The City of Aasla - Part Two
A cluster of flapping forms indicated that giant magpies had nested atop the roof of the recess-covered structure which the wizards guessed was Mylertendal's Tower. Karnus cloaked the party with invisibility, allowing them to approach unseen and despatch the birds with ranged attacks. Sparkles within the nest caught the wizards' attention - the birds had amassed gems and pieces of jewellery though most appeared damaged by fire. The remainder of the nest comprised bones and other carrion materials. Peering through gaps in the roof, the wizards noted that the tower's interior appeared blackened and burned out from the fires which had ravaged the city.
Descending to ground level, Lana noticed that some of the charred statuary around the once beautiful garden seemed to have moved while they had been investigating the remains of the tower. Directing the carpet towards one of them, she was forced to back off when it turned its head towards the wizards – a Living Statue. As the statue and its fellows closed on the group, Lana raised her carpet into the air and summoned an earth elemental to engage the constructs. Despite their superior numbers, the statues soon fell to the elemental's crushing blows, and it was safe for the wizards to land and continue their inspection.
Entering the tower through its main doorway, there was nothing of interest to be found within. The interior was nothing more than a fire-ravaged shell and the staircases leading to higher levels had turned to ash. If there was any basement, its entrance could not be located. The wizards turned to leave but found their way barred by a sole individual standing in the doorway, a slim man with shoulder-length blond hair. Clad in plain white robes, a rainbow-hued symbol was strung around his neck. The newcomer clearly intended to block the trio's exit, though his stance was not aggressive. His expression remained impassive as his eyes surveyed each of the Karameikans in turn, his lips murmuring words which were presumably a prayer of some sort.
An ally in unlikely surroundings
Unnerved, Karnus greeted the stranger however his words made no sound – a veil of silence had descended inside the Tower. Concentrating, Karnus reactivated the dormant ESP spell he had cast in Tezria’s lair and read the man's thoughts... "The men diverge, but the woman can be trusted..." Karnus laid a hand on Lana's shoulder and, with a nod, bid her wait for the stranger's divination to finish. Eventually seeming satisfied, the man stepped aside and bid the wizards exit.
Karnus informed his companions that the man had peaceful intentions and meant no harm. Addressing the party in halting Thyatian, the man introduced himself as Alvion, a follower of the Immortal Alphatia. He had undertaken a lengthy pilgrimage from the Kingdom of Theranderol, in the west of the Empire, to reach his Patron's spiritual home. Finding the city in ruins, Alvion had decided to visit Mylertendal's tower to determine whether the great wizardess still lived, but found himself attacked by undead forces during his first night's stay. Thereafter, he had remained at the tower, using his clerical powers to guard the interior and prevent the undead from reaching whatever it was they sought.
The cleric professed that he was at a loss to understand why Alphatia had allowed the destruction of the city which had been renowned as a centre of culture and the home of the Arts within the Empire. He reported that he had been receiving strange dreams from his Patron – it seemed she was no longer an advocate of pacifism but was encouraging her followers to be ready to take up weapons against their adversaries in defence of Alphatian interests. The mild-mannered Alvion admitted to having little prowess with weapons but assured the party he would be capable of defending himself and others should the need arise.
Alvion listened while the Karameikans recounted their journey across the Sea of Dawn and their exploits thus far within Aasla, in particular their experience beneath the Library. They mentioned their betrayal by the followers of Alphaks, the Roaring Demon – Alphatia's sworn enemy, whose worship within the Empire was outlawed – and how those dark clerics had intended to ally themselves with the beholder Zeloxar. Alvion's view was that such an alliance would have caused a dangerous imbalance of power within the city. He spoke of the ways of Alphaks and his followers, in particular their love of deception and destruction. The party's duping and the savage attack Teldon underwent remained fresh in the wizards' memories. Alphaks' Patriarch had fled from Zeloxar's lair but would receive justice. The Karameikans decided to launch an attack on the runaway Patriarch and the remaining clerics of Alphaks, however none of them yet knew where the Order had its base within the city.
