The characters quickly surveyed their immediate area. Brandr and Lyssandra approached the last Fire Giant standing, whose mind had been apparently damaged by one of Dravis’ spells. Though wounded, it boomed forth orders to non-existent minions, but still posed a threat. The two warriors shared a glance and Brandr nodded. They approached from opposite sides and lunged in. Lyssandra struck low with her blade Tideripper to bring it to its knees, as Brandr went in high, burying his axe into the giant’s throat, silencing it, as it collapsed to the ground, dead.
Dravis examined the massive catapult and called out to the warriors. Brandr and Lyssandra turned to run to him, when they all saw a large number of additional Fire Giants traveling up the mountain path towards them, pushing two more massive catapults. “I want to use this…” Dravis muttered to himself, looking at the enormous black metal catapult that stood before them. “I don’t think we can…” Lyssandra replied. “It took four giants to push this thing. Even if we took an hour, I don’t think we could turn it.” Brandr chimed in “I don’t know how to use one of these things either. Do any of you?” Dravis gritted his teeth, but realized they were correct. “Are we going to fight a dozen more of these giants?” Altayir asked. The companions looked at each other, and realized the wisest answer was ‘no’.
“We don’t know where we are, what’s going on, or even how we got here.” Lyssandra spoke up. “We need to get out of here and get answers before we get into an even bigger fight.” Altayir muttered “It’s not as if Fire Giants don’t deserve it…” Brandr nodded “True, but I agree with the elf…let’s get a handle on our situation first. Then kill them.”
Dravis nodded, and pointed to a small bit of shadow along a nearby rock face. “Looks like a cave; we may be able to hide in there…” he looked off to the side, and then back “yeah…it might work. I’ll see if I can give us a few more moments.” Altayir then turned to the warriors. “I’ll be right back.” He concentrated, calling upon Vertoman, and his body became shadowy and translucent, as he assumed a ghostly, wraith-like form and descended into the cavern. A moment or so passed and he re-emerged, and reached forward with a ghostly hand to wave the others down.
Brandr and Lyssandra scurried into the cave, which seemed to open up into a small cavern before narrowing to a gap about three feet wide – perfect to ensure the giants couldn’t pursue them. Altayir followed in Wraithform, as Dravis concentrated, casting a Wall of Gloom, before falling in behind them into the cavern.After climbing downward for quite a ways, they reached an opened-up cavern that bottomed out, descending into the darkness, but allowing them to walk. They continued on quietly for about half-an hour, each with their minds scouring various notions for what was going on or where they were. Soon, they heard the sound of an underground stream and found a large chamber, worn down by the stream over time, but filled with many luminescent plants and mushrooms. The glow of purples and blues coated the interior of the chamber with dim light, and the entire area was soothing to behold. Given the condition that everyone was in, it seemed this was the ideal place to make camp.
Altayir examined everyone’s wounds, and called upon Vertoman to heal Brandr and Dravis. Lyssandra gripped the pommel of Tideripper and politely declined, saying “I’ll be fine.” They then settled down to rest. The rocks, though hard, seemed slightly spongy on the outside when rested upon; they seemed more comfortable than one might have guessed.
