Pouring sweat stings Z’alden’s eyes, and his thick-skinned left leg itches in the broiling heat. Why couldn’t those Kengi clerics have a used a human bone to regenerate my leg? This leg practically has scales. There is no time to stop and itch it through his mail. Or, to wipe away the sweat from underneath his helm. The burning heat and searing flames radiating away from the towering colossus of elemental fire that stand in front of him leave no idle time for such niceties.
Blinking eyes to clear them, Z’alden surveys again the ancient Fire Titan just two staff lengths in front of him. The Titan’s flames burn the cleric, even through his enchanted mail. Perhaps this is what the mail itself felt like when the dwarves had it at their forge. Perhaps this is what a pig feels like on the spit. No, that is a much cooler fire than what this goliath Golemaag the Incinerator has enveloping his body and burning all that are within five staff lengths of his huge figure.
Z’alden finds saliva form in his mouth as he thinks of a roasted pig. The five adventurers have not had a decent meal since arriving over a month ago in the Elemental Chaos and fighting as gladiators to raise money for a ship that could sail the ethereal regions between the lands in this plane. Their cause is urgent, with no time for such luxuries.
Even as he stands here at Golemaag’s feet, seeming little more than a squirrel to the Titan, Z’alden’s has a rending pang of regret at how long it has taken to find Molten Core, the city ruled by Golemaag’s master, the Primordial Lord of Fire Elementals, Ragnaros. And now, it was taking much too long to obtain the three keys to invade Ragnaros’s chamber. Who knew how many dragonborn Kengi were being slaughtered in fiery deaths even as Z’alden and his friends were here roasting in the heat of Golemaag’s flames. The Chosen of the one who is the god of Hope, must not himself lose hope! They must finish this battle and advance quickly to sever the Primordial’s connection to the army of elementals he has invading the homeland of their friend, comrade, and now most-high-chief of the Kengi and king of Kengistan, that most noble Paladin Felsmon. But the way has been full of difficulty. Defeating Golemaag and taking the gemstone key lodged in his forehead would still give the adventurers only one of the three keys they need. Ragnaros’s other two counselors, Fandral Staghelm, the leader of some “Druids of the Flame,” and Balerock, allegedly a being of pure fire, each possess the remaining gemstone keys embedded in their bodies. All three keys are needed to unlock the massive portal that bars their way to Ragnaros.
The sweat pours like rain down Z’alden’s brow. The cleric thinks ruefully to himself, “at least it is only raining sweat and not raining demons.” The clank of the two chains on the two heads of Golemaag’s ferocious giant fire hound Pyro, off to the cleric’s right, close to Z’alden’s friends Erik and Rift, and the other two-headed hound Cinder, close to Tira’s form, snap Z’alden’s mind to the moments before a rain of demons had indeed started.
The paymaster had just awarded the Valers their four million gold pieces of winnings from their gladiator battle. Hopefully, the 7 young wizards Rift had brought with them on the adventure would quickly find the spelljammer flying ship they needed. The bags of coins clanked with a sound that made Z’alden rejoice at the time. His breast swelled with hope: the invasion of Kengistan would be halted, as the ship they could now purchase would rapidly get them to their confrontation with Ragnaros, the Lord of the fire elementals, who they would defeat. Then the Kengi would then be free of this menacing foe forever. Loud crashes boomed in the paymaster’s chambers and interrupted Z’alden’s reverie of their upcoming success. Outside, fel green boulders of flame and acid were falling all across the City of Brass. The ground shook with each crashing rock, and twisted demons forms emerged as hundreds more fell to the ground. The sky glowed an evil green, eerily similar to that above the Temple of the Arcane when the five had battled a demonic Illadin Stormrage and the hordes of demons he had summoned. Had Stormrage returned to his evil ways and brought some onslaught to the famed alloy city?
Not fearing for themselves, the five Valers had rushed outside together. They quickly observed that the rain of demons was a few hundred per hour. Overwhelming for the five, but nothing for which the guard of the City of Brass was not prepared. Still, the City would suffer heavy losses.
Rift quickly observed this demonic “weather” and clued the others into her extensive knowledge. Something powerful had opened a direct connection between this part of the Elemental Chaos and the Abyss. These were not ordinary demons, but were corrupted fire elementals. The wizard could also discern that this Rain was not random, but was concentrated on the harbor, where the many ships that ply trade at the City are docked, and on the navy yard of the ships that defend the City.
