I recently started running a series of games for my players based on the 1985 D&D adventure “Temple of Elemental Evil“. My campaign world is already very well established, so I couldn’t use the same backstory from the published adventure. Instead, I wrote the following short stories to introduce the players to the start of the game. Since each story is told from a different perspective, not all events are remembered in the same way.
The Island Elf
After defeating the demon lord Yeenoghu and spending three long days travelling on the back of an ancient brass dragon, Gabilan was ready for a quiet, solitary night to reflect and recover after her recent adventures. Even though her people had no need for sleep, Gabilan borrowed a bedroll from the Leach House and laid it out in the front yard under the clear, moonlit night sky of the late summer. It felt good to lie down on her back and to let her body relax while her mind got lost in the countless number of stars above her.
As the night crept towards dawn and she returned her mind from the far places that rejuvenated her, she experienced a sudden series of brief flashing mental images: the one-eyed Lich Steele speaking to a group of High Elves in a forest meadow in the bright light of day; the Lich approaching her group after landing his house in Willamina’s fields; dozens of people in colored robes running in terror; and, finally, several elves being consumed by flames. During the few seconds of these hallucinations, Gabilan either imagined or recalled the very distant screams of a large crowd.
An elf doesn’t dream in the way humans and other beings do, but sometimes experiences fragments of memories when leaving their meditation. These memories are often their own, but are sometimes the memories of others nearby. Sometimes the memories are fabrications. Some elves treat these as portents, while others choose to ascribe no particular significance to them.
In the east, the sky was getting perceptively lighter, and dawn would break in an hour or two. Gabilan knew that the humans and the halfling inside the house wouldn’t be awake for another several hours. She thought back to the day before, remembering Ma’am Peggy’s panicked reaction to seeing Steele with only one of his eyes smouldering with the unnatural green flames of undeath. She decided to walk into town to find Ma’am Peggy to ask her about what it was that scared her so much about the sight. Even if Ma’am Peggy wasn’t awake yet, someone at the Island Elf would surely be preparing breakfast by the time she arrived.
While walking into town, Gabilan could see specks of torchlight off in distant fields, or far off between houses. The need for torches in this early light told Gabilan that these were humans, and she guessed that they were probably some sort of patrols. Before she arrived in the central part of town, she encountered one of these patrols on the road. The small group of four guards was led by the torch-wielding Commander “Pep”, the young human with the crush on Murdina.
Once Pep’s torchlight was close enough to illuminate Gabilan’s face, his concerned expression changed to one of relief.
“Gabilan, I’m so glad to see you!” exclaimed the young and still easily excited commander. “We’d been coming out to find you. Last night a group of elves attacked the Pyramid Temple of Pelor and Ehlonna. A couple of the Lents Irregulars were with them, and they’re keeping anyone from approaching. We need your help.”
Breakfast with Ma’am Peggy will have to wait until later in the morning.
The Colorless Man in a Colorful Crowd
Kwutl had no use for the Life Empowerment Society, as the adherents of the Pyramid Temple of Ehlonna and Pelor liked to call themselves, but here he was anyway at the final dedication of their temple. He wanted to see what it looked like when they brought down the floating island known as Steele’s Tower. But, also, he liked being around all of their robes. The white ones weren’t interesting, but he liked seeing the russet, ochre, and viridian ones. Those were words that he had recently learned.
As he looked around the crowd, he figured that there were at least a hundred people here, maybe more. In addition to the robes, people were wearing colorful garlands of flowers and other decorations. There was a lot of chanting, and dancing, and laughing. A feeling of joy was in the air, and after the events of this past summer, he was relieved to feel happiness around him.
Tomkin Chisolm died in the late spring, and Bertina’s poor health meant that she needed a lot of help around the house. And then there was the disappearance of Willamina, Samel, Eugenia, Tinga & Gabilan. When Tomkin died, it had been sad but it wasn’t unexpected. The loss of Willamina and the other Lents Irregulars was harder to deal with because there was no closure for them – they were just gone. Not having Willamina around the house had already been hard, but now her lack of presence was almost like living with a ghost. Neither Kwutl or Murdina had so much as cracked the door of Willamina’s room open since she had left.
Kwutl had been against the idea of the Remembrance Celebration that Mayor Lents had hosted, but when it occurred, he attended it and found himself thankful that he had gone. It had given him a chance to talk with others about the loss, and he could share his grief openly. He couldn’t talk about his emotions at all with Murdina; she was far too tempestuous.
