Death in the Burning SeaThis issue starts off with each of the party members riding a different dragon, while Riva and Maraghiz lament about how they should have foreseen Erestem's influence on Skrum through the ring.
They then arrive at a location near a lava flow where Skrum commands the dragons to drop off the party members off in a nearby valley. Once Skrum dismounts, all the dragons fly away. He tells everyone that he has brought them here to meet the goddess.
Rising up from the pool, a gigantic lava-form of Erestem appears. She taunts Riva about their previous meeting (in issue #3). Meanwhile, Sulai casts an ice storm spell on Erestem. Skurm laughs at the elf mage's attempt, saying that "a little hail won't extinguish Erestem's flame!"
What Skurm didn't realize was that Sulai's real intention of the spell was not to harm the goddess, but to use the mixture of flame and ice to create enough steam for the party to escape unseen.
Under cover of the fog, the party makes their retreat, soon finding a step path leading them up out of the valley. As they make their way to the top, they are met by Skurm, once again atop a green dragon, and the Dragonring firmly in grasp. While Riva distracts Skrum, Griffin tackles him off the dragon, knocks him out with one punch and tries to pry the ring from his fingers.
Before Griffin can get the ring, General Axantheas shows up atop his red dragon claiming the ring as his, and willing to cut off the gnomes hand to get it (as his own hand had been cut off before).
Then suddenly, out of the sky, Riva's dragon, Ktarrh, arrives (with a saddle and full complement of lances attached) in time to attack the red and send it retreating into the sky. Riva quickly hops onto Ktarrh and gives chance. The general and Riva trade attacks and even Erestem (in her gigantic lava form) rises up to attack the solamnic knight.
Meanwhile, down below, the Maraghiz worked on dispelling the evil hold Erestem had on Skrum, while Griffin grabbed the dragonring from the gnome.
With the ring in hand, Griffin summoned a blue dragon and rode the beast toward General Axantheas, all the while taunting the minotaur. The general threw a spear that ended up knocking Griffin off the blue dragon and falling toward the huge lava pit. Not wanting to lose his ring, Axantheas chased after it.
After Griffin flung the ring away from himself, Axantheas chased after it atop his red dragon. He realized too late that he couldn't get the ring in time. He pleaded to Erestem to let him have the ring back, but the goddess of evil ignored his plea, allowing the red dragon to fly the minotaur general straight into the lava, and certain destruction.
Meanwhile, Riva and Ktarrh rescued Griffin before he too fell into the lava.
Back on land, everyone (including the gnome, Skrum) pledged to band together and turn back the tide of evil that had such a grip on Taladas.
The last caption of the last page ends with: "A new beginning"
CommentaryFor the most part I didn't really care for this issue. The opening was weak; how did everyone get on separate dragons, and why do they NOT look like prisoners? I don't really understand the point of the lava flow meeting place... since Erestem is so powerful on this continent, she should be able to appear anywhere (like she does on Ansalon). Also having Ktarrh literally coming out of nowhere, complete with saddle and weapons at the exact moment he's needed just shows the weak structure of this issue. While I did like the way the general was defeated, I didn't like the "Saturday morning cartoon" ending with Skrum being completely cured and ready to join "Team Riva". I would have liked to see some after-effect of being tainted by the ultimate goddess of evil in this world.
Lastly, I didn't like that the evil cabal, seen in the last issue, doesn't make an appearance, leaving me to feel that they will not be seen again and therefore making those pages in the previous issue worthless and disposable.
As for the art, that's a different story. While I still don't like the elves outfits, and Griffin's skin tone keeps shifting from tan to strange-red, there was much more I liked.
The molten lava (aka the Burning Sea) was well drawn, with a dymanic quality that showed it was always bubbling and shifting. I didn't like that the party is just a few feet away and no one is the slightest bit hot from the lava (a little sweat would have worked here). I also liked the fire avatar of Erestem, and the arerial comabat between Riva and Axantheas was well drawn, even more so when Griffin and the blue dragon joined the fight.
Overall this was an uneven end to this arc, something we've seen before too many times. While the last line reads "A new beginning", the storytelling and art seem to indicate that the new beginning will be a whole lot like what came before.
See you in 2 weeks!