08:45 – The group come to a break in the forest, and ahead behold a wondrous, yet horrifying sight; a blinding wall of brilliant light, scintillating through all the colours of the rainbow. It is a formidable construct of epic magic, suspended between 25' high pylons of metallic stone, carved with powerful runes.
“It's beyond my ability to bring this down” gasps Ormid almost as soon as he sees it, “this is a work of art. An incredible piece of artifice.”
He shakes his head.
08:46 – 08:55 – The group move southwards along the wall, hoping to find some kind of breach or other easier way in. Through the painful glare of the wall they can see that the land sharply drops away beyond, and can make out the vague silhouettes of buildings in the dip. Above loom huge anvil-headed clouds, alive with thunder and flashes of lightning, their shadow plunging the settlement below into darkness. All the party feel a bitter disappointment within them; to have come so far only to be stopped by this final barrier seems so unfair...and to have their only way home blocked...
And then they see him.
08:56 – 09:00 - A huge warforged, clad in golden plates which bear terrifying runes of power and long spikes stands ahead, next to a section of the barrier which, for reasons unknown, is down. A sizzling greataxe struck with dread glyphs of destruction growls and crackles in its spiked grip and its eyes glow with almost liquid golden fire. An aura of raw power oozes from it, setting the air around it to shivering, and yet, despite all this, it seems oddly...familiar.
And then it hits the party who it is, though It takes them a few moments to recognise him, for he is very, very much changed from his “current” (to them) form.
It is Veteran.
The Epic Veteran.
The group greet him warily, for they realise that he has undergone apotheosis, and that he may now be something utterly different from the creature they once (and currently, still do) know. It is only now that they see the second figure, a shadow hiding in his brilliance; a strange woman who crouches next to him; clad in dark armour that weeps shadow and a hooded cloak. A shadowy bow of solidified gloom is slung over her shoulder, and her features are lost in the deep, shifting darkness of her hood. She regards the group with wary, black eyes, and seems tense.
“H-Hello?” mutters Ormid
“Welcome friend.” replies Veteran Ascended in a deep, rumbling voice, “Come here, for we must speak before you move on.”
Trying not to feel too awed (and in the case of Veteran, too full of himself), the party move closer, noting that the ascended warforged bears a symbol on his chestplate – a flaming double axe, framing a cog, within which is a stylised human-like eye. As the party nears, the shadow woman tenses still more, but a murmured word from the ascended warforged seems to calm her.
“Greetings to you all, my former self and allies. As you may have guessed, I am you Veteran, though you may not necessarily become me.”
The group take a moment to let the illogical nature of that statement sink in, before Ormid, his head suddenly throbbing, asks for clarification.
The answer, though it feels right, doesn't really help that much.
“Time is strange thing, that guards its past very carefully. The past is set, immutable, and you are all my past. I remember meeting myself here, remember the battles in the ruins, the volcano and everything else we did together, just as I remember the future that lead to my present state. However, the future is a shifting serpent, who's path is tangled and varied, and though you are my past, I am not definitely your future – or at least, my present and this present is not definitely your future.
“Be not beholden to this, and be not overly confident in the trials ahead, for there are other futures and other paths of time. You may find that you are destined to tread one of those rather than this one, especially if you believe yourself immune to harm, having seen 'your future'”
A moment of stunned, confused silence, and then the Veteran asks, “How did you, I, get like this?”
The Ascended Veteran nods. “We are a prototype of our kind; the template from which countless millions have or will be born. Warforged are sentient beings, who seek a deeper connection with the universe, and so, whilst some may turn to the worship of the deities of other races and cultures, many sought a god in their progenitors, or at least, in the first of their kind. As I battled increasingly powerful opponents, and my existence became known, so I grew in power, eventually undergoing apotheosis sparked by their faith.
“However, you should know, there are other paragons like myself who underwent this change, and amongst them, in this reality, is Ebon Eye.”
“I have arranged for some of my followers, and for this woman – Shadevia – a lost traveller from a shadow world cast onto the fabric of the universe by this plane, to help you get access to the ancient Time Dilation Chambers, for these are your only hope of leaving this time alive. The chambers drift high above the central ruins, in the heart of those mighty clouds”
The Veteran Ascended points to the ominous, towering clouds above the ruins, who even now shift and billow with seething, internal energies.
