TMA Down Time

TMA Down Time
Art by @spoiledchestnut

Sunday, July 30, 2017

Session 17

I wasn’t responding to reason. My party had coaxed me out of a sprint into the city alone, an unknown danger, and they trailed behind my hurried steps toward the castle. Occasionally, my eyes wandered the identical, yet unfamiliar streets. I lingered at the ruins of recognizable places that felt out of place. By the time we reached the castle, I was walking slowly, my instincts trying to come to the conclusion my mind wrestled against.
I stopped at the gates and studied the emblem engraved there. The D’Arroway crest caught my eye and I pulled out my father’s signet ring, despite what I already knew.
“Taelim,” Klotonk began in a quiet voice, tugging at my shirt. “This might sound...bizarre, but I don’t believe--”
“We’re not in Illium,” I finished for him. The rest of our companions studied me quietly, as if denial was some sort of coping mechanism. “The emblems are wrong,” I explained. “The district names aren’t the same. It’s all similar, but different…”
Maziel turned her face upward, reexamining the mountains behind the city, then the coast in the distance. Indistinguishable from what we knew. But it felt off. “A mirror in placement…” she began, furrowing her brows. “As if this was some sort of--”
“Alternate dimension!” Klotonk all but screamed excitedly. His hands were pressed against his cheeks, and he trembled slightly.
A sigh of relief escaped my lips. So I hadn’t let Illium fall after all. At least not in the timeline I belonged to.
“C’mon,” I threw open the gates with the help of Yaup. “I want to have a look inside.”
Like ghosts we meandered the halls. The portraits of unfamiliar faces watched us from their alcoves, and shattered decor littered the floor. This place had already been ravaged, and I couldn’t help but wonder what had happened.
We made it all the way up to the throne room when Maziel forced us to stop. Pointing a finger, she guided our gaze toward the back door where a dim light escaped the cracks.
We approached quietly, but stopped when a bushy ginger cat meowed loud enough to make us all jump. It watched us, tail flicking, from atop the throne.
“Fluffy?” I asked aloud, instinctively squatting and calling for the cat.
“What’s a Fluffy?” Yaup demanded, folding his ridiculously muscled arms over his chest.
“Family cat,” I answered distractedly, failing to draw the feline to me. Logic already told me they weren’t the same, but I tried anyway.
“You named your cat Fluffy?” Cosmo chortled.
“I was a kid!” I snapped back, causing the cat to hiss and scamper away.
Maziel cursed our names and hurried to the door, hand on the hilt of her short sword. She leaned in, listening for footsteps before signaling us to follow.
We walked down the hall where light spilled from a study in the back . The room was empty, but a small fire occupied the fireplace. A lone armchair faced the mantle, with an open book abandoned on its seat.
“I think someone’s living here,” Dagon said, sniffing the drink in the goblet on the table. He downed it with a satisfied gulp.
“That someone is me,” said a voice from the doorway.
We all turned, drawing weapons, at the gaunt man who watched us warily. He held the ginger cat in his arms, stroking its back softly.
“Who are you?” I blurted, before remembering this wasn’t actually my home. If anything, we were intruding on him.
The old man’s eyes swept over each of us in turn. Wearily, he moved inside the study and sat down in the armchair. He took the goblet from Dagon and refilled it, taking a sip before addressing us. “Depending on where you come from, most just refer to me as the Magus of Myth.”
We failed to hide our reactions, because a smile spread across his lips. We huddled close, glancing at each other in soundless consultation.
Maziel stepped forward. “We’ve been looking for you.”
“Is that so?” He took another drink from his cup. “I’ve lost count of how long I’ve been here....Solstice was a trap. I take it you learned that lesson already?”
“A trap?” Klo repeated. “How so?”
The magus shrugged. “There’s a time distortion on the whole place, and a warp on dimensional travel.” He gestured around him. “Which is why you’re here. You can’t get back to the timeline you knew.”
“There has to be a way back,” I said, stubbornly refusing the word of a Magi I just met.
“There is,” he said after a moment. “An ancient red dragon in Solstice is the key to unlocking it.”
Again, we looked at each other.
“New plan,” I said to the group. “Find the dragon, get the way out, and bring the magus back.”
