Being an Account of what befell the Brave and Foolish Adventurers after they had shifted once more, this time into the Strangest Place they had discovered in all their Unlikely Travels, to wit, A World Apparently Without Magic!
Chapter One - Arrival (appearing in the field, being captured, the interrogation, the strangeness of the environment, rescue from the Windsor Hastings Observatory)
Chapter Two - The Pall (Londres, the language problem/strangeness, out and about when The Pall comes, the urchins with their sharp blades, fleeing The Sentinel, being aided by the leather-clad chick, discovering the joys of shotguns)
Chapter Three - Matheson House (trip to the Gatehouse, meeting the others, the ghosts in the garden, the shade of Sanguine, the demon in the shrine/church, and the madness of the Reverend. First look at the house, exploring, the Library, being trapped inside, first encounter with a Grey.)
Chapter Four - Death (night in the house, the secret doors, the billiard room, the scene at the dinner table, into the Library, the deceit of Matheson, how he tried to destroy us and how we resisted, learning about our own potentials and the crystal)
Chapter Five - Ynis Witrin (healing at Ynis. St Joan and St George. The Tor and Chalice Hill. The silversmith, Silverblade. Learning of Cscha from the gypsy Bernard Barbuck, who saw the Water Sprite. The play of the gypsies (Teacher Pupil and the Death of Pan). Brian Madigan, of the Knot, hunted by the Greys. Surrounded on the hill. Attacked by the greys. Madigan dies. Ambushed by the greys. The watches.
Chapter Six - A Tomb With A View (return to Matheson. Solving the puzzle of the painting (Roggan). Retrieving the Crystal. Escaping with Feltzer. The greys on Chalice Hill. Betrayal.
Chapter Seven - It's A Madhouse! (the escape from Bedlam. The Drow. Molly Canard. Kitting up. The Clan, the artefacts)
Chapter Eight - The Crystal Palace. (The raid, the items, the escape, flight, the beast, double-barrel. Telegram - walking the rune, the suitcase, Preston Elliott on the train)
Chatper Nine - Walking The World (the second approach to Ynis, killing the patrol, recon, the underground, Cscha, the attack on the Tor, the flooding of the lower reaches, breaching the magic circle, the climb up the hill, the defeat of Gull, Hayden at the last, the Drow, Cscha walks the path, the fall of the Greys, the return of magic to the world, the shift back to the wedding)
"So where are we?" muttered Ballantine through a mouthful of soil
and cowdung. The pommel of his longsword was sticking into his ribs through
his chainmail. He winced and dragged himself to his feet. "Any thoughts?"
The four of them were clearly not where they had been, moments before. The great caravan, the flat open meadows of tall reed, even the sun, all were gone.
"Thoughts?" echoed Roggen Thurgood. "What are they?"
The dwarf stood and wiped clean on the meadow grass the blade of his battle axe, which had become coated with the same muck as Ballantine's face. Drizzle was falling from the low, featureless clouds above. To the east and west, rolling green hills faded into the distant mist, but the terrain was the least of their concerns. Scrylashe Turk had avoided falling into the cowpats. He was a slight man, wiry with short dark hair. He rubbed at an annoying grass stain on his leather blacks and tapped the haft of his dagger for reassurance.
"One thing to be said for villagers," he mused, scanning the green. "They're always the same, no matter what plane you end up on. They only dress differently. Can't see any pitchforks, mind you."
They were on what seemed to be a common, at market time. The crowd of locals had halted in mid-transaction as the four adventurers had appeared in the midst of their day. The fourth and last of their number, Sister Luana, remained on the ground where she had ended up, her legs splayed out beneath her pale blue robes, disoriented but still beautiful.
"Luana?" prompted the burly Ballantine. "Any ideas?"
"Do some magic," insisted Roggan, prodding the half-elven nun with the end of his axe. "They're closing in."
"And those breadsticks could be pretty dangerous," said Scrylashe.
"Especially if they're stale," nodded Ballantine.
The villagers were indeed approaching, in a reducing circle. Some held staves and rods, it was true, but the mob was wary.
"It's demons!" cried an old man from the back of the ring. "Demons appearing in our midst!"
The villagers murmured their agreement. They weren't stupid: everyone knew that demons were dangerous. They came to a halt a good distance away.
Luana had come to her senses now. She stood and brushed loose soil from her robes. She straightened her habet over her blonde locks.
"I'll find out if we really have shifted," she said, closing her eyes and passing her hands swiftly through the air in an intricate, practised pattern.
"Demoncraft!" shouted the old villager who had spoken before, and who knew of such things. "Watch out!"
The crowd ducked down as one, apprehensive, but nothing happened. No flash of light, no explosion.
"That's odd," Luana frowned.
"What's wrong?" asked Ballantine.
"I don't know." Puzzled, she went through the same ritual, but still nothing came to pass.
Emboldened, the villagers took another step forward.
