Our adventurers regained consciousness and felt all their infinite atoms slowly rebonding. As the atoms slowly became cells and then tissues the pain returned. The tissues became organs and the organs cried out as they floated through space and then attached to each other. The organs became systems and then our heros slowly became whole again. As they regained control over their newly formed bodies, they breathed in for air and cried in pain. In the stead of air their lungs were met with the weight and density of water.
The party started to drown together and they writhed in pain and swam to the surface. They clawed into the earth and crawled out of the body of water. Their fingers were met with the sere and crackled carapace of the earth. As they were coughing the liquid from their lungs, a cloaked figure dashed towards them and quickly pushed them around and frisked their bodies for anything of import. The dark hands worked swiftly but to the stranger’s surprise and to all of the party’s surprise all of their possession were no where to be seen. They rolled in the sand in naught but their underclothing. The one thing that remained among them all was the decanter that they had found in the bottom of the frozen tower. The bedraped stranger quickly found the decanter hanging from Darella’s shoulder. He ripped it from her, breaking the chord and uncorked it, all the while working quickly and deftly. The figure tilted the decanter back under its cowl and drank heartily. It drank ceaselessly for a time and then stopped puzzled, and then poured the decanter out at arms length. The precious ichor flowed from the decanter like rain, it bounced off the hardened ground like so many marbles and was then absorbed quickly by the dessicated earth that had not seen rain in years. The cloaked figure uttered a sound of amusement and discovery, corked the decanter and walked away from the party.
The adventurers were still gathering their reserves and gasping for air as they watched the thief walk away and up out of the crater they found themselves in. When the figure reached the lip of the crater he pointed in their direction and screamed.
“Defilers! I have found Defilers, in the water. They are trying to drink up all the water!” The figure screamed in an odd voice.
Six figures ran down towards the drowning figures, all dressed in scant clothing made of strips of leather and metal buckles and rings, hanging cloth here and there. The men had tools of death strapped to their belts and over their shoulders. The men were apparently guards of some rule system. They circled the now steaming group of “defilers.”
“Who are you and why do you wade in the Surekh’s water.” One of the guards asked forcefully.
“They belong to me! I apologize I will remove them. They are my slaves!” A new man said, who pulled his camel down to the scene. He wiped the sweat from his brow with a length of cloth that hung loosely from his turban.
“You will pay the fine for their crime then.” The guard said.
“Of course, if your men will aid me by putting their restraints on them while we work out the numbers.” The slaver said, retrieving a long chain with manacles placed at various lengths and handing it over to one of the men. Confused the guards started to clamp the hands of the drowned victims to the chain that was attached at one end to the camel.
The slaver lead the confused adventurers away from the watering hole with a large grin on his face, for the price he paid for the defilement fine was far less than half of the price it would have cost him if he bought the slaves new.
They were pulled out of the crater and the scene that unfolded confused them greatly. It seemed they were at the bottom of a dried out lake with small craters where the last bits of evaporating water were found like pools of diamonds in the sand. There was a bigger crater in the center of the lake and there were hundreds if not thousands of people around it. Some armed and herding others to and away from the last bit of water. They were stationed at tables and there were guards taking and counting gold pieces that it seemed they were charging the people to come get a waterskin filled or a jug. The line extended well into the arid horizon. A large wooden scaffolding was build into the dry mountain that overhung the lake. There were banners that hung from the every few levels of the structure. The banners held on a white background a black symbol of a cog. The cog’s bottom teeth extended into writhing tentacles.
The party were drug by the camel to fast to even make sense of the whole scene and before they could react or even call out to the slaver there was a sound of a loud horn in the vale and everyone halted and looked toward the top level of the wooden scaffolding. A man stepped out and rested his hands on the railing of the balcony.
“Good day, my people.” The man said, his voice magically loudened waving an open palm.
“Once again I thank you for your selfless contribution to the cause. I forsee a brighter future for us all, and I hope it gladdens you as much as it does I, to know that you are a part of the resistance.” The man said, smiling. The five slaves heard the man’s voice but it slowly faded and a new voice was heard in their heads.
“The man who is talking is called Surekh Al’ Sharif, or truthfully it is a doppelganger he has made to represent him. He is an evil and radical man. He has delusions of grandeur and aims to destroy the Triumvirate. He has moved from town to town amassing wealth and an army. He has torn through five cities already. His aim is to overthrow the Triumvirate and unite the whole of Rienland under his own banner. I tell you this for I feel that you five may be of use to me.” Said the smooth mellifluous voice in their heads.
“Who are you?” Leomourn asked verbally.
“Shut it! If you cause me more out of pocket I will sell you to a butcher, times are dire!” Said the slaver, the five ignored this.
“I am Tal Rasha. I am a djinn. My part in this is a long and unimportant yarn.” Said the voice
“Why should we trust you?” Amarella thought.
