Scattered Jewels of Southsea

The Mists of Tierm, Part I

At Tierm’s gate we saw her fate
A damnéd city, she
Wave and mist have made a tryst
and birthed forth misery.

What’s left of here may disappear
Into the sea below
What once was ground is to be drowned
Beneath blue waves of woe

The Siren’s song will sure, ‘ere long
Subsume this wretched place
But standing tall amid the thrall
Their Stadium’s a base.

In darkest slums our task becomes
To offer up a tale
To shady dwarves along the wharves
With secrets all for sale

We tell of Surina the cur
We tell some of ourselves
We tell of stories long since past
We tell of dungeon delves

Our task achieved, a hint received,
We all are on a boat
Across the bay through heavy spray
A tower’s fearful moat

Through window climbed, expertly timed,
Surprise some feeble guards
As quick as flash, soon ends the clash
All to a tune of bard’s.

Next up the stair into the lair
We each stop and prepare
A risky affair awaits up there
No time is left for err.

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The Golden Beetle
WitherVine recounts a tale

About a week’s travel north of Broflan are the Skin-Tooth mountains; a mountain ridge of jagged pointy peaks that resemble teeth, the fleshy color of sandstone makes the crags appear fleshy. Aptly named I suppose. At any rate some time ago, a long time ago actually, me and a some of my clan mates embarked on a trip to “The Teeth” after receiving a distressed letter from a tribe of shamanistic ogres, when they learned to write I’m not quite sure, but the Necradari do not ignore allies.
After a rather uneventful week of travel we finally reached the threshold of the mountains were a haggard ogre was standing there, apparently he had been waiting there ever since the letter was sent. After a few brief words were exchanged a small snack was had the ogre who was apparently named Tom, led us up into the peaks to the main settlement of his tribe. There we met the elder, an ancient ogre from what I can tell, there he told us why we were summoned. The idol that represents the spirit they worship has been stolen. In all honesty I have no idea why anybody would steal an idol ogres worship, they hold no divine power.
As it turned out a roving gang of hobgoblins snuck into the tribes village at night and snatched it, why, because hobgoblins are tremendous fools that’s why, how did we figure this out? Well since they got away with something once they decided to try again, unfortunately for them they were caught and after the ogres had their fun with the small attachment of hobs me and my clan mates decided to have ours. After a few hours of interrogation we discovered that the hobs belonged to a rival tribe of ogres.
So after the remaining hobs were cast off a cliff a small war ensued; nothing too bad, a few skirmishes, some cracked skulls, and our allies retrieved their idol, not to mention spoils of war. Unfortunately for our friends the rival chief placed a dying curse onto the elder or our smelly friends, which led to him contracting an interesting disease. For a couple of days he fought the ailment well but after he coughed up enough blood to fill a bucket I knew it was time to implement my clan’s expertise which didn’t work out so well. As such the ogre instructed me and compatriots to venture into a misty valley a days travel away and peel the bark off a tree and take whatever insect that was dwelling underneath. We found beetles, gold ones at that, after administering said beetles to the elder he recovered from his ailment over the course of a few days. I decided to take some home.

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Tales
Finneus compares his means and methods with Yoren.

Yoren is a collector of information, which is like collecting the least interesting bits of stories.

A story is a grand thing, full of detail and mystery, vim and vigor, reason, emotion, danger, choice, motive, and action. It tells you what happened, what the people it happened to were like, why they made the decisions they made, what informed their characters and how they changed, and ultimately leaves you understanding the world better because you can put yourself in their shoes, inhabit their minds, and play through that action line by line and step by step. Stories are how we process the world and how we grow to understand the people all around us. They don’t even have to be true to manage all that magic.

Information is a dry little word that sucks all the life out of the craft. Information is just facts shorn of their connective tissue; dates and names floating freely about until you happen to see a few together and your mind creates a story out of them. The worst part is that information has a dreadful connection to the truth that, if severed, causes the drab little things to evaporate entirely. Information is a stage magician’s trickery when you’ve seen a real wizard summon lightning from his fingertips.

And yet Yoren is a useful little dwarf. In collecting enough information he is attempting to distill stories into something with more proof, in the alcoholic and evidential senses of the word. He may be able to find patterns where details would obscure, find motives where none were apparent, or find truth where reality got in the way.

But I wonder if he’ll truly understand what it is when he sees it.

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The Mist

I seem to pick up new adventurers everywhere I go… the caravan guards fell apart, or more accurately… imploded. With the exception of Withervine I suddenly found myself running with a whole new group, trying to mend a city that just suffered a catastrophic transformation.

