Illustration by Syreene
Once we got Nerak settled on the ship with Hartuk and his family, we followed the instructions set by Lissandra and found the portal to Freehold City, one of the few fixed points on the Ethereal Plane. On the way we couldn’t help but notice that things are definitely heating up in Sigil as groups of Hardheads roam the streets to beat up the unsuspecting In-Deps. I don’t know what’s going on… but after seeing the way the Lady of Pain handled unrest in her city, I had a sinking feeling that we didn’t want to be there to find out. We quickened our steps, kept our hoods up and our heads down until we were able to step through the portal.
We walk out onto the docks of a floating city amongst the gray with a large spired building smack in the middle of it. Now one could assume that building belongs to this Ether-Farer Society, but you never know these days; best to ask before you find that you’ve intruded on someone with a bad attitude. So… we make our way to what we assume is the Harbormaster’s office to gain our bearings. Once we’ve managed to pull Vedis away from looking at the Ethereal ships with their shiny gold sails we take the main path into the city to the First House to “declare our intentions with Jarvey.” Just as well, as he seems to be the leader of the guild we need.
“I’m sorry… you want to go where?” asks Jarvey in amazement.
“We need to travel through the Deep Ethereal to reach Aionius on the Edge of Time,” Lenata explains patiently.
“You do realize that the Deep Ethereal is dangerous, turbulent and unmapped? You will need a guide if you want any chance of survival. Let me consult with a few people, and I will have more information for you in an hour.”
“Great!” exclaims Vedis as we walk out of his chambers. “I was wanting to take a closer look at some of those ships anyway. Do you think it would be better to travel in one of those than our ship?”
“I don’t know… they looked kind of small…” Ef Utan muttered in reply as we walked the docks and “window-shopped.”
After what seemed like long enough we returned to find a grey-skinned Athri male standing next to Jarvey. “The divinations have been positive… and Mercrucio here is one of our best guides.”
“Indeed,” Mercrucio says with a smile as he steps forward to shake our hands. “Shall we discuss my terms?”
“As long as you don’t mind doing it while we head back to the ship,” Ef Utan says as he gestures with his thumb over his shoulder. “Figured you’d want to see what we’ll be travelling in, and we still need to pick up a few crew while we’re at it.”
Long and short of it, we come to an agreement with Mercrucio that is satisfactory on both our parts. He’s a bit pricey… but hey, we’re not exactly going on vacation here. While Ef Utan discusses the contract, the rest of us pop over to Greyhawk and Spiral to pick up the rest of our gunnery crew: 4 Elves, and 4 Humans. Everything seems to be going smoothly until we make it back to Sigil… and on our way back to the docks the streets are rocked with an explosion.
“What in the 9 Hells was THAT?” Lenata exclaims as we turn and see a plume of smoke and fire rise in the distance. I’m about to reply that I have no idea when I catch a whiff of something more than smoke in the air… it’s almost like sulfur combined with the powder we use for our guns. Before I can take a guess, though… we begin to hear the screams.
“They took the Armory!”
“We need to get out of here!” I hiss to the others as we hurry back to the ship as fast as we can with our new crew. Welcome to the Spelljoined, fellas… you’re knee-deep in it now.
“What do you mean, the ship is haunted? You’re taking a ghost ship onto the Ethereal? Are you all mad?”
Sigh… guess it was only a matter of time before Mercrucio found out about the Nomad.
“It’s not that bad,” Lenata explains calmly. “Other than a little blood on the wall…once… we haven’t even seen anything out of the ordinary here; and that was when we were on Bral. We’ve already been to the Ethereal Plane a few times, and nothing untoward has happened yet.”
“Fine…. but my rates are going to increase, I’m afraid. Call it ’hazard pay,” he says as he crosses his arms in finality and he and Lenata walk together to the bridge.
Allright, then… time to tell the crew where we’re going, and what to expect. Heh… not like I have a lot of experience here, but I’ve found if someone talks like they know what they’re doing, sometimes that’s enough to help ones fears. I just hope I did a good enough job… because the heavy mists and silence are unnerving to me, too. I stay with the rest of the Hadozee in the rigging and do my best to play scout as we slowly manuver through the mists, occasionally muttering to each other as we see the vague forms of creatures and people in the distance that fade away as quick as they came.
After a few days the crew began to settle down, which is just as well… because that’s when things got interesting. Some of the Hadozee are pointing at a dark cloud in the distance when we hear the yell from Hatuk below.
“Batten down the hatches and grab on as we turn this ship about! We’ve got a storm bearing down on us!”
Goddess bless… I was hoping not to ever be able to answer what a cyclone on the Ethereal Plane felt like… but we don’t always get what we want, do we? While Ef Utan rushes on deck to help lower the sails, I leap down to tie off a rope that I pass up to the others. “Put it through your belt loops and pass it on!” We don’t have the time to stop working and tie ourselves to the mast… so I only hope this will help.
