“What do mean that he’s not here? He just teleported back up here, where did he go?”
“I mean, he’s not here. He hasn’t come back since the two of you dropped into that abyss!”
Nathaniel was nowhere to be found. Caleb had Kroenen’s men spread out and start searching for him, leaving a few of them to keep watch on the ledge. Caleb himself began searching the half-collapsed levels of the keep. Unable to use my cloak’s magic again so soon, I shadow stepped out to the central river to scan the waters and the boats moored there. I found nothing. Deciding that it would be better to regroup and collectively decide the next step, I returned the broken hall in the keep. Caleb was already there and the bowmen began trickling back in.
It had been something close to half of an hour at that point. I told Caleb that we needed to go interrupt the meeting between Exelar and Kroenen, then spun on my heel to do just that. Before I could reach doorway, there was a thump of expanding air pressure and an electric smell in the air that I’d come to associate with arcane teleportation. Turning around, I saw Nathaniel standing there, next to Caleb, with the small distortions of his spell fading into the still-dark morning air.
For a brief moment, I thought that Caleb might actually hit him. Perhaps I was projecting my own emotions. He did yell though, demanding to know where the hell Nathaniel had been and what he thought he was doing by deciding to just disappear like that. I walked back toward the two of them, but stopped far enough to let it remain primarily a conversation between them for the moment. My concern came when Nathaniel said that the white tower was, in fact, one of the arcane spires.
An Unexpected Meeting
This fact is apparently the reason for Nathaniel’s “disappearance.” When we were at the bottom of the chasm and I told him to get out, he called on his connection with the spire to return to it. Unaware that the white tower here in the Cascades was a spire, his call was generic enough that he was pulled into the spire here, instead of the one back at Temple Rise. Pulled into an empty room high in the White Spire, he had to work a way back out. This accounted for the time that he was away and also gave him the information that he needed to confirm that it was indeed one of the additional arcane spires that had been mentioned.
Of course, this complicates things even further for us. I, for one, was expecting us to leave the Cascades in the hands of Kroenen’s faction and to return to the Rise. Now, even though Kroenen’s men are ostensibly allies, there’s no way that we can leave a spire undefended, or unmastered. We’d need to leave a contingent here as well as figure out a way to identify and persuade someone that could become master of this new edifice. Which in turn would split our forces further, leave us spread thinner, and so on. And those are just the mundane concerns, let alone the mystical consequences of this additional discovery.
Exelar, Kroenen, and the others had emerged from their meeting by this point. Perhaps it was a coincidence of timing, perhaps they were drawn by the commotion. I quickly brought them up to speed about the state of the rift, as well as the new information about the tower-now-spire. Kroenen did not seem entirely surprised by this information, but nodded along with what I said. He tilted his head toward Exelar and said simply that this would require more discussion.
Agreements and arrangements had been largely worked out while Nathaniel and I were busy avoiding poison mists and being chased by dragons. For most of us, it was time to gear up and leave the Cascades. Olt had gathered the remaining items from the dwarven envoy. Despite his earlier reticence, after researching the papers, he determined that they had indeed made agreements that would assist Trask in betrayal of other dwarven clans and customs. Honor satisfied, he provided the items that they had for the use of the Watchmen. He had also written up a document to inform his great grandfather of what had happened with them. After speaking with Exelar, he was not expecting to return to the Rise directly and intended that Exelar would take the information back to his clan for him. That taken care of, we boarded the Ironclad ship again and returned to the White Spire to make the final preparations.
Arriving back at the Spire, it was quite the contrast to the keep. It seemed that the majority of people left in the city were in the courtyard or its environs, moving prisoners, stacking supplies, and generally milling about. Consulting with Exelar on the trip here, I learned the personnel arrangements that he came to with Kroenen. The Ironclad were now going to use the Cascades as a staging point. It made sense, there was more room and more docking areas than the Rise and they would still be close enough to assist with the airship, if needed. Shepard would be staying with them. Both to serve as a Watchmen presence, but also because of his connection to this place. It was clear that he did not want to leave so soon after being able to return.
Exelar would be returning to the Rise and was taking Trask with him. I’m not sure of his plans, but I couldn’t trust him to better hands. He was also going to be taking Olt’s letter to his clan for him. I’m not sure when he planned on joining back up with the rest of us. Nathaniel said that he also intended to return to the Rise. Although with the powers of the Spire now more fully under his control, he was likely going to be moving around quite a bit.
Finally, most of the rest of our group, myself included, were headed for Carrion Hill. Our goal there would be twofold. First, following Hershel’s plan, we’d be attending a political soiree in an attempt to suss out the Bowmen sympathizers among the political leaders of the Boil. Boris Cotton will be accompanying us since he is something of an expert the politics of that otyugh of a city, but also because he’s also the person that we plan on setting in the seat that we kick the sympathizer out of. And here I had hoped to leave this kind of scheming behind me in the oloth. But if we’re going to do it, we’d better win.
