Having found their way out of the Nether, the party found themselves deep underground in an ancient city. The architecture was strange to all of them, and despite their best efforts they could not recall anything that looked like what they now found themselves exploring. After an hour of wandering, the group was caught off-guard by a strange group of reptilian people in front of them.
“Stop! How did you three find this place?”
The three stopped and turned to find a party of five Dragonborn eyeing them cautiously from a distance back. Wander jumped immediately behind a pillar, peaking his head out only far enough to keep seeing these new imposing figures, while Criòs pulled his hood over his head in an attempt to conceal himself from the explorers. Auric, who had dealt with the Dragonborn before, approaches them in the cultural manner by which they are accustomed. He then explains the events that led to their unusual location, which seemed to calm the group down.
“Well, you lot seem to mean no harm, would you like to come with us? I’d be surprised if you managed to find your way out of this place without our help.”
“Sure,” said Auric, “but could you spare something to help us patch ourselves back together? We’ve been through a bit of an ordeal.”
A female with the standard gear of a cleric approached from the rear of the group and gasped at the sight of them. “Oh my! I’m so sorry, we should have taken care of that first. Please, let me help.”
After a brief rest, the newly merged group worked their way out of the ruins to the surface. A hot, arid wind met the three, which caught them off-guard as the Kinsine Foothills offered much more hospitable conditions than this. Criòs beings panicking as this environment is the exact opposite of what he is accustomed to as an elf. This leads to him wrapping his cloak around his face even tighter, but for protection this time more than secrecy.
A day of traveling finds the group at one of the rumored nomadic fortresses of the Dragonborn. As they entered the gates, one of the Talons they traveled with said to them, “Don’t bother trying to come back here after you leave. We’ll be long gone before you make it back to this place.” The Talon sneered at them, begrudgingly watching them enter through the door of his home.
The party is taken to the elder of the band, who greets the three cautiously, holding himself defensively until the nature and method of their arrival is explained. At the revelation of this new information, the elder perks up and looks curiously at the group.
“So you have made your way here by means of a sub-city portal? I have so many questions to ask but no way to phrase them without a long discourse of history behind each, which neither you three nor I have time for. So instead, could I ask a favor of you? There is an expedition leaving tomorrow to examine a different portal we uncovered in a different sub-city, and I would like for you to accompany them to compare it to what you have traversed.”
The three agree, both indebted by the hospitality of the Dragonborn and intimidated by the nebulous consequences of denying the request.
“Wonderful!” the elder says, grinning from ear to ear. “We’ll begin preparations immediately. Now that we have cleared that out of the way, is there anything you would like to ask of us? We do not have much to offer beyond the riches of knowledge but we will try to accommodate you as best as we can.”
Criòs steps forward, reaching into his satchel to withdraw the vial of binding ink and the charcoal rubbing of the strange language from the drug den. “Could you help us with identifying either of these? Both are things we have run across in our adventures and we are interested in learning more about them.”
The elder reaches out and grabs the vial of ink first, pondering its appearance and fluidity, then uncorks the bottle and wafts the scent towards his nose. “Hmm.” ponders the elder, “I have encountered this substance only once before, in a ruin we found some distance away. It seemed to have properties that allow it to bind objects to a different plane of existence. But beyond that, I cannot recall anything else. You might consider…”
Before he could finish his thought, his gaze lands on the blackened paper. “Quickly, let me see that!” he says, nearly tearing the paper from Criòs’ hand. “Ahh, yes. I see that I was right to choose to send you with the expedition. Where did you find this set of characters?”
Criòs, still surprised by the vigor of the elder responds, “We came across it in a bandit’s den outside of Brightstone. Does it mean something to you? Can you read it?”
The elder sighs, a bit sullen. “Sadly no. But this script has been etched all over many of the sub-cities up here. We hope that it has some connection to the origins of the structures since the rest of the carvings are just bare stone with naught a story to be told. The portal we are investigating appears to be formed with this same script. Maybe your experiences can help us to unravel the mysteries there. If that is all, please feel free to go rest, tomorrow will be arduous travel for you and it will be the best sleep you will get for a week.”
The party excuses themselves and make their way to the makeshift quarters that had been set up for them. Bright and early the next morning, the three were awoken by their expedition companions: two Talons, two Achivists, and a Cleric. The delivers all loaded into the wagons carrying a week’s worth of supplies and archaeological equipment and headed out across the Steppes. The day of traveling in the searing sun wore heavily on the party, especially the ill-suited Criòs, while hardly seeming to affect the reptilian companions.
Eventually the caravan wound its way down into a crevasse and the damp cold of a subterranean environment. As the walls seemed to close in, the crew reaches an alcove in the side of the winding path that offers enough space to set up camp. While getting situated, the Cleric says to the group, “Just wait until you see this thing. It’s just a little further down the path. It’ll blow your mind.”
The expedition rests for the night, or what can only be assumed the night in the dank darkness of a hole in a cave wall a few thousand feet below the surface. The Archivists produced orbs of light that mimicked the day/night cycle of the surface as the group descended into the depths. So at the pseudo-sunrise, the party is roused from their sleep to continue on for the first day of analyzing this mystery structure.
