Alert: Contains spoilers for the Astral Plain
Ezekiel and Aliana hunted through the magic shops of Mitrik, and dug up a ring of spells that Ezekiel can cast into. (I helped pay for it, since I didn’t get him anything else for his wedding. Lydia popped me and Heiron over to Verbobanc to withdraw the money from the vault.)
So now the plan is: ask (and pay) one of the high clerics of Rao to shift a scouting party to the Astral Plain, have Lydia scry them and send the others through (and bring the cleric back), then have Ezekiel shift her and himself to join us (with our return ticket on his ring).
Look, I don’t think people usually take friends on their honeymoon…but when has Ezekiel ever behaved like other people?
It’s been…a time. It’s hard to know where to start, so I suppose I should go back to the beginning.
Heiron and the happy couple took Agnar through first, and when Lydia lined up on them, I followed Raven and Mikael through.
We had no idea what we might be facing, so I had the sword of Lyons at my belt. At first, I thought I was still waiting to travel…everything was grey emptiness, and I felt as though I was both upside-down and rightside-up at the same time. You might think you’re falling, but there’s no movement…just endless nothing.
Heiron spun gently not far from me, looking a little green. Ezekiel floated a short distance further, seemingly tied to a huge square bag taller even than Mikael. He peeked inside, and we saw the stuff we keep in the portable hole – apparently undamaged. We scrounged up some rope to make it a leash, and Ez gave the end to Aliana while he went through Lydia’s portal (an oval glinting like polished metal) to bring her through. This place obviously does weird things to extra-spacial baggage…I couldn’t get my hand into either of my bags of holding, and I don’t think it’s just because we were all invisible.
Once we more-or-less got our bearings, we could notice something else suspended in the grey that surrounded us. A large pool shimmered not too far away (though distance is a pain to figure in this place), looking like a huge drop of liquid silver. Lydia was with us by this time, so she zipped over to it – like an eagle on ice.
Movement in this plain is unlike anything I’ve experienced before, except perhaps in dreams. To move, you just have to think about where you want to go…or maybe more accurately, you have to think about moving…which is more erudite than first suggests itself. Agnar kept flapping his arms, trying to swim or something. Usin did better, somehow; he stayed on one flank, floating backward and forward as we moved in loose formation.
I told Heiron to just imagine himself moving, but I guess imagination isn’t his strong suit (which might be a reason they couldn’t recruit him in the Temple of Elemental Evil…he was too honest to join them just to get free, and too uncomplicated to fancy he could benefit from their schemes. Of course, I’m not sure they tried to recruit him at all…we try not to talk about what happened to him before we showed up).
Anyway – the pool. When Lydia concentrated on it, the surface turned into a window of some kind, and we could see the road heading to the Mitrik gates…just several dozen yards in the air. We could see the tops of people’s heads below, moving up and down the road, and sometimes carts and horses. She could even move the window with her mind! – and when Raven tossed a candle into the pool, it hit the surface, sank slowly (as though being sucked into goo or quicksand, and dropped away from us, disappearing into a field far below. Lydia moved the window down almost to the ground of Oerth – then pulled it back into the sky so no poor child stumbled through it by accident. At any rate, we decided we might be able to use it to get home if the worst should happen and Ezekiel abandoned us (by dying).
This opened up so many questions…like how many of these pools are there? Does every world have one? How many worlds are there? Are there portals to different places in Oerth?
We weren’t there as scientists, though, and as Mikael pointed out, the whole place felt…like a place life wasn’t supposed to be. Like we’d slid into a crack between realities, and it was only a bureaucratic oversight that let us stay alive at all (now I feel I’m talking like Ezekiel). Aliana concentrated on the sword we were looking for – Faith’s Defender – and we followed after her…though Heiron and Agnar seemed easily disoriented, and we had to concentrate to stay with them.
As I said before, judging speed and direction offers countless problems in this place. There’s no air, so no wind…no sun or stars, so no orientation. Well…there are the floating pools – but those are only visible from the front, or possibly from the sides as a glimmering line. We came across another one, like a solid plate of bronze, and when Lydia examined it, we could see the towers of a strange city. I’ve never seen anyone build like that before; so maybe it’s the Great Kingdom, or the Bakluni remnant. Or some completely different world – the people had blue skin and orange hair. They also seemed to notice the giant floating disk in the sky when it got too close, so Lydia backed away from the window and we kept moving.