The Magus of Myth laughed. “You’re a bold one, as if I hadn’t already tried myself. Sit. Tell me, what are your names?”
We went around the group like a school lesson. He got hung up with my name, sitting up straighter, suddenly more attentive. “Taelim?” The magus repeated, recollecting a faint memory. “You wouldn’t happen to be related to Viceak?”
I winced unconsciously. “That’s right. You wouldn’t know...My dad’s dead.” I shifted uncomfortably. “He’s also not technically my father, but that’s a different matter.” I cleared my throat and tried again. “We need you back in Illium, we have to take down Primus.”
“Primus?” The Magus of Myth questioned, raising an eyebrow. “I think it best you get me up to speed on the world outside of this one.”
We did. Meticulously so, which made it slow going. We explained everything from my father’s Black Tower to the moment we realized we were racing against time in Solstice.
“So this dragon,” I resurfaced the matter. “How do we get to it?”
The Arch Magi leaned forward, hands on his legs. He looked as if he considered telling us the truth, if only to save our lives. “He's in Solstice. He lives in the volcano guarded by an army of fire giants and rivers of molten lava. There’s another caster there, but of what capabilities, I didn’t dare get close enough to find out. I was outmatched.” He ran his fingers over his short beard. “From what I understand, something prevents the dragon from unlocking this time hold. What that is, I don’t know.”
“Can you take us back to Solstice?” Maziel questioned.
The magus sighed. “If this is really your decision. Yes.”
“We don’t have a choice,” I replied. “I need to get back home. All of us do.”
“Maybe we can bunk here for the night,” Cosmo yawned. Barnaby was already out of his backpack and snuggling with the kender in the corner.
Dagon was already snoring in the adjacent seat, having been given his own decanter of wine looted from the castle’s cellar.
The magus nodded. “You probably already know where the bedrooms are,” he said to me. “I wonder,” he started distractedly, “if you inherited Viceak’s tower....then perhaps you have access to the door.”
“Door? Which door?” I asked.
The Magus furrowed his brow. “There’s locked room in this castle. Magic. I think a variant of his library. Would you like to see?”
I stood up nodding eagerly. Not for the library, but for a glimpse of what might be an asset for tomorrow’s adventure. Before I left the group, I spotted Klotonk looking up at me with wide eyes. That’s right, the word library was mentioned. “You too, Klo,” I said to the gnome, motioning for him to follow.
The Magus of Myth led us toward my father’s study. An identical path, and an identical door. Only this one shimmered with magic energy.
Unthinking, I wandered close and reached out, but the magus caught my wrist.
“This will kill you if you aren’t his intended. Do you understand, Taelim?”
“Kill me if not the intended. Got it.”
He scowled at my response.
“Taelim...” Klotonk chastised, concern in his voice.
“Trust me,” I grinned. Because that was my wish, I can unlock all dad’s secrets.
Still, as my hand reached for the knob, it shook. I hesitated at the handle before reaching out and turning it. It unlocked with a click, and the energy dispelled.
I could hear the magus sigh deeply, and Klotonk squealed at my side, clapping his hands softly. We stepped inside a mirror version of my father’s library. Oh, joy, books. I thought halfheartedly, scanning the room for anything that might catch my eye. Nothing out of the ordinary. Except for this entire place.
Klotonk was bounding off in another direction, and the magus carefully studied each row in turn.
Nerds, I smiled affectionately. I moved toward the window and gazed out at this alternative world that made my stomach twist. Just the thought of losing Illium had stricken me with paralyzing fear. I realized how I would have given anything to save it.
A scream snapped me from my musings and had me bounding toward Klotonk.
“Hoooooot!” Klo wailed, cradling a pile of feathers.
As I kneeled beside the gnome, I spotted the bizarre book that lay at his feet.
“What happened?” I asked him, arm around his shoulder.
“Something,” he sniffed dejectedly. “Something poofed him.”
I peered at the pile of what used to be the owl familiar. “Don’t cry buddy, I’m sure we can--” something brushed against me, causing me to jump to my feet with a curse.
Klotonk screamed and followed.