Before the wizards could launch their offensive, Alvion counselled them to seek two individuals by the names of Izularyt and Ukrynza. He had no details other than these names, but had heard tell of their influence and thought it would be worthwhile to investigate. The names corresponded with markings on the map the wizards had taken from Zeloxar's lair; the markings surrounded a building in one of the northern wards of the city.
Taking leave of Alvion the wizards rose on their carpet and flew toward the structure marked on their map. After a short distance the wizards happened upon the closing stages of a bloody clash between two warring factions - Norwolder and Jennite barbarians, all ex-slaves who had been abandoned when their masters used magic to flee Aasla's desolation. Somehow a conflict had arisen between the two sides (it later came to light that Zeloxar had engineered this). The melee appeared to have been ferocious as many dozens of corpses littered the streets. Maintaining a distance on their carpet, the wizards watched a young blind girl feeling her way along a street, moving with purpose toward a large structure to the north. As she reached what appeared to be familiar terrain, the girl's pace quickened and she dashed through the entrance of a ruined museum. Intrigued, the three wizards followed. The grand structure, topped by a huge dome of broken glass, contained a massive expanse of coins across which stretched not one but two immense, blue-scaled reptilians... the wizards' heartbeats collectively raced, for these were dragons!
The dragons' lair
Bowing respectfully, Lana stepped forward to converse with the dragons in their tongue. It turned out the dragons had travelled through the gate from the Astral Plane, as too it seemed had the eye tyrant Zeloxar. Upon arriving in Aasla the dragons had chased a mighty red dragon named Infyrandax to the eastern Aasla Spur mountains, and had claimed its hoard as their own. They quickly learned the Alphatian tongue from conversing with their wards, most of whom were orphans and street urchins. They did not know the name of the land - for the affairs of men mattered little to them - nor did they know of the Thyatian Empire or that nation's language. Much like Zeloxar however, the dragons intended to expand their influence beyond Aasla in due course. They expressed approval of the wizards' plan to engage the clerics of Alphaks who they considered would make unsuitable subjects. Their foremost concern however was the growing undead presence within Aasla - it was made clear that the party would receive its greatest remuneration if it could remove that threat... The enormous black arrows marked on Zeloxar's map came to mind - a powerful undead spirit was rumoured to have made Aasla its home and was growing in strength each night. Alvion's experiences lent credence to this theory.
Returning to the task in hand, namely the clerics of Alphaks, Karnus suggested it might be worthwhile if the dragons were to make a flying appearance over the Temple of Alphatia at a pivotal moment during the fight. Hearing this proposal, the wyrms indicated that they might be inclined to do so.
The wizards returned to the grounds of Mylertendal's Tower to reflect on the day's events. Karnus took a moment to scry on the cowardly Patriarch of Alphaks and observed him draining a vial taken from a wooden box, which he proceeded to lock carefully with a key. The cleric appeared rejuvenated since the encounter in the beholder's lair just a short time before... could that have been a Potion of Longevity he had consumed?
The wizards decided they needed more information about the clerics of Alphaks before they could launch their attack. Recalling Teldon's abduction on the docks in Helskir, they asked Alvion whether he was capable of summoning an Aerial Servant to apprehend the acolyte Dakral who had fled from the fight in the Library basement. Alvion replied that by good fortune that was a spell Alphatia had granted him that morning, and which he would be happy to cast. Again Karnus drew forth his crystal ball to remind himself of Dakral's physical appearance - and viewed the youth clutching a bloodied dagger and pursuing a much younger individual along a dark alley. Relaying a description to Alvion, there came a rush of air as the cleric completed his prayer and a rolling fog formed. As the Servant departed in search of its target, Teldon summoned an Invisible Stalker to bring forth the Patriarch's box in the hope this would deplete the cleric's resources in the upcoming fight.
Minutes later, fog swept into the Tower grounds bearing with it Dakral's struggling form. The youth collapsed at Alvion's feet and the fog dispersed. The acolyte's interrogation ensued, whereupon he was found to speak fluent Thyatian. Karnus led the questioning with his unmatched ability to charm and persuade.