Landing in the courtyard, I headed toward the White Spire. Having been through it once unaware of its nature, I wasn’t eager to return. However, also due its nature, it was important to ensure that it remained clear now that we were aware of it. On my way up to the Spire, I had an unexpected encounter with Meiko Sama.
I heard someone approaching from my side and when I turned, I saw that the severe warrior was headed my way, a bundle in her arms. With no idea what to expect, I stopped walking and waited. As she came up to me, I saw her shoot the briefest glance back toward Boris. It was quick enough that I think very few would have noticed it. It humanized her in a way that I believe she wouldn’t care for, so I ignored it. She said that after fighting the Trask loyalists, they found something that they thought I could make use of; an appreciation for our group’s role in the battle. So saying, she curtly inclined her head, turned on her heel, and started back toward where Cotton stood. Slightly stunned by the exchange, I barely managed to say that, having met her briefly, she should be proud of the daughter that she raised. A smile of regret flew briefly across her face as she said that yes, Boris had, and then she was away.
Unwrapping the bundle I’d been given, it turned out to be a book. More accurately, it was a tome, large and expertly bound. I was intrigued when I saw the designs on the cover. Inlaid in a silvery-gold metal, it resembled some of the celestial geometry designs that I’d seen while working with the Heironean temple in Qataban. Opening the book confirmed my hypothesis. At a glance, it seemed to describe not only rituals, but physical and mental exercises of an ascetic nature. Exelar had previously mentioned that there was a divine order of monks in the service of Heironeous. Writings like these could have been foundational to orders such as those. When I had more time, I intended to go through it carefully. But that time wasn’t now. I secured the book at my side and turned back to the Spire.
Into the Tower
This new spire was unfamiliar. Given the dangers that arose with “our” spire back at the Rise, I was treating it as dangerous ground. A quick reconnoiter around the outside and through the ground floor hall revealed no one lingering. All looked to be in order. As I turned to walk out the doorway, a glimmer of light caught my eye. I sighed quietly and winced before turning around to investigate. Nothing about this indicated good tidings.
Turning around, I scanned the room for the source of the light. No torches or magical lighting was active, but then I spotted it. It was above a doorway across the hall. Half-obscured by a wall-climbing vine of some sort was what looked to be a glyph or design inlaid on the pale stone of the room. As I stared, trying to determine its details, it pulsed with a white light. I turned on my heel and was out of the tower in a blink.
Emerging into the overcast, I scanned the courtyard for Nathaniel. I was still unsure about he was managing the power that had been thrust upon him, but I had no options for now. Seeing him near the airship, pouring over what I assumed to be a spellbook, I called his name and beckoned when he looked up. As Nathaniel approached the tower, I saw Seifer break off a conversation that he was having with one of the Ironclad and head in our direction, followed by Olt. It seems like I’m not the only one with misgivings about this new Spire. I briefed the wizard quickly about what I’d seen. He was immediately intrigued and headed directly into the tower hall. I’d made sure that Seifer heard what I had to say to Nathaniel and he continued past me into the tower, a concerned look on his face and a hand on his icy magical blade. We were of a mind on this. I followed as well, though I stopped at the heavy wooden doorway leading into the tower.
Nathaniel was walking around the room, alternately murmuring to himself or his familiar and casting some spells while looking around the room. He seemed to get excited as he discovered several more inlaid sigils circling the hall at the same height as the first. The small dragon even flew up to investigate them. He said that the sigils represented all of the arcane Spires that were present in the basin, five in total. But there was also a sixth mark, that was no tower but indicated something inextricably linked with them. He was walking toward that sixth sign when Seifer walked into the hall. This is when things went xa’huu.
As soon as Seifer was through the doorway, I thought that I saw a glimmer or a sheen along the hilt of the Thyatian sword he called Dark Sister. It was gone in a blink and then a voice boomed from the rafters of the hall. It said that it sensed an arrival or a return of someone…I would have had a clearer memory, but at the same moment, I felt a shudder in the tower that I was leaning against. As Seifer drew a blade and Nathaniel spun around, staff held out like a shield against an unseen enemy, a stone slab was descending over the door in front of me. It was already halfway down and I could tell that neither of the two inside would be able to make it out in time. I threw a glance back to the courtyard. A few people had noticed the sound and were either looking or walking in its direction. No one would make it in time. I was the only one capable, so the obligation was mine. Decision made, I grabbed the edge of the doorway overhang and swung myself under the barricade moments before it locked into place. Now there were four of us locked in here.
