Full disclosure: The author of this book is one of my closest friends. I’ve written plays with him. We’ve have swung imaginary swords together in many strange lands. I have eaten his mother’s chewy ginger-snaps. Whether that makes me meaner or nicer is best left to your judgement. From a writing standpoint, our worlds are kissing cousins at the very least – linked by Pratchett’s ‘consensus fantasy universe’ and a shared wavelength of universes touched by the Fall of Gilead and the breath of the Red Wizard. Don’t know what I’m talking about? Well, Brent does.
Absolutely top-notch world building and character work. Strong dialogue, clean action scenes. Brent has a patience that I lack, really drilling down into the core of his world — each location breathes, the thought and care put into each is delightful. It’s a fantasy where most travelers will feel at home, and that’s no easy feat. Also, really badass, involved descriptions of some magical rituals and arcane machinery – that may be a ‘writer’ sort of thing to say, but those things are a beast to write and way too easy to make boring. Brent keeps them engaging throughout, and any writer that can make logistics interesting is one to wear in your heart’s core.
Our Heroes are a ragtag band, but not of misfits. Misfits suggest a lack of competence, or a fringe status in this world – nay, they are perfectly shaped. Though I quickly found myself favoring Kestra over the other characters – your reaction may differ. I like stoic gladiators, perhaps you will prefer the wily thief-mage, Demetrius or the scholar, Talbert.
The narrative structure flips between the present, where our group has embarked on a quest of more than usual danger and foolhardiness — and the past, where we learn more about the three main characters in a series of ‘Origin’ chapters. Taken as their own, the flashbacks provide the novel’s strongest writing – but the chapter order was one of my main complaints, especially early in the book. You go from the present, to the recent past, to a flashback, to another character’s flashback, then return to the present. It was like Brent kept handing me different action figures – and let me assure you I wanted to play with each one! – but just as I would start having fun with them, he would knock them out of my hands and push another toy at me. I found myself wanting to sink deeper into each story only to be jerked out too soon. This could just be a ‘me’ thing and may not bother other readers, but by the end of the book I was only nominally interested in the present-day plot [and there’s a fucking dragon in it!] – I was much more looking forward to the resolution of each of the Origin plotlines.
This is rock-solid fantasy writing – and I have no problem saying it holds together much better than my first attempt. You all need to buy this and love or hate it – but support the writer. I want to read the next one, the next one’s what it’s all about. There’s some dark, beautiful things in that head and we’ve only gotten a glimpse.
This is mostly ‘inside-baseball’.
Your heart is in the past, Brent. Those Origin chapters are so fucking good they shamed the rest of the book. You are at your best when your characters are growing, changing – in pain, in woe, in transformative joy. You write the hi-jinx stuff fine too, but it doesn’t have the resonance, it doesn’t have the ‘THIS MATTERS’ bell that goes off when you read something real. I want to read further adventures of the DT, but I’d love to see you sink your teeth into a single protagonist YA. That’s what the Origin chapters and half your novel really were.
I liked most of the one-off characters, but Carradam just didn’t work well enough for me as a villain – maybe he’ll be better if he comes back as more of a Zenigata-type for the team. But he didn’t hold a candle to the witch, or Pho, or Tate’s avaricious mentor.
Loved the ‘interior’ dragon chapters, I wanted to experience the battle a little more from her perspective.
A quiet house, a quiet street. These are rare things in the gnome city of Spice, the Underneath Wonder, the Kitchen Sink of Possibility. Gnomes are not known for their reserve or their placidity – not in architecture nor in decorum. An odd race with preposterous origins they delight in creation, invention, and discovery. Each house an adventure, a riot of red brick and gleaming neon next to a circular wooden palisade surrounded by orange roses. A miniuature castle built on top of a slightly larger castle, a tree fort where the leaves are kites, an empty grass lot with nothing besides a red sleeping bag and fifteen gray rabbits nibbling away. The streets of Spice are equally as likely to feature a nude poetry slam, an impromptu cooking contest, a cross-city game of Freeze Tag, and a hotly contested riddle-sing as the mundane traffic of work and market.
In the City of Oddments, normal is the bizarre. In the Town of Tura-lura-ay, quiet is an unwelcome stranger.
