“What kind of recent events?”
“You said you monitor psionic activity, and the most recent psionic activity was a Psionic Storm sent after, I would assume, our teacher.How many people does that take, and did you at least track anyone involved?”
Athur sighed. “It’s a little more complicated than that, and I have no reason to trust you with information that may prove dangerous. I can at least tell you that we cannot detect individuals using psionics very well, only large concentrations of power, and even this is only possible because Faerun is all but barren of psionic energy.”
“Dangerous as in we would know some of the people you might be interested in following?” La’ss’a asked.
“Dangerous as in you would know the number and power of my allies, as well as the location of our base.” Sam squinted at Athur, trying to follow the logic of this.
“Do you have any local contacts? I’m not asking to visit your main stronghold, just a library or something.”
There was a long pause while Athur visibly considered the alternatives. Finally, he spoke, indecision evident in his voice. “I don’t think I can help you with what you request.” He gestured to the locked door of the observatory. “Our activities on this plane have been extremely limited because Nymbus previously did most of the monitoring himself.”
“Ah,” La’ss’a began hopefully, “Then maybe you know how we can get in with Nymbus being indisposed?”
“I do not, Nymbus always guarded his secrets carefully." He looked at the door.“It is possible I can . . .” he murmured and attempted to walk through the wall, but there was a flash of light and he was knocked sprawling to the ground. His expression was extremely chagrined. “So much for that idea. I don’t know what the lock is on the door, but even a latch is enough to prevent me from opening it. I can’t handle solid objects.”
La’ss’a sighed. “Well, thank you for the assistance you provided with Sulveig. We will take it from here.”
Athur bowed politely to the little female lizard. The students looked at each other, then at Nymbus lying on the ground. Athur eyed them askance as they picked up their mentor and attempted to use his hand to open the door. After some awkward flopping around they got him in position, but the door did not open. La’ss’a jiggled the doorknob a bit but it was quite thoroughly locked.
“I can try using a power to open it,” Barak offered.
“You know that power?” Fa’ss’th asked, startled. He cast a spell and wandered around the building, muttering.
Barak considered the door a little further, then closed his eyes and manifested his power. There was a loud clunk and the door creaked open about an inch. Athur stared in shock as the bearded human cautiously pushed on the door and entered the observatory. The transparent man attempted to follow but was rebuffed by the same shocking effect. The other students approached and peeked inside.
The interior of the observatory looked like one enormous machine. An architecture of polished brass rings, each one at least fifty feet in diameter, supported metal and crystal orbs of varying colors and sizes. Wide stained-glass windows in the domed ceiling above filled the room with a rainbow of light. The floor was a complex mosaic of interlocking tiles that seemed to spiral in towards a simple but beautifully-made desk at the center. The desk was made from a dark reddish wood and polished to a high gloss.
Barak approached the desk slowly, gaping in wonder at the silent and motionless machinery. He guessed that it was some sort of enormous calander, tracking the movements of the moon and stars. At the center of the room, he could look directly up into the heart of the engine; it was a bit dizzying in its complexity. The desk had a few semiprecious stones scattered over its surface, but was otherwise bare.
Sam, Fa’ss’th, and La’ss’a moved forward to stand around it as Barak examined the stones. They were smooth and rounded, as though they spent long years washed by a river, but otherwise unremarkable. He thought that there was some sort of pattern or organization to their placement on the desk, but could not immediately discern what it was.
Bored, Fa’ss’th began examining under the desk, discovering a single drawer. He pulled cautiously on the knob and it opened easily. Before he could poke his nose inside, something whipped out, hissing, and wrapped itself around his left arm. Meanwhile, Barak reached out and touched one of the stones. It hummed faintly and began to speak in a tinny voice that he recognized instantly as belonging to Nymbus. Startled, he stepped back and nearly knocked over Fa’ss’th, who was struggling silently with the thing on his arm. It looked like a piece of jewelry, a snake carved from ivory and inlaid with gold, but it moved as though it were alive, and it even appeared to be breathing. Its grip on the little lizard’s arm was very strong.
Two more snakes slid out of Fa’ss’th’s clothing, one an ordinary living viper, the other seemingly made from crystals. They investigated the ivory snake, touching noses with it briefly. The ivory snake flicked a dark purple tongue at them, then the three creatures lost interest in each other, Fa’ss’th’s familiar and psicrystal returning to their respective hiding places. Looking up at Barak, Fa’ss’th shrugged and ceased his vain attempts to remove the ivory snake.It didn’t seem immediately threatening.
Nymbus had continued quietly speaking throughout this exchange, in a language unknown to any of the students. Their mentor sounded peculiar: tired and sad, almost defeated.
“If we wait until morning, I could try to understand that language. I just have to study a scroll,” Fa'ss'th offered.
“I don’t mind that,” Sam said. “We’ve had a long day.”
“Good enough,” La’ss’a agreed.
The four students closed the door politely but firmly in Athur’s furious face and went to sleep on the floor of the observatory, Fa’ss’th writing furiously in his spellbook book before turning in. He was glad he’d thought to bring scribing materials with him. Barak examined the smooth stone again and managed to decipher its activation mechanism and replay the message. Content, he waited for the morning as well.
Fa’ss’th cast his newly-learned spell upon awakening and gestured for Barak to replay the message.
“My daughter . . . I never meant it to come to this. I did not understand what it meantto be young and human until too late. I hope you can forgive me some day for the pain I have caused you, but please believe me when I say it was all for good reason.
"I thought I had gone far enough to escape, but the evil lives still so I remained vigilant even though I learned I could not use you to regain my former place. I thought I could dwell here undisturbed, and watch over you so that you could do the same, but those fools crossed the waters . . . they do not know what they will awaken
there, and I am so old now--
“I have tried to train students so someone would understand what to do when the disaster came, but I was a fool and tried too hard to dominate the first group . . . in my pride I only drove them away.
“I chose poorly with the second group . . . I could not bring myself to destroy them but perhaps it had been better if I had. Now I fear it is too late. I am training a third group now, but they are so young . . . I only hope they can learn quickly enough.
“If you are listening to this, I am dead or close enough . . . you must decide what to do. You can trust these young students of mine, I think . . . they can help you
achieve whatever destiny you decide is yours now. I hope you choose well, I begin to believe that I am not capable of such a thing.”
"What did it say?" Sam asked when the message had finished playing. Fa'ss'th frowned thoughtfully.
"It's a message for his daughter, all about evil coming and the students he trained; there were three groups originally. We're the third group. He ran the first group off by being a jerk, and the second group was evil so that just leaves us."
“So, Sulveig and Athur . . .”
"Second and first groups, I bet.”
“So what do we do now?” La’ss’a demanded.
Sam shook his head ruefully. “I didn’t want to get the daughter involved, but if she already knows something about this we may have to go see her anyway. I don’t trust the other groups of students, they have their own agendas.”
“All right, so let’s hit the road,” Barak said.
“Wait, how do I get this thing off my arm?” Fa’ss’th demanded.
"Is it hurting you?”
“Just leave it for now, then,” Barak decided. “We’ll worry about it later.”
Athur had taken Nymbus inside when the students cautiously opened the door, so they snuck into their former quarters and gathered provisions for a long journey, then left before Athur noticed them again. The small trail leading out of Nymbus’ personal valley connected, before long, into a major highway running, roughly, east and west. After a brief pause, they followed the road west.
The world seemed empty and abandoned. After a full day of walking they encountered no one and nothing on the road; when it finally began to get dark they camped in a pleasant glade in the shadow of a particularly large mountain.
* * *
Olena and Kyrian sat by the shore of a clear, placid lake, listening to their mother sing. Aviana, their mother, was a Naiad, a water-fey, and bound to this lake. Some years ago she had trysted with a human and produced two children, in appearance unlike either their mother or their father. Olena and Kyrian were short and slender in stature, with vast butterfly wings sprouting from their backs granted by their half-fey blood. They had lived all their lives in this valley with the many fey gathered there. The valley was impregnated with magical energy that shielded them from outsiders.
Aviana’s song was cut off abruptly as the Naiad cried out in pain. Olena and Kyrian felt their minds fill with a hideous subliminal buzzing . . . it seemed to rattle through their bodies, shaking loose their ties with the world. It was a painful and terrifying sensation. They watched their mother dive into the lake and vanish.
“Mother’s safer down there,” Kyrian told his sister, holding his hands over his head in a vain effort to block out the noise.
They turned to look at the ancient tree growing beside the lake, the home of another type of fey, a dryad. Animals were crawling through the underbrush towards it, gathering in a silent congregation. The crowd grew larger with every moment that passed, first smaller animals like snakes and raccoons, then deer and foxes and even a bear. Then the brush shook and the massive, hulking shape of a dire boar, larger than the largest horse and more ferocious than a maddened wolverine, joined the gathering. The two siblings drew closer together, alarmed.The animals stood as if listening, then turned to look at the two half-fey. Then the dire boar snorted, breaking the spell, and the animals vanished into the brush once more.
“Hypatia? Can you hear me?” Olena called a bit timidly. “Are you well?”
"I’d wager not,” Kyrian said.
The Dryad’s voice rattled through the valley, overpowering even the terrible buzzing for a moment. “Leave me! I need you not, half-breeds!”
“We felt a . . . disturbance . . . maybe an attack. Do you feel it too?”
“I feel it, all the Valley feels it! Oh, Dougal, it will destroy you!” Hypatia shrieked, her voice full of grief and despair.
“Dougal must be in danger!” Kyrian cried and set off towards the nearby waterfall, splashing heedlessly through a shallow creek.
"Kyrian, wait!” Olena cried, chasing after him.
Kyrian reached the base of the waterfall in a matter of minutes. A vicious purple glow, the color of bruised flesh, lit the dark sky at the very top of the falls. Before Kyrian could get a good look at it the Dougal stepped from the rushing water. His eyes stared at brother and sister, vacant with madness.
“What is this?!” Kyrian demanded.
“Dougal!” Olena cried. “What is happening to the Valley? To us?!”
Dougal’s eyes focused on Kyrian and he bent, pulling a longspear from the waters. Quicker than thought, he lunged at Kyrian, sinking the weapon into the young man’s chest. Kyrian shrieked, even though the weapon was not cold iron and hurt him only a little, drawing his swords and lunging at Dougal, the crazed fossergrim. His enraged blows missed the mark and Olena darted forward to protect her brother, striking with her greatsword. The fossergrim staggered back, injured, and seemed to come to himself, dropping his weapon. Kyrian scrambled in the water and retrieved it, keeping it well out of Dougal’s reach.
“No! What am I doing?!”
“Dougal, you must fight this . . . this poison in your mind!” Olena cried.
“I . . . what is happening?! There was . . . I can see into the world, and it is like . . . machinery! Like iron!”
“I had no such vision, but this attack is harming us all!”
A piercing shriek rang through the valley. Dougal turned in that direction, his eyes going distant. “There are humans here!”
"Humans? Really?” Kyrian asked.
Olena looked startled as well. “I’ve never seen one before.”
“They are close,” Dougal said. “That way! They . . . some of the little ones are near them!”
“They must be behind this!” Kyrian announced.
“You don’t know that. But you should lead the way,” Oleana told him. “Will you be all right, Dougal?”
“I do not know, but I do not wish to attack you again. Go quickly, child.”
Brother and sister crept silently into the woods.
* * *
Barak took his watch without complaint. After an hour or so he began to feel very drowsy and was tempted to wake La’ss’a early. His psionic senses shivered and he realized this was no natural drowsiness: some power was affecting him. Snapping out of it he booted Sam in the ribs, attempting to rouse the younger man, but Sam merely rolled over and began snoring again. Cursing, Barak tried the lizards and was only able to rouse Fa’ss’th.
“What . . .what’s going on? What’s that singing?”
“What singing?” Barak frowned and listened . . . now that Fa’ss’th had drawn his attention to it he could hear the music as well. It was so high-pitched as to be almost inaudible, and filled the air with a weakening of the will.
“It’s some sort of attack,” Barak whispered. They dove on their comrades with renewed vigor and managed to bring them to wakefulness. Barak shot a ray of fire into the trees, starting a small blaze that gave them light to search by. La’ss’a noticed a plant moving and dove into the bushes.
“GOTCHA!” she shouted, claws and teeth extended. There was a high, piercing scream and she was abruptly holding a tiny woman in her hand, claws piercing it. The little woman appeared to be some sort of fey, with flower petals for hair and wings. All around there was a violent rustling and the singing stopped.
Sam and Barak said in unison: “Uh oh.” Barak hurried over to La’ss’a and manifested a power to transfer the tiny fey's injuries to him. He sucked at the small cut appearing on his finger.
“Don’t let go of it yet,” he instructed.
“Ask your friends to come out and I shall let you go peacefully,” La’ss’a said.
“Squee squee squee!” the tiny fey said, its voice too high-pitched to make out. Fa’ss’th tried repeating the offer in the elven tongue.
"Squee squee ee ee squee!” Small faces peeked out of the wood, watching carefully.
Barak nudged La’ss’a. “They stopped. Let her go.” La’ss’a nodded and dropped the sqeeing fey. The tiny woman tumbled to the ground and began examining her crushed wings. Five more tiny women joined her, looking up at the adventurers nervously. “Squee?” Sam made a series of high-pitched squeaky sounds at the fey, stopped, shook his head resignedly, then grumbled low in his chest and smiled. The fey consulted each other briefly, then one rolled up a leaf to use as a bullhorn.
“Can you understand me now?” Sam nodded. “We were only trying to help. Please don’t eat us!”
“Trying to help how?” Fa’ss’th asked. “And no, we don’t eat people.”
“You look tired, we thought you would sleep well if we sang for you. That’s what we do, we sing people to sleep. You didn’t have to be mean!” There was a faint noise in the trees nearby, as though someone was trying to sneak closer.
“Is this another friend of yours coming?”
“Yes! And they’re bigger and stronger than you! So there!”
“You there! Why have you attacked us!”
“I only jumped on something that used magic on me without asking first,” La'ss'a corrected sternly.
Kyrian and Olena emerged slowly from the forest. “They’re mean!” the tiny fey cried helpfully. La’ss’a rolled her eyes. “I only nicked you and we healed you and let you go. If I were mean, I would have finished what I started.”
“You Petals should know better,” Olena said reprovingly.
“Or try harder,” Kyrian added snidely.
The Petals looked chagrined. “We’re sorry.” Then they glanced up at the adventurers like sly children. "We said we’re sorry, can we go now?”
Olena looked down at La’ss’a. “Is that good enough?” La’ss’a shooed the Petals away; they vanished. Grasping her brother’s arm, Olena forced Kyrian to sit so that she could examine his spear wound. “Are your heads buzzing?” She asked the adventurers.
“Not that I notice,” Sam replied. Barak also shook his head.
“Why do you ask?”
“Something is affecting us . . .my people. It is diminished here.”
Barak frowned, testing the air with his psionic senses. “It does feel . . . energetic . . . here. Like there’s a lot of ambient psionic power.”
“Are there a lot of fey here?” Fa’ss’th asked. Olena nodded uncertainly. “There should be a lot of ambient magic, then, but I just feel . . . psionics. It . . . it might make the fey ill, the magic sustains them.”
“Well, it HURTS!” Kyrian announced.
“Does it seem to hurt worse anywhere in particular?” Barak asked.
"It’s like a buzzing in our heads. One of our friends went mad near here, at the waterfall.”
Kyrian nodded, agreeing with his sister. “He seems all right now, but the pain was worst there.”
Sam chuckled. “Looks like we should go explore near the waterfall.”
Kyrian looked suspicious, but yielded when Olena glared at him. “This way,” he declared, striding off into the bush. He nearly walked into the side of the dire boar; it had somehow come up on them unawares. Dire animals were strange and twisted. Occasionally they evidenced abilities that seemed unnatural. Olena squeaked and pushed her brother out of the way as the boar slowly turned its enormous head to look at them, its rumbling squeal shaking the ground. Foam dripped from its mouth and its little piggy eyes gleamed redly. Olena held her hands up before the beast and knelt on the ground. It regarded her for some seconds more, then lunged towards her.
“Silvanus forgive me!” She whispered and drew her sword. She struck its shoulder but the angle was all wrong and the sword did not dig into flesh. Kyrian drew his swords in a flash and struck as well, slashing flesh and sending a mist of blood into the air. The boar shrieked and rounded on him, dodging a beam of energy from Barak’s hands.
Kyrian went flying from the boar's assault, skidding over the ground to land in a crumpled heap. La’ss’a dove over him, psionic power charging her claws as she ripped into the squealing animal, doing surprising damage for such a small lizard. Trying at least to show willing, Fa’ss’th poked experimentally with the short spear he had taken from Vist, but had little effect.
Olena grabbed her brother and hauled him out of the way while the boar struggled and failed to reach the nimble La’ss’a. Barak reached the injured half-fey and transferred the boy’s wounds to himself. The human grimaced in pain while one of Sam’s thrown soul blades found it’s mark in the Boar’s side. It staggered, blood pouring from many wounds, but amazingly remained on its feet. Snarling, Barak manifested another power and struck the beast with his fist. It shuddered one last time and stumbled to its knees, finally falling to the ground, where it lay still.
Kyrian regained consciousness and looked up at the human woozily. “What . . . what happened?”
“He just saved your life,” Olena informed him.
“Oh. Um, thanks.”