Our story shifts to a new face: Akaria Shadowheart.
A nomad with infernal blood coursing through her body, her most recent endeavors include being the manager of an aspiring band of halflings called Vermin Supreme, and doing odd jobs for Aleron Strohnheim, a former researcher loyal to Kuvera’s former aristocratic ruling class.
It began when Aleron posited a request to Akaria that was particularly unusual: go to Nasr and obtain specific scripts of information, supposedly kept in the Arbiter’s Temple, and ancient archive that was lost to the sands long ago. Apparently, Nasr wasn’t always a desert nation, and the rulers of that time of Nasrian history were the Arbiters: a successive series of judges who oversaw political issues and disputes, and were responsible for archiving records and keeping track of history. Then the sands suddenly came, suffocating the landscape and wiping away the Nasrian nation as it was. When Nasr was reestablished, the Nasultanic dynasty came to be; supreme monarchs with absolute rule. Aleron learned of old texts about the content of the lost archives, and took interest in scripts about Nasrian agriculture from the time of the Arbiters, as well as scripts about planar research commissioned by the Arbiters.
So Akaria set off to Nasr with Vermin Supreme in tow, deceived into thinking they had a concert scheduled to perform at, and Annabelle, another one of Aleron’s assistants. After several days of travel, Akaria and party arrive in Saraqustah; open markets, street bands, and crowded roads are nearly constant during the daytime of this bustling town. Tending to her caravan animals, Akaria’s first course of action is to find a lead on the location of the Arbiter’s Temple. While on her way to a library with Annabelle, Vermin Supreme cannot resist showing off their musical talents to passersby, putting on a rich performance and garnering the praise of the people nearby.
Akaria meets a historian at the library, who is aware of the location of the Arbiter’s Court. Apparently, the location is the Arbiter’s Court is known among several scholars, though the Court itself is treacherous to explore; dark magics linger within, driving away would-be raiders, and consequently, curious scholars. The scholar offers to lead the party to the Court’s location if they can promise him protection while he conducts research inside.
A seemingly aimless journey into the vast desert leads the party to a lone mausoleum. Inside, several coffins and stone caskets lie skewed about; a quick search through them reveals that one is bottomless, opening into a foreboding darkness. Everybody descends by rope, while Vermin Supreme continue to voice their objections about the validity of their concert. Akaria easily convinces them that they are performing for an underground rave.
The party lands upon the floors of the upper levels, where a central altar and fountain, with glyphs and pictures carved into the walls, indicate a place for offerings and rituals. The historian surmises that the ancient Nasrian peoples found it appropriate to makes offerings in the highest place of the temple, nearest the sun. The hallway leading out of the upper level room splits into two paths: one descends downward, another is abruptly blocked by a rough rocky surface. Annabelle surmises it to be a large boulder blocking the way, and stays behind to unblock this path and to protect the historian, who is scribing notes and pictures in the upper level room.
Triggering traps along the way, the party traverses hallways, wherein nearby rooms hold the stone caskets of arbiters deceased. They loot several of the tombs and come to a corridor haunted by a malevolent spirit. A bright, magical light, beaming into the hallway from the ceiling, is reflected at the spirit by a mirror shield that the party looted from a casket, eradicating the evil presence. Further down the corridor, the party happens upon the casket of the very last arbiter; looting it, they find magical metal stakes that bind the shadows of things if the stake pierces the shadow. A quick mirror-shield puzzle reveals the rest of the way.
Descending more stairs leads the party to the main floor of this temple: the Hall of the Arbiters. Grand golden pillars and great statues wielding shields line the sides of the halls, leading to a great court. Across from the entrance of the great court appeared to be the main entrance to the temple itself, where a great mass of sand has spilled into the hall. Entering the great court, the party encounters 3 visiosaurs: great white snakes that can emit bright light from their eyes to blind their prey. The entirety of Vermin Supreme is swallowed whole by one visiosaur, which then leaves through the sand filled entrance. The other visiosaurs are defeated in time, and Akaria notices some significant lumps in the bodies of the fallen visiosaurs. Cutting them open, Akaria finds Zukuto, a lost friend, and Vlythe, a handyman from a religious temple on a quest to vanquish evils that he comes across.
With Vermin Supreme now replaced with competent allies, the party solves a light-based puzzle by stealing the visiosaur eyes and squeezing them for their beams of light, and proceed further deeper.
This new level holds the Archives of the temple. In the center lies the structure of the Archives, surrounded by a deep chasm of water with a bridge extending from the main hall to the Archives, sealed by a large metal locking rod system. The main hall wraps around the chasm and is relatively well lit, leading to views of 4 active fan power sources in the corners of this level, further down below.
The party decides to venture deeper to access the fans directly where they are. Beyond the staircase downward is a terrible darkness, thick and nearly tangible. A small beacon of light lies in sight, and they discover a large, glowing glass orb, about 3 ft. in diameter. This next level holds the crypt; a large, semicircular room with a central pit lies, filled with a thick purple mist, lies before them. The party places the light orb into a lighted ring in the floor, which manifests a solid bridge of light extending over the misty pit.
After various trials of light and darkness, the party arrives to each corner of the temple and bind the shadows of the spinning fans, bringing them to a halt. The adventurers make their way back to the floor above and find the sealed entrance to the Archives to be unlocked. Crossing the bridge path to the Archives, they enter into a still, dark collection of history. A rumbling shakes the walls and floors of a temple, and a large boulder comes crashing onto the bridge, blocking the way out of the Archives; clearly, Annabelle was successful in freeing the boulder on the upper level, letting loose a chain of events. Along with the boulder came the casket and remains of the last arbiter, Archelaus. Spectral powers within the Archives awaken Archelaus’s lost life force and animates his skeleton, the powers forming some semblance of his former body.
The Arbiter warns the adventurers of the texts within the Archives, as they carry knowledge once valuable, but should be forgotten and never read again. With the boulder locking everyone inside the Archives, Archelaus intends to use this false life of his to kill the party and destroy the Archives, something he desired to do long ago. Spectral spears and dark powers are unleashed upon the party, but they succeed in defeating the Arbiter. As he slips away, he curses the party for their foolishness.
Colossal Beasts from Another World?
After collecting the texts required by Aleron, as well as a few of her choice, Akaria takes a pickaxe and tunnels a way through the boulder for the party to leave the Archives by. Returning to the upper level, the party finds Annabelle waiting with the historian at the formerly blocked passage where the boulder once was, revealing a downward staircase leading to a room made proxy to the temple’s main body.
Led to a large, seemingly empty dome-like room with a lighted ring in the center of the floor, Akaria places the light orb into the ring. Channels of light energy flow through the veins of the room, illuminating an enormous carved mural depicting fearsome beasts, some in forms not found in this world, along with ancient scripts to accompany the beasts. A strange omen to the party, especially the historian…
Having obtained what they came for, the party leaves the Arbiter Temple, and heads back to Saraqustah. Akaria and her new traveling companions return to Aleron for the next task, which will lead them to the rainy town of Newlyn.