Category Archives: Fantasium

‘A Labyrinthine Dungeon’

fourth test

Our route beyond that underground city led eventually to our most challenging dungeon yet.

Two large doors gave way to what soon was revealed to be a gigantic stone labyrinth whose walls, made of thick stone, rise from the stone floor and meet with the stone ceiling.  A line of light high up on the walls illuminates the place.

Strange writing lines the walls, which Cɪrthsta immediately takes interest to.  “It’s a story!” she cheers as she follows it along.  It seems she can read the text.

“There are supposed to be a number of monsters we need to deal with, in this maze,” Way informs us as we follow close behind the Peregrine.  But of course….

“Is that why she wanted to visit that library?” wonders Esscie, referring to the Peregrine.

“She always has multiple reasons for doing a thing,” answers Way.  She then explains, “I’m sure, for example, you noticed that each of us, in this group, has so far had a role to play, or will have a role to play, in getting us all to Eyaye’s core.

“Dass and Kess don’t at all think of girls and women the same way most others do, making them perfect for the Third Test; the Apothecarian is an Earthling, a race once known for their innate intuition with hand-made things, which made him ideal for the Second Test.

“And then there’s this Test, which is Cɪrthsta’s role to play,” she concludes.  “She’s the only one here who can read the text, and she’s the only one here who can deal with the monsters we’ll meet.”

Cɪrthsta, though, keeps on reading the text, mumbling the translation as she goes.  There are times that she quickly switches paths when meeting a divergence in the maze.  I suspect that paths leading to dead ends have text that reads as jibberish, while only the correct path holds text that actually give a comprehensible story.

“What about you, then, Way?” I address the Jackal.  “You must have a role to play in helping us reach the core, beyond your need to get to Yaw.”

She grins and nods.  “Of course.  I’ll only know what that role is, though, once I’m thrust into it.

“That said, guesses can still be made since the dungeons here are each made to target a specific skill or trait the Old Ones felt were manditory for their perception of a truly benevolent leader to possess.”

“But, no one person should be placed as a leader of the people,” I say aloud, feeling something click inside me.  “The position of leader is a role that everyone is to assume in society; in other words, there is no one ruler because everyone is the arbiter of their own lives – Anarchy, in the truest sense.

“That’s why Cɪrthsta’s having a group of us tackle these Tests,” I suddenly smile, like one does when a once-inconceivable idea suddenly falls snugly into place among the grand scheme of things.  “She could probably complete the Tests by herself, and, from the sounds of it, she attempted exactly that at least once before, but probably realized that, ultimately, it’d be far better to solve the Tests with teamwork.”

I see now what Way meant about Cɪrthsta; she acts like an eccentric teenager, but in actual fact everything she does is for a reason and, more often than not, planned beforehand.

The First Test can only be passed by one with the ability to problem-solve wisely, instead of thinking unclearly or reacting rashly to a situation.  The Second Test can only be passed by one with the ability to take as much time as necessary to solve a problem, instead of hastily proposing the first idea that comes to mind.  The Third Test can only be passed by one with the ability to not let distractions hinder their undertaking a thing, instead of being diverted by other things which result in one not being able to complete a task as promptly and precisely as they otherwise would have.  This labyrinth, the Fourth Test, can only be passed by one with perfect sense of direction and, I theorize, can think of ways to deal with threats without resorting to “killing” them; brute-forcing one’s way through probably won’t work here.

The remaining dungeons would thereby need to test skills held by myself, Esscie, and Way.  My main ability lies in mind over matter, while Esscie’s strength is in thinking “outside the box” (even better than I can); as for Way, I suspect, since she presides over ferrying souls from their dead bodies back to their “source,” there should be a dungeon that tests one’s ability to sacrifice someone’s life so that everyone else, living things in general, or even the continued existence of a whole world, or even universe, can be kept.

In my mullings, before long I realize we’re already at our first monster lair.  An oval-shaped room with two openings (we’re standing in one of them) greets us; for now, the room looks empty.

“Best you guys stay put till I call ya,” says Cɪrthsta, calm as always.  “Unless, of course, you wanna fight your own monster in there!”  With that, she smiles and then steps forth into the room.

She walks to the room’s center, and then stands there with her eyes closed for about a minute or two.  She then calls to us, that it’s safe to cross.

“Interesting…,” I murmur to myself.  No physical entity appeared, so that must mean the “monsters” only appear in one’s own mind.  I wonder, then, if this dungeon is to test one’s ability to navigate calmly amid one’s own fears.

Again, we follow behind the Peregrine as she reads the text on the wall.

Eventually, the next monster room appears before us.  Cɪrthsta enters as before, to the room’s center.  To test my theory, I also walk to the room’s center.  She closes her eyes, and so do I.

After several seconds of apparent nothingness, I open my eyes again only to find myself alone in the room.  Interesting….

This isn’t real.  I know Cɪrthsta is standing right beside me, even though I cannot see her right now.  I close my eyes and concentrate on seeing her to my right, and the others hovering by the entrance archway, when I open my eyes again, using the technique I’ve used many times before when using the Iron Jacket and other meditative techniques.

I open my eyes to see nothing happened.  “I see…,” I rub my chin thoughtfully.  This is the manifestation of a fear stuck deep inside me, of having no effect over the progression of events on this World.  I close my eyes again.  “Even if all I do is for naught, I am still making my mark in this life,” I say with conviction out to the empty fake-room.

“Well done!” I hear suddenly, and I open my eyes to see Cɪrthsta’s massive bust inches from my eyes.  I realize that I’ve hunched over a bit, my knees bent slightly and my hands resting on them.  I stand straight, wondering if it was my moment of concentration that was conveyed to assuming such a position in reality.

“Thanks,” I nod to her.  It was as I suspected, that the monsters are in fact one’s own fears made manifest.  That’s why each person who enters such rooms are “fighting their own monsters,” as Cɪrthsta hinted.

I discussed as much with Esscie, who asked me out of curiosity, during the next leg of halls we’re to traverse.  I decided not to partake in subsequent monster rooms, and I see the others are probably too fearful of trying it out themselves.

