After Pony stormed out, the party spent quite a while discussing how to proceed. They all agreed that investigating the Erathine Glacier Waypoint first was no longer a good option. Not only would it by challenging to avoid the wyverns, it was also an obvious destination such that, even if they evaded the wyverns, there was a fair chance of being found at the Waypoint itself. Unsure, as of yet, about who or what was riding the wyverns, and the agenda of said riders, the party decided to do something unexpected.
After reviewing the different Waypoints they were supposed to investigate, the party decided to go north to the Waypoint at the caldera of Mt. Aerulan, situated where the Briarwood climbed the slopes of the Greybane Mountains. Some debate ensued as to the best way to cross the distance, until Sardis asked why they couldn’t just step from tree to tree, as Ink had arranged during their fight with the howlers.
Ink started to dismiss the notion, saying that the ritual could only create a portal between trees within…sight…
It took only moments for the whole party to realize that though the treestride ritual couldn’t take them all the way to Mt. Aerulan, it could allow them to traverse dozens of miles at a single step, and to do so with virtually no chance of being spotted by the wyvern riders.
Shortly thereafter, the eight of them fled the Waypoint, and followed the nearby ravine into deeper tree cover. After about an hour travel on foot, after which they were all fairly sure that the wyvern riders couldn’t see them anymore, Ink worked ze’s magic.
About a half hour and two magical transportations later, the group emerged from a large cedar tree about a half-hour’s march from the Waypoint at the caldera of Mt. Aerulan.
They approached the Waypoint cautiously. Sure enough, as the wood-and-stone structure came into view through the trees, it had been reduced to a pile of wood and charred logs. Even in snow, it was apparent to Sardis and Eirlys that the Waypoint and surrounding trees had been attacked by fire, from the air, and quite deliberately. Deciding they needed more information, Kalyx, Ink, Mara, and Sgt. Thiele remained at the Waypoint to investigate while Sardis, Eirlys, Leboch, and Tomas set out into the alpine forest to see what else they could discover.
Ink and Kalyx were able to determine, from the feel of the auras and the nature of the destruction around the ruin that the fire that had rained down had been divine in origin. More, Ink could feel that the location was, very subtly, now sacred to Aerus, god of fire and war. All signs pointed to the wyvern riders being Aechellans, and ordained of their god, as strange as it sounded. It was also clear that they had very deliberately sought to disrupt and destroy the Waypoint’s teleportation circle, perhaps three months ago. They found no sign of the Explorer’s Guild expedition sent to look into the Waypoint’s inaccessibility, though that could be accounted for by the dangers of the Greybane’s themselves.
Meanwhile, Sardis and Eirlys found subtle signs of repeated, small caravans passing through the area as recently as a few weeks ago, and dating as far back as last winter. Because of the passage of time and, especially, the snow, it was very difficult to tell how often the caravans came through, but it was clear that, until about three months ago, the caravans had appeared at the Waypoint and traveled east, then, about three months ago, they had started traveling from the west and passing near the Waypoint on their way east.
When the party reconvened at the Waypoint, they drew the following conclusions:
— Someone, likely Aechell, had been using the Explorer’s Guild path through the Greybanes to bring supplies from near or inside Aechell to somewhere east of the Caldera Waypoint.
— The caravans had been small. Not enough to feed or supply any meaningfully large invading force. They had come on horses and mules, not with carts or wagons.
— Based on the signs found so far, the most likely known destinations would be the Ruby Vale or Broken Spire, though the Greybanes are full of ruins and points of interest, so it’s hard to say.
— Probably the caravans had been using the teleportation circle found at the Caldera Waypoint until fairly recently. The party supposed that they had stopped, and destroyed the Waypoint, out of concern that the Mage’s or Explorer’s Guild would stumble upon the caravans if the circle was left functional.
After a little additional exploration to the east of the Waypoint, the party found that the caravan trail split. Some of the caravans (or some part of the caravans), had been diverted towards Mt. Aerulan’s caldera, while the rest had continued east into the mountains. The party decided to investigate the caldera-bound path before continuing east.
