Chapter I. The House of Tezca
At the edge of the House of Tezca, Arkane roughly sketched out for the Silver Legion Special Missions Unit, nearly 300 Little People, and Huitley the scenario that faced them, noting that the desert was about two hundred miles of forbidding terrain, but the grasslands and jungles that bordered the desert were filled with moving Saurian squads. The party hoped to cross the House of Tezca by following the trail of magically-appearing oases that led from Zlatan City; it appeared they would not be in time to intercept the refugees fleeing through the desert, and, of course, they would be able to do little against the force of Saurians that pursued the refugees.
Just as they were about to enter the desert, animals passed them fleeing something in the forest. Suddenly the party was confronted with swarms of army ants and they had to enter the desert to escape, but among the dunes they fell afoul of sand golems and had to destroy several in a tense battle. Regrouping, the party set out across the desert, followed some distance behind by the few hundred halflings of King Tolub’s halflings.
Nothing Arkane told the legionnaires prepared them for the reality of the House of Tezca. Even the sweltering heat of the Aztaltican jungles could not compare to the brutal sun of the desert. In the first day it became clear that they could not travel for more than a few hours after sunrise, and they sat miserably through the stifling heat of midday. The wastes were not like the endless tall sandy dunes of the Cortalish Empire. Instead, hardscrabble ground clothed in stunted, sharp-thorned brush stretches in low ridges and vales far away in the distance. The Little People were ravaged so badly by the tough plants that they often required bandaging or even magical healing during the course of the day.
The band’s salvation was the occasional oases, which appeared at oddly regular intervals across the desert face. These dwindling waterholes also attracted the creatures of the desert, and though there was scarcely an animal larger than a rabbit, the hunters of the halflings and Arkane were together able to scavenge enough to maintain subsistence-level rations. Gelben’s efforts to provide food by magical means helped to supplement the hunters’ efforts, but the gods did not respond to his prayers for water, as if these hard lands had already been called upon for all that they would give.
The fourth noon brought a sandstorm howling across the bitter deadlands, rising with the speed of a panther; everyone huddled together for protection just before the blinding sands burst upon them and made all the world a stinging mist of brown dust. When the winds died away and the heat-glazed sky returned more halflings were missing, taken away or buried by the storm. The casualties continued to mount, in twos and threes, as the fourth day of travel dwindled to a close. The sun was lowering on the fourth day when they saw, off at the wavering horizon, mountains, made by a trick of the heat to seem as if they floated above the unforgiving plain.
Then an eagle appeared in the sky, and descended toward the party, changing as it landed to an eagle warrior of the Itzapan. This was Tezzozomac, a former jaguar knight who had helped ambush the band many months earlier in Tazumal; he credited their great power with convincing him to change allegiance to Qotal. He explained he had traveled the jungles in despair before arriving in Far Itzapan, where he retrained in Qotal’s arts. He described a vision from Qotal of heat, sand, and sun, which he took to be the House of Tezca, and a great silver wheel he must find there. However, the legionnaires had not seen such a sight, so he described his primary mission, scouting for Atahuelpa, leader of the Zlatan refugees fleeing after the Night of Tears and pursued by the Saurian host. Tezzozomac noted he was one of a handful of eagle knights left—the eyes of the Exodus, and sought to locate Saurian supply trains and arrange attacks against them.
The legionnaires swiftly agreed to fight the nearest supply train to aid the refugee effort. The party set up an ambush with several party members hiding in holes covered by sand, ready to spring up and attack. A brief but bloody fight against a group of wilted, seemingly downtrodden Saurian bearers. There were perhaps a platoon of skinks, a squad of saurus, a couple of skink shamans, a saurus captain, and another giant salamander that spat globs of acid. The party managed to swiftly capture the wagon--which up close they recognized as one of two Legion treasure wagons which fell into Lake Qotal on the Night of Tears. Yet there was no gold within, only human flesh, and a cargo more precious than treasure--amphorae with hundreds of gallons of water. Dmitry brilliantly used his magic to transform the amphorae to small cloth representations of themselves, allowing the party to carry enormous amounts of water as they went forth into the desert.
