Altrian Spring

The Thinning of the Barriers
By one single mom

After Lile’s incursion into the ex-Zhejun outpost, the party warned the more peaceable natives of the fire realm of the increased activity and asked if they knew anything about the changing world around them. The salamanders thanked them but weren’t of much help, and the group decided to consult Sulnon on the matter and about his research into the other elemental realms.

Sulnon seemed rather hesitant to give the group too much more information about his old research, although he indicated that he had discovered at least a portal to an airy realm and hinted that he was surprised the party had not already used the tools available to them to remedy the issue with the thinned barrier between worlds. Setah speculated that the earth portal might be in another ancient ruin—perhaps in fact where Setah had discovered her information on earth magic—and the party left to investigate other ways of weakening the portals. Although nothing they did to the portal itself seemed to be of any help, Zinnanda eventually tried to use her ring on the raging bonfires outside, finding that the ring absorbed much of the raging energy and strengthened the separation between the worlds slightly. Setah also noticed that it now seemed like the ring had some hole in need of filling, and Zinnanda managed to capture a fire elemental in the ring which would accompany her and appear if needed.

The party decided to check on the ice portal to see if similar things were happening in that region, and discovered that it was snowing nearby, thereby indicating that perhaps something wider scale was at work. Heading into the ice world, they spoke once again to Forstojor and discovered that as far as he had noticed there was little change in the ice world itself, so they decided to once again seek the frost giant elders and see what they might learn about the current situation.

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Return to the Red Wastes
As told by a less-known bard than C.S. Lewis

Even the harsh reality of the Red Wastes felt like a return home to the party after the strange and lonely winter realm from which they had recently returned. Battered but proud and with more questions than answers, they decided to regroup at the Blackthorne outpost while considering their next actions, and to check on the state of the Zhejun outpost as they returned. They also decided to return to the Rehaz encampment and retrieve the final ring from Jack’s body, given that two of the five had already had some sort of awakening and it seemed likely all had some significance.

The return to the Rehaz camp was relatively uneventful, and they received a warm welcome from the Rehaz, although many of the familiar faces from their last visit were elsewhere. After retrieving the ring and ensuring that nothing strange had happened in the area, the group set off to the old Zhejun outpost.

As they approached, they found the sky tinged red and evidence that someone had come there recently: hoofprints of horses had headed into the ruins, and none of the nomads that they had met had access to horses of any kind. Traveling into the ruins they found several dead mercenaries, and on the other side the Salamander guards were missing, although the nearby city didn’t seem to have head of any news of what was going on. Deciding that their safety was more important than investigating further, the party headed to the Blackthorne outpost to see if they knew anything of what had happened.

The Blackthornes seemed to have no idea what was going on, and over the next few days, the signs became even more worrisome. Finally, the sky glowed a dark red and the lights from the Zhejun outpost could be seen as far away as from the Blackthornes’ port. Upon returning to investigate, the party found themselves attacked by Lile and her minions, and after a hard fight, managed to drive her back to her realm. Although failing to discover much of her motives or intentions, they managed to retrieve her fiery bow, a prize which Zinnanda was eager to use against her in the future.

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The Dragon and His Man
Another tale by the famous bard, C.S. Lewis

The trek across the glacier was long and arduous, and at night it became apparent the group was not alone: other wild things seemed to live on the glacier, although if they knew of the party then they chose to keep their distance for the time being. Stranger, more worrisome roars could also be heard from time to time, and the party hastened to their destination.

Eventually the village came into sight, and they were relieved to be among intelligent beings one again. Conversations with the frost giants revealed that this world contained many more mysteries than any of them seemed to realize: the giants were happy with their slice of the world and did not often venture beyond its borders, and while they mentioned that Sulnon frequently ventured out to places unknown to them, they had inquired little into his doings there.

The party was interested to learn that even the giants did not know the origin of the ancient structures that dotted the forest to the south, and that they had been there as long as any being seemed to remember. They indicated that they seemed to have some sort of relation to Everfrost, which was primarily found deep in the glacier on top of which their village was situated, and that they had noticed strange disturbances in the energy of the Everfrost of late, which seemed to be coming from the southeast. Suspecting that this may have had something to do with the disruption of the portals, the party set off to investigate.

