Time and Sacrifice
Chaplain Creed sits at a table and lifts a glass of brown liquid to his lips. After a long drink he looks up and says, “We have the Hourglass, but our quest is far from over. If we fail to find the nullium box and the soul, this will have all been for naught.” He takes another long pull off of his glass and sets it back down on the heavy wooden tabletop, “This whiskey is weak,” he says to himself. “Perhaps if we recount the events of our time in the Tapestry it will help to determine what our next course of action should be. I’ll start…”
Deep beneath the waves of the Tempest Sea, the Tower of Zhagros shook violently, as if it were being throttled by the invisible hands of some angry deity. Inside, the Seekers stood before a magical portal disguised as a tapestry depicting a desert landscape. Huge blocks of granite fell from the ceiling and shattered around them, “Seekers! Through the tapestry!” Moradin yelled, his deep dwarven voice booming over the rumble of the collapsing tower.
The Seekers dove through the portal and tumbled onto the hot sands of the Niobe Desert. Before them stood a temple carved into a rocky cliff face. Dizzied from the sudden transition from the bottom of a sea to the middle of a desert, the Seekers managed to stand just as two men fled from the temple doorway. Moments later the horror that pursued them burst forth from the darkness. A massive swarm of scarabs bore down on the doomed men. The Seekers rushed towards them but they were too late.
“Too late… too late… hmm…” Creed mumbles as he rubs his temple. He again reaches for his glass and drinks before continuing, “Do you remember what happened next? One of the men… The man that ran out of the Temple of Shul-zhai… he had something, didn’t he? A letter or some trinket? And with his last words he told us to seek the First Minister at the city of Gai Sheng. Yes. Yes, that’s right….”
Heat radiating off of the desert sands distorted the distant cityscape of Gai Sheng. Tiny droplets of perspiration on Tudor’s forehead coalesced into one large drop that promptly found its way into his eye. As he wiped away the stinging annoyance he said, “We’re getting close. I wonder how they will respond to a group of ‘otherworlders’ like ourselves. Based on the anthropological research I’ve done, I estimate a thirty percent chance that they will be xenophobic. You see, it behooves a culture to be at least somewhat accepting of…”
“Thank you, Tudor. We got it,” said Rykson as he smiled back at the mage. “I’m betting that we’re going to start running into patrols soon. I say we state our case, drop Tsen-Tsu’s name, and see what happens.”
“That’s exactly what we’re going to do,” Moradin said as he trudged through the sands at the front of the column. “And if they have a mind to be given’ us any guff we’ll be given’ ‘em a Seekers greetn’ they won’t soon ferget!” laughter erupted among the companions at the dwarf’s excitement but quickly died as approaching riders became visible.
Creed taps his hand on the heavy wooden table, “I’m having trouble remembering what happened. There must be some effect from carrying the Hourglass. Perhaps we should take turns with it. I just feel like, like… time is distorted. No matter. I do remember our stay in Gai Sheng, but I bet Viktor remembers it even better!”
A knock at the door to the Seeker’s lodgings caused the adventurers to pause their evening rituals, “Who’s there?” said Viktor in an annoyed tone.
“You come see me, dir-ty man,” came a thickly accented reply from the hallway. The group recognized the voice as belonging to Lady Tay, the proprietor of the inn who took a liking to Viktor almost immediately.
“What do you want?” Viktor asked with more than a little fear creeping into his voice.
“What I want? You help… dresser. You move dresser cross room fo Lady Tay!”
Viktor looked to the other Seekers in a rare moment of speechlessness. Finally Moradin offered, “You best be goin’ now. It just ain’t polite to ignore a lady in need. And she seems to have some needs, me boy!”
“It’s best that we maintain a good relationship with the locals. And being on the good side of the innkeeper is always an advantage,” added Rykson with a smirk.
