The Third Eye Opens Wide
Carbunkle appears on a wide dune. The wind blows sand in his face, but his path is clearly illuminated by the Three Moons. Over his shoulder is slung a strange contraption, the size of a breadbox…which make sense as it is a breadbox. The Vagabonder insisted that it was the perfect tri-phasal resonance needed for the device to work as needed. That and the single drop of Time the engineer had saved, at his Captain’s request.
The gnome had expected an argument when he told the engineer his plan, but The Vagabonder had been so caught up in his inspiration for the machine that it was an easy sell.
Carbunkle stopped on the crest of the dune. Below, bright torches illuminated an oasis. Through moon-black eyes, the gnome squints — his eyes have become incredibly sensitive to light in the past few days. Verdant palms surrounded a wide, shallow lake. A few huts are nearby, but most of the activity is taking place on a wide circular stone in the center of the lake. Even from this distance, the gnome recognizes the arcane sigils of the Third Eye, and the cloaked figures Black, White and Red. They move with an easy alacrity, excitement clear in every frame.
The summoner straps the machine to his chest, it gives off an unpleasant whirring noise as it warms up. The big red button on the top blinks, then burns steady..just as the Vagabonder instructed. All he has to do is push the button.
The machine pings, and blue light erupts. Carbunkle feels strange, as if he’s in two places at once. Then there is a POP. And he is. Carbunkle blinks into his own eyes, standing on the other side of the machine.
“Take care of Scarlet.” Other Carbunkle says gruffly. “And Talitha, and Agnar, and Echo, and Haskeer, and Fin, and Corben and the grandkids, and Frostthimble, and all of the books, and…and you know what I mean. And just like we agreed, if this goes south…be ready to take me and the rest of the Third Eye out.”
Carbunkle watches as Other Carbunkle trundles down the dunes. The gnome tosses the now-useless machine aside. Without anything to fuel it, it will be forgotten and rust, hidden by the shifting Sarmadi Sands. The gnome sits down on the dunes to watch the ritual, cloaked in invisibility.
The preparations for the ritual are complete. The Three Moons hang stately, all full in perfect harmony in the night sky. The Witnesses step forward. Black, Red and White…they form a simple ring on the stone, and each kneels. Then the Moonchildren take their place in the center, forming a triangle. Ananda, with her long black hair blowing in the wind. The white-haired child is placed in his crib at the proper point, and the Arcleric Tome steps back into his place with the other witnesses. A gray-haired Yad-Elf in red leather armor takes his place as the Red Moonchylde.
All is still, then the ritual begins. Ancient words fill the air, faint echoes carried to the gnome’s ear by the wind. Then lines of power begin to form connecting the witnesses, and each moon’s avatar. Carbunkle feels an odd sensation, something breaking inside of him. The face of each moon seems to turn, or to slowly blink like giant stone eyes.
Energy pours out of each moon, coalescing around their chosen avatar ..then rippling outwards. Washing over Carbunkle and through him
- spreading like a wave to the sleeping world beyond. The gnome blinks, and his connection to the Black Moon shatters. His eyes clear, the strange glittering carapace falls into the sand, and a blinding headache overwhelms him.
Before he falls into darkness, three words whisper across his mind. It it Lucina’s voice, Saraghina’s, Open and Shut’s? Like all of these, but not..the speaker is unknown, but the words are crystal-sharp.
Celes. Maero. Torva.
Three sisters dance, and three children sing. For now in harmony. The dreamers beyond will wake to a new world tomorrow, though it will be some time before they truly realize it.
Carbunkle sleeps himself, in the midnight sands, on the edge of wonder.
A month or so later…
Agnar kicks open the door, three or four darkwood boards jammed under his arm. His foot goes through the door, it takes him a few moments to get his foot extricated from the splintered hole. He turns the knob and opens the door with remarkable aplomb. He is drunk.
Echo-dactyl flaps through a large bay-window, sending glass everywhere, and slams against the opposing wall. She is very drunk. Carbunkle is mostly nude, except for a thin white toga draped around his genitals — he levitates through the broken window, sipping genteely on a martini. He is old-man drunk, which is to say unbelievably hammered but with a profound sense of dignity.
Boss Kreed, sitting at his massive darkwood desk opens his fat jowls to call for his guards…when Fin appears behind his chair, and wraps a firm arm around the lumber magnate’s throat. The monk is not drunk. That would be deeply inappropriate. He’s just very, very centered.
The lantern archon, Wick, giggles drunkenly — causing all present to briefly wonder how a lantern spirit even imbibes — then points a tiny fire-finger towards Kreed.
“We’ve come to discuss – hic—disourse?—no, hic— discuss the redistrubutions—-retributions—-of the Darkwood Lumber wealth amongst the poor workers of Flappy Bird Hollow!”
Witty repartee, and proper pants-shitting follows.
