Book Three: Slouching Towards Eudaemonia
CHAPTER FIVE: The Battle of the Thala Sanat

Weejasa Claireselunday

Account by Thalazzar

Back from the depths of Dream

Thalazzar could feel the change in temperature as the Daisy Cutter headed northwards along edge of the Gold Coast, gradually cooling the closer they came to the Wall of the Righteous and the Federation. He stood near the bow of the ship, watching the jungles of Divinity and the coastline of the Pirate Isles pass beneath them but focusing more on the looming shape of the Wall to the north. He was surrounded by the whirring and buzzing of the mechanical organs that gave flight to this gnomish air machine. His hair and beard bustled around him in the breeze, its unnatural white still matted with soot and desert sand and a reminder to him of how old he felt despite his young age. How he needed time to rest. It had been so long since they had had a chance to catch their breath. He gripped Pillar firmly, but it was the front rail of the ship that bore his weight.

He was very tired. The Dream afflicted on him in the steam baths of Cauldron had taken considerable toll. It was amazing to him that in this world where Nimbus can return from death that this cursed substance seemed all but impregnable to man, magic or gods. He did not care if the Order’s wizard-priests used it to enhance their power, it was the Mark of the One and Thalazzar was done submitting. He would not use it. Likewise, it made him sick to his stomach to think that after all he had been through in the tunnels of the Khi'Ganad that his first instinct in the presence of Kurtulmak had been to grovel and make hollow promises about furthering the kobold race. Kill Frankie? While he admitted he never liked the gnome, the creature had proved her use, and even fought to protect Thalazzar – why would he kill her? Perhaps he should have suggested furthering the kobold race by exterminating them. For this moment of weakness in Baba Yaga’s hut he had been cursed with a tail. “How absurd?” he thought, for a man to have a draconic tail. Perhaps it was equally absurd for him to have a draconic god. The tail was yet another mark of servitude from yet another deity that did nothing but fill Thalazzar with disgust. He would be rid of both marks of submission - the tail and the Dream.

Thalazzar was no longer a nameless slave. He was no longer Unj’Kaltigmag. He was no longer even an identity thief, a pretend wizard, or the Thala Mourne whose name he had stolen. He was now Thalazzar the Conjuror - a wizard in his own right, a man in his own right, and confident in his own powers. He would find a new god, one whose interests more closely matched his own. It would be a god that offered more than the nothingness of the One or the groveling servitude of Kurtulmak. Thalazzar would find a god that would allow him to pursue his own greatness in this life, perhaps even help, and would be content to leave him to his history once his time was done in this part of the multiverse. He had established himself as Thalazzar, now he would fill out that person more completely.

The Daisy Cutter banked slightly to shift course, the flower-petal pennants snapping in the breeze and bringing the wizard out of his thoughts. Where were they going? Out of the Order was really the only thing that mattered at that moment. Their journey to the Order has passed in a haze. Thalazzar, straddled with Dream, had been unable to collect his thoughts in some time. So much had happened it was difficult to put together the pieces.

Thalazzar remembered their trip from Cauldron and the downfall of House Golgadin. He remembered their trip under the Wall, through the Ironreach Mine and the race against time to stave off Woden’s curse. He recalled the fight at the gorge and the fall of Nimbus. What a battle that had been!! Aerial combat, the dark demon-hawk of Sorgadyn, Rin defeating Haggledib of Golgadin, fire and the undead! Thalazzar remembers venturing into the sandy air of the Order for the first time – it seems like so long ago - and seeing the light of Seluna on the desert and the stars in the sky. And then, of course, the fight at the abandoned watch tower with a pack of evil, wizened fey reminded him and his companions of the true nature of the Order.

He recalls his companions heading off into the jungles of Divinity, tracking Janarl’s T’Kel kin, attempting to avoid RAD patrols and smashing an abhorrent construct with bolts of acid. Then Thalazzar was lost for awhile, a burden to his companions as the Dream gripped him. But he had fought back and awoke to strange new encounters – Amina, a guide from the jungle – Sergius Justinius Octavius, a visitor from the multiverse – an Mohadir, a mystic who uncovered a mystery standing right in-front of us. That mystery had been T’Self, covered in strange runes with a destiny as some sort of “In-between Man bomb” destined for the Order capital of Eudamonia. Hopefully he didn’t fulfill his destiny too soon, or too close to Thalazzar, he thought with a smirk.

But it had been the strange encounter with Baba Yaga and their travel through the nether that had been the strangest occurrence. Perhaps it was also the most fortunate, since it had returned them to the Dream of Horrors, the Red Rider – now known to be a mad St. Cuthbert and an object of our quest – and Tallim, the lost princess and heir to the throne. Through the madness and a battle with the encroaching horrors, Thalazzar’s companions had seen through a portal a vision of a settlement in an icy, barren land – St. Cuthbert’s Lake. Inbetween voices whispered to Thalazzar’s companions that St. Cuthbert and his protector needed to reach this place. Was this were our quest would take us? Were we to save a god and fend off the One? What role did Nimbus play in these things? Tallim had said she was only the bait and that Nimbus was the key.

