-W.B. Yeats“The Second Coming”
CHAPTER ONE: “Southwards”
Moradina Eoselunday - Eodakarday
D. ex M.
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 too convenient, and too old. Who knows who else might be using it?
This strange southern land is bound to be filled with dangers completely foreign and unimagined to your party of northerners. Your mind runs through a checklist of potential foes: the armies of the Order; the Revolutionary Army of Divinity; the Dream Cartels; perhaps even the vengeful remnants of House Golgadin; to say nothing of the host of opponents unknown that may be lurking in the jungles and the deserts that stretch to the horizon. Taking lead of the army your cousin would raise for you in Cauldron and the challenges you face to reinstitute the Claimers seem small by comparison. All that is happening in a world you understand.
A prayer to Moradin for wisdom and comfort has the opposite effect. You feel like a child and worse, you feel again as though you are being watched. You fidget a moment with Mnemonium’s gift – the trinket that would mask your Dwarven heritage from the One. For a brief moment you are gripped with despair, “What manner of place is this?” you mumble aloud, “And how could we possibly succeed where the likes of Mnemonium and Woden fear to tread?” The howling wind offers no answer and no respite.
You spend most of your watch hypnotized by the fire rather than tending to your duties, but, fortunately, it matters little. The night is quiet in this dead land.
After the events in the cavern, even after your last glimpse of Nimbus, your long walk through the Underdark, the brief thrill of reaching the end of the tunnel, and the letter you just composed to your mother to order your thoughts, you have not been able to bring yourself to speak to your companions. Tomorrow you tell yourself. Tomorrow morning. Let the night take the edge off.
There is a dim orange nimbus of light around the glowing coals. They are all that remain of the dancing flames that, all through your watch, reminded you of memories of things you are certain you never did. Memories of Nimbus and Mastof, Janarl and the Inbetween Men.
Janarl left camp soon after it was set and has not returned. Tomorrow, you tell yourself, you will talk to him before you speak to the others. See if he remembers what you remember, then you will unburden your memory. Whether he remembers or not…
Thalazzar’s watch follows your own, and you feel compelled to tell him everything. For moment, the Wizard lifts his snowy mien and looks at you expectantly through the haze of his painful addiction. When you say nothing, he casts an eye at your letter and goes about his business. With his back to you he scoffs, “Where do expect to find a postman out here, boy?”
You laugh bitterly to yourself. The moment of mirth passes quickly, as your eyelids finally weigh you down to sleep. It is anything but sound.
Dark shapes slowly emerge from glowing remnants of the fire. You sit paralyzed as they wrap themselves around you. Immobilized with fear, you find yourself repeating, again and again, “A light in a labyrinth! A light in a labyrinth! A light in a labyrinth!” Soon, however, even that mantra is suffocated out by frightening sounds. The sounds of slippery tentacles slapping
A Fork in the Path
… I stood from my waking dream and checked my equipment. I was tired to the bone but knew I could not sleep. I was whole in body and mind in spite of the rush of images from my waking dream. There was work to do: we had a shelter from the storm through which we just passed but for how long? We knew nothing about this ruin except the doom in the air. I went to the Stonedweller I now called, Leader, Ba Rital Amil and explained to him what I was doing and that I would be back at dawn. He went to argue but knew better and turned wordlessly to other duties – the hyiea of leadership. My mother often called it a more polite word, lpyiea.
I knelt at the top of the cliff and touched the soil. I felt its thin dryness tinged with soap and lpurl bilius between my fingers as I picked a path of descent. I looked over my shoulder at the Elfling and knew that water would have to pass between us at first light. Perhaps the two of us would be enough to cut a layer off the sharproot bulb. That Nimbus might be saved would be worth the effort.
For six hours, I scouted this wilderness and only heard the faint breath of Adiya. I had become mother to this pitiful raven that is as tragic as this wood in which I now stood. By Zuras, I would not have thought it possible for something to be so faint of life. Even a sand dune in the driest desert shelters life from the storm. Adiya was a portent of the suffering of Sentar.