Down the Morlock Hole
There was some sort of magical lighting active in the hall, now. Which was good because it meant that the wizard wouldn’t be bumping into things or burning his magical reserves to be able to see. Quickly consulting the others, I got confirmation that whoever or whatever the voice was, it said that it sensed the approach or the return of one of the royal line. I had a slightly difficult time understanding the dialect that the voice was using. Nathaniel mentioned that it was an older version of the language used locally in the Ruin. Apparently he’d been studying it, back at the Rise. I mentioned what I saw with the sword that Seifer bore. Apparently it was indeed a weapon of the royal family that ruled this place, centuries before the cataclysm turned it into what it was now. Our musings were interrupted by the booming voice, again.
Actually, it wasn’t the same voice. This one sounded more…genuine, as if it were made by an actual person and not a spell. It made observations about us, my drow heritage, Nathaniel’s magical abilities, and the fact that Seifer was bearing a royal weapon but was not, in fact, a royal himself. The doorway that led to central stair of the tower swung open and were invited to come up and meet whomever this voice belonged to. None of us was particularly inclined to do so, but we had no other at this point, aside from sitting down in the hall like spoiled dalharen. Bracing for what may come our way, went through to the stairs.
Once we had, the voice returned. It said that we should ascend the stairs back up to the blank landing near the top. I remembered the place from my trip down off the roof after the battle with the lycanthropes. It was a section that seemed to take up what would have normally been two floors, but only presented blank walls where entryways might otherwise be. And it was indeed, nearly at the top of the tower. As if in answer to my thoughts, the central well blazed with a column of light and in the center coalesced a misty platform. It was a spell I’d seen before. It seemed almost ethereal, but could bear a significant amount of weight. The unknown voice directed us toward it as it would be a faster way to the top. Seifer took one look at it and immediately went to the stairs to begin his climb, with Olt following after. Still unsure of our situation, I opted to join him. Nathaniel looked slightly exasperated and went to stand on the magical platform. It began to ascend quickly. With a nod, he said that he’d “see us up there” as he rose past our position on the stairs. Seifer and I traded glances and continued upward.
After a significant climb, we arrived at the location. Nathaniel was waiting for us, looking rather bored, but stopped leaning against the wall as he saw us. I recognized the location from our sweep through the tower after battling the lycanthropes. It was an odd section that seemed as though it would have help several floors worth of rooms, but held no doorways or other features. Just as Olt moved up to examine the stone wall in front of us, the disembodied voice spoke again. Whoever was behind it had the ability to see us, or track our movement.
It guided us up a set of invisible steps that seemed to be set against the wall face. After a switchback, they stopped and the the outline of a door began to trace on the wall, in a slightly sparking light. The wall faded back to a door, which opened into a gently-lit room. We cautiously walked, with Seifer nudging past Nathaniel, bearing him an incredulous glance as he did so. The room was largely bare, but there was an odd feeling created by crossing the threshold. I couldn’t identify it, but I could tell that the others felt it, as well. Seifer’s stance stiffened as his gaze swept the room, Nathaniel looked vaguely amused, and the dour dwarf simply sneezed.
Currents in the air indicated a path through the room to another door. As it opened, on it’s own again, I had to squint against the bright sunlight that poured out. We walked through into what seemed another world. It was like the lands around the Ruin, heavily wooded and full of wildlife, except that it was sunny and held a light warmth. We walked onto a path that wound its way through the trees ahead. All of us were caught off guard, though it feels like a poor excuse for not reacting quick enough as I heard the door swing shut behind us. As I turned, I saw that it was gone. We had no choice but to continue forward.
As we rounded a bend, the trees opened up and the voice offered us food and refreshment. At that moment, fae-like beings emerged from the woods, holding platters of food and various jugs and decanters. I declined the proffered items, suspicious of not just our surroundings, but of how offerings of gifts and food operate with ture denizens of the fae. I didn’t see how the others responded, as my gaze fell to the distance and the smaller simulacra of the tower that we were presumably still in. It was a perfect reproduction, if appearing smaller in stature, and stood in the distance at the end of the trail. I gestured to the others as I started toward the tower. Seifer’s face hardened as he slung up shield. His feelings on magic and its wielders had been made clear to us all, but for the first time I wondered what was behind them. Clearly it was not a good story.
The walk to the tower took less time that it should have. Wherever we were, I suspected that it was producing any number of effects. Arriving at the door, I decided not wait for the voice, and reached to open it. It swung without a sound and we walked into a hall that, again, was remarkably like that of the Spire back in the Cascades. However, this time, in the middle of the hall, was a man dressed in fine robes. I picked out spidery runes woven into several hems and suspected that he was sufficiently protected from any aggression that we might present.
