The Fall of Civilization - Page 15





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  1. #141
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    Billions of years ago, in a multiverse long devoured:

    Boccob the Uncaring, god of knowledge and magic, most omniscient being on or near the world of Oerth known to many as Greyhawk, was troubled. The tangled skein that was reality trembled, a spiderweb intercepting a bird too large to hold. Things threatened to snap. Something- or someone- was putting terrible stress on the structure of reality.

    Boccob's great third eye opened, set in his brow. It peered at the trembles, at the quivering wave rolling through the Multiverse. It was thin, silver-green, full of a type of energy that worried the Uncaring One a great deal- for it was temporal energy, and soon his analysis led him to a terrible understanding: it was enough energy to rewrite the world, yet what he perceived was only the barest stirrings of its influence.

    At first he thought Lendor, the god of time, had a hand in it; but none of the strings or streamers led to her. None of her traditional servants were near it- in fact, it almost seemed as though they were artfully deflected from noticing it. It would require the handiwork of someone both very powerful and very subtle...

    Then the vibrations appeared to cease.

    Only his amazing perceptions allowed even Boccob to note that they had actually only 'hopped' to another era, a few decades in the future. Until that time came, he could not actively study the energies involved, for they had become invisible; but he could cogitate on them, considering their implications.

    Each time they sprang up again, Boccob peered at them carefully. And he came to a conclusion: someone from the future was tampering with the timestream. At first he thought that the individual- or individuals- were being very careful to avoid notice or change their own past; but after the third time the energies cropped up, he came to the grim conclusion that they
    were making changes, but that one or more of the time travelers was working to do so secretly, from within their cabal.

    By that time Lendore, along with many of the gods that had been around when the energies' arrival had drawn his attention, was dead. Oerth's move into a new sign of the Zodiac had seen to that. But, his awareness driven to new levels of perspicacity by his paranoia over the temporal disturbance, Boccob managed not only to survive but to retain his entire portfolio.

    Little did he realize that, in retaining his entire portfolio, he had ensured that the changes in his time stream would run out of control, for he was meant to lose his mastery of magic to Maltar, successor to Wee Jas and master of Walpyvmyr in the Sea of Dust. And as the centuries before Tharizdun's awakening passed, more and more changes to what had been accumulated. When the alliance of deities known as the Blood Gods struck, attempting to assassinate their rivals in the pantheon and absorb their energies, different figures were lined up on each side than should have been.

    Tade, the god of blacksmiths, was meant to die, the first to fall under the Blood Gods' assault. Instead, Boccob gathered him and the others that were instrumental to his plan, and they hid within a sphere called Eye. Within this small orb, Boccob manipulated the time travelers, whom he had sought out and confronted not long before, into taking Eye with them back to their reality- for he had learned that Oerth was doomed to annihilation, consumption by He Who Must Not Be Named- Tharizdun, Fiend-Father, Evil-Birther, the Consumer of All that Is, Was or Shall Be.

    When the heroes vanished, careening through Darkhold and finally out into the newly birthed world of Cydra, Boccob and his allies revealed themselves to the heroes- Lester, Hobbes, Thimbleton, Malford and the rest. Then they vanished, and Boccob assumed that was the last that any of them would ever see or hear of their lost world.

    In the confusion of the events surrounding the temporal manipulations, however, things were overlooked by everyone involved- or almost everyone.

    One of the time travelers had originally been from the era of Oerth's final apocalypse, and he and his allies had slipped back to the past once before to change history and prevent the destruction of the world, attempting to carefully manipulate events for thousands of years in order to prevent the tragic mistakes that ultimately led to the wakening of Tharizdun. They failed, and one of their number- Scytale- escaped via a place called Darkhold, which was a completely separate reality that merely touched upon Oerth. When things fell apart, the Master of Darkhold sealed his dimension off from the Prime Material Plane so that Tharizdun might not touch him; and Scytale was one of a precious few individuals that the Master chose to save. When the heroes of Cydra persuaded the Master to help send them back to Oerth to obtain what they needed to imprison Tharizdun again, it was Scytale that the Master sent to aid them. After all, he knew the old world, he knew the periods of time that the party needed to reach, and most of all- he knew the dangers inherent in temporal manipulation.

