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Having secured the Lady Luck’s fire cask the next leg of the party’s journey lay further east. Bentil had spotted a volcanic vent at the foot of the mountains and believed it to be the best source of elemental fire – the critical component in refloating his airship. Spending the night camped near the gently rocking vessel, they set out at first light.

Heading over the ridgeline and descending into the valley below, catching their bearings through infrequent breaks in the trees, the party made good time. Bentil’s directions were solid and, near dusk, they had reached their destination. The fissure lay on the hillside like a scar, ten meters wide and two score long, and the ground lay barren around it in a great swath. Sulfurous steam rose constantly from the vent, leaving a sickly yellow residue on the ground. In the dimming light, a dull red glow illuminated the fissure.

Spending an uncomfortable night camped in this desolate place, the party ventured forth in the morning to explore. From the lip of the vent, the view inside was daunting. Ten score meters below, a river of magma churned through the chasm, producing heat and fumes reminiscent of one of the Carathan hells. Strangely, a crude staircase had been hacked into the side of the fissure. Seeing no other way down, the party cautiously made their descent.

Bathed in the red light and overwhelming heat, their senses assaulted by foul odors and the cracking, rumbling noises of the earth, the party delved into the earth. A hundred and fifty meters below, the stairs ended on a ledge that overlooked the molten river flowing through a subterranean vault of impressive size. Standing in the middle of the river, connected to the ledge by a fragile looking natural arch of stone, there rose a pillar of rock. Magma splashed high into the air as it flowed past.

A plan was quickly formed. Azo and Kraag would cross the bridge to collect some magma in the fire-cask. After a nerve-wracking start, the pair managed to cross to the spire, finding themselves in a precarious perch. At the same time, Watcher, keeping guard on the stairs – the only way out of the fissure – noticed that they were no longer alone. The chasm was being surrounded by gorillas in large numbers – a tribe of apes that worshipped the fire spirits found within the chasm – who began to roar and stomp, their feet pounding a primeval beat.

It soon dawned on the party that the apes were enacting some kind of primitive ritual. Hoping to disrupt it and safeguard their exit, Cassandra and Jullian wove illusions – a great bird of fire to scare the apes and a glamour of lava to coat the upper staircase. It appeared that they were successful, driving the creatures away from the edge of the fissure, until Watcher’s keen hearing picked up the ritualistic rhythm again. The frenzied pounding reached a crescendo then suddenly stopped.

Back on the pillar, Azo managed to position the fire cask in just the right way to catch a large glob of magma as it sprayed towards the ceiling. He snapped shut the grate, activating the object’s magic, and was gratified to see it working. Any jubilation was short-lived, however, as the object of the apes’ ritual began to rise from the river below.

An immense creature, brutish and ape-like in form, comprised of magma and boulders, burst forth from the river at the base of the pillar. The party wasted no time, scrambling to escape from the fissure. Azo and Kraag fled across the bridge as the primal beast knocked the pillar into the magma river, Kraag barely making onto the ledge before the arch crumbled beneath his feet.

Jullian reached the surface first, his fear of the elemental overcoming his fear of the apes that had summoned it. Desperately drawing upon their powers, Jullian and Kalieb cloaked themselves in frightful illusions and charged the ring of apes that surrounded the vent. The gorillas scattered out of their path, opening the way for the party’s headlong flight down the hillside.

Sometime later, having put enough distance between themselves and the hellish experience of the chasm, the party took stock. They had completed all of Bentil’s tasks – all that remained was the long trip back. Four hard days later, weary and travelworn, the group emerged from the jungle east of Garra’s village.

All was not well, however, as smoke and devastation covered the farming settlement. It seemed as if our heroes had stepped from one hell into another…

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Legends of the Three Pillars occam99