“You don’t have to, you can remain slaves and continue as you will, trusting me and doing as I say will ensure not only your freedom and possessions returned but also the salvation of an entire continent.” Said the djinn.
“Alright then, what are your conditions.” Delgen thought, rolling his eyes and looking at the back of Leomourn’s head.
“I shall bore you with a small amount of details as to ensure you understand the situation. As you all may know as a djinn, I am held to certain ancient pacts. The details are of little import, but in some manner Surekh came into possession of my services…about one hundred years ago.” The djinn paused.
“I am inclined to grant wishes to a master as you all would know. Al’ Sharif’s first wish was of course to never die, as is always man’s first wish. One thing that you may not know though is that despite my being a magical entity, I am not potent enough to grant such a gift. No djinn is. We instead, when posed with such wishes siphon magic from the surrounding environment we have been doing it for centuries which has gained us quite a reputation. So when Al’ Sharif requested this, I drew magic from the nearest source I could…little did I know the consequences.” The djinn said.
“I see a united Rienland, under the new banner, industrialized. I will lead you all into a new age of steam and magic!” The bebalconied man said.
“As you know, eons ago when the prime plane was created, the ones who made it brought elements from all the other planes to make this wondrous realm. The salmander kings gave us fire, the water kings gave us water and on and so forth. The elements here though are only shadows of their true forms. After the material plane was finished they place portals everywhere some hidden some not. These portals are direct paths to other planes, some are used to direct a flow of certain elements so that the balance can be contained. There is one such portal, it is the portal to the plane of water. It is one of the ones that introduces water into our plane. When I cast that wish that fateful day I unknowingly drew power from this well, causing it to seal. Thus this one hundred year drought.” The Djinn sighed.
“The Dry Ages.” Delgen whispered, and hung his bearded head.
“I grew to learn my folly and have been looking for a way to fix my mistake for the last century. Though I granted Al’ Sharif the ability to not die, I did not grant him youth or health. Which he grew to hate, he has been spending his wealth on magics and amulets to extend his youth and keep him resilient to disease. He learned of my trick and used his second wish to seek revenge.” Tal Rasha said
“‘Wealth: I wish for 500,000 gold pieces worth of gold and riches…but I want you to acquire it by hand.’ He said, so I am contracted to earn my freedom. That is why you will notice I have taken all of your possessions. I apologize, but I assure you if you help me you will get all your items back if not more, I just have to ensure my freedom if you fail. I am sure you can forgive me for that.” The Djinn said.
“I have see, in my dreams, a great tentacled beast that will protect you and I as we go forth through these times!” Surekh said.
“Hmmph.” Leomourn crossed his arms.
“Surekh has not used his last wish until recently. He the other day wished for the powers of a god. I revealed to him that the only way to fulfill this last wish was to acquire the Lut Gholein. The tome of creation. This is where you all fall into the plan.” Tal Rasha said.
“In six days there will be an eclipse. During that time and only during that time, will an entrance to the Temple of Heroes appear in the Endless Sands. You must find and enter the Temple, pass all the tests of the Medjay and find the ”/campaign/the-flame-of-time/wikis/the-book-of-creation" class=“wiki-page-link”> Book of Creation. Once you find the tome, I need you to write the death of Serekh on to the pages of that book." The Djinn said.
“Wait…what?” Leomourn thought.
“In six days will be an eclipse.—” The djinn started.
“I got that! But Temple of Heroes? Medjay? Endless Sands? Book of Creation? How do you expect us to do any of that in four days?! In case you can’t see us, even though you are talking in our brains, we are currently chained to a camel.” Leomourn thought.
“I understand it seems overwhelming but I have faith in your performance. Besides, I have two other teams who I have deemed worthy too. The odds are in my favor, I have three teams who all have the same mission…one should prevail.” Tal Rasha said.
“Great, and now we have competition.” Leomourn growled.
“I will give you all a hint that may tip the scales in your favor. It has recently been brought to my attention that a troupe of Medjay have actually ridden into Felden this morning. Perhaps if you find the Medjay one of them can lend you to the Temple of Heroes. Good luck.” Tal Rasha said.
“We are going to fail.” Leomourn said.
The sound of the Surekh’s speech once again took front stage as the mental connection faded. The sounds of thirsty people and bored guards filled their ears. As the man stepped away from the balcony, a loud thunder clap was heard. The man’s chest exploded with a crimson splash as he fell back and was then pulled off the balcony by a shower of hands that appeared from the curtains in front of which he stood during the speech. The guards all spread out a scattered to find the assassin. There was a old man in the line to get water who was hurriedly trying to hide a flintlock rifle in his bag, but to no avail. He was quickly surrounded.
“It’s a farce, I tell you! Do not believe that man, he will not lead us to salvation. Death to Surekh! Long live the Triumviraaaaaaaaaghhggh.” The old man stepped out of line and shouted, and was then brought down by a volley of bullets.
