Once Thiere was ready to embark on her own quest to try liberating her homeland, myself, the Peregrine, the Way-farer (who arrived a few days prior), Dass and Kess, and our newest recruit of only a couple days who calls herself “Esscie” (she’s twelve, and was rescued by Aguyu from a child-porn ring in Hullheach; according to Cɪrthsta, she’s a starseed who’s been sent here to help the Light triumph over the Dark here on Eyaye; her “name” is in the language of the stars, apparently) set off on Cɪrthsta’s quest ultimately to the center of Eyaye.
But first, she wanted to trek to the Apothecarian’s place to see about recruiting him for the quest as well. From the remote-viewing sessions she and the Witchdoctor performed in the days leading up to the quest, it appeared that he was no longer in his usual home but instead hiding out somewhere on the summit of the so-called “Forbidden Rise.” Said by academics to be a dormant supervolcano, with a very long dormancy period, the Forbidden Rise has, it’s often said, been too treacherous for virtually anyone, who has tried, to have been able to explore its summit. Its flanks have been fairly well-studied, but even that only really holds for the first two-thirds of its slopes.
Now, we’re off to scale the entire thing. Cɪrthsta, though, says she knows a short-cut – an easy way up to the top of the 30,000 foot-tall, 30,000 mile-wide flat-topped (supposedly) peak.
M. I. Arregz and his band-members are out “touring,” and Thiere is on her way to the ancient Ten Kings’ land to reclaim it from the Empress. Through Arregz, we were also able to get in touch with a small group of Fae-landers looking for a way to help their people out (we gave them the idea of setting up booths in as many Fae-land cities as possible where locals could go to give and get food and shelter). Everyone else is to remain at the Academy and keep it running and protected while we’re away.
Our journey took us through the Good Kings’ land, where the legendary Black Tower is located. Legends hold that the Black Tower was built as the original home of Lady Night, and in more recent times has been the dwelling place of the long-time adversary of the Ten Kings: The Pale Witch. She should still be long dead, though.
According to Cɪrthsta, the Black Tower has also sometimes been the home to Way – the Hound of Death. Way, and her counterpart Yaw (the Hare of Life, who has also been known at times to inhabit Lady Light’s White Tower), are spoken of in the oldest tales as being one of the first Etherials created and are the only non-physical entities to have ever joined the Watchers.
We are making a sudden stop at the Black Tower to see if Way is in. I say “sudden,” though Cɪrthsta, despite acting loony, has almost always done things for good reason.
The Black Tower is currently situated on an island surrounded by a lake, in turn surrounded by the Good-Kings capitol-city of Wirruphenta. It is an Archivist hub, and has been not long after Hullheach was made into an Archivist city-state.
For the Way-farer and Cɪrthsta, in particular, an outfit change was in order so they wouldn’t stand out as much in Wirruphenta’s streets. Dass and Kess had to assume a more “natural” state, having to carry some of our bags on their backs and be walked about by leashes (they would only let me have that “honour,” and only reluctantly at that).
We’re still gonna stand out a bit more than usual, on account of Dass and Kess, so hopefully our presence here is as brief as can be. I’m almost a wanted man now, and I’m hoping to avoid confrontations of any kind.
A city map reveals a nearly ideal piece of “Crown Land” located on the outer edge of the large lake that encompasses the Black Tower. We can set up camp there while Cɪrthsta and I check out the Black Tower for any sign of Way.
“I sensed your presence here, Peregrine. I am so glad you are here again,” a voice sounding like some elderly woman’s could suddenly be heard as we were setting up camp. A dark-coloured wolf-like being appears, clutching an oddly-shaped cane and, on closer look, has a more bipedal form than would be expected of an actual wolf (cane aside).
“Way! Good to see you!” the Peregrine greets her cordially. “What’s happened?”
“Yaw,” she answers, “he has been seized and locked away somewhere I cannot go.” Her voice is rife with worry.
Rightly so. If, as the legends say, Yaw is tasked with seeding consciousness into living things when they’re born, then his absence will mean things born now will be alive but not conscious. Instead of a fully functioning life-form, this will result in drone-like, or zombie-like, living things wandering about. Not good, indeed.
“Where can you not go?” I ask. Maybe we can go instead.
“It may seem counter-intuitive, but I cannot enter a realm devoid of any life,” she replies. “In other words, the Undead Realms,” she clarifies.
