September 25: Evening
The party stood on the edge of the Scorpion Crater, a pox mark on the world. Shimmering heat surrounded them, with only Tranavaros, Maxxos, and Theron being spared from its choking effect. The sky bled, a pillar of crimson light rising from a black cube resting over the centre of the crater, hundreds of feet in the air. The red sky and evening light shone over the barren earth, turning the rocky ground the colour of a bruise. If left, the Sky Tear would fester and spread across the world, bringing all to ruin and ending the Ninth World almost as soon as it began.
They had to stop it — there, now.
Tranavaros studied the black cube, recognising it as the gateway they used to enter the star chamber of Bilu-sha-ziri. The destruction of the Venerator caused this, somehow leaking the star’s energy into the world. To stop it, they needed to trap the black cube into the Rifter — a spherical bronze artefact that could shrink and hold all forms of matter. But how to reach the cube?
Jinx suggested using his Ultimate Grapnel, extended by using rope from the other party members to reach the cube. En’ir would use his mechanical arm to throw the grapnel and hook the anomaly. Tranavaros would then climb the rope and use the Rifter. The cube, however, would disappear and destroy the grapnel, closing the Sky Tear but leaving Tranavaros to fall to his death — a sacrifice he was willing to make.
As the party debated their course of action, Theron opened an oddity he obtained months prior; a small box containing a band of musicians. The music echoed across the crater, awakening the Ember Revenants both Gaians and Aeon Guardians warned them of. Fire fell from the sky, taking the shape of tormented beings. Their screams were familiar — echoing the voices of those whose souls were taken by the Venerator.
The party fought the spirits and scattered them into embers, freeing them from their suffering. But in the depths of the crater, a greater terror stirred.
A pillar of fiery energy erupted from the Sky Tear, a colossal skull taking shape at its core. The skull laughed, its mouth and eye sockets ablaze and dripping fire like venom.
It could not be denied, Iom had returned. The skull spewed a tempest flame, surrounding the party in an inferno. Armour melted, clothes burned, and the Heroes of Navarene resisted.
Alive, the party mapped out their plan. En’ir would throw the Ultimate Grapnel, Jinx would climb the rope with Tranavaros on his back and use one of his cyphers to gently drop to the ground once the Seeker had the cube inside the Rifter.
The others would do their best to survive.
Jinx and Tranavaros began their ascent, the others keeping Iom distracted with everything they had. Tranavaros summoned a giant golem of rock, shaped like an ancient meles omnivore, to protect the party against the skull’s fire.
The flames were too strong, melting rock to reach the heroes. Burning crimson ravaged the earth, an infernal storm bathing the party in dense fire. Death surrounded them, licking at their flesh with heat. Theron stood in front of Aegan to shield her from the impact of the flame, but neither could fight the fire’s tide and vanished in the blaze.
Among the smouldering earth, En’ir, Ay’lin, and Aegan gasped for air, sucking in smoke and cinders. Maxxos remained on his feet, face and hair black with charcoal. Theron stood beside the captain-commander, naked but for the ash that covered his skin. Near their feet lay Bishen, the young warrior’s eyes open and still, his flesh bubbling.
The fiery skull prepared its last attack.
Hundreds of feet above, Tranavaros trapped the cube inside the Rifter, destroying Jinx’s Ultimate Grapnel and sending them falling to the ground.
Jinx’s cypher activated, and both descended gently as feathers.
The Sky Tear dissipated, the energy fueling Iom’s spirit dissolved. The skull roared as fire spat from its mouth and eyes, leaking out life as its form crumbled like parchment and scattered to the wind.
Jinx and Tranavaros landed safely among the party and rushed to aid their fallen comrades. They had saved the world a second time, but their journey was not over.
October 1: Morning
The party packed up camp, having spent over a day to recover some of their energy and heal their wounds. Their aneen mounts had perished in the flames, leaving them with no means to return to Fort Toinette with their limited rations. They would have to continue east to the slave city of Uxphon to gain supplies; a place outside of Steadfast law, beyond the reach of the Aeon Priests and Nine Rival Kings.
The party wrapped Bishen’s body in Theron’s tent cloth and strapped it to Aegan’s razorcat, hoping to bring the body back to the Urgevek.
And so they walked.