I won't lie to you, this is a biggie. And this game was a scary session, because I truly thought we were looking at a TPK. Those Ael'Shar Portal Guardians are 100% pure nastiness, and although the write up makes it look like they were pretty quick to work things out, the actually reality of the game was that it took the party a while, and those things were wreaking bloody havoc to the characters. Anyway, this is what happens when your GM suddenly realises that the group are heading well and truly off the beaten trail (the Dracani did have the stelae), and realises that he can turn the groups first proper fail into a very interesting change of direction. Enjoy!
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23:50 – 23:54 – The party find themselves riding down a silent testament to the awesome magical power of the ancient Ael'Shar, for the tunnel they enter is composed entirely of the flowing magma of the volcano, held open by ancient spells of force; and despite the impossible gulfs of time that have passed between their casting and the present, they hold (though areas of “thickened” air speak of growing flaws within the magics webs of power).
At the end of the corridor, a vast door of cold iron, bronze and obsidian blocks any further progress. It is set in a frame of rune carved obsidian, and the final fifteen foot of floor is also polished volcanic glass rather than sculpted lava.
23:54 – 01:00 (30/1/50); foggy at first, then, as portal is opened, a violent storm erupts from nowhere
Ormid and Llewellyn examine the door and its surroundings and notice a number of interesting features. Firstly, there are four tube like structures that flare from the decorations on the front of the door, each one opening some 15' above a carved rune circle on the floor. Closer examination of the circles shows them to be binding circles, specifically geared towards holding a portal to a fire dimension, and to holding a powerful fire elemental in this universe. The tubes set above seem to be a part of a larger artifice set up to channel fiery energies into the door, almost certainly effecting its opening.
Llewellyn checks the door over for any apparent traps, and whilst he notices complex lines and patterns of Ael'Shar decorations and glyphs running in sweeping, curved lines across the door, nothing directly hazardous is apparent. Ormid and Ardwaine spend some time examining these markings further, and soon realise that they hide a magical formulae – instructions on the ritual needed to activate the magic in the fire binding circles and the door, in order to open it.
Ormid believes that with the help of the Dundorin, he may be able to perform this ritual, though he has three main concerns. Firstly, as far as he is aware (being convinced that he and the others must have slept for six hours, instead of two), their protective ritual is now only an hour away from expiring, and whilst the corridor they are in appears to be habitable, any further exploration of the environs would be impossible (read: fatal) without them. This is made all the more concerning when he realises that the opening ritual will take roughly an hour to work.
His second concern is that the ritual will simply prove too complex for him and the dundorin to correctly work, and that something terrible might transpire if the magics are gathered and then misdirected. He surmises that such a failure may result in the summoning of several particularly potent fire elementals and that they may be uncontrolled, or that the door may have some kind of mechanism built into them that punishes those that fail to open them safely.
Finally, the artificer is concerned that whatever lies beyond is by and of itself dangerous, or that the protective spells that have held in their current location may have failed, and that nothing but a wall of molten rock waits beyond.
Voicing these concerns, the dundorin adds another. She puts it to the group that the Dracani, being a member of a species that compulsively gathers items of power, may have what they are looking for, and that they could be taking a terrible risk only to discover that they have wasted their time. Veteran surmises that they should maybe seek the monster out and try to negotiate with it, pointing out how soundly they beat it before, and the strong line of self preservation that runs through all Dracani.
01:00 – 02:00 - However, after all this has been discussed, it is decided that Ormid and Ardwaine should try and open the doors, with the group agreeing to flee if they fail.
And so, after a quick drink of hot chocolate to settle his nerves, the Artificer begins the ritual, supported by the chanting Dundorin. For an hour they work to awaken the potent magics weaved into the door and the summoning circles before them, and with great skill, effort, understanding and mental fortitude, they are successful.
As the first part of the opening ritual is worked, the air shimmering with power, and runes flare within the substance of the door. The circles blaze with power, and four furious creatures of primal flame are drawn, roaring and shrieking, from their home dimensions and bound within the circles, the carved runes flaring with brutal, gelid light, their rage and hatred, an almost physical force battering against the ancient Ael'Shar power.
By the end of the first part, Ormid is sweating profusely, both from the efforts of the casting and the effects of his illness. His voice is reedy and hoarse, and he is soaked in sweat. However, in order to open the doors, the elementals essence must be channelled into the doors spell matrices, and so, swaying slightly, the dundorin a reassuring and steadying presence, he launches into the second part of the ritual...after some more hot chocolate.
02:00 – 02:28 – Dundorin and human shape the colossal energies of the Ael'Shar artifice, the formers sheer grit steering her through, the latter's vast knowledge of the subtleties of artifice and arcane devices aiding him, and after half and hour, with a boom like thunder and a surge of displaced air, the vast doors swing open, the fire elementals being dragged screaming into the glowing guts of their mechanism. Muscles cramping, exhausted, the artificer barely notices that the protective rituals have not faded as he expected, though Llewellyn does, and the whole party allow themselves to feel at least slightly relieved.
02:28 – 02:30 – On the backs of their shimmering spectral mounts, the group enter the vast, cool chamber beyond the Ael'Shar gate...
This chamber is vast. It is constructed from Ael'Shar crystal, though a huge circle of what appears to be Cold Iron dominates the floor. The air in here tastes of age, but is both cool and breathable. A distant light emanates from a small clump of similar crystals that grow down from the zenith of the domes ceiling directly above the reaching points of the earthbound growths; a huge mass of blade like crystals that rise from a mound of curled pipes and protruding spikes of grey-blue metal, set in the middle of the cold iron circle, and indeed, the entire chamber. Steps of resonant crystal curl around this structure, leading to a point just above the area where the blades meet in a point, some 50' above the floor.
