Return of the Long Night
Volume II – The Land of Xa’ar
|Chapter 5: Of Fire & Ice||6052 Fall, Maryen 46 – Kindagyen 49 (HARP)|
The Aalk Athimurl
(The Absence of Life)
When you show Valaan Mahrindi the note found in the scabbard of the Unheat Sword, he pulls out a number of parchments and starts to compare it with writings long faded, as well as notes recently scribbled. It does not take him long until he looks up, falls backwards into his chair and utters 2 meaningless words – Aalk Athimurl.
What does that mean, you ask, so he slowly weaves a tale of ancient orders and the destruction of the world.
Long foretold, the coming of evil to Kulthea was not heralded by one enemy, but by the slow perversion that the Unlife brings. Tales are told of how the world, rocked by increasingly random and dangerous flows of wild Essænce magic, is increasingly opening its heart to the void where the powers of utter destruction await. Whether these are ancient gods or beings, or simply the chaos of all things, no one knows for sure; all that is known, is that it is a corruption that destroys all life, all things and it knows no end.
Tales are told of a cult, perhaps one that is ancient but straying from their true belief, or a modern abomination – he does not know. Yet the cult has for years aligned itself with the very absence of life, seeking to remove life from the planet as if removing a stain from cloth. They had such evil desire, but no means to complete this, until perhaps now Valaan notes.
Now it seems that they have found a means to fulfilling their goals, which would be to remove all life, perhaps by opening the way for Unlife to enter more freely to this world. The suggestions on the parchment you found, point to a device, an Orb of Unlife which may have been around for aeons but is now a danger to all.
How this Orb links to the Absence Blades or what role your recent treasures can play in preventing the devastation suggested he does not know. However, he knows that from notes of Elor Once Dark, long renowned Loremaster, that the Tower of White Cat is on Aalk Athimurl, in the Bay of Black Ice near (north of) Mur Fostisyr. So that is where you must start to seek out this Orb, and prevent whatever is planned.
And you must start immediately, for he fears that already it is too late….
The Citadel of the White Lion (Aalk Athimurl in Kugor; Vaeg su Loak in Dyar Elvish) shares in some respects the almost fanciful architecture of many of the citadels in this part of the world, being a rising structure of immense stone. Lofty and spanning the ridges, it almost looks unwieldy as if it is about to topple off its perch. However, its immense size and well guarded exterior tells you it is a fortress that offers no easy entry.
The fortress stands on a peninsular of the North Sea and the Bay of Black Ice, blocking all easy access to the lands out on the point. With two square towers on either side of the larger square middle tower, it stands parallel to both shores as if blocking the way across the lands.
It is essentially three towers in a row, linked by a pair of large bridge spans. Each tower is perched on a rocky outcrop of volcanic stone; those pinnacles rise from the tip of a spur of the black slag extending out to partially enclose a mile-wide bay, which is frozen-over much of the year. While the visible structure does not seem that large, much of the citadel is underground – probably also what you seek is hidden and safe below.
A gracefully tall, pointed arch stands open and seemingly unguarded. A black metal stairway leads into the shadowed interior. However, as you descend the staircase, after a few steps you suddenly feel the ground give, shifting down a small amount. A massive metal portcullis slams down behind you, and the stairs tilt up hinged at the bottom, slamming all of you on the stairway against the portcullis, and sealing the entry.
After a few seconds, the gate rises and you are all dumped back onto the hill, bruised and sore. Moving away you realise that this is not the “real” entrance, so you scan the towers seeking another way in.
Avalon notices people – robed people – moving on the upper levels, and he suggests that perhaps some of you could fly up and access the citadel from above. Trevor believes that there must be some form of secret entrance here, so he sets off to find it. Perhaps accessing the structure from two sides – above and below – would present you with a better chance of getting inside.
Whilst Avalon, Gollum, Huan Hung and Moulin fly up towards the balcony up above, Trevor and, Ta’kksearch for and find a secret entrance. Slowly those above approach the balcony, patrolled by men in robes, fighting their way onto it through a number of battle monks, whilst those below search for a way of sneaking in….
The Upper Halls
Heading to the east tower first, Moulin approaches the doorway, which is like the others on the balconies. All ten feet wide by fifteen high, with a pointed arch top, they are sealed reinforced
metal doors, which seem to be raised by a counterweight. In the centre of the door is a round window, two feet in diameter, allowing a view of the bridge from the inside. Carefully picking the lock, Moulin, Gollum and Avalon enter the Eastern tower .
They encounter a number of monks, found resting in their chamber and head down, clearing the citadel of any opposition and finding the library of Aalk Athimurl. At the very bottom, Moulin discovers a door, cleverly hidden, which opens to the outside and onto a very surprised Ta’kk and Trevor. Together, you continue to search through the tower…. firstly working your way up the central tower and then down the western one.
You find the chambers of the High Priest , but he is not here. However, you discover some interesting notes that help you understand the purpose of those within the White Lion Citadel. The chambers of the priests and other living quarters reveals little, except that many of the holy men are not here – perhaps they way below, as you find spiral staircases that descend from both towers into some caverns deep beneath the citadel.