Upon reaching another cave dug into the side of the glacier, they found a terrifying and majestic sight: a young, but nonetheless adult, white dragon, seemingly in league with or commanded by a strange figure. After some conversation the wyrm attacked, and a fierce fight for their lives barely resulted in the party’s victory. At the climax of the fight it seemed that much of the built up energy in the cave was released, and most of the residual power disappeared, with a mysterious portal having opened in the back of the cave. There was no sign of the mysterious figure. Hearing the roars of wild beasts rushing into the cave, and given their fatigued and wounded state, the party fled, barely dodging lumps of ice hurled at them as they ran.

After a burst of light, they found themselves upon another ancient construction: a half-buried altar of stone and Everfrost seemingly in the middle of nowhere in the forest. Setting off back to the giants’ village, they informed the giants of what had transpired, and as thanks for the information the giants in exchange gave them some of Sulnon’s old writings, although they were untranslated and in a strange tongue. The party accepted them with thanks and left for the portals, finally being able to return home. As they did so they noticed strange behaviour from Edwin’s ring: it seemed this one too had some sort of inherent power which had been activated by their adventures in this realm.

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The Tower, the Lich, and the Closet
By the famous bard, C.S. Lewis

After departing the once-Zhejun stronghold and heading south in search of the city Sulnon mentioned, the party eventually found the once-great city of Tradagan, now a lifeless ruin in the sands. Some investigation led them to discover the once-sorcerer’s tower in the city, and though for the most part it was little more than an abandoned ruin, they found a few traces of the past: a few old but intact tomes, as well as the indication that someone had been there recently—or at most in the last century or so.

On top of the tower there was a great viewing platform from which the party could sense the lingering energies of the area, and discovered a presence that felt reminiscent of Everfrost to the northeast. Traveling to the source, they discovered a small house, whose basement contained evidence of a recent visit, a candle with a shard of Everfrost in place of a flame, and a mysterious gale contained in one of the rooms. Stepping into the stormy room to attempt to discern its source, the party found themselves brought to a strange, serene, wintry landscape.

Although there initially seemed to be no signs of civilization in the snowy woods, occasional oddities showed otherwise: the party eventually encountered a small, intricately built temple whose inside contained a great formation of Everfrost in the shape of a snowflake. The party managed to activate it into creating a portal, but the portal was unstable and they found themselves scattered to random places nearby rather than being taken to another realm as they expected. Upon returning and deciding to set out in search of how to escape this snowy realm, they encountered a great statue of a woman looking off to the north, and decided to follower her gaze in the hope that it was an indication of something ahead.

The going was slow, and their continued presence in this world made it apparent that they had left their own: rather than discernible celestial bodies, the sky merely brightened and darkened and seemed to be permanently obscured by some sort of haze, and the day-night cycle itself was much longer than what one might expect.

Eventually, the party reached a great glacier which seemed to span to the east and west as far as the eye could see. Entering one of the small caves which appeared occasionally in its surface, they found themselves attacked by mysterious giant fiery insects, and eventually came upon a giant of a man, seemingly hewing away the ice with a huge axe.

Speaking to him indicated that the world was at least inhabited by the giants, although they were few and far between. He spoke of many of their kind living to the north on the top of the glacier, and to their surprise, he was familiar with Sulnon, and indicated that Sulnon would often visit that village. Determined to uncover the mystery of this world they had found themselves trapped in, the party set off to the north to meet the other giants and learn what they could of Sulnon’s adventures in this realm.

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The Flight of the Zhejun
As told by the Zhejun elders

After acquiring extra help from the mysterious skeleton, Setah decided to settle on some more research into the history of the complex and of the fire realm on the other side. Although she did not recover a huge amount of information, she found mentions of a “Sulmond” who had taken over the project, presumably once the identity of the skeleton the party met earlier.

The party’s next visit to the fire realm resulted in several discoveries. First, it seemed that Virio’s new blade had no effect while sheathed, a convenience which allowed the party to interact with the friendly inhabitants of the fire realm without issue. Furthermore, after visiting a nearby Salamander and Fire Spirit village, it seemed that the ruins had once been a colony of Keriyan workers and researchers intent on discovering the secrets of the realm. After several skirmishes with the now-inhabitants of the western fortress the Keriyans eventually retreated back to their world and only ventured into the fire realm again in short intervals.

