Monday, October 01, 2007

Excerpts from Aust's Personal Notes, IV

A Sea of Worms

After yet another troubled night in the terrible shadow of the Dark Spire, I awoke at the sign of first daylight. While slowly arising from my bedding I immediately saw that something was amiss. Amrod was gone and so was a good part of our provisions! Fearing that some unseen assailant had struck right in our midst I was ready to rush into the jungle, when Erik explained that Amrod had chosen to leave entirely on his own accord. Severely affected by the evil, which rests inside the Obsidian Circle, our friend had decided that he could go no further, and so he had left under the cover of night that we would not try to change his mind. Also, neither Baruk nor Eron looked too well, and thus it was decided that they would remain behind while Erik, Serindë, Coraanu and I descended the unsearched shaft.

Inside the ziggurat Erik summoned a magical sensor, which he used to explore the lands beneath the pit, before we delved into it. Immediately below the pit he first saw a carefully hewn but otherwise unmarked stone room, filled with swarms of green worms. In an adjoining room the floor was completely covered by the cadavers of many men and women, dressed in white, each corpse perfectly preserved as if under some sort of magical spell. All the bodies were arranged in pairs, reflecting similar pair wise motifs of worms on the floor tiles directly below them. The same was true of the next room, he saw, except that here only bones remained of the dead, leaving the decoration of the tiling more visible. As his sensor entered the last room, the loremaster suddenly let out a gasp of surprise, then started to describe an immense cavern housing a “sea” made only of slithering green worms. Furthermore, on a narrow ledge leading to a pair of double doors a pair of crouching creatures, similar to the one we had fought in the library, were posed, perhaps the guardians of something even more unfathomable?

After invoking Corellon’s fortunes on us all, we started the descent down through the shaft in the same wind forms, as we had used before. That is except for Erik who used his own flight magic. Well into the shaft two worm nagas appeared from side tunnels using their magic to counter the wards and spells, Erik and I had cast only moments before. His wind form dispelled, Coraanu immediately plummeted directly into worm swarms in the darkness below, while Serindë, Erik and I followed as fast as possible. While Erik blocked the exit of the shaft by a magical wall, the rest of us swiftly regrouped, though not fast enough to detain the worm swarms from being all over us. Since blades were useless against this foe, it was only by the holy fire of Corellon and the raw arcane power of Erik that they were defeated. Needless to say we had obviously lost the element of surprise.

Entering the great cavern, Erik teleported us directly into melee with the two undead spellcasters who surprisingly responded by summoning a gargantuan worm from depths of the worm sea. This “overworm” grabbed and swallowed Serindë with ridiculous ease and only by Erik’s courage (he let the worm swallow him too!) her life was spared. Meanwhile, Coraanu’s blade saved the day, putting the Overworm to rest. As for the two undead, one was burnt to ashes by holy fire, while the other retreated through a pair of nearby double doors before the presence of the Preserver’s Might. We pursued it into a room, whose walls were covered by nightmarish pictures of all sorts of creatures, even dragons, having fallen to the Worm Curse of Kyuss. Here, our blades felled the cowering creature but not before its dead-less tongue had proclaimed the arrival of Barnos Idarna, Dreamer of the Green; Markath, the Mageslayer; and Kardic, the Shadowworm. Barely had these words toned away when the three remaining doors swung up, revealing the named Knights of Kyuss. Initially, Serindë managed to block the Dreamer’s path, showering the undead knight with blows that would have slain a lesser foe many times over. Alas, all the knights proved resistant to our weapons, which are not made of pure silver and more so they seemed to heal some of their damage whenever they drew our blood and intellect with their eye-stalk attacks. Hence, despite her bravery, Serindë eventually collapsed in a pool of blood leaving her wounded enemy still standing. As for the two other knights they seemed insistent on attacking me over the others, leaving their backs largely open to Erik’s spells and Coraanu’s sword. Or at least this was my gamble, when I cast a spell on myself to postpone the time of death, should they fell me. In doing this I would try to attract their blows and thus to give the others a fighting chance to win the day for us. Only a heartbeat later darkness took me, and I too went down in blood. The gambit, on the other hand, had worked, and I woke up only moments later to find Erik bent over me with his healing wand. The three Knights of Kyuss had fallen, leaving three new open doors to be examined.

Spellweaver

The battle against the Knights had caused us all grave wounds on both body and soul, and thus there was little doubt in our minds that we had to use our remaining strength to fight our way out if necessary. As for the three rooms where a Knight of Kyuss had resided they all proved to be empty. And so without further delay we again took the forms of mists and hasted back to our camp.