“Now, anyone else want to make an attempt like that!?!” Screamed the guard, while reloading his own rifle. Everyone in line hung their head and fingered what they held in their arms. Despite the fact that the majority could not hold back a smile when the old man spoke.
“Quickly! We need to break free of these chains, but when the time is right. On my mark we will attack this slaver but we need to make sure no one sees the act.” Delgen whispered loud during this time of distraction, the others nodded.
They went on with the slaver with no back talk or defiance.
“That’s right, I’m glad to see you have all had a change of mind. You will enjoy being my slaves.” The large man said on the back of his camel, as he lead them away from the scene and westward towards Felden as he had told them. They moved through a valley where it seemed the once filled lake meandered and met with another large lake. The people were coming from this way.
“Now!” Delgen shouted when they got to a strip of the vale where there was no one is sight. They all rushed the large slaver and tried to rip him from his camel. He screamed and then grabbed at something on the saddle. Right as he touched his magic saddle the manacles started to send pulses of pain into their bodies. They screamed in pain and their bodies twisted and wracked with the pain of a thousands deaths.
Just as they fell to the ground six loud thunder claps were heard again and the slaver fell off his camel and hit the sand with a loud thud, his tongue hanging from his mouth.
“Nobody hurts a fellow Zeithopper,” chided a tall, black-garbed man who walked towards them while reloading pistols. He wore a thick leather duster which was cinched tightly about him with bandoliers and belts carrying an array of exotic looking weapons from a variety of pistols about his chest to a long scoped rifle on his back. His limbs were adorned with a pastiche of numerous vials, scrolls and trinkets. Upon his head rested a tall, wide-brimmed black hat that, despite considerable wear and tear, gave him a proper and gentlemanly bearing. Dangling from his neck were a curious pair of glass and copper goggles, the likes of which none of the party had ever seen. At his hip dangled a long, fearsome blade of curious and alien design.
As the party began to pick themselves up off the ground the mysterious stranger approached them. He holstered his pistols he began to fiddle with a heavy, metallic bracer on his left wrist. They watched as numerous panels and clockwork gears shifted and clicked into place before the stranger, with a satisfied smile, turned to face them. It was then they noticed the tiny flame that danced above his hat.
“My friends, it is good to see you again. It has been far too long,” the black coated man laughed, as he knelt beside the bewildered adventurers.
“I think you’re mistaken, stranger,” Darella said, eyeing the cloaked man suspiciously.
“Aye, I’d think we’d recognize someone like you,” her sister agreed.
“Yes, I suppose you would. I am Wing Commander Griff Byron. I am a Zeithopper just like you,” the man said.
“Zeit-what?” Leomourn said, holding his wrists.
“A Zeithopper, a time traveler like you.” Byron said.
“Time…travel?” Leomourn asked.
“I was sailing the Time Dimension on my way to exterminate the monster on my Letter of Marque and Reprisal, when I saw a bunch of free radicals…you and some others falling through the dimension.” Byron said.
“How did you know we were the ones you saw?” Darella asked.
“The flames over your heads.” Byron said.
“What flame?’ Delgen said.
“For reasons unknown a flame appears above the head of those who have moved through the Time Dimension. Some say it is the flame of time, some say it is your soul, and moving through time burns away the protective cover that kept it from blowing out, like a lantern.”
“I always wondered about the flames!” Leomourn said.
“Other, aye?” Delgen said.
“Yes there were two ahead of you and I think two behind you.” Byron said, placing his six hand cannons in the half-cock position and stowing them away.
“Two? Ahead and before? Did you get a look at any of them?” Darella asked.
“Not really, I was too busy navigating the Time Sea.” Byron said.
“You see, I sail a Zeitship through time. I didn’t even know you all came in during this time or else I would have found you sooner.” Byron said fumbling with the saddle on the camel and finding the release. The manacles all magically fell from the slaves’ hands.
“Can you spare any of those thunder-wands to us?” Leomourn asked, with the twinkle in his eye that had been there since the first time he saw a gun fire just a while ago.
“Excuse me?” Byron said.
“He means your gonnes. Can you lend fellow Zeitskippers some supplies?” Delgen said, pointing at the invisible flame above his head.
“I am sorry, I can not give you any supplies. I am in need of restocking myself. I can give you some excess coin.” Byron said, pulling bag after bag out of his many pockets until he found the one containing the right currency for the time.
“Here.” He said handing it to Delgen, the bag opened revealing a few hundred golden coins.
“I am here to hunt a beast, I will be here for a while. You can either join me and share in the glory of ridding the world of yet another aberration with me, or we can meet later. For I am sure you are yearning to return to your own time.” Byron said, searching the camel.
“We indeed would like to return to our time, but it seems we have been pulled into a shameless plow to exercise our faculties for one’s benefit or entertainment. The faceless force calling us to complete this mission has stripped us of all our possessions to ensure our cooperation. Once we are rid of this inconvenience, we shall indeed join you a sail the Time Stream.” Delgen said.