    Scytale was the one that had worked subtly from within to change things.
    Of course he had. Hadn't he and his fellows risked everything to change their own past before? Scytale had no compunctions about attempting to manipulate events into a new channel. He knew that Oerth couldn't be saved, but perhaps there were those of his people that could be. To form a bridge, however tenuous, between Oerth and Cydra was impossible while he was in Oerth, for Cydra did not yet exist. It was impossible while he was in Cydra, for Oerth no longer existed. What was needed was an element of Cydra that might remain in the Oerthian past. He could then attach one end of a chronal tether to it, stretch the tether itself through Darkhold and onto Cydra, and- with luck- his people would find it and follow it back. Moreover, such dweomers were foreign to the servants of Tharizdun; and if anything touched by such forces were to attempt the tether, it would shred apart, casting them out to a Nowhere between moments.

    When the heroes battled Felenga the Dark One over a cloud castle staffed with undead demons and horrid mutants, they lost one of their number- captured and horribly mutilated by the lich they were fighting. Fleeing for their lives, they left her behind and made their escape to Darkhold, assuming that she was dead and certain that the imminent destruction of Oerth would prevent Tharizdun's servants from making sport of her soul for long.

    But even the smallest moment may stretch very long indeed when manipulated by a master of the magic called chronomancy...


    ***

    Out of the rune-graver's chamber our heroes move, back and through one of the multitude of secret doors that they have found. It leads to a balcony overlooking a most impressive chamber, well over 100' wide. The ceiling vaults to a peak 30' above the floor; the balcony is 10' below the ceiling. Blue-white globes of steady light with no obvious source line the ceiling, providing good illumination throughout the giant chamber. The walls are painted with hundreds of frescoes and strange hieroglyphics recounting many tales of the island and the strange college that our heroes are exploring. “Elves and dwarves,” comments Heimall, looking over some of the images.

    “Eladrin,” corrects Iggy with a sigh.

    Three huge books made of beaten silver fused with stone dominate the floor, all open to pages with actual writing in them. Iggy and Hkatha examine them; the first is a discussion of basic magical theory, the second a discussion of logic and the third a discussion of the importance of curiosity and attention.

    “Interesting,” murmurs the tiefling. “These look to be part of the foundation of some kind of philosophy or religion.”

    The books are huge. Each page measures a full ten feet in length and close to half that in width; the books and the pedestals that they are on reach a height of five feet. Huge shelves with many books upon them stand 10' high along each of the long walls; sadly, it is obvious that the books are in terrible shape, having been damaged by moisture and mold.

    It isn't until the party's examination of the area is well underway that the guardians emerge. Hidden in a small alcove beneath the balcony, three things issue forth. Though they are vaguely humanoid in form, they are composed of ragged pieces of armor and weapons, wands wrapped in old cloaks to form “bones”, empty bottles and other old debris. Iggy catches sight of them and gives a cry of horror.

    “What are they?” asks Vann-La, pulling her blade.

    “Guardian creatures made of used up magic items!” Iggy replies. “They're called grisgols. Watch out- they are resistant to arcane magic!”

    Our heroes move to intercept the grisgols, hoping to keep them away from the wizards. Even though the grisgols are resistant to their powers, neither Ligir nor Hkatha flinches from the fight; the eladrin pulls a bead from his necklace of fireballs and lets fly while Hkatha casts a terrible lightning serpent that catches one of the grisgols.

    Vann-La brings her sword around in a sweeping arc, savagely hewing into the rod that composes the arm of the closest enemy. Her blow triggers a burst of dust that causes her to choke and wheeze, barely able to defend herself!*

    Then a burst of sacred flame blows it back a pace, and Torinn draws his magical dagger- which quickly shapes itself into an executioner's axe at his muttered command. Another sacred flame buys his companions a precious moment of breathing space, and then a pair of glowing hands appear, grabbing at the enemies and knocking them together with terrific force!