But still, a quiet house and quiet street. The house was large, a sweeping bluestone with wide windows. A friendly place, a children warren, the marks of young gnomes are everywhere in forgotten chalk drawings on the walls and semi-functional doorknobs and shower curtains wrenched askew by the unknown sagas of youthful adventure. Perhaps it is the late hour that makes it so quiet, even gnomes must sleep – the better to dream a better world to make when they burst forth into the waking hours of their lives. The scratchy symphony of a double-dozen snores came from the open windows. The children are asleep, all the lights are out, it is quite late. Perhaps this is why it is so quiet in the quiet house and the quiet street.
But that is not the reason.
One window glows golden in the cool evening. A golden doorway, soon darkened by a crouched, dark shadow.
Carbunkle looked up from his chair and hookah without surprise. The shadow hesitated at the window-sill, seeming to dim the shining lamp-light. The Black Moon was full, or Maero as her name was now known. The old librarian could not see the moon, but he knew it was there all the same. Just as he had known the quiet and made sure his sometime-squeeze Scarlet and her filthy monkey would not stop in for a visit tonight.
“I’m always a little surprised to find this window open,” the shadow said, flipping its legs over into the room.
Carbunkle said nothing, just took a slow drag from his hookah. This conversation, or one like it, had repeated itself a few times across the months and years, his visitor would come to the point without any assistance.
“Yes, I know I always say that,” black-glass eyes glittered with ferocious amusement. “As I know you take great delight in thinking yourself the cleverer one.”
The shadow edged itself into the room, keeping one claw on the window sill — as if for comfort, to keep escape close at hand. It wore only a scrap of white fabric, rough-edged. It’s skin was obsidian. It seemed to find the simple lamplight disgusting, like a haze or foul stench.
“I don’t even really know why I return here, why we have these little chats from time to time. I have work enough, great works and discoveries beginning to bud out there in the world. I and my brethren sing to the moons and dance with them. It is so beautiful, so beautiful. I wish you could see it, it is ..astonishing..no more, an astonishment. Wonder, endless wonder spreading like ivy across the unknowing world.”
Carbunkle began to reply, but his shadow forged ahead.
“I often wonder if yours was the better choice, but when I doubt I just look on the face of my Dark Lady. And then I am sure.” The shadow smiled and cocked its head to one side. “But on some nights…like this one…”
The old librarian nodded agreement from his chair. They both knew what night this was.
“Do you still remember…” the shadow reluctant turned to look out the window. “Do you still remember the first time we saw her?”
Carbunkle sighed and nodded.
“Please. Please tell me,” the shadow implored. “I know I’ve asked this again and again, but tell me. Tell me again. This time I’ll remember, this time I’ll hold it longer. I remembered the anniversary, I remembered the exact day. The day she died. This year, at least. Now please, please tell me.”
The old librarian looked at the dark thing, at his shadow, at the Other Choice and made himself smile. He smiled because this pain he understood quite well.
And so he told the story again. About Saraghina, the Sorceress Supreme. The day they saw her walking through the library, how they saw her pull a pack of ginger cookies from her sleeve and nibble on them as she read, the greatest wonder of all – that such a luminous being could eat cookies and spill crumbs and be real. He told the story again in the quiet night, on the quiet street – between golden lamp and dark moon. The two remembered together.
And then the shadow was gone and Carbunkle locked the window tight behind it.
“VAGABONDER.” Talitha called sweetly at the top of her lungs. “HEY, VAGABONDER.”
There was no immediate sign of her engineer, so she took a moment to enjoy the sprawling mad-tumble of her ship’s cargo bay. The interior was all darkwood, gleaming with fresh seal and polish, the sizable bay split into five sections — four small rooms in each corner: the Galley, Toolroom, Engineer’s Quarters, and Miscellaneous Stuff — with the main floor-space occupied by the Floatstone Engine.
The blonde girl smiled as she approached. Something about the cool magenta light and sedate turn of the stone always made her feel good. The main part of the
engine was in the center of the bay, on a raised platform. A vast glass cylinder lay on its side, over twice her height in diameter, capped on each end with brass and steel, bristling with lights, toggles, and wires — the largest of which fed down into the under-deck of the ship, and up into a massive console that sat adjacent. But her eyes were only for the stone, the Floatstone. It was roughly shaped like a potato, pocked and asymmetrical. It neatly filled its glass container, spinning in a calm gyre. Talitha knew that if the stone were ever removed from the Engine, it would shoot right through the roof and never stop going until it left this planet behind.