With his eyes slightly glazed, Dakral revealed that the followers of Alphaks had taken up residence inside Aasla's greatest cathedral - the Church of Alphatia. Alvion became uncharacteristically incensed upon hearing this but managed to restrain himself. Karnus' smooth-talking yielded a considerable haul of information - how Inquisitors from the Order of Alphaks were expected imminently from the secret base known as Revenge, sent by the Heads of the Order known as the Black King and Queen. Furthermore, Patriarch Hakrukar (for this was his name) had sent an emissary to the eastern mountains to propose an alliance with the red dragon Infyrandax. Lastly, Dakral revealed that the dark clerics were preparing a ritual to resurrect their fallen comrade Shetruna. For that purpose it seemed Alphaks would require the slaughter of ten innocent individuals.
The wizards were appalled on hearing this. Alvion's outrage in particular finally got the better of him. Striding towards the cleric of Alphaks, he cried:
"Foul villain know this! I am Alvion, loyal servant of the Immortal Alphatia whose most sacred temple you have desecrated. My coming heralds a new hope for the afflicted of this city and the end of your evil influence. You and your kind are cankers in this world. You bring nothing but ignorance and destruction where there should be knowledge and creation. For this you are denied Alphatia's mercy. You are vacuums of humanity and your demonic lord is just as empty - false even unto his own followers who have sacrificed their very souls to serve him. I tell you now - Alphaks did not destroy Aasla and he will never be permitted to capitalise upon her tragedy. He was, is, and will for evermore be a cowardly fiend, skulking in the shadows of greater beings and failing in every one of his dark endeavours until he and his followers are finally consumed by the infernal flames of their jealousy for all that is good and beautiful in the world."
While Dakral shrieked in terror, Alvion seized his wrist and invoked a prayer. Both men's forms grew hazy and indistinct before vanishing entirely. Returning around twenty minutes later, Alvion explained to the startled wizards that he had imprisoned Dakral on the Ethereal Plane. The Travel spell he had cast would allow him to travel freely to the Ether for the next few hours, however Dakral was trapped. Lana’s eyes lit up - having never experienced planar travel before she hinted that she would like to accompany Alvion on his trip to retrieve Dakral, once they decided what should be done with him. Karnus and Teldon met one another's gaze and collectively sighed.
The group discussed their options. Dakral had let slip that Tezria the Bandit Princess was known to have approached Patriarch Hakrukar with the proposal that she would become an Avenger of Alphaks - an unholy knight. The prospect of Tezria and her underlings supporting the clerics in the upcoming fight was a daunting one. It was therefore decided to remove her from the playing field, or at least try to. It was clear some sort of subterfuge would be needed and that ideally the morally-skewed Tezria should be separated from her men who were by all accounts innocent and might not know that their leader had sought alliance with the worshippers of a dark Immortal.
Karnus reasoned that if Dakral could be returned, he could persuade the youth to deliver a message to Tezria. The plan was for Karnus to masquerade as Hakrukar seeking a lone audience with Tezria within Mylertendal's grounds. Alvion would therefore return to the Ether to bring back Dakral, and he agreed to let Lana accompany him, despite Karnus' pessimism and Teldon's protests.
Journey to the Ethereal Plane
Karnus and Teldon watched, bemused, as cleric and mage faded away before their eyes. From Lana's perspective, her surroundings turned dark and the air around her took on an eerie coolness which, while not harmful, was less than agreeable. Drawing forth a coin which she had enchanted to emit Continual Light her surroundings came into view. The outline of Mylertendal's Tower remained however everything else appeared grey and indistinct. Alvion instructed Lana to remain in place while he went to locate Dakral. Using his Travel spell he flew off, passing outside the radiance of Lana's glowing coin.
Left alone with limited visibility, Lana's curious nature overcame her and she decided to explore her odd surroundings. Finding her feet stuck to the semi-solid earth she managed to manoeuvre herself onto her flying carpet and realised its movement was unhindered. Flying to the structure which on the Prime Plane passed for Mylertendal's Tower Lana realised it was possible to move her hand through the 'solid' structure. It even proved feasible to breathe the ectoplasm which made up the wall. A nagging thought came to mind as she recalled her suspicion from when she and the others had explored the Tower on the Prime Plane... might there be a hidden chamber beneath?