Speaking to one of the older inhabitants of the Salamander village, the party learned that the ruler of the fortress, known as Stromgral, was a mysterious being known as Emos, and that Lile was his lieutenant. They also learned that there were numerous smaller operations around the world which they might try to disrupt to get Lile’s attention, including one near the nexus of portals by which they entered the realm. They decided to attempt to do so and confront Lile after first returning to their world and regrouping.

When they returned, Setah and Thaddius decided to once again talk to the skeleton, confirming that he was in fact Sulmond and asking for a bit more information about the Keriyans’ past operations in the fire realm. Satisfied that they had enough information to confront Lile, they set forth to the fire realm once again.

Shortly after infiltrating a network of caves which apparently had some sort of place in Emos’ designs and meeting minor resistance, the party found a Fire Giant who seemed to have been trapped in servitude. After attempting unsuccessfully to free him and talking to him briefly, the image of a giant winged creature appeared and mocked them as they attempted to threaten it. Eventually it ordered the giant to attack the party and he seemed to be forced to do so with little choice in the matter. Realizing the giant’s great strength, the party fled at the soonest opportunity, pursued to the portal by Lile’s fiery arrows shot from great distance. After reaching their world once again, the party realized that the mysterious figure was no doubt Emos and that they might not be ready for another confrontation with Stromgral until they were more experienced in the ways of the world. After seeking advice from Sulmond, he told them of a city to the southwest where he had learned much, and burned a snowflake pattern which nobody else could see on to Setah’s skin, allowing him to communicate with her at his leisure if necessary. The party convinced the Zhejun that they ought to leave the complex due to its dangerous proximity to the fire realm portal and planned to set out for the city Sulmond told them of to see what its ruins had to offer.

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A Voice in the Dark
As told by an anonymous, hooded man

Upon returning to the world, the party discussed the situation and decided to return to the fiery realm in search of further information. It became clear that the inhabitants of the mysterious fortress posed some degree of threat, so Setah decided to research the history of the area further and discover what else there was to know about the history of this portal and the relations between the inhabitants of the complex and of the realm on the other side.

After some mention of a research facility located near the portal but remembering seeing no such thing when they had last visited, the party decided to make another trip to scour the deeper parts of the complex further. Their batlike friend used his powers to clear one of the collapsed passageways, beyond which they found the ancient remains of the mentioned research area. Though mostly deserted and ruined, a few traps and the like were still active, and they found a few mysterious inhabitants—fire spirits and flaming skeletons—who did not seem to notice their existence.

Deep in the labs, they found a mysterious sight: a freezing room in which floating blue crystalline formations provided an eerie sort of light. Upon further inspection they found a very old, and very conscious, skeleton who talked to them about some of the history of the area and his role in it: apparently he had once been the head researcher—the one mentioned by the local scholar’s notes as having taken over the research project by order of the government—and over time his interests had strayed to other things. While many of the researchers had continued their research into harnessing the fire spirits and investigating through the local portal, he travelled and visited elsewhere, and through details he seemed reluctant to share had somehow found or developed powers over cold.

He mentioned that he had a history of conflict with a few notable members of the group on the other side, notably the winged woman from before, who he called “Lile”. He said that while he estimated the power of the group was far beyond the party’s capabilities, he would indirectly help them if they insisted upon pursuing the conflict, since he had a grudge against them and wished them disposed. After leading them to a seemingly empty storage room, he retrieved a very old and curious blade from a pillar in the centre of the room: it glowed with an eerie blue light and emitted an uncomfortable chill to all nearby, but the wielder felt perfectly comfortable.

After thanking him, the party proceeded back to the Zhejun encampment, encouraged by their good fortune and prepared to discuss another incursion into the fiery world. Zinnanda in particular was not convinced that she trusted the skeleton’s motivations and felt that he was no doubt hiding much from them, but the rest of the group seemed happy enough for his assistance, and Setah in particular was interested in learning what he had to offer. It seems that the party is poised at the brink of some sort of conflict with the fortress on the other side.

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Return to the Wastes
As told by the local Blackthorne PR officer

After parting ways for a year, the Edwin and the Blackthornes met up with the intention of visiting the Red Wastes once again and further investigating the mysteries which seemed to be at play there. The voyage was uneventful, and other than rumours of growing tensions between Hirmuz and Altria, not much of note occurred.

