104 - RUINS IN THE SAND

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104 - RUINS IN THE SAND

Post  Admin on Tue Aug 10, 2010 9:48 am

The Zephyr Breeze weighs anchor and its propulsion systems are activated. Slowly, it moves away from the airship platform above Kasserine and moves out across the darkened plains towards low hills that are silhouetted on the horizon by the light of the Ring of Siberys.

As always, the crew of the Zephyr Breeze are very efficient and undertake their duties on the bridge and the deck with ease. They are again wearing their masks, a precaution Aidan knows, against the wind blown sand and debris from the wasteland. After a brief flight, of perhaps a half hour duration, Ahlissa commands her crew to stop the airship. It is hovering above the hills.

Ahlissa points across the landscape and then speaks to Aidan softly. “It is safe to speak here. Tell me more about your dreams.”

“What do you mean safe to speak here? Was it not safe to speak in the city?” Aidan asks, slightly paranoid.

“Perhaps. But who truly knows? Even among the Valenar it is possible that their servants or indeed visitors from foreign lands cannot be trusted. Even though the Last War ended some twenty years ago, there are still many secret societies and enemy factions spread across Khorvaire.”

Aidan mentions what happens. He adds that “perhaps the lightning and the shadows relate to Zanarkand?”

“The darkness may be related to prophecy,” she replies. “The burning sensation may be related to the emergence of a dragonmark. But which one? I wonder ...
she seems thoughtful on this. “it may be possible that you are becoming a dragonmark heir, do you know anything of your parents, anything at all that you can recall about them?”

“I only remember that I was on the run with my parents and it was near Karranath. They were both half-elven.”

“Does anyone else have knowledge of your dreams?”

“Only Shaevath Tarathalas, my spiritual mentor in the Temple of the Ages. And possibly the other Keepers of the Past.”

“I see. This is one reason why I have brought you here away from prying eyes and ears. I have a theory that your mark, if indeed this is what you are experiencing, may be an unknown one and if this is the case then you will be in danger. Unknown marks are uncontrolled and are known to the Dragonmarked Houses as Abberant marks. They were thought to have been eradicated. We cannot be certain until yours has manifested and how long that will take is unclear. My advice is to keep it concealed when it does appear and do not discuss its appearance with anyone.”

“I must presume therefore that my spiritual master would know and he has concealed it from me. He did bring up something that I know I've got. He said I could be tainted. Well, I know I am tainted from Zanarkand. But I don't think it has affected me in any way, I am still myself.”

Ahlissa studies Aidan closely for a moment. “Your condition is mild but, yes, I sense it is there.”

“I got it in the library when I realised the unseen servants were possibly from the shadow realm and they trying especially at night to try and turn me into one of them. They were trying to get me to open the portal.”

“OK,” she says. “There is a group, The Twelve, who dwell within a floating Keep above Korth in Karranath. They might have answers for you but equally they might decide you present too great a risk and they may seek to have you destroyed. Another avenue open to you might be to permit the House of Tarkanan to study your mark when it emerges. The problem is they cannot be trusted, for they seek to exploit abberant powers for their own selfish ends. I could get you an audience with them, but it might not be easy.”

“I don't like the idea of being exploited by anyone.”

“Understood. Those aren't necessarily your only choices. For example, you may equally wish to consult the mages in Gideon as you have been on good terms with some of them, or you may even wish to travel further and return to the elven homeland of Aerenal when you feel ready. The Deathless Ones may have some answers also. Some of them were living at the time when dragonmarks first appeared among our kind and they would be well placed to impart their knowledge about the abberations that did appear.”

“Gosh, abberation does sound bad. I hope I don't become evil.”

“It is possible. That is why there is great fear about anyone who presents with an abberant dragonmark. Let me explain further, in recent history (the last hundred years) there was a war between all of the houses that had manifested with dragonmarks. Only twelve houses survived, and all agreed that no other marks would be permitted to exist should they be uncovered. In part this was due to the fact that uncontrolled marks could lead to dire consequences. The power they can imbue in unwittiong hosts is very unpredictable. The Twelve was formed and stationed in Karranath to study and document all occuranaces of dragonmarks as they appeared since then. They collectively decide which can be tolerated. Essentially if it is not one of theirs then it will be eradicated or at least hidden forever. Brutal but effective and it is those Twelve houses that now control the entire foundation of magic, trade and security for all of Khorvaire to this day.”

