The PCs can either be soldiers sent to hunt down the deserters (I use that approach), or they could be adventurers sensing the tremors and witnessing the rise of the mountain. A third approach could be investigators sent here on an errand for some witches's coven or mage's guild, for they are sure to notice the magic at play here.
Coldforged specific intro:
Deneus of Cormalth was a respected mage, an adept of the Ninean Circle and husband of Leinte Udaur, the beautiful Frost Queen of the Circle. That seemed so long ago, but in truth but a week had passed since they fought together on the battlefield. Only a week since the Hexenjaegers descended upon them, quickly, more quickly than he could ever have foreseen, brushing him aside, only the power of Leinte giving them pause. Furious Leinte, beautiful Leinte, she stood her ground in a nimbus of frost, the shapechanger crows that entered the nimbus falling to the ground with frozen wings. But for every Hexenjaeger she killed, two appeared to take their place. Deneus could hear her terrified screams as he turned and ran, her shouts for mercy. But he did not turn to help her, not even when she cried his name in one last terrified scream. A scream cut horribly short.
Ever since that pivotal moment, his dreams have been haunted by fear and guilt. Fear of the Hexenjaegers, guilt for the way he abandoned his wife to her fate.
Not one to sacrifice himself for the Empire, Deneus of Cormalth ran. He deserted the army.
The arch-mage Deneus Betherim is a deserter, fleeing from the army of his nation, his morale broken by a disastrous encounter with the enemy. Having fled with his personal guard of six Desertman Warriors of the Undaani tribes, he has taken refuge in the ruins of an old manse, the residence of a once important, but now long forgotten minister.
Paranoid, his heart throbbing with fear, Deneus has called upon powerful magicks. Black magic.
First his summons reached the netherworld, from which emerged "Teneschalion" (also known as Paranoia, Scion of Fear), an ancient demon, that quickly possessed the crows of the forest in which the manse was located. You see; demons are dangerous to deal with, but Deneus knew that a careful mage could limit their appearance in our world, only providing them with inferior hosts to possess. While such demons are less powerful, that manifestation also lessens the danger the demon poses to the mage.
Then, while the demon tainted crows swarmed above the manse and forest, scouting for intruders of any kind, Deneus sanctified and prepared a chamber of summons, a powerful mage's tool required for more powerful conjurations.
Deneus had dwelled with the Undaani desert tribes for more than ten years, and from their shaman he had learned to shape the sand and the earth, which is how the desert tribes built their Immolean Fortress, their impenetrable stronghold in the heart of the desert.
During his ritual of conjuration, a lenghty ritual requiring several days of chanting and summoning, his mind wandered, his concentration faltered, his thoughts fleeing to his recent nightmare.
Unfortunately someone noticed...
On the other side an elemental lord had been forced into servitude, and with the mage's mind wandering the elemental lord let minute amounts of his power seep through, seducing the mage, leading him ever deeper into thoughts, until thoughts became daydreams and daydreams became real dreams. All the while the elemental lord orchestrated the mage, like a puppeteer, using the mage's raw power to fuel and widen the rift between worlds.
Thus the elemental lord entered our realm of existence, the desert tribesmen falling to their knees in homage of the powerful "Sand Lord" they saw before them, and the elemental lord recognizing the tribesmen of the Obaayn Desert, the only place in which his kind was regularly summoned, and worshipped. The tribesmen are now his loyal followers and guard the entrance chamber of the manse.
The arch-mage, Deneus Betherim, is still suspended in mid-air as he was during the ritual, but now arcs of static electricity are shooting from his fingertips, his power fueling the rift between worlds. He is the blood of the mountain, and his body is slowly torn apart from the strain and exhaustion of the ritual, cracks and wounds slowly spreading across his body, blood running from his eyes and nostrils. Not without gain, however, for the gate bleeds stone and sand and earth, in effect building a mountain beneath the age old manse.
Meanwhile the elemental lord has reached into the mind of Deneus, and thus unveiled his secrets. With these secrets he has learned of this world, wrested control of the crow swarm demon from Deneus and is slowly building his empire. An empire which starts here, at the apex of a mountain being born.
- Deneus is fueling the rift between worlds.
