So for the benefit of absentee players and for those with less-than-steel-trap memories, myself included, I intend to post a sort of outline of our sessions as they happen, highlighting things that I remember and which seem important. This week’s game was a little confusing so I’m sure everyone can use a little recap. Also, I will step from behind the curtain and explain some things that may not have seemed clear at the time, and which are not intended to be multi-session mysteries.
We began in The Lady Valiant, preparing to travel northeasterly on our bipedal riding iguanas for the closest decent civilization: Bujara. Packing two week’s provisions, seeking more knowledge regarding the defeat of ancient evil, we cheerily wave farewell to Kodro and Elrich, who remain to repair the once-proud astral craft.
Halfway through our journey, Aelar informs us that the black wall on the western horizon is in fact a rapidly advancing sandstorm the likes of which he has never seen. Survival being an issue, we gamble some time to mount a nearby dune and survey the land with the hopes of finding some shelter. Luckily, there appears to be a real-life oasis nearby, complete with palm trees and some sort of statue. After a quick race, charging break-neck down the dune, we manage to beat the deadly sandstorm to the oasis, or at least we would have had Thomas Hardwill not insisted on crying “giddyup” and poking his slow-blinking mount with ineffective spurs. Instead we had to wait for his lethargic mount, and subsequently didn’t get a good look at that statue until after we had spent a night huddling in its lee, waiting out the storm, which insisted on trying to entomb us in its gritty embrace.
The next morning we discover the now-buried oasis is waterless and in possession of its very own mystery. A triple sized stone man lies half-buried, his palms pressed to his eyes, elbows spread wide in wincing anguish. Around his wrist winds a steel chain with a glass bauble at the end. Scratched into his breastplate are the words:
I cover cities and destroy mountains, I make men blind, yet help them see.
After someone says the magic word aloud, the statue crumbles into sand, freeing the bauble-bracelet and revealing a blasted hunk of honest-to-goodness eternum with these words scratched into its surface:
I have many tongues but cannot taste.
Again after saying the keyword aloud, reality is altered. This time the world goes dark, the sand around us melts into wavy goo and we walk within a protective sphere of eternum-centered light through a frozen sea of rough glass to a river of flame. We soon discover that leaving the aura of the marker ensures confusion as we are pushed to and fro by a churning crush of less-than-polite phantom pedestrians. A bridgeless bridge gate holds another scrawled message:
I run around a city but never move.
This time a correct answer lifts the darkness, revealing high city walls waving at us from opposite the magma flow. Employing out dust of frozen passage (sic) we gingerly begin to traverse a narrow strait of thin rock. The heat intensifies, the darkness redescends and a portly demihuman charges us in glee and exasperation, only to clutch on to Thomas, breathe a dizzying yet harmless exhalation of bluish vapor onto the lot of us, then scramble back the way he came, confused. The bewildered party, crouched within its light-bubble, continues across the bridge, to be set upon by mummies and a large Oni, which manages to escape incineration from Shael by morphing into mist. That is except for Aelar, who is left outside the aura, being knocked around in a daze, surrounded by lethal magma on three sides.
A mysterious voice informs us of Aelar’s plight and offers to help in exchange for “a boon.” Sháelaccedes, and Aelar is returned to the light by a devilish flying creature calling himself Grinn. He then warns of danger ahead, and the benefits of capturing said magically versed creature. We ignore him. While being subjected to long-range attack from this unseen foe, we discover another riddle tattooed on the stone wall:
Stronger than steel, And older than time; I am more patient than death and shall stand even when the stars have ceased to shine. My strength is embedded in roots buried deep Where the sands and frosts of ages can never hope to touch or reach.
The answer dissipates the darkness, revealing several things. First, behind the wall looms a high and forbidding peak sparkling with wisps of magic and a snow-wrapped summit. Second, our assailant is a tiny floating skull who quickly retreats to safety when attacked. Overwriting the first passage is a second, visible only in true light.
I am loved more than life, Feared more than death,
Success opens a smooth-walled tunnel through the massive obstacle. We leave the fires and sands behind us to ascend a dark and lifeless peak of dark stone; out of food and low on water. While on the path that night we are again bathed in a bluish vapor and again Aelar falls dazed. After much posturing we discover a hidden and well appointed nook in the mountain face featuring a treasure chest, but no food. Long-suffering Thomas, ailing from what appears to be mummy rot, claims the mattress for his recuperation, enjoying all the accompanying ironic joy that befits sleeping in a nightmare-thing’s own nest. While entranced that night, Shael is put to sleep by a third assault of Oni breath, and Narya, alarmed by yet another ambush of the ogerish thing from under the bed, begins calling out loudly while engaging in single battle over the slumbering bodies of her comrades. The Oni, who had been lurking in a crack under the bed in gaseous form, enjoys walloping elf girls around as much as anybody, but fails to fell her before she awakens healbot-5000, so with a frustrated cry, he abandons his lair to the invaders to safely plot his revenge. Oni are nothing if not vindictive.
