Well Bast, I don’t seem to be in my hammock this morning… but all things considered, I’ll be nice and get back to business today anyway…
…after Dassam wakes up and I get a little dessert with my breakfast, that is.
Illustration by Syreene
Eventually I am able to pull myself away from his warm bed with heady kisses and promises of my return after we continue our research back on Bral. If only you lived somewhere with a portal, Dassam… then it wouldn’t take a frelling month in the Flow to get to you!
When I get back to the ship I find that another delivery has been made from the EIN, this time from Admiral Leafbower.
“Ooo! I love presents that don’t try to kill me,” I say as Ef Utan pries open the crate. “What did we get this time?”
Lenata takes the note from the crate and reads. “According to this, it’s a set of magical sails for our ship, in thanks for returning his chess set and saving his…” She blanches for a moment and her eyes grow wide.
“His… what?” Ef Utan asks with a raised brow.
“His nephew… Aladan,” Lenata finishes weakly as she blushes a bright scarlet.
“Aha! You and…oh my,” I chortle. “I’ll think we’ll just leave that out the next time we see him. Why did he keep the chess set, though? Don’t we still need it?”
Lenata clears her throat and continues reading. “It seems that he had some priests of Corellian cast some divinations, and they said that ’It’s the meetings brought about by the chess set that are important, not the set itself.’ The sails are self-piloting sails that operate by an Elvish command word, for the times when we need all hands on deck, so to speak.”
“Nice,” I say as I run my hands carefully along the shimmering silk. “Shall we install them?”
Ef Utan nods and picks up the box for us to take aboard, when we suddenly hear chuckling from the corner. As we all turn, a figure covered in platemail from head to toe (how in the 9 Hells was he so quiet?) appears from the shadows and laughs. “You should know the Queen of Thistles is watching you…” And before Ef Utan can even put down the box, he is gone.
“What the… now COME ON!” I say as I flap my arms to the sides in frustration and sigh.
“Come on, Kenari,” Ef Utan says with a nod towards the ship. “We’ll just add her name to the list and figure it out later…”
Almost three weeks have passed in the Flow after we passed the Silverswift coming into port on our way off of Refuge. It’s quite the beautiful ship with it’s shiny hull and magical sails. I hope that when we return to Refuge it will still be there so I can get a closer look at it.
“I think you guys better come up here…”
We all eventually make our way to the deck (after I pocket my cards and winnings) to see quite a sight to behold as a 12’ tall shining golden-skinned toga-wearing humanoid with wings lands lightly on the deck and looks around.
Serendipity smiles upon me once again, as I’d been reading about these guys recently in my study of the Celestial language. I look to Ef Utan and we both mutter, “Just what exactly is a Star Archon doing here?” I glance over at Lenata to see if this was her doing, but she seems just as surpised.
OK, Kenari… think fast… I walk up to the Star Archon with hands outstretched as I bow. “Greetings, oh holy one… how may we help you in your time of need?”
The Star Archon smiles serenely and taps me on the shoulder. “Stand, little one.” He glances at each of us as he continues. “Word from the 7th Heavens is that they expect great things from you. Now, however, you are to be tested.” As he finishes he stares longer at Lenata and she reels for a moment before heading to the Helm.
With a smile the Star Archon leaves and we are all left to wonder at just what the powers are getting us into now as Lenata directs us towards God’s Marbles.
“If I’d known there was going to be a test today, I would have studied,” I mutter as we fly towards the asteroid field in the distance. “I just hope Lenata knows what she’s doing…”
“Ayrun, actually…” Lenata corrects as she joins us back on deck. “I just had to tell Ayrun where we were going, because I didn’t want to miss this.” She winces as the ship veers and a smaller asteroid scrapes along the edge of the hull. “I just hope he can pilot us through this asteroid field to get there.”
“You’d better watch what you wish for, priest,” I say as I squint my eyes and point to an amorphous cloud in the distance that we just happen to be heading towards. “That doesn’t look good…”
Lenata alerts the others and they head to the deck with their weapons as we manuver through the asteroid field and get closer to the cloud. On further inspection, I start to make out individual shapes of semi-transparent blobs with tentacles floating together like a school of… jellyfish? Ok, that’s another first I can cross off my list. Suddenly there’s another thump against the hull and it’s my turn to wince as the scraping sound along the hull makes my fur stand on edge. You’re cutting it a bit too close there, Ayrun…
“Watch out for the stingers on the tentacles!” I yell out as I draw my guns and take cover behind some crates. I’d heard stories from some of the sailors coming into port who had been stung by the more mundane variety in Mulhorand… so I have no desire to experience it firsthand on a much larger scale.
Lenata mutters a prayer as she holds her hands out in front of her and a bright light shoots from them that makes the swarm scatter for a moment before they regroup and continue to head towards us.
