Fire, Acid and Magma - everything that burns and sears - all come together to give the group a really hard time this time!
* * *15:00 – 15:05 – The group wander down a wide tunnel which gradually grows wider as it winds downwards. Gusts of hot, acidic fumes belch along it, driven by howling, superheated winds filled with flying cinders and sparks, and the group realise that without the ritual spell protecting them, they would be suffering already from its corrosive and toxic touch, to say nothing of the withering heat. Indeed, the opaque clouds of volcanic gas glow with the lambent light of the volcanoes hidden guts, lending everything within a hellish slant.
15:05 – 15:08 - The group soon find themselves walking amongst looming Cyclopean ruins of rune carved obsidian, all built by creatures many times larger than men. Everything is covered in a mantle of sulphur, and the air dances with the heat distortions here. Ormid takes a moment to shift his awareness, in an attempt to “feel out” the local magical energies. He senses the powerful elemental energies that naturally surge and clash in this place, and can feel the dimly guttering magics sewn into the ruins around them – fading abjurations against the environments brutal embrace – however, he senses no other local energies of interest...until...
Briefly, at the edge of his awareness, beyond the immediate scope of his senses, he feels a thorn of potent elemental energy spike at his consciousness; scratching along his mind, before quickly withdrawing.
Ormid tells the rest of the party with a note of dread in his voice.
15:08 – 15:10 – The group decide that they will head deeper into the volcano without searching these upper areas, reasoning that the stelae, being related to potent magic, should be in an area more saturated with eldritch power, and wanting to make the best use of the protection ritual's duration.
15:10 – 15:25 – The group move through the ruins on this level, and behold the spectacle of what lies beyond the cliff on which it rests; a vast open area filled with thick, billowing clouds of volcanic gasses, massive blasts of surging magma and jets of lambent flame. They move to an area where the ruins tumble over the edge of a glowing cliff of rock, the powerful winds screaming over it throwing searing heat into their faces, and after a brief discussion, clamber slowly down it – a terrifying eighty foot descent to the next swathe of ruins.
They make it with few problems, though at one point the rogue slips and has to be caught by the Veteran before he can fall free and drag the party with him. By the time the group have reached the bottom, both Ormid and Llewellyn are sweating heavily, their eyes unfocused as they fight to concentrate through their dizziness and pain.
15:20 – 18:30 – The group are in a large area of ruins, which lie closer to the core of the volcano. Geysers of Lava explodes at random intervals from the numerous cracks that cover the ground here, and sheets of roaring flame and molten rock flash out constantly, turning the ground in to an amorphous patchwork of melted and cooled rock, and keeping the party on their toes as they work to not be covered in deadly, molten rock.
Each adventurer feels the magic of the ritual tighten around them like a physical presence, shielding them from the searing air and the deadly fumes, and in darkness, they can see it - a thin veil of misty, faintly blue energy; a spiders web of power that means the difference between life and death.
This region is mostly Zargor'Gigorim construction; black, decorated towers of obsidian with knife sharp battlements and heavy, runed bridges. Almost all are covered in curious spatter patterns of cooled basalt, and more than a few are leaning precariously over the cliff, the main bulk of their construction dangling over the fiery air above the lava flows beneath.
There are no signs of the Ael'Shar structures here. However, the group decide they will search these ruins, and spend three hours doing so, concentrating their efforts on a region of structures who's architecture suggests they had arcane or religious significance.
The search is hazardous as many of the structures are unstable, and the ever present bursts and sprays of magma are unpredictable at best. The group's fears only increase when they find, lodged in the wall of one building standing at the edge of a zone of wanton destruction, a huge scarlet scale...
...the scale of a Dracani.