Maybe I can strap myself to it. The captain’s plan wasn’t quite as reckless as Floatstone Riding, but she would work on a saddle just in case. Ultimately, it would have the same effect as her current strategy. Out. Out and about.
“Okay, seriously. Where are you?” the blonde girl spun slowly.
Her engineer swung into view, not from his quarters or the Galley as she had expected. But horizontally from behind some nearby crates, as if he were standing on the righthand wall of the bay.
“Oh, Captain!” the tall goblin’s olive-green face split in a bemused smile. “What a pleasure, what a delight!”
Talitha walked over and saw that her engineer was wearing his Molasses Moccasins, a cunning device of his own design that allowed him to stick to surfaces as ably as most spiders and some roaches. It also left a dank, black residue everywhere he walked, requiring furious scrubbing with a mop on an extended pole when he would complete his wall-walking jaunts. There were several magical objects that had an identical effect without all the sticky goo and cleanup, but Talitha had learned early that her Engineer had a particular way of doing things. his own primrose path of popcorn and baling wire– and often would come upon most peculiar solutions on his way.
The Vagabonder slowly squelched down the wall, more of his tall form coming into view. He was nearly seven-feet tall, with a wild brush of cotton-white hair a stark contrast to his green skin. Long, spidery fingers danced on a control cluster hanging from his belt, and absently pushed the delicate safety glasses he always wore up onto his forehead. Talitha had bought him some proper goggles, steel reinforced with smoked lenses — but he had politely refused, much preferring the transparent plastic ones he favored that could be bought by the box at any well-appointed lab supply store. She had never known him by any other name than ‘The Vagabonder’ and he seemed to require nothing further. Only time to explore and improve his one true love, the Lodestar.
The goblin slid out of his moccasins and placed them delicately in a nearby pail dedicated to that purpose. He cast around for his Long-Mop. “You seem excited, child. I can only assume you have devised some new adventure, some hidden place on the globe that we will soon be flying?”
Talitha took a breath. She was the captain, and her first mate was older than she was — but the Vagabonder was a Full-Fledged Adult. And while she and her crew were allowed to come and go as they pleased, her extended family had made it very clear that the engineer was ultimately in charge. He would never allow her – or his beloved ship — to go into any true danger. Not without a surreptitious call or two to make sure the Cavalry was in the wings. She would have to approach this topic very carefully, and with a degree of tact. She ran a hand through her poorly coiled skull-locks to collect her thoughts before she began, keeping her tone determinedly casual.
“Oh, I don’t know. We’ve run around the planet so much, and seen so many things. Maybe it’s time to turn my attention, you know, to different things.”
The Vagabonder nodded affably as he dunked his mop into a nearby basin of soapy water. He thumbed the flashing green button that slowly extended the tool to sufficient length to clean his footprints off the wall and ceiling.
“And I remembered something you told me, about the Lodestar. I mean, I know it was made by the Precursors and all…”
“Yes!” the goblin swabbed with excitement. “And can I say, it does my heart good just thinking about you, the last Scion of that fabulous race, as captain of their greatest ship.”
Talitha puffed our her cheeks. The Lodestar was fast, the fastest, but she had seen far greater devices in her travels. The great city of Kythera alone — she shook her head. She was the last descendant of the Precursors, as far as anyone knew, and that fact had put her in a great deal of danger, and lead her to some pretty destructive moments. Not everyone has destroyed a city by singing a song. It was something she didn’t like to think about much, but the tall goblin was excited about the topic, so she changed tack.
“Right, right! I am, yes, no other Precursors anywhere. That’s what I was thinking. And I started thinking about how you’re always talking about the ‘black boxes’ all around the ship, the secrets of the Floatstone Engine…” she let her voice trail off, encouraging the engineer to pick up the trail.
The Vagabonder did not disappoint. It was one of his favorite topics.
