We have defeated Xerax, but I fear we may not have stopped the plans of his master. In our quest, we inadvertently released an ancient evil and I cannot help but wonder if this wasn’t their plan all along. Without the intervention of the griffon riders, things would have been much worse.
We journeyed through Arcarost and it is a terrible place. Fiends, undead and elementals roam wild and hideous beasts lie in wait within the cursed soil. The city is covered in ancient runes and aberrant magics. Furthermore there are gaps in my memory. Myself and my friends made some poor decisions and I do not know how much I can prescribe to the influence of Arcarost. Other incidents I am not sure if they truly happened as I remember them because they seem so distant and surreal. I shall attempt to give my account as best I can, in the hope to capture some truth and dissuade any others from following in our footsteps.
We travelled to Arcarost to stop Xerax with great haste with the help of the elk Uhr and his ilk. We walked through the abandoned camp of Xerax’s followers and stepped into the ruined city. With Nissa’s magic to soften our steps, we followed Maugrim who had picked up Xerax’s scent through the Arcarost suburbs. We stayed hidden alongside the ruined houses as we travelled down the roads flanked by petrified trees. Yet we still had the constant feeling of being watched. Many of the houses in Arcarost are ancient ruins, infested by dark and dangerous creatures. However many others are covered in magical ruins and seem to look as if their occupant had only just stepped out. I am not sure which of the two or the most dangerous.
Upon a crossroads, we found an ancient house from which we could hear the distant cries of help. We circled around and saw that in the gardens a halfling was being tormented by a pair of fiends. I would have intervened had my divine senses not revealed the halfling and even the house itself to be undead. It was clear then that this was an elaborate trap designed to lure in good adventurers. We moved away from the cursed house as quickly as possible.
We attempted to stay away from the open squares and statues in particular. However one time the scent of Xerax took us right through a mephit infested fountain complex. Seeing no choice but to push on, we attempted to stealth past the mephits. However in my clumsiness, I banged into one of the water pipes and alerted the creatures to our presence. A battle ensued but our strength was sufficient to convince the mephits to flee.
Near the end of our first day, we discovered a grand square with at its center a great silver cross. A large robed fiend was nailed to this cross and it begged us to release it. The robed fiend was the most grotesque thing I have ever seen. Easily the size of four or five men, and likely with the strength of twenty, with misshapen hands and feet. Its hide was a bright red and looked more like armor than skin. It did not speak but communicated by projecting its vile voice directly into our minds. I believe it to have been a pit fiend as I have read about in lore books. And I was very glad that it was trapped and could do us no harm.
At the edge of the square was a grand temple to Lugh, its consecration still intact. Inside we met Pax, a giant titan in service to Dianecht. He was using the temple as his base and had trapped the pit fiend outside as a warning to others. Pax’ goal is to spread the word and teaching of Dianecht, which a quest that I can only wholeheartedly agree with. Under Pax’ protection we had a night’s rest within the main hall. However when we awoke Pax was nowhere to be seen.
We continued following Xerax’s tracks and started heading closer to the center of the city. We soon arrived at an array where a large strip of buildings had been reduced to rubble, around 500 meters across and several kilometers wide. Instead of wasting time to walk around the rubble, we headed straight through it. We moved quickly and silently. In the distance, we saw a small clearing of bones and some movement. We decided to stay well away from it. When we had exited the clearing, Fierna’s curiosity got the better of her and she caused some light tremors across the grounds. This was soon followed by a giant chimera-like creature burrowing out and charging straight at our group. We attempted to hide and run, but Nissa was noticed and eaten whole.
When we saw our valiant companion gobbled up by the vile creature, we immediately turned around and headed back. When we arrived, we found the chimera throwing up a bear with a great belch. Nissa was far harder to digest than the creature expected. We fought the creature, but just as Fierna dealt the killing blow with a frost bolt, our back line was beset by flying fiends that had been lying in wait for an opportunity to strike. The battle expanded, but the fiends proved tricky foes due to their horrendous stench. Even coming close to them, made one’s stomach turn and heave. This was something that the fiends clearly took advantage of and stayed packed in close quarters where they were hard to reach. Nissa solved this by bursting through the wall of the nearby house to jump upon them. However her actions did attract more of the foul fiends that were residing in the now demolished house. Fierna’s spells proved quicker than the flying devils and they found themselves soon trapped in magical vines. The combined fire magic of Nissa and Thorin soon put them out of their misery.
At noon on the second day, we had arrived more or less as close to the center of Arcarost as we would get. We saw in the distance the high tower that once belonged to the mage ruler of Arcarost. But Xerax’s scent and our path took us away from the center and back into the suburbs. We now started approaching the distant snow-capped mountain.
Two hours later, we were forced to cross another square which prominently featured a large statue of an iron bull. We tried to sneak past, but the bull awoke and charged us. The bull seemed to expel some kind of green smoke and we soon felt our bodies harden in place. We luckily resisted the effects and could reclaim freedom of movement. We threw everything we had at the bull and it simply seemed to soak up everything we did. Eventually Thorin was the one who slew the iron bull with a spiritual version of the hand axe he received from Fin.
As we continued, we tried to remain vigilant. But suddenly and without warning, Thorin collapsed seemingly from two blade strikes to the back. I too soon after felt the strike of the blades but managed to remain standing, barely. The invisible creature called out to drop our valuables. But a fog cloud from Fierna balanced out the field, and soon it could not see us as we could not see it. Rather than risk a direct confrontation, the creature decided to flee. I still do not know what type of creature this may have been, I only know that it was extremely dangerous.