The celebration going on around him was almost enough to make him forget about his losses. It made them hurt less, anyway. A couple of bouncing, dancing, smiling people had taken his hands, and he rhythmically bobbed along to the buoyant chant they were sing-song repeating. This was all nonsense, but here during the sunset of one of the last warm days of the year, it was fun. Kwutl smiled.
A gentle breeze picked up among the crowd, then quickly turned into strong, sustained gusts. Flower garlands were flying up in people’s faces. People had to push against their robes to keep their naked legs from being exposed. A woman screamed, and someone nearby pointed their hand towards Steele’s Tower. Silently, the tower began drifting off to the west. More people screamed, others shouted, and some people sobbed angrily. Someone yelled,”How can we destroy that abomination now?”
Kwutl realized that he was staring upward in disbelief, mouth agape. In the year that passed since the dwarves first collapsed the base of the tower, nothing like this had happened. He wondered where the tower was heading. Maybe it was going to Sunlight Falls? That seemed to be the most likely destination. More immediately, he was wondering what would happen here at the temple. Panic, fear and anger were quickly spreading through the crowd.
“FRIENDS! FRIENDS.” A strong voice called out from near the entrance to the temple. Kwutl craned his neck some, and could see it was Priestess Betterfingers. She had run the old temple of Ehlonna in the town center of Lents before it had been burned down by the Sunlight Falls occupiers.
“FRIENDS, remain calm! The cursed corpse of the Wizard Steele has moved his tower, and it is true that this is an unexpected challenge for us. But DO NOT LOSE HOPE OR FAITH. Our Good Brother Zeno the Changer believes that we should be able to complete the ceremony with some adjustments. It will not happen tonight, but do not let it ruin this celebration of our faith that has happened today!”
Two severe, strong-looking men in russet robes came from the temple and approached to stand facing the crowd on either side of the Priestess. One of them whispered something in the Priestess’ ear.
“Those who have graduated to the higher levels of enlightenment will stay through the night in the temple, helping us to make the necessary changes to the ceremony. The best that you can do tonight, fellow believers, is to take yourselves and your faith back to your homes. Tell those that don’t have the faith yet to come visit us soon. Go forth and convert! There is still work to do as we move beyond Pelor and Ehlonna! BE BEST.”
Once the Priestess finished her speech, she and the two men turned and went back into the temple. The crowd dispersed soon afterward, and only a handful of people remained, talking in small groups. Kwutl stayed behind because he was thinking about the two men in the russet robes. There was something that felt sinister about them, but he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
As the last of the day’s light was leaving the sky, Kwutl turned to head towards home. As he was taking a moment to scan the western sky for any trace of Steele’s Tower, he heard shouts from the north, just past the temple. Turning to look, he saw three elves charging across Powell Creek, heading towards the temple. After a moment, another three followed in the steps of the others, and the group of six elves paused in front of the entrance to the temple to cast spells. They then ran in with weapons drawn. It was only at this point that Kwutl had noticed that the door of the temple had changed: no longer was it a lancet archway decorated with a sunburst and oak leaves, but now a pair of massive bronze doors. On the lintel above the doors were four carved skulls. From the sockets of the skulls, colored light beamed out: white, scarlet red, amber, and blue-green.
Kwutl realized that he was the only person left in the clearing around the temple. The other witnesses to the elven attack had fled already. Curious to know what would happen next and concerned that more elves would be coming, Kwutl snuck off into the underbrush at the edge of the clearing. Looking down at the sky blue suit and bright yellow shirt that he was wearing, he decided that it would be wiser to be naked if he was going to hide and observe. He undressed and tucked his clothes behind a nearby tree.
By the time Kwutl had undressed and positioned himself in a comfortable hidden position, two other figures crossed the creek and entered the clearing. They did not approach the temple, but instead gathered wood and started a small fire in the clearing in front of the temple. By the light of the fire, Kwutl recognized the two men to be the half-orc, Kruz, and the tiefling, Lars Mayhem. It had been at least six months since he’d seen either of them, and Kwutl chose to stay hidden since he had no idea what they’d been doing during that time. Besides aligning with the elves of Yllodah, apparently.
Several hours after the elves had entered the temple, just one of them came back out. Even in the darkness of the night, it was easy to tell that the elf had been badly hurt. Kruz and Lars got up and helped the elf walk back to their campfire, where the three of them sat quietly for several minutes. After a short amount of time had passed, the elf got up on its own and came over to the edge of the clearing. It stopped and sat, not more than ten feet from Kwutl, and entered into an elven trance. Kwutl understood that he probably couldn’t move from his position without revealing himself, so he chose to make himself as comfortable as possible in order to wait until the elf left. Kwutl didn’t dare sleep in case there was any possibility that he might snore, but he did occasionally shift his position to relieve his muscles.