After what seemed like days, we came upon some open rooms that held no “monsters” inside them.  Cɪrthsta decides we should camp here for the night, and she estimates we are around 2/3 to 3/4 the way through the maze.

The next day, we pushed through the final monster room and then made our way out of the maze at last.  I made a point to thank Cɪrthsta for successfully leading us through that maze unhindered, and the others do the same shortly after me.  She chuckles and says it wasn’t really worth that much praise over.

“Oh!  You should be next, Way,” she turns to the Jackal without missing a beat.  “I trust you’ll know what to do when we get there,” she winks at her, who then frowns.

So, the life-and-death dungeon is the next one to progress through.  We find the next portal, and it was with a deep breath that Way was first to pass through it.

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‘A World Under Siege’

The monsters that escaped the Ancient struck out at anyone they saw before them.  Creatures of a myriad of sizes, some as small as house pets and others larger than the largest known animals, on a veritable rampage across the landscape with seemingly no obvious goals in mind.

The Archivists, on the other hand, were very methodical in their actions during this apparent chaos.  Even the Empress of the old Ten Kings land, who was supposed not to be aligned with Hullheach, had still taken similar actions at nearly the same time.

Citizens in these lands were so scared scatless by it all that the Archivists’ forces carried out their dastardly plans with the greatest of ease ever thought possible.  Doors were knocked down and whole families were roughed about without the slightest resistance.  Even the heavily empowered women of the Empress’ land never raised a single protest to her decrees.

Were it not for the rag-tag group calling themselves “Banon and the Rainbow Girls Squad” seeing through the illusions, the Empress’ act would’ve gone off as seamlessly as it did over at Hullheach.

Were it not for the loosely organized group of individuals helping out at Appathall, that land would’ve seen the same sort of fate as its neighbours inevitably did.

Over the weeks, those less fortunate lands, utterly decimated, had no choice but to accept the “bargain” offered by the Archivists as the “only solution to this present, dire situation.”  In other words, a monolithic, worldwide, tyrannical State; a one-world government, a one-world military-police, and a one-world economic system.

In the middle of all that, there was the Peregrine Academy.  That place was, arguably, the Archivists’ primary target.  They might even have wanted the Ancient to have crash-landed on top of it, to destroy it for good.  But, that Ancient’s last-ditch efforts prior to crashing preserved it and its inhabitants.

Deep into their fight against the incoming waves of monsters, the residents of the Academy were suddenly being attacked by special-ops units from Hullheach deployed there secretly to try to take the Academy down.

However, the Mortal God cast rays of light on those special-ops soldiers and knocked them all out.  This allowed for the others to focus on fighting the abominations stampeding about the place.

It was several days before the last of the creatures had come and gone.  The work of the Watchers and Azhseg fending off those beings allowed the other residents to focus on how best to help out the other lands while safe within the Valkyries’ force field.

The fifty-odd soldiers were also relocated to a secure room within the Academy, and kept under custody there.  The beings the Watchers fought and incapacitated soon diminished into humanoid forms, and were held under custody in a second room inside the Academy.

Focus could now be redirected towards the efforts being undertaken by the Rainbow Girls Squad and those helping out in Appathall.  M. I. Arregz and his band, who had used the chaos surrounding Hullheach to seize some supplies from Archivist forces too preoccupied with their plans to notice, now set off to Appathall to put their supplies to good use.  The supplies brought by the forces attempting to besiege the Academy were subsequently sent off by Bharkou over to the Squad for good use as well.

Azhseg, now present in person, was able to give a comprehensive account of what she witnessed going on in the Realms beyond Eyaye.  Something has been going on, she felt, that was far beyond the mere workings of Dark Forces.  Something else had to be going on, to account for why even the Librarians were unable to record it.  Exactly what that was, though, she couldn’t offer any kind of guess or idea.

But, what happened here over the past month or so, so far, was not the whole of what she presumed had been planned.  There was still more to come, and what had just occurred with that Ancient was just the appetizer.

The Peregrine would need to hurry up on her quest to the core, if what Azhseg thought was being planned next were actually to be acted out.  She theorized the masterminds of all this were after something specific, and if so then for everyone’s sake Cɪrthsta better reach it first.

Else, it can be expected to get so much worse on Eyaye in the near future….

‘The Fall of an Ancient’

A meteor shower foreshadowed the incoming impactor.  Many people took some time from whatever they were doing that evening and night to admire it – if only for a moment.

At the Academy, the same phenomenon, read into by the Witchdoctor, was determined to be an omen of some kind of destructive event in the near future.

Five days later, the thing itself came falling through the atmosphere leaving a long tail of ash and dust and fire in its wake.  Its trajectory appeared to be towards the Peregrine Academy.  With the Watchers yet to be reunited, the best that could be done at the time was to hunker down and prepare.

Its wake was spotted midday by those still living on the Academy grounds.  It could be seen trying to maneuver, eliminating it as a meteorite.  It’s an entity under intelligent control.

For the first time since the Five Waves, and to be the second time ever, Akei and Aguyu retreat to the resting room, that R.E. had found them in years earlier, to enact what they called “Athskeilon.”  The others watched as the two Valkyries sat kneeling and facing each other inside an ornate symbol carved into the floor, holding each other’s hands cross-wise, touching their foreheads together, then finally bringing their etherial wings out that quickly expanded to beyond the walls of the Academy and into a dome-shaped field covering the entire grounds and a portion of the surrounding forest.  Akei’s white wings blended into Aguyu’s black wings at the dome’s surface, creating a swirling pattern of light and dark akin to a dome-shaped vortex of ether that began at its apex and disappeared into the ground.

The incoming entity drifts slowly towards the ground, but as it approaches close enough its true speed can be glanced at.  It’s actually moving quite quickly, as evidenced by the sonic boom that sweeps the Academy prior to its inevitable impact with the earth.

That impact eventually did come, the being just missing the Academy grounds.  An almighty earthquake erupts from the collision, and in the distance forest can be seen uprooted and thrown into the air quite a distance away.  Copious amounts of earth were also torn away from their original home, some pieces even falling onto the Athskeilon.

