18:45 – 18:50 – The group discuss the merits of taking a rest, and decide that despite their exhausted state, and their gathering wounds, that they should press on. They also calculate that they have now reached a point of no return with regards to their protective rituals' duration, and realise that they need to press on in order to maximise their chance of reaching their goal before the spell wears out.
This triggers a discussion about what exactly the party are going to do to escape the volcano, for they become suddenly concerned that they might not be able to leave its searing guts before their protection fades – a horrific and fatal scenario. Ormid reassures the party that he can open a portal to the teleport circle located in the ruins by the beach.
18:50 – 19:10 – The only way off the level they are on is over the edge. At the southern most end of the area, a fallen spire of razor sharp obsidian juts over a “bridge” far below – in fact a fallen tower that spans the spitting, lambent sea of molten lava. The cliffs the group stand on top of are porous stone, and liquid rock pours continually from its vertical face. This means that any descent will have to be done in a free hang, as even their potent ritual would struggle to keep them safe from the burn of the walls oozing magma, which will be made more difficult by the roaring thermal winds that gust and billow from the surface of the seething magma lake below.
Ormid pulls his trusty rope ladder out, and Llewellyn's rope is attached to it, forming a safe route to the makeshift bridge below. However, as the group (fighting vertigo and the very real fear of falling a long way into a boiling sea of melted rock) attach it to the spur of shattered obsidian two problems become immediately apparent. Firstly, the obsidian is viciously sharp, and as soon as any pressure is applied to the rope tied to it, tiny frays are seen as the stone begins to slice through the fibres. Secondly, once the ladder and rope are taken beyond the adventurer's protective aura, they begin to smoke and flame in the deadly air.
In a state of half fear, the group – guided by the Warforged – scramble as quickly as they dare down their hanging rope ladder and rope, and they just make it before the smoking fibres finally burst into flame and are quickly devoured. Ormid laments the loss of his rope ladder “I've had that since my first journey you know”.
19:10 – 19:15 – The group are now on the face of a huge fallen tower of obsidian. It is a vast thing, clearly of Zargor'Gigorim construction, bearing minimal ornamentations, that has fallen across the lava lake, and which leans on several large pillars of basalt which rise from the fires below. In its fall it has split into three sections, forming a bridge towards a vast wall of cool Ael'Shar stone – the same kind of stone that the potent statues were carved from – and the group can see that the top of the vast ruin has actually punched a hole in that alien wall.
It is immediately apparent that staying on the upper surface of the fallen tower is suicide, for it is being constant pounded by missiles thrown up from the surging lavas far below, and is exposed to powerful gusts of blazing wind and clouds of scalding, toxic fumes. Not wanting to be knocked unconscious by a flying missile or worse, knocked off into the fires below, the group enter the belly of the tower through one of its many windows.
Within the air still shimmers and warps with intense heat, and all the group have to make efforts to breathe slowly and deeply in the near airless environment, giving the ritual time to provide its protection. They are surprised at the lack of ornamentation and furniture within the tower, but reason that it has been scoured away by the gusting fumes and endless pressure here.
The group move forwards cautiously, moving through floors that have become walls via large circular hatches set in their centres, and avoiding the many cracks and holes that dot the towers inner surfaces. After a short while the winds begin to pick up again and the full roar of the lava lake – a little subdued within the towers hollow heart – returns.
They have come to the first break in the fallen tower – a gap of 30', shot through with powerful thermal winds and giving those that fail to cross it a deadly descent into the magma 300' below.
19:16 – After some quick planning Llewellyn uses his boots to teleport to the far side. As he does so he becomes aware of a deep roaring, distinct from the deafening, ubiquitous roars of the volcano, that seems to be getting closer. Meanwhile Ormid begins to pour hot chocolate from his decanter over the groups' last coil of rope, in the hopes that the moisture will slow its destruction in the fiery winds.
