13/5/13268 K.C. (Laertraine, Fey Isles): Four days have passed since the group helped Edwin recover from the mental trauma of his torments, as well as the residual effects on his physical form. Four days since they accompanied the mage and watched him dismiss the powerful elementals dwelling in the walls surrounding the Vault's entrance, and then watched him disable a deadly arsenal of traps and guardians way beyond the capabilities of the party – and indeed, had they gained entrance, the Inner Circle's troops.
Within that vault Edwin recovered the Primal Binding Glyphs – bound within the shielding confines of minute pocket dimensions; protection against the madness that viewing the glyphs unprotected would instil. He also recovered several large resonant crystals from the surrounding area, perfect for holding the potent energies of a conjured chronoportal, and suddenly the group had everything they needed to return to their own time...
...Everything they needed except for the very thing they came for – the Ael'Shar Power Source.
21:30 – 21:45 - It is late when the party receive word from Calsiphus that he wishes to see them. They find him in his tower, and immediately notice that he appears exhausted; his skin pale, his eyes puffy and ringed in black. Despite this he smiles and waves them in brightly, offering each individual a drink. He then explains to them that despite putting all of his efforts into searching for a power source they could use, he has been unable to locate one. He surmises that there are examples in this world, but that they are either beyond his abilities to scry, or are deliberately hidden. However, he knows a place where the group may be able to find an item that will suit their needs – an otherworldly market dimension known in legend and current arcana as the Crystal Villa – an allusion to the fact that the only physical material native to the plane, and so the main building material used, is a pale lilac or pink crystal with slightly psychemorphic properties; that is, it can be shaped by the focused application of will.
Several members of the party are a little taken aback by this suggestion, for they have heard tales of the legendary pandimensional trade plane. Ormid for example knows that it is a dangerous place with stable portals to literally thousands of far flung dimensions, and that is a “quiet place” - neutral ground. He also knows that the legendary assassin and dark priest Cyric Oth'Darkold met his end there, along with the hallowed Wu Jen Corilath Zenilath – travelling companions with the likes of Brundor Trull Slayer, Emerald Woodstaff and Traveller. The Veteran knows that during the guild wars, many were sent there to procure the alien materials needed to build many of the machines used in that war, or to work the epic weapon rituals used to blast entire armies to pieces, and Shadevia knows that her people journey there from time to time when they need to make contact with allies or to seek peace with enemies in neutral ground.
Calsiphus explains that the villa is a finite plane that automatically adjusts its immediate environment to suit the needs of a sentient creature there, creating a hospitable micro-climate around each. It is mostly empty, save for lilac light and silvery clouds, though at its heart is a planet sized mass of the indigenous crystal; a solid base from which stretch an impossible tangle of winding streets, each of which has a local gravity plane that pulls to their subjective down. In other words, each street can be walked on (and is built on) on both of their sides, allowing for a bewildering array of markets and buildings to populate each. There are also substantial free floating masses of crystal – some bound to the streets or heart by various arcane tethers or potent powers. Many of these are simply left to be, and are colonised by the few native plants to the plane, or more often, stragglers brought through from other dimensions that find root there. However, a few are carved into fortresses or trade houses, and are amongst some of the most secure locales in the whole villa.
He then tells the party that the city was founded by the “High Concern” - the merchant house that in essence “rules” the entire plane, and that there are roughly 800 or so other “concerns” (merchant houses or syndicates) recognised by the High Concern. These recognised concerns hold a position akin to nobility within the villa's social system, and have a measure of say over prices for certain goods, export and import rights, and other important mercantile affairs. Below these are the numerous independent merchants and concerns who pay a stipend to the 800 and 1 (the colloquial name for the High Concern and the 800 recognised concerns) to be allowed to trade in the villa, and it is these that stand to suffer the most under the weight of recent developments there.
“What developments are these?” Asks Ormid warily.
“It seems,” replies Calsiphus wearily, stopping to rub his eyes, “That the usual jostling for status and trade rights amongst the 800 has become more heated of late, giving rise to trade and most recently, actual war. At least half the concerns are covertly trying to kill the leaders and nobles of each others concerns, and are voting prices in their respective trade items down to lower and lower levels in an effort to bankrupt them. Of course, these huge mercantile houses are able, for now, to absorb the losses without consequences, and it is the smaller independents that bear the brunt.”