"They're not demons at all!" a young man shouted.
"Oh, they're demons all right," said the old man. "But they're weak and stupid demons! Kill them!"
"Damn!" Luana cursed. "My magic isn't working."
"That's okay," said Roggan. "My axe is."
The dwarf lifted the great blade and swung it once, twice about his head. Ballantine backed off and Scrylashe ducked as the sharp edge whizzed by. The villagers had obviously been contemplating a massed charge, but seeing the dwarf's glinting blade arc through the air, they stopped.
"Come on," said Roggan, baring his yellowed teeth at the crowd. "Let's find us something to drink."
"Suits me," said Scrylashe. "And a comely lass to serve it."
"I don't understand," Luana was still shaking his head. "I know I did it right. What's wrong with my magic?"
They trooped off, the four of them, towards the market tents and stalls, and the narrow road beyond. The circle of villagers broke and scattered as they came on. Only the old man stood his ground, a mere yard away as they passed.
"Old one!"Ballantine hailed him politely. "We seek a meal, four pints of strong ale, a bath, and the odd wench or three. In sum, an inn!"
The old fellow narrowed his eyes and gave them a defiant stare.
"Demons!" he spat. "This time we'll let you off!"
"That's very kind of you," nodded Ballantine. "Just follow the road, do we?"
It was, at least, our intention to shift planes this time, yet we had no control over our destination. In fact, I cannot recall if we even had a destination in mind, and perhaps that is part of the problem. We found ourselves in the middle of a village field on a sunless, drizzle-filled day. The villagers were all around us, engaged in the varying businesses of their market. For reasons I even yet cannot comprehend, we failed miserably to convince them of our credentials as travelling mummers who had appeared in their midst as part of an impromptu performance. No amount of protestation could persuade them that we were not in fact demons. Then again, perhaps in this world, we were.
We sought refuge in a local inn. Tired from our planeshifting, we relaxed our guard, and settled down to a night of rest and planning. But our sudden appearance and strange looks must have caused more of a stir than we had thought. Word had spread far of our presence, and in the night armed men in uniform surrounded the public house and broke into our rooms, even as we sat there, trying to shift away from this new danger - to no avail. We were caught. Sister Luana's magic could not aid us. She had already discovered that, here, it appeared not to function. We had slipped into a dark world.
We were taken by carriage many miles to a prison, where we were questioned at length by a series of officials all dressed, in the quaint fashion of the world, in clothes that seemed stiff and must have been uncomfortable, and were for the most part featureless in grey or black. But the people of this place seemed somehow rigid as well, as though their minds were naturally closed to a part of life that you and I might take for granted.
As a group we stuck to our feeble story - what could we really
say that would convince these people that our differences were simply regional?
- and there is no telling our fate had not chance stepped in. We were delivered
from our cells by a man called Peterson, on the condition that we work
for his own employer, who remained anonymous. Peterson himself did not
appear to be a figure of great power in this world, but it seemed he could
use the legal system to set us free. In delivering ourselves into his hands,
we were clearly taking a chance, but at least we would be out of prison
with our possessions, and have more control of our destiny.
2. The Pall
A curious aspect of this place became more apparent when we had reached the City of Londres - after our liberation, Peterson had travelled with us by carriage to this great city, the capital of its country. It seemed that, when we talked amongst ourselves, we appeared to the natives to be speaking in a foreign tongue, yet in speaking with them, using what to us seemed to be the same language, we could easily be understood. Understand? None of us had any clear idea why this might be so, and still don't, although one theory was that it was a side-effect of our relationship with the Crystal. We were getting quite chummy.
Yet more perplexing was that, no matter we could understand the spoken word of the local population, the written word was foreign to us. This was naturally no problem for the likes of Luana, Ballantine or Roggan, none of them fond of letters anyway, being more suited to the crass entertainments of street entertainers and the bawdiness of the corner inn, but for one such as myself, accustomed to a more cultured and sophisticated way of life, to be denied the pleasures to be obtained from a study of the literature of this world was a sore blow indeed.
Peterson had left us to our own devices in the great, strange city, and so we ventured forth in search of entertainment. Was there a theatre, perhaps, whose players played our tale, as had been the case in Swarkstone?
"Do you see that?" said Luana.
"Of course we see it," said Scrylashe. "We're not blind."
"Just checking," the half-elf nodded. "I thought for a moment my magic might have come back, and I was seeing something......something......."
"Something fucking weird," Roggan finished the sentence for her. The burly dwarf picked up the mug in front of him and downed the dregs of ale. "Well at least we can still get pissed. And that fat git behind the bar can't stop us."
Roggan was right. It had seemed at first that they might be shifting again. The interior of the crowded inn had threatened to vanished before their eyes, but in the end had not quite managed to do so. Instead, a thick grey pall had swiftly fallen, rendering everything dim, as though wrapped in a smokey twilight. Even more strange, the rest of the customers, who moments before had been laughing and carousing amongst themselves, now stood or sat motionless, caught in their last action, outside time. Including the fat git behind the bar.
