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Tag: pc_death

Valley of Nightmares Part 4: On a Wing and a Prayer
From their perch on the back of the gargantuan cloud ray, the heroes could see the ground rush past thousands of feet below. Despite the weight and movement of the humanoids on its back, the beast did not seem inconvenienced in the slightest. Its body gently undulated and the low rumble of thunder could be heard emanating from below as the cloud ray winged through the air towards the horizon. The heroes could see the twenty-thousand foot wall of the Ringing Mountains in the distance, and Chuka-Tet quickly realized that the beast was heading that way. Before the thri-kreen druid and his companions could plan their next move, the air around them seemed to ripple and there was a clap of thunder. The sky was replaced by a kaleidoscopic display of rainbow lights and endless silver haze. “We are in the realm of dreams,” Toranda interjected.

“Creatures such as this can vanish from the world when threatened and reappear through this...dream flight.” Chuka-Tet clicked in response. “We may end up farther away than we though. We should – “ his voice cut out as Jin vanished in the silver haze, a look of confusion on the pale warlock's face. With a sudden thunderclap, the cerulean and olive-tinged sky reappeared, and another figure stood in Jin's place – Rokkon Stonedarr! The goliath ranger had a puzzled look on his face, and his hands went for the obsidian-bladed axes at his side.

“Where in the hell am I? The last thing I remember, I was in a cave, laying low from a sandstorm. There was this big, shiny crystal and...huh. Knew I shouldn't have touched the damned thing!” In a strange twist of fate, whatever psychic portal the crystal had opened, had brought the half-giant wanderer back to his companions after more than half a year. Despite the odd circumstances, greetings were quickly made and the heroes exchanged tales. Rokkon learned of the continuing quest for the Crown of the Sun and the rest learned that their companion had spent a great deal of time tracking Slither, the mobile citadel of the lich Yarnath. It appeared that a great many desert tribes, be they elf raiders, savage gnolls, or marauding tareks, had begun to flock to the defiler's banner.

With their tales told, the heroes started thinking about a way out of their current predicament. Arshaka, Chuka-Tet, and Toranda shared what they knew about cloud rays, and determined that the beast had woken from a months-long slumber and was leading its pups somewhere far from the Tablelands where it would no doubt feed. The beast's will was too strong for a simple telepathic suggestion, so the tiefling psion began to try and communicate with the cloud ray and influence it to land. Toranda's energies were unfocused however, and he made little headway. Arshaka tried to use the music of his mind to soothe the cloud ray and entice it to change its course, but the obsidian man had little understanding of the beast's instincts and drive, and his efforts also met with failure.

Atop the great cloud ray the heroes were surrounded by the clear, cerulean sky and little else. The sun beat down on them, but the rushing wind provided some relief. Suddenly, from out of nowhere, two claps of thunder rang out. The heroes saw two other cloud rays, smaller than the one they stood atop, swoop in from out of the sun. They moved with aggressive speed, though they did not seem hostile to the companions' unwitting mount. Each bellowed a thunderous challenge, and Chuka-Tet quickly realized that they do not seek combat, but rather...a mate. The druid also knew that they would seem to be no more than irritants or parasites to the male cloud rays, and that the beasts would no doubt try to sweep them from their intended paramour's back.

As the two cloud rays swooped in, Toranda unleashed a psychic blast that momentarily dazed the beasts. The tiefling adept then reached out and immobilized one with his telekinetic power, causing it to fall behind. The other rushed the heroes, only to be met by the swinging axes of Gurthmore and Rokkon. Khossus and Chuka-Tet were close on their heels, and soon the younger cloud ray was surrounded and knocked for a loop. The wing-like flaps of its massive form snapped with a thunderous retort time and again, pushing the heroes back as it struggled to right itself, and the beast's lashing tail struck out like a bolt of lightning. But Gurthmore's axe did its job, and its lifeless carcass tumbled from the sky. The other had recovered by then, and charged them like an oncoming storm. It soared over its potential mate, bite and stinger wreaking havoc as it let out thunderous blasts from its wing-flaps. But the elder cloud ray's impromptu chaperones proved too much for the creature and, wounded as it was, it retreated as Toranda blasted it with barrage of intimidating thoughts.