Emanating from the central structure are three rune carved channels of alchemical silver, each of which ends in a smaller circle of silver from which rises a curiously angled column of compact, blade-like crystals. These columns shimmer weirdly in the cool distant light, and seem to hold some kind of depth beyond simple reflection within their facets.
Finally, positioned around the edge of the central structures are three large Ael'Shar statues, similar to those found in the Zargor'Gigorim ruins above, only larger. They thrum, quietly with quiescent power, and the warforged warns the group that he fears they may animate and attack if provoked.
It is impossible to believe that this place exists within the bowels of a volcano, so peaceful and still is it. And yet, it does, and the group, sensing they may be close to finding the stelae, are quick to overcome their awe and to set to finding a way forwards.
At this point they have no way of knowing that is the wrong way, and that soon, this chamber and everything else in the volcano will be destroyed by their hand.
02:31 – 02:35 – The Vyrleen and human fly over to the bladed columns on the backs of their mounts, taking great care not to cross the circle of cold iron set into the floor, and begin to examine them more closely. Both realise that rather than reflections, what they see within are glimpses of other places; alien but beautiful.
And then something goes wrong. In an attempt to get a better look at the staues in the middle of the chamber, the Vyrleen moves over the boundary of the cold iron circle, and at once he and Ormid find themselves falling slowly to the ground as the magic of their mounts is undone (along with their protective spells) by a wave of nullifying magic, which sweeps forth from the four columns as they undergo a fantastic and terrible transformation.
As the group watch, each column flies apart on the wings of some unseen power, the component blades of indigo and gold crystalline blades rearranging themselves into a new, deadly form. Where the columns once stood now tower three towering, humanoid constructs, composed of the shimmering bladed crystals; hunch backed, and long limbed, the spaces where their eyes should be dripping fractals of smoky, shimmering power.
Each moves with incredible grace given their massive bulk and all immediately attack the group.
02:35 - 02:40 – Within moments the group are literally fighting for their lives. The constructs are things of impossibly potent magic, and they simply begin to dismantle the adventurers.
Veteran is the one who fares best, bolstered by the artifice Ormid awakens in his blade, his body continually healed by radiant fire every time he strikes at the reflective, diamond-hard hide of the monsters. However Llewellyn is soon knocked unconscious; horribly wounded by a powerful backlash of magic after hitting one of the Ael'Shar statues, and then blown off the top of the crystalline steps by twinned beams of light fired from the blazing eyes of one construct, whilst Ardwaine also finds herself unconscious and dying, her jugular severed by a downward slash from one of the Ael'Shar Portal Guardians crystal bladed limbs. The monsters exhale clouds of mind dulling mist, teleport across the chamber in bursts of shredding crystals, and step forth from teleportation to inflict grievous wounds on those nearby. They also seem to anticipate each move the heroes make, and strike at them with devastating force before they are able to attack every time they take an action.
In truth, the group are seriously outclassed, and are doomed unless they find a way out of the chamber.
Veteran manages to take one of the monsters down after throwing his best attacks at it, and before he is taken down, the Vyrleen notices that the engraved circles the guardians left are each emblazoned with a single, dull rune – a different rune in each one. He also discovers that each rune corresponds to one carved on the back of one of the statues (this after he is blasted back by the backlash of power).
With this discovery, the group quickly realise that they need to complete the magics in this chamber – that the statues, each a potent battery of arcane energy, need to be placed within the circles in order to activate the mechanism in the chambers heart (and hopefully pacifying the guardians).
However, doing this when the group is scattered across the room, when several are in need of urgent supernatural healing, and when each statue weighs almost a ton, is easier said than done.
But they manage it.
With Ferrous helping, the group manage to persuade the warforged to help push the weighty statues into their corresponding slots, and despite the continued onslaught of the remaining guardians, the wounded are roused (though poor Ardwaine is taken down one more time before all is done).
As each statue slots into place, so the guardian that once occupied its circle (if not destroyed) vanishes, replaced by a gathering energy and resonant droning from the crystals in the chambers heart, and as the last one is slotted into place, the Ael'Shar artifice flares into sudden life with a burst of silent, stunning power.
02:41 – A bubble of shimmering distortion manifests above the crystal array. At the same time, a terrible boom fills the chamber, and the spells holding the ceiling aloft begin to fail as the disruption of the portal devices activation triggers a volcanic eruption. Huge flaming cracks pierce the smooth crystalline curves of the dome, and the floor bucks and shakes like a raging bull. Moments later, and magma begins to spray in, its killing heat now keenly felt by the unprotected group, and battered and weary as they are, they know that they must take the only escape route open to them...
02:42 - ...and throw themselves headlong through the portal...
CONTERMINOUS CONSCIOUSNESS ENDS.
ANOTHER LIFE BEGINS.
He's dying. Cold Iron burns his guts and our souls. Our vicious, beautiful master is dying. They have won. The Sidhe of the Dawn have won. His pain is our pain. Our beautiful, terrible Lord....is.....
PREVIOUS LIFE RESUMES
Date unknown – Location unknown -
Our heroes suddenly snap out of an endless time of battle, enslavement and forced adventure in a burst of psychic agony, and find themselves strangely clad, wielding eldritch powers that are at once unfamiliar and entirely as much a part of them and their way of fighting as their weapons and armour, in the midst of a fantastical battle with shimmering, deformed gigorim, thorn thin fey of some kind, and luminous eyed Gorgryn glad in glowing pelts and wielding spears of pale light. They seem to be defending a brilliantly glowing menhir of shifting, rune carved crystal – a Fae Crosroads (?) - and they know without understanding that the pain signifies that their cruel master is dead, and that they are free for the first time in a long time.
Now they just have to survive long enough to work out what the hell is going on, and how they are going to escape in one piece!