The Age of Worms

Session Sixty-Two

In Which We Drink From the Fountain (a.k.a., Story Time with Uncle Buttons)

Sunday, 15 Fireseek, CY 596 (WhatEVER)

After Sayren-Lei yields, there is an expectant pause amongst the Wild Watchers. Sayren-Lei looks defiantly at the other two. Tylanthros simply stares back without emotion. Some sort of non-verbal communication seems to pass between them, then Sayren-Lei’s shoulders slump. “To atone for my outburst, I wish to offer – "

Tylanthros interrupts, “They are entitled to…”

“My elemental banners: they are yours to claim, if any of you might desire one. They can only be gifted to a specific person, but they are yours for the remainder of your life.”

Four members of the party step up to claim Sayren-Lei’s banners: Scar-Eater claims Air, Jane Fire, Tyrrell Water, and Long Fist Earth.

The four Wild Watchers – Tylanthros, Beskawahn, Thadimar, and Sayren-Lei come together and link hands. The obsidian portal stone shimmers and transforms into a remarkable obsidian fountain, its waters cool and sparkling with a rainbow of scintillating light. You all feel an immediate rush of nostalgia – for what, you don’t even know. None of you had childhoods you much cared about. In the case of some of you, you don’t even remember your childhoods. Yet still that emotion is there: a longing for things once known, things nearly forgotten.

Tylanthros speaks. “You have earned the right to return the lore of the Fountain of Dreams to the world. The work of the Order of the Storm is truly done now. The Age of Worms is upon us, and what the powers of old began so long ago now falls to you to complete – if you wish to do so. Drink deep and REMEMBER.”

They do.

Instantly, they are overwhelmed by a sudden rush of alien yet strangely familiar memories. The world around them swirls away into a vortex of lightning and wind, fire and rain, ending in…utter darkness and nothingness.

For several moments, they drift in silence. Only moments, yet long enough to feel the cold perpetuity of the infinite expanse of Time weigh upon them.

And then…with a sudden wrench…

Their minds merge in the spaceless, timeless void of knowledge and nothingness. They lose all sense of self, forgetting that there even was such a thing as “self” and for an eternal frozen instant in time, they experience what it is to be each member of the party as that member of the party, and they experience from inside each other’s minds how the others perceive them, in a rush of indistinguishable thoughts and impressions.

They feel what it is to be Tyrrell: desperate to purge his memories of Hades, but staring down the reality that they’ll haunt him forever. Knowing that he is Tyrrell, but clearly not Tyrrell. To be not-quite-content with the changes…yet acknowledging that the memory of what he used to be is fading. Mourning – always mourning – something lost…but losing sight of what that even is. Was. As far as I know, Tyrrell the human is gone forever. And it’s starting to feel like that human was just a dream. And maybe that’s fine. Because while this quest, stopping this apocalypse, for lack of a better word, is the most important thing I could possibly be a part of…I’m starting to feel like it might just be better to destroy the world than let it fall under the sway of Kyuss. I remember once having aspirations in the world of Thieves, but that seems small and petty now. I hope there is another purpose for me should I survive the days to come, but I don’t know what that could be.

They feel what the others think of Tyrrell in an avalanche of voices and thoughts:

“He is the thorn.”

“He is brass.”

“He’s like a big brother. The one who picks on you and makes you cry. But it’s not like he meant to do that.”

“Though I do not believe he thinks of me as a friend, I care for him.”

“He is a mystery to me but one I instinctively trust. It’s easy to accept him for exactly who he is, even when we disagree.”

“He’s always looking for the angle. The way out. The thing that will totally screw our enemies. And he’s good at it.”

“When fights are headed south, I look to him to turn the tide.”

“I need him in the shadows conjuring the solution no one else saw.”

“He has the worst fucking luck. Whenever the world is gonna throw stuff at us it always seems to get him first. Always.”

“His constant state of transition concerns me, and I keep a vigilant eye on his progress. I would take no pleasure in destroying him.”

They feel what it is to be Scar-Eater: lost, alone, raging in hatred, a voyager without a path before he met his friends…and a path – THE path – opened up before him. Aching to be known as more than just a “local legend,” craving to be feared and admired by all for stopping the Age of Worms. I will meet my enemies head-on, raging in a Blaze of Glory (cue Bon-Jovi), and the last thing they will know is failure – surrounded, prone, useless, humiliated, with all of us looking down on them, pissing on their shattered dreams. And then, when the possibility of the Age of Worms is ended, I will bring on the great Age of Sleeping till Mid-day and seek a shard of what others call peace. Seriously, when do I get to take a fucking nap?

They feel what the others think of Scar-Eater in a blast of voices and thoughts:

“He is the fire of chaos.”

“Always explicit in his desires and actions.”

“He doesn’t take shit from anyone.”

“He always makes me laugh.”

“I love his devil-may-care attitude.”

“I wish I was brave like him.”

“Completely unambiguous, and all the more reliable for it.”

“His steadfast reliability is an endless source of comfort to me.”

“I don’t share his relish for destruction but I see his honesty as a kind of honor.”

“I hope that when he’s smashing things apart that he’s living the way he wants to, and filling whatever hole was torn in his life.”

Though he’s not present, his absence is a presence strongly felt, and they feel what everyone thinks of Archie, in a flood of thoughts and voices:

“He is the anchor.”

“He’s got our backs. I wish we could have his back. I wish he was here with us right now.”

“Capable, smart, brave, uncomplicated, willing to do what needs to be done.”

“That guy is like the only adult. The rest of us are running around doing whatever stupid shit we’re doing and he’s on a mission.”

“He’s responsible in a way the rest of us aren’t.”

“I need his eye when the situation gets hairy.”

“As an ally he is invaluable, but I fear him.”

“He unnerves me. An efficient killing machine distant from the impact of his deadly work.”

“I remember being jealous of him, feeling usurped by him, but those memories are fading.”

“The idea of never seeing him again, or of him being fundamentally changed upon our reunion, is intensely painful.”

“Holy crap, he’s gonna be so fucking old when we see him next.”

They feel what it is to be Long Fist: to KNOW so little, but to be sure of one thing: the evil and undead that wish to claim this world, these lives, must be stopped. Wishing to see to see the creatures of Oerth free from corruption, despair and darkness. Hoping and persevering…despite hopelessness and fear…in the face of all uncertainty. I have faith…in what, exactly? In hope. In honor. Every time I have witnessed the vanity and hubris that my comrades…no, my comrades and I…are susceptible to, I experience the pain brought on by division and detachment. My misguided desires to appease the few have lead me to capitulate to an ideal that isn’t true to my heart. I have failed myself. And by failing myself, I have failed my friends. BUT I also believe in forgiveness and redemption. So where does that leave me? Where does that lead me?

They feel what the others think of Long Fist in a cascading rush of voices and thoughts:

“He is the wall.”

“He is a giant, dangerous puppy that’s always there for you. No matter what.”

“He throws himself into the fire over and over again, sacrificing himself without ever thinking about it. And all out of real love and the biggest heart ever. He does that for all of us.”

“I admire how he’s faced death time and again, shaking it off and marching on.”

“I love how he takes all the punches till I can get there.”

“I fear I’ll never be able to thank him properly.”

“He is a source of comfort that the possibility of true goodness can exist. But I worry that he himself does not fully understand what it will take to get himself there.”

“I’ll NEVER understand all that striving for Paladin-like goody-two-shoes bullshit. I can’t see any possible justification for that worldview. ”

“I respect his conviction, but can never be comfortable around him as long as he is so uncomfortable in his own skin.”

“I wish that he could protect himself better from himself.”

“Fear drives his actions and I fear for that in him.”

They feel what it is to be Riddle: dreaming of safety, which he can never have. Dreaming of a family, robbed from him forever. Enslaved against his will to a bunch of old dead gods, like a fucking FREAK. Looking like a freak. Girls don’t like bald guys. I’ll be alone forever. I’m not even human anymore. And every time I make a fucking choice, this fucking prophecy makes me a joke. I don’t even deserve what I have. Everyone in the party had real skills and abilities before we met. I just fell into a vat of weird shit and got connected to these Vaati. If I wasn’t connected to them what use would I be? “Hey guys you go on and save the world and I’ll just hang out over here like a total fucking loser.” I thought having power would make me not be a loser anymore. Now I’m just a loser with powers. And no independence. This stupid fucking prophecy. These stupid fucking dead gods. Gods are so fucking stupid. Of the living gods, only the really shitty evil ones seem to be doing anything. The “good” ones have their heads in the fucking sand. Fuck them. Fuck this.

They feel what the others think of Riddle in a wash of thoughts and voices:

“He is the storm.”

“I admire his knowledge of, well, basically everything.”

“We need his chaos in battle”

“His emotions are an endless source of mystery and confusion, but I admire his ability to think abstractly and to act on instinct.”

“Riddle is as his name implies. He takes bold leadership yet derides alternate points of view, which speaks of weakness.”