We found ourselves choked in a fight on a stairwell in a tower filled with mist. We were without room to maneuver. We were at the disadvantage, but I found a way to open up the battle. An easy leap across to a vantage across the tower would give me a new angle to better flank our foes.

So I focused my mind and leaped. An impossible distance for most, but an easy leap for me. I prepared to land, spinning in midair to prepare my technique for the attack.

Pushed!

Suddenly I’m forced downward! Someone, something intercepted me and my calculated leap is now a spiraling fall. I twist in the air to see my assailant, but there is no one; Only my companions and their foes. The distance between us grows impossibly large. I’m falling too far. Much further now than the height of the tower. Further still. The mist swirls around growing thicker and thicker.

Then an unpleasant landing. Pain. Blood. I can’t breathe. I must have a cracked rib. I stand up and look through the mist. It’s clearing enough to see where I am. The sun is shining, but it’s dark here. The trees are twisted and tangled. They look… dark. The dirt, the rocks, the mountains, the clouds, the sky all dark. Drab versions of the world I’m used to.

I’d heard tales this place in the monastery. Sinsei called it the Shadowfell. It’s a place of death and decay. I know of this place. I know I don’t want to be here. And I know I’m not alone.

I don’t see them so much as I sense them. I pick out sounds of movement, breathing, teeth gnashing, heartbeats accelerating. I focus my mind away from the pain of my injuries and prepare for the attack. By the time I see them, they are impossibly close. They literally step out of the shadows. They move quickly and without hesitation. They have unimaginable grace and bear weapons that compliment that grace. I recognize them from lore as well. They are Shadar-kai. One of the few living creatures in the Shadowfell, but painfully bound to it.

I don’t wait for them to close the distance. I leap at them and the first tastes a kick from my crane technique. Before he hits the ground I follow up my kick with a flurry of punches. He is down but now his comrades are upon me. One slashes at me with his short blade, but despite their graceful movements, I see the many flaws in their fighting style. I assume my spiral stance and let loose on several of them at once. They don’t know what hit them. I move among and between them, dropping several, their weapons missing more than they hit. Then comes a blow from behind. And another. I turn to face my foe just in time to feel a fist crash into my injured ribs. I lose my footing. I fight from my back. I don’t need to be standing to keep fighting. I summon the strength of the eternal mountain and knock 3 of them off their feet. But the butt of a sword finds my temple. My vision blurs, sound grows dim. Darkness descends from the edges of my sight, until it’s all I see.

Pain. I sit up and look around. I am exactly where I fell. But the Shadar-kai are nowhere to be seen. I’m unsure of what happened… why they didn’t finish the job. Then it hits again. The realization that I’m not alone. I attempt to leap into my fighting stance, but my body is finished. I’ve pushed it beyond what it’s capable of. I look up so see who will end my journey. My heart leaps in my chest. I look around and I see the Shadar-kai angrily standing at bay some distance away. I am surrounded by a protective force. I see the ghostly figures of my brothers from the monastery forming a protective circle around me. To my side, smiling down at me, stands the spirit of Shihan.

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Session 8: Shady and Salty
In which a city is arrived at, a haggard man is spoken with, a tavern is located, many secrets are discussed, a few lies are given, a boat is ridden, a tower is invaded, abominations are discovered, and a battle is won.

They headed into town at daybreak, after a quiet little lunch in the hull of the great broken airship. It was maybe an hours walk before they found the city gate, and as soon as they made their way through they immediately thought that Anton had gotten off easy. The entire city, which once sat on a lazy slope down to the coast, was now a steep and dangerous slide into the choppy waters below. At least, one assumed the waters were choppy; the noise they made beating against the half-submerged buildings led you to believe as much, even if The Mist was so heavy that it was impossible to see more than a hundred feet in any direction.

Finneus gestured down the main road, “The main commercial district is on The Ribbon leadin’ down to the docks, but the nicer parts of town are to the south, on the Bluffs,” he swept his arm to the right. “The well to do area is also the higher ground, so is likely where we’ll find more people.” Since no one objected, he nudged Nathan in that direction.

After a few minutes walk a large structure loomed out of the mist above them; a tall, round building that could be nothing but the Bloodball stadium. As they got closer it became evident that this had become a landmark and a meeting place; a great many people were milling about. “Are the Sirens holding a game?” Finneus asked one of the haggard men standing about.

The man looked as if a strong wind would blow him over. He looked, in fact, like one had already done so, and he hadn’t come out better from the experience. “No,” he said, “We’re all just trying to share what we have.” He looked over the group warily, “You look like you’ve been traveling. Where have you come from?”

Amatharn stepped forward and smiled, “Anton.”