Finally, the first light of dawn began to arrive. With the break of dawn, another group of people entered the clearing of the temple, this time from the south. It appeared to be a group of town guards, along with a woman who wasn’t dressed like a guard. The woman began to walk across the field, directly towards Kruz and Lars. Kwutl’s heart began to race and he couldn’t keep back a sharp cry of surprise.
Gabilan was alive.
The Accidental Sentinels
While being forced marched by their captors through the boggy fens towards Lents, Kruz reminded Lars (for maybe the fourth or fifth time) that this was all Lars’ idea. Lars had been the one who had been bored enough with the town of Lents to suggest that he and Kruz set off into the so-called “Elven Woods” for a change of pace. But, Lars reminded Kruz, that it had worked out well for them for the first six months – it was only now that their fate had changed.
Back in the early Spring, when Lars had asked – hypothetically, of course – what would happen to a person caught entering the Elven Woods of Yllodah, Kruz was surprised to have never thought of the question before. As the two considered the possible answers, they became ever more convinced that it was just one of those arbitrary rules that humans like to enforce just because they can. By mid-afternoon that day, they had crossed the small stream of Powell Creek and were walking towards the elven city of Yllodah.
Yllodah, the city itself, was more beautiful than anything that they had imagined. The staircases that spiraled up to the dwellings of the elves seemed to grow naturally from the trunks of the massive trees that comprised the forest. Giant branches intermingled and wove themselves together to form natural walkways from tree canopy to canopy, sometimes leading up or down to different heights among the leaves and nettles. In places where the sunlight couldn’t pierce the dense foliage, ample light was provided by the countless motes of coloured luminescence that floated through the air.
The populace of Yllodah was a stark contrast to the beauty of the city. At least half of the elves had succumbed to some sort of sickness, leaving them gaunt, hallucinating, and picking at the scabs on the faces and their arms. These elves were unpredictable and dangerous, and Kruz and Lars were forced to cut down several when they first entered the city in the trees. The portion of the populace who weren’t suffering from this affliction regarded the duo with suspicion at first, but became more welcoming once they learned that the pair weren’t from the city of Sunlight Falls.
For a few weeks, Lars and Kruz became minor celebrities in Yllodah. Lars’ musical style was entirely unlike that of the elves, and his performances were in high demand. The elves were fascinated by the mere existence of Kruz, a creature that they were not familiar with, but also impressed by his displays of strength and athleticism. The pair were even invited one evening to the tops of the treetops, where they performed for the Court of the Elder Council, a group of impossibly old and shriveled elves who were attended by a retinue of astonishingly beautiful and regal elves.
Eventually, the novelty of Lars and Kruz began to fade and the elves lost interest in the pair. This feeling was reciprocal, as both of the adventurous men were beginning to feel restless staying in one place for too long. With the blessing of the elves of Yllodah, Lars and Kruz explored the depths of the surrounding forest.
The woods of Yllodah on the peninsula between the Greyglass River and the Tears of the World were ripe for adventure and exploration. The pair spent the late spring and summer wandering the forest, encountering all manners of strange creatures. Many pixies and sprites were spotted, and a number of ogres were slain over the weeks. One night, the pair even hung out with a pair of horned, goat-legged men, who partied harder than even Lars could. Whatever was in their wine had led to hazy memories of good times.
Yesterday, Lars and Kruz had talked about returning to Lents to visit old friends, but that discussion had become ironic by the late morning, when they were accosted by a group of six elves that told them that they were bringing them to the human town of Powell’s Camp [the old name of Lents – ed.]. Adnorin, the leader of this group of elves, curtly explained that they were on their way to fight a great evil that was arising in the temple of the town, and they needed Lars and Kruz to keep their fellow townsfolk from interfering with the elves’ mission. Kruz and Lars were not offered a choice in whether they wanted to participate in this.
After the first few hours of walking with the elves, the elves became more friendly and conversational. Lars and Kruz learned the names of the elves; there was: Adnorin, the cleric of Corellon Larethian and leader of the group; the bard, Daestrata, who clearly enjoyed flirting with Lars, teasing him that her College of Blades was far superior to his College of Glamour; the quiet and nervous wizard, Magfiel; the serious ranger, Petven; the jovial paladin, Naequinal, who made jokes at the expense of her brother, Petven; and the mysterious rogue Lorathuun. The elves were sincere in their desire to defeat the supposed evils of this temple, and planned to attack in the nighttime after a signal was given. They didn’t explain how they knew about the evils of the temple, or who was going to give them the signal to attack.