19:17 – 19:21 – The roaring gets louder, and the Vyrleen looks down into the sinking tube formed by this section of tower, and notices that something huge is blocking the glow of distant rents and holes in its base...
...It is this huge something that is making all the noise...
...and it's getting nearer...
19:21 – Ormid finishes soaking the rope and the warforged throws it with a mighty heave over the flaming gap. The Vyrleen, looking over his shoulder, quickly secures the rope his end, and then, with abject horror turns to regard the thing that bellows and flames as it surges on vast, scarlet wings towards him; the diamond blades on its knuckles skimming the floor, its huge, armoured tail swiping chunks of debris from the walls as it twitches furiously, its massive head – a thing of scales and fangs and gleaming, fiery blue eyes – a nightmare combination of lizard, cat and hawk.
A Red Dracani.
A huge, furious Red Dracani...
19:22 – Ormid, Veteran, Ferrous (rather awkwardly) and Ardwaine climb across the rope, each trying not to focus on the horror across the gap; the spectre of the tiny Vyrleen – mace in hand – against the scarlet bulk of a monster straight out of the most heroic and terrible legends. The rope hisses and burns their hands as the liquid rapidly vaporises and the hemp fibres begin to char and smoke, and they have to fight their panic, their dread of what awaits, and the punishing gales of super-heated air that throw them about like leaves in the wind.
19:23 – 19:25 - As they arrive, the Dracani, roaring in a language none speak, opens its cavernous jaws and exhales a massive cone of magical fire at the Vyrleen. Llewellyn is burned as the lambent exhalation rolls around him, but he manages to duck under the main blast, and scurries beneath the Dracani, throwing his back to a wall, and shattering several belly scales with his mace as he goes.
Furious, the Dracani spins to bite him. However, Ormid throws a rune etched cube in between the rogue and the monster, which unfurls and becomes a curious jack-in-the-box like construct, complete with empowered blades and spidery metallic legs, which immediately begins to threaten (?) the Dracani, drawing its attention. As this flies through the air, the artificer weaves a spell into the enchantments of the Warforged's axe, the mundane flames of its forging changing into shifting, glassy, spectral flames of radiant energy. Then, throwing his best efforts into not gibbering like a madman, and getting as much accomplished as quickly as possibly, he works a spell into the enchantments on Ardwaine's deadly hammer, the lightning that usually wreathes it being replaced with a fuming aura of caustic energy. Then, he gibbers.
With his axe enhanced, the Warforged charges the Dracani, trying to move into a position where he can flank with the artificers servant. However, as he does this, the huge monster flicks its spiked tail at him like a massively muscular whip. Seeing this, the Warforged ducks under, and the deadly attack cracks deafeningly above his head. However, at the same time, the shimmering axe bites deep into the creatures posterior, driven deeper by the monsters movement. Scales shatter, and the Dracani bellows with rage and shock as it licks the sensitive skin beneath, its claws slipping on the edge of one of the many crevasses that open in the floor. After his solid blow, Veteran slams the axe in again, scoring another shattering blow, before taking advantage of the Dracani's unbalanced state and shock to hammer in another risky but deadly attack.
Black, sizzling blood drips freely from this last wound, and the brute shakes the very air with its bellow of fury.
Ardwaine charges the thing, swinging the softly hissing hammer towards its side, and scoring a solid hit. The scales shatter under the blow and enchanted acid smears the area, continuing to burn its way inwards towards the monsters flesh.
Surrounded and more hurt than it has ever been, the cunning monster calls upon its innate presence and focuses it into a burst of pure, primal dread. A wave of invisible horror explodes from it, and all are overwhelmed by a crushing sense of abject, paralysing horror. For endless moments they stand rigid, unable to call upon their faculties, unable to move or speak or do anything, during which time the Dracani speed away from them, after it makes several attempts to devour the warforged and Dundorin – attempts which thanks to their finely wrought and enchanted armours result in nothing more than some dents and scratches.