“Isn't there any kind of action that the High Concern can take to stop this?” Asks Veteran, “Surely, this is damaging their own profits?”
Calsiphus shrugs, “No doubt if it gets to the point where they suffer they will step in and stop it. For now at least, they have simply upped the number of their Xilloth that patrol the streets, and ensure that the merchants keep their warring behind closed doors.”
“Xilloth?” asks Ardwaine.
Ormid shudders as does Shadevia, for both know what Xilloth are. “They are thought to be distantly related to the foul Illithids, though they follow a divergent evolution. Whereas the illithids are potent psionically, the Xilloth are physically strong, though they do possess some psychic ability. The High Concern use them to police the city, and everyone there knows to fear them and their power.”
The group spend a quiet moment digesting all they have discussed.
“So, do you want to go?” Asks Calsiphus, “Because I can open a portal to the main transport hub in the heart, from which you can try to locate an inn called The Fractal Muse, where a contact of mine – a Duodrone called TocToc – can be found. Although he is unlikely, even with the Introduction ritual I shall weave around you, to trust you at once, he could, if won over, prove to be your best bet of locating a power source, for he is a 'fixer'; an individual with a finely tuned understanding of the city, its inhabitants and what items are flowing in and out of it.”
“A Duodrone?” muses Ormid, “As in a cell construct from the machine plane?”
“Uh, confused!” pipes up Llewellyn.
Ormid grins. “Duodrones are like cells in the body of a vast, sentient machine dimension. The plane is composed of vigintillions of component entities, each a discrete entity in its own right. Like the component cells in your body, each has a job to do to keep the overall entity of the dimension 'well'. However, just like happens in our bodies sometimes, at least, in human bodies and those of our nearest cousins, cells can get corrupted or simply do not function as intended. Normally these are located by specialised cells that destroy them, though from time to time they can infect other cells and cause the various tumours and growths we often see.
“Similarly when one of the plane's component entities becomes damaged, specialised hunter units seek them out and destroy them, so their component parts can be broken down and reused. However, from time to time one of these component entities – called Base Modrons by our scholars – escapes their mother universe, and sets up life beyond its home. These “rogue” modrons tend to be the lower level, basic version; the monodrones or like this TocToc, duodrones.”
“Yep, just as I thought,” jokes the vyrleen, “You explained it, I still don't get it. I'm sure it will all become clear when we get there.”
“So you are going then?”
“Yeah, if it's our only hope of finding a power source, then we should.”
“So be it. I shall open a portal to the villa once I have cast an Introduction ritual over you all. I shall also create a succor gem for you. Once you have concluded your business simply crush it whilst joining hands and you will be returned here.”
“Simple!” growls Shadevia, “I'm sure.”
“To help with your quest, I shall also work a spell on you all that shall give you the ability to communicate telepathically. It will only last for a short amount of time though, a couple of days at least, but it should help you to find and speak with TocToc.”
With the Introduction cast and the succor gem handed over, Calsiphus begins to forge the portal to the Crystal Villa. The entire party stand ready, watching as it yawns open, flinching as a harsh, telepathic voice suddenly fills their minds along with the crackling pop of interdimensional contact.
“WELCOME TO THE CRYSTAL VILLA. PLEASE BE AWARE, THIS IS DESIGNATED NEUTRAL TERRITORY. TRANSGRESSORS WILL BE SEVERELY PUNISHED.”
A little startled by the unexpected intrusion into their minds, the party are a little reluctant for an instant to step through the portal. However, when Calsiphus gives a grunt of effort, and the pinkish light spilling through the gate begins to fade a bit, they quickly step through it...
21:46 – 22:10 - ...Into a place unlike anything they have seen before; an impossibly vast hangar, filled with countless beings of almost infinite variety and composition. Huge dracani mix with eerie beings of strange and bizarre energies, death shrouded liches and gibbering vole things. Humanoids of a bewildering variety speak in voices unlike any heard by the group before in languages of impossible beauty or base corruption, fighting to be heard over the whirring and clanking of manifold intelligent constructs of materials arcane and mundane. Beings that are, somehow, languages themselves shimmer and flit besides hulking, fuming daemons and painfully pure angelic entities, and all the time is the feeling that there is another crowd present; a ghostly crowd that they are unable to perceive – almost certainly entities existing at levels of reality their minds cannot process.