“I’m utterly baffled by him.”

“He is consistent on the battlefield but his loyalty never seems selfless.”

“I can’t comprehend his relationship with whoever it is he communes with. But I’m always happy for the way he pulls us out of the fire.”

“He may be the most powerful of us all – for which I love…and fear him.”

They feel what it is to be Jane: striving to understand and ACCEPT each thing for what it is. Including her companions. Recognizing that any desire to change them is only a projected struggle to change something within herself, which is where her effort is better centered. They provide my sole attachment to the world of humans AS a human. I can’t think of what would happen to my budding humanity without them. Had these people never come into my life I would still be a wolf, cowering in the pits of Diamond Lake, losing whatever remained of my humanity bit by bit. I do not mourn the fate that could have been. I only wish to better understand my companions and why they do the things they do. I want to trust them but I cannot always do so. They are more complicated than beasts and their motives are obscured by emotions. It’s hard to recognize myself as one of them. Though I am certain now that I would continue to pursue my purpose even if I were alone. The Natural World must allowed to progress along its course without overwhelming influence from the tyranny that comes from men and monsters. Sacrifice is justified, even the sacrifice of self, physical and moral. Those who would usurp the power of the Natural World for their own ends must be removed from the equation one way or another.

They feel what the others think of Jane, in a furious rush of thoughts and voices:

“She is the beast.”

“Her power and wisdom far extend beyond the experience of us all.”

“She is my best friend. She calls me out on my shit and makes me think about things in a different way.”

“I admire her ability to adapt. I need her to continue strategizing clearly during the coming trials.”

“She is the unquestioned leader of the party, waiting in the wings to assume the mantle we all hope she’ll take up.”

“She’s clearly the leader of this party, even though she’s the only one that doesn’t seem to see that.”

“She’s our leader and the most rational moral compass of the group, which I…mostly respect. But not always.”

“I just wish she wouldn’t worry so much.”

“I loved her friendship and camaraderie during what feels like another life, and I understand that that past – and that person — are gone now.”

“There is a kindness in her which I appreciate, and yet there is also a growing sense of detachment from the world and its cares which fills me with sorrow.”

“How do you mourn for a friend who’s still alive?”

Their overlapping, communal mind-mass steps back from its dip into the waters of personality, identity, and self and expands into the realm of Desire and Direction. Though it’s hard – so hard – to concentrate, they can feel each other wrestling your shared consciousness onto the task of directing the Fountain of Dreams to a particular piece of information. Like steady heartbeat, something throbs immediately to the foreground: a shared question, “Where is the phylactery of Dragotha?” They feel a lurch in the timeless void for a moment…and then a wrenching halt as another question races forward – not quite past the initial question, but urged almost as universally strongly: “What is the source of my power?” They feel the Fountain absorb that question into the first question and begin racing their shared consciousness off into one distant direction of the void outside of time and space.

As they travel, they each slowly start to regain a sense of what it is to be THEM. As you travel, they hear the drumbeat of the two questions – “Where is the phylactery of Dragotha?” and “What is the source of my power?” – moving them ever onward, seasoned occasionally by faint, distant outbursts of random mind-noise, questions like “How’d my finger get there…?” and “Father, did you ever love me?”

As they travel, they begin to gain some understanding of how the Fountain of Dreams works. In order to collect and hold all information that has passed out of knowledge for all time…the Fountain must exist not outside of Time but somehow in ALL Times. Once the magic that created the Fountain brought the Fountain into existence…the Fountain had ALWAYS existed. WILL always exist. Until its waters are drunk. And then it will cease to exist. Cease to have EVER existed. But in order to hold all secrets that pass outside of Time and knowledge, the Fountain exists in all times. And it doesn’t function like a library – cataloguing and imparting information from a distance – it imparts knowledge by bringing the drinker TO the moment in history when their question can be answered. They will actually VISIT the answer to their question…

Or, in this case, questions. “Where is the phylactery of Dragotha?” and “What is the source of my power…?” “How’d my finger get there…?” and “Father, did you ever love me?”

So, here they go. They are now traveling back in time to the answer of their Questions. Starting at the beginning, then moving forward through time back to the present.

Back and back they go, drifting through time and space and understanding. Days turn into weeks into months into years into centuries as time and space fly past their perception in a mind-numbing blur of sensory input. They sense the cacophony of their companions’ questions to the Fountain of Dreams, murmuring and babbling in the background, with one idea pulsing and pounding above all others “What is the source of my power?”

And finally, they settle in one place, one time.

They see a dark alley late at night. They are not there yet, but soon they will be. The power of the Fountain is slowly bringing them into being here, now. Then, there.

It is nearly 3,000 years ago. It is a small town. There is a festival. There is noise. There is light. But not here. Not in this alley. A young woman returns from a dance where she just kissed Devin for the first time. She is Lara. Her father calls her Lara-belle. Her sister calls her Belle. This is her town, her street. She feels safe. She doesn’t notice the darkness. She doesn’t notice the lack of people around her. She doesn’t notice the figure lurking in the shadows of the alleyway.

They are not yet materialized, but they see it happen. The figure grabs the girl. The girl cries out. She knows what is about to happen. She screams.

They are not yet there yet, but they see it happen. A man stumbles past the alley. He hears the cry, or he thinks he does. A hand has clamped so tight over Lara’s mouth that she cannot make another sound.

The attacker’s strength is terrifying.

The man at the mouth of the alley stops. Did he hear something? Did it sound like a girl in pain? The man is tired. He lost at dice tonight. He has a family of his own. He would hate to get into trouble and leave them high and dry with the crops failing so miserably this year.

The man shrugs and moves on.

The figure in the alley turns its attentions fully to the girl.

They are starting to materialize now, and through the power of the Fountain they know what happens next. The man in the alley is no man. The man is a dragon. One of the worst of the reds. Still a juvenile, but powerful. Still a juvenile, but hungry in its appetites. Craving domination. Curious about what it might be like to have a BROOD. It took human form and now it will take the girl. Lara will survive the rape, but she will not survive the birth of Dragotha’s child as it claws its way out of her. She will not survive to see her offspring become a terror in its own right (with Dragotha having moved on, never bothering to even see if his seed survived). She will not survive to see her offspring father more, and more and more on down the line, monsters of rage and destruction and flame, till the line thins and becomes (more or less human – sort of) and finally, thousands of years later, leads to the birth of Scar-Eater, the only one in generations to feel the burning rage of a thousand suns that it took to awaken the dormant powers.

They are taking solid form in the world now, and as they become REAL in this place and time, the Fountain gives them the gift of comprehension. This is The Choice that was made: one man chose to ignore the call of compassion for another human’s suffering and by inaction allowed an unspeakable act to occur. This is the source of Scar-Eater’s power: power was born in blood, flame, and pain – his power hails from the Dread Tyrant Dragotha, first consort of Tiamat, then for centuries upon centuries the devoted lich servant and highest in command of Kyuss’s armies. Kyuss’s most powerful weapon. The lynchpin for all of Kyuss’s plans. Scar-Eater has been tied to Kyuss’s story since before he was born.

They materialize with an understanding of their choices. They will only be here for a moment. The Fountain brought them here to witness the source of Scar-Eater’s power. Accept that knowledge, do nothing, and move on.

OR.

They are here now. They could intervene, save this one girl, save Lara…

And erase Scar-Eater’s entire existence from the pages of history – never to live, never to play his part in stopping Kyuss’s plans in the future, never to use his powers against Kyuss, never to play his part in saving the world.

The Fountain seems to ask: What do you do?

Scar-Eater does nothing.

The multiverse holds together. The party vanishes from this place and time races on, carrying them all with it.

Time slides forward, days and weeks and months and years. They sense their companions’ questions, pulsing in the background, two questions pushing forward now: “What is the source of my power?” and “Father, did you ever love me?”

Finally, they settle in one place, one time.

They are on a small moon floating in the vast emptiness of the Astral night. Above you is a monastery, smooth, angled, white, and perfectly ordered. They are not there yet, but soon they will be. The power of the Fountain is slowly bringing them into being here, now. Then, there.

It is roughly 2,500 years ago. The War against the Queen of Chaos is long over. The Empire of the Vaati is long over. The Age Before Ages is about to turn, and with its passing countless races and civilizations will die out as the multiverse makes way for new stories, new times. Here, at one end of the universe, the last bastion of the Wind Dukes clings to relevancy. 212 souls live here, worshipping Itifaar, the Beginning; Isme, the End; Elistaa, the Order; Taurah, the Blade; K’atiir, the Storm; Faruq, the Light; and Ahlissa, the Mystery. The last souls in all of creation – except one – to worship these dying gods at the dying end of a dying Age.

211 of these souls live in peace with their lot, with their kin, with their station in life. One, however, does not. Senna.

