The man in black fled across the desert—but nobody followed.
The depiction on the mural was hauntng. A dark figure, cloaked in arcane or evil energies and carrying a book of some kind, was blasting away whole swaths of snakelike lizard people and defeating a pharoah-like figure and making them kneel… then seemingly cursing them with an unlife. Hard to understand. The mural spread around the great cavernous room, hundreds of feet of pictoral storytelling. Centuries old, it seemed.
This temple, whatever it was once, was buried under a hundred feet of sand dunes… falling through the great dome and discovering horrors down here long forgotten was its own hazard, but the silver tablet that told the story on the mural in the great prayer chamber? That was the real chilling experience.
Once, it seemed, this city was some major trade route. Then some ruler came, a human of some kind maybe or a small giant, and subjugated the lizard people with an army of snake people. Then slavery and genocide. For a long time, actually. Then a dark figure comes. Human maybe. It slaughters thousands, both sides, in its judgment. It raises the dead. It punishes the guilty. It murders the innocent. It moves on like a storm across the sands, uncaring.
And a city dies. And then ages later, its forgotten.
Until a group of fools on a treasure hunt halfway across the world decide to flee a port city on the edge of the desert by trekking right across the great, sandy wasteland where none would follow and days into the journey… fall through the roof of the city’s central temple.
The half-orc was cursed several times, nearly died, dark forces came for him and had to retreat again… the cleric fought arcane naga in a great prayer room and nearly died… the only real treasures were mysteries. Mysteries about a dark man ages back that destroyed a city now forgotten to time.
There were other horrors in the desert… great things that they hid from and clever things they had to murder to keep the horses and camels safe. Those nights on the sands were dangerous, but less and less so now that the bard took charge of the camp and kept them safe at night.
The real dangers, now, having moved past the desert after weeks of travel and hazard, was the winter that has come and the mountains they have to cross. The high peaks are covered in snows and ice, and days of climbing and crawling their way up half-frozen paths later they emerged to look across the hundred miles of rocky spires and overgrown majesties.
The air, crisp and clean; the bite of the wind. The serenity of the great vallies and ridges. The green of the winter trees and the white of the snows.
And in the distance, a great tree—a thousand feet high if any—half frozen in a glacier nestled between two mountain peaks. The whole scene as out of place as anything one could imagine… they approached.
The great wood was hundreds of feet thick at the base with gnarled roots the size of small buildings jutting out of the rocks. The top was hardly visible with the clouds, the whole thing in a foggy obscurity. And when the druid spoke to it, and heard its lost and booming voice echo in his mind the words “help me”, there was naught to do but climb.
Ropes taught and knotted, kits out and hammers ready, the started their journey up days ago. In that time they found creatures both natural and unnatural, things that might be living in the great tree and things that were only there to destroy it. And now, hundreds of feet in the air, they risk exposure, elements, falling, starvation, and certain bloody death from evil flying things that make their home here… they climb. They watch.
Whatever lives up at the top, friend or foe, will have a reckoning…
…failure is a long way to fall.