- The Rift is located in a room called "The Pulse", the former summoning chamber. In this chamber a huge cavity has appeared, a hole in the ground with no bottom, or so it seems. From a glowing, pulsing sphere in the air, stones and earth and sand is streaming at tremendous speed down into the hole.
- Each fifth minute a minuscule tremor rips through the land. These weak tremors can be felt tens of miles away.
- The mountain grows ten meters an hour. Each passing second making it harder to ascend. The PCs should arrive one or two days after the elemental lord slipped through the rift, which would make it at least 250 meters of height (of course they already are 500 meters above water level, so the mountain is between 750-1000m above water level when they approach, growing higher each minute they linger. The mountain will stop growing when it is six thousand meters of height.
- The Elemental Lord keeps the rift portal open as a way back home to his native realm, as well as a means of summoning his lesser brethren. Already a clay elemental is traveling through the mountain below, and with time the Elemental Lord hopes to call upon hundreds of such beings to strengthen his rule over this strange land. For the Elemental Lord is certain of one thing; this is the land of prophecy, the paradise that was stolen by usurper Gods.
- Deneus' dreams haunt the dreams of anyone sleeping in the vicinity of the mountain. Such sleep proves ineffective, not restoring any lost health or mana, and all the sleepers dream about is being chased, hunted, and then hacked to pieces (Deneus' fears)
- As is customary in the sand covered lands, the Undaani has lighted wax candles in ceramic candle holders and placed them in niches throughout the manse. These candles represent the sun above the sands. Currently the candles are vibrating slightly, due to the force of "The Pulse".
- The entire manse is vibrating slightly, dust and small stones falling regularly from the ceiling. Still the construction holds, owing mainly to the power of the elemental lord.
- As the PCs close in on the mountain, they can feel grains of sand in the wind, sliding down the neck, being blown into their eyes and nostrils.
- Both armies have sent several scouting parties to the mountain to discover what has happened. These have been detected by the crows and then been murdered by them, later to be reanimated by the elemental lord as "Sand Zombies", semi-undead beings whose eyes, mouths, stomachs, veins and lungs have been filled with sand, the sand being controlled by the elemental lord. These are the guardians of the mountain, horrid blotched corpses shambling towards the PCs, sand flowing from their eyes, mouths and noses.
The Elemental Lord
The Elemental Lord is a highly sentient life form from the elemental plane of earth, one of the six basic essences from which reality has been re-crafted*. Elementals and their Elemental Lords are remnant life forms of First Creation, and they are immortals as well. Theirs is an intellect of genius proportions, with aeons of experience to guide them.
The Elemental Lord appears most often like a vast amount of sand, slithering through the hallways and forest like a sepia snake, buffeting against intruders and slamming them to the ground, over the edge of a cliff or against dungeon walls.
When the Elemental Lord feels threatened, such as when a mage throws a fireball after him, or a warrior cleaves him with an enchanted blade, he will assume a shape of his will. This particular elemental lord will assume the shape of a warrior, or a basilisk, with two glittering diamonds for eyes. The skin of this taken shape is extremely hard, rock hard to be precise, and only spells and enchanted equipment can hope to harm him.
Being a Lord of Elemental Earth the creature can also spend a combat round to open cracks in the earth. The PCs can use dexterity or dodge related skills to avoid these cracks and fissures, some of which will attempt to devour them, while other will release scolding hot steam.
Note: For cinematic pleasure use the Elemental Lord first against the PCs close to a cliff / forest, in which he tries to push them off the mountain / drop them into the mountain. Later use him inside the manse, in protection of "The Pulse". Here he will redirect matter from "The Pulse"; showering the PCs with rocks, earth and sand, while slashing fiercely at them with his stone form.