Senna, who was passed over for promotion in a society where station is everything. Senna, who spoke a truth the others did not want to hear, and was punished for it. Punished! In a society where truth and fact are supposed to be paramount. Cast aside. Seething. An outsider with literally nowhere else to turn in the entire universe.

They are not yet materialized, but they see it happening. Senna has a device. They don’t recognize it specifically, but they understand a bomb when they see one. Senna kneels beneath the Pillar of Illitar, one of the seven pillars holding the monastery aloft, and sets the device. He will have to trigger it manually. But what does his death matter in the face of revenge against those who cast him out? It matters naught. Senna is prepared to die.

They are not there yet, but they see it happen. Senna whispers a prayer to Isme and kneels. He prepares to set off the device.

They are starting to materialize now, and through the power of the Fountain they know what happens next. Senna presses the button. The device ignites and over two hundred Wind Dukes die.

This act will leave a single half-vaati demihuman on the Material Plane – named Tanner Land – as the last worshipper of the Seven in the entire multiverse.

The Seven, at their height, were active gods, present gods, from a time when modern strictures and rules regarding the pantheons were different. They lived among their worshippers. And they were not tyrants, trying to micromanage every detail of their mortal realms to suit their desires. They were leaders. Some were good, some were evil, but as a whole they respected order and balance. And above all, they treated their clergy with respect, acknowledging the most powerful as equals, and giving them reign to challenge their decisions and to exercise their own free will. As long as their free will respected the inherent Order of the universe.

But that was long ago.

The Seven are now only clinging to life by a thread. They lost the power to take physical form centuries ago. They lost the power to individually grant spells decades ago – now they can only do so acting in concert. Like they must do everything.

So when this bomb ignites and all their worshippers but one perish from existence, in an act of desperation they will fully surrender their individual godhoods for all time and touch their last worshipper with their remaining power…that some shred of their names, deeds, and power might linger through the ages, and perhaps be born again.

They give their power to Tanner Land. Tanner never knows it, never feels it. He was never strong enough to call forth the power, you see. And even if he had been, he had not the will to control it, to stand toe to toe with the wishes of dead gods and claim their power for his own.

Tanner died, slain before his time by the great Cyclops king, but not before fathering a daughter, who bore a daughter, who bore a son, who fathered many, on and on down the line, leading eventually to Riddle’s grandfather Anders Land.

Anders Land, the nobleman’s son in Alhaster, never satisfied with his station, always chafing, always discontent. Anders Land, who fell in love far above his station, who impregnated his adolescent love with the child that would grow to be Riddle’s uncle, Prince Zeech. Prince Zeech, the tyrant of Alhaster, who took control of the Bandit Kingdoms, who fell under the sway of Kyuss’s second-most powerful ally, gathered a small army of “fallen angels” and in the five years you have been absent from the Material Plane, has prepared his city to be the seat of Kyuss’s return and the birthplace of the Waiting Age: the Age of Worms.

Anders Land, the nobleman’s son who was banished from Alhaster and settled outside Diamond Lake to become a simple farmer. Who hated being a farmer. Who hated the simple life. Anders Land, who married Bemissa Darlan and fathered Colderan, Gertia, and the child that would grow to be Riddle’s uncle, Alistor Land. Alistor Land, who ran away from his father’s drinking at age 13 and died as a child in the Whispering Cairn. Alistor Land who lingered as a ghost, waiting for eternal release. Who found it at the hands of his nephew, never known in life. Who reached an ethereal hand from beyond the grave to open a door for his nephew when he needed help the most.

Anders Land, the simple farmer who was never satisfied. Who snuck behind his wife’s back for nights in the local whorehouse. Anders Land, who impregnated “Lefty” Traise with the girl that would grow to be Riddle’s mother, Seela Traise. Seela Traise, a genentic mutant, but so sweet, so lonely, so in need of protection. Seela, who caught the eye of Allustan Neff, the wizard who acted as protector and mentor in her rough teenage years. Seela, who caught the eye of Allustan’s brother Lanod during a visit from Greyhawk. Lanod, who would fuck up his life in the Free City and be banished to the pity-posting of Mayor of Diamond Lake. Governor-Mayor Lanod Neff, Riddle’s father, who would remember that tormented little girl and have his way with her as his first act as Diamond Lake’s mayor, leading to the birth of Riddle. Riddle, one of his eight sons and three daughters, none of whom he knew about, none of whom he cared about. Seela would try to get access to the mayor, but Seela would fail.

But in the end it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter that Riddle’s grandfather was basically a weak-willed shitheel (despite being the bearer of an ancient bloodline of significant power) who only did a half-assed job of looking after his illegitimate child. One of several. It didn’t matter that Riddle’s father was a privileged, disgusting shitheel who didn’t even know about his illegitimate child (one of many) and wouldn’t have lifted a hand to help him if he did.

It didn’t matter because when Riddle was born, Seela’s life changed forever. Before Riddle, there was only solitude and despair. After Riddle, there was a reason to live. After Riddle, there was a reason to make the best of things. After Riddle, there was a reason for HOPE. And she did hope. Her life was hard, but it had value. And it brought a small piece of light to a dying world at the end of a dying Age in one of the shittiest little shit towns ever to be covered in shit.

Riddle, who always wanted a family, who always sought for more, never content with what he had. Never noticing, acknowledging, or accepting the blessing of having had a mother at all, ignoring her and dreaming of some family ideal that was never his to have. But even if it had been, he would never have been satisfied with his horrible father, his uninspiring grandfather, his tyrant uncle.

Riddle, who always wanted a family, failing to notice the new family that sprung up around him and which needs him more than any of his actual relatives do.

Riddle, always searching for exactly what he already has.

Riddle, blessed with the strength of will to shape his own destiny, forever railing at the universe for robbing him of choices.

Riddle, the only soul in the long Land bloodline to carry the power of the Seven that had the strength of will, the mental discipline, and the courage of Purpose to actually use that power. Even more: with the strength to own the power and make it his.

Riddle, the quintessential teenager.

But, of course…Senna knows none of this. (Remember him?) Senna is thinking only of revenge.

They are taking solid form in the world now, and as they become REAL in this place and time, the Fountain gives them the gift of comprehension. This is The Choice that was made: one man chose vengeance over the lives of his fellows and used his power to slaughter the last of his race. This is the source of Riddle’s power: his power was born in vengeance, destruction, and pain – his power is tied to the forces that stopped one apocalypse in the Age Before Ages, and his bloodline is tied directly to Kyuss’s return through his uncle Zeech, though Zeech certainly never knew about Riddle. Or cared. But Riddle has been tied to Kyuss’s story and to the fight against Chaos since before he was born.

They materialize with an understanding of their choices. They will only be here for a moment. The Fountain brought them here to witness the source of Riddle’s power. Accept that knowledge, fold it into their worldview and understanding, and move on.

OR.

They are here now. They could intervene, stop Senna, save the hundreds of lives hanging in the balance above you, prevent the Seven from passing into Tanner Land, thinning his bloodline, forever altering it, leading to different choices, different lives, different couplings, different kin…

And by doing so, erase Riddle’s existence and the existences of his entire bloodline from the pages of history – never to live, never to bring peace and joy to his mother’s life, never to play his part in stopping Kyuss’s plans, never to use his powers against Kyuss, never to play his part in saving the world when it needs him the most.

The Fountain asks: What do you do?

Riddle does nothing.

They vanish from this place and time races on, carrying them all with it.

Days turn into weeks into months into years into centuries as time and space fly past their perception. They sense the chaos of their companions’ questions to the Fountain of Dreams, throbbing in the background like a deep ache, one idea rising above the others “What is the source of my power?”

Finally, they settle in one place, one time.

They see a well-kept living room in a wealthy-looking, sharp-angled house made of smooth stone. They are not there yet, but soon they will be. The power of the Fountain is slowly bringing them into being here, now. Then, there.

It is 2,000 years ago. It is the great and powerful city of Kuluth-Mar at the height of its mortal power. It is vast. It is teeming. The followers of Emperor Kyuss are multitude. Their love and fear is palpable.

There is a festival. There is noise. There is light.

But not here. Not in this house.

A human woman, noticeably and hugely pregnant, sits alone. This is Xera.

She is afraid.

She should be.

Her husband returns home and takes off his helmet. His armor is very familiar to you – it is the armor worn by the Kyuss Knights of Kuluth-Mar when you fought there…will fight there thousands of years in the future. But the armor is bright and clean not, not tarnished by the ages. This is Thrazdan. Not Thrazdan the Deceiver, the name he will take for himself in his afterlife, but simply Thrazdan. He has a position of great honor – personal bodyguard to the Emperor. This position has afforded them many luxuries. For years, Xera could turn a blind eye to the source of her husband’s great wealth because she loved great wealth and all that it brought them. But with the child on the way, Xera has started to reevaluate her choices.

Something about the gathering tomorrow doesn’t feel right. She fears for her life, her husband’s life, her child’s life. She has decided not to go. She has decided to flee, to seek a better life. To somehow atone for the horrors that brought her a life of such decadent comfort.

