Phantasmagoria - Chapter 1 by Steve
The nights are definitely getting cooler. The blaze in the firepit is no longer for just light and cheer. Kelloran, Stone and Thomas have pulled up benches and chairs close to the flames and are enjoying the evening.
Earlier that day Thomas had been gathering alchemical supplies and discovered a barrel of stout ale hidden within a hollowed out tree. He pulled the barrel out and to his surprise a second barrel appeared. He gave the second cask a pull but it would not budge for him. Stone was just down the hill from where he was. There was some sort a weird fungus killing trees which the druid wanted to take a look at. Safety in numbers and all that.
Stone had taken some samples of the dark red mold and was just about to commune. His mind was beginning to fill with green and the voices of the trees whispered.....
"HEY STONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! COME HERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!", bellowed Thomas from the hilltop.
Sighing Stone rose and climbed the hill with fragments of the forest mind flittering about his thoughts. After checking for curses, which there were none, he lifted the second keg out of the tree. It too was magically replaced.
"Cool, huh?" said the tall crafter.
"Never seen one of these before. Think we should..." The green voice.... what had it said..... something... said ...... DANGER!!! Stone slammed an arm into Thomas's chest and drew Thorn. Knocked back, Thomas caught his foot on one of the casks and fell. Pitching over backwards saved his life. He heard a bizarre sound then felt something scream through the spot he had just been standing in. A section of the tree exploded behind him. He started to roll to his feet, quickly assessing the situation. Stone was charging towards a pair of goblins but off to his right another goblin was bringing a weapon to bear on him. It looked like a crossbow but massive and mal-formed. Thomas ripped a fist sized stone from the ground and hurled it. The rock struck the goblin in the shoulder ricocheting to graze its skull. The bolt shot from the crossbow awry enough to miss Stone. Splinters were blasted from a pine a few feet ahead of the druid. The sharp fragments cut his arms and face throwing off his balance. Before his foes could decide between attacking and fleeing a huge crack reported from behind Thomas. The far goblin cried out a warning and bolted, followed by the two others.
"OH SHIT!!!" swore the two adventurers in concert.
Having lost a large section of trunk to the first bolt, the hollowed tree was coming down. FAST! Another crack sounded and the canopy began to twist. Thomas gave the two overturned kegs a shove towards the hill and then leapt down it himself. If they made it great but avoiding getting flattened was a somewhat higher priority. Stone glanced up, made a quick choice of direction and bounded down the hill after Thomas.
The top of the big old tree ripped branched from its neighbors, hurling them in all directions. Both Stone and Thomas were nearly impaled a number of times. Finally the tearing sounds ended with a deafening crash. As the rustling quieted the sound of the retreating goblins cackling with glee reached the two men.
"Gods I hate those vermin!!" Stone swore.
"Where the hell did they get those crossbows? Probably takes a dozen of the little shits to load one."
"Maybe. Did you see how misshapen they were? They looked more like they were grown than carved. Arboleth made them. Good chance they are blessed by the old DemonTree. They definitely are way stronger than anything that slip-shod looking should be. He might have made them easier to reload too. We need to warn the others. Those things could tear a limb off. Simple healings won't help that."
Thomas looked up the hill and to his surprise saw the kegs had not rolled far enough to gain speed and split open against a tree but far enough from the fallen tree to escape.
So after a day like that, evening finds the two sitting by the fire. Thomas' keg turned out to be mead not stout as he first thought. Stone’s, surprisingly, was a perfect hard cider. Kelloran had joined them as they returned to town, healing the cuts in Stone's cheek and arms. Feeling mellow talk turns from friends who will be wintering in FallenStar to those who have decided to travel to Dryad lands or other such places less locked down by ice and snow. Thomas has elected to stay and winter is good time to work on those long distillations. Stone still wants to uncover what the burgundy fungus is and how to stop it. Kelloran decision came from the Gods. His prayers have been interlaced lately with strange scenes. He has been working with Chells to try and resolve what they are.
"Where is Chells? I haven't seen him for weeks." Thomas remarks
"Well you won't during the day much any more. I think he has finally succumbed to batdom. Mind if I borrow a dust?"
"Sure what kind?"
"Let me just see your belt-pouch and you'll see."
Thomas shrugs and unclips his dust bag. Kelloran roots through is for a second, uncorks one and flings an orange cloud into the air.
"HEY CHELLS!!!", he calls
Chells floats into town. His shadow is just a smoky darkening as most of the moonlight passes through his spectral body. Thick black chains cover him from wrist to elbow almost like bracers.
"hEy gUys" he hails in a ghostly voice. "wHaT aRe yOu tHRee uP tO?"
"Chells. What happened? How did you die?" Stone asks dumbfounded
"He's not dead." Kelloran interjected. "I tried raising him yesterday. He has figured out a way to become a spirit and ...when was the last time you were flesh?"
"JuSt yEsTeRdAy. I cAn'T SeEm To StAy ThIs wAy iNdEfInAtElY. iT's So CoOl ThOuGh. tHeRe iS sO mUcH mOrE tO sPiRiTuAlItY aNd WiLl ThAn I hAd EvEr GuEsSeD."
"Well grab some mead or cider, pull up a dead log and join us. Kelloran was just about to tell us of his visions." Thomas quips
"vErY fUnNy." Chells replies with a phantom chuckle. He sits cross-legged about a yard off the ground. His hands shape around a tankard none of the rest of his friends can see from which he sips at times.
"Ok Kelloran. Start from the beginning." Stone prompts.
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 2 by Andrew
The fire popped and hissed as the four friends enjoyed its warm glow. Kelloran was quiet as he tried to find the words to describe the visions he had been seeing. He knew they granted to him by the Gods, but he did not know why they were occurring or what they meant. He knew that somehow it had to do with the Winds of Change and one of the scrolls recovered in the booka-stolen lore of the Library. It was the scroll about Angels.
When Kelloran was a child he, like every kid, had heard tall tales about mythic creatures like angels, giants and dragons. Growing up, he discovered that many of his childhood fairy tale beasts were in fact real. There really are goblins, fairies and trolls that roam the woodlands, but things such as angels always remained in the realm of myth. He gave the scroll little thought except for noting that it addressed the subject of angels seriously not as fictional winged babies or genderless, tranquil harp players.
Kelloran had seen many strange sights over the years but the idea of invisible, winged messengers of the Gods flitting about dispensing miracles and divine retribution seemed beyond comprehension. That is until the visions began.
On an early morning a week ago, Kelloran had stepped out of his shop to relieve himself. He had stayed up late into the night re-reading the booka-stolen scrolls. He stretched his sore neck and looked about. All the shops are dark except Thomas'. Always the early riser, the alchemist was up and chanting a dawn prayer to his newly awoken god, Allahn. Kelloran squinted as a brilliant sunray struck him, burning through the morning mist. The Restorer had startled when he realized the light was coming from the north not the east. It was not the sun but some radiant, winged-being descending from the clouds to hover above the Apothecary. It drew up the alchemist's prayer into a luminous candle and then it offered blessings upon the Candleman's faithful servant. The Templar stood dumbstruck as the winged harbinger began to ascend once more. He blinked once and light and the winged man were completely gone. Over the week, he continued to spy glimpses of these winged messengers. One swooped down to answer Chells' prayer to the Chained Goddess of Compassion. He saw another with its eyes closed in concentration, perched on the peak of the Temple's roof as Stone burned incense to purity the shrine. One roosted in the rafters of the tavern as Raith used his virtue of Justice to understand a minor case of theft that Myra had just told the him about. Kelloran expression became serious and he then he spoke again. “I can’t tell you what it means. I feel in my bones there is more for me to see. More that I’ll be shown. But right now, I really only know this… They aren’t myth. They are real. Angels are real.”
As Kelloran stopped speaking for a moment, he noticed Thomas staring into the darkness above his shop where perhaps the alchemist envisioned a messenger from his god had hovered. Chells had gone all grey and hazy, like he did when he was deep in thought, and Stone looked slowly, warily out into the shadows searching for something. The Restorer finally spoke “What do you think? ” Thomas looked happy as he replied, “I think it’s great! They are sent here to help us by our gods. Right?”
Stone was next, “I hope so. But it makes sense to me. Hell has its minions in the form of demons. Why wouldn’t Heaven, or Firmament or whatever you want to call it, have its agents? Maybe they are what make the whole spiritual cosmos work.”
Chells’ spirit face came into focus as he changed his focus to the conversation. “I think we sensed a little bit of this when we were in the Spirit Realm when the Winds of Change were blowing. Some of us found the Temperance tarot card with the winged being on it and for a moment we could sense another, higher realm, as high above the Spirit Realm as the Spirit Realm is high above the Shadowlands.”
Kelloran was quiet for a moment before he spoke “I can except the idea that every time we use the power of prayer or virtue an angel acts as the messenger of that god to grant us what we ask for or need, but I can’t figure out what is with the other ones I have seen. They are the ones that put me on edge.”
“What other ones?” was the main idea from the garbled chorus of questions from the other three.
“Oh. I guess I forgot to mention that part. There are other ones that I’ve been spotting. They are just perch in the trees or roofs and do nothing. The majority of angels I’ve seen seem to appear, do their divine duties and vanish. These others though just seem to watch and wait. Like they are waiting for something to happen and they seem… angry.”
There was a long, uncomfortable silence until Thomas finally spoke in a sarcastic tone. “Great….”
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 3 by Dave
“But my question is, why can’t anyone else but Kelloran see them?” Thomas asked.
Before the other three can answer, the wiry alchemist jumped to his feet and ran toward the door of his orderly shop. Stone, Kelloran and Chells all shrugged their shoulders collectively (well, as well as Chells could shrug any part of his body). Thomas returned a few moments later with his arms full of all kinds of components and apparatus from his building, nearly out of breath. That too surprised the remaining companions!
“Let’s see.” Thomas says to no one in particular, “If fairy balm allows you to see fairies, there must be some alternative formula that we can concoct to see Angels—right??”
He looked toward his friends for their approval, but there bewildered expressions only irked the alchemist on.
“Well—what do you think? I imagine devils food cake and deviled eggs would work the other way—but we can already see most demons. What would it take to see Angels? “
Thomas seemed lost in thought for a few moments before he exclaimed, “A feather? Would that help you see Angels? Maybe if Kelloran helped? Wait-I think we need some of Kelloran's essence!”
“Uhh..I don’t think so Thomas”, the restorer said plainly.
“No you dolt—I mean something of yours, the more personal the better. Like a piece of your hair—no matter the color at the time—or some spit or even your blood.”
“Now wait a minute. How much of my “essence” are you going to use?”
“Yeah”, Stone added, “Good thing we’re not talking about Chells here. He’s got no essence.”
Chells smiled that “ha-ha-very-funny-brother” smile that has so much more meaning that words can express. After being with these good friends for so many years, the significance of such a look was not lost on Thomas and Kelloran. They too understood it.
“Alright Kelloran,” the alchemist asked, “Let me have a few strands of hair. I’ll bet I can prepare something beneficial for the rest of us to see your heavenly spirits.”
With significant ticks of his long slender fingers, Thomas counted off the ingredients and poured them into his marble mortar: “Bee’s wax sans honey” “Powdered White Fey stick” “Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil” “Sliver of a black—no, no—green mushroom” “Essence of Kelloran”
Thomas grabbed hold of the pestle and fiercely combined the ingredients until they were a sticky, putrid colored mash. He stopped the mixing and looking toward his shop, muttered a few magical words that the other three immediately forgot.
Before their eyes the mixture shifted and swirled as if by unseen hands. The alchemist smiled at his friends surprised reactions as they had never really seen his magic up close. When the invocation was complete, Thomas lifted the small basin and poured it contents into three small glass vials he produced from one of the many pouches he wore. The amber liquid seemed to glow as he placed the stoppers on each of the alchemical containers.
Stone remarked as he eyed the concoction, “Well, at least it’s not like Fairy Balm that we have to wear!”
“I’ll try it first.” Thomas declared as he uncorked the bottle and lifted it to his lips.
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 4 by Albie
The amber liquid coursed down Thomas' throat, bitter and hot. He coughed lightly, flecks of residue sparking as they encountered the hot flames of the campfire.
"Well? Anything different?" asked the companions, each with a look of intense anticipation. Thomas surveyed the town carefully, probing the darkness around the buildings intently. Looking up into the eaves, into the sky, all seemed clear.
"Nothing...that's odd...that should have really worked..." "Maybe it takes a while to take effect. Like it takes Kelloran tons of time to see the obvious!" laughed Stone.
"Ha ha, very funny...idiots." grumbled Kelloran, trying without success to hide the laughter in his own voice.
Chells looked up thoughtfully, "What about feeling different, any sense heightened? After all, it may not be with sight that Kelloran actually "sees" them, Thomas... it may be some other way that he interprets as "sight".
"I never really thought about it like that Chells, I always assumed that I saw them with my eyes. I have seen some pretty amazing things that didn't require extra senses. We have been in the presence of the gods themselves, and while I have always tried to avert my gaze as I feel that I should, I have seen them as if they were flesh."
"Most of them were, at one time or another," said Stone.
Thomas stood up slowly, still gazing about as if he were trying to see the air in front of his face. "Maybe it's not something that the essence of Kelloran was enough bring out in the potion anyway...but the potion did activate. Normally if you put materials of non- aligning property bases in a substrate solution of personally attuned material stabilizers, with a catalyst of functions 1 to 5, with a level b gradient neutralizer or a-" Thomas stopped talking as he looked down to the stupified expressions of his friends. "I mean it swirled around and activated. I has to do something. I'll be right back, I'm going to go look something..." Thomas trailed off as he headed over to the apothecary, Kelloran, Stone and Chells all looking to one another to see if the others has the vaguest clue as to what Thomas was babbling about.
"That's why I'm no Alchemist," said Stone. "Too much damn math." "
I think I sort of followed what he said about the..." Kelloran cut off quickly as a ragged scream from Thomas' shop cut through the night. The two living companions hustled through the blackness, bursting into the shop. Chells had already materialized inside. Thomas' prone form was convulsing and vomiting over the wooden planks of his floor. Stone quickly rolled Thomas on his side, trying to stop him from choking. Kelloran ran through a quick mental checklist of ailments, but feared the worst for his friend. It didn't seem like poisoning, but a side-effect of the potion he had concocted.
Spitting what he could from his mouth, Thomas groaned, muttering "It worked. No Angels though. Potion of Kelloran Vision. Whose idea was that?"
The other three looked at each other in anticipation. "Well, what did you see?" they said almost in unison.
"I think I saw what Kelloran will see in the near future. It is a potion of vision, but not a potion of sight. Stone, you were looking into that red fungus in the woodlands right?"
"Yeah, why? And I thought you couldn't make a potion of vision..." "
What I saw was the entire forest, covered in red, but not empty, things were crawling and writhing and living there. Things not of this plane. I can't be sure, but it seemed like I was near the Altar of the Lost Gods, and was kneeling as if in prayer, but I looked down and saw my hands shaking. They were Kelloran's hands though, I recognized the Restorers Ring. When I looked back up, there was this enormous misshapen thing of claws and fangs and beaks and eyes that was rolling towards me. I tried to move, but was frozen in place. It opened a mouth, and some kind of purplish mist washed over me. I could smell the rotting putrescence that spewed forth, burning both my lungs and my eyes. Then I was here with that vileness still clinging to me. Uggh.."
"Any ideas Chells?" said Stone looking up. He paused when he saw Kelloran's ashen face. "Don't worry, Kell..."
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 5 by Andrew
The four friends went to bed with their heads filled with dreads: killer goblin crossbows, fungal blights, invisible angry divine messengers and visions of Kelloran as a demon snack at the Lost Gods Altar. It was not a restful night. The next day, they gathered for dinner. Kelloran still looked shaken. The other three worried silently as they ate.
“I had a dream. “ Kelloran finally spoke. “I don’t know if it is my dream or some divine vision, but there is a connection between the blight, the otherworldly beast Thomas saw and the unseen messengers. I think we need to start somewhere and I think it’s with the angels.”
The four looked at each other for a moment before Chells spoke. “Okay, let’s start reading.”
Many, many hour passed. Leafing through the oldest scrolls of the library, Stone, Kelloran and Chells continued to try to find out the secret of the silent angry ones and the divine Messengers. Thomas dozes in the corner. The alchemist drifted off to sleep while the other three chattered on about their own half-baked theories about who or what the unseen visitors are. Chuckling, the trio quietly buried Thomas' slumbering form in the stacks of discarded scrolls.
They had gotten into the more rare theological scrolls that discussed divine entities that hold a rank lesser than Deity. They had read all about Elder Spirits such as the Telltales, the Damned Musician and the Gatekeeper and muse agents like the Wild Huntsman and the Crier of Fate's Warning. They all decided that none of these descriptions fit the Messengers but there was no lore about Angels in the Fallenstar Library. The three friends skimmed through more scrolls and cracked-wise about where Rowan hid the scrolls on angels before she vanished.
A sudden rustle of cascading scrolls startled them as Thomas arose from his plot-induced stupor.
''You guys suck." he muttered as he swiped off the last of the clinging scrolls. ''So why don't I just cast Limited Retrocog to see where the angel scrolls were last seen?"
Kelloran thought for a moment. ''That's actually a good idea Thomas."
"Go back to sleep Thomas and think up something else." Stone quipped.
"JuSt CaSt ThE sPeLL ThOmAs." Chells retorted in that ghostly voice he gets when he is tired or transitioning between life and death.
The drowsy alchemist took a moment to clear his head before casting his spell. In his mind's eye, Thomas saw a window to the past open and he directed the spell to show this window to be visible to all present. A templar in monastic robes sits in a dark cloister amongst stacks of religions texts and scrolls. Two scrolls rest on the desk. The monk seems to be transcribing the information onto a third partially finished scroll. The script and style are identical but the text appears to be different. Thomas can only make out the two titles; one scroll reads The Nine Orders and the second scroll is titled The Twelve Orders. The vision faded. The four friends looked at each other in bewilderment.
"Okay, what the hells was that?" Stone asked. "Got me." Kelloran replied.
Obviously, not wanting to admit he had wasted a spell Thomas focused on the spot where the vision had flickered into, and then out of, existance. "Did you guys recognize the priest that?"
Chells' blurred for a moment as he searched his memory. "NoPe. NeVeR sEEn hIm BeFoRe."
"The monk's cell looked really old. Maybe he is from the Great School?" Stone theorized.
Kelloran shook his head as he swiftly did the math of the spells time scope and Thomas' level of power. "Too long ago. Thomas can't see much more than 200 years into the past."
Thomas nodded his head. "I can feel that it wasn't long ago at all; just a few months at most. This is current events not ancient history."
"So who the hells is he and why did we see him when we are trying to find the library's angel scrolls?" Stone inquired clearly intrigued but evidently stumped. ''LeT's FiNd OuT." Chells proposed.
In short order, spells were cast, spirits were interviewed, skills were applied and patron deities were beseeched. An hour later the four reconvened in the tavern. Thomas poured himself a Ymir Ice Ale. Stone sipped cider and tossed darts through the disencorporated Chells. The spirit-believer floated cross-legged above the ground, while Kelloran spoke. The Restorer absent-mindedly fiddled with his extremely rough-hewn Staff of the Templar.
"I brought this to help awaken Sinjinkin. Of course, he would recognize the staff of his brethren."
Tossing another dart through Chells' phantom sternum, Stone cracked-wise. "The thing looks like it lost the fight with a deranged beaver."
Chuckling, Kelloran considered the wood-carved staff and continued. "Its not pretty but it is potent. Anyways, Sinjinkin woke up from his sleep of the dead and he started talking and talking and talking about angels. Seems like there is about a billion opinions as to who or what angels are, their powers, their organization and their very nature. Some say, angels were the gods chosen beings until the creation of Mortals who possess free will. A few just look at than as over-grown other- dimensional fairies, but it’s not a popular opinion. Sinjinkin droned on and on about the different orders of angels. Some scriptures mention only two ranks in the heavens: Angels and Archangels. Other holy texts mention Seven Orders, some talk about nine ranks of angels and still others mention Twelve Orders. There are Thrones, Dominions, and a whole bunch of other types of angels. In short, despite hundreds of years of scriptural references to divine messengers the Templars know officially jack about angels."
Chells spoke next. "WhILe you woke up sInJiNKin, I..."
"Dude, what the hell did you say? I can't understand you. It sounds like you are in an echo chamber." Thomas interrupted.
Chells cleared his throat and spat out a gob of ectoplasm.
Ew!" he said, his voice now sounding more human. "As I was saying, while Kelloran woke up Sinjinkin, I tried to rouse Hergyn. Once I finally got the old bat up, he was surprisingly lucid. He covered a lot of ground as usual but the main thing I pulled from his musings were angels are aligned to air. Not sure what that had to do with anything but then we switch to the scrolls. There he became a lot more useful . He said that the two scrolls we saw weren't the same. One is a deliberately flawed counterfeit of the other. The monk was mis-scribing the original for sense reason but I can't think of why someone would do that. What did you two figure out?"
Thomas spoke first. "I tried to figure out where the scrolls were, so I hiked up to Candlewood and prayed to Allahn. It was so great to light the candles and stared into the flames as I recited the old ritual. I lay down in the grass and looked up at the stars. Then I heard his voice and he said the scrolls lie with the False Brotherhood."
"Who are they?" Kelloran inquired.
"My divine intercession was even more cryptic." Stone commented. "I tried to commune with the Phoenix to find the key to the missing scrolls I pumped all my prayer mana into the spell and the only thing I got from a fourth tier spell was a cryptic clue. Luckily, it wasn't in the form of a rhyming riddle. It was one word 'apocrypha.' Whatever that means."
"It means bogus or non-canonical writings. Things outside the agreed upon holy scriptures of the Templar.” Kelloran recited.
“Someone was paying attention in Sun’s Day school.” Thomas smirked.