As the delivers round the final bend of the path, the crack in the earth suddenly opens into a gigantic cavern littered with a few small buildings. However, towering over these structures stands an imposing 75-foot tall door frame, similar to the portal frame the three adventurers exited the Nether through. The sheer size of the structure was enough to stagger the senses, but the amount of sygaldry etched into it, ancient as it was, shocked the minds of the party. Such vast amounts of effort went into the construction and detailing of the structure that it seemed to be a shame that the world was denied access by the tons of dirt and rock above.
“Alright,” started one of the Archivists, “We’re here to get as much information about this gate as we can. It will be a long time before we’re able to access this place again.”
Wander stepped forward and asked, “Why don’t we try to start it? We’ll have to clean the sygaldry anyway to get anything useful, might as well try to get some data from the inside.”
“Well, I suppose it is worth a try. We’ll gather notes and writing along with doing the best we can to prep this structure for activation. Let’s get to it!”
The whole of the expedition begins working to refurbish the decayed structure, spending the next three days attempting to get it in an operable state again. The Archivists, though doubtful of the success potential, start the activation process as they understood it for the massive gateway. The rest of the crew stands back, watching as this massive construct begins to sizzle and groan, the air gap within the framework beginning to fill with a brilliantly multicolored fluid.
Then, with a loud crunch, the portal deactivates, returning the cavern to its dull tones and low light. Hurriedly, the Archivists begin scribbling notes and slowly make their way back to the group, detailing out a new set of tasks to help improve the structure’s performance. The crew gets back to work, fighting through another three days of back and forth debate of the meaning and use of certain symbols and gritty work cleaning and refining the writing carved in ages ago.
Standing clear again, the two Archivists start their refined activation process. The gate roars to life, quicker than anyone expected. As the gate stabilizes, a dominating low growl issues forth from the gate, shaking more than just a little dirt from the carvers ceiling. Everyone immediately covers their ears as a voice so low as to barely be audible begins slowly speaking in an unrecognizable language.
Expressing his curiosity as only a rogue can, Wander aims his crossbow into the middle of the portal and lets loose a bolt. Auric sees this from the corner of his eye and is unable to do anything but watch in horror as his companion enacts aggression against something that quite literally could be anything.
The bolt sails through the air and silently passes through the portal. A moment later, a violent scream blasts into all of the expedition’s minds, which instantly liquifies one Archivist’s brain, reduces both Talons to sniveling children hiding in corners around the cavern, knocks the wind out of the three adventurers and physically maims the Cleric through biochemical reactions. The remaining Archivist manages to steel himself against the psychic onslaught long enough to deactivate the portal before more damage could be done. But as the portal collapses, a single crossbow bolt, iridescent with a crimson glow, launches back through the gateway and lodges itself in Wander’s chest, pausing only for a moment before the bolt integrates with his body.
Bloodied, the group tries to recover from the onslaught. Auric heals the Cleric, who in turn helps him patch up the others and restore the sanity of the two Talons. Criòs, furious at Wander for doing what he did, shoots him in the knee with a blunted arrow, dropping the cleric to the ground in deep agony.
“Do something stupid like that again and it won’t be such a friendly response.” Criòs adds as the Cleric comes over to help patch up Wander.
With a vast new collection of both wanted and unwanted knowledge, the expedition decides it’s time to head back. The expedition makes their way solemnly out of the cavern, back into the arid landscape of the Steppes, and back to the fortress to report their findings and losses. Though saddened by the loss of a member of the band, the elder was exhilarated by the new information and the encounter that the group had illicited.
“Thank you for accompanying the expedition, despite the results.” said the elder. “You did help a lot with the work there and we wouldn’t know what we do now if it wasn’t for you. There’s a caravan taking some trade goods down to the Kinsine Foothills here in a few weeks. I would be honored if you would work with us during the time, and perhaps you can learn some new skills as well.”
For the next two weeks, the party works alongside the Dragonborne, assisting them in their tasks. Wander and Criòs both help with hunting, learning new methods of stalking prey without being noticed, while Auric helps to fill the role of the lost Archivist, learning a new perspective of some of the arcana in the world.
When the time comes to leave for the Foothills, the elder wishes them safe travels and a deeper understanding in the endeavors they pursue. The trip is long, lasting a two months as the caravan lazily drifted from settlement to settlement. Criòs and Wander spend the time being mocked in Draconic by the merchants until they finally pick up a functional knowledge of the language. Days come and go with ease and discussions until the party finally makes it to Brightstone. A bittersweet goodbye is exchanged in the same manner as was given to them by the elder as the merchants continue on their path without their new friends.
The party enters the town to banners and signs, with the typical festivities of an election. Out of nowhere, the man Wander hugged in the drug den runs up to Wander and says, “What perfect timing! You just have won the election for mayor! I hope you don’t mind that I ran your campaign while you’ve been gone these last five months.”
Confused, Wander asks about the date, finding that they have been gone for 2 months longer than they originally thought. Wander shrugs as he is rushed off to celebrate his new victory.
Another man, a bit more sullen, approaches Auric. “Sorry, sir, we failed to take the mayorship, but the campaign staff and I decided we should give you and Criòs the remainder of the funds from the campaign. Maybe next time!” he says as he hands off a rather heavy lockbox to Auric.
Before settling back into their old room, Auric finds his way to Sven to sit and recall the story of the last few months. Sven is ecstatic to see Auric and sheds a single tear at the sight of the armor, but the two have a wonderful evening discussing old stories. Criòs picks up the cut from the inn and joins Wander in a post campaign party that lasts most of the night.