“Fire in the hole!” Ef Utan yells as he slams the lever down on the ballista and a bolt tied with alchemical fire shoots into the swarm to light some of the jellyfish aflame.
“Gotcha!” Vedis yells as she thrusts her hand out and concentrates on expanding the flames to cover more of them.
In the meantime, one of the larger ones has made it up to the front edge of the deck to be in range of my pistols. I pop out out of hiding behind the crates with two guns in my hands as I shoot the grotesque creature… only to watch the bullets rip right through it.
“Damn!” I mutter as I duck back behind the crates. “Can’t we fight a monster that I can shoot for once?”
I hear the familiar tones of Lenata’s enthrall spell and quickly plug my ears, when the singing is suddenly stopped with the sound of a whip-crack and a scream. I peer over the crates to see Lenata on the ground with a tentacle looming above her. Ef Utan charges with his swords as Vedis clenches her fists and screams at the creature. The swords slice right through the gelatinous body like butter, but Vedis’ psionic attack seems to have shaken it for the moment.
I toss a bottle of alchemist’s fire at it and duck behind the crates again as Lenata heaves a Thunderstone in it’s direction. Okay… we can’t pierce it and we can’t slice it… which leaves…
“VEDIS SMASH!” the Maenad yells as her skin hardens like diamonds and she bashes the jellyfish with her quarterstaff. Ef Utan attempts to follow suit with his battle scabbard when he slips in the goo left by the jellyfish.
I flip the guns in my hands over so I can use the stocks like clubs. “When in New Roma,” I mutter as I leap over the crates next to one of the creatures and smack it with a crashing blow that leaves it attempting to crawl away. I roll under a tentacle and make my way to the next one as Lenata improvises with her own gun and we take turns smacking it as Ef Utan gets up and joins us as we beat it into submission.
Thankfully while we were fighting off the jellyfish, Ayrun Sorpic managed to finally pilot us to the small asteroid that seems to be our destination. “I’ll make sure the rest of these things get the message,” he says as he launches a fireball in their direction. “You guys go ahead and check the place out.”
“Are you guys up for this?” I ask as I look at Lenata and Vedis. “You all don’t look too good,” I say as I notice their paler than usual skin and slumped stances.
“That battle took a lot out of us… but there’s no way I’m going to miss it now that we’re here,” Lenata replied with a glint of determination in her eye. “Those vials of anti-toxin we picked up will keep things from getting any worse.. the rest I can take care of after a good night’s rest.”
“Besides,” Vedis continues as she leans on her quarterstaff, “I’m sensing some strange psionic auras out there and I want to check them out.”
“Well, it’s not like the area is that big anyway,” I say with a shrug of my shoulders. “Let’s go check it out.”
We spread out and after some time fail to find anything topside, but after Vedis mentions that the gravity will enable us to walk to the flip side, I manage to spot a 5’ tunnel in the ground that doesn’t appear to be used by any animals that I can tell.
Ef Utan lights an Everburning Torch and I quietly make my way ahead of the group through twisting passages till we come to a large dark cave. I can’t see that far into the distance, even with my low-light vision… but I can hear something breathing. I hold my hand up and walk back to whisper the news to the group.
“Let me take a look,” Lenata says as she squeezes past Ef Utan and I so loudly that I wince. After a few moments Lenata comes back with a worried look on her face. “I think we should all leave very quietly, as there’s a large crystaline dragon over there guarding his hoard.”
“Crystaline? Chromatic ones are evil… metallic ones are generally good… so crystaline ones are…” I whisper questioningly.
“Genaerally neutral… and psionic,” Vedis answers.
“Psionic? Well that answers that then, doesn’t it? It probably knows we’re here already. If this thing is the test, then running away from it isn’t going to solve anything… so…” With a deep breath I squeeze past the others and walk into the cave to bow before the dragon. “Hail, oh mighty one,” I say in Draconic, “we have been sent by a Star Archon to be tested by your great wisdom in hopes that you might aid us on our quest.” I hold the bow and squeeze my eyes shut as the dragon moves with a grating sound and I wait for the killing blow.
“Are you ready to be tested?” a deep voice rumbles.
“As ready as we’ll ever be,” Vedis replies as the rest come up behind me.
“Then follow me, Maenad…” it replies as it turns to a large chest and pulls out a red gem to place in Vedis’ hands. A blue glow starts to form around her as she grimaces in concentration before a wave of energy shoots out from it and pushes her back into the wall. She groans and gets up grasping her head… but otherwise seems to be okay.
“I will go next, dragon…” Lenata says as she steps up. The dragon turns to the chest and this time pulls out a square ceramic tile with what looks like a symbol of Celestian on it that he gives to her. She stares at it in concentration as well, but the moment passes without attack as she releases a deep breath and hands the tile back.