Three days and three nights passed away under the stars as each of us in his own way prepared for the coming ordeals. Three doors remained unexplored, amongst those the one which had been guarded by the priests. The first door we choose was the one closest to the shaft. This elaborate door covered the entrance to a large square room with a central fountain splashing clear water into a pool, a most unexpected sight in this temple of the dead! Certainly less surprising was the sight of the three undead spawn with two-handed swords and the three crouching spellcasters whose rest we had disturbed. Moving closer to do battle with the undead I suddenly realized the fountain for what it was: a terrible source of evil, however, by that time Coraanu had already succumbed partly to its power and drunk worms from it! Fortunately and by Corellon’s grace he resisted the ultimate trial, as it was his dancing swords above all who rained destruction over our six attackers. In the silence of the aftermath Erik and I investigated the fountain, whose sheer might and, of course, its location rendered any attempts to destroy it using the Power of Good utterly futile.

Leaving the door next to the Sea of Worms for last, we now entered the second door leading into what must have been another library or perhaps the personal quarters of a sage of sorts. Everything in the room had been turned over and arranged in a strange alien pattern on the floor by its serpentine inhabitant: a mighty naga. The creature fought with great cunning, tricking Erik into expending his potent electrical spells on it, although in reality the spells caused it no damage at all. Meanwhile the naga used its own terrible death spells and feeblemind’ing gaze to devastating effect and had it not been for the sheer will power and strong arm of Serindë we would surely all have perished this day. Even so, nothing save the Might of The Preserver could have prevented Erik from paying the ultimate price as life was snuff from the loremaster’s body by the naga’s final spell. After a thorough search of the room, revealing several interesting books including a book on wizardly tactics and a manual of how to improve bodily health, we returned to our camp.

Another three days passed as we prepared once again for what I hoped to be our final trip into the underground. While getting ready Coraanu finally revealed to us that while he drank from the fountain he had gained another vision. The vision had showed him how a blanket of dark energy, originating from the monolith on top of the ziggurat, had covered the whole city and drained its inhabitants out of their very life forces. The energy had then been transferred to the mortal Kyuss, allowing his ascendance into godhood. Something unexpected happened, however, whether through misfortune or treachery, leaving the god Kyuss imprisoned in the monolith.

Much as Coraanu had feared Erik insisted on drinking from the fountain to learn its secrets for himself and it was obvious that he could not be swayed with words. Personally, his wish seemed like folly to me, but on the other hand one has to respect his right to choose his own path. In fact after Erik too had drunk from the fountain and learned nothing new he apologized to Coraanu for not trusting his advice. Then we carefully approached the third and final door. Inside we stood face-to-face with the same grey-skinned spellweaver we had seen in the visions. Bringing an anti-magic field into the room we almost managed to overwhelm the creature, which had long ago attained lichhood, but it managed to escape to somewhere in the complex. We therefore withdrew once again, to prepare overnight for another confrontation.

Using Erik’s magical sensor we found the lich in the central room on the ground level, where it apparently had decided to make a stand. Teleporting directly into the ziggurat we boldly accepted its challenge, knowing that this fight might very well be our last. Ancient is it was, the spellweaver proved to be a formidable and shrewd opponent and the ensuing battle our most desperate ever. Ultimately, the lich slew both Erik and Eron with spells, before Serindë very appropriately destroyed it, as this fight had been hers along. Meanwhile, using my very last spells, I managed to cheat Erik out of Death’s grip once again and to break the enchantment, which had turned Coraanu into stone. And not a moment to soon for as the spellweaver fell the ziggurat too started to collapse. Dragging Eron’s corpse with us we thus barely escaped the boulders as the building came crashing down on us. As the dust settled, one final vision appeared showing the Prophesy of the Age of Worms in full. Voices spoke of many things that had already come to pass and also of some that were new to us: a giant tree was shown and a burning comet seen falling from the sky. The tree, Erik later explained, was the manifestation of the Demon Lord Malgarius, while the comet was not really a comet, but a flying temple called the Fane of Scales, which had fallen from the sky in a far away region a few years ago. The vision went on to show images of a laughing man, the god Vecna, and legions of Worm-Eaten Dead, the spawn of Kyuss. Finally, the Prophesy told of a Darkness where a Tripled Spirit is joined into One at whose advice the Mighty is undone and of a Hero of the Pit, who on the Eve of the Age of Worms uses his fame to gift a city to the Dead.

No comments: