Eventide Ring Campaign
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The brown rough cliffs of the Eventide stretched toward the gloom of the horizon. In this land of eternal twilight the shadows were the only animated beings. Solar storms had washed this part of the planet with clean with their radiation; when they came plumes of red and green particles cascaded from the sky, turning the surface into a blister. Vegetative life was extinct in these hills and no creatures stirred amongst the rocks and craigs. Even the oar-winged tulen birds that dipped and bobbed lazily in updrafts were entirely absent now that Topper had left the golden lake thirty miles behind him.
The land had once been prosperous. The desiccated, abandoned houses that he passed had once been the farms and villages in the kingdom of Kensha. Fields that had once been famed for their flax and the orchards that produced the small red rumni fruits had been replaced by a strange sort of fungus, the only form of life that seemed to be able to thrive in this radiation. The slow growing mushrooms had forms that mocked the spruce and the pine, appropriating their silhouettes and perverting them. What wood remained from before was thin and insubstantial, encrusted with lichen and crumbing to dust under even a modest grip. Topper had been taken aback when scavenging for sticks when he discovered that he could topple the stout skeletal remains of the rumni trees simply by pushing on their trunks.
Topper absentmindedly pulled his cloak more tightly about him as a wind gust blew down from the canyon and onto the roof of the flat topped building where he had made his camp. Topper was a wolfman and quite out of place in this strange land. The persistent wind blown dust stung his eyes and though he had long since become accustomed to it, the aroma of the fungi bestowed on him a nauseous unease. At least his night vision was sharp. In this land of nightfall, the rock strewn roads and tumbled down walls gave him no cause to stumble.
The night time sky beaconed above him. Well, he supposed he could call it night. When even at noon the sun barely peaked above the horizon, all hours were the night. From his camp atop one of the abandoned farm houses the Kenshans had built in the old times, he looked skyward. His jewel was still there, glimmering amongst the stars. Despite the sun's reluctance to show its face directly, there it was reflecting brilliantly off the hull of the star shop Nion, derelict and nearing the end of its centuries of orbit. It would fall to ground in three days. Topper would be waiting there for it when it did.
Topper rummaged through his pack to find his brass sextant. He normally wasn't given to fiddling with tools of this sort, but by now he had done it so many times it had become a well practiced ritual. He took his measurements; he consulted his charts; he confirmed yet again that the ship was set to crash just north of the hills of Horentz. Well, there wasn't much else to do out in this waste. He pulled his cloak around him once more and fashioned his pack into a pillow. Perhaps he could do some exploring tomorrow. Perhaps there were some old coins to be found, left behind by the fleeing Kenshans. Perhaps there was some food. Topper let that second thought comfort him as he drifted off to sleep.
When he awoke the sky had the same gloomy colors of sunset that it had when he went to sleep. He rubbed his eyes; staying in this land was messing with his sense of time. He dug into his pack and drew out two strips of jerky. The previous owner of the farmstead had been thoughtful enough to have left an iron chair on the rooftop and Topper sat on it as he consumed his breakfast. A triangular spire poked above the hills to the east and cut a sharp black silhouette from an orange haze of the horizon. It was a palace of king Ulmo, his map told him. He has been wanting to investigate it since he had arrived, and there wasn't much else to do as he waited for his star to fall. Topper slid the last bite of jerky past his fangs and then pulled his camp into his pack. He would set up a new camp at the palace. There was no point in coming back here.
The palace was a marvel of the Ybetian era of architecture. Every unbroken window was resplendent in stained glass. Reliefs ran circles beneath its cornices and the ancient deeds of valor depicted there reminded Topper of the illustrations in the temples of the Gilin he had seen when he was a boy. The fountains and gardens were there, their flora now supplanted with strange polychromal shapes. And the palace's enormous brass doors gaped as if violently thrown open; but now cemented in place to the limestone terrace before them by fungal growths.
Topper stepped into the main hallway. It was built as a semi circle and clad in marble, with many doors leading off to other passages. Above the doors statues of ancient kings glowered down at him, although a few had to peak through veils of a lacy growth tumbling over their brows. Topper picked a door and strode through it only to find himself in another passage of the same decadent splendor. Most of the doors in the palace were opened. As he investigated it became obvious that it had been visited by scavengers many times in the centuries since the calamity and that there was likely little of value left. Still, not every man counts the the same things as treasures. He remained hopeful.
Topper wandered the empty halls wending his way from one room to another. Occasionally he encountered a door that needed to be opened with force. Here and there he would find the sign of a previous explorer - an abandoned tin cup, a small saw, a brass button. The rooms were devoid of anything useful, but some sported colorful bouquets of mushrooms sprouting in clumps from the floor. Sometimes he wondered if he was truly alone. He strained his ears and sniffed the air, but nothing distinguished itself. Were the statues that decorated the palace playing with his mind? Was its alien solitude inducing in him a phantasm of the familiar things he left behind?
Topper came to one doorway that had been lodges shut, blocked by a growth of mushrooms that seemed to have fallen against its far side. Topper placed his hand upon the door - it was sturdy enough. He shoved it with his shoulder and it slid open with a soft crumpling sound, sweeping growths behind it back like so many dried leaves. This room too was absent anything of interest, but it was when he turned to leave that Topper found himself rooted to the ground in a momentary shock. That fungus he had pushed aside had not been growing in a haphazard fashion; its contours followed the form of a shape that had preceded it. Toward one end of the pile lay a metal buckle; knocked to the side was a small tin bottle; and clinging to the edge of the door itself was a slender silver chain pulled from the heart of the pile. What had it once been? An image started to form in his mind, but he pushed it away.
In yet another room, Topper began to weary of his quest. The palace had been picked clean long ago. The musty air was making him ill. A small stained glass window was sunk into the wall and Topper crossed the room to it, hoping to find a latch. He found one and began to fumble with it in his thick fingers. He had nearly worked it open when the glass suddenly fell away, crackling into a hundred colorful shards! He jerked his hands back, then gaped through the window into the twilight beyond. There there was little more to be done.
A cool breeze blew into the room as Topper brushed the remaining fragments of wood and glass from the sill. He leaned out the window. Above him loomed the triangular tower, its bulbous base erupting form the spine of the palace like one of the mushrooms. Perhaps that was where he should explore next? Topper tried to work out the best route to the base of the tower from his current position. The labyrinthine passages of the palace had steered him away from it so far. He counted the windows he could see. He could use those to measure his progress.
Topper returned to the main passage. He walked down the marbled floors, counting as he went. He passed mounds of matchsticks and sawdust was he went - the remains of chairs and tables that had collapsed under the passage of time. He passed the great the tapestry of St. Ornith slaying the Leviathan, somehow still hanging despite the decay around it. Yet St. Ornith himself had been largely consumed by the same wispy fungus that gorged itself upon the kings in the great hall. The passage turned sharply to the left and Topper stopped instantly. His heart was in his throat. The floor ahead of him had completely collapsed! One step further and he would have tumbled head first into the black void ahead of him.
Topper blessed that ancestral spirit that had saved him so many times before. He peered long into the blackness, which became tinged in a soft green light, the glow given off by many of the strange lichens that covered the stones of the palace. No forms divided themselves from the darkness, though. Topper inhaled deeply and stepped back gingerly. And then his heart was in his throat once again. The bricks beneath his feet gave way, tearing through the ancient wooden supports that had held the floor together. He was in free fall!
Each second stretched into minutes as his senses snapped into hyper focus. He was floating; he was falling. He crashed into the ground with his hands and feet digging deeply into its soft, spongy surface and a clatter of stones and decayed wood raining down around him. He lifted himself onto his toes, crouching and peering into the dim light. The palace was now several meters above him, a slightly lighter patch of dark chiseled from the darkness now consuming him.
Topper looked around. He was standing in what seemed to be a large circular chamber, though he could not see all the way across it. The ground beneath his feet oddly textured with ridges a slick mucus-like liquid. There was no furniture or other distinguishing feature save the bare brick wall that emitted a faint green light. The floor sloped gently inward, down toward the gloom in the chamber's center. He ran his fingers through the viscous slime - it stung a little. He moved his hand to wipe it on his shirt only to realize he had already been slickened with it in his fall. The skin beneath his coarse fur was beginning to itch.
Topper looked upward to where the floor had collapsed. Could he get back there? He looked around. The slimy walls offered him few hand holds. He laid his left hand against the wall and began to follow the curve of the chamber. Perhaps he could find something - a door, a staircase, anything to take him back to the world above.
He smelled it before he touched it - there was an iron pipe bolted to the wall. He grabbed it between his hands and pulled on it - it didn't budge. He considered his options - he could climb this, but to where? He wasn't sure if he could make out some sort of ledge above. Reluctantly he left the pipe behind and continued his exploration.
Topper continued his circuit, step by step, examining every foot of the walls until once again he stood before the pipe. No other exits has presented themselves. Topper turned his head once again to the gloomy center of the chamber. What lay there, just more of this empty space? He took a step toward it, then reconsidered as his feet skidded out from under him on the slime covered floor. He dropped to his hands and knees and crept forward in a steadier manner. As he moved, the ground sloped more and more steeply before giving out altogether at the edge of a great hole. He strained his senses. The darkness gave no clue, but the think acidic vapors that hung in the chamber's air seemed to be denser here. Topper began to creep slowly away again. He wanted no part of whatever was down there.
Topper found his way back to the pipe and gripped it tightly in his hands. It was his only option now, it seemed. He started hauling himself upward, hand over hand. The slime covered walls gave little purchase for his feet but his arms and chest were strong enough to make up the difference. He ascended the pole like an insect skittering over a rain spout. A few more lifts from his arms and he could leaves that strange room behind him.
And then his hand closed on a section of pipe that wasn't there. He squeezed the slick cylinder, but it crumbled away instantly, leaving only empty space in is grasp. And then be began to fall. His other hand slipped and by the time he recovered his wits he was falling too quickly to grab the pipe again. The thousands of tiny bumps on the pipe that had given him grip earlier now became knives lacerating the pads of his palms and fingers. Topper yelped as gravity grasped him, hurled him back into the room below.
When he hit the ground, he was going fast. Too fast. He skidded across the slime slicked ground and shot towards the mystery at the center of the room. His eyes grew wide in panic. He dug his claws into the soft fleshy flooring, furrowing small trenches in it, but it little to slow his progress. He felt the floor drop away more and more steeply. He was headed straight into the pit!
What happened next was a blur. A shadow appeared in front of him. He saw the black, blocky silhouette grow from a point to block out the luminescent walls behind it as it with wing like shapes. It enveloped him and pierced his shoulders with steely talons. And the next thing he knew he was being hoisted into the sky, like a fish caught by those fishing birds used to watch from the pier when he was a boy. What was it? Where did it mean to do with him? Every flap of the creatures' wings stole the breath from his lungs.
As he was hoisted skyward, the many features of the room below his dangling feet coalesced into a monstrous whole. The textures, the ridges, the bumps, all the geometric clues combined to form something akin to the mouth of a starfish - and yet of such an enormous size to fill a chamber two hundred meters across. From up here he could even see it shift and squirm, as if convulsing in rage. How could he have missed that before? He felt his stomach lurch as his mind returned him once again to that evil slime slicked chamber.
And yet he had fresh peril. Who was his captor? He strained his neck to look around but with the way he was clutched he could see little nothing but periodic curtains of red as each downbeat of the creatures' wings brought them before his eyes. Topper looked before him - that strange triangular tower was now in front of them and they were headed straight toward it. What could he do now? He was powerless. He blessed his ancestors once again and hoped for the best.
As they drew closer, Topper spied a porch jutting from the tower and before an ornate door set into the tower itself. In another second, he was sprawled across it, having been set down not too unkindly by the creature that had been carrying him. He crouched there, he knew not how long, trembling on his hands and knees until his breath gradually slowed back to its normal rate. And then he stayed there, it seemed, that long again until he had composed him self well enough to lift his head. And that's when he saw her. Perched on the railing, not unlike the many gargoyles that adorned the palace below, was a demon woman. Her skin was red as the setting sun and the black horns adorning her head spiraled outward from beneath neatly cropped black hair. She smiled from her perch with a self assured smirk. "Hello. I'm Izre."
In the day that followed, Izre told Topper many things about the land he was now in. She told him about the strange fungi that thrived in this twilight world and gave Topper a medicine lest the spores he has been inhaling should turn him into one of those mounds of fungus he has seen in the castle. She hold him of the giant uradid that he had nearly fallen victim to that had grown in the round chamber, and how it was in fact one of the many strange species of fungi that live in this land. Finally she told him of her own work, how she had come to this tower some months ago to research the unique fungi that grew in this part of the Eventide. She had been watching when she saw Topper approach the palace. She had followed him to see what he was up to and when he fell to the uradid, determined to come to his rescue. Topper told her how grateful he was.
Izre had prepared a room for him in a lower room of the tower. Topper was pleased to see Izre had found his pack and brought it to his new room. Izre warned him not to venture back into the palace and Topper nodded - he didn't need to be told again.
That evening Topper lay in the soft bed in the lower chamber and gazed absently through the window. The events of the day tumbled though his mind again and again. He shuddered at the thought of the uradid, of its acidic slime, of its horrid gaping mouth. He rubbed his fur. The bath had done him good, but some of it was still coming out in patches. He sighed, then propped himself up on his elbows. He reached for his pack and dug through until his fingers closed on that old brass sextant once more. Through his window he could see his jewel hanging in the sky and twinkling down at him. Tomorrow, he knew, it would fall.
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