    The grisgols are far from helpless, however. They pummel our heroes with dusty slams, and almost every blow on them raises a cloud of choking dust. Worse yet, one of them unleashes a blast of waves of weakness, leaving several of the adventurers trembling with fatigue until they can recover themselves.

    But our heroes are mighty. They are not to be denied. Together, Vann-La, Summer and Heimall manage to shatter one grisgol into so many component pieces.

    Unfortunately, that is the trigger that summons the other guardians. In a flash of brilliant argent radiance, two strange snake-like things appear, glowing with energy. Each has a single arm protruding from it, and all around them, everything- the walls, the floor, the books- starts to move as if imbued with life.**

    Torinn yelps as the floor slams him with a mighty blow. The two strange serpentine monsters fly towards him through the air, lashing out with their tails. Each contact delivers a terrific jolt of radiant power to him. The Dragon of Fandelose cries out with each blow.

    The grisgols keep fighting too, but by now they are both in bad shape, with odd alchemical fluids and powders leaking everywhere. Cook dances in behind one of them and bashes the helmet that serves as its head with his frying pan, knocking it clean off and finishing the monster; the final one falls to the pair of Bigby's grasping hands that Iggy conjured.

    The two serpent-monsters, now the only targets, start trying to retreat, but Vann-La delivers an appalling crunch that wounds the first one badly; then Summer finishes it with a zealous strike and a scream of victory. The last one dies under the tender ministrations of Throat-Ripper, leaving Heimall covered in shimmering, silvery fluid.

    Gasping, our heroes gather their wits and catch their collective breath. Heimall braces the morale of the wounded, while Torinn's divine powers knit broken skin and close bleeding wounds. Then, once everyone has recovered sufficiently, the group spends some moments looking for anything valuable in the bookshelves or the alcove the grisgols were in, but it soon becomes obvious that a thorough search will take hours.

    “We should come back to this later,” Torinn asserts. The others agree; there is a very real chance that some good information will be in the place.

    “As far as I can figure, though,” Heimall tells the others, “whatever is going on here only involves Arawn a little bit. These two wizards at war- well, it really doesn't sound like anything to do with us or our mission.”

    “Except that they might be in our way,” Summer says.

    “True enough. But if not, I think we should try to stay out of their mess. I don't see what we have to gain by getting involved.”

    “Just complications, I'll bet,” Iggy opines.

    Four halls lead out of the room from the balcony; three end in secret doors our heroes have already located from the other side (including the passage that they entered via). The final one leads to more guards, but this time our heroes grimly recognize them for what they are: more deodanths, supported by a battle guardian. Our heroes move to the attack, only to find that the chamber also contains temporal ripples that distort the fabric of time, leaving them at a profound disadvantage in the chamber. They feel a simultaneous lethargy and energizing effect, as if they were simultaneously aging fast and growing ever younger. Strange energies race through the chamber, stressing the bodies of both our heroes and their foes, but Torinn manages to suppress the temporal distortions long enough for the overwhelming force our heroes bring to bear to slay the enemies.

    Another short rest, this one back in the chamber with the great books, and our heroes debate taking the one exit from the guardian chamber they just cleared out. “I can probably suppress the ripple for a few minutes again,” Torinn says hesitantly.

    “Why don't Iggy and I try to help as well?” offers Hkatha. “That way, at least one of us is bound to succeed.”

    The party halts at the edge of the chamber with the temporal ripples distorting it. Torinn, Hkatha and Iggy reach out with their will, each trying to force the fabric of time to settle into its normal shape for a few short moments. Then the party dashes through the room as quickly as they can, reaching the hall that leads out. Filing down it, they quickly reach another room- but this one is about as odd as they come, having a weird shape almost like multiple rooms that have had all the walls between them removed. At the center is a portal that keeps morphing from one shape to another, surrounded by runes graven in the stone floor around it. Something about the room makes everyone's hair stand on end. Something cloudlike shifts and shimmers in the chamber, constantly moving from one place to another, a strange silver-green color. Somehow it seems to move both swiftly and at a leisurely pace. The whole chamber is moreover filled with a howling tempest of silvery sand, scouring the chamber and yet easily penetrated by vision. And finally, towards the far end of the chamber, a great pillar of grey material that is visibly crumbling into dust and yet never fully decays stands ominously nor far from the central portal.