By the time dusk had arrived and the group neared Powell’s Creek, the designated edge of the Elven Woods, they were able to see the distant top of the Pyramid Temple of Ehlonna and Pelor. The temple, now appearing to be completed, had only been in the early stages of construction when Kruz and Lars had left town. The Pyramid Temple had been erected directly below the floating island of rock supporting the Lich Steele’s house; it had been built with the intention of somehow destroying the floating island. Magfiel explained that the arcane markings at the top of the brass-capped pyramid indicated that it was more likely that the purpose of the pyramid was to capture and absorb the powerful elemental powers holding the island in the air.
Crouched and hiding in the woods across the creek from the temple, the group could see that a crowd of more than a hundred people were gathered in some sort of celebration in front of the temple. Most of these people wore robes of either white, russet, ochre or viridian, and were engaged in dancing and chanting.
“The colors of elemental evil,” Daestrata said to Lars, as she pointed towards the robed figures. “Most of them probably don’t have an idea what they’re involved in. Something like this happened to our people some time ago.”
The crowd suddenly erupted in gasps and cries of surprise as, high above, the lich’s floating island began drifting to the west away from the Pyramid Temple. Lars wondered aloud if that had happened before, and Kruz assured him that to the best of his knowledge, it had not. Petven looked over at Adnorin, who held up his hand in a gesture to wait.
After several minutes of growing consternation and panic among the assembled crowd, a woman came out and addressed the crowd. Although too far away to hear what she said to the crowd, she was clearly some sort of authority and her words served to calm the crowd. Naequinal nudged Kruz and pointed to the entrance of the temple, where two wolves had approached from the side opposite of the crowd. The wolves shifted into the form of two men in robes and walked to join the woman speaking to the crowd. The crowd, responding to the woman’s speech, dispersed and began to return to town. The woman, accompanied by the two werewolves, entered the temple. Save for a few stragglers from the crowd, the grounds around the temple stood quiet and empty.
“Now!” hissed Adnorin to Magfiel, who began casting some sort of arcane spell towards the temple. As she finished her incantation and pointed at the arched entrance to the temple, the temple’s entrance began to shudder and shift before suddenly vanishing. In place of the open lancet arch decorated with a sunburst and oak leaves was now a massive pair of open bronze doors with carvings of four skulls sitting atop the lintel, the sockets glowing with the four colors of elemental energy. Lorathuun, Petven, and Naequinal leapt from their hiding places and charged across the creek towards the temple. The few remaining people outside of the temple dashed away as they approached.
Adnorin turned to Kruz and Lars and said,”We need you to keep your people out of there until we’re finished with it. It is for their safety, but also for our own. The humans that you associate with have no love for us.” Daestrata and Magfiel joined Adnorin as he made his way across the creek. The six elves assembled outside of the temple, paused for a moment to cast spells, and dashed in as a group.
It had been hours since the elves entered the temple, and it was now the middle of the night – almost dawn really. Kruz was dozing near a dying fire, and Lars was strumming a tune in an effort to keep himself awake during his watch. When the elves had first entered into the temple, Lars had considered leaving; after all, whatever business these elves had with the temple had nothing to do with him. But Kruz wanted to stay, at least to see what would happen. Kruz wasn’t very bright, but he was fun and Lars liked him, so in the end, he had agreed to keep watch with the big half-orc.
Lars heard a sharp, ragged breath come from the entrance of the temple, so he immediately nudged Kruz awake. Stumbling from the mouth of the temple came the elf Lorathuun, who staggered unsteadily. He looked terribly dazed. Lars and Kruz help steady the elf, and walked him back to the remains of the campfire, where they helped set him down.
Lorathuun, whose clothes were burnt in places and bloodied all over, stared into the coals of the fire quietly. When he finally spoke, his words had a far-away feeling to them, as if the mind uttering them was somewhere off in the distance. “All burned. I think that they were all burned.” He fell quiet again for a short time, almost entering the trance-like state that elves do to rest.
When Lorathuun spoke again, it was clear that he had returned to his senses. “I got hit by a spell that left me confused. I don’t really remember the last few minutes of being in the temple. I do remember fire. I’m not sure if anyone made it beyond that. I need to rest for a while, but I’ll need to go back in.”
He looked at Lars, then at Kruz, and asked,“Will you help me recover the bodies?”
The Inspired Assault
Lorathuun and his sister, Daestrata, were the newest members of the scouting group, but they were held in special regard due of their Eladrin heritage. While the other elves were pointedly careful to not ask about their past, they were friendly and the group of five got along well in the three months since they’d joined on the patrol of these wilder parts of the forest.
They were enjoying a little hot tea and roast rabbit for their morning meal. Adnorin, the leader of the group, was quietly smoking his pipe. Hard but kind, and older than the others by a century, the cleric of Corellon Larethian was well respected by the group. The other elves would sometimes tell Lorathuun about how Adnorin’s family back home in Yllodah had succumbed to the magical addiction called Prism, but Lorathuun never brought it up himself. Adnorin would occasionally get up to poke the fire and throw another scavenged branch on it to burn. There was no urgency to start the patrol this morning.
Daestrata plucked at her lute and hummed to herself, sometimes smiling about some joke that she chose not to share. She was the wild one who always had a story that could outdo everyone else’s. When encountering the elves that lived in these deeper woods, she was always the voice of the party, stunning all with her beauty and her deep violet hair. She had also taught Lorathuun many of the spells and skills that he knew. She paused from playing the lute to wave away a tendril of campfire smoke that had drifted too close to her personal space.
Magfiel tended to keep close to Daestrata, and sat on a fallen log near the beautiful woman, studious flipping through pages of her spellbook. Occasionally, she would pause her reading to look up and glance around the clearing. In addition to being the team’s dedicated wizard, she was also the worrier of the group. She had let Lorathuun copy a couple of spells from her spellbook, but only by reciting and explaining them carefully to Lorathuun. She would never let another person handle her spellbook.
Naequinal, the group’s joker, was still half-asleep on top of her bedroll. Butterflies danced around her amber curls, occasionally landing on her nose or an out-stretched finger. Her casual demeanor concealed her fierce, almost zealous, commitment to protecting their natural realms. In a fight with ogres, Naequinal was the most ruthless of the group. Petven, Naequinal’s brother and the sixth member of the group, sometimes said that Naequinal should have just become a druid and married a tree, which was as close as he ever came to making a joke.
Petven was always the first to rise in the morning, and was currently quietly circling the clearing where they rested, casually flipping his lucky electrum coin across the fingers of his left hand. Petven had a serious demeanor, but was ever-vigilant of anything happening around the group. It was his skills in reading the forest that allowed the group to track the ogres and other foul creatures that threatened the peace of the forest.
Lorathuun was about to pour another cup of tea when they noticed Petven stop suddenly, paying attention to something beyond the clearing. Lorathuun heard the snap of a twig, then a second snap, from the area that had caught Petven’s attention. The crack of a heavier branch being stepped on grabbed everyone’s attention, and they all got into their ready positions. Lorathuun took a moment to cast Mage Armor on themselves.
Lorathuun and the rest of the group were amazed to see what stepped into the clearing – amazed enough that nobody loosed an arrow or a spell. A dessicated old human – one eye socket burning with the bright green light of undeath, the other devoid of anything at all – entered into the gap in the forest. Following closely behind him was some sort of mechanical man, standing seven-feet tall and brandishing a glowing ruby in place of any eyes.
Daestrata strode forward towards the withered figure, unafraid. “Harold Steele,” she addressed him. Lorathuun had heard the name before: Harold Steele was a human friend to the elves of Yllodah who had cursed himself to undeath by destroying his own soul. He lived in a house on a floating island above the human town of Powell’s Camp [The old name for Lents – ed.]. Lorathuun had seen the floating island just once on their patrols – they usually never got very close to the human lands.
“By the Infinite Planes, you fucking people are hard to find,” spoke the lich, taking time to look around the clearing at each of them.
Adnorin had stowed his pipe and was now standing next to Daestrata. “Why have you sought us out?” he asked.
“They built a damned pyramid under my house. They’ve been stealing my ideas. Stealing my ideas! They think they have me dead to rights! They’ve been in my house. Stealing my ideas.” His manner of speech made Lorathuun think of a mind that was far away, maybe not entirely present in the moment. But Lorathuun had heard of the pyramid the dead man mentioned. Some humans had been building it in since the late winter, and there were rumors that it was related to a cult that had plagued the elves of Yllodah a few centuries ago. The story of that old cult ended with the tales of a group of elves that had sealed a great evil behind four magically protected sets of bronze doors. The entire group had heard this story, and everyone waited to hear what the dead man said next.