Two days of hard waterless travel sees the return of the devil, offering dark sustenance to any and all who might accept his one smoky term. Aelar, who already owes his life to the being, trades his word and drinks deep of its offered wrist. Promising to return, Grinn leaves us to our increasingly arduous ascent. Another day brings a final riddle, this time emblazoned on a mighty gate at the head of a secluded valley.
Iron roof, glass walls Burns and burns And never falls.
Answers bring answers and an achingly lush valley opens its soft bubbling streams, cool grass and fat, abundant game to our desperate party. That magical night is spent camped on the serene banks of the unnamed creek, bellies full of warm meat and hearts at rest. Morning brings cold disillusioning truth, flashes of our nighttime selves scrabbling in nail-breaking hardpan for ethereal nourishment and again we stand just inside the gate, yellowing eyes filled with a desolate tract of barren stone. Clenching bleeding fingers into weakening fists, we trudge on in silence, a series of three stone towers mocking us from the frigid heights above. This valley tests us all, and our skin is pricked and opened by a multitude of perfect rose bushes bearing azure petals that fall to dust in our mouths. This sea of beauty and torment leapt into existence from nowhere and dogged our every step for hours and hours. At the end of endurance, Grinn secures the vow of two more companions. Wren and Narya seal their pact in smoky blood like peppered gravy. Stalwart Memnon, Thomas and Shael must be carried up the last leg of the journey.
One final climb unveils a modest farm and its rotund offhuman inhabitant. He feeds us home-grown “manna” and seems unsurprised by our presence destination or condition. The Nearman Glen informs us that the Gods live at the summit and drives us across battle-scarred farmland spotted with rural cottages to Midpost, a centralized farming community where the path to the top truly begins. A steep pony relay courtesy of another local leads us to the top. A tall monkish man calling himself Emmanuel explains that he resides in a sort of college, where the pursuit of knowledge takes precedent. He warns that sacrifice is necessary to gain wisdom, thus the mountain challenges those who would plumb its cerebral treasure, ensuring only those nobly intentioned and suitably dedicated could reach the top. He adds that such pursuits have a habit of disconnecting you from the world they enlighten, an irony for the ages. At last he invites us into a small side door, where all but Shael’s adopted dragon enter. I small, seemingly temporary antechamber awaits us with the scent of old food and recent use. A sliding eye-slit opens and we are allowed to enter the expansive and cluttered marble-columned halls of the college. Amongst the closest heap of ancient relics and texts lies an off-kilter glass case, holding a suspended blue rose. A close inspection announces an infection of deep black dust motes dancing along ruining petals. Upon questioning, Emmanuel labels it an indicator of the Paradigm, and seems lost in thought, trying to remember a name.
We are led through bustling halls, and several messengers enter and leave through the doors behind us. Young children fairly sprint through the clutter and jumble, delivering notes and food, or being instructed in small groups by emotive, glib young women. Expressive faces and keen, stripping eyes stand substitute to everyday conversation among the lithe populace. We jog to a senate-style room of marble steps and columns to an elderly man in robes, holding several different conversations of a report-and-command nature simultaneously. As we arrive he cuts off all other contact and faces us fully, eyes flitting to and through each of our faces.
“You have my attention.” He says.
More is communicated through inference than actual words, but a proposition is laid out quite suddenly where this leader offers the services of his entire school, access to all material resources, and a tap into a spy network all in exchange for one item, a magical reference book they call Finneas, which has been in our possession for quite some time. We accede, and are rushed off to various wings, where four days are spent in deep research on the subjects of the Paradigm, pre-exodus Gallatine, the Primal Aspects, and the cosmos. An immediate result of this inquiry into the latter is the name Khaladun, the modern name of an ancient site where an important temple focusing in cosmology existed. Much information regarding previous campaign material is now available to us through knowledge checks and some connections, such as the anachronistic character a certain half-orc are made aloud. Emmanuel becomes increasing noisy, pointing out how important we are to the fate of the apparently threatened world, how we have uncovered a destination that may lead to more specific information outside the school, and again how this sort of delving study has its costs.
When asked specifically if time moves quicker outside the school, Emmanuel drops his eyes and mumbles that it would only have hampered our study. Outside, a man confirms that he has been on what he calls “lookout” for about six months. Shael’s winged companion is nowhere to be seen.