Chapter I. Investigating Arsinium
On the road to Zlatan on 26 Uktar, following the Huatepec debacle, General Cordell summoned Captain Winkwillow and Lieutenant Kane to his command tent. Also summoned were Lieutenant Marcus Gerritsen, an archer and lapsed cleric of Solonar; Specialist Tumorf Twodrink, a druid; and Specialist Terwyn Kite, archer-cleric of Solonar. The general explained that the army had to stop for a few days to allow the clerics to catch up on healing. He charged the assembled legionnaires with traveling to the site of the former Videssian settlement of Arsinum, shown on the old map of Ultima Thule as being relatively close to the road at that point. Cordell revealed that the matter of the Videssians’ disappearance from Aztaltica was greatly preying on his mind; he directed that Winkwillow lead a mission to seek clues in Arsinum’s former location. He provided the party with the services of Specialist Moe Firiendoril, a half-elven wizard proficient with combat evocations.
As Captain Winkwillow and his troop were leaving the tent, sergeants dragged in a drunken dwarf who was associated with Daggrande’s company – a troublemaker called Halgar Balderrak. Musing that the dwarf needed an outlet for his high spirits, Cordell sent him along on the expedition to Arsinum.
Winkwillow sent his familiar, a hawk-eagle, up to look for signs of the former settlement; Tumorf took wild shape as an eagle. Together they spied the ruins of Arsinum, far in the distance, with a great depression in the earth just beyond. The party set out through the jungle and patches of savanna. En route they were set upon by a group of monstrous scorpions. Aided by the animal companions of Arkane and Tumorf, a pair of apes named Ngani and Obizian respectively, the party defeated the scorpions without loss of life.
After a total of about five hours of hiking the party found the first mound of stone that had been a building fifteen centuries earlier, now girdled about with lush jungle vegetation. A more substantial structure was not far off – a replica of the Imperial Palace of Videssos, albeit a sadly reduced one – and the group inspected this first. The “palace” proved uninhabited, its uncollapsed rooms holding only dirt and humus and animal waste, but after some inspection the party found that a space seemed to be sealed off without entry. Halgar pronounced confidently that the stonework in the hallway indicated that there had never been a door there, but the other party members immediately saw a doorway that had been mortared shut, and the prevailing theory was that the dwarf was once again drunk.
After much trial the party broke open the wall, and a rush of foul air left Halgar nauseous. Arkane stuck a torch in the hole until it burned clean yellow; then Winkwillow peered inside. The party found a dead Videssian, mummified by dehydration, an apparent suicide; they also found journals written in ancient Videssian and another book which Moe identified as written in Draconic. The dead Videssian was wearing a ring which proved to be a ring of protection +2; the book also registered as magical, and Moe read part of it and found it was a treatise upon the development of magical theory by the ancient Videssians.
The party made camp inside the faux Imperial Palace while Winkwillow strained his knowledge of Videssian trying to translate those passages of the journals (see translated copy from Legion archives) which were not so faded or ruined as to be illegible. Poring over Winkwillow’s translations, the party found answers to some questions that had long plagued them about Aztaltica’s history, but also new mysteries.
The journals covered over a hundred years. They suggested that the Videssians had fought and defeated the Saurians, who had enslaved the native humans. They also indicated that the Hellstorm had once been less intense, allowing the Thonians to reach Aztaltica and overrun Festinium (shown on the old map of Ultima Thule as “Thonium”). Here there were references to “L’Rex,” something the Videssians feared, and claims that the jungle itself had overrun Festinium and allowed the Thonians to take it. However, at some point the Hellstorm had intensified and the Thonians had lost their Aztaltican holdings.
Around fifty years before the Cataclysm the Videssians had located the site of a meteor strike. They built the city of Arsinum at the crater’s edge, and began mining there for a metal they called “ferristite.” Little of note happened until the Cataclysm, although the journals contained an interesting contemporary account of how the Cataclysm made its effects felt half a world away from the destruction of Oceanus. Although cut off from Videssos, the colonists continued mining the ferristite until one day they intercepted a chimney that was not natural. Within days there was some massacre which left the city with only about thirty survivors. The remaining pages of the journal detailed the loss of the last citizens of Arsinum to madness and attrition, as each night they were stalked and slain by some horror described only as “Screams.” Those who sought to flee through the jungle were found dead and said to be victims of L’Rex.
The final entry was written by the Videssian the party had found; he had walled himself in the small chamber and opened his wrists rather than face whatever had come to destroy Arsinum.
Unnerved by the tense account, the party decided they nevertheless must investigate what this “ferristite” was and how it might be helpful to the Legion. They descended into the crater and found the old mineworks of the Videssians, which proved to be focused on veins of pure iron. Meanwhile, Tumorf, circling overhead as an eagle, spotted a figure on the crater’s rim. It disappeared in the area of a granite monument which bore scenes of the Videssian overthrow of the Saurians. The party soon found a secret door in the monument’s base which led to a cave complex in the earth below. There they encountered cave dwellers, Neanderthal-like apemen incongruously clad in the rich clothes and using the masterwork arms and armor of the ancient Videssians – all oddly untouched by time.