“One might think The Twelve control the fate of others could be seen as a covert way of controlling power they now have over this world. And it could easily be seen this way. The victor writes the history.”

“Yes,” she agrees. “But mosrt interestingly is the one anomoly that The Twelve despise. And that is the very new House of Tarkanan. It is the House that represents abberant dragonmarks and it formed openly and especially to show the Tweleve that it is here to stay. Many unfortunates join it and many other quite balanced individuals claim its name for their own. By that, I mean it is not uncommon for members of House Tarkanan to actually change their last name to that of their new 'family'. Of course, not all members are openly disclosed. Some are monsters, and House Tarkanan also gets represented by more than its fair share of guild assassins.“

“See? I say... you give me at least twenty reasons to have nothing to do with them. Surely you are putting yourself in a situation where, if you suspect me of becoming one, shouldn't you report it to your own house. I wouldn't be wanting to put you into any difficulty loyalty-wise.”

She smiles. “Let's just say I have always been independently minded. I have also been an independent operator. I will work between any side and I know how to keep secrets very secret. My reputation is well known and it is unlikely that my loyalty would be questioned when I signal my lack of allegiance very clearly. I do not let my dragon mark bind me to a single flag or ideology.”

“You know ... “ she continues. “The dragons of Argonessen would be very curious about you if indeed you are manifesting an abberant mark. They are always trying to piece together their ageless prophecy. A prophecy with no apparent end. But who knows, perhaps you could be a key piece in that puzzle. The only problem is that they hate elves. Even half-blood such as yourself.”

“Well ... I suppose I just keep this to myself and see what happens. Istill have to do this patrol thing for warlord Lorian Tiraleth. I don't how long that's going to last but after that I could go to Gideon.”

“That sounds like a good plan. Contact me when you are ready and I'll make sure you get there. I am never far away.”

Aidan smiles “But with your reputation you must be so busy. I don;t want to take your time up and I can't pay. But if you can get some trade out of it then I am sure that will pay for itself.”

“I am sure their will mutual interests that will coincide,” she smiles. “It really is no trouble.”

“If this is going to happen I will have to talk to you about because I'm not going to know if I can control it or what. Perhaps this is related to my history, or something.”

“Perhaps it is. Perhaps your parents had the mark. Perhaps that is why the were killed. You did say your family was on the run when you were orphaned.”

“Yes, I think undead killed them. The next thing I remember was being in Gideon and growing up.”

“That makes sense, for Karranath, despite their best attempts to deny it, have always employed the unliving as an army. Many spies have perished in the attempt to prove that.”

“So was it like that 35 years ago. If so, what were my parents doing there?”

“Who knows?” she replies. “That is probably something you'll discover in time. I would not be surprised if your current situation is related to their demise. It's just a theory,” she says. “Nothing more.”

Aidan is thoughtful. Ahlissa summons her crew back to their stations and they weigh anchor.

“Just remember, say nothing to anyone about this.” she tells him.

Aidan returns to Kasserine with Ahlissa on board the Zephyr Breeze.

“Thank you for the interesting evening.”

“You are welcome, I will see when you are ready in Taer Valaestes.”

Aidan crosses the town, returns to his room and rests for a few hours.

*********

There is a knock on your door in the early morning. Tiralas calls out to Aidan
Aidan answers.
“Be ready and downstairs in half an hour. The clan is assembling.”
Aidan readies and goes downstairs.

There is excitement in the air.
Lorian addresses the war clan in the morning.

“Brave warriors and loyal brothers. Today we ride north towards The Starhaunt where a new portion of the ruined citadel has been exposed by the shifting sands. We are to investigate the location and make it safe for further archeological diggings at the site. We are not expecting any trouble, but, you never know for all manner of creature lurks within the wasteland.”

Tiralas approaches Aidan soon afterward. “Are you ready and have you got everything?”
“Got everything. Am ready.”
“Good. I understand that ruined places are your kind of thing? You must be excited about where we're going?”
“Yes, very much so!”
“Great, the last time we were there we had to clean the place out from an infestation of really nasty sand worms. That was messy. Lost some good men. But I'm sure that won't happen again ...”
“Let us hope not,” Aidan says.
The horn sounds and the war clan rides out to the north.

