Archive for August 16th, 2005

A Long Day In The Making

Tuesday, August 16th, 2005

I have something to confide in you, diary:  I think we are in over our heads, and I love it.

OK, I don’t really think we’re in over our heads.  I think we’ve
stumbled into something huge and ancient and fantastic.  I think
we stand on the very edge of the Now, looking over that high bluff into
the dark unknown of Soon.  In it are dragon skulls and clouds of
despair and a talking portrait of an ancient elf who has no idea that
the first to hear his words in fifty and a half millenia have no idea
what he’s talking about.  Today I’ve felt the undertow of history,
the past opening up and threatening to swallow us, and it’s days like
today that make adventuring worth all the dirt under the fingernails.

Oh, my head is practically swimming.

So anyway, when last I wrote, we were just about to spring open the
locks on that old dwarven DO NOT ENTER door.  We did so, sure
enough, and what did we find?  The halfling for whom we were
searching the whole time.  Good thing we opened that door,
eh?  Anyway, he was chained to an elaborate throne made of a
brownish-yellow metal alloy (iron and… something, we couldn’t quite
figure out what) by his ankles.  In front of him, face-down, was a
drow priestess dead of a multitude of stab wounds starting around her
ankles and working their way up to her back.  The halfling – Alec,
as you’ll recall – pleaded with us to release him and thanked us for
finding him.  After releasing him and making sure he was okay, we
were treated to a general explanation of how his circumstance came to
pass.  He hired two younger halflings to serve as “muscle” for an
adventuring trip.  Investigating ancient ruins is what he does for
a living, apparently, and upon arriving here they were captured by the
Drow.  Alec was brought into this room (after the boulette so
kindly discovered it on behalf of his masters) and chained up so
that the Drow priestess of Beshaba could question him.  He said
she wanted to know everything he knew about the history of this place,
but the problem was, he doesn’t know anything about the history of this
place.  It’s just old, he said, and so he came to poke around in
it.

I should note the following about the room where Alec was chained
up:  the manacles used to bind his feet were of exceptional
craftsmanship and were built into the throne to which he was
bound.  We checked them for magic, of course, but found
none.  Now, not to incriminate myself or anything, but I know a
thing or two about the, um, less savory sides of adventuring.  If
Alec could kill a Drow with a dagger to the shins, he probably knows
how to open a lock or two.  And yet, he couldn’t open these. 
What manacles they must be, I thought to myself at the time.  But,
again, I get ahead of myself.

In the meantime, Adric had spent the morning tending to the waking
humans and elves, once prisoners of the Drow, who have started to come
out of the drugged stupor they’d endured.  Some of them, it turns
out, were brigands who had ambushed others of them along the roads
through the Cormanthor (only to be, themselves, ambushed by the
Drow).  Their leader made a sincere display of regret and recanted
his dastardly ways to Lothander, begging for a second chance in
life.  Adric has gotten into shape said leader and those of his
men who likewise sought to make amends for their crimes and thus has
arranged them as a sort of defensive force.

While all that was happening, and while Badl and Bonzo kept a lookout
and buried the umber-hulk and all its various victims en masse, Rock
went off through the woods in the direction of the other side of the
other priestess’ mirror-reflections conversation.  There he found
another Drow encampment, this one inhabited by soldiers.  Well, a
soldier.  The rest of them had been killed, and the one who
survived was in the process of being, uh, questioned to death by four
Orcs of terrible demeanor.  They, too, demanded to know where Alec
was being held and swore to find him.  Alec, it appears, is one
popular little fellow.

Not sure what to do with Alec, we explained that we had been sent by
the Seers of Kelemvor to find out what his mission was and that we
would like to take him to them.  We promised to bring him back and
accompany him on his explorations if the Kelemvorians were alright with
that, so off we went, back to Sessuadra.  Nigel and Adric and I
interrogated the two Drow we had captured and taken there and
discovered that the main camp, where we were, had recently been
established as a Drow slave camp maintained by one of the “noble”
families that rules one of their cities.  The Beshaban priestess
had shown up claiming that her goddess saw some extreme example of bad
luck in the future that did not, in fact, involve Beshaba herself, and
had sent her to discover its nature.  The Beshaban had become
obsessed with finding out what Alec knew.  After confirming what
we could with her compatriot, we turned them into bunnies and loosed
them on the grasses of Sessuadra.  Good riddance to bad rubbish, I
say.

