There seemed to be nobody in the clearing but Elysia got the feeling that they were being watched. Relic flew through the forest but was unable to see anybody; Cafaror, using his infravision, was able to sense heat sources nearby but nothing clearer.
Elysia set off into the forest, Cafaror in tow and the watchers followed, keeping hidden. Eventually, they made themselves known; several tall figures clad in scraps of hide, skin and bark, hair in dreadlocks or shaven into patterns, tattoos on various parts of their bodies. They carried bows and spears; some held swords made of sharpened obsidian and flint.
My Elven Sources
Some of this
A fair sprinkling of this
A bit of this (with smaller ears)
And top off with this.
One of them addressed Elysia in a language that she could not understand at first but a casting of Comprehend Languages enabled her to follow what was being said. The figure asked what they were doing in the forest; she gave a potted history of what had happened to Cafaror since he was transformed on the Disco Floor of Random Doom and at the end of her tale, the elves (for such they were) ordered her and Cafaror to accompany them.
For some time, they marched through the forest; by now night had fallen and it was getting hard for the magic user to see her way clearly. Relic swooped through the trees and the elves seemed very interested in him, not in a bad way. Finally, they arrived at an encampment where stands of willow had been woven together into bowers and shelters.
While Cafaror was kept under guard on the edge of the encampment, Elysia was taken to see an old elf who appeared to be some sort of chieftain. There, she recounted her story again. The chieftain explained that although Cafaror had an elven body, his soul was still human, which was why he had been unable to understand what was being said in the forest. To the elves, this was Abomination; half one, half the other, but wholly of neither.
There were three choices which the elves could offer. The first was to restore Cafaror’s human form; the second was to remove his human soul and replace it with an elven one. The final choice was to turn him into a free-willed vampire, no longer evil but still unable to endure the sun and bound to drink blood to survive.
Elysia said that she would have to consult with Cafaror and see which choice he would make. The chieftain agreed and offered her food, drink and shelter. He also explained that the elves viewed Relic as a lucky omen; they had heard of pseudo-dragons but were thrilled to see one.
When Elysia asked if she could do anything in return for the service that the elves were performing, the chieftain told her that only a few days ago, a mysterious stranger had stolen a power crystal that the elves used to store mystical energy for their ceremonies. They believed that he had headed north to the Sacred Lakes, where several ruined temples stood. The elves would not follow him into the temples for they believed that angry ghosts lived there. Elysia said that she would try to recover the crystal. The chieftain was surprised that she would try this with only two people; the stranger was powerful with abilities of which the elves were very wary. Elysia explained that she had companions still waiting where the Ki-Rin had met them and she would send Relic to tell them to meet up at the temple by the lake.
When she consulted with Cafaror, he decided that he wanted to become wholly an elf and he was led away to undergo the ritual.
The next morning, Elysia was reunited with Cafaror, who had undergone the ritual during the night. He still had his memories but now his soul was that of an elf. He had taken the name Gullhar to reflect his hair colour, which was most unusual for this tribe of elves. He decided to stay with Elysia while she attempted to recover the crystal and would decide on his future thereafter.
Meanwhile, back on the edge of the Golden Hills, the rest of the party – Olaf, Alurax, Alagon, Ferros and Zanurax had searched in vain for their comrades (although they had enjoyed the food provided by the Ki-Rin – well, Ferros had) and decided to bed down for the night. A few hours later, Relic appeared out of the night and attempted, in his dragonish way to communicate Elysia’s wishes. The party more or less got what he was trying to say and the next morning set off north-west along the edge of the Golden Hills towards the lakes.
At the end of the eighth day since the party had left the town, they all met up at the edge of the elven forest, near the ruins of a temple that sat on a cliff edge overlooking the lake. They decided to investigate the next morning and spent the evening catching up with events.
As the sun came up across their camp, the party entered the ruins and it was not long until they found a flight of stairs leading downwards. They followed them, noticing that there seemed to be slight scuff marks in the dust that covered the stone. Somebody had been down these steps recently; they were on the right trail.
At the bottom of the steps, they found themselves in a long tunnel through the rock. At its end, there was a stone bridge across a river that flowed out of the rock; on their left, the lake lapped against what seemed to be a wharf of some description. Three stone bastions, covered in moss looked out over the water. At the far end of the wharf there were two huge doors, shod with iron.
(DG Quiz – old schoolers, see if you can tell which dungeon plan I was using for this session; I did adapt it so it might not be quite that easy)
As the party edged across the bridge, they noticed that at the bottom of the river were at least two bodies, pale and half-eaten by fish. Elysia examined them from the parapet and saw that their throats had been cut.
