22/04/10 – The Arena
There is dust on the ground and the tang of blood in the air

The party is standing on a rising circular platform, watching as above them a gap in the ceiling begins to expand. It is hard to know when they first become conscious of it, but with the gap growing wider and the platform higher, sound begins to be heard from the world above, a ferocious, all encompassing noise, like a raging river or the wind blowing a gale. As the expanding mechanism locks, as the platform rises to meet it so neatly that you can hardly see the crack, the noise resolves itself into a wall of baying voices, their words indecipherable but their message clear. There is dust on the ground and the tang of blood in the air. The companions have entered the arena.

They are standing in the middle of a wide circular space, bordered by high stone walls. Above the walls they can see the stands, full to the brim with bloodthirsty spectators, and at one point atop the wall is luxurious looking tent, its form deliberately conspicuous and its occupants just as deliberately hidden. Looking back to ground level, they can see four dragon statues evenly spaced around the arena, carved so that they glower with malevolence. And they can see what everyone can see, the focus of this spectacle, six figures locked in battle. An elf stands in the centre of a group of five gladiators, the floor of the arena is littered with bodies whose garb resembles hers. Azura calls to her, “Sister, what has happened here?” The elf turns in surprise at her voice, but she has no time for long explanations. “Help me!” she says, then turns back to the fight, firing off an attack and injuring two of the gladiators. But they are still advancing, all five closing in around her.

Azura swings into action. A swarm of insects clouds the air around the head of the nearest gladiator, biting him freely about the face and neck. In anger he turns, leaving the elf he runs at Azura, who searches vainly for some concealment on the arena’s desolate surface. She considers hiding behind one of the dragon statues, but with no time to reach them, and the justifiable feeling that they may be more than just statues, she instead turns to meet her enemy head on.

Stout runs to her aid, but misses, and her anger at her own incompetence grows. The gladiator swipes at Azura, who hisses in fury and stamps her foot. The ground beneath her splits and the gladiator howls in pain as a jagged crack snakes below his feet and lava scorches his legs. He turns and runs towards the nearest dragon statue, and for a moment all Azura’s fears seem about to be confirmed. But Stout, screeching curses so foul they may not be repeated, charges at the gladiator, swings her axe and is overjoyed to feel the blow connect, and the iron bite heavily into her enemies flesh. Now almost too weak to stand, a final attack from Azura flies over Stout’s shoulder, and the Gladiator drops like a stone.

Even as Azura was worrying that the dragon statues might conceal some secret menace, on the other side of the arena Texh and Oriana were seeing that fear come to life. Moments after Azura had summoned the first swarm that enraged her nearest gladiator, Texh had sprinted towards the two furthest gladiators, who were standing by another of the dragon statues, both armed with tridents and nets. Texh unsheathed his two swords, their blades flashed in the sunlight, but his first strokes went awry. In response one of the gladiators drove his trident through Texh’s foot and into the ground, pinning him to the spot. Seeing Texh in trouble Oriana charges over, snarling, and sinks her teeth into the gladiators arm. He howls in pain, and while he is distracted Texh manages to free his foot, then swings his swords upwards as one, slashing deeply at his chest. The gladiator falls, dead, to the ground.

But as Oriana and Texh look up in triumph they see that the cold stone eyes of the dragon statue have been turned to face them. They just have time to notice the second gladiator, not mourning his companion but grinning manically as he operates some mechanism at the statue’s rear, then suddenly the world is filled with flame. Oriana manages to dodge the stream of fire shooting from the dragon’s mouth, Texh is not so lucky. But his scorched limbs only give him more incentive to prevent the gladiator from firing again, and the two companions quickly converge on the lone gladiator and take him out before he fires another shot.

Meanwhile in the centre of the arena, Wry and Dugery are dealing with the final two gladiators, who are still locked in battle with the lone elf. Wry runs over and begins a charm offensive; he flirts with the elf magnificently, and goads the gladiators with ease. But unfortunately he seems to have a little trouble actually, you know, hitting anybody. Dugery, watching from a safe distance, sighs with amusement and frustration and keeps firing, now bolts from his magic crossbow, now vials of healing admixture to stop Wry’s flailing from getting him killed.

At this point we shift perspective, and see the world through the eyes of these final two gladiators. Until now they have been too absorbed in their own battle to take much notice of those going on around them, but at this point they look up, and see warriors advancing on them from all sides. On the right is Oriana growling menacingly, and Texh battered but grimly determined. From the left comes Stout, ecstatic that she actually managed to hurt somebody, and Azura fierce in defense of her kin, tail lashing to and fro. They see Dugery firing healing and hurt in equal measure, and are startled as Wry, whose foppish antics had been the stuff of ridicule, suddenly begins to do damage. But most terrifying of all is the elf, Fuoca, who has watched her friends die in this dreadful arena, and now the tables have turned. She is vengeance personified.