Conquering their awoken fear, the party move to try and strike the brute down. They chase after it, and it rewards them with a flurry of clawing strikes, which again are defeated by the armour, shield, and martial prowess of both Ardwaine and Veteran. Fire once more tears at them as the monster unleashes another searing blast, and all feel its agonising burn. Desperation and a mad sense that things are not going too well for the monster fills the party with heady energy, and they press their attacks, striking several more firm hits against the things armoured flanks and head. The din of battle is maddening, and the protective field of energy around each adventurer glows like a cerulean cloak as it reacts not only to the environmental energy, but to the presence of an entity that is fire and death made manifest.
On the battle rages, and more and more of the monsters scales are shattered, dented or torn free to expose oozing flesh beneath, though the blows are starting to fall with less regularity and the insane burst of optimism is starting to wane.
The monster unleashes another wave of withering terror, and once more all of the party are unable to do anything as their minds and bodies are held rigid with pure dread. Each character expects to feel the rending talons or crushing bite of the Dracani at any moment, but to their utter shock, it turns and with a booming roar, swoops back along the tower, eventually dropping through the second breach and vanishing into the fiery deeps.
The Dracani has fled!
19:25 - It takes the party a few moments to shake off the paralysing fear the Dracani invoked, and it takes them another moment for their miraculous delivery from the jaws od death to sink in. Ormid notes that a thick trail of hissing blood marks the retreat of the monster, and they realise that it was more hurt than they had imagined. Fleeing had been a wise – if frustrating – move on its part.
19:26 - 19:40 – In its haste to leave the Dracani has shed several gems from its jewel encrusted body, and these are collected by the party. They then move along the remainder of the towers' interior, and find that towards the top it narrows, the walls being decorated with strange, spiralled flaps of glassy stone, all of which lead to a curious semi-circular hole, apparently a part of the towers' construction, worked into its rooftop.
Noting the curious design, Ormid suddenly realises that purpose of the structure – a musical instrument! He realises that it would, when set upright in the magma fields, have emitted a range of tones as the volcanic gasses and gusting thermals tore along its interior, as if the whole thing was a giant recorder.
19:41 – 19:43 – The group agree that they need to have a rest. All are wounded, exhausted, and in the case of the artificer and rogue, still suffering with the jungle fever. It is agreed that the Vyrleen will sneak ahead and scout out whatever lies beyond the tower's tunnel, and that if it seems defensible, that the group will rest there.
Before Llewellyn leaves, Ormid tries to discern if there are any magical auras in the vicinity, but quickly snaps out of his trance when he is almost overwhelmed by the powerful energies that weave through this place – energies that would have probably blinded his arcane sight or driven him mad if he had gazed upon them for too long.
19:43 – 19:55 – Llewellyn creeps to the end of the tower and notices that the air becomes noticeably cooler and that the roar and boom of the volcanoes innards seems to suddenly quieten to a muted rumble as he enters the portion that is within the tower of Ael'Shar stone.
Looking through the gap in the top of the tower, Llewellyn sees a large decagonal chamber made from the strange Ael'Shar stone. Despite its decrepit state it is clear that it was once beautifully adorned, and as he silently slips into the chamber proper, he notes the high vaulted ceilings, rune carved arches and faded reliefs that adorn them. A huge icosahedron of pale light floats some 30' above the floor, the ceiling soaring another 20' beyond it, though it flickers suddenly from sight, leaving only the ruddy light of distant magma (which comes through a great rent in the floor on the far side) for a moment before it silently reappears.
Sliding over to the hole In the floor, Llewellyn feels his stomach lurch as he finds himself looking through a mass of twisted supports and bent beams into a vast shaft of Ael'Shar stone, some 300' across and over 700' deep (which means it plunges beneath the level of the volcanoes main magma lake). He can see that there art ornamented platform positioned in a descending spiral around the wall, each connected by a doorway which seems to head back into the solid mass of the tubes' walls. Far below him, almost obscured by the shimmering heat distortions, he can see some kind of construction; four paths that cross the magma to meet with some kind of large, thin object – a tower perhaps – that is set in the middle of the chamber.
