TMA Down Time

TMA Down Time
Art by @spoiledchestnut

Saturday, November 25, 2017

Session 28

Hestavar sparkled with its eternal sunlight. An astral city of superb wealth and architectural triumph, it made Illium look like the sticks. Nothing less was to be expected when gods like Erathis and Pelor shared the burden of dividing their divine affection here.
I, however, was miserable despite the glamour all around, like a pouting child being dragged through the streets. Mouth shut and eyes ahead, I followed behind my friends, as they determinedly made their way to the floating city’s docks. There we chartered our astral-seafaring ship toward a destination the captain made very clear we might not return from. Which suited my current mood, but everyone else shrugged and paid the fare.
For three days I spent most of my time on deck, leaning over the railing and watching the sea of stars pass beneath and above us. Only faint shimmers between soaring islands ever marked progress on our path. We just trusted the captain to get us there, which he did in short time.
It was as if the celestial island materialized in front of us. One moment we were gliding across the stars, and the next we were pulling into the port of some white sand beach. Far into the distance, the most imposing mountains I had ever seen dominated the horizon. Yet, it was the five robed torchbearers that drew our attention as we stepped onto the docks. They waited patiently on the flagstone path, which split in two different directions. Off to the right was a small hub of some sort, and the left led up a winding passage into mountains.
“You seek the Trial,” one of the robed figures came forward to greet us.
Maziel looked at Klotonk who shrugged in response. It was the half-giant, Kolae, who moved to the front of the group and spoke on everyone’s behalf.
“Yes,” her voice rumbled. “We require the blessing of the gods, for the sake of our plane.”
The robed figure only nodded, extending his torch. “The gods know this, but which will answer your call remains to be seen. Choose your companions, for only five may endeavor this challenge. It is their will.”
Kolae raised an eyebrow, hiding her surprise well enough. She glanced over her shoulder, and I counted numbers with her. Including her, we were a party of seven, and as uncanny as they came. Maziel and Klotonk stepped up, determined not to be left out. Where Maziel went, Cosmo generally followed, and he was already at the drow’s side. That left me, Dagon and the goliath brother, Odison, exchanging glances.
“Go, Kolae. Represent us,” Odison said simply, taking a decisive step back.
Kolae didn’t seem the least bit pleased at the prospect. Which left me and the dwarf, and I was already moving away from my friends.
“All you, Dagon. You’ve got the bigger bone to pick, and now Asimba to look after too.”
The dwarf scratched the chin beneath his beard. “You sure, Taelim?”
Maziel opened her mouth to argue, but I hurried my reply.
“Positive!” I said, stepping toward the rightmost path. “Show the gods what’s what.” I tipped my imaginary hat. “And...don’t get killed.”
“Stay out of trouble, Taelim,” Maziel warned.
I grinned and waved, watching as they each took up a torch and set off toward the mountains. A shadow loomed over me, and I lifted my gaze to meet the pale blue irises of the goliath. Odison regarded me a bit uncertainly, shifting on his feet. I hadn’t really spoken much to the quiet cleric of Pelor, he mostly kept to himself or the company of his sister. He certainly wasn’t a ball of energy, and lacked the charisma Kolae exuded.
“What do you say we find a tavern, big guy? We’re going to have time to kill.”
He shrugged his massive shoulders. “To drink?”
Odison questioned it so innocently I felt bad laughing. Oh, here we go. “Yes. If you don’t, I certainly will.”
He rubbed his bald scalp distractedly. “Kolae doesn’t drink.”
“Kolae isn’t here,” I smiled wryly. “I’m asking you.” I reached up, but found I was pointing at his stomach, not his chest. He didn’t even notice.
“I suppose one won’t hurt,” he responded timidly enough.
“Fantastic!” I said, tugging on his arm. “Let’s go!”

