16/5/51 – 07:00 – 19/5/51 – 06:00
After spending some time simply gathering their wits, and allowing their relief to flow through them, the group set about resting. The air in the chamber grows murky with dust as the collapses continue, the dull rumble of falling masonry echoing in the vast chambers vaults. A fitful, haunted sleep takes them, and when they awaken they do so to bitter cold, the portal having allowed the thin, high-altitude air from the other side into the chamber, covering everything near it in a thin veneer of ice.
Time has allowed their bruises and wounds to fully emerge, and everyone looks absolutely battered. They feel worse; their bodies aching, their throats sore and their heads pounding. There is some distress also as each finds a spidery patch of shadow under their skin, that subtly shifts like some swaying sea creature – some kind of taint left over from their exposure to the darkness that filled this place – though Ormid senses power within them that could possibly be tapped if needed.
A sparse breakfast is taken, the food gritty with the airborne dust, and plans are drawn up. For comfort, the portal is deactivated, the darkness of the place rolling in instantly – though it is, at least, a natural darkness, and not the haunted, oily dark that Maelphazan and his ilk sowed here.
The first thing the group do is look for a way out. Four tunnels lead from this area – the southern being the one they emerged from. A quick look at the Northern tunnel shows it to be hopelessly collapsed; tons of rock having dropped down once the supporting shadows were banished. Even the Veteran is loathe to consider trying to tunnel through the mess, the memories of the souther tunnel's collapse still clear in his mind.
The eastern tunnel however shows promise, for at its end rise a flight of crumbling stone stairs, which seem to breathe the faintest of bone dry breezes. However, between the group and the stairs coil botryoidal masses of some strange, utterly black crystal, which glints in a way unlike anything the group have seen before – for instead of reflecting light, it seems to reflect darkness, sending tiny motes of utter blackness dancing through the air. They hang as lumpy stalactites, writhe like fungus across the corridors walls and ceiling, and lie in tangled root-like masses across the floor. Ormid senses potent coils of shadow energy within them, and realises that they are unrefined masses of Tenebrium; an incredibly rare mineral formed from crystallised darkness, which, if properly refined, can be used to augment the abilities of weapons, implements and armours – though he has no idea how to do this.
He explains to the group that this stuff is highly unstable, especially outside of its normal nocturnal environs, and tells the about its properties. It is quickly decided that such a resource cannot be ignored, and so, a plan is hatched.
Shortly afterwards, and the group are in Lorehaven, in Ormid's humble dwelling (not his Meister's tower), the fire blazing brightly, the day dawning cold and bright outside. Hoping to have arrived unseen, the group are a little perturbed when there comes a furtive knocking at the front door only ten minutes later, Llewellyn recognising the cadence of one of the Procurer's secret knocks.
The source of the knocking is a harassed looking young human that Llewellyn identifies as Aedred Vallesk – a lieutenant in the Procurer's Guild. On seeing the vyrleen, he immediately begins to speak in a rush, his face pale, his hands wringing...
“Where the hell have you been? Word's got out that you are gone, and every major guild in the Thirteen Cities has made it their business to try and make a move on us! I mean...”
He stops, his concerns suddenly quenched as he takes in the potent beings around him – and the group suddenly realise the increasing gap between them and normal folk, for they are hugely changed by their adventures, and now radiate a quiet aura of presence and power that to normal folks is deeply unnerving. Ormid also realises that they are, somehow bigger, even the vyrleen, who has probably put on about a foot in height over the course of his adventures. He suddenly feels a little sorry for the mortal rogue before them.
“You've got some balls young man, coming here talking to me like that.” Snarls Llewellyn, his eyes narrowing, “But,” he continues, suddenly beaming, “That's not entirely a bad thing. Shows, you know, err, balls! Continue!”
He does, telling the group that the Procurer's Guild's bloody war of unification had been noted by several major guilds in the nearest 13 cities, the most powerful being the “Grey Men” of Latram, the “Silent Hands” of nascent Tull'Norak, and the “Tanners and Knife Sharpener's Guild” of Alaz'Cellinthar. The Procurer's have found a number of spies amongst them recently from these organisations, and the general rumbles on the underground grapevine are that one or several of these potent guilds may make a move to take over their operation.
This raises the question of why, and with some reluctance, Aedred reveals that a number of high-ranking captains in the Procurer's guild have been openly daring the other guilds to attack, confident their with their leader and his “City Killer” allies, any attack would be thwarted. This has cowed some of the less powerful guilds, but riled those with their own deadly leaders, and as such, things are looking grim for the newly expanded Lorehaven cabal.
Llewellyn puffs up his chest, and begins to talk in what he hopes is an authoritative voice, turning to his allies, and asking grandly, “What are we to do brothers?”
The Veteran suggests a calm approach; canvassing the leaders of the other guilds, and putting them at ease. He argues that they do not have time to get involved in a pointless war of expansion, and encourages Llewellyn and Aedred to consider the wider implications for them, and the people of Lorehaven, if such a struggle erupted. However, Llewellyn decides on a less subtle approach, and instructs Aedred to send word to the guild that any spies from other guilds are to be skinned, and returned to their bases with a simple message - “Leave us alone, or share their fate.”
The Veteran slaps his hand over his face in consternation, whilst Llewellyn beams at his bloody plan.
Aedred raises the issue of what to do in an emergency, and Ormid agrees to create a pair of enchanted items that will enable the Procurer's to contact the group. However, he quickly realises that without the necessary schematics to construct such an item, he is unable to do so.
“Ah well, I need to access the Great Library anyway if I am going to find some way of refining Tenebrium, so I may be able to find something there”.
Over the next couple of days, the group take care of their separate issues. Llewellyn spends time at his school, looking at the recruits to the guild, and keeping an eye open for anyone amongst his own supposed allies that could be double agents working for one of the enemy guilds. The Veteran, accompanied by Ferrous, spends time in the Map House of the Great Library, his demands sending terrified scholars running to and fro searching for the charts he requests.
His work is geared towards studying the region around his fortress, for he plans, sooner or later, to fully rebuild it. He also reads up about the Vulgol'Gigorim of the region, more than a little aware that Skrung, the “King of the East Mountains” has sworn to take back his fortress for his own people, and to punish those that cast his kin from their homes.
If he could smile, he would, the thought of the battles to come warming him within.
Ormid spends an entire day, his head pounding, searching through musty tomes and dense librams of planar lore, searching for information on Tenebrium and its refinement. He finds scant reference in most works, though one Second Age wizard named Malabaster, spends several hundred pages discussing his theories on its formation, the long term effects of exposure to its energies, and the dangers natural growths present (it is highly unstable, and capable of unleashing a toxic blast of shadow energy if disturbed).
Frustrated, the artificer almost gives up his search, until he notices something odd about the way the lettering is arranged on the pages of the ancient book. Looking around to make sure no one is watching, he begins to sketch, using a piece of charcoal, lines under certain sigils, and to his delight, realises that ancient Malabaster has used a complex code to hide some kind of magical formulae through his apparently mundane writings.
Energised, he sets about turning his mind to deciphering the coded lines, and although it takes him many hours to do so, his back aching from leaning over the book for so long, his head pounding from staring and lack of water, he manages to extrapolate the entire ritual needed to refine Tenebrium into a stable, slotable state – though it is expensive to do.
Weary but pleased, he makes his way back home, where he finds his companions already settled in for the night.
The next day Ormid wakes early and leaves for the Great Library. There he gains permission to access the magical formulae and schematics needed to create a pair of linked items, that will allow communication between the Procurers and the group. This takes him most of the day, though the end results are well worth it; a ring for the guild, and a component that the artificer attaches to his oversized battlefist.
Early the next morning (the 18th), the group return to the sullen silence and choking darkness of the dead school. Carefully approaching the Tenebrium, Ormid and Llewellyn work together to carefully free several chunks of the nasty, unstable stuff. They do with this surprising ease, the rogues fingers numb from prolonged contact with the strange mineral. With the stone freed, Ormid makes a clear area a little way up the tunnel, away from the rest of the deposits, and soon begins the five hour long ritual that will stabilize and refine the chunks.
During this time the rest of the group stand silent guard, watching as Ormid mumbles and sways, inscribing runes in spirals around the chunks, and sprinkling glittering drifts of residuum over them. The air flickers and warps at times as he draws on the ambient magics of the area to augment his castings, and each adventurer feels the movement of Tssel nearby, drawn it seems to watch her former allies in their work.
Suddenly, as the artificer gasps the final phrases of the spell, the two chunks shift as if tapped by an unseen hand, and their surfaces become vaguely shiny, like haematite viewed through ink, a deep purple nimbus seeming to ooze from them like oil and light. A warped POP of energy briefly sounds from above them, and lathed in sweat, trembling with joy, Ormid informs his allies that the pieces are ready for slotting!
With this done, there is one more thing to be taken care of. Returning to Lorehaven, Ormid works to add a slot to Llewellyn's armour, and the Veteran's deadly axe, into which he inserts the newly refined Tenebrium. At once, the warforged's axe changes, the normally brilliant flames turning a deep indigo and purple, whilst Llewellyn's armour darkens and shifts, a strange play of constantly changing shadows now visible within its material.
This work takes most of the remainder of the day, during which the warforged, vyrleen and homunculus amuse themselves as best they can. However, when presented with their newly augmented items everyone agrees that the day has been far from wasted.
That night the group enjoy a meal in the comfort of Ormid's town house, and luxuriate in the simple joy of its bed and sofa, knowing only too well that they will all too soon be once more thrust into the depths of peril – for they still have a Dracane to find and slay...
19/5/51: 08:25 – The stairs lie at the end of the Tenebrium choked corridor, tantalisingly close, but so far away.
“We could try carefully picking our way towards them.” Ventures Llewellyn, dutifully ignoring the incredulous glare of the artificer and metallic snort of the warforged.
“Or,” replies Ormid, “we could take advantage of the shadow marks we gained after our exposure here.”
Everyone looks at him, reluctant to tap into the darkness that now nestles within each of them – a power that last night Ormid discovered allows them to briefly become a thing of living shadow; insubstantial, dark and able to pass unheard through solid objects. However, the artificer merely shrugs, the reality of the situation clear for all to see – it's that or trying to get through the field of Tenebrium without Vetters setting the lot off...
08:26 – 08:27: Each adventurer spends a moment allowing the cold point of their shadow mark to expand, shrouding them entirely in its gloomy embrace. Each feels a strange sensation of being plunged into cold darkness as their bodies become air-real; floating things of darkness, less solid than a whisper.
Trying not to think too much about the oddness of it all, each wills themselves towards the solid stone walls of the tunnel, through its surface, and into it. This is deeply unusual for them, for they are vaguely aware of the solid, dusty stone sliding bluntly through them as the move. However, they waste no time thinking about this, and instead push blindly ahead, for none wish to find out what happens if they become solid once more whilst within the stone's embrace. After an eternity of sliding forwards (hampered somewhat by strands of Tenebrium that have grown within the stone, which remain somehow solid to the insubstantial, phasing adventurers) they emerge from the walls by the stairs, safely beyond the destructive grasp of the shadow stone.
“Well...” Gasps Llewellyn as he stumbles from the wall, “That was...weird.”
08:28 – 09:40: The group can see that a pile of rubble blocks the stairs – a cruel joke given that they can also see faint lines of light creeping around the chunks of rock.
“I could burrow through it?” Suggest the Veteran.
“Nah.” Mumbles Ormid thoughtfully, “Too much risk of a collapse, that could set off the Tenebrium below. We're just going to have to clear the way manually.”
The group set about carefully removing the rocks that crowd above them, each one allowing a little more distant, hard light into the stairwell. This is accompanied by a growing breeze, already oven hot and dry, which carries on it the dead scent of baking sand, salt and heat hazes. After over an hour of delicate manipulation, the collapse has been removed, and the group finally enter the dead city of Tammatuli.
09:41 – 09:54: The group find themselves within the shattered shell of a once spectacular domed building, its floor a sea of wind driven sand, punctuated by massive chunks of dusty, eroded masonry. Outside, the city spreads away in glorious decay; shimmering like a phantasm in the heat haze, its ancient splendour almost swallowed by white dunes and thorny scrub. The horizon ahead is dominated by a huge domed building, at least a mile across, that is sinking into itself; its entire structure tilted to the side, the upper tiers even more so, where they slowly tumble into the belly of the lower levels. Mirages pool around it, and the group realise that if the Blue Lord's lair lies anywhere, it is within its impressive edifice.
The rest of the city is equally dilapidated, home to hyenas, cacti and reptiles. It is clear to see where huge sections of it fell into the ravines during the age of loss, creating great spaces in the sinking, sandy skyline.
“I reckon it'll take us an hour or so to reach that place.” Sniffs Llewellyn.
“Or I could just conjure some mounts, and we could be there is a fraction of the time.” Replies Ormid, already drawing forth the components needed to enact the ritual.
09:55 – 10:10: The group are a blur in the crushing heat as they flash through the sand choked streets of dead Tammatuli. At one point they startle a number of diseased looking Gnarrak, who are busily consuming one of their own kind, the hyena headed humanoids howling and snapping in fury at the interruption. However, they are gone long before the monsters can attack, sweeping ever closer to the gigantic ruin before them, the darkness between its hundreds of crumbling columns beckoning them like a siren's call.
10:11 – 10:17: The group dismount outside of the nearest entrance to the huge building, the low song of wind and ruins moaning from its black innards. Small ghosts of dust rise and fall in grey clouds within the ruin, and the place emanates a sense of utter emptiness and...
Was that movement?
Llewellyn's sensitive ears pick something up, and Ormid also gets the impression of stealthy movement somewhere ahead and to the side, just where the darkness stains the daylight.
Again, a stealthy adjustment...
Ormid opens his senses, and is puzzled by the strange lack of magical energies ahead. At the same time Llewellyn tries an old trick he learned as an apprentice thief, looking out the corner of his eye whilst telling himself there is nothing to see. He is probably more surprised than anyone else when this works, the illusion covering the way ahead fading to reveal no less than six warriors – one of whom makes direct eye contact with the rogue and seems shocked to see recognition in his eyes.
“ANGEL!” Yells Llewellyn, his mace seeming to appear by magic in his hands.
“What? Where?” Blusters Ormid.
The Vacancy spell collapses, and suddenly all can see the warriors before them, their leader a being of perfect beauty, mantled in powerful armour inscribed with prayers of light, his skin pale silver.
“An Aenochian!” Breathes Ormid.
The half-blood speaks, his voice like thunder tempered by steel. “You seek to slay Exaxedreithion? I cannot, and will not allow it, for the Dracane is the lock that holds at bay a greater evil!”
The group look at each other, rather surprised at the statement.
“We are the Sealed Rune. Turn around, or perish.”