“No, I just like obscure lore so I’m drawn to apocrypha more than the standard scripture.” The Restorer replied.
Growing mildly frustrated, Stone asked. “So my Bocu, fourth tier divine message helps us out exactly how?”
They were all silent for a moment. Kelloran closed his eyes and concentrated and then looked startled for a moment. He looked around the room as if something in the shadows would suddenly appear. He turned back to the others and spoke. “I think I got something. Virtue-wise, I have a strong bond to Truth and …”
“Me too.” Stone interjected.
“Me too.” Thomas concurred.
Chells shook his head. “Love lore but Truth is not my Virtue now Spiritu…”
“It’s a capital A!” Kelloran blurted clearly excited about his epiphany and miffed at his friends’ side-tracking.
“What’s a capital A?” Chells asked.
“Its Apocrypha with a capital A not apocrypha lower case! It’s a person place or thing!” The Restorer exclaimed.
The truth crept into Stone’s head. “Oh… Dawn. I guess I need the flaming pigeon to write shit out for me not just whisper it in my ear.”
Thomas already had his eyes closed and was deep in silent prayer when a scroll appeared from thin air and drifted down to the tavern’s floor.
“Cool! It never did that before. I used my Truth Boons and Know Lore spell to find out about Apocrypha. Since it is a person or thing the spell worked but it also made a real scroll pop out!”
“Read it!” The other three said in impatient unison.
In his booming voice Thomas read aloud from the mysterious scroll:
His nom de plume is Apocrypha and it is only as Apocrypha that he has any real significance. His real name is unimportant, for he is an unimportant man. In his everyday life, he is an insignificant and nearly unknown research librarian of the Scribes Guild. His unceasing task is to scour through old, moldering texts searching for canonical or historical inaccuracies. Everyday, he reads, rereads and then compares and contrasts a dozen or so texts. He weighs the author’s reputation, merits and schooling, the sources of information, and their past record of embellishments to decide what is true, what is untrue and was is blatant fraud. After two decades of unwavering and unrewarded diligence, the absurdity of his chosen profession finally dawned upon him. One can’t search for truth like panning for gold. It’s all subjective speculation and perception. No one can tell you exactly who started a war and why. They can just tell you a war occurred. Years of maddening hair splitting and fact finding, led this inconsequential librarian to begin to fabricate inaccuracies out of boredom. Some of his frauds were so well crafted that they were never detected as counterfeit but instead were accepted as part of the historical canon. The lowly scribe found creating false religious doctrine, apocrypha, to be the most challenging and rewarding.
Eventually, his skills at forgery and fabrication drew forth the attentions of the Cult of the Deceivers, the conclave of the once-demon Cinder. The Deceivers are a minor cult compared to the insidious Cult of the Dead, the merciless Cult of the Pentacle, or the secretive Cult of Darkness, but their flair for high-brow deception and undermining the linchpins of society’s “Truths” greatly appealed to the anonymous scribe. He took the cult-name of Apocrypha, his favorite flavor of ruse.
Kelloran groaned. “We have to take on the damned Cult of the Deceivers just to get a frickin’ straight answer! This sucks!”
Chells replied. “Maybe we are approaching this from the wrong angle. Maybe we don’t need that lore or to fight the Deceivers to get it. Maybe there is another way to deal with all this weird shit collectively or as separate issues. “
Clearly discouraged, Kelloran responded “Maybe.”
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 6 by Steve
"Look at it this way Kell. While the angel lore would be a boon it is not the only lead we've got. What did you say about your dream again?"
"The red spores and the demon at the Lost God Altar were connected," replied Kelloran dejectedly.
"What if the fungus and the Angels were connected too?" the ghost posed.
Stone shot Chells a quizzical look. "How did you come to that conclusion?"
"Actually it is more of a hunch. They feel connected I'm not sure how yet though."
"What about the goblin’s. Those crossbows part of this too?" Thomas asked.
"I don't know. Honestly I could be dead wrong. Like I said is just a gut feeling. Even so it is something we need to address, maybe even more so than the angels, connection or not. Here is my thought each of us spend the tomorrow trying to figure out what this mold is. Stone take the natural plane. See what communes will tell us. I'll try the same thing from the spiritual side."
"What have spirit to do with this?"
"I'm not sure yet and I don't think spirits themselves are really an issue. I'll tell you what I find tomorrow."
"Well my job is obvious." remarked the tall alchemist. "I have plenty of mold samples already. I'm sure I can scrounge up some more from under Stones bed too if need be."
"Very funny, Thomas."
"Seriously though. I'll see how this red stuff reacts to the basic alchemical processes and compare that to normal fungi reactions."
Kelloran pondered for bit but he could not shake the thought of crossing paths with a demon cult not to mention whatever awaited him at the Altar of the Lost Gods. “What about me?"
Stone sat back down after retrieving the darts for the fourth time. "You get the Gods. Thomas, Chells and I all have strong ties to a number of specific Gods but unless these angels are associated to one of them you have best chance to sense it. If these angels really are some sort of divine servants then maybe we can find out who they belong to."
With that the group broke for the night. Thomas polished off his mead as Kelloran doused the torches. Chells simply faded away while Stone retrieved the Apocrypha scroll for the library.
The day dawned thankfully on a sunny and only somewhat chilly morning. Thomas decided to see if he could not find a fresh farie mushroom as well as grab himself several samples of the red mold. He shifted his shoulders a number of times to make sure none of the boxes and jars clinked or shifted much. No sense gathering samples with broken containers. Satisfied that all was secure, he set off towards the white woods and the forest beyond. Taking the bridge seemed like a good way to give any goblin watching town a clean shot. Once past the Woodland Altar Thomas spotted the dark scarlet blotches on a the hillside. He took a few specimens from here, marking them so he could compare them with any found else in the woods. He crisscrossed the steep slope and the Woodland Loop looking for the fey sticks that would lead him to a farie ring. So far no luck. About half way through the Loop all signs of the red fungus stopped so Thomas took another pair of samples from this far edge of the contamination.
Just as he was packing up, an insect bit him sharply on the cheek. "Damn it." he swore. The bite throbbed and the alchemist wondered if it had been a sting rather than a bite. When another sharp pain lanced into the knuckle of his left hand. Thomas grabbed his gear and bolted. "Fucking Nest!!!!!" His foggy breath billowed back from him as he put as much distance as he could from the spot of attack. "Wait a minute...I can see my breath. There was frost on the ground this morning. What insect would but out today." Stopping to look back Thomas saw a swarm flowing towards him. It flashed through the sunlight falling brightly through the leafless wood. Yet instead of the black of wasps or yellow of bees this shifting mass lit up with a deep crimson. "Ohhhhh SHIT!" Considering how much pain the lanky crafter was in from the two stings, he had no doubt the swarm was lethal. Any other of the Favored of FallenStar would have been engulfed in moments. By Kismet's grace, it was Thomas they were chasing.
Slipping his pack from his shoulder he pitched it lighting into the softest drift of leaves he saw before lengthening his stride. He knew this would tire him more quickly but if did not gain some distance between himself and his pursuers all it would take is one trip and he would be done for. On top of that he could either gamble one taking the hill at full speed or slow to a safe speed and loose ground. Thomas figured he could rest when he reached safety. Running full tilt he approached the steep slope and shed just enough momentum to sprint along the incline rather than straight down it. A lance of agony speared his shoulder but then Thomas hit the road and pulled ahead once more. "Woodland Altar is closer," he though. "but aren't these things corrupted woodland creatures? If the still attack at the Altar, there is no way I’ll make it up those stairs." He turned slightly crossing the shallower rise to Melcynda's glade. "It's further but even if they cross into the peace I could make it to the altar in two or three bounds. If neither of theses stop them....." Thomas shoved that thought way and flew into the blessed clearing. He spun, ready to change directions and run once more if needed. The red swarm rushed at him but as it hit the open glade it exploded in a silent cloud of crimson dust.
Flopping down on the grass Thomas closed his eyes and caught his breath. "That could have been really bad." Even though he had slept well the night before, napping was something Thomas did just as well as sprinting. Opening his eyes what seemed like a minute later showed the sun had risen far more than he had expected. He guessed it to be just shy of noon but that realization paled when he noticed the sharp pain of the stings were gone. "Thank you Melcynda" he whispered with a smile. Cautiously he headed back the way he had come. He'd abandon his pack if need be, but he would try to recover it if possible. His luck held and he found his satchel without another attack. Sweeping the knapsack to his shoulder he found Kismet really did love him that day. Not two feet from where his pack landed was a perfect circle free from the mold. Dead center of the clear ground was the purple faire ring. Snatching a mushroom, and of course a fey stick to match, Thomas headed quickly back to town.
He heard voices from the tavern so rather than head straight for his shop he headed in and for the stairs to warn his friends of what he had encountered.
"OW!!!!" barked Stone as he hit the landing.
"Stop scratching stupid. I can only heal so quickly." Thomas made it to the top to see Kelloran standing over a very bedraggled druid.
"I can't help it. They itch like crazy!"
"What happened, Stone?"
"Hey Thomas. A briar patch came alive and tried to rip me apart. The thorns had to be four inches long apiece."
"I nearly bought it too. Mine was a swarm of what looked like blood red wasps. How about you Kelloran?"
"Rabid chipmunks the size of woodchucks." replied the restorer as he applied his magic to another wound on Stone's back. Thomas and Stone looked at each other and while it really wasn't funny, the distracted deadpan delivery of such a statement caught them off guard. The two nearly fell over laughing. They sputtered apologies but Kelloran swiftly caught the humor of it and chortled along with them. After a while the three friends got themselves back under control. Stone wiped a tear away and clenched his hands to prevent himself from scratching.
"You want some potions Stone?" asked the crafter.
"My healing is tapped out." Kelloran answered for him. "Do me a favor check to see if Chells is in his shop. If not I'll come down and grab some potions for him."
"Will do." he replied as Stone uttered his thanks still chuckling and wincing simultaiously.
Thomas left his pack by the door of his home and headed over to templar's hut. The door was open so he called out from just outside the cloth covering. "Hey Chells. You there?" He waited a few moments but, given Chells' odd behavior lately, his not answering could mean any number of things. Could be Thomas needed a spirit caller dust to get the ex-medium's attention. Peeking in he saw a body in the bed. He looked closely and realized there were no glowing chains wrapped about the still form. "Lazy cretin. Hey Chells, wake up!"
"No really. Stone's hurt."
"Ok Ok I'm up. What?.... Ackkk Damn Thomas! The sun's still up."
"Duh it's just after noon."
"I don't do day. What was that about Stone?"
"He got shredded by some plant in the forest. Could you go see what you can do for him?"
"No problem. Gods it's bright out here."
"No wonder you like being a ghost. You’re paler than the spirits in your graveyard. Get some sun man!!!!" joked Thomas.
"Hmmph" grumbled Chells as he headed into the tavern. Thomas entered his shop and began cutting and separating the various samples he had gathered.
The four friends meet for dinner once more. Stone looked much better after Kelloran’s and Chells’ ministrations. The Surtur Grill was providing Blazing Spice Steaks. Luckily the dwarven kegs still had enough to dilute the fiery seasoning to bearable. Even before Kelloran and Stone had finished loading up their plates, Thomas had to tell them what his research had uncovered. “I’ll bet you any amount that whatever that mold is, it is not really fungus. It is not natural at all.”
“We know its not natural Thomas. No-one living or dead has ever seen it before.”
“Not Natural as is in common. I mean Natural as in coming from nature. The stuff is not organic.”
“I agree with Thomas.”, remarked Stone settling down at one the round tavern tables. “My commune with the woodlands was not at all what I had expected. I first sought out the trees thinking that since it was seemed like the fungal plague, it must surely be eating into them. Instead I found out the wood was sleeping peacefully beneath the red stain growing across it. The sleepy flora was barely aware of the mold. It was not harming them at all. It as if it was sitting on top of everything, like a paint rather than a decomposer which would work its way into the terrain.
“So I turned to the creature of the forest. That’s when the commune nearly overwhelmed me. I have rarely ever felt such anger before. Many of the animals and insects were borrowed in, preparing for winter. Yet they were not at rest. Their natural sense was calling them to begin hibernation and yet they reacted to my contact with ferocious hostility. I quickly disengaged and then melded with the plant life. This masked my humanity and probably saved me from the fate of Kelloran and Thomas. Unfortunately some part of that antagonism must have followed me and so it was the brush around me that attacked. My ability to command plants slowed the thorns considerably but still I could not command them completely as I should have been able to do. Something else was overriding my will.”
“WeLL I cAn teLL yOu mY huNCh wAs RIgHt.”
“Chells, You’re echoing again.”
“SoRry Kelloran. Is that BetteR.”
“Getting there. So which hunch are you referring to; the angel connection or that there is a spiritual force involved?”
“Both acTually. You all know that spirituality is not just dealing with the dead. Spirituality encompasses Divinity as well, among other things. Well I’m pretty sure the over-grown farie angle is probably folklore. After you guys went to bed I began my investigation. I work better at night. Instead of heading for the woods first I visited the spots Kelloran pointed out where had seen the lurking angels and tried to read anything from the locations. Sure enough there were spiritual traces left behind. Faint but definitely divinely based. After I had a good feel for what I was looking for I glided over to the woods. It is one and the same. The mold is not real. It is the residue of the angelic anger.”
“That is why it affected the animals and not the plants.” Stone realized. “Haven’t you been saying spirituality has a lot to do with emotion.”
“Yes. Truth, Justice, Honor are grounded by values. Spirituality, Compassion, Valor are emotional.”
“So it makes sense. Animals are going to be moved by emotions far quicker than the trees would, especially at this time of year.”
Kelloran started to speak but Thomas interjected a quick question. “But why are the angels angry in the first place.”
The Restorer spoke up once more. “I think I know the answer to that. What I found out makes a lot more sense now. I got nothing from the temple. No way was I going to the Lost Gods altar solo. So I trekked out to the Woodland Altar next. I think I know who the angry angels belong to and worse I can guess why they are here.”
Three voices spoke one word in chorus “Who?”
“Troth, the God of Oaths. Someone has broken their word in a really bad way, though I have no idea who. The bad new is whomever that was is tied to FallenStar. Not just superficially. Whomever has brought this on us is someone important to this town.”
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 7 by Andrew
The next day, Stone scraped off the bits of dried blood from Thomas' knife into the stamen of his crystal flower. It was Kelloran's blood that the Alchemist had used to create his ''angel balm." He dropped an Air Crystal into the flower as well as a few filings from Chell's Ethereal Dagger. The druid watched as a spindly shoot of green grew out of the purple, crystal flower. The green tendril bulged and then blossomed into a tiny yellow flower that instantly wizened and dried out. The forestal plucked it and said to no one in particular. ''An aster this time. Haven't had one of those yet."
Stone took the small, dried blossom and placed it into a candle flame. It combusted instantly and the candle flame grew higher and changed to a bluish color. The flame leaps even higher until it blinds the druid with harsh light. Stone looks into the light to see the truth he seeks: the connection between the watching angels and the Old God Troth.
As the dried blossom went up in smoke, a vision shimmered in the candle flame. Stone saw a pair of gray pillars with a doorway between them. The door swings open and a holy woman in the clerical vestments of Troth. She stands in a verdant garden filled with finely carved statues. As Stone watches, the door swung closed again and his vision retracted from the scene but not before he spotted a small stone pyramid that seemed vaguely familiar to him. The candle went out with a sharp crackle and Stone realized he sat in the dusk of his temple.
Stepping out from the shadows of his shop to stand under the gray skies of the day, Stone squinted as his eyes adjusted to the new gradient light. It was a dreary yet strangely warm day. The early snow that arrived on the Feast Day had melted with the warm winds and rains that arrived the day before. Water clung and dribbled off the buildings, bare trees and dead grass and mist rolled through the woods surrounding the town.
The druid closed his eyes and centered himself. He let his senses drift down through his feet to feel the ground beneath his boot heels. There he imagined himself rooted in place and pictured in his mind the Compass Rose and the familiar stone pyramid. When he opened his eyes, he was facing towards the Goblin Woods. In his mind's eye, he saw himself walking past the Woodland Altar down the Woods Road.
Stone grabbed Thorn and his gear and headed out. Cutting through the White Stone, the druid caught a shiver when he thought he had heard a faint jingle of a chain as he skirted past Hyat's grave. Rounding Tovin's Tree, Stone stared at the field of muck before him. He looked for the easiest path across the swampy ground before stepping out onto a raised hummock of grass. Shifting his weight forward, Stone suddenly fell back and sprawled into the mud.
The grass hummock flew skywards as a huge crimson earthworm erupted from the ground. The writhing, blind worm thrashed about seeking the food it had just sensed above it. Stone acted out of instinct. He sunk his fingers into the muddy soil and called out to the nearby plants for aid. Roots, shrubs and grasses all enveloped the Red Worm, buying the druid a few precious seconds for Stone to get out of the slop and run. And run he did.
For all his bulk, the druid moved with surprising speed over short distances at least. Spraying mud in all directions and panting, the druid flew past the Woodland Altar and turned. Breathing like a smithy's bellows, Stone held up Thorn and watched for the vermilion earthworm. He stared for several minutes until his breathing slowed. The way was clear and the beast was gone.
Lowering his guard, Stone walked down the Woods Road and this time he kept an eye out for other crimson abominations. At the point where the road turns up towards the Lost Hills, he stilled himself once more to sense the direction of the small stone pyramid. There! Not far away from him was a rock. The stone was about three feet high but did not stand upright nor was it flawless as it had been in the vision. It was moss-covered, rough edged and toppled on its side.
Stone looked around for the two grayish pillars but saw nothing like that, just the forest. The druid wandered about for a time to try and find the door he had seen. Finding nothing, he sat down and opened himself to the natural world.
Feeling himself fall into a relaxed state, Stone closed his eyes and suddenly noticed the overwhelming smell of the leaf mulch beneath him. He could feel the vibration of the rain drops hitting the ground and hear the high, clicking noise of tree limbs rubbing against each other. His senses became attuned to the woods about him and then he saw the gray columns and the door he had seen in the vision.
When his senses cleared, Stone stood a little ways from the toppled pyramid directly in front of two beech trees. Their elephantine bark had been the gray columns he had seen and the two identical, golden marks on their trucks must have been the vision's door. They were the markings of a Witch Gate.
Usually, one needed an exact key, key-stones, to pry open a witch-gate but sometimes shortcuts could be taken. Placing a hand on the trunk of each beech, Stone knelt before then and prayed to the Lord of the Wood. A leaf-covered face appeared on the tree trunk before him. Channeling his prayer mana into his bond with his patron spirit, Stone asked the forest god to open the Witch Gate. The portal's magic was weakly locked and opened easily. Through the doorway, he saw what remained of the lush garden and fine statuary was now a tangle of thistles, briars, deadwood and crumpled rocks.
The druid stepped through the gate and into the forlorn pricker patch. The sound of snapping tried twigs and crumpling dead leaves loudly announced his arrival. Stone silently berated what his love always called the “Bull in a China Shop” approach. Standing stock still and scanning the area, Stone waited for the volley of arrows to strike him down. He wished he had Chells’ blade, Doomherald, and its power to warn of peril. A moment passed and no arrows or slavering gnolls assailed him. All was eerily silent. He took another thunderous step into the leaf-litter and tried to get his bearings. In the vision he had seen the Troth Templar standing in the center of a flagstone circle surrounded by statues of humans. He pictured her standing there and again touched Atu’s province and the earth beneath his boots to guide him that spot. He climbed under a snare of thorns and wild roses, over a toppled tree and there he saw her lifeless face in half covered in leaves. As he got closer, Stone realized the face was from a shattered priestess statue and the Troth Templar had actually stood a few feet away. He looked up from the stone head and saw more leaves and then looking closer something white, no something ivory… bones.
Tempering his excitement to find answers or lost lore, Stone reminded himself that this was a holy woman’s last resting place. Reverently, he kneeled and looked down into empty eye socket of the leaf-covered skull. The druid cast Detect Spirit and saw a wispy, faint gray shroud appear over the bones.
“She’s still here… barely.” He said under his breath. He prepared to cast Séance when he suddenly halted and swore to himself. He did not have her name. Her spirit was in her bones but without a name he couldn’t reach her. He tried quasi-titles like ‘Chosen of Troth’, ‘Upholder of the Sacred Vows’ and ‘Faithful of the Oath-Keeper’ but struck out dismally. He stood up and paced around, swearing under his breath. He had come all this way to fail! He kicked a pile of leaves in frustration. They sprayed in the air and, as they fluttered down, a solid metal clink rung off the foliage shrouded flagstones. As the leaves settled he saw a small, metal chain with a talisman of three interlocking circles, the icon of Troth! He just knew it had to be the Troth Templar’s holy amulet. Kismet was smiling on him. “As well she should, after all X and I did save her from the venom of Malice and restored her identity he thought, being a bit too full of himself.
He snatched up the old holy symbol and turned again to the bones. The only other means to reach a spirit other than speaking its name was by holding one of the spirit’s most priced possessions at the time of casting the spell. Stone uttered Séance and then found himself back in the garden of his vision and, there, far down the manicured path, abutted with well-kept plantings and flowers, he spotted the woman’s grey spirit. He ran toward the priestess but, no matter how quickly he sprinted, then trotted and then walked after her, she was always far off.
“A little help here, Troth!” Stone shouted impatiently and calling up his prayer mana but to no result. Panting again, the druid reminded himself he was beseeching a god not a porter for help. He closed his eyes and tried again. “Lord Troth, Keeper of Vows and Oaths, please aid me in speaking to your distant servant.” This time the mana was accepted and when he opened his eyes. The woman templar stood before him. She was still gray and very faint but she was present. She spoke “Greetings, I am Sarqua, Devotee of Troth. My time is very short, but I see in the ether that I am a part of your quest to understand the bond between Troth, True Master of the Word, and the silent angels that perch in your town.”