Filled with foreboding, they pressed on along the wharf; halfway to the huge doors, they noticed that there was a large stone frieze carved into the rock overlooking the lake. It depicted several figures in combat and one was holding up an amulet of some kind. Alagon and Alurax decided to inspect the frieze more closely and the carved amulet was seen to be of a different consistency to the rest of the stone. Alurax tried to pull at it and with several good yanks, it came away in his hand. Encased in the plaster that had been coloured to look like the rest of the carving was a key, about six inches long that appeared to be made of platinum.
Wondering what it could mean, the bold fighter pocketed it and they pressed on, arriving at the doors to find them slightly ajar; there was room for only one person to get through. Alurax heaved at the doors to open them wider and the rusty iron fittings scraped across the floor with a horrible shrieking sound that must have alerted everything for miles around – if there was anybody there, that was.
Beyond the door was a huge, diamond-shaped hall with a set of doors in the south wall and a passage at the far apex of the room. As Alagon moved to inspect the doors, he found that the carvings around the archway seemed to twist and turn in a very sinister way. He was not given much chance to inspect further as Alurax had gone into the centre of the hall to look at a raised area of the obsidian floor that appeared, to Relic’s aerial view, to be some sort of seal. As he approached it, he noticed that his feet were sinking into the floor and his boots were dissolving! Ferros and Olaf dragged him off the undulating and seething area of floor, which was now revealed to be something black and slimy, running in a trench all around the seal.
The rest of the party carefully edged around the seal and headed for the passage in the far corner. Alurax, sans boots was grumbling about how cold the floor was. At the far end of the passage was another set of doors; they were in much better repair than the ones on the wharf, and even glided quietly across the floor as the party pushed them open. Beyond, they found themselves in a huge octagonal chamber. A ten-foot tall stone figure stood against one wall, a man with horns, claws and bat-like wings. He gazed across a rather unstable bridge that spanned a flowing underground stream. On the far side of the bridge opened up another tunnel, perhaps twenty feet wide and just as high.
Alurax carefully edged across the bridge and although it creaked and rocked, it stayed intact. The rest of the party examined the statue but could not see anything untoward apart from its fierce aspect. Alurax then checked the stream to see if anything was in the water and the light from his torch glinted off something lying in the silt and gravel. Using the point of a spear, he tried to catch the object and although he was unsuccessful the first time, it was a case of second time lucky and soon he was the proud holder of a silver key, exactly the same design as the platinum one that he had found on the wharf.
Meanwhile, Elysia and Olaf, standing at the rear of the party, caught a glimpse of movement from the Seal Hall; they turned to see a party of four coming down the passage towards them. They were clad in armour that seemed curiously antique in design; one was a woman with flowing flame-coloured hair and they had seven-pointed stars on their shields. Elysia stepped forward to speak to them but the figures passed straight through her as if she was not there. All the magic user felt was a chilling and a sense of weary sadness.
The figures walked on, through the octagonal chamber and across the bridge, then down the long tunnel beyond. Alurax announced that he was following them and set off into the darkness. The rest of the party hurried to catch him up. As they travelled down the wide tunnel, they noticed that the whole of the floor was paved in red tiles, about two feet by two feet.
After some time, having passed two side tunnels, they arrived in another huge hall off which various passageways opened. In the centre of the hall stood a square-based stepped pyramid with what appeared to be a pedestal at the top. Alagon warily climbed the steps and found that the pedestal had what appeared to be a keyhole in it. Connections were swiftly made with the keys that Alurax had found but whilst they were debating about what to do, the ghostly figures appeared again, walking down the tunnel from the direction of the bridge. They arrived in the pyramid hall and then disappeared down one of the side passages. The party followed them and found that the passage was littered with bones, some of them eerily inhuman, skulls like lizards and animals, razor sharp fangs and claws. In a distant corner, they found four armour skeletons, swords still in their hands, their battered and rended shields bearing the signs of the seven pointed star. It was clear that they had found the origin of the ghostly figures.
Discussion returned to the matter of the keys and there was much pondering over which key they should put into the keyhole or if such an action should be attempted at all. Eventually, Elysia used her Unseen Servant to insert the platinum key and turn it; at once the magic user vanished!
While the rest of the party wondered where she had gone, Elysia found herself in a darker, dimmer and more gloomy version of the dungeon. Whilst her companions were now visible only as phantoms of themselves, she found that the marching warriors were now corporeal to her. She hailed them and the red-haired woman asked if she was from the temple. The discussion soon revealed that the warriors had no idea how long they had been trapped there; they knew that they were dead but assumed that their temple would send a mission to recover their bodies and carry out the rites to lay their spirits to rest. They were very shocked when they realised that they had been lost for centuries.