Moments later, the commotion falls away into silence.  An uneasy silence, it was.  The Academy’s residents, the Valkyries, the Witchdoctor, the Merry-maker, Bharkou, Princess, Raac and Raghul, and two new recruits acquired since the Peregrine’s party left on their quest, seize the moment to finalize preparations.

Elsewhere, the lone, traveling Freemen were alerted to the falling object as well.

Amid a street performance near Hullheach, Arregz and his band-mates were the second-nearest Freemen to the impact site.  The final maneuver made by the beast was clearly visible in the sky from their vantage point.

Meanwhile, in Appathall, Freemen tending to an aid booth in Appavell were the first among the Freemen to see the incoming entity.  The locals there were afraid it was another terror attack underway.

Thiere, despite being well away from the trajectory of the thing, was also just able to catch sight of the trail of smoke and ash being left in its wake.  She had only just joined a rag-tag group of misfits calling themselves “Banon and the Rainbow Girls Squad,” and upon seeing the smoke received a nagging feeling that she should return to the Academy to help out there instead.

She fought against the feeling.  She’d only just arrived here, and her homeland required her help as well.  Besides, the Academy had other, equally capable, individuals residing there; the Academy was in good hands.

Finally, following the burn-up trail is an ancient starship piloted by a very deflated Alien girl.  She had hoped to beat the calamity to Eyaye, but the Forces of Darkness made sure to be ahead of schedule.  She hadn’t expected the calamities to begin so soon.

The Ancient of Eyaye had already crash-landed some distance away from the Peregrine Academy when she settled her own ship down just outside the Academy’s secondary gate.

Unable to enter through the barrier now, her best chance of being useful to the Academy now was to take her own stand against the incoming monsters.  Inside, she’d been building a ship, loaded with all the ancient relics and weaponry she’d gotten her hands on, just for such a purpose.  Those monsters won’t stand a chance.

There’s gonna be A LOT of them, though.  Their biggest advantage right now is their sheer numbers.

All the monstrosities that were caged up forever, after the great wars of yore….

In her newly-built warship, she hovers over the Academy.  There, she can see the sky darkening in the distance.  Over what can be seen of the remains of the Ancient, what mirrors a large cloud of colonial insects, or a swarm of Adversarial war-drones, billows out from the Ancient’s body.  Soon enough, there’s enough of them able to blanket the entire sky here in an artificial dusk.  Those ready to fight brace for what’s inevitably to come….

‘The Underground Metropolis’

To lay eyes on a once-inhabited metropolis of stone deep inside Eyaye, according to the Archivist indoctrination, shouldn’t ever be possible.  The pressures and temperatures down this far, 1/3 the way down, should be intolerable to any living thing and artifice known to the Universe.

Yet, here we are and here lies stone-masonry so extensive it easily rivals the City-States above-ground.

A waterfall of molten rock pours down from a fissure in the ceiling of the metropolis’ cavity, and has since laid waste to a section of the construction.  The lava makes the whole area warmer than usual, but still bearable.  There must still be a steady, fresh supply of cool air filtering into this entire network of underground passages, dungeons, and sites constituting what was, apparently, once a subterranean civilization advanced enough to make an otherwise uninhabitable place their home.

“Well, that lava river is pretty new,” remarks Cɪrthsta as we came upon one of the entranceways into this metropolis.  The glowing fluid is actually of some help here, since it’s the only form of illumination of this whole place.  Still, this cavity is so vast there remain several large portions of this area cloaked in pure blackness.

She gave us a tour of the place, as best she could considering the river of yellow-hot lava cutting through 1/4 of it.  She showed us to eight other entranceways cut into the host rock, explaining where each one led.

One, which was sealed shut, led to the Old Ones’ “Last Temple.”  Another, which looked like it was carved upside-down, leads to a labyrinth – another dungeon that could take us to our ultimate destination.  A handful of them led eventually to other, equally large, metropolitan areas like this one.

However, Cɪrthsta informs us she wanted to stop here specifically to visit the city’s central library.  The library itself is a tall, cylindrical stone building near the center of the cavity.  Even from afar, its exterior carvings, lit up by the lava river flowing around it, can be seen though not really intelligible.  Each level of the building appears to have a particular story told on it in pictographic form.  I questioned her for the reason she wanted to visit such a library, but her reply was simply that there might be something she didn’t know lying around somewhere inside its walls.

Approaching it, the scenes can be comprehended more clearly.  Some of the depictions are of warfare, while others are of adventures and legends.  Accompanying the carvings are segments of script in a language unlike anything residing above-ground.  Cɪrthsta says the script belongs to the Young Ones, who once lived here.

15 levels make up the library, and each level has two floors.  According to Cɪrthsta, there are also basement floors and levels.

Entering the library reveals rings upon rings of stone where windows and bookshelves have been cut into them.  More carvings of wars, adventures, and tales can be found on the floor of each floor.  A central rotunda with a large winding staircase connects the floors to one another.

“Feel free to look around,” winks Cɪrthsta, pulling ahead.  “We could be here all day, I think.”  She then waves and takes the stairs up to the floor right above us.

“This building is a time machine, in a way,” says Way, the first thing she’s said in a long time since meeting with her.  “The script here says ascending the library is like traveling forward in time, while descending it does the opposite,” she explains, pointing to some text cut into the floor amid the scene.  Looking at the scene itself, I realize that’s pretty-much what it depicts.  “I’m descending into the basement,” she informs us, and then takes the stairs downwards.

“I should probably check out the upper levels, then,” I consider.  Not sure why I feel I should, but intuition is something I’ve learnt to heed.  “Are you able to read what’s written here, Esscie?” I ask her.  If she can, then I’d like her to come with me.

“I mean…, I know what it says,” she murmurs uneasily.  For her it’s a case of somehow knowing what the text says but without a clue what each glyph in the text actually means.

“That should suffice,” I smile.  “Mind following me?” I ask her.  She decides to accept.