As they sat, preparing their various rations, they finally began to contemplate what was happening. “We must have gone back in time” Altayir reasoned. “This realm – the sky – that is Vertoman. The stars were the same; there were just many, many more of them. The realm; this place. This is Kyhermainn – though where, I cannot be certain.” Dravis looked up “Back? So I guess we need to be really careful and avoid doing anything that could mess things up?” Lyssandra spoke up “I am no scholar when it comes to time travel; it’s too bad Terris isn’t here. But in our many discussions, he presented a philosophy that time is like a river; throw something in the river and it will cause ripples. The bigger the rock, the bigger the ripples. But it will always eventually flow around it and eventually if you go far enough downstream, you’d never realize it, no matter how big the rock was.” She continued “If that’s the case, who knows how far back we’ve gone? If this is the Age of Heroes, we could have gone back over five thousand years.” Dravis asked “Are we certain we’ve gone back in time? Not forward?” Lyssandra answered “I am certain. That was Pinnacle – it could be none other. Pinnacle, the father of the Silver Dragons, whose legend is known far and wide. Tales of him fighting alongside the armies of good during the Age of Heroes are well known…”
Altayir pulled forth his holy symbol and began to pray, as Brandr spoke up. “Chronish is the god of Time. Would he allow us to go back if we weren’t supposed to?” “Maybe” Dravis answered. “He should have been able to stop us if he wanted to.” Altayir then spoke up, having finished his prayer “Our battle with the Fire Giants wasn’t critical one way or another for our path. Vertoman suggests that it was as it was supposed to be.” Dravis nodded “Fair enough. But either way, we need to find out what we’re doing here, and where ‘here’ is. For right now, we can probably assume that we’re…‘supposed’…to be here, and that this is the journey that Count Gabriel told us about when he gave us the dagger the high priest of Chronish gave him. We need to find this ‘Throne of Pellius’. But for now, I could use some rest…”
“Before then though…” Lyssandra spoke up. “We should come to an understanding. Whatever we are doing here, we would be wise to keep our true nature and origins to ourselves as best we can, at least for now. If others find out where we are from, they would either not believe us – and could see us as tainted by madness…” Dravis spoke up “or they would believe us – which would doubtlessly be worse.” Altayir and Brandr both nodded, and the four finished setting up their encampment as they continued discussing their predicament.
Altayir and Dravis rested while Lyssandra and Brandr settled in for a watch. Lyssandra said she’d scout ahead for a short while in case the cavern was home to something besides these gorgeous flowers, but wouldn’t venture out too far. Brandr nodded; both of them could use some time to think. She returned a short while after, claiming that she couldn’t find any other inhabitants ahead, but that the cavern did descend into a massive chamber. Not long after though, Altayir, and then Dravis awoke, fully rested after no more than four and a half hours. No one asked questions, as Brandr and Lyssandra took their turns resting.
Upon awakening, each felt fully refreshed after only a few hours, just like Altayir and Dravis. Dravis then called upon the power of his staff to Find the Path, calling upon it to show them the ‘way to the Throne of Pellius’. Both the priest and the Shadowmancer seemed to see an invisible magical path leading forward and down – deeper into the cavern. After each had made preparations, the four set out. They followed the stream as it wound up and down beneath the earth, and at several places, felt the distant sounds of loud thundering above them – they must be beneath the massive battle.
An hour or so later, they emerged into the massive chamber that Lyssandra had described from the night before. It was immense, nearly vanishing into the darkness all around them, but illuminated in scattered areas by patches of luminescent plants similar to the ones they had found earlier. The path they traveled descended into the massive chamber and along the right side of it – going quite high before entering another fissure in the rock face. Brandr gritted his teeth, realizing this was the only way forward; as long as the path didn’t become too narrow, he felt he’d be fine. About halfway up, though, the path did indeed narrow – to barely two feet across. Dravis motioned to Brandr to walk past him, as the wizard took up the rear; claiming that he could magically catch the warrior if he fell. Brandr agreed, not exactly happy about the path in general. Lyssandra, with her elven vision led the way, followed by Altayir, Brandr, and Dravis.