“Very well, my friends. I will defeat my foe and meet you in the town of Felden in one week’s time. I will be standing by the Adventurer’s Post in the market forum at noon that day. I will wait until nightfall for you and then I will have to be on my way.” Byron said walking away.
“We’ll be there!” Leomourn said and then turning to his comrades asked:
“Where is that?”
They continued down the path and eventually came to a raised city that must have been an island city before the drought caused the lake around it to dry away. They learned that this was indeed Felden. They were lead to the Temple District, which included Inns, a school, a blacksmith’s shop, a rundown bathhouse, and other edifices. At the center of town was a large ziggurat, topped with two temples one red and one blue. To the side of this structure was a temple of Heironeous.
“What is that?” Leomourn asked Delgen, pointing to the stone structure.
“That my boy is…a duel Temple. Sometimes when two sects have similar beliefs they construct a worshiping center for all their followers to come and share similar beliefs. The height of the temples brings the clerics and followers closer to their god, this god is definately a good and benevolent god, as you can see from the stone enscriptions here.” Delgen said with hand on hip, as he took a pair of reading lens from his belt and bent down with squinting eyes.
Just then three hooded figures pulled a screaming slave into view at the top of the many stairs that led to the top of the ziggurat. Two pulled his arms tight as the other drove a curved dagger deep into his chest and pulled out a still beating heart. The blood spilled from the victim’s chest and rolled down the hundreds of steps. The scorching heat even causing some of the blood to rise up like a red mist. When the flowing blood ceased they let the limp body go and it to fell down the bloody steps, a look of freedom on the mangled face was seen when it finally stopped rolling and hit the ground in a cloud of sand and dried blood his limps twisted in a macabre parody of life. The bloody heap settled at the feet of Delgen and Leomourn.
“Great Scott!” Delgen said.
“There is a sacrifice every day to appease Set. The Maruspawn think that the raining of blood on the earth will bring forth the rain and rule of Set to our land.” Said a passerby who noticed the shocked look on the two stranger’s faces.
“What does benevolent mean?” Leomourn asked.
“Let’s find a pub.” Delgen said. They all walked through the town’s forum and found various wares and Delgen handed out coin and they all split to find gear suitable for the weather and for the mission.
“As wind blows over land…” Said a gaunt and pallid elderly man under the roof of a blacksmith’s hut.
“Excuse me?” Amalyn said.
“Nevermind I must have mistaken you for someone else.” Said the man, as he heaved and stuggled to even lift an iron fuller.
“Isn’t that the first line of your Mage’s Guild little rhyme?” Delgen said, from Amayln’s side.
“Huh? What? Oh…is it?” Amalyn said looking off.
“Dear sir, what is your name? My friend here is of ill mind, you see we have just traveled a…very long distance…and we are not of stable thoughts.” Delgen said.
“I am Tvaskar, I am the…smith here.” The man said pulling a blade from the ground and bringing it down to a grindstone which he worked with great difficulty.
“My friend, do you need help?” Delgen offered, seeing the man struggle.
“No, I am just growing weak in my old days. I am just going to wait for my striker to come back from his errand.” The old man said.
“No offense Tvasker but I can’t help noticing that you despite your age have no visible muscle buildup in your arms. Though I am but a priest of Moradin, every dwarf has done a bit of smithing in his life, and I know any more than three days of swinging a hammer will bring a knot to your arms. I do not doubt your expertise, but I just was inquiring about my observation.” Delgen said.
“Indeed, you have seen through my only true forgery. I am no blacksmith, not even a farrier. I can barely lift this hammer. My competencies lie in a more delicate nature. Pray don’t alert the public of my true nature, for the Martinets will be at my door within the next high sun.” Tvaskar said.
“You are of the Mage’s Guild.” Delgen stated.
“Yes. I felt the illirium pulsating from your friend, and though perhaps there was a fellow weaver in Felden, in whom I could confide.” The man said with a tear forming on his lid.
“Never fear my friend, we will not bring light to your secret. Indeed the elf is a user of magic, but she is daft…possibly a savant. I honestly don’t know how she hasn’t blown her self to bits yet. The arcane is much less tame and fickle art than the divine…no offense.” Delgen laughed, but gathered his composure.
“Right. Well if you are truly trust-worthy and friends of the art, I can try my new invention with you, yes?” The old man said.
“Sure, Tvaskar as long as it is not consuming of time, we are quite in a bind to gather what is ours and return to our home…land.” Delgen said.
“I have created a philtre that will imbue a magical enchantment upon whatever metal is submerged within. I put it in this large vat.” The mage said.
“That is used for quenching, very fitting my friend. So what do we do?” Delgen said.
“Just choose a weapon and place it in the vat and it should enchant the weapon. It also is undetectable by any magical means, so those damned Martinets will not bother you if you carry them in public.” The man said. Delgen smirked.