While we questioned the Drow, the Seers questioned Alec.  They
concluded that they were comfortable with Alec continuing his
exploration as long as we went with him, so off we went back to the
cave where we reported our findings.  Rock returned to report his,
as well, and we decided we might not have much time to get the job
done.  Adric and Badl and Rock instructed the newly reformed
brigands in the defense of the cave and off we went, back through the
door marked DO NOT ENTER to see what lay beyond it.

What lay beyond it was vast, indeed.

The room where Alec was tortured and questioned, it turns out, is an
observation chamber.  It overlooks a vast and empty darkness where
we could see nothing at all.  Some flying reconnaissance and a few
little spells to create some light showed us it overlooked a huge,
spherical room made of the same brownish-yellow alloy.  It seemed
to be all of a piece, so finely crafted was it, and there were huge
pipes jutting into the room from all around.  From these pipes
seemed to emanate nothing but the same mechanical banging noises that
originally drew us to open the door in the first place.  To be
totally accurate, the banging noises came from ten of the sixteen
pipes.  The remainder were silent.

Checking the place for magic, though, showed us something
interesting:  a fine trickle, almost a mist, of magic seemed to
float out of the pipes which produced the banging. 

Now we knew we just had to investigate the whole place, so down we went
to garden level.  Shining our lights around and generally checking
it out, we noticed that the center of the place was a pool.  Well,
sort of a poole.  It was black and reflected no light but looked
as smooth as glass.  At a couple of points along the walls of the
giant, spherical chamber we noticed huge chains – each link at least a
couple of tons – with ancient Elven writing on them.  The chains
seemed to float or rest just upon the surface of the inky black pool
that had formed in the center of the room, and on each link was
written:  And with this do I bind despair.

Yeeks.

Alec said he wanted a spoonfull of the black stuff but we told him
maybe it would be best to wait just a little bit and assess our
surroundings more completely before going around poking spoons into the
darkness.  Sounds crazy, I know, but I guess a few years of
adventuring makes one wary.

We kept going around the sphere to the far side and there we spied what
looked to be another observation chamber.  Upon climbing up to it,
thanks to Katarina’s slippers and various of our abilities to fly, we
found much the opposite of what we’d seen where Alec was held:  an
observation with two thrones, not one, and no shackles.  Also, we
saw four suits of Dwarven armor with skeletons inside.

Of course, the skeletons just had to stand up and start talking.

“Betrayers!” they cried, and then they were after us.  We fired
some spells and Bonzo and Badl went on the offensive.  Rock
charged into the room to fight them hand-to-hand as well, and Katarina
turned first her crossbow and then her sword against them.  Adric
tried to turn them, their being skeletal and all, but to no effect. 
Nigel’s spells were able to harm them, but mine just washed around them
with no apparent damage done.  Eventually we were able to wear
them down, though, and finally we were alone in the observation
chamber.  We found a door exiting the chamber, at the rear, and
Shadow was able to tell us that beyond it was nothing but dirt. 
This building had either been buried to conceal it or, over time, had
been buried by nature itself. 

Looking around, we found a lever between the two thrones in the center
of the room, but decided not to pull it just yet.  Instead we
looked back out into the giant, spherical room to see if anything had
changed since we’d arrived.  Nothing had changed, but we did
notice something new:  the giant, larger than any we’d seen or
even heard of, dragon skeleton mired in the inky black pool in the
center of the room.  Through it, with rib bones healed around
them, were giant anchors to which those ancient Elven chains were
attached.

This place was, it seemed, a torture chamber and a tomb for a dragon larger than any we’d even imagined could exist.