“YES. After all this time aboard, I am still so far from truly understanding their purpose. During the War, we were doing our best to stay ahead of the devils, or doing our best to catch up with you and your kidnappers to really delve into the true power of this ship. Ah, the ship was barely at Level Zero when I came on board, but with patience and work we brought her up to Level Four…but then, ah I hit a brick wall. There’s something I don’t understand, some tool I lack. I had hoped to spend some time delving into the Arkanic Computer that Captain Carbunkle found on Kythera, but he took it with him back to Pice. The Lodestar is the fastest ship in the world, it’s true, but I know she can do more, if only we could find the way,” the engineer’s long fingers flexed on the handle of the Long-Mop with excitement.
“Right, right,” the current-captain smiled. He’s on the hook. Time to reel him in. “That’s what I was thinking. I think you’ve been missing the right tool. And what better tool to unlock the secret of the Precursors then…”
The Vagabonder gasped and let the Long-Mop fall to the floor, suds and mollasses stains forgotten.
“…the last of the Precursors?” Talitha grinned, innocent as a baby sheep nibbling on the first green grass of spring.
“I was born on the water, with three dollars and six dimes—,” Talitha sang with her back against the comforting wood-grain of the deck and her hands folded behind her head. “Wait.”
She crossed her right foot over her knee, eyes still idly tracking the clouds that moseyed across the sky. “Is it ‘born on the water’ or ‘born underwater’?”
A growl and sigh crinkled her nose. Her eyes closed as she tried to remember the last time she had heard the song. She hummed the tune, two or three times, replacing and slotting the lyric with each attempt.
“Hey!” Talitha yowled, leaning her head up. ” Is it ‘born on the water’ or ‘born underwater’?”
Lucas stuck his head out of the wheelhouse. He had his thumb stuck into a massive book, bound in simple red leather with neat silver letters stamped into the spine. “What?”
“That song. That song that Elora sang that time.”
The boy blinked. His threadbare doublet was neatly buttoned and his dark hair carefully cropped. He looked as out of place on the deck of the airship as he had three years ago when he had first stepped aboard. Lucas was two years older than his captain.
His captain rolled up from her prone position on the deck, hands resting on her ankles. Talitha shook her hair out, it was matted with sweat and oily with infrequent washing, but it still resisted turning into proper skull-locks, much to the blonde girl’s displeasure. A captain of a pirate ship had a certain glamour, a certain aesthetic she felt — and the long strands of yellow-gold were absolutely unacceptable. She scratched her stomach and glowered at the silent scholar across the deck.
“That. Song. When we were in Pice.”
Lucas blinked again. With exaggerated care he opened his book back up and slowly slid back out of view.
Pointed silence filled the deck like a fog.
“LUCAS.” Talitha pulled her legs close to her body and pushed herself up into a leap-frog stance.
“I am the captain of this ship, and you will answer my questions about song lyrics with promptness and all due deference. That is a” her voice dropped into gravel-drama. “a direct order.”
Still nothing from the wheelhouse. Talitha stood up and stretched, her blonde hair trailing in the wind in a most un-piratical fashion. She was wearing a stained tank-top and baggy red pants held on with a a motley assortment of straps and purloined zippers. A brown cord was tied around her wrist. She was thirteen years old and captain of the Lodestar, the fastest ship in the world. And that was a fine thing.
Talitha Brown was a legend in Aufero. At the age of ten, she had helped the previous crew of the Lodestar stand against the world-obliterating terror of the Shadow Plane, learned from the greatest heroes, walked in places that most could only dream of. The armies of devils rode forth in the Thirteen Day War and she had stood in the vanguard of the forces of Light. She had sung the Song of the End and brought the lost city of Kythera to its knees.
But then the War was over. Good won. Her family, her Heroes had gone on to serve the shattered world as best they knew how. And they left her in charge of the fabulous airship, left her to wander where she will. The whole of the planet was hers to explore.
But, in the time-honored fashion of thirteen year-olds, she was vaguely dissatisfied.
The problem with Good triumphing over Evil is it really cuts down on the opportunity for Adventure. The liches and mummies scurry back into their tombs, the ghouls and gremlins retire, the gibbering insanities that hunger for blood grumble off to the hidden places of the world to wait out the term of the current administration and quietly plot to vote the Darkness ticket the next electoral cycle. The planet still teemed with wonders, but Adventure requires conflict. A Villain, a Beast, a Plague on Common Decency, at the very least. And those malevolent ingredients were very difficult to find of late.