“I come with gifts.” Delgen said as he met the others in the street, arms brimming with weapons of all sorts.
“I just had a man die in my arms.” Leomourn said.
“I found a bar at the edge of town that sells water. It is owned by the Shardhammer clan. There was an announcement presently saying that a one Delgen Shardhammer was coming to town this evening and everyone cheered. Some one bought me a drink…of water.” Amarella said.
“Someone from the local Thieves Guild put this in my pocket…and I didn’t even feel it or see them!” Darella said, holding up a black blade made of skyrock.
“Where did you go?!” Delgen said dropping the weapons.
Before any of the others could explain what had happened to them while Delgen and Amalyn were off getting enchanted weapons in a glistening pool of magic oil and water, they were approached by a stranger who had been waiting by a wooden post that held many parchments to its sides.
“You five look formidable. I have a mission not for the weak of heart or arm, if you are up to the challenge.” The greenish half-orc female said and bowed.
“And who are you, my dear?” Delgen said, stepping to the stranger and grabbing her hand and bowing.
“I am called Glinda. I am Medjay. I have traveled all the way from the golden sands of Shanartha with an army of my people. I have been chosen by my people to be Ar-Rashid, the guide. I am to gather a group of Muharib, warriors to insure the Lut Gholein does not leave the Temple of Substantiation, the Temple of Heroes. If you believe in your hearts that you are indeed Heroes follow me for we have six noons before the Black Sun rises and that is when the entrance to the Temple becomes real. First we must ride out to find the Wandering Oasis and there we will be given the first test, if we shall pass we will find the Durveda. The Durveda is a book written by The Twelve and One, the first Medjay that guides only the most worthy through the many tests of the Temple of Heroes to find the Lut Gholein, The Codex of Moirai, the Book of Creation.” The half-orc said and waited for their response.
“So we have to find a book to find a book?” Leomourn asked.
Led by Glinda, their new companion the derelict town of Felden on a handful of camels. Leomourn claimed that a mount-merchant had died in his arms earlier in the day who he assumed was poisoned, Leomourn searched his body and took the camels the man was selling. They traveled into the darkening sky and into the cold night. They took camp and left early the next day. They trekked onward and ever forwards, hydrated by the Decanter of Endless Water. Which was taken from them as they came into this time, as she drank from it they asked Darella how she held it now. She responded:
“I sneaked up the temple to check it out and found that the Clerics of Set had taken it and it was sitting in the mouth of a Statue. From the doorway I waited as the praying cleric within lay prostrate and I took it back with this tanglefoot rope.” Darella said with a smirk.
“When did you do this, and where did you get that?!” Leomourn said.
“The Thieves Guild, and when you guys were off in the merchant’s quarters lollygagging.” Darella said.
They went onwards until the at high sun Glinda dismounted and stepped forwards looking off in the distance pensively. The others did as she.
“Only the blood of the Medjay will reveal the Wandering Oasis. Blood must fall upon sand to dispel the ancient magics.” Glinda said. She turned around to see her five companions with weapons drawn and ready to bring down their guide.
“Wait! No, just a drop will do!” Glinda said putting an unsheathed dagger to her palm, with a step back.
“Oh, I thought you meant…nevermind.” Leomourn said, putting the arrow back.
A wonderful verdant and beautiful vista befell their eyes as the shimmering magic was removed as Glinda’s blood fell to the ground. It was a small oasis with stone, palms trees, and pools forming from springs in the desert. There was a small wooden archway gave entrance to a long waving pergola that was fashioned out of stone and vegetation. There was movement within the oasis, there was life.
“Let us hope one among us is worthy of the Durveda.” Glinda said.
“What does that mean? What’s a Durv — is that HAM?!” Leomourn said as he left the shaded walkway through an opening in the lattice and running toward a table brilliantly bedizened with only the most succulent and exotic fruits and meats. There were jeweled goblets and decanters filled with only the most expensive and potent potables an imbiber could think of. Leomourn eagerly took a seat and the table and helped himself to the feast before set before him. Amarella followed cautiously, unwilling to leave Leomourn behind, but soon found herself joining him.
“They are lost in their desires.” Glinda solemnly informed the others as they called them onwards. The two continued eating and drinking as if they did not even hear their comrades.
“We must continue,” Glinda said, “There can be no turning back now.”
Delgen responded with a curt nod, muttering to himself something that sounded like “amateurs”. They walked onward, until there was another break in the lattice. This time Darella spied a spring of crystal clear spring of water bubbling upwards from an ancient spring lined with large stones. Nude bathers were frolicking and washing gently in the water, some washing with head tilted back underneath a small waterfall that fell from the warm rock were a small natural spring was born. Hesitantly she passed through the lattice with the Glinda following closely behind.
“Water,” the medjay whispered as she tried to conceal her tears, “I’ve never seen so much. It’s beautiful…”
“Well that leaves us.” Amalyn chuckled to her dwarf companion, a cocky smirk plastered across her face.
