06:18 – 06:20 – As the kydraxi flee, the party feel a giddy sense of elation at another enemy vanquished. They search the remains of those monsters that did not flee, and uncover little of interest. Then they begin to discuss what they should do next.
“So where exactly are we headed?” asks Ormid, wiping gore from his bent-framed spectacles.
“The heart of the city.” Replies Evran, “It's where the most important buildings were back in the day, and is where we are most likely to find the ancient time dilation chambers.”
“But what about the Order?” asks Ardwaine, “I mean, they are hardly gonna' let us just waltz in and take what we want are they?”
The group mull over various ideas.
“A distraction!” Shrieks Evran suddenly. “We could climb up into one of those” (he points at a vast spired structure – a citadel of alien design – drifting on broken streams of reality 300' above the ground, a couple of miles to the south) - “and somehow bring it down - POW! - into the ruins! That would bring every Order freak from miles around, and remove them from where we want to go.”
Evran beams, clearly pleased with his idea. The Veteran and Llewellyn both seem to share the mage's enthusiasm for his clearly insane idea, the former somehow conveying an eager grin without the benefits of lips or moveable mouth parts. Ardwaine and Ormid however, aware of the suicidal nature of such a plan, are less keen, and make their feelings known.
“So, who would stay inside the building, to trigger its descent?” Asks the dundorin.
“And how do you propose we 'bring it down'?” Asks Ormid, “They're not floating on goodwill and fluffy puppy smiles you know. That's some serious power holding those thousands of tons of material in the air.”
The group look across the warped landscape towards the tower, the three pro-crashing adventurer's only seeming to truly take in the sheer size and magnificence of the floating structures for the first time.
“But, we could climb up those rubble trails that float behind...” Begins the vyrleen, until he realises that no one is listening.
“IF, we work out where we are going, and IF we need to cause a huge bloody distraction to get there, then your plan might be a good one Evran.” murmurs Ormid, “But I'm still not sure we could actually knock one of those things down, and even less sure we could do so without getting killed, so let's hope we don't rely on that plan eh?”
Evran looks disappointed, but nods, glumly, like a child who has just been told they can't have a new toy they wanted.
“Can we move on now?” asks Ardwaine, climbing back onto her spectral mount.
Ferrous barks in agreement, and soon the party are on the move again.
06:21 – 06:45 – The group move deeper into the ruins of the this once principle city, and view even more of its ravaged sights. They ride through a forest of pines, which simultaneously seems to be an autumnal broadleaved forest, who's ghostly leaves fall silently from an invisible canopy as they ride – a spectral image of the former forest, overlapping the “reality” of the one they are physically in - and more than a few times enter areas where the air grows humid and heavy, like that of a jungle. Strange pressures and eerie shivers play over the party as they pass shattered structures, which seem to have been in this world for hundreds if not thousands of years, but which clearly pre-date the city itself. At one point they climb up a bald hill getting a good view of the surrounding area. To the east, beyond a deep dip in the land filled with black pines and further out, huge mushrooms, they spot a massive cyclopean wall of black stone – clearly larger than any human architecture. It extends for several miles north to south, and thin threads of smoke can be seen rising from hidden fires in a wide breach in its length. To the south the land drops away sharply into hidden deeps after a few miles of loosely wooded and ruin studded levelness, though a huge cluster of black crystals, taller than a tower and seething with ebon and purple mists and cold, tenebrous flames, forms an impressive, alien landmark close to its edge. To the southwest the land rises sharply masking what lies beyond, though dark clouds, pregnant with hail or snow yet clearly filled with flickering fires of substantial power, lower above. To the north, thick forests, spiked by glistening ruined towers, climb into sweeping, domed hills, hiding from this elevation, the jagged, barren peaks of the Southgards. And above it all float the shattered, shimmering, gleaming ruins of ancient structures – both those of hoary Laertraine, and those of far removed universes, sucked by rips and eddies in reality, into their current locales – their torn bases trailing floating veils of rubble, some surrounded by groves of actively growing trees, who seem utterly unhindered by their unnatural, aerial homes.
Taking this all in, and getting their bearings, the party decide to check out the smoke coming from the vast wall. They plan, should it be some kind of Unified Order patrol, to ambush them and to take their clothing and identification – an old, but occasionally viable plan – and with this in mind, usher their mounts down into the black pines ahead.
06:46 – 06:55 – As the party ride down the hill towards the trees, they become aware of a building, subtle pressure in their heads; a little like the fullness in the ears one feels when one moves to a high altitude quickly without ears popping, though it seems to resonate through their whole bodies. Veteran feels it particularly, for it seems to surge like energised treacle through his form, leaving hot, liquid bursts of pain in its wake.