Talitha knew. She had looked.
Compounding this issue was a further problem. When Great Heroes triumph over Evil, the word tends to spread. And when the Great Heroes have a very distinct and memorable craft, say a unique flying ship of unmistakable design, a picture of that craft also tends to be circulated in all of the most prestigious Evil Publications. The blonde adventurer could run out of fingers counting the number of times she had flown the Lodestar to investigate a rumored monstrous outbreak, only to have the monsters flee as soon as they caught sight of her ship. A small red dragon had even offered to surrender on one occasion to her undying irritation and mortification.
And the few times I actually found a fight to get into…Talitha sighed. Her family were all too quick to arrive, to protect their little girl. She would be two steps into an old crypt, or forgotten fortress of evil, and in a flurry of well-meaning axes, fists, swords, claws, fire, and ice, her Heroes would barge in and stomp on her Adventure with both feet and whisk her off for pancakes and finger-wagging.
“I was born underwater, with three dollars and six dimes.” Talitha sang again, then put a foot up on the stone rail that surrounded the deck. It glowed a faint magenta, the the strange technology that kept the ship afloat working perfectly.
“I’m so bored, Lucas. Lucas. LUCAS,” the young captain didn’t look back to see if he was listening, it had become a habit to antagonize her bookish crewmate, even if he wasn’t paying attention or even present.
“You know what I think,” his voice came from the empty window of the wheelhouse, Lucas was sitting on the floor reading, as was his habit when taking watch and steering.
“I know!” Talitha kicked the rail with her foot. “We could get into more trouble if were weren’t in this ship.”
But the Lodestar was home. And it was the fastest ship in the world. And despite her mad wanderlust, Talitha knew she couldn’t leave the ship behind.
“Exactly. It’s too distinctive, with all the Precursor technology and that huge blue flag.” Lucas clucked.
“I know, I KNOW.” Talitha tugged at her lip and stared out into the blue.
“There’s nowhere in the world we can go that we won’t be recognized. Do you remember the time that goblin tribe called Agnar to apologize when they dented our hull?” Lucas stood up and leaned on the window of the wheelhouse. “That was really embarrassing.”
Precursor technology. Nowhere in the world. Talitha grinned. A wide, dangerous grin. She turned and let Lucas drink in the site of her smile.
Lucas blenched. “Oh. No. Whatever it is. NO.”
The captain of the Lodestar winked and skipped across the deck to the stairs leading down, down into the belly of the ship, down into the secret heart of the ancient technology that powered her ship.
“Just need to have a quick talk with our engineer,” Talitha called. “Don’t fret!”
She grinned again. Fret. Fret your ass off, book boy. The Captain has a cunning plan.
[It’s been pretty tireless self-promotion here at Spell/Sword for the past week or so. How about some dyed-in-
the wool geekery to ease the sting? These are my DM notes from the Pathfinder game I ran earlier this week, presented with little to no context. If your eyes have already glazed over at this point, I wouldn’t bother reading further.]
Scene One: In the Cell
Most of the party wakes up at the same moment. [Justin’s Character] remains unconscious.
Everyone is wearing whatever clothes they had on when they teleported from the crumbling Stone Roots, but every other piece of gear has been removed. [DC 20 Sleight of Hand check to have hidden one Tiny object.] Falcon is nowhere to be seen. Everyone’s wounds have been healed, but they show signs of natural healing, not magical — suggesting some time has passed since they departed Rill.
The cell is 50 feet square, gleaming gray metal, adorned with regular bolts and rivets. Modular benches are welded to the floor in a square in the center of the room. On the far wall is a large crank over a spout, directly beneath it is a large hole with a metal grate over it.
The door displays no hinges or handle or window. The symbol of “0” is engraved into the metal, it gleams a dark copper shade.
The party have a few minutes to talk, compare notes. The Elven Cleric wakes up and introduces himself.
At last, a metal squawk fills the air — then a mechanically reproduced voice fills the cell.
“You must pass through the Dream to find the Truth. You must swallow the Truth to find the Heart. The Heart burns and we shine in the darkness of the Dream. Follow me, Children — and Remember.”