Then, a massive shudder ripped through the cavern as a thundering boom came down from the battle above. Brandr cursed as the whole cavern began to shake and pebbles pelted him from above. The narrow path beneath their feet began to shake, as heavy rocks began to fall upon them from above. Then, another lurch cracked the rock above them loose, and out of the darkness could be heard a massive landslide. “This way!” Lyssandra shouted from ahead, but it was too late. The path collapsed, and with it fell Altayir, Brandr, and Dravis. Lyssandra lunged forward to grab the nearest person she could – Altayir – and only with her great strength hung on to him, the priest howling in pain as his shoulder dislocated. Dravis, not expecting to fall, cast his Feather Fall spell, but had to cast it on himself. Brandr reached up, trying to grab hold of anything, but fell into the darkness, screaming. Above him, he could hear Lyssandra screaming out for him as he vanished into the darkness. After descending for several moments through the rock and dust, he uttered a brief prayer to Caelthash before feeling a massive crash…and then nothingness…
- * *
His head felt dizzy; but his body felt still. There was a lingering pain throughout his whole body and centered on his side, but it was dull and muted. The smell of what seemed like nutmeg filled his nostrils, and he slowly opened his eyes. This didn’t seem like Caelthash’s Halls of Glory…or any of the Eternal Realms. He glanced down at his sheet – there were small traces of blood, but nothing that would account for the injuries he’d sustained. So…not dead, not recovering from being buried by a mile-down underground avalanche…
This whole thing – the epic battle, the place with the gears – it had to have been a dream. It had felt real enough, but his aching wasn’t where it would have been had it happened for real. In a way, Brandr was relieved – between the magical portals, shifting through time, and seeing armies of archangels, this simple quest had seemed to escalate quickly into something over his head.
He heard a pot being stirred nearby, and slowly opened his eyes to survey his surroundings. He lay in a simple bed, his gear – weapons and all – by his side. Looking around, he was within what seemed to be a simple thatch hut, with a few tables nearby covered with scattered jars and herbs. The sound of the pot stirring came from his right, where he saw what looked like an old woman preparing a soup. He lay there quietly for a moment, his head still reeling in dizzying pain. He was no condition to stand, but reached into his bag to snatch a dagger – just in case. The old woman didn’t seem to notice.
Soon, she turned around and approached him with the pot in one hand and a crude mug in the other. He closed his eyes quickly, but she stopped just a few feet away, and cleared her throat. He opened his eyes to see her looking down at him with a warm, friendly smile. “Are you Brandrvarr?” she asked him in a raspy, yet motherly voice. “You’ve been talking a lot in your sleep.” Brandr studied her quietly, his head still hurting and his vision still blurry. “Don’t worry, son.” she said, pouring some of the pot’s contents into the mug. “You’ve had a busy day. Would you care for something for the dizziness?” Brandr raised forth his hand, but couldn’t muster much of a response otherwise. She placed the mug at his lips, waiting to see if he resisted. He chose not to, given the circumstances, and she helped him drink it. The drink was quite warm, had a hint of nutmeg and…perhaps a pleasant taste of cinnamon to it. He coughed slightly, but managed to get most of it down. Whatever it was, it seemed to help alleviate the nausea, and his eyes managed to calm down and focus.
The old woman was dressed in primitive robes; her long white hair unkempt and knotted, but her eyes brilliant blue and her smile warm and pleasant. Soon enough, he regained his senses, and asked “Who are you? What is this place?” She responded “This is a small hut, and I am just an old healer that’s settled down here. When you’re able, feel free to gather your weapons and gear.” She then turned back to a nearby table, leaving the pot and mug in case he wanted some more of the warm concoction. “Do you know of a battle nearby?” Brandr asked. The old woman turned around to meet his gaze, shaking her head “Not too close, but I’m sure there’s one somewhere nearby though.” “Who is fighting?” Brandr asked. She turned her back to grasp her own mug, sighing. “Sons. It’s sons that are fighting. A few daughters also. But mostly it’s Mothers’ sons fighting and dying out there.” Brandr could tell there was more to her words here, but he needed to know what had happened to him. His eyes widened slightly as he gathered himself together. She realized he wasn’t satisfied with her answer, so she elaborated. “Tourlack. You mentioned ‘Tourlack’…and ‘Gabriel’. I’m certain they’re probably two of the ones out there…”
