24/6/1472 – 14:20 – The party are far from the mountains and the disaster that unfolded there, having spent the last five days heading southwards, hoping to find one of the many port cities that once linked Kai'Yassan's exterior to the realms beyond the waters of Nawa'Sikei (Mother Ocean). They hope – given the continents strange new state of existence – that in such a place they can find some way to return to Irin, and re-establish communication with the Order.
* * *
As they have wandered, Varracuda has explained that in pre-sundering Kai'Yassan, the regions far removed from the Imperial City of Quei’Soi Leng, tended to be fairly autonomous, despite, in theory, being loyal to the Imperial Throne. Many of the cities that grew up along the shores of the Nawa'Sikei traded with Yissen merchants, and a chain of wealthy cities stretching from the Awa'Gao (World Cradle) Mountains to places as far removed as Ancient Iradesh and Sunken Aurym, could trace their wealth in part to these relationships. There were, he is quick to add, a number of Imperial ports, which were linked to the Imperial City by walled roads, that lead directly from the coast to the heart of the throne's rule, though he is unsure as to where, or how many, they were.
“So we head south, and when we hit the coast, wander along it until we come across something?” Asks Lia, her pale skin blotched by mosquito bites, her hair grimy with sweat.
“In a nutshell, yes.” Comes the equally harassed genasai's reply.
Whilst travelling the group have seen numerous wonders and horrors related to the Sundering. For example, as they left the cavern in which they slept following their escape from Gasharo' realm, a strange dark green rain had started to fall, spawning ever thickening growths of alien mosses, ferns and eventually trees where it touched the ground. By the time the group had been on the move for an hour, they were stalking amongst the boles of trees that, had they not known better, they would have said were hundreds of years old. And then, suddenly, they had come to the end of it, the usual terrain suddenly there before them across a clearly delineated line. Stranger still, as the group had crossed this line, so the entirety of the strange forest they had just passed through simply vanished; the normal terrain clearly laying behind them where it should be.
A Planar Transposition, Grigori had called it – a subtle layering of another reality over the realm of the physical, adding earnestly that “We were lucky not to get transported into the other plane.”, unaware that behind him the assassin quietly whispered “Yeah, cos we all know how hard he works to stop us ending up in alien universes don't we?”, grinning and nudging the barbarian – who entirely doesn't get his sarcasm at all...
* * *
The group are currently in a flat region of marshland that stretches from horizon to horizon. Visibility is seriously hampered by the ubiquitous cane grasses that grow thickly here, each individual stalk reaching some 6' height, and the terrain is murderous on their rate of progress, being either sucking ditches filled with mud, mosses and writhing water, or spongy hummocks. By day, the air becomes thick with mist and biting flies, and at night, a heavy fog, studded with the meandering lights of fireflies, prevents progress. On more than a few occasions a member of the group has become stuck fast in a sucking bog, or almost vanished into the throat of some hidden, water filled shaft, the risks only increasing with their gathering weariness.
14:20 – 15:15 – And so, the group are almost grateful when they notice that far away, possibly beyond the horizon, something strange is occurring; the sky in a distinct area shimmering as if affected by a heat haze. Sure it must be another manifestation of the sundering (an opinion backed up by the presence of low-key earth tremors and a curious throbbing of the air which makes teeth ache and sinuses feel painfully full), the group decide to check it out, the assassin agreeing to scout ahead, whilst the rest of the party follow at a distance.
Moving with grace and speed through the bog, Jaeger soon finds himself far away from the party, though he is sure he can find them again even in the tall reeds, thanks to the din they make as they splash and slog through the marsh. Hunkering low, and sticking to the raised hummocks, he has soon covered several miles, and is able to see more clearly the disturbance ahead, his keen ears picking up distant sounds of horror.
Sharp, rapidly repeated sounds that have a hard yet almost liquid quality to them. Human screams. Tinny, ripping sounds that carry oddly in the moist atmosphere.
Frowning, Jaeger finds a fallen tree stump on a hummock and stands upon it, giving himself a clearer view. Reaching into his backpack, he produces a telescope – a fine thing he purchased back in Irin for a small fortune, made by a Lower Malgorothian chronometerist – and peering through it, he gets his first view of what lies ahead.
It is, he realises, a great distance away, almost certainly beyond the worlds curve, but is of such height and size that it can be seen above the horizon; some kind of spire, greyish-blue through the heat haze that surrounds it. It seems to be oddly made, possibly a composite structure formed of vast bundles of spindle like objects set vertically together, though he is unable to say for certain. As he watches, Jaeger gets used to the view, and begins to make out finer details.