“They’re going to try to rob me! They’re going to attack my house. Tonight! After night falls. They’re going to attack my house to rob me of my powers! Release their dark ‘god’! Bah! Subsume everyone around! Control all souls!! Bah!” The dessicated man paused to attempt to spit on the ground, but no moisture came from his pursed lips. “I’ve come to you, Council, to warn you! You stopped them back then, and you can stop them again!
“Heh. Heh! I’ve got a trick up my sleeve! When they start their ceremony, I’m going to move my house! Heh! They built their whole damned thing to rob me, and I’m just going to get out of the way! I’M GOING TO GET OUT OF THE WAY!”
Lorathuun felt a sudden wave of sickness briefly wash over them as some sort of putrid wave of energy escaped from the excited lich, but it passed in an instance. Talking to the group later, they would confirm that everyone felt that energized wave of sickness in that moment.
“Council, attack them when I move my house! They’ll be at their weakest then. Heh. Destroy them. They’ll be in disarray. Do the same thing you did to them last time! Strike! Strike while the iron is hot! Strike before they find some other way to release Zuggtomy.” With these final words, the old lich looked satisfied and fell silent for a moment. And then, within a whoosh, vanished along with his mechanical man.
Naequinal broke the silence as she unstoppered a flask of liquor. “Good morning everyone!” she said before taking a drink.
Magfiel was next to speak,”I think that he thought that we were the Court of the Elder Council. We should return to Yllodah to let them know.”
Adnorin looked pensive before speaking. “From where we’re at, we wouldn’t make it to Yllodah before dusk. But we can make it to the human’s Powell’s Camp by then if we start travelling now. If his words can be believed, we might need to do it to stop a calamity.
Daestrata, who always presented a calm demeanor, furrowed her brow. “The name Zuggtomy is associated with the old temple your parents defeated centuries ago. It seems that Genfaren wasn’t wrong.” Genfaren was an elven wizard who was part of the patrols along the human lands. He had said that he had seen invisible symbols carved into the walls of the pyramid temple that matched those of the temple that had been defeated before.
Petven, usually silent, added to the conversation. “I’ve never believed Genfaren to exaggerate, although I found his stories of the secret runes hard to believe.” He stayed silent for a while, but seemed like he had another thought that he was working on, so everyone waited for him to speak again. “If we’re going to go to the human lands, we should find someone to be our ambassadors or our hostages. Their people, Kruz and Lars Mayhem, are not too far from here.”
With the party in consensus, they headed directly south, where Petven had last known the location of the half-orc named Kruz and the tiefling named Lars Mayhem. The two had been a brief sensation earlier in the spring when they had arrived in Yllodah. Kruz was an unfamiliar type of humanoid who was a strongman, and Lars played unusual musics. Together, they were a two-man circus. They had been granted permission to wander freely through the elven woods.
The two men were not hard to locate. Being unfamiliar with these woods made them easy targets for Petven to track since they didn’t know how to pass easily through the woods like the elves did. They had captured the men by mid-morning.
As the group of eight marched towards Powell’s Camp, the pyramid temple, and the floating island of Harold Steele, the scouting party got to know the two men better, and found them to be pleasant company. Lars and Daestrata seemed to get along particularly well, with them discussing the various benefits conveyed by Lars’ “College of Glamour” versus Daestrata’s “College of Swords”. The apparent camaraderie between the two was likely bolstered by the Suggestion spell that Daestrata had cast on the devilish man. The strange strongman Kruz largely kept silent, but seemed more bemused by his circumstances than anything else.
By dusk, the group had met their target, and took hiding positions across a creek from the temple that they planned to assault. Above the creek was the floating island of Harold Steele, and in the clearing in front of the temple, at least a hundred humans in robes of white, ochre, russet and viridian chanted and danced in some form of celebration.
And then Harold Steele’s floating island began to drift off to the west. The crowd in front of the temple began to scream and panic. Lorathuun, Petven, and Naequinal looked toward Adnorin for guidance, but he raised up a hand to make them wait.
After a few minutes, a woman came out of the temple and spoke words that dispersed the crowd. It was dark now. Magfiel, who was in a hiding place near Lorathuun, nudged Lorathuun and pointed at the entrance to the temple. The temple entrance was an open archway topped by a sunburst and surrounded by oak leaves. “Magnificent Mansion,” Magfiel said with authority. Lorathuun nodded knowingly, although they were unsure of what that meant exactly. After spending a few more minutes waiting for Aldnorin’s signal and examining the temple, Lorathuun noticed that there was something strange and artificial about the entrance, but they couldn’t tell exactly what it was.