It was an undeserved resort trip. While my friends were likely risking life and limb, Odison and I discovered a beachfront bar more than happy to supply us with drinks. We made for awkward companions at first. I wasn’t in much of a talking mood to start, and he wasn’t a conversationalist at all. Still, he was the one to get me chatting. Perhaps it was my rapid succession of drinks which concerned him. Either way.
“That’s the thing,” I whined, motioning for another round. I shoved a tankard in front of the goliath, and he obeyed sheepishly. “Everyone wants something different from me, and no matter how hard I try to please people, it’s never enough.”
Odison considered this, nursing his drink. Apprehensively, he offered his opinion. “Why don’t you do what makes you happy then?”
I shrugged halfheartedly. “It’s not that easy,” I answered between sips. “I can’t just turn my back on Illium…”
“You seem miserable though,” he said quietly before turning away.
“I guess…” I conceded, sloshing the contents of my cup idly. “Can’t be helped now…”
“No one deserves a lifetime of unhappiness,” Odison said, barely above a whisper. He shifted in his stool, and it groaned under his weight.
“Doesn’t matter,” I finished resolutely. I downed my drink and took up another.
“What would you want to do with your life then?” Odison asked earnestly, his pale blue eyes genuinely curious.
I peered at him over my glass, slowly lowering it to the counter. I didn’t respond at first, so he filled the unease with his own excitement.
“After Kolae and I kill the nidhogg, I’d like to return to our village...reunite our tribesmen,” he smiled at the prospect. Then he looked at me, waiting patiently for me to reply.
I chewed my lip for another few seconds. It had been so long since I even entertained the notion. I spent half my time doing what I was told, then rebelliously escaping Illium for a moment or two of sanity. “Funny, my life was always laid out before me. When my mother told me who I was, it was the only time I ever considered other possibilities.” I snorted at the turn of events. “As a runaway, I spent so long fearing my father’s opinion, I never considered he might want me to take up his mantle. Not ruling, but fighting!” I smiled at Odison, who only beamed back. “I’d become the Magi of the Hunt, just like him. Adventuring around the realm, not bound to Illium--believe me, they’re fine without me…” I cocked my head, warmed by the thought.
“That sounds like a grand plan,” Odison encouraged softly.
“Yeah,” I replied, distracted at the prospect. “I’d probably try to get Lys back too...I have no idea what we are, but...why are women so--” I looked up at the goliath hopefully.
Odison shook his head quickly, suddenly panicked. “I’m terrible with them, please don’t ask me.”
I laughed. “Right, well, it’s all wishful thinking anyway.”
I raised my glass to the goliath, and he tipped his tankard into mine.
“It’s the best kind,” he said airily.
No argument there, as I emptied another cup.
The rest of the party walked into the beach bar close to dawn. By that time, I was determined to see Odison even the slightest bit intoxicated, but that took a lot of alcohol. Trying to keep up proved an even worse idea. When Maziel stumbled into the tavern, battered and dirty, she didn’t seem the least bit surprised the two of us were still up and about. The life of the local party.
I watched Kolae’s well-muscled arm grab her brother by the collar and hoist his nine-foot frame easily to his feet. With a few concise reprimands, she sent him skulking toward the door.
I grinned up at the paladin, her form a hazy blur. “Easy on him...he’s a good guy,” I hiccuped. “Besides, I made him drink…”
“One’s will is one’s own, young druid,” Kolae said simply, grabbing me with one arm and draping me over her shoulder.
It was for the best, I passed out seconds later.

I awoke, sprawled on the most luxurious bed I had ever known. I half expected my world to spin out of control with a hangover, but I blinked up at the bright room with perfect clarity.
“Good, you’re up,” Maziel said calmly. She was seated at the table in the corner, oiling one of her leather bracers.
I retreated back under the silk covers. “How’d it go?”
Still intent on her task, she spoke. “Not well. The only god to answer our summons was Kord. After surviving a Cabiri of his making, he left us with little more than his best wishes.” Satisfied, she cleaned and slipped on her bracer, then shifted her stare to me. “I suppose we could have ascended to the Hall of Heroes, but I’ve still got much to do on the Material Plane.”
“Well, at least Primus isn’t going anywhere,” I offered, but Maziel didn’t respond. After another moment of silence, I crawled out of bed and started to get dressed.
“Do you want to talk about it?” Maziel said, her voice low in an endeavor to be well-intentioned.
I paused, halfway through putting on my boots. “No,” I replied at last. “Not right now.”
“Very well.” Deftly, the drow got to her feet. “Meet us outside when you’re ready, Taelim. Klotonk’s going to teleport us back to Illium.”
I grunted my acknowledgement, waiting for her to leave the room. I took my time finishing.

I kicked at the sand idly, careful not to disrupt Klotonk’s work. I was going to miss this brief respite. It was back to the grind. I sighed loudly, and begrudgingly entered the glowing circle. The familiar sense of vertigo seized us, only this time, it had difficulty letting go. Our vision was blacked out, with blips of familiar places torn asunder. We were thrown from the portal, falling to the floor and landing hard on our backs.
With a curse, I sat up and glanced around. A thick, cold fog obscured my vision. In the silence, I could hear my own heart slam against my chest. Something was very, very wrong.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Session 27

I sat alone in one of Illium’s secluded studies, sipping from my glass and half asleep on the chaise lounge. This week’s deluge of events continued to circle around my head, a mountain of climbing obligations.
“That’s what you're for...” I said fondly to the contents in my cup. I took another healthy swig, allowing my head to grow clouded.
A gentle breeze blew in from the balcony doors, and when I blinked at the rustling curtains, a red-headed halfling was watching me tentatively.
“How drunk are you, Taelim?” Cosmo asked cautiously, taking a step toward me. He wore a peculiar burlap sack that I couldn’t quite place my finger on.
I scooted to the edge of my seat, beckoning the kender close. “That depends on who’s asking,” I continued to examine him, but without the same sense of clarity he held over me.
His bare feet kicked at the floor uncertainly. “I miiiight have gotten in a bit of trouble…” Cosmo admitted at last.
I snorted, drinking deeply. “I’m sure whatever you did to piss Maziel off will be forgotten by morning.”
The kender winced. “See, that’s the thing. Maziel sorta...broke me out of jail with her bat-cloak-thing.”
I stared at the halfling over the rim of my glass, frozen. Suddenly, I recognized the outfit. I slammed my cup down and stood, staggering a bit. “Were you arrested?!”
“I thought you’d be a little more receptive…”
I threw up hands. “Cosmo! You were arrested, probably broke out, and now you show up here?!”
He shrugged. “I figured you could...maybe help me out of this mess.”
“Not if you broke out! I am the law, and I have to do it by the books!”
“Damn,” Cosmo pouted, “not really what I was hoping for…”
“C’mon,” I growled. “Let’s head there so I can sort this out.” I reached for my glass, then thought better of it.
“Back to jail, you mean?”
“No, shit. I have to talk to the guards.”
Cosmo nodded slowly, then without another word, he bolted past me and out of the door. I folded my my arms and watched him go, split with disbelief and frustration. Something primal took hold, and I shifted into a dire wolf and hurtled after him. I chased him down, catching him and pinning him with a snarl.
“All right!” He screamed, likely drawing guards and unwanted attention our way. “Please, Taelim...could we at least bring Maziel?”
Reluctantly, I withdrew, changing back into my half-elf shape. I reached down and lifted him to his feet. “Find the drow who helped you break the law,” I let that linger. It was a difficult notion to fathom. I never thought Maziel would put her hide on the line for the kender she often bickered with. I started to wonder what transpired while they were in the Asimba Mountains.
Cosmo was looking up at me hopefully.
“All right,” I caved, shooing away the guards that had run down the hall. “We’ll get Maziel, and then we do this the proper way.” Whether I liked it or not, I had an obligation to my friends too. They had been my family away from Illium those long years gone, a circus family, but a loving one all the same. Like Maziel might have realized, it wasn’t an easy decision to make.