Aidan is curious about the name of the place.
As they ride, Tiralis tells him that it is an ancient place that was constructed when the first Valenar, the Tairnadal, arrived in Khorvaire. They established it as one of their fortresses and defended it against the Dhakaani tribes. It fell to a siege and then it was lost in time, barely remembered until recently when the ruin reappeared from the sands. Some have said it is a cursed place, for sometimes strange events have occurred, such as bright lights appearing from no obvious source or explorers simply disappearing without a trace. Sometimes people claim to have heard ghostly whispers or sounds of battle, like echoes from the ancient past. I have never witnessed such things, so I do not believe in those stories.”
Aidan nods and rides.

After a day's hard ride across the arid plains an encampment is established on the outskirts of the ruins. Several smaller tents are set up on surrounding sand dunes, as watch posts to keep a look out for anything untoward in the area.

Night falls and it is a calm, clear and starry night. The ruins themselves are eerily quiet. The ruins consist of a cluster of small exposed walls and a few large statues. The statues are of elven warriors and druidic looking people. There is the entrance to an underground complex also visible.

Tiralis approaches Aidan again and says “My father tells me that a recent expedition discovered many symbolic writings on the walls further inside. Not elven writing but something else. Possibly magical, although the explorers and their elven guide could not decipher them. But then they only had divine spellcasters. It may have been arcane. Tell me, would you be capable of reading such symbols?”

“Yes, I could. I might be able to.”

“Then that is good. I will inform father that you will go inside with myself in the morning to investigate the writing. There will be a few others accompany us. We will not enter until the perimeter and the immediate site is secure.”

The night passes uneventfully.

Tiralas, two druids, two clerics and six warriors accompany Aidan to the entrance. The structure itself is partially buried and is massive. Steps lead down into a lit chamber. The clerics are casting light spells at key junctions to illuminate the way and after moving through several smaller connected chambers and a narrow passageway (all are empty) the small group reach another small chamber and its northern wall is inscribed with many hieroglyphic symnols, presumably writing. The clerics and the druids attempt to discern what the inscriptions mean but are unsuccessful.

Tiralas says “Are you able to make anything out of it?”

Aidan steps forward and examines the wall. “Are the runes magical?”

The elder of the two clerics informs him “Yes, they are.”

Aidan casts comprehend languages and it fails to assist on its own. Then he uses spellcraft to modify a read magic spell first so as to try and read it as a magical language. He gets an insight into the nature of the writing and he realises that within the text revealed there is a command word that could be spoken and that word is “unseen” but he also realises that the symbols and hieroglyphics he is viewing are not entirely what they seem. They have been disguised and changed with other magic. INTELLIGENCE CHECK 21. He realises that it might now be possible for him to cast Comprehend Languages and speak the command word while viewing the wall with his glasses of true seeing at the same time.

He does so.

The effect of this is to transforms the writings into a new script and this is clearly elven and both Aidan and the other divine casters now recognise the form of arcane spell writing. SPELLCRAFT 27. Aidan knows that this writing is effectively a key to opening a concealed entrance, essentially a Knock spell. By studying this he will learn the correct tone and inflection to cast the spell.

The druids and the clerics are amazed at Aidan's undertstanding as he explains what he has discovered.

“Does anything in the text indicate what lies beyond?” the elder cleric asks.

Aidan replies “If I can work out the sequence of the spell then those runes remaining may reveal something further about it.”

They all nod, appreciatively. The warriors are nervous, and Aidan knows that they are uncomfortable being so close to magic in a confined space.

Aidan suggests to Tiralas that they might want more people down here as a precaution.

“Why? We have six warriors and myself here. Are we not brave enough? Are you expecting trouble? If you are then I am sure we can handle it.”

“You have six and a half.”

The clerics are praying for guidance and Aidan notices that they are clasping their sacred ancestors reliquiaries that they hold. The druids the calm and contemplative, waiting with curiosity.

Aidan is ready to speak the words of the spell. “I am ready,” he says.

“Then do it,” Tiralas tells him.

Aidan casts the knock spell. For a few moments, nothing happens. Then the inscriptions on the wall morph back into their original form and there is long grinding sound of stone against stone. Then the wall begins to slide downwards, into the floor. Beyond the wall space is darkness. Light is cast into it, illuminating what seems to be a wide corridor beyond but the light lasts only very briefly before it is extinguished. The strong reek of decay wafts out, followed by a seething mass of rot and corruption, roughly humanoid in shape that erupts from the ground.

A large clawed fist slams into one of the druids and knocks him to the ground. PERCEPTION 26. Aidan observes that the druid starts to look different as the creature touches him. Intelligence 23. He realises that the crerature's touch is corrupting and has induced a form of taint.
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