The ship rocks as Lenata slams it into a turn, but it doesn’t take long to discover that we’re not going to be quick enough. The mists around us grow dark and turbulent as flashes of what seem like lightning crackle the air around us. I wrap my ankle and wrist around the ropes in the rigging and sink my claws as deep as I can into the mast as I shut my eyes and pray.
After what seemed like an eternity, the fur on my arms no-longer stands on end and the screams have ceased… which means either I’m dead… or the storm has passed. I gingerly open my eyes and untangle my limbs before I lower myself to the deck to inspect the damages… wincing as I feel a sharp stab in my ribs. With one hand to my side I make my way to the others to check the wounded. While I am not a healer like the priests… thanks to Lenata loaning me her wand, I can at least do something to help. I’m sure they’re all going to be pretty shaken after this too… so I will smile through the pain and do my best to calm their fears. I smile for true as I hear Vedis’ voice ring out through the fog with a cheery sea chanty as she does her best to help.
What feels like days pass as our journey continues, with thankfully calm mists and no more storms. It gets so quiet one night that Vedis, Aspodel and I find ourselves camped out in her room on cushions as we pass around a bottle of wine and attempt to contact the spirits of the ship. I don’t think we contacted anything… but it was a nice moment of peace to share amidst all the chaos.
In what my markings on my wall tell me is the 3rd week of our travels in the Ethereal, we discover quite a site in the thinning mists. In the distance Vedis manages to make out what can only be described as a giant flower that I swear was near 50 ft. wide. “It’s a Chrono Lilly!” she exclaims excitedly. “They say the nectar of the flower can enable visions… can we check it out? Please?”
I shrug in indifference. “Hey, as long as it’s not a giant sentient flower who will get ticked off at the intrusion and attack us, I don’t see why not.” I walk over to one of the tubes on deck and communicate Vedis’ intentions to Lenata, who begins to pilot the ship closer.
Carefully Lenata brings the ship about and Vedis makes her way out to the edge of the gravity plane of the ship to see the shining pool of nectar pooling in the middle of the flower below. We all watch intently as she leans down and places her hand in it, and to our relief nothing horrible seems to happen.
“What should I ask about?” she yells out.
“How about the Queen of Thistles?” Ef Utan suggests. After a few moments Vedis stands up and places a hand to her forehead as she rejoins us on deck.
“I saw the most amazing thing… there was a large expanse of sand and surrounding it were these large stands full of seated people and creatures cheering as Ef Utan blasted…something… with lightning coming out of a sword. Presiding over them all was a woman with a cold smile in a wide-brimmed hat with a peacock feather in it surrounded by servants… and above it all the sky was green.” Vedis rubs her temple. “I’m going to go write all of this down while it’s still fresh. I’ll be in my cabin.”
I look to Ef Utan questioningly. “While we’re here, and all…” I suggest as I nod my head toward the giant flower.
He shrugs. “Why not? I’ve been studying, so hopefully I can make it work.” Ef Utan climbs over the rail and makes his way out to the flower. After a few moments he comes back with a look of disappointment. “Only vague images, I’m afraid. Care to give it a shot?”
“What the heck,” I say to myself as I proceed take my turn. “At the very least, I’ve got an interesting story about how I stuck my hand in the middle of a 50ft flower on the Ethereal Plane.”
“Hey there, flower,” I say as I bend down over the nectar and dip my hand into the thick liquid. “Don’t mind me… I’m just hoping to see more about this Aionius we’re supposed to find. Any help would be much appreciated…”
As I concentrate on the name a vision forms in my mind of a tall older bearded human in his 60s wearing a sapphire cloak and standing on a floating rock in front of a multi-colored whirlwind. As the vision pulls away I see that he’s watching our ship as it flies into the whirlwind… and promptly disappears. Gods… I hope that’s a good thing. Once we’re all done flower-dipping, and I’ve cleaned the goop off my hand, we gather on the bridge to share our visions with Lenata.
After a few more hours of travel the mists begin to thicken with flashing colors as a veil of multi-colored lights can be seen off in the distance.
“That is a pathway to the Prime,” Mercucio points out. “Now is the time for us to focus our minds on where we wish to be as we pilot with intent more than direction in the Ethereal.”
Thank goodness I shared the description of what Aionius looks like, then. Hopefully that will help us focus. We close our eyes and concentrate on his image, until we hear Mercucio call out. “Behold, the veil to the Demi-Plane of Time! You put yourself in danger if you choose to get any closer.”
“Well, we didn’t come here just to look at it,” Ef Utan replies as he claps a hand on Lenata’s shoulder. “See how close you can get to it.”
After agonizingly tense minutes of Mercucio muttering and everyone else holding their breath, we find ourselves almost close enough to reach out to it. Thankfully, last time I checked, none of us had a death wish to find out. We did take the time to look at it, however… and through the pearly white shimmer and flashing skies we can just make out what seems to be a tower in the distance.
“So… anyone have any ideas on how we’re supposed to get there?”