“I have gone to find Wind,” read the note. Gwen was disappointed but not surprised to find it when she returned that morning to the rest of the group at the Lusty Lion; she knew Relic had a strong sense of duty and would go to whomever needed his help most. But she would still miss him.
The next few weeks were a flurry of activity as Anton put itself back together again. Gwen and Finneus and Amatharn and Withervine were often called in to help with this or that; most of the direct threats had been dealt with, but there were still a few cases where a group of warriors was called for. Mostly there was simply destruction and general disarray.
So a week after the Upheaval when a paige arrived it was nothing new; by now most of the city was somewhat familiar with the group and called on them when needed. But this was a summons from Elder Arcturus, which meant it was a problem larger than some odd bug or fiend.
They arrived at the Elder’s house later that evening and waited in the lobby. Mateus was there, as was Emton; each of those groups had been fulfilling a similar role in the aftermath, and it was not uncommon for paths to cross. But whatever the Elder had planned was obviously important if all three groups were summoned.
“Anton is starving,” the old man began as he swept into the sitting room. “The gate was fixed and we can get supplies into the city, but the fields outside are not what they used to be. A devilish mist hangs to the ground and a malaise follows it; you’ve no doubt seen it settle into some parts of the city of late.” The nodded; the stuff was easy to spot. “And so I have two tasks that need doing: we need someone to head to Ceris and determine if they can provide us with more food. And we need someone else to go to Tierm and discover if they are behind this dreadful mist.”
Finneus looked at the assembly. Emton was undoubtedly the leader of the Canaries, and Mateus was the field commander of the Lightbearers. But for the third, unnamed group he belonged to, no leader could be reliably determined. Their membership seemed to shift every day, and whoever spoke first was the voice of the group at that time. He decided to be that voice now. “We have some experience down in Tierm; it may be best if we venture that direction. Mateus, I trust, can secure the grain shipments?”
Mateus was not sure if he had just been told he was doing the easier job or complimented on his manifest ability to do it. “We would be more than happy to go to the seat of Pelor.” Emton smiled; he was setting his group up, as much as he could, as the defenders of the city, and he was happy to stay and get more face time.
They set out the next morning. At first there was nothing more than the long, ancient road and the ever-present mists. But roundabout sunset the road simply vanished. In the space of about fifty feet the bricks began to have spaces between, and the spaces grew until the road was no more. Pressing on through the plains the next morning, they began to see rifts in the ground; huge scars that grew wider and wider until they came at last to Withervine’s Chasm, which Finneus named on the spot when Gwen denied making it. Some hundred feet across and with a dangerous-looking river at the bottom, they decided to veer east toward the Lightbearer’s Monastery, but they soon found themselves on a brand-new coastline with jagged cliffs and large, mesa-like islands. Gwen’s Delta could have been navigated, but there was no way that Nathan was going to make it down those cliffs, so back to the west they went. Two days march found them at Amatharn’s Tunnel, where the chasm’s river went under an arch that spanned the ever-thinning chasm. As they walked across the rock bridge they noticed an odd pair of doors set into the south wall of the chasm, and decided to investigate.
Gwen, having the most experience with mysterious doors in the middle of nowhere, was lowered down the cliff face on a rope by Amatharn. She attempted to discern the door’s markings and to make use of a small contraption on its side, and was eventually successful, but the effort took most of the day. Inside, Finneus extracted an Everburning Torch from the Bag of Holding on his belt. He gestured at the walls, which were inscribed in Primordial: “Experimental Forge 23”. More disturbing, the ground seemed to have been heavily trafficked very recently. This was a place of unimaginable power that had seen use. They moved further into the complex to see if they could find out more. As soon as they did so, the walls lit up. The system was aware of them.
The staging hall was in the center, and when they approached a cart-sized metallic contraption spun a mask toward them asked for identification. “Gwen Firebrand,” the Genasi said.