* (Coldforged specific) Reality was re-crafted by the gods: In the true Coldforged creation tale, the story goes how the Gods reforged Prime Creation, the creation of the Dreamer, into their own creation, known as Second Creation. Prime Creation was disassembled and reassembled into Second Creation, the leftovers being stored in the elemental/essence planes of existence. Given that the power of the Gods is far inferior of that of the Dreamer, there are vast, nay near infinite, amounts of the six basic essences in each their plane of existence, for the Gods simply could not make use of it all. The essence realms are: Black, White, Earth, Air, Fire and Water. (Black = Death/Decay, White = Life/Growth)
Teneschalion - Paranoia, Scion of Fear
aka the Demon Infested Crow Swarm
The Swarm is but a minor infestation of Teneschalion, one which only retains traces of his instinct and none of his intellect. Still, it is a fearsome thing to behold and it radiates that dread power of paranoia, causing all who gaze upon it to shudder down their spine and look scared over their shoulder.
The Swarm is now serving The Elemental Lord since he wrested control over it from Deneus, and it reports directly to him, flying in spirals down through the many holes in the manse roof and directly down into the room known as "The Pulse".
The Swarm will only attack once the PCs close in on the manse, preferably when they are directly outside. If the PCs kill more than half the swarm, they will not have sufficient numbers to host the demon anymore, and he will in effect have been banished. Separately they cause little danger, but combined they form a considerable threat. The Swarm regenerates whenever new crows near the swarm, for the demonic taint spreads easily from crow to crow.
The Sand Zombies
Three patrols of scouts from the Empire and two from Silmar have ascended the mountain since it began to tremble. All were detected by the swarm and butchered by the Elemental Lord. Now these slain creatures serve as guards and first line of defense of the mountain.
Shambling creatures wearing the tattered remnants of their former uniforms, these are unfortunate wretches whose bodily orifices have been filled with sand. So, when they shamble against the PCs, swords held high, sand will be pouring from their eyes, ears, noses and mouths in seemingly unstoppable amounts. Also, the very air around them will swirl and churn, blowing sand into eyes and mouths of all they oppose.
The Sand Zombies have a special attack, in which they "blow" sand against opponents, blinding them unless they somehow dodge or resist the attack.
The Elemental Lord will reanimate anyone slain by the Sand Zombies, in turn creating new Sand Zombies. If the Elemental Lord dies, the Sand Zombies collapse.
The Undaani Tribesmen, Elite Bodyguard
The Undaani of the Obaayn Desert worship the elemental lords of earth like they were gods in their own right, and the appearance of an elemental lord in this place has been seen by them all as the coming of their god. Their old allegiances have been quickly cast aside and they are now truly the servants of the Elemental Lord.
While they regret the condition of Deneus, they see it as a necessary evil for the coming of the elementals and the creation of their version of "heaven on earth".
The tribesmen might recognize the PCs from their days in the army. If appropriate they might offer the PCs a chance to surrender and fall on their knees in worship of the elemental lord. They will are true zealots, and are more than willing to die for their lord.
The Undaani eat demon infested crow meat and ordinary vegetables to survive, but the power of the Elemental Lord neutralizes the dark taint of the meat. The Undaani also light the tallow candles of the manse, and they are the guardians of the entrance chamber.
Deneus the Wretched, Prisoner within Dreams and Blood of the Mountain
Much has been said about Deneus already, but I will add this:
Deneus is a man in his forties, balding but slim. His body is now covered in tears and scratches, his eyes and nostrils bleeding profusely. Yet he somehow lingers on, his once white silken robes drenched in blood.
Deneus is now located in the second story of the manse, under a partially cracked dome, suspended mid-air, his back arched, his feet pointing down, his face looking towards the sky. All the while static electricity arcs from his fingers and down to a strange symbol on the floor. (The symbol is extradimensional, and is a focus of magical energies. It fuels the rift downstairs with the power it needs).
The Elemental Lord has placed a spell of regeneration on Deneus, so that his body is repairing itself at nearly the rate the magical energies is tearing it apart.
Should anyone be able to penetrate the defenses and kill Deneus, the rift will close and the elemental lord will be much, much easier to kill. The Sand Zombies will collapse and "die", and the manse will also partially collapse. The trembles will stop and the mountain will stop growing.
Should the elemental lord be killed first, Deneus will awaken horrified, and with a startled scream he will once again attempt to flee. This time he will be unsure what he is fleeing from, but he is now well on his way into madness.
If the PCs fight the Elemental Lord and force him to flee, he will try to retreat into this chamber and will position himself directly between Deneus and the rune on the floor. The power seeping from Deneus will gradually heal him.