“These words are written in the book that brought you here. These words were spoken by the Dragon Prime just before he fell into his endless slumber, he spoke these words to his acolytes and fell beneath the sands.”
There is a scraping metallic noise coming from the grate. If anyone checks, a large plate has slid into place closing off the drain.
“You have served us well adventurers. The seals chip and shatter with time and skill, but you have broken two in a matter of days with nothing more than luck and ignorance. The Guardian of the Endless Road and the Stone Roots of Rill — both destroyed and gone, blowing away in the winds of the Descabellado. For this you have been forgiven. The murder of Lord Argon and his retainer Lithium have been washed from your slate.”
The crank on the faucet begins to move, and clear water begins to pour into the cell.
“Forgiven. Forgiven and spared. And chosen — yes, chosen. Chosen for something greater, to become something greater. Servant of the Dragons, yes — we will take you into the Dream, and your true forms will emerge. You will break the chains of the foolish Balance.”
The members of the party become drowsy with a magical sleep. As they fall unconcious all can see the pool of water spreading from the back edge of the cell and rolling slowly towards their closing eyes.
Scene Two: Indoctrination
The party blinks.
They stand in a room very similar in size to the cell, but the similarity ends there. The walls are made of lines of light, squares – a wire frame of energy. Where the cell door was, an open archway leads into a formless void.
In the center of the room, stands a tall wood elf with dark skin. She wears a floor length dress of sheer material, bodice plunging nearly to her navel.Tattooed in the center of her chest is the symbol of the Dragon’s Dream. Her hair is wrapped in a high twist, coiled with some sort of thick brass cable. She doesn’t appear to be substantial, she glows like a light purple phantom.
“I am Xenon. Welcome to the Dream.”
At some point the party will notice that they similarly do not appear tangible. Each party member glows as a mental projection of themselves. [What color is your mind?]
“You must pass through the Gestalt. Travel forward. Learn and survive. Apparent time moves slower than actual time, but your shells still lie unconscious in a room that slowly fills with water. Dally and they will drown. And sadly…your true selves cannot survive without your shells, at least not yet.”
“You are young to this way, your minds only have a fraction of the potential that we can unlock. For now you have what you believe you have — the residual impressions of the items and skill you carry in the physical world. In time, with our training, these limitations will fall away. Now begin.”
Xenon erupts into a beam of light, that arcs away across the dark void.
When the party passes through the first archway — they unlock:
PSYCHIC Rank: 0
A floor forms from green squares of nothing as the party proceeds into the void.
The room is circular, about 100 feet in diameter. A doorway is at 2 on the dial, but the center of the room is dominated by a vast square table, 20 feet on an edge. An elaborate clockwork city sits on the table, hundreds of tiny houses, vehicles, people, all whirring and moving in perfect harmony. DC 20 Perception to notice the Draconian details to the model — tiny claws, spines on the roofs, gears shaped like dragon’s jaws, smoked glass like dragon’s fire.
Then, black blobs begin to ooze up through the floor and take the form of primal ogres, and attack. They seem to be completely focused on destroying the table.
The door evaporates when the last ogre falls.
The next room has the appearance of a temple, or cathedral. Wide pillars support an arched ceiling holding back the void. The outlines of cowled humans cluster around men with the heads of dragons, who touch them kindly and speak in hushed tones. The dragon-men beam with the expressions of proud teachers.
There are three main clusters/classes – then one dragon-man standing alone in the pulpit.
The three teachers speak in Eld tongue, the Examiner speaks in Common.
Red Teacher – DC 15 Will – 1d4 Temporary WIS drain
Fail: +1d4 PSY Succeed: +1d8 PSY
You see a vast field of lights spanning across the globe – dreaming minds slipping into the void and flying around and around the physical world, as free as the birds of the air.
Blue Teacher – DC 15 Will – 1d4 Temporary INT drain
Fail: +1d4 PSY Succeed: +1d8 PSY
You see a vast creature, a Titan — stomping across the fields of green. Decay follows in its wake, rivers fall sere and desert winds begin to blow. The people retreat to their cities, and try desperately to resist, but they are tramped underfoot.