Willing the carpet to descend, the plasm gave way and Lana passed below the surface of the earth. After what seemed like forever she emerged into the open space of a large chamber - her curiosity had paid off! Within the chamber stood a column of incredibly dark, dense matter. Lana hypothesised that on the Prime Plane this would correspond with metal. As she attempted to scrutinise the chamber's features something detached from a nearby wall - a crystalline being in the form of a skeleton. Reacting as quickly as she could, Lana blasted the creature with cold, followed by a barrage of amber shards and magic missiles however the thing kept coming. Drawing close, it raked her flesh with its sparkling claws - causing a weird sensation which would have been beautiful to watch had it not been for Lana feeling her lifeforce ebb away. Consecutive spells died on her lips as the creature landed a string of attacks. In the midst of the onslaught she felt a hand on her shoulder, accompanied by words of prayer. Alvion had returned having cast a Find the Path spell to locate Lana - the light from her coin had helped. But his arrival proved too late, as with a final swipe of its claws the planar creature tore out the last of Lana's lifeforce and her world turned dark.
Karnus and Teldon watched the wispy form of Alvion coalesce back on the Prime Plane, bearing Lana's limp body. Visibly shocked, neither of the wizards could find words to speak. Alvion declared that a spark of their companion's lifeforce remained and could be rekindled by Alphatia's will. He laid down Lana's body and intoned words of prayer. Lana awoke amid a flare of every colour, feeling warmth and vitality flood her body. Images of her life passed before her, as if she were re-absorbing every memory.
Lana struggled to voice an apology for having contravened Alvion's instructions but the cleric would not hear it. She would be confined to bedrest until Alvion could administer restorative magic the next morning. In the meantime, Dakral had been returned and was quietly cowering behind a rock. Karnus advanced upon the young cleric and was pleased to find that the enchantment magic he had laid upon him was still in place. Speaking quietly, he convinced Dakral to deliver a message to Tezria - that Hakrukar of Alphaks would meet her at Mylertendal's Tower by the light of the setting sun, to discuss her induction into the Order. Dakral was, of course to return to the tower after delivering his message...
As the cleric scuttled off, Alvion professed an interest in discovering what lay within the chamber Lana had uncovered, and wanted to venture back to the Ethereal Plane. However, he had no magics with which to combat the creature that had slain Lana. Karnus reluctantly agreed to accompany the cleric, and so was transported to the Ether just as Lana had been.
Invoking a spell of magical flight, Karnus followed Alvion down into the depths of the tower. After a short while they entered the chamber where the column of densely packed ether stood. Within seconds came movement as the crystalline skeleton re-appeared, though it was no longer alone. No fewer than eight identical creatures were making a direct line for the intruding duo from the far side of the chamber. Karnus came prepared though, and confidently spoke words of magic, sending a flaming blast into the corner of the room to catch all eight of the creatures. Before he could unleash a second attack on the creatures, however, they leapt effortlessly through the ether and raked the young wizard with their claws. Turning to Alvion, he ordered the cleric to return them both to the Prime Plane before they were overwhelmed. Alvion nodded, grabbed hold of Karnus by his wrist and phased the pair of them back to normality before the creatures could land another blow.
Cleric and mage re-entered the Prime Plane, causing the features of the room to come into focus. Karnus surveyed his surroundings anew. It was a tall chamber, with tables, chairs and bookshelves lining the walls. From the look of the equipment, Karnus deduced that it was some form of laboratory. At its centre, corresponding to the mass of dense ectoplasm on the Ether stood a beautiful helix of shimmering metal. Even without detection magics, Karnus could sense colossal power within the object, and he stepped forward to inspect it. Raising a hand, he recoiled suddenly as his precognitive ability flashed a warning of what would happen if he were to touch the surface – utter annihilation.