The next day, Atahuelpa flew to the legionnaires in eagle form, embracing his old comrades in arms. He told of the plight of the Exodus, of which he was now leader, the Zlatan leadership having been transformed into Saurians on the Night of Tears. He told of how Uxma, the featherweaver, traveled with them and gave them cryptic advice to travel through the desert, promising Qotal would provide. And so he had with the mysterious oases, yet the future of the refugees seemed grim. Atahuelpa said he was leading the Exodus south, for the shore of the southern ocean at the edge of Axocopan lands, but he knew not what he would do then. When Captains Gelben and KinCade explained the Legion’s situation, that General Cordell had been imprisoned by the harsh Baron Warwick, he understood where their mission and loyalty must lie, for he foresaw a reign of terror over his own Itzapan if this usurper remained in power. Nonetheless, he begged them to return and help fight the Saurians afterwards. The legionnaires were torn, but they were without their magic items, far behind the Exodus, with a Saurian army in between them, and still in the depths of the desert, so they had little choice but to press on toward Zlatan.
Several days later, it was the legionnaires’ turn to be ambushed by warriors erupting from the sand. They were dwarves of unusual aspect, reddish in hue. They bore weapons of stone and, in some cases, steel--rarely seen in Aztaltica. The apparent leader of this group of “desert dwarves,” Dornarbarazbaruk, challenged the party and accused them of stealing their metal weapons and armor from dwarves. The legionnaires kept the situation from escalating and instead convinced “Dornar” to lead them to his leader. The dwarves took the party to meet King Luskag of Sunhome, and the party learned that these dwarves had been sundered from their home in Arik fifteen centuries ago by the “Rockfyre”--an event they blamed on the machinations of drow, but almost certainly a reference to the Cataclysm in which Oceanus was destroyed. The party members managed to make the king and Dornar understand that they had come from Arik and that the dwarves’ kin still dwelt in numbers in Rockhome, where they continued to manufacture fine magical weapons such as the obviously recently-made weapons some party members bore. Thus, the king and Dornar decided to have Dornar accompany the party across the House of Tezca so that the desert dwarves could eventually reestablish contact with their long-lost kin in the northern continent.
After much discussion, the legionnaires convinced King Luskag, whose people traditionally stayed hidden and aloof from those of Aztaltica, to fight the Saurians, to harass their supply lines. However, he demanded they contribute to this alliance against the Saurians, that they stay and fight together. “King” Winkwillow won Luskag over by deciding the 250 remaining Little People, who would likely not survive much longer in the desert crossing, would stay with the dwarves and help harass the Saurians. Chief Tolub and chief warrior Kashta pledged they would fight El Saurim, and wait for their King’s return. In this way at least, they could help the efforts of the Zlatan Exodus and their comrade Atahuelpa. A few Little People, however, would continue with the party, including a troublemaker named Cobula who had begun to raise grumblings about KinCade’s leadership. Luskag also allowed some minor trades for plumastone weapons, an obsidian-like rock equivalent to a minor enchantment and infused with the power of Qotal. Vogon commissioned a double-headed axe of the strange material, though it would take months to fashion.
The surprises continued, as the dwarves brought forth Lieutenant Sett of the Silver Raiders, who they had discovered wandering the desert near death. The scout related a harrowing tale, how he had been separated from the Legion on the Night of Tear, but managed to escape with the Zlatan refugees across the frozen Lake Qotal. He joined up with a handful of Itzapan allies and legionnaires amid the vast host of Zlatan; the Nuadans among them were torn apart, but then Atahuelpa managed to calm the mob, and soon convinced them they must fight together for their very survival. He noted there were a few dozen legionnaire survivors with the Exodus--the senior officer was Lieutenant Marcus Gerritsen and lead sergeant was Halgar Balderak. However, Sett had been hit by a blind spell several days ago, and was swept up in the tide of battle, wandering for days near death until the dwarves found him. When his comrades relayed their tale of escape from the Saurian jungle city, all he seemed to focus on was the one treasure wagon which made it out of the city, and the three million nobles of treasure Cordell had earlier hidden in Itzapan. He assumed Warwick would be trying to extract its location from Cordell, and then ship it back to Southold, This prospect in particular enraged the elven scout--for all their conquests and sacrifices, they had not been paid, and he wanted his money.
