At twilight’s end,
the shadows crossed
A new world birthed,
The elder lost
Five days marching brought the party within a single day of holy Mt Kutu. As they camped the night before, Ajakall told them that the mountain was once occupied by a group of small miners who angered it, so it consumed them in a great fire and smoke. As holy ground, only the priestesses and their protectors were permitted to tread upon it, though no such laws applied to foreigners. After he led them to the mountain, their guide would not be able to go with them.
Sunset grew closer as everyone neared the final ridge between them and Kutu. Ajakall whispered some small prayer to his gods before tackling the cliff ahead of them, lowering a rope for those less adept once he had reached the summit. Once everyone was at the top they could see a large encampment of ogres outside the southern entrance to the mine and guarding the path to the summit. They appeared to be under the command of a black armored figure who emerged from the mine to inspect their ranks.
Ajakall had judged their arrival so that the setting sun would be at their back, the better to keep those below from spotting the adventurers. As it sank lower, the shadow of the mountain the party stood up and its neighbor stretched until the crossed for but a moment about 300 yards below a glistening, sulfurous lake on the western face of the mountain. Fai’lon’s words came to them again… “At twilights end, the shadows crossed” and feeling the weight of destiny upon their shoulders they marched down under the cover of darkness to the indicated spot avoiding the sight of the lax ogre guards.
They discovered a crack leading down into an old, dry lava tube, and Ajakall refused to proceed any further. The party thanked him, and promised to meet back up with him when they were done, before heading down into the heat.
The tube led to a room with some sort of gnomish contraption meant to take water from the lake above and use the lava to convert it to steam and transport it deeper within the mountain’s core. It was guarded by the Remnant of an ogre, which they promptly dispatched. Gidgit was able to flood the tubes that extended over the river of hot lava, cooling them enough that they were safe to pass over and activate another machine on the other side to extend a bridge. Before they continued on he made sure to break and scavenge the steam machine for parts.
They entered a maze of old tunnels, but followed always the pipes that stuck to the bottom of the passage. The place was not as hot as in the lava chamber, but still sweltering. They met a patrol in the tight confines, but were able to dispatch it without too much trouble.
Soon they found a door which opened and revealed a pitiful sight. A dwarf had been strapped to the operating table, his cranium removed and a pair of electrodes ready to deliver mild shock to the exposed brain. A machine mounted on the ceiling pumped a steady stream of alchemy into the wretch’s veins, keeping him alive but seemingly in incredible agony. At the sound of voices he began to strain at the leather straps, trying to thrash and letting out animal like grunts.
Seshana seemed to be taken aback for a moment, perhaps seeing in this dwarf some echo of her friend Mardack, also dead at the hands of Dr. Cutter. Her eyes soon hardened, and she nodded to Aust, speaking a prayer to Quenesti Pah to send his soul on its way as he was put out of his misery.
Sensing danger must be close, Aust and Ameko scouted ahead, coming upon a short, gnomish figure vigorously waching his hands in a wash basin. Recognizing Dr Cutter from the vision of Mardack’s death, Aust crept silently up behind him, but something alerted him and he turned, starting at the strangers within his lab.
He quickly raised his hands above his head and proclaimed “I surrender!” Aust, outraged, took a swing with his sap anyway, but the gnome backed away just in time. The gnome began to tell them about his dream for a perfect world ruled not by brutes with swords but by intelligent, cultured men. The guild masters had thrown him out for ethics violations when his experiments were discovered, but took them for their own profit none the less. It did not matter, with his new backers he would surely engineer a new, better world where superstition was supplanted by science and men were truly masters of nature. For progress, some sacrifices must be made.
Most had already joined the three of them by then, except Slivet, who remained in the Operating Room, curious to see the mechanisms of the alchemy machine. Vadania took special offense to the comment about nature, arguing that the world would always win in the end. Dr Cutter proclaimed that by his science this very mountain was turned to useful purpose. Just as the argument was getting really heated, a strong tremor shook the mountain and threatened to throw everyone to the ground.
“That strong of a tremor should not be possible!” yelled the mad gnome “What have you done to the E.M.R.A.C.I.M. ? You fools! You’ve destroyed us all!” The tunnel began to collapse and the gnome turned to flee to safety. Everyone followed his prudent example. Though Vadania was able to call upon Chislev to calm the tremor for a short time, it was too late for Slivet, who had been buried in the first few moments. Both Vadania and Gidget tried to go back for him, but finally gave up, nearly perishing themselves when the collapse caught up to them just short of the next chamber.
The exhausted, portly gnome gasped for breath on the floor while Aust, Kendle, and Ameiko set to digging out Vadania and Gidget. Once the party was re-united Dr Izid (as he was properly known) stated that he needed to get to the E.M.R.A.C.I.M.’s central tower to repair the stabilizers before the whole mountain went, and suggested they put aside their differences for the time being in favor of avoiding certain death. More tremors shook the mountain, threatening additional collapse, and the party agreed.
Soon after they had set out they came upon a number of remnants in another magma chamber. The Doctor attempted to command them to stand down, but they did not heed him, instead flying into a fearsome rage. The gnome yelped that they had not had their “loyalty implants” installed yet, and as he hid behind Aust, told the elven warrior to “Go ahead, deal with them then.”
The brave adventurers did dispatch the creatures, and Izid wondered how they had gotten free of their cells, but had no time to ponder the question before they hurried on. As they passed over a series of bridges, the Doctor spotted the black armored figure from before and shouted that they were on their way to deal with the E.M.R.A.C.I.M., but that in the meantime Okela should evacuate everyone they could from Mt Kutu…. The figure nodded and pressed onward to carry out the orders.
