It must be snowing in Peppershot. You can almost taste the apple-butter mead, spiced with cinnamon. Engineers would be playing their steam-xylos and boombose. You can almost hear the Winterdeep Carolers singing their happy little tunes as they trudge from door to door to share in bogberry mince pies and roast beast (Wa-hoo dor-ay…). Almost. The snow turns to sand and the Carolers begin howling a mournful tune.
It’s enough to make you want to cry, but instead you cough dryly. You’ve been crying, it seems, for hours. You have no tears left. Oh, how you always miss being surrounded by your family, especially when you are down!
Cousin Soubelknicker, crazy for "zoogoly" as he is, would always go on about how Sentar teemed with life. “Every corner of our world is filled with something maddeningly different from everywhere else,” he would declare, “What could possibly explain the co-existence of flora and fauna that change utterly from valley to valley, let alone so many sentient species living side by side? It can only be the existence of magic, gods and the multiple planes? On its own, the evolution we see at work in controlled situations simply wouldn’t allow it. ” The Silly zoogolist! Trying to apply the principals of engineering and science to something as complex as life! You laugh, maybe he should have been a Clockmaker. Or a Priest!
You look at T’self, absent-mindedly rewinding one of his arm springs and you think of Calibre and smile bitterwsweetly. If it hadn’t been for Nimbus, you never would have met him. And now, they were both gone. One hand rests on your belly, another on your DM Goodwrench. Bring forth life from the lifeless isn’t magic. It’s an engineering problem. If Soubelknicker could see this lifeless place, you think he might change his tune.
This is not a good place. Sentar weeps here. In the distance, where you are to travel, it screams. Perhaps it is best that Nimbus should have fallen into Sentar’s embrace before he witnessed this blasphemous place. He was so much more sensitive to Nature’s subtle messages than perhaps even Argea.
All day you have been troubled by visions and memories of Nimbus. The memories are disturbing, for, although they are clear, you simply do not remember having ever lived these moments. They are, you think, memories of things you do not remember.
The albino crow is sick again. It is so weak, you are not certain how it has survived as long as it has. There was a moment in the battle with the Destrechan when you were certain it was done for. In the past three weeks (14 days) since it hatched it has grown, though it is still a fledgling. Were it a healthy bird, it would soon take wing, but this!
It seems fitting that you should have brought such a creature to a land like this. They have a great deal in common. For six hours you have scouted the wilderness around the watch house where your Companions have bivouacked. For six hours the only sound you have heard is the rapid breathing of the crippled raven to which you have become a nursemaid. No birdsong, no insects, no life but a monotonous few breeds of hardy cactus like trees and tangleshrubs. Here, what life there is, is not right.
Seven notes. Seven companions. Of course there were once eight of you, but Nimbus had to go. After all, there were only seven notes. After Domaldi died, there had been six, and that’s why Janarl had to show up. Seven vile. Seven valiant. Seven companions. Seven notes. Had you heard it in a tale, you would have found the imagery heavy handed. But this is no tale. And the gods are indeed heavy handed.
What everyone else heard as something like a cicada’s song, your bard’s ear picked out seven distinct staccato notes, repeating themselves over and over again. They remind you of something, but you simply cannot remember what. For that matter you cannot remember the last time you slept.
Swampjaw gives you a sideways glance without lifting his head. Although he was perfectly happy to stray in the caverns in search of mice, lizards and other delicacies, he has not left your side since you left the Underdark. He will follow you, of that you have no doubt, but he will not like it. "Neither will I my friend," you say softly as you scratch him behind his ears.
There was no music in Apollo’s vision. He was silent and sorrowful. Though the lightning and the raven in the vision did him harm, he did nothing to stop them. What did it mean? Tyconderoga flew southward, presumably towards Tallim, as soon as you passed out from beneath the Wall. Flew… it was more like she was shot as from a bow. From what you could gather from chatting with Thalazzar, Bastion lies far to the East.
You are torn.
Torn between the vision of Apollo and the Dream of Horrors, Tiberio must choose his path. Although his heart lies east with Alexandro and the will of Apollo, Tiberio cannot bring himself to abandon his companions. There are events afoot so large as to overwhelm his understanding. These things he does understand, or has now come to understand: loyalty, honour, companionship. Whatever is to be faced must be overcome, and Tiberio feels that he cannot but stay true to those with whom he has struggled so. But to abandon one's own kin and disobey one's own God?.....
You desperately need a hit of Dream. The last time you used the Silverleaf ointment, it provided only a few hour’s respite from the maddening desire that now consumes your every moment. It is an effort to concentrate on your spells, and an exhausting trial to remember to complete even mundane tasks related to personal hygiene.
The litany of Rhodaxia, so familiar to you, so necessary, now seems distant. Dull. An irritant. All that matters is finding another way to revisit the horrible visions consumed you during your Dream reverie. They filled you and made you feel powerful in ways mere magic has never done.
You once contemplated in the aftermath of the Dream of horrors, “If only such power could be harnessed!” So with Dream. You’ve been mumbling about as much for hours. Is it no wonder that the drug is used by the wizard-priests of the Order?
You know that your companions are worried about you. Your more paranoid moments, however, are increasing in both frequency and intensity the longer you go without a hit. In those moments you are almost able to convince yourself that they want to keep the drug from you to keep you from being more powerful than they are.
You absentmindedly rewind some of your clockwork joints as you continue to examine the Clockmaker’s manual Sparks Kantankerin entrusted to his niece, Linkosplitzit. Before reaching the cavern where you battled the necromancer – the cavern where Nimbus fell – you and she had filled the hours wandering the Underdark discussing the intricacies of Clockwork design. She was full of questions regarding everything you had learned from Blaylock’s laboratory. Since the cavern, she has not spoken.
You are fond of her. She reminds you of the kindness of your reception in Manyberries. Thinking of Manyberries, you cannot help but feel a pang of bitterness and regret regarding the fates of Quill and Verissa.They had called you friend, just as Frankie recently did. You would not let her down as you did them. It is not an oath, it is a statement of fact. Even so, it is burdened with something… what? … anxiety?
Is accompanying these new friends the right thing to do? You are covered in Yithic runes. Thalazzar said as much, but little else. It is entirely likely that a Clockwork in the Order would draw a great deal of attention – let alone one that is embossed with their script. Regardless, none have questioned your being here with them and now hardly seems the time to raise the subject yourself. Social conventions were never your strength.
You let off a small sigh of steam and look back at Sparks’s book. You have little doubt that Frankie, following these instructions, could create a Clockwork of her own. The theories and methods outlined in Spark’s tome are similar in some ways to those that you already know, but dramatically different in others. It is a satisfying read. And a welcome distraction.
Your companions’ low humour weighs heavily on you. You thought to convince the bard to help lighten the mood, but he is brooding near the ledge, and the look in his face makes you think that you dare not interrupt his thoughts.
To the east, between gusts of dust, your stonecutter’s eyes picked out the line of an old ruin, intermittently plowing southwards through the dunes. So, it would seem the Great Old Aqueduct that begins at Lake Seluna does precede the Wall of the Righteous – there, at least, is one mystery solved. How many hundreds of thousand more does this land hold?
If, as Janarl noted earlier, Tyconderoga is keening due southwards, this might prove a convenient path to follow. You mentioned as much to him, but he noted that the group would have access to little cover or water in the open desert. He suggested following the borderlands of the jungle and desert foothills. Even now, he was scouting a route downslope from the Wall. Perhaps he is right. The path cut by the old aqueduct might be