Chapter 3, Part I: A Desperate Desert Dash

On the Gragtharian Orc's ship, the party split up to best prepare themselves for the journey ahead of them. Xerxes, a sorcerer with a smithing past, sought an audience with the ship's skilled smith. Eager to assist, Xerxes lent his expertise to repair the Orcish crew's weapons, shields, and armor as well as assist in other projects. As he delved into these projects, his own skills were revitalized. Little did he know that his efforts would bear fruit, granting him an advantage on all skill checks for the following week. Talk about striking iron while it's hot!

Meanwhile, Nohki, the ever-curious culinary enthusiast, embarked on a flavorful adventure of his own. Initially catching the chef off guard with his sudden presence, Nohki managed to pique the chef's interest. Demonstrating both determination and a hunger for knowledge, he humbly asked for the opportunity to assist and learn some delicious Orcish recipes. It was through this exchange that Nohki discovered the secret to crafting the coveted Burger Bomb--a delectable combination of juicy meat, fresh bread, and an array of tantalizing spices and condiments. Not one to conform to culinary norms, Nohki's unique twist on the burger took the form of a triumphant triangle. Thus, his signature creation was born, leaving mouths watering and taste buds rejoicing.

Meanwhile, the inquisitive Drez set his sights on the knowledgeable helmsman. Seeking wisdom about the treacherous seas they were about to traverse, Drez engaged in an enlightening conversation. Although the helmsman hadn't personally explored the scorching desert, he shared invaluable information. Drez learned of the extreme temperatures that plagued the desert, alternating between blistering heat during the day and freezing cold at night. The helmsman also warned of the dangers lurking beneath the sandy surface, including the dreaded sandworms. These monstrous creatures were known to devour unfortunate souls in a single gulp. The advice was crystal clear: if faced with the menacing sandworms, the party should heed their instincts and run for their lives. After all, being eaten whole wasn't on their agenda!

Ever the practical one, Bart took it upon herself to ensure the party's readiness for the arduous journey ahead. Taking inventory of their supplies, she meticulously checked and cataloged every essential item. A well-stocked backpack is a hero's best friend, and Bart made sure they were well-prepared for whatever challenges lay in wait.

Meanwhile, Vance, with his charming disposition, aimed to gather valuable information from the crew. Engaging in friendly banter and winning smiles, he schmoozed his way through conversations, prying out morsels of knowledge about the enigmatic land of Centra. His charismatic endeavors would prove invaluable in the face of hazards yet to be discovered.

Firebrook, driven by an insatiable thirst for knowledge, embarked on a quest to uncover the secrets of the monsters that roamed Centra. He discovered that Centra was home to a multitude of monsters, each belonging to various groups that roamed the vast expanse. These creatures possessed a peculiar pattern--they would gather together, only to eventually devour one another in a brutal cycle of survival.

Firebrook also struck a peculiar deal, obtaining a tent, two rations, and a favor to be redeemed in the future (even if it meant writing a letter to his new Orc friend's mother-in-law!).

The party's arduous journey led them to the scorching desert, a vast and unforgiving expanse. Wisely choosing to rest during the day and travel at night to avoid the searing heat, they set up camp in a peculiar area. Curiosity stirred as they encountered a series of colossal holes and piles of rocks.

As Firebrook used a gust of wind to clear the campsite, Xerxes, true to his character, pretended to sneeze, expressing his disdain for the sandy environment. Sand, after all, was an eternal nemesis, forever finding its way into the most inconvenient places.

However, the tranquility of the camp was disrupted when Nohki noticed his leaf ablaze, pointing ominously toward the Wiltspar. It was a clear sign, a beacon of distress, indicating that Nohki's brother, Darien, was in grave danger. Concerned for his kin, Nohki's companions attempted to dissuade him from rushing headlong into the sweltering desert heat. Negotiations ensued, and a compromise was reached: they would rest for half the intended duration before continuing their perilous journey.

As the party caught their breath, Drez's observant eye discerned an astonishing revelation. The seemingly ordinary rocks that dotted the landscape were, in fact, remnants of battles past. Piles of armor, weapons, shields, and bones lay scattered, potentially the aftermath of clashes with the colossal sandworms, or potentially the aftermath of the worm's quick meal. Their surroundings became a silent testament to the ferocity of the desert's hidden inhabitants.

In the scorching desert sands, the echoes of the party's footsteps reverberated through the sand. As fate would have it, their collective footfalls acted as a trigger, stirring the colossal creature from its slumber. And like a massive train, the worm headed straight for them.

With lightning reflexes, all but one of the party members managed to evade the worm's initial onslaught, gracefully leaping out of harm's way. Alas, poor Xerxes found himself in the path of imminent disaster. Drawing upon his ingenuity, he swiftly hurled the Distractinator 3000, a contraption he had crafted during his sea voyage in collaboration with the ship's smith. The device successfully diverted the worm's attention, sparing the hapless Xerxes from a fatal blow. Nevertheless, even with this diversion, the impact inflicted upon him was nothing short of catastrophic, leaving him weakened and wounded.

As they began to race through the desert pursued by the worm, the party rallied together, pooling their unique abilities and unleashing their creativity in a bid to escape the clutches of the gargantuan worm.