“The Unified Order are hard at work trying to find a way to use the ancient chronomantic cores of the the chambers as the foundation for some kind of time gate, though they have been utterly unable to decipher the artifice at work there. To this end they have enlisted the help of an ancient being – an Aethran'Gigorim – a giant from a long flown tribe, imbued with a powerful grasp of magic and arcane lore, who even now works some kind of ritual up there
“I do not believe the Aethran intends to help the Order, but has its own selfish agenda, and I believe that if it is allowed to complete its work, this world may be undone. So, you must gain access to the edifice that floats above, locate the chronomantic cores, and use them to open a way out of here. You should also work to thwart the Aethran's plans, preferably by destroying the cores somehow and taking them forever out of the Order's hands.
Head shake. Ormid frowns.
“So let me get this straight,” he begins, pursing his lips to his steepled fingers, “We need to find an ancient piece of artifice that so far has eluded the brains of the greatest Order mages and somehow make it work for us, whilst simultaneously avoiding or battling an ancient being of primal power, and, somehow undo the very magics we need to get out of this nightmare of a future? Is that right?”
The Veteran Ascended gives a low, rumbling laugh, “I had forgotten how sulky you could be master Ormid. It is exactly as you say. And there is more.”
A collective groan.
“The agents of the Ebon Eye have learned of your presence in this time Veteran, and in spite of all he knows about the immutable nature of the past, he seeks to destroy you in an attempt to destroy me. To this end, he has made all his followers – of which there are many in the ruins – aware of your mortal appearance, and has promised great power and privilege to the one able to bring you down. You should be aware, they will strike at you, and it will be a vicious confrontation. Make sure it isn't your last.
“And so you must go. Shadevia is able to summon the spirits of the world to aid her, by imbuing her arrows with their power, and as such will be a powerful ally. She needs to escape this place, for the Order seek her out as a criminal against their ideals.”
“And as for you,” says the Veteran Ascended, turning to the ragged mage, “You cannot go any further, for when you went renegade, the Order made a weak phylactery from some of your personal affects. This could, at close range, be used to track you and consequently, the party.”
The mage stiffens, a panicked look crossing his face. Sparkles of magic dance over his hands as he reflexively summons power to defend himself if needed. However, the demi-god's next words calm him at once.
“Where in this world would you go mage? Where could you start again and know peace?”
“Oh? OH! Well, I always wondered what Central Lower Malgorothian cuisine was like. Was always hearing abou...”
There is a shivering in reality, a pop, and the mage is no longer there, sent away on the currents of magic to the fog shrouded ports of Port D'aube far to the east and south of here.
“And so, it is time for you all to move from here and onwards towards your destiny. Beyond the barrier is steep drop, and beyond that, a large settled area used as a base of operations for the hundreds of researchers, historians, artists, artificers, botanists, psychics and other experts that work to uncover the ancient cities secrets. Security in there is actually quite lax, for the defences in the outer ruins, as well as the deadly nature of the ruins themselves, are seen as a powerful protection; so you shouldn't have any problems getting to the sky ship hangar.
“Once in there, my servants have procured a ship, the Wisdom of the Order, which they will use to take you to the floating edifice above. Chances are, any secrecy you have enjoyed so far will vanish at that point, for only authorised personnel are allowed to enter that area, and deadly force will be used against trespassers.”
The group all groan inwardly, the epic nature of the task before them really starting to hit home. Shadevia joins them, saying nothing, and all the party feel a particular sense of unease around her, for she seems to exude a morbid atmosphere of despair and loss, and seems to be at the centre of a constant invisible mess of movements, as if thousands of unseen birds continually fly around her. They thank the Veteran Ascended, and pass through the barrier, and quickly move down the sparsely covered drop on the far side.
08:56 – 09:00 – At the bottom of the hill, crouching behind some ancient stonework, are four warforged who all bear the Veteran Ascended's symbol on their chestplates. They bow to Veteran and bid the party follow them to the hangars. They warn the group that they need to look natural as they move, as if they belong there, for any kind of cautious, stealthy movement would be out of place in what is a fairly laid-back settlement.
09:00 – 09:07 – The group enter the researchers village, and are slightly amazed at how normal it is, given its fantastic location. Its structures are all ancient buildings that have been repaired and fortified, and as the group move along the well paved roads, they see that all the trappings of a normal town are present; taverns, shops, places of worship (with a huge bias towards Merriel'Shaava and her servants) and places for games and fun. The group pass the settlements equivalent of a town hall, and manage not to laugh when an elderly gent carrying a plater of hot caffeine throws them all sky high when challenged by the Iron Golem's that guard the way in.
And then the Vyrleen, bored, does the worst thing possible...