They are not yet materialized, but they see it happen. Thrazdan senses Xera’s doubts. He is powerful. He is charming. He is persuasive. He holds his wife in his arms and convinces her that everything will be okay, that there is no danger tomorrow, that their position of power will spare them from the pain and suffering visited upon all the sacrifices that have come and all that will come to pass.

They are not there yet, but they see it happen. They see a silver-tongued liar, already craving the rewards of eternal undeath and power beyond reckoning, they see this liar use nothing but his words to talk his wife into walking willingly to her own death and the death of their child.

Xera is reassured. She promises to attend the ceremony tomorrow. Thrazdan smiles. He kisses her forehead. He lays a hand on her belly. When the baby kicks, they share a laugh. Thrazdan puts his helmet back on, walks out the front door and into his future (as a foul abomination) with an easy heart and a spring in his step.

They are starting to materialize now, and through the power of the Fountain they know what happens next. Tomorrow, Xera joins the tens of thousands of others in the square before the Great Ziggurat. When Kyuss ascends to godhood, the shadowy wave of necromantic energy will strike her down like it strikes down the tens of thousands of others, forever desecrating this place. Among the sea of corpses, some already rising and vomiting worms, a baby with no name, touched by shadow and death, but protected by its mother’s flesh, touched and changed, doomed to Hades, but alive…after a fashion – among this endless sea of death and horror, a baby will emerge from the womb.

A Wormcaller will discover it squalling and find it humorous. It will debate between crushing its helpless little skull or turning it into the world to wreak some delightful havoc. It will choose the latter.

This nameless baby will survive on the fringes of society and beget offspring. Descendants drawn to the shadows and the night, with an affinity for darkness, the strength to kill, but cursed with sickly bodies and weak, fragile wills. Over time, the line will adapt and transform and grow to appear more or less human and finally, thousands of years later, it will lead to the birth of Tyrell: the only one in generations to pass in and out of death, set foot in the flames of Hades and return to tell the tale, cross the planar boundaries and visit a realm both in time and outside of time, bound in mystery and truth, carrying pieces of his own true nature – a single finger – left there by himself as a guidepost, so that his soul became untethered from the pretense of humanity under which it had always operated.

His ancestors knew what it was to be hunted. His ancestors knew what it was to be feared. His ancestors, to a certain degree, lacked some of the brazen boldness of Tyrell, and all of the purpose. They learned to hide who they were. They self-selected mutations that kept them from public knowledge. But this body is who he always REALLY was, who he was meant to be. And the truth is that his soul is owned by Hades so he’d better be careful about crossing that boundary between life and death – who knows how easily he’ll be able to return next time, or at what cost? Better just live forever, eh…?

They are taking solid form in the world now, and as they become REAL in this place and time, the Fountain gives them the gift of comprehension. This is The Choice that was made: one man chose a lifetime of wealth over the lives of countless others and used his silver tongue to choose dark powers over the life of his own family. This is the source of Tyrrell’s power: his power was born in lies, shadow, and pain – and his power hails directly from Kyuss himself, though he certainly never knew it. Or cared. He has been tied to Kyuss’s story since before he was born.

They materialize with an understanding of your choices. They will only be here for a moment. The Fountain brought them here to witness the source of Tyrrell’s power. Accept that knowledge, do nothing, and move on.

OR.

They are here now. They could intervene, talk to Xera, convince her to leave the city tonight, now, while her husband is out, save her life and ensure that her child is born human, healthy, and will never follow the path it followed in this timeline…

And erase Tyrrell’s entire existence from the pages of history – never to live, never to play his part in stopping Kyuss’s plans in the future, never to use his powers against Kyuss, never to play his part in saving the world.

The Fountain asks, What do you do?

Tyrrell does nothing.

They vanish from this place and time races on, carrying them all with it.

Days turn to weeks, to months, to years as centuries of time and space fly past their perception. They sense their companions’ questions to the Fountain of Dreams, two pushing forward now: “What is the source of my power?” and “How’d my finger get there…?”

Finally, they settle in one place, one time.

They see an island. Tilagos Island. Tilagos Island before the Nyr Dyv was covered in perpetual storms. The day those storms began, in fact. Tilagos Island before it was both a location on the Material Plane and its own demi-plane. The very day its split nature was born, in fact. Tilagos is small, unremarkable. Well, mostly unremarkable. But the scene on it and around it is an overwhelming assault on your senses.

It is 1,500 years ago. The sky is filled with smoke, screams, and horror. The din of battle fills their ears. The waters of the unbelievably vast Nyr Dyv have been literally parted to make a path from the north shore of the lake to Tilagos Island. In the distance, great cities – once mighty, forgotten entirely by the party’s time – lie in smoke and ruin. The cacophonous moans of the undead ride on the wind. Though the immediate area is clear of destruction, as far as your eyes can see stand the forces of mankind, a great army of men and women standing against the return of the Wormlord, who recently began to break free of his prison. Who will break all the way free if this assault claims enough lives. The army of mankind is vast. Yet for all their numbers it is immediately obvious that they fight a losing battle.

Beyond them come the armies of the dead, an endless wave of undead, swarming over the earth, unstoppable. They see familiar creatures: Spawn of Kyuss, Wormcallers, Eviscerator Beetles, Overworms, Ulgurstasas, and more. And there are other, stranger creatures: enormous worm-dripping centipedes who cause the ground they walk on to boil, immense black scorpions whose mere presence turns the living on their allies, and horrific worm-like dragons who breathe out vast swarms of writhing green Kyuss worms. And wheeling in the distant skies, attended by hundreds of smaller dragons, is a terrifying shape: a skeletal red dragon of impossible size. Dragotha.

Dragotha’s forces are remarkably focused. It first seemed like their goal was simply the human army before them. That army, however, is merely the obstacle. The actual goal is the Order of the Storm, gathered near you on Tilagos Island. The forerunners of Dragotha’s forces swarm over and PAST the human army racing on with all speed to the place where you are currently materializing.

They will be here shortly. And they will overwhelm the Order of the Storm.

The Order were the only ones prepared to lead this fight. They have been ready since the previous battle against Kyuss’s forces 500 years previously, when the elves worked their magic to bind the newly-ascended god into the writhing monolith and sealed the site of his blasphemous ascension for all time. The elves moved on, but the Order survived. And remembered. And knew that the Waiting Age – the Age of Worms – is always a possibility.

When the signs became clear, they rallied the forces of mankind to stand and fight. This would be of vital importance. But, sadly, it would also speed along Kyuss’s aim, for each soul that died defending the mortal world would add to Kyuss’s power. It was a fight that in the long run could only lead to defeat, but in the short term was necessary for victory.

Victory could only be brought about in one way: Dragotha must be stopped.

Few creatures in existence have the power to crack a hole in the Wormlord’s cell. Dragotha is currently the only one. He created the rupture. His active concentration holds it open. But soon, the unholy power unleashed by the rising tide of undeath will overwhelm the need for Dragotha’s participation.

Soon, like, minutes from now.

The Tyrant Dracolich must be sent into hiding.

It is unclear whether any now living have the power to destroy him, even temporarily. His power may be far beyond that.

But he might not know that.

And what the Order does have the power to do is to hide away the phylactery they so cleverly stole. And when the location of the phylactery disappears from all knowledge, Dragotha – they hope, they pray – will falter and will flee. The tear in the prison wall will snap shut and the tide against Kyuss’s return will turn for good.

(For now, at least.)

The Order of the Storm is now only thirteen strong. Well, twelve, because the party arrives in time to witness the expiration of Zadia’s life. Her wounds were too great. She was the lynchpin of the Order’s hopes for she would be the power source for the Great Magic, yet with her expiration, you see no pall of hopeless pass over the remaining members of the ancient druid order. No such pall falls over them because prophecy has made it clear that a savior is about to appear. The Daughter of the Storm herself. She will take Zadia’s place and all will be well.

They hope.

They must hope.

The leader of the Order speaks with their greatest ally. The party recognizes the leader at once. It is Tylanthros – but Tylanthros before he became a Wild Watcher. Tylanthros as a mortal man. They recognize the other three watchers among the gathering as well. They are alive, human, in a way in total contrast to the soulless, memoryless automatons of service they just left at the Fountain of Dreams far, far in the future.

Tylanthros speaks with a beautiful, young, vivacious elven woman with silver hair and gleaming silver armor. “ Lashonna,” he says, “you must engage Dragotha yourself. We must begin the ritual and have faith in the prophecy. The Banished Storm will be born. She will hold off the approaching forces. She will take Zadia’s place. But none of this will happen if Dragotha reaches us first.”

“I understand,” the elf says. She embraces Tylanthros. “I will never forget you. I will never forget your sacrifice. I’ll see you in another life.”

She turns and leaps into the air. As she does, she transforms into one of the most beautiful creatures they’ve ever seen in your lives: a radiant silver dragon. The dragon takes to the air and soars overhead, over Kyuss’s army, and into the swarm of dragons guarding Dragotha and his fell approach.

