Arrival +30 minutes – When they first awoke all they could do was shiver in the cold, damp atmosphere of this place, and try somehow to process all that had just happened. For a great while no one spoke, and it seemed almost as if they could not remember how to speak through the suddenly clumsy seeming medium of the flesh. Then, slowly, they began to gather their wits, and finally...
“So is that it then? Are we stuck here? Where are we?”
Schnecke. His puzzled voice, booming through the chill shadowed air, is a point of familiarity for the group, and it grounds them, finally, in this new reality. Blinking as if he has just awoken, Grigori stands slowly and painfully up, his eyes scanning his surrounds. Jaeger also rolls to his feet, blades drawn, whilst Seren groggily shakes her head, and wills herself to stand. Varracuda and Emmiven also seem to come alive at this point, the genasai grinning as he realises that a familiar weight – the weight of the Order's spells upon him – are now absent.
“So?” growls Schnecke, leaping to his feet, “Are we here forever? Is this it?”
“Shhh!” warns Jaeger, his face showing irritation.
Thunder rumbles somewhere above, and the Ulnyrr turns his face upwards, seeking the sky. However, what he sees above is a canopy of conifer branches, which seems to spread some 500' of more above, thin clouds floating beneath them. At the same time Seren has moved over towards what she initially though to be an impressive wall of wood, now recognising it as the incredibly huge trunk of a conifer of otherworldly proportions.
The group are in a forest of gargantuan trees, the ground covered in a thick carpet of massive pine needles. The ruins of the structure they saw as they entered this plane lie mostly hidden beneath thousands of years of growth, and a gentle rain can be heard whispering on the canopy far above. Although the canopy all but blocks the sky, the group can tell that the day is growing very late, and can make out a distant shifting illumination somewhere above the tree tops. The air is heavy with mist and the smell of pine sap, and everyone struggles not to shiver in the chill.
Schnecke stamps his foot, and before Jaeger can strangle him, the cleric shoots him a hard look, and in a low voice whispers “We don't know yet. With luck we can find a way to our own world, but there is just no way to know right now.”
Arrival +31 minutes - +10 hours, 30 minutes – The group spend a little time checking out their immediate surroundings, and find that they are on the side of an epic mountain, and that their lodestones work; the mountains apparently rising to this world's north. It is quickly discovered that the giant trees are not the predominant species here, and are probably remnants of an earlier epoch of time, for forests of an ancient but normal nature cover the areas beyond that close to the ruins.
With the surroundings deigned safe, the assassin slips into the forests and soon returns with edible mushrooms, a brace of cony and several eggs – all very similar to the kinds found on Arbel'Verdaniss. The group eat, and plan, each still trying to shake the last remnants of awed dread that their recent visit to the psychic plane has instilled, and with full bellies, they organise watches and get some sleep, their physical forms exhausted by the psychical stresses they have been through.
The group sleep soundly, even those on watch succumbing to their weariness and falling into a heavy slumber. Fortunately nothing tries to harm them during this time, and on waking the party are more than a little surprised to learn that it is still night, though a huge silvery moon, clearly ancient beyond counting and scarred by massive impact craters, has begun to rise into sky, the thunderstorm from earlier having cleared away.
Powerful beams of moonlight carve through the high canopy, painting the mist wreathed forest in irregular pools of glowing silver, and through the clearings the group can see that the skies are filled with the shifting lights of the aurorae – a sight that delights Schnecke, for they are a familiar phenomenon in his homeland, where it is believed they are the path taken by the souls of slain warriors into the next world. To him, this shows that this world, no matter how remote or alien, is linked to the same afterlife as his own, which means his ancestors and gods also see here.
Arrival +10 hours, 31 minutes – +14 hours – After a quick breakfast, the group discuss what to do next. Getting home is their highest priority, and they all agree that in order to find the kind of individual who might be able to send them back, they need to locate civilization. Deciding that intelligent creatures would want to make use of the mountains' sides as a defensive measure, the party agree that they shall scale the mountain as high as they are able, and see if they can find any kind of settlement. Even if this fails, the height should give them an excellent view of the lands surrounding the peak, and hopefully, show any major towns or cities.
And so they set off, using their lodestones to help them move through the forests in the right direction, climbing up the increasingly steep sides of the vast mountain. The going is tough, and within a few minutes everyone is sweating in the chill, misty air. However slowly and surely, they make progress, clambering several hundred feet above their arrival zone before they stop to catch their breaths, shivering in the night.
Looking back, they are afforded a sweeping view of the lands below. The first thing that strikes them is how far the horizon lies, and with a jolt, they realise that this world is not spherical, for there is no curvature apparent. This can only mean that it is either a more unusual shape, or is a single, unified plane that in no way conforms to the celestial configurations they are used to. The immediate lands sink down into distant shadowy plains, wreathed in silvery webs of fog, which shine in the powerful moonlight of the swollen satellite. A large river can be seen meandering in the distance, and Jaeger and Grigori can just make out tiny winking lights – possibly watch fires or window lights, gleaming along its shores many days march to the southwest.
As the moon rises, a pale green halo surrounding it, the light increases. The group resume their climb, and note with interest that the moon is not alone, for it drags huge, glowing fragments of white stone behind it – almost certainly chunks of its own body, caught in its gravitational pull. They also note, beyond the pale curtains of the aurorae, that unfamiliar constellations gleam in the skies, and once again, they are reminded that they are further from home than they have ever been before.