Corben leans out of the wheelhouse, one hand on the wheel. He blinks a little more than he should, and keeps idly tossing his chakram into the air and catching it in his teeth. Haskeer lies snoring in the prow, completely oblivious. The half-orc had easily held his own drinking in the Royal Gardens, even tossing back a bottle of Purple Rot-Gut with elan, and singing some classic orc chanteys with the Vagabonder. But then a page had arrived with a gift for Haskeer, left by a traveller for ‘Oscar Spider-killer’ — one of the many gifts that had flooded their lives in the past weeks. But the note had referenced the page by name, so he had made sure to bring it right along. A simple clear bottle, with a sweet-smelling clear liquid. The note attached had said — For the crew of the Lodestar, some Dragon Drank on us. To the Queen! – The Gang at the Diner
Haskeer had laughed and taken a mighty swig, and the bottle was passed around. Then ideas were had. Then the crew was clambering through the garden, to where the ship was parked. They had plenty of time, and this adventure was long overdue.
Corben grimaced as the crew boards. The Truescales and Brightflames had been excited to be invited along on this grand adventure, and they had made a mighty pile of darkwood on the deck in an alarmingly short time. Carbunkle is the last to board, hauled bodily to the ship by a red-haired woman in a low-cut bodice. She plants a warm kiss on the snoring gnome’s forehead then flops him over the stone rails of the ship.
“Now that Darkwood Lumber is owned by the people of Falcon’s Hollow — should we really be stealing all this wood?”
A witty, drunken retort.
“Well, we don’t have time to put it back. We have to haul ass back to Caleron, we can’t have the groom be late for his own wedding!”
Haskeer is hungover, but beaming. The four finger-length scars left by the claws of Fairchild are bone-white against his grey face. They do nothing to improve his appearance, but the wide smile and occasional happy tear that falls down his cheek more than compensate. He is clad in armor of the purest white, chased on each side with simple, clean steel. His tailor, Kelvin, had insisted.
“It’s a work of beauty, but I’m not going to make it useless by putting gold on it. It’ll protect you from a dragon’s jaws, a minotaur’s horns — but not I fear from the eyes of a pretty girl. Too bad, the mighty hero finally falls.” the sandy-haired cleric had grinned.
Corben leaned against a nearby pillar, wearing the ceremonial gray tunic of a squire. He came over, and spent a moment fussing with Haskeer’s cape. The music swelled, and the rogue grinned.
The two step into the throne room of Caleron. The right hand side is dedicated to the bride’s family – mainly nobles and good folk of the city, but also a contingent of the Knights of the Key, led by their new captain Sir Galen, and his second in command Lady Travail. She elbows the tall, young human and he snaps a crisp salute to Haskeer. Some of the rigid discipline fades, and he gives the half-orc a semi-warm nod.
The groom’s family however, is the thing of tall-tales.
The front rows are crammed with Truescale Kobolds and Brightflame Goblins – Blart and Peto wave tiny little flags with Haskeer’s face crudely scribbled on them. Neither tribe truly understands this human ritual, but they are vastly excited to be included. Pembleton stands on the far aisle, his minotaur frame far too large to fit in any of the pews. A whole pew is dedicated to the survivors of Jacradam. Between the devil onslaught and the fierce carpet-bombing of the Valerian evokers they are still a little worse for wear, but half of Tuskside seems to be in attendance, along with a few humans and dwarves — a symbol of the new water pouring through the dam.
Carbunkle sits a few pews back, dark spectacles over his eyes as he nurses a glass of tomato juice. Scarlet sits next to him, and Binky has donned his finest monkey tuxedo for the occasion. The gnome only brought his top eleven favorite grandchildren, but several more had come along, wearing foolish disguises to convince their Gloompa that they were different ones.
Agnar sits behind them, arms crossed obstinately between Martin and Thorn. Thorn is doing her best to keep Talitha in her seat, but also seems to be spending a fair amount of time reaching across the barbarian to fuss with Martin’s splint. The old ranger had met them at the Gilean border, leading the few bedraggled survivors of his Gryphon raiding party. He was nursing a broken arm, and a half-stitched gash in his side, but was no worse for wear. The Key Knights that followed him were battered and beaten, with the eyes of men who had learned more than they ever wished to know about war. Thorn had berated him mercilessly, dragging him below decks to see to his wounds. Since then the two were rarely found apart, to Martin’s unease and Thorn’s growing satisfaction. Sinoe sat, as still as a statue between Talitha and Mara, but seemed to be spending an unhealthy amount of time inspecting the revolver on the gunslinger’s hip.
Haskeer moved forward, his boots ringing on the marble floor.
Fin sat serene and alone, doing his best to ignore the aggressive boredom projected by the vastly overweight orange cat at his side. He beamed at the paladin as he passed. Haskeer also got approving nods from Stortz Tart and Tom Brighella, or Lord Brighella as he was now known. The young noble, Lucas Grahd leaned forward as well and shot the paladin a serious ‘thumbs-up’.
