The Shackled City
Jarvyk Entry 9
It was the morning of Planting 8th and we had slept heavily on that the night of Alek’s death. His salvation was our salvation, and so too his passing our undoing. If anything was going to lead us back onto the path of righteousness it would be Clanggedin, who must have sent us Nidrama; our guiding angel. Her words echo even now, reverberating amongst plans yet unformed. Cauldron brings grave doom, trust the smoking eye.
That made Karamus’s discovery all the more intriguing. As the rest of us stirred he discovered an intruder, a half-orc, sleeping amongst the bloody grit. We sought to stir the creature from its drunken slumber and so discover the nature of this riddle. How does an inebriated creature with no gear to speak of travel across a great desert and come to rest in the chamber of our greatest failure, on the very evening of its occurrence?
I headed towards the beast, waking it as I approached. It struck out towards me, finding more pain than success. We immediately sought answers. How did you get here? Why are you here? Who sent you? The creature had no meaningful answer for any of these inquiries. He knew only that drink had been had and that a white skinned woman with a fiery sword had been seen. It was just about that time that we noticed the intriguing aspect; a tattoo upon its arm depicted a skull with a smoking eye. The sign foretold by Nidrama! Elias, the beast, knew not the source of the mark but it was enough to grant him our favor.
Owing to the gravity of the situation, we soon moved onto the question of our path. None could figure our location, least of all the new drunkard. And so we found ourselves as lost, as we had feared, stuck in a map-less desert with no discernable goal. We could attempt to head back towards Cauldron, at least its direction was reasonably surmised, but to what end. As far as we knew, grave doom awaited us there. Still, heading home was the only reasonable idea any could muster and so I attempted to get us moving in that direction. If we were on the move moral might improve. Others wanted to wait until dark, rather than leave immediately. Given the nature of a desert, and our resources, I relented.
As we waited, a band of demons set upon us. The creatures, with leathery black skin, oozed a vile acid that tore into our weapons as easily as a beast tears through fresh meat. Their claws found similar function upon me, tearing great holes in my flesh. The smell of melted skin permeated the battle. Given the nature of their skin I was forced to use inferior weapons, making the encounter even more difficult. We killed one of the creatures, but the others seemed unfazed by their loss. I was beginning to think that some of us might not make it through this raid, and then he appeared.
A shadowy figure emerged from nowhere to stand between the light and us. He cast a spell, which I could not determine, and the remaining creatures simply vanished. We were left astonished, breathing the heavy breaths of battle. The figure simply stood there, draped in grey robes which bore the mark of the smoking eye; previously seen upon Elias’s arm. It seems Nidrama, and by extension Clanggedin, placed more than one aid upon our path. Given the nature of the previous sign, I waited with anticipation for the details of this situation to unfold.
The man introduced himself as Kaurophon, then asked for our assistance. It seemed a reasonable request. He knew our company and professed to have information regarding Cauldron and its troubles. Things appeared to be, rather convenient. Then it became clear, this aid would also come with its caveats.
Kaurophon sought to pass some kind of test upon Occipitus, a layer of the Abyss. This did not seem like a reasonable request. The test, oddly enough, was called the Test of the Smoking Eye and Occipitus was some type of hellish plane with Celestial influences. It was difficult to discern the words coming from this creature, as I was searching for the evil within him. He was certainly evil.
This put me in a bit of a moral quandary. Clanggedin had sent a messenger that directed us towards this Smoking Eye, and here we found it in a clearly evil being. Was this a test? Should I even listen to the rest of its story? Given the trials of previous days, I thought better of attacking Kaurophon. Such an action would likely have been in vain anyway. So I began to listen again.
It seems that Kaurophon desired a rulership over Occipitus, which could only be obtained by passing the Test of the Smoking Eye. He also sought balance between the battling forces upon that plane, the divine and the demonic. Perhaps there was good to come of these actions yet. At any rate, I knew that creature to be evil and so wanted no part in an open-ended arrangement. If terms were set out, and agreed to, then perhaps assistance could be provided. The last thing I wanted was for our company to end up on an Abyssal plane with no hope of return and no method of protection.
With this in mind, I sought to force Kaurophon into a formal agreement. If he would provide protection and a way home (which he did offer of his own volition) then we would help him with this hellish quest. The deal did not sit well with me, but such is the life of a Paladin. Difficult decisions are often the only path to true enlightenment. And who knows, perhaps some clues as to my family lineage could be gleaned from the experience. One can rarely tell these things before hand. We also opened the door to possible aid for Cauldron, should Kaurophon’s intentions be truer than his being suggested.
Only after all was agreed did he, the beast from hell, reveal his true form. Kaurophon was truly a demonic entity. His own words revealed the purpose of his illusion, and I dare say he was correct. Were he to have shown his true form earlier we would have likely come to a different, and less amicable, agreement.
On the morning of the 9th Kaurophon brought us together for transport to Occipitus. It was an unpleasant travel. The feeling can only be likened to having ones body crushed by a great weight and then being revived by a sickening potion. I do not recommend that method of travel, whatever it was.
When I was finally able to perceive my surroundings I found them to be like nothing I had ever seen before. The skies were aflame, literally aflame. The entire world was basked in the red glow. There was a great skull in the distance, as big as a mountain, with a smoking eye socket. The ground was as flesh and rib-like pillars soared into the sky. If I didn’t know better I would say we were standing in, or rather on, the uncovered grave of a god.
Kaurophon directed us towards something called the Citadel of Feathers, which he determined would be about 100 miles from our current location. I was not keen on the journey, but wanted to get it out of the way as soon as possible. If our first trial lay within that citadel then we needed to get to it quickly. The entirety of the world seemed to push against me, as if it did not welcome my being. I wanted to be rid of the place as soon as possible.
Alas, before we could get very far towards that goal we were met by giant land eating beasts. These creatures stood taller and broader than a human’s horse. They immediately noticed us and began running in our direction. As they attacked I began to realize the true horror of this place. Kort and Bransen were both wounded greatly by the initial attacks from these creatures. Ashton summoned an enormous horned beast to combat them, but it only stood around and wretched at the smell of the giants.
Seeing the losing battle before us, I sounded the retreat and attempted to outpace the creatures. Kaurophon, for his part, did well to distract them. He revealed great leathery wings as he rose above us and began to lay a chilling waste upon them. Unfortunately, not a single one of the giants fell. Kort, brave as he is, barely escaped. Bransen had to be plucked from the area by Kaurophon’s magic. In the end, our first encounter on Occipitus did not bolster my confidence with regard to the Test of the Smoking Eye. If we could not handle the first group of creatures we encountered how were we going to survive the test that seeks to establish the ruler of the entire plane? Was there no being on Occipitus that could deal with these giant creatures, or were we just that unprepared or weak? Although I thought it impossible mere moments before, I began to envy our situation even less.