As their flight continued, the obsidian bard, his thri-kreen companion, and the goliath ranger all began to try and coax the elder cloud ray down. Once again they met with no success, and the creature continued on its course, unabated. A few hours later, the cloud ray and its brood wing turned slightly north towards the massive wall of the Ringing Mountains. As they drew near the cloudy peaks, a series of shrieks and caws reached the heroes' ears. Several winged, feathered humanoids armed with bone weapons rose out of the clouds shrouding the lower peaks. They moved like raptors searching for prey and they headed straight towards the cloud ray pups trailing behind the elder.

“It's a hunting party of aarakocra,” Chuka-Tet buzzed, “protect the pups, lest their parent fly into a rage. It will call the winds and thunder as it moves, sweeping us from its back!” Thus warned, the heroes engaged the winged raiders. Toranda moved towards the tail of the elder cloud ray and unleashed his full telekinetic might against a group of the winged raiders armed with twirling cahulaks. Fear gripped the tiefling adept, and he felt a darkness well up within him as he drew upon the life-force of those around him to fuel his psionic powers. The aarakocra were slammed into each other, and one fell in a jumble of feathers to crash to the earth far, far below. The other companions looked at Toranda with shock and dismay as they felt their life drained, and the cloud ray beneath roared with anger. But the time for recriminations would come later. A fierce contest followed, as the aarakocra attempted to impale the cloud ray's protectors with bone javelins and hook-like trikals. The raiders armed with the grapple-like cahulaks recovered and closed in, lashing at Gurthmore and Toranda. The mul barbarian was hooked but broke free and sent his enemy tumbling back. Rokkon, Khossus, and Chuka-Tet engaged some of the raiders as they swooped over the elder ray's back, and Arshaka lured the others close with his music. As one fell back, Gurthmore boldly leaped across to one of the pups, slashing the aarakocra with his huge axe as he flew through the air. But its twirling cahulaks wrapped around the mul's legs and yanked him from safety mid-leap. The mul gladiator dangled thousands of feet above the mountainside as he struggled with the aarakocra, and both crashed into a nearby cloud ray pup scraping along its rough hide. Gurthmore kept his death-grip on the aarakocra, and managed to hold it in place as he buried his axe in its breast, sending its corpse tumbling to the mountain below. The rest had managed to slash, bash, and blast the rest, and soon the only survivor had enough and retreated, diving towards the peaks below.

After the battle with the bird-men words were exchanged as Toranda's companions realized what the adept had done. “You are a defiler!” Rokkon accused, his hands on his twin obsidian axes. Chuka-Tet stared at the tiefling in stony silence as the druid's scorpion slowly moved into a flanking position. Gurthmore and Khossus looked pained and confused and Arshaka racked his memory for what combination of sorcery and psychic phenomenon could produce such horror.

“Only the sorcerer-kings are capable of such power,” the obsidian bard said as he stared at his companion. “How did you manage such a feat? And why?”

“I do not know,” Toranda replied with a shocked look on his face. “I felt an anger rise within me, and I reached out in cold fury to smite those damned bird-men. I felt myself pull strength from all around me, without realizing I had done so at first. I am as confused as you are.” The others were mollified by his answers for the moment, and the matter was allowed to drop. But his friends' eyes did not stray far from Toranda for the next several hours, and the seeds of anger, mistrust, and even fear had been sown. The cloud ray had been drained as well, and though the threat had abated, its fear and confusion were evident to Arshaka and Toranda. It did not respond to their attempts to influence its course, and the great beast flied on through the night.

Shrieking cries greeted the heroes' ears as the sun rose. They saw three, great birds soar up beside the cloud ray, and each was ridden by an elf armed with a long, stone-tipped lance and a horn bow. They pointed at the companions and shouted something at each other. Their leader appeared to laugh. Flying close he yelled, “You are in a bad spot. Let us get close and our mounts can sweep you up in their talons. We will make sure you reach the ground.” Something in his tone indicated however that this was less an offer of help and more an invitation to a one-way trip straight down. Rokkon, oblivious to the implied threat, waved the roc riders closer. Two of the elf raiders raised their bows as their leader moved closer. “That wasn't a request.” he snarled as he raised his lance and dove at the back of the elder cloud ray.