We stared down at the peculiar striped cat grinning up at us. It sat on its haunches and aggressively swiped the feathers floating down from air. Satisfied with itself, it sauntered near, forcing us against the shelves in response. Frowning, it vanished from sight, then reappeared on Klotonk’s shoulder.
“Hello, friend,” the cat purred softly.
Klotonk froze, growing pale.
When Klo glanced at me, I motioned for him to talk. What choice do we have?
“H-hi, c-cat.”
“The name’s Mug.” It responded, yawning widely.
I smirked. “Awww, it likes you, Klo.”
Mug disappeared, then reappeared at my feet. The striped cat leaned against my leg and purred. I melted entirely, and obliged with affectionate pets.
“W-what happened to Hoot?” Klotonk asked the cat, hardly hiding the accusation.
Mug turned to glare at Klotonk, annoyed. “Gone. Obviously. I’m your familiar now.”
My mouth fell open, and my eyes immediately wandered to the book on the floor. When my gaze met Klotonk’s, I realized he had summoned Mug by accident.
By now the Magus of Myth strolled over, taking in the scene with a curious, but unquestioning expression. He clasped his hands behind his back in an elderly sort of way. “I think you both better get some rest.”

We gathered in Illium’s transportation hub the following morning. The variant of it at least. Again, it was familiar, but not the same. The Magus of Myth huddled us in this world’s teleportation circle.
“Are you ready?” He asked gravely.
“No, but what choice do we have?” I beamed back.
He sighed. “Good luck, I’ll be waiting here should you succeed.”
With that, the teleportation circle illuminated around us. In the blink of an eye, the world had gone from dark and overcast, to hot and bright. We were back where we started, in the heart of Solstice’s jungle. Only now we had a red dragon on our minds.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Session 16

In the aftermath of the dreadnought adventures, my party and I returned to what had occupied our minds earlier. Primus. How do we defeat a deity recently unleashed unto the world, likely cloning and controlling plenty of others for no good? According to our new friend, the Magus of Beasts, the only ones with the possibility of answers, were the Arch Magi. Of the lot, the Magi of Myth was our best bet.
Unfortunately, he had gone missing in a land long abandoned by civilization. Solstice.
Even before my time, that ancient kingdom had been forsaken. Every mission to reclaim it, to learn about its destruction, ended with even more questions. Primarily because scouts never came back. That meant we were ripe for the job.
They had absolutely no way to stop me. They, meaning every adviser, Feeps and my aunt. Even Killian. Especially Killian. For the most part I avoided them and their nagging. I figured if I could pull this off, return safe and sound from the place that made people disappear, I could go anywhere at anytime. Even if I was just doing this for my ego.
The night before we set off, I ambled toward the kitchen thirsty for something strong. I stumbled across the familiar burly dwarf with silver arms. Dagon, the barbarian Cosmo hired and Maziel loathed, was haggling the serving crew for brew of some sort, but not politely. I calmly interposed between the two parties, and in a few short minutes, Dagon and I had a cask by the dwindling fire of the empty dining room.
Dagon was practically purring as he downed his first tankard and poured another contentedly. I sat back and watched for another round before speaking up.
“So,” I asked, sipping leisurely. “Glad my friends haven't killed you.”
Dagon slammed back another glass and grinned. “Aye, princess. It takes more than them to kill me. I've got the Pits to thank for that.” He looked thoughtful for a moment, but was in no way reminiscing.
Casually, I refilled his tankard before filling my own. A few pints later and we were swapping stories like old friends.
His hands were his curse. Dagon once served the royal family in the Asimba Mountains, and if I remembered anything from my history lessons (granted, that was little), that family was no more. Dagon had stolen something from their treasury, something magical, hence his cursed hands. Then he was banished, and wound up fighting in the Pits. Simple.
He’s going to fit right in.
Then it was my turn to tell. Mostly of how I met my friends and our recent endeavors. My lineage was already public knowledge. Everyone knew, and no one failed to remind me, I was a bastard. Yet , here I was, somehow still in charge.
I raised my pint and he mimicked the gesture as we clinked, sloshing mead over the table. “Welcome to the team.”

“Three days, Taelim.” Feeps said solemnly. For a warforged, he did a wonderful job of looking forlorn. Maybe sharing the responsibility of ruling was getting to him, though I hadn’t fully forsaken my role. I was just handling another issue.
