The Planes of Power, Part II
The Gathering In The Fog
A group of robed figures cuts through the dense fog that fills the corridors surrounding the library. At this hour, the night air smells of fog and the harbor that cradles the immaculate white city. Another gray-clad shape emerges from the portal, silhouetted by its blue luminescence. The figure glides down the stairs and nods at a passing sentinel as he makes eye contact and smiles. He then quickly makes his way into the structure that stands before the portal. The carved marble sign mounted to the wall of the structure is legible in the faint blue light: "Temple of Divine Light."
The robed group stops before the temple's gold-inlaid door, waiting in silence. The fog and the faint blue glow turn them into ghosts, haunting the temple hoping for some word of release. Release and salvation are thoughts that ride through the air tonight, but our figures are not thinking of themselves.
It isn't long before the scene is shattered by a burst of candlelight as the temple door opens. Figures in the doorway bow quickly to each other, and the gray robed individual steps back into the corridor. His eyes meet those that lie just below the cowls of the gray robes that stand before him.
"It is time for us to begin," he says in a voice almost as featureless as his face and garb. "They have annotated the locations for me on the map. Our journey begins once the others are informed. All of you, be cautious but quick." The hooded apparitions nod in response, in almost perfect unison. The speaker's hands quickly articulate, calling into existence a small, shimmering blue star. The star blinks and expands, becoming a sparkling ring framing what looks like a picture of another place. The figures step through the portal, their gray robes seeming out of place on the green grass of the picture they have become part of.
A brief blue glow is all that remains moments later, and it quickly fades. As a roaming sentinel walks around the corner, the air finally settles. She tilts her head in the hope of catching the noise again. She could have sworn by Prexus that she heard someone recite a phrase that will only carry meaning much later in her life…
"May the Name find a tongue and may the Balance be met…"
Karana sat quietly contemplating the recent turn of events. His head and his heart had been tormented for some time, mulling over the possibilities that lay before him. He had largely avoided directly affecting the destinies of mortals in the past. Even the influence of Bertoxxulous on his namesake plains on Norrath did not draw any action from the Rainkeeper. This is somehow different though. The influence of the pantheon has already reached far beyond any bounds they reached in the past. But of course, the birth of a new demi-god would have that effect. Karana could feel the inevitable tugging at his being toward intervention. But the Rainkeeper does nothing out of reflex or rage. This problem must be meditated upon before any sort of action could be taken, and time was something he had plenty of for the moment.
Karana called out to his faithful servant Askr. Askr had been Karana’s companion ever since he washed up on the shores of Larquin in the Plane of Storms. It was rare that a mortal would survive any sort of terrestrial storm that was strong enough to open a rift to the realm of the Rainkeeper. Rarer still that he would retain his mind and body so well as Askr had. He remembered little of his existence on Norrath, but knew the name of the Rainkeeper and had served him well over the last hundred years. Karana handed Askr a great medallion. He hated to distance himself from Askr this way, but there was no other way to achieve the state of deep meditation that he would need to see the ramifications of his decision. Without a word Karana raised his staff into the air and summoned down a great lightning bolt. The Rainkeeper disappeared in a blinding flash, leaving only Askr standing silently at the base of the towers of the Bastion of Thunder.
Askr stood there for a moment quietly and looked down at the medallion in his hand. “There can be no good to come of this,” he whispered. He then turned to look up at the raging winds surrounding the Bastion. They already seemed to swirl faster, unbridled by the presence of the Rainkeeper.
Karana entered his study quietly and sat down on a large oak chair. His meditations had not gone well thus far. The rifts to the mortal realm that had been created settled heavily on his conscious, clouding his clairvoyance and darkening his insight. The future was entirely unclear to him for the first time. He found it unsettling. He stood and walked over to the shallow pool in the center of his study and felt the stiff breeze and cool rain that blew in from the open ceiling. He sat down in the quiet water and drifted slowly into a fitful trance. His mind drifted at first slowly across the dark clouds that hid the future from him, but gradually picked up speed as his senses grew accustomed to navigating the darkness. He drifted through the clouds now at a blinding pace. Visions of the past raced by, partially hidden by the darkness of the clouds, mixing endlessly with portraits of the infinite futures that might exist. He could feel himself losing some of his control on the path he was taking. He tried to slow his descent into the darkest parts of his mind but found himself hurtling ever faster into the infinite darkness. He looked down, trying to focus on something, anything discernable from the chaotic swirl of his memory. Finally one thing began to coalesce from the swirling storm around him. First the outline of a single pair of eyes, then a nose, then a great white beard solidified before him. The enormous face began to laugh as Karana’s consciousness started to understand the vision below him. Just as recognition met with consciousness the great face flew up and consumed the screaming essence of Karana’s mind, leaving nothing but the jaded, sneering face of Agnarr behind…
Burglaries in the night
The cities of Norrath are so varied in beliefs and populace that they rarely find a common relationship outside of the bonds that seem to eventually bring all things that walk upright together… desire, deceit, and conflict. As the morning climbed its way across Norrath it brought with it a message, a message that would affect individuals in a manner that unified them for a brief, fleeting moment.
