The door of black brass was now open, and Riftdancer stepped cheerily through, disappearing into the darkness. The circle followed.
For a while, all that was heard was the click of metal shod boots against the brass and stone beneath. Then as a faint light appeared and intensified, the ground began to have more and more give. Soon the circle found themselves in a vast desert of black sand, with a green sun shining above. In front of them, perhaps half a mile away, a city of black sandstone rose up out of the desert, with ruins of ancient buildings scattered around it.
As they stood watching fountains of sand spew up into the air, Archer noticed a vulture far up in the air whose nose was twitching slightly. Sure enough it was Riftdancer, who flew down to meet the circle as they approached the gates.
Getting to the gates was not quite as simple as expected, though not difficult. The sands shifted and moved the heroes farther from the city and each other continually, so it took effort to reach the black city in the intense midday heat. Approaching the walls, carvings began to be visible on every surface, and carved gargoyles and sphinxes were visible adorning the walls. Beside the gates were carvings of two humanoid reptiles.
Surveying the reptilian carvings at the gate, Riftdancer suggested that they were alive. And again he flew off, this time to scout the city more closely. Then (having listening to the conversation and obtained as much information as it could) one of the reptiles threw back its hooded black cloak. The creature beneath was indeed a humanoid reptile, but to look at it hurt the eyes ... a kaleidoscope of colours moved and flowed as it shifted its stance. It greeted the heroes and welcomed them to Shestra. Travellers were few and far between, and they were invited inside to meet the queen, queen Alyxz. To enter though, they must needs swear fealty to the queen - a fealty that the city would enforce, or so the reptile informed them.
After a little discussion (and claiming to have rescued the queen before he realised it was the wrong queen!) Archer asked to speak to someone with a little more authority. Speaking through a hatch in the gate in a language of hisses and clicks, the reptile arranged for one of the city mages to be summoned. In minutes, a taller but thinner figure passed through the temporarily opened gate and threw back his cloak. Even more vibrant colours shone forth in the green sun, as he introduced himself as Karaxis and explained that this city was a construct of the legendary Twilights and Dawns, and that only through swearing fealty would any be safe inside its walls. Fealty could be revoked at will, but then they would have to take their immediate leave or face the wrath of the city.
Soon the characters were ushered inside, fealty sworn, towards a meeting with the queen. An entourage of blood apes surrounded Karaxis as they moved towards their audience.
The city looked intriguing. The outside of the buildings was drab black, with no sharp edges or corners, and the city design sloped up towards a central domed spire. But inside, walls and furniture were a riot of colour. Only the green one way glass shining through circular windows broke the kaleidoscopic patterns inside the buildings. The central spire was of course the palace and manse of queen Alyxz, who greeted the circle with respect but with little obvious assistance. She had a task for them however. Find the ones who had abducted two of her courtiers, and return them.
This they proceeded to do, travelling back down the great staircase inside the spire which both refreshed and cooled (and restored essence). Travrak, one of the queens courtiers, led them to the site of the first abduction. The inside of the house was as expected, though five shifting and strange implements formed a circle on the floor. Activating these, Archer was able to view what had happened ... how the victim was struck and paralysed and then carried off in the wind. At the second house the victim had been sleeping, and was struck. Green ichorous blood had flowed here.
Tracing the clues to the poorer part of town where the Faded Ones dwelt (reptiles who appeared red, with very little other skin colouration) the circle investigated. Then, in a narrow alley, they were ambused by Blood Apes! But whoever had arranged the ambush had underestimated them terribly, and soon five apes lay unmoving in pools of their own blood.
Jumping to the roof, Shada and Archer surveyed the surrounding neighbourhood. Something nagged at their minds, and then Archer realised - the entire section of city was a geomantic construct focusing on one house in the Northeast! Moving closer, well hidded sphinxes were found on the rooftops, eyeing the house hungrily.
The windows would not shatter and at first the door would not open, but as Shada (the Twilight) knocked on the door it swung open. Inside were two reptiles in brown cloaks with pulsating green gems imbedded into their torsos, while sorcerous markings overlay the doorway. As they began to chant, the circle charged in to attack. Flaming raptors flew through the air as the very bone marrow inside Shada turned to molten iron and the reptiles dodged the vicious blows aimed at them. Archer hit one several times, but each time it seemed to absorb the blow as motes of green energy formed and swirled around it. At last one of the shots disrupted its incantations, and the air exploded around it - breaking the windows, through which the sphinxes could now be seen. But the sorcery at the door still held them at bay.
Recovering from the battle, Archer and Shada began to hear faint chanting from below. Feeding essence into the floor, Shada gained a view of what was going on below - inside several circles, a large orb of green crystal pulsated with light as five sorcerers chanted around it in unison. As she watched, four large reptiles formed out of it and joined the blood apes waiting underneath a trapdoor visible only from below.
Opening the trapdoor with a great expenditure of essence, Shada burst through followed shortly after by Krod, while Archer released storms of arrows from above. The fight was furious, with shada jumping from reptile to reptile to skewer one of the sorcerers with a lightning fast strike as Archer's bolts fell like hail and Krod was incapacitated by the agony of his bone marrow turning to iron.
The end was quick, with a great shape taking form around the crystal shere and shattering it, then smashing through the roof as griffons and sphinxes pounced on it. In the conflagration, the final four sorcerors life essence was taken to fuel the creature's power.
At the last, as Shada carved the green emerald from the breast of one of the sorcerers and committed ritual suicide to remove the similar rougher gem she had placed in her own breast (Krod could not remove his) the essence she released into the room caused the crystal orb to re-form. And as the green gem was cut out of her, the green glow inside it was drawn inside the crystal ... which now shone with a very faint green light.
10 XP each
Interesting stuff! Are these Dragon Kings left over from the Primordial War? And what would servants of the Solar Exalted be doing in Cecelyne? Is there any truth whatsoever to their assertions? And when did Shada and Krod get implanted with these green gems? I must have missed that... - Quendalon
Glad you like it, Quendalon! These are a variant of the Dragon Kings, and as the players will almost immediately find out, they were guarding the cyrstal "heart" of Ligier. The heart is a physical manifestation of one of the bindings set on him after the war with the gods. And how were the green gems implanted? When the circle entered the warded house in the Faded district and killed the first two sorcerors, they found that the sorcerors had green gems implanted in their chests. Taking these out, they hung them around their necks (I think in hopes of using the brown cloaks and hidden gem to impersonate the sorcerors). The gems melted through their clothing and imbedded themselves in their chests! ^_^