As the evening came again, we took refuge in a building covered by magical runes. We deemed it sufficiently safe and took our night’s rest. The next day we entered the mountain. We soon found a cave entrance that was guarded by snake people, a clear indication of the presence of Xerax. We tried to stealth past but Thorin’s armor gave us away. We ran from the guards and managed to evade them.
We explored the cavern complex and found it more man-made than it originally seemed to be. There was a door with a sentient entity inside of it in charge of guarding the master’s sanctum. Far below in the complex, was something else entirely. A large cavern with a glass floor. As we traversed the chamber, runes started to light up in all different languages corresponding to our races. They all said one thing, ‘permission’. With the light of the runes, the chamber under the glass floor became revealed. Apparently the chamber contained a large treasure of gold, gems and trinkets as far as the eye could see. The glass clearly was magic and served as a barrier protecting the remarkable treasure. In the center, there was a socket which seemed to be the keyhole to this safe. Thorin tried inserting his circlet of blasting but that only consumed it and produced a torrent of flames. This seemed like the legendary treasure vault that Zora and her gang her searching for when they first set out to Arcarost. The socket even matched the outline of the key that Anzo was transporting. But without that key, nothing could be accomplished. We decided to leave the treasure room and journey up again. Soon enough we traveled down a fake-looking volcano cavern and encountered Xerax and his minions setting up the ritual.
The strange thing was that the chamber they were preparing was made to look like the inside of a volcano, with a lava pool and all, despite it being man-made. Furthermore the snake people carried symbols of a non-existent fire god. It is clear that the deception ran deep and this was an entire setup done by an external party. For whose benefit was this ruse setup? Was it an ancient trick from Arcarost’s time long forgotten? Was it to draw the attention of Xerax, or worse still, was it to make us believe in the dangers of Xerax’s ritual?
In any case, our path seemed clear at the time and we set upon Xerax and his clerics. We drove them into the lava so that the fires that they worship would consume them. Xerax himself flew up and tried to stay out of reach but we quickly drove him down. Miri landed the killing blow and with that we soon forced the surrender of the remaining priests. We questioned the last of Xerax’s followers, who gave us a name, ‘Atraya’. This individual is involved in the deception of Xerax, and may be the, or one of the, masterminds that orchestrated this entire plot. With their prophet dead and decapitated, the snake people left. We found Anzo’s fire gem covered in lava in the central pool, the focus of Xerax’s ritual.
At this point, we should have turned back. Our mission had been accomplished and the threat had passed. But I could feel the magic of Arcarost clouding my mind, making me feel more distant in my own body. I could sense the others being enticed by the song of gold and riches. Entranced by what we had seen before, we made our way back down to the grand cavern. The runes lit up again and we knew we now had the key. We knew it was wrong, but were unable to resist the temptation. Even Zora, who had lost her brother, who had seen her leader crippled, who had been tortured and tormented by the followers of Xerax, still wanted this. Perhaps there was no spell or magical effect, perhaps it was simply our individual nature enticed by rewards beyond our wildest dreams. Perhaps that too is a kind of magic? I would like to say that if I hadn’t felt so exhausted from our dealings with Xerax, I would have intervened. But I too felt the greed, want and need for the treasure, inside of me. I could only watch as Fierna, Thorin and Miri in turn almost fought for the privilege to insert the gem and reveal the treasure. At first nothing happened but when Miri inserted the gem that the visage of a large golden dragon appeared.
Three mortal races have given permission, the dragon said, and the key was turned by human hand. The Calamity will be released.
The cavern shook, the glass broke and the floor started tearing itself apart. We retreated into the safety to the stairwell from whence we came. But Thorin and Miri were too late and fell into the treasure. Nissa turned into a giant spider to retrieve them and Thorin seized the opportunity to start collecting as much gold as he could. The floor the treasure was resting on began fracturing with extreme heat beginning to flow out. We managed to barely retrieve him in time before the entire cavern was consumed in molten lava. By then, our entrance had collapsed. We moved alongside the edge that remained in the hope of reaching one of the other stairwells.
Then the griffon riders arrived. At first they ignored us, but one of them, Jona the missing Tower Guard, noticed us and came to our aid. The other riders seemed content to leave us to our fate and saw us wholly responsible for releasing the vault. But Jona recognized Miri and Nissa and knew that we would never have intentionally released such evil upon the world. They picked us up and rescued us from a fiery death. As we left the cavern, we caught a glimpse of a giant red dragon rising out of the fractures. It was as big as the cavern that we were in, far larger than I ever could have imagined a dragon being. The core of my being was in terror simply at the sight of it. The griffon riders brought us out of the mountain, where we witnessed more griffons and many silver dragons attacking the mountain. As we flew away, we saw the mountain crumble and lose up to a third of its size. I do not know what that means, is the dragon defeated or forever buried now or did the griffons and the dragons only buy us a moment’s respite? How long will it take for the dragon to crawl out of the rubble; a day, a year or a century? The griffon riders escorting us would not say and simply dropped us off on the Arcarost path without a word. The griffon riders then left and we started our way back to Woodsong.
I have failed you, Father. Through my actions, I may have helped unleash a far greater evil than the one I was trying to prevent.