    “Oi,” says Cook nervously, “is anyone hungry?”

    Next Time: What's behind the warm door?


    *In game terms, this was an immediate reaction that left her dazed (save ends).

    **In case you're wondering- and IIRC the pcs did NOT identify these beasties- they are ravids, from 2e Planescape and the 3e Monster Manual. They were fun to convert to 4e, and I don't think I had ever used them before!
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  • #142
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    “What in the name of Lester is all that?” exclaims Torinn.

    “It doesn't feel natural,” Summer says ominously. She shakes her head. “I don't like it.”

    Iggy, Hkatha and Torinn study the confused howling mass of silver-green sand as it blows violently throughout the chamber. Iggy comments, “Clearly, there are some kinds of time-distorting effects in there.”

    “That portal- what do you suppose it is?” asks Vann-La. “Do you think it has something to do with the Six-Fingered Hand? With Arawn?”

    “Remember that inscription we found in the art gallery?” Heimall exclaims. “It referred to Arawn and the Six-Fingered Hand like they were things of the past. Maybe this portal is how they got to us, here, er, now.”

    “Maybe,” concedes Hkatha. “So what do we do about it?”

    “Maybe if we got close enough, we could learn something, or even cut Arawn off before his attacks bring down the Empire,” Vann-La suggests.

    “We probably don't all need to go in, just someone with the expertise to figure out what's going on in there.” Heimall looks at the others. “I don't know enough about magic, myself,” he admits, “but I'm sure one of us does...”

    There was a time when Iggy would have cried out, I'm not even supposed to be here! But that time is gone. Since the Siege of Fandelose, his sense of responsibility has grown, his sense of duty has gripped him ever tighter. So without hesitation, he steps to the edge of the room and announces, “I'll do it.”

    Then he edges his way into the room.

    Immediately the lashing sand buffets him, but it is strangely strengthless. He can feel acutely the sense of wonder he had as a youth, bizarrely overlaid upon a canvas of the ennui and cynicism that he will develop as an old man. Bracing himself, Ligir slowly advances- and, about 20' into the chamber, suddenly runs into an invisible curtain of sheer agony.

    His head explodes with remembered pain- the first time he was mocked as a child, the beating he was administered in basic training by an overzealous sergeant who didn't understand his position, the fear and pain and taste of smoke as he fled Chebbonay to become a refugee and eventual hero, the time he was derided by his fey peers for failing to see an elementary answer to an elementary question during his study of magic and more; emotional pain, yes, but physical too- the agony of the first time he was stabbed, that rusty goblin scimitar tearing that terrific gash on his thigh all over again; the wrenching pain that came when he dislocated his shoulder falling from a tree as a young lad; the agony of chains whipping around his legs and almost shattering his knees as the xvart slavers attempted to capture them. A million hurts, old, new, in between, brought back to him with stunning force.

    Iggy collapses weakly to the ground with a groan, shaking.

    “Iggy!” cries Cook, rushing into the room before anyone can restrain him. Most of the others follow without a thought. The dwarf reaches Iggy's side just as a sudden burst of the tempestuous winds hurls the wizard back to the edge of the chamber. With a shuddering cry, he drags himself out of the room.

    The others, meanwhile, find themselves being overwhelmed by temporal distortions. The billowing cloud flows towards Vann-La, and the Kree elf's movements slow. “Waaatcchhh oooouuutttt,” she cries slowly, her voice strangely drawn out and lowered in pitch below that of even Torinn.

    “Get out of there!” yells Heimall, who remains at the edge of the chamber, just outside.

    “Oi, there are visions!” Cook shouts, staggering about in confusion. “Ai! Oi! What is happening?? It is like my youth, and things yet to be... aiii!!” Stumbling, he heads back towards the entrance. The others decide that this is the best approach they can take for the moment, and retreat towards Heimall and Ligir.