Llewellyn also notes that the walls of the larger chamber are cracked in many places, and that magma from the main lakes outside pours in, in thick, blazing falls – though oddly, the level of magma below stays constant. He also hears a distant roaring, unmistakably that of the wounded Dracani echoing from somewhere to his right and down, and looking in that direction, his eyes smarting from the hot, drying winds that gust up the tube like chamber, he sees something – a mass of fiery gas perhaps – briefly appear on one of the ledges below, and hears the crackling baying of Hell Hounds.
Pulling back into the relative cool of the Ael'Shar chamber, the Vyrleen tries not to think of the impossibility of this place, or of what it was built for. Instead he yells to his companions that the area is safe, and that they should be able to rest in peace.
19:56 – 22:30 – The weary adventurer's do not stop to eat, instead quickly arranging watches before retiring. All, even those supposedly are on watch, are soon fast asleep, the ancient Ael'Shar magic influencing them. Their sleep is filled with dreams that echo with ancient sorrow and wisdom, though these are forgotten on waking.
The group awaken fully refreshed and convinced they have slept for a full six or so hours, after only two, and are amazed by the level of recovery they have gained. Unfortunately, both Ormid and Llewellyn (despite in the Vyrleen's case, the ministrations of Ardwaine), still suffer with the fever, though it has not grown worse, and much of the acid scarring still mars the artificer's face and upper body.
After a brief meal and a discussion about what to do next the group move towards the hole in the floor to consider their next move.
22:30 – 22:35 – For a moment it seems that their next move will be to return to the teleport circle so far away, for none of them want to try and clamber through the ravaged supports and then down the fiery walls of the larger chamber and towards the nearest of the platforms. However, Ormid comes up with a plan, for he knows that given some help and given the right application, he may be able to conjure spectral steeds that can fly!
To help him accomplish the manipulation of the ritual Ormid consumes a mind enhancing elixir, and with no further ado, begins the casting...
22:35 – 23:45 ...The first of seven castings. It takes over an hour for the group to summon mounts with the power of flight, the manipulations of magic falling short six times before. However, after using many of his ritual components, and with the help of his allies, Ormid is successful!
23:45 – 23:47 – It takes them some time to conjure the courage needed to willingly command their mounts to step into the empty air of the hole, Ormid being the first to do so. The descent through the searing, blazing atmosphere of the tube is both exhilarating and mind shatteringly terrifying. The mounts plummet at first, trailing lines of blueish sparks as they fall; their riders clinging to them, their screams lost in the roar and hiss of the lava. However, when they reach fifty feet above the level of the magma, they stop falling and gently level out, racing through the mirage lousy air as if it were solid ground.
23:47 – 23:50 – From this angle the details of the thing at the bottom of the chamber is apparent. It is a huge faceted shard of some bronze coloured, alien crystal – extra-dimensional in origin the artificer speculates – that floats just above the level of the magma.
Each of its facets is emblazoned with a large, glowing, red rune of alien power, and the bottom fifth of the crystal is bound by an elaborate and delicate cage of black metal. The inside of the cage is lined with long crystalline bristles, which stop just shy of the crystal, and Ormid realises that this is all part of some impossible, alien and incomprehensible power generator.
The four paths Llewellyn saw from above are bridges of black metal, covered in masses of cooled magma, which float just above the magma's surface, and lead to arched doorways, each surrounded by redly shining glyphs. Llewellyn spots, high above to the north, a great rift in the walls, from which pours both a steady stream of lava, and the furious roars of the Dracani.
23:50 – The group decide to head into the southern tunnel leading from the crystal chamber.