“We’ll see,” He said as they marched onwards.
Soon soft moans of ecstasy fell upon their ears as they came upon the next doorway in the path of Worthiness. The libidinous moaning of both sexes could be heard, a score or more writhing forms could be seen locked in wanton knots of carnal conflict. There were members of all races on silken carpets lecherously pleasing partners of same and opposite genders and sometimes themselves, expelling fluids upon the sand and each other.
“You call that an orgy,” Delgen said laughing and stepping onward, “Clearly they’ve never been to the lavender halls of Ashkabok the Randy.”
He looked back to his elf companion to see if she understood his sardonic tone, only to see that he was alone standing under the pergola on that long path of Temptation. Peering back through the doorway he saw the elf already skyclad and joining in the salacious bacchanal, welcomed warmly by it’s attendants as they embraced her in the warm sunlight.
“Kids…” Delgen grumbled to himself as he looked down the walkway, the only one able to steel his resolve, and walked on. He came to the end of the path as it opened to a stone patio circled with palm trees that bowed in mock respect to the altar in the center of the scene, offering a shadow-casting shield from the unrelenting sadistic burning sun.
Delgen walked up to the altar and looked upon a small bound tome no bigger than the square palms of the dwarf. The whole vista that was the oasis fell as sand in the wind when the cleric lifted the journal from it’s stone-hewn rostrum. He looked back behind him as the whole farce fell to the ground as grains of sand. He saw palms blow away in the wind, he saw the verduous tentacles of the grape plant that grew and offered shade to the pathway upon the pergola, that held fruit ripe to bursting upon touch, wisp away in a mock sandstorm. He saw his friends stuffing every office with handfuls of sand. His companions were eating and drinking sand, bathing nude caressing their form with the pumice and grain. Sand fell from both hands into the zephyrs and upon the kneeling mage.
Delgen walked solemnly to his camel and put the book in a side bag and proceeded to fecklessly pull tight random straps and ties upon his mounts’ saddle and barding. He then trifled with his vestments and armour, as he allowed his companions to redress and clear the arenous evidence of their ignominy from in and on their bodies.
“So you got the book?” Asked the elf, mindlessly clearing sand from her mouth and chin.
“Yeah, yeah. I did.” Delgen said, then mounted his camel.
The party rode on in silence, perhaps in shame or maybe in confusion. Delgen would never come to learn if his companions were conscious of their time in the Wandering Oasis or if they just awoke in their drunken stupor unknowing of their fall into temptation. The old dwarf did remember all of the incident and that both amused and haunted him, but nonetheless no one member of their party ever mentioned the time they spent in the Wandering Oasis.
They rode two more suns through the burning heat across the golden sands until at midday there was an overcast of shadows upon the land. Glinda smiled one does when a raincloud is seen overhead on a hot day. They looked on as a giant disk came between them and the sun.
“An eclipse.” Amarella said, as she and her sister clapped palms.
“The Black Sun.” Glinda said. As she spoke a purple vein of arching and pulsating light created a line from the center of the eclipse to the earth, it’s end just over the next sand dune.
“Ride! We must follow the beakon!” Glinda said leaving a wake of kicked up sand behind her. They all followed until at the top of the sand dune they could see in a sand valley the light fell upon a rare sight.
From the sands rose the head of a giant stone lion, and as they rode down the valley of dust the stone lion roared to the sky as if greeting or signalling the Black Sun. The Lion froze with it’s maul gapping, the purple light creating a straight line from the center of The Black Sun into the Lion’s mouth.
“The entrance to the Temple of Heroes.” Glinda said, leaping from her camel and disappearing into the mouth of the beast.
The party delved ever deeper into the sands their path lit by the light of Amarella’s envoy-gift, and the light spells cast from the wizardess. They finally came upon an underground temple in a large cavern, so large that both the tops of the cavern and temple were lost in darkness even with Amarella’s light. They came upon the Temple’s eastern entrance, as divined by the dwarf who was keeping track of depth and orientation of their descent as they went. There was a large stone cog above the doorway, as to block the entrance with one of it’s teeth.
“The first test. A test of strength.” Glinda said.
“Please allow me.” Amarella said, as she stepped forward and put her shoulder into the stone-cog’s tooth and pushed. After sometime of grunting and smashing her shoulder upon the rock she surrendered reluctantly.
“Perhaps the test is sometimes a hero needs help.” Glinda offered. Delgen stepped under the barbarian and grumbled something about stone, Leomourn stood behind his paramour and braced the spade of her back. The three struggled still with the cog, until Amarella called upon her inner strength and the spirits of her ancestors supported her endeavor. Her muscles burst against her restraints and her armour groaned in protest and she pushed harder this time gripping finger marks into the primodial stone cog. The door behind was revealed.