    “Speed,” croaks Iggy, shaking his head. Puffs of greenish dust come off him, dwindling and vanishing into nothingness. “At least the, uh, the tempest fugit- the storm of sand. It is attracted to speed. We could probably avoid its attentions if we move fast enough.”

    Vann-La, who has shaken off the strange effects of the chronal drift, says, “But there are more issues than just the storm.”

    The party discusses the room and the hazards (or traps?) found within it. The tempest fugit seems to both lacerate and push creatures in the room back towards the entrance. The chronal drift- the distinct cloud that attacked and slowed Vann-La- went for her almost as if it were sentient. Hkatha speculates that it might have been drawn to either living things or movement. The pillar, crumbling but never completely decaying, is as yet an unknown quantity. Then there is whatever struck Iggy down; it dealt a vicious stroke of psychic damage to him, as well as leaving him on the ground.

    “And the rune circle,” Torinn adds. “We don't know if that's dangerous yet, but I'll bet it is.”

    Reluctantly, our heroes decide to leave this strange area until later. Perhaps there are clues to its secrets elsewhere in the Terran Undercollege, and certainly there are a lot of areas that our heroes have yet to explore. So- at least for now- the time distortion area (for lack of a better term) will have to wait.

    Back up the hall, then, through the other room with temporal effects- which the wizards and Torinn again suppress- and to the room with the huge books. Then further back, to a door that they have not yet breached. But when they approach closely, they can feel heat radiating from behind it.

    “Maybe there's a nice fireplace,” Cook says hopefully.

    No such luck. Behind the door are a pair of adjoined rooms; one of them holds a pit of lava in it. Worse yet, there are four tough-looking creatures in the room. One is a looming humanoid wrapped in chains; the others are salamanders, ablaze with flames.

    Iggy, naturally, shoots from the hip. The report of his pistol echoes as his bullet slams into the chain-wrapped creature (A kyton? he thinks, then: No, it's too big- it's a gorechain devil.). He fires again, and the devil grunts as a second bullet hits him as well. Cook's distance shuriken zings past him, hits the devil- and then ricochets into one of the salamanders!

    It's a good start, and our heroes are just getting started. Vann-La charges in, pushing the gorechain devil (which is blocking the deeper room) out of the way with a tide of iron, while Torinn fires a sacred flame at the devil.

    Poor devil, it just isn't his day!

    Although the salamanders prove to be quite hot- their very touch burns- our heroes are far too efficient. Heimall helps Vann-La surround the foe, Summer assumes the form of winter's herald and fights fire with cold and Vann-La opens up a can of whoop ass with a rain of steel.

    There just isn't much a poor band of hapless salamanders can do, under the circumstances. Once the party has dealt with them and their flaming blood has guttered and gone out, they examine the room more closely. Some basic smithing tools are in the inner chamber, but the magma pit is obviously the most interesting feature. Cook warns the others to stay away; magma, as he puts it, is “pretty hot”.*

    There is another door out of the room, so the party opens it and finds a hallway leading away. After 20' it opens up into a chamber; the party moves up to investigate. Many stalactites dangle from the ceiling, a large opening leads into a dark room to the left and two doors adorn the opposite wall.

    The party starts to move towards the opening, and two things happen at once.

    First, their light reaches the back of the western chamber, revealing a large nest of hewed wood, flesh and gear and excrement all mashed together and glued with some sort of spittle. Eyes glitter when the light reaches them- and sudden beams of extreme power gather and fire at the party!

    The second thing that happens, as the party moves into the room, is that the stalactites start to fall towards them with impaling force- and they move on the ceiling to get a better shot.

    Next Time: Serious old school 1e monsters- piercers and eye killers!


    *Had anyone ended up in the pool of lava, they would have received 2d12+20 points of fire damage plus ongoing 20 fire (save ends once the character is out of the pit); Aftereffect: ongoing 10 fire (save ends); Aftereffect: ongoing 5 fire (save ends). OUCH!!!
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  • #143
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    Finally all caught up. Great stuff Jester. Really enjoying the read. Keep it up...interersted to see how this all comes together.

    --SD

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