Firstly he realises that his guess about the size of the structure is spot on. It is something mountainous. He also realises that it is entirely alien. Definitely something that has entered this world from another. Finally he begins to see shoals of tiny glinting things flying around the structure; hundreds of speck like things that glitter as if reflecting light, and move in vast clouds.
As to what is causing the heat haze, and from where the strange sounds are coming, the assassin cannot say. It is – ignoring the fact that local dimensional effects could be influencing them – impossible that that sounds could be carrying over this great distance from the spire, and so, he concludes, something born of it is far nearer than the structure itself.
Having gathered all the information he feels the party needs, he starts to head back towards them.
15:16 – 15:20 – Jaeger meets up with his companions and relays all that he has discovered. “Something terrible has entered this world.” He begins grimly, “And I don't think we can do much about it. I think we need to head around it.”
Several members of the party agree, though Varracuda and Lia both raise their concerns about the source of the all too human screams, both still feeling very guilty about the catastrophe they helped to materialise upon the village days ago.
Eventually however, it is decided that the group shall try and skirt around the area of strangeness ahead, even though it will mean extra days of travel, and with that said, they continue on.
23:00 – 23:20 – Night has fallen with disturbing rapidity, and the party have made camp on a hummock, the assassin and barbarian working to create a dry and hidden shelter for them to rest in. Heavy fogs have risen from the stagnant waters, and the night is alive with the chirrup of insects and the songs of amphibians. To the southwest, the night seems brighter even through the cloaking fogs, through the sounds of death and devastation stopped some time ago.
Suddenly, out in the distance in the same direction, the group hear human-like cries of fear, and rapid, stumbling footfalls, awkward and desperate. Above those sounds is another; a high-pitched whining that is barely perceptible, and which causes everyone to wince at its touch. Instantly alert, the group decide to investigate, the assassin and genasai grabbing their gear, and vanishing out into the fog to try and intercept the sources of the racing footfalls.
They move through the dark like a pair of wolves, and soon manage to cut the unseen humans off, appearing before them like fiends. There are four of them; a man and woman in their mid twenties, a child of about four years age, and another child who seems a couple of years older than the first. All are clearly exhausted and near to collapse, and are filled with primal terror. At sight of the pair, they scream, slipping into the mud, the children too exhausted to cry, before scrabbling to their feet, weakly slapping at the two adventurers and tearing off in another direction into the marsh's embrace.
Jaeger winces, something about the four striking a chord within him. “head back to the others,” He whispers to Varracuda, “I'm going to find out what they are running from.”
Following the source of the painful whine, the assassin slips through the darkness, whilst the genasai, able to move over the waters of the bog without hindrance, goes to alert the rest of the party to his intentions. At first Jaeger - to whom the night is bright with a spectrum of shadowy hues, his alien eyes able to see clearly in the darkness, though the fog hampers him still – can see nothing but the damnable reeds, and the fog. Then, suddenly, he spots amorphous patches of colourless light in the skies ahead; at first it is a homogeneous blur of luminosity. However, within moments it resolves itself into six distinct forms.
Crouching down, the assassin despairs as he hears the fleeing humans cry out nearby, having clearly run in a great circle in their blind panic, and with this sound, the blurring lights begin to move with purpose, their strange forms becoming clear as they near his position.
All of them are composed of something that seems simultaneously have the properties of light and a solid. Each is quite beautiful, being a luminous, mathematically perfect polygon, which shines with the brittle, strange light, hovering without apparent means or effort. Most of them are about the size of a dundorin, whilst one, is three times the size of a man, and the assassin can suddenly taste burnt metal as they near his position. All of them are surrounded by orbiting structures, which whirr and flicker as they spin around; razor edged crescents, bundles of shimmering, needle like things, or hooked, blade like constructs, and as they gain on the fleeing humans, these objects begin to lock into place with a metallic snap, leaving the shade in no doubt as to their deadly purpose.
To the assassin's north, he can hear the group charging through the bog, and he spots the lead thing – the massive one – suddenly stop, its hooked blades snapping round to face the parties approach.
“This is stupid, but.”
Jaeger, unseen by the things, suddenly stands up, and shoots the massive entity with a well placed bolt, the shadowed quarrel scratching a fine silvery line in its strange surface. Apparently confused, the massive entity and its companions stop their advance, giving Jaeger a chance to unleash more attacks, his shade magic wreathing several of them in a scarring wave of shadow-duplicate bolts. He then snaps off another bolt at the larger being, scouring another line into its exterior.
Still far behind the lone assassin, the rest of the group pound their way through the sucking mire to catch up, and arrive just in time to see him dodge a violent spray of force projectiles, fired from the entities with the needle-like bundles.
“What the hell are they?” Wonders Varracuda out loud.
“Who cares!” Grunts Shnecke, hefting his axe, “Let's kill em all!”