White Teacher – DC 15 Will – 1d4 Temporary CHA drain
Fail: +1d4 PSY Succeed: +1d8 PSY
You see yourself in a cage, a cage of stone. It reminds you of the roof of the Stone Roots. Hundreds of people are crammed into the cage, they claw and bite at the bars — or simply turn their backs inwards and ignore it. You walk to the wall and step through as if it was made of water.
PSY DC 10
What is the Dream? The endless potential of the sentient mind. The Hidden Kingdom of the Dragons.
PSY DC 15
What is the Truth? The Balance is a lie.
PSY DC 15
What is the Heart? You are only caged if you choose to be.
The Gray Examiner steps aside , and a the dais irises open into a set of stairs leading downwards.
The stairs terminate on a featureless plain. Party makes out a faintly shining beacon to the north, as they approach, it reveals itself to be a tower with a torch on the top.
Xenon’s voice whispers in the void.
“You can save the planet.”
“You can undo what has been done.”
“Repair the breaking of the world.”
“You can break the Titan itself.”
“Break the Titan and break your own chains, Children of the Dragon!!!”
A second light appears at the top of the tower, and the party realizes they are looking into two burning eyes of a massive stone goliath. It pulls a vast scimitar from its chest and moves to attack! Scattered around the field are small nodes of psychic energy, a PSY roll of 15 unleashes a burst of energy against the Titan.
After defeat, the featureless plain collapses and the party slowly drifts down into a room similar to the first. Six Doors wait, each marked with an odd symbol and a word scrawled in Common on the door.
Xenon’s voice: Choose your name, choose your place in the Children. Choose a door and take what is offered. You are one of us now until the dragons awaken. Accept the power that is given and be blessed, or deny it and be enslaved. Or do nothing and drown. The choice is yours.
Beryllium – [Domingo]
Magnesium – [Rhoga]
Calcium – [Nenemi]
Strontium – [Anka]
Barium – [No-Name]
Radium – [Sir Mander]
The party each select a door — if they take too long, they all start to feel a pressure in their ears, and in their chest, the water is rising into their lungs. Each member goes into a door, and find themselves in a small closet. There is a stool, and a table with a chalice.
Those who accept the Dragon’s power gain 1d10 PSY points and Dragon Power: Telepathy 1/day. 10 min/level. you plus 1 person per 3 levels.
Those who resist gain 1d4. -2 Will saves against Draconic Effects.
The Dream begins to break up, and the everyone coughs and flails in the cold water they are laying in. Everyone stumbles to their feet, and see that the door of their cell lies open.
Haskeer stepped through the steel door, and onto cracked linoleum. Red blaze of neon filtered through glass windows onto a crowded diner. The booths were crammed with humans laughing and talking. A long glass display case bisected the room, filled to the brim with faded toys and garish errata – twin rows of wide black booths down either side, with a long counter in the very back of the diner. A tall stool with a red-leather seat at the counter seemed to beckon, and the paladin moved towards it.
The humans seated at the booths were dressed strangely, somehow too simple and too elaborate — as if they were dressed both for work in the fields, and a journey across the tundra of the Northlands.. They paid little attention to his passing, or his gleaming silver armor.
A blonde man with a square jaw, sat with a baby in his lap – their eyes both wide and blue. A blonde woman at his side wiped the child’s face with a damp napkin and a certain elan. On the opposite side another couple, a man with a preposterous mustache fork-deep into a plate of fried potatoes and a dark-haired woman with a beautiful smile. The dark-haired woman was pregnant, and the man and his mustache nearly vibrated with concern and pride, each motion of his hands a prayer.
Two young men sat hip to hip in a booth, poring over a stack of brightly colored pages. They argued bitterly jabbing the page with pointed fingers, and gesticulating wildly as their argument crested into a familiar plateau. Across from them a woman rolled her eyes with exasperation, spreading cream cheese on a grilled bagel.
In the corner of the diner was a jukebox, glowing green and yellow. A man with glasses and a ponytail leaned against it, making a selection – his head bobbing unconsciously to the song already spooling through the air.
Are you sorry we drifted apart? Does your memory stray to a brighter summer day When I kissed you and called you sweetheart? Do the chairs in your parlor seem empty and bare? Do you gaze at your doorstep and picture me there? Is your heart filled with pain, shall I come back again?