After an initial battle with three of the cavemen which the party easily defeated, they parleyed with the cave dwellers’ leader. The leader was a bellicose, blustery, and deceitful brute named Uruk, who wielded a wand of lightning bolts along with masterwork weapons. Although Uruk initially demanded that the party depart the caverns, leaving behind their weapons and “the little boy” (Winkwillow), ultimately he offered to allow the party to travel beyond the cave dwellers’ area if they forfeited one-third of anything they recovered.
Chapter II. Awakening
Passing through a well-fortified “Barrier Door,” the party quickly decided they would have been better off fighting the cave dwellers. They were soon attacked by the first of the Screams – large creatures with bodies like roiling intestines set atop leeches; long tentacles ending in lamprey mouths; clublike tails; and, worst of all, trunks festooned with the heads of the Screams’ victims, each face frozen in a rictus of fear. The creature dragged Halgar into an underground river, but he was freed by Tumorf (in wildshape as a giant crocodile) and Arkane who simply plunged in after him.
Several battles with more of the Screams ensued. At one point Winkwillow was hoisted on a rope to engage a Scream in melee combat while Terwyn and Gerritsen pummeled the beast with their incredibly accurate and damaging archery. The party also found several of the Screams’ victims entombed in crystal-filled alcoves, each with the heads pulped beyond recognition, but some with valuable items – including a buckler +3, shortsword +2, a suit of mithril chainmail, and other magical items and valuable items. These were Videssians, preserved by the crystal prisons through time. One was a soldier who carried orders of dispatch. The orders indicated that he had come after Arsinum’s depopulation by the Screams; the Videssian “governor” of Aztaltica was ordering all Videssians to collect in Zlatan to defeat an insurrection of the Videssians’ native slaves. The luckless soldier had been sent to discover why communications from Arsinum had ceased.
After defeating a total of seven of the hideous Screams the party reached what seemed to be an exit, but proved to open onto an enormous cavern with hundreds of other tunnels. They speculated that the other tunnels led to similar cave complexes harboring Screams, and decided instead to force their way back into the cavemen’s area and exit the way they had come. Winkwillow decided the party would simply line up before the Barrier Door, force it open if necessary, storm the cave dwellers’ cavern, and kill Uruk. Moe was tasked with casting a counterspell to preserve the party from Uruk’s lightning bolt wand.
Thus, the party was all arrayed in a ten-foot-wide passage when the door was opened, revealing, of course, that it was utterly dark on the other side, so Moe could not cast his counterspell. Moreover, the cavemen had piled furniture and debris on each side of the door, effectively extending the ten-foot passage well into the room. The floor of the narrow entranceway was covered with broken wood, rubble, and upended furniture, slowing movement to a crawl. As the party tried to make headway against these conditions they were hammered by lightning bolts, hold person spells (from another wand), and missile fire from the cavemen until they finally had to retreat and parley with Uruk. Ultimately they were permitted to pass through the cave dwellers’ area in exchange for a third of the booty they had secured from the Screams’ chambers. Halgar, Gerritsen, Winkwillow, and Arkane quietly swore to return and slay Uruk.
Chapter III. Loose Ends
The return to the Legion was uneventful, although along the way Arkane discovered a carved stone which he excitedly claimed was proof that his ancestor (Kahn) had indeed visited Aztaltica. When the party reached the Legion’s camp, General Cordell took their report and indicated he was well pleased with the squad’s performance. A squabble broke out over disposition of the magical book that had been found with the dead Videssian, which proved to be a Tome of Clear Thought. Cordell directed that since Moe had partaken of the dangers faced by the party, and he was the only one in the party who could make good use of it, Moe should get the tome. Nevertheless, once they were out of Cordell’s hearing Halgar, Winkwillow, and Gerritsen rekindled the debate over whether Moe should get the book and whether he should be required to give up one of his other items in exchange. Moe eventually dropped his ring of protection +1 into the pile of loot and left to read the tome.
The next morning, as preparations were being made to resume the Legion’s march, Halgar passed an old native engaged in a daily ritual of chanting to the jungle. Mention of “L’Rex” brought Halgar up short, and this led to the party questioning both the old native and Atahuelpa of Itzapan on the subject. As it turned out, L’Rex was a legendary jungle spirit – not part of the organized native religions, but a threat to be placated and supplicated, the “Beast-King” of the jungle. Atahuelpa noted that it could well be a mere superstitious explanation for the occasional disappearances of men who fell afoul of the jungle’s many natural dangers.
Accepting this as one more of Aztaltica’s mysteries, the party resumed their accustomed places in the Legion’s long column, and marched onward to Zlatan.
Go to next section of the Log, Book III: On Campaign