The trials within the Temple were many and protracted, they shall be recorded elsewhere. This yarn shall continue in one of the last rooms of the temple. This was a large square room with four doors and one chest.
The group clambered into the room and brushed off their tunics. They reached a vast, empty room whose architecture suggested a room of great importance. Scanning the room for any sign of life their eyes fell upon the an ancient, ornate chest situated inn the center of the room. However, from the shadows a seven-foot metal being plodded toward the chest accompanied by the clanging of grinding metal. The fearsome being bore an odd symbol carved in the steel plating of the thing’s forehead and long, vicious two-handed war-hammer slung across its broad shoulders.
Leomourn let out a shocked gasp, “It’s a bernard!”
“No, you fool, that thing’s a Warforged,” cried Amalyn as she raised her hands in preparation for battle, “They were created long ago by a mad wizard. He sought to craft a superior race of constructs that could function with independence and intelligence.”
“Let me guess,” Darella said, “They rebelled against their master?”
“Well I didn’t say he was a smart wizard…”
Suddenly a rotund, scarlet-haired dwarf be swathed in alchemical reagents and magical trinkets bounded out from behind the construct. Brandishing a small wand the dwarf advanced on the party as a vicious smile slowly spread across his face.
“What do we have here, Sully? Looks like a band of thieves here to take our treasure.”
At the sound of the mysterious dwarf’s voice, Delgen pushed his way to the front of the party. The normally unflappable cleric’s face was now etched with confusion and fear. When the two dwarves locked eyes time seemed to stand still.
“Heimdall.” Whispered Delgen, more a lost breath escaping in the sound of a name than a proper word.
“The bernard is called Heimdall?” Leomourn asked.
“They must be the other team trying to get the book.” Amarella said to her sister, “Remember the djinni told us we weren’t the only ones he tasked with obtaining the book.”
Heimdall’s beady eyes flashed with white-hot anger. “Father,” he spat out the word as if it was the foulest curse one could utter and though his eyes never left Delgen’s he addressed the rest of the company, “If you associate yourselves with this traitor and pariah then you are to fall just as he. If not, step out of my way.” The young dwarf said, producing a small axe in one hand and an ornate and odd looking wand in the other.
“Heimdal, step down! Ungriim.” Growled Delgen.
“I do not listen to you anymore, Uruk. You have twice cursed the clan of Shardhammer, perhaps more! Zaki Wutroth! Dolemite told me what happened that day you abandoned us.” The Dwarf said first touching the horn hanging from his waist, then glancing at his companion.
“Damn what they told you, boy. Dolemite is a bumbling idiot with nothing but the Clan seat on his mind. His aim was to bring our clan to it’s knees and then Skuf in the Thindrongol. You know not of the truth, pertaining to me or that day!” Delgen said.
“The Moot is always right and just, you got was was deserved. They made the right choice, when they carved your name into the Dammaz Kron. Do you even know what happened to us, what happened to your clan after you left? What happened to me! What happened to mother?” Heimdal said, a tear welling in his eye.
“I was exiled! I was not allowed to see you or the Hollow! When I finally came back it was razed! I looked for you and your mother, but to no avail. I have suffered more than you will ever know boy. Now stand down, I say again.” Delgen said.
“They killed all of them, those Bak-Arglars. I ran to mother who was with Dolemite who had already fallen valiantly staving off the attacks of our enemy. She was over his body, weeping the loss of a true Tromm. I looked off over the Hollow and saw my clansmen fall at the hands of our Urks. I heard my mother scream and saw three flayers advancing upon her, I had no other choice. I blew the Gjallarhorn, the Rorkaz brought down the very foundations of the Kazad around us, killing the enemy along with our own. I thought I was dead! I was the only one to walk from that tragedy that night. And what of you? where you on the surface cavorting and drinking? I am ashamed to be called the Zon of an Unbaraki, oath-breaker!” Heimdal said, as he and the metal being attacked the group.
There was a maelstrom of striking and weapon against flesh and bone. The party was upon the two like wolves. Darella running directly to the chest in the center of the chamber opening its lid only to reveal a ladder that emerged with such force that she had to jump back to save her face from being taken off and away as it ascended towards the ceiling relentlessly. She then jumped upon it and rode it on it’s journey ever upwards.
“Down!” Delgen said as he smashed the knee of his son dropping him to the ground.
“The Moot Lied! Dolemite lied to you, and you are a fool to have believed any of them!” Delgen said as he smashed the boy’s face in with the morningstar made of volcanic stone. A small whimper was heard amongst the flotsam of combat as blood spilled from the red-dwarves’ face upon the dustclad stone floor. The others were upon the metallic being like ravenous beasts ready to rip apart its prey.
“Enough! I yield! Just stay your men, the Forged is mother!” Heimdal said on one knee holding his face with one hand and putting up the other in an open palm, having dropped his weapons.
