The Azure Shroud of Doom

Into the Desert, Part 1

The Arcane Wastes


Dramatis personæ:
Fenfaril the Wizard………………………………………………………….a master of arcane arts
Girish the Druid………………………………………………………….an elven protector of the natural world
Ragner the Cleric………………………………………………………..a devotee of Khorne, god of Bloody Conquest
Virak the Mean…………………………………………………………a warrior, possessor of the ancient axe Beriek von Doom
Wolfwood the Paladin………………………………………………….a champion of Law, devoted to his quest


Scene:
Over a week after Hobb’s death. Ragner, Wolfwood, and Girish have met up with an elven wizard named Fenfaril, and together the four assisted in the escape of a warrior name Virak the Mean from the spirit of the woods known as the Forest Warden. Several days ago, a sullen Wolfwood set out to scout ahead of the party and has not been seen since.


The sun beats down with a physical weight as the quartet of adventurers enter into the desert known as the Arcane Waste. The hard-packed sand is littered with rocks and boulders as if strew about by a petulant child. The stones have been carved by endless years of driving wind and scouring sand into odd shapes; towering spires, fields of strange nodules jutting into the sky, twisting arches and embankments.

Rounding one of these eldritch shapes, the group spies a small flock of flying creatures, giant dragonfly-like vermin, shimmering green and red scales flashing in the hot sun. The enlarged insects are hovering over the corpses of two unfortunate soul, darting in to rip free mouthfuls of flesh.

The party creep carefully closer to the creatures. Ragner mutters a prayer to Khorne to bless his warhammer but finds only silence from his god. But he does hear a soft voice whisper in head, offering to lend the aid his god has denied. Ragner decides to spurn this offer of aid and focuses on the flying insects.

Virak the Mean lets loose with a dagger, launching it into the flock and knocking one of the insects from the sky. Fenfaril follows up with an arcane barrage of magic missiles, flicking fiery flechettes of force from his fingers. The flying creatures seem to home in on Fenfaril’s mystical powers as they all swarm towards him. Fighter, cleric, and druid all leap to his aid, swinging with axe, hammer, and transformed paw.

They quickly discover the variations in the mutated bugs; while the green arn batter down their prey by ramming into them, the red insects let loose a blast of intense heat when threatened. The party is able to cut down the small swarm of arn, but not without taking injuries and burns of their own.

Fenfaril is quick to search the long dead corpses, stripping one of its armor to claim for his own protection. He secretly casts a spell to detect magics in the area and locates a golden necklace with a rose amulet around one of the body’s throat. The elf places the chain around his own neck while the rest of the party split up the gold they found on the bodies. He detects a faint stench from the necklace but does his best to scrub the putrescence from the amulet with sand.

Inquisitive Girish, hoping to obtain information from the nature spirits in the area, calls out to them. A shrieking howl of pain slices through his mind, nearly knocking him from his feet. He does his best to calm the spirit and finds that the dead desert adventurers were killed by a “hard-back four legs.”

After the battle they group continues on, seeking any sign of the missing paladin. The day passes without further incident and they find a large wind scarred rock to serve as a campsite. It is when weary Virak the Mean takes watch that things take an eventful turn. Briefly dozing off during watch, Virak the Mean suddenly finds himself pinned to the ground beneath a cat-like creature, its back covered with razor-sharp plates. He holds the beast at bay and calls out to his companions. Ragner leaps to his feet, swinging wide with his warhammer and knocking the plated-tiger from the warrior. The solitary cat is no match for the awakened group, steel and magic cutting down the beast, and peace is shortly resumed. While Ragner sits watch, a single short bark of laughter rings out through the desert, but he is unable to pinpoint its source.

In the morning, devout Ragner prays to Khorne for guidance in this vast wasteland and is directed into the deepening haze towards a distant trio of rocky spires. The party travels a slow winding trail during the day. It is late in the day when they near the towering stone mounts. The openings to dark, shadowy caves hunker at the base of two of the spires. The heroes step warily towards the mouth of the cave on the central stone spire, noting large footprint-like depressions around the opening, and spying several skulls scattered about the sand, the backs broken open like boiled eggs.

The courageous cleric carefully poke his head into the darkness, only to leap back as a huge, nightmarish monstrosity boils out. Standing nearly 15 feet tall, the gaj face the adventurers, 6 dark faceted eyes staring out of its pale head. Huge pincher-like mandibles sit below a writhing mass of tentacles, and three feathery antennae taste the air with unknown senses. It approaches on six legs like an insect, but it has a thick red hide, damp with a foul secretion.

Fenfaril flings forth his hands, sending darts of eldritch flame into one of the creature’s eyes. Virak the Mean attempts to emulate the wizard and throws out a dagger, but it clatters against the gaj’s head without much impact. Ragner launches his own magic attack at the beast, throwing mystical force in the shape of a hammer, but the brunt of the power splashes off the gaj like water. Meanwhile, nimble Girish scrambles around the flank of the party to call upon the local spirits for aid.

As Fenfaril prepares another magic assault on the monster, he feels a faint feathery tickle in his mind. Why should he waste his time attacking the gaj when there are so many other easier targets all around him, he finds himself questioning. The elf is unable to fend off the thoughts, and gathering his power, releases a fiery blast at nearby Ragner. The magics twist under the psionic influence of the gaj and slams into the unfortunate cleric. He seizes onto the most recent change in the wizard and calls upon his god to make the elf afraid of the necklace he had taken from the dead travellers. The elf is stricken with terror and pulls at the thin golden chain, but the amulet will not budge.

Virak the Mean charges the giant creature, leaping from close-by rocks and plants his axe squarely in its pale face. The gaj rears back and grabs the fighter with a leathery claw and hurls him away. Virak the Mean, twists cat-like in the air and lands softly in the loose sand. Girish makes good use of this distraction, placing his hand on the side of the rocky tower, and calls out to the spirit of the stone. Mentally shouting over the pained screams that fill his mind, the contentious druid asks the spirit to come to their aid and collapse onto the beast. He hears but a single word in response before the rock begins to quake and the top of the spire shatters, burying the gaj in stone.

Mighty Virak the Mean comes to Fenfaril’s side and attempts first pull the rose necklace from the wizard neck, and then to break the tiny chain, but for all his might is unable to removed the amulet. Ragner cancels his spell and, together, he and the elf approach the gaj’s lair. Girish casts Light upon his shillelagh, and all are startled as the weapon burst forth with the brightness of the midday sun.

As Vierck the Mean stands guard, cleric and wizard enter the gaj’s cave. Girish, wanting to thank the rock spirit for its aid, gently lays his hand on the side of the spire. He feels no response from the nature force that inhabited these stones moments before. Spiderwebs of cracks splinter out from his fingers, the tiny fissures spreading and deepening as he watches. Calling out a warning to his companions in the cave, Girish transforms into a great forest elk and wisely retreats to a safe distance.

Fenfaril and Ragner hesitate only briefly inside the cave. They have just seen a pile of foul bodies, the gaj’s previous meals, and Fenfaril has detected some great source of magic within the stinking mound, when the walls around them begin to shudder and crack. Fenfaril flings aside his wizard staff and Ragner drops his loaded down pack as the two flee for the cave entrance.

Surefooted Ragner escapes the imploding cavern but clumsy Fenfaril trips on his way out and tumbles. Brave Virak the Mean charges into the collapsing cave, bodily hurling the elf to freedom, and runs as if the demons of hell are on his heels as rocks pelt him from above.

The spire collapses, the once mighty stone and ruin of rubble. Virak the Mean is caught in the edge of the collapse but able to extricate himself without too much further injury. Weary, battered, broken, and burnt, the companions carefully scout out the cave in one of the other stone spires, but finding it empty, trudge inside to tend their wounds and make camp for the night.

Fenfaril takes time to carefully examine the amulet he now wears, calling upon his years of arcane study. He is able to discern that the amulet was meant to enhance the perceived beauty and purity of its wearer, but something seems to have gone wrong in its creation. Instead, should the wearer betray purity of thought by speaking lies, the rose amulet enhances this corruption by befouling the air with a putrid scent. What’s more, the nature of the cursed item prevents its removal by force.

It is nearly dawn when a shuffling sound near the cave entrance alerts vigilant Girish. The druid drops from a ledge near the ceiling of the cave, transforming from the shape of a bat back into his elven form, and takes up a defensive position against the intruder. A cloaked and hooded figure staggers into the edge of the firelight. Reaching up to pull back the hood, a voice as raw as the desert sand croaks out a greeting, “Praise Qualin, I’ve found you…”


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