Upon arrival at the Blackthorne Outpost-in-progress, the group quickly set off to meet the Zhejun once again, and upon arrival noticed that something felt off. The lights glowed more brightly than usual, and upon entering and speaking with the elders they discovered that some of the tribe had gone missing. After further disappearances the next night despite a guarded exit, they investigated the complex further and realized that one of the seemingly blocked off passages was merely an illusion and was fully accessible. Following it deep into the mountains, they eventually happened upon a surprisingly active part of the complex.

Along with discovering the lost tribespeople, the group also encountered a number of bizarre and horrifying-looking creatures which somehow seemed to control them. After a fairly bloody path through some of the controlled tribespeople and the strange creatures, they found a portal to another world, which ZInnanda felt controlled to run through.

On the other side, the party found a bizarre sight: a land of chains, brimstone islands and lava, and several fire spirits and salamanders greeting them. They learned of the presence of various creatures and cultures in this strange land, and that while most of them were friendly and had once had contact with the occupants of the complex in the past, the residents of the great fortress to the west had more malicious intentions and had been the ones to initiate the incursion into the mortal world. Upon returning, Setah dallied for slightly too long and was shot by a strange winged woman’s fiery bow before retreating to the Zhejun camp and telling them what happened.

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The Northern Zhejun Outpost
By Jacob Blackthorne

After saying our goodbyes to Jack and leaving his body in the hands of the Rehaz for a proper burial according to their customs, we prepared to head onwards in our journey to find the Zhejun. As we left we encountered a young mage by the name of Setah, a member of the tribe who had apparently learned her powers in the ancient ruins during her adolescence journey and had kept them secret from the tribe due to their superstitions. She has asked to accompany us so that she might have more opportunities to explore the mysteries hidden in the sands and further her knowledge, as well as perhaps find some way to cure the mysterious disease which ails her.

After a long trek to the south-east, we finally encountered the sea and the Dead Man’s Road again: I never thought that desolate trail would be such a welcome sight. It led to an eerily lit structure built into the face of a great mountain range, which turned out to be a Zhejun outpost based in an ancient ruin. They had no explanation for the seemingly magical ever-burning fires and glowing pillars which lit their home, but were somewhat more accepting of the unnatural and bizarre than their cousins, the Rehaz. They were very interested in trade, and could offer various items of interest to collectors, nobles, and historians, as well as the occasional rare spice which grew up in the mountains, and mostly wanted essential supplies like wood and food in return; things which are hard to come by in the desert. We enjoyed their hospitality for a week as we recuperated, discussed arrangements for future relations with them, and planned our next moves.

Our stay was largely peaceful, but a bizarre event occurred around halfway through. A surprised tribesman told us that the ever-glowing lights had gone out and in their place were several “burning men”, and we went outside to discover some fire spirits who seemed very interested in Zinnanda. Further investigation revealed that her ring, one of the ones looted from the tomb to the north west, seemed to attract them and have some affinity with them, and they were eventually pulled into a hostile frenzy and attacked. Once dispatched, the lights lit again, and according to Setah’s research the lights seem to be these bound fire spirits.

After finally setting off, we checked the coast to discover a surprisingly convenient natural harbour, and returned to Riya with the intent of building some sort of Blackthorne outpost to facilitate trade with the region in the future. Things look bright for the future of this trade route, and the party has been richly compensated for their efforts. We plan to spend the next year or two developing the infrastructure and contacts needed to establish this new route.

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A Tomb in the Sands
By Jacob Blackthorne

The party said goodbye this morning, promising grand tales and perhaps ancient plunder upon their return from the tomb that Zafir mentioned to them. I hope to see their return shortly.

A few days later, Zafir returned, with Virio returning not long after. He was gravely wounded and said that the tomb had proved more dangerous than they expected. It seemed that the dead walked in those ancient halls, but behaved most peculiarly: it seemed as if the bony sentries stood watch but did not attack unless provoked. Furthermore, by the time he left, the group had talked twice to a strange floating skull shrouded in purple fog. Once provoked, the skeletons had proved fierce enemies, and the party’s morale was wavering.