Reprovisioned by the desert dwarves, the Silver Legion Special Missions Unit resumed its journey, heading now northwest toward Zlatan City, but now crossing even more inhospitable terrain than before. The party had had to leave about half of the water magically stored by Dmitry in order to provision the halflings they were entrusting to the desert dwarves, and usage of the remaining water vastly exceeded expectations, so concerns re-emerged about whether the party had enough to make it to the other side of the desert – particularly when the party reached the next oasis and found it mostly dried up.
Chapter II. Grot-Thuk, Realm of the Rock King
On the third day after leaving the desert dwarves, the Silver Legion Special Missions Unit found an oasis from which the water drained rather than evaporating. A search revealed a natural channel through the sand to a hole which the party excavated, finding a narrow cave entrance. Inside the party discovered dwarven runes carved in the wall, which Dornar translated as “Welcome to Grot-thuk, Realm of the Rock-King. Please drive carefully.” Dornar explained that in the folklore of his people, “Grot-thuk” was a fabled realm of untold resources and safe passage through the desert, where the rock itself was alive. The legionnaires decided to follow a natural channel in the floor of the cave down which water had apparently recently flowed. KinCade, taking Dornar’s words literally, placed his hand against the rock wall and spoke on behalf of the band, promising that they wished only to travel peacefully through that realm. Unbeknownst to him, a galeb duhr nearby, gatekeeper to the realm, heard him and took him at his word.
Following a narrow tunnel from the cave, the party eventually discovered a broad cavern with odd rock formations: short round-ended columns covered in tiny nodules like buds. Toward the center of the cavern was a collection of similar but slightly larger formations with the rich golden-amber hue of virgin honey. Dmitri tried nibbling on one of the larger formations and ended up effectively unconscious for several hours; experimentation with the smaller formations proved them edible, and nourishing, but also intoxicating and mildly hallucinogenic.
Moving on, the party entered another cavern, confronted by a pair of huge, brutish creatures with chitinous exoskeletons and too many eyes. There was a rattling hiss from above the party, and the beasts spun and glared. Above, a creature like a snake unwound from a shelf and reared to strike. The larger of the two beasts, which were umber hulks, spread crablike claws and rushed toward the legionnaires making horrible sounds, while the other beast burrowed into the wall with its broodlings on its back. The party quickly dispatched both snake and the larger umber hulk, but found the burrow had collapsed behind the other monster which had escaped.
The party continued and finally came to a place where they could scoop water from the floor into their mouths. The heat was reduced enough for comfort here as well. However, when they came into an oddly-shaped chamber, a large section of floor abruptly pivoted like a giant stone pendulum, dividing the legionnaires in three and blocking retreat to the south. On one side were KinCade, Arkane, Vogon, Dmitri, and Cobula; on another side were Gilgareth, Gelben, Sett, and Garrant; and on the third side were the remaining halflings and Huitley. Gilgareth and his group stayed by the wall overnight so that Gelben could try to magically reshape the stone and gather the party together, but found that each time he moved the stone, some countervailing force would cause the stone to flow back into place. Meanwhile, unbeknownst to them, KinCade’s group had simply moved on, and Huitley and the halflings had been captured by forces as yet unrevealed.
Not far from the divided cavern, Vogon spotted a small figure fleeing up the tunnel from KinCade’s group. He easily caught up to the creature, finding it was a young myconid who called himself “Mikey,” who was able to speak an archaic form of Southron. At first ridiculously defiant, “Mikey” agreed to travel with the group for a while. Mikey explained to the group that the king of the underground realm, Parves, was preparing his forces to impose justice on whoever had murdered the peaceable umber hulk and the family pet. He also spoke of various creatures that dwelt in the tunnels of Grot-thuk, using unfamiliar terms such as “ophies,” “stupidheads,” “rock shepherds,” and others. When asked about other exits from Grot-thuk, he indicated vaguely that the only exit he knew of other than the one back the way the party had come from was far ahead, beyond an underground lake.