I faced Feeps as I stood in the center of Illium’s teleportation circle. My party shifted at my side, and the wizards summoned to open Solstice's portal wavered nearby.
“If I don’t come back, at least we have the correct bloodline on the throne,” I smiled at Feeps.
“That is not funny, Taelim.”
I chuckled and waved. “We’ll be back.”
Feeps said nothing and gestured for the wizards to begin casting.
I continued to grin, but in truth I was terrified. There was a reason Viceak had disabled Solstice’s connection to Illium. Whatever was there he didn’t want trespassing into our city. Now we were heading straight for it, where countless others failed before us. I had ignored every pleading request to stay behind, and soon we would find out the truth. One way or another.
One moment we were standing in Illium’s busy hub, and in the next, we were shielding our eyes from the blinding sun that greeted us. Maziel mouthed a curse and pulled her hood as far over her eyes as she could.
It was hot and humid. I could already feel the sweat beading on my skin. It reminded me of the tropics, but even as we moved toward the shade of the tall canopies, the heat lingered.
Maziel was the first to stop under the shade, not for the comfort it offered, but to examine the skeleton there. Missing an arm, it bore the familiar emblem of Illium.
“How long has he been here?” Cosmo asked, his eyes already scanning for anything of value. It was futile though, there was nothing.
I shrugged. “I don’t remember the last time the portal was opened, though it was in my dad’s lifetime.”
“Cosmo,” Maziel said, pointing a finger up the length of a tree. “Climb and report.”
The kender was in the canopy and shouting landmarks before we got our bearings.
“Trees. Volcano….Oh, a gate! ….There's some more trees.”
Maziel folded her arms as she contemplated a route.
Yaup, our half-orc cleric, flexed his muscles while grumbling about moving on. He started to cite one his Kord- mandments. Something about idle hands not lifting weights. Of the others he preached, all I could remember was Honor Leg Day, and Thou Should Not Eat of Thy Carbs. I remembered those because I liked to thoroughly oppose them.
Cosmo eventually slid down the trunk with a feigned salute. Then all eyes fell to Maziel.
“We’re heading to the gate,” the drow declared.
It was an eerily quiet trek through the bramble. The thick jungle eventually gave way to muddy road that revealed a massive stone wall in the distance. As we approached, we gaped up at the gate that barred our way. Several feet of rope later, and we were successfully on the other side, panting and staring at the massive stone houses beyond. They looked abandoned and ready to crumble.
We only had a few heartbeats to study the area before a boulder came careening our way. It rippled the ground beside us, sending us diving away as shards went flying in all directions. Massive stone giants lumbered toward us, hurtling more boulders our way.
I wiped a trickle of blood from my cheek, and without another thought, I transformed into an allosaurus to match their size. I roared, then thundered toward our foes, despite Maziel's furious cries about formation.
Dagon let out a laugh, then ran after me, his inner rage taking over. Yaup followed, proclaiming the might that was Kord.
Giants with clubs hurt. Even at my size. I caught several blows directly, realizing that intimidating didn't always scare stupid. Still, the party managed to topple the giants after a few brutal exchanges.
“Oh! Oh, Taelim!” Dagon bounced up and down in front of me. “You're huge! Let me ride you! Please? Pleeaaseeee!”
I narrowed my reptilian eyes. Normally I had a thing against being a pet, but then another part of me considered how amazing we'd appear. Intimidation part two? I lowered my head and the dwarf clambered up and howled in excitement.
Maziel folded her arms and glared up at us. I thumped my tail and attempted a toothy grin.
“What happened to stealth recon?” Her gravelly voice demanded.
I snorted. Good luck at my size.
“Hey, where's Cosmo?” Klotonk broke the tension.
Maziel whipped around and counted our numbers. She threw up her hands with a curse. “Really?!” Then she picked up a trail and motioned for us to follow, muttering about a useless dog-conscious.
We followed the tracks to a half buried arena at the far end of the abandoned village. Somehow we had managed to pass without a trace. We quietly crept inside, and I barely managed to squeeze through the doors. The space within was another matter entirely.
