The Travelers of Terra

Chapter 5

In Hot Pursuit

Having retrieved the white lotus, the travelers returned quickly to Gridan. While Q went to report in to Eldin, the rest of the group proceeded to the Temple of Melora. They gave the flower to the high templar watching over Dr. Cain. High Templar Gregan took the flower and prepared a pool of water in a marble basin near where Dr. Cain lay. The party was excused while Gregan and his assistants performed some very complex rituals to extract the components from the flower. While the party waited, they explored the city and refreshed their supplies. After several hours, they were summoned back to the temple by Brother Gerard, an assistant to the high templar. Eldin joined the party as they went into the templar’s study. The flower still lay in the water, though its appearance was much diminished. It was now just a clear crystal flower, though the water now seemed to shimmer with a mystical energy. Propping Dr. Cain up, the high templar administered some of this magical water to him. Color returned to Dr. Cain’s sickly looking skin and he began to stir. Within a few moments, he was awake. Though a bit out of it, he was lucid enough to answer questions about his experience. He recalled searing pain, flashes of images, malevolent intent, strange animals, and a murky forest. He had no memory of the powerful blast he let loose upon Ventus. Having gotten all the information from him that he could recall, Dr. Cain was left to rest for a few days. The group then sought more information from the Lavendis brothers.

The Lavendis brothers were very eager to search Dr. Cain’s mind for information. Together they delved into the depths of Dr. Cain’s psyche and were astonished at some of the things that they found. First, the images that Dr. Cain saw of shadowy beasts in a dank, gloomy forest were familiar to them. They recognized the place as the Forgotten Forest, north of the town of Riverside Rest. It was a place they knew well and had visited frequently in their travels. They also knew the overgrown building that Dr. Cain had seen. That was Farfang Keep, the personal retreat for Kelmar, the human member of the original Travelers. It is located on an island west of the forest. If the creatures roaming the forest were what the brothers thought they were, the people of Riverside Rest might be experiencing some trouble. Upon hearing this, Eldin had his attendants dispatch his fastest messengers to Warden Gemel, the leader of the city. Having seen the thoughts and feelings of the necromancer through Dr. Cain, the brothers shared their conclusions about his motivations. This foray into Dr. Cain’s mind confirmed some of their research findings. Ventus was exceptionally power hungry. He believed that current society was deeply flawed in their checks on magical powers. He felt that the only solution was a genocidal cleansing of Terra, and a reestablishment of society with complete freedom and where there were no limits on individual power. Also, they believed that since Ventus had traveled through the portal to Earth he might be able to recreate the spell that would connect the two planes. Finally, they also discovered that Dr. Cain has somehow manifested psionic abilities. Whether Dr. Cain had latent psionic abilities his whole life or he was infused with the power when he traveled through the portal, the brothers were unsure. Psions are exceptionally rare in Terra. Most spent their lives studying in Rithmithran Tower, to the south of Dunnedale. Since Dr. Cain was still very weak and would have difficulty traveling to Rithmithran Tower, the brothers said they would write a message to their contacts there and ask for assistance investigating this strange development.

The forgotten forest to the north was their only new lead, so the travelers geared up while awaiting a report from Warden Gemel of Riverside Rest. Eldin’s messenger did return with disturbing news. The citizens of Riverside Rest have been reporting strange events. Many have been having terrible nightmares, and many others have reported that they have had the feeling of being watched or stalked at night. Farmers on the outskirts have come forward with tales of mauled and mutilated livestock. Warden Gemel requested aid, and the party was eager to head north to investigate.

After several days travel, the group arrived at Riverside Rest. They were greeted by a relieved Warden Gemel who updated them on the situation. He offered them food and lodging after their long journey. The next day, the travelers requested to see the remains of any slaughtered livestock to see if they could confirm the nature of the animal that has been preying on them. Warden Gemel showed them to a farm to the north of the city where the most recent attack had been reported. They were greeted by two elderly, and very frightened, farmers. They had left the carcass out in the field where it was killed because they were afraid of harmful effects of going near the cursed animal. As they approached the poor creature, Dassarius distinctly felt magical aura still resonating from the carcass. While he could not pinpoint exactly what it was, he knew whatever killed this animal was not natural. Q also noticed from the claw and bite marks that the predator was most likely feline in origin. The group fixed their gaze to the north on the wide swath of ancient and ominous-looking trees that was the beginning of the Forgotten Forest.