And beyond the thrumming, shrieking and rumbling crowds the port itself; so huge as to fade into misted, pink distance, its space filled with an array of skyships and other vehicles every bit as varied and bizarre as the entities that use them.
It takes the party a few moments to absorb the incredible scene before them, before a psychic voice barks at them, “PLEASE MOVE FROM THE ARRIVAL PORTAL!”
Moving down the long flights of crystalline stairs that lead from the arrival portal (just one of thousands spaced along the tier of the port they stood on), the group spy a single figure amongst the crowd that stands apart, the individuals avoiding them, moving around them like water round a stone. As the get closer, they taste a vaguely unpleasant taste – a psychic phenomena each realises – and realise that the figure everyone is avoiding is a Xilloth. It is robed in heavy cloth, reinforced with ribbed plates of chitin. From beneath its hood hang long tentacles; muscular and studded with thorns, writhing and coiling with apparent agitation.
Despite their revulsion at both the physical and psychical presence of the Xilloth, Ormid strides right up to it, and extends a hand, a strained smile on his face. “Hello! I'm Ormid Threfler, Dragonslayer, Timetraveller and artificer. We're seeking the Fractal Muse, and I was...wondering...if...”
He stops, the colour draining from his face as a pair of glowing, coppery eyes within the darkness of the hood settle on him. At once a thorny aura of hostile psychic energy flickers around the monster, and Ormid staggers back, apologising numbly.
22:11 – 23:40 - After a lot of asking and searching, Llewellyn locates the Fractal Muse,and the party take a paid portal to the area in which it stands. It is a huge building carved into a great cliff of the local rose crystal, its front decorated by massive statues depicting various idealised entities. Illusory words, shifting constantly through a wide array of languages, scroll across flat areas of stone carved into the front, declaring its name, and vast sconces carved into the lintel of its huge front windows belch fractal flames of various strange, otherworldly hues.
Moving towards it, the group spot several gigantic obsidian constructs guarding its wide, decorated entrance. Each is shaped roughly like a centaur, and has massive faceted eyes of ruby red, four arms and thick elephantine legs. A quiet aura of power echoes between them, and everyone in the group feel more than a little apprehensive as they pass by them, though they move not an inch in response.
Inside the Muse, and the group have to take another few moments to take in the impossible variety of beings there, and the crazy architecture that the building has installed to suit them. They quickly learn that the bar for humanoids is close to the top of the building, and take a free standing spiral staircase of pinkish crystal to it, the dundorin moving up it on hands and knees, terrified of the height and the lack of handrails. No sooner have they entered this bar, than they spot a most bizarre entity stood upon a table nearby, talking to two robed and hooded beings with two too many (by the group's reckoning) sets of shoulders. TocToc is exactly as Calsiphus described him...
“A cube of brassy metal plates, exactly 3' x 3' x 3' . He has a curious face on one of his sides, with a wide mouth and mechanical bulging eyes, each eye bearing a crown of lenses on articulated stalks. He has two arms, each a spindly construct ending in simple metal claws, and equally spindly legs ending in hoof like feet. He also has delicate metal wings, though they may or may not be pressed into their recesses along his sides.”
The group are unable to hear anything being said, and spy a circle of brightly glowing runes around the table and its occupants. Checking out the other tables, they see that many have these runes around them, or are hidden behind opaque walls of screening force, and they realise that there is some kind of privacy functionality built into them. The bar occupies a raised platform along one side of the chamber, and curious illusory fractals cast a dim, shifting light across the place, adding to the pale pinkish glow of daylight coming through several large oval windows in the ceiling. A number of masked humanoids stand around the edges of the room – clearly guards of some kind – and the group notice that the staff behind the bar are constructs of some kind, not entirely different from warforged.
Finding an empty table, the group spy a thin circular plate of glassy energy floating towards them with obvious purpose. The Veteran growls, but calms when it injects a cheerful telepathic message into their minds. “Greetings! Welcome to the Fractal Muse! We use universal currency conversion enchantments and would be overjoyed to take your orders!”
“Errm, what do you have floaty disc thing?” Asks Ormid.