From the chaos we emerged from the hut, on the deck of the Thala Sanat war barge and from here things became much clearer in his memory. Thalazzar recalled a massive battle commencing, with unknown actors on all sides. He was gravely shot by an arrow. In this chaos somewhere was Tallim. He recalled proclaiming himself a Thala Mourne, using his stolen identity of Thala Xevar one more time to gain his companions the edge they needed to emerge victorious. During the ensuing melee, the wizard had snuck into the belly of the barge using all of his tricks in order to find the princess. What he found instead was a strange magic orb hidden behind arcane wards in the chambers of the resident Thala Mourne. The manner of this thing would have to be discerned later, as he magically locked the box and tucked it away. Reconnected with his companions, they found Tallim and fought their way back out of the war barge, hounded at every turn by an unending stream of opponents.

When confronted by the war barge Captain and his feared Janissaries of the Order, Thalazzar had conjured his most fearsome servant ever – not some mere Rhodaxian Mangler but a mighty bearded devil of the Nine Hells, a Barbazu, an elite warrior of the armies of Hell. Amongst the summoned Evard’s black tentacles holding his companions, the Barbazu had blazed a bloody path through the janissaries, its obsidian glaive hacking limbs and life with the methodical precision only a devil can wield. The captain lasted mere moments against such an opponent and Thalazzar’s companions were freed, along with the Dream-induced Tallim. And Nimbus! What strange fate was this?

Emerging onto the deck, in the midst of battle he encounters Sroasa of the Unseen Hand – a Federation agent who bears Domaldi’s sword-shard and an alleged ally of Corporal Pickett. The companions learn that it is Maghnus Mohr, Orindish prince, Tallim’s surviving relation, and now Federation Senator for Cauldron who has sent these mercenaries into the Order on the same mission as us. But they are no friends. Like Mohr, these mercenaries have connections to the God King of Gallant – whose gold, spies and muscle can reach even here in the depths of the Order. Thalazzar learns that for his arrow wound he has Valandil to thank, a mercenary elf and Federation subversive loyal to the elven separatists. For that wound the elf would die, but Thalazzar was prevented the chance by the miraculous appearance of the gnome Sparks Kantankerin and his mechano-zeppelin, the Daisy Cutter. First Nimbus returned from the dead and then Thalazzar was thankful to see gnomes, what strange fate indeed! Seeing their chance to escape, Thalazzar summoned forth a trio of hippogriffs and taking mount the companions abandoned the Thala Sanat, its janissaries and Mohr’s mercenaries to their fate. They leapt into the desert sky, pursued by the heavy shot of the Order’s gunners and defended by descending contraptions of gnomish might. The Barbazu was left to its feverish slaughter until the magic that had pulled it into this world expired. With good fortune it might have felled the Thala Mourne and reduced the strength of those who would most certainly pursue Thalazzar and his companions.

Thalazzar broke from his reverie to look backwards, across the pumping, steaming, gnome-covered deck of the vessel to look for pursuit from behind. He feared to see some new threat from the Order or something terrible emerging from the jungles of Divinity. It was only yesterday that he had looked backwards and seen the form of the great dragon Mnemonium in pursuit. He saw nothing today.

Mnemonium’s presence had been unexpected so soon after their flight from the Order, but not entirely a surprise. Woden had tasked them on this quest for Tallim, used his sorceries to threaten their lives and push them forward. Thalazzar no longer trusted him. Now that the companions had what Woden wanted, his dragon companion appears out of the sky, chasing down our craft to consult only with Nimbus - returned from the grave. Altogether very suspect.

Thalazzar was uncomfortable. He hated submission and he hated being a pawn. They had rescued Tallim and paid the price in blood. Would they now be cast aside or worse betrayed? Thalazzar believed that they were now players in this broader game between man and gods. The role of his companionship was far from filled. They now had Tallim and so they had a stake in the game. Now Thalazzar needed to learn the rules so that he could change them to suit him, and play to win. At the moment there were too many threats, not enough allies, and still too many questions. Gallant, the Order, the fate of the Federation. They needed to find away to be rid of this Dream so that both he and Tallim could think clearly and speak openly. He and his companions needed to discuss their next move and yet they were too tired, spent and suspicious to do anything in the presence of the awe-inspiring but fearsome dragon. They needed information.