Taking this with them (and fearing that this explains what it was Ormid sensed earlier), the group soon make another incredible discovery in the smoke wreathed basement of a tilted structure, half hanging over the magma lake far below. They find, beyond ancient doors of reinforced stone, a vast vaulted chamber carved with flowing lines of Gigorim runes, which emanate from five magical circles carved in a circle in the chambers centre. Long scratch marks on the polished obsidian floor show that something heavy has slid from within each circle – almost certainly as the chamber has tilted – the “somethings” being found to be five incredible statues.
Each statue is carved from a faintly luminous stone quite alien to the group, and stands almost twelve feet high. They each depict a being that at first appears to be a stylized Aelwyn, though particularly tall and slender with exaggerated features and long, tapered ears. However, Ormid quickly realises that these are depictions of Ael'Shar, the progenitor race that created the Aelweyn; an ancient race of storied magical power and almost god like abilities, who once had great continent spanning empires on Arbel'Verdaniss, and warred with the Daemonori, the Settari and other ancient races who's names are lost to history.
Each statue radiates a mind-crushingly powerful aura of magic, and Ormid deducts that the circles were intended to contain this power, whilst the runes that snake across the chamber are intended to channel the power into a ritual – a ritual he feels was intended to move a colossal object – possibly a huge building, or even, given the might of the latent power in the statues, a city.
Ormid surmises that these statues could be used as a power source for the Ael'Shar portal weapon – and is determined to obtain one for his own studies back at Lorehaven.
The next chamber holds another surprise; a vast growth of green sulphur, within which can be seen a beautiful fire opal of incredible size (human fist sized) and quality. Realising that this stone is worth at least 20,000 gold, the group decide to get it out, all crowding around the stone to watch it being removed. Without thought, Veteran swings his blade at the crystal, and all the party are suddenly blasted with a powerful volcanic acid – the source of the almost transparent crystals green colouring – which explodes from within soaking them.
Choking gasps on the acidic fumes.
All the group suffer terrible burns from the acid, though it is poor Ormid who suffers worst, for despite the ministrations of the half-blinded priestess, the acids cling tenaciously to his flesh, rendering it down into a white, soapy slime, and before it can be washed and scraped free, the artificer is seriously burned inside and out, and sustains scars that will never heal naturally.
There is brief panic and anger when Llewellyn, hoping to lift the mood of the group “steals” the stone...his plan fails, and he is nearly skewered by his angry and hurt allies.
With the area searched, the party spend some time catching their breaths and patching up (and re-patching up) their wounds before moving on.
18:30 – 18:45 – As the group leave the ruins, weaving through the unstable, flaming terrain, they spot a patrol of bizarre elemental monsters heading their way, apparently with a purpose.
Three of the monsters are hulking things of living lava; 8' tall and vaguely anthropomorphic, with long arms of lava, each ending in a spike of molten rock, and with a halo of floating, lightning covered spikes floating above their heads. These move along behind two huge dog like creature composed of raging elemental fires, bound to skeletons of black basalt. At the back of the group, driving them onwards, float two creatures the group have seen and fought before – fire archons; intelligent and potent things of living flame which bear armour made from volcanic stone and wield potent fiery magic.
As the group spot the monsters, the two Hellhounds suddenly sniff the air as if scenting them before giving out loud, rumbling barks. At once, one of the Archons unleashes a blast of fire that erupts amongst the party, the flames woven with raw dimensional force both burning and bruisng them, as well as blowing them off their feet, scattering their formation, and with the first blow struck, the elementals attack!
Weary from their encounters with the scorpions and the acid, not to mention in the case of the Vyrleen and artificer, from the continuing effects of their illness, the battle is a true test of their skills and tactics. The Hellhounds prove to be powerful foes, and the archons harry the party with blasts of flame and force – though the other creatures are dispatched with minimal efforts. Things are made more complex by the continued eruptions of deadly magma across the battlefield, which continually force the group to split their attention between their weird foes, and the deadly natural hazard. However, they triumph, though battered, burned and disoriented, they decide to find a sheltered place to rest before they journey on, hoping that the ritual protecting them will last long enough to allow them to complete their tasks...