The man looked shocked, “That’s quite a journey! How does Anton fare?”

“Better than here,” Withervine said, “But badly.”

The man nodded, unsure what use this information was to him. He decided to try a more immediate tack, “What brings you to Tierm?”

“We are seeking answers,” Amatharn said, “And would appreciate your sharing any you might have.”

The man shrugged, “Alas, I am merely a survivor. But I know someone with whom you might talk; he frequents the Salty Dog down the way. Always in the back.”

Finneus nodded, “Thank ye, sir. And be proud of being a survivor; you’ll come to see it as a badge of honor as the years go by.”

They moved through the crowd, past the stadium and to the water’s edge. Here the waves lapped up onto the road, and the flotsam and jetsam of a drownéd city sloshed ashore and back out to sea with slow scraping sounds. They moved inside, picked out the shady character in the bar, and Finneus smiled to the barkeep. “What does he normally drink?” he asked, hooking a thumb at the corner.

The keep eyed the newcomer suspiciously. Finneus pulled out a coin and flipped it in his hands. “A Siren’s Song,” the barkeep said quickly.

“I’ll take two,” Finneus said, handing the coin over. He withdrew another and handed it over as well, “And this one is for you.”

“Thank you,” the barkeep said, “I don’t normally get such treatment.”

Finneus took the drinks, nodded, and took a step toward the corner, “That’s because ya live in a terrible little town.” The barkeep’s smile melted away in an instant.

Finneus plopped into the chair opposite the shadowed figure. At this distance it was easy enough to see that he was a dwarf, and was not expecting company. The bard slid one of the drinks across the way, “I am told that you are the person to talk to when questions need be answered. I’d like your pseudonym of the day, since that will make the conversation easier.”

The dwarf might have smiled; it was difficult to tell under the beard. “You can call me Yoren,” he said, picking up his drink. “As for answers, that all depends on what the questions are. And what you have to offer in return. But first things first; what might I call all of you?”

“I am Amatharn,” the vampire said, taking a seat. “Our chief concern is this Mist; do you know anything about it?”

“I do,” Yoren said, looking at Withervine expectantly.

The elf took the hint and held a hand to his chest, fingers spanned, “Withervine.”

“And I am Gwen,” the Genasi said, not wanting to be asked.

Finneus took a swig of his drink. It was sour and had a mean bite, which was appropriate for the city. He figured that this fellow wanted the answers but knew it was best to make him wait for it, as waiting was a cheap payment and payment was what was being negotiated. He swallowed, “And I am Finneus.” He had never liked Siren’s Songs.

Yoren took stock. “Amatharn, Gwen, Finneus, and Withervine. From…?”

“Anton,” Withervine said.

“And thereabouts,” Finneus added. Yoren eyed the bard, noting the slippery language. Finneus smiled, happily debasing his payment by surrounding it with ambiguity. “And where are you from, Yoren?”

“I’ve been serving here and there,” he said. It was his turn to pay down a little ambiguity.

Finneus arched a brow, “Serving like in an army, or like in a prison?” He raised his glass to drink, stopped, then continued, “Or like a barmaid?” He knew immediately that it was a step too far; Yoren’s face was red, he eyes narrowed.

“Serving,” he said.

“You said you knew something of the Mist,” Amatharn offered, attempting to change the subject.

The dwarf nodded as he turned his head to the vampire, “Yes, and I’d be willing to part with that knowledge if you’ve some you’re willing to part with in return. I am a collector of information, and I do not give it up for nothing.”

Amatharn pursed her lips. She was immortal but she still got annoyed at how long simple things could take. She glanced around the table, decided no one was going to offer anything first, and dove in. “I am from the Dutchies of Sanford, though it has been a while since I was there.”

“I know the place,” Yoren nodded. “Are you familiar with Barakus Solut? He had a daughter, if I recall.”

Amatharn nodded, trying to hold in her fear. Did he know? “I know of him, but his daughter disappeared a long time ago; I’d expect she’d be dead by now.”

Yoren tilted his head back and forth, “I suppose.” He turned and eyed Withervine, “I can tell by your clothes that you are a druid.”

“Yes. I hail originally from Brofland,” Withervine said.

“Near Lemora.”

“Yes, though I grew up in the Green Needle Forest before becoming a City Druid. The city has its own dangers, I’ve found.”

Yoren’s eyes registered an understanding and agreement. Then he shifted them to Gwen. “From your insignia I pegged you as a military woman.”

“A have had my loyalties there, yes.” Gwen said, “And more recently to a broader set of people in need. I help where I can these days.” Gwen saw the disbelief hidden behind his smile.