As the group, now accompanied by the tirelessly prattling Mikey, traveled deeper into the tunnel, more water streamed in from crevices and holes in the tunnel walls. What had been a rivulet becomes a stream, then a freshet, then a veritable underground river. After a couple of days, the river was so wide that the slim ledge on which the group now walked dwindled to nothing at all. At this point, however, the group noticed large alcoves lined with a coating of slick accreted calcium. At the base of one of the alcoves lay several hammers and large chisels of granite, and beyond were several large, oblate bulges in the porous rock of the wall like bolls on a tree. A groove had been cut about an eighth of the way along one of the bulges where it joined the wall. After some deliberation, KinCade noticed an incredible thing--bits of the porous rock, swept off by the current, were actually floating on the water. In a burst of inspiration he grabbed up a hammer and chisel and worked for an hour until he had cut the rest of the way around the bulge in the rock. The cut-away surface, with its lining of calcium, sat on the water like a coracle or shell, big enough to hold the entire group plus Mikey. Dmitri then took one of the ballistae (which were magically stored as felt patches in his robe) and broke it apart to provide wood for oars. The group piled into the makeshift boat and cast off into the darkness of the underground river.
At one point the river’s currents became turbulent and hazardous as the walls of the channel narrowed. However, the ledges on the sides of the river were wide enough to attempt a portage, if the boat could be returned to the banks. Thoughtful hands had left a strong cable crossing the river about three feet above the water, and Arkane and Vogon grabbed on to it, but the pull of the current was so strong that they could not keep the boat steady while trying to pull the boat over to the ledge by the cable alone. Cobula tried to crawl along the cable to get to the ledge, but encountered difficulty, and it was KinCade who tied a rope between himself and Arkane’s ankle and eventually made it to the ledge to pull the boat in--after enduring a few dunkings in the water.
he river soon widened out again and became navigable, so they resumed the boat. The group was drifting along a wide, peaceful stretch of the river when a sickly-looking but very human arm shot out of the water and grasped the edge of the boat, bringing it to a sudden stop. Forms rose out of the water - human and Saurian - but there was no intelligence in their eyes, and a strange purple growth bedecked their skin in patches. “Stupidheads!” Mikey shouted, and then he was seized by one of the vacantly staring humans and yanked backward into the water. The group fought the zombielike creatures from the unsteady purchase of the boat, and eventually defeated them. There was no sign of Mikey, but when the group resumed their boat trip they soon came upon him floating just ahead in the tunnel, upside-down on his mushroom-like cap, with a sour expression and folded arms. “I am not having fun on this trip,” he groused.
Mikey resumed his seat in the front of the “boat” and the group continued down the river. Suddenly there was a rustle, and Vogon’s darkvision detected reptilian faces peering over the lip of a ledge some thirty feet up, hissing as they hurled a huge net down toward the boat. These were the “ophies,” Mikey explained in alarm as the group dealt with the net that had entangled the boat; in appearance like, yet unlike, the Saurians. The net was cast off the boat and one of the “ophies” that was sliding down toward them on a line attached to the net was knocked off into the water, but the combat defused quickly--the boat was still moving in the river’s current, and at the sight of Mikey the “ophies” appeared to halt their attack. Mikey warned the group that the “ophies” had certainly been sent by Parves, the Rock King, to apprehend them and this meant more encounters were likely ahead.
The water started to become rough again and the group realized they were headed for a waterfall. Another cable had been stretched across the watercourse and the legionnaires tried the same procedure as before to haul the boat over and attempt a portage, but their efforts were greatly complicated as KinCade kept slipping off into the water and about a dozen demistirges attacked, sapping the adventurers’ strength as they fastened like leeches. Ultimately the battle was lost; Arkane, Coluba, Mikey, and the boat went over the falls, while KinCade, Vogon, and Dmitri looked on helplessly from their various perches on the cable or the ledge.
Unable to find their lost comrades, and fearing them dead, KinCade and the others rested on the ledge overnight and then carefully picked their way down alongside the underground waterfall. At its base they found a path leading alongside the river and eventually discovered their “boat,” somewhat battered but still serviceable, lodged in a bend. There was still no sign of Mikey, Coluba, or Arkane, and with heavy hearts the survivors of the group loaded into the boat and continued on.