Echo sat in a place of honor, a pew right up front — only appropriate for royalty. Her mother, the de facto Queen of the Sea sat beside her, austere and proper. The defenders of the Dolphin Tribe and Whale tribe were able to repel the devil’s underwater siege — but the other tribes were not so lucky. Vast losses had shaken them to the core, and refugees from the shattered tribes made their way to the Queen’s feet every day. The leader of the Whale Tribe, Ziria had politely declined his invitation. Echo slouched to one side, wearing the elaborate dress she had worn months before to the ball at Dominoe Manor and whispered in the ear of Galbadia Dominoe, who then turned and passed the message to the lean rogue, Ballast. The vicious pirate blushed in shock, and covered her face — trying to hide her embarrassment at whatever Echo had said.
More and more smiling faces, turned up to greet Haskeer. Sir Barnabus, Dayjen Moore flanked by two Seafoam Marines, Jump and Silo, Kelvin Mason…more and more. But there was only one face he wanted to see.
At the end of the aisle, clad in shining gossamer white, was Princess Alastelle of Caleron. She glowed like a torch, and the rest of the world faded away. Corben had to tug his friend rather sharply into place, the half-orc’s goofy grin remaining even as he shook free of his reverie. The bride stood alone, as was custom in Caleron.
King Cai of Caleron, smiled wanly from the simple chair between the couple. The old king had been sick for weeks, bed-ridden. But he had insisted on performing the ceremony himself, and he had been carefully carried to his place on his quiet throne. The cleric Marlowe stood close by his chair, quietly sending his Bright Lady’s blessing into Cai. The king’s was weak, but sure as he spoke.
“I see a knight, and a lady.” the king began. “Do you know this knight, lady?”
“I do.” Alastelle smiled.
“And is he a true knight?”
“Has he done great deeds and bright, in the service of the land?”
“Is he good and true, strong and fair – the true hero of your heart?”
“All of this…and more.” Alastelle said.
“Will you have him, lady?”
The crowd leaned forward in anticipation. It was not unheard of for maidens to deny the groom at this point. The purpose of this ceremony was to fulfill the honor and nobility of the groom’s suit — but without forcing the bride to consent.
“I will.” Princess Alastelle said.
King Cai smiled with genuine delight, but adopted a serious expression for the crowd’s benefit. He made some show of weighing the lady’s words carefully. At last he turned to Haskeer, and asked the traditional question.
“Will you honor this lady’s choice and serve her until the end of your days and beyond? On your life, on your heart, on your sacred honor that is every knight’s charge?”
“And..” Cai added, drawing some quizzical looks from the Caleron natives on the bride’s side. “Will you protect her…her and all of her lands, until the end of your days?”
Cai smiles with relief, closing his eyes briefly. “Then if it is the lady’s wish, and the knight’s duty…what is the word of a king? May your days be long and bright, may your family grow and flourish, may you engrave this moment forever in your hearts, and may your arms never be weary of the glorious burden that you take up this day. Lord and Lady, take your place.”
Alastelle happily steps forward into Haskeer’s arms, and then Carbunkle yells something inappropriate.
Later, entering the wedding party in the elaborate gardens [pages have labored all morning to remove the piles of debris, broken furniture, shattered glass and damaged topiary from the early evening food fight that broke out.] Marlowe pulled Agnar aside.
“You’ve done well, brother. And you’ve earned a respite.” Marlowe crossed his hands, and said seriously. “But don’t wander too far. The Bright Lady still has work for you.”
The old man poked the barbarian’s chest to reinforce his message. “And we need to find you a nice wife, too.”
The tables were packed with well-wishers. Bragg Silverhammer was locked in a fierce philosophical debate/art wrestling match with the crusty old spymaster, Kirk Bitterbark. At the nearby Seafoam table, the former captain of the Riptide, Rake Bitterbark gazes at his father with long-held anger still smoldering in his eyes.
Sinoe and Rulf stand on the edge of the party, as motionless as statues — until Talitha and Crackers run over and drag them out onto the dance floor. The young scion of the Precursors makes a beeline for the noble Lucas Grahd, sitting with his back to the dance floor reading a book.
Simple paper lanterns are strung across the garden. No magic used by the Brightflames or Truescales, except for the most essential — the love and skill of friends.
Froththimble stumps importantly around the party, knocking over punch bowls with his okay-sword and cornering strangers who want to hear the story of his little brother’s adventures.
The crew of the Lodestar moved around the party, speaking to new friends, old enemies, comrades and rivals… and people who were a mixture of both…each other. They had all agreed to go their separate ways after the wedding, avoiding any long drawn out farewell. Plans had already been laid for regular meetings in Caleron to discuss long term plans for combatting Open and Shut..and to annoy the piss out of each other anew, and drink and eat. Each knew that this would be their last chance to speak for an unknown length of time.
