After leaving Narak-Nalun, the party decided to rest briefly before continuing onward down the tunnel… but not too long, lest the purple-shell or the orc army they presumed was still tailing them caught up. The rest of the journey through the dark tunnel was blissfully uneventful, and the cracks in the walls and floor gradually became smaller and less frequent, until they disappeared completely. The tunnel ended in a flat stone wall, which opened to the touch of the staff, and letting glorious daylight and a fresh breeze spill into the tunnel.
Once his eyes had adjusted to the suddenly bright light, Razius darted up a nearby rockslide, scrambling to get a better view of the area. He returned a few minutes later and reported that he thought he knew where they were, and where the Professor’s expedition camp lay… or at least, where it had been when he was captured. Following his lead, the party set off through the woods towards this camp.
The terrain here on the north side of the mountains consisted of rolling foothills, fairly populated with trees close to the mountains, but thinning out as the terrain dropped downward towards the enormous inland lake in the north. As the party worked their way through the thinning forests, they spotted an odd sight in one large clearing: a man, bound hand and foot, danging upside-down from a tree. Near the tree, towards the center of the clearing, was a tall staff set into the ground with what looked like a large gemstone set on top. The gemstone was slowly pulsing with a faint blue glow.
Razius recognized the dangling man: “Sam? Is that you?” he said. Samiel responded in the affirmative, and as Razius cut him down, he explained that he had been rousted out of his bed some time the previous night and carried off by several of the Mazon guards in the expedition. They’d hung him from the tree, set down the staff, and left him.
Since it was clear that nothing good was going to come of the staff, Gyth deemed it a category-1 threat and obliterated it with his axe (the “gem” turned out to be carved glass inscribed with runes, and shattered just fine when faced with angry steel). The resulting explosion didn’t hurt anyone badly, but did catch someone’s attention…
While the party deliberated over their next action, they noticed what at first appeared to be some sort of large birds approaching. As they got closer, they turned out to be human figures, flying on some sort of glider (looking something like this)
“Uh oh,” Sam muttered to himself. Darak turned to him and asked “Are these guys friendly?” "No, " Sam responded, “most definitely not.” Darak nodded, and proceeded to fire a blast of lightning from his fingertips at the nearest of the five gliders, sending him tumbling to the ground in a smoking ruin. That ended any prospect of negotiations with what turned out to be members of the elven Brotherhood of the Aether, an order of aeromancer monks. Not happy with their reception, they immediately attacked, landing their gliders and folding them up into a long staff, with which they attacked and blocked in a frenzy of superhumanly fast blows.
The fight was rough, but the party eventually prevailed, downing all but the leader, who hopped back on his glider and managed to escape, vowing revenge. Sam’s aeromancer abilities had shown themselves during the fight, and the rest of the group demanded an explanation (in the meantime, Magus was quietly visiting each fallen monk to “pay his respects”). Sam explained that the Brotherhood of the Aether had basically kidnapped him when they discovered a human who could do air sorcery. They’d taken him back to one of their monasteries in elven territory, where they could both study him and keep him under control. He had eventually escaped, and after being on the run for weeks, had gotten a lucky break when he met Razius. Razius had been hired to guard an archaeological expedition bound for the ruins of Teledil, and Sam had managed to smooth-talk him into accepting him as a member of the company. Getting into the distant wilderness had seemed like an excellent way to avoid the attention of the Brotherhood, and the pay was actually fairly decent. Everything was going great for a while: the expedition left, accompanied by Razius’ mercenary guards as well as a contingent of guards from Mazon Enterprises, which was funding the expedition and wanted their own boots on the ground. Things went smoothly for Sam, the weeks ticking away as the expedition got closer to its destination… until several Mazon soldiers had dragged him out of bed the previous night and left Sam how the party found him.
Since it was unknown how soon the Brotherhood monks would return, the party decided it was expedient to find a place to hide. Darak had completely exhausted himself in the fight, doing Emperor Palpatine proud with multiple full-strength lightning bolt attacks. Gyth dragged his unconscious body a mile or so into the woods, where the party found a secluded spot that would be ideal for resting. At this point, knowing that Sam had some training in magic items, everyone pulled out various bits of unidentified treasure and asked Sam to tell them what it did. (See items page)
Donavan also noticed something strange about the shield he had pulled from the tomb of Tekin Starshield. When he had first found it, it had shone with more-than-natural brightness, seeming to amplify light as it reflected it. Now, though, no such effect was visible. The party wondered about the implications of this.
Meanwhile, everybody discussed what to do about Mazon. They had apparently betrayed both Razius and Sam, and were clearly a threat. One proposed solution was to simply attack, and count on Razius’ men to join in on the right side. Razius was not in favor of this approach, however, not confident of victory and not willing to sacrifice his men in the all-out bloodbath that would result. Furthermore, the Mazon guards controlled both the magical device that kept the expedition inside of a bubble of invisibility and a set of “teleportation spheres” that would be used to get the whole expedition home once they were done.
In order to gather more information, Razius and Donavan snuck to the camp, where they made contact with one of Razius’ guards. The guard was overjoyed to find “the boss” alive after all, and was happy to relay that information to the others. In addition, Razius told him to make sure all of his men kept an eye out for the Mazon contingent, and also to leave a sign of passage in case the (invisible) camp got moved before the rest of the party reached it.
The night’s work done, Donavan and Razius returned to the rest of the party, a mile and a half away. The night passed restfully, but dawn brought the sound of howling wolves, approaching fast… the familiar tone told them that the wolves probably had goblin riders, and that the rest of the orcs probably weren’t far behind…