The river eventually decamped into a large underground lake, with a constant low current heading away from the shore. With no other direction to follow, and remembering Mikey’s comment that the only other exit from Grot-thuk was beyond the lake, the group pushed away into the darkness. Almost immediately, however, they heard voices from the shore, and started paddling toward the sound. To their amazement and relief they found Mikey and Arkane sitting in the low light of Arkane’s magical saber. Arkane had used several of the rock formations they had collected--which Mikey called “rock poppies”--to heal his body of the battering it had taken in going over the falls; it seemed his mithril shirt had saved him, albeit barely, from a painful death. Thus, he was alive and in fairly good shape, though completely intoxicated by the rock poppies. Coluba, sadly, had disappeared entirely and was presumed dead. Mikey and Arkane rejoined the group and they set out across the lake once again.
Little occurred during the long crossing of the lake, although the group witnessed a titanic battle between two aquatic monsters who seemed to have no interest in the boat at all. At length the legionnaires reached the other side and faced towering cliffs with only a meager “beach” on which to land. Exploring the face of the cliffs, they found a rift where the lake waters poured in with terrible fury, and it was plainly not suitable for their makeshift boat. However, Arkane noted handholds in the cliff leading up into the darkness, and eventually Vogon ascended the track with his enormous agility.
After about two hundred feet, Vogon found a series of shaped recesses in the rock, and below them, several shaped metal objects hanging by chains from a ring set in the stone. Each object - star, square, triangle, circle, and cross - corresponded to a similarly-shaped cavity in the stone. He tried placing one of the symbols in its corresponding receptacle, and thereby triggered the DEATH BOWL. The entire band--including those not present with KinCade’s group--somehow was able to participate in this strange contest, in which their knowledge of things both worldly and otherworldly was tested. They prevailed in the end, and several of the group ended up with tattoos on the backs of their left shoulders of unknown purpose. When the contest was done a boxlike contraption descended toward the beach. Vogon rejoined the group below; they entered the boxlike contraption; and it raised all of them up to a ledge high on the cliff which led further on, above the mad, rushing waters pouring through the rift from the lake. Eventually the waters below disappeared into the bowels of Grund. A ceiling to the fissure appeared, the ledge merged with the opposite wall, and the fissure became a tunnel narrowing from forty feet in height to only about fifteen feet tall.
After about a mile a cavern opened from the end of the tunnel, with complex cave geometries and various apparent entrances. Shuffling about were a small group of humans and Saurians encircling a struggling woman, battering her with their fists. Each was festooned with the purple fungus of a “stupidhead.” The group moved forward to aid the woman, but it was a ruse – she was also a “stupidhead” and battle was joined. Immediately more “ophies” and myconids appeared from places of hiding around the periphery of the great cavern, and battle was joined.
Meanwhile, the second group, consisting of Gleben, Gil, Garrant, and Dornar, had to make their own separate way through the cave complex. They wandered for some time, gradually running short of food, and fighting several beasts of various types. In their most fearsome battle, a powerful roper launched its tentacles up from a chamber below, and dragged Gelben below. Meanwhile, Dornar, who had been infected and controlled by strange worm which crawled into his ear, charged at Garrant. The sergeant-major, drilled endlessly to hold the line against any attacker, whirled in an instant to strike the desert dwarf, but then realizing he must be possessed in some way, struck with the flat of his greatsword to knock him unconscious. He then dived down the hole after Gelben, desperately swinging his sword at the roper while prone until, along with Gelben’s spells, they had felled it.
The group had many other exploits, but by far the most memorable was when they headed down for several days, and heard the roar of water behind them. The band waited for the first rush of water, then leapt atop their kite shields and road the wave perhaps miles down into a great sea—the same their comrades had earlier encountered. Dornar had never seen so much water—and in a mix of confusion and ecstasy, floated into the depths and sucked great gulps of the precious liquid. Without his comrades’ efforts he may well have drowned, and stood dizzily on the shore contemplating a world gone mad, which had such vast amounts of water. But their contemplation was soon ended, for they heard the sounds of battle, and amid the din, the unmistakable battle cry of Vogon.