Where did these gladiators come from? Have they too, at some point in the distant past, ascended fearfully on a rising platform into a dusty world of violence and death? Have they lived since that moment in constant fear that this day would come, when they would be beset and bested by a superior foe? In these last moments, as memories of previous battles with different endings come rushing back, enveloping them like a thick and choking fog, can they have seen their deaths coming? Known who struck the final blows? Can their deaths, in the end, have been anything but a relief?

As the last of the gladiators falls, the cheering from the crowd increases. Although the companions loathe these bloodthirsty animals, the exaltation in their cries seems to sing in their blood, and the party stands triumphant. But then, above them, they hear the beat of wings. The arena goes dark for a moment, as something flies across the sun. The companions look up and watch as through a miasma of howling winds and swirling dust, a silver dragon lands on the ground before them.

The dragon lands gracefully and with a ground shaking thump. It screeches, it breathes a blast of cold wind that chills each companion to the marrow. Each member of the party, now terrified, already exhausted, searches within themselves for the last of their strength. Stout, Wry and Oriana charge at the dragon which, despite its size, writhes as nimbly as a snake, evading their blows and seeming little injured by even the deadliest of their strikes. Azura’s summons her hawk, the ground bristles with Dugery’s fiendish contraptions, and yet the dragon still lays about it with deadly accuracy, swiping with its claws and freezing the companions with the malevolence of its glare. In desperation, Fuoca tries to teleport the dragon to a weaker position, but succeeds only in bringing it closer to her. Azura runs to one of the dragon statues and attempts to fight cold with fire, but is unable to engage the controls. Then, when all seems lost, Texh sneaks up behind the dragon and strikes at its back with his fearful killing blow, know as the Jaws of the Wolf. The dragon feels Texh’s blade biting deep, and blood running down towards its tail. It takes flight, then hovers above the arena. The dragon looks at each of the party in turn; they brace themselves for another attack. But instead the dragon lowers its head and dips its wings, it bows, and then it flies away. The companions look at each other in confusion, but the head of the spectators turn as one to the floating tent. A hand emerges from the shadowy entrance, fingers clasped, thumb extended to the side. It pauses a moment. Then the wrist turns, the thumb is raised, and the companions know that the fight is finally over. The reasons behind the fight, and their kidnap, and the true provenance of the elven stranger they have rescued are, like the figure in the tent, still shrouded in shadow.

11/04/10 - Kidnapped!
The proper adventure begins, finally.

DND Journal

One by one the party awoke, blindfolded and bound at the hands and feet. Some had no idea how they had come to be here, just a memory of a brief stinging sensation and a sudden blackness. Others remembered watching helplessly as their companions collapsed, wordless, to the ground, before darkness overcame them as well.

Wry is the first to act, managing to shuffle his way over to the next prone body, Stout, then maneuvering his blindfold into position near her hands, so she can remove it. He sees his companions about him, bound, in a smallish room with stone walls. Everyone’s belonging have been taken, including all their armour and weapons. Wry frees himself from his bonds, then helps the others to do the same.

The door to their prison is solid looking, and locked. Pan orders Tink to fly into the lock mechanism and manipulate it from within. Her ministrations are successful, and the door swings open. Running in front of the cell is a hallway, at the end of which can be seen a pair of booted feet, which are attached to an unconscious guard. The party searches him but finds no weapons or identification, so steps over him and continues down the passage.

They come to a medium size room with high ceilings. Two tall and menacing sets of armour lean against the walls to the left and right, each with a long sword grasped in its gauntleted hand. There is a door in the wall ahead and on the floor in the centre of the room is a small bag. Opening it they are surprised to discover that, despite its size, it contains all of the party’s weapons and armour. “A Bag of Holding!” they exclaim in wonder. Once they have all put on their armour, and once they have managed to stop Pan climbing in and out of the Bag for fun, they turn to leave. At that moment, the suits of armour come to life, moving as one they heft their swords and swing them into an attack position.

The ensuing fight is swift and decisive, with most of the party performing well. Stout is the notable exception, she flails wildly but does not manage to land a single blow. It should be noted that while being clumsy enough not to hit anything, she is also nimble enough not to be hit herself, but this doesn’t do much to salve her wounded pride. However, the most important thing is that the fight is soon over, and with a minimum of damage to anyone not entirely composed of metal.

The companions continue on, out the door and down a hallway into a gigantic circular room. In the centre of the room, marked on the floor is a broad circle. Within it are the symbols of four gods, each associated with one of the four elements, Earth, Air, Fire and Water. Evenly spaced around the wall are four doors, each also bearing an element symbol. After examining the symbols and the room for awhile, Pan opens the door marked with the Air symbol. Behind the door darkness falls like a veil. Light from the large room does not expose anything of what lies beyond the door, and any object that passes through the doorway immediately disappears into the impenetrable blackness. Pan is the first to go through the doorway, and he calls back that once you pass through the blackness, the room ahead becomes visible. He is standing on a platform, attached to which is a length of thick wire, which stretches tautly straight ahead and then disappears into another wall of darkness. Below the wire lies more darkness, with the disquieting feeling of unknowable depths.