Amongst the papers you find notes scrawled in many hands, suggesting the search for weapons of strong magical nature, items of power and ancient artefacts. Recent notes seem to indicate a maddening desire, almost maniacal in nature, for such items as if some never-ending army were to be outfitted.
Strangely, the only words that seem odd, amongst the many orders, demands and appeals for such magic, stand out as you peruse the papers… “Must feed – more now more.”
You also find ancient texts, some scribbled upon and some destroyed, as if someone was looking for knowledge long lost and having not found it, and in a fit of despair, had taken it upon themselves to defile such history. One note, seemingly in Yaalc Muul’s hand, is mostly intact. As if important, in its subject of “Magic Lost”, it is more carefully preserved, though you cannot link its significance to the many other notes.
A laboratory  deep at the bottom of the western tower is filled with chemistry equipment, surgical tools and table, and some strange looking machinery. In large tanks of fluid are specimens of perverted or demonic beings, and some humanoids (all dead).
At the base of the eastern tower encounter a dozen riders, seemingly lion riders, who were resting here with their lion pets in the room adjacent. Surprised, they quickly succumb to you, but the fight is a drain on your resources, but you have no time to rest, for the encounter could have raised alarms throughout the complex.
The Lower Halls
As you descend into the caverns beneath the western tower, you encounter a number of basic cells  housing a few human and and other prisoners here. The guards hold the keys to the cells which you easily retrieve from their corpses. A tall, arched passageway leads to a heavy reinforced door, black metal with lock that defeats your attempts to pick it. Recognising that the keys may be found on the priests or monks, you decide to check the other side in case there is entry there. You leave the prisoners there, locked and alone, in case their absence is noted by a passing monk.
Here you find a chamber filled with supplies, some old and rotting whilst others are recently delivered. A partly natural tunnel, but with smooth floor that slopes or steps, winds about fifty feet down to a grotto about 200´ long. The sea entrance is only about ten feet high so only low boats can enter. This is probably how the supplies are delivered for the citadel.
Here again you find a similar locked door…. Deciding that there must be a key, Trevor and Moulin agree to sneak back to the High Priest’s quarters to seek the key. Whilst they are gone, the party is surprised as some monks and a priest wander into the room, but they successfully overcome them and prevent one monk from raising the alarm.
Soon Trevor and Moulin return, having successfully found what could be a key hidden in the study of the High Priest . Opening the door you enter what could be hell….
The Obsidian Sphere Chamber
Much of the chamber is wreathed in a sulphurous smog that sickens you as you enter and only glimpses of the large chamber below can be seen.
A balcony  circumnavigates the chamber and is about three-quarters of the way up the sphere. All the balconies here give off a bluish glow, which, combined with the fires at the bottom of this spherical chamber, are the only light sources in the chamber. The balcony is not smooth and glassy, but is a clouded, raw crystalline material. It is still smooth to the touch, but not as refined as some of the glassy material you have seen elsewhere. It has no railing, and looking down you see fires burning in the 130 foot diameter chamber below.
Extending into the centre of the upper third of the sphere is an impossibly fragile seeming tongue of this crystal/glass material, with a round platform in the centre. The centre nine feet of the platform is open, and there is an apparatus of black metal that looks like it could be used to suspend a humanoid victim spread-eagle over the chamber. The victim could be placed here, and when a ritual is performed, his body and life hangs above the base of this sphere and the dark Orb that pulsates directly in the middle of the sphere.
Through the smoke and fire, you see something dark pulsating – a spherical shape, too indistinct to clearly see it. Moving back to the side room, you take the small spiral staircase down which brings you to a smaller chamber that opens into the sphere lower down, and this allows you a better view of the Orb above.
Gaseous vents from some deep chamber, and fires erupt from holes at irregular intervals deep within the chamber below. The heat and light is almost unbearable, and though you swear it impossible, you see movement deep within the fires below.
The Orb of Unlife
The orb  itself is about 15 feet across, a sphere of absolute blackness floating in the centre of the chamber. There is a kind of event horizon of reddish light swirling around its equator, along with a number of weapons that orbit around the sphere. The darkness slowly pulsating, like a slow beating heart, and with each beat, a small finger of darkness reaches out to these weapons, licking it with a tongue of evil and almost visually draining them of some power.
Though you are not certain, you feel that each pulse slowly brings a minuscule amount of power to the Orb, and its beat is that little bit stronger, and perhaps larger….
As you stare at the Orb, you note some movement on the balcony and the bridge above – a contingent of priests and monks, led by someone dressed more ornately (probably the High Priest), have moved into the room above. The heat and smoke have obscured their view of you, as you crowd back into the lower chamber. On the opposite side, you see some monks dragging one of the prisoners, who they tie spread-eagle above the abyss created by the Orb.
The High Priest steps forward and starts to intone some ritual – words of dark magic start to wash over the helpless victim, and as he struggles, you see the Orb start to pulsate faster, the weapons orbiting it move more quickly, as if it too were feeding on the man’s very life essence.
Now is the time to attach, you decide… so you plan and slowly move up the spiral staircase to launch your ambush.