A massive pit stretched below for all the rotted benches above to see. At the center, a ring of armed dragonborn closed in on Cosmo who was trying to chat them up.
“Maziel, thoughts?” Klotonk asked hurriedly.
I didn’t bother waiting for an answer. With a roar, I sprang into the ring, causing all of the dragonborn to turn our way. Dagon slipped off my back and drew his mace. The dragonborn did the honors of engaging.
Our distraction was just enough to get Cosmo scrambling out of enemies’ reach. The kender hurried up the ledge to where Maziel and Klotonk were providing cover fire.
Yaup didn’t hesitate, and quickly jumped down with us. “Surrender, fiends! Or Kord will smite you down!”
An enemy javelin sunk in the sank beside Yaup’s feet. The dragonborn grinned and taunted us in draconic. Then their sword-bearers charged.
“Smite it is!” Yaup proclaimed eagerly, drawing his greatsword.
While our front-line handled the charging opponents, a single dragonborn in robes slipped to the back of the pit.
I stomped toward the caster, and fell right into his trap. The spell seized me before I even had a chance to open my maw. Slowly, I turned toward my friends and roared, understanding only the order to kill.
Dagon was the closest target, and I could feel my body acting on it’s own accord. Completely dominated, I lunged and caught the dwarf by surprise. Luckily, he dived out of the way.
“Taelim! What are you--”
I swung my massive tail down, trying to slam him. Again, I missed.
“We need help here!” Yaup called to the rest of the group. Dagon and Yaup were now trapped between me and the dragonborn swordsmen.
“Taelim!” Klotonk called, running along the ring. “Stand still!”
Distracted, I lifted my head just in time to feel Klo launch a spell at me. The magic seized me for a moment, and then I felt the sweet comfort of being in control again. I turned and glared at the Sorcerer, then snapped up his closest companion and crushed him.
One by one, we cleaned up the area as if under the watch of an invisible audience. Our final foe, a red dragonborn threw down his sword and called out. “Please. Mercy.”
Maziel came forward, hands on her hips. “So you speak Common after all.”
Please. Spare me, warriors.”
I loomed over the dragonborn and noticed the emblem on his armor. Tiamat. I hissed despite myself, causing the dragonborn to bow his head further.
“Give us a reason why.” Maziel said, pretending to study her short sword.
“You’re not from here. I know this. But how you got here,” he shrugged. “You’re trapped now. Like us.”
Maziel titled her head. “Trapped? No, we have means to get in and out.”
The dragonborn shook his head. “How long you been here?”
Maziel briefly considered answering truthfully, if at all. “A few hours at most.”
The dragonborn stared directly at the drow. “Time won’t work right here. Not like out there.”
Panic started to seep in. Even if this was a lie, the prospects of being trapped here seemed too much like a possibility.
“Yaup. Bind him.” Maziel motioned.
The massive half-orc obeyed, lifting the dragonborn up with ease. “What’s your name?” Yaup asked as he bound the dragonborn’s wrists.
“Slicer works.”
As a party, we swiftly returned outside. I glanced up at the sky, and most of us did the same. One by one we turned to face each other with the same terrifying conclusion. Slicer was right. Despite the sun being out, it had moved far faster in its race across the horizon then when we first started.
“Slicer,” Klotonk asked, his voice almost a whine. “Would you happened to know just how much faster time moves here than...outside?”
The dragonborn shrugged. “Three--maybe four times as fast.”
“If the day is almost up....”Maziel started.
“We need to get back to the portal!” Klotonk exclaimed.
It was an all-out sprint back along road we came through. Heedless of danger, we bolted the entire way, the dragonborn dragged in wake. We found the clearing we came from, and saw the shimmering portal back home. The one we would have missed by days. We didn’t have time to think, and one by one we leaped through.
The city that greeted us wasn’t the world I knew. The sky was dark and overcast, and where the proud city of Illium once stood, a ruined expanse of hollowed buildings remained. I dropped my dinosaur form and gaped, feeling the eyes of my friends upon me.
“T-this has to be some mistake, Taelim...” Klotonk was stammering, reaching for my hand.
Maziel was drawing close too, but I didn’t wait. I couldn’t. I bolted toward what remained of the palace sitting on the broken mountains ahead.