I lost track of how many pools we passed. We didn’t get hungry or thirsty…we just floated in the infinite mist, while every so often the pools glinted or sparkled or glowed past us. Mikael said we really needed a floating boat to help us stay together and go faster.
With all that empty space, you’d think the chance of running into other beings would be all but nonexistent. And yet we did.
First, a couple tiger-men flew up to us – much faster than we could hope to go, especially staying together. They seemed more curious about us than hostile, and chatted politely for a moment…but Ezekiel and Aliana never took their eyes off them, and Mr. Ezekiel Make-Friends-with-Black-Dragons-Why’don’t’ya Sentinel spoke through gritted teeth and a strained smile. After the two tiger-men flitted off into the distance, he said he suspected they were shape-shifting demons, and it was just as well for everyone that we had an errand to run.
The next people we met didn’t even stay that long to chit-chat. Our left flank noticed movement from a distance – but they were less shapes and more indistinct patches of light. Ezekiel figured they were invisible, and tried out his gem of seeing – then almost dropped the gem and had to spin in place for a moment, coughing and rubbing his head. He seemed to feel better after Aliana rubbed his head, but he couldn’t tell us if he learned anything useful from the gem.
By that time, the translucent shapes were basically on top of us – and then were past us, and rushing away as though they didn’t realize we were there. Lydia said it’s quite possible they didn’t realize we were there, since they might interact with light in a totally different way than we do…but I’m just glad we didn’t have to fight something that fast and that hard to see.
We got plenty of fighting later.
Heiron tried to draw his bow earlier, but had trouble in this weightless place – so Ezkeiel loaned him the gauntlets of strength so he could use his sword (his special sword he got from the prince, and which we recovered from the chest). I wasn’t ready to use my bow, either, since I haven’t had much practice shooting in weightless space, nor shooting while invisible. Besides, I wasn’t sure if the creatures we faced might need magic weapons to hurt them.
We finally got our chance when something big rushed out of the mist toward us. It was a ship – with a mast, but no sails, and big bat-wings thrust out on either side, held like fans, or like the wings of a gliding swan.
I had barely taken that in, when the ship drove right into our formation. I instinctively slid to the side – and then our attackers leapt out of the boat towards us.
They had green skin, but they weren’t orcs. Their bodies are skinny, with tough, dry skin, long, stringy hair, big ears, and ugly fangs. They fell on us with two-handed longswords, and they seemed to be perfectly at home in the void, as they slid up or down as easily as to the side to attack.
They, uh, also went down like punks. Raven tussled with one above our heads, Mikael lit them up with faery fire, and Usin lit his sword on fire (Heiron is letting him use his old flametongue, since then Agnar could have one, too, but I have not decided how I feel about this). Lydia threw a bolt of searing light from her staff (I know it’s called Magic Missile, but my way sounds cooler), and Aliana ducked forward with her sword. I admit it was nice to finally see her in action. The relatives are always gonna be awkward, but it looks like Ezekiel got a quality lady.
Tressarian and I weren’t useless, either, but it took us a moment to get the hang of fighting in frictionless space. And I admit…it was gratifying to cut down our enemies without them even seeing me.
Their gear wasn’t impressive enough to bother ourselves with (even with the portable hole floating there, large as life with plenty of room), but we were excited to see the boat. Mikael helped Aliana look it over while Ezekiel patched up the people who got run over, and then we tied the portable hole to the deck and all climbed aboard.
You’d think that, with no gravity, it’d be hard to keep your feet on the deck…but maybe having something that big and solid to focus your mind on helps with the whole “imagining” thing. However it works, Aliana sat in the chair at the rear of the boat, sort of where the rudder might be, and steered us toward her mental image of the sword…while the rest of us relaxed and enjoyed the ride and watched the pools of metal and mercury float by.
Mikael seems happy…although he still grumbles that there’s no trees around, and he can’t feel a connection to anything natural anywhere. But he likes the bat-wings on the boat.
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