He looked around – the herbs looked somewhat normal, if not mundane. Could he have been dreaming all this time? The very idea of traveling to the ‘Age of Heroes’ was somewhat farfetched, and seemed more so with every moment. “I need to find an elf. An elf, a wizard and a priest.” Brandr said, trying to test getting up. “Of course” she responded, sitting down next to him with a smile “But it might be a day or so before you’ll be good enough to set out. In the meantime, tell me what’s got you in such a hurry.” Brandr’s eyes narrowed; “Why are you so interested?” he asked warily. She looked down with a smile and then back towards him, as if laughing on the inside. “I’m just interested in a good story. Feel free to make up a story if you wish; it doesn’t matter. I just enjoy hearing about young folk and their travels…”
Brandr nodded. “First, though…where did you find me? How did I come to be here?” The old woman shrugged. “The forest brought you here. You were ailed. It does that from time to time.” Brandr grunted…that was not exactly helpful. “I mean…where?” “Ah…a nearby clearing in the woods, near a shrine to Caelthash. I can show you where tomorrow if you’d like. Then you can go and find your friends.” The warrior nodded, laying his head back down to rest. He’d go ahead and tell her. Why not? She seemed warm and easy to talk to, and the strange part wasn’t even real anyway. Might as well add a few bits to make it more interesting, and leave out some boring parts. Good stories always needed some embellishing…
- * *
After about an hour of listening to Brandr describe the war that had befallen Taralmainn, of the rise of Tourlack and Count Gabriel, she thanked him and began to cook some mutton for dinner. Brandr almost couldn’t help himself; she was very easy to talk to; warm and nurturing, almost as if she were imagining reliving her own youth as she hung on every word. He’d stopped before getting to the part he’d hallucinated, beginning with the strange ‘Gear Realm’. He couldn’t remember the strange names Altayir had mentioned they’d have to find; not that it mattered anyway. She seemed to enjoy his tale, incomplete as it was, and she then served the mutton along with some soup with carrots.
“This Tourlack, you say, is a dark warrior from the ancient times?” she asked. Brandr nodded, chewing the mutton and preparing to drink his soup. “And he wishes to conquer the realm of Taralmainn? For what purpose?” Brandr stopped for a moment. Conquerors often throughout history rarely needed much of a purpose beyond the advancement of their own power or that of their kingdom, but creatures on the order of Tourlack surely had darker purposes than mere conquest. “He serves Whurmat; and is a member of the ‘Veknor’; that’s all I can remember right now. Reason enough to fight him. We just need to find out how…” “Ah yes…the ‘Veknor’” she mentioned “Servants of darkness? They would be getting something out of their service, wouldn’t they? Have some reason…some goal?” Brandr shrugged “Likely. It doesn’t matter much to me. I know they serve dark forces, and Caelthash leads me to fight them, like he did my father. The details I know are up to my companions; I’m slowly learning how everything is fitting together.”
She smiled, and then stepped away to begin to clean up the bowls and plates. He was tired once more, after having stood up a short bit, and decided to lay back down; tomorrow would be a busy day. As he drifted off to sleep, the last thing he felt was her hand on his cheek, as she said “I’m sure you’ll find what you’re looking for, son. You have what it takes to find it. May the gods bless you and your friends on your journey.”
- * *
Brandr awoke a short while later to what almost sounded like a harmonious chorus of music far in the distance. He was in a bed – a different bed, his entire body aching and bruised, his side aching – the same wounds he’d seemed to just have recovered from. A tall, athletic man with red robes approached him. “Brandrvarr. You are awake. Good.” “Where…where am I now?” Brandr asked. The robed man responded “You are in Castle Threll. We have tended to your wounds, for they were severe. You were beneath the battle, in the Chasms when Pinnacle struck his killing blow on Charrax the Black.” Brandr’s eyes snapped open. Was it a dream? Another dream? No, no, it couldn’t be. Back in this realm? Where was he when he spoke with the old woman? What did she say her name was?
