The party managed to get Huntergate functioning again in Alseta’s Ring, opening the ancient elven portal. Stepping in, they found a long 20’ wide corridor, the stone appearing to be semi-molten, veined with glowing red lines of fire. As they progressed along it, flames and smoke ahead coalesced to form a massive red dragon, which Ty identified as Dahak, the Endless Destruction, the god of evil dragons. Dahak kept thrashing in the confines of the tunnel, repeating “I will destroy them all!” in draconic and filling the corridor with bursts of fiery breath. Turns out it wasn’t ACTUALLY Dahak, but a psychic impression of him endlessly acting out a traumatic moment, a haunt Phlegm managed to dispel with a cunning use of the Hunter’s Arrowhead that had been used to open the portal.
Exiting Huntergate, the party found themselves in a massive ruined temple, surrounded by steaming jungle on all sides. A short distance from them they came across a broken, totem-esque wooden pillar, topped with a carved dragon head bleached white. Before they could investigate it, they found themselves surrounded by at least two dozen elves with arrows trained on them, shouting at them in an unknown language, Renali, the Anadi woman the party had rescued, interposed herself between the two groups, shouting back to the elves in the same language.
The standoff is broken as the leader of the elves comes forward. In oddly accented Taldane he identifies himself as Jahsi, of the Leopard Clan, whose mother was of the River Clan. He identifies the elves surrounding the party as Ekujae – the elves of the Mwangi Expanse. He explains that the Cult of Cinders and Ashes had attacked them at this temple weeks ago and using the Hunter’s Arrowhead opened the Aiudara and entered. He’s somewhat confused as to how a group of boggards and Charau-Ka could enter a portal, and then return weeks later as humans, elves and goblins.
After tensions calm he sends a runner to proceed them to Akrivel, a city of the Ekujae, and offers to guide them there. Tonas first asks to examine the strange totem that the cultists were attempting to create before the elves drove them from the temple ruins. The bard can sense traces of magic still lingering within the broken wooden pillar – she senses that this is some sort of conduit for divine magic, channeling power to another location. She also surmises that the pillar would be somewhat sentient were it not destroyed, and that it has other magic effects that would most likely be detrimental solely to Ekujae elves.
The march to Akrivel takes several hours, through dense jungle shrouded in humid mists. The city itself is a massive series of wooden platforms built in the tree canopy, holding clusters of wooden structures and hanging gardens, all interconnected with a dizzying web of rope and vine bridges. Below the city the party meets N’ketiah, Jahsi’s daughter, a halfelf who is the speaker and storyteller for the Leopard clan. She informs the party that a feast will be held in their honor in the evening.
For the rest of the day, the party explores the city of Akrivel, finding themselves subtly challenged numerous times as the elves seem to struggle with forming an opinion of them. They are challenged to a capoeira-like martial arts competition by two girls, accompany a particularly surly elven ranger to hunt game for the feast, etc., seeming to win the approval of the Ekujae.
As evening falls, hundreds of elves gather on a large open platform for the festival. As the sun begins to set, N’ketiah walks out before the party, using magic to ignite a fire in a long wooden trough. Backlit by the fire, she begins to tell a story, the flames magically shifting and twisting to form images to accompany her tale:
“In the long ago, far to the North, there were seven great m’baktu (human) nations, ruled by seven great wizards. Giants and dragons were their slaves, and built them cities that reached to the skies. But in their great pride they could not foresee their downfall. A great stone from the blackness beyond the sky was being pulled towards them by their enemies. Only the elves saw what was soon to come. The elves of the north – the okele, opened up great portals and fled, hiding like children during a storm. But the ekujae (all elves stomp and chant ‘ekujae!’) saw their duty. They would stay and guard against the coming darkness.
And so the great stone fell from the sky and broke the world. Waters poured into the hole it left and formed a new sea. The sky grew black from the dust thrown into it, hiding the face of the sun as it wept. In the darkness that followed, all that could be heard was the screaming and wailing of those left behind.
But not all were saddened by this destruction. In his cave deep with the hells, the Great Darkness laughed and danced with joy at the havoc he saw. He yearned to come to the world and add his flames to the fires that burned the trees and the great cities. But he dare not, for should he enter the world his father, mighty Apsu, would take notice and destroy him.
The Darkness was not to be stopped. His searching led him to a tiny tear in the wall between worlds, created long ago by an okele elf, the crafter of the elven portals – the aiudara. The darkness found he could squeeze the tiniest portion of himself through this tear and into the oldest of the aidura, and from there form an aspect of himself to bring his destruction to the world.
And so through a hole in the night the Darkness forced a bit of himself, so that he could add to the destruction and suffering. As he pulled himself through, like a monstrous birth, he found himself in an ancient temple of Ketephys, The Hunter. He laid waste to the temple, and laughed as the trees around it burned.
The first people that the Darkness found were a brave people, who stood before the Darkness with their weapons and did not run. These were the Ekujae (ekujae!). The Darkness sought to destroy them, saying, ‘You shall fall before me, for I am Death and I am Fire.’ But the people were not afraid, and replied, ‘You shall not break us, for we are the guardians of this land, who stayed to defend it when all others fled. We are the Ekujae.”
The people shattered their spears against the Darkness again and again, but no living being could pierce its hide. Many were lost as the people slowly retreated. But then came Old Man Jatembe – greatest of the m’baktu wizards. He taught the people a spell, a terrible spell, to stop the Darkness. The Animus Invocation.
The greatest among the people, the kindest, the most righteous, gave their lives to forge their souls into weapons for the people to wield.
Brightly their souls burned, like coals in the night! The people took up the souls of those they had most loved, and in wrath split the skin of the Darkness. They spilled the blood of the Darkness across the whole of their lands. They broke the horns and teeth from the Darkness and flung them into the sea. Yet still the Darkness would not die!
The people forced the Darkness back into the place from whence it had emerged. The people trapped it in the space between spaces. The people swore they would stand guard so that the Darkness could never escape to threaten the land again.
Could the people imprison the Darkness forever, when even the best among them could not defeat it? Was it foolish to expect them to try?” Nketiah pauses, then says, “That is the story that we have been given.”
“We will remember,” the other Ekujae reply.