Swiftly, the five ran to the harbor. The massive ballistae on the walls of the city fired non-stop to destroy the fel boulders before the demons within emerged. The result was feeble. Chaos in the City was tangible. The destruction was compounding as the adventurers reached the harbor. Z’alden’s face fell as he saw how many ships were destroyed. Nearly all in the harbor. Erik’s deft perception noticed that some ships were destroyed, not from the infernal boulders, but had been magically exploded. There was an inside job to destroy these ships.
Puzzled by this mystery, but fixed on their mission, Tira then noticed a complete, newly-built spelljammer just across the way. They scrounged for sails, as most in the area had been destroyed, and got the ship underway into the aether, narrowly dodging the fall of infernal boulders.
The sharp eyes of the Ranger spotted a ship flying some 12 miles off of the port bow. Even at this distance, Erik could recognize that the massive craft was a warship from the Nine Hells. Even the brilliant mind of the wizard was confused by the presence of devils in this the plane of the demons. Of course, she realized, the City of Brass is a major trading port. Perhaps they were here to sell hellish trinkets. With some certainty, at least, Rift’s quick study of the arcane energy ascertained that there was a 100% chance of heavy demons in the Brass sky not being connected to the presence of Hell’s vessel.
Wanting to approach unseen, the five racked their brains to devise a way. Then, out of the blue, Tira remembered a Bottle of Smoke she had long carried with her, found in a treasure hoard many years earlier. Uncorking the bottle, most of the spelljammer was enveloped in an obscuring cloud that moved with the ship. Powerful magic indeed.
As they narrowed the distance, the five discussed the puzzle of the destroyed ships and the infernal weather. Z’alden reasoned, with some pain at using his brain for logical thinking, that the combination of the sabotaged ships and the demonfall pointed to someone inside the City being responsible. Possibly for some religious reason. Rift concurred that the methods and the arcane signatures did not point to the diabolic beings they were fast approaching.
Nearing the Hellship, Tira let loose a Chaos Bolt, just to get their attention. Subtle.
An away team of devils came over to the spelljammer.
As he blinks away more sweat, Z’alden remembers how his holy symbol had burned at his chest as he saw four devils approach in an astral skiff. It is nearly burning now, but in a very different way, as Golemaag readies a blast of sulphurous fury. Even as the Titan draws back to release it, the cleric stands resolute, as resolute as he had been standing on the bow of the spelljammer as the devils closed the distance.
Erik had the most poise in the parley, though. During the exchange, the five learned that these devils could predict the abyssal Fall from signs that appeared weeks before. This current downpour was the third Fall in 4 weeks. These events troubled their Master who wanted the great cities to thrive. While the four would not give their own names, they said that they serve the devil Prince of Eyes, Al Jazeer. They related that their diabolic prince suspects that a fallen devil prince, once a servant of Asmodeus himself, called Grazz’it, now lost in infernal chaos, or one Grazz’it’s powerful sycophants, was responsible.
Finding these diabolic beings so knowledgeable of the matters of the Elemental Chaos, and help being in short supply, the party asked them if they knew how to find the Lord of the Fire Elementals, as the party’s business was with him. The speaker of the group’s eyes grinned with a diabolical light, “Every one of you five is touched by destiny. That is clear to our vision. As such, our prince will want an envoy in your halls, one that would stay as an advisor and diplomat for his interests. In return, we could have you to the gates of Ragnaros’s demesne within an hour.”
The party debated among themselves. While Z’alden was almost torn with pain over making a deal with devils compared to the expediency of saving the Kengi, and most of the others were willing to entertain it, the Ranger was the calmest and yet the clearest, “No good can come from having a devil in our chambers night and day. Always, he would be trying to sway us, making deals that are like unseen arrows in our backs at night.” Rift realized that her knowledge was sufficient to guide the ship towards the plane of Fire, the lands where dwells the Lord of Fire elementals. The devil speaker was beside himself with rage when the party rejected his offer, “you have made an enemy of our master today.” It was all Z’alden could do to not to blast the pompous horned villain where he floated in the skiff. Tira had observed the cleric’s body tense and leaned next to him, “Steady there Light Boy. This is not our battle today. The Hellship has hundreds of devils. We do not have the firepower for this fight now.” Calmed, Z’alden can still recall their departure, “Just one good burst of Supernal Radiance would have taught them a thing or two. Another day.”
