…Just Offshore from Djamela’s Island.
Storm maneuvered the Astral Skiff right up to the dike surrounding Djamela’s Island. The dike protected the island from the Sea of Fire, but only just barely. Dulini’s research on Djamela had indicated the efreet had been a powerful chaos mage. He wondered why she had not created a stronger barrier against the lava waves pounding against the dike.
Storm Johnson gave the monk just enough time to step off the skiff before dropping out of sight. Seemed like a good idea, so Duilin scampered down off the dike on the other side, onto the black sand which seemed to make up much of the ground on Djamela’s Island.
Once in the shadow (and everything was shadow alongside the dike since the illumination came primarily from the Sea of Fire itself), Duilin was pretty sure he could make his way around the island without being spotted by the guards.
Those guards were a problem, however, as Storm Johnson had pointed out on the way in. Duilin’s research had led him to believe the only guards left on the island were left there by the forces of the City of Brass. When she was slain, those forces left behind the spectral guards and golems with which Djamela had populated her island fortress, especially in the obsidian tower which dominated the island.
As they had approached the island, Storm pointed out this discrepancy in Duilin’s research. While some of the Flame Shards which appeared to be guarding Djamela’s Island could have been remnants of that spectral force, some of the guardians appeared to be a new vintage: Githyanki swordsmen and some kind of demonic dwarves, as well as a Redspawn Firebelcher.
All of which seemed to confirm the rumors he had been sent here to investigate: Someone seems to have set up residence in Djamela’s old digs.
Perhaps they had even begun to replicate the research she was attempting: research so dangerous she was expelled from the City of Brass for starting it there, research so risky the other efreeti eventually hunted her down.
As he snuck closer to the guards, he realized they were under attack. Reasoning that the enemy of his enemies might be he friend, the monk rushed in to attack the Githyanki from behind.
Grigore Goldforge prepared for sleep with a mixture anxiety and anticipation. A long day left him exhausted and near the end of his resources. And the group he led was even closer their end. Grigore knew Garen was nearly dead on his feet. And yet sleep represented something to fear as well: Grigore’s rest had been disturbed of late; nightmares of some alchemist’s lab kept recurring; somehow, Grigore felt he was failing in dealing with the dreams.
Sam was the first one through the portal, but he instantly knew his chance for scouting was minimal: He came through on a 20-foot earthberg floating on a sea of lava.
And he was not alone. A shard of flame danced on the same piece of rock his portal occupied. And that was not all the guards he saw. Two githyanki had already spotted him and were drawing swords as they stood on a nearby island; two duergar hellcallers stood on other rocks floating in the lava sea; and the earthberg closest to the shore was blocked by a giant red lizard creature which seemed to be about as bothered by the hellish heat as the other guards.
In the distance, Sam could see a city which appeared to be made of brass glinting on the horizon, but he paid it little attention. Speeding between the startled guards, he somersaulted above the lava to land, balanced on his left hand, on the forehead of the lizard. Then he pushed off with his left hand, continuing his somersault to land on the shore of the island, where obsidian steps led up and over the dike which protected the island from the lava which crashed against it.
Flinging his Worm-Tooth Dagger to backstab the startled beast, the halfling managed to enrage the lizard even more.
Then he watched in dismay as Delis and Garen came through behind him, loosed some quick attacks, but did little else to get off their dangerous perches on the rock floating in lava.
When one of the hellcallers invoked Asmodeus’s Ruby Curse, the folly of this strategy was immediately revealed. The psychic damage caused by the fear this curse invokes was bad enough, but fleeing that fear caused the two heroes to slide right off the edge of the earthberg.
Both attempted to leap to another rock, but Sam could see that neither attempt was fully successful: Garen plunged into the lava, while Delis clung to the other rock well below the level the lava was splashing to.
Sam could see they were both in trouble, but he could only save one. He chose Delis as the more vulnerable. He pulled out his Guardian’s Whistle and teleported the elf out of the lava before she was hurt.
Garen took massive damage before he sprouted wings and flew to the shore.
In the dream, Grigore found himself once again searching the house of someone he was sure he was supposed to know. An apothocary or an alchemist. Or something. It all had something to do with a town his family had visited when he was young: the village of Hope’s Hollow.
Alexander had warned everybody that lava was much more dangerous than the Blood Chaos they were all more familiar with. Even so, Garen Bladerun was surprised by the amount of damage lava could do. He was on the brink of death almost as soon as his armor hit the lava.
As quickly as he could he called forth his wings (secretly hoping his actions had been sufficiently Bahamut-like since the last time he called on the powers of the Platinum Temple). Flapping those platinum wings firmly downward into the lava, the paladin surged into the air and flew to the shore, seeking nothing there more fervently than his Second Wind.
Then Garen joined the rest of his team in taking down the Redspawn Firebelcher and the Asmodeus-loving dwarves. This left the Githyanki free to attack them from the rear, but fortunately they had to watch their own rear, as an unidentified monk streaked out of the shadows to help them defeat the island’s first line of defense.