It makes sense, thinking on it. If her task is to take consciousness away upon death, then beings that have no consciousness to begin with cannot be reached by Way.
“Good thing we’re planning to trek to Eyaye’s core,” Cɪrthsta says. She adds, “we can swing by the Undead Realms on our way back up.”
Once our camp is set up, I decide to go on a tour of the Black Tower anyway. Hidden amid the thicket of bushes and trees, and with this thicket being less readily accessible due to being backed by a small escarpment, we should remain largely left alone by the locals.
The Tower itself is as high as any Archivist skyscraper, but is conventionally said to be a couple thousand years old – the same age as its twin, the White Tower. If Lady Light and Lady Night are real, though, these two buildings may be much older. Much, much older….
The Black Tower’s construction is immediately intriguing to me. It’s a similar type of stone-masonry construction that was apparently used at the Peregrine Academy: The stones have been shaped like puzzle pieces that fit together perfectly without mortar or concrete, the only exceptions, upon closer inspection, existing as pinhole-sized gaps at the corners of these stones (talking to Cɪrthsta about it afterward, apparently those gaps are the result of stone ball-bearings placed between the stones to help the Tower survive seismic events).
Unlike at the Peregrine Academy, where rusty plutonic stones slightly larger than the familiar masonry bricks of a century ago have been cut into perfect puzzle-piece shapes have been fit together with perfect precision (no gaps save for the chips made in the stones by plant roots in the time it was left abandoned), the even harder, mafic stones of the Black Tower are absolutely enormous. Each is larger than a person is tall, yet mainstream science asserts a Lady Night-worshipping precursor culture to the Good Kings built this Tower using wooden constructions and iron tools over a Human lifetime. Of course, the same theory says a Lady Light-worshipping precursor culture, having little-to-no contact with the Lady Night-worshipping culture, so happened to have built a similar tower using identical stone-masonry and construction techniques prior to the emergence of the Ten Kings a millennium ago.
Inside, the feeling of a heavy Darkness can be felt. It has been inhabited by Evil recently, and for some time. Feeling nothing of the sort from Way, most likely she could not have resided here anytime recently. Given the Pale Witch should have died naturally many centuries ago, it likely cannot have been her either. In my opinion, the Archivists’ masters are this Tower’s current inhabitants.
Who do the Archivists serve on Eyaye, though?
The symbol of Lady Night is clearly visible on the floor, in black obsidian amid a background of white polished tiles of local feldspar. The first ten floors are dominated by a central atrium with a large stone stairway about its circumpherence. An alcove with an obsidian throne sits at the head of the atrium on the main floor.
The Tower rises 200 floors into the sky, but also 25 floors into the bedrock. The bottom-most floor is said to house a Gateway.
The top-most floor has no rooms and is comprised of 48 slit-like openings and thick columns rising up in a dome-like shape but are bent in three places (60o from horizontal at floor-level, 45o halfway up, and 30o three-quarters the way up). The capstone, which meets the columns, has Lady Night’s symbol carved in positive relief, which looks down upon the area below it.
Standing just in front of these columns are stone statues. I don’t know the faces of them, but their Dark auras suggest to me they are agents of Evil. Perhaps, they are the servants of Lady Night through the ages. There are no name tags on any of the statues, unfortunately.
I discussed my notable findings with Cɪrthsta, and she was able to illuminate me on what I saw there. Some of the things she clarified for me struck me as very interesting indeed. Meanwhile, Dass and Kess were asking Way how she ferries the souls of the dead while she’s here with us; she replied simply that her staff was the key.
We set off with Way for the Forbidden Rise the next day. We made it to the base of that gigantic mountain within the week, and we weren’t troubled by the Archivists along the way. To be fair, however, I had to convince Cɪrthsta and the Way-farer not to be charitable in the Archivist-run cities we passed through.
The frontier and hinterland towns, though, have little or no set central authority, so we can be more libertarian in our actions there. That’s the best part about these towns, despite their overall impoverished states.