That was enough to pique everyone’s interests, sure enough, and soon we
were off to investigate the tunnels protruding into the great sphere
from each side.  Shadow reported that there were fans at the end
of them, and in the ones still whole, ladders leading up to a control
room just above the fans and, above that, another room with an enormous
metal man turning a gear.  We figured this must be some sort of
distribution mechanism for the magic we saw emanating from most of the
tunnels, so we set about exploring.  Soon enough, we’d assessed
our situation:  the giant metal men, golems made of still more of
this brownish-yellow alloy, stood atop each tunnel’s mechanism and
wound a wheel which turned a gear that powered the enormous fans. 
Behind each fan was a distribution tank and in each tank lay a fine
layer of bright, pink powder that smelled faintly of cinnamon.  When I
checked the powder for magic I was nearly blinded by its
intensity.  Alec was kind enough to get us a sample while Badl and
I took our magic helms and saw what would happen when the golems got a
visitor.  Each of us got the same response from the golems when we
approached:  the head would turn to face us and a deep voice would
say, in ancient Dwarven, “I am 50,430 years overdue for maintenance.”

Yes.  50,430 years.

I asked one of the metal men what maintenance entailed, and was told
that the golem would be disengaged and inspected, and the level of
“sleep dust” in the tanks would be checked.

Sleep dust.

Down below, in the control rooms, Adric and Nigel and Rock and Katarina
had found that each control room had three identical levers: 
“Light,” “Disengage” and “Ventilate.”  We tried them, one after
another, and found that “Light” made the lights come on in the control
rooms.  “Disengage” made the metal men stop working and sit
down.  “Ventilate” made their arms crank so fast they fell off (at
least, in the broken tube where we tried it).  Stopping to discuss
our circumstance, I couldn’t help but wonder how much longer the sleep
dust in these tanks would hold.  If they hadn’t been filled in
50,430 years, obviously the dust in question wasn’t being put out at
any great rate.  Still, if some ancient elves and/or ancient
dwarves had captured a dragon, physically anchored it to the floor and
then begun flooding the room with sleep dust, were they just waiting
for it to starve to death?  If so, did they really think it would
take fifty thousand years for that to happen?  Were they just
being extra careful?  Or were they worried that the thing might in
fact not die? 

Worse yet, did they know something we didn’t:  that it was already
“dead” when they captured it, and as an undead dragon, it “lived”
still, chained to the floor and kept unconscious by ancient,
super-duper sleep dust?  Adric was able to detect that a terrible
evil emanated from around the remains of the dragon, but that didn’t
really answer the question, did it?  For all we know, ancient
draconic bones emanate evil for eternity regardless of how much dragon
is left on them.

I asked the rest of the team if it would be a good idea for me to fly
out over the skeletal remains of the dragon and use magic to probe it
for an active consciousness.  They agreed, but with my full
agreement they shackled my feet together and tied a rope off to the shackles so that I could be tugged
back in should something go wrong.  With that, I flew out over the
center of the spherical pen where the dragon had been/still was held in
place and cast my spell.

At first, I could tell that there were minds other than my own. 
As my awareness focused, I could count them:  one.  And when
I pushed into it, to see what its thoughts were, well…

It pushed back.

That was all I really needed to know:  that down there, around the
corpse of an ancient and enormous dragon, was a consciousness that new
I had tried to look into it and had shut me out.  I turned around
and flew back to the rest of the group at top speed, absolutely
terrified.  Whatever is down there is not good, I said, and it is
awake, and it probably knows we’re here and hears every word we
say.  We needed more information and fast.  Snowdown was able
to tell us that an ancient elven university lay in the ruins of
Sessuadra, and Nigel and I agreed that we should go there and do some
research as soon as possible.  First, though, I wanted one more
look at the 2nd observation room, the one with the two thrones and the
lever.  Upon getting back up there, I cast another spell to find
any secret doors or passages and sure enough I found one on the floor,
directly in front of the two thrones.  The lever was the way to
open it, so we tugged on it to see what would happen.  A few
moments later, the floor had separated and slid open to reveal a metal
plate.  On that plate sprang to life an illusionary recreation of
an elf of high and fine features – features more elfy, for lack of a
better word, than modern elves of the highest nobility.  It was
like the Ur-elf, something strange and almost alien in its… primacy.  It turned to
the thrones, where someone would sit when pulling the lever, and
addressed them thus:

Behold, young princes,” he said, “The ultimate triumph of your people
The chained wyrm.  The storm cloud.  The mount of the traitor
king.  Here they were imprisoned together by the greatest of the
eldar heroes.  Here Fae’Rath trapped the three-faced man and the
dragon called Despair, and bound them.  Before the sundering of
the alliance, before the end of the great war.  And here they
remained for 4 generations of elves before the trial ofthe traitor king
was held.  The wyrm persisted for more than one thousand years
alone in the dark, before death claimed it, and left only the remains
you look upon now.  The greatest of the dragons are dead or driven
to other worlds.  But threats still surround us, and you must lead
your people to greatness. You must become the next Fae’Rath, an
unstoppable hero of light.  Look well young princes, and know what
blood runs in your veins, what shoes you must fill.”

That gave Nigel and me a start on our research, and so we went back out
of this building to where the warriors still stood guard over those
former captives who still slept from the drugs the Drow had given
them.  Nigel and I were off to Sessuadra in a flash (literally) to
find that ancient university and search its libraries for anything on
the history of Despair, the “storm cloud,” Fae’Rath, the great war and
anything else we can find. 

And that’s where we are now:  just returned to Sessuadra, taking a
breather while we get some healing to catch us up from our battle with
the undead dwarves.  As I turn my mind upon the thoughts of today,
I have to wonder whether Badl is precisely right:  he predicted
that the throne with the manacles would turn out to be where someone
who betrayed the elves in favor of the dragons had been held at the
time.  “The three-faced man” certainly sounds like an epithet for
one who chose too many sides in the same war.  I worry, now, that
we’ve stumbled into something far larger than anything we’ve faced
before.  Oh, yes, I’ve walked the streets of the City of the Dead
and crossed swords with a god – a real and terrible god, and struck so
hard both our swords were shattered – but that was years ago and here I
am, right now, knee-deep in something far older and far more fully
forgotten than even Cyric could claim to be. 

Tonight, at any
rate, I know that underneath the Cormanthor is an ancient dome built to
hold and starve a dragon.  One of the metal men told us that the
whole place was made of an alloy of iron and the Starmetal that fell to
the ground “when the stormcloud came,” which makes it something strange
and alien to this world.  To think of the dwarven masters who
could take that star-kissed ore and turn it into something as durable
as this, and the elves who could fashion such anchors as would hold a
dragon of such size to the ground for a millenium while it died – well, the mind simply boggles. 
Somewhere, back in that murky past was an elven prince or tutor
or king who recorded an image of himself addressing some unknown
future, the dragon laid out behind him as an object lesson and
inspiration to greatness.  Fifty and one half thousand years ago,
they were forgotten and abandoned.  I don’t know whether the
dwarves felt betrayed (and thus the cry of their skeletal minions) and
hid that place within the hill or whether time itself crept over the
top of it until all our ancestors forgot it was even there. 
Regardless, that past has managed to reach into the now, its fingers
cold from the grave, to brush our ankles and whisper in our ears and
try to make us remember that a great war was fought and won and that
others would come after it.  I wonder, did they record their
message because they feared more dragons or other, stranger things
would come in time, or did they know already that the great wyrm they’d
trapped in their metal cage would never die, might in time overcome its
bonds, might one day threaten the world as it had before?

I shudder to think.  Today the past spoke directly to us, and
though its words did not all make perfect sense, we understood enough
to know that something big is at hand.  No wonder so many gods
have taken an interest.

I know I keep saying this, but it keeps being true:  I love my job. (more…)