Something seemed wrong to Grigore…in his dream. The house he was searching seemed to be trapped. But he was sure it was the house of a friend, a traveling companion, a colleague. But he knew no one in Hope’s Hollow. The house was trapped, but some of the traps seemed wrong somehow. It was as if someone had been kidnapped and the traps were left behind by the kidnappers to thwart any rescue attempt from freeing the old alchemist. But some of the traps seemed to predate the kidnapping and some seemed to have been laid after the kidnapping.
In the beginning, Alexander Winterforged thought he needed to get off the earthbergs as quickly as possible. And he moved to do so. He knew that lava was a dangerous place to be.
As he worked his way to the shore, jumping from ’berg to ’berg, Alexander helped his friends take down a lizard that fought like a dragon without wings. Reminded him of a Redspawn Firebelcher he had fought once before. In the Temple Between, a place of great importance to his people, known to them as Mountainroot Temple.
Once that lizard went down, they turned their attention to the demonic dwarves who had pushed Delis and Garen into the lava. They had a trick, though: When hit at close range (a melee or a blast), they could call a minion to protect themselves. Those minions could pull a similar trick until finally one was able to dodge the attack.
Alexander realized somebody needed to go back out there and deal with them. He was pretty sure he was the best one equipped to deal with the vulnerabilities the hellish heat out there brought with it.
So, he jumped back onto the closest earthberg and started cutting down the hellguard minions. He was glad to see Sam take down the last with a dagger throw.
In his dream, Grigore felt like he was on the brink of something important. He had found a note, which did not make any sense. Somebody named Taergyn had been kidnapped and his friends were going to rescue him. But what was the note doing in the kidnap victim’s house? Grigore was sure he almost knew the answer. Then he decided to take a new approach: What would his uncle do? That was the question he asked himself.
Delis Erinthal was glad to be pulled out of the lava before it could do any damage, but Sam’s effort had put her right in the middle of the battle.
Not the elven ranger’s favorite place to be.
And the Githyanki guards had battlefield mobility that equaled — or even surpassed — Delis’s own. Not something she was used to dealing with. They were both able to use their telekinetic powers to jump from attack to attack without being touched by their opponents.
So, she was glad to see one of them reduced to using his fists when his sword broke early in the battle. He was still able to throw his opponents off guard by leaping into the fray, but his own attack did little, if any damage.
Delis shouted to a monk who had shown up to help, “We should concentrate on the Githyanki who still has a sword!” The monk seemed to agree. In fact everybody (except Zumos) was able to concentrate on the sword-wielding Githyanki once the dwarves and hellguards went down.
When that Githyanki went down under the onslaught, his friend with the broken sword managed to pick up the silver sword that was still intact. But his attacks were no longer coordinated with the other Githyanki guard, so the heroes were able to dispatch him as well.
Grigore remembered something his uncle had once told him about dreaming and the subconscious: “Only those who can look at their own hands in their dreams can truly be said to be in control of their subconscious thoughts.” Standing in Alchemist Taergyn’s house, Grigore slowly raised his hands in front of his face. Only they were not his hands! They were the hands of his uncle. He was his uncle…in the dream.
As soon as Zumos stepped through the portal, he knew what he had to do.
He had been practicing a particularly difficult pyromancy trick: True Masters of Flame can perform a Burning Transformation, turning themselves into a creature of fire.
Zumos doubted he would ever find a better chance to try out such a transformation for the first time than in the Sea of Fire, an ocean of volcanic lava in the midst of the Elemental Chaos. Even if it were to mean he could not transform back until after the battle was over.
And even if it meant he could not use any power that did not involve fire in some way.
Becoming as insubstantial as a flame, the wizard became difficult to damage. And impossible to damage by fire. This left the Flame Shards at a distinct disadvantage. Zumos’s fire attacks could somehow damage them, yet they could not get through to him. They still thought his fire attacks could not hurt them, but somehow the searing heat of his flames was able to pierce their defenses as if they had no resistance to fire at all.
He was limited in his attacks and eventually used them all up (especially in mopping up the hellguard minions spawned by the demonic dwarves). Then he hit on a devilish strategy of his own: He could dance past the flame shards, teasing them until they attacked him.
Each time they hit, however, his flames were untouched while theirs were burned.
Awakening from his dream, Grigore was able to write down the contents of the note he had found in the alchemist’s house, the house which must have belonged to a friend of his uncle, someone who was a long-time traveling companion of his uncle. For the first time in many days, Grigore felt fully refreshed upon awakening.
Duilin Silverfang was still unsure what to make of his new companions.
They claimed to know Storm Johnson, yet they were somewhat vague about what their connection to the stony warden precisely was. They seemed to be holding something back, yet Duilin found it hard to hold it against them: seemed almost unintentional.