Elysia questioned them about the quest for the elvish crystal but the fallen warriors knew nothing of this; as far as they were concerned, time had no meaning for them in their ghostly state. Elysia promised to try and find their temple and lay their spirits, then had the key turned again and returned to the material world.
She swiftly explained what had been going on to the rest of the party. While this was going on, Alurax had noticed that the length of the great tunnel ran on beyond the pyramid hall and at its far end seemed to be some sort of dull orange glow. He decided that they should find out what was down there and led the way onwards, passing two wide side tunnels that nobody seemed intent on exploring.
The party arrived in a chamber that was more or less the same shape and size as the hall with the statue and the bridge at the far end of the long tunnel. In this room was a huge pit in the centre of the floor, in which surged and broiled a pool of fire. On the far side of the room was a winch mechanism and on another wall, what appeared to be a jade statue in an alcove. The party slowly edged into the room, feeling the heat from the fire and Alurax tossed a bone into the fire pit to see what would happen.
What did happen was that two snake-like creatures, scaly and with humanoid torsos, hissing and glaring, rose from the fire; they watched the party carefully. Alagon got a sensation of intense evil from them. Neither of them moved but nobody in the party made an attempt to communicate either. Then Elysia edged her way further into the chamber and the two creatures watched her. Alagon accompanied her as she headed for the winch.
As her intention became clear, one of the creatures slithered out of the pit and moved towards her. Alagon swung into action but to his horror, his sword bounced off the creature. Alurax, racing to the rescue, had better luck with his trident and sunk it into the creature’s snaky tail. As Ferros opened fire on the creature only to have his arrow bounce off, the realisation dawned on the party that only magical weapons would have any effect on their enemies. Alagon, having an enchanted shield, decided to use that, edge-on as a weapon in the hope that its magic would have the required effect. Together with Alurax and his trident, they soon despatched the creature. The second one had now emerged from the pit and although its long, searing tail caused the paladin some injuries, it too followed its comrade into death.
Elysia had been turning the winch whilst the creatures, now revealed to be salamanders, were being fought and now a large metal orb rose from the fire, supported by some manner of claw. She must have thought that this was the hiding place of the elvish crystal because she cast a Jump spell and flew up from the edge of the fire pit onto the orb itself. There was a sizzling sound and smoke rose from her clothes and skin as the searing metal inflicted its damage. Her resourcefulness and knowledge of dweomercraft paid off as another Unseen Servant pushed the orb off its claw, onto Tenser’s Floating Disc and then she leapt from the orb onto the floor, rolled (bringing the Disc with her) and finally smothered the flames that were licking at her clothing.
While the Team were busy recovering their composure and healing their wounds, Alagon started to get a strange feeling of unease. It grew stronger as Alurax and the others examined the orb and found a join line around its circumference. As they prised the orb apart and found that within its insulated interior were masses of coins, jewels and gems, potions, scrolls and a mysterious leather pouch (containing 26 silver pieces, 26 electrum pieces and 26 gold pieces), the paladin was feeling edgy and slightly nauseous.
The reason for this soon became apparent as a ball of fire rose from the pit, detached itself and stopped at a height of about ten feet or so. It then changed to a disc of pure blackness and hung there. Alagon was ushered out of the room and as he backed up the tunnel, his sensations decreased but did not disappear. Elysia approached the disc and studied it; the blackness was undulating, like the surface of an oily pool. If anything, it could be described as a patch of unReality, where the world no longer existed. Everyone who looked at the thing got the feeling that they did not want to see it and in about ten minutes, they got their wish as it turned back into a ball of fire and sank back into the pit.
Elysia now began to look at the last thing in the room, the jade statue. As she approached it, she could see that it was not actually jade but wax that had been coloured to look like jade. She tried to move it but found that it seemed to be fixed to the base of the alcove. It was resisting her efforts to move it and so Alurax came over to lend a hand. He pulled at it and it tipped forward, the wax then crumbling in his hands to reveal a lever that had been inside the figure and was now pulled down.
From further up the long tunnel, there came a strange sound, followed by a grinding of metal as if something was moving. Then the sound that nobody wanted to hear – a shuffling growling noise. Down the corridor, emerging slowly into the lights of the party’s torches came a huge scaled monstrosity – a minotaur lizard and behind it, there appeared to be more. The party was facing a scaly terror and there was nowhere to run.
New Story Arc Begins In Valiant's X-O Manowar #4 - Out Tomorrow... - As well as new adventures of Aric of Dacia, the collected issues of the first arc of this new run of X-O Manowar (Vol 1: Soldier) will also be available to...
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