The pressure only increases as the group enter the shadowy embrace of the forests at the bottom of the hill; sounds becoming muted and muffled, the air seeming dense and thick with strange energies. Noting the way that the horses – constructs of raw shaped magic – are flaring with pale light and flickering strangely, Ormid calls a halt. He whispers something to Evran, and both spend a moment staring, eyes squinting, into the shifting gloom that spreads amongst the mossy trunks of the black pines...
...06:56 – 07:00 – Ormid sits suddenly back in his saddle with a gasp, and Evran slowly climbs down off his mount and backs away from it as if it is some venomous monster.
“Everyone dismount.” breathes Ormid slowly, “There is a band of incredibly unstable energy ahead, and if we wander in with any kind of active magics, or activate any magics whilst moving through it, I believe...”
“As do I.” interrupts Evran.
“...That there would be a serious, and almost certainly deadly reaction.”
“But...” begins Llewellyn.
“I'm not going to argue with you.” snaps Ormid, who with a gesture and a murmur of draining magics dismisses the horses, dropping those still on them to the ground. “We carry on, on foot.”
The party organise and slowly, carefully, walk through the strange, oppressive stillness of the unstable wild zone. Energy flares in colourless rainbows from the warforged's internal components, and similar discharges of power crackle and sing from the various enchanted items carried by the party. After a couple of minutes, when the party are deep in the zone, they feel an arctic drop in temperature, and smell snow, though there is no wind, no precipitation and no other indication as to where the change has come from. Eyes wide, the group push on, and soon, without any warning, they find themselves suddenly back in normality – not to mention several miles closer to the huge wall then they have any right to be, in the middle of the forest of huge mushrooms they saw from the hill.
07:00 – 07:15 – A light mist threads amongst the stems of the 30' – 140' high fungi that form a forest in this region, the smell of mushrooms overpowering in the dank air. The group all recognise these as a fay species – almost certainly introduced by some errant interdimensional current as spores, or perhaps the descendants of specimens brought into this world by a long gone Laertrainian mycologist. They are different here however, for the group remember that in their native lands they shone with pale violet light, and their spores (which drizzle constantly adding to the mist in this region, each individual the size of a dies pips) glowed with a pale green light, forming luminous carpets on the floors of those whimsical, deadly lands. The ground here is a tangle of thick rhizomorphs and fluffy mycelium, and the group have to move carefully to avoid tripping on the spongy, tangling terrain.
The air in this region carries a strange energy; a shifting pressure like that before a storm, and Ormid recognises it as the energies of a wild zone. He warns the groups' spellcasters that their magic may be unpredictable in this area, and warns everyone else to be choosy when activating any magical powers on their gear, for a wild surge could be deadly. He then collects some fungus samples, mumbling something about “growing a new house”.
They move for a while amongst the towering, sweating stems of the gargantuan fungi, and only stop when they all feel a rhythmical thumping through the ground, followed shortly after by dull thudding sounds. Peeling back the tangled skin of the forests upper floor, the group hide from the ever nearing sounds, and a few moments later catch a glimpse of four massive humanoids, moving along a path some 60' away, that winds westwards to the north of their current locale.
Each creature stands almost three times the height of anyone in the party, and have dark grey, stony flesh, covered in purple and blue tattoos. They are massively muscled, though lean and sculpted, like fine athletes rather than hulking brutes, and have stoic, stony features set into a scowl. They are Morgog'Gigorim – Stone Giants – and are clearly intended to watch over this area in a region where the usual types of guardians employed by the Order – things of billowing magic and channelled power – would result in catastrophic wild storms.
Two of the monsters wear heavy plate armour, magnificently crafted from plates of worked stone, and wield huge greatswords of grey steel, a bandolier of massive throwing hammers thumping across their armoured breasts. One slightly behind these two soldiers bears no sword, but has a multitude of finely crafted throwing hammers to hand, whilst the fourth wears supple robes crafted from interweaving crystals, and moves with a lithe grace and balance that leaves the group in no doubt that its body is its weapon.
As they move, they scan their dark gazes over the landscape, and the party duck under the pungent mat of the forest floor before they are spotted. After a short while, the dull thumping of the gigorim's footsteps fades into the distance, and the group scramble out of their earthy hiding place and brush themselves down.
“I really don't want to mess with them.” whispers Ormid.
“Me either”, agrees Evran, picking a beetle out of his ear. Even the warforged, normally up for any battle nods his agreement.
The Vyrleen seems to be peering towards the wall in the direction from which the patrol came.
“The smoke we saw is coming from the same place they did. It might be worth checking the area out?”
No one seems too keen to volunteer, and the Vyrleen decides he will climb a nearby mushroom for a better view.
07:15 – 07:20 – Leaping nimbly over to the base of one of the tree-like mushrooms, Llewellyn begins to try and scale the wide stem, but finds it beyond his strength, its oily secretions making it almost impossible to grip. Aware that the group are silently laughing at him, he tries several times more, managing to get only a few feet off the ground before losing his grip and slipping, sans dignity, to the base of the fungus on his arse.