“And you,” the dwarf turned back to Finneus, “said you were from ‘here and about’. You all seem to know Anton, and you found this pub quite quickly. Any more detail than ‘here and about’?”

“Oh, a great many more. I’ve travelled Tierm b’fore, and Anton, and Ceris, and beyond. Never quite made it down to the Rookhold Mountains but I’ve seen the Zepan Kingdoms. I am a citizen of the world, as it were.”

“I would claim as much for myself. But where are you from originally?”

Finneus gestured upward. “More on the thereabouts than the here. I think it’s time this sharing became a two-way street before we proceed any farther.”

Yoren jutted out his lower lip and shrugged, “I’m not quite sure. I’ve a bit of information about you, and a bit about Anton, but nothing really new. You’ve travelled quite a ways; what have you seen in that time?”

“A crater,” Withervine said, “right out of the Elemental Chaos.” Yoren turned his eye to the elf. “Slabs of rock floating on air, with lava and creatures within.”

“I have heard of this,” Yoren said.

“And have you heard who was in the crater?” Finneus asked.

“I have heard a bit, but would be interested in what you have heard.”

“A dragonborn who styled herself Surina of the Remnant, with a great many men with her.” Finneus exagerrated the title and the number to see the reaction; it was always best to wrap lies in the truth, and vice versa.

“A ‘great many men’, so she has moved up in the world,” Yoren said, almost to himself. “Who were these men?”

“Warforged, some. But we did not see them ourselves,” Finneus said, “And so have only the word of a Genasi boy who went with them. He saw them perform a ritual, and was knocked out for his troubles.”

“So she has warforged, now. Certainly moving up.” Yoren had the look of someone cross-referencing things in their head.

Finneus purposefully waited a beat so as to interrupt at a worse time, “I take it from your answers that you have heard of this ‘Surina’ before.”

“Oh, yes,” Yoren said. “A bright mind.”

“But does she put it to bright purposes?” Finneus asked.

“I try not to make such distinctions.”

Finneus tried to poke the wound again, “Have you heard of this ‘Remnant’ before?”

Yoren waited a moment, then shook his head slowly, “I’ve heard of remnants of things, but never a group calling itself the Remnant.”

Withervine’s slender fingers folded open in the center of the table; in his palm a small shiny thing sat motionless. “It is a Golden Beetle. It cures common ailments. It is yours, if you want it.”

Yoren touched it with his own stocky fingers. It dodged away when he approached. “Where did you come across it?”

“In the Skintooth Mountains some years ago. There was a shamanistic tribe of Drow living in caves there, seeking ogre artifacts. I had been commissioned to seek out the same artifacts, and in the course of that search found myself trapped with a few ogres. One of their number had fallen ill, and their healers could do nothing for her in the small place we had found refuge. When they found these golden beetles they told her to eat it, and at first I suspected they were just being ogres, who are not known for being particularly picky about their food, but when she ate it and got better I procured a few of the beetles myself so I might breed them.”

Yoren looked impressed, “I would be interested in getting another, so I might breed them as well.”

Withervine nodded, “I will give you one as soon as I can.”

Gwen spoke up, “While still serving in the Zepan Army, I was part of the team that found Creation Forge 5. Deep in the Rookhold Mountains we came across a door, and inside the door was a complex older than anyone you’ve ever met. We spun up the machine and managed to start production before the Rooks found it; the entire forge was destroyed in the battle.”

Yoren looked around the table. This group had seen more than he expected.

“Have you heard of Sunder?” Finneus offered.

Yoren wasn’t prepared for a new name to skip into the conversation so quickly after the last tale. “No,” he said after a moment’s delay.

“A servant of the Raven Queen,” Finneus said.

“Bitch,” Yoren said.

“As was Sunder,” Finneus smiled. “She was tasked with killing The Defiler, who I’m guessing you have heard about, and also Fenrial, who you may have heard about. A group of adventurers did manage to slay the Defiler– charming group of fellows if you ever run into them– and Sunder killed Fenrial herself. This all occurred moments before the Upheaval.”

Yoren’s brow raised. “A servant of the Raven Queen slew a man of light moments before the world fell apart.”

Finneus smiled, knowing that he had Yoren on a hook. “Aye, and a great many things happened in those moments, I’m sure. But this one was what we’ve heard, and it sounds important to my ear, and by the look on your face it sounds important to you as well.”

Yoren nodded, “It does. But I think you’ve paid your price. The Mist does indeed come from this town; a tower out in what is now the bay exudes it. That tower is owned by Surina, and what she does there is anyone’s guess. I know only that visitors arrive at night and leave before morning.”

“Can you get us to this tower?” Amatharn asked.

“For a price,” the dwarf said.

“Do you wish to come along?” Finneus smirked. People who shouldn’t be venturing into danger always seemed to want to do so. He was a prime example of the trend.

“Oh, no. But inside her tower are a series of documents, marked with an ornate red ‘R’. I want those documents. And I’d prefer if you didn’t read them first.” There was a moment when each of them tried to decide if they were willing to make that decision.

“On one condition,” Finneus said. “A simple yes or no answer: do those documents have to do with what we’ve discussed here at this table?” He looked at his comrades; again their lack of a clear leader was problematic, and again he just decided to make the call.

“Yes,” Yoren said.

“Then we have a deal,” Finneus said.

“Meet me at nightfall,” Yoren said, “at the water’s edge just outside his tavern. We will make our way from there.”

“Agreed,” Finneus said, standing. “We shall meet you in a few hours. Shall we provide the boat?”

Yoren shook his head, “I shall procure one.”

“All the easier,” the bard said. He strolled back to the barkeep, flipped another coin onto the counter, and pointed back at Yoren, “He’ll have another.” They all strode out.

A few hours later they were strolling toward a lantern-holding dwarf standing next to a boat that resembled the wreckage it bobbed amidst. But when they all stepped in it seemed seaworthy enough, so they started off into the water, the city quickly disappearing into the mist and darkness behind them. About fifteen minutes later they slowed and stopped near a building whose roof lay only a foot below the water line. “This is as close as I go,” Yoren said. He handed Amathan a small stone, “Speak into this and I will return for you.” They all climbed out and stood in knee-deep water as Yoren paddled away. Then they made their way as quietly as they could toward the dim outline of the tower. There were at least three stories above the waterline, and likely another three below. Its dark grey stonework looked ancient but solid, and the waves looked like a minor annoyance in a long history. They managed to climb into a window aglow with firelight.

The two guards inside were playing cards, and were down almost before they could draw their weapons. The two brittle warforged that accompanied them provided slightly more resistance before crumbling to parts on the floor. The real problem were the three figures in cages on the southeast wall, who looked to be humans warped by foul draconic magic into some abominable semblance of the scaly beasts themselves. Despite cramped quarters, Withervine leapt from one side of the battle to another, freeing up Amatharn to tear down the threats before they became too dangerous. Gwen managed to badger the abominations and keep them away from Finneus, whose song seemed to protect everyone from harm. As the last abomination fell everyone looked pleased; the stairway up was still clear, and they might just have the element of surprise still on their side.

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The Journey to Tierm, Part II

We walked straight south and from my mouth
You’d hear this very tune
We walked along to this here song
To our morale a boon

Then we did see a mystery
Away the ground had gone
But ne’er it fell, some force compel
And upwards it had gone.

So for a mile in sky did sail
Huge chunks of lowly earth
Floating around above the ground
Gravity given no dearth

Upon the edge of crater’s ledge
A town found itself perched
Their native son into had gone
And so we went and searched

We found him there inside the lair
of lava beasts and kin
A fight, alight, into the night
(Of course the good guys win)

Again we walk, we sing and talk.
We pass the ambush site
We find a burning airship and
We save them, spend the night.

In morn we wake, breakfast partake,
To lion’s den we go
A city dark the mission’s mark
The mist’s master to know.

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A New Song
Finneus likes to sing.

Singing brings me many things: joy, love, friends, questions, money, sex, and magic. It’s central to who I am in a way that few other things are. So when I get the chance to really belt out a song and have it mean something it makes the world slot into place, lets my mind accept the meaning of the situation and see things a little bit clearer.

I’ve had the chance this past week to do a lot of singing. Traveling through the wilds is a great time to practice, and I’m sure my compatriots are tired of hearing the same verses over and over, but I’ve tried to vary them a little each time. But the real songs are the ones sung in times of need, and we’ve had a number of those lately. Deep inside Experimental Forge 23 we nearly died, and songs pulled us through. Standing atop floating rock slabs dodging lava beasts Gwen was nearly lost, and songs led her to safety. In the belly of a flaming airship we all could have been destroyed by rampaging magicks, but singing calmed the storm.

My songs are my livelihood and my gift, and I am glad whenever a new one finds its way to me, for I know that my time of need for it cannot be far ahead. Ever a new song on my lips, ever a new adventure to be told and lived… and sung about tomorrow.

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Session 7: I've Seen Fire and I've Seen Rain
In which a mist saps our energy, the ground floats, lava attacks, genasi are made homeless, a road is rediscovered, a mysterious field of debris is ignored, a crashed airship is saved, a crew is lost, and an ally is found.