Virio’s description of the tomb reminds me of the stories that Zafir and the Rehaz spoke of. It seems the tomb was filled with statues of majestic warriors and of carvings of ancient civilization, perhaps the resting place of a great king or general of the Grand Kingdom of Keriya from back before the collapse of the region. It seems that he and his colleagues were as intrigued as I was, and were intent upon discovering any secrets the tomb had to offer.

After a few more long days, the rest of the party finally returned in a ragtag state. The first thing I noticed was that their number had shrunk: they spoke of Jack’s demise at the hands of a monstrous creature. It seems that after Virio’s departure they had been subject to strange trials, where mysterious orbs of power guarded by skeletal monstrosities had lit magical beacons of all sorts, gradually opening deeper and deeper chambers of the tomb and eventually leading them to a throne room of sorts. The skull had seemed to grow increasingly angered with their further intrusion, and finally, when they entered the final chamber, they encountered it once again, this time attached to a massive, four-armed behemoth of a skeleton, commanding several magic-wielding minions and intent on their demise. After Jack was cut down in front of them, the party fled for their lives, only to discover to their horror that many of the tomb’s doors had sealed themselves. Fearing certain death, in desperation Thaddius managed to call upon his god’s power to use the fiery magic of the first trial against the giant skeleton, and the group finally managed to bring their adversary to the ground. Returning to the throne room, they found the seemingly real body belonging to the skull, which appeared to be that of an ancient Keriyan general adorned with various decorations. Though most of the items in the tomb had long been ruined by the grip of time, the party recovered various artefacts, as well as a set of regal-looking rings from the skeleton’s fingers. The spoils are grand, but the price was high. Jack will be missed.

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Meeting the Rehaz
By Jacob Blackthorne

Finally, the Red Wastes! Although my breathing grows fast and my brain reels to see the vast expanse of dry death that stands before us, it is good to finally be near our destination. The Dead Man’s Road can be seen winding into the distance through the sands, and nothing moves in the vast expanses of sand and rock.

The desert is truly a strange sight. I had expected to see endless seas of sand, but the terrain here is as varied as anywhere else. There are flat plains, rolling hills, steep cliffs, and even a few mountains in a distance. There is only one thing in common: neither water nor life can be found in the bleak expanse. It is as if a curse of death lies upon the land.

Two days into our journey and Virio says that he senses a storm coming. This cannot be good news: tales tell of the fierce sandstorms which sweep the wastes from time to time, and it seems we may be caught in the middle of one. We’ve decided to head off the path and wait the storm out in the shelter of some nearby cliffs.

After three days of waiting, the winds have finally settled, and only a few grains of sand can still be seen floating through the sky. Everyone was eager to get moving again, although to our horror we quickly discovered that the Dead Man’s Road was nowhere in sight: it had no doubt been buried in the sands. It really is aptly named.

Another week of moving in the direction we thought the road had went yielded a brief glimmer of hope: Virio caught sight of the road again in the distance. Unfortunately after a whole day of moving in its direction, it vanished as the sun began to sink, and we realized that we had been chasing a mirage. That night, we heard a strange tune coming from the far distance: the first unnatural sound that we had heard since our journey into these hellish wastes.

The next night, the sound could be heard again, and much closer this time. It sounded as if a man was singing in some strange tongue. Quick in pursuit of any friendly face, we followed the sound, and eventually encountered a lone man setting up camp at an oasis nearby. He told us that his name was Zafir, and that he was part of the Rehaz, a tribe of nomads which lived in the wastes, and offered to lead us to his tribe. Eager to see civilization for the first time in weeks, we set off and in not too long arrived at the village of the Rehaz.

The Rehaz are a small tribe with strange customs, but we were welcomed with open arms and a feast was held in honour of our arrival. They offered to help set us on the right path to find the Zhejun once again, something we were truly grateful for, and told us the history of the Red Wastes according to the legends of their tribe. It seems the wastes hold many more secrets than we would’ve guessed.

Zafir told us of an ancient ruin nearby that his people had not yet managed to explore due to some sort of ancient defences that they no longer remembered, but that the wisdom of the tribe was that one should not stray their if they valued their life. Eager for a chance at action and adventure after the long trek through the wastes, the party has decided to try their own luck at plumbing its depths, and will set off tomorrow. Zafir has offered to guide them to the tomb’s entrance, but will go no further.

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