Stone tried to acknowledge that she was correct but to no avail. The woman kept speaking as if giving a sermon to her parish.
“What I would tell you would be best understood were you to know what angels truly are. Most of the angelic hosts are but mere extensions of the minds of the Gods. In many cases the are the vessels which deliver magics or blessings of that God to the faithful who have beseeched for it. It is not uncommon for a God or Goddess to manifest directly in response to a prayer to Them, but often the lesser blessings are handled by the Divine One's unconscious mind. That is what all angels begin as, simply the will of the Gods."
"Yet many of the angels you are concerned with have become something more. Over time the power an angel carries can change them. They absorb bits and pieces of the Divine Might until one day they become aware of themselves. They evolve into more than the sub-conscious will of their Creator. They become sentient beings of their own. Some of these higher angels remain at their God's side, happily doing what they had always done, though they have the ability judge for themselve's how the God's gifts are delivered. Have you ever had a prayer yield a completely surprising result or been far more powerful than you had sought?"
Without pausing for an answer from the druid, the priestess continued on. "Some of the Awakened seek to find a new path. Many band together to form orders and it is members of one of these orders, possibly one of the oldest of them, that you have seen interspersed with the bound angels of Troth. They are the Grigori. Their original, divine task was to watch over but not interfere with the moral choices of mortals. They simply note when an immoral act has occurred. Unlike Troth who judges mortals by their word."
“Your Restorer friend is correct some of them have been drawn to the town because someone important broke their oath, but the red stain is not the Grigori’s will; it is Troth’s. His anger made it manifest. The crimson blight comes from the breaking of a blood oath.”
“So, some of the angels are Troth's and some are these Grigori?"
"Correct. In time you will learn to see which are which."
"But all of them looked so angry. If the Grigori are just witnesses, why are they as pissed as the one's bound to Troth?”
“They rage at Heaven and Earth because they are Fallen! And their anger at Fallenstar is because one of their kin, another fallen angel, lies trapped by the town.”
“What? Where is he and who lied to Troth? I …” Stone’s shower of questions fell quiet, as he realized stood alone in the disheveled once-garden. His contact with the spirit had slipped away. The gray aura above her bones had faded from the holy woman’s bones. She had passed on her message and now could rest for all eternity. Stone breathed deep in disappointment and then placed Serqua’s amulet amongst her bones. “Thank you.” He said as he turned and jumped back through the witch-gate. The door between the beeches faded as Stone wandered back towards town. So much effort for so little results he thought. He gained only a few facts, the crimson stain is Troth’s anger, it was a blood-oath that was broken, the angels were Grigori… Grigori. Stone smiled! He had a name and in spellcasting a name is a powerful thing!
The druid swiftly cast Know Lore.
The name Watcher, or Grigori, means "Those Who Watch", or "Those Who Are Awake", or "The Ones Who Never Sleep".
The mysterious eighth order of angels, the gentle Grigori were created by the deities to be terrestrial shepherds of the mortals. The Grigori were spiritually gigantic, at least by the standards of the people who later wrote about them. The Grigori are of a "higher" realm and guard the portals to the deities. They were also called the Watchers, as it was their job to observe mortals, lending a helping hand when necessary but not interfering in the course of their development. Every depraved act is seen and noted by the Grigori. This does not mean that the Grigori will stop immoral actions, as mortals are each responsible for their actions. The acts are simply witnessed and noted.
Legion of angels descended to the terrestrial planes in order to watch over and assist mortals in the names of the deities and they did serve mortals as vast reservoirs of information, but by the deities’ reckoning it was too vast. These Grigori taught some mortals arts, sciences and magics forbidden by the deities. In the end the Grigori proved to be selfless beyond compare and they chose husbands and wives from among the mortals and led greatly debauched lives, neglecting their heavenly duties. This angered the deities greatly and they banished the Grigori to become "fallen".
Not all the Watchers descended: those that remained are the holy Watchers, and they reside in the 5th Heaven. The evil Watchers dwell either on the terrestrial planes or in Hell. Among the Grigori, who remain ascended were four royal stars or Lords. Each of these Lords ruled over one of the four cardinal points: North, South, East and West.
· North -
Formalhaut - who marked Winter Solstice
· South - Regulus - who marked Summer Solstice
· East - Aldebaran - who marked the Vernal Equinox
· West - Antares - who marked Autumn Equinox
Rolling up the new scroll, Stone headed back to town. He was muddy, thorn-pricked, cold and wet, but feeling more than a little happy with himself.
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 8 by Albie
It had been a harrowing few weeks for the hardy winter companions of Fallenstar. With endless debating over the true origins of the angels, the purpose of them becoming visible to Kelloran, the fungal plague covering more and more of the woodlands each day, and more and more animals and vermin becoming distorted and violent toward the stalwart adventurers, tensions had run high for a while. And sadly no new progress was being made toward solving their current problems, or in figuring out who exactly had broken the major oath, if that truly was the case.
Two evenings past the solstace, at 11 bells, still found the friends in the Jack O' Lantern, drinking the remainder of Raith's winter stock. "Hey, does anyone know if Raith left anymore dark ales?" came the muffled voice of Kelloran. His head slowly rose up from behind the bar, bottles clutched in each hand. "All I can find is this mead. Man I can't think of the nastiness awaiting me with this!"
"Hey, careful with that, that's my favorite!" said Thomas, looking up from his many open jars perched along the edge of the bar. "Just set them up here and I'll take care of those..."
"I don't think there's anymore left Kelloran," said Stone. "You're going to have a hell of a tab to pay when Raith gets back. Don't think he won't know who took all the ale. He knows it wasn't any of us..."
"Doesn't matter, I'll be dead before he gets a chance to collect anyway." The Restorer's mood of late had sunk to new lows. His usual laughter dulled by his fear of Thomas' vision. His jokes had gone from light-hearted to a very sarcastic tone, and he knew it was grating on his fellows.
"Are you still bitching about that!" said Thomas. "I told you. I've been dead before, Stone has been dead before, Chells has been dead before, and even you've been dead before. Hell, Chells is probably dead right now! What's the big deal!"
"Can't be raised if I'm in the belly of some extra-dimensional demon, ass!" joked Kelloran. "Speaking of Chells, has anybody seen him today? I haven't seen him since the day before yesterday. He was still checking on more spiritual residues of the angels, trying to pinpoint some source to work from. I have a life-spark on him, but I don't know if it will activate if he gets into trouble on the spirit plane. I just know he isn't "technically dead.""
"Haven't seen him today either," said Stone. He lolled back in his chair, looking more disheveled than usual. "I can't believe those goblins got the drop on me today. Tomorrow one of you guys is coming with me when I journey back out there. Normally they would have been quick exercise, today, they almost had me."
"Quick exercise, you?" quipped Thomas, giving Stone the head-tilted stare he has mastered so well.
"Yeah, it was like they were guided by Arboleth himself, that rotten bastard. They fought like banshees, screaming, whirling blades, and then they pulled out another one of those crazy crossbows and I thought I had had it. Luckily my command plants worked just well enough to wrap one up so I got the hell out of there."
Kelloran let out a long sigh. "I'll go with you tomorrow Stone, so long as we don't go anywhere near the Lost Gods altar. I'll be honest, for the first time in a while, I'm really stumped. I can't think of any other direction to keep exploring the Angels, even though I feel it is the Gods will that I do so. I keep feeling drawn to checking out whatever I can about Apocrypha, but so far have no other leads. I know we've gone over this a few times, but I feel like he is the key that I should be following. Another master of the little known fact, another lore-hound, another puzzler. I feel that if I had followed a diffent path in my training, he could just as easily be me."
"Cool, I'm gonna hit the hay, and I'll wake you up at dawn." said Stone, gathering up his gear. None of the four went anywhere these days without weapons, armor and their adventuring gear. It was just too risky.
"Dawn for you...or actual dawn?" laughed Thomas. The subdued mood of the four friends had yet to really get the irrepressable alchemist. Both Stone and Kelloran chuckled along with him...they knew it would really be noon.
"I'm out too Thomas, good luck finishing up those new reagents. I don't know if it's really wise to be trying to concoct new potions with that fungus. Be careful." yawned Kelloran. Thomas bent back to his work. It was hard enough to keep the skills of his craft secret, he wanted to try new things, but didn't have many avenues to work with. His attempts to speak with Yazminch had yeilded him many side-quests in search of new components, but even the gracious spirit was reserved with lost alchemical lore. His conversations with the Forgotten Alchemist hadn't gotten him much further at all. And he knew there were so many more things he could do with this craft. Even now, he barely needed his lab, he could mix and create no matter where he was. But so far no real luck trying to use the fungus. It was all very frustrating to him. The lights burned late into the night as Thomas continued his work.
The next day, Kelloran and Stone both strapped into their armors and sheathed their blades. The black tendrils encirling Kellorans blade leaped out a few inches as he cleared it in the scabbard, almost eager for a fight. Not a good sign for the Restorer. "I hate combat. Especially when I'm in it." laughed the restorer. His heavy black robes left behind for the day, he felt athletic, but not ready to face kill or be killed situations. "Where are we going today, anyway Stone?"
"Thought we should check out the Nihilus Grove, see what the nullzone does to the fungus and to the visions of angels and the like. I have been calling in favors trying to find some information on the Cult of Deceivers, and I know they've been active up there in the past."
"What would the Cult of Deceivers want with the Nihilus Grove? And I thought we were going to pursue other avenues of attacking the angel/oath/fungus problem, not head on with the Cult? Oh, and I saw Chells this morning. Echoey voice and all. He's been staying out longer and longer lately. I hate that Echoey voice!"
"I'm not sure what they would want yet," said Stone, but I know you wanted to maybe try heading in the direction of Apocrypha, so there we go."
"Cool. But, can we take the long way around, throught the fields, maybe down through the FOC? I'm really serious about not going near the Lost Gods Altar."
"No problem, let's go."
The two adventurers shouldered their packs and headed out, both keeping a wary eye out at every moving thing in the snow-covered fields. They trekked on for a few hours, carefully avoiding any obvious dangers, always an eye open for runes or other sources of information or income. Runes had been found pretty sparingly recently, much to the dismay of the two lore-hounds. No new information always means no new puzzle pieces to work out. You have the same pieces and no way to put them together.
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 9 by Steve
By midday they were still working their way across the great fields below FallenStar. They had only covered about a quarter of the distance they would have in the summer. Winter was truly upon the ShadowLands and the deep snow made travel slow to a crawl. Even taking turns breaking the trail Stone and Kelloran were tiring.
“Maybe the field route wasn’t the best idea I ever had.” the Restorer wheezed in the cold air.
“I was thinking much the same but still at this point we are closer to the Jack O’Lantern’s Wood than town. I say we press on. Besides downhill beats trying to climb back to town in my mind.”
“You’re the druid. As long as you say we’re not going to freeze to death before we get there, I’ll follow you.”
“We’re not going to freeze to death but you are not going to be following for a bit either. It’s your turn to take point. My legs are getting sore again.”
The next few hours were a grueling battle. Each turn up front became shorter and shorter. Heads down, the pair trudged onward methodically. Finally Stone looked up over Kelloran’s shoulder and spotted the break in the trees where the road broke into the Forest of the Condemned. “Not much further Kelloran there is the entrance just ahead.”
“Great! I was just about to ask to switch places again but with a destination in sight I can keep… Wait a sec. There is someone down there.”
Stone followed where the Restorer was pointing. Standing just at the edge of the forest stood a figure. The two watched but whomever or whatever was there in front of them moved not at all. “Think he’s frozen?”
“Not unless the weather down here is way different than we’ve had in FallenStar,” Kelloran replied. “People who die of the cold don’t do it standing up very often. It’s cold out here but not enough to flash freeze someone upright.”
“Usually I would advise a cautious approach but neither you or I have the strength to loop far enough around him and against the snow we are going to stand out like banners. Might as well head straight in. That way if things go badly we won’t have exhausted what energy we have left. Let me take point.”
“Sounds smart. You’ve got a much better weapon that I do.”
“Actually I was thinking I want your healing abilities unengaged. If this guy has bad news magic I could get pretty roasted by the time I can close with him trying to run in snow.”
“Got it. I’ll be right behind you.”
“Never doubted it. Let’s go.”
The closer the two came to the figure the odder its pose seemed to them. Besides Kelloran’s claim that being frozen was unlikely, that is exactly what the figure seemed to be. It appeared to have stopped mid-stride walking same path they were for the Forest of the Condemned. It took the pair almost ten minutes to reach the dark form and in that whole time it had not moved. Kelloran pointed out the fact that there was no trail leading back from the man. As they got closer, Stone noticed another odd fact. He and the templar we’re buried to their knees in snow yet he could see the man’s feet standing atop of the loose drifts.
Finally pair reached the figure. Even before they could see his face Stone had a dreadfully feeling he knew who it was. Kelloran’s exclamation was no surprise. “Oh Gods Stone. It’s Chells.” Their friend was truly locked in winter’s embrace. He had no blood to turn to ice but his form was as still as a frozen lake. The misty edges that wreathed his body stood it rigid tendrils. Kelloran tried to take hold of his friends arm. Instead of passing right through him as he would a spirit or meeting a solid form as he now appeared to be, the Restorer’s hand met a sluggish resistance. His fingers sank slowly into the wraith-like arm. “It’s like trying to grab molasses. How are we going to move him?”
“Of course! In the dark months spirits slow down even more than normal. Chells, regardless of the fact he dwells on the Physical Plane, must be just as susceptible to winter as they are. When was the last time you said you saw him?”
“Two days ago. How long did he say he could remain in spirit form?”
“I’m not sure. We’ve got to get him back to his body. There is no way we could make it back to FallenStar today. Damn!! I had a Thought Transfer scroll in my hand this morning but I never got around to putting it in my pouch. We could have had Thomas use a spirit caller to summon him back to FallenStar.”
“Would that even work? I thought spirits chose to respond to the spirit callers. If he cannot move he can’t very well respond to it.”
“You’re probably right. We’ve got to get his body here then. If we shelter in the wood tonight we could make it back to FallenStar this time tomorrow… Then it would be another day back here.”
“That is if we are in any shape to make the journey again. We’ll be exhausted. That’s dangerous in this cold. Sending Thomas by himself is no option either. Sending a lone person out is asking for worse than we’ve already got.”
“Then we have only one choice. We need to get into the Jack O’Lantern’s wood and summon the body here.”
“You think we can do it?”
“We’ll be in his holy ground so that will count for quite a bit. We will also need to beseech Melcynda to release whatever hold she has on Chells’ body.”
“I’m not sure if we have enough prayers between us.”
“If we pour all the prayer we have into it and hold nothing back the sacrifice should carry out words to Melcynda. I’ll add Ranu and Crodez in as well. Compassion and loyalty definitely fit this circumstance. We’ve got to try. No matter how good he has gotten at this spirit thing, I doubt he can recover from a of minimum four days away from his flesh. He might have been in spirit form for a while already two days ago.”
“You can’t combine Gods like that, Stone. It just doesn’t work that way.”
“Kelloran we are not asking all the Gods for one thing. We use our prayers to give the Jack O’Lantern the strength to summon the body. Ranu I ask to carry our plea to Melcynda to release her hold. Crodez to help them rejoin.”
“Got it. Put like that I think you’re right. It could work. Ok I’ll lead. You just went first.”
Renewed with purpose the adventurers made it to the woods in record time. The way became more treacherous at first with branches lying beneath the snow. Luckily it was not quite as deep. Kelloran immediately sensed the presence of the God of Justice. His strange aura overlaid everything here. The trees and earth. The dark headstones peeking out of the white blanket of snow. Even the skulls crafted by mortal hands to ward this holy ground were infused with the spectral strength of the ancient being who was now one of the Spirit Gods.
Stone and Kelloran quickly set to working clearing off the huge stone which often held the Jack O’Lantern’s rune. Stone dug a candle out of his pack and Kelloran lit incense to honor the deity, actually deities, of who’s aid they were about to seek. They drew forth the energy their Gods had touched them with and crafted it into a many layered call for help. Kelloran watched in the eternal awe he held for the divine powers as one by one they came.
Ranu was first. His appearance startled the Restorer at first. Used seeing the great sleek hound, the shaggy almost lupine looking God was not at all what he was expecting. His heavy coat was rimmed with frost and His eyes were the palest blue instead of their usual deep brown. The God’s breath plumed into the air filling Kelloran’s divine sight with fog. The great beast picked up Stone’s plea to carry his request to Melcynda. It turned Its gaze on Chells and saw the deep bonds between the two brothers. Even without Stone’s prayer this was a task the God of Loyalty embraced. He bounded away carrying with Him His fierce and unswerving presence.
Kelloran joined his companion in their next call. Grey vines twined up from the earth, though they did not move even a flake of snow. Superimposed on the real world, the twisting cables formed themselves into legs, torso, arms and hands. At It’s apex, they coiled and churned until they flowed downward to fashion a cloak about the towering figure. What they revealed in their fall was a white pumpkin colored with pale orange only where the skin was holed to shape features. Flame burned within the head lighting eyes and mouth but instead of the warm glow much like candlelight, this fire burned blue, bathing the humans in a stark and cold radiance. The deity listened to the request made by Stone and supported by Kelloran. It nodded and turned to face FallenStar. Stretching out Its arms, ethereal vines launched from Its fingers. The coils streaked through the trees, crossing the distance it had taken the men a day to travel in a mere second. They returned bearing the limp form of Chells and lowered the body gently at the feet of two worshipers. In a flash the great being unraveled and was gone.
The last God appeared with a whisper instead of a leap or eruption. Though the day was waning there was still daylight when Stone began his last prayer. It was answered first by the dimming of the wood. Sunset became dusk and dusk became night in a matter of seconds. Then the darkness reversed as a pearly illumination filtered through the bare limbs from above. The silver robed deity seemed unchanged compared to the two before. Kelloran thought quickly but could not imagine how Crodez could look any more wintry than He always did. His musing did not last long because with Him the God bore the frozen form of Chells. Scooping up the apparent lifeless body, He gently brought both to His chest as if He were a father hugging a pair of children. In His embrace the two became one. He too lowered Chells to the waiting men but instead of laying him on the ground, the Moon God rested him in Stone’s lap. Daylight returned to the forest revealing the shivering form of their friend. Alive.
“We’ve got to make a fire quickly,” Stone exclaimed. “I forgot he would not be dressed for the weather out here. I don’t think I had anything left in me to remedy the situation even if I had.” The druid looked around and spotted a large pine tree. Its lower boughs lay embedded in the snow drifts. “There! Forget the fire. If we tunnel into the hollow under the lowest branches our bodies and my lantern will create more than enough warmth to keep him alive.”
“Ok I’ll carry him. You figure out where we need to climb in. If I tried it I’m sure I’d knock all the snow down and ruin it.”
In a matter of minutes Stone pushed and packed the branches and snow to create an opening. He sent Kelloran in first, passing in Chells next and then the packs. While he sealed the tunnel Kelloran checked Chells’ condition. He was cold but not dangerously so. His trembling was just the body trying to keep warm. The fact he was unconscious worried the Restorer more. Physical ailments he could handle. If Chells’ spirit was somehow damaged, the person he would have gone to to ask for advice was the patient himself.
“How is he?”
“He’s alive and breathing fine. Out cold though if you’ll pardon the pun. I think that is due more to his spirit than his body. Physically he’s a mess. He seriously malnourished and probably dehydrated too. No hypothermia or frostbite, so that’s good. I know he damaged himself last year in some battle on planes of the dead but he’s way worse now.”
“How long do you think he was out of his body.”
“This is uncharted territory for me. Could be just the two days. Could be longer. His condition goes beyond this last spirit trip. I’ve been meaning to talk to him about all this time he’s been away from his body. I had noticed the few times I had seen him in the flesh he’s looked worse and worse. When was the last time any of us has seen him eat something?”
“I hadn’t thought of that. I can’t recall seeing him eat or drink anything for months. I’m sure he must have. He has some food and always plenty of water in his hut. I know he does not see life and death like we do but he should have the common sense not to kill himself with his experiments. Unfortunately I would not bet a gold on it. His obsessions have overruled his sense of self-preservation before.”
“Well when we get him back to town, we’d better make sure he starts taking care of his real form or a spirit body will be all he’s got.”
By this time the hollow was quite warm. Stone stripped off his heavy outer gear, with some difficulty in the cramped space. He pushed the few piles of snow to edges leaving a floor of pine needles. They’d provide some insulation but he unrolled a pair of blankets to complete the base of their den. The coats would be used to cover themselves. Once Kelloran had Chells situated, he too took off his cloak and overcoat.
“We get some should sleep,” Stone advised. “Tomorrow is going to be worse than today was. Try and wake up now and then and relight the lantern. If you can see your breath keep it lit for a while otherwise blow it out. Our bodies should produce enough heat but let’s not take chances. I’m going to put out the light now. You all set?”
“Leave it for a bit. I’d like to keep an eye on Chells for about an hour. See if his condition changes any. I’ll wake you if any happens.”
“All right. Good night Kelloran.”
Kelloran closed the tin door of the lantern. This left just illumination to see by. He’d check on Chells ever ten minutes or so for a while. He was not sure what would happen but if anything was likely to, it was going to either happen soon or hours from now when Chells’ internal clock told him it was time to wake up. That is if his friend woke up at all.
The black mood that had been haunting him for weeks returned once more. He was doomed. Maybe it would have been better to let the cold kill him. At least that way he would have an after-life. The thought made him shiver. As much as he liked Chells he really could not understand how anyone would choose death over life. To live without touch, to be unable to feel and smell the spring winds or taste a good meal. These and millions of other such joys were what made a person a person. To exist with only memories of those things seemed tragic.