They left through Experimental Forge 23‘s south entrance, emerging onto a flat plain nearly half a mile from Amatharn’s Tunnel. Nathan was there, munching on a shrubbery, and ambled over when they appeared. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. Finneus mounted his steed, peered into the tiny pouch on his belt, and counted his compatriots. “Are we ready to move on? This Mist doesn’t seem to be disappearin’ of its own accord, and Tierm is still many days away.”

Withervine was crouched down on the ground, fingers raking through the dirt. “Yes, we should be off. The ground is sighing from the weight put upon it.” He stood and began striding south; the rest followed. They relied on the elf’s keen sense of direction and place, and he hadn’t failed them yet.

Finneus slung his lute around and strummed it, then began to sing from his saddle. It was a silly sort of song about a man and a fish, and it made them all laugh to hear it. It went on for a number of verses and kept their pace nicely. They proceeded like that for many hours and through many songs; they camped overnight and continued again the next day. They were approaching The T when they saw it. At first they suspected it to be a trick of the eyes; water reflecting the blue sky or some such. But as they came closer it became harder and harder to think so.

The ground was floating.

Huge chunks of rock and dirt had dislodged themselves from the ground and were instead bobbing around above it. Most of them were just a few dozen feet above the plain, but there were a fair number of slabs floating in the middle that had to be a hundred feet up or more. Some were connected to each other of the ground with thin strips of earth, but many sailed freely, moving slowly within the mile-wide area where the effect seemed contained.

“What the hells is that?” Amatharn asked.

Gwen frowned. “Damn strange is what.”

“It’s some a’ the Elemental Chaos. Or at least some of its nature, here in Verra,” said Finneus. He dismounted, picked up a rock, and threw it into the crater. Its slow arc slowed and then stopped, and the rock hung there in the air until a passing boulder bumped into it and it skidded away.

“I vote we go around,” Amatharn said. And so they did. They walked along the ridge at the edge of the effect, moving south and east so as to stay on course. Around mid afternoon they saw a village in the distance, perched on the edge of the crater near a river that flowed into– and seemed unaffected by– the effect. A decent amount of smoke drifted skyward from a few of the buildings nearest the edge, which seemed to have caught fire. They all ran to make sure no one was hurt.

“Everyone is already out,” an older Genesai gentleman said when they arrived. “I am Ebrahm; where do you lot come from?”

“Anton,” Gwen said.

“And thereabouts,” added Finneus.

“Is the city safe?” Ebrahm asked.

They all hesitated a moment. “Nearly,” Amatharn said, “But it is a long trek away.”

Ebrahm nodded, “But this town is not long for this world; the crater is growing by the day. Most of the people have left already.”

Withervine arched an eyebrow, “Why have you stayed?”

“This place is my home,” Ebrahm said, “And I am wary of leaving it. But more than that: my son Gensai is in that crater. A dragonborn woman and two warforged came not a day ago, and he followed them in. I’ve heard nothing since.”

Gwen put a hand on his shoulder, “We shall go in and search for him; perhaps we will be able to find something.” The collar made her more confident than she normally would be, but this was the sort of aid she tried to provide in any case.

The old man wasn’t sure if he should be shocked at the thought of strangers doing this or simply overjoyed at the thought of it being done. He decided to be a little of both, “If there is anything I can do to help, you have but to ask.”

Finneus strode up, “Can ya watch Nathan for me? Make sure he doesn’t go out drinking or anything?” Ebrahm looked at the red-headed man and at the horse. Finneus turned to Ebrahm, “Ya’d best not be shitfaced when I return. D’ya hear me?” He looked into Nathan’s big brown eyes, “Yes? Good.” He smiled at the Genesai and walked back toward the Chaos. The others followed.

When the reached the edge Withervine surveyed the area, then chose a nice slab of rock that was shifting back and forth listlessly to climb into the disturbance. From there he found an easy jump onto another chunk of earth, and from there a bridge to the next. He led them in this fashion for around an hour before they found an unconscious Genesai laying on the ground, a trickle of blood coming from the back of his head. Finneus tended his wound and revived him to ensure that he was who they were looking for. “What happened to you?” Gwen asked.

“I was with Surina and her warforged; she seemed to know quite a bit. Surina was saying how surprised she was that it was ‘this big’, and she had these tall rods with her. She put them close together and performed some ritual; that’s when something hit me and I fell.”

Amatharn pointed northward, “Tall rods in the ground, you say? Like those?” And indeed there were two rods a hundred feet north, placed about fifteen feet apart and topped with glowing silver orbs. They made sure Gensai felt well enough to walk and then proceeded to the rods to inspect them.