The battle is not an easy one, as these strange entities are both resilient and evasive. Their attacks tend to favour invisible fields of force, which contuse and bind those they strike, hampering their movements, whilst brutally crushing them. The monsters also (save one that Grigori brings to ground with a powerful proclamation of logic), remain airborne, out of reach of many of the parties normal attacks. However, combining their efforts, and drawing upon their manifold talents, the party manage to bring all but one of the strange things down; the lone survivor hurtling high into the fogs above before any harm can be visited upon it, the fallen vanishing in a burst of teleportive magics – each one causing a local air tremor as the planar fabric responds to its manipulation.
Of especial note in this battle is the psychic bastion summoned by the ardent, which created a ghostly psionic tower around the group, hardening their will and their bodies against the attacks of the aliens, and saving them time after time from their attacks. Jaeger also draws some remarks, having shown something akin to a human side in his sudden defence of the fleeing mortals, and more than a few wonder what this can possibly mean.
23:21 – 23:30 - “We need to know what's going on.” Mutters the assassin, his form miraculously unharmed during the battle. “We need to catch up with those mortals.”
“But you don't speak the language?” Protests Lia.
Varracuda steps forth, limping, his wounds from the battle mostly restored thanks to Lia's psychic and Grigori's divine manipulations, though livid new scars are apparent across his upper body, his once fine armour badly torn and filthy.
“The people of this land are hugely fearful of the native spirits are they not?” wonders Jaeger aloud, “Could you Varracuda, not appear before them as a bog spirit, and cow them into compliance?”
The genasai shrugs.
“Well, it's worth a try. Lia, give us those spare rations you have, we don't need them, and Varracuda, get ready to run with me. Let's try and find out what they know.”
Soon the pair are once again tearing as fast as they dare through the reeds, fog and bogland, their keen senses reaching out, listening for the panicked humans. It does not take them long to find them, and less time to catch up to them, for by this point they are almost at the point of collapse. Varracuda scouts a little ahead, and waits for them to approach, whilst Jaeger lurks nearby, keeping watch over his ally.
The humans, sobbing and retching with exhaustion and terror, soon stumble towards the swordmage, their gasps and hard, ragged breathing deafening in the black stillness of the bog. When they are close enough to see through the stalks of the bog grasses, Varracuda cracks a sunrod, the bloodless, alchemical light from it throwing back the darkness in a shifting globe of golden-green light, the shadows of the reeds forming dancing spokes of darkness through the illuminated vapours.
(In Low Yassan) “Hold mortals! Who are you that wanders my realm uninvited and with no care? Show respect, and bow your head to me, the spirit who guards this place!”
Shocked and beyond rational thought, the four humans simply freeze, their eyes wide and bright with stark terror, their golden skin pale and ashen.
“Speak mortals, unless you would have me drown you in my bottomless bogs, or have my swarming hosts drain you of life!”
Still struggling to process what all this means, the adult male staggers a few steps forwards, falls to his knees, and bows before the genasai. When he speaks, it is in a raw, sobbing voice.
“Please mighty spirit, have mercy on me and my family, and accept our humblest apologies for trespassing in your realm without making the correct sacrifices! We flee a catastrophe that has befallen our town and many others. Have mercy powerful and mighty Lord!”
“A catastrophe? What manner of catastrophe could be so terrible that you would forget your sacred duties to the guardians, and trespass in my realm?”
“Please,” chokes the man, his hands held high in supplication, “The sky has brought forth daemons of strange and terrible power. A great citadel has appeared in the once fertile south lands, and from it have poured swarms of strange things that burn all in their path with magic, and...and...”
The man struggles, the last of his strength seeming to leave him. His family sink to the ground, their own horror finally catching up to them, shivering in the dark at the memories they hold.
“And what mortal? Speak up! I grow bored and angry!” (Jaeger notes that Varracuda is struggling to keep up the charade of an angry spirit, obviously moved by the fleeing villager's plight).
The man's jaw clenches, and he locks his gaze with Varracuda's, his eyes bright with tears.
“They...dismantled...everything alive that they came across. Cattle, men, women, trees, fish, all of them stripped from flesh to marrow, and carried away back to the tower. They took pinches of soil and leaf, and drained waters, and took it all back. For what purposes I know not. We fled. Our respected elders too...too...”
“Enough.” Says Varracuda softly, allowing all pretence of anger to fade, “Your actions here lack neither honour or hold any malice, and I welcome you to these realms. Here, take this food that you may survive, and rest here tonight, knowing that I shall watch over you and yours.”
The genasai gives the man the rations, and then picks up the sunrod. He smiles at the family, his own eyes stinging with tears, and then pockets the rod, stepping back into the sudden, heavy blackness that engulfs them all.