The party is pulled through the belly of Edhen by the word of Krisyra. She promises the Tower. They hope that their trust isn't misplaced.
The party watches the water flow by, crystal clear and strong. Its gentle sounds suppress the tension of their situation: they killed two Elves and the party has no idea who will walk through the only door to this dock. They're stuck. The door is locked. Arcos checked. They focus their watch on the exit and try to catch some sleep.
A rectangle bracket of light. The door opens. The light is a briefly blinding in the blackness of their wait. The air hisses around the frame as the pressure tries to equalize. They grab their weapons, tensed, and ready. A silhouetted face walks through, masked by contrast. The door closes. Their perception settles and they are able to see the face Krisyra. They stand and walk to greet her.
She meets them halfway. She glances at the spot where they killed the Elves. It looks clean to the party, but she shakes her head.
"I'm glad to see you. I hope you took care of the bodies."
The party nods.
"Lets go. We're in an insecure area. We'll talk when we're inside."
Krisyra leads the party to the door, inserts her key, and opens it. Eyes blink in adjustment. There's an office space beyond. They all walk through.
List asks where they are. Krisyra responds that they're in a secure office space. They look around. It's a generic spread of offices and hallways, undifferentiated. They hear or see no one else. The floor is still. Krisyra walks into an office lined with writing boards. Krisyra gestures for the party to gather around. She closes the door.
"It takes craziness or courage to follow. I hope I'm making the right bet."
"You're here because of the Tower. The Tower is everything. It's the center, the beacon, the lighthouse. It has a lot of names that have been passed down and recorded. I wish other things had been passed down as well. There's so much forgetting going on..."
"I wish I could use it, but I can't." Hardy asks why not, but Krisyra sidesteps a response. "I just can't. It's incompatible with my goals."
"But you can. You're alive. That's proof. And when you do, you'll see things you never dreamt of. That's your reward. All I'm asking of you is to look for something for me. Something out there, floating on the horizon. I need you to tell me if it's there."
"The next steps will be tricky, but I have a plan."
Gaining access will be difficult. Krisyra lays the next steps. Making them ethereal won't work. They'll need a special type invisibility that can evade scrying and routine see invisibility. Krisyra can provide that, but if they bump or interact with anyone they could be discovered. She'll lead them to the base of the tower and to its center. There's a special elevator that will take them to the top. They'll need to move silently, carefully, and with purpose. That's all she asks. And to keep her within sight.
"Ready?," she asks. A few heads nod. "Great" she says. "Let's get going."
Krisyra leads the party through the silent and uninhibited office. The party assumes they're there at night although they haven't yet seen a window but even the scouts, Orryn and Arcos, have thoroughly lost track of time.
They move through the banal environment, through halls, past protected doors, until the space ends in a balcony, overlooking a large, empty room with a closed ten foot by foot door.
"At least they were smart enough to close the door." Krisyra says. There's a spiral staircase to their right. They descend it to the floor below and walk up to the door. There's a panel to its right. Krisyra opens her satchel and pulls out a box with a small dial. She flips open the panel. There are receptacles for multiple keys. She ignores them and affixes the box, starts spinning the dial, listening.
Step back please, she asks. She casts a spell, a breeze blows by their bodies, and the box begins to glow, the dial spins faster and faster, and the room responds with a low moan. The door begins to lift.
A wave of energy hits them with closed fist. Hardy and List are nauseous. They bend over to catch their breath. They can't focus. The ground below them offers no support, only a physical arrest to prevent them from falling down to the center of the Earth. They try to aright themselves.
There's the tower, in front of them, as wide as a town, as tall as the heavens. They trace its bulk up but its top is lost to the darkness of the night. The few stars that frame it look timid, like they're scared to blink in its presence. It's the first time Hardy and Balcazar and List have seen it, and to believe it was hidden. List rubs her forearms to flatten her goosebumps but they rise up again.
The base of the tower is well below their feet. Its footings are somewhere below a sea of green flame and foam that explodes and reforms like the corona of the sun. In front of them is a wire bridge, one of twelve that ring the tower. The party can make out a few solitary figures taking the thin paths over open air.
The bright light behind the party ceases, the door begins to close, and Krisyra steps in front of them to break the spell. They look at her, but she continues straight ahead. The party follows.
Halfway across the bridge, Arcos and Orryn begin to make sense of the blur of people. There are no doors at the terminus of the bridge, just open gateways to a hollow space within the Tower bulk. There is a circulating mill of people inside. Stationary bodies are pulled up on invisible strings. They can't see any mechanical support.
Krisyra continues to move forward. They reach the edge of the tower, step inside, and immediately the vertigo halts. Hardy and List feel better. They look up. There is ceiling far above them. It's filled with a pattern of circular apertures that open and close as groups of Elves are pulled upward.
The almost lose sight of Krisyra, and jog to keep up. It's hard to avoid the traffic. Balcazar blunders into an Elf who glances up in confusion but dismisses the event.
Krisyra finds the spot she's been looking for. A circular ring of symbols in Old Elven. They can't read it. She doesn't acknowledge the party, she just stands there and they gather they need to join. The crowd around in a tight hug.
There is no preparation or indication. They are all lifted, suddenly and with velocity. There is nothing below their feet and they watch as the floor recedes and they they are pulled upwards into a dark tube. Their mental footing feels tenuous. They focus on the ascent.
Twenty minutes of ascent. They close their eyes to prevent stinging as the air flows by. Their ears pop several times.
Finally, a room. They're pushed up into its interior and stumble off the void of the central tube and into its space.
Krisyra is gone. Their eyes were closed. She walked off. The quickly scan the space. There is no other exit. The room is orthogonal, small enough to cover in a few paces, ringed with bookshelves with a motley and extravagant collection of items. Jewels are piled in a small cup, lyres of air-light wood, armor, spell books, crystals, swords with engravings of power that throw of glints of ice and fire. The yellowed white jawbone of a large creature rests in the corner and reaches from floor to ceiling.
The party is hesitant to touch anything. The reality is suspiciously tailored: there's the greatsword Balcazar wanted, the spellbook for List, a pristine pair of Boots of Striding and Springing for Arcos. They walk around the parameter. There's a closed chest that Hardy is desperate to open.
On the lowest shelf, chest level with the diminutive Orryn, is a flight of aged Dwarven whisky, corked and full. The hues are perfect, the right amount of amber and brown. Orryn is gripped by desperate compulsion. He needs a drink. He grabs a flask and takes a swallow.
A pseudopod slams into his leg and knocks him prone. He looks sideways at the source, a mimic. Another two shed their disguise and attack List and Arcos. They fight, prying their polymorphed shapes off their body and avoiding their bites. The kill all three.
The items on the wall fade. The taste in Orryn's mouth is bitter. He spits it out. There's an old cup in his hand. The room is empty. There are no shelves. Just a single ascending ladder and next to it, Krisyra.
"One of the reasons I'm successful is that I know what people want," Krisyra says. "People will believe anything if they need it to be true. Lets go."
She climbs up the ladder and out of sight.
They can feel the breeze piling down upon them as they ascend from the soft howl of its circulation above. The air is cold and fresh. They climb up, and out, one by one, and in the stumble into the panorama of an awakening world. Below them and around them is everywhere they've ever been: the lights of Ferran, the endless blanket of the plains, the mountains supporting the Tower and offering peaceful assurance at their back. The sun is coming up and has only allowed the world to play with the colors of amber and orange.
There are no sides to the space. A few support columns break up the smooth floor skate into empty space. In the center of the platform is is a throne chair of Brutalist stone or metal. To its left and right are two small tower cylinders, the hight of Krisyra. They make the comparison as she stands next to one, hands on either side, in concentration. A small side door materializes, slides open. She inserts her hand, withdraws it. The door closes. The chair raises a few inches.
She turns around to talk to the party.
"We only have around an hour before the next shift enters and I'd rather not deal with the complication of dealing with them. A volunteer please."
Orryn and Hardy both say they're in. She ignores Orryn and asks Hardy to step forward.
"Before we start, I have something for all of you, something to help you get down. Unfortunately, you won't be able to descend the same way---too suspicious."
Krisyra distributes five small vials, tightly corked. "They're portions of polymorph. When I leave, you can use it. It'll be good for 24 hours."
"Let's begin." She gestures at Hardy. He walks up and sits on the chair, shuffles a bit on side seat. His body tingles with a uncomfortable numbness.
"Try to remain calm. You won't die or be injured but the process can be daunting," Krisyra says. "It's best that you go in unprepared. Acceptance can come from ignorance."
She places her hand on the cylinder. Hardy's seat begins to rise, guided by an unseen rail. The small winged flaps of an aperture above him open. Through it, the party can see a mass of thick, clear liquid, pulsing, spinning grasping at the air. Hardy grasps his chair. He looks down at the party, holds his breath, and is up and inside the mass. The party watches the aperture close.
There's a crack of energy in his head. And then nothing.
The aperture opens immediately. Hardy descends, slumped on the chair. Krisyra exhales. She reaches to check his pulse when his seat settles back on the platform. "He's fine", she says, "just unconscious. Give him a couple moments."
Hardy stirs, awakens, sits upright. He had felt something. He was blind at the edge of a cliff. There was something great beyond his body if he could only remove the blindfold. He felt the power. He wants up again. Krisyra says "OK".
Again, Hardy rises, and again he descends, unconscious. He awakens, and with groggy feet, steps off the chair, exhausted.
Balcazar, steps forward, "Let me try."
He sits on the chair. It rises. The party watch him rise, the aperture open and close behind him, and hold their breath for his return.
A deep ice shock seizes Balcazar's being. He gasps but inhales no fluid. He forces himself to gather his thoughts. It's like being hit with the deep shock of an expected swipe of the sword. He can handle it. He forces his mind to steady and it does.
He looks down. He can see the closed aperture below him. Everything is so clear, the outline of the bolts, the specks of dust that gather and swirl around him. He can't see his body but that doesn't perturb him.
The horizon, it's glorious. The sun is halfway up. The world is beginning to pick up the palette of the day. There's Ferran, a black smear in the middle of the calm plains. And then far, far in the distance, a great border, a complete bifurcation of land. In front of the line, the great plains. Beyond, a turmoil of low clouds and dirty color that extends to the horizon.
But first, Ferran. The detail. The clarity shakes him. He looks closer. The city fills his vision. He can see the wide stacks of the foundries, pouring their grit and filth into the air. He can see bodies walking across the upper walls. Many more guards than normal, he thinks. A couple are sharing a story he can't hear. He tries to overhear, and believes he can almost hear their voices.
A soft voice speaks to him. "The horizon, what do you see?"
He pulls pack from Ferran. Looks out over the horizon. The clouds are dense and furled. It looks like the top of a great witches cauldron, dropped into the plains and as wide as the eye can see.
There are a few mountains that peak up. He can see their surface. There are plants of unknown type. He sees a collection of robed persons, dragging a sled, pulling and collecting vegetation.
He pulls back. Scanning, looking, seeking. There beyond the mountain, a city above the clouds, floating, moving, aloft. The air tremles around it. He can see the bodies of Dwarves. They look tired.
There is so much to see. The world is there, everything, placed and embellished with perfect clarity.
The voice, again. "Thanks"
Balcazar feels the weight of his body. He's descending. He can see the pulse of the fluid above and soundless closure of the aperture. He's deflated. The hard ground is confining. He was limitless. He had wings.
Hardy, Orryn, List, and Arcos breath easier. It was a long fifteen minutes. The air had grown stiff with energy. List and Hardy had to sit to steady themselves and handicap their impulse to run to the edge and leap off. Every arcane fiber in their body was sensitized and plucked in an existential torment.
The chair settles. Balcazar is slow to get up. Krisyra tells him "Thank you."
"It's time to go, everyone. The next shift is coming. I'd advise you to leave as soon as I'm gone. Please don't follow. I won't save you if you're caught and you will be caught."
"I know there's more to discuss." She looks at Balcazar. "Meet me North five miles, in the spotted, woods. There a lean-to hidden within the prominent ridge line. Orryn or Arcos, you should be able to find it."
She walks to the descending ladder and climbs down. The party is alone, on top of the world.