They are not yet materialized, but they see it happen. Horthomon and Arbelia and Sigaddad set down their burden of the crystal sarcophagus, the sarcophagus that would have held Zadia’s body throughout all time. They join hands and begin chanting. Beskawahn, Thadimar, and Sayren-Lei – the other Wild Watchers – join them. So do two others.

Tylanthros turns to a woman, Saellas. Saellas and her sisters hold a giant crate seemingly fashioned of lead. They cannot see within, yet they know it contains Dragotha’s phylactery. Tylanthros says, “Go now, Saellas. Take the phylactery to its cradle in Kongen-Thulnir. Work the magic we have agreed upon.”

Saellas says, “My sisters and I will never forget your sacrifice.”

Tylanthros says, “Nor will we forget yours.”

“Yes, you will,” she says. “You’d better. Or this is all for nothing.”

They smile. They embrace. Saellas touches her sisters and they vanish.

Tylanthros joins the chanting of his companions. Amidst the strange words of power, the Fountain grants the party understanding of several key lines.

“Four to give their flesh to stand our vigil.” Tylanthros and his three Wild Watcher companions begin to burn.

“Three to give their minds to contain the memories.” The three that carried the crystal sarcophagus are buffeted by winds that begin stripping the flesh from their heads.

“Two to give their hearts to seal the path.” The last two members of the Order of the Storm, Anwyn and Mellethon, gasp as their hearts turn into solid obsidian inside their chests.

“One to give her soul…to save our souls.”

It begins to rain. Instantly.

“One to give her soul…one to give her soul…”

Tylanthros continues the chant even as his flesh burns from his body. The others continue their gestures of power as they sacrifice everything they are, were, and ever will be to save the world.

And they wait, against hope, for the Daughter of the Storm to appear.

They are starting to materialize now, and through the power of the Fountain they know what happens next. Jane appears with her companions. They have one minute to hold off the ground assault of Kyuss’s forces while Lashonna the Silver holds off Dragotha. Somehow – at least, the last time this cycle completed – Jane succeeds. She helps her party as long as she can, and then before the expiration of a minute, she makes her way into the crystal sarcophagus. The ritual completes.

The spell takes hold.

Jane’s companions will vanish. All knowledge of Dragotha’s phylactery will pass out of existence. Dragotha retreats. Kyuss is pulled fully back into his prison. For now. The magic parting the Nyr Dyv ceases and the vast armies of the dead are torn to pieces in the resulting chaos. The Storm over the Nyr Dyv takes on its legendary power as its waters become infused with vast magnitude of Jane’s purpose-driven soul. Tilagos the demiplane springs into existence and the Library of Last Resort is born.

For Jane, then, a near-eternity begins as an elemental force – a formless, boundless, memory-less, humanity-less existence as a flowing source of power and energy with only the barest thread of what one would call sentience or intellect or choice.

She is – always was – the legendary storm at the heart of the Nyr Dyv.

She is – always was – infused within the waters of the inland lake-sea. She is – always was – the force of strength and power drawn on by all the nearby druids of the area – the Bronzewood Lodge, the Duskbreakers, the Pinehearts.

Time will pass. Meaningless to her. She’ll be nothing but a force of nature. She’ll exist to provide energy for magic spell and to protect the Library. That’s all. Nothing more. Nothing less.

Yet in time, things will begin to stir.

The worm-ridden dead will rise to terrifying strength in the chasms to her north. The worm-ridden dead will begin to rise in the hills to her south.

She will feel their wrongness and the part of her that was once human will ache to fight them.

But she’ll understand, somehow, that her duty is to simply exist apart from the world – that by doing so, she is fighting against them.

But she won’t remember why.

Or how.

There won’t be enough of her soul or intellect left to process such complicated thoughts.

And she’ll begin to grow worried. The locals will begin to notice that the Storm at the heart of the lake grows angrier and darker over time. They’ll come to call it “The Tempest” rather than the Storm.

The waters of the lake will become so tumultuous that only the bravest (or most reckless) of captains will dare to cross her.

And then her subtly growing awareness will be drawn to a family living in the south of her. A father and mother, both Druids, both of whom call upon her power daily. A father and mother with two little girls, Athena (the eldest) and little baby Jane, the sweetest little girls in existence.

Their life together is an unremarkable one, but it is a gloriously precious one. Each day watching them brings Jane’s awareness to a finer and finer point of appreciation for the miracle of a normal life. As the mother draws on her power to shape the willow tree in the front yard of their cottage into a fort for Athena to play in, Jane feels the opposite of what she feels as the hordes of undead to her north rake great holes of foulness and rot through the heart of the earth.

And then it will happen. Did happen. Has happened. They die. All of them. The whole family.

A Spawn of Kyuss ranging north from the swamps stumbles upon their cottage. And within moments, four beautiful, perfect, simple, normal, everyday, REMARKABLE lives will be snuffed out. The baby is ripped from the mother’s arms and hurled against the wall. Mother, father, and sister are turned into unnatural abominations and lurch out into the night.

While the baby lies crumpled in the corner, teetering between life and death, her consciousness winking out, Jane The Elemental Power Source will find herself filled with fury. Fury with this impossibly small (in the vast scheme of her awareness) yet impossibly profound act of wrongness. And she will find herself willing the child to live. To rise up. To fight. To LIVE.

Fury will pulse within her like the beating of a drum… and soon like the beating of a heart… and soon – as a sliver of her non-existent consciousness breaks from her whole and slides into the body of the baby human – she will find herself experiencing a sensation she had entirely forgotten for fifteen centuries… the cocoon of flesh. Her awareness of the lake, the storm, the rift, the swamp, OH NO the Island and the Seal! will begin to fade. Who will watch them now?… All that will began to fade.

She will somehow still be the power source, be the Storm, the Tempest, but she will also somehow partially be THERE. Inside the baby.

No, she will BE the baby…

And then the real confusion will set in… She’ll be found by wolves and the rest will proceed as it has, as it did, as it will, as it was always meant to proceed.

But that’s not now. Now is now. Now is the moment of the spell. And now the cycle will begin again, leading… who knows where…

They are taking solid form in the world now, and as they become REAL in this place and time, the Fountain gives them the gift of comprehension. This is The Choice that was made: one woman chose to sacrifice everything that made her human to become a force of power fighting a great imbalance in the world. She gave up everything that made her her to do the thing that needed doing. This spell and their choice are the source of Jane’s power: her power was born in war and pain and self-sacrifice – and her power hails directly from those who fought against Kyuss himself for centuries. She has been tied to Kyuss’s story since before she was “born.” Whatever that actually means in her context.

But, wait…

All this time travel causality has started a new question pulsing in their still-partially-shared mindspace: before this time traveling happened, how was it possible for Jane to be here?

And before all this time travelling, who exactly – what exactly – was Jane?

Yet no sooner is the thought born than the power of the Fountain makes it clear: once the time travel happened, the time travel had ALWAYS happened.

Events during the time travel… caused the events that led to the time travel… which in turn led to the events of the time travel… on and on in an infinity spiral, the snake eating itself, the griffon and its egg (which came first?).

The time travel happened, has always happened, always would have happened, that’s all the Fountain knows. And all the Fountain can do is bring Jane to witness AND take part in the moment where she herself appeared centuries before her birth to cause the events that would lead to her birth. The hows and whys are now irrelevant. Whether Jane was originally a woman, was always a woman… was originally an elemental power source infatuated with human kindness and suffering, was always an elemental power source… it doesn’t matter. Between the events of the day the Order of the Storm sacrificed itself to save the world and the day Jane left the Material Plane for the Library of the Last Resort, Jane is and was and always will have been both of those things. All of those things.

All that matters, should she step into the future that lies beyond the time travel is which identity she wants to claim: Nature Itself Fighting to Save Itself or Humanity Risking Everything to Save Nature.

But that’s a question for another day.

They materialize with an understanding of their choices. They will only be here for one minute. The Fountain brought them here to witness the source of Jane’s power. She can accept that knowledge, save the Order of the Storm from the approaching forces, and take her place in the crystal sarcophagus as she did before, complete the ritual, and create the conditions that lead to her existence as a boundless font of elemental power.

OR.

They are here now. They could conceivably do nothing. Stand back, watch the Order of the Storm go down, and watch Kyuss break into the world 1,500 years before she was ever born, will be born, will have been born…

The Fountain asks, What do you do?

They fight.

Long Fist summons Hyaeliotope as Riddle casts blessings of fervor on his companions. Scar-Eater points at an undead brute racing towards the group, and they all recognize it as Thrazdan the Destroyer, Knight of Kyuss, Tyrrell’s progenitor. Tyrrell chops off his own finger and Jane races to retrieve it and put her own ring of sustenance on it.