Aldnorin gave a nod to Magfiel, and she began to cast a spell in the direction of the temple. At the completion of the spell, she pointed to the entrance and Lorathuun watched as the open arch disappeared and was replaced by a set of two open bronze doors. On the lintel above the bronze doors were four carved skulls, their sockets beaming out bright elemental colors.
“Now!” hissed Aldnorin, as he sprung from his hiding place and began sprinting across the river. Petvan and Naeqinal joined him without hesitation. Lorathuun looked at Magfiel, who looked nervous, then at Daestrata, who nodded. The three of them then followed across the river behind the other elves.
At the doorway to the temple, everyone stopped for a moment as Aldnorin cast a protective spell on the party. “Lars and Kruz?” Magfiel asked. “To keep the humans away from our task,” Aldnorin responded. Daestrata touched Lorathuun on the shoulder, and Lorathuun was imbued with a sense of confidence. “Now!” Aldnorin commanded, and the party charged through the bronze doors into the mouth of the temple.
Lorathuun’s mind was reeling as they stumbled outside of the temple and down the steps leading up to the bronze doors. Among Lorathuun’s panicked thoughts and concerns, they weirdly felt the need to check their cloak to ensure that the magical oils that protected it hadn’t burned it too badly. It was fine.
Lorathuun noticed starlight above them, and recognized that they were outside. How did this happen, they wondered? Their feet were unsteady, and every time they took a step forward, they weren’t sure if they would remain standing. They were having trouble focusing their eyes.
A jumbled group of images ran through Lorathuun’s mind, and it took some moments before Lorathuun recognized them as memories. There were the bronze doors, and the awful feeling they got as they charged through them, as if a past generation were warning them to keep away. A flash of the image of murals – murals that showed Lorathuun’s face prevailing over countless dead. A memory of the first group that they encountered, all dressed in white robes. The impassive look on one fanatic’s face as he turned to face the elves.
Lorathuun remembered. Lorathuun remembered that human man in the white robe, probably some sort of leader, turning with confidence to confront the group of elves. He remembered the man casting the spell that brought the air elemental into form. He remembered the battle that ensued, when the air elemental threw Petven directly into the crowd of cultists. He remembered how Petven didn’t utter a sound as he died from the wounds caused by scimitar blades. Lorathuun remembered making the strike that dismissed the air elemental.
Lorathuun was now being grabbed by the man, Lars Mayhem, who was supporting his weight. Lorathuun almost passed out, but was able to remember more. The water cultists and the earth cultists that didn’t intervene when the elves killed the remaining air cultists. Adnorin consecrating Petven’s corpse. Slaughtering the earth and water cultists, who were more focused on finishing their sacrificial ceremonies than they were in protecting their own lives.
Lorathuun was being held in a standing position by Lars and Kruz. Lorathuun remembered decapitating the corpses to prevent them from rising. Yes, they had defeated the air, the earth, the water. And then Lars and Kruz set Lorathuun down in front of the campfire. Staring into the flames, Lorathuun remembered too much. The last cultists to be encountered. The fireball that they were all caught in. Naequinal shoving Daestrata and Lorathuun out of the way before she was swallowed by a being made of pure fire. Aldnorin burning in flames, screaming Magfiel’s name as he tried futilely to hand a potion of healing to the dead wizard. Lorathuun being hit by a spell that confused their mind and sent them to the place where they were now, in front of a campfire with Lars and Kruz.
Lorathuun looked at the two companions, Kruz and Lars, and said,”I need to heal.”
They walked over to an edge of a clearing and began to meditate. Perhaps Daestrata still lived, and maybe they could connect in their healing trance. Lorathuun lost consciousness.
The Secret Guardian
Oleothera had been tracking the elven scouting party since this morning, when they had captured the half-orc and the tiefling. The group had sought the two men out with a sense of purpose, and once they’d found their quarry, the group of eight made as direct of a route to Powell’s Camp [former name of Lents – ed.] as the thick forest would allow. So intent they were in their mission that they didn’t once notice Oleothera following them.
The elves of Yllodah normally avoid Powell’s Camp unless they are patrolling that border of the woods. Oleothera was concerned that they may be heading towards the temple of the humans’ elemental cult.