One Last Glimpse Through the Dragon’s Eye
In Valeria, change is an unwelcome visitor — a hard-scrabble beggar pushed to the curb, by the proud families of magic that reside under the ancient purple-tiled roofs. But in the aftermath of the Grand Wizard’s death — and the horrible discovery that two members of the Council had aided the devil’s schemes — the city grabbed the beggar by the hand, and pulled him into the parlor and introduced him to their daughter.
“Is the Council met?” Jopra the Kingbinder asked, the columns of the chamber white and cool.
“It is.” Icewick the Soulsteel said calmly.
“And we are agreed?” Jopra’s white mask moved to scan the gathered wizards.
“We are.” Song the Ender intoned.
“Then we are most pleased to welcome our new members. Master Abjurer, step forward.”
Adamantine teeth shining, Gorton stepped forward, picking at the hem of his new green robe.
“Your wards are stronger than any we’ve ever seen, we can think of no better master to instruct the College of Protection — and the courage you displayed in the Battle of Bard’s Gate is already legendary.” Gorton puffed up at the Kingbinder’s words. “And it will serve you well in your hunt for the former Master of the Green District, the villainous Tumm the Madwand. Stand and be true, Master Gorton the Unbreakable.”
Gorton looked like he was about to faint or throw-up, but managed to slip the plain green mask over his face and slide into his chair.
“Master Evoker, step forward.” Jopra continued.
With a sword strapped to his side, the tall gray-haired form of Darm Rookwood seemed most out of place..and did cause a small murmur from Marigold and Lord Asmos. The magus stepped forward proudly, and picked up the red mask of the High Evoker.
“This is a high honor, and I will serve this city well.” Darm said. “But I will not cover my face. I am who I am.”
“If that is your wish, then we will not fault you. We have sinned against your school, First Magus, in ignorance, if not in deed. We have much to repay. I hope that the construction of your new academy is a good first step.” Jopra replied. “Stand and be true, Master Darm the Blade.”
He slipped the mask on over his head, leaving it cocked to the side, covering the right side of his forehead. Master Graham snorted in amusement. “Nice hat, kid. Back up to eight, but aren’t we the Council of Nine?” the gnome said rhetorically.
Jopra stiffened, his dignity ruffled, but continued on. “Yes, Illusion Master – we are one short, but none of us can replace the Grand Wizard, not in wisdom, power or knowledge. So instead, I say we add a new seat, as he would have wished
- to welcome in the new, the strange — the magic for which there is no school. Step forward, Master Summoner.”
A deep, bass roar filled the quiet council chambers as the new council member was proceeded by a gigantic red boar, flames rippling through it’s fierce mane. Ham Sandwich hopped into the empty chair at the table and proceeded to much on the complimentary bowl of nuts and fresh bread. The half-elf, Vondes covered his eyes with a hand in embarrassment,and stepped forward ruefully. He laid his other hand on his eidolon’s shoulder with affection. “It will be my honor to serve the council, and Valeria.”
“The summoners are to be your main charge, but also the strange magics unknown in Valeria. Witchcraft, the mystery of the oracles, the shamans, the mystics….the City of Lore will open its doors to all that travel the river of magic, regardless of the craft they use. Take your place, Master Vondes the Mindforge. Stand, and be true.”
Vondes slipped on the freshly crafted gray mask of his office, and nudged Ham Sandwich over on the seat, and perched on the edge next to the noisily munching eidolon.
“And now. A weighty task lays before us.” The Kingbinder reached into a white pouch at his side, and pulled forth a small mirror, no larger than two-handspans — the back seemed to be made of amber, the front was pure silver reflection.
“Ah. The Dragon’s Eye.” Lord Asmos said with avarice. “ A most powerful tool for the council.”
“That must be removed from our hands.” Jopra said firmly. “It is too great a thing for any of us here to master – I have barely dipped my hands below the surface of its power, and have nearly been pulled in time and time again. Total knowledge of all things — all time and space, everything that ever happened, might have happened,is happening, may happen. All at your fingertips. Too much for any mortal, too much for the gods.”
“But we could…” Asmos interjected, only to be immediately cut off.
“No.” Master Song said.
There was an awkward quiet, as the Djinn’s face grew tight with anger, but then subsided under the Necromancer’s flat gaze.
The white-robed Kingbinder began again, smoothing over the break. “ I have already arranged for our servant to take it from our hands.”
From the shadows stepped the grey-leather rogue, Sideways. He waved nonchalantly.
“By the Dark Pact, by the honor of his tribe, by the First Magic, and the death-curse of the Grand Wizard. He will remove the Dragon’s Eye forever from this world.”
“Yup. I got it.” Sideways leered comfortingly.
“Tut-tut-tut” Master Graham the Liar said, standing up in his chair. “That’s all well and good, but surely it wouldn’t hurt to take one last look, now would it?”
The Council of Nine exchanged glances.
