05:00 – 05:15 – The group meet Calsiphus for breakfast in a huge chamber, illuminated by floating spheres of fire, that they are sure wasn't in the tower the day before. Whilst they munch on seasoned porridge and seed sprinkled toasts, Calsiphus tells them a little more about the area they are going to visit.
“The Palace Lake sits within the heart of an ancient caldera, and back in the day, it was a thriving township. It's waters were deep, rich and clear, and home to many kinds of edible weeds and fat, tasty fish, whilst its surrounds were rich in minerals and mines. People built a large settlement there, much of it stretching out over the waters on stilts, and for long and long, it was a commercial hub for those travelling across Calsor. Then, long ago, something started to change. The fish vanished and the mines dried up. People moved away, and much of the town was allowed to fall into ruin.
“Next darker forces moved in. A large part of the town was levelled after a daemon launched a full scale attack on a band of local heroes, and a darker presence began to make itself known; hidden, but infusing everything with its evil. More people left, and the decaying township became a place of pilgrimage for foul cultists, and those who sought to seek out the buried malevolence. Ghosts and other unquiet spirits haunted its shores, and it soon became a cursed place, a shunned place; a place only the foolhardy or insane would willingly visit.
“Then, around about 3298 K.C. According to the few surviving texts from that time, something happened that caused a serious breach between our universe and another. Theories suggest that someone tried to free whatever evil lay bound beneath the lake's shores, or that a foul ritual, drawing on the ambient power of the place went awry, tearing the veil between worlds. Whatever the cause, alien magics flooded the entire area, and the inner caldera became mixed with the ecology and energies of another, strange reality.
“The lake vanished, and the region became covered with a thick forest of crystals and strange stones. The very air became infused with fossilising power, and bizarre lifeforms of living crystal and thinking stone found their way into the place, making permanent lairs there. The buried darkness remained however, and so, some areas became corrupted, the shimmering prisms and wands becoming stained and infused with bloody shadows. “People quickly realised that the region was now even more dangerous than before; for flesh slowly turned to stone within the bowl of the caldera, and the air, thickly woven with minute shards of razor sharp crystal, quickly tore lungs to bits, leading to permanent ailments that affected breathing, and yes, even death.
“The creatures that rode the event through into this world were, and are, dangerous too. Whether driven by instinct or anger, malevolence or habit, they attack those that cross their paths with elemental magics and knife-like shards of slashing crystal. They thrum songs that burst bones, rupture organs or drive men to madness, and drag the unwary, alive and screaming, into the ground, there to remain, frozen in silence for all time.”
Calsiphus stops, seeing the shocked expressions on the parties face. He gives a sheepish grin, and waving his fork, changes his voice to a lighter tone, and continues.
“Of course, there are advantages to the place. Many of the crystals that came through are normally incredibly rare and are valuable. A thriving tourist trade has also begun, the 'Palace lake Consortium' building a literal chain of inns, with balconies extended over the lip of the caldera, along the upper edge, from which the curious and rich can observe the chiming, luminous otherworldly landscape below in safety.
“And of course, there is the simple fact that the deadly reputation of the area makes it ideal for keeping things safe; case in point, the primal binding runes.”
Ormid frowns, then asks. “So, if this place is so damn lethal, why is your friend there?”
The mage nods, seeing the sense in the question, and after chewing on a mouthful of food, he answers.
“Edwin is a geomancer, a mage who taps into the energies of crystals and the planets own magic to power his spells. He was fascinated by the idea of an alien ecosystem being present in our world, and applied to be allowed to move his labs there in order to catalogue all the minerals that grow in the region, the creatures that live there, and to try and harness some of the local magics.
“His request was granted, and with him, a powerful and trusted mage in situ, a warding vault was built and the binding runes placed within. Edwin has been the guardian ever since.”
“So,” begins the Veteran slowly, “We go to him, he what, senses the spell you put on us?”
“And the pass phrase I shall give you.”
“Okay, and then he just hands over the glyphs? Just like that?”
“Yes. Easy eh? Then he should be able to open a secure portal back here.”
“Secure?” asks everyone at once.
Calsiphus looks momentarily confused, and then remembering that they are not from this time, elaborates.
