Slowly turning their heads to gaze in horror into the cave mouth, they chanced upon a gruesome site: a series of children, naked and defenceless, had been tied by their ankles to an overhanging pole to bleed out like fish on a line. The tops of their heads had been dashed open and their brains removed, leaving a gaping cavity and hollowed-out sockets where their eyes should have been. In a ditch to the side were collections of simple shoes, sandals and garments which must have belonged to the unfortunate lot. The team were shocked and taken aback by the hideous acts carried out on innocent children, with Phileo, looking at the corpse of a young boy, particularly devastated.
Composing themselves quickly, Oben and Grimes led the team forward to ensure that the cave system was cleared of any further evil. Slowly, deliberately, they paced in single file, with Lylah summoning the power of Tripos to shed light as they slowly slid into the throat of the structure. At the first junction they moved left into a room with a number of crude wooden cages; all empty bar one which housed the shivering shell of a young male child. Locked and seemingly impossible to open without creating a ruckus, Oben used his years of strategy and wisdom to forge a silent piece of apparatus to prise the lock in two, releasing the boy into their care. It was quickly established through questioning the lad that he was in fact mute, and unable to do provide more information besides pointing in the direction he wished the team to go and making noises. Following his guidance, they pressed on down the main corridor in search of any remaining children and came to a wide, open chamber.
The wide cavern shone and impressed in equal parts; the walls glittered with a mineral Oben quickly defined as Traxium, which was a costly commodity used for enhancing objects with its beauty. The swirling patterns and chaotic twinkling almost felt like they were staring at a night sky on a distant plane of the Gods. In the centre, surrounded by what the team could only assume was some sort of drainage gutter, stood a peculiar round stone structure (much akin to a round doorway in a Dwarven settlement) with what appeared to be a painting of a sandy, desert vista. As the heroes observed it, they quickly realised that the image shimmered and shifted, much like picture being projected onto falling water; quickly they realised that the image itself was seemingly moving! A stone was thrown which passed through the watery visage and landed in the land beyond, but the team were worried about trying it themselves. Phileo, ever the courageous and selfless beacon of the group, answered their troubles: he summoning a being from the celestial plane, a thing so good and courageous it could make a grown man cry- a celestial monkey. Proud and brave, it waited for its orders; within moments it was booted by the hasty Phileo through the portal to land in a heap on the other side. It turned, dusted the sand from its fur, and slowly raised its middle finger as it phased back to its home plane.
After discussion about keeping the boy safe and the pros and cons of taking him to the desert land, they passed through without fear. Breaching the shimmery veil they were instantly hit with an aching, exhausting heat which no one in the party was accustomed to; the boys from Ryyk’vaan looked at each other with that certainty and dread of the impending chaffing in their armour. The boy pointed ahead, seemingly knowing the direction the other children were in, and the team pressed on.
As the hours passed the heat became evermore heavy on their shoulders; the adventurers wrapped themselves up as best as could be done with the materials they had at hand to shield their skin from the scorching sun, and water was created and passed around by the generous Lylah. As they neared their goal they were shocked and surprised to be ambushed from the sand by a family of scorpions! A couple of large beasts looked like they could be a worthy test for the hardy warriors, but sadly they must have been from the lower end of the scorpid gene pool , and were killed without a sweat being broken- much to the DM’s chagrin.
As dusk quickly approached and the climate began to cool, the team set their eyes on a small camp- supposedly what the boy had been pointing toward. A larger, grand tent was settled in the middle of a sporadic placement of much simpler abodes, with a small fire in front of the entrance. A handful of armed humanoids patrolled the perimeter, much at home in this environment.
The team huddled and brainstormed possible plans- stealth was mentioned, but quickly dismissed due to inconsistencies in the ability to be quiet. However, after much cajoling a plan was forged- the boy and Phileo were to be used presented as prisoners who were to be sold into slavery, the group would then approach the camp, barter a trade and make a daring escape with the rest of the children from behind enemy lines! With a group smile of satisfaction and head nodding at such a devilishly cunning scheme, they set out. Approaching the camp they quickly surveyed the scene: a handful of the humanoids looked savage and feral, with a few dog faced men in their ranks. The perceived bandits quickly came together to respond to any potential threat and as our heroes made it into a dash’s length of the tent, they were halted in their tracks- from the folds of the larger tent emerged a tall, spindly figure, wrapped in fabric and concealing his face under an oversized hood. It moved gracefully, almost like it was floating about the sands. It eyed up the team and, after Grimes made the offer of selling the two into servitude, a voice could be ‘felt’ in the young Ryyk’s mind. It commanded Grimes to let the boys be given to the tall man, with the price paid: the rest of them would not be slaughtered. Obviously, for a man with Grime’s bartering know-how, this would never do.
As a whimsical Phileo started to lurch acceptingly towards the figure, Grimes presented his counter-offer: In moments he was in battle range, sundering limbs and smashing heads. The bandits were no match for his superior fighting prowess and after a blistering start things quickly got very worse- swords clashed and blood was spilt on the sand from both parties. The robed adversary started to open up with bolts of energy being projected from his hands, sending combatants flying around the battlefield such was their ferocity. After a number of volleys, it returned to the safety of the tent, clearly satisfied with the havoc it had caused. Phileo, snapping out of his stupor, activated hero mode and dashed into the tent cloth fortress to show whoever it was never to mess with a Phisch! Realising that he had actually fastened his shackles rather than loosely wear them, he threw caution to the wind and pressed headlong in pursuit!
Moments later, Lylah had to duck and dive as a charred husk of a man flew out of the tent, body crumpling with the force of the electrical blast which had taken the floor from his feet and the breath from his lungs. Lylah tried to tend to his critical injuries as Grimes sliced with unprecedented force, cleaving two foes in one awesome blow from shoulder to waist. Their innards were scattered and chunks of offal and flesh splattered on the beige terrain. He too charged in to be met with the same unbridled force which floored Phileo, sending him flying out of the tent in tow. Lylah, ever the brave, decided to peek in the tent, only to see the hooded heathen ‘slice’ a cut into the air, like a Rigeselle dead collector cutting into a cadaver’s chest. With an effortless movement he moved into the ‘pocket’ as the tear sealed behind him, leaving the tent vacant. From outside she could hear the tell-tale howls of a man ravaged with pain and inner mayhem, and looking back to the ruddy deathfield could see the familiar guise of Grimes sprinting beyond to the horizon, his physique contorting and buckling as he moved.
The mute boy sped past Lylah and to the rear of the sanctum, quickly pushing boxes around and searching in chests. The realisation that there were no other children to be found here quickly dawned on Lylah, as her eyes took in a bare surroundings. The boy let out a muted cheer as he took a small, worn lead box from inside a chest, and forced the weak lock open- unravelling a dirty linen rag he revealed a beautiful red prism, a jewel so dazzling that even a lady from Lylah’s previous life was impressed. Within moments her face of delight twisted into a face of confusion, as the object sprouted legs and wings and began to scamper around the boy’s physique, much to his giddy glee. She put her hands on her hips to consider her situation; a ragdoll of a bard unconscious on the floor, a boy with a jewel which had somehow come to life, a Paladin who had gone missing in action prior to battle and a beast-man ally speeding into the unknown. There’s always a silver lining she surmised- at least my new cloak is pretty!