“Would it?” the gnome demanded.
Jopra sighed, and held the mirror forward. The white mask dipped down on his breast as he concentrated. Sideways craned his neck to get a better look, each of the masters leaned in eagerly.
“Just a glimpse, the final threads of this age as it draws to a close. The ends unravel and fray, and spin off into the future — and there I will not dare to gaze. One last glimpse through the Dragon’s Eye.”
The Lodestar flies.
The skies are blue, and the white clouds whip by — barely kissing the hull, the new darkwood inlay shining in the sun. The stone rails glow bright magenta, and the ship hangs like an albatross on the wind. A simple craft, unbroken lines and pure curves. It flies, an expression of joy — a necessity to the sky. The sky needs the Lodestar, it requires it..and the Lodestar loves the sky.
The ship arcs away to the west, and the vision changes. A thousand threads, a thousand lives, a thousand stories. Some are more brightly colored and vibrant than others, but they all add to the tapestry.
The barbarian, Agnar, stands at a simple grave in a field on the edge of the sea. Similar stones fill the green field from edge to edge. A battered copper half-helm hangs on the edge of the stone. Etched into the stone are the words Commander Penny Lavlock. A True Sentinel. Agnar shares a drink with the dead, sipping from a clay jug.
Dayjen Moore leans against a large pane of glass in a stark grey room.
Enton Blake stands solicitously nearby with a large folio crammed with Seafoam business. He does not interrupt his employer’s thoughts. Some attempts have been made to corral the young man’s unruly hair, haircuts, oils — all to no avail. It sticks straight up in blonde madcap mirth. Dayjen sighs, and his breath fogs on the glass. On the other side sits another blonde man. The same face, the same eyes – but a decade older, and a century madder. ‘Nayjen’ stares back with total contempt, three gems shining on his bare chest.
The President of the Seafoam Trading Company squares his jaw in determination. “We’re going to do it, Enton. We can find a way to get those gems out safely — and help Evil Me in the process.The Heartbreaker is gone — looks like it was swallowed by that freaking Sky Wyrm, but we need to get the key out of his stomach anyway. My father ruined enough things in this world, this is one more thing we can find a way to fix.”
Enton sighs with resignation, and adds another bullet point to the President’s ever growing list.
An old but sturdy wagon rolls up the dusty stone path that leads to the ruins of the Acacian Dragoon School. Abendigo bounds from the top of the caravan to the very peak of a lonely spire six stories high. He waves back to Master Arroz in the wagon in excitement, but the gruff old master just rolls his eyes. The small caravan behind them is loaded with a few masons, a few carpenters and their families, seed and livestock…and a double dozen of potential new Dragoons, each born with their strange Gift. It will be months before the ruins are barely livable, and years before more than a handful of those below can call themselves Dragoons — but it was a start.
The young archer looked up into the afternoon sun and breathed deep. “I wish you were here to see this, my friend.” Abendigo whispered sadly.
The Darkbreakers Headquarters was dim, as Corben stepped inside – shouldering his travelling pack. His father looked up from the fierce game of dominoes he was playing with the half-orc, wizened old wood elf, and a young boy wearing no pants. “Ready to go?” he asked.
“Always.” Simon Garamonde pushed back from the table, a slight hitch in his frame the only sign of the vicious wounds he was still recovering from. “Where are we going?”
“Well, a lot of places.” the younger rogue grinned. “But how about home first? Weren’t you saying something about the ancestral Garamonde sword, hidden in the family crypts?”
“The family sword?” Simon blanched. “But it’s cursed! Double, triple, quadruple cursed — and guarded by the remnants of the Spider Queen’s horde…and..and…this is just making it sound better to you, isn’t it?”
Corben laughed and pushed open the door. Simon came over and clapped his son on the shoulder.
There was a loud noise as three chairs scraped against the stone floor in unison. “Uh…can we go?” the young boy with no pants asked, hesitantly.
The two rogues shrugged, and the Darkbreakers scrambled to gather their gear.
Three men sat in a private room, in an opulent inn. They had ample drinks and food to spare, but they did not eat or drink. One simply wasn’t thirsty, one had brought his own dark mead from the vile bees in his secret forest
- and one was simply dead. Or not-alive, it’s difficult to be certain with the Toymaker.
Lannis flipped his Harrow cards idly on the table, The boredom was palpable. It had been weeks since they had gainful employment — the world was growing entirely too warm and fuzzy.
A knock at the door, and the Dark Druid straightened his immaculate bowler hat.
A youngish man with flat black hair cut in a bowl entered. On his wrists were tattooed chains, the mark of a bondslave. Behind him an old man, dark-skinned with close cropped hair followed.
The Blackwings immediately rose – the Toymaker’s new joints clacking oddly, and then fell to their knees.
“Lord Zul, we have waited patiently for your coming. I see you no longer wear your mask of office.” Lannis said respectfully.