Captain Gilgareth and his group followed the clash of arms and moved forward to see Captain KinCade’s group in battle. Ophies waiting beside the mouth of their tunnel immediately engaged them in battle. It was then that Parves himself stepped forward on an upper balcony of the battle chamber, revealing himself to be a dwarf with the stamp of Rockhome in Arik. He repeatedly ordered the party to lay down their weapons and surrender to his justice; the party refused, and managed even to get the upper hand on their opponents, felling the most powerful of the myconids and most of the ophies. They were less successful against some galebs duhr that appeared, however, and when Parves revealed more forces--including hook-handed bird-men and umber hulks--that he was prepared to send in. Gilgareth in particular still had blood in his eyes and yearned to see the battle through, but KinCade and Gelben finally convinced the others to parley. The party reluctantly lay down their weapons and allowed themselves to be led out of the cavern.
The passage from the site of the great battle was wide and easily travelled, and soon the party faced a pair of massive stone doors, the first architectural detail they had encountered in the realm of Grot-thuk. Two galebs duhr placed great slablike hands on the doors as if to open them, but instead the stone of the doors flowed apart to form a great arch. The party passed through and the doors melted back to their original forms.
Now the party stood at one end of a long elliptical cave. To their left the cave opened onto what was apparently a much greater space. Light and darkvision penetrated only a little way into that unguessed gulf, but there were faces and forms of a myriad different kinds--myconids and ophies and umber hulks and galebs duhr and stranger things yet, all gazing up from some dozens of feet below the level of the cave. In front of the party a massive stone chair was set, turned to also face the gallery, and upon the chair was Parves. Immediately to his left stood the myconid seneschal; off several steps to Parves’ right the myconid sovereign stood impassively, arms folded. A scattering of the party’s other recent opponents also was in the cave. Suspended above the floor was a great cage, holding not only Huitley and the halflings who were caught with her, but also Coluba, looking much the worse for wear.
Most remarkable were the statues in that place. Though the party did not recognize the race of any of the creatures depicted, they all shared a similar pose: strained, unnatural, as if held in place against their will, and evidencing terrible torment in their frozen expressions.
Parves presented to his assembled subjects the facts as the Grot-thuk community saw them: the party had invaded their realm, slaughtered the pet of the umber hulks and also killed the father of the family when he tried to prevent the guard-snake from attacking the party. The umber hulk’s widowed mate provided a tearful account of her loss. Parves then took the testimony of the galeb duhr who had overheard KinCade’s promise. Although he remembered KinCade naming himself, the galeb duhr looked from KinCade to the other halflings in the cage and the other party members and confessed that they all looked alike to him.
Captains Gilgareth and Gelben each presented the party’s case, explaining that the party had simply mistaken the umber hulk’s purpose and offering recompense to his widow and the community of Grot-thuk for their terrible error. In private conversation, Parves explained--not unkindly--that as king of the land he did not arrange things to his satisfaction, but to the satisfaction and for the good of his people, and his people demanded some justice beyond wealth for the loss of their friend. He then addressed his people, pronouncing that although murder had been done, it was not the way of Grot-thuk to respond with indiscriminate slaughter; a life would be cast for a life. Then he turned to the party, and demanded to know which of them was KinCade.
KinCade looked down, took a resigned breath, and raised his head to speak, when suddenly there came a high voice from the cage. “I am KinCade!” Coluba claimed. As KinCade looked on in shock, another of the halflings also stood and exclaimed, “I am KinCade!” In a moment all the halflings were clamoring the same thing. Hastily KinCade advised Parves that he was KinCade Winkwillow, and these others, who followed him, were simply trying to accept punishment in place of their leader. Parves looked from one halfling to another, and then to KinCade, and it seemed he understood much in that moment. “I am King here,” he said, “and that one is KinCade,” pointing at Coluba. “So says the King.”
Over KinCade’s protests and his appeals to Coluba to abandon the pretense, Coluba was brought down from the cage and held firmly on a block of stone; he was terrified but resolute. One of the king’s officers jabbed him with a small, poisoned shard, and a grey tide crept up from his feet to the top of his head, turning him into stone in a process that was evidently excruciating and horrifying. Coluba became one more of the statues in the place of the king.
