Episode 22

The party fully explores the cavern under Neifur. Satisfied, they return to the surface to celebration and reward. But their journey must continue and they step back into the forests of the Feywild.

Scene 1: The discovery and descent into the second space

The party investigates the rest of the cavern—no further Gricks are found—but the stream terminates in a second drop into a second space. They must be in a cave complex. They party looks over the edge into the space below.

There is a carved pool thirty feet below their feet. It's in the center of a cylindrical space, perfectly equidistant from the walls like a hub in a wheel. The water that falls onto its surface is completely subsumed. The party can hear but not see the water's impact: the water vanishes into a thin layer of opaque mist that covers it's surface.

Orryn decides to lower himself down, over the edge and towards the pool via a rope held by Hardy and Edwyn. They lower him so that he can nearly touch the pool's surface.

From Orryn's vantage point, he has a better view of the walls of the cavern. The space doesn't look complete. There are numerous symmetrical doors and hallways that were started but not completed. Many hallways terminate several feet into the bedrock. The work looks Dwarven.

Orryn doesn't care about the sanctity of the space. He decides to urinate into the pool. The party quickly pulls him up before they are struck by whatever buried forces lie below.

Scene 2: Celebration with the Neifur

There are no remaining spaces to be explored and the the party has confirmed everything has been killed. They travel back up to the surface and into the light of the courtyard where Neserie, Celore, and other Neifurians are waiting.

They are greeted warmly as heroes. In a small, informal ceremony attended by town leaders and notables, Niserie gives several items of gratitude to the party: a +1 longbow for Orryn, Boots of Striding and Springing for Andrazel, Gloves of Swimming and Climbing for Edwyn, Instrument of the Bards for Hardy (a Mac-Fuirmidh cittern), and a Cloak of Protection for Beldroth (see treasure).

Scene 3: The Map Room

The event is over and attendees head back to their regular work. Neserie invites the party back to her office and what she calls the Map Room to help the party plan the next stages of their trip. The party walks off the courtyard and back into the executive building.

Once inside her office, she opens a previously closed door to a small room, dominated by a round, central table with a recessed top filled and level with fine sand. There are several firm cushions lying on the floor surrounding the table. She leaves the party there for a couple of minutes to find a couple colleagues and returns with Celore and two Eladrin whom Neserie introduces as map readers.

Neserie explains what will happen. She will ask one or more people in the party to volunteer, they will kneel and grab the outer wooden lip of the table table, Celore will place his hands on the table, and the two Eladrin will cast a special spell that will incorporate bits of memory and fine magical imprint from all those participating. That information can then be read and projected on the surface of the table. Neserie explains that the past is critical to planning the future.

She looks around for people to volunteer and Hardy steps forward, interested. He kneels, places his hands upon the table, and waits.

The sand animates as a fluid. It flows into peaks and valleys. Scenes form and fall, erupt and disappear: the city of Ferran, the Elven city of Edhen in Ferran, the destroyed Feywild city of Ellon. The landscape changes. An old town emerges. It's tilted as if slowly sinking into a quicksand ocean.

The process takes five minutes. Neserie looks up, at the party. She's lost in thought and doesn't say much, but she does say that it looks like Hardy is somewhere from the far East but she's unfamiliar with the landscape. She's sorry she doesn't have anything more to offer. She may ask a couple scouts to help them on the next leg, at least to the outskirts of the Kingdom.

Scene 4: Leaving Neifur

The party will set out in the morning. They gather what they need, add dried food and ask for replacement equipment for things that have worn out.

The party sets out, towards the Feywild and Material Plane junction. It will be a long journey, two weeks, but they will have aid. Neserie has has asked two scouts to accompany them. They know the route and the trip will be swift without the overhead of reading the path. The party is grateful.

Scene 5: A meeting proposal by Anoth

Beldroth and Orryn have an unshared suspicion they're being watched. Not continuously, but they've had flashes of suspicion. However it's always been below the threshold of pursuit, and Orryn as a scout has had many experiences like this were he hasn't found a cause. They continue cautiously on.

On an evening walk on a far perimeter around their site, Beldroth see a tall humanoid in a close-drawn blue travelers robe and face covered entirely by a brocade mask of silver blue. It is standing to be seen. It gestures Beldroth over. Beldroth, believing this is all in accordances with the cards he's drawn, approaches. It speaks.

He introduces itself as Anoth. He says he has been searching for the party for a dozen days, every since the destruction of Ellon. He says he met some of the group in passing a long time ago in Ferran and was very surprised at the connection. He says big events don't connect themselves to regular people. There's always a reason.

He would like to speak to the rest of the part, without the Neifurian scouts. Beldroth goes to the camp to tell others in the party what happened, gather them up, and gives the Neifurian scouts some reasonable pretense for their brief absence. Beldroth brings everyone back out into the woods. Anoth is still there.

Anoth introduces himself to everyone. "I'm Anoth. We've met before, but only in passing. I think you could describe me as an explorer."

"I know you've met Krisyra," it says. "You could call me an acquaintance of hers. We used to be close but the distance between us is growing. It's the fault of this world."

He says he knows the party is heading, that they are heading to the edge of the Cauldron, to take the first steps into the seductive space that lies beyond the horizon. He says, "It's not my job to tell anyone what to do—it's too dangerous to be drawn into the power of one's own ego—but I'm here because you're important and you don't know what you're getting into. I'd like to give you the opportunity to see a snapshot of where you're headed."

Hardy doesn't trust Anoth. He mostly trusts Krisyra with their assumed shared Kinship as a Tiefling. He wants to know what Anoth is, what he's hiding. Why does he hide behind a mask? Hardy is a convincing person and it's a compelling ask. Anoth says fine and reaches up to remove his mask.

There is no face underneath. There are nodules of smooth flesh that respond like top of a wheat field to an invisible wind. There is no mouth, no obvious point of speech, no eyes, no nose. Where the eyes should be is a brilliant bar of blue sapphire that sparkles with energy and radiates his face in a deep blue. The party is horrified and frightened and nearly run away. He puts the mask back on. "I wear this for a reason," he says.

Anoth begins to trace a large circle in the ground. He finishes, stands in the middle bows his head. The drawn lines harden and grow and the contained ground begins to rotate and then rotate faster into a blur until the entire space fills with dust and debris.

Anoth steps out of the cloud towards the party. He says if they step inside they will be taken to the Cauldron. He doesn't know where. He says it depends upon whatever latent impressions are hidden within each of you. Teleportation works best if you know where you're going. He says the circle only has enough power to keep itself open for a couple of hours. Anoth says that when you want to return, join hands and focus. Be careful.

One by one they step into the storm. Orryn stays behind.

Scene 6: The Cauldron

Everyone's psyche is pulled through a keyhole, expanded, and crushed again. The teleportation process assaults their integrity of self. There are stuck in limbo. They see piercing lights rise and disappear.

They gasp and stumble onto hard stone. It's dark, maybe dusk, but they can't make out a source of light. There is no sun or moon. Only a thick opaque cloud cover of color-tinged grey. An occasional beam of light pierces the clouds and illuminates the stone decay that surrounds them. Billowing fog washes over them and shortens their visibility during intense moments to a few yards.

It seems if they're in the middle of some ruins. There are surrounded by crumbling infrastructure: collapsed bridge, a footing of a warehouse. A stairwell leads down into a darkness that their perceptive eyes can't probe.

The ground they're on is tilted. Everything is tilted as if what's left of of the city is slowly sliding into a quicksand

They aren't sure if they're still in the mental hangover of the teleportation but they feel compelled forward. Andrazel and Edwyn shake off the feeling. They know they'll give up a piece of themselves if they give in.

As they survey their immediate surroundings, Beldroth notices a smooth orb stuck between two stones. It's the size of a fist and colored like a dull cats-eye marble. He picks it up. It's heavy. It gives off a perfume of profane arcane energy. He gently puts it town. He notices several other balls scattered around and warns the party not to disturb them.

The rare streams of light appear to mostly impinge upon a tower some distance ahead. The party know their time is limited but the structure has been called out by landscape. They move forward to investigate.

Scene 7: The Tower and the Battle with the Behir

The walk is rough. There are large gaps in the street they're walking upon that fall into sinkholes. Some sinkholes are full of jutting rods of rusted iron.

The tower is in the center of a upturned clearing. A circular stairwell winds up its entire height. The top gives off a slight glow. The occasional ray of light makes it through the overcover and strikes the tower into a moment of momentary brilliance. In those moments the party can make out movement within the spaces of the fallen masonry at the tower base.

The creatures look like large bugs, like giant centipedes the size of a small shield. As the party gets closer the bugs scatter and disappear into the tower recesses. They are at the base of the tower.

Suddenly the activity stops and the rocks spray upwards as a long, serpentine form erupts from the base. It's a Behir. It appraises the party and waits.

Hardy, hoping it speaks Dranonic, hails it. It returns the hail and says it's happy to meet them and that the party looks delicious. It's a great day. It's very hungry. It hasn't had Elves and Dwarves in a long time. It has a special affinity for anything of Dragon heritage. It's lust is directed towards Hardy.

Hardy replies with full flattery to the best of his bardic ability. He tells the Behir that they are only here to admire its tower and the wonder it protects on the top. Hardy says the Behir has a reputation that reaches far out into the land. He fills the Behir's ego and it is satisfied, although still hungry. It offers to bring the party to the top of the tower to show off its prize before their death. It says it has the best prize of any Behir. The party say they want to see, and they begin the climb upwards. It's a long climb to the top.

The party is stunned when they reach the top. Motionless in glass stasis is the full figure of a Planetar. It looks gravely injured, but even its frozen and injured state it impresses a calm aura of power and dignity. The party can't leave him. Why is a protector of the heavens here? Is this why Anoth sent them here?

Hardy slips a whisper to Edwyn, Beldroth, and Andrazel that he will distract the Behir while they join hands with the Planetar. The party joins hands, Hardy steps back from the conversation into the circle and bows his head along with the others in concentration. The world dims and they are squeezed back into another reality.

Scene 8: Back to the Feywild

Hardy, Edwyn, Andrazel, and Beldroth fall down into the Feywild ring, kicking up a cloud of dust. Orryn, looking upon arrival from the middle of a nearby tree which he had climbed to keep an eye on the situation, jumps down from the tree to greet the party as the dust dies down.

Hardy and Edwyn are both clutching the hands of the Planetar. They let go. The protective stasis is gone. The body is dead. Hardy and Andrazel were sure they felt a squeeze from its hands. Its body begins to fade, its flesh flows into the air, its armor deadens to mundane plate. Beldroth draws a card.

Orryn, now down on the ground and walking towards the party says "I'd watch out. I think a couple of invisible things took a trip back with you. I probably wouldn't have noticed them if you hadn't kicked up so much damn dust. Good luck. I'm heading back to the camp."

Before he turns to the camp, Orryn, looks at the Planetar. It's now a simple skeleton. The power is gone. Orryn walks up, bends down, and breaks off the tip of a finger. A memento, he says and slips the bone into his belt. With a smile he saunters back down to camp.

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