The combat is brutal – you almost lose a number of your party, as the High Priest launches dark magic at you and the monks throw themselves at you repeatedly. With some luck, and by using the narrow spaces around the chamber to your advantage, you slowly beat back the monks and other priests, until Malik Kulurim, the High Priest Athimurl remains alone. His barrage of spells starts to falter, and he turns to the helpless almost dead victim in front of him, stabs his hand forth into his chest whilst mouthing some spell…
The man dies, spewing forth flames and dark ribbons of mist from his mouth, eyes and the hole where his heart once beat. The Orb below grows larger and the flames in the pit roar high, forcing you back into the adjacent chamber. You rally to drive the High Priest, but suddenly demons spring out of the pit and assault you – blood red demons whose skin smoke and radiate heat.
With strength of magic and the power of the Unheat Sword, in particular, you fight back this swarm of Demons from the Pale, and rush Malik, forcing him eventually to his knees before you slay him. By this time the Orb pulsates more rapidly, and realising now is your one and only chance, you gather the two weapons of Absence – and fire them simultaneously at the heart of darkness below. (Whilst Trevor and Huan Hung are doing this, Ta’kk and Moulin strip the High Priest’s corpse almost bare, taking his symbols of power, clothes and a very special sword).
The magic from the Absence Blades is intense, and both Trevor and Huan Hung stagger from the brutal flow of magic. However, their strength of will is strong and the Orb “shudders” (if a ball of darkness could be considered to do that) and it explodes, like a minute, dark supernova, before contracting back to a pinpoint of blackness. The weapons orbiting it are gone – blown into atoms of nothingness… and all is quiet.
Now is your chance to escape – you flee back out the passage to the hidden sea, take one of the small boats there and head for the shore of the Isle, where you disembark and summon your means off this island…. as the Navigator travels you away, you almost feel the air lighten as the evil of the Orb of Unlife dissipates.
However you have one doubt, knowing that the Orb, or the dark point it has become, is still there – deep beneath Aalk Athimurl – awaiting some future madness to reawaken it, perhaps.
Wounded but victorious, you return to the home of Valaan Mahrindi and discuss what befell within the citadel of the White Lion. Amazed at your findings, Valaan warns that this was probably just one incursion of the Unlife and that your battle to save the lands, if not the planet, was only just starting.
After many hours of discussion, you agree that you need more information and that Valaan is unable to provide it… too many questions have been raised, too many wonders have been seen yet not understood.
- What was the cult doing with the Orb of Unlife? What was their ultimate goal and who led such a venture (for you are sure the High Priest was only a pawn in someone else’s game)
- What was the purpose of the Tower of Lost Magic, and especially the Throne? Could you use the clues given to activate it, and if so, would it be beneficial or more damaging to the already fragile Essænce of the world?
- What was the icy castle that you could see in the portal in the Tower of Lost Magic? You know it was important, yet you know not why? Why, of all places in the world, was this portal watching this?
- What is the significant of the dream, shared by all, about a Pendant of yore, shaped as a phoenix, with ruby gemmed eyes and centred by a large clear gem? Why do you dream of a tomb, buried deep, that holds this ancient wonder?
- Were there other items from the lost empires that you had not yet recovered?
Valaan suggests that your best source of information would be the great great Library at Nomikos, which houses the most comprehensive view of current and historical records. He writes you a letter of general introduction, but he knows no one at the library and can only offer you encouragement to spend time there looking for answers….
|Huan Hung Loh||6||Human/Lugrok (Orc)||Monk||Nick|
|Gollum||6||Human (Gnome)/Loar (Elf)||Cleric||Brent|
|Trevor||6||Human/Elf (Loar)||Warrior Mage||Chris|
|Avalon Elthanus||6||Elf/Human (Orc)||Cleric||Brad|
|Special Item Found||Owner||Location Found|
|Cloak of Deflections||Costa – Michael||Malik Kulurim, High Priest of Athimurl|
|Dragon Claw (Kuugoraax)||Moulin – David||Malik Kulurim, High Priest of Athimurl|
|Ring of the High Priest Athimurl||Avalon – Brad||Malik Kulurim, High Priest of Athimurl|
|Dagger of Illusion||party loot||Lord High Monk|
|Holy symbol||party loot||Malik Kulurim, High Priest of Athimurl|
|Metal Disc||Opens Tower on Isles of Lost Magic||Malik Kulurim, High Priest of Athimurl|
|Currency||Party Total||| Each:||Platinum||Gold||Silver||Copper|
|Special NPC Encountered||Race||Status||Notes|
|High Priest Athimurl||Elf||Slain||Leading ritual to use Orb of Unlife|
Cumulative total for Party members (refer to Rules on Dark Knowledge)
|Huan Hung – Nick||Orb of Unlife||+2||2|
|Trevor – Chris||Orb of Unlife||+2||3|
|Moulin – David||Orb of Unlife||+1||2|
|Avalon – Brad||Orb of Unlife||+1||2|
|Gollum – Brent||Orb of Unlife||+1||1|
|Ta’kk – Steve||Orb of Unlife||+1||1|
Next Chapter 6: The Secret Eye – The Road to Knowledge and Wisdom