The group headed north into the forest. It was already late, so they didn’t get far before they stopped to camp for the evening. In the middle of the night during Yolanda’s watch, she detected the faint howl of an unfriendly creature. She took a mental note of the direction for when they set off in the morning. The next day, an eerie, unnatural fog filled the forest. The travelers moved slowly, hunting for signs of creatures of the Feywild. The fog made their progress difficult. As they searched the Forgotten Forest, they stumbled upon a surprising magical object. It was a rune, glowing blue and floating insubstantial off the ground. Dassarius was able to read it as a runic word, Fel, but was unable to discern its purpose. The group explored all they could with this object, but being unable to move it or otherwise affect it, they took note of its location and moved on. The explorations of the forest also uncovered two more runes, Mec and Cad, at different points of the forest.

The group pressed onward in search of their prey and for any clues as to Ventus’ interest in this place. For such an ominous feeling forest, the travelers encountered little danger and were beginning to feel that their exploration might go incident-free. Those hopes were dashed by the piercing roars of the forest’s fierce predators. A pack of dire wolves and 2 cave bears came bounding towards the group. The party was momentarily stunned by the ferocity of the attack, but they regrouped and pressed the offensive. The group was split, Arjahn and Dassarius handling some wolves to the north, Yolanda engaging a small group solo, and Asura and Q teaming up on two of the creatures a little to the south. The team finally decided to stick together and focus their attacks on one animal at a time. The group came together, taking advantageous positions around the creatures. With their combined energies, the savage animals were quickly put to rest.

The party took a short time to heal. Having felt the savagery of the local inhabitants first hand, the group was much more vigilant as they searched the rest of the forest. As vigilant as they were, it is difficult to prepare for an attack when the aggressors appear out of thin air directly next to you. The group was not completely caught unawares. Several noticed a faint popping sound and the momentary glare of feline eyes around them just before the attack happened. Flashing into existence beside Arjahn, Q, and Dassarius were three of the Fey panthers that they were seeking. The panthers were fierce predators, bounding with such astonishing speed and power they would knock their target flat. As the group was starting to get a handle on this threat, two dire wolves, drawn by the smell of blood, bounded in to get a share of the meat. The party was certainly surprised by the arrival of more ferocious animals, but having fought dire wolves before they were confident they could overcome these animals. Q was having a tough time getting away from one panther that seemed to have locked its predatory gaze upon him. Dassarius moved backwards a bit to give himself time and range to unleash the power of the Feywild upon the creatures when he heard the thud of fast moving, padded feet from behind him. As he turned to look, two more dire wolves bounded out of the underbrush, their fanged maws biting at Dassarius as they leapt. Now the team was getting worried about surviving against so many deadly animals. But they regrouped and shifted their focus towards one creature at a time. It was difficult, but as each creature fell dead, their momentum picked up, and their fury overwhelmed that of the denizens of the forest. Soon, all the animals lay dead, and the group took a rest to tend to their wounds.