The undead army was easy enough to follow. What was frightening and strange was the odd track that cut across that path. A something, possibly undead and large like a hill giant moving with discrimination and intelligence but not really like a living creature would. I did not linger since I was alone, tired and ignorant of the Ways of the Wild so close to e’Dari ur Kiucao, what the humans called Divinity. I buried my cold chuckle as I turned back to the ruined watchtower. From the Enclave, it was a strange land behind the Wall and a continent away but we still knew enough to call it e’Dari ur Kiucao, the Madness in the Forest. The humans called it Divinity? That the whole race could be so addled was almost laughable.
I returned from my scouting and found Thallazar pouring over a book of maps he had taken from Mastof. We studied these wonderous magical maps as we licked our wounds over the day. I set up an observation post on top of the old watchtower to look out towards the ancient aqueduct. Once Thalazzar climbed up the tower to do his studies, I helped Rin set up another lookout on the other tower. We talked as we worked about what had happened to us in the In Between. I think we were both relieved that it was not some mad dream. That it really happened was only slightly less distressing.
At midday, Tyconderoga returned from her scouting to the south. That she was ravenous after half a night’s fruitless hunting only reinforced that this land was dead or dying. I re-checked my equipment as I ate a hurried lunch. I spoke to Ba Rital Amil again as I left camp and he told me of the decision to travel to Eudaemonia between the canyon and the aqueduct. I felt it was even more important to determine what I could about the unnamed beast thundering down below. As it was day, I took a longer way to follow the undead. I did not want to be ambushed by some other hunter that had seen me pass in the night. Finally I found the crossing point in a small meadow. Something had passed from e’Dari Kiucao to the Turninim Senitiaria across the path of the undead army. It has heading the way we were now planning and shedding blood. Prophecy and madness. I tracked it for short league but luckily did not find it. I returned to our camp just after night fall. Arek ordered me to sleep as I trudged in and did not assign me a watch.
In the dark hours, I was awoken by the sounds of a wolf growling and battle. Getting struck by a foul stone, I stood to see an attacking band of rili e’fae, the red fairies or the Red Caps as Argea would call them. I drew two cold iron arrows and shot the one in front of Rin through the throat. As Argea had taught me, all that remained was an iron tooth. As I moved around a ruined wall to gain cover from those above in the watch tower, I saw Tiberio’s wolf-friend cut in half defending his master. Oh that you may pass into the fields of long grass at the end of the path. I came around the wall and killed another as I saw Ts’elf get struck by the scythe of their leader. Ts’elf stepped back and created a protective stone wall. I noticed these fey had T’kel masks on hanging from their belts. I came around another wall, fired and as the fey died, I jumpted across the gap. We had the leader pinned against a wall trying desperately to defeat him. I heard Tiberio’s song call my name and as I stepped in hand-to-hand on the fey’s flank I was inspired to greatness. Finally, he went down. I was able to find nine iron teeth and three masks. Two were of the Raven clan and one from the Jaguar Clan. By Zuras, it was Gralank the Miller, my mother’s cousin. I did not know the others by name but they were a tanner and a farmer. In the morning, I would pursue this band of blood…
The next morning, I woke at dawn and tracked the rili e’fae down into the jungle. I found three dead T’Kel in a grove. They were stripped and mutilated. Gralank had been captured and dragged to this grove and then killed not two days ago. As I searched the scene in detail, I felt a presence behind me just as I heard Glaconer’s voice, “Janarl the Stalker, we meet again. I was unable to protect these ones because it is harder here than in the Enclave that is no more.”
Glaconer looked at me squarely and glanced at the iron tooth of the rili fae around my neck as he continued:
“There is no more ‘Enclave’ as such. The old cities were split up and the clans scattered amongst several settlements. The In Between men have placed them in e’Dari Kiucao so that it will not be someday. Others, perhaps the elves, will take your old home. The length and breadth of this scattering I do not know. The nearest band, whose small group your Red Caps marauded, is two days away. I was swept up with them when they left, as was a band of Red Caps. Those you destroyed was a smaller group split from the whole. I can only assume, then, that Argea and other fairies were swept away as well. I do not know, however, where they are. Those I left were under siege from humans, though of what faction or creed I can only imagine. They captured a small group of children the first time they came and took more when they came back. The T'kel made them pay a heavy price, though there were more of them the second time and they used undead minions in their attack. The Red Caps set upon the remnants of the band while I tracked the second group of humans to find where they had taken the young and the others. They had slaughtered many and captured four (three of whose bodies you found). I had hunted them now for three days. I imagine they sensed an old ruin nearby where they thought to establish themselves. When