With that Parves dismissed the gathered members of the community, and led the remaining members of the party out of the justice chamber and through many tunnels and rising shafts to an exit. Along the way he explained that he had been one of the dwarves of Rockhome to come to Aztaltica before the Cataclysm, had help found the society of the desert dwarves, but was cast out for keeping with the worship of the gods after the desert dwarves rejected them in their post-Cataclysm despair. The rock poppies, through long use and exposure, had apparently greatly prolonged his life, and the party saw him freely partake of the honey-golden larger rock poppies which had put Dmitri in a near-coma.
Chapter III. The Videssian Complex and Back to Zlatan City
Blindfolded, the party were led from the caverns, until they sensed above them the first hints of light - real light, sunlight, such as they had not seen for a seeming eternity. They were led along the surface for a time they could not measure, a wearying trial of stumbling over unseen projections, and finally could go no further thus blind. They removed their blindfolds, ready to challenge any guard who tried to stay their hands, but found the guards had departed and they were alone in a mountain pass.
There was only one obvious route, and they followed the pass down until they could see beyond the next peak. The mountains were familiar to them, and yes, there in the distance was the ruined city of Zlatan, half-buried in ash. But a more immediate concern was a glint of metal Huitley noticed on the slopes of Mount Zatal. After investigating, the band discovered it was a Videssian refuge, guarded with all manner of golems which activated as they advanced through its rooms and corridors. The original Videssians were long-dead, but their constructs continued to fight on. At the bottom of the complex was a great arena, and as the seconds ticked by, additional golems emerged. Rather than running around the arena, the band leapt down from level to level. At the center was a great chair on a dais, and Sett bravely charged ahead to sit in it. A giant construct attacked him, but soon Vogon and Garrant surrounded it, and gradually pounded it down. Meanwhile, Sett figured out how the control chair worked, and assumed control of the constructs. Alas, they would not work outside the Videssian complex, but it appeared the legionnaires had stumbled upon a refuge that might come in handy in future.
After resting, the legionnaires again stood on the slope overlooking Zlatan City . Arkane said he could not accompany the party back to the Legion and prepared to depart, but before he did so, he said this: “A last word. Whoever prevails in the struggle for mastery over the Legion, whether it is the bloodthirsty Warwick or General Cordell or some new would-be conqueror, tell him this from me. There is not strength enough in the Legion to overwhelm Aztaltica, nor in all the armies of Arik. There is more behind and inside Aztaltica than they shall ever know. This mad plan of conquest was ill-conceived from the start, and now they threaten to awaken powers undream’d of. Tell them to take their ships and leave, for else I much fear the doom that shall issue from Aztaltica’s haunted heart.” With that, Arkane turned and walked away, and soon he was lost among the rocky defiles of the mountains that overlook the dead city of Zlatan.
Weeks had passed since the eruption of the great volcano, Zatal, yet still the waters in the valley still seethed with heat, and gouts of foul gas exploded upward with unpredictable violence. The island that had once sheltered the humans and their great city of Zlatan now suffered the anger of the gods. Great cracks scored the land, filled with black water or bubbling, steaming muck. The fabulous wealth of its gold had sunk into darkness, buried beneath stone and dirt and flesh, while its art, its pluma feathermagic, its brilliant mosaics and magnificent architecture, all vanished in the violence of the destruction.
Around the shore, the other towns and cities of the valley lay wracked and abandoned. Once fertile fields had been flooded by the ancient clear waters of the lakes and now stood as vast swamps, steaming and fetid, or even poisoned by the foul spume from the still-smoldering mountain. Dark creatures moved about here, shadowy beasts of tusk and fang, leering hatefully through the murk at the world that had cursed them to their fate.
And yet, the legionnaires had decided to venture into the hell on Grund, this testament to the evil of man and the wrath of the gods, for somewhere, in a chamber only seen in a vision, deep under the Temple of Sotek, were the bulk of their stripped possessions, magic of untold power in this realm, where such items are so rare. And so, the Silver Legion Special Missions unit, with some new allies, sat down to plan their next step, their venture into the dark, ruined city, a step on the way to reclaiming the Legion and unseating the tyrannical usurpers who had taken control of New Southold.
Go to next section of the Log, Interlude VI: The Statue