A tall, gangly man stumbled through the door behind Haskeer, and moved to the jukebox — hands already spread in mute apology.
In a back booth, three men sat hunched close together. A pile of tiny figures were arrayed on the table before them – small soldiers, goblins, knights, even a fierce looking black dragon. The tallest and shortest examined each figure with animated fixation, while the third stared at something glowing in his hand with boredom. A large man with a fierce tattoo of a squid-demon stumped over and flopped down a large sketchbook. Haskeer caught a glimpse of men and women holding swords of fire.
There were others in the diner, every seat was full. A curly-haired man stuffing lemon after lemon into his water, a thin man with his hands steepled, a balding man laughing and pointing across the restaurant. The faces began to run together as the paladin moved forward, his steel boots clanking on the floor.
Haskeer sat down at the counter, his back to the rest of the diner patrons. A warm fog of steam billowed out of the kitchen, accompanied by the wonderful smells of fried potato and seared meat. A man approached, pulling a well-worn jotter out of his pocket and the nub of a pencil. He wore thick spectacles, and a thick mop of hair pushed up into a white paper cap.
The man greeted the paladin, barely looking up from his notepad.
A gray city, made from simple stone. The towers and streets show signs of great age, and great wear. This is a place where it rains much, where the people must go to the walls to stand against an endless tide of dark. Yet in every eye, a fierce pride – a bright flame that burns against the dark. The people move about their day, and among them walk the men of the Legion. The Crusaders, the Swords of Iron – their cloaks white and blue. Their armor is brightly polished, but the paladin quickly sees the signs of steady use. Leather straps worn to fraying, dents in shields carefully beaten back to true, and burnished with care.
Pennants fly from the towers, each showing three swords bound in a circle, blue on a white field. In the streets Haskeer sees simple signs of nobility, peace and kindness. A young boy keeping his older brothers from harming a kitten, an old man doffing his cap for a passing milk maid, a portly baker giving barely stale bread to beggars in the church square. The quiet prayers at the temple of the Nameless God, the priests laying hands on their flock with the gentle touch of wise shepherds.
A king with a golden crown, white hair spilling down his collar – his family drawn close around a fine table. A plan is laid out before them, a bridge that needs building — the family laughs and argues good naturedly over the plan.
“This is Gilead.” the lady said. “The anvil where the hammer falls again and again, but the steel does not break.”
[Can you be sad about a place that never existed – a fictional place that you as the storyteller destroyed? I don’t know if you should be able to — but I am. I just wrote this, but I feel like an empty jug.]
“The servant does as the master wishes. The master desires bread, the servant plants grain. The master desires a keep, the servant lays stone. The master desires gold, and the servant bleeds steel. At the end of all things the servant is still a servant.” Oak replied.
Have you ever thought about that word, Servant of Light?
What it really means?
It means you are greater than I. That you forgive me, that you spare me — that you deem me suitable to exist. That you alone are equipped to know what is Just, and Right. You are the arbiter of the universe, and anything that you do not understand, or fear is worthy of destruction, but through your infinite mercy you will allow me to draw another breath in this world. That anything that is not like you is wrong, is contemptible, is evil.
Is it any wonder we want to destroy you?
That you, a child in this world – given only a few spare years of thought and life, can stand there before a being that has known and experienced more time than you could dare to even conceive, and have the temerity to judge me?
Long ago, before we came to this world, before the world before that, and the world before that — when we were first created in the very cauldron of the Beginning. Each being was given a choice. Will you Serve, or will you Destroy?
I think you know what me and my brethren chose. We are the Hounds of Necessity, the Storm Undying. We are required, we are in the bones of creation — I serve a far greater purpose in this universe than you could possibly imagine, I am EVIL, Servant of Light. And I am old, and I forget nothing and regret nothing. Do you know what Hell is, little thing? Hell is never forgetting, Hell is enduring, and Hell is dreaming of the day when you can break every piece of your disgusting little world, and all of the self-righteous false mercy that it holds.
To prove you false, to show your true selves – stripped of all your lies and empty hopes.
You are all animals, and I will not be judged by the mouse who offers me a crumb of his precious cheese.
So, no. I don’t want your mercy. And I promise you, there will come a day when you will understand the deepest well of my heart.