The old man threw a green mask on the table in disgust. His bondslave, Morris, closed the door behind them. Master Tumm, the last Red Wizard of Thay by right of blood and power stood amongst his acolytes.
“We will begin again. Evil never forgets, It begins again..it endures forever.”
The Blackwings bowed to their dark lord, and whispered the response. “It endures forever.”
“So you see, I would be a terrible captain.” Ballast concluded. “We’d all be drunk, dead and fucked — not necessarily in that order in a week. And we lost a good bit of the crew during the Symphony of Blood..we need someone level headed, cool under pressure, but someone that can scare the tar out of all the grunts on board.”
Mara picked up the strange wide brimmed hat, surmounted by long dangling rabbit ears. The gunslinger thumped one with her index finger. “Okay. But I’m not wearing this.”
“But, it’s traditional, Mara.” Ballast protested.
The red-haired woman pulled a hammer back on her revolver. “That’s Captain Flemay to you, squab.”
“Aye-aye, Captain!” the sinuous rogue snapped into a sarcastic salute. “You heard the captain!”
The crew of the Red Rabbit snapped to attention, including a scarred dark elf, wearing smoked goggles. A half-orc with bright green skin nudged her, and grumbled.
“I should’ve stayed in Pice, selling my hot dog sammiches. The new boss looks tough.”
“I don’t know.” a halfling with a wild tuft of hair crossed his arms confidently.. “She’s not too bad, and wait until she sees how I can control wind!”
He raised his hand, and a small gust of wind briefly tousled his hair.
“Pretty cool, right?” Mobius grinned proudly.
In a quiet corner of the world, a small tree sapling grows next to a lake. It’s leaves are a quiet green, but edged with black. The lake’s water is pure and clean, but the grass nearby has begun to twist and yellow.
The tree grows. The tree waits. The tree remembers.
The Keeper of the Grand Library in Carroway awoke, yawning. He felt a slight headache, and was surprised to look into the concerned eyes of his daughter.
“Father…you’re awake!” she said with relief.
“Well, of course I’m awake — that’s what people do in the morning.” he grumped.
“You don’t understand, Father — it’s been months. You contracted the extremely rare, but incredibly dangerous Plotzia Influenza Convenialus — the Convenient Coma Sickness! We weren’t sure how long you were going to be out, we feared for your life!”
“Listen, Alice. I have studied my entire life, and that sickness is pure superstitious poppycock. The idea that someone could be comatose for exactly as long as some larger narrative required — preposterous! As if disease gave a rip for plot. Now help me pack my things, I must make haste for the Library in Flenelle! The first Ritual must be completed!”
Alice sighed and gently pushed the old man down onto the edge of the bed. “Father…I think you need to hear a few things first.”
Elora Delcroft slid down off her horse with relief. It had been a long ride, story-collecting. Wars were vicious, nasty things — but they always yielded a vast harvest of new songs and tales. She had set out, some months ago before the Thirteen Day War to visit the tiny town of Hapgood, and she had been determined to finally visit. Even though she had heard of the devastation the voracious devil legions had visited on the place, and it was mostly a ghost town — she had made her way down the broken road from the north, and made her careful way through the mountains.
The bard had expected to find rubble, and maybe a few scared farmers she could share the good news of the triumphant victory in the ruins of Gilead to the east. Instead she found a stranger tale.
Stabbed into the earth, at the end of a field was a massive greatsword. It glowed fiercely, burning with holy light, somewhat diminished in impressiveness from the sweaty workshirt that was tossed over it’s hilt, and the lunch pail hung off the crossbar.
The half-elf walked up to the edge of the field, and looked down on the barbarian, Agnar — sweating and toiling in the fields with furious concentration. He dug each hole with vigor, then placed a single seed in each depression, then covering each gently with utmost attention and care. He was also vigorously lecturing each seed on the proper level of growth he expected to see, as well as some effective tactics for combating the winter chill that was only a few months away.
It was a late planting, and would be a lean harvest come spring. But it might save thousands of lives around the world. Beyond this field, she saw others working in nearby fields, planting.
Agnar Devil-blood, Champion of Sarenrae – bearer of the mighty sword, Cyrus would have other adventures —but for now his Bright Lady has put him to work in the strangest of fields, with the most uncomfortable of work.
Elora smiled. He looked as if he were enjoying himself. She shrugged out of her traveller’s cloak, and rolled up her sleeves.
Carbunkle, the First Librarian — the Sage of Sages rode screaming through the halls of the Primex Loghain on a shiny red scooter. He had a plate of flapjacks in one hand, a large mug of brown beer and the handlebars in his teeth. His Second, the scholar Paralellogram followed more sedately, dragging a blue wagon piled high with books and scrolls.