We ascend to the fourth-highest level, where Esscie and I both intuit the need to browse more closely here.

Esscie reads a piece of text, telling me that it talks about nine great conflicts on Eyaye as well as the disappearance of Lady Light’s Avatar by the Forces of Darkness.

“That sounds like our present Age,” I remark and she agrees.  The scene associated with it shows a dozen or so frames of important parts of the current Age.  The scene begins on the first floor of this level and then ends on the second.

The eleven frames of mural on the lower of the two floors tell of the Five Waves as well as two earlier, brutal wars that virtually consumed Eyaye for years on end.  This mural ends with the disappearance of the Peregrine.

The upper floor proved more interesting, being that it documents, so I figure, events that are yet to come during our current Age.

Of note was a frame showing a large beast falling towards a city, but crash-landing just outside where the city stood.  This is followed by a scene displaying a time of strife and struggle by intrepid heroes against a veritable army of incredibly powerful Dark Forces.

Esscie read the available inscription, mentioning an “Ancient of Eyaye” being shot down and then a swarm of monsters leaving it upon its colliding with the surface.  The text also mentioned the return of the Peregrine, and those who would turn the tide against the Dark.  The heroes assured a reprieve just long enough for them all to come together in unity and in preparation for what was to come.

“Maybe this is what Cɪrthsta was looking for?” suggests Esscie upon finishing with the inscription.  I remembered her reply to me outside the library, and figured this could be the kind of thing she was after.  I know I’ve found this part of the library very informative.  A glimpse into the future can, when done properly, be vital.

The trick is to look into future events with wisdom, instead of just trying to take everything in.  Doing the latter tends only to result in bad things happening.

When given a glimpse into the future, one must be careful with what they do with that information.  In attempting to change the outcome of an unwanted prophecy, one must first understand the prophecy in its entirety else it is likely one will bring the prophecy about even while working to prevent it.

But, this prophecy appears to be more amicable to us – at least for the near future.  In this case, we simply do our best to fulfill the prophecy’s outcome.  It requires our action, though, since everyone hoping for those heroes to arrive will assure those heroes will never come.  If you want heroes to show up, then you need to become one of those heroes.

One must also be careful not to read too far into the future, especially without due diligence.  Otherwise, one can easily come across a prophecy they were never meant to know about.  With that in mind, I suggest to Esscie that we try finding Cɪrthsta again.

We find her on the second floor of the first level, not far from where we saw her sometime before.  “Did you find what you were looking for?” I ask her.

“I found what I missed last time I was here, yes,” she replies non-straightforwardly as usual.  “We can complete our quest, now, thankfully.”  That’s good to hear, I guess.

“We found some important things here, too,” affirms Esscie with a smile.

“So did I,” adds Way suddenly, approaching our position.

“Sounds like we can get outta here, then,” Dass chimes in sounding like he’d like to leave immediately.

Since everyone seems to have completed their business here, it is decided that we press on towards the next portal.

Crossing the river of lava was actually straight-forward, though not the easiest undertaking.  The Peregrine had to fly us over one-by-one.  Way could blink herself over, but couldn’t take anyone with her.

The city turned out to be larger than we’d been expecting, which included the Peregrine who said she’d never trekked further than the library her first time here.  We had to camp out at the other end of the city, in complete darkness.

We’ll have to seek out the next portal tomorrow.

‘The Third Test’

The Third Test awaited us the next day.  As usual, a large closed doorway with a carving into it meets us.

The doorway image shows a number of young women staring longingly in our direction.  It looks like one has to pass them by in order to pass along the street they stand alongside and thereby make it to the other side.

“Dass and Kess, you’re up!” Cɪrthsta claps her hands together.  “All you gotta do is pass by a number of exceptionally sexy girls and find the key that will open the doors on the other side of a short street.  The rest of us will hang out at the entranceway till you’ve made it, then we can make it to you without harm.”  Dass and Kess look at each other.  It makes sense that they’d bo chosen for this one, given how they’ve acted so differently towards generally good-looking girls back at the Academy.

They both take a deep breath, and then step forward opening the doors for us to enter.

On the other side is a cobblestone street no longer than 100 meters.  Apartment houses hug the street all along the way, while a strip of a bright light runs across a high ceiling to this room and illuminates the entire area like a sun.  Standing casually about the street sides, near building foyers and by half-a-dozen streetlamps, are as many as fifty dress-wearing girls each ready with inviting smiles, sexy bodies, and youthful vitality.

The rest of us stand against the closing entranceway doors while Dass and Kess stride forward assuming their usual demeanours towards females in general.

The key to open the far doorway is actually very straight-forward to find, lying right in the middle of the street.  Normally, I presume, one would head straight for the key only to be stymied by the girls hovering nearby; then, one would be overwhelmed by their beauty and be taken by one or more of them in the hope of “getting lucky”; then, theoretically, one won’t be living past that day.

Kess forges ahead to grab the key, since he has a better chance of using it properly due to how his paws are structured.  He reaches the key and picks it up while half-a-dozen girls swarm onto him, cooing to him and gingerly stroking his fur.  “Yeah-yeah, I know I’m very pet-able,” he sighs and presses forward, meandering among the ever-growing crowd of girls clustering in around him and Dass who is trying to follow behind him.

“Dude, just trample ‘em,” states Dass as he starts pushing his way through.  “It’s just easier that way.”  For Dass, anyway, that appears to be the case, as he pushes some of them aside and knocks others over who were standing in his way.

“Ah, yeah!  This is easier, mate!” concurs Kess as he begins doing the same.  Even while knocked over, and even stepped on, the girls continue in earnest to woo the duo into a stupour that they can work with.  But, it’s all to no avail.

Within mere minutes, Kess reaches the other door and unlocks it with the key.  The door opens up and the girls suddenly retreat away into the apartment houses.  “Time to go, folks!” cheers Cɪrthsta.

We exit the dungeon with ease, thanks to the incredible skill of the two sapient mammalians in our group.  They demand to fondle Cɪrthsta’s boobs upon exiting, though, as a reward for having to put up with that nonsense.  She happily obliges, and what follows is difficult for the rest of us to watch for very long.