As Karnus stepped back hurriedly from the device, a disembodied voice called out in Alphatian. Alvion listened intently for a moment, then advised Karnus that the voice had welcomed them, but asked them politely to leave, as they were not "expected". Karnus suggested that Alvion attempt to reason with the voice, but the magic controlling it did not appear to possess the sentience required for debate, and politely advised that extreme force would be used if they did not leave immediately.
Aware of the power contained in the central artifact, Karnus hurriedly ushered Alvion to the opposite side of the room and prepared to loose a second fireball against the creatures of the Ether. Alvion plane-shifted the pair back to the Ethereal Plane, while Karnus took one last longing look around Mylertendal's secret laboratory as it slowly faded to grey.
The colourless expanse of the Ether stood in stark contrast to the elegant beauty of Mylertendal's lab, but Karnus didn’t have time to dwell on the matter before the skeletal horrors came leaping out of the mist. Clearing his mind, Karnus launched another Fireball which felled all but two of the fiends, before following with a barrage of Magic Missiles to vanquish the remaining horrors.
With a nod to Alvion, Karnus ascended through the ether to ground level, where the cleric returned the pair to the Prime Plane.
Standoff with the Bandit Princess
As the sun set over the ruined city, Karnus stood alone in the desolate remains of Mylertendal's garden. Teldon and Alvion were secluded within the tower ready to help, but Lana was far too exhausted by her resurrection to assist. 'Still', Karnus mused to himself, 'I should be able to handle a warrior on my own...'
Presently, Tezria turned up at the entrance to the grounds seemingly unaccompanied, dressed in leather armour and bearing a spear and a sword. Karnus stood alone before the Tower with his hood drawn to conceal his features. Tezria instantly deduced that he was not Hakrukar and called out to him. Karnus dropped the disguise and invited Tezria to speak openly with him. Karnus informed Tezria that they had uncovered rumours of her proposal to Hakrukar, and that she sought to walk the path of an Avenger of Alphaks. Tezria replied that she had led the dark clerics to believe this so they would not attack her, and that her real aim was as she had professed to live a life free of servitude. Sensing that she was a reasonable woman, Karnus advanced the argument that if she were to ally her forces with Alphaks, the three wizards would have no choice but to destroy her as well. Could she risk that? Tezria was swayed by Karnus' arguments, and gave her word that she would not intervene on either side in the upcoming conflict. She raised her spear as a signal to her concealed followers, who proved to be everywhere, emerging from behind walls and burned trees within the grounds although thankfully they did not have any involvement. Dakral had been captured while attempting to trail the bandits - badly - and was thrown out from behind the gates.
As Tezria and her men left the tower, a whimpering Dakral clutched at Karnus' robes and begged him for mercy. The blue robed mage favoured him with a sympathetic look before nodding to Alvion, who proceeded to return the screaming cleric to his ethereal prison. By the time Alvion came back, the sun was dipping in the sky overhead and he reminded the three wizards that it would be unsafe for them to remain in the city overnight. Alvion had intended to continue his vigil at the tower but was convinced to accompany the wizards by the temptation of a bath and warm bed – besides, Karnus was satisfied that Mylertendal's defences remained intact.
The wizards mounted their carpet and cleared the walls of Aasla with Alvion flying alongside. Lana remained frail and close to unconscious for most of the trip. They reached their inn a few hours later and settled in for the night.
Rising early the next morning, Alvion called to Lana's room and administered healing which restored her vitality for the most part. The cleric counseled further rest however, suggesting at least a fortnight's bedrest. After a light breakfast the four set off back to Aasla and were keen to check on Mylertendal's tower. When they arrived, they discovered that the tower's interior was packed tightly with what appeared to be human forms… For whatever reason, an undead horde had been drawn to the derelict building during the night. Alvion quickly called upon the holy might of his Patron to obliterate dozens of the shambling creatures at a time. Karnus and Lana hypothesised that the undead were being drawn to whatever lay within the hidden subterranean chamber.
The time had come to launch the assault on the followers of Alphaks.
Read the concluding instalment - Aasla - Part Three
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