The party takes on the approaching horde in full force, sparing nothing. Heal spells from Riddle and Jane take down Thrazdan. Above, Lashonna the silver dragon paralyzes several chromatic dragons, sending them crashing to the ground. Riddle binds a sixty-foot-long serpent made of bones with binding winds and Jane sees a window in which to reach the sarcophagus and shut herself inside.

Jane lies down in the crystal sarcophagus and it seals around her. She immediately goes dormant, frozen in the identical position they saw her in when they discovered her on Tilagos Island before crossing through the obsidian portal.

The druids’ spell completes.

The two who gave their hearts die as the pieces of obsidian lodged within their chest expand into large flat portal stones and come to rest on the ground.

The three who gave their minds die as their skulls are torn full open by howling winds, their brains torn to infinitesimally small pieces and scattered into a cloud of mist all around the party.

The four who gave their flesh finally burn to death and from out of the purifying fires step the creatures they knew as Wild Watchers, halos of insects already starting to form around them.

Tylanthros cries out, “All terrors that might conceivably stand in Dragotha’s stead, all terrors out of time, all threats to the brief breath of peace I hope may fall, come with us!”

A maelstrom of blazing white and red light bursts forth from the obsidian portal stones and from all corners of the Material Plane, enormous creatures are pulled through space and into the demi-plane being born before their eyes. A titan. A primordial dragon. Mutant dinosaurs. Impossible gorillas. On and on and on.

And as the party’s link to this time and place winks out, they see it happen: Jane’s actual soul leaves her flesh and sinks into the earth, filling the water, filling the lake, filling the rain-lodged sky…

And then they vanish from this place and time races on, carrying them all with it.

All of them but Jane.

Days turn into weeks into months into years as time and space fly past their perception. They sense the chaos of their companions’ questions to the Fountain of Dreams, throbbing in the background like a deep ache, one idea rising above the others “What is the source of my power?”

Finally, you settle in one place, one time.

They are in a small farm house. Comfy. Cozy. It is dusk. A human woman sits alone on a chair, her eyes red and vacant, her brow furrowed, her hands clenched into fists, tears rolling down her cheeks. This is Sasha.

Through the open door to the next room, you see a young girl lying asleep in her own bed, unaware of the grief her mother is experiencing…has been experiencing since her husband took the fall that took his mind. The blow to his skull was horrific enough to crush through and puncture a part of his brain, but even more horribly – it was not quite not bad enough to give him the release of death. The husband sleeps in the other room, the one behind the closed door. He has not left the bed for eight months. He never will leave the bed again, because Sasha cannot afford to travel to a city and pay for the type of healing he would require. But still he lives because she cannot bring herself to end his life.

It is around twenty years ago. Sasha is spending her night as she spends all of her days and nights. Going through the motions, keeping the tears at bay when her daughter is awake, letting them flow when she sleeps. Maintaining the farm. Maintaining her husband. Maintaining. Persisting. But not really living.

And then the front door opens. In steps Sasha’s husband.

Standing

Walking.

ALIVE

Sasha gasps. “Erik?” she whispers.

Erik closes the front door and removes his traveling cloak. He crosses to the daughter’s door and closes it. He peeks into the bedroom where he lies living and dying, smiles, and shuts the door again. He crosses to Sasha.

“Erik?”

They are not yet there, but they see it happen. He kisses her. She submits, weeping.

Erik’s eyes were blue, but this Erik’s eyes are sickly neon green. They see this, but whether Sasha sees it is unknown. Irrelevant, in fact.

His eyes are green because he is not Erik. He is not even a man. He is not even a human. For a brief instant, through the power of the Fountain, they glimpse the true form of Mahuudril, the high priestess of the Tabernacle of Worms. A twelve foot long, pale, maggot-like monstrosity, coated in foul slime. Its head splits in three flaps to reveal a lamprey-toothed maw ringed with glowing green eyes like those of a fly. Six of its eight arms end in longsword-length scythe-like appendages, the other two end in sickly hands, mockeries of humanoid digits. Along its twelve-foot, pulsating, stinking, foul length are a dozen tentacles dripping with slime, ending with even more sickly fly-eyes. It is an avolakia. It can take any humanoid form and almost none can detect its true nature.

Mahuudril has been busy this past year. She knew the Red Death was coming and has been busy preparing.

After all, the work of the Wormlord is never done.

And the way must be paved for his return.

Thus it was that she created the Cult of the Ebon Triad all those years ago at Lashonna’s request. Humans are so easy to manipulate, especially fanatics like the followers of Hextor, Erythnul, and Vecna. And the cult – the fake cult, the useless cult, the perfect front – would be needed to engineer the destruction of the city of Cauldron, perched on that volcano’s edge. It would be the fulfillment of the third prophecy. The first, of course, is the arrival of the Red Death, and that’s what would get the work of centuries seriously launched.

Next year, plague will kill hundreds of thousands in the region.

Hundreds of thousands of corpses.

The beginning of the Wormlord’s army.

Lashonna sent the dragon Illthain to seed the worms throughout the region, ready to begin their march. The worms are the perfect transmitter of undeath, and the ultimate expression of Kyuss’s power, beauty, and majesty. Unlike zombification or other lesser – yet highly communicable forms of undeath – the worms keep their hosts’ natural talents intact. Strength, speed, cunning, patience, intelligence – all intact.

So, while Illthain is seeding worms, Mahuudril is seeding powerful host bodies throughout the region.

Her plan is simple. Has been simple the many hundreds of times she’s done it. She takes human form – male form – and impregnates women with the right bloodlines, hoping to create perfect specimens of powerful humanity to act as uberspawn when the Red Death comes and the worms rise.

Her half-human/half-aberration spawn will be human for all intents and purposes but will inherent (those that survive to term) Mahuudril’s strength, speed, agility, perception, and powers of stealth – making for perfect hosts for Kyuss’s worms. They will be able to camouflage themselves in most environments. Their endurance and speed and strength of Will will be far above those of the average human. They will be drawn to learn about aberrations and stalking and hunting and they’ll never know why. They will thrive in swamps and caves and never know why. Some will be drawn to melee weapons – those will favor multiple blades, never knowing that they’re aping their mother-father’s many raking claws. Some will be drawn to missile weapons, firing faster than the eye can follow, firing arrows at a rate it would seem would require six – or eight – hands to manage.

But all of that is beside the point. The point is what is happening now.

Through the power of the Fountain they know what happens next. Sasha embraces “Erik.” Sasha falls into his arms. He is here, that’s all that matters. This is what they do. This is what she wants. Why question it? Why deny it? Sasha turns off that piece of her brain that might give her pause and follows the path laid before her.

In 20 minutes, a child will be conceived. A boy. Strong, fast, stealthy, all-seeing, driven, drawn to the darkness and swamps and Underdark, a great hunter of powerful focus. His name will be Erik Korbin (called Junior by Sasha before she dies), though he’ll never know it. He’ll only know the name he took for himself: Archie Forrest.

In roughly a year, while he lies squalling in his crib, his mother and sister will die from the Red Death. And so, at long last, will the man his mother married – Erik Korbin – so will he finally move beyond the veil, claimed by the Red Death as well.

Since Archie is not here, the party understands that they will not materialize here and now. They are only here to witness. And as they witness, the Fountain gives them the gift of comprehension. This is The Choice that was made: one woman followed the path laid before her, however wrong it may have felt in the back of her mind, however much she might have – could have – questioned it, and chose to slip into a customary role in a time of terrible pressure and need, leading to the fulfillment of one of Kyuss’s high priestess’s plans for the world. This is the source of Archie’s power: his power was born in cunning, self-deception, and pain – and his power hails directly from the strategizing of one of Kyuss’s leading fulfillers of prophecy in the world. He has been tied to Kyuss’s story since before he was born.

They vanish from this place and time races on, carrying them all with it.

Time passes in a blur of speed this time. The time difference between their last destination and this one is small – miniscule in the scheme of millennia that they’ve been traveling. As they travel through time and space, they sense the chaos of their companions’ questions to the Fountain of Dreams, throbbing in the background like a deep ache, one idea rising above the others “What is the source of my power?”

Finally, they settle in one place, one time.

They see an open courtyard in a building built for literal giants. Doors are nearly 20 feet high. Steps are almost three feet high. Everything towers at a scale that makes them feel like insects. The city clings to the side of a gargantuan gorge, that monstrous tear in the flesh of the world known as the Great Rift Canyon. That miles-wide, miles-deep tear in the world created when the Rod of Law was sundered, all those thousands of years ago. They are not there yet, but soon they will be. The power of the Fountain is bringing them into being here, now. Then, there.