Every door on every level was open, flung wide — and the people of Aufero came and went. Touching the books, moving the books, and reading the books. The gnome had built a fiendish enchantment into the gates of the Library that prevented any texts leaving without first being stamped vigorously with a cheeky orange stamp showing his leering face and the words “BRING THIS SHIT, BACK.” on it — and at night a thousand sprites worked tirelessly putting each book back in its place — but during the day, the knowledge flowed freely, people talked loudly in designated Soundproof zones — and everywhere comfortable chairs and couches, alway waiting for a new reader to sit down.
He shouted something rude to his receptionist as he whizzed into his office, but she didn’t even look up from filing her fourth set of claws. The emancipated eidolon still refused to demean her glowing form with such trivial human concepts as clothes, but Lucina had taken to other forms of hygiene and fashion with alarming speed.
The First’s library was crammed with children. Some gnome, some blood-relation — but plenty more of just ragged, off the street gutter scamps. The war had left more than a few orphans, or broken children in the streets of Pice – and the First’s Story Hour was a welcome reprieve from the grief and toil outside — and a convenient place for Carbunkle to investigate the children’s woes and worries. More than a few left with gold pieces quietly slipped into their pockets – or stern instructions for their less-than-benevolent caregivers to come see the First bright and early the next morning.
Carbunkle cracked open the wide tome, and cleared his throat theatrically.
“Once upon a time, in the desert, four people found themselves locked up in a nasty hot prison made of stone and hate….”
Agros bobbed quietly in the water, and Fin balanced perfectly on an outcropping of stone.
The Symphony of Blood had taken its toll on the Flying Island, now it could best be called the Floating Island. The vicious attacks of the devils had nearly gutted the aerolith landmass, and it had slowly sank
- barely making it out over the ocean before coming to rest.
Only a third of the city was still above water, but enough. Enough room for his school, his home.
Behind him his students followed his motions carefully. Mostly dwarven, expatriates from Ospria — but a few of the younger races were scattered amongst them.
His hands moved, perfect and slow. The eyes of his students followed, and they echoed the movements as best as they could.
There was so much more to teach them — they could learn the physical in months, but the spiritual? How could he teach, what had been so hard for him to learn?
A wave crested, and a shining drop of salt water landed right between his eyes. Fin smiled, and heeded his Uncle’s words.
The drop is not the wave, the lesson is not the Way, the word is not the truth. Begin. It is enough.
The King of Open and Shut smiled. A new level rose on the Red Tower, as Hell bent to his will.
The Red City was crowded, crammed full of angry warriors and bitter fiends. He would hone that ire, make it as sharp as a poniard. They had much work to do to prepare. To prepare for the day, that the mortals would beg for them to return.
An empty skeleton laughed in a red city, with the joy of a delighted child.
Echo and Ziria met, at the base of Coracle Station
- the ruined outpost of Seafoam. They had not spoken in weeks, but he had come when she called -- as she would have come if he asked it. The water above their heads shone with filtered sunlight, refracting oddly through the oily residue that the tower still dripped with. A filthy land construction, but it had a purpose — and it could be turned to the sea’s purpose. It had been built to harness the Precursor’s Machine, and Echo had need of its might. The devils would return one day, and she wanted to be certain that her ocean was death to their kind.
Ziria listened to her plan calmly, then bowed without sarcasm. “As the future Queen, how can I do anything but obey?”
Echo rolled her eyes, and called the creatures of the sea to her. She cut through the waves, swimming between this world and the World of Spirit as simply as breathing. Her friends and subjects — her most precious charges swam close with joy and excitement. She would return to the crumbling tower in time, but for now she was content to simply move — to fly beneath the waves, as free as a thought, as free as a wish, as free and wild as the sea itself.
Haskeer pulled a lump of glowing hot metal from the forge, and slammed it onto his anvil. Three nearby gryphons looked on with bemused interest, but his view of them was soon blocked by the massive bulk of his assistant, the living armor Rulf.
The half-orc worked feverishly at his task — with cunning hammer strokes, he pounded and folded the metal. Before his eyes a steel rose took shape. The Knights of the Rose had been horribly reduced in number by the war, but he was hopeful that new squires would be appearing any day. Lady Seaflower had stopped by Caleron just a few weeks ago, encouraging him to go on a recruitment trip to all the major cities. “ A hero like yourself makes a much better sales pitch, then a battered old hedge knight like me.” she had smiled.
The rose complete, he nodded to Rulf…the living armor carefully plucked the still burning metal off the anvil, and plunged it into the water. Then he laid it carefully on a low wooden table, and studied it intently. The strange construct had been fascinated by the craft, and had proved an eager pupil — in an eerie sort of way.
He wanted to go on the rallying trip for the Knights of the Rose, but he found the position of Living Legend uncomfortable — much as he viewed the role of King that loomed before him.
Cai had lingered for nearly two months since their wedding, but the great man’s strength had finally given out. Alastelle had sat by his bedside until the very end. The protective dome around the city had sedately popped, like a soap bubble. Now the people of Caleron looked to him for protection….a serious duty.