Arrival +14 hours, 1 minute – +14 hours, 13 minutes – The group stop suddenly as the forest ends and they stumble across a road; a wide path of hard packed stone, flanked by rows of wooden frames over which have been stretched wolf pelts, their tops crowned with polished wolf skulls. Beyond the road, the forests continue. Schnecke suddenly becomes very excited, for these are clearly border totems, identical to those his own tribe uses, and his excitement only increases when he sees the runes, pained in blue ink, on each skull – a rune he can read!
“The runes tell outsiders that the land beyond belongs to a tribe. We will be trespassing if we continue.”
“I could scout ahead, unseen.” Whispers the assassin, “See who or what lies ahead.”
The group agree that this is a good plan, and Grigori works a spell over the assassin that will allow him to communicate with him at all times.
Arrival +14 hours, 14 minutes – +14 hours, 49 minutes – Jaeger slides silently through the shadows and heads to the north, paralleling the road but staying off it to its west. After a short while he encounters a cliff of moss and fern covered stone, which affords him plenty of handholds, and which seems to soar upwards to the next natural level of the mountainside – the level that the road most likely leads to. Taking a moment to allow his senses to attune to the gloom, he can make out the sounds of gruff, heavily accented voices floating from somewhere above, though he has no idea what they are saying, the language a writhing mess of “yorls” and “urgens”, to his ears.
Breathing slowly, and allowing the nighted energies within to surround him, Jaeger begins to climb up the cliff face. It's slow going, but after a short while he reaches the top, some 70' up, his hands sinking into a thick, wet carpet of forest mosses. Pulling himself up, he comes face to face with a green, moss covered human skull, and gritting his will against his reflexive desire to drop back away, he looks beyond the grinning remnant and to the area at the top of the cliff.
It is a forest of outwards pointing hardened wooden stakes, many of which are impaled with huge humanoid skulls – clearly those of gigorim. Other stakes, which are set vertically, bear human like skulls, which are larger than the one he first saw (which seems to have once belonged to a standard human), but a lot smaller than the huge skulls. Jaeger estimates that their owners looked like humans, but were of larger proportions, estimating that they may have stood about 9' – 10' high. Unlike the gigorim skulls which are badly kept – covered in mosses, coloured by slimy algae and spattered with bird droppings – these are polished, painted with runes, and bear colourful necklaces of enamelled beads and pierced coins around their stakes. More runes have been carved onto flat pieces of wood, tied below each skull, and the assassin notes that these skulls have all been placed so that they look outwards, down the mountain's slope.
Finally, there are more of the “normal” human skulls; scattered amongst the mosses at the base of the stakes, or hanging from crosses of wood in bundles, suspended by their hair.
The stakes cover a low bank, which extends northwards some 15' from the edge of the cliff, before dipping down into some kind of trench. Beyond this trench, which seems to be about 10' wide, rises a well made wooden wall, which extends for several hundred feet to the east and west. Silently dragging himself over the lip of the cliff, the assassin squats amidst the stakes and continues his observations.
To the east of his position, roughly where he calculates the road will meet this wall, Jaeger spies a well made, open sided watch tower of wood. Round shields bearing lupine symbols form a barrier around its edge, and two hulking humanoid figures can be seen within it – the conversation drifting on the mist apparently coming from them. To the west, at the furthest corner of the wall, another tower also rises, two more massive men silhouetted within.
From his current position Jaeger cannot make out any more details. He flinches as a wolf howls from somewhere beyond the wall, and nearly slides over the cliff when Grigori's voice enters his mind asking for an update. Jaeger simply tells him to stay put, and that he will give a full report when he gets back. He then slowly clambers back over the cliff and makes his way back to the party.
Arrival +14 hours, 50 minutes – +15 hours, 15 minutes – Jaeger reports back to the party, and Schnecke is once again struck by how similar the natives here are to his own people. Realising that he may be their best chance of making peaceful contact with these folk, the party ask Schnekcke if he would be willing to be their spokesman whilst they engage with these unknown natives, and feelingly oddly responsible for the group suddenly, and pleased to be so useful to them, the Ulnyrr agrees.
With this decided, the party vote to simply wander up the road and make themselves known to the gate guards. Schnecke takes their tent and draws the rune of parley used by his tribe on it, asking the party to carry it stretched out so it is immediately visible. With this done, the group move along the road, noting that further on more well cared for skulls adorn the sides on rune scribed posts, and that the road's edges also bear small stones carved into stylized likenesses of bearded warriors wearing spangenhelms.
It does not take them long to enter the run of road that leads to the front gates – a 120' long, steeply rising strip of stone that is flanked on both side by deep pits filled with ash and more fire hardened wooden stakes. The gates to the settlement are vast wooden things, fortified with overlapping round shields which are lashed to its exterior and watched over by soldiers in the wooden watch towers that stand either side behind the outer wall.
As soon as the group have taken a few steps on this final reach of road, gruff voices begin to yell at them, and Schnecke grins, for the language they speak, whilst not entirely the same as his native tongue, is close enough that he understands most of what they are saying. Then a loud gonging rings out, and the group realise that in their shock at seeing the party on the road, the sentries may not have actually noticed the rune of parley they have scribed on their tent.
“Just keep going,” growls Schnecke, “We cannot show any fear. If we do, we die.”
Gritting their teeth, the party creep forwards, painfully aware of the increasing number of angry voices echoing from beyond the wall, and even more aware of the anger of the huge men, dressed in mail and spectacled helms, their long blonde beards and hair worn in elaborate plaits, that howl and roar at them from the towers. Soon they are but 20' from the gates, and it at this point that they stop, for the roaring and yelling behind the walls is now focused behind the gates.
Wolves yip and howl behind the gates, and it takes every shred of their will to remain there, their faces fixed in a grim, undaunted expression.
Then, the gates open...