One of those individuals was a rogue. He was discovered hiding atop an air duct in the Library Mechanimagica. The Eldritch custodian found the Human thief among the littered remnants of a hurried, but very precise search. His insistence that he was not responsible is contrary to his inability to describe the person he claims to have seen looting the place. His apparent surprise that someone would break into such a place only to remove a book or two join him to others that have made similar claims this day.
In Cabilis, the Keepers Grotto is discovered in a similar state, as is the Great Library in the City of High Men and Knowledge. These are not the only locations. In every city, on every continent, scholars and keepers of lore find themselves speaking to their sentries and servants in the hope of garnering an answer. All they find is that as words and whispers travel their questions become more complex, leaving them to explore a web of intricate, yet nebulous possibilities.
The select few will only recall one blurred memory of an oddity. For some it will be a faint recollection of a conversation with a face whose features they can't recall. For others perhaps it will be a brief discussion about books, or libraries, or a place that might hold some ancient piece of lore. The only thing that seems to stick is an image of a figure, or maybe it was several figures, with faces without features and clothing without adornment. Each the antithesis of memorable, participating in an exchange that left a residue in the mind like a name you can't recall.
The only thing that any of these individuals can remember is that they spoke to someone who mentioned that time was short… and that the person was dressed almost entirely in gray.
Scorn of Drunder
The hulking figure brooded silently over a table piled high with arcane maps and cryptic diagrams. An unnatural red fire blazed in the great stone brazier in the center of the circular room. Shadows danced on the walls, and the figure's silhouette seemed to flicker back and forth between the shape of a massive, armored man and that of a brutal, four-legged beast. His thick fingers drummed the handle of a giant flaming axe that hung at his side; his jaw tensed and he ground his teeth.
"Why, Tallon?" he growled.
A smaller figure near the open doorway flinched slightly, rattling the mighty war bow that hung on his back against the wall. "The one I spoke to," Tallon began, steeling his voice with false confidence, "he - well, he blamed the delay on the interference of a group of mortals." The fingers that drummed the flaming axe stopped. Silence filled the room. The fire ceased to crackle and its warmth retreated, leaving the room suddenly cold. Tallon felt the other's eyes, two pinpricks of blue flame, boring a hole through him.
"I do not understand why we rely on the help of these fools!" Tallon finally blurted out. "The Diaku requires no assistance to complete our goals."
In a flash, his protests were silenced as an invisible force lifted and snatched him from across the chamber. Tallon squirmed before the hulking figure, his throat locked in a grip of iron.
"We use them because I dictate it," replied the figure calmly. White-hot arcs of flame erupted from his fist and seared Tallon's face, leaving blistered trails across his cheeks and lips. "Now," continued the figure, "you will take care of this personally. I will accept no further delays."
Tallon struggled to speak. "I will…father…" he choked out finally. The clenched gauntlet at his throat relaxed and Tallon crumpled to the floor, gasping.
"Get out of my sight."
Tallon struggled toward the doorway. As he crawled out into the adjacent hall he looked back at his father.
He was again studying his maps. With a casual wave of the figure's enormous hand a stone slab slammed into place, sealing the doorway.
Fahlia silently sat on the ocean's edge. The aurora danced with its reflection, giving the horizon a mesmerizing effect. The rhythmic sounds of the shore and the smooth whir of the windmill's gears gave the aurora the music it needed to make the scene complete. Yet, even with a scene as meditative as the one that moved before her, Fahlia's mind continued to race.
Conflict and conspiracy have always existed. However, the scale and nature of what was transpiring proved to be very unsettling. There was some reassurance in the knowledge that their efforts had paid off so far. Other than the trip to Kaesora and the assault on the Libraries of Chardok, they had experienced very little opposition while collecting materials for the elders. This was partially due to the fact that so many people were collaborating with them. Fahlia found it hard to fathom that so many people were looking for the same answers. It was even harder to believe that these people were willing to risk the same punishment should they be discovered.
The elders and scholars were working at that moment to decipher the documents that had been gathered. Perhaps those tomes and texts would give them some insight, some clue about what they should do next. For now, she could only wait for her next assignment and hope that destiny had some plan for them. Fahlia couldn't help but wonder if he was out there, watching them with some understanding of the tale that was about to unfold.
Just as that final thought filled her mind, a voice disrupted the peaceful scene.