A rumor among the elves that patrolled the border of Powell’s Camp proposed that this cult was somehow related to an elemental cult that had existed in the woods of Yllodah a few centuries ago. Oleothera wasn’t in the area when that cult existed, but it’s entrance was described as an archway in a clearing that led to a secret dimension where the cultists worshipped a great evil. That temple had been destroyed by a massive assault by elves with powerful magic who sealed the evil behind four sets of runed bronze doors. One of the members of the current patrol, an elven wizard named Genfaren, had claimed to have seen invisible runes built into the walls of the humans’ temple that were dedicated to the same elemental evil that the elves had encountered back then. Oleothera knew Genfaren well enough to know that they were an honest person who wouldn’t lie about such things.
By dusk, Oleothera’s fears had been confirmed as the group reached the edge of Powell’s Creek, just across from the entrance to the temple. Oleothera climbed a tree and watched the other elves find hiding places of their own. Across the creek, in the clearing in front of the temple, hundreds of humans robes of white, russet, ochre and viridian danced and chanted in some sort of a celebration. Directly above the large pyramid temple was the floating island of Harold Steele, a human friend of Yllodah who had cursed himself to exist in a state of undeath. Oleothera had never met Harold Steele, but he was known for his mastery of elemental magic. If this temple was an incarnation of the elemental evil, it’s placement directly beneath his island seemed like an ominous sign.
The elves, the half-orc, and the tiefling seemed to be waiting for something to happen. Oleothera hoped that they weren’t planning to interfere with this celebration – that was a headache that the people of Yllodah didn’t need. While they watched, they wondered what role the half-orc and tiefling had in this business. Their names were Lars and Kruz, but they weren’t sure which man was which. The two had been a brief sensation in Yllodah when they had visited earlier in the spring; the half-orc was a strongman and the tiefling played unusual music. As Oleothera understood it, they were a two-man circus.
An unnatural wind sprung up, catching Oleothera’s attention. Looking for the source, they became startled to see Harold Steele’s island had begun to drift to the west. They weren’t aware that it could do that. They must have been the first to notice, because it took a moment before the crowd across the creek stopped their dancing to scream, shout, cry and point upward at the moving island. The elves below had no immediate action, although Oleothera was certain that they saw one of them make a hand signal that seemed to communicate “Wait.” to the others.
Harold Steel’s island floated off west to parts unknown, and a woman of some authority came out of the temple and addressed the crowd, calming them down. While they talked, two wolves approached from a far corner of the temple and shifted into men out of the sight of the crowd. They then joined the woman of authority by her side. “Druids,” Oleothera said to themeselves. The trio dispersed the vast majority of the crowd, and then they turned and entered the temple.
It was now dark, and the grounds outside the temple were empty. One of the elves below cast a spell and Oleothera watched as the peaked arch entry of the temple was replaced by an open set of massive bronze doors. On the lintel of the door were four carved skulls, whose sockets glowed with the colors of the four elements. Three of the elves charged across the creek, shortly followed by the other three. After taking a moment outside of the temple to cast some spells, they drew weapons and went inside. Oleothera cursed themselves for not approaching the elves earlier and watched as the half-orc and tiefling hesitantly crossed the creek. The two men then set to establishing a campfire and sat in the clearing in front of the temple. Scouts, Oleothera imagined.
Oleothera considered their next actions. They certainly weren’t going into the temple after the elves, but they wanted to know what they were up to. They decided to wait until the elves returned. They’d approach them once they returned to the woods. It was foolish to try to confront them any sooner.
Oleothera waited in the tree for several hours. They had to shift her position a few times to ease their joints and stretch their muscles, but they were confident in their hidden position. Finally, there was movement at the doors of the temple, but to their dismay, it was only one elf. Judging from the elf’s movements, they were badly hurt. The half-orc and tiefling brought the elf to the campfire, and the three sat together for a few minutes before the elf moved closer to trees across the creek and entered a trance. Oleothera decided that they’d cross the creek and retrieve the elf once they had left their trance. Something had obviously gone wrong in the temple.
As the early light of morning reached the clearing across the creek, a small group of people approached from the south. A jolt of panic shot through Oleothera as they realized that the group was human guards. But with them was the wood elf known as Gabilan. Oleothera had never met Gabilan, but her name was respected among the elves of Yllodah and they personally had spotted her several times at the residence of the human druid Willamina. Gabilan left the small group of guards and approached the half-orc, the tiefling, and the meditating elf.
Oleothera knew that now was the time to act.