Azura is the first to try her luck on the wire. She claws her way onto and across this and each of the three subsequent wires without too much trouble, and the first three times she passes through the blackness she finds herself on a new platform, attached to which is another length of wire stretching off into the darkness. Pan manages to follow Azura onto the first and second platforms, but falls attempting to reach the third. The rest of the party, who prudently remained on the platform near the door, hear him scream as he falls, and for a moment all mourn the loss of their cheery and fearless companion. Then from somewhere high above them they hear an answering scream, and suddenly Pan tumbles into view, narrowly missing other member of the party as he falls hard onto the stone floor. He jumps up, shakes his head from side to side and says “Weeeeeee!”, then has to be physically retrained from heading off after Azura again. Moments later she has reached the final platform, which juts out from a stone wall, set into which is yet another Air symbol. Azura touches the symbol and it glows blue. Sensing that this means she has passed the test, Azura begins to make her way back to the others, and almost reaches them safely, but a momentary loss of grip while attempting to reach the second platform swiftly deposits her back amongst her companions. She lands with a catlike grace (understandably) but is still shaken by the experience.

Returning to the larger room, the party finds that the air symbol on the floor is also glowing blue. They decided to tackle the Earth door next, and stepping through the blackness they find themselves in a small room, empty except for a table, on which sits a puzzle with simple rules and a difficult objective. Each member of the party attempts to solve the puzzle in turn until, while watching Stout’s thick fingered fumbling, Wry suddenly sees the solution. As expected, solving the puzzle causes the Earth symbol in the floor to glow, and buoyed by their success the party now feels brave enough to tackle the room marked Fire.

Behind this door they see a hallway leading to an open space with a signpost in the centre. The companions move towards the signpost, with Oriana, Pan and Wry at the front. As these three near the signpost, a wall of flame springs up behind them, separating them from the rest of the party.

Suddenly alone, the three begin to examine the space around them. They can see that the signpost has four arms, three of which point to corridors ranching away from this central area, and the fourth point back to way they came. The arm of the signpost pointing back towards their companions is labeled Frustration, the one to the left says Confusion, to the right is Danger, and straight ahead, Victory. At the end of each passage, crackling and casting sinister shadows, are three more walls of flame.

Pan wonders allowed if the walls of flame might not be like the walls of darkness with which they have now become familiar. Maybe these walls will also disappear once you have moved through them. To test this theory he moves away from the signpost and charges straight down the corridor towards Victory. However, as soon as he begins to move, the head of the signpost begins to rotate, and the second before he hits the wall of flame, it comes to rest. The arm pointing at the corridor has moved down now reads Danger, and, perhaps unsurprisingly, its wall of flames turns out to be distinctly flammable. On the other side of the wall Pan drops to the ground and rolls, he hurries to remove all his armour and clothing, and then piles it up and pisses on it, to douse the flames. He re-dresses, then examines the space he has found himself in. The walls either side of him are identical to those on the other side of the flames, and ahead of him is a third wall, equally bare. A dead end.

Meanwhile, back at the signpost, Wry and Oriana are studying the mechanism attached to the rotating head, and the area around the based of the post. With some arcane insight and a bit of trial and error, they were able to establish that the floor around the post was pressure sensitive, and the removal of weight from within this area would trigger the signpost and cause it to spin. Once Pan returned through the flames (mildly protected from a second scorching by his still damp clothes) the companions decided to split up, each moving simultaneously down one of the corridors not leading back to their friends. They set out, Wry towards Danger, Oriana Frustration, and Pan, once again towards Victory. This time, because they have been careful not to trigger the rotating mechanism, the flames disappear as Pan reaches them, and he find a now familiar Fire symbol waiting for him. Pan touches the symbol, and even as the other two swear and swat at their scorched limbs the flames behind them vanished, and the way back to their friends and the central chamber is once again clear.

The final room is clearly designed by the same twisted mind. This time it is four party members (Dugery, Pan, Texh and Wry) who are trapped away from the rest, in a sealed room that four fountains disguised as statues begin rapidly to fill with water. The four companions feverishly try to disable each of the statues, either magically, mechanically or with brute force. Eventually they are successful, but not before the water has risen to a level far above the halfling’s head, or before it has begun to swirl like the insides of a murderous, man-sized top loader. The Water symbol appears, and glows, and it is a relief to all that a near drowning seems to have washed some of the pungent urine smell out of Pan’s clothing.

Back in the large circular chamber, the companions are uncertain about what their next move should be. They have now tried all of the doors out of this room without finding an exit. Unable to think of a better option, but wary about triggering another trap, the party moves towards the centre of the room, where all four symbols are now glowing like beacons. Once the last member had stepped inside the circle there is a clank of machinery, the floor beneath them shifts, and the circle inexorably begins to rise. They look up and feel fresh air on their faces as above them a circular gap opens and widens, pulling them towards the next stage of their adventure.

To be continued.


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