The drow had refused to say anything as we drew up to the prison. Either Maziel knew she had placed me in a precarious position, or didn’t care. It infuriated me, and by now I had started to sober up, which made matters worse.
I threw open the doors to the prison, cutting off the guards at the front desk halfway through their argument. They stopped and gaped, eyes darting between the three of us.
“P-princess…” stammered what looked to be the warden of this small jail.
“I think you lost something,” I said hotly, turning and gesturing for Cosmo, who came to my side hesitantly.
“Maziel…” Cosmo whined softly.
I should have guessed what came next, but I think at that point everything had already spiraled well out of my hands. The room erupted into a cloud of darkness, obscuring all from sight.
“Run, Cosmo!” Maziel yelled.
Furniture crashed, swords slid from their scabbards and footsteps pounded chaotically about. I stood, swaying furiously in the middle of the blackness as the guards swore.
With a violent swish of my hands, I dispelled the darkness, revealing the clutter and the disoriented guards. I briefly glanced over my shoulder, and saw the door wide open. Maziel and Cosmo were gone. I was breathing heavily, feeling the blood rise to my face.
“Let me get this straight,” I started through clenched teeth. “When the kender was jailed for a crime, one of you thought it best to let the drow gift him with a cloak. A magic cloak. Which he then used to break out of jail.”
“P-princess, thought…”
I held up my hand, cutting him off. I pinched the bridge of my nose and took a deep breath. “Is there a bail fee before his court date?”
“Yes, Princess.”
“I’ll pay it, to cover all our hides.”
The guards looked at each other, then nodded, clearly relieved we were somehow salvaging the situation. That and I wasn’t here to fire them. Yet.
“Is the kender’s gear here?”
The warden nodded.
“Give me all of it, it belongs to me now.”
They handed it over without hesitating, and I slung the pack over my shoulder.
“Good night, Princess…” one of the guards tried, but I had already slammed the door shut.
The next day I half-expected the furious caller who forced his way into my schedule. He was a gnome by the name of Ilya Bleeve, and Cosmo had been caught stealing his magic wares. Which had never been recovered.
“You!” Ilya pointed his stubby finger at me, sitting on the chair across from me before I could offer it.
I dropped down in the seat across the desk, trying to collect myself.
“You helped him escape! That wretched, thieving halfling.” Ilya shrieked.
As calmly as I could, I tried to address the gnome in a civilized manner. “Now, what gave that impression?”
“You were seen with him, at the jail where he escaped!”
“Bringing him back,” I said sharply. “Because I was the one who caught him in the first escape.”
Ilya furrowed his brow. “You’re all friends!”
“True,” I said, leaning into my chair. “But that doesn’t mean Cosmo is above the law.”
“Then turn him in!”
“His bail is posted, and he has a court date, Mr. Bleeve. What more do you want from me?” I asked dryly, hoping someone would run in with an emergency excuse of some sort. I really needed to plan such things with Feeps in the future.
Ilya was beet red, and visibly shaking. “Is there no retribution I can seek? All my wares, gone!”
I sighed softly, then leaned over the desk. “Perhaps we can work something out, Mr. Bleeve. I understand what Cosmo is accused of, but maybe we can resolve this another way.”
Ilya’s eyes narrowed, black beads in his ruddy face. “Are you trying to bribe me?”
I chewed on my lip, realizing how it sounded aloud. I merely shrugged, too late to withdraw my statement.
At once Ilya leapt off his seat. “How dare you? Unbelievable! There is no justice in this system! None!” He turned and stormed out of the room. “No justice!” His voice echoed down the hall.
Quietly, I collected the papers in front of me and moved them to one side. I pressed my forehead against the desk and succeeded in not bagging my head.
An attendant walked into the room shortly after. “Princess, your next appointment is here to see you.”