As the party wandered, they thought back to those magical runes they found situated in the forest. Could they have something to do with the strange events in the region? The group had killed some Fey jaguars, but they were no closer to solving the mystery of the recent disturbances or the reason for Ventus’ interest in this place. That is when they remembered Farfang Keep. It was on an island west of the forest. Dr. Cain had flashes of the ruined retreat of the original traveler. So the new travelers headed west. When they reached the coast, they could see the island and the keep in the distance but were somewhat disheartened for they could not perceive a way to get there. “Why not take the bridge?” Dassarius asked, somewhat confused as to why the group was talking about making rafts from fallen trees. The group stopped and looked again. While there was no traditional bridge of stone or wood, when they looked very closely they could discern the faint outline of a pathway connecting the two places over the water. To Dassarius it was as apparent as the trees and rocks of the forest behind them. He could see the blue arcane energy lines that formed the bridge quite clearly. As such, he led them to the base of the bridge. When he tried to touch the structure, he found it to be completely insubstantial. Letting his mind open to the forces of the magic around him, he detected that there was a series of five “key” holes at the foot of the bridge that would allow them pass once opened. There was no doubt that the floating runes in the forest were the keys they were looking for. And there were still two more to find. The party decided to search for the other two to see if once all found, the means of opening the bridge for passage would become clear. They knew they had found three runes in the northern and eastern parts of the forest, so they decided to scour the southern and western parts as well. They set off with a new determination and focus, but that focus blinded them from the danger right in front of them. It wasn’t until Yolanda became engulfed in thick, green ooze that they realized their peril.

Before them was a gelatinous cube so large they wondered how they could not have seen it before. Yolanda was able to quickly pry herself loose, but she found herself somewhat dazed from being submerged in this monster’s digestive juices. The rest of the group was starting to take positions around the cube, but it was not going to be that easy. From around them came the now-all-too-familiar howl of dire wolves. Wolves bounded in from the sides and the rear. Attacking with the wolves were two creatures so far unknown to them. Smaller than the dire wolves, they looked no less deadly. They looked like very large, black, savage dogs. Like the Fey panthers, they bounded with astonishing speed. It took a few moments to realize that they were moving faster than any of their eyes could see. They were in fact teleporting around the party, attacking their most vulnerable areas. Arjahn was caught in back against four of the wolves himself. Q, Asura, and Yolanda were dishing out phenomenal damage to the ooze, that is, until it engulfed them all in its horrid, slimy body. Though she was grabbed, Asura found she could still move and attacked the creature from within, slicing away at its innards. With these heroes triple teaming their lethal blows against the cube, it quickly burst in an explosion of gastric slime, no longer able to hold its form together. Considering the odds stacked against him, it was amazing that Arjahn was standing, let alone fighting. Four of the dire wolves savagely tore at him while his teammates were busy with the cube. This particular pack of wolves seemed intent on mauling Arjahn and pursued him wherever he moved. With the cube left splattered across the ground, the others turned to help their besieged comrade. Dassarius unleashed bursts of Eldritch fury, Q released arrows with devastating accuracy, and Yolanda and Asura delivered mighty blows to the savage creatures. Even though Arjahn fell at one point, he drew upon the inspiration of his companions and raised himself to finish the battle. Before long, the fury of the travelers swept across the battlefield, overwhelming and destroying all the foes in their path.

Having encountered so many unfriendly beasts in one day, the group took an extra few minutes to rest and heal. Though they felt better, this last battle truly took its toll and sapped their inner reserves. But they were very close to crossing over to Farfang Keep, so they continued to search for the last two magic runes. They were grateful that the forest allowed them to pass unhindered, though they were still vigilant for any sign of a threat. Combing the forest, they found the two runes they were looking for, Sah to the south and Tur in the east. These rune words were surely connected to the ethereal bridge, but how? Now that they had found five runes to match the five key holes, they headed back to the foot of the bridge to see what they could make of it all.

