In the shadow of a circle of standing stones, a party of adventurers was tired and hungry. For three days, they fasted, awaiting the time to brew the sacred tea so that Visok‘s Ordeal could be conducted. Morale was low as the sun peeked over the horizon on the third day. The tea was brewed and swiftly drank, and shortly thereafter all of creation exploded into the parties’ brains.
It started with the sky. The sun wheeled overhead, joined by the moon and several seasons’ worth of constellations that began to dance through the heavens at breakneck pace. Whispers from the land grew in intensity until all of existence spoke in secret, hidden languages directly into their souls. The heroes sank to the ground, suddenly aware of their cosmic insignificance and reeling from the possibilities of the infinite. Each adventurer was confronted with a horrible, gnawing terror that they kept in the dark recesses of their minds. After seeming years of subjective torments, they were roused by a voice that manifested from a spirit that had appeared in their midst.
“Heed, travellers. Steel yourselves and prepare, for your test awaits! But take heart, if you are strong of will, the challenges you are soon to face will not…” And then something blasted him.
The party dizzily tried to climb to their feet as the unseen attackers closed in. It was their recurring nemeses, the purple-robed cultists. They’d chosen this moment for their latest attack on the party, hoping that the hallucinations would give them the edge they needed to take the party down. They’d brought three members this time: the chatty one with the fiery eyes who they’d encountered in the past, a diminutive member that split herself into numerous short-lived duplicates, and the hulking one who finally received a name when the fire-eyed one spoke the words, “Callithus? Get big.” He then grew taller then a house, and the fight was on. Drugs or not, these clowns were going to die again.
Callithus wasn’t quite as strong as his size would suggest, but he was impossible to ignore, and his massive fists were capable of knocking the party to the ground. Fire-eyes attacked the party’s minds. What he found in Nyrineab‘s head convinced him not to try again, but he had a measure of success by attacking Zed’s formidable will. The duplicator mostly served as a distraction, hurling wave after wave of copies of herself into the fray as expendable troops.
His vision compromised by the drugs, Nyrineab animated his shadow into a vicious little attacker that he set upon the mind-controller. Zed weaved into combat, dodging through the legs of the giant attacker and trapping the talker between his fists and the claws of the little shadow beast. Visok weathered a barrage of attacks, becoming bloodied himself before his hammer crushed the chest of the fire-eyed cultist. As the body pitched to the ground, Nyrineab‘s little shadow monster leaped onto the corpse, shredding it in the seconds before the false death ritual whisked his soul off to parts unknown. Zed utilized an opponent to vault onto Callithus’ expansive shoulders, where a ki punch cracked the titan’s skull. Now alone, the duplicating assailant demonstrated a surprising bravado, vowing to return a thousand times to kill the party, if they had to. When the party refused to be intimidated, she sent a final wave of duplicates in a spiteful suicide attack. The world still spinning, the party took a moment to catch their breaths when the standing stones around them stretched and flexed. The cliff face above them opened massive eyes, and the party found themselves clutched in the hand of an impossibly massive stone elemental.
The mountain spoke to them, largely in riddles and doublespeak. It did, however, offer a few words of interest to Visok. It showed him a mighty rune, of unknown properties, and encouraged him to finish what his father started. A few more rounds of cryptic symbolism, and the mighty elemental settled back to into his rest. As the tea cleared the party’s systems, it was as if nothing had transpired at all.
Back at camp, the Deorai rejoiced! A decade or so late perhaps, but Visok had completed his trials and become a tribesman in good standing. Elder Hadhra was now free to tell him the harrowing tale of their people.
Visok‘s father, she explained, had been a mighty runepriest himself, and dedicated to the safety of his people. He had led a band of the tribe’s greatest warriors to slay a nearby threat: a trio of vicious gorgon witches. The returned in triumph, but many months later, as the runekeeper celebrated the birth of his son, a crack opened in the mountain, and a terrible curse was unleashed. The gorgon’s wrath spilled through the streets in clouds of roiling purple fog that turned all who breathed it into stone. Many lost their lives that night. If not for the courage of Visok‘s father, there might have been no survivors. The runekeeper used all his magic, and sacrificed himself to maintain the wards so as many of his countrymen could escape as possible. Visok’s mother gave her life lifting the boy clear of the fog so he could be rescued. As it stood, most of the tribe was lost that night. Elder Hadhra‘s predecessor was another, and with her was lost the secret for crafting the Deorai scrying stones. If the tribe had the master stone, known as the Eye of the Mountain, they could re-learn the process. Without that stone, there was no way the party could complete the Academy’s task. Cursed city or no, Visok and his party were determined to recover the Eye.
The party travelled with the tribe for several more days, before approaching Cadiabh Morh. As the time of parting approached, Elder Hadhra took Visok aside. She had with her the mighty hammer that had belonged to Visok‘s father. He had laid it down when his son was born, and she wanted Visok to carry it with him. At this another elder objected, decrying a quest into the city as a fool’s errand, and the loss of one of their relics to be inexcusable. In his anger, the elder revealed that Visok had grown up with the elves because the rest of the tribe was stretched too thin to care for him. He had been given away. Party at his back, Visok aimed to show them what a mistake that had been.
Cadiabh Morh was dismal and silent. The gates stood open, and the streets were still littered with the horrified statues of Visok’s people. As they entered the heart of the dead city, an ominous hissing began. Roiling clouds of purple fog surged into view, filling the streets. Time to run…