After seeing what happened to Vedis and Lenata I have to admit I’m feeling a bit nervous when the dragon sets a blue crystal in my hands. Battles of will were never my strong point, after all. I stare at it in anticipation when I feel subtle vibrations from the crystal that give me just enough warning to toss it away before it explodes into shards around me. I throw myself backwards in a spin and roll to the side as soon as I hit the ground. When the adrenaline wears off I give myself a shake and discover that I managed to dodge the crystal shards. Praise Bast… now this is the kind of test I can pass!
Once Ef Utan is sure we’re all okay he steps up to take his turn with the dragon.
“Why do you fight, Ef Utan?” it asks in its raspy voice as it hands him a blue sphere.
Ef Utan shrugs his shoulders. “Because I can.”
Suddenly a hand of energy shoots out of the sphere to grasp Ef Utan’s shoulder in a painful grip that seems to suck the energy right out of him as he drops to his knees. He looks about as good as Lenata and Vedis after the fight with those jellyfish… but otherwise, seems to be okay.
“The test is over,” the dragon informs us as he looks us all over. “Some of you are prepared… while others must ready themselves for the battles to come.” The dragon then turns and removes a package from his other chest. “This is your gift for surviving so far. I suggest you take it and leave… as now that I am done babysitting, this cave will not remain for long.”
Well, when a dragon tells me to leave, I don’t need to be told twice. As we leave the cave I look back, however, and see the faintest shimmer around the entrance to the cave… kind of like there was a portal there, actually. Hmmn… you’d think they could’ve picked a better place to put a portal, but hey… maybe the jellyfish were part of the test.We get back to the ship to discover Ayrun has finally gotten through to the jellyfish that we’re not the healthiest choice for a meal. Taking advantage of this moment of respite, we open the package to discover what looks like another set of sails for our ship.
“Those are Ropes of Fharlangan,” Lenata points out. “They can be quite handy and reduce our need for crew. I’m not sure about the sails, though…”
“Well, they’re definitely magical,” I say as I peer closely at the threadwork and do my best to appraise them. “We might as well try them out and see what they do… maybe they’re programmed to take us somewhere or something…”
“If it gets us through those jellyfish without a fight, it’s definitely worth a shot,” Ef Utan replies as he pulls them out to help me install them. “In the meantime, I suggest the rest of you get some sleep just in case this doesn’t work. I’ll take second watch after you recover your spells, Lenata.”
Illustration by Syreene
Morning comes without attack, and after Leanata casts a few restorative spells to get the rest of the group back in shape I start fidgeting with the sails to see if I can get them to work. “Alakazam,” I mutter as I tug on the ropes. “Abracadabra… work… get us out of here… anything!”
Suddenly there is a bright flash of light that blinds us all… and when it fades we look around to see….nothing. The asteroid is gone and all about us is nothing but greyness. “Wait… could this be the Ethereal Plane?” Lenata asks curiously.
I try to activate the sails again, and with a flash of bright light we look around to find ourselves back on the rock. “Maybe we could pilot past the jellyfish and the asteroid belt while in the Ethereal Plane, and then just pop back out into regular space?” I ask as I lean down from the rigging.
“As long as we don’t pilot into a planet or something,” Lenata mutters worriedly.
“As long as we keep the appropriate heading and only go as far as we know it should take we should be safe,” Ef Utan says. “I’d rather try that then fight those creatures again, honestly.”
“Right-o,” I say as I pull myself back up into the rigging and try to remember what word I said that got them to work in the first place. “I think it was an N word…” I mutter before going through a string of magical words I’d heard in the past. Suddenly there’s a bright flash of light, but instead of the greyness that we’d seen before, I look around in horror to see that everything is on fire.
I hiss in pain as flames dance along my fur and yell at the sails to take us back to the Ethereal Plane when there’s a bright flash of light… and then once again the blissful peace of greyness. I drop to my knees onto the deck and take deep breaths that no longer burn my insides. “Goddess… lets not go there again anytime soon,” I choke out.
We do our best to heal our wounds before we follow the plan and count out the minutes as we soar through the Ethereal Plane and hopefully out of God’s Marbles. Ef Utan calls out for Ayrun to halt, and we all hold our breath as I activate the sails once again. With a sigh of relief we look around to find that we’re back in normal space, and that God’s Marbles are quite a lot farther in the distance than we’d expected.
Well, well… I guess travel in the Ethereal Plane isn’t quite the same after all. Duly noted. Now that we’re in normal space again, however, it’s time for Aspodel to give Ayrun a break so the rest of us can get some sleep while we head back to Bral.
After a few hours I wake up with a groan and rub my face as I try to remember the dream that woke me. It was something about the sails and a voice… a voice that said “Seek Aionias.”
I guess we’re still not going to Bral after all.