Unknotting World Lines
May 27, 2016
The five adventurers had been traveling the astral sea in search of a way back home. In this case, home was a few years ago in the future. Tassedar had alerted them to the damage that was occurring in the weave of the world, and this the adventurers believed for he was a being of immense magical powers and knowledge. So, here they were, in an astral skiff, just having captured a high-ranking Githyanki…
After some tense moments, the Githyanki realized that he would indeed be spared. For this, he offered his name, “I am Val Kath, Crown Prince of the Githyanki. Let us not be enemies.”
The cleric rubbed his chin. The fighter stroked his beard. The wizard raised an eyebrow. The sorceress batted her eyes. The ranger stared intently. The Githyanki looked perplexed and spoke further, “Come, let us set course for Tu Narath, capital city of the Githyanki. There you will meet our queen.” Awkward moments passed. “There will be a reward.”
“Yes,” replied the five adventurers, almost in unison, “Let’s set course of Tu Narath.”
So the adventures had the captain set course for the capital city and after not too long a journey their eyes set upon a city more odd than any they had ever seen before. Floating in the astral sea, the city had been assembled from countless ships of all sizes, from skiffs to battleships, from all corners of the astral sea. Some were in good repair, some were damaged, but all were connected by planks held them in a group as a cohesive whole. At first, the varied orientation of the ships disoriented the adventurers, but as they drew closer, their minds began to adapt to the astral sea’s lack of up and down.
As the small skiff approached a dock, Val Kath spoke to the adventurers about the protocols of the Githyanki. “So that no unintended offenses are given, let me advise you to the Lithani. It is the way of the warrior – a martial code not just of fighting, but living. It has certain demands and expectations. Interact with no-one. Follow my lead. Everything will be okay.”
With that, the skiff docked and Val Kath lead the adventurers through the maze of entangled ships. Barrick could sense that they were traveling toward the center of the city. Val Kath said nothing and neither did the citizens of Tu Narath. After some time, their destination became apparent – a truly massive and magnificent ship. If there was to be a palace, this was it, and it was large enough to house ten-thousand troops. Rift and Tira could feel the arcane magic that permeated the area. Val Kath lead them past guards, without even a word or a nod. Soon the adventurers arrived at a throne room.
This throne room felt heavy with arcane magic, yet the throne itself appeared to be of simple wood, with a straight back, meant for a disciple of the Lithani. There was no softness. In this throne sat an elder Githyanki female, adorned in the finest battle plate, complete with ornate inlays and inscriptions. Circling her head was a band of steel.
“Mother,” spoke Val Kath.
Minutes seeming like hours went by and the elder female said nothing. The adventurers felt like rubbing their chins and stroking their beards but decided the better of it.
“These adventurers returned me home and deserve a reward,” finished Val Kath.
More minutes went by and the adventurers puzzled over the complete lack of expression in either Githyanki’s face. However, their left hands both seemed jittery. Could it be an expression of anxiety? Tira thought to herself that these folk had inbred for too many generations.
Finally, the mother replied to her son, “Good to have you home. Something is strange about the visitors.”
Rift felt as if the queen was staring mostly at her. Looking over at Rift, Tira thought she could see Rift start to vibrate. “Hmm,” Tira thought, “the queen is right. Something is indeed strange with Rift.” Rift began to vibrate more and more. “Yes,” reflected Tira, “something is strange with Rift!”
Now Rift began to glow. A body-less hand appeared upon her shoulder and pulled her backwards and she was gone!
Then Tira noticed that all her companions were looking at her. “What? Why are you all looking at me like that? Stop staring, it’s rude!”, protested Tira. She could see that Z’alden was beginning to cast a spell in her direction. “Hey, I don’t mean to alarm you, but you guys are all vibrating…”
Z’alden furiously cast his spell, but it was too late. As the remaining three adventurers looked on in horror, Tira vibrated more and more, rotating colors and then as she disappeared, appeared to be ripped in half and then explode. The cleric, fighter and ranger stood looking at each other, the expression of agony in Tira’s face weighing heavily on them.