It had been more than another day. It had been a long month since then. Even as the Demon Fall continued, they had gotten 5 fighters from a tavern in the City. They were all too happy to leave the horrendous infernal weather and help man the ship. Erik had used his magic maps to anticipate and avoid problem areas and keep the ship on course. It took three tedious weeks to reach the plane of fire, and another few days to find the castles and villages of some Fire Giants who might, with some persuasion, direct them to Ragnaros’s citadel.
And now, here they are, in a chamber deep inside the citadel of Molten Core. As Cinder snarled at the cleric, and Z’alden shakes his head to clear his eyes again, he readies a potent spell that will have these fiery two-headed creatures burning with the Light of the Great Dragon. For a brief instant, Z’alden can see a different creature in front of him, not with two heads but with three massive horns: a Tri-horned Behemoth. While Cinder and his brother hound Pyro are creatures serving elemental evil, the Behemoth had turned out to be little more than a giant cow. They had stumbled upon the Behemoth after first getting directions from a githzerai family, and then finding a small town with a Fire Giant shopkeep who promised directions straight to the city of Ragnaros, Molten Core, if only the adventurers would take care of a pest. Erik’s proficiency with the Giant language had allowed him to converse with the shopkeep, but the dialect was tricky. What exactly was a “pest”? It had turned out to be an almost docile creature whose only offense was to eat and then destroy everything around it with beams of energy that shot from its eyes. It was easy enough for the five to kill the pest, and it was for a good cause, but all five felt as though they had killed a sacred cow after the dead was done. Indeed, they had. These Behemoths are worshipped by the Fire Giants, the Fire Titans, the denizens of Molten Core, and Ragnaros himself. The shopkeep, Snewer, was sacrilegious, and was in a long-running feud with the caretakers of this particular Behemoth. He had snookered them and gotten them to destroy an almost harmless sacred beast to settle a score. Still, he lived up to his end of the bargain and, after several more days, the spelljammer reached Molten Core.
It had been the direct approach in the end that the five had chosen to enter the Sulphurous Citadel. Hiding themselves in the gift of Behemoth statue, like those legendary warriors of Droy, among other far-flung, flying entrance plans had been considered. With wiser heads, they realized they would not have fun storming the castle with any of these daft plans. After conversing with some githzerai about the city and the Citadel, they had obtained an audience with the oldest and supposedly wisest of Ragnaros’s counselors, his majordomo, Golemaag. In parley with Golemaag, they had tried to convince him that one of the other two counselors was going to betray him. The githzerai had told them, in fact, Fandral Staghelm already believed that Golemaag was going to betray him. The githzerai had also told them that massive armies had left Molten Core two weeks earlier. Z’alden’s heart had fallen at that news. The destruction of the Kengi had already begun. Their righteous decision to refuse the costly help of the devils would itself come with a great price. Hope remained that severing Ragnaros from his army would give the dragonborn a chance at avoiding complete annihilation.
Unfortunately, the audience with Golemaag had quickly gone south. The adventurers had posed as minstrels with songs of death to entertain the Fire Titan. Golemaag was only interested in hearing songs he knew by heart, from the voice of the dwarf. Barrick was more than up to this vocal challenge. What was unexpected was Golemaag’s demand that they sell the dwarf to him as a pet. While the adventurers tried to turn this somehow into a way to see Ragnaros,
Erik even tried to barter for one of the hounds, the ancient Fire Titan’s patience grew thin and his elemental voice reverberated in the massive chamber, “No one sees the Lord of Fire Elementals in the flesh. His Lord’s chamber is secure and inviolate. You can speak to him now through the embers here in my chamber.” The group was stymied and frozen for a moment. Too long a moment. “Fools!” the Titan had cried out, “I am weary of your presence. Taste the Flames of Sulphur. Feel the power of the Voice of Ragnaros!” The room had exploded with fire, burning the five, leaving them senseless, and pushing them back. Barrick had fallen into one of the several pits of lava in the room.
An epic battle had begun. Barrick remained trapped in the lava, unable to move. It was as though he wasn’t even there, the boisterous dwarf was so quiet sinking into the molten rock, but perhaps this was just from the perspiration clouding Z’alden’s vision and clogging his ears. In a few short heartbeats, the other four had engaged the monstrous hounds while being battered continually by Golemaag’s searing flames, massive fists, and deadly elemental powers. Unfazed, with his razor sharp War Glaives, Erik had quickly sliced one of the core hounds to embers. Golemaag roared with rage, “You killed Pyro. For this you will die.” Calmly, the Ranger retorted, “I told you I wanted the dog.”