"Fahlia, the elders have called for us again. It seems they have located the last four. We must move to meet them at once."
The speaker's voice was unnaturally deep for someone with such a diminutive stature. He reached out to help her to her feet and added, "You'll be needing some extra cover to take with you, lass. It's quite cold where we're heading."
Shadows & Decay
The feeling of revulsion worked its way through the messenger's body and made its presence known in the form of a stammer. The fact that he could speak at all could be attributed to the powerful warding spells and protective runes that covered his body. They glowed brightly beneath his robe and seared his flesh as their magic expended itself. The messenger prayed that this conversation would end swiftly. Should the protective magic falter and expose him to the horror that he felt moving in the air around him, he would surely rot instantaneously.
"Speak with haste, lest you wish to be consumed on the spot. I am confident that my rending of one of his curs would do little to change our arrangement. What do you think, wretch? Would your master mind if I sent you back to him in a pail?"
The grotesque entity spoke with a voice that mocked the mortal tongue. Its voice spewed forth, as if the words would cause the listener's ears to fill with a rotting liquid. Each word was coated in filth.
"No Suh… Sire… I am nothing and no one. I am merely a vessel for the word of Innoruuk. My liege has sent me to you with a message," the young courier said, as his pallor grew more apparent.
A hand extended from the shadows and pointed its rotting finger at the courier. The voice sloshed forward from the darkness again, "Then deliver your message, wretch… before your master is forced to send another."
The trembling messenger dropped to his knees and began to convulse. The symbols covering the Tier 'Dal's flesh glowed brightly and began to dance in the filthy air of the room. The symbols slowed their pace and began to gather in front of the massive rotting god. They shifted and aligned until they read like an ethereal piece of parchment.
The room grew silent, as the hulking figure contemplated the symbols' meaning. Then the silence was quickly broken by a roar followed by the swing of Bertoxxulous's great rotting arm. Both the symbols and the messenger were swatted and sent flying though the air.
"Am I expected to be concerned with the meddling of mortals? This problem has already been dealt with. Nothing can change what has been done! Leave this place and tell your master that I will have no more talk of this matter!" the creature roared at the slumped figure.
As the messenger ran from the room he could hear the words being shouted again, "Nothing can change what has been done!"
The murmuring voices in the room propel Fahlia's memories back to her first frigid meeting with the drakes near the massive temple in the wastes. She remembers her awe at the power of the place that could produce creatures learned enough to open rifts that reach beyond anything most mortals could comprehend. Perhaps the drakes would be protected from the fate that has befallen many of the island's inhabitants, she had thought. It was impossible to tell if the portals were harming the channelers, or if the gods were showing their first hints of retaliation.
"Time has accelerated," announces the elder over the din. "Uncertainty, fear, anticipation, and now this…. Perhaps the bounds have been overstepped. Now, the answer is hurtling toward us with no regard for our ability to face it. We cannot turn back!"
Fahlia sits listening with the young bard's head cradled in her lap. His face is flushed; drops of sweat collide and form a stream as he convulses in pain. Fahlia's mind is focused on the elder's words, but her heart stays with the tormented young man in her arms.
"Once the portals are opened, our fates will be locked into place. No one can predict what may happen from this point. The memories of our efforts may soon fade, our legacy buried beneath the blowing ashes of a mortal miscalculation. Or the heavens may find themselves ablaze, engulfed in the power of their own creations!
"We may never find the answers we seek. The canvas of reality may burn and tear. Yet, we must move forward! It is the only direction left for us to follow. We will find the One Teacher. Question not the wills of those who shall soon come to walk with us, but be mindful of the possibility of treachery and watch their every action. It should not take long to spot the fellowship that we seek, for soon the heroes of prophecy will walk within our ranks
"Now go and prepare. Soon the morning mists will lift to reveal the portals to a new age. The Age of Balance is nearly upon us."
With this, the elder walks from the large room and allows it to return to being an infirmary for the casualties of the new age.
The Book and the Pedestal
The night slowly pulls its face from Norrath, leaving only the dewy residue of its dark kiss. Creatures scurry to find a shady resting place to wait out the day, and the inhabitants of all the cities of man awaken. It will be hours yet before these cities become fully aware of their newest landmarks, the portals in the form of stone pedestals that litter the face of Norrath’s landscape.
Most days begin, fade, and end, all part of the slow blur that makes up the common life. Sometimes a clear path will present itself and lead its follower astray from that common life. This path comes to its traveler in a variety of forms: the magic in a child's first book; the promise of a couple’s first glance; the hero's first step into the dank mouth of some forgotten cave. All these things can break the blurry cycle of the day and yield adventure.
This morning will present to the citizens a new path, a path in the form of a portal--a path that will forever change their lives.