The party followed the caravan trail up switchbacks, above the treeline, towards the smoking crater of Mt. Aerulan. As the forest thinned and disappeared, the landscape became bleaker and increasingly riddled with cracks, caves, and rents emitting smoke, steam, and sulfurous fumes. Eventually, somewhat abruptly, after running along a scree-covered slope a couple hundred feet below the lip of the crater, the signs of the caravans just…stopped. The party looked around for anything out of the ordinary and noticed a large crack, tucked up against a bluff, among some large rock formations, suspiciously free of smoke and noxious fumes. Being adventurers, and thus unable to resist any sort of hole in the ground, the party approached. As they did so, several of them sensed the malign energies of the Nine Hells emanating from the earth below.
The crack was almost 10 feet wide, and ran along the base of the cliff for some 60 feet. It was deep, some 200 feet by Sardis’ estimation. For a moment, nobody saw anything out of the ordinary, then several of the noticed, perhaps 5 or 6 feet below the lip of the crevasse, obscured by a rocky protrusion, were some chains, hanging down into the blackness below and connected to some difficult-to-see pulley and crank system.
Sardis, who had been staring, listening, and sniffing intently at the darkness below, abruptly launched into an explanation of what they were seeing. There was a platform, he said, that could be raised on the chains they were seeing. It was meant to be raised and lowered from below; there was no mechanism for raising it from the top. It was likely used for carrying people and supplies between the surface and whatever lay below.
A guard post, he said, lay below. There was at least one dwarf, and at least one devil, and they had noticed that someone was peering down the crack.
The party considered, briefly, going down the hole to investigate, or attack, but ultimately decided that the crack should be noted, not explored for now. As they made their way back to the treeline, hustling when they considered the possibility that wyverns might be inbound, Eirlys spoke of her theory of what lay at the bottom of the crack.
The dead dwarven ruins of Marak Dur lay within the western face of the mountain now known as Aerulan. Marak Dur had been a ruin since the Throck-Dwarf War, five hundred years before the rise of Khalipanofax. What was left of the city was considered, by the Explorer’s Guild largely looted, as many explorer’s had sought out the lost treasures of the dwarves in the centuries since the throck’s had ruined the city with magma. Eirlys’ guess was that, what lay at the bottom of the crack was some distant, unexplored corner of Marak Dur. There was still a Waypoint near the great gates of the ancient city, she recalled, if the party wanted to explore further.
Instead, they decided to follow the supply trail farther east. Quick as that, Ink was drawing sigils on the bark of a great, bare maple tree, and the party was crossing a dozen miles in a single step. As they exited onto the snow-covered and less-wooded slope east of Mt. Aerulan, Eirlys suggested that they make for the Waypoint at the Greymire, a large, icy salt marsh that filled a valley in the direction they were headed. As they made their way east, they could look back and see a pair of what must have been wyverns, circling above the western slope of the Aerulan Caldera.
As they neared the Greymire Waypoint, the party was only mildly surprised to see it burnt and partially collapsed. Unlike the Caldera Waypoint, this one had not been razed, but, seemingly, only half-heartedly attacked. The mostly-wooden structure was still, in fact, partially roofed, and intact enough to use as a shelter, especially in combination with Ink’s knack for employing nature spirits to build hidden, sheltered campsites.
As Ink, Kalyx, and Sardis sat inside the cabin, seeing to it’s support and working ink’s ritual, Eirlys, Sgt. Thiele, Tomas Brighteyes, and Leboch the Bitter searched the area around the Waypoint for dangers and items of interest. While the eladrin and young Brighteyes explored behind the Waypoint shelter, Sgt Thiele and Leboch checked out front, near the water and around the icy pier.
Just as the ritual ended, there was a shout, and a splash, and several party members caught a glimpse of a large black dragon as it’s head, Leboch in its mouth, pulled swiftly back into the murky water.