“Ah, yes. Well, you see, there are several hazards inherent in teleportive magics in this age. The first comes from an ancient site that stands on a desolate island a few miles to the southeast of Fey's southern coast, the so called Obsidian Dial. No one knows who built it, and attempts to destroy or deactivate it have failed, but it has a very real effect on the world – namely, emitting sub-dimensional waves of distortion that can, now and then, disrupt teleportation.”
“Define 'disrupt'” growls Shadevia, her black eyes glimmering.
“Well,” coughs Calsiphus, suddenly flustered, “most people just don't arrive where they should. They, kinda'....you know. Poof!”
“They are spread across the universe, reduced to a vapour. Gone. Vanished. Dead.”
“And the others?” asks Llewellyn, eyebrows raised.
“Well, they either find themselves somewhere other than their intended destination, or sort of crushed by the power.”
Calsiphus gives a weak grin.
“You said that was only one of the problems.” Prompts Shadevia suddenly, her voice cold and empty.
“Well yes. With the nature of the items you will have with you, there is a chance that some individuals that hunger after them may try to hijack your journey, subverting your teleportation and redirecting you to a location of their choosing.”
The group look round at each other.
“But your friend can stop these things happening?” Asks Veteran after a moment.
“Oh yes. Well, he can craft a spell that has less chance of falling prey to these problems, which can't be bad can it?”
The group say nothing. The rest of the meal passes in silence. The group then collect their gear and prepare for the trials ahead.
05:25 – The group find themselves in Calsiphus' conjurary, stood within the bounds of a beautifully inscribed rune circle. They have already been enchanted with the Introduction ritual, and are waiting for the portal to Calsor to be opened. Calsiphus has told them that the portal will link to a rune circle kept in the room of an inn about twelve miles from the upper ridge of the Palace Lake caldera, explaining that all inns of the “Green Griffon” chain (a chain with its base in Shadok), all keep a spare room which holds a rune circle for use by members of the Arcane Star, granting the order's members access to a multitude of sites across the world.
As the mage enacts his spell, the air around the party begins to shiver with power, and the runes in the circle begin to ooze a dim, pallid radiance. Then a wave of dizziness sweeps over them, a vertigo that comes from suddenly moving thousands of miles without actually moving, and the group find themselves in almost total darkness.
05:26 – 05:36 – By the flickering light of Veteran's axe, the group can make out that they are in a small, windowless bedroom. A thin mantle of dust covers everything including the bed, and the only exit is a wooden door, bolted from this side. Ormid reaches out with his senses, and feels the presence of a simple spell in the air; an alarm ritual – no doubt to alert the innkeeper as to their arrival.
Sure enough, after a few moments, the sound of footsteps can be heard from the other side of the door, then several knocks on the door itself. The door is opened, and the party are met by a very tired looking, slightly grumpy man, dressed in nightclothes. He mutters something at them in a language none speak, and communication is only established when he uses base gorgoth - a language Shadevia speaks, and which, being divinely bestowed, has remained unchanged over the massive epochs of time. He asks them if they would like something to eat before they move on, and when the group reply they have just eaten, he shows them to the front door.
Outside it is still dark, this part of the world being further from the dawn than Fey, and heavy, pounding rain hisses down from the blackness. The group thanks the inn keep, and stepping out into the soaking dark, take in their surroundings.
The road on which the Inn rests is well paved, and is lit by small chunks of relucite, who's white glow gives everything a slightly unreal edge. The air smells of thunder and fresh water, and the group's breath fogs in the chill of the dawn storm. To be heard, they have to raise their voices, for thunder rumbles constantly above and around them, and the rain slaps the ground with a harsh, hissing song. Water runs a couple of inches deep along the road, a transient river born from the surging rains.