A brutal skirmish followed as the three sky raiders swooped over the cloud ray, and the heroes narrowly avoided being skewered by their long, stone-tipped lances and swept up by the rocs' talons. Gurthmore and Khossus were badly wounded by the raking claws and impaling spears, but the magic of the tattoos they bore that were infused with the might of the chained devil beneath Grak's Pool ensnared two of the beasts. One broke free of this enchantment, but the other did not and plummeted to the earth below. Toranda skewered one with mental bolts while Arshaka pulled it forward with his enchanting song. Chuka-Tet and Rokkon surrounded the huge bird and its rider where they crashed into the back of the cloud ray, which was seemingly unmoved by the impact, and swung away at their huge target. Rokkon's axes gutted one bird even as they sliced of its leg. In moments, the elf raiders had fallen along with their mounts. The last surrendered, only to be pitched off the elder cloud ray by an angry Rokkon. “All we wanted was a way down,” he yelled. “Now I'll make sure you get yours!”

Day turned into night, and back into day. The cloud ray was unmoved by the heroes' attempts to change its course, though the heroes saw the end of the Forest Ridge far below. As the trees gave way to scrub brush and eventually desert, the sun began to rise. Suddenly a deafening roar from above shattered the still. Seemingly from out of the sun, a huge, reptilian form descended. It glowed with an inner fire, and its ruddy, fan-like wing flaps spread wide in a near perfect circle. It moved in for the kill, burning like the crimson sun. “Sun drake!” Chuka-Tet exhorted with alarm.

The drake swooped in, burning with the fires of the sun. It seared the heroes and the cloud ray, nearly panicking the beast. Toranda reached out with his mind, cloaking himself and his companions as the drake soared overhead, flashing with all four claws even as it snapped with its powerful jaws. Its very breath dehydrated all it fell upon, blasting them with the fury of the crimson sun. The heroes were blinded by its terrible radiance, and many of their blows glanced off its armored hide. But Toranda unleashed his mental fury, distracting the beast and confusing it, smashing its defenses. Both Khossus and Gurthmore circled it, in this impromptu arena on the back of a cloud ray, launching a flurry of attacks. Arshaka's music inspired them to unleash a dance of death, blow after blow falling in perfect rhythm. Rokkon's twin axes bit deep into the beast's hide as Chuka-Tet and his scorpion warded off blows meant for their companions even as the thri-kreen druid's staff struck it like a bolt of thunder. But the terrible radiance proved too much for Toranda, and the noble tiefling fell, his ruddy hide burned by the awful power of the sun drake. The deadly struggle continued, and only Arshaka's influence and Chuka-Tet's primal magic kept the heroes on their feet. But the drake fell, its heart cleaved in twain by Gurthmore's axe. Rokkon was bathed in its blood, and could feel the power of the sun burning in his veins, as it had not since the Crown of the Sun was in his possession.

As the drake's carcass tumbled to the earth below, the heroes saw the land beneath drop away. The cloud ray had flown past a great cliff, a cliff that plummeted two miles down from the level of the Hinterlands to what appeared to be a sea of blood. As the cloud ray began a long, slow descent the heroes eventually saw that what they thought was a sea was instead a grassland that extended as far as the eye could see. The stalks were more than a yard high, and the grass itself was a tough and bamboo-like. The soil here was a thick, red clay and the heat of the day had baked the top layer into a fine, crimson dust. The wind had blown it so that it coated each stalk of grass, making them appear to be an endless field of bloody spears or blades. The cloud ray settled to a rest, the grass crushed beneath its weight and thick hide, and its pups settled in beside it.

The heroes had arrived on the Crimson Savanna. Toranda was dead. The two-mile cliffs that marked the edge of the Hinterlands were no more than a smudge on the horizon. They were lost, and the Crown of the Sun seemed farther away than it ever had before...

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