Another dungeon completed, thus another day remains for us to do as we wish.  Thankfully, an open biosphere exists not long beyond the dungeon full of fresh air and good-tasting fruit.

We set up camp at another outpost beyond the biosphere, though this one has no associated portal.  Instead, another tunnel leads to somewhere else – somewhere we’ll be checking out tomorrow, apparently.

‘The Second Test’

“The Second Test,” Cɪrthsta activates the portal, and passing through it brings us to another dungeon doorway.  These doors appear as large and robust as the first dungeon’s did, but these doors have a different scene etched onto them.

the second test

The depiction here takes the form of a humanoid figure lying on a table surrounded by what appears to be clutter.  Special emphasis has been made on select items (these items have higher relief than the others), and a couple areas in the humanoid have been “made hollow” perhaps implying parts of it are “missing.”

“Are we putting something back together in this one?” Esscie asks Cɪrthsta.

“In a way, yes,” she replies.  “Mr. Apothecarian will have the best idea what to do once we enter.  Basically, we gotta retrieve a handful of parts strewn across a floor full of clutter in order to return the android shown to a complete state.  He’ll reactivate, and then open up our way out of there.”  How Durittal is gonna “know what to do” if his specialty is apothecary, but I guess we’ll find out once we begin for real.

“I suspect the rest of us will have to stay still and quiet, like last time?” I ask.

“I think that’d be best, to avoid accidentally dooming us all,” she affirms.  I can do that.

“I should state beforehand,” Durittal speaks with a serious tone.  “While I’m an Earthling, I haven’t touched a mechanism since before I became a Watcher.  I can’t guarantee I’ve retained anything from when I was growing up.”

“I’m sure you’ll be fine,” Cɪrthsta reassures him.  “You’re our best shot at this one, so be sure to do your best!”

“What’s an ‘Earthling’?” asks Kess.

“My people used to be the blacksmiths of the Gods and their kin, but that was before the Five Waves and the invasion of the Archivists,” Durittal explains.  I remember coming across books recounting people like that, but like other things the Archivists have snuffed out the Earthlings have been considered as mythical beings that didn’t actually exist.

“If it’s absolutely necessary, I guess I could offer any help I can manage,” sighs Cɪrthsta, then winking at him.

We enter to a room whose ceiling is nearly as high as the First Test’s room, but length-wise this room is only half the size.  The room lights up, and a partially-disassembled clockwork humanoid lies motionless on a stone table.  Strewn about the place, on the floor and on various shelves on the walls of this room, are gears, metal rods, other pieces of clockwork, as well as a number of items that seem clearly unrelated to the being in any way (like strips of cloth and pieces of wood).  On the other side of the room is the other closed doorway; this one, though, has a keyhole lock mechanism to it that, I gather, only the android can use.

I spot a section of floor that’s mostly clear of objects, and head over to that place.  The others decide to follow me while Durittal makes his way to the automaton.

He pulls himself up onto the table and proceeds to inspect it thoroughly.  After his inspection, he raises his head up, looks at us, smiles briefly (which I didn’t really expect him to do), and then climbs down from the table.

He begins scouring the floor for the pieces he requires for the humanoid.  He finds one of them fairly quickly, and soon after locates a second.  After some time, he collects a third piece and returns to the android to fit them in.

He hops back down and resumes searching for more parts.  It looks like he knows exactly what he’s looking for, but this time around he’s having more trouble finding them.  He found a piece on the floor near where Dass and Kess are standing, but after several minutes of searching realizes he’ll probably only be able to find the remaining pieces on the shelves.

His stoutness proves particularly difficult on him in searching the wall shelves for the required parts.  He proved capable of surpassing those difficulties, however, and though he took longer than someone my height would’ve taken in the end all the remaining missing pieces had been collected and placed in their proper slots inside the automaton.

Fully completed, the machination suddenly comes to life and sits up.  Without acknowledging our existence, it shuffles down from the table standing on its feet.  It walks in an expected clockwork fashion over to the second door.  It stops before the locking mechanism, and then “coughs up” a unique-looking key from its mouth.  It inserts the key into the lock, turns it clockwise twice, and then stands back as the two massive doors slowly swing open.

We exit, and congratulate Durittal while the doors close behind us.

“To be frank, I hadn’t felt such an interest towards clockworks since my teenaged years.  I was sure glad I could rely on a long-lost intuition more than actual knowledge on clockworks.”  That would probably explain why he seemed so happy after initially inspecting the automaton.  Regardless, we’ve made it through a second Test and again we can relax for the rest of the day.

‘The First Test’

Past the outpost we camped at, and beyond another narrow tunnel that ran for quite some time, we come upon an ancient-looking archway leading apparently to nowhere.  Cɪrthsta says it’s a portal built by the Young Ones – children to the Old Ones, responsible for constructing the Fifteen Temples that have long since been the subject of the ultimate adventure (that no one has yet to complete).

The portals allow for quick passage between dungeons in this particular leg in the journey.  We’ll have to pass through each dungeon’s test to reach the part consisting of the core area of Eyaye.

“The First Test,” Cɪrthsta speaks clearly to the archway.  On command, it activates and a bubble-like film is produced across the opening in the archway.  We pass through it, coming upon two gigantic, closed, stone doors with a depiction carved into its surface.  Cɪrthsta tells us the mural tells what the test is about:

The scene is fairly simple overall; three large humanoid figures sit in their own unique seat facing us but without faces.

the first test

Cɪrthsta pulls out a bit ahead, and turns about to face us.  “Now, once the doors open, we have to enter.  Once we enter, we have to solve the puzzle.  If we fail, we die,” she explains promptly and bluntly.  “Also,” she adds, “I suggest only one of us answer per dungeon, because we’re not allowed to speak save for to fulfill the conditions of and/or answer the riddle.