The group now faced a kind of challenge to which they were unaccustomed. Dassarius examined the bridge and key holes with his arcane eye. He believed that these runic letters were used to assemble a password that would allow them to cross the bridge. But he was unsure of what order the rune letters were to be used. Arjahn thought about the towns and villages or the area. This password puzzle seemed to resemble a type of word game that locals liked to play where they mixed up the letters of words and had to be reassembled. Wisps of memories of the former traveler came to Asura’s mind. She recalled how often powerful mages would use walls of force to protect an area that could only be traversed with the correct password. Arjahn too had knowledge of powerful clerics in time passed using similar magic to protect and preserve from danger. Q was thinking more about how the runes were situated in the forest. Having an innate sense of the layout of the forest, he recalled that three of the runes, Mec, Fel, and Tur, were located in a semi-circular shape on the north and eastern stretch of forest, while Sah and Cad were situated further away to the south. From this, Dassarius surmised that the pass code was probably made of two words, one using the three to the north and one using the two to the south. In their debate over how the words went, Yolanda had a flash of insight. The Traveler in her must have sent a bit of wisdom forward, for Yolanda seemed to notice a connection between the situation of the runes and the placement of the stars above. She felt sure that if they arranged the northern letters in a clockwise order, and the southern letters in a counterclockwise order, they would unlock the bridge. Surprised by her sudden insight and assuredness, and also not having any other ideas, they decided to go with Yolanda’s idea. First, the southern words. Dassarius reached out with the tip of his rod in what he felt was the first of the key holes. As the tip touched, the surface of the arcane lock bristled with blue energy. Each movement of the staff left a trace like that of a paint brush across a canvas. Dassarius smoothly wrote the arcane words Cadsah Felmectur. When he finished the last letter, they seemed to lock in place and crackled and shone with arcane power. Now, the letters and locking mechanism were completely clear to the entire party. From the center of the water a brilliant light erupted, temporarily blinding the group. The light faded as the power began to spread out over the area of the ethereal bridge. Before their eyes the bridge solidified in an almost crystalline fashion, with branches of translucent matter hardening like water in a winter frost. The path to the Keep was now open. The travelers were eager to explore the other side, but were wary about their current state of battle fatigue. Q decided to just scout the area on the other side while the others made camp. He returned sometime later to report on what he saw. With this information the group decided on which way to enter the Keep and rested for the evening.

Early the next morning, the group headed out towards the southern part of the keep. At this end was a very large courtyard, behind which the Keep could be seen. Considering how long ago the Travelers lived it was amazing that any of this place still stood. Still, it was not in great shape. The high outer walls of the courtyard were either crumbling or covered in a variety of foliage. The iron gate across the southern entrance was likewise covered and completely rusted around. Sealing the gate in the center was a lock in the shape of a lions head. The mouth of the lion was the place where the correct key could be used to open the gate. Not having or wanting to look for the key, the party decided to try other means of opening the gate. Q stepped up and quickly and began to use his deft skill to try to pick the lock. He was finding this task difficult and hissed an elven curse at the lock’s antique design and poor condition. Yolanda grew tired of waiting and asked Q to step aside. With a powerful swing the lock split open with a rusty metal crunch. The group parted the gates and stepped into the courtyard.

The entryway had five foot walls of ornate stonework lining the left and right side of the path. What caught the group’s immediate attention were the two life-sized and carefully carved statues behind each of the walls to the left and right. They were statues of two warriors standing atop pedestals, arms resting atop the pommels of large swords propped in front of them. The two statues were both turned towards the path that ran up the center of the courtyard. Yolanda went down the path first. At one point as the path came closer to the center of the courtyard, Yolanda stopped for two reasons. One, she heard the distinctive sound of a pressure plate being activated beneath her foot, and two, immediately after that sound, the eyes of the statues snapped open and fired two concentrated beams of fire at her. The group found cover from at least one statue at a time by moving close to one of the walls. Each member searched the pathway for any clue that would disarm the trap, but it was difficult to concentrate while dodging laser-fire blasts. While Q went forward to search for the trap mechanism, the rest of the group returned fire. Dassarius and Arjahn both released blasts of fire at the statue to the right from their place behind the wall. Yolanda and Asura both tried to scale the short wall and rush the statue, but had difficulty getting over because of the walls slippery and poor condition. They opted to then throw their ranged weapons from the cover of the wall. Age must have taken its toll on the deadly statue, for its eyes blinked out after only a few attacks from the travelers. Shifting to the other side, the group now focused its energies on the statue to the left. Again, Dassarius and Arjahn loosed bolts of arcane and radiant fire at the statue. This wall was in much better shape, and Yolanda and Asura had no trouble scaling it to charge the construct head on. Yolanda made it first, hammering at the statue with her pick. The stone warrior was ready for attackers who dared to approach its base. Its arms sprang to life and gripped the sword affixed to its front. In a smooth arc the sword came down upon Yolanda, but not before she could bring up her shield to block it. Though deflected, even the brash and stalwart Yolanda was shaken by the power of the blow. Asura followed closely behind and charged at the statue to deliver a hefty attack of her own. The warlock and the cleric continued to use their might from afar, while the two melee warriors dealt damage up close. With a few more robust attacks, the eyes of the now broken construct blinked out, its inner fire extinguished. Though thoroughly destroyed, the statues were still quite valuable. Attached to their bases as decoration were several crystal ingots which the travelers took as compensation for their trouble.