Yet soon he might be deprived even of that much. What if his impending death at the Lost Gods Altar was more than just a physical death. What if whatever was waiting for him slayed his spirit as well. He’d be stuck as a soul. A scrap of himself with no future just a single glimpse of his past. Even worse was possibility of soul death. There have been tales of death-blows so potent that the victim is wiped out entirely. Big dead. The Great Beyond. Lights out forever.
He had tried to reconcile himself to his fate but the plain a simple fact was he wanted more than almost anything to live. Heart beating. Breathing. The thought of loosing that was breaking him apart. Each of his friends had tried to tell him not to worry about it but they just didn’t get it. To them life did not have same value. Hell Chells equated death to puberty, “just another change in the path of one’s existence.” What did they know about loosing that which makes you what you are?
Kelloran winced as the candle flared, sending a spike of light through one of the holes in the tin right into his left eye. He looked to the lantern and was captured by the flame dancing within it. In that moment the metal walls around it did not exist for him. He could see the taper standing below the flicking fire and behind them a golden mask appeared. The visage of the sun stared at him and Kelloran was swept into a trio of visions.
Thomas was first. The beloved son of the Candleman. He looked younger. Proud features stood above a tall body, not of an alchemist but of a knight. Sir Thomas. The warrior stood on a path of shields for he was a defender prepared to hold safe his town, his home and his friends. His knighthood defined him. It shaped his every waking moment. Yet as Kelloran watched, the trail of shields unraveled beneath the swordsman’s feet. A black spirit stood before him and Thomas tumbled into the writhing ebon cloak. When he emerged out the other side he was changed. Gone was his shield and mail. His title lost in the passage through the dark spirit. Unsteady and without purpose Thomas stood. Yet at his side remained one last aspect of his former life. A long sword emblazoned with a golden candle hung from his belt still. He drew that blade and drew a new path in the earth before him. Formulas and reagents wreathed the figure. Still baring the sword which glowed of candlelight, Thomas stood in FallenStar once more. No longer the knight that he had been but defender still.
Chells was next. His was not a vision of what had been but of horrors that seek to become reality. Since he first heard the voices of the dead, the youth felt a kinship to them that surpassed his ties to all but a handful among the living. He too had the sense of a defender about him but more faintly than that of Thomas. His calling was not to be simply the bastion behind which his charges were shielded. He was their caretaker, their connection to the physical world. He soothed their pains, answered the questioned they could not seek out themselves. He fought their battles and sacrificed himself for their needs. For him their existence was everything, over-shadowing every choice he made. Yet before the templar stood two dark mirrors. In one Chells stands beside a woman whose dark features are both compelling and terrible at once. She sings and at her side Chells carries that song to his beloved dead. The music wraps itself about their spectral bodies, invading their senses of self, stealing their will. Her magic, passed through Chells’ voice, call the spirits from the ShadowLands to her and binds them forever. All that Chells has done to nurture the dead is undone as his gift turns them into slaves. The other mirror shows the gravetender warped in body as well as mind. He rides a steed made of bone and rotting flesh. Behind him marches a horde of undead. His grey skin marks him as one of their kind, a lich. He leads his host through the graveyards of the land and spurs the shambling minions to feast on the spirits he once protected. These dooms await the believer if he fails to avoid their pursuit of him. Be it tool or abomination, all that Chells has been could be undone by the twin darknesses that seeks him.
Lastly is Stone. In him runs the same devotion but not for the dead. For him it is the world itself. The trees and beast are his charges. The earth he wards from disease and ruin. The sickness of the Blight and malicious devastation at the hands of the goblins wound him. His ties to life are as deep as Kelloran’s own and yet he would willing sacrifice himself to save even a small track of the green vibrant world he loves. He also has a doom lurking behind him. The vision shows Stone standing on a hillside, speaking a single word. Even as that utterance leaves his lips a mighty conflagration hurls from the sky. Flames rush across the land, incinerating plant and beast. It annihilates FallenStar in moments. The great green fields and deep forests are charred instantly into black devastation. Only ash and scorched rock remain of the beautiful world he had cherished. He can feel this disaster looming behind him and even more terrifying is that he knows not the word that will cause it to be. He knows too that just seeking the questions that will show him the path to safety he could very well evoke the holocaust he desperately longs to avoid. His love for the life of the world may someday force him to forswear his love for his own life to be sure that he does not bring about the cataclysm that haunts him.
Allahn has many names but Kelloran knew in that moment he stood before the God of Truth. His friends all have born the weight of doom. It was his turn to let it crush him or to conquer it and be made again into something more than he was.
Even as the visions fade exhaustion swamped the healer and bore him away into dreams of his destiny and his choices.
He awoke to a pair of blue eyes staring at him. Chells’ color was better but he still looked far from well.
“How you feeling Chells?” he asked.
“Gods I am coming to hate this thing.”
“This bag of flesh. It hurts constantly. It needs so much bloody work to keep functioning. If I could figure out how to get past green I might just scrap the damn thing. I’m getting closer but not there yet.”
“Well for now lets assume you would best off not letting the decision be taken out of your hands. If you don’t start putting some bloody work into keep yourself functioning you are not going to have a body to come back to soon.”
“Sorry Kell. Thanks for saving me. Gratitude would have been a much better first response than bitching.”
“Don’t worry about it. Where’s Stone?”
“No idea. I woke up pretty much the same moment you did.”
“I take it you two are awake.” exclaimed a voice from outside the burrow.”
“It’s the end of the world…” croaked Chells. When Kelloran looked at him quizzically the believer grinned. “Stone, the first one awake. It has got to be one of the signs of the Apocalypse.”
“Very funny. Move aside guys I’m coming back in.” The branches parted and let in both a gust of frigid air and the druid. “Well you being conscious is a good thing. The bad new is the temperature dropped heavily last night. Yesterday was a picnic compared to traveling today.”
“Where were you guys headed?”
“The Nihilist Grove. I wanted to try and track down a few hypotheses from there.”
“Good idea. It’s not like were are about to get any help from usual sources anytime soon.”
“What do you mean by that.”
“You guys found any runes in the last few weeks?”
“Well you’re not likely going to.” Chells continued. “This time of year one God has some serious mojo and he is the jealous type.”
“Yup. He is blocking the usually helpful Gods from laying runes. I stumbled across the Well of Visions and that is what it showed me. I figured I’d go to Melcynda’s Peace and try there. It being Her holy ground and all. I thought She could trump Him there. I got a little way up the hill when it dawned on me Jack’s holy ground was right here. So I turned back. I think I had been slowing down for a while by that point but I when I noticed everything kept flickering I started to realize what was happening to me. Birds, a couple foxes and such would blink in and out until it occurred to me that they were moving normally. I was the one who time was inching along for.”
“Well we’re not going anywhere just yet. Maybe in a few hours the sun will have warmed things up enough for us to get you out of here.” Stone explained. “Looks like we have two choices now. The Nihilist Grove or trying to contacting Ymir. The Grove will not take all of us but I’ve got a hunch that the more of us we have when beseeching the Winter God the better our odds are of having him capitulate. What do you guys think?”
The three turned over the two choices for a quite a while as they ate and prepared to leave their haven.
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 10 by Andrew
Thomas had stayed up far too late waiting for news from Kelloran and Stone. He had drifted asleep at his desk until he was awoken by a russling noise outside his shop. Beneath the winter's moon, Thomas swung open his door and saw albino, vine-covered arms holding the limp form of Chells. In the blink of an eye, the uncanny arms and Chells vanished into the distance.
Utterly stunned, Thomas muttered. ''What the Hell...."
The alchemist rooted around and found a Spirit Caller Dust and swiftly through it in the air. At the moment it turned iridescent and active, Thomas called “Chells!” There was no reply. He thought to beseech Allahn for news of Chells’s welfare. Thomas lit one of his sun candles and started to kneel to begin his prayer, when a voice filled his mind.
“Thomas I have heard your orison come to the White Stone.”
Thomas wondered at Allahn’s miraculous recovery from his cursed sleep. The Candleman could now hear his prayers before he even said them. Bundled up, Thomas strode across the crunching snow to the shadowy White Stone cemetery. There he saw the Candleman hovering over the ice-shrouded grave of the Telltaler. Before Thomas could greet his lord, Allahn addressed him.
“Thomas time is of the essence. Ymir is blocking all divine prayers connected to the wintery wastes outside of town. The ice covering this grave is a magic binding to block your spells from reaching your friends. Swear on your honor to serve my cause and channel your virtue of honor into your blade and strike NOW!”
Thomas had no time to react. He did as his god asked of him and swore by his honor and slammed his blade upon the ice. His blue-glowing blade shattered the ice in spray of frozen shards. Thomas turned to Allahn and saw the Candleman’s face had cracked like a mask. The god stretched out his hand and intoned “SLEEP.”
Thomas’ world went black.
Hours later in the Forest of the Condemned, the three chilled men debated their course of action.
“I say we go for Ymir.” Stone decided for himself.
“Dddidn’t he freeze you into an ice crystal and force you to take us to the Vernal Hall?” asked the teeth-chattering Chells.
“When was this?” Kelloran asked intrigued.
“Back in like ’98 or so. When Ymir insisted he leave town, tromp through the snow and restore the Sleep of the Dead.” Chells replied trying to warm himself after the gust of cold Stone let in.
“Well the reason he flash froze me is the reason I say we go with Ymir. I swore to serve him and gained his divine blessing so I have it an in with him. Of course Ymir is not one to give something for nothing, so we need to be willing to pay the piper when we are done.”
“Not me, man, YOU! You have the blessing; you pick up the tab.” Kelloran snickered, only half-joking.
“Well whoever takes the icicle in the ass, it’s better than freezing here. Besides, I think Death-Warmed-Over here” Stone said pointing to Chells. “Could use some divine intervention.”
Kelloran grabbed Chells’ and Stone’s hands and instructed them to “Link up!” In the tiny tree-bough shelter, the three men closed their eyes, centered their thoughts and silently prayed to Ymir.
A few moments passed before the Lord of Ice answered their prayers in a most dramatic fashion. A howling northwind stripped the pine boughs of their snow cover, exposing the three to brutal, icy gusts. Like a leaf blown across the wastes, Ymir floated swiftly across the snowpack toward them. In his wake, fine powder and frozen pellets were whipped up into a squall and then scattered across the frozen crust. Stripped of all snowy insulation as well as camouflage, the friends could only stare in awe at the approaching god. None of them had expected such a powerful manifestation and all were speechless as the Winterlord alighted before them. Feeling like children caught ineptly hiding and huddled together, they peeked their heads out from beneath the pine branches.
Stone began his usual blundering when facing a divine being. “Hi… I mean greetings… ah… mighty Ymir. We wanted to ask you… ah, beseech you… if …”
“Spit it out, Druid!” Ymir blustered.
“Okay we need your help in dealing with a bunch of problems.” Stone blurted and then went quiet. The audible chattering of Chell’s teeth was all that could be heard.
The Lord of Ice gestured at Chells and the Believer’s threadbare sleeping clothes were replaced by a heavy, hooded coat of white fur that all but enveloped him.
Peering into the tiny opening of the hood, Kelloran quietly asked “You okay?”
Chells only offered a muffled reply. “Warm… very warm.”
When the Restorer returned him attention to Stone, he saw the druid was speaking to Ymir and pointing up toward the summit of the Far Hill. The Winterlords glittering, frozen form made him hard to look at in the bright morning sunlight but Kelloran could read an _expression of anger there and heard a sharp inhale before he spoke in a powerful voice. “They are the Breakers of Time and seekers of the inert! They are enemy to my brethren and me! You would do best to avoid their foul den.”
Stone lapsed into his usual insatiable curiosity and let his thin pretense of reverence drop. “Really, you hate the Nihilists? I thought you would be their ally after all you are all about freezing stuff and stasis and they want time to stop the Wheel of Time from ticking so I naturally thought tha….”
A boreal blast of air took Stone off his feet and hurled him many yards away into a snow drift. Ymir raised his hand to further smite the impudent druid when Kelloran intervened. Dropping to a knee, averting his eyes and speaking in tomes of pure veneration, Kelloran inquired “May I ask O’ Ymir who are your brethren?”
Distracted, the Lord of Ice lowered his hand and turned to address Kelloran and the fur-encased Chells. In formal tenor, the god replied. “My brethren are the other three Keepers of the Seasons.”
Chells mumbled something unintelligible that indicated he wanted to know more and Ymir obliged him.
“As you know, one of my many titles is Ymir, Keeper of Winter. The current Keeper of Spring is none other than Vine the Greenman. The Keeper of the fire of Summer is my fellow Aesir-usurper Surtur and the title of Keeper of Autumn has been passed down to the Jack O’Lantern. As Keeper of the Seasons, our role is to mark the comings and goings of each of our respective seasons. Like the Phoenix turns the Wheels of Ages, light to dark and back again, we work on a smaller scale and denote the turning of the Cogs of the Year. The Nihilists would shatter the entire Clock of Time if they enacted their will and destroy all seasons, years, ages, epochs, eras… They would let it all fall to ruin… They are my foes in much the same manner as the Telltaler has made himself an enemy of the Keepers with his repeated dredging up of the past.”
“Stone was wrong. I do enjoy the calm and deep sleep of winter, but I do not seek it to remain that way forever. Without change, without seasons, our time in the worlds would be a hellish, uniform eternal limbo.”
Chells struggled with his hood but eventually his sallow face emerged. “Ymir, how come we never heard of these titles and roles before now?”
“Because you are mortals and mortals are fools. Better to ask yourself why you never heard of the four Ladies of the Seasons.”
Meanwhile in Fallenstar, the east was bright with the late morning sun sun. At the sound of explosions and a brilliant flash of blue light, Thomas sat bolt upright from his bed of snow. Half awake, he shouted ''Chells don't mix those two!"
Convinced that the Believer had finally done himself in by once-again screwing around with the Alchemist's re-agents, Thomas staggered to his feet.
Allahn still hung above the grave in reverie. The cracks again appeared on the Candleman’s face and Thomas called upon all his virtue of Truth to see what was hidden the night before. Allahn’s false visage crumbled before him and an uncanny spirit hung in the air.
The spirit's gray cloak fluttered in ethereal breezes as he manifested upon the Hill of the Dead. The wide-brimmed hat shadowed the spirit's face, but the unmistakable tome revealed Telltaler for who he was. The pages of the Tome of Ages rustled in the spirit winds. The leaves of the book flipped faster and faster as the Telltaler gazed off at some far, unseen point, on something far in the past. His stare sharpened as he focused and the book snapped shut at that same moment. The sound of the slamming cover echoed off of Chells' empty home as a deep azure light emanated from the ground beneath the Telltaler and then spread outward. The spirit stood at the epicenter of a deluge of blue radiance. Thomas watched as all the trees on the Hill of the Dead became increasingly thinner and shorter. Rotted limbs regenerated and then reattached themselves to their parent trees. Dead leaves yellow, then green, then flutter up cling once more to the canopy above.
Time continued to flow backwards as the Archeo-Locus defused outward farther and farther, enveloping the entire White Stone Cemetery. Thomas witnessed Bobrik the Guardsman appear, alive and on patrol. Numerous ancient graves appeared and then disappeared on the Hill of the Dead. Anatee was seen being berated by her companions for referring to their band as the Fist of Fallenstar. Hyat the Thief came into view as his spirit was damned by the spirits of Vesper, Apadzloti, Eyre Littleman and Molly Montcalm.
Minute after minute, the blue aura of the Archeo-Locus grew wider and wider and the time visions moved further and further in the past. Soon, the time-quake enveloped the entire silent town. Glimpses of the fleeing Fool and the pursuing Wild Huntsman appeared on the town green, followed by a Wizard War raging in the town between the Knights of the Thorn and Mechella's shades.
On the Hill of the Dead, Thomas shook in anger. “You lying bastard! You tricked me!”
Before much thought went into his next action, the Alchemist swung at the spirit. Thomas’ mildly enchanted blade was magical enough to make some contact with the Telltaler. The blow snapped the Teller of Tales out of his trance-like state and knocked his over-sized hat cock-eyed. As surprised as Thomas was that he had taken a swing at the powerful Elder Spirit, he was more surprised by the Telltaler’s swift and vicious response. Swinging his massive tome into the bridge of Thomas’s nose, the Telltaler laid out the Alchemist. Pain blossomed hot and sharp across the Alchemist’s face and blood gushed from his nose as once more Thomas’ world receded into darkness.
Elsewhere, time had no meaning in the pallid fog of Stone’s thoughts. He knew that he was cold very, very cold and he could see a diffuse all-encompassing white light. He noticed when he looked up towards this illumination that his eyes felt wet and cold every time he blinked. He felt a jolt and then he was pulled up into the blinding brightness. He screeched and grasped as Kelloran dragged his head out of the snow drift where he had been buried.
“Man, we are going to have a fund-raiser and send you to seminary school so that you stop pissing off the gods!” The Restorer said as he roughly patted off the snow.
“What happened? … Where’s Ymir? … Why are my ears so cold.” The druid grumbled.
Kelloran curtly retorted. “You pissed off a god, so he left and he stuck your head in a snow bank for being an ass and saying he is like his mortal enemies.”
“I just asked… I mean you think he’d hate Surtur not a bunch of spell-crackers like the Nihilists… I just wan…”
Chells interrupted Stone’s muddled ramble. “Forget it. Surtur is Ymir’s ‘brother’ not his enemy and he hates Nihilists. End of story.”
Kelloran continued. “Hates them enough to offer use a big boon to figure this out if we head home and avoid rather than trudge home to the Nihilist Glade.”
Chells piped in “And he threw in snow-shoes to boot!”
Stone looked at his friend and sickly brother in confusion. “How…?”
Kelloran chuckled. “We’re Templars. When it comes to kissing God-ass and getting results, we are the guys for the job!”
Sniggering, the three strapped on their holy snowshoes and began to trudge up the long hill to Fallenstar. They found walking atop the snow far easier that slogging through the drifts but still it seemed the town was far off. Just as the town came into sight a giant wave of blue light and power swallowed them whole. Visions of the past swam all about the three and the only comprehensible noise was Kelloran’s brief curse. “Ah Crap!”
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 11 by Dave
The last thing the alchemist remembered was the cracked face of his patron god, Allahn telling him to SLEEP. As his head and body unceremoniously crumpled to the hard snow packed ground and his world went black.
Perchance to sleep, perchance to dream; perchance the alchemist can scheme
Bubble, bubble—toil and trouble; making potions, charging double
All around ingredients—mixing unguents for these gents
Potions, salves within a vile; buy them now and live a while
Walking in comes neighbor Chells; Here to see what Thomas sells?
Shows to me some sort of tricks—agents he attempts to mix
“Chells don’t mix those two!”…
“You lying bastard! You tricked me!”
PAIN & BLOOD! Again, darkness
While to the altar you make treks, I stay home, create detects
Red & yellow become orange—fill the liquid with a sy-ringe
Make the colors of the rainbow—stock supplies are running low
Filling shelves and writing labels—need to find some bigger tables
Stoppers topping—never stopping
That’s the part I really HATE
coins and counting bottles
Around my brain the numbers throttle
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 12 by Steve
Like leaves in a storm the three stunned companions were hurled backward by the rippling blue wave. Kelloran who had been lending Chells a hand up the hill tightened his grip on the gravetender’s arm, keeping them together. The ground writhed below their feet, toppling them. At first Kelloran thought the energy of Archeo-Locus was tearing the land apart. He was so battered by snow and vegetation that he could not tell which way was up or down. Only his death grip on Chells’ arm offered any solidity during the onslaught. Even that was lost to him when the Believer seemed to be ripped away. It wasn’t until he felt Chells climb across his back did he realize his friend had pulled free on purpose.
“Use your mittens to protect your face! The grass growths are shredding you”, Chells shouts over the roaring maelstrom.
“HUH?” Kelloran grunted through the chaos even as he covered his stinging cheeks with his hands.
“Time’s pouring backwards. Just after the snow packs down the grass, it whips up at us. Ymir’s huge coat is shielding me but you almost lost an eye.”
The wave enveloped them for an eternity or perhaps just a minute more. Time truly had no meaning.
Finally it ended. The noise of a hundred storms and creatures receded. The field slipped from spring, through winter, and stopped with long dry grasses and fading field blossoms of autumn. Kelloran lowered his hands and sighed heavily. The flesh on his face erupted in pain as the adrenaline stopped blocking the agony of a thousand grass cuts. Instinctively he scrunched up his features only to have the pain double. Before he could scream, a rush of warmth swept the torturous slices from him. He opened his eyes as Chells let go of his face.
“Sorry that took a sec. My hands were in as bad shape as your face. You ok?”
“Fine. Thanks for the heal.”
“No problem.” He replied flopping onto his back. “Gods I’m tired. I could sleep for a week.”
“Oh no. Where’s Stone?”
“Lost in history somewhere like us I’ll bet… though I’ve never had the Locus move me before so I could be wrong. Usually it just carries the past to us.”
“Do you think he’ll be alright?”
“Evar would be a better person to ask. Right now I think we had better try and figure out when we are and how to get back. Any ideas?”
“Well sitting here is not going to get us any answers. Let’s go see if FallenStar is up there.” Kelloran replied rising.
With a grunt Chells pulled himself to his feet and followed his friend up the hill.
Stone’s trip through the Archeo-Locus was just as disorienting and painful as his friends'. He realized quickly the slicing grasses were due to time’s rapid march backward. At first he attempted to quiet the blades whipping around him but found that impossible as only the roots remained the same. Each slashing stalk appeared and disappeared before he could bring his will to bear on it. He abandoned that tact quickly and simply wrapped himself in his cloak as tightly as he was able.
When the buffeting finally stopped he uncurled himself. After tending to his wounds with the healing magic stored in his blade, Stone scanned the area. He was alone, somewhere on the Great Fields. Sweat broke out on his brow as the hot summer sun beat down on him. Unsure of how far back into the past the Locus had carried him, the druid decided it would be best to attract as little attention to himself as possible at first. For the most part FallenStar should be safe but there were a dark times when strangers were met with arrows as matter of course. Showing up in town wearing his winter gear on such a sweltering day would draw too much attentions as well as questions he would be best avoiding.