Across the way from the inn is a signpost that gives directions to several nearby cities and towns; Castelae to the northwest, Vibrex to the southwest, Lentriscoe to the southeast, and “Ye Olde Palace Lake” along a steep road to the east. A quick look around shows that the Green Griffon is halfway up the sides of a steep ridge of mountain that runs to the north and south, curling around the unseen sides of the Palace Lake caldera's supporting cone. In the distance and far below their current level, can be seen rolling hills and vast, open plains, studded through the misty rain with the odd patches of distantly winking lights. The muted flickering glow of sheet lightning gives the party a better view of the silhouette of the land before them – the mountains, and more importantly the formidable climb of the ancient cinder cone that they must transverse to reach the Palace Lake - and they realise that it could take all day to reach their destination if they travel by foot along the winding road that reaches from here to the upper ridge of the caldera.
05:37 – 05:47 (04:07 – 04:17 local time) – Ormid works his ritual that summons magical mounts, and soon they group are on the backs of these glassy, spectral things, floating some 50' above the ground.
“We'll make good time on these!” cackles the artificer as he sends his forth with a mental command.
05:48 – 06:06 (04:18 – 04:36 local time) – The group dart up the steep sides of the mountainous terrain, though they nearly smash into several stands of pines, and at one point almost crash into a tall, slender watch tower. They fight against the strong winds that blow down the sides of the ancient cinder cone, driving rain into their faces at speed, and were it not for the line of tiny lights – the relucite chunks that line the winding roads sides – would probably find themselves blown hopelessly off course.
It seems to take forever for them to reach the top, but suddenly the rain slows to a heavy drizzle and the winds, though still strong, ease off a little. However, their path towards the ridge is blocked as ahead they see a spectacular “wall” of towers and multi-storey buildings, all silhouetted by an eerie, golden light, quite unlike anything they have seen before – a glow apparently coming from the caldera itself. At first they consider trying to fly over the buildings, but quickly realise that their mounts can only fly so high, and that they would be forced to scramble over the rooftops of the massive buildings – clearly one of the tourist trap inns built by the Palace Lake Consortium.
The group decide that they should try and get permission to pass through the compound, reasoning that it will be easier in the long run than trying to sneak through, getting caught and having to explain / fight their way out of the situation...
...They are, of course, wrong.
06:07 – 06:12 (04:37 – 04:42 local time) – The party locate the front gate that leads into the complex, and can see that several men and a vyrleen stand guards around it; some leaning sleepily against the sides of the structure, others warming their hands on small piles of what seem to be glowing, burning crystals; the odd rain drop hissing and crackling off them in bursts of steam. Several large prisms of relucite have been set into the gates frame, casting a white-green glow over the whole area, picking out the lines of the symbol worked into the gate's surface; a golden ring encompassing a pale blue circle within which is bound a stylised sparkling gem. This symbol is echoed on the dark blue tabards worn by all the guards over their armour, and is clearly the standard of the collective.
The men are well armed, and despite their clear weariness and boredom, seem relatively alert.
Not wanting to alarm them, the party move a little way down the road, and then approach slowly (still flying 10' above the group), calling out to them as they approach. The guards jerk to attention and the vyrleen, accompanied by a huge human warrior – dressed in heavy mail his left eye hidden behind a patch – steps forth. If any of the men are surprised by the weird group or their strange mode of transport they do not show it. The vyrleen shouts out to them in the same language the inn keep used. After a few moments he realises no one understands him and switches to his native tongue, which despite being mostly very different to the dialect he speaks, Llewellyn understands enough to be able to serve as a translator. He spends a moment talking, and the group can tell from the tones of their voices that they are not getting on too well. The other guards, also apparently unable to understand what is being said, begin to ready themselves for trouble, trying to subtly bring their weapons to bear.
Llewellyn is clearly getting very frustrated, and suddenly he turns to the party and states, “He says unless we are paying guests booked in to stay here we need to fuck off.”
The Veteran gives a deep growl in his chest, and Shadevia seems to fold in on herself a little as she reaches out and finds the many spirits of the area, preparing to bind them to her will.
“Tell him,” begins Ormid, “that we want no trouble, but that we must get past.”
Llewellyn does, and apparently gets a less than positive response.
By now the tension in the air is palpable. In the distance, to the southeast, a thin line of dark blue-green shows that beyond the lowering clouds the sun is approaching the horizon, and that another day is rapidly approaching.
For these men, it is a day that several will not see.