It is 20 years ago. It is the once-great city giant city of Kongen-Thulnir in the crumbling, waning days long past its glory. It is vast, but nearly empty. The society of Stone Giants – allies of the Order of the Storm in days of old – that lived and ruled here for centuries, guarding the phylactery of Dragotha, keeping it safe from the agents of Kyuss, those giants have long since died out. As generations and centuries passed, their mission of guarding the phylactery vault went from duty to order to tradition, and from tradition to faith and superstition. Then other giants came to Kongen-Thulnir, some on errands of peace, some to make war. Control of the city changed hands countless times. Wars and squabbling reduced the city to ruins, a shadow of its once-mighty glory. Yet through it all, the wards and mystical auras left behind by Saellas and her sisters persisted. Each new tribe of giants to claim Kongen-Thulnir quickly came to view the Citadel of Weeping Dragons as their responsibility. They knew not why. They knew not what rested within the inner vault of the citadel, yet they knew it was their duty to protect it.

But again: the glory that was Kongen-Thulnir is a thing of the past. Now it is a horror show of foul lesser giants, ogres, and ogre-kin. It is a place of savagery and physical power – not the beacon of knowledge and goodness and order it once was.

The giants of Kongen-Thulnir, specifically in the Kharhakhan tribe (the Riftlords), are at a turning point. Their king, the cloud giant Achaime Silvereye, is ill. Has been ill for decades. With Silvereye on his deathbed, the Riftlords are breaking down into subtribes, each with their own petty lord, each with their own agenda.

The Khargak-dwergun tribe (the Rift Crawlers) is in disarray. Charlgar’s attempted coup nearly cost him his life and he and his followers are nursing their wounds, fading in prominence as fast as they rose.

The Tiamikal Nul-Shada tribe has remained apart from the power struggles in the city. Their duty is to guard the Citadel of Weeping Dragons, and to their duty they remain constant. In their own way. Constant but apart.

Back to the courtyard. One of the Riftlord subtribes is gathered en masse: giants of all shapes and sizes, and many, many ogres. An upstart hill giant/ogre crossbreed named Turrok has challenged “ Kroth the Learned” for chieftainship. Before today, the ways of the Stone Giants were still strong in the tribe – thanks to the teachings of Kroth the Learned – and so murder was not a part of the transfer of power. Duels, yes. Displays of power, yes. Savage mutilations, sometimes yes. But never murder. The Stone Giants taught that murder was an abomination against the natural order. But the Stone Giants are long gone now. The dwindling numbers of the tribe had made murder seem ill-advised… but such logic requires higher brain function… and the giants of this subtribe are losing such function.

They are not yet materialized, but they see it happen. Turrok battles Kroth the Learned for control of the tribe. The fight is brutal. The rage of the watching crowd is awe-inspiring. Kroth has the upper hand for much of the fight, then a turned ankle on a crumbling flagstone leads to a sudden sea change.

Kroth goes down.

Turrok rises above him. This is the moment when victory would be claimed. If the ways of the Stone Giants held, Turrok would take an ear or a finger and Kroth the Learned would acknowledge defeat before the entire tribe.

But the bloodlust of the crowd is palpable.

And the hunger for power and might and cruelty is strong in Turrok.

They are not there yet, but they see it happen. Turrok raises his axe. He is going to behead the helpless Kroth. They see a literal monster, a mountain of towering muscle and physical strength set aside the teachings he once knew in his heart to be true, craving the easy answer, craving the rush of power…they see this grotesque horror make the decision to set his entire tribe, his family, his party, down one path, a dark path… when he could have chosen differently.

They are starting to materialize now, and through the power of the Fountain they know what happens next. The axe falls. Kroth the Learned’s head rolls. The crowd goes wild. And all of Kroth’s choices for two decades will come to an end.

Tomorrow, the hunting parties that normally tackled the more deadly but less sentient prey of the Great Rift, would take a different path…they would turn for the first time to hunting the far easier prey of the human villages to the south. Hunting for flesh. Flesh to ravage and flesh to consume. One particular raid will lead to Long Fist’s inception – for he is, after all, the son of Turrok – and to the death and rape and torture of dozens of innocents. Hundreds, over time.

They are taking solid form in the world now, and as they become REAL in this place and time, the Fountain gives them the gift of comprehension. This is The Choice that was made: one man chose the easy display of strength and might over the life of another soul lying helpless and defeated at his feet. Had he chosen otherwise, Kroth would have lived and the raid that gave birth to Long Fist would not have happened, for Kroth’s teachings were powerful…but only as long as he lived to espouse them. This is the source of Long Fist’s power: his power was born in murder, brutality, and pain – and his power hails directly from those who guarded the secret power of Kyuss’s greatest general, although they never knew it. Long Fist has been tied to Kyuss’s story since before he was born.

They materialize with an understanding of their choices. They will only be here for a moment. The Fountain brought them here to witness the source of Long Fist’s power. Accept that knowledge, do nothing, and move on.

Or.

They are here now. They could intervene, step forward and stop the swing of the axe blade. Save Kroth the Learned’s life and break the cycle of savagery and violence threatening to consume the Riftlords. Kroth is no saint, but at the moment Kroth is helpless and about to beg for mercy. They could save his life, and save the lives of all who would go on to die in this village and elsewhere…

And erase Long Fist’s entire existence from the pages of history – never to live, never to play his part in stopping Kyuss’s plans in the future, never to use his powers against Kyuss, never to play his part in saving the world.

The Fountain asks, What do you do?

Long Fist turns to the group and say, “I can’t join you anymore. I don’t know how to say this, but…I remember the time at the Bronzewood Lodge, and after – the world felt so small, just focused on staying alive.

“Four months ago, I joined you all, hoping to be a champion for Good. Make a difference. But too long in this campaign have I chosen the small evil over the greater good. Sometimes the greater evil.

“That has never felt right to me.

“I blamed you, all of you, as an influence on who I was becoming. You and the harshness of the world.

“But it was my choice. And now, my responsibility.

“With you I have succeeded as a force of strength and power in the fight against evil. But I have failed utterly in life as a source of inspiration in the fight for goodness.

“A world that survives filled with suffering and indifference is not a world for me.Goodness means saving the world by small acts of mercy and salvation – not just big acts of destruction. Given the option to protect the innocent souls in Brier Town, and all those who have suffered and died because of me, at the cost of my own existence, well, I see the opportunity to do something right.

“I asked you all on my birthday what you fight for. Maybe it’s arrogant of me to believe this, but, I hope you will remember me, though I don’t know if that’s even possible. Mostly, I hope that you will come to believe that you are fighting for actual people, actual lives, actual moments and relationships instead of an abstract world.

“I wish to spare these lives. And. I wish to save your souls.

“Riddle, I know that by dying in the mines when I did, I robbed you of the only chance to return your mother to life. I suspect you’ve long wondered why I should live while she had to die – whether it was worth it or not. Believe me, I have wondered the same thing. But the fact is: her life was no more or less valuable than mine. I see that now, somehow. So, freely and with love, I can now return the gift of life to you that you so bravely gave to me.

“And, all of you, I implore you – let Jane LEAD you.

And with that, Long Fist steps forward and into the path of the axe. His mere presence and the outlandish impossibility of it is enough to bring the bloodrage of the proceedings to a halt. Everyone in the courtyard simply stares for a moment. And when that moment passes, and Kroth wasn’t killed, time is instantly rewritten. Long Fist ceases to exist. He ceases to ever have existed. The world begins rewriting itself around his absence and the power of the Fountain drags the rest of you forward in time. The party will remember Long Fist, but only because they visited, for a brief 19 or 20 years, the dimension in which he had existed. But that dimension, that universe is no more.

With a lurching sense of disorientation, they find themselves standing back on Tilagos Island. The normal Tilagos Island, not the demi-plane. The demi-plane is no more. The obsidian disc is gone. But the crystal sarcophagus is there. Inside, Jane’s body lays just as they last saw it. Then suddenly it breathes. And as it does they can tell that Time is not quite back in phase for them. It’s running super-slow. Starting to speed up, they sense. But still super-slow. Jane’s soulless body takes its first breath in 1,500 years and as it does, the storm surrounding Tilagos Island instantly ceases to be. Like a switch thrown, one instant it’s on and the next it’s off.

With the storm gone, they see the sky. It is day, yet the sky is black, roiling with green clouds centered to the north, where the city of Alhaster lies. The clouds roil in slow motion, though, adding to the eeriness of the sight.

As they slide back into reality, into their own separate bodies, and as the power of the Fountain leaves them, they have one last lingering sensation of awareness brought on by the power of the Fountain. As its power is fading from them…its power is actually fading, period. The magic that created the Fountain is dying out and the secrets and threats it contained are slipping out. Inside dusty, forgotten tomes in massive libraries, pieces of lore are materializing where they never had been before. Buried in chests, amongst wreckage at the bottom of the sea, in sealed corner stones at the foundations of old houses…inside log books, diaries, ledgers, notes, scrawlings…information is materializing. Nowhere obvious. Nowhere immediately noticeable. And no one knows it’s happening. (Well, a few know it’s happening.) But it is happening. All the knowledge that had disappeared from existence is slowly returning and can now be found again. Perhaps. With the right motivation and a great deal of luck. But it’s all coming back here. And over the next centuries, well into whatever Age next follows, it will start to reemerge. Unless, of course, all of the prophecies are right and the next Age is the Age of Worms. In which case, everyone’s fucked anyways.