In the central chamber they found the E.M.R.A.C.I.M., a colossal contraption that rose, like a tower of steel, from the magma. It was two floors, the lower containing steam powered turbines that regulated the pressure of the volcano and channeled the excess geothermal energy into electricity that leapt from spires on the second floor into the blue crystal Aegis, charging it for some unknown purpose. The bolts seemed weak, and something had heavily damaged the tower, rupturing steam pipes and shattering gears. The mangled bodies of the gnome operators and the Okelan guards littered the floor around it.
They also found another escaped test subject, a chimera with one head lobotomized and both wings disabled. Even thus disabled, it looked to be a fearsome opponent, and Dr Izid asked the party to hold it off while he and Gidgit focused on fixing the E.M.R.A.C.I.M.. The two gnomes worked feverishly, impressing each other with their technical mastery. Matters became even more complicated when more Remnants arrived, and Dr Izid saw his chance to escape his captors. He threw a concealed pellet to the floor near Gidget that released a gas to make him extremely nauseous, and activated the emergency defense mechanisms, dropping a portcullis to block pursuit from the rest of the party. As they fought on he escaped in a lift to the second level and fled.
Having dispatched their enemies, the group waited for Gidget to recover enough to perform a bypass and let them in. He believed that between his and Izid’s repairs they had bought enough time to escape, but nothing could stop the immanent eruption now.
They also took the lift to the second level, and stood before the pulsing Aegis. The lightning had died, and Seshana felt drawn to touch the glowing crystal. As she did she felt a presence within, and the rest of the party touched it as well. The unborn being assured them that it had accepted it’s fate, and knew that it would soon be destroyed. It then bestowed it’s boon upon the party, healing and restoring to them their spells. They were also given an instinctive knowledge of how to escape the collapsing tunnels of the mountain.
They followed the path and emerged into a box canyon just ahead of flowing lava. There were columns of stone that jutted 15 feet into the air, like stubby stone fingers. At the same moment, an iron monstrosity broke through a wall of the canyon. Dr Izid’s voice sounded distant as it came forth from his custom built Battle Suit Mk VIII
He raged, “You’ve ruined my work! If I will not live to see the birth of the perfect world, neither shall you!”
The battlefield kept shrinking as more and more lava poured into the canyon, and the Battle Suit enabled the meek Doctor to become a fearsome opponent. Ribbon like blades and flamethrowers could not match the valour of heroes, and the contraption was defeated, sinking to one knee and bowing its head as though in prayer. Dr Izid attempted to eject, but the mechanism had been damaged in the battle, and it jammed.
Ajakall appeared on the top of the box canyon’s cliffs and lowered a rope for everyone to climb. While Gidgit attempted to free the doctor from his own contraption, to no avail. The lava grew closer by the moment, and the older gnome reached through the small gap and pulled Gidget close, whispering one final piece of advice. “Fear is the death of the intellect! Never hesitate to do what must be done…. Now go.”
As Gidgit climbed up the cliff to safety, Izid called up to the rest. “You’ve stopped nothing. My work was a success. What has been learned cannot be unlearned. My death means nothing! The old world is lost, and the new will be birthed from the ashes!” he mocked, unknowingly echoing the words of the prophecy.
Even as the lava reached the battle suit’s feet, the Doctor’s last words were defiant “I wish there were a hell, so I could see you in it!” His mocking laughter turned to agonized screams as the lava flowed into the suit and then trailed away to nothing.
The party fled the erupting mountain, following Ajakalls sure steps through the night for more than an hour before collapsing from exhaustion in a place of safety. They did not even bother to set a watch.
Hours later Aust stirred, hearing some faint sound on the wind. The night sky was still red from the light of Mt Kutu’s fury, washing the stars away. Ready for trouble, he rose and silently crept to investigate. He soon made out the sound of humming, and found Seshana, looking troubled. She sat with her legs dangling over a sheer cliff, looking at the bright, starless sky, thinking of how they had killed the dwarf who lay on Izid’s operating table and wondering if Mardack had suffered the same.
She began singing an old elven song, that dated back to the days of the Kinslayer Wars, the Tragedy of Eliar and Liirana. When she had finished Liirana’s part, Aust announced his presence by singing the part of Eliar. She smiled at his effort and thanked him, because she said it would be a shame to leave a song unfinished, even such a sad song as that. Aust saw great pain in her eyes, but also great strength, and asked her what was wrong.
“Mardack’s memory weighs heavily on my mind…. Sometimes it doesn’t take a lifetime to love someone, just one moment seeing them as they truly are.”
She told the other elf about her silly dream of wanting to see the old world, like the tower of the Sun in Ansalon. Aust promised to help her get there once they had taken care of Okela, and said that sometimes, crazy dreams were all they had, which set her to thinking again.
Hesitantly, she shared her thoughts and feelings….
“Do you want to hear something crazy? When we were in Vallia’s dream… I couldn’t breath, I thought I was going to die there, alone. But then, as my life was slipping away, I saw you, and I was happy. I feel like I can always depend on you to be there for me Aust. I don’t want to die alone… Can you promise to stay with me?”
“I will do my best.” He promised.
They shared a moment of silent companionship, each waiting to see what the other would do.
The moment passed, and Seshana rose, saying that she should return to her bed for the night. Aust escorted her through the woods before returning to his own.