the pathway ahead of the group. Susi spread his wings and launched himself into the air, “I don’t trust that little rodent,” he said under his breath, “I’d rather make a stew out of him.”
Walac could see the house clearly now, and could also see the ocean ahead just past an outcropping of rock that seemed to mark the edge of the beach. Seeing movement on the rocks, Walac froze in place and watched, unaware that Susi had caught sight of the movement too. A large scorpion was crawling over the rocks, its tail whipping in the air as it searched for food. A second scorpion came from around the rock and came near the first, and Walac noticed that the tails of both creatures seemed more like a whip than a normal scorpion tail. It was both longer and more limber. As he watched them move around the rocks, Susi saw something Walac hadn’t and circled back to tell the others about the half scorpion, half man creature on the other side of the outcropping. Walac moved closer to the building, looking at the architecture and trying to decide how he wanted to enter, when a whirring sound caused him to duck. A curved piece of wood passed close over his head and clattered against the stone wall, falling to the ground. Walac turned around to see a scorpion with the torso of a man charging at him.
Susi circled back while pulling his bow and shot at the creature, but the arrow simply skittered along the creature’s carapace without effect. As Trish charged into the fray, the creature bellowed a command, and the scorpions from the rock scurried towards the rapidly advancing party. One of the smaller scorpions reached Trish, and cracked its tail like a whip, sending ichor spraying towards her. A glob of it landed on her mail shirt and began to bubble and hiss, while smoke rose from where the poison was eating the metal away.
The creature stabbed at Walac with his spear, tried to grab him with his claws, and impale him with his tail, but Walac dodged like a dervish until the spear caught him a glancing blow to the head, stunning him briefly. The creature called again, and a swarm of more normal sized scorpions came from the rocks, coating the path like a blanket. Ellisandra cast a blast spell, and with lightning crackling out from her point of aim, the swarm and one of the whip tailed scorpions exploded in bursts of light. In an instant, Maelstrom stood beside her, ready for action. Susi continued to fire at the chaos creature while Walac danced around thrusting with his rapier. None of the damage they were doing seemed to affect the scorpion man at all, though rivulets of blood were trickling down his torso from a dozen cuts from near misses by arrow and sword. A final swing of Oblivion brought the rune sword down on the whip tail, cutting it in half, freeing Trish to rush to the scorpion man and miss with a hastily aimed swipe of Keller’s Razor. The creature cried out again, and was suffused with a green glow.
Trish’s reflexes kicked in and a spear thrust from a second scorpion creature, this one a female, barely missed from behind her. Susi cast a hotfoot spell against the creatures, but there was no noticeable effect. Maelstrom shot a cone of air at the male creature, but it simply hunkered closer to the ground and let the air pass over it. Meanwhile, Ellisandra cast a blast spell against another swarm of scorpions approaching from the rear of the building, blasting them apart with a healthy dose of lightning. The female creature cast a spell, and began to glow green in the same manner that the male had done. The male feinted to the right, and caught Walac with its pincher when he tried to dodge. With a quick movement, he cried out and whipped his tail over his head, wounding Walac. Walac slumped against the pincher, too hurt to continue to resist. Susi swept in and strafed past the scorpion, causing a distraction with his attack, but not enough damage to hurt it. Maelstrom passed over the combat, coming to rest on the far side of the combatants, and compressed himself briefly, releasing with the sound and fury of a thunderclap, stunning the female, who had just clamped her claw around Trish’s midsection. Trish wrenched herself free and took a step back. Reversing her momentum, she swept in with Oblivion, taking the head clean off the female scorpion’s neck. As Walac cast a healing spell on himself where he was pinned in the creature’s claw, Susi and Captain Ward unleashed a flurry of attacks on him that prevented him from killing Walac outright. With another flash of lightning, Ellisandra’s blast spell killed the scorpion man, freeing Walac from his grip.
While Ellisandra patched up Walac’s wounds, Susi launched himself into the air, and scouted around the sides of the building, locating and landing near the entrance way. As he stood there trying to pierce the darkness with his gaze, Brine walked up to him. “Whatcha doing?” he asked.
Susi looked at the Agulan, cocked his head to the side and said, “Trying to see inside. Perhaps you could move closer and see if you can smell water in the building.”
Excited by the prospect of another adventure, Brine rushed to the entrance. “Smells bad…” he called back as he stepped over the threshold into the darkness.
Brine stood just inside the doorway as his eyes adjusted to the darkness. He could hear scurrying noises that were making him uncomfortable, but he took a step forward. As he cleared the doorway, he could see the edge of a massive nest against the wall. Brine turned and ran back outside.
Once Brine told Susi what he saw, the Vrawk flew to the top of the building and landed on the edge. As he looked inside, he could see the nest that Brine had located, but he could also tell it was laden with eggs and had at least two of the whip tailed scorpions crawling around it as if guarding from intruders. He could also make out at least three bodies in the dirt near the nest. It was unclear whether they had been brought there as food for the newborns, or had died after encroaching on the scorpion’s territory. Susi pulled a torch from his pack, lit it and threw it into the middle of the tinder dry nest. Within minutes, the fire was blazing, and it spread quickly from the nest material to the dry wooden beams of the building. He landed on the ground, and told Trish about the bodies.
While the party waited for the fire to burn itself out, Trish searched the bodies, finding only a single potion of true sword in a pouch on the male creature’s belt. Brine went up the road and jumped into the ocean to sooth his skin, which had become dry through the party’s travels. Trish removed her chain mail and tried to repair the holes the acid had rent in the garment, but was unable to. Once the fire had died down, Maelstrom entered the building, sending a shower of sparks and soot billowing from the top of the building. He came out and told Ellisandra that there were no more enemies inside. Walac went in to search while Trish performed burial rites for the unknown adventurers. Walac found some money scattered through the building near where the bodies had lain, though it couldn’t be collected until he brought water to cool it down. He also found a total of four gemstones.
Not far from the house, the party set up camp for the night. They could see the glow of Mount Labor in the distance, and there was a constant plume of smoke rising from the mountain’s molten core. After a quiet night, the party set out with the goal of making it to the port before the day had ended. The swampy ground began to give way to dry grassland before suddenly becoming a treacherously convoluted landscape of dried lava flows. Walking became more difficult, both due to the sharp ragged edges of the rock and the fact that the trail was becoming steeper. A misplaced step here could result in torn clothes at best and a nasty gash at worst. Suddenly, a thunderclap filled the clear sky, the sound bouncing around the ledges of the volcanic gullies they were walking through. Dark, ruby red clouds formed quickly in the sky, and soon a heavy downpour began. As they slogged forward through the cloudburst, Susi looked at his arm where the heavy red drops were falling, then opened his beak to taste them. “This is blood,” he said.
There was no place for them to get out of the rain, here on the lava flows, so the party continued on. As they rounded a bend, the party stopped short as a chaotic horror appeared in front of them, standing eight feet tall, wearing jet black chain mail, wielding a large black sword with a flame running the length of the blade, and radiating pure evil. Brine gasped in fear, the gills in his neck working oddly as he fought with his body’s instinct to run. “This is my mountain, and you shall not pass. If you leave now, perhaps I’ll let you go back down the mountain,” said the creature ominously, “but then again, perhaps not.”
“So, Trish, is that your dad?” muttered Susi quietly.
Trish cut a look at Susi that made his wings flutter, and then with a roar, she rushed the knight of chaos. As she approached and swung Oblivion and Keller’s Razor in a double chopping motion, her action was cut off by a skeleton dog that leapt at her from nowhere. The knight riposted nicking Trish in one of the new holes in her armor. Walac yelled from behind her as his bow twanged. “The blood, it’s turning into blob creatures, be careful!”
Maelstrom moved closer to the knight, but was too far away to assist as Ellisandra cast a blast spell. Lightning flickered out of the spell and around the body of the dog, stopping it in its tracks momentarily. Captain Ward rushed the knight, missing with a savage sweep of his sword, as Susi and Brine fired arrows that harmlessly glanced off the creature’s armor. The dog shook itself, and lunged at Trish, who sidestepped and smacked it broadside with Oblivion, sending bone chips flying. She launched another attack at the knight who stepped easily out of her range and then used his black sword to cut through Maelstrom. Maelstrom howled in pain as the magical sword tore through his ethereal body, seriously wounding him. The knight spoke a command word and a legion of demonic creatures burst into being in the clearing. They were slender and green, with large, gaping mouths filled with three rows of teeth, and they were all armed.
Another hit from Trish destroyed the skeletal dog, sending the bones cascading from her like dice from a careless hand. One of the blobs swung a pseudopod at Brine, missing him. Brine cast an enhance weapon spell on his trident then missed with a mighty swing. Walac stabbed the demon closest to him with his rapier, and the creature opened his mouth to show all his teeth as he laughed at the stalwart Lir. Susi cast a hotfoot spell, causing the creature nearest him to yelp in pain and fall over, but he was unable to close the gap to take advantage of its helplessness. Trish swung Oblivion in, hitting the knight and smoke poured out of the wound the sword created. Ellisandra cast a teleport spell on Maelstrom drawing him back to her, and then had him enter her harp to stay away from the knight’s sword. Captain Ward cast true weapon on his sword, and taking advantage of the hit Trish had scored on the knight, drove his weapon in through the knight’s breastplate. More smoke roiled out from the hole his sword left when he withdrew it, but still the knight stood. Hearing movement behind her, Ellisandra looked over her shoulder and saw another of the blobs moving in on her. She concentrated briefly, and was standing on top of one of the nearby hills overlooking the clearing she had just left. As Trish wounded the knight again, Walac sent his rapier through the eye of the creature in front of him, causing it to vanish in a puff of smoke. “I guess that stroke was better than the first one, huh?” he asked grimly.
Moments later, the knight, two more of the demons and one of the blood blobs were lying dead in the clearing, as the party worked to clear the rest. Trish rushed to the remaining blob, and swung Oblivion, which passed straight through the creature, leaving the rune blade smoking as it came out the other side. As she looked at the blade incredulously, the blob lunged forward, enveloping her. Once inside the creature, she could feel herself beginning to be digested, as the acids in the creature began eating away at the metal of her armor and her clothing. The others finished off the last of the demons, as Trish continued to struggle to get out of the creature. Captain Ward swiped forward with his sword, cutting the creature in two. The second creature then engulfed him briefly, but he powered out of it, clothes and weapons smoldering. Ellisandra brought Maelstrom back out of the harp, then cast a couple of blast spells at the blob, but only injured Trish with the blasts. With a roar, Trish broke free of the creature, but by now, all her armor, all her clothing, and all of her equipment except her two rune swords was gone, completely eaten away by the creature. She stood panting, naked, and holding two smoldering rune swords for just a second before the creature engulfed her again. Susi lit a torch and hit the creature with it. It caught fire and began to burn, but not quick enough. Ellisandra teleported into the stomach of the creature, wrapped her arms around Trish, who by now had lost consciousness. She channeled the pain to Maelstrom so she could be clearheaded enough to teleport back out. Moments later, she and Trish were lying on the hill she had teleported into the creature from.
Within a few minutes, the party had finally killed the creatures with fire and Maelstrom’s assistance. Ellisandra worked on healing Trish while the others searched the immediate area. Captain Ward called to the others from the mouth of a cave complex near the clearing. Susi flew over the area, but couldn’t see anything. Walac went into the mouth of the cave and said, “There’s some stuff in here, I’m going to need some help!”
Susi landed at the cave entrance and said, “I swear if something comes rushing out of here, I will eat you, mouse.”
The cave held scores of bodies that had been sacrificed in what appeared to be Chaos rituals, based on the drawings and signs on the walls. Walac and the others searched the bodies, and came up with an enchanted suit of plate armor, an enchanted battle axe, an enchanted bow, and a necklace that Captain Ward recognized as a divine magic focus. When Trish came down from the hill, ill-fittingly wrapped in one of Ellisandra’s spare robes, she was pleased to take possession of the armor, Susi took the bow and battle axe, and Trish took the divine magic focus. Trish conducted a burial ritual for the bodies, to ensure their trip to the Halls of Silence, and then the party continued up the hill. Once they reached the crest, they could see Port Labor, as well as Captain Ward’s ship sitting in the harbor.