And thanks to the power of the Fountain, they understand that while they are the only holders of the information they were just given…for now…that their advantage will be short-lived. Some of their foes, foes such as Dragotha himself, are among the longest-lived (or unlived) beings in all existence, and easily among the most powerful beings on the Material Plane. Dragotha has bent his entire formidable powers to finding his phylactery for centuries. He will sense a change and he will learn quickly. And he will act quickly.

THE RACE IS ON.

Despite what seemed would be happening, Time is not speeding up yet. But something is going on. They themselves are speeding up, but the world around them seems to be slowing to a near halt. The clouds almost freeze in their angry roil overhead. The massive waves crashing down on the shoreline are suspended in mid-air, cascading flashes of spray glinting green in the still, frozen air.

They barely have time to process that this has happened before a perfect circle nearly 30ft. in diameter opens in the air a hundred feet overhead. Beyond, in stark contrast to the horrific black and green sky, through the portal they see an endless expanse of sun-dappled grassland – the Blessed Fields of Elysium. And with a nearly eye-destroying intensity of light, the honest-to-fucking-goodness sun in humanoid form comes flying through the portal.

They see an old human man in robes of white, with gleaming golden hair and beard. He rides a breaktakingly beautiful creature like a hooved lion with a unicorn’s horn. Its mane seems to be made of living flame. Its eyes burn with fierce intelligence and a sense of driving kindness.

Pelor lands. He dismounts Star Thought, his ki-rin companion. He speaks. His voice vibrates within them to the frequency of the universe and they are driven face down. They cannot help it.

“HOW AM I HERE?” he asks. They can tell it is a rhetorical question because they feel no compulsion to speak. They know that if he did expect an answer to his question, they would fall over themselves and each other to answer him. Love him, hate him, acknowledge him, or not…He is before them and they now know what it means to stand (or lie prostrate) before a god. While their bodies obey, their brains catalogue this experience as something they’ll never forget. The power of gods is beyond anything their adolescent minds could ever have comprehended. And for certain of them…the more imaginative…they grasp hold of a faint truth: there is a reason the gods (well, especially Greater Gods like Pelor) rarely appear in person outside of their Realms, why they have aspects and avatars to send among the mortals… the fact is, the world itself can barely contain the power of one Greater God simply standing on the earth in a state of relative placidity. The thought of Gods of this magnitude duking it out over some slight or disagreement… well, the thought leads to the certainty of the end of the world.

But that’s a tangent. The Sun God just spoke to them. Attention must be paid. Their minds snap back.

“HOW AM I HERE? THERE ARE FEW BEINGS THAT EXIST OUTSIDE OF TIME AS THE UNIVERSE KNOWS IT AND I AM ONE.

“WHY AM I HERE? THERE IS SOMETHING THAT MUST BE ACKNOWLEDGED…

“THOUGH IT CAN NEVER BE ACKNOWLEDGED.

_“YOUR FRIEND CAUGHT MY ATTENTION WITH HIS SACRIFICE. LIKE SAINT JALNIR THE GENTLE BEFORE HIM (A HALF-ORC FAMED FOR HIS BRAVERY IN THE FACE OF PREJUDICE AND THE WRONGS TOO SMALL FOR MOST TO BOTHER FIGHTING… ESPECIALLY THOSE OF GREAT POWER AND LITTLE HUMILITY), YOUR FRIEND CAST OFF A TROUBLED YOUTH AND EMBRACED LIFE OVER SELF, COMMUNITY OVER POWER, GOODNESS OVER NECESSITY. _

_“BECAUSE NO ONE EVER WILL, BUT SOMEONE MUST, YOU SHOULD KNOW WHAT HE HAS DONE. _

_“THERE IS A REASON BOCCOB ALLOWS SO LITTLE MORTAL MAGIC TO TAMPER WITH TIME. IN MANY WAYS, TIME IS THE MOST POWERFUL FORCE IN EXISTENCE. IT CAN ERASE, UNDO, CREATE, AND DESTROY IN WAYS THAT FEWEVEN WE GODSUNDERSTAND. THE MAGIC OF THE LIBRARY WAS ALLOWED, I BELIEVE, BECAUSE IT WAS NEVER IMAGINED IT WOULD BE USED IN THIS WAY. _

“BUT IT WAS.

_“HERE IS WHAT YOUR FRIEND HAS DONE. LIKE A PURIFYING RAY OF SUNLIGHT TEARING THROUGH A DARKENED CAVERN, LIKE A HOLY WIND ROARING THROUGH A SEALED TOMB, HE HAS BROUGHT SMALLBUT PROFOUNDCHANGE. BY CEASING TO EXIST, LONG FIST HAS BROKEN ONE OF THE OTHER MOST POWERFUL FORCES IN ALL CREATION: PROPHECY. _

_“PROPHECY IS AN ELEMENT OF TIME: A RECORD OF PAST AND FUTURE, POTENTIAL AND POSSIBILITY, MIGHT BE AND WILL BE AND MUST BE, IN WRITTEN FORM. IT IS INESCAPABLE, FROM THE MORTAL PERSPECTIVE. IT IS INESCAPABLE EVEN FROM THE DIVINE PERSPECTIVE. UNLESS COUNTERED BY A FORCE MORE POWERFULAND THAT FORCE IS TIME. _

“LONG FIST HAS SHATTERED YOUR PARTY’S TIES TO PROPHECY. AS ONE OF THE MAJOR PLAYERS IN SEVERAL POWERFUL PROPHECIES CEASES TO EVER HAVE EXISTED… SO DOES THE PROPHECY ITSELF CEASE TO EXIST. THERE IS NO LONGER A ROADMAP FOR THE COMING DAYS. THE AGE OF WORMS IS NO LONGER A FOREGONE CONCLUSION. FOR ONCE, IN ALL OF TIME, THE COMING AGE IS NOT FORETOLD. WE STAND AT A CROSSROADS UNLIKE THE WORLD HAS EVER KNOWN. THE PATH AHEAD IS YOURS TO FORGE AND LITERALLY ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN. FIGHT THE WORMLORD. WALK AWAY. TAKE UP FARMING. THE CHOICE IS YOURS. YOU ARE BOUND TO NOTHING BUT YOUR OWN SENSE OF DUTY AND PURPOSE.

“SADLY – FROM MY PERSPECTIVE, WHICH YOU MAY NOT SHAREALL OF THE FORCES AND PROPHECIES AT PLAY THAT HAVE BOUND THE GODS AND MORTALS WHO WOULD OTHERWISE PLAY A HAND IN THIS CONFLICT AGAINST THE FORCES OF THE WORMLORDFORCING THEIR ATTENTIONS IN OTHER PLACES, IN SEEMINGLY MORE PRESSING CONFLICTSLEAVING YOU ALONE AGAINST A MIGHTY FOETHOSE PROPHECIES AND FORCES ARE STILL IN PLAY BECAUSE THEY DID NOT DIRECTLY INVOLVE LONG FIST.

“IN FACT, WITH THE SHATTERING OF YOUR PARTY’S PROPHECIES COMES THE SHATTERING OF THE SEVEN’S TIES BEYOND THE GRAVE TO PURPOSE. THEY LIVE ONLY IN YOU NOW, RIDDLE. AND YOU NOW HAVE THE CHOICE: TAKE THEIR POWER AND LET THEM DIE (AND WITH YOU WILL DIE THEIR POWER), OR CONTINUE TO USE THEIR POWER AND RETURN KNOWLEDGE OF THEM TO THE WORLD AND TRY TO REVIVE THEM AFTER ALL THESE MILLENNIA. THE CHOICE IS YOURS. AT LAST.

“I MYSELF CAN ONLY SPEAK TO YOU HERE BECAUSE THIS MOMENT IS NOT REALLY HAPPENING. ONLY YOU AND I WILL REMEMBER IT. OR PERHAPS BOCCOB WILL, SINCE I INVOKED HIS NAME. TWICE NOW. (HELLO, UNCARING ONE.) AND THERE ARE CERTAINLY OVERGODS WHOSE EXISTENCES AND PURPOSES AND POWER ARE BEYOND EVEN MY UNDERSTANDING, AND THEY MUST KNOW OF THIS MOMENT. PERHAPS THEY ORCHESTRATED IT. I CANNOT SAY. BUT THE FORCES THAT HAVE PREVENTED MY DIRECT INTERVENTION WILL RETURN THE INSTANT WE STEP BACK INTO THE FLOW OF TIME.

_“SO BEFORE I GO, I WANTED YOU TO KNOW THE IMPACT OF YOUR FRIEND’S SACRIFICE. HE NEVER EXISTED, BUT WILL ALWAYS EXIST INSIDE YOUR HEARTS AND MINDS. THE WