- A. R. Frayre
A GLIMMER OF HOPE?
Still weary from the battle with the Night Runner Elves, you and your party eventually make it out the canyon, and find yourselves at the peak of a great sandy valley, with more seemingly-endless dunes in the distance. You press on, having no choice, all the while trying your best to forage what little bounty this bone-dry region can give forth.
As the noonday red Athasian sun blazes down on your backs, Ga-Rak, the party’s Thri-kreen ranger, pulls out a leather-crafted map of this region, which the kreen discovered on one of the fallen Night Runner elves. He scans the map, and sees that a few days north of their current position, lies a sizable mountain chain, with what seems like a path cutting directly through the mountains, The Haru-Abbakk Pass. Marked on the primitive map, however, a glimmer of hope; there, as plain as day on the path through the mountains, was the symbol of an oasis! If the party can make it through just a few more days, you all may yet still survive this ordeal. With a new sense of hope, you all continue to press on…
TEMPLE OF THE FOUR THUNDERS
For two sweltering-hot days and freezing-cold nights, the party slogs on relentlessly through the burning wastelands, their precious water supplies nearly depleted, and attempts of foraging resulting in only scant bits of water and edible beetles and grubs. To make matters worse, a sandstorm begins to sweep through the region!
When all hope seemed lost, Lokti spots something in the distance; a great stone temple rises from the endless sands, and carved on its summit, the Elemental Icon of Air! A temple to Chan! Perhaps they may still be brothers inhabiting the monstrous edifice? Without delay, you and the party quickly head towards the temple.
When the party enters the ancient temple, they find the place abandoned and in severe ruin. At the center of this temple, they discover a large shrine to the Elemental Prince of Air, Chan. At the foot of the shrine, they find the dusty remains of a lone warrior-priest, riddled with dozens of arrows. Around the fallen priest lay several desiccated corpses of gith warriors. The dust-covered priest grips a scroll in his skeletal hands written in Auran (the elemental language of Air), which Leth reads aloud;
“And the Abna shall arise forth from the burning south, whipped and bloodied, of lowly-birth but noble blood, brothers born of different wombs, who share the same heart, the chosen who shall silence the 6 sorrows forevermore.”
As the party rests during the night under the shadow of the immense stone idol of Chan, Chuul Kwan and Leth pull night watch duty on the campsite. For most of the night, the hulking, mustard-colored tarek sharpens his massive bone blade, while Leth continues to analyze the scrolls and writings found on the dead Air cleric’s corpse recently.
Earlier that day, the party helped Leth dispose of the gith’s bodies from the sacred chamber, and watched as Leth performed the final rites on his fallen brother.
Eventually, the next shift change comes, with Lokti and Terric now taking watch. Tired, and mind-weary, Leth finally settles into his tent and enters a deep slumber…however, he is visited by a very disturbing and profound dream;
You stand before a huge, ancient ziggurat within an even larger religious complex, housed within an immense stone wall that protects a grand city. A procession of priests from all four elemental furies parade down a paved road into the immense pyramid, as the surrounding crowds cheer and applaud. The high-priests of each elemental faction (Air, Earth, Fire, & Water) all help carry a gold-covered palanquin on their shoulders, and within that glimmering shrine sits a golden box studded with precious stones—a reliquary, perhaps?
The mood is happy and joyous, but suddenly takes a turn for the worst! A massive army led by a Great Golden Lion the size of a mountain attacks the city! The lion wears a crown of fiery-light, and six suns continually orbit his crown.
At the right hand of the Golden Lion stands a titan with the head of a snarling Blue Jaguar. He wears a crown of Moon Light, and beams of ice flow from his eyes.
At the left hand of the Golden Lion stands a Bronze Goddess with a Cobra’s Head! She holds a staff made from the fire of a thousand suns.
The Golden Lion calls to the king of this city, and challenges him to battle, but there is no response. In a fit of rage, the great Golden Lion and his allies begin to lay waste to all that is here. Not a single living soul is spared. During the carnage, the great stone pyramid sitting at the center of this vast metropolis cracks in two and bursts out hellish black flames! A great wail of pain and anguish bellows throughout the land, which causes the Golden Lion and his army to retreat in sheer terror.
In desperation, the elemental priests flee into the desert with the golden box, and into the safety of a holy city hidden deep amongst a vast sandy wilderness. Here, the priests stand guard for 1,000 years until one day, the great Golden Lion and his army finally finds them! A terrible battle ensued, and fearing the worst, the elemental priests called forth the might of the four elements and collapsed the entire complex down upon themselves, securing the sacred treasure at the cost of their own lives…
BY TOOTH & FANG
With a blood-curdling howl, Leth awakens! He sees that most of his party has already stirred from their slumber and grabbing their weapons! Approaching the campsite from the inky darkness beyond, is a savage, snarling pack of Sand Howlers, and behind these foul creatures, a large rabble of Gnoll Warriors! These hyena-men hoot and howl curses of death and destruction as they rapidly ascend to the shrine proper, some running on all fours like the beasts they are! Leading these canine monsters, a She-gnoll, decked-out in what looks like layers of bones, patches of rusted chainmail, and rotting hides. She wields a wicked-looking bone T'kaesali that pulses and flashes with raw psionic power!
This monstrous war-party is out for blood, and attacks you and your fellow adventurers without mercy, using sword, tooth, and claw!
With a terrible wave of bright-purple psionic energy, the she-gnoll tears into the ranks of the heroes, sending them reeling in agony, then psionically-teleporting herself into the thick of them, twirling and slashing her enchanted polearm into several of her enemies!
A fierce and terrible battle ensues, but the party manages to slay the she-gnoll, with the nikaal psion Ral En-kai delivering the final and killing-blow on the gnoll-psychic. After their leader falls, the remaining gnolls lose heart and flee into the dark dunes beyond.
ON THE TRAIL OF DEMONS
The party, still shaken by the gnoll’s brutal surprise attack, do their best to compose themselves and pack up camp as fast as possible. Soon thereafter, the party was on the road, with Ga-Rak’s tracking skills in full use. In short-order, the kreen catches the gnoll’s tracks, and the party was hot on their trail.
After tracking these beasts for several hours north, they come upon a junction near a massive stone statue of an ancient deity. There, Ga-Rak discovers that the gnolls stopped here and intermingled with another force, approximately 200-300 strong, though these others were not gnolls but gith! From here, Ga-Rak relayed to the party that the gith force moved west, and the gnolls continued north.
Following Ga-Rak’s regional map, you come upon a massive chain of great stone hills, some 300 feet in height, with a nearly sheer, wind-worn surface. This must be the Haru-Abbakk Pass. Cutting through this wall of stone, you see before you the opening to a great canyon. On the sides of the canyon entrance, two monstrous stone carvings of grimacing men. Taking in the awesome sight, you notice patches of lush vegetation growing at the base and lower parts of the canyon’s opening, as well as a layer of mist coming from the great crevice. The gnoll pack’s footprints lead straight inside this bizarre area…
For several hours, you and the party have been venturing deeper into the dark, misty canyon path. A layer of fog, which reaches up to your shins, cover’s the canyon’s floor, and the air is cold and humid. All around, you notice that the canyon floor is heavily-vegetated as well, with many fruit trees and berry patches sprouting here and there, from the thick, red mud.
As you continue north, you suddenly see a group of young children about 200 feet away from you. The kids look dirty and unkempt, but otherwise seem normal. They wear little clothing, and are covered in the rich, red mud of the canyon. They do not speak or even answer the simplest questions asked, and do nothing but point at you, their mouths wide open in an eerie grimace. Suddenly, they begin to laugh in a mad fit, and proceed to hurl rocks and clumps of wet, damp red earth at you and the group, then quickly disappear into the mists beyond.
Traveling further down the twisting path, you come upon a naked dwarf standing on a large sandstone rock some 15 feet over you. He too is covered in red mud. In his hand, he grasps a heavy, spiked bone club.
The party’s psion, Ral En-kai, makes psychic contact with the mud-slaked dwarf and establishes a link, though it is not the dwarf’s mind he is bonded to; someone—or something—calling itself ‘The Master is in charge here. The Master is simply using the dwarf as a proxy for its’ communication with the nikaal…
The Master offers the party sanctuary and water, and that it is curious about The Abna…
Ral is shocked! How could this mysterious entity possibly know about the Abna? Ral relays this information to the rest of the party. Wanting to learn more, the group reluctantly moves forward down the path to the source of this mysterious voice.
The party crosses through a deep canyon. After a few hours, they begin to notice several piles of humanoid bones, broken weapons, and shattered shields scattered about the area. They come upon a pass with several natural springs bubbling-up from the red mud. A pond sits a few feet away from a large cavern on the side of the eastern canyon wall. Suddenly, three heavily armored dwarves appear from the cavern, all armed with a massive stone axe.
The party is then mentally contacted by The Master! The creature demands that the party surrender their minds to it completely, or face unimaginable pain! The party refuses this creatures demands and bloody battle commences! A mighty blast of psionic energy slams into the party, shaking them to the core! The mighty Vargass and even the pious priest Leth get overpowered by the psychic horror and become mentally dominated by it, causing Vargass to turn on his brothers and begin cleaving into them with reckless abandon!
From out of nowhere, The Master reveals itself—the being is non other than a Gaj! This horrific beast looks like a twisted cross between a spider and a tortoise. From its huge bulbous head grow three large, feather-like antennae, six compound eyes, and a pair of powerful mandibles. Its body is six feet in diameter and covered by a scaly, rust-orange shell. Six four-jointed legs ending in webbed feet sprout from beneath the shell.
Gaj are carnivores and require flesh to survive, but they also need to consume the mental energy of other sentient creatures to live…
A furious and epic battle rages on, but the party somehow gets the upper hand on the situation, slaying The Master’s dwarven guard, and causing the foul gaj to psionically vanish and flee into the ether.
After the fierce battle, the party scours the gaj’s lair, and discover a sizable treasure cache containing a large amount of ceramic pieces (Athasian coinage) and a few choice enchanted items. Though it was good fortune in defeating the monster and finding its treasure horde, the gaj still lives, and may impose a deadly threat soon enough…