“Invalid user!” the box squawked, and sparks flew from it. Two warforged dropped from pods at the top of the room and advanced. Amatharn, ever quick on her feet, ran forward. She took up a spot in the center of the action, trying to draw attention away from her more vulnerable comrades; she was no Relic but she would do her best. Finneus cheered her on, his words causing the metal men to stumble close enough that she could swipe at them. Swinging around the fray, Gwen found a small panel full of levers that seemed to control the cart-sized Warder. Withervine opened his jacket and withdrew a tangle of vines, which he threw onto the Warder. They grew instantly to cut the battlefield in twain with a huge thorny wall. Everyone began throwing warforged into it. But the machines kept appearing out of hatches and hidden doors, and soon Finneus was behind the thorn wall, surrounded and being shot at by the Warder. Amatharn was forced to fall back and Withervine was pinned against a wall and a ledge. When Gwen managed to cut the power to the Warder things quickly got better; one by one the contraptions fell, and the group stood, hurt, amidst the pieces.
Finneus, as was his wont, sang a song. For this occasion he sang his own song, about his life on the farm and his unrequited love for the barmaid in the town pub. He sang of her heartbreak as the travelers would leave her, and his heartbreak as she refused his advances. He sang of her finally leaving, and of his own decision to go out and see the world to prove himself as interesting as any man. The tune was sorrowful, and they all counted the number of allies they had counted friends and had now lost, and they all set in their minds that they would go forth and prove they were worthy of those who had come before them.
They climbed the stairs and found a control room. A large desk was set near a window looking down into the staging hall, and this time the identification of “Gwen Firebrand” was met with a “Are you a Remnant User?” Not knowing what that meant but not one to pass up the opportunity, she said yes, and the arcane brain inside the walls began to talk to them. “Welcome to Experimental Vault 23,” it said, “I apologize for the mess; we seem to have had some intruders.”
They convinced the brain to tell them all about its 900 year history, to provide a map of the Rookhold Mountains where it believed itself to be located, and the locations of the other forges it knew of (but had long ago lost connections with). The system was persuaded to reveal that the working 900 of the 1000 warforged units in the vault had been taken by “Remnant User Derick” not a week before, and that the forge was currently able to maintain systems but unable to create new units. Finneus fabricated a security breach and got access to images of Derick and locked the system to Gwen’s user with a passcode of “Geneva Epsilon Alpha Zeta.” And the system told them about the Treasury.
The Treasury was on the other side of the staging area, and contained some modest coffers and a large locked chest. The arcane brain gladly opened it when asked, and inside was a metal band large enough to be a Collar. Gwen held it close and saw a rune inscribed on the side. “There’s some Primordial here. Tenacity, it says. And then this looks Dwarven.”
She handed it to Finneus, who squinted and nodded. “Stalwart. Next to that is Elven, where it says ‘Sentinel’, and then ‘Vengeance’ in Abyssal. And this last one is unknown to me. Anyone?” He showed it around, but no one had a clue. “Let me consult my books.” He reached into the tiny bag on his belt and withdrew a large tome, and then a set of goggles and a vial of some greenish fluid. He poured the fluid into the goggles, looked up a few numbers in the book, and then put them on to examine the words again. “Ah yes,” he said, “I should have recognized the corruption of Supernal. It’s Draconic. It reads ‘Punishment’.”
Gwen took it back from him. She rolled it in her hands, looking over each word again. “Tenacity, Stalwart, Vengeance, Sentinel, and Punishment.” She put a hand on either side and spun it between her fingers. Then, with one swift motion, she slid it over her head and around her neck. She collapsed to the ground immediately.
The others gathered around. The Genasi was always curious, but most didn’t expect her to be so brash. They huddled down and tried to revive her, and when that failed they checked her vitals. She seemed fine, and so they found themselves waiting. In a moment she was shifting, then muttering, then opening her eyes. Finneus leaned over from the spot on the ground he’d taken next to her, “How’dya feel, lass?”
“I feel well. Quite well. Stronger, even.” She sat up, “I feel great, actually. I feel like going and beating down some guys.” She stretched and then stood up.
Withervine arched an eyebrow, “You look better.” He pointed at her arms, which were suddenly larger. “Like you’ve been working out in your sleep.”
Gwen patted herself down, “Yes, I feel it. Like I’ve gotten an infusion of something.” She put a finger on the collar and drew it along the smooth curve. “I can hear it talking to me. Just barely. It’s a whisper in the back of my mind. It’s teaching me, I think. It wants me to go out and use this. And I want to. Let’s go make some trouble.”
- Where did this Mist come from?
- Can Ceris send more supplies to Anton?
- What is the Remnant?
- Who is this Derick guy?
- What happened to the 900 Warforged taken from Experimental Forge 23?
- What is this Collar?