Resigned to his fate, Viktor rose and headed for the door. Before he opened it he looked back at the Seekers and said, “Fuck you guys.” Once the door was cracked open a hand with claw-like manicured nails reached in and grabbed onto his wrist then pulled him from the room.
The Chaplain grips the armrests of his ornate chair and pushes heavily upon them as he slowly rises. His joints audibly crack as he straightens his body with a grimace on his face. He retrieves an ironwood cane hanging on the back of the chair and walks slowly to the hearth with an unsteady gait. Resting his hand on the mantel he gazes at a massive warhammer affixed to the red brick above the blaze. Firelight dances across its ornate dwarven carvings and many battle scars.
The look in Creed’s eyes changes. It becomes somewhat distant as he says, “There is a chill in the air, my friends.” He adds a log to the fire and once again stands erect. His eyes are drawn back to the warhammer and he caresses it lightly with his hand, “I often think of when we retrieved the Iynic Hourglass. That was the key, the key to everything. Imagine if we hadn’t found it? It surely would have been the end of all things. I wish I could see it again. Remember the Apocalypse Machine? So powerful… so powerful we were…”
A juggernaut of stone and steel bore down on the Seekers. Great plumes of dust flew into the air and the ground rumbled with each of its steps. The Seekers stood their ground and there was no hint of fear on their faces. They had a plan.
“Now!” yelled Moradin as Viktor, glowing with mystical enhancements courtesy of Tudor and Creed, charged at the creature. The rest of the Seekers spread into a battle wedge formation and pressed forward behind the rogue.
When Viktor came within range, the soul-driven war machine brought down a massive iron fist seemingly smashing the lithe man. But when it lifted, Viktor was gone. Glancing at the Seekers it could see that the Sorcerer was just completing a spell, and it realized that its tiny quarry had appeared on its back! It let out a horrible roar that sounded of metal smashing and grating across metal then started to violently thrash from side to side. Viktor easily managed the creature’s attempts to throw him off and dove for a gem embedded in its head.
The dust thrown up from the frantic monstrosity obscured the view of the remaining Seekers. After a few tense moments, a metallic groaning sound emanated from the dust cloud. Suddenly Viktor emerged riding upon the head of the defeated enemy as it fell to the ground. On impact Viktor gracefully leaped to the desert floor and cordially bowed to his companions, soul gem in hand.
“So glorious. So many battles. So much pain,” a tear begins to form in Chaplain Creed’s eye as he again sits at the table, mumbling unintelligibly.
Creed finally calms and begins to softly snore. Viktor sits in a plush chair at the back of the room. He is the only other person in the room and has been ignored by Creed during his visit.
He stands and walks over to the table and lifts Creed’s glass to his nose, “Tea,” he says with a grimace then dumps it in a nearby potted lily. The rogue produces a bottle of Dunkeld whiskey and refills the glass then leaves the bottle on the table next to it. He rests his hand on the sleeping cleric’s shoulder before heading for the door.
Viktor gently pulls open the ornately carved door emblazoned with the symbol of the Sky Father as a stern-faced nun approaches him from down the hall.
“Lord Regent, how was your visit with His Holiness?” she says in a formal tone.
“Well, he kept his pants on so that’s a good day in my book.”
“Did you leave him with whiskey again, milord?” she says with irritation creeping into her voice, “We don’t want another incident like the time he thought the gazebo was the Lich Lord. Sister Marionette was holding a study group in there, they were lucky to make it out before the Flame Strike hit. Besides, I’ve told you that he can’t tell the difference between that and tea.”
“He can tell. You take it away from him after I leave, if you can.”
“Your carriage has arrived,” she says curtly. She spins on her heel and stomps off down the hall.
Viktor, smirking, begins to pull the door shut when Creed says, “And tell Rykson to come and get Kongo.” Creed points at an empty blanket next to the fire, “I love the beast but he does nothing but lie there. He misses his master.”
“I’ll tell…” Viktor loses his voice for a moment and pauses to regain his composure, “I’ll tem ‘em Creed.”