“This first one is a riddle of three giants; one of them always speaks truth, one of them always lies, and the third speaks truth or lies completely at random; it is our job to tell which one is which through only three questions.  I will do the honour for this one, to give you all a feel for this sort of thing.”  Concluding her talk, she turns about and shortly after the heavy-looking stone doors slowly swing open.  I see a few are looking nervous or anxious as we enter the room beyond.  Cɪrthsta, as I could expect, is jolly as ever despite what she’s about to face.

True to the depiction, before us loom three scary-looking humanoid figures seemingly made from some kind of stone.  Their faces are completely featureless, lacking eyes, ears, nose, and mouth.  They each sit in a “throne” of stone shaped identically to what was shown on the doorway.  Above us are three inverted pyramids with lights in them that turn on as we set foot inside.  The lights throw a pale, yellowy light across the whole room.  Located behind the giants is the exit, another pair of massive stone doors.

“Ha,” rumbles the giant sitting to our left, on the end.

“Ma,” groans the giant sitting in the middle.

“Ka,” roars the third giant, sitting on the right end.

Then, all goes silent.  I take it, now it is our turn to fulfill the riddle that has now commenced itself.

Cɪrthsta steps forward, and I hope everyone else here, Dass and Kess especially, can stay silent for the duration of this thing like I can.

“Ha,” she addresses the first giant, “will you answer ‘yes’ if I asked you if both yourself and Ma always spoke the truth?”

“Oh,” it replies promptly, nodding its egg-shaped head up-and-down in affirmation.  Looks like the beings can understand our language, but only reply in their own.  So, “oh” means “yes” in their language.

She takes a moment to ponder what’s just happened, and then looks to Ma.

“Ma, will you answer ‘yes’ if I asked you if Ha had just answered my first question truthfully because Ha always speaks the truth?” she asks of it, to which it replies with “ah” (presumably “no” in their language) while shaking its head negatively.  A very informative query and response, suggesting Ma may be the truth-speaker.

Cɪrthsta will need to pose a very telling third question in order to clearly sort the three from one another.  She spends a moment pondering things, but is soon ready to use her final query.

“Ka, will you answer ‘yes’ if I asked you if both Ha and Ma had just answered my prior two questions untruthfully?”

“Oh,” it affirms, which proves equally telling.  Now, she must correctly deduce the three from what she has asked of them.  We all remain silent as she decides.

Again, she is almost surprisingly quick to make up her mind.  “Ha is the liar, Ma is the truth-teller, and Ka answers randomly,” she speaks assuredly and confidently.  The three giants simply bow their nearly featureless heads at her, and the door behind them opens for us.

We’re probably safe to speak and what-not now, but even so we all wait until we’ve left the dungeon to congratulate Cɪrthsta on getting us through it.  “It wasn’t too bad,” she shrugs it off perhaps feigning it wasn’t as impressive as we believed, “but I did have some reading-up on it sometime in the past!”

We’re now walking through a cavern, what was once a lava tube.  It then occurs to me that it’s not quite as hot as should be expected for the depth we should be at.  It’s still hot enough to cause some of us to start sweating, but nothing that’s at all unbearable.  The odd draft of wind, whose source I’ve no good explanation for, is refreshing regardless.

The lava tube leads ultimately into what appears to have once, very long ago, been a magma chamber.  Half of it has long since been emptied, while the remaining half (I estimate) has hardened into volcanic and plutonic rock.  On the other side of the chamber, there appears to be another of those archway portals.

We’ll be camping here tonight, though.  We’ll continue through the portal, onto the next leg of the journey, tomorrow.

‘Entrance Into Eyaye’

I was anticipating a very long journey, given what Cɪrthsta said about the location of the entrance into Eyaye, but Durittal called upon some giant flying creatures to take us there in a much shorter time.

The entrance in question is located far north of the Great Plains region that in turn is located north of the Academy.  It would’ve taken weeks, or even months, to get there by foot.  With these reptilian flyers, what Durittal calls the Kinniwigg, we were able to reach our destination in just one week.

The Kinniwigg is one of those odd-looking creatures – among all the other odd-looking creatures inhabiting the Forbidden Rise.  Its body is very slender, but its size is stupendous.  Length-wise, the Winniwigg is approximately ten meters; its wing-span is double that.  The head is elongate and thin, with a mouth that encompasses much of it.  Three eyes sit above the mouth, with one on each side and the third right in the middle.  Its wings are made from scaly skin stretched over its spindly arms and fingers.  Its tail is club-like.  It possesses two powerful-looking legs ending with four long-clawed toes on its feet.  The skin is a pale colour, dark on its top-side and light on its bottom-side.

We flew along the far-eastern coast of the main continent, hoping to stay clear enough away from any frontier lands that might freak out upon seeing us.  Archivist-run lands are not really a problem, as their citizens are usually too preoccupied with their own survival to try looking up every now and then.

The frontier peoples, however, are notably more observant of things.

The entrance itself is actually a gaping hole in the midst of a long-ruined temple-like structure.  What remains of this stone structure completely surrounds the hole, and despite the overgrowth of long grass into the blackness there’s still more than enough room for our Kinniwiggs to fly through it and into the passage-way leading from it.

The Peregrine flies in first, lighting herself up to illuminate our way.  The initial earth- and life-covered walls of the passage give way to stone-masonry.  The stone-work is reminiscent of that seen at the Black Tower, except far more worn.

The tunnel winds and wends about for what seems like many miles.  By the time I begin to wonder if this tunnel will ever end, we are, almost immiedately, brought into a large open area somehow lit in various places from far above.

What greets us is, incredibly, a kind of vast, underground, long-abandoned city.  Cɪrthsta’s light brings into view a gigantic cross-shaped atrium-like area with an extremely high ceiling.

At the very bottom of the atrium area are two vegetation-covered lanes, what I figure must once have been streets.  A monumental fountain, now just a sculpture of some woman wearing ceremonial robes and a couple little holes in her that once accommodated flowing water, stands at the intersection.

Along each “street” are multi-story buildings stuck onto one another as one single structure.  Many have stone balconies, indicating they were likely living spaces back in the time this place was inhabited.