His ‘farm’ was larger than he imagined, but the forge was about right. He had work to do, good work. The world must be prepared for the darkness waiting around the bend of Time
- if not the devils, then the thousand other faces of Evil. The endless play, the Twilight Kingdom – where the actors wore a thousand masks to hide the dark heart behind. He, and his friends would not waste the years of peace -- and he would do his best to fill the world with the greatest weapon against the Dark.
Children. Beloved children, raised in strength and joy. New stories, with the very best of beginnings.
Haskeer smiled tuskily, and tapped his hammer once on the anvil. It rang like a bell.
The Lodestar flies. The arc of the sun’s path reflects off the curve of its bow. It flies and it sings, a jubilant hum.
The Vagabonder polishes a long glass tube, then sets it into place on the console. It fills immediatelyl with green jellybeans, and the half-orc frowns. It was supposed to be pink jellybeans. The massive Floatstone turns sedate and simple in its clear cannister, powering the heart of the ship — wires and cables, strange conduits and grids of unknown purpose and potential. The Lodestar still has its secrets, and the engineer prays that he shall never quite unravel them all.
Nearby, a massive orange cat paws at an old bronze pocket watch lackadaisically, it’s fat paw barely moving. Crackers blinks over to investigate, but then is rewarded with a quick swat to the nose. The young dog snorts, and trots out of the cargo bay.
Talitha bursts out of the Captain’s Cabin wearing a too-large buffcoat emblazoned with the ship’s symbol, and a preposterous hat with a skull and crossbones painted in glowing ink. She is dragging Lucas with her, who is doing his level best to keep the book tucked under his arm, all while holding on to the construct, Sinoe with his other hand. Crackers barks with excitement, and follows the three out onto the deck.
The three young adventurers ran to the prow of the ship, clouds streaming past. “Oy!” Della Half-hand called from the wheelhouse. “Where are we going anyway?”
“Well, that’s up to me.” Talitha said, hands on her hips. “I’m the Captain now, after all.”
“Ha.” the older girl scratched her scarred cheek. “ I guess that makes me First Mate.”
“And I’ll be Navigator.” Lucas said dubiously. “And you, Sinoe?”
“Gunner.” the automaton said, with no explanation. Her freshly-dyed purple hair whipped in the wind.
Crackers barked his position on the crew, and Talitha scratched behind his ear in agreement. Della spun the wheel, a fierce grin on her face and the Lodestar sailed on —cutting through white cloud mountains and oceans of blue-sky.
As the ship sails off out of view, Talitha’s voice can be heard — growing quieter as the Dragon’s Eye goes dark.
“I’ve been meaning to ask this for a while. What IS a Lodestar, anyway?”
“Oh..well.” Lucas harrumphed. “ It’s a fixed point in the sky, a star that never changes. It’s an old sailing term — it’s something you can always follow,always depend on — let’s you know where you are, know which direction to go.”
“Okay. I get it. Like my Uncle Jonas, he’s a hero, you know?”
The Lodestar flies. Dreamers wake from their sleep, hearing the music of its flight. A holy wanderer, a noble king, a teacher of serenity, a proud grandfather, a queen of the wild sea, a wide-eyed explorer, a singer of songs, a spinner of tales, a fierce scholar, a battered ranger, a butcher, a baker, a candlestick-maker. For the rest of their days the dream will come, the Lodestar waits for them to board, just outside the window. So easy to slip out of their lives into the quiet night, into the golden dawn —throw their gear aboard, and sail away.
The Dragon’s Eye closes.
A man knelt beneath an oak tree, and prayed. His hair was freshly shorn, like a harvest-day sheep.
“Time and wave
sun and wind
night and fire
moons and stone.
We walk through the world only once.
Only one life is given by the Nameless.
It is a gift, a burden.
A challenge, a duty.
To not waste it.
To serve the Highest.
To the end of the Path, with our honor intact.
Please show me the way….”
A woman with white hair approached, accompanied by a horned figure in gray-leather.
“Ready to go?” she asked the man.
“Yeah.” he stood up, and strapped a drab steel sword to his back.
The woman held up a silver mirror, only two hand-spans across. The gray-leather rogue nodded and vanished into a nearby shadow.
“The people of this world will never let you atone, that’s a fact.” She smiled. “ But, let’s try the world next door.”
She flung the mirror against the oak tree, and it shattered. A gateway formed, a ragged hole in the surface of the universe. It bobbled and quaked, already beginning to collapse.
The man whistled, and a giant golden bird swung down to the earth from its perch high in the tree. The two travelers climbed on its back. The white-haired woman looked straight ahead, but the man took a long breath and looked to the south for a long moment.. Then he patted the bird on its shoulder, and the golden wings spread.
A moment later the passage closed, and the clearing was empty.
Except for an old brown cloak, forgotten on a twisted branch of the oak tree.