But their trouble was not over. To get to the end of the courtyard the party had to cross between another set of identical statues. Having already tripped this trap, with the scorch marks to prove it, Q was easily able to identify the row of pressure plates that would have activated the stone watchers beside the path. Rather than try to disarm the trap, the party decided to merely leap over the dangerous tiles. Asura, Arjahn, Q, and Yolanda were confident that they could jump clear over the space, but then they stopped and looked at Dassarius doubtfully. With a sigh, Dassarius winked out of existence and appeared instantly ten feet beyond the row of trapped ground. The rest of the heroes quickly joined him on the other side, though not quite so gracefully. Before them they saw the entrance to the keep. There were two large, intricately carved doors flanked by two equally large and intricately carved statues. Though somewhat sullied from centuries of neglect, the doors and statues were completely intact and still held the essence of their former majesty. The group began to walk towards the entrance but did not get far before they stopped. Sauntering out from behind the two statues was a pack of nasty creatures. From one side came three familiar forms; shadow hounds, sleek and black with bared fangs. From the other came a different kind of creature. They looked like large, hairless dogs. Their skin seemed to have an ashy appearance and the air and ground seemed to smolder with heat around them. The group of creatures came together snarling and eyeing up their new prey.

Without a moment’s hesitation, Asura charged the first hell hound a vicious slashing charge. As she stepped back from her attack Asura noticed that the air seemed ablaze around the creature, but her Tiefling skin kept her well protected. Yolanda did not fair so well after her charge at a different hell hound. Her skin singed with heat that emanated from the foul creatures. This particular grouping of hounds seemed as if they had much experience hunting together, for they cleverly kept the two fighters off balance as they pushed the group further back towards the trapped pathway. As Asura was fending off two of the shadow hounds, she felt the sharp stab of steel in her back, and then she saw nothing. The others were shocked by what they saw. They saw a humanoid creature of slight, wiry build. She had grayish skin, black eyes, and carried a vicious looking greatsword. Her hooded, black cloak seemed to ooze darkness and her form was difficult to discern even though she was in plain sight. Being difficult to see by those not of the Shadowfell was something this Shadar-kai gloomblade enjoyed immensely. Facing such attackers, the Travelers moved back towards the central walkway, hoping to use the walls on either side to bottleneck the attackers, limiting their access to the artillery members of the group. But the shadow hounds easily broke the front line of defenders, teleporting to the rear to engage Dassarius and Q. The party fought furiously against their assailants, and as the hellhounds began to drop, the gloomblade and the shadow hounds made a tactical retreat teleporting out of sight. The Travelers took this opportunity to drop the last hellhound, and as they began to approach the doors, the shadow hounds and gloomblade reappeared surrounding Yolanda. She was instantly overwhelmed and fell from the violent onslaught. It was at that moment something triggered inside Asura. A memory, a sense of something else in the universe surrounding and infusing all that she saw. She unconsciously raised her hand muttering words she didn’t know that she knew, and for an instant, her eyes flashed with arcane energy. From the ground around their foes a vertical column of golden flames erupted and burned all within. Having received hefty damage, the gloomblade winked out of existence, leaving the shadow hounds to fend for themselves. Once the initial shock of Asura’s surprising ability wore off, the group returned their focus to dispatching the savage canines before them. With the addition of the reinvigorated and inspired Yolanda, that was an easy task. With no more obstacles barring their way, the group entered the ancient home of Kelmar the Traveler.

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Baerin

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