"Before we do anything," said Ballantine, "I suggest we do nothing."
"A fine plan," said Scrylashe, moving amongst the customers, relieving them of their purses and whatever jewellery was in view. Roggan had made his way towards the beer pumps, but the motionless landlord blocked his way. Undeterred, the dwarf picked up the fleshy obstacle bodily and moved it a pace to one side, then eased his empty mug under the nozzle.
"They won't miss a pint or three."
"My reasoning is this," said the Ballantine, stroking his beard. "Supposing we have in fact shifted, in a way that we have not experienced before? Supposing we have only half-shifted?"
"It's the same outside." Luana stood at the window. The gloom was everywhere, not as deep as the coming night, but grey - the colour had been been washed from everything. Every living thing had stopped dead: a piebald horse and the carriage it drew; a group of young boys playing hoops and sticks; a drunkard caught in his off-balance stagger.
"If that is the case," Ballantine went on, "then perhaps we should wait here, to see if it changes back."
"It's the crystals," said Roggan, downing another pint. "We're not from this place. We don't belong here."
Scrylashe had moved to the door. He looked out along the avenue.
"In that case, we're not the only ones who don't belong here. I can see three small boys looting a bakery." He grinned back at the others. "Quite touching really. Brings out my paternal instincts, seeing something like that."
We chased them - and caught one. The other two slipped down a drain and disappeared into the sewers. The lad that had failed to get away seemed inordinately scared and kept on looking over his shouder, or peering back down the street from whence we had come. Nothing we could say would allay his fear of us, until Sister Luana revealed herself to him. When he saw her elven features, he would at least answer our questions. He was part of a rag-tag tribe that lived below the ground - gypsy folk, it seemed, with fey blood running in their veins. This explained why they were not affected by the pall - there was magic in them.
We heard a keening then, coming from distance, a shrill call that was answered across the city. At this, the lad renewed his pleas for us to let him go. We soon found out why. In the distance we could see a most peculiar creature, and one we didn't want to see close up. It resembled a spider, twenty foot tall with a fat body hanging between its spindly black legs. 'A Sentinel!' the urchin cried in fear, and we let him go as we began our own flight. It took us into a nearby building - still under the lingering pall - but the spidery creature was cunning, and as we made our escape from here, chased us down the street.
It might have gone badly for us, but for the help that came from an unexpected quarter. We were aided by a female warrior, dressed in the garb of the Caldbeck Rise, who like us was not affected by the grey pall. She was a surly character, but she had no love for the Sentinel, and she advised us on how to slay it. She had in her possession some explosive cylinders inscribed with runes. They were to be fired out of odd contraptions from this plane that are called 'shot guns'. (These, My Liege, may be of some interest to your own weaponsmiths. We have brought some back with us). Acquiring some of these devices from a weapon store, we dispatched the Sentinel with great ease. Eager though we were for more battle with these loathsome creatures, we had ourselves sustained some minor wounds, and so made our way back to our hotel, hopeful that the pall would lift.
3. Matheson House
(trip to the Gatehouse, meeting the others, the ghosts in the garden, the shade of Sanguine, the demon in the shrine/church, and the madness of the Reverend. First look at the house, exploring, the Library, being trapped inside, first encounter with a Grey.)
Mayhap, then, a trip to the country would be nice, so that we might recover from our ordeal in the City of Londres? Perhaps a pleasant sojourn in a stately home, in the company of friends? Unless, of course, the destination is Matheson House.
Peterson - or whomever he worked for - had not saved us from the authorities, (or more properly, an organisation that was referred to as the Windsor Hastings Observatory) out of the kindness of his heart. He had a job in mind for us, and as soon as we had recovered from our ordeal with the Sentinel, we were dispatched by steam-driven carriage to the countryside. Our allotted task was to observe certain phenomena considered strange in this plane. We suspected that these happenings would be familiar to us. Whilst the natives of this plane were largely oblivious to it, the existence of the pall and such creatures as the Sentinel had proved to us that magic of a kind still existed here. Indeed, during the pall, Sister Luana had been able to wield magic as though back in Ashwell.
Our destination was Matheson House, and we met at the roomy Gatehouse a small band of fellow 'investigators', like ourselves in the employ of Peterson. Among their number was Jillian McKay, a young researcher who had been studying manuscripts in the library of the main house, some miles distant through thick woods. Also present were the Reverend Rutherford Westbrook; a thin aesthete named Paul Radford who possessed the odd ability to tell lie from truth; Thomas Feltzer, a photographer who specialised in pictures of unusual occurrences; and a scholarly woman called Frieda Woolf. Woolf was what is known on this plane as an ‘occultist’, an investigator into ghostly happenings. She was mysterious and intimidating, and we noted that she wore a shard of crystal in plain view around her neck.
(Here, unfortunately, the account ends).