He cut across the hillside heading for the woods. There he could stash his heavy clothing before entering FallenStar and finding out when he was. The shade of the forest was a blessing. The heat was cooking him to the point of making him dizzy. The coat, gloves and cloak came off immediately but he still had multiple layers on his legs, feet and torso. Knowing he was going to have to strip down to near nothing before redonning something appropriate for town, he kept heading deeper into the trees. The thought of someone stumbling across him in his underwear was something he’d rather avoid.
After a quarter of an hour he felt he was far enough from both the road and the field to be safe. He dropped the bundle of cloths and quickly began to shuck his tabard, tunic and undershirt. He pulled the tunic back on and began to unlace his breeches when the twig snapping tread of someone approaching reached his ears. Whoever it was must have been heavily armored as Stone could make out the heavy thud of footfalls among the sound of breaking sticks. He grab his cloths and searched the area quickly for a spot to hide. Caught in the wrong season, the druid swore to himself. The white cloak, perfect camouflage against the snow pack fields he had been snatched from, would stand out like a banner in the bright green woodlands. None of the rest of his gear was much better. The light grays might pass for rock but would still call unwanted attention first. He ducked down in a small gully and quietly tried to roll the bright white cloth and fur small enough to keep it from view.
Just before the forest walker came into view, a dark shape leapt onto him. He barely caught a glimpse of the man when a stranger’s voice whispered in his ear. “Shhh Stone. It’s Thomas. There is a giant coming this way.” The ‘Thomas” figure swirled his dark cloak over both of them just in time. Stone was caught between fighting off the man he was almost positive was not his friend and the huge figure that trudged into sight. One glance and he decided a possible knife in the ribs was better that attracting the newcomer’s attention. It was not giant but a troll. He had seen the troll that had taken up residence in the cave near Melcynda’s Peace and to say that it had been a sickly runt compared to this monstrosity would have been a gross understatement. It must have had stood a foot taller than Evar, with shoulders twice as broad as his own. It dragged an uprooted tree in one huge fist easily thicker that the posts Chells used at the gates of the WhiteStone. It lumbered past them. Thanks to the concealment offered by the man on his back, the brute did not spot the pair. Unfortunately trolls more often use their nose to hunt than they do their eyes. It stopped shortly after passing them and began to snuff the air. As it began to turn, Stone reacted with all possible speed. He quickly reached out to the forest and commanded the plants to begin to thrash farther down the path the troll had been heading. The huge brute turned and began to plod towards the spot. The druid dropped the connection and used his third and last plant control gift to repeat the effect as far from them as he could. The trashing flora caused the troll to charge away at an incredible speed, giving him and the man with him a chance to beat a stealthful retreat.
“By Allhan that thing was huge. Good thing I managed to reach you. Did you see how fast it was? I’m not sure if I could have out run it.” said the man beside him. Stone was finally able get a good look at the figure accompanying him. It was definitely not Thomas, but there was something very familiar about the man. His features were those of an older man with dark hair mixed with gray. Stone tensioned eased when, even though he could not quite place how he had encountered this man before, he was sure he knew him and on a amiable basis too.
“I hate to break this to you but you are not Thomas. Or at least physically you are not him.”
“There is usually a mirror at Natinia’s Fortune Grove. Let’s head there and you can see for yourself but trust me, to me you look like an old man, half a foot too short and with completely different features.”
“Hey you’re right. You are too tall all of a sudden. Really though. It’s me.”
“Somehow I know it is. I also know I have met the body you are in. I just can’t put my finger on who it is specifically.”
“Well there’s the Fortune Glade. Let me see what I look like.” As Thomas bent over the mirror, Stone saw his recoil with shock. “Oh Gods. It’s the Forgotten Alchemist.”
“That’s is! That’s exactly who you look like.”
“But how come you are still you?”
“Maybe because your soul is tied to his. Since nothing of me exists now, I was carries back fully. You on the other hand have a part of you here so only your spirit was transferred.”
“You know what this means. There might be someone here who knows him. Come on! Let’s get to town.” He turned and rushed across the field. While his pace was by no means as rapid as Thomas’ would have been, Stone had to jog to catch up. Even before they reached the buildings on the horizon they came across a woman carrying a large basket heading generally towards them.
“Good morning Alchemist. Who is your friend?” she greeted them.
“You know me?!” Thomas barked.
“”Why… Of course I do.”
“What is my name?!”
“Easy Thomas.” Stone warned.
“Thomas? I don’t understand. Your name is not Thomas.”
Thomas took a deep breath. The Forgotten Alchemist had had given his life new meaning and here was a chance to find the one thing that person wanted more than anything else. Stone’s warning barely registered when faced with the possibility of returning home with spirit’s lost name. Thomas pushed on unheeding of the woman’s distress. “What is it? Please tell me.”
“But… Why it’s …. Wait why do you not know your name?” She began to back away sketching the air with an ancient sign of warding. Then her eyes, which had narrowed in suspicion, suddenly opened wide. She stared, open-mouthed, at a something behind the two. The pair of friends whipped around to see a wall of blue energy bearing down on them.
“Oh no! Not yet!” breathed Thomas. “Please my lady. My name?”
Her answer, if it was given, was unheard as the Archeo-Locus snatched him and Stone from the land.
Instead being dragged backward across time, the pair of heroes where tossed forward into the deep winter of the present in a flash. Stone was immediately frozen to the bone. Pulling himself out of a drift, the second in the same day as far as he was concerned, Stone’s teeth immediately began to chatter. Luckily he could see the lights of FallenStar just up ahead. Of Thomas there was no sign. Trudging through the snow as quickly as possible, Stone dove into his home, grabbed his second best winter cloak and rushed back out into the cold air. He could hear Thomas swearing long before he reached the yellow alchemy shop. “Man! What do you say to someone who just has a golden prize like that yanked out from under him”, Stone thought as he reached the door. “The Fates sure have a twisted sense of humor.”
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 13 by Albie
“So close, Stone. I was so close…” the Alchemist complained, his demeanor calming from the rage of just moments ago. “If only I hadn’t been so quick to ask the name. Her suspicions were aroused; just as anyone’s would be…I would have had it!”
“I tried to warn you Thomas. You always do that. Demand the information rather than waiting the few extra seconds for finesse. I understand, you were excited, who wouldn’t be?”
“I had to know! What a gift that would have been. I’ll search an eternity for that tiniest lost piece of lore. That is my vow.” He glanced in the direction of the forgotten alchemist’s grave. “My whole life was changed by a single action. What at first seemed bad turned out to be the greatest luck. Kismet was certainly with me that day. Who knows what might happen if I can get him his name back. I might turn out that people will remember what he looked like, what he sounded like, all the things that make us who we are.”
“No one will remember him anyway. Everybody who was around when he was has passed on, for the most part. I do understand how important it is to you though. Just remember, a seed takes many years to become a tree. Next time you are on the path to the information, don’t rush it.” The druid looked out the window of the Alchemist’s shop, his eyes filled with worry. “When do you think Chells and Kelloran got blasted to? And what do you think the Telltaler wanted in that period?”
This is the second time “today” I’ve climbed this hill,” groaned Kelloran. “This better be worth it.” The two templar adherents trudged through the waist-high field grass, sweating more from carrying the bundles of their winter gear than from the cooling autumn air. The shadows were lengthening as the sun slowly sank below the tree line, hastening the steps of the two priests. As they finally topped the rise of the Fallenstar hill, they were greeted by the sight of the familiar townscape. Relief swept over the two, but was taken away just a few moments later, as they noticed things were not quite what they expected. A few differences here and there were enough to set the friends back on their heels.
“This isn’t right Kelloran, be on your guard,” warned Chells. “Look, the Temple of Thorns isn’t built yet, and some of the other shops are missing too.”
“The tavern is here, and that’s a good place to maybe gather a bit of information... and maybe a beer or two,” joked the Restorer. “How far do you think we got sent back?”
“Can’t be too far, I would guess...I don’t know twenty to thirty years. What would the Telltaler want here? He has to know he’s older than this. He can’t still be looking for his story after all of this time. Just following random leads he should have found something by now! I told Stone he was bad. There’s no way someone who mucks about in time can be up to good things. Remember to keep a low profile while we’re here. We can’t affect the future, but there’s nothing to say we don’t get killed here and just not know about it.”
Kelloran and Chells slipped into the Tavern, climbing the stairs and keeping an eye on everyone around them as the place filled up for dinner. Quickly the two adventurers took the chairs at Chells’ usual spot. The din of the place was amazing. Over it all they heard a shrill commanding voice: “That’s not even a problem. The Fist of Fallenstar will handle it. Hadest! Go get Fredrick! NOW! See if you can locate Dasket while you’re out too.” Chells and Kelloran looked at each other and started to laugh. Of all the markers in time, they certainly came across one they both knew well. The Fist of Fallenstar was a name that only one person in all the known realms used: Anatee.
“Chells, we can’t talk to these guys can we? They won’t recognize us now, but what happens when we get back to our time? I’ve always been chummy with Dasket, but I don’t think it’s because he knew me in the past, merely that he and I share a passion for the same things…do you think he knew me all along?”
“Doubtful. You can’t create a time loop like that. Time is fairly settled. You can’t go back and change anything that has a known effect in the future. For instance, a scroll is buried with a person and you divine that in the future someone will use it for evil, so you shoot back somehow, take it and hide it. That’s fine. As long as no one knew the location, and the event hasn’t already happened yet. Once that casket is opened, and the scroll is known to exist in the “present”, then you cannot remove it in the past. The universe will stop you at every turn. Events will rearrange themselves to smooth out whatever problems you are about to create. Your time spell will fail, the scroll will be replaced somehow, and you will always fail. We cannot change known present by altering the past.”
“While that seems bad Chells, it works both ways right? So, although we can’t change a tragedy to better, people like Necronias, Thadun and the usual gang of evildoers can’t alter the past to tip the balance in their favor either. So it works out, sort of, in the end. What my question was, is that Dasket might have known us all along, but never let on that this was the case right? That wouldn’t cause any paradoxical situations, and it wouldn’t alter anything in the future either right. He would know us “before” the present, and that doesn’t change the past.”
“No, Kell, I think it would change the “present”. We don’t exist right now. When we do in the future, if one of these guys knows us, we will have changed the past.”
“Uh…maybe we should get outta here then…I don’t want to cause any problems…”
“Bag it. Let’s go. We should try to figure out what the Telltaler is doing here anyway if we can. Let’s check out what we can, and try to find a way home.”
“Usually from what I’ve seen, when something gets tossed by an Archeo-Locus, as soon as the Telltaler stops sifting, things tend to go back where they came from, unless they are held onto or become part of the new time.” Kelloran quickly sifted through his notes for entries from previous encounters with the timequake, but most of them remained in his shop, close in proximity, far in ages. “Most of what I brought with me was to check out the Nihilus Grove, I don’t have any notes on this stuff.”
Quickly, the two priests hustled out of the tavern and back into the common. Tired, hungry and certainly without many options of finding information, Chells and Kelloran debated what to do without trying to draw too much attention to themselves.
“They’ve been gone for nearly a week now Thomas, and I’m really starting to get nervous. I normally wouldn’t be too worried, but Chells is just barely recovering from his spirit freeze. I hope they both went together, so they can patch each other up in a pinch. Why does Evar have to be gone on such long excursions? I can’t think of any more divinations that we can use. All blocked by the Telltaler. What happens if they showed up in the middle of a blizzard and froze to death somewhere out there?”
Stone paced back and forth through the Morningstar Apothecary. His heavy coat not stopping the shivers that occasionally coursed through his body. It was fear for his brother and his friend, not the cold that worried the druid. He never felt so helpless. All of the divinations that he tried were blocked, and the magical backlash that he was given each time soon deterred the two remaining friends from trying too many more options. The trees were of no help either. Every commune with nature he attempted came back with the same response: “No passers. Windy today. Ice in me.” The trees slow responses were the best he could even muster at this point. The animals had somehow managed to get into the deep sleep of hibernation despite the red malaise that still hung about the forest. They few that remained were very reluctant to talk, but none had seen the two wayward travelers. The spirits that remained awake had little to offer either. Fredrick was combing the woodlands, and Bobrek stood a silent watch all about the town, looking for any sign or clue. The Telltalers gravestone was eerily silent, and no spirit was detected within.
The tall alchemist worked hurriedly on his latest attempted potion. The smoke and the fumes swirling not away from, but into the flask he held boiling over a flame. Sparks of red mist flashed then vanished from within the alembic he held momentarily suspended over the flask. “I don’t think they’re dead. It’s like I said before, they probably found some great historical piece of lore, the lost temple of Rabobabo, or a spirit that nobody’s talked to in a couple of days, and they got sidetracked. You know how those guys are. If no one else knows about it, they’ll spend two days just cataloguing the guy’s date of birth, death and knowing Kelloran, resurrection. Maybe they found some lost bit of lore that can only be read by deciphering a cryptogram that requires knowledge of the elvish language, or some other random thing. Who knows? They do it all the time!”
Dropping to one knee, Kelloran’s sword flashed up, the malevolent black tendrils reaching deep into the flesh of the man’s stomach. On his right, Chells pressed his attacker back with repeated exorcism chants and quick stabs to the head. Whirling Doomherald in a wide heavy arc, Chells managed to liberate the zombie’s head from his shoulders, and it collapsed in heap atop the fallen cultist. Blood, burns and rips covered both of the priests’ cloaks, and in many cases even penetrating as deeply as their flesh. They had been out of healing spells for hours now, and exhaustion was quickly taking its toll on them. “I never thought I’d actually want the Staff of the Templar, but I filled it with cure medium spells just a couple of days ago…Ugghh that last flame burst really got me.” Sucking his breath through his teeth in gasps, the restorer collapsed to the ground. “We can’t keep this up Chells. I thought we couldn’t affect the future. Seems to me like we’re affecting a lot of people’s futures…like this guy’s.”
“We can’t affect anything that’s known about. Did you know him?”
“I guess not! How do they keep finding us? These woods are infested!” The leaf litter made a comfortable resting spot for the moments of recovery, but neither man thought they were safe. If only they hadn’t left the tavern…
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 14 by Steve
There was plenty to be uneasy about but oddly enough it was his own flippant comment that was bothering Chells the most at the moment. “Did you know him?” No, but someone from this day must have. By his count Kelloran and he had dispatched about a dozen of the cultists as well as roughly the same number of the mutated zombies. Lucky they had only come in small bands. If any sizable band found them the two would have been overwhelmed. The only positive point was that the two templars were able to start each fight healed of their injuries but that advantage was over. They had only Kelloran’s first aid skills to staunch their latest set of wounds now.
Chells gripped his blade once more and listened to its inhuman voice. It continued to throb as it has ever since they had beaten the first undead and their dark human companions. At first Chells had assumed the warning signals DoomHerald was relaying meant that more of the cultists were converging on him. Sure enough the sword had pulsed sharply just before the next attack. Yet when he had dismissed their impact on the past to Kelloran the blade nearly shook itself free from his grasp. Thinking about it now he realized the warning sensations DoomHerald was sending him had two very different feels. The undead attacks felt much like the warnings he had come to know. This steady throbbing was something else; something new and somehow far more ominous.
“We’ve got a problem, Kell.”
“I was wrong. Our killing these guys has got to have repercussions.”
“But you said we can’t change the past yet we’ve been fighting these guys all day. That makes no sense... unless these guys were going to die out here anyway.”
“That is what I was thinking too. The problem is DoomHerald has been warning me of something since this began and I think we are fast approaching some critical point.”
“Like encountering whatever huge monster killed all these guys?”
“I think more like crossing the line where the past can’t accept our actions. At that point I have the feeling something really bad is going to happen.”
“I don’t know but I think there is something out there that actively watches history and makes sure no-one screws around with it. I also think it would be capable and willing to wipe out everything we have ever known and touched than take the chance we make even the smallest knowable change to our past.”
“So by fighting back we could be destroying FallenStar.”
“Yes and even worse I think we would destroy it now not in our own time. Then all the good the heroes of the town have done between now and then would be wiped out as well.”
“But that would be changing the past.”
“No that would be changing the future. It would happen now. The future does not seem to be bound by the same rules otherwise divinations would not be allowed.”
“So what do we do? Can DoomHerald tell us how to safely fix our presence here?”
“I wish. The sword is only barely sentient. It can’t tell us what to do, only point out danger and it has been humming steadily since the cultists first found us. We do need answers though. I have an idea how to get them too that should be pretty safe.”
“Thought I’d try Spirit Writer. That way we could ask questions of the spirits around here with out directly interacting with them. The question is what to ask.”
“Well we can’t ask what would have killed the cultists because that hasn’t happened yet and may not happen at all now. How about ‘why are the cultists attacking us?’”
“That could be anything. It could point out what they are doing here but it could also be that they hate townsfolk. I’d rather cast as few of these as possible. Not only is my mana hitting rock bottom but I’m getting very nervous about mucking around.”
“Ok how about this. The cultists are definitely locking onto us somehow. Remember when the bearded one pointed at us and yelled. He said something like ‘There they are.’.”
“Actually I think he said ‘There he is’. But I get your meaning. They were after us before they even saw us.”
“So why don’t you focus on that. ‘Why are they after us?’ ‘How are they tracking us?’ Something like that.”
“Better. I wonder… Oh hell DoomHerald just went off again. More are coming.” Chells quickly pulled out a scrap of parchment and inked his pen.
“What are you doing? We should get out of here.”
“We’ve never managed to ditch any of the last parties once they got on our trail. The warning felt distant. We have time.”
Kelloran watched Chells slip into a trance and quickly began to search the woods for the approaching enemies. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” He muttered. Seconds dragged like hours. All of a sudden the scratching of the quill on paper nearly sent the Restorer jumping out of his skin. Who in their right mind enters a trance when the guys who have been trying to kill them all day are coming right for them. “Come on Chells,” he whispered. “Hurry it up.” The believer continued to write as the first of the zombies came into sight. “Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Come on Chells.” He grumbled under his breath. The zombie broke into a shambling run followed by two more. There was no cultist with them thankfully but even so, if his partner did not rouse himself, three zombies were probably more than he could handle. He scrapped together enough magic to cast heroism on himself and put himself between the rushing undead and Chells.
Though he was never the most deadly of fighters in FallenStar, Kelloran had possible the best defense of anyone living in the town in his time. He battered aside the raking claws and forced his opponents to stumble over each other. He knew that if they managed to get a hold of him he was done for but time again the zombies were repelled. Unfortunately he could not land a blow on them and keep them back at the same time. It was only a matter of time before one of the brainless cannibals came at him from behind or went after Chells. He hammered his fist into the one of the fiend’s face and gave himself some much needed room. He saw a chance to even his odds as the next zombie raised its arms to swipe at him. With all his might he drove his sword straight through the rotting flesh of its neck. The blade split the undead spine, destroying it but Kelloran, having had to swing down on an angle to make the blow, ended up driving his sword deep into the corpse’s chest. His blade snagged as the headless body crashed into him. He stumbled backward fighting not to fall or loose his weapon. The two remaining zombies lunged for him. One of them spun sideways as DoomHerald ripped through its face. Chells’ back-swing was not much, just a simple rap to the remaining undead’s shoulder, but it distracted the monster long enough for Kelloran to free his sword and finish it off.
“Man! That was almost very bad. Glad you were able to join me. Had there been a cultist we would have been dead.”
“Sorry. I hope we got something worthwhile.” Not wanting to attract any more notice Chells turned the page toward Kelloran rather than reading aloud.
I have heard the followers of shadow speak of their
search in the wood. They say a stranger walks these hills.
One who follows the path of light. One who could be a
danger to their evil purposes. They name him Krenowan
and they track him through stones which glow red when
they are pointed at one who is not native to this place.
They came to where I and other dead as myself lay and
immediately the stones glowed when targeted on those
graves whose occupants had journeyed here. They have
also said no-one must return to their master without
proof of their conquest of the stranger. They said death
would be better than to return in failure
“Oh shit. I was afraid of that.” Chells swore.
“Huh? How is that bad? I was thinking there was some huge devil loose who was killing all these assholes. This says he is one of the good guys.”
“I have been trying to figure out why DoomHerald’s warning keeps becoming more and more dire each time we take out one of these bands. If this Krenowan buttered every cultist and zombie sent against him then our killing them would have no impact on the future. But if the bands we took out had been fighting Krenowan this whole time, weakening him until finally one group kills him...”
“Then without the previous battles Krenowan wins and we have changed the past.”
“Exactly. As long as we only kill those who were already supposed to be killed by him then we are safe but when the group that was supposed to kill him falls to us or fails to kill him because he is still too strong, we have crossed the line.”
“As soon as Krenowan kills one from the band that came after he died then we have fucked up. Oh shit is right. How do we fix it?”
“We need to find out where and when Krenowan was supposed to have died.”
“How can we do that? It hasn’t happened yet and if we divine about it now won’t we see his death possibly to the wrong ones?”
“We need to go to the Lost God’s Altar.”
“Shhhh. Q’plag is the old god of time. I’ll bet he could lead us right to the crisis spot. It will cost us a pretty penny but I can’t think of any other solution.”
“The Lost God’s Altar. In case you had forgotten I get ripped apart there. No thanks! There has got to be another solution.”
“But what? Anything we do could
trigger the Watcher raining fire down on us and our home. Even calling on
most of the Gods for help could get us into trouble. Q’palg is almost
surely the exception. From everything I’ve read about him he was pretty
much exempt from the rules. Even in his own pantheon.
Listen you don’t have to go to Altar with me. Once we get close, you hang back. I’ll do the ceremony and then we see what we can do to get out of this mess. Argue with me as we walk. I get the feeling we are running out of time.”