“Some sort of summoning ritual.” Finneus said, inspecting the inscriptions on the rods, “Or perhaps a binding ritual. Certainly an attempt to harness something powerful.” Just then one of the rods sparked, and the orb on its top made a loud pop and ceased glowing.

“That can’t be good,” Amatharn said.

They backed away from the rods. A moment later the rocks to the south shuddered, shifted, and a huge geyser of lava shot skyward. The entire floating island shook, and cracks spread out from the fissure. Rocks all over moved, and a few piled themselves up into humanoid shapes and stood, looking at the odd beings in the presence. The lava spewed out and the rockmen advanced while everyone else retreated as quickly as was feasible. Gwen drew her sword and ran into the fray; her fiery nature shielded her from the brunt of the danger, but all alone she was no match for the greater number of elementals that were popping out of every corner, now. Still, she kept them at bay while the others found some safety and shelter, and then made her own egress. Withervine skipped around the rock field– a pack of rock beings chasing him all the while– and lobbed danger into the fray. Amatharn moved methodically back and forth to protect her friends as well as she could. Finneus sang one of the Old Songs about the Dawn War, enraging the elementals and tricking them into making the wrong moves. They all pulled back as quick as they could; the lava was always spreading, and every second of delay was a second spent watching your footholds to make sure they didn’t disappear under the molasses-thick waves. Slowly they pulled back, an finally they had dropped enough of the elementals that could tun and make a run for it.

They ran back to Ebrahm, traded a Genesai for a horse, and continued south. “We should have asked if they’d heard of the Remnant,” Finneus mused over the campfire that night. “Ah, well.”

They passed between the Blackheart Forest and the Crossroads Forest, and though each had grown darker and wilder neither seemed to have moved much. They found the remains of the old road coming out of the Crossroads– its remains buried in dirt and vegataion– and picked up the still-servicable road heading south. The two Caravan Guards still in the company noted when the company passed the spot where not a month before the two had come across the ambush.

They travelled for a number of days on that road, meandering south through the hills that characterized that part of Verra. One morning soon after they broke camp they found the ground littered with pieces and parts of some great mechanical contraption, but they soon passed the debris field without discovering an origin. Toward sunset the next day they spied a conflagration in the distance. Withervine’s keen eyes made out the source, “A crashed airship.” They left the road and ran for the downed vessel.

All around were parts and shards and bodies; the main craft was aflame, with the thick tongues of fire whipping out of a large gash in her side. Finneus drew out his wand and held it near his throat, “Is anyone alive in there? Do you need assistance?” His voice boomed across the landscape; no one would miss that sound. And sure enough, a moment later a panel on the side of the ship twisted, compressed air spurted out in all directions, and the door flipped open. No one waited to rush into the flames.

They quickly found the fore of the ship; there at the binnacle stood a guant Githyanki clutching an injured side. He was pulling at various knobs when they entered, “I’m Captain Cid; who are you all?” He asked.

“There isn’ time,” Finneus said, his voice still booming. “How can we help?”

The Githyanki tried to step forward and lead them somewhere, but a pained look and a sharp intake of breath sent him reeling backward. Instead he motioned aft, “The arcane drive is in danger of destroying the entire ship; it will need to be dealt with.” Finneus nodded, turned, and went looking. Amatharn followed, and when the passage forward was too fiery to continue she lifted Finneus and threw him across. He found the drive and took out his lute, and the arcane words of his song merged with the powers that spun around him, and as he controlled the tempo he controlled the engine, pulling its energy down and lulling it back into safety. Throughout the ship his words thundered as the powers flowed.

Withervine and Gwen were racing down another corridor looking for any surviving crewmen. In one chamber they found a female Halfling trying to dislodge a gnome who’d become stuck under a collapsed bit of superstructure. Withervine slouched forward, his form shifting as he went, and when the sloth lifted the debris the gnome rolled to safety. No sooner was he free than he was running around the ship grabbing small Bags of Holding, pointing them at the flames, and opening the drawstring to issue forth a small torrent of water. The halfling introduced herself as Wiggs and her colleague as Bedge, then urged the strangers to help fight the fire using the Bilge Bags and ran off to start doing so herself. With all hands doing so, the flames were shortly suppressed and everyone wandered up to the bridge.

“I thank you for your aid today,” Cid said, “My ship is safe.” He collapsed to the ground, his arm holding his side tightly. Wiggs stepped forward at the same time that Gwen did; they both worked to mend the wound.

“Where are we?” Cid managed between grunts of pain.

“Quite near Tierm,” Finneus said. “North of the Rookhold Mountains and the Zepan Kingdoms.”

Cid shook his head, “So we are in Verra.”