“Thank you for your question! We have over a thousand different refreshments listed for entities of your composition and type, and although we cannot guarantee a specific beverage will be in stock, we can guarantee that a close facsimile is. Please concentrate on a refreshment, and I shall check before placing your order.”
The party look at each other, a little taken aback by the potent magic being used for such mundane reasons here. They then spend a few moments concentrating on a drink they each would like, and are delighted when the disc thanks them for their order, relays back to them what they wanted, and drifts off to get their drinks.
Whilst they wait for TocToc to finish and for their drinks to arrive, the artificer begins to examine the table. He can see that there is a graven circle of glyphs set around it, and that it has a small, faintly luminous orb of blue-grey crystal set in its middle. Looking more closely at this orb, he finds that numerous runes swim within its depths, and after a moment is able to decipher that it is a control device that can activate a number of shields around the table – many beyond his ability to understand. He also sees that the orb requires payment to be activated, and although he cannot fathom exactly the magic that accepts this, the artificer can see that it is geared to accept a bewildering array of currencies, many of which he knows from Calsiphus' warnings are “Not currency as we think it, but the strange and ephemeral things held in value by species and races utterly removed from everything we think of as 'life”.
The table itself is made from some kind of sturdy grey crystal, and seems to grow directly from the pink crystal floor, but any further inspection is interrupted as the disc returns, a flat, distorted image of the drinks they ordered floating, like a reflection in a pool of water, within its plane.
“That will be three silvers please. Place currency on my surface.”
Three Arbel'Verdanissian silvers, minted in 3rd Age Fey are placed on the disc, and at once fall into its depths like stones into a pond.
“Thank you for your business.” croons the disc as the drinks rise from its depths, becoming real and tangible.
It is shortly after this that TocToc concludes his business with the two creatures. The runes around the table fade, and both of thehooded creatures – eerie things with six spindly arms, long fingers and small, inhuman heads – gracefully rise to their feet and glide away. Watching them go, the duodrone waddles to the edge of the table and prepares to hop down. However, he stops short with a whirr of internal servos and cogs as Ormid leaps across the chamber and calls to him.
The modron's first instinct is to reach into a compartment within his own body, which exudes flickering blue light and the unmistakable snarl of discharging electricity. However as soon as he senses the magic of the Introduction Calsiphus cast, he withdraws his claw, and begins to speak; his voice the dull clatter of a typewriter.
“Humanoid. Physical dimensional. Species type: Human. Body Language Analysis: None Hostile.”
“I, err...I'm Ormid Thefler, Dragonslayer and Timetravell...”
“Language analysis: Telepathy. Source. Ritual spell. Address Human: Greeting human, I am TocToc. I see you are an ally of the human Clasiphus and that you have a proposal to make.”
Ormid stammers somewhat taken aback, watched from the table by his slightly bemused, slightly amused allies. “Well yes. We need a Ael'Shar power source, and were told that...”
“Why, when you are clearly being followed by an enforcement cell from my home dimension should I trust you?” Interrupts TocToc, the small circular lenses flashing before his steel-irised eyes as he tries to focus on something less than real. “Before we can work together trust must be forged. Fifteen Chronolily petals. Five Orange, five yellow and five purple. Seeds would also do. Bring them to me in 10 cycles [translation: 100 hours] and we shall make a deal.”
A tangible note of panic enters TocToc's voice. “Quarut entering local time stream. TocToc must flee. Goodbye. See you in 10 cycles. Or not!”
The duodrone then charges past Ormid with an almost comical waddling gate, his internal workings loudly whirring as he goes, leaving the artificer with a moments confusion.
“Chronolily? Those time scrying plants?” Then, “QUARUT? GREAT FATHER!”
Ormid turns to warn the rest of the party, but as he does a bizarre change sweeps through everything. Incredibly powerful magic washes over him and the area, its weight pressing the air from him and sending a burst of pins and needles through his body. As the powerful burst washes through the bar, colour and sound grow muted, and the busy bar's activity slows to a crawl before stopping completely; flames held frozen in place, the customers unmoving, drops from drinks hanging suspended in mid air. As the bar freezes in time, so a terrible figure, taller than the Veteran and just as wide, begins to manifest before them; initially outlined in dancing lines of light, but growing more substantial as reality edges closer to a total standstill. Then, as the bar becomes completely frozen in time, the Quarut manifests fully, its voice deafening within the minds of the entire party.