The ranger spoke first. “Z’alden, don’t take this the wrong way, but, um, do you think your spell, uh, tore Tira in half?”
The cleric looked down and sighed. Rift and Tira were gone. Somehow the Githyanki’s expressionless faces looked even more stern.
“What is this black magic?”, the prince demanded.
“Val Kath, they must leave now,” the queen commanded.
What’s in a Name?
Without a word, the prince motioned for the three adventurers to follow him and they all quickly exited the throne room. Once out of the palace, the prince explained that they would seek out the advice of a powerful wizard. Perhaps he could help with determining the fate of Rift and Tira. Across gangplanks and through ships Val Kath lead the way through the maze of ships that was the city. Soon they stood before a rather battered ship that looked to be from the Nine Hells.
The cleric bristled as they peered into what was once a most unholy vessel. Z’alden’s trepidations lessened as he could see piles and piles of books filling its small main chamber. Do devil’s read books with the same voraciousness as they feast on souls? Surely, this place would be okay.
“Master Namer, please open the door. We have urgent need of your services,” implored Val Kath.
Soon the door opened and a very young looking human opened the door. Barrick contemplated to himself, “Surely this is not the wise wizard we are looking for. All wise wizards have beards. Perhaps this is why Rift is not so wise. Now, if she were a dwarf…”
Val Kath lead the way in and, in Githyanki fashion, there was no speaking. The wizard was clearly familiar with the prince, and so his eyes slowly studied the cleric, moving next to the fighter and then finally the ranger. His penetrating gaze was a bit alarming and the three adventurers felt very self-conscious.
All the while the wizard had been studying the adventurers, they too had been studying him and his cluttered abode. Clearly he was quite eccentric, but he seemed trustworthy. From him they learned that the Githyanki often communicate without talking, using only their left hand to express emotion. The Lithani – path of the warrior – was now more understood. Emotion was vulgar. Communication should be pure and direct, unpolluted with unnecessary emotional expression. A warrior should only communicate pertinent facts.
Master Namer then asked Val Kath to step out for a few minutes.
As the pleasantries began to unfold between the good cleric and Master Namer, Erik observed that none of the books in the room were written in common. One book was covered in dragon skin and this was interesting not for just that fact but for it was a new book. Who would have a book of fresh dragon skin? He wore robes on top of leather armor and had a Gith sword on his hip. Several glass spheres rested upon the tables, each with a light source burning softly within. “Rift has nothing like this,” thuought Erik.
“Why named so?” blurted out Barrick, in his typical, direct style.
“Ah, yes,” replied Master Namer, “My name comes from the ability to observe and reveal the true nature of things. By knowing something’s true name one can have a profound understanding of it, and only by understanding can one control. Stone. Lightning. They all have other, deeper names beyond the obvious and gross abbreviations that we use in everyday language. This was all learned from a school; a small school, a unique school. With names comes understanding more powerful than the magic of arch mages. But you can call me ‘Tor’.”
With that, Tor gave a joking grin and a wink. “Now, tell me your story,” he earnestly implored.
So the three remaining adventurers told him of what had just transpired. The wizard listened intently, with quite human reactions, unlike he had with the Githyanki prince. He appeared to be a bit of a mimic, but only because he was completely in tune with the person he was speaking with. Perhaps he even took on a bit of their accent.
Tor then held up a finger to indicate “one moment, please” and after rummaging around in a back room he brought forth a water basin and a deep purple decanter. From the decanter Tor slowly poured water into the basin, moving the spout circularly around the basin as if to deposit the water evenly. “Now, focus on Rift and Tira,” he asked. The three adventurers obliged and Tor began to stare into the basin. This went on for many minutes and Z’alden and Erik could perceive much strain on the wizard. Beads of sweat began to form on Tor’s now wrinkled brow. He looked frustrated and his effort only increased. Finally, he collapsed in a heap!
Barrick rushed over to help him up and Z’alden offered healing, but Tor raised his hand in a motion to decline the offer. Then Tor pronounced, “Your companions are not here. We must take a different approach to solve this mystery.” The adventurers looked very disappointed that the scrying had failed, but were out of options. “Z’alden, you mentioned the Crystal Cave and a need to return to your original time. Will you let me look within you? Perhaps you have answers.”
Z’alden agreed and the session began with both Tor and the cleric sitting on the floor. Tor’s gaze was penetrating as he studied a very self-conscious Z’alden, who struggled to remain open and true. If Z’alden were to put up an emotional shield then perhaps any answers that were within him would not be found by Tor, and Rift and Tira would be lost forever. But should he completely let his guard down, would he reveal too much and Tor would gain power over him?
After a full hour, Tor broke off the session, once again weary. “Most peculiar,” Tor softly uttered, “I do not have a full understanding of you. There is much more to you. Thank you. It is rare that I am permitted to study a living creature.”
“Now, though we have not found your friends, I think I can still help,” Tor continued as he motioned for them to join him in another room. A bit perplexed, the three adventurers followed him. “A little trick that I learned not so long ago… let’s see, yes,” Tor continued, seemingly still both out-of-sorts and giddy with his excitement over the observation session with Z’alden. He then pulled out a large-ish circular metal ring into the center of the room. Tor ran his fingers over the ancient inscriptions. “Yes, indeed, I think I remember, yes that’s it,” he muttered as if re-learning the device. Soon it sprung to life, shooting up a cylinder of red light that was one plus one-half staff length in height.
“Step right on in,” Tor encouraged with a grin, “it’s good to go.” Z’alden looked over to the ranger with a puzzled look, which was returned by an equally mystified expression and a shrug.
“Oh, before you go, one more thing…” Tor blurted out as he rushed over to a locked chest. “Here, Z’alden, you keep it close to you. It has power. One day you will need it!” With that, Tor handed Z’alden a decanter made of an astral diamond – not diamonds held together in a lattice of another material – but of one diamond. As the exchange was made, Tor put his hand on Z’alden’s back and guided the cleric right into the portal. And he was gone. Erik and Barrick exchanged grins and followed close behind as they coincidently said in unison: don’t split the party.
Tor collapsed in his wizard chair with a flask of the hard stuff.
The Crystal Cave
The adventurers found themselves in the mountains of Celestia, their original destination in the Astral Plane. Tor had indeed helped them out and deserved many thanks, but there was no time now for they were running out of time. As the great wizard Tassedar had so impressed upon them, each moment spent in the wrong time would unravel the tapestry of history.
The surrounding landscape was heavenly and the mountains gleamed white with the stuff of astral diamonds. Grinning, Erik scraped some of the diamond-dust soil into a small sack and secured it in his pouch of holding. As beautiful a place this was and as much as they would have been content to stay there, the adventurers felt a powerful urge to find the Crystal Cave. With that, the way was supernaturally made plain to them as they effortlessly navigated the valleys and passes. Almost like a dream, they soon found themselves at the mouth of the Crystal Cave and unquestioningly entered without fear.
Deep within the cavern then came upon a large chamber which had a lake in the middle. This cavern, this chamber, these waters were exactly the same as when Tassedar was reformed from bones. This was where magic was born – the origin of all arcana. The emotional pull to find and enter the cavern now evolved into an overwhelming desire to enter the water. The three remembered the dangers of the water, as told by Tassedar, but the urge was too strong. Z’adlen said a prayer to Bahamut and motioned for Barrick and Erik to join him. They did and were soon pulled into the deep end and under the surface of the water. As when falling asleep, their thoughts changed form. Everything faded to black…
The three adventurers found themselves in a clearing, surrounded by a forest and with rocky outcroppings. The sky was reminiscent of the Nentir Vale, only somehow different, and the grass was the greener. The air was thick and heavy, carrying the scent of the surrounding pine trees. This was a strange land, but weren’t they all? Erik quickly attempted to ascertain clues to their location and his eyes were immediately drawn to kobold tracks, and then an actual kobold. How could he not have seen the living creature before he saw its tracks?
“We mean you no harm,” Z’alden called out in perfect and eloquent Draconic, “We just want to know how to get home.”
The kobold ran away and the adventurers could hear him shout, “Steel Tooth, they are here!”
Barrick thought he saw a glimpse of a dragonborn rogue and a female Tiefling warlock, but as if he was in slow-motion, by the time he turned to look, they had vanished. In the mean time, Erik had moved behind a rock outcropping to spy Steel Tooth, who sure enough was bellowing orders to his kobold warriors. The ranger vaguely remembered “Iron Tooth” from an adventure so long ago. Or was it now? His mind grew confused and so he focused just on just one thing – the giant kobold leader must be killed. And with that he drew back his bow and let loose a fast arrow. It missed. How could it miss?
With the battle now underway, Barrick moved into attack position as Erik stealthily repositioned up on top of the rock outcropping. Steel Tooth advanced from his position to engage Barrick, only to have Erik do a perfectly executed forward flip with half-twist to bring down a Warglaive of Azzinoth down upon the kobold cheiftan. The acrobatic move felt so unreal to Erik as if his feet landed softly and his weapon seemingly guided itself. Strange. Further still, a Kobold moved from up behind Erik and without even looking, Erik swung his other warglaive backward, delivering a fatal blow to the kobold. “I’m good, but am I that good?” questioned Erik to himself.
Z’alden too noticed the strange sense of this place. Was it out of a memory? It certainly was vivid and Z’alden decided not to find out if a “pinch” from the kobolds would bring him out of it. So holding nothing back he cast “supernal radiance” which placed a terrible pain upon all foes, killing one outright. The fighter, Barrick, then waded into the fray with his mighty Talon of Orcus axe cleaving into the hapless kobolds.
Soon Steel Tooth would too be dead. All faded to black…
The three adventurers now found themselves in a hazy swamp. The air was filled with the buzz of insects and croaking of reptiles. Also, before them were three Yuan-ti. These half-snake, half-man creatures would do well in such terrain which had little solid ground for the adventurers to move around on.
“He’s coming for the key!” one of the Yuan-ti shouted. Erik could see that one of the Yuan-ti was wearing the Key of Bonderstrong. Erik’s mind went back to a memory, formed so long ago, of the dwarf and the Key of Bonderstrong which held enormous power.
“Z’alden,” Barrick shouted, “are you okay?”
The good cleric was looking a bit transparent and ethereal.
“Yes, I am feeling great. Let’s go get the key,” replied Z’alden in a voice that was clear and strong, strangely not muted by the dense air and plant life. Almost as if floating just inches above the ground, the cleric advanced and commanded the Yuan-ti to hand over the Key of Bonderstrong. Yet they completely ignored him, without even looking at him, as if he wasn’t there. Now Barrick and Erik began to realize that perhaps Z’alden was not fully there aid them in this battle. At that moment they thought they saw a shaman pass through the haze. It was yet another fleeting ghost.
Now Barrick moved up and demanded the key. “You! You are the ones responsible for wrecking out plans!,” retorted a visibly angry Yuan-ti. “You freed Arumendor the dragon. Now the trolls are attacking the Yuan-ti. Frost trolls, in this land. Leave now!”
The Yuan-ti then attacked Barrick with crossbow bolts, missing twice. Having none of this Barrick advanced and engaged, attacking all three snake men. The battle was now fully underway, with Erik and Z’alden joining in. The Yuan-ti made good use of poison from both bolts and clouds of gas. But as in a dream, as Z’alden grabbed the key from the Yuan-ti, everything faded to black…
Under the Mountain
The adventurer’s blinked their eyes and found themselves in a dark cavern, with the clear markings of dwarven construction. There was a bridge over an underground river. On the other side were well crafted stone buildings, not to mention multiple Duegar.
“Keep them from the girl!” the main Duegar commanded his warriors.
Going with the flow, Z’alden immediately chimed in, “Give us the girl!”
“She is valuable. Very valuable,” retorted the Duegar.
“I offer this fine diamond, um, potion holder in exchange for the girl,” replied Z’alden in his most friendly, generous voice.
The Duegar looked at each other. After a moment, the leader replied, “We accept your fine potion holder, that is diamond. It better be diamond! Wait a minute. Here. I get the girl.”
The Duegar returned with Sarona, a face from so long ago when the adventurers made their way below Thunderspire Mountain. Now Z’alden had been very deceptive for a good and virtuous cleric, for he had no intent to give away the gift from Master Namer Tor. Its value was surely beyond compare, even beyond the value of the life of Sarona or any one of his compatriots. Only in time would that be revealed. So, with a straight face, Z’alden moved up to make the exchange, only to release powerful magic upon the Duegar. Stunning one, critically injuring another and immobilizing others, the cleric’s spell came completely unexpected. Further still, the Duegar were immediately reduced as one of them was killed out-right and another was pushed into the river to be washed away and drown.
Out came the beardicles, hitting the adventurers and poisoning them. Z’alden quickly untied the prisoner, Sarona, and Barrick rushed up to cocoon her in his “Shield of the Armadillo”. With the girl sufficiently rescued, everything turned to black…
The Mean One
Now the adventurers found themselves in a large chamber, perfectly hewed from hard stone. Luckily their eyes were just recently accustomed to scant light. One of the prime rules of adventuring is to look for the exits, and there was but one – a set of double doors, very large in size. Another important rule of adventuring is to be on the look out for things that could hurt you and there was but one – a large, shadowy humanoid adorned with a skull floating where a head would normally be. Acerak. In his hands he wielded a large blade, and by the light glancing off of it, it appeared to be rather sharp.
Gliding in behind Z’alden, Acerak swung his “dread blade”, hitting the cleric for about one-third of his life-force. Quickly following that was a terrible shriek that did psychic damage to both the cleric and fighter. Now the adventurers got their chance to respond to this unprovoked aggression. Erik drew his Warglaives of Azzinoth, to which Acerak glared at as they whistled through the air, striking the undead monster.
“What? You puny human. How do you come by way of these?” howled Acerak.
“How about this axe?” replied Barrick on behalf of Erik who was busy moving for his next attack. “Perhaps the Talon of Orcus will also get your attention, you filthy, undead, nasty, terrible, vile monstrosity.”
With that, Barrick let fly a giant slaying strike, stunning Acerak. The fighter then immediately followed it up with an even more ferocious blow, dazing the target. The cleric regained his composure and cast his “spirit flame”, bloodying the evil Acerak.
The battle continued with each side trading astounding damage. Finally the tide turned when Z’alden rendered the undead creature unable to heal and Barrick’s mightly “exorcism of steel” forced Acerak to drop his dread blade. Capitalizing on the success of his comrades, Erik delivered the final blow, sending Acerak back to his personal hell and away from this place.
Looking at each other, the weary adventurers considered their options. The dream-state had gone on for many an encounter. When would it end? Each stage was more difficult than the last. What would be next? They were utterly exhausted.
Before them were the double doors. Erik opened them, but none of them could discern what was on the other side. Blackness.
Z’alden took out a coin and said, “Let’s see what this silver piece buys us.” He then threw it into the void.
“Ow!” was the reply from some ghostly voice across the divide.
“Well, into the black…”, said Z’alden matter-of-factly as he stepped forward once more into the unknown. Barrick and Erik found themselves staring back at each other, shrugging and stepping though behind Z’alden. Everything turned to black…
Now there was warm light, the sounds of good-time laughter and the sweet, sweet aroma of a home-cooked meal. Z’alden, Barrick and Erik found themselves in the Half-moon Tavern in Fallcrest. Tassedar, Rift and Tira were there sitting at a table, sharing a pint.
“Where have you been?” implored Rift, “It’s been two freak’n years!” Tira waited for an answer, fiddling with a silver piece. Tassedar smiled.