Thankfully, they had reached the sea and set down on one of the Pirate Isles off the coast of Divinity. There another companion returned to them from the brink of death, Rin, the swordsmen who had come to earn Thalazzar’s respect. While T’self and Rin had not shared in the original Dream of Horrors, their travel through the second incarnation bound them no less than it had with his original companions in Riot’s Gate many weeks past. They owed Mnemonium that much for mending the damage that had been done to his body in the nether of Baba Yaga’s hut.

Not daring to spend too long on the ground in pirate waters, the companions had departed and headed north once more. But where to go? Thalazzar’s first thought was of Cauldron, to the mage-merchant Tower of Nulzdindantilus the Magus of the Ebb, Thalazzar’s kobold servant Dragana, and the remnants of House Golgadin. He had now in his possession all the documents they needed to gather the threads of that now destroyed merchant house and weave the pieces together to their advantage. Perhaps it was more liability than benefit, but they needed some allies against so many enemies. He was also curious about the Magi of the Ebb and Flow – perhaps among them Thalazzar could find allies, perhaps even a guide to the worship of deity who favoured wizards. But Cauldron would be dangerous and too close to Maghnus Mohr. They needed information, but they shouldn’t risk Tallim so easily now that they had her. They needed time to rest. They needed to re-supply, take stock and re-arm for the struggles to come. In Thalazzar’s mind, their destination should be the Gold Coast and the Three Cities. With their proximity to the conflict against both Gallant and the Order, within Eoport, Valparaiso and Ouro Preto they might find answers. With their experience fighting Divinity perhaps they could also find some cure for this wretched, mind-numbing Dream.

Thalazzar turned from the deck to head amid ship to his cabin. The breeze had blown many thoughts from his head and he felt clearer than he had felt in some time. His mind began filling with more than plots, but returning to arcane designs and spellcraft. He nervously rubbed some silver leaf between his finger tips in a pocket of his robe. Not yet, not yet he thought. His mind was clear. He would push the pull of the Dream back. His mind was strong. He cleared some space in the cabin and blocked out the world. He lit his pipe with some of his finest remaining weed. He needed to craft wands to enhance his powers. He needed to identify his companion’s assorted magical treasures and trinkets. They would keep those best suited to their needs and sell the others for gold. He had magic to study and spells to incorporate into his own spellbook. Most importantly, it was time to call his familiar.

Any other wizard would have called his companion long ago. Not so Thalazzar. A familiar is a wizard’s only true friend, a reflection of his nature. Until Thalazzar determined who he was destined to be, what his nature actually was, any familiar he called would have reflected that uncertainty and weakness. But now he was Thalazzar the Conjuror. His level of study was advanced, his familiar would be strong. It would be stronger than the companions of most wizards. And while a demon would have answered the call, a demon would not due. Thalazzar would not have his reflection represent only the dark, for he also had a yearning for more: for order, for power, for balance, for knowledge. An elemental: able to shift and shape its form like Thalazzar had done. He would call a familiar able to exist in extreme heat and survive the deadly conjurations that would surround its life as his companion, something who would know demons but not be one of them.

Thalazzar traced the necessary sigils on the cabin floor. The marks were not challenging, even a trickster at a country faire could call a crow familiar to his side. But Thalazzar improved them, shifted them. He conjured a small burning flame in the centre of the sigil, chanting the incantation ritual that would take him most of the day. A pot of water came to boil, and then the boiling water rose magically into the air, slowly spinning of its own accord and defying gravity. The pot was set aside. Motes of purple nether swirled around the boiling orb, shaping it and energizing it. The water reacted, slowly forming into a shape as the hours passed, the arcane lock on the cabin door preventing any disturbance. Steam rising from the ritual filled the room, creating a warm fog throughout the cabin that covered the boards with mist and made it more challenging to see. The steam helped keep his mind clear. Thalazzar continued, chanting the name over and over that would be returned to the form emerging from the pulsating, steaming orb of water contained within his magic. Slowly, tiny wings became discernable, tiny claws and a long, thin, enormous nose. The form of the elemental became more and more solid as the hours passed. The motes of nether grew and Thalazzar’s lines of arcane dust glowed more intensely with the same purple hue. The name would be returned to the form since this being had already walked this world once. He had lorded over the elementals that had once lived in the very hottest steam vents of the now dormant volcano that had become the city of Cauldron centuries after his time. It was the namesake of the Gwuz, the steam baths on the shore of Cauldron Pond where Thalazzar had encountered House Golgadin and was burdened with Dream. Gwuzbuloolpip, the steam mephit king of Old Cauldron, shook the mist from his wings and felt the air of this plane for the first time in centuries. With a wry grin he looked Thalazzar in the eye, tilted back his head and let out a maniacal, watery, hissing laugh before taking to the air to perch on his new master’s shoulder. Each saw in the other an ally with whom they could achieve great things in the struggles to come…

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Interlude