Slit-like features high above us apparently connect to the surface somewhere, as sunlight is filtering in through them and even making it, just barely, to street-level.

We follow Cɪrthsta left at the statue, and continue down that street for another good long while before coming upon a large unlit niche at the end of the way.  It looks almost like a gigantic well, but we fly right into it.  It turns out to be a tunnel to somewhere else; a rail for what probably once supported a monorail vehicle can be seen running along the bottom of this tube-shaped tunnel.

After several hundred meters, the tube ends and the area opens up again.  This new room is vast, cylindrical, and dominated by a stone statue of another beautiful-looking woman.  This one stands with a warrior’s expression on her face, an impressive bust, long hair, and her right hand clasps a longsword directed downwards as if about to finish an enemy off.  She stands on a stout but wide pedastol, and the floor around it looks like it can retract away to reveal another room below.  The stone walls, cut directly from the bedrock as one single entity, is covered with a slowly fading script for some language I’ve never seen before.  The script is probably as old as the place itself is.

Cɪrthsta lands her Kinniwigg down at the foot of the woman, and our Kinniwiggs follow suit.  “Look, guys!  It’s me!” Cɪrthsta proclaims enthusiastically while we dismount.

I guess that makes sense.  It explains the impressive chest on the statue, at the very least.  I wonder if the statue we passed back at the atrium was a likeness of Lady Light.

“Now what?” asks Kess.

“Now, I open up our way into the long-lost Realm of the Old Ones,” answers Cɪrthsta.  She places herself between the two large feet of her likeness, and then turns into a beam of light that passes right up through her statue and disappears into the domed roof far above the statue’s head.  The writing on the wall lights up, and then the retractible floor begins to retreat into cavities in the wall.  A torus-shaped hole is revealed as Cɪrthsta returns to normal.

She hops back onto her Kinniwigg, and the rest of us scramble to do the same.  We are taken straight downwards, and eventually into a dome-shaped space that has many door-sized openings in it at floor-level.

“We’ll hafta go by foot from here on out,” she states the obvious.  The fifty-something openings are nowhere near big enough to fit a Kinniwigg.

We land, dismount, and Cɪrthsta tells the creatures to return home (I’m assuming).  They fly off and we follow Cɪrthsta as she heads directly towards one of the doorways.  Her light is the only thing illuminating our way down here.  It looks like she knows her way down here, so that’s promising.

The tunnel we took ultimately brought us to an underground outpost, that has been left uninhabited for a very long time.  We camped there for the night.

Cɪrthsta informed us that, starting tomorrow, our journey to the core would be fraught with tests, traps, and terrors of various shapes and forms.  Each of us will have our part to play before our journey’s end.

‘The Apothecarian’s Hideout’

Cɪrthsta did another remote-viewing session while we set up camp inside the hollow of the trunk of what must’ve once been a truly gigantic tree.  She said he’s relatively nearby, to the north of our current position.  It shouldn’t be more than a day’s walk.  She also noted in passing we may need to pass by one or two large creatures along the way.  I asked her about the creatures, but she just shrugged saying at least we won’t die.

Well, okay then….

We set off mid-morning, and actually made some good head-way through the forest here by noon.  We settled at the foot of a mid-sized hill, and Dass and Kess went off in search of food.  Esscie and I set off for some water to fill our canteens.  Rumour was the three Watchers would ascend the hill to get a bearing on where the Apothecarian might be.

Turns out, a stream was conveniently located relatively nearby.  It meanders about between the hill our lunch-spot is situated at and another, twin-peak of a hill just to the north of the first one.  The stream is potable, which is a welcome change from what is typical of Archivist-owned lands.

We decided to check out the other hill, briefly, before returning to the others.  The hilltop just pokes out from the tops of the trees of the surrounding forest.  Oddly, very few trees are actually growing on the hill itself.  Bushes and shrubs are the largest things on it.  Intriguing….

Its summit has a surprisingly clear view of the surrounding landscape.  North of us, fortuitously (or not…), we can clearly see a tenuous column of smoke billowing gently from the trees from a fire of some sort.

We make to descend the hill when it starts reacting out of the blue – starts trembling.  Then, a mound almost as high as Esscie is tall slowly blooms from the ground over the course of a minute or so before ceasing entirely.  Just poking out from the layer of grass and moss and soil is a brown-colured mound.  “Wait…,” Esscie murmurs, “I think it’s alive….

“Look!  There!” she points eagerly to my left.  I look beyond her outstretched arm, laying eyes on a tall, tree-like life-form that has suddenly appeared in between the two hill-like mounds.  It appears to have just risen out from the ground, but now it’s just sitting there unmoving.  What in the World is that?  How did we not hear that thing rise up out of seemingly nowhere?  Perhaps, it did its thing while the smaller mound was appearing before us.

Esscie

Esscie is already descending the hillside when I remove my attention from the brown-coloured, tree-like creature.  I follow closely after her.

At the base of the hill, Esscie then stops momentarily before crouching along the bank of the stream for about a minute.  “What’s up, Esscie?” I try her, and she then stands up.

“A girl?  Maybe?” she answers, and shortly jogs off to the right, hopping over the stream, and stopping near the base of a multi-coloured, cycad-looking, tree-like plant.

When I find her again, she’s already introducing herself to a pale-skinned, eyeless girl buried up to her shoulders into the mossy soil itself.  Her nose is flat, with wide nostrils, and her hair is long, greenish, and matted with what look to be an insect nest situated in the middle of the mess.  Her ears are almost nonexistent.

She and Esscie are speaking in a tongue I’ve never heard of before, but I guess Esscie’s starseed nature is proving to be helpful to her here.

She introduces me to her, and she smiles showing her dozens of tiny, pointy teeth.  Her gums are purple, and her lips are also nearly nonexistent.  A strange-looking girl, indeed.

“Her name is Kienow, and she’s over a thousand years old now!” Esscie informs me happily.  “According to her, we’ve been walking all over her recently,” she adds, and returns to talking with her.

Could she mean…?  Those two hills?

I wonder….