“Halt!” Delgen said, glancing back at his companions with a fire in his eye that none of them had seen before. Fueled by the reopening of this ancient and most dire wound that he had until this day thought had perhaps closed and was hidden away with years of scarring. His friends could have sworn that there was also tears crawling down his face leaving a glistening trail on the dust ridden cheek bones of the stoic dwarf, but they were to not ever ask or mention this minutia.
“Leave us!” The dwarf said, pointing to the presently disappearing feet of Darella up the ladder that had gone through the ceiling of the chamber through a trap door that opened as the ladder approached.
“I want the horn!” Leomourn said as he jogged past the dwarves, pointing at the Gjallarhorn with a wink.
The group poured through the door into the last and final chamber of the Temple of Substantiation. The room was spacious with deep crimson walls dimly lit by four crackling torches that stood as sentinels in the time-neglected chamber. The air in the room was stale and stagnant. The smell of rotting stone crept into their nostrils as tiny tendrils gripping their attention.
“Did I mention that we have to find the Lut Gholein and exit the temple before the sun rises again.” Glinda said as they jogged down a corridor.
“Or else?” Darella asked.
“We would be trapped in the temple until the next black sun.” The half-orc said.
“When is the next one?” Amarella asked lighting the way.
“Some of the Ayatollah calculate 320 years some say 319, taking the lost day every year into consideration.” Glinda said holding her mace as it crackled with raw energy.
“An altar!” Leomourn said as he crossed a small wooden bridge that gave passage over a dried up river that had seemingly ran through this chamber many years ago.
Just as the archer’s feet bothered the dust on the small trestle there was a sound that echoed within the room like the groaning of a titan. The sound of stone upon stone was heard as the top of the “altar” was pushed aside by an unseen force. A dried and ancient hand grasped the lid from inside the altar, and out stepped a large figure bringing the lid along using it as a shield. The tall entity motioned its right hand in a circular fashion and the dust and sand in the room all gathered at it’s palm and took the form of a khaki coloured sword, made of ever shifting sand.
“Uh-oh.” Leomourn said retreating while pulling his ever-leaking bow from behind his shoulder.
“Guys?” The archer inquired.
“Ten-Ap. The first. It is such an honour.” Glinda said looking upon the large being.
“Who?” Leomourn said, looking over his shoulder as he knocked an arrow.
“Ten-Ap the first Medjay. He was called Rhadamanthus in life and he lead the rebellion against the Red-King. Ten-Ap and his twelve companions defeated the Red-King and hid the Codex of Moirai in this temple. They together placed all the tests in this temple to insure that only the worthy would be able to touch the book.” The now kneeling Glinda said.
“What does the Durveda say about this room?” Darella asked.
“It says: A true warrior writes his own path using his heart.” Glinda said.
“What could that mea-” Leomourn started.
“It’s in his chest! We must defeat him to get the book!” Amarella screamed.
Before Glinda could voice her disagreement the large mummified king advanced upon them, and they unleashed all of their resources upon the foe. After a time of battling their foe, the cleric walked in the doorway.
“Away fellbeast! Ego te absolvo in nomine Patris-totalis! The power of Moradin compells you!” Delgen screamed, brandishing the symbol of Moradin bursting into the chambers, the flames casting light upon the dwarf. There was a mithril encrusted horn that now hung from his belt. The mummy lord just looked at the cleric as its desiccated lips pulled back in a mock smile, having not felt mirth in centuries.
“Hold on.” Delgen said turning the relic around then blowing upon it and then rubbing it on his sleeve.
“I shall kill it with fire!” Amalyn screamed. Her arms instantly became sheathed in long writhing tentacles made entirely of flames. She began to attack the King, lashing out wildly. The flames that were her arms leaving wide arcs of yellow parabolas in contrast to the dark room in the air. The flame-whips not seemingly to ever reach their target, only cutting the air crackling as it burned the dust still left in the chamber. The rampant calligraphy of her lashing keeping the foe at bay not unlike a lion tamer in the many wandering circuses that roamed the land in the colder seasons.
After a time of further battle the king fell to one knee dropping his shield and sword.
“I have defeated him!” Amalyn said, letting her flame-arms fall to the ground the excess fire bundling at her feet like two ropes aflame.
Ten-Ap put his hands to his chest and seemingly pressed his fingers to his sternum. He pulled them apart, revealing his open chest. The antiquarian muscle and skin pulled back like a double gated portal made of nearly rotten flesh.
“The Book!” Leomourn said.
Glinda approached the fallen foe and reached into the First’s chest. She brought the book out into the dim torchlight. The ancient tome was bound in what seemed to be leather at first sight, but upon second glance it appeared to be made of some alien substance that pulled at the voyeur’s sanity.
“I must reveal to you that my sole mission in coming to this temple was to insure that this book never leaves this sanctified place and I will, without second thoughts kill any one of you if attempt to come between me and my intentions.” Glinda said, tightening her grip upon her mace.