Gwen was on top of the monument moments after the Upheaval stopped. She peered north, toward the collapsed dome of the town hall, but she didn’t see any sign of Finneus among the scattered groups of gawkers brought out by the battle with The Defiler. Bluce was looking the other direction for Sunder, but she had vanished into the shadows of the Lightbearers as soon as the shaking began. Neither had any luck locating their prey.
But Withervine saw a face he recognized: Amatharn was in the crowd, and the elf had something to tell her. But not now, in the middle of the crowd. He nodded to her, “It is nice to see you again, my old friend.”
“It is. Do you know what’s going on here?”
“I know some, but not all, of the happenings here. The rotting corpse atop the monument is a man known as The Defiler, and we have tracked him down to stop him from bringing these demon hordes upon the city and the surrounding countryside. But as for the earthquake and the stars, I am at a loss.”
Bluce was inspecting the iron tower that had popped up on the east side of the square. An odd structure with no doors, covered in tiny droplets of water, Bluce nevertheless found a strange series of glyphs on the side. They slid about when he touched them, but retained their three-by-three grid. The others joined him, and Withervine recognized the symbols as an old numbering system, but no combinations they tried seemed to make anything happen.
“We,” Bluce said, “are not masters of riddles and puzzles. Where might we find such a person?”
Gwen thought. She had lived in this town long enough to know that the Town Archive was a good source of historical information about the city, but this was a more esoteric case. “The Observatory on the west side of town would be our best bet.” And they set off.
They began on their way. The oddest thing was that the cobblestone streets all seem bigger, but there was no space between cobblestones; as if new cobblestones appeared to fill in the gaps as the road expanded. And they slowly realized that the same was true all around: between shops that were once touching were gardens filled with trees and vines; a small shrine to Ioun stood in a roundabout exactly where they had fought through a passel of demons the night before; in districts that had settled into old buildings there were some that looked to have been built yesterday.
They turned a corner and saw a dozen or so people gathered around a toppled building. Peering over their heads they saw that the building fell into itself and down into its own basement, which was now exposed and glowing with the faintly blue tint of some moss clinging to the walls. Laying in the middle of the rubble, a humanoid form with metallic skin reflected the blue light, but the form was motionless, laying on its back with a sword clasped in front of it.
Gwen ran toward it, sliding down the slope. Blue runes flashed around her, a wave of magic symbols flaring up and disappearing in her wake. When the ripples reached the form, he sat up just before Gwen leapt on his lap. “Relic!” she said.
Withervine was smiling behind her, and Bluce was at their side. A trio of old friendships rekindled instantly amid the unusual circumstances. “I did not expect to see the three of you together,” Relic said, “But where am I?” They explained what they could, but had no explanation for how he had arrived there.
“Someone liked you quite a lot,” Withervine noted. “This is a preservation chamber, and it is a Great Magic. Someone wanted you to survive. Who that was I do not know; I last saw you falling into the pit with Captain Harrin.” That being Relic’s last memory as well, he agreed to venture forth with his friends and seek out answers with them.
Around another corner, a brawl in a field drew the group’s attention. A passel of Cheapside residents were here in the Elf Quarter, fighting over land that didn’t exist an hour ago. A calm conversation convinced them to seek out other fields further in the posh district, so as not to fight every person coming to stake their own claim.
The next corner held another surprise: the ocean that should be hundreds of leagues away was now closer than the city wall should be. Ruins of buildings floated in the water, and across the expanse could be seen the observatory, sitting on its hill, the only building on the west side of town that was still dry.
Amatharn scouted out materials, Withervine became a giant ape and carried them to shore, and Gwen set to work building a boat. Bluce and Relic rowed around to rescued people, then set out across the bay. The door was ajar, and they group went in.
They were shot by the building’s security system. Mechanical devices popped out of the walls and drew first blood, and just when the tide turned in the party’s favor a Chaos Bender dropped from the ceiling and the fight began anew. When Amatharn slew the demon the constructs halted.
Gwen was the first through the door into the telescope dome, and when the candelabra swung at her she dodged easily. Immediately after the candelabra came an apology from an embarrassed Linus; “Oh! I thought you were the homunculi! Wh- what did you do with them?”
“We took care of them.” Gwen said, “Were they attacking you?”
“Yes! It was rather frightful. Just after the sky changed this one barged in,” he gestured to a pile of parts on the ground, “and started swinging. Never been a problem before this.”
“When the sky changed?” Relic said, “And did you know you’re on an island, now?”
Linus looked confused, “On a what?” He ran down the stairs and looked outside, then back. “An island!” He called out to the others; Lars on the big ’scope and Ariel scouting with her handheld; Clank working the machinery to shift the great eye. “The world is transformed above and below!”
“We did come to ask something,” Gwen said, “And see if any of you might know about it.” She borrowed Ariel’s telescope and showed them the Iron Tower. “It has these symbols on it; they move but we can’t determine the right order.” She took out a sketch, and the scholars gathered to relish the challenge. “Numbers.” “The order matters.” “These dots aren’t part of the numerals.” “Can’t you draw these in different ways; the pattern might mean something.”
It was Bluce who noticed that the rows added to fifteen. A little rearranging made the columns do the same, and then the diagonals as well. Fifteen all over. “A magic square,” Lars remarked. “Now I’ve got a whole new sky to catalog.”
“Don’t you want to come back to land with us?” Gwen said.
“Oh, we have provisions.” Linus said, “Enough for us at least. We’ll be fine.” And so they climbed back into the boat and rowed back across the bay, and left the boat with a helpful citizen.
Back to the town square, back to the tower, and a moment later the last glyph slid into place. The grate of metal sliding against metal filled their ears, and the outline of a door appeared on the tower wall. It recessed into the building, and then all at once a giant wave of water issued out of it, knocking everyone back and nearly drowning them. The water kept coming and coming, and after nearly a minute it slowed, then stopped. “The whole thing must have been full of water,” Gwen said.
“And it was pure elemental water,” Withervine noted, “this thing has come from the Elemental Chaos.”
The room immediately inside looked to be a supply room of some sort, but it was hard to tell. The crates were so water-logged it would be anyone’s guess what they once held. Beyond that was a hallway with rooms branching off that appeared to be living quarters, and in the beds they found the long-dead skeletons of two humans dressed in what may have once been leather uniforms. There was also a staircase up the tower, and when they finished their ascent they at first thought that they were atop the tower, but a moment later discovered that the walls of that room were merely transparent.
From this height they could see all of Anton. To the east, toward the mountains, they saw that the city wall had toppled under a landslide. And the northern forest has seemingly broken through the northeastern wall and covered a large section of the city in that quarter. The Bell Tower two blocks north of the town square was shrouded in a heavy mist, but the rest of the city was clear. They could see south down the Via where all the most expensive shops in the town are, and a good half of them seemed to be in ruins. The paved road was shot through with random trees; at the far end they could see that the massive city gates were closed. To the southeast they could see the collapsed buildings of Cheapside, a fire burning in its heart, and to the southwest they could see the great tent still covering the market. The city, just like the town square, suddenly seemed to be twice as big as it was, though not uniformly: its once square shape was now a wandering trapezoid.
There were troubles all around. Which direction would they venture next?
- Where did Finneus go?
- Where did Sunder go?
- What is the Upheaval? What did it do, and why?
- What’s this Iron Tower?
- How did Relic end up in the Preservation Chamber? What became of Captain Harrin?
- What did Withervine come to Anton to tell Amatharn?