The one eyed human growls something at the vyrleen guard, and with a smug grin, the diminutive humanoid says something to Llewellyn – something that by its tone, even without being able to understand the words is clearly “Last chance. Go or die.”
Llewellyn refuses to obey, and noticing that a man bearing a heavy crossbow has taken aim at him from the top of the barrier wall to the south of the gate, he gives the vyrleen a smug grin before screaming out a warning to his allies that “shits about to get real”, and jumping his horse over to the wall where, as part of an elaborate forward flip, he simultaneously dismounts and smashes his mace into the crossbowman's shoulder, ripping his armour and sending him sprawling.
Realising that he is in the front line of what could be a very unpleasant battle, the vyrleen guard suddenly enacts some power and vanishes in a burst of rippling distortion, leaving his allies to face the group.
06:13 – 06:14 (04:43 – 04:44 local time) – And that's that. With their ally attacked, the guards go to their work. However, they have never faced an enemy anything like the party, and soon over half of them are unconscious or curled up groaning in agony.
The crossbowman facing Llewellyn manages to nick a blood vessel, and the vyrleen is forced to stop a moment to staunch the flow of blood. Ormid sweeps in on his horse and blasts the enemy with an invisible shockwave of thunder, almost knocking him off the wall. However, he manages to hold on, dropping to the floor. Llewellyn rushes him, but receives a vicious slash across his face when the warrior presses a small latch, and a bayonet swings up and locks in place on the front of his crossbow, a moment before he thrusts out at Llewellyn.
Another crossbow wielding soldier, crouched on the ground across the way from the other , fires a modified bolt filled with acid, and soaks several members of the party with the nasty stuff; a cloud of stinging, choking smoke enveloping them briefly. He is blasted by a crackling cone of electrical fire, spat from the sizzling jaws of Ferrous, courtesy of the organ taken from the Defender they faced in the belly of the skyship above Laertraine, recently implanted by Ormid. The lightning is almost liquid, erupting with a sharp shriek and extending in smoky bolts to strike at its targets. He screams but avoids the worst of the damage, getting several more shots off at Shadevia, several of which strike hard, drawing spurting lines of shadowy, smoking blood from her.
The huge one eyed man finds himself facing both Veteran and Ferrous, and takes the full brunt of the Iron Defender's lightning breath, his skin reddening under its power, his beard smoking and flaming. Despite this, he proves to be a deadly opponent, using every dirty trick at his disposal; throwing mud into Veteran's eyes temporarily blinding him, using sucker punches to daze and disorient him, and placing kicks that on a flesh and blood opponent would have a seriously debilitating effects due to their location. In addition to this he is remarkably skilled, able to send his heavy sword out in an arc, striking at both the warforged and his pet with each blow. One such blow however ends the life of one of his allies as Veteran grabs him and throws him in front of the deadly swing; the blade neatly severing the unfortunate soldier's head from his shoulders.
As the battle wears on the one eyed man lands blow after blow against the two defenders, his heavy swings working deep wounds into both adventurers. He is suddenly illuminated by a blinding arrow, infused with radiant spirits, shot by the shadeling, and his allies scream in shock as the glassy beams of light dazzle them.
“Mage!” screams one soldier, “Help!”
Ardwaine has waded into the thick of several soldiers, her snarling hammer smashing one to the ground. However, she is unable to score any hits against two others who move to flank her. Suddenly she is hit in the shoulder by an arrow wreathed in unnatural flame. She yelps as it bites in, burning her, and then roars in anger as she realises that the missile came from Shadevia. “Traitor!” she bellows, taking a stab from the polearm of one of the flanking warriors, “Wait till I get me' hands around your...”
Her words fail her as the arrow suddenly flares, and a tiny fire spirit leaps from it, exploding in the face of the warrior that just stabbed her, incinerating his head in a sickening burst of agonising heat, and she grudgingly yells “Thanks I guess” as she smashes her hammer into the shocked face of the other warrior, snapping his head back with a dull crack, killing him.
A burst of light on top of the wall to the north of the gate heralds the arrival of a mage. He immediately shouts out a harsh incantation, and sends a rose coloured serpent of lightning crackling towards Ormid, who dodges it and immediately swoops round to meet him with a mighty punch from his artifice arm....which also misses.