He looked around to survey his surroundings. He was in a place unlike any he’d ever laid eyes upon. Around him there were many beds, with what looked like many powerful warriors resting from battle, being tended to by various men and women clad in various robes. The walls were made of marble, fine construction with an almost luminous quality to them, with gorgeous tapestries and carved designs adorning the various walls. In the center of the chamber was a fountain…or a…spring… that was lined with many colorful flowers, and the melodious sounds he’d heard seemed almost to be distant harmonious chanting. Was he…dead? There was a brief pause as the man in red waited, almost as if awaiting the answer to a question. Brandr thought for a brief moment, remembering one of Areg’yor’s many annoying sayings – ‘If you’re delirious and don’t know if you’re dead or alive, break wind. If you can, you’re still alive. There’s no gassin’ in the Halls of Glory…’ Brandr followed the advice. If it was true, he was alive. The man’s eyebrow raised, as he asked “are you better now?” “Just fine” Brandr said as he sat up. His whole body ached, but the bruises were gone; as were any wounds.
“I am Tebarus, a healer.” the man said. “Your wounds have healed nicely, and you can leave when you are ready. Though I am sorry to tell you…you have the illness…” “Illness? What illness are you talking about?” Brandr enquired. “Yes, a much more advanced stage than I have ever seen…” Tebarus continued before interrupting himself. “Wait, what do you mean ‘what illness’? There is only one, thank Lavennah. You are fading; far more rapidly than anyone I have ever seen.”
Heavy footfalls could be heard approaching, as a large man in heavy-sounding armor approached. He was quite tall, seemingly in his mid-forties; his face weathered by battle and his receding red hair cut short. His armor seemed to be highly advanced, constructed of a strange bluish-tinged metal that – was seemed as flexible as leather – with overlapping plates, and his breastplate was adorned with a symbol of a golden sword overlaying a white circle with a left-to-right diagonal line beneath. Brandr recognized the symbol as an early, more intricate incarnation of the holy symbol of Caelthash. His booming voice seemed to fill the chamber “Tebarus. How is our guest?” “As fit as he can be, given his flirting with the Chasms. He must have fallen in a landslide.” The tall blue-clad warrior looked at Brandr with a discerning eye “I am Fordren the Red” Brandr’s eyes widened as the man continued “You are lucky. When we prepared these lands for battle, Larrissah was concerned about the Tainted using the Chasms below, and shaped the conduits to deny them easy access to our lands, while enabling us to use them to move around the battlefield.”
Brandr heard every word – not that it made any sense to him. He was remembering tales told of a legendary warrior named Fordren that was supposedly a strong ally and follower of Caelthash during the Age of Heroes. Areg’yor had told tales of Fordren and his stalwart ally Rhulrien and their many heroic deeds; the two were legends to the Taral, especially the followers of Caelthash (though Rhulrien was a Solathamic warrior). Supposedly Fordren had saved Marduk Keep from a great land Linnorm named Xiil, killing it with his bare hands after the foul creature bit his sword in half. Legend had it that Fordren struck the top of Xiil’s snout with the lower half of the broken blade, and pierced the Linnorm’s jaw with the top half. With his great strength, he grasped the two ends and pulled tight, keeping its mouth shut. As Xiil’s snout filled with the acid it had planned to spray down upon Fordren, the creature choked and drowned in its own vile ichor, unable to breathe.
Brandr looked at Fordren’s left hand – sure enough it carried the deep scar of his own blade’s top half. It…it seemed to be him. When Fordren had finished, Brandr remembered that he would best keep quiet about his origins and replied “It is truly an honor to meet you, Fordren. Your legend is spoken of far and wide.” Fordren nodded “Well met. Your name is ‘Brandr’, is it not?” “It is.” Brandr acknowledged, as Fordren continued “Suffice to say, the conduits Larrissah crafted beneath the battle carried fallen warriors back to us, and denied use to the tainted. I don’t know of such things, but they to aid us…you in particular.”
Brandr nodded as Fordren glanced at Tebarus, then back to him. “In his wailings, he said he needed to find his companions – a wizard, priest, and an elf” Tebarus mentioned. Wailings? Brandr wondered. That wasn’t good. He chose to keep quiet just in case, until he could learn what all they knew. Fordren then continued “Tebarus claims you are quite ill. A shame. But we have found a few others that seem to be greatly ill as well, that have traveled here along with a group of rangers from Tor’Marden. I believe they are the companions you spoke of. I will take you to them if you wish…”
- * *