Cɪrthsta led us along a river that flowed at the base of the Rise, heading east until we caught sight of a sea. “Not much further, now,” she informed us as we made it to the edge of the river, where it fell off the cliff-face many meters into the sea. “Ah! Here!” she exclaims after a minute of wandering about the area, and the rest of us, who were admiring the rugged beauty of the scene before us (the waterfall, the waves of the sea crashing against the jagged rocks at the base of the cliff, and the rainbow cast by the sunlight filtering through the mist created by the waterfall and sea-foam), turn about and head over to her.
She then heads straight into a narrow cavern entrance, and I wonder how the pudgy Way-farer will make it through. He did make it through, though I’ve no idea how he managed it. Don’t matter….
Once through, the light from outside is just able to illuminate the entranceway that leads to what looks to be a more open area – a cave atrium. Cɪrthsta stands still momentarily, looking as if channeling an ability. After a moment, light bursts from her body that dims as quickly as it appeared. She now has wings and a white aura about her.
She then walks into the threshold of the first atrium, and spreads her wings of white-ish plasma-like material and like that much of the space is lit up for us to see.
The cave floor is fairly smooth, but is somewhat bowl-shaped so traversing it will still not be the easiest thing to do. We managed, though.
The lack of stalactites/stalagmites makes this cave network seem too out-of-place, but the blackness of the stone and the flow features seen in the rock in places make it clear to me that we’re walking through a lava tube.
The lava tube goes on for a very long time. For the longest time, there was nothing but the natural formations consistent with a lava tube. Three days in, this monotonous scenery was broken by an underground city – of sorts. It looks a lot like an underground city, anyway. It’s expansive, at any rate. However, Cɪrthsta says it actually serves as a sanctuary during the transition from one Age into the next one. It is only used during such times.
However, we will be setting up camp here tonight. After setting up, I decide to wander about the place. Dass, Kess, and Esscie decide to explore the place as well. Dass and Kess wander about one side of the sanctuary together, while myself and Esscie walk about the other side.
It’s well-built, I’ll admit that much. Quite unlike the Dark Tower, this place has actually been cut from the lava-tube rock itself. No stone blocks of any sort have been used; here, the whole site is one single piece of volcanic rock.
It’s actually quite intriguing, that this site sits inside a supervolcano yet is used as a sanctuary against calamitous events. One thing isn’t like the others; or, something else entirely is involved.
Something for another day….
We press onward the next day, coming upon a well-built bridge of obsidian and an in-built outpost. We camped that evening in the largest cave atrium we’d come across thus far. Potentially as deep as the Dark Tower is high, this particular atrium looks akin to an open-pit mine. The pathway spiraling down to its bottom is accompanied by text that has been chiseled into the wall-side. It’s a script I’ve never seen before, but Cɪrthsta informs us that it says the sanctuary we stayed at is back where we came from. The text is actually written from the bottom up, since its makers apparently made the route from inside the mountain top.
Looks like we’re traversing this pathway in reverse, with respect to this pathway’s builders.
That said, much of the way so far has been entirely natural. But beyond the bottom entrance/exit of the pit-shaped cave atrium appears to have largely been dug out by the hands of long-ago masonry experts. The tunnel beyond this atrium is perfectly cylindrically-shaped, with stairs present at the steeper parts of this tunnel. The tunnel is large enough for a grown man to comfortably walk through it without needing to duck or shimmy – or the like.
After nearly a month of traversing, we finally see sunlight again. Props out to Cɪrthsta for being able to be the light during our traverse, without draining of energy. Her body (well…, her wings mainly) only stopped “shining” when we were sleeping, though I wondered whether she switched back to her normal form then as well. I never saw if she did or not; I only saw her in her upgraded form.
The mountain-top entrance was decorated by a stone temple structure about the size of a house. Once again, it was made by carving away the surrounding stone to produce the desired design. Quite an stone-masonic feat, if you ask me.
“Welcome to the summit of the Forbidden Rise, folks!” Cɪrthsta spreads her arms out wide, as the rest of us move to get a view of what lies before us.
An incredible view awaited our eyes, in fact. Plants and trees of various forms I’d never thought possible of plants and trees abound here. A couple hares hopped by us, and though they were a tad larger than the familiar hares from back home they were by no means extraordinary. The handful of insects buzzing about were also a size larger than their kin back home, but aside from that they, too, weren’t too abnormal.
We’re here for the Apothecarian, though. If he really is hiding out somewhere up here, then depending on what route we take up here it may take quite a while to find him. Let’s hope the search ends sooner rather than later.