Chuckling to himself, the Veteran hauls the diminutive humanoid to his feet, and with piton and rope, he begins to climb the stem like a cliff face, dislodging chunks of mushroom wood and bursts of slimy fluid with each move. Using the spaces made by his passing, the vyrleen follows, and after a short while both the warforged and the rogue are at the top of the stem, some 40' above the ground, looking along the lengths of the gills that frill the caps underside, and wondering how they will manage the 20' overhang the cap presents, without being sent crashing to a painful mess far below.
An insane plan is hatched. Hanging by the pitons, the warforged helps Llewellyn to tie the rope around his waist. He then begins to swing him back and forth like a tiny pendulum, gaining momentum with each pass. Trying hard to remember not to whoop with the sheer adrenaline pumping joy of what he is doing, the vyrleen begins to set his mind on the next phase of the plan, for it is the most dangerous part.
Having built a terrifying amount of momentum, the warforged grunts that the rogue should be ready, before suddenly, with an upswing, releasing the rope. Inertia sends Llewellyn hurtling towards the edge of the cap and beyond, and suddenly the stupidity of the move overwhelms him, along with a terrifying, exhilarating burst of screaming joy. However, before he can fly off to a horrible death, the Veteran grabs hold of the rope with an iron grip, jolting Llewellyn to a sudden stop and forcing him to whip up and over the edge of the cap and up onto its top. He slams into the solid fungus' cap with enough force to wind him, and begins to scrabble for a handhold.
To his horror, he discovers that the top of the cap is covered in the thick layer of slippery slime, and he begins to slide towards the edge of it. Panicking, Llewellyn grabs his mace, and with as much force as he can muster, slams its handle into the fungus, lodging it in firmly, giving himself a handhold. Ropes are secured, and soon the warforged joins him.
The view from on top of the fungus is still blocked by the much larger specimens that grow everywhere. However it allows the to note that the path the gigorim were wandering along leads to the massive breach in the alien wall, about a quarter mile away. In front of the breach is a large area that has been cleared of obstructions – clearly a kill zone – and closer examination reveals the presence of craters in the ground; almost certainly the results of cannon fire. Realising that there must be a fortified position guarding the breach, and that the kill zone is almost certainly trapped, the two adventurers realise that the group will need to come up with another way of getting through if they want to avoid and almost certainly suicidal confrontation.
07:25 – 07:40 – The two fungoid climbers return to the ground, and the group decide that the safest route will be to scale the wall itself, a way away from the breach, and to move further in from there.
07:50 – The group arrive at the base of the huge wall, and soon are roped together and climbing up its pocked and vine covered face. It's slow going, but with Veteran and Ardwaine forming the solid core of their efforts (and Ferrous secured by a rope to the warforged), they make steady, safe progress...
08:00 – 08:05 – About halfway up the wall, the group come to a thick growth of some strange rubbery black plant, which grows out of the wall. Thinking it an ideal anchor point for the ropes, the warforged clambers towards and then into their middle, grabbing out a piton ready to spike the walls' face. Ormid, shaking with fear as he clambers up the wall, looks up just as this is happening, and feels his stomach knot in horror, for he recognises what the plants are...
“WHIP WEEDS! LOOK OUT!!!”
The warning saves Veteran's life, for suddenly, all around him, the kelpe like growths come to life, their broad leaves slashing back and forth with a ghastly rattling cry, whilst long, thorned tendrils unfurl from their cores. The plants skitter like foul vegetable spiders over the walls face, lashing out at the party with their deadly stems, and soon, a precarious battle across the walls face begins.
The group do incredibly well, given the tenuous hold they have on the wall, the ropes and pitons slammed into it allowing them some movement and ability to fight, though still leaving them unsteady and vulnerable to being knocked off. The Whip Weeds are unintelligent and straight forward foes, prone to sudden explosions of ripping attacks when brought down, and were it not for the unusual circumstances of the battle, they would be quickly dispatched. Ormid and Evran purposely use their lowest powered spells, so as to stand a better chance of controlling them in the wild zone, and through the whole battle only one surge occurs; triggered by Ardwaine as she unleashes lightning from her hammer. This surge however aids the group, adding ferocity to the elemental bolt, allowing her to strike with increased range and surety.
Llewellyn takes two out, landing magnificent blows on them with his mace, whilst the Veteran accounts for two more. The last one, spattered in the sap of its allies, and struggling to find purchase on an area of wall suddenly slick with Ferrous' corrosive exhalations and blocked by an artifice bridge conjured by Ormid, simply drops off the wall and skitters away in panic.
08:06 – The group catch their breath, hanging from the ropes, and hear from the north a distant commotion. Dread rises within their bellies as they realise that elements of the force at the breach must have heard the distant commotion of the battle, and that they are responding. Looking towards the top of the wall, the party move with increased haste to get there before they are discovered.