Later that day I found myself at Klotonk’s house, because there I knew I'd find the kender hiding. I hadn't wanted to confront him, to argue and fight and make matters worse. I was already exhausted and done with the matter.
The succubus Minerva answered the door with a wide, welcoming smile. I shuffled into the living room, and she was already extending me a drink, which to my surprise, I declined.
“Where's the kender?” I asked, glancing around the cluttered space. Though I couldn't spot him, I knew he could hear me.
Minerva shrugged coyly. “What's the matter, dear? You look upset.”
I threw Cosmo's gear on the floor, scattering the contents. “Upset? Yeah, I'm upset. My friends took advantage of me, put me in a shitty position, and I get held responsible. That's not what friends do!” My eyes scanned the room, but by now I could feel my anger fading to fatigue. “He didn't even say sorry…”
I turned and headed for the door, and Minerva rushed after me, hand on my shoulder. She leaned in close. “Is this about Ilya, darling? Cosmo is sorry, even Klotonk reprimanded him...”
I nodded, “It doesn't matter. I can't help those who won't help themselves.” Then I left, walking down the street and leaving the succubus pondering after me.
The next morning I received word from the warden handling the case. Bleeve’s charges had been dropped, but now he was nowhere to be found. Cosmo was a free kender. I crumbled the missive and threw it into the fire, but the circumstances haunted me regardless.
No, the week didn’t get easier. It grew tedious and more painful with every passing moment, all the while I holed myself up at the castle in the service of my kingdom. Obeying. Until the copper dragon came, one of Illium’s allies, apparently to a summons I had made not long ago. The dragon took the shape of halfling, and when I called my party together to heed his words, at least Cosmo had the sense not to show up. The kender was “cooling off,” as Maziel put it, but the drow kept clear of my sour disposition all the same. I was still hurt by her betrayal, no matter how many times she explained it was in order to repay Cosmo’s life favor.
The Astral Plane. The copper dragon had recollected the best way to seal Primus up, back when dragons and giants tried to fight off the god of this world’s making. It went beyond our time spell which temporarily that bound him. We needed a blessing from Bahumut, to find the god’s temple, and earn a resistance to Primus’s mind control. Only then could we face him, and seal him back in the Ziggurat for eternity. Or until someone else set him free again.
“When do we leave?” Klotonk piped up excitedly.
“We can plane-shift tomorrow, charter a ship in Hestavar…” Maziel began making plans.
The goliath twins glanced at each other, evidently eager to be back on track for avenging their past.
Quietly, I got to my feet and walked toward the door.
“Taelim?” Maziel said aloud.
I peered over my shoulder. “You know I can’t go,” I replied, trying and failing to hide my disappointment. I turned and looked over the group. “You can handle whatever challenge they throw at you.”
“Are you sure?” Klotonk asked, a hint of a plea in his voice.
I smiled humorlessly. “Don’t get killed.”
“We’ll leave at dawn,” Maziel called after me. “At the teleportation hub if you change your mind.”
I waved back without meeting their eyes, then moved toward my next appointment.

I have a tendency to allow my feelings to fester inside me. I hide them from the world, and face everything else with a fearless grin and reckless abandon. The results vary, if they don’t outright end in terrible mistakes. Often, I convince myself they were right, if only to dismiss my own chagrin. I had reached a boiling point of late, and instead of trying to address the situation, I did what I do best, and took it out on the one person who had become my solace.
Lysandra was waiting for me when I made my way to the study that night. She was all smiles, two glasses in hand, as I faced her with a furrowed brow and quiet reluctance.
“Long day?” She asked undeterred, sitting at the edge of the desk.
I didn’t respond at first, I was too busy thinking of tomorrow’s schedule. Of Killian and Feeps, of Tylda’s continual beratement. Of Illium, and my self-inflicted burden here. Slowly, I raised my face and studied Lysandra, she had one hand on mine. I pulled away sharply.
I got to my feet, and crossed the room, taking a deep breath. This won’t get easier...I’m making all of this harder. For everyone. I faced Lysandra, who was watching me with a frown. In that moment, I hated myself, because I was about to make a choice. One I didn’t want, but chose all the same.
I stepped up to her, inches away, but she didn’t retreat. She waited, patient and attentive, if fearful. I could feel my own desperate urge to run and forget what I was thinking, to ignore it all and do what I wanted, the life I deserved. I disregarded that too.
“The more I surround myself with you the more I find myself falling for you,” I started softly, my eyes unable to meet hers. “The problem with that is, I've already promised myself to another. For the sake of something bigger than me.” I shrugged, halfheartedly gesturing all around me. “I’m bound to this life now, to Illium and Killian.” I faltered, and somehow mustered the rest of my courage. It was too late to stop anyway. “The truth is, I'm scared about him, and you. I don't what to be my mother. To create another mess that's me and almost bring Illium to its knees.” I could feel my body trembling now. “Lys, I don't want this to be goodbye, because I don't want to lose you, but...whatever this is, I can't do it anymore...I-I'm sorry."
As if my words weren’t selfish enough, that didn’t stop me from kissing her. She didn’t resist, but when I turned and walked out of the room, she didn’t come after me either.
I couldn’t sleep that night, lying awake and trying to defend myself, but failing. I gave up, and crept out the castle when the first rays of light filled my room. My friends were waiting at the teleportation circle, even though it was already past dawn.
Maziel raised an eyebrow at my approach, examining me more critically than normal. She didn’t say a word, and draped an arm around my shoulder.
“Let’s go,” I said hoarsely, and we plane-shifted far and away from the city.