“What’s left of it,” Finneus nodded. “Where were you before?”

“Plying the Astral Sea near Pelor’s domain.” He coughed a bit, but tried to suppress it for fear of bursting the stitches being sown into his abdomen. “If I recall correctly Pelor had a city near here.” He reached and grabbed a map from the wall, trying to unfurl it above his head. Wiggs eyed him darkly.

“You recall correctly,” Finneus said, “though we’ve no idea what fate’s befallen Ceris; it may well have fallen into the sea t’the west; the waters moved when everything else did. Yourselves included. What do you plan to do now that you know your location?”

Wiggs stepped back from her captain; her stitches would hold or they wouldn’t, and it was up to him, now. He gingerly sat up and looked around. “I think I’ll manage to get the ship back in order and flying, but it’ll take some doing. You said we were near a city?”

Amatharn smiled, “Of some disrepute.”

“A rather rotten one, unfortunately,” Withervine said. “And not in the good way. But it has its uses.”

Cid didn’t understand, but decided he didn’t care to, “I will need to fetch some supplies.” Bedge visibly stood straighter; this was his ship’s time of need and he wanted to be of use.

Finneus noted it, “Let us escort your crewman with us into town; he can gather the supplies you need and we shall escort him back when our business in the city is done.”

Cid smiled. He didn’t like owing anyone anything, but favors could be the least expensive thing there was to owe, because the accounting was so vague. “An excellent idea,” he said. “But first I think you should find some bunks and spend the night. In the morning you can set out.” And that is exactly what they did.

New Questions

Answered Questions

  • Was the Astral Sea affected by the Upheaval? Yes
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The Journey to Tierm, Part I

Anton starves; the city devolves
She cannot stay within
Lightbearers go to Ceris so
We’ll head to the city of sin.

Drinker, rotter, singer, plotter;
four friends at dawn set out
Due to the Mist which ground has kissed
And ruined all about.

An easy day but then dismay
As the road vanishes.
Then sinkholes grow to canyons now
And deny passages.

By midday the ground gives way
A chasm stops us cold
The sides discreet by a hundred feet
Our progress is on hold.

So we turn east until released
the canyon’s river is
A delta then where ’fore the den
Of Lightbearers tis.

And so our quest takes us back west
Along the chasm’s rim
In two days march we find an arch
Over the dark and dim.

Balanced and slow, across we go
When what do we behold
There on the wall, sits broad and tall
A silver door of old.

Gwen on a rope goes down the slope
Amatharn holds her twain
The door she spies and long she tries
It opens but with pain.

Into that hole us four do stroll
The words our torches light
Forge Twenty-Three” in Genasi
A thrilling, dreadful sight.

Intruders we the Forge does see
It sends out its own guards
We are prepared and none are spared:
They all end up in shards.

The Forge is quick to take our trick
It puts in us its trust
So Gwen becomes the Forge’s Flame
For her only its lust

Some nine hundred warforged plundered
From vaults in not a week
A Remnant man has some foul plan
The situation’s bleak.

In Treasury in chest we see
A round and strong Collar
Gwen slips it on, and trades for braun
The life of a scholar.

But on we press; we must egress
And find the Mist’s raison
‘Fore Anton’s might falls to the night
So forth to Tierm anon!

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Freedom
Finneus revels in his freedom.

I love the city. There is the familiar bustle of people about, the come and go of crowds, the constant motion of a large group in a small space. Being a student of people I can sit and watch for hours as they slog into a pub and dance out again.

But there is a freedom to the open world outside a city’s wall, an expanse large enough to stretch out your legs and really move, to take in the size and breadth and scope of the land. There is a wildness inside of each of us that calls out for that kind of movement.

There are many reasons I leave cities: calamities, opportunities, misunderstandings, rumors, spurned lovers, migrations, evasions, and boredom. But the call of the space between cities, that void where anything is possible and you never know what the next turn will bring, is an exciting reason in and of itself. That it is always coupled with the mystery of what has changed in the city you are traveling to enhances the effect.

So when we left Anton earlier this week on the way to Tierm, I was excited to see what the Upheaval had done to the countryside. There are always surprises to be found out here, and given the number of surprises we’ve already seen inside the city walls it was no great shock that the changes were more widespread.

At first it was merely the now-familiar Mist that hangs just above the ground nowadays. It clings to the world and seems to choke out the crops, which is the whole reason we’re headed to Tierm to begin with. When there’s cruel and spiteful magic about you’d do a lot worse than guessing that Tierm is at the root of it. I’ve escaped Tierm before and was much the worse for wear; I pray only that a return visit proves less damaging. I like the freedom I’ve earned, and I’m not about to give it up again.

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