Bart, ever resourceful, brandished her wand of pigeon summoning, invoking a delightful spectacle. A cloud of seventy-six pigeons descended upon the scene, flapping their wings with a frenzy that bewildered the worm. The bewildered creature, momentarily blinded, found its strike thwarted as the avian swarm caused it to miss its target--the party, in all its audacious glory.

Meanwhile, Drez tapped into his innate powers, activating his long strider ability, propelling himself forward with astonishing speed. Xerxes, ever the cunning trickster, deployed his second Distractinator 3000, diverting the worm's attention yet again, sparing his companions from its wrath. Firebrook, attuned to the planer mysteries, invoked the power of misty step, gracefully teleporting ahead of the relentless predator, his safety secured within the folds of magic.

And amidst the chaos, Nohki, in his wisdom and versatility, transformed into a majestic wolf, bearing the weight of Vance upon his back. With agility and grace, they surged forward, racing against the worm's pursuit.

Swiftly approaching the edge of a treacherous cliff, Nohki seamlessly shifted into a spider, deftly weaving webs to aid his companions' descent. With Bart's quick thinking, a length of sturdy rope was secured. Together, they embarked on a daring climb, guided and supported by Nohki's arachnid form.

In a heart-stopping moment, Drez slipped from the rope. Bart lost her grip as well, but was able to use Drez to knock herself onto the ledge of the cave below. Drez, however, found himself perilously dangling, his life hanging by a spider-spun thread. Miraculously, Xerxes, with a display of unwavering loyalty, rescued his comrade, pulling him to safety. The party, battered but resolute, emerged triumphant, finding solace and sanctuary within the depths of a nearby cave.

Above them, they watched the worm fly off the edge of the cliff overhead and hurtle downward toward the sand where, with a crash, it stopped moving.

Within the mysterious cave's dimly lit embrace, the party embarked on a thorough exploration. Their keen senses guided them along a descending path, leading them closer to their ultimate destination--the enigmatic Wiltspar. Nohki's keen eye caught sight of a peculiar sight--a cactus growing on the cave's wall. Upon closer inspection, he identified it as a Prickle Cap, a mushroom that had the outward appearance of a cactus. Recognizing that the flesh would give someone who consumed it an ability similar to spider climb, Nohki harvested the mushrooms, ensuring they would serve them well in their future endeavors.

After the rest of the journey, the party arrived at the gates of the mythical Wiltspar. A vampire and a Unicorn greeted them, but not before taking a double take at Nohki, who they mentioned looked like someone they knew as "the captain." Although wary, they allowed the weary yet determined party inside and directed them toward Aurifar, the oracle himself.

The party found Aurifar at the base of the Wiltspar-- a gigantic black tree that stood at the center of the eponymously named city. Aurifar was a bearded and tall elderly man, made smaller by his posture as he curved forward to lean against his staff. As the oracle, he possessed extensive foresight and so revealed information about the party and their current quest prior to their telling him, much to their collective annoyance. He informed them that captain Darien held a key role in this grand adventure, his informal leadership instrumental in the protection and development of the wondrous Wiltspar.

Yearning for answers, our heroes inquired about the significance of the Wiltspar and the incessant attacks upon it. Aurifar explained that the tree was revered as the "Key to the World," drawing hordes of malevolent forces seeking its destruction. It was a beacon of hope in a chaotic realm, and a small group of devoted souls had sworn to safeguard its sacred existence.

Ever inquisitive, Firebrook sought knowledge regarding the mysterious "crystals." Aurifar shed light on their ethereal nature, explaining that they were not physical objects but rather symbolic representations of divine essences. They held immense power and were coveted by many, their influence shaping the very fabric of Fynali's current reality.

Driven by love and concern, Firebrook ventured further, seeking insight into the fate of his beloved sister. Withdrawing his "pocket crystal ball", Aurifar peered into the depths of the unseen, revealing that Firebrook's sister was indeed alive but existed in a realm beyond their current understanding. It was a bittersweet revelation, bringing both relief and a sense of longing for their reunion.

Aurifar then revealed five prophecies about the location and nature of Solana's essences:

On the southern tip of the Palmedow continent is the Magnolius region. There has been a significant spike in missing people-- children in particular. They say those who go searching for clues never return.

Violent earthquakes along the jagged crags of the Sandtooth Cliffs have caused fissures along the western parts of the continent. Miasma has been spilling out more rapidly than ever before, expanding the Poison Veil eastward and threatening to spill into Gragthar, which is the most populated area on the landmass.

Lake Dracaenia is known for potent arcane properties so powerful that the people of Tharuunden had fought multiple wars over its ownership. Recently, locals have seen strange animals coming from the water, and the few who investigated were found dead and mangled at the shore.

A deep purple arcane cloud has formed above the peak of the world's tallest mountain, Mount Evermore. Beams of white light have burst forth from the cloud, causing damage to ships following the trade route to and from Zaltara

A shroud of darkness has been growing in the northern region of Ardesia, casting eternal nightfall on the forest area there. Although the darkness only caused issues for the wildlife there, being undeveloped and unpopulated, the problem is about to reach a head as it makes its way toward the city of Boymin.

With the weight of prophecies weighing upon their shoulders, the party stood poised to go after Nohki's brother, whose leaf still silently cried out that he was in danger.

Completed: June 2023