“Oh, good!  People I know!” I hear the voice of Kess from behind me, and I turn my head to see him and Dass looking frightened and having ran a mile.

“Well, I stepped on something weird and then it started growing – like, a lot,” admits Dass, panting.

“I think Dass stepped on a giant dildo,” Kess butts in again.  “I mean…, that’s what it looks l-aah-hah-ha!  That’s a corpse!”  He jumps abruptly, making Dass jump as well.

“She’s alive, actually,” I correct him.  “Apparently, her name is Kienow and she’s over a thousand years old.

“Hopefully, Esscie can tell us more about her soon enough,” I finish, and turn back to her.

“Look!  See?  I told you’s we should come this way!” enters Peregrine’s perky voice from ahead of us.  I lift my head up to find the Watchers trio approaching us.

“The Apothecarian seems to be relatively nearby, folks,” says the Way-farer.  Cɪrthsta lights up with exileration, for no apparent reason.

“It’s a Sentinel!  I’ve NEVER seen a Sentinel face-to-face before!  Sorry for disturbing your naughties, by the way,” she addresses the mostly-buried girl.  She leans in over the girl’s head and starts speaking to her in her language.

“In a former Age, Sentinels were more common on Eyaye,” explains Way to myself and Dass and Kess.  “They are born as twins, and one buries themselves into the earth, providing nutrients for the forest around them, while the other, sometimes mistakenly called ‘Forest Giant,’ wanders about meeting with other buried Sentinels.  Beyond a certain age, the primary cause for meeting is to mate; these mating rituals also help keep a forest healthy.”  Well, that’s quite an interesting creature.

“I guess now they’re a relic, only to be found here on the Forbidden Rise,” I remark.  Way nods.

“There may only be a handful of them left, now,” she says.

“Today’s our lucky day, folks!” Cɪrthsta stands up and faces us.  “Kienow says she’s about ready for mating, and there so happens to be a suitable mate coming our way right now!”  She then returns to Kienow, talking to her some more along with Esscie.  Looks like we’re not going anywhere anytime soon.

If that brown, towering thing just visible through the trees and between the vegetation-covered…“breasts?”…is indeed some sort of phallus then how tall must the approaching “Forest Giant” be in order to “accept” such a massive organ?

Sounds like we’ll find out shortly.

Almost an hour later, the ground begins to tremour very softly and rhythmically.  In the passing minutes, the tremours steadily grow larger.  It must be gigantic, indeed, as I can sense it coming clearly from downstream already.  I look over in that direction, and the silhouette of something enormous and humanoid can be seen from above the trees and things.  It’s approaching from beyond Niemow’s head, so it’ll need to round her breasts in order to reach her phallus.

Its skin looks scaly, and its humanoid form is covered, in places, with vegetation and various other wildlife.  It head is animal-like, with four large eyes on the front of it.  It has no mouth nor nose, but instead possesses several gill slits along its neck.

Minutes pass, and the footsteps shake the ground around us more and more heavily.  We can see it slowly coming our way, and once it finally comes close enough that we can see its body in detail it side-steps and then passes around her left breast.  Once it eventually stops moving, it lets out a resounding, earth-shaking call.

We have to cover our ears to try to dampen the noise, but Niemow’s clearly gone through this thing before.  She tells Esscie something, and Esscie faces the rest of us and relays that we’ll need to watch out for potential falling trees and running-scared animals.

Makes sense…; when two very large creatures try to mate, things are bound to get stirred up pretty good.  Thankfully, there is a large, purple tree, with no leaves but a very sturdy-looking frame, that we can take cover under while the mating ritual takes place.

Several bat-like flying creatures take to the sky in a panic, screeching as they do for having been forced away from their preferred place of rest and socialization.

Two giant, seven-fingered hands, disproportionately large even for a being as colossal as it is, reach over and each grabs hold of a hill-sized mammary and it positions itself carefully over the phallic organ.  It slowly lowers its gargantuan torso over the penis, and I can hear Niemow starting to breathe more heavily.  A four-eyed, six-legged, deer-like creature scampers madly past us.

While squatted, the Forest Giant proceeds to dig its long fingers into each of the two hilly mounds before it.  The sounds of greenery and earth being uprooted can be heard, and Niemow’s breathing quickens.  A minute or so later, its grip loosens and Niemow settles down a bit.

It’s repeated several more times over the course of the next half-hour.  The massage, at that point, ceases while Niemow sounds like she’s climaxing.

The Forest Giant eventually stood back up, and Niemow returned to her usual state.  The Forest Giant promptly walked on away, with rumbling footsteps slowly fading off into silence.  We thanked Niemow for the opportunity, such as it was, said goodbye to her, and we headed off towards where we hope the Apothecarian has set up shop.  I guess those two Sentinels were the “large creatures” the Peregrine predicted we’d meet, from her remote-viewing session earlier today.

The smoke inevitably led us to a shack, and inside the shack is the Apothecarian himself.  He’s on the stout side, pudgy, and starting to go grey.  His home is covered in herbs and apothecary supplies, with only a small loft for a bed and a door, perhaps to a restroom, directly beneath it.  On the other side, a fireplace and well lie.  The only other things visible are a seat and table – where he’s currently at work drafting a tonic.

“I figured you would return, Peregrine,” he murmurs as he concentrates on his cuurent task.  He doesn’t look to see who’s arrived.  “I knew, inside, it was only a matter of time.”

Ooh!  You’re so smart, Durittal!” Cɪrthsta squeaks like she’s speaking to a child.  He doesn’t react.

“We hope you’d be willing to rejoin the Watchers, now that the Peregrine is back,” I get to the point.  “We could also use someone well-versed in apothecary on our journey to Eyaye’s core.”  At that, his head turns about.

“So, that’s what it’s come to?” he mutters calmly.  “Fine; looks like I’ll have to tag along.”  He then looks back to his work, finishing up a concoction within the next minute.

That’s the last member of our crew accounted for, now.  We’ll still have to camp here for the night; there’s not really enough time to make it anywhere far before night-fall.

‘The Forbidden Rise’

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?

Lady Dark symbol

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.