The battle raged on. The sorceress had split into her four minion aspects and scattered them around the chamber, confusing the Titan and the remaining hounds. Z’alden had taken a draught from the Vial of Eternity and become insubstantial, the better to withstand being in proximity to the searing flames radiating from the Titan. He then called upon the Great Dragon, first to heal the group’s wounds, and then becoming the bane of demons and all elementals that he has trained to be, sending glorious radiant flames into these evil elemental creatures. While it had a small effect, Golemaag’s powers were undiminished. In a heartbeat, flaming energy leapt from the Titan to Pyro’s embers, and Pyro roared back onto the spot and into the battle. The Titan could raise his hounds! This was blow to the morale of the group, but they sallied on. Pyro’s return was unwelcome, and Tira let him know, causing ice to cover the hound, and then teleporting him up six staff lengths, only to have the hound fall hard to the floor of the chamber. Rift set off a chain of lightening that crackled and seared the flaming body of the Fire Titan. While the cleric stood stunned from Golemaag’s radiating flames that burned him deeply, and would have killed him if not for the Vial and being insubstantial, the Ranger’s War Glaives danced again, tearing into Pyro in an untamed outburst of ferocity, and in another half a heartbeat, Erik further lashed at the infernal hound, again creating a dog-shaped pile of embers. “Stay,” the Ranger said in a firm voice with a twinkle in his eye.
Only to their dismay, again flaming energy soared from Golemaag to Pyro’s pile, and the hound lived again! Rift could see that this was drawing on Golemaag’s own strength and costing him in his life force; it was a small sign of hope in otherwise dismal battle.
It was the wizard who rallied the party and perhaps began to turn the tide. Summoning a vortex of elemental cold energy, like a great mouth, Rift pulled Golemaag into this frozen maw with the most awesome power she can wield. Sharp ice spikes covered the Titan, draining his fiery life force, forcing him to the ground, and leaving him reeling. Despite these icy pains, Golemaag crushed by the cleric as he moved to slam the wizard with his fiery fist. Erik’s War Glaives again sang out into the infernal hound before him, dropping it to embers once more, “Stay, Bad dog!” the Ranger ordered. Tira put her consciousness into the minion closest to Cinder. Raw energy erupted from her hand, was focused into her dagger, and a tempest burst forth, whirling with arcane power, covering the two heads and body of the nearby infernal hound with the greatest of power that she could muster. The hound whined, it could feel pain and knew it then. The arcane tempest then raged over Golemaag, its incredible strength was maintained, and even this ancient Titan let out a gasp as the sorceress’s power enveloped him. Z’alden shook off the elemental flames, called on the healing power of Bahamut, and took another sip from the Vial, allowing him to draw on his own internal healing with a thought at any time. Radiant light flew from his symbol to envelope Golemaag. It was a light that is not easily extinguished and began to slowly sear the elemental Titan. Unfortunately for the cleric, Golemaag took scant notice of this dragon candle. Even with Tira’s tempest gone, however, Golemaag remained sufficiently dazed to be able to do little at that moment. He gathered himself, and fiery energy flew to the embers of Pyro. Again the hound stood, slaver in both of his mouths. Golemaag looked weaker, though, and dark spots began to show in the flames surrounding him. Rift pointed her Darkstar staff at the Titan and surrounded him in a sphere of mirrors, awaiting the moment when she could turn his powers back on himself in this arcane trap.
And now, Z’alden blinks once more, clears his eyes, and surveys the ancient Fire Titan in front of him and the hound Cinder two staff lengths away. Just the right distance, he thinks. The Chosen of Bahamut intones, “By Dragon’s Claw, by Dragon’s Might, You of Darkness now beware, today you feel the Dragon’s Light!” He prepares to utter the sacred name of the Platinum Dragon, and bring forth its sacred form, spanning 5 staff lengths, with claws and fangs to rip into these enemies and with freezing cold to render them incapable of action. He feels the Vial and recalls the temple of Bahamut where he heard the voice say, “The Universe wants you to win.” The cleric draws his breath to begin the spell.
To be continued.