The crossbowman on the wall is knocked unconscious after surrendering - his repeated blows neither slowing the vyrleen or deterring him - whilst the other is driven to flee when Shadevia unleashes a cloud of arrows, which, despite missing him, make him realise how badly outmatched he and his allies are. The one eyed warrior however, still going strong, is also hit by a number of these, his armour being torn and ripped by their barbed heads, exposing the upper half of a tattoo on his chest depicting a black dragon breathing a spume of flame to its left – the standard of the dread Black Legionnaires. Veteran smashes his axe into him again and again, his blows landing with increasing frequency as the warrior weakens, and as he struggles to move due to his armour being pinned to him by the seeker's arrows. He is also still suffering from the after effects of Ferrous' lightning breath, his muscles twitching involuntarily, and is struggling to land blows without his treacherous limbs jerking his weapon away.
Llewellyn surges over to attack the mage, flanking him with Ormid, and is caught in the area of a spectacular spell he casts, which unleashes a silvery shockwave of silent sonic energy. This blast also slams against Veteran and Shadevia, though all three of them are miraculously untouched by it, the power seeming to veer around them without effect. Ormid responds with his own sonic attack, sending a lance of focused sound into the mage, smashing him to the floor. Seeing him vulnerable, the rogue moves in and strikes him with his mace, cracking his head wide open, a pinky-orange froth boiling from the critical wound. This is still not enough to kill him, though his voice is slurred and thick with agony, and he manages somehow to stagger drunkenly to his feet – only to be blasted to the floor by another thunder lance from Ormid.
Llewellyn takes the opening offered to him, and lands a blow that smashes his head open completely. The mage collapses without a sound, plunged into a coma that will end, 9 weeks from now in his death.
Suddenly alone and surrounded, the one eyed warrior manages to hold out for a few more seconds. Then, blinded by swarming insects summoned by a rune carved arrow fired from Shadevia, he is struck a final blow by Ferrous; the Defender leaping at him and landing a vice like bite on the back of his neck, his weight dragging the gasping warrior to the floor. The struggling warrior gives a strangled shriek, and all hear a juicy pop as his cervical vertebrae are crushed by the homunculus' savage teeth, and his life ended.
The battle, only 30 seconds long is over, the area around the gates smeared with blood, guts, the contents of bowel and bladder, and shattered weapons. Beyond the outer walls, alarms wail in the inns belly, alerting more guards to the carnage, and the group realise they need to move fast if they are to avoid more combat.
06:15 – 06:17 (04:45– 04:47 local time) - Leaping onto their mounts, the party fly over the outer wall at full speed, crossing a wide courtyard. From the far ends they can see more soldiers running towards the gates, and all can feel the thrill of magical power being gathered by a potent spellcaster, though where they are is not apparent.
Unable to get the height needed to fly over the main building the group desperately seek a way through it. Spotting a gate that leads to a corridor linked to the gardens and viewing platforms that overlook the caldera, the party swoop towards it, carefully adjusting their speed and altitude to be able to safely surge along the narrow way. It's terrifying, but they manage to dart through unscathed, scaring an early rising guest half to death as they burst into the back gardens.
And before them they get their first view of the caldera through a mantle of morning fog and unnatural dusts; a vast bowl of shimmering, glittering, crystals of a million glassy colours, brilliantly gleaming below like the inside of some huge, impossible geode. The caldera is more vast than they imagined, vanishing into the distance, and it takes them a moment to gather their wits enough to realise that they are not in the clear yet.
Behind them, above the red-tiled roofs of the inn, two brilliantly luminous forms begin to coalesce; otherworldly creatures being conjured from the voids beyond by the unseen mage. They initially appear as blobs of lightning bright light, but soon begin to develop bat like wings and reaching limbs ending in long-clawed hands.
The party don't hang around long enough to take in any more details.
Flying towards the edge of the caldera, the group avoid a few hastily fired crossbow bolts, and with a whoop of mixed terror and joy, they steer their horses down into the glowing maw of the caldera, and the beautiful, alien, deadly realms below.
* * *
And for those of you that want it, here is the Introduction ritual.