Even with my limited exposure to the languages of the surface world, the words that he spoke were a kind I’d never heard. When he stopped, he looked at us expectantly. We glanced at one another in the fashion of the stupefied and turned back to the man. I gave a slight shrug and he furrowed his brow. He spoke something else that sounded different to the ear, but still held no meaning. He was clearly getting frustrated when Olt spoke up in his strangely phrased dwarven dialect. That seemed to work, as the unknown man sparked with recognition and began to respond in kind. He gestured, and we began to follow him as Olt served the role of translator.
His name was Berlineous and he claimed to be the Master of the White Spire.
Master of the Spire
Walking a distance that should have been too far, given the size of the tower we were in, we arrived at a sitting room. We were again offered refreshments. I declined. Berlineous brought something out of a drawer in a small table as he sat down. He appeared to cast a charm and we were all able to understand one another. His accent was still quite heavy.
He again stated that he was the Master of the Spire. He also affirmed that we were still there, but we were currently in a magically separated dimension within it, thus the glade and the clearing and the smaller version of the tower. He said that he had been the Master in the days of the collapse of the Empire. His conclave had fought against the chaos priests that infected the society, to the highest levels it turned out. Despite the struggle, they had seen the end of things before any others. So they had taken steps to prepare for it. The Spires (apparently there were several more, corresponding to the runes in the hall of the proper White Spire) offered too much power to an occupying force with the abilities to access them, so steps were taken to secure each one.
In the case of the White Spire, it was effectively shut down. Stores were laid, doors and entrances were locked down. The physical structure of the tower could be entered, but everything of import was sealed off, magically. They had even put a cadre of warriors into an enchanted sleep, stored somewhere in the Spire. He called them Grey Guard, I think. Everything of import in the tower would be inaccessible to anyone that might try to take it by force. The entire thing would be a cache, waiting to be accessed when needed. He would have stayed that way, had Seifer not brought his Thyatian blade into the hall of the Spire. Apparently it was a weapon owned by the royal family of the time and triggered the magical recognition of the tower enough that it woke him and alerted him to our presence in the Spire.
At this point, he asked about the year. It took some cross-figuring back and forth with Nathaniel and Olt to sync ancient and modern calendars. Eventually they came around to telling him that it had been over a thousand years since he went to sleep. His face fell and went ashen as he sputtered a bit about it couldn’t have been that long. The others went over the current state of the valley with him. Nathaniel spoke about the restoration of the Scarlet Spire, after its unknown method of destruction, and that he was its new Master. Olt gave a brief of the history of his people, their exile by the dragon, and their retreat from the illness that swept the Rise. Seifer and I gave a short version of what had happened there since. Two things stuck out in that conversation. First, that he also mentioned a disease of some sort that had swept through Temple Rise, effectively wiping it out in the past. Second, that he expressed concern about the state of the other arcane spires, confirming that they existed.
It was then that I became aware of a question in the back of my mind. If it had been a millennia, how had the wizard survived? Magic or not, he was only human. He said that it was the magic that had sealed the tower away. In this dimension we were in, time slowed, while it passed more quickly outside. Doing some quick figuring, we could have been in here for days, already. I’d be surprised if Exelar and the others were laying siege to the tower. I explained the current situation in the Cascades to him and demanded that we leave this pocket realm before more time passed. The others’ eyes widened a bit and both Olt and Seifer nodded in agreement. Nathaniel, however, seemed as though he’d be content to stay. But this wasn’t the time for that.
It wasn’t hard to convince Master Berlineous. He wasn’t concerned about the potential threat on the tower, saying that it was more than capable of defending itself. But he preferred not to start off on the wrong foot with our people and Kroenen’s Bowmen. He also needed to start reaching out and acclimating to this new time. The Spire Master led us through a series of doors and corridors that opened up into the study where we first stepped through the door into the “vale” of the slow time tower. I’m not as distrusting of magi as Seifer is, but it’s things like this that remind me of the power that they can have access to; and of the trouble that it can lead to. I don’t see this wizard as an enemy, but I’m sure he has his own agenda, like most people. It warrants paying attention to.
Without waiting for formal farewells, I was quickly out of the room. I vaulted of the invisible stairs to the platform below and raced down the stairs. As soon as I reached the entry hall, I slowed down, eyeing the sigils embedded high in the marble walls. I reached the outer doors without incident and opened them slowly, not sure of what to expect. Several dozen heads turned toward me as I walked out. I wasn’t entirely wrong in my guess, it looked like a siege camp had set up on wide tower stairway. As Exelar made his way up, I noticed Kroenen was there, on the landing below. I didn’t relish the fact that the information I was about to provide was going throw their negotiations about the state of the Cascades into chaos. I suppose the silver side of things was that many of us wouldn’t be here for those talks, as we were soon to return to Carrion Hill.