“ANACHRONISMS LOCATED. INITIATING PURGE.”
It is a truly beautiful construct, and Ormid aches to study it as much as he fights to destroy it. It workings are visible, lit by a greenish glow, between its ornamented, rune covered, golden plates of armour. It has no face, just a mass of cogs and lenses, and its “hands” are pointed prods of metal and glass. It moves with a lithe, floating grace, and with a speed that has little if anything to do with physical locomotion. By the time it has manifested (or more exactly Ormid realises, stopped time and pulled the group into this frozen moment) the party are on their feet, though they are all immediately hit by a burst of chronomantic energy that ripples from the Quarut like a shock wave, its touch encapsulating each individual in a corrosive shell of slow time.
Initially, the Quarut seems unbeatable. It almost kills Ormid before he even gets chance to work a single spell, shattering his ribs with pounding blows and then pouring some kind of fast time flow over him, which causes his flesh to age and wither at an accelerated rate. Ardwaine is cast beyond time and vanishes for a moment, reappearing shortly after with clear evidence of rapid ageing, whilst the Quarut manipulates time to be able to move far faster than believable before delivering near fatal burst of power and shattering blows to Llewellyn, Shadevia and the Veteran.
Reeling from this unearthly constructs attacks, the party spend as much time holding off death's coils as they do trying to harm their enemy. Shadevia learns it is impervious to enchantments that cause sleep, and reverts to her deadly arrows which strike with firm and potent effect. The Veteran, his axe once more clothed in corrosive energy, and glassy radiant flames (both thanks to Ormid's enchantments), charges the construct, landing several substantial blows against its tough armour before being sent to the same bubble of no-time that Ardwaine was banished to. The Dundorin gives a good accounting of herself, landing a number of shattering blows on the construct and cursing it so that even when her allies miss it, some part of the potential damage they could have dealt still strikes it. Her spells also drag Shadevia and Llewellyn back from the brink of oblivion after the Quarut turns its attentions on them, her battle cries a constant soundtrack to the brutal conflict.
Llewellyn puts his mace to good use, chewing through the Quarut's armour and splintering the vitreous material that covers the intricate cogs within the things body. With a grunt he smashes the internal shielding, and at once green, luminous mist begins to pour out, the Quarut giving a telepathic blurt of shocked dismay.
“IMPOSSIBLE. ANACHRONISMS HAVE BREACHED INTERNAL CORE. INITIATE DISTRESS CALL”
“No” Screams Ormid, “We mean no harm here. We are simply seeking an object, and once we have it will return to our own time. There is no need for you to keep on attacking us!”
The Veteran returns, great lines of bubbling rust marring his armoured exterior, and takes a step towards the Quarut. Ormid stops him with an outstretched hand.
“NO COMPROMISE. YOU MUST RETURN TO YOUR OWN TIME STREAM OR BE DELETED. ANACHRONISMS ARE A SOURCE OF IMBALANCE. IMBALANCE IS IMPERFECTION. IMPERFECTION CANNOT BE TOLERATED.”
“You cannot win here machine!” continues Ormid, “You are outmatched and outnumbered. When was the last time you were so woefully wounded? Never, I'll wager, and yet we have managed to breach your internal core within mere moments. Leave us be, let us finish our business here and we shall happily return to our own time. Balance will be restored.”
The Quarut takes a step away from the group, and everyone tenses ready to resume the battle.
“ENGAGEMENT HEURISTICS SUGGEST CURRENT SITUATION HAS ONLY 5.263878365439376901312% CHANCE OF SUCCESS. QUARUT UNIT TO WITHDRAW. ANACHRONISMS, THIS IS NOT THE END OF OUR DELETION ATTEMPTS. I SHALL RETURN WITH ADDITIONAL SUPPORT. ENJOY THE STOLEN TIME YOU NOW HAVE.”
A blinding green light begins to wax from within the Quaruts guts, which rapidly becomes unbearably bright. As it becomes blinding, so the party feel the flow of time sluggishly moving once again, gaining momentum moment by moment until suddenly the Quarut is gone and they are stood once more within the noise and relative normality of the bar, no one there remotely aware of the epic battle that had taken place around them.