“This is just fucking great. Ok, but if you think of anything and I mean anything else, you spit it out.”
“Done. Come on.”
Moving as rapidly as possible, the two hiked for the Satyr Woods when Chells stopped short in front of his friend. “Mask Aura! It might work.” He breathed.
“Mask Aura. If we cloak ourselves with the spell it might fool the cultist’s trackers. That way we don’t kill any more of them.”
“Good idea. I don’t have any. Do you?”
“I can cast Detect Aura. We need to change them to Masks Auras. They are the same sphere and level so it shouldn’t be too tough. Prayers worry me though. It could be safe since simple prayers are usually done by angels but still. What do you think?”
“It is a pretty simple request but still if the God takes notice of us then we would be affecting now. I don’t know as I’d chance it.”
“What about virtues? I don’t know what drives them but they seem far more abstract than a direct prayer.”
“Any more cultist we encounter could be the ones that blow it for us so why not. Virtue boons sound a lot less risky than calling on a God.”
Chells called up two of his newly returned spells and envisioned all those who would suffer if he and Kelloran were to fail to set things right. He could save them from that if he could complete his task. The compassion he felt for his home and the spirits who had given their lived to protect that haven became a rush of energy. The believer molded that force to the spells in his mind, shifting them subtly from the ability to read auras to an enchantment that would create them. He quickly loosed the newly altered spells at himself and Kelloran. As he released the spells, he knew it had worked, for in his spirit he felt both of the boons of compassion he held wink away.
“Ok it’s done. Now we just need to avoid the patrols. If the mask works they won’t be finding us with those stones any time in the next week.”
The closer they came to the Lost God’s Altar the more nervous Kelloran became. This is exactly the kind of unavoidable situation that would trigger a divine warning. Which meant that this almost had to be the trip that meant his death. He knew he would not abandon Chells at the outskirts of the Altar yet part of him nagged that he might be endangering him more if he accompanied him. What if his being there triggered the attack? Maybe staying back was really the right thing do. Then again was this argument born out of fear not reason? For the hundredth time Kelloran wished he dared to use his prayers to guide his actions.
Whatever his decision was going to be, the time for it had arrived. Chells rummaged through the few possessions he had with him. Luckily the contents of his belt pouch had a quite a few items he might be able to use to sacrifice to the Lost God. “I’ve got five black gems but I doubt they are worth enough. The Black Lotus incense should work as well. You have anything of value? He likes black items, things made of lead or ash and things very old or dead.”
“Pretty bizarre list. I don’t think so, sorry.”
“Yeah remember they come from a time when forged copper was worth more than gold. Hey I can add a dust of disappearance too.” said Chells holding up a vial of black grains. “That’s hopefully enough. I’ll be back as quick as I can. You…”
“Kell, really, I’ll be fine. Why tempt fate?”
“Maybe I’m supposed to go. Maybe it was a warning to be prepared. It doesn’t matter. If I don’t go now I might never go and right now I can’t think of any reason greater than this to bring me to the altar. Let’s just get it over with.”
“You have any spells back?”
“I have three, You?”
“Just one. Maybe we should wait a bit more.”
“Come on Chells. A minute ago you were will to go with just the one spell alone. Now with my three and the rest of me you are hesitating?”
“Rational impulse control has never been my strong point. It wasn’t that I was thinking one spell was fine before you were coming. Honestly it just dawned on me that I was down two spells.”
“So what is your Doom sense telling you?”
“It’s growling louder than ever.” the believer replied looking down at his blade. “Ok let’s go do this.”
Climbing the last of the hillside, Chells spied the altar dedicated to the oldest of the pantheons he knew. The stone table looked newer that he remembered. The area had been cleared recently and the light filtering through the leaves even reflected from it’s surface. Odd how rough the stone had come in the span of years separating then from his own time. It wasn’t until he had stepped up to the artifact that he realized the stone had not been polished. The light was glistening off a sheet of blood which coated the stone. In the center of the seven ringed icon of the Lost Gods, lay a copper dagger and a few feet away beyond the altar lay a corpse. Standing in the middle of the circle drawn by the life blood of the sacrificed body, Chells knew he was too late to back away.
“Kelloran!! Stay back!” Even as he shouted his warning a red mist began to form above the ring of the same color on the altar. From out of the bloody tinged cloud came a voice of a hundred animals crying in agony. “I am Pazutheok, Keeper of the Infected, the Plague-Spinner, the Rabid One. I have been called to slay thee Shaman. You will find that your gifts are of no use to one such as I. Would thee beg for thy life?”
“I would ask who hath summoned you against me, demon,” Chells called while unbuckling his belt pack. He flipped the pouches to Kelloran behind him who was looking quizzically at Chells
“Hath” he mouthed. Chells shrugged and whispered “See if there is anything in there we can use.”
“The blood sacrifice to Hdus, the God of Power was performed to bring me from my home of bestial corpses. It was said that next human to cross the blood line not sworn to the Shadow would be you Shaman. Now that you are here I would hear you scream before I rend your soul from your flesh.”
“But what if I am not a Shaman? Would that not void your contract?”
“As if I would be tricked so? No you will learn none such from me. Instead let us test thy claim. What be you if not Shaman?”
“Be silent. I will taste for myself.” The cloud erupted into a whirling kaleidoscope of blood red animals. There were foxes and hawks, rats and deer and many many more. Each stretched away from the core of the cloud, never fully breaking free of it. Kelloran stopped in his search through Chells' bags for anything that might help them and witnessed what Thomas must have seen in his vision. The creatures were horrible to see. Disease had ravaged their natural beauty, be it the insanity of rabies, the wasting of cancer, the pustulations of pox or flesh consuming plague. Even the color of their coats was stolen as every beast was shaded in the same bloody tones as the mist.
The swarm of dead creatures slammed into Chells, clawing and biting through the believer’s armor. In seconds he was lost to sight, covered by the demon’s attack. Kelloran dropped the belt and ripped his sword out of its scabbard. As he stood, the contents of the belt pack struck the ground and an object flew out. It was a coin. At that moment everything seemed to stop. The coin hung in the air glimmering gold in a beam of sunlight. The writhing red demon stood motionlessly entwined about his friend. And over altar a form stood. Unlike the demonic servant this Being was one of the seven who held sway over this holy ground. In an instant the Restorer felt a deeply profound kinship with the golden God before him and knew that He too felt the same. The love of life, in all its simple and wondrous beauty race back and forth along the connection the two shared. The God spoke not but Kelloran heard one word and the promise it held, “ASK.”
Then everything moved once more in a rush. Chells’ screams echoed off the hills as Pazutheok savaged him. The coin began to fall. Kelloran snatched it out the air and leapt across the blood circle. The demon’s attention turned to him immediately. A hundred red eyes locked on the Restorer as claws and fangs and beaks gnashed the air at him. “Who is this now? An extra feast for my hunger.”
Kelloran slapped the gold coin onto the altar and cried out with all his heart “HELP ME, PLEASE!” The God was with him even as he spoke the last word. A golden shield sprang up between the demon and the templar. The vile thing’s scream as it slammed it the barrier was deafening, as if every creature in the forest shrieked at once. In its torment the demon recoiled so sharply it spat Chells out, dropping him heavily onto the stone table. While it was stunned Kelloran watched as the gold aura about him reach out and touch another of the circles on the altar. He could hear the One beside him speak to Another and felt an almost brotherly love overcome him. From the second ring a spell of deep purple magic boiled forth, much like the red cloud that had been the demon. This mist flowed to the restorer and into him. It gathered in his lungs and waited. As Pazutheok turned to snatch Chells up once more, Kelloran blew outwards with all his might. The violet jet blasted into the fiend. The magic ripped the demon apart. Even though it felt as if his ears would burst from the cacophony of the monster's screams, Kelloran continued to blow the God’s gift far longer than he could ever have exhaled normally. When the last bloody remnant of the demon vanished, so finally did Kelloran’s ability exhale.
Gasping he ran up to Chells. His friend had managed to role over and had thrown his arm across altar. Kelloran turned him onto his back and recoiled. Chells’ eyes were completely black. Not just the pupil but every part of the eye was as dark as pitch. As Chells lay still, Kelloran felt the last of the golden God’s blessing flow into the gravetender. The wounds that covered Chells arms began to leak streams of green puss. The stench made Kelloran gag and almost release his grasp. One by one, torrents of disease poured out of the cuts until they flowed cleanly. The blood flow slowed to a normal trickle as none of the wounds were especially deep. Unfortunately there scores of them. The blessing vanished with the last of the sickness so Kelloran quickly cast his own healing spells to stop as much of the bleeding as he could. The rest he bound, glancing over and over again at the ebon hued eyes.
As he bandaged the last of the tears, Chells stirred. He blinked once and then again. On the third his eyes returned to their normal shade. The believer shook his head. “Whatever you did, thanks Kell.”
“I’m not really sure what I did but I saw one of the Lost Gods. He was the one who gave me the power to banish the demon.”
“What color was he?”
“Gevistah. The God of Life. Good choice for you. Tell me about it later. We haven’t got much time.”
“I thought we had to make a sacrifice to Q’palg to find out…”
“We already did. I made a gamble. Q’plag is partial to dead things. I offered Him Pazutheok. He was a demon of plague dead animals. I figured if you beat it, Q’plag could have the demon or its victims, whichever He wanted. If you lost, I offered us instead. I don’t know what it would be like serving the God of Death and Time but it had to be better than being consumed by Pazutheok.”
Kelloran stared at his friend. A jumble of statements vied for his attentions but after everything that had just happened he was not sure which to utter. “Talk later. We have got to hurry.” Chells continued. “Krenowan fought the demon and won but he was really in bad shape afterwards. He had used up a lot of magic fighting the battles we have fought for him and so Pazutheok nearly beat him. The next band of cultist to face him finished him. I don’t think he would have had a problem this time. Whomever summoned the demon seriously miscalculated how powerful this guy is.” Chells exclaimed. “The cultists who killed him were drawn here when the summoning trap went off. They are on their way. So is Krenowan.”
“So what are we going to do?”
“We are going to have to kill him.”
“Without the demon and the previous fights he is surly going to survive. While he is engaged with the cultists we are going to have to try and cut him down. I got the feeling that he can sense evil so we should be able to surprise…”
“There has got to be another way. You’re talking about deliberate murder. I understanding killing someone who is attacking you or even killing someone sworn to evil but this guy sounds like a hero.”
“A hero that was fated to die. A hero that if he lives could mean the destruction of half a hundred other heroes that came after him. If you have a better idea I’d love to hear it.”
“What happened after the cultists killed Krenowan?”
“Well we are lucky there. None of the cultists survive the fight with Krenowan. A zombie finally kills him as he is finishing off the last cultist. The zombie wanders off looking pretty ragged so I hope it falls apart before making any real impact on the past. That part worries but … anyway a bit later the bodies are found by another group of the dark guys. They cut one of his fingers off and strip him of a number of icons he wears. Shit we might have to hide some of the items he hasn’t used but should have by now.”
“You are way too calm about this. Doesn’t it bother that we are talking about killing someone who very likely could follow our own Gods.”
“The finger part bothers me. I hope they do not use it to bind him into servitude but as for the dieing part, no. Why should it? He died already. Everybody dies. I have never understood why it is such big deal for most people.”
“Oh Gods! Not this argument again. It is not him being dead I’m having a problem with. It is that we are going to kill him. We are going to know that we killed a good man because we fucked up. We are going to have to live with that.”
“Look at it this way. If we set things right and we return to our own time we will do so knowing about Krenowan, which we didn’t before. If he is trapped by these evil bastards we might be able to do something about it. If his grave is lost somewhere in the woods, forgotten and alone, we could find him and, if you and he want, maybe even resurrect him. He might be alive and well in our time. That is something else we could discover but not if our time no longer exists.”
“You still don’t get it. I knew you had a cold streak but I thought it was just your blindside when it comes to death. You really don’t get that even though in end things are balanced out, that this is just wrong. You know right… wrong. Forget it! I need some air.” Kelloran spat and he turned and walked away.
He crossed the stream and climbed up into the boulders that littered the hillside. After a bit he found a spot hidden from the altar. He couldn’t tell which bothered him more; the fact that Chells could be so callous about murdering a follower of light or that he could see in some ways the gravetender was right. For the better part of an hour he warred with himself until the sound of battle below alerted him that his time had run out. He stood and peered over the top of the boulder to see Krenowan for the first time. He was dressed in leather armor decorated by beads and feathers. In each hand he wielded a weapon, his right a long blade and in his left a small axe. Against him was by far the biggest party he had seen so far. Drawn by the demon summoning a couple of groups must have banded together. The shaman appeared to be having no difficulty against the cultists. The feather talismans flared up and burned away as they deflected the magic of the shadow casters. He dodged nimbly around their physical attacks as well. Two zombies had already fallen and it looks as though the first of the cultist would follow soon. As he watched a figure moved at Krenowan’s back. Hidden in the thorny shrubs Chells waited as Krenowan slowly dodged back towards him. Step by step he moved backward killing one cultist after another, even after they had managed to land a number of telling blows against him. Blood ran down his left arm and his quick steps held a noticeable limp. Still it seemed that unless some twist of fate occurred he would prevail. Kelloran watched as Krenowan stepped ever closer to that disaster. Just as he came into reach, Chells raised himself up behind the shaman, lifting DoomHerald for a two-handed blow.
“Krenowan! Look out!” cried a voice that only after a moment Kelloran realized had been his own.
The shaman turned and saw Chells but before he could react the last cultist rammed his blade into the warrior’s side. Krenowan buried his axe in the attacker’s neck only to be bowled over by the only still animate zombie. Chells looked about to dispatch the undead then instead stepped back. The minion tore open the shaman’s throat ending his life. Only then did Chells cast an exorcism to destroy the creature. He reached down and ripped a number of feathers and beads off Krenowan’s still form, pausing time again to search his memory for which to take and which to leave.
At last he climbed the hill up to met the restorer. He had the good sense to avoid meeting his friend’s eyes but that did little to cool Kelloran’s anger. “You could have killed the zombie. Instead you let him die by one of the undead. You left him to become a twilight zombie.”
“And if he was supposed to be one of the twilight dead…”
Kelloran had never wanted to strike someone he was close to more than in that moment. Chells walked past him and began to search for a spot to hide the talismans. Unable to stand still any longer Kelloran ripped the fetishes out of the believer’s hand and climbed higher to where he had seen a deep hole. One by one he dropped them, watching them spiral into the darkness. Before he had a chance to release the last feather he felt as if a huge hand had snatched him from the ground. Blue light swarmed about his eyes and finally dropped him heavily onto the frozen earth. A bit dazed he sat up and shivered, then looked with wonder at his hand. There clenched in his fist remained a single blue feather.
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 15 by Dave
A few days had passed since the return of Chells and Kelloran from the past. Each seemed burdened with his own thoughts, and with the snows finally receding, Thomas was ready to do some heavy contemplating of his own. He sat in his shop, eyeing the dozens of labeled vials, bottles and jars he stocked and sold. For some reason, the last few years had brought a considerable drop in sales of his once invaluable alchemical items. Whether it was other townsfolk gaining the ability to cast healing spells or finally using a stockpile of saved items, he did not know. Lately, he had been his own best customer—with crawling through the miasma under the Temple of Thorns & battling the Demon Khan—but even he could produce much needed healing potions or avoidance dusts on the fly, so therefore, very little money was being placed in the coffers of the Morning Star Apothecary. He had to do something.
He first traveled to speak with Yazminch, the former alchemist of Fallenstar. Her wisdom and influence had helped Thomas make the decision to retain his current class. As he reached her resting place in the White Stone Cemetery, Thomas cleared the fallen leaves and weeds growing around her gravestone. Calling upon his magic, the alchemist reached out with a second sight to view the condition of her spirit: White. Good—he could see her spirit moving along the vast shelves in her laboratory—gathering ingredients and tools to assist her in her work. Next he beseeched Allahn to grant him the knowledge and ability to speak with the spirit of the now dead Yazminch. The connection was made and he began to speak:
“Greetings master & pardon the interruption. I know you have helped me with unknown formulas in the past, Yazminch. Is there any other secret procedures you know of that I could add to my inventories?”
A ghostly, yet strong reply came from the woman, “Thomas—or should I say Sir Thomas? Yes, we have heard of your recent “promotion” to the ranks of Knight with Allahn. I understand you were instrumental in his being awoken from his slumber with the help of your friends, Raith, Chells and Kelloran. It was only right the Candleman reappoint you to his special favored. I am most proud of you.”
“Unfortunately, many of the alchemical items you now possess are in fact, ones I developed or had passed down to me through the years. My advise would be to consult one who has been around longer than me to see if he knows of some ancient formulas or the place where they could be found.”
“My thanks m’lady. I will speak with you again anon.”
Hardly discouraged, Thomas broke the connection with the master alchemist and did a quick inventory of his spells. He also checked his stock of Protected Speak with Spirits and Protected Graves Tongue potions as he headed toward the Dusk Ground Cemetery. He knew he might have some trouble extracting information from the Forgotten Alchemist, but it was worth a try.
He crossed the dried up streambed and deftly worked his way through the fallen branches and briars that surrounded the areas around the graveyard of the ancients. He scanned the hallowed grounds and proceeded to the outskirts of the area—where he had placed the stone and hopefully, final resting place of the nameless one.
With no regard for his clothing, Thomas sank to his knees into 2 inches of think mud and prayed to his patron deity. The knowledge he gained of the greenish hue of the spirit if the Forgotten Alchemist made him realize he would not need the potions he had inventoried earlier. Again, he asked Allahn to grant him the knowledge to speak with the ghostly form before him.
“Greetings Ancient One. I come to you seeking your vast knowledge and wisdom of alchemical lore of old.”
The elderly man looked up from an old wooden mortar & pestle—one very similar to the one in the Morning Star Apothecary. He stretched and eyed Thomas suspiciously. When the glimmer of recognition crossed his face, he finally spoke, his voice like silvery mercury
“Greetings young apprentice. Lore you do seek? Well let me speak.”
What followed was a monologue that would have left the Enigmatic Babbler impressed. Thomas feverously wrote down most of what the ancient man said in his journal, knowing he would have time later to sort through all that was said. When the connection with the ender spirit was ended, the younger alchemist appeared weary and spent, but a smile of satisfaction was etched in his face.
He headed back to town, clutching his chronicle and took long strides to make it back to his shop. After spending some time reviewing his notes, he packed up a few belongings, slung his backpack over his shoulder and sheathed his broadsword. He knew this would be a rewarding journey—similar to the one to the Riven House or Candle Keep. Thomas locked his shop up tight and headed east. He realized he might be gone a few days, so he stopped by the Tavern to add some rations to his pack and refill his water skin. He tossed a few silver coins into Raith’s lock box and re-checked his notes.
“I’ll be back well before the summer season”, he thought to himself with determined approval as he headed toward the Annals of Alchemical Antiquities.
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 16 by Steve
"What do you mean he's gone?!"
"Just that Stone. Since Kelloran has forbidden me to take spirit form this week, I figured I’d work on the scry pool. I saw Thomas leaving town with a pretty heavy pack so I asked the pool when he'd be back. I'm still not very good at reading the thing yet but Thomas is definitely not coming back any time in the next few weeks. Maybe months."
Stone paced in front of the White Temple while his brother reclined on the stoop of his home. "You would have thought he would have said something to one of us."
"Thomas? You talking about the same guy who passed us on the way to the big fight and kept going with 'I'm going that way." Chells replied grinning.
"Good point. Hope he's ok out there."
"Well the good news is that the image of Thomas returning showed the woodlands mold free. I tried to scry how Troth was appeased but I ran out of juice with the pool by that point."
"I guess it’s up to the three of us then to clear out the woods. The others will be coming back to FallenStar soon. Who knows what the goblins and woodland animals will be like then?"
"I hate to say it but today it is just going to be the two of you. Kelloran is trying to get back to a normal schedule and so kept me up all day yesterday. I wasn't paying attention to time with the scry pool experiments last night so I'm going on day two without sleep. Let me get a couple hours and I'll meet you guys for dinner. I'll be able to pitch in then."
"That's too bad. I was going to try and speak with Troth today. Considering how much better you guys did with Ymir, I was planning on doing it with both of you there. I guess we can hold off until this evening then."
"I think you might as well go on without me. For the past few years Troth has kind of been ignoring me."
"No idea. I mean I can get His attention if I really push but He used to respond to me much easier than He does now. Even when I do get his attention I feel like I have to shout to make myself heard by Him. The weird thing is He never seems annoyed with me. I thought I had failed some vow and that was why He is so distant. I'm sure now that's not it. He notices oath-breakers alright, almost more than he is aware of truthful folks. So if you are going to try and contact him, I'm not sure how much help I would have been anyway."
"Alright. I'll see you later then."
"Oh... and Stone, do me a favor."
"Could you forget to mention to Kelloran that I'm off to bed? He is determined to nurse me back to health whether I want to be or not. I don’t think he realizes that until I heal the damage from the Realm of the Dead, I’m never going to be all right in the flesh.”
“I’m sure it can slip my mind. Go crash. I’ll see you at dinner.”
“Thanks.” said the exhausted Believer as he rose and slipped inside. Stone started to make plans as he turned and went to find Kelloran.
A few hours later the two townsmen were climbing down the steep stairs from Melcynda’s Peace. The path running out of the back of the White Stone cemetery was shorter but twice Stone had caught glimpses of movement in the woods that appeared to be goblins. Normally he would have run the little wretches down but he could not tell if any of them wielded the powerful crossbows. As long as the wood fiends had those ballistae, they were longer a nuisance but a true threat. Trekking through the White Woods and the Peace added an hour to the trip but it was surely goblin-proof.
“This would have been easier if we had just prayed in the Temple of Thorns. Troth is not as strongly allied to the Gods of Light as many but He still should have answered us there.” Stone remarked.
“He should but He is more strongly tied to the Woodland Altar.”
“I never considered Him much of a woodland type God.”
“I don’t think He is either. It has more to due with the fact that He invested a good deal of His power when the Woodland Altar was formed. The reason that the races are bound by their oaths here is because of His blessing.” Kelloran replied.
“Is He the one who makes violence impossible on the holy ground too?”
“I didn’t see that but He could be. Either way this is where I felt the strongest connect to the angels and so was able to trace their source.”
“Why don’t you take the lead here then? I’ll pour in what prayers I have but, after that encounter with Ymir, I think I’ll take a break from directly confronting the divine for a little while.”
“Sure thing. Let me prepare the Altar and we’ll begin in a couple minutes.”
Kelloran drew out of his pack a pair of gold candles and fit them into the candlesticks which adorned the stone table. He lit them as well as two cones of incense. Finally he lifted a heavy grey leather bound book from his satchel. The gold lettering on it read Oaths and Laws of the Watchmen of FallenStar. This he placed gently on the altar. With a practiced eye he looked over the table to see if the effect suited the image of the Oath Gods as he knew Him. He slid the candles a inch closer to the volume. “That should do it. You ready?”
“You start and I’ll add my prayers in.”
Kelloran stepped up to the altar and bowed his head. "Lord Troth I call on you. By the bonds you have laid here I seek your council on behalf of those who have been touched by your anger. Please tell us how we may set right the discord that lies between us."
In that moment, nothing moved within the clearing. Even the wind ruffled leaves stilled and fell silent. The presence of the God of Oaths drew itself out of everywhere at once. Neither mist nor light but some what akin to both, the essence of the Troth flowed out of the trees, the altar, the earth, the lattice, even from Stone and Kelloran themselves. The God stood at least as tall as Thomas or Evar, dresses in black robes with white piping.
"I have come. Tell me what you want of me." He commanded in a voice so rich it stunned Kelloran for a moment.
The templar sensed this was not a God who sought awe or wordy reverence. Direct respectful responses would go much further than veneration. Shaking off the effect of the God's voice and presence, Kelloran launched into the meat of the matter.
"Troth, your angels hover above the town of FallenStar. They are clearly angry with us..."
"Incorrect. I am not angry with your town as a whole. Continue."
"Um.. well... they... or you are angry with someone."
"While neither Stone nor I are truly followers of yours we would like to offer our services to help you resolve your dispute if possible."
"Specify what your motives are for this offer."
"I cannot really know exactly how Stone would answer that,” replied Kelloran sensing the God’s attention to detail. “so I'll simply state my own reasons."
"Your reply demonstrates a higher degree of wisdom than I had expected. Continue."
"My reasons are twofold. First I am a servant of the Gods. I see it as my duty to try and end any conflicts I see between my home and the Divine."
"Incorrect. You see it as your duty to try and end any conflicts you see between your home and those Divine who do not judge to be evil."
"You are right. I think we should be opposing the Dark Gods. My second reason is that your anger is affecting the physical world in the form of a red stain. The animals and plants around FallenStar have been changed by it and become dangerously hostile."
"You speak the truth well enough. I will stay My ire from FallenStar if you elicit the Jack O'Lantern's justice on the TellTaler for breaking the oath sworn to Me that he would never more rewrite the past."
"What did he rewrite?"
"That is unknown to me. I know his oath is broken but My memory is shaped now by his tampering."
"So you need us to get the Jack O'Lantern to pass judgment on the TellTaler for an action you know he committed but you have no idea what specifically that action was."
"Correct. It is my belief that the Jack O'Lantern will not act without specific knowledge of the TellTaler's tampering. My inability to punish the spirit for his wrong again me is the reason My wrath has festered into your world. I will banish the symptoms your land suffers from my anger for three months. When the new month rises in the month of Meadowsear I will let my angels deliver my umbrage for the TellTaler latest infraction again. Know that you and Stone will be included in my vexation should you fail to acquire the Jack O'Lantern verdict by that time. I require to know if you still wish to accept this accord."
Kelloran turned to Stone to ask him what he thought only to find the druid's attention was fixed on the tree beside him. "Stone!" the templar hissed through clenched teeth. "Your attention would be a really good thing just now."
The forestal snapped up his index finger at Kelloran, seemed to listen to some unseen voice for a moment more, then turned to his friend with a stormy look. "I WAS paying attention. That is until a lead to how to solve this mess came to me. Take the deal and I'll explain afterwards."
The restorer faced the God once more and spoke. "Very well, Troth. Stone and I will bring your grievance to the Jack O'Lantern with whatever proof we can acquire."
"Understand that bearing my case alone will not stay my hand. I will only relent in this matter when a verdict by the Jack O'Lantern has been passed."
"Then an accord has been made. By these oaths we are bound. I withdraw my angels as of now." With that the God vanished from sight.
"Sorry about that Stone. He was already in a edgy mood so I was afraid ignoring Him would really piss Him off."
"Well I had been following the whole thing until a minute before you turned around. A bendith y mamau was behind the tree looking for Madera. It overheard Troth and started giggling when the God said He could not tell what the TellTaler had done. I was about to shush it but then it said 'Ask the Woodswarder of the spirit fey for they can see past the Meddler's play. If she cannot or you wish no delay, work through he the Fabulist cannot sway." I asked it who the "he" was and of course it gave me another vague answer. "The one who can the Keeper of Oaths fool is the one who also can break time's rule. Be even finding him without Troth’s ear, may be the longer path to steer."
"I guess it's something. Any idea what the bendith meant?"
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 17 by Andrew
Chells lay in his small, gray hut trying to drift off to sleep. For the past few evenings, he has had boughts of insomnia and felt on edge. This night was cool and quiet. A slight breeze rattled the trees above his roof. Each leaf ticked and tumbled down the shingles above his head. The Believer tried once more to close his eyes and let sleep envelope him. He smirked to himself as he wished he could use his Templar ability on himself: "I believe I will get a good night's sleep!"
The symphony of night insects had just faded from Chells' drowsy mind when it was replaced by a sudden, echoing "Whoosh!" Showers of leaves and sticks clattered onto the roof. The entire room was illuminated by a flash of light from the tiny window at the back of Chell's home. The entire hut shook from some distant eruption. Bedding flew as Chells bolted from his mattress and peered out the window. A blazing geyser of flame towered above the the tree-lined hill outside of the town wards.
"Shit.... Shit.... Shit...." he muttered as he threw on some clothes and grabbed sword and satchel.
Outside, in the fiery light, Thomas' slender form created long, spindly shadows on grass of the town green. The doors of the Trader's hut and Temple flew open almost simultaneously. Clambering to don their weapons, armor and magic charms, Stone and Kelloran joined the other two men standing and staring up at the towering holocaust.
Thomas turned to Kelloran. "What the Hells did you throw in Starwatch this time?!"
"Me... I..." Kelloran began to retort when Chells cut him off.
"It's not Starwatch. It's the Plain of Ash!"
Unlike many in town Chells and then Squire Thomas had seen the Plain of Ash as few had. For the past decade, it would have been more aptly clamed the Plain of Grass, but Chells and Thomas had seen it a dozen years ago when it was a frightening blaze of smoke, ash and fire. It was clear to them that now for whatever reason the Plain of Ash had re-ignited.
The four men tensed as they witnessed vast clouds of sparks showering down upon the forested hill. Some if those sparks began to flit and flutter about like incandescent fireflies.
"Some of those sparks are alive!" Stone whispered loudly.
"Living or not, they're going to burn down woods if we don't do something." Thomas retorted.
"Good point." Kelloran said snapping out of his fire-induced fugue.
Chells began to move first. "Let's split up and cover more ground. Call out or Thought Transfer if you need help."
Hours passed and the dawn's light began to break through the veil of smoke and falling ash. A few minutes before, the roaring Wildfire had just vanished as suddenly as it had appeared leaving char and mysteries behind. Kelloran was the first to return to town, followed shortly by Stone and then Thomas. All three men were covered in soot and ashes. Chells arrived last. He too resembled a Chimney Sweep but his clothes were also torn and his skin had numerous cuts that were puckering and fading as he cast healing spells upon himself.
With a smoke-hoarse voice Stone spoke. "So how has everyone's morning been." Apparently, the blare had not snuffed out his helping of smart ass.
"Great." Thomas half-chuckled, half-laughed. "I found these red flowers and a glass disk."
"Thomas, you were supposed to Keep the woods from burning down not loot them!!" Kelloran chortled.
"I was! I was stomping out small fires when I saw them. After the fricking inferno went out, I cast ID on them. The flowers are called Surtur Bloom; they're rare in the Shadowlands but common in fire realms. They can be used as alchemical components or for making magical stuff. The orange, glass disk is an Ember Eye like those Air Eyes and Watery Eyes."
"Sea Eye!" Kelloran corrected. "Watery Eyes is what we are all going to have for the next week from all that smoke. Well, all I found was a roasted rune and dead guy. I ran down the trail and came out below the Plain of Ash. There was a rune there, but it was trashed like someone hit it with Erase Rune. Nearby, I found a dead guy.
"It was Owain, one of the Town Guard. He told me his name when I was finally able to raise him. It took awhile for my Raise Dead to kick in. Apparently, his spirit was knocked into the Spirit Realm for a bit. When he came back, Owain found a bunch of his channeled items, potions and other magic gear was toast. Seems this particular fire likes to chew up magic such as runes and items. We better keep Raith's pouch away from any future fires or else his scroll stash could blow up the whole area!"
Chells tried to brush off his clothes and then lit up his tobacco. Stone scoffed. "Didn't you get enough smoke?!"
"Good point." He snuffed out his butt. "Well, I found a dead guy too, but mine was real pissed off! Doom Herald said it was a Burning Dead, some kind of jabbering, flaming skeleton thing. He actually was pretty tough but eventually I crushed him. He was blathering really fast and, mainly, the message I was getting was that he really wanted to kill me, but I did hear him say 'Bazarmoth' and 'Dark Legion.'"
"My encounter was a lot more peaceful. I was putting out fires near the Paupers graveyard and, apparently, that irritated a fire fairy that was nearby. She was some kind of fire nymph who loves looking at flames. Despite my crushing her ''art," she wasn't hostile. She just seemed sad and far from home. When I reached the edge of the fire, I cast Commune with Nature. Seems like this will be the first of many eruptions of elemental fire from the Plain of Ash. The plain is a thin point between the Shadowlands and the Realm of Fire. Seems like we'll all be seeing more of this Wildfire, Thomas' loot as well as our fiery visitors."
Kelloran piped in. "So we know what is happening but the big question remains, why is it happening."
The four soot-stained friends looked up at the scarlet dawn light, the drifting bits of ash and stood in silence waiting for the answers yet to come.
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 18 by Steve
Chells tumbles to the earth. The brown leaves below him quickly become soaked by the blood gushing from his abdomen. “My Lady,” he croaks. “Save me. Please.”
Inhuman eyes watch from the edge of the clearing, hidden by their fey magics. They perch unseen about the holy ground of the Chained Lady. This trio of watchers have seen this human before. He is an oddity among the mass of mankind that live below but there are many others to who do not fit the typical mold of their species. That is what makes humans so different from the people of the White Lady. They share so few similarities to one another. A Satyr is much like every other Satyr, Leshies all pretty mush rush through the world the same way. Booka are Booka, as irritating as that is. Yet these men are not alike. This one here thrives on death where as his brother and one of his closest friends exist to serve life. Still they watch, hoping to understand what drives this strange man.
The hunter snorts as he picks up a foul scent from the air. “His wound is tainted. There is a corruption lurking within his blood. He has not long to live.”
The assayer exclaims “That explains why one who contains much healing mysticism is unable to close the wound.”
The prophet holds up her hand. “Wait. His call is being answered. She who dwells beside us comes.”
From the leave blanketed soil black chains unfurl. Ever so gentle they entwined themselves about the fallen form. Soon there was not an inch of the man in sight. The chains writhe and wriggle pushing the soil back. Deeper and deeper the chains dig bearing the man beneath the earth. The assayer reads the waves of power churning about the earthen womb the man had been drawn into. Mostly it is healing magic but there was much light mixed into to push back the corruption born from a darker realm.
The moon wanes from full and still the fey wait. The prophet and the assayer cry out when they felt the flames of some terrible conflict erupt through the land. The hunter feels the presence of a bane and it dark designs. They long to know more but that is not their task. This cycle they are to watch over the Peace of Melcynda. Someone will summon them if they are needed or inform them of what had transpired in due time.
On the night that half the moon lies in shadow the watchers finally witness the fate of the wounded child of man. He arises from the ground without his flesh. It seemed that the Chained Lady could not save him until the assayer claims “He is not dead. His body lives still and continues to heal.”
“Look how easily he bears the shroud of the fleshless. This one has known what it is like to walk the lands of spirits.” the hunter observes.
“Yes. She tells him the wound he bears will take longer to mend but he is strong enough now to leave his flesh with Her. She says that since he has long ago grown comfortable without his mortal shell that She would have him go forth. Much harm had been done and She charges him to see what of it he might heal.” says the prophet.
The man passes below them unaware of their presence. The hunter tracks his journey back the holme their kind calls FallenStar. They quietly discuss among themselves what the conflagration might have meant but they have no way of knowing for sure. It may be that the one who was senseless through the event may learn of it before those who very duty is to watch.
Chells floats into the tavern and sees his friends. They look weary and somewhat battered.
“Chells! Where have you been?” Thomas shouts. Kelloran and Stone begin to rise but the ethereal believer waves them back down.
“I was attacked a couple weeks ago. I made it to Melcynda’s Peace and She has been tending me ever since. I’m still not sure what got me but the wound was full of abysmal energy so I couldn’t heal it. So finally my Goddess declared me fit enough to leave my body with Her and She said I should find you all. She sounded worried. So what happened? Why does everything smell like smoke and ashes?”
The three look at each other, each trying to decide where to begin to explain the to days of wildfire and turmoil just past.
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 19 by Albie
Stone shook his head, as if to clear the fatigue that still plagued them all; his worry over his brother’s apparent disregard for himself still evident, even after all the years of experiencing it. “Thomas and I spent most of the last few days out in the woodlands, calming those few creatures still active, and continuing to put out the wildfires whenever we could. I actually missed most of the other excitement: The Sanctuary of Fire reappearing, the fourth Arcani being claimed, all of it. I would have loved to have seen that with my own eyes.”
Wearily, Kelloran sank back into his chair. “Chells, it sure is good to see you again. We really could have used your help recently. And there is much to tell. I don’t have all the facts straight in my head yet, because this is all connected to so many things; things that I wasn’t a part of, things that I don’t know the answers to... Let me try to start at the beginning and I tell you what I know. Stone, Thomas, interject whenever there is something I leave out. One of you guys want to go get Auri, Ex and Raith? They know a hells of a lot more about most of it.”
Thomas pulled himself to his feet, even his seemingly boundless energy temporarily tapped. “I’ll go see if I can find them. Ex said he was going to the Woodland Altar to check the extent of the damage. I think Auri Lee was going with him. I don’t know where Raith went, but I’ll look around.”
His ephemeral form solidifying slightly, Chells sank into the chair opposite Kelloran. “Tell me what you can, and we’ll see what we can piece together.”
“You are getting better at manifesting, Chells, you hardly echo at all,” said Stone. “Your ‘body’ is also better, I can hardly see through it. The body doesn’t matter so much, but damn I hated that echo!”
“All right, let me see, I guess I’ll start where it started back up again for us” said Kelloran, shifting deeper into his chair. “We were here in the tavern, putting back a few, when Gift told us about how her sword was burning her every so often, and she was pretty sure it was linked to the eruption of the wildfires. Using a pyroad tear, a fire nymph tear, I was able to commune with the salamander that inhabited the blade. It was reacting to a few different influences, the wildfires and the spirit of Amber Firegold. Amber benignly possessed Gift, and led us to Surtur’s torch, as well as all the way to Starwatch, where we saw a vision of five keys being scattered to time. One of which I pulled from the very fire at Starwatch. We were unclear at the time as to their true purpose, but we did know that they were well hidden. And that we would need them to unlock the fourth Arcani.”
“And you found the other four? And freed H’Rathner?” asked Chells.
“Yeah, we did, but that was after a whole other chain of events. And remember how we were trying to figure out who was behind the Bane of War? We found that out too. I’ll get to that.” Kelloran got up and went behind the bar, poured another stout, and walked back to his chair. He half sat, half collapsed into it, and it was then that Chells realized that the Restorer no longer wore his ever-present Ankh around his neck. Kelloran followed Chells’ gaze, and shook his head. “Later. I need to talk to you about some things. In case something happens before then, I want you to know this information first. It’s the most important for all of us.”
“We did free H’Rathner. It took us going back in time, or seeing back in time, or something along those lines. I’m not really sure. We kind of got taken into the stories that were being shown. Once I was Yatagan; once a water-child; once even a goblin raising the Phoenix. In each of these times, we gained one more of the Forge Keys. These five keys allowed us to open the protective circle binding H’Rathner. As Raith, Ex and I all bear Arcani already, the only one among us who could take it up was Auri Lee. At first I was very hesitant to allow this, knowing that something is not quite right with his connection to Inquisitor Galen Law. We really had no alternative though, you were missing, Stone and Thomas hadn’t been seen in days, and it had to be done immediately.” Kelloran shifted his beer from hand to hand. “He seemed pretty…stable, I guess toward the end. He stopped calling himself Galen or Auri intermittently and just went by Auri. I hope the choice doesn’t come back to haunt us later. We are going to need all the help we can get to face the pawns of War. The scourges are moving against us in a great game, with only the new Arcani Bearers as potential blockers. We need all the help and understanding we can get, and can’t afford these crises of personality, faith, and confidence.” The Restorer looked to Stone for support. “Any other input? Anything you might have seen in the woodlands, or talked to anyone about?”
Stone shrugged, “Like I said, I really missed most of the excitement. I had a few run-ins with some fire nymphs, a close call with a fire cultist, and that was about the extent of it. It’s a lot of work to try to put out wildfires all over the forest, you know!”
“I guess I can continue then,” Kelloran sighed. “Let’s see, I think, to skip most of the less important stuff, I’ll get to the main thing that we learned during this fiasco. We learned that our primary adversary in all of the Elemental Wars calls itself Bazarmoth, which means ‘Dark Mother’. And get ready for this, it’s Telaras.” Kelloran stopped talking, and looked around. “You know, I really thought I’d be dead if I uttered that to anyone else. We know that this is the root of the problem. She is attempting to wear the Mantles of all Elements, Earth, Water, Air and Fire, in the power play to assume complete mastery over Void. We have to move fairly quickly, and make sure that the one remaining Mantle, that of Water, gets an owner. Herglemar, Yanti, Pyrus, and Furlich, all had them. When Pyrus died, Telaras threw herself into his death column, and went to the Inferno. From there she has reached out and plucked the strings of fate, stretching back as far as the Age of Kingdoms. Sorry, I’m rambling here, just trying to get out all I can. I haven’t had great luck lately, and I’m not sure how long the gods will let me babble before they strike me down.” Kelloran looked at Chells, knowing how all the information must be jumbled about in his head. “We need to get a plan of action moving. I for one am not about to let the creature that masters the universe be someone who is completely insane from seeing a lover die. We all have hardships, but we can’t afford to crack. She is immortal, insane, and with near limitless power. I don’t know about you, but that scares the hells out of me.”Kelloran leaned forward and picked up his cloak. “I’m going to try to get some rest. If Auri, Raith or Ex Ardesco come and fill in any blanks, let me know. Until then, I’ve got some things to work out. Stop by the shop later Chells, I really need to talk to about some other things. ‘Night, Stone, sleep well if you can.” The Restorer swept his dark cloak around himself, and headed out into the already cooling night.
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 20 by Andrew
Chells walked to his brother’s shop intent on reading up on the events surrounding the appearance of the Wildfires. The living-spirit looked about at the scrolls, trash, and remnants of fire treasures strewn about the room. The usual mess of a crisis passed. He hovered a few inches above Stone’s chair behind the desk and thought about Kelloran’s revelation. For ten years, he like most everyone assumed that the Shadow on the Throne of Fire, Bazarmoth, was a male god or demon. Bazarmoth, the Dark Mother. Kelloran had told him how she was in fact the mother to the Fire Children: Flame, Cinder, Ember and Torch and two others. The Restorer said that she had also birthed Thadun with Furlich when he was under the influence of the Dark One and in her role as the Void Queen seduced Thaleus to create Mechella. Her four Darkspawn, the Demon Twins, the Faceless One and the Sultaness of Shadows, have been her minions ever since, over the ages covertly pushing her agenda forward.
Chells stared up at the torch icon of Surtur in the corner of the temple. He shook his head in bafflement. Apparently all that time, Surtur the Torch remained oblivious to the fact that the beast that stripped him of his mantle, orchestrated the deaths of his “uncles”, the demonization of his two brothers and the downfall of his sister was his own mother. He also was unaware that over all these dark and light ages Teleras has been covertly opposed by his sister, Ember, reborn as the Avatar of Peace, the Returner. So much to sort out in his head… It all makes sense but it’s a vast story.
As usual, whenever he thinks Chells likes to smoke or fiddle with something to aid in his concentration. His tobacco was buried with his body under the Peace Glade so he had picked up one of the numerous, colorful fairy wands on Stone’s desk. The spirit-believer, could see the wands were going to lose their power soon. They like many fire magics were ephemeral. As he mused and absent-mindedly toyed with the wand fluttering it over the desk’s candle, the tip ignited sending a shower of brilliant spark and thin coils of smoke.
“Trollshit!” Chells swore as he tried snuffing the crackling wand by shaking it fast. Fueled by his trashing about, the wand burned brighter and faster. In the brighter light, a strange, brass lantern hanging from the ceiling caught Chells eye. He hadn’t seen that before and he wondered what it was. Instantly, he knew exactly what it was. Chells smiled as a piece of paper fluttered down to him.
“Know History. Cool! First level
information isn’t much, but these things could be fun!” the quasi-dead man
muttered to himself as he read the page.
Know History: The Efreeti Lantern
The Efreeti Lantern is a strange artifact left over from ages long past. An aggressive Efreeti known as Blazehand gathered an army of djinn to overthrow Surtur's hold on the Fire Realm. Little is known about the so called Efreeti War, as Surtur's Legionaries were far better soldiers than they were historians. What is known is that Surtur's forces crushed the various djinn and the Torch Lord personally vanquished Blazehand. At the end of the duel, the Efreeti's cadaver had been reduced to a mass of fire-hued gemstones.
One of Surtur's grand-smiths, Blister, recovered these gemstones and gathered arcane metals from the Underdank. Mixing pure veins of copper and zinc ore, Blister created an amalgam called Brazier Brass. The brass was an excellent conductor for the power of the gemstones. Blister forged the gems and brass into a finely crafted lantern that when in combination with the extremely rare Ignis Candle can cast fifth level divinations. The Efreeti Lantern asks its users rare and obscure lore and gathers these secrets to “fuel” the power of the Prophecy it casts. The lantern has other magical properties as well.
“Alright!” Chells exclaimed. With a glimmer in his eye, the spirit snatched up a handful of the fading fairy wands and flitted out the door. Sparks rained down as he, cast Information spells all about the town on the door of the fading Sanctuary of Fire, on the big, ugly gnome statue outside the temple and on Raith’s wind chimes. On a lark, he cast Detect Power on the town bell and it glowed with an amalgalm of metallurgic, faith and fay magics.
“What do you know…” he mumbled to himself as he prepared to light another wand to explore his new mystery. Just then he heard the Tavern door swing open and three figures step out into the night. X and Auri were chatting about where they will be traveling this winter and Kelloran turned to walk to his shop and turn in for the night. The darkness wavered and a portal appeared midair, there was a tall, stark forest that all, but X knew all too well, the Spirit Realm. In the portal, a black shadow tumbled across the leaf-strewn ground and snared Auri Lee. It was the wraith that had hours before challenged him to a duel. Auri unsheathed his ghostly blade that shimmered with phantasmal force and his hand glowed with a potent Spirit Strike spell.
Screaming “PONE!” the Inquisitor left into the fray.
Phantasmagoria - Interlude by Steve
The Days of Perdition began on the darkest and most sweltering night of the summer of 407. Out of the woodlands poured throngs of blood-red beasts. They swarmed over the tented abodes on the outskirts of town first. The WoodsWarder nearly lost her arm to a chimera-like creature. The thing, part fox, part badger, as well as something insectoid, was nearly twice her size and so fleet she never saw it until it was upon her. Her enchanted cloaked proved her salvation, allowing her to vanish among the trees. Exardesco found the twisted beings would fall to his axe but he too was forced to call on magics to retreat when faced with the vast multitude of rage-filled predators. Dark red briars nearly engulfed Auri Lee but Navlys was able somehow to carry him with her as she forestwalked her way to safety.
The horde swept
through the town killing any in their path unable to escape. Not one who
stayed to hold their ground survived. Spells of calming created small
pockets of safety but were unable to evict the crimson throng. The only true
place of refuge was the Glade of Peace. In ones and twos the survivors made
their way to Melcynda’s Peace. Those that ran for the Woodland Altar found
no haven for the great table had been toppled and the God’s blessing
The heroes of FallenStar worked deep into the night. Raith and the highlander guarded Kelloran as he drew the spirits of the fallen back to their bodies. Chells’ belief in Melcynda enabled him to form small zones of peace in which the heroes could regroup. The most effective resistance came from the druids. They seemed bathed by the powers of Vine and found that their magic could be shaped to exorcise the taint from the beasts and brambles.
By the time the sun rose, all but a small few of the towns denizens were gathered in the sanctuary of the Glade. For three days they remained trapped within the glen. The sprit-hunter led a band to retrieve enough food and water to sustain them while the templars exhausted themselves healing the wounded. The druids too pushed themselves to their limits purging the ruddy fungus.
It was who Thomas explained to all what he and a few others had learned of the red mold that coated the woodland beings. Troth the God of Truth and Oaths was furious with the enigmatic TellTaler. He had given a stay of his wrath for a time but the elemental battle against the Bane of War had consumed the attention of FallenStar's heroes and so that reprieve had elapsed. Now the sum total of the God’s ire was manifesting itself. No longer was the deity’s anger directed solely at the time-meddling spirit either. The God now considered the whole town to be treasonist.
Worse news came when Stone returned from one of his forays into the besieged village. He had swept the Temple of Thorns clear and sought the guidance of the Gods. He turned first to Troth to offer his apologies for failing to obtain the Jack O’Lantern’s judgment in time. Instead he saw the rune of the Oath God fragmented and burning with spectral flames. He looked about the temple to find the remaining icons of the Divine Ones arrayed against the smoldering symbol of Troth. His heart dropped as he realized that war had come not just to FallenStar but to the heavens themselves.
Only one stood apart from either side of the conflict. The idol of the Jack O’Lantern hung alone. Stone knew that the Deity would only interfere if Troth or Those that sought to curb His retribution stepped too far beyond across the lines that divided Light from Dark. Considering how badly the God of Truth had savaged the town, it was a frightening thought to contemplate how far The Jack O’Lantern would let things go before invoking judgment.
Summer turned to fall and battle raged on. The druids had driven the red plague back enough for the people of FallenStar to return to their homes. The Town-guard’s number swelled as the wards were ineffective to halt the RageBound creatures. The forests though became far more treacherous. The RageBound would attack any human who came near enough for them to sense. One they began chase their pursuit was difficult to throw off too. They ignored the other races of the woodlands entirely. This was good in that the fairies had no cause to take umbrage with their human neighbors. Unfortunately it also made the goblins bolder. They started developing all sorts of tricks to lure a RageBound creature to a traveler and then helping to carve up the man or woman who was under attack.
Winter saw a reprieve in the fighting. The cold drove most to the animals to their dens while the flora drew within itself to weather the season in dormancy. The RageBound attacks slowed and soon the only encounters with them were from those who ventured too close to a where one of the infected slumbered.
Throughout the cold months the druids continued their cleansing, hoping that by spring the infection could be banished for good. It seemed though that Troth was not willing to let his anger go. The first case of a RageBound human was discovered during the middle of LongNight. A farmer charged into the town center and began laying into the villagers with axe. Unlike the creatures of the forest the druidic spells had no affect on a man. Nor did they help against the infected bands of goblins that began to crop up on the roadways just outside the town wards.
With spring fast approaching there is a great deal of trepidation about whether or not the town would survive both the wars of the Banes and the strife of the Gods.
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 21 by Steve
The snap of a branch beneath his feet sounded as loud as the town bell in his ears. Kelloran froze and listened. The last thing he needed now was some hostile company. He had managed to avoid the goblins and those creatures infected with Troth’s ire so far. Long moments passed and when nothing moved among the boulders and trees, he let out the breath he had been holding. For the fiftieth time he thought about how much safer this trek would have been with someone at his side. Even so the security it might offer did not out-weigh the fact this was something he wanted to do on his own. The desire to learn the fate of the shaman Krenowan felt like his own responsibility. The visions witnessed in Chells’ scry pool seemed proof of that as well. Each had showed him on these slopes unaccompanied.
There was also his decision about his newly chosen path to consider and this was something he needed some time alone to reflect on. He had been given a none too gentle shove by the Divine to leave the templars and the offer from the Mage’s Guild was too timely to be much of a coincidence. Still he had been a servant of the Gods for his whole adult life. It was a fairly intimidating leap he was about to make from Restorer to a Corpse Mage. He had always known that his desire to understand the nature of magic was more than just an idle curiosity. He had also felt for some time that the road of the faithful no longer fit as well as it had in his youth. So his thoughts over these last few days had contained as much contemplation about the shaman’s fortune as it had about his own future. Somehow his quest to find Krenowan and his resolve to become a wizard had become intertwined in his head.
He began to move once more but the deer trail he had been following was getting fainter by the minute. Soon it would be dark and rather than gain another quarter mile or so Kelloran realized he’d be better off finding a comfortable and safe spot for the night. This high up on Black Mountain it was relatively easy to find a sheltered hollow to block any light from a fire. The nights were warm enough now too that it wouldn’t need to be very big anyway. Before the first star was out Kelloran was reclining on his bedroll, comfortably full from his meal. The embers of his cook-fire crackled lightly beside him.
His body was tired from a long day of skulking through the forests. Too bad his mind was still wide awake. Staring up at the night sky the man thought back to those first days of spring. Stone had been gone virtually every day fighting the pools of divine bile that spawned the RageBound creatures. Thomas had been looking for an alchemical method to destroy the red mold. Chells and he had taken turns healing those wounded from the dwindling number of attacks the town had suffered.
Then a week came, just as the days started to warm, that Chells arrived to the commons for his shift in a foul mood. Kelloran questioned the Believer as to what was troubling him but his friend was either deliberately vague or just would outright not not talk about it. The next day he was much the same and so the day after that. Determined to uncover the source of Chells’ ill-temper, Kelloran decided to tackle the problem head on. As soon as he saw movement in the WhiteStone he headed straight for the graveyard. One way or another he would see what he could do to help Chells with whatever problem was vexing him so.
As he reached the gap in the wall he saw it was not Chells but a young boy who was moving around the boneyard. The youth was named Equue and like Kelloran had been approached by the Mage’s Guild. He was one of a number of children who was being fostered in FallenStar now that the surrounding farms faced the threat of the RageBound. Four of these children had entered in apprenticeships with the heroes of the town. One, a young girl named Dayo now was soon to begin working for him in the traders shop. Tor, a young squire, had started his tutelage with Thomas in the apothecary. Raith had accepted responsibility for a young maid named Ravenheart who would help out with the tavern. Equue was cleaning up the fallen branches and old candle stubs from the cemetery but when he saw Kelloran turn and head for Chells door he spoke up.
“I would do that if I were you, sir.”
“Morning Equue. What make’s you say that?”
“He’s been swearing in there all morning again. I got here before most anyone else was up yet and he was at his divination well already. That means he was probably at it all night. I’m not sure why he doesn’t just give up. If it hasn’t showed him what he is looking for by now I don’t think it ever is going to.”
“Thanks for the warning. Still I think this has gone on far enough.” With that Kelloran rapped on Chells door and let himself in. Sure enough, there was the Believer sitting cross-legged on the floor staring into a rippling basin of water. “So what is bit of lore is eluding you so thoroughly that you have been a growling curmudgeon for the past few days?”
Chells started. His eyes darted to the notes strewn on the floor about him. His expression became so crestfallen that Kelloran felt suddenly a bit guilty about his surprise visit. Then he noted a word repeated across the scraps of parchment. Krenowan. Kelloran still felt the wound of that encounter but he had come to accept that what they had allowed to befall the shaman was necessary. Between the rise of the RageBound, the Wildfire battle last year and the signs from the Divine as to his future as a templar he had not had the chance yet to focus on the what became of the shaman. To find that Chells had obviously been working on the issue for sometime now without him rekindled his annoyance with his friend. “Why didn’t you tell me you were working on this?”
“I was hoping to bring you the story and hopefully some solutions to making it right. I know I could have acted better when Krenowan died. I was so wrapped up protecting the future that I really didn’t take your feeling into consideration enough. This was to be a way to make it up to you.”
“It’s okay Chells, I get it now. I got it then too. I just hated it. I still do.”
“I know. That is why I wanted so badly to find out where the shaman lies and find out what has been happening with him these last fifty years. I thought it might amend some..”
“I get it.” Kelloran interrupted. He understood the believer’s reasoning. Still he would be more comfortable discussing the facts that the motives. “So why are you having so much difficulty? It seems like it should be a pretty simple question to divine the answer to.”
“It should be but I am being blocked. Remember when I asked Qpalg to show us what would have happened if we had not been in the past?”
“Well we paid for it with the gems and incense in part. The other part was the deal that Qpalg could have either Pazutheok or us, which ever one lost.”
“Yeah I remember that.”
“Turns out that is not all Qpalg considered part of the bargain. Since He showed me Krenowan’s death, He considers that death His due as well. So while I can look at anything event prior to that moment at the altar, any time I try to see anything about us or Krenowan after that the water turns black and shows me nothing. I can scry on us again after we return to the present but anything about Krenowan after the altar is hidden from me as well.”
“Does that mean we cannot help him?”
“Actually it means I cannot help him. The deal was with me. I am pretty sure you have no such boundaries. I have learned a couple things. One is that I see you leaving here is a couple weeks. You are leaving to find him. I also see you returning. You look pretty content so I can assume you will succeed in some sense. I have had to be very careful on my divinations. If Krenowan becomes part of the vision it fades to black but even those black outs can be telling.”
“Wait one sec. There is something else I have learned which was not a problem because it involved the time before we were in the past.”
“What is it?”
“Krenowan did not belong in that time either.”
“How could that be? If he was from our time…”
“No he was not from after that time. He was from before it. It seems the TellTaler screwed him too. The Telltaler sought something in Krenowan’s time. It’s definitely older than 50 years ago. I get the feeling it is shortly after the fall of the Great School . Before the Necromancer consolidated his hold on the world. There are a lot of folks fleeing from his hordes. Krenowan helped a lot of them escape into the mountains. The people who lived on the high peaks practiced shamanism which the Great School considered folk magic.”
“How does it work?”
“Shamans bond themselves to some aspect of power and share their magic with that source. Goblin shamans use the might of Arboleth. There are dream shamans that are hooked into N”Mishka. Krenowan was I guess what you would call a nature shaman. He drew and gave power to the land.”
“How is that different from druidism?”
“Druids can draw a steady flow of magic from nature. With it they can cast about 20-25 spells per day. They can shape two spells at a time and then they need to recharge. Shamans have that same ability to draw magic from nature but they in turn give half of it back to the land so they can only cast about a dozen spells per day.”
“That might explain why we don’t see shaman’s much any more. Druidic magic sound a lot more effective.”
“Yeah except that shamans can shape all twelve of those spells at once. Makes them pretty damn powerful in a fight.”
“They can cast twelve spells at once?”
“Yup. Also remember all those talismans Krenowan had?”
“Well those were hung spells. Krenowan’s style of magic was that his spells took quite a bit of time to cast, anywhere from several minutes to a couple hours depending on the enchantment but he could blow as many of those as he had ready. That is how he was able to wade through all those cultists and Pazutheok in the original past. Also why he might then have fallen to that last band which was big but not that big. . He must have used up all his protections and unlike us once his spells were gone he had no way to recharge them without stopping and fashioning more fetishes.”
“So why was he there fifty years ago?”
“That brings me to my next round of cursing. I don’t know. The Telltaler as usually has muddied things up so much I cannot see what he did that got Krenowan shove forward in time. I do know was a different archeo-locus that caught him that the one that threw us back. By the time that we arrived he had spent a long time trying to get back to his own time. Most likely years. What the TellTaler sought from Krenowan’s time or from fifty years ago is your guess is as good as mine.”
“Well just because you can't scry it out, doesn't mean it won't work for me. Why don’t you power the pool and let me steer?”
“I think that might work in practice but this time we are up against a God’s will. I doubt that Qpalg is going to be that easily fooled.”
“We won’t know until we try. Anyway, I don't know if He would consider himself fooled, just that it wasn't part of the agreement. Especially since what He considers part of the deal wasn't explicitly expressed in the first place. We have just as much reason to want to argue that case.”
The next few hours were surprising and quite entertaining for Kelloran. Chells was not nearly so amused. Mysteries he was excluded from irked the gravetender to no end. Chells could indeed give control over the path of the divination to him, but not only could the believer not see anything in the pool, Kelloran found out that if he related what he was seeing the pool darkened to imperceptibility as well. If he described the vision to Chells once it concluded,the scry well remained black for quite sometime afterward for both of them. So whatever could be learned from the divinations was obviously for Kelloran alone. Chells grumbled as he lay back recovering his magic. He knew he could bend the rules and believe his way past Qpalg’s edict. Even though Kelloran was pretty sure his time as a templar was currently over, he knew such a course would very likely piss off an ancient and very severe God. So did Chells.
Phantasmagoria - Chapter 22 by Albie
Kelloran’s thoughts drifted for what seemed like hours, sending his mind ranging through all of the times that he felt himself and his friends had been pushed in certain directions without being able to control the shape of their own destiny. How given just a few more minutes to think up a plan, they might have come up with a solution for Krenowan that did not involve him getting killed. For instance, it would have been a small matter to use simple spells like feign death to allow the zombies to collect a finger; not like it shouldn’t have been easy for two templar healers to restore to the shaman. Or perhaps Krenowan would have had his own plan, if as Chells speculated, he really had to disappear from the world for fifty years. Perhaps one of his druid-like abilities would have allowed him to meld with a lone tree, or even become one. Without the time it took to formulate a plan, the two had been left with only Chells’ plan: let him die. It just didn’t seem right. Kelloran hated the fact that while his mind was capable of coming up with ingenious solutions to problems, it just wasn’t fast enough to make him the mental master that he saw in some of his other companions. With time to reflect, he saw dozens, perhaps hundreds of possible plans and alternatives that would have allowed them to follow what he considered the moral path.
This was a big part of his crisis of faith. He had been forced to perform too many actions that separated him from his moral center. It felt like events were out of control. In his minds eye, he saw the gods laughing behind their cosmic curtain, forcing these mortals into decisions that were clearly not what should be right and good. At the same time, he saw that most of the extant gods were those who had ascended from mortality. Perhaps this was a flaw in the system: that these mortals were playing at being gods rather than wielding true divinity. His questions were never ending, and blasphemous all. He wondered what agency was controlling this change in attitude. The once pious priest was asking all the wrong questions, poking holes in faith, and hurting his own underlying core. If it was all a test, he was sure he was failing. To forget an oath spoken to a god? Even in a time of trials? Kelloran could not believe his own actions. If Troth had truly cursed Fallenstar, then only he was to blame. Perhaps this god of oaths was truly at the heart of the problem. Or perhaps it was a side effect of the Arcani infusion. Or the Bane of War. Or a dozen other things he could think of. Whatever it was, Kelloran was the most unsure of himself as he had been in his entire life. The only thing pushing him now was the same thing he was sure was the problem, the constant drive of events, never slowing. He knew the War of Shadow was coming, he felt it in his soul, but the answers to those questions and the actions that the Arcani bearers needed to take were clouded and blocked from his mind. Something was here, he knew he was getting to the heart of the matter.
In a flash it was all gone from his mind as he heard breaking deadfall not far from his makeshift camp. Reaching for Tendril, he cleared his mind and prepared his spells. While it didn’t seem like a large creature, these days, even small animals were potential hazards. Kelloran slowly pushed dirt over the embers of his dying fire, taking care not to look at the coals, trying to improve what little night eyes he had. The dark luminescence of his smoke wrapped sword was a small comfort as he braced for what might be his first or last battle of the night. He didn’t fear death, but the path there was not usually very pleasant. Minutes passed and no further sign of danger presented itself, but the Restorer knew he would not sleep much this night.
Shivering himself awake, Kelloran felt the throb of his ring, and knew that Stone was in trouble. Not dead, not dying, but hurt pretty badly. Then, as quickly as it came, the knowledge left. “Probably used some of Thorns help, I hope he’s alright,” he croaked to himself as he gathered his gear. The spell that the Sprite King had gifted him with was in almost constant use by the Restorer these days. He had marked all those who were waging this slow battle of attrition. Unless someone came up with a plan soon, they would all be in for a horrible year.
A full days walk further brought him to the site of Krenowan’s fall, one that just a year ago had been one of his own terrors, the Lost Gods altar. He recognized it immediately, and the images of the Shaman’s death replayed themselves over and over again to the Restorer. His eyes began to fill with tears, and he sat himself down to consider what to do. Coming here had been necessary, of that he was sure, but the pool refused to lay out the entire future for him.
He closed his eyes and let his mind begin to drift again. He thought of the fields beyond Fallenstar, with their golden waves already starting to show signs of a good harvest, he thought of sun, bathing those crops with beautiful golden light, what was this stream of consciousness? Why was he thinking about gold and life and…His mind became fully aware of the presence now filling it. Gevistah. His mind was awash in the burnished yellow aura that hummed through his entire body. He was completely at ease, not a care filled the Restorer’s heart. He felt a second presence and knew immediately that all was forgiven. He could clearly see the Shaman enveloped in the Lost God’s protective being.
“Do not blame yourself, brother, for I am with kindred light here. When I was struck down, it was meant to be. I was to join Q’palg in death, and that was all right. Yet your Compassion has allowed me to join Gevistah instead. His link to you is undeniable. Q’palg is not angry at your friend, nor am I. You needed to prove your desire to set things right alone, however, without the aid of friends, companions or the divine. This you have done. No, I don’t have all the answers to your questions, but I can tell you that you must do as we all must, listen to your heart. It always speaks the truth. These moral provinces were part of what I dealt with in corporeal life. And I will share it with you now. While the Shaman’s path is not yours, for a brief time, I can give you part of my knowledge. This gift will find it’s way into the right hands through yours. Do not give up my brother. I will see you again, and we will rejoice in the light.”
The Restorer slowly opened his eyes, and found that he felt better than he had in years. His gear lay neatly beside him, and the sun was just peeking over the horizon. The sun was just rising! A whole night had passed! He hurriedly got up, and picked up his satchel. A single blue feather blew from the open top, and floated down in front of him. The message clear, Kelloran streaked back for town, not caring if he turned an ankle, or ran into monsters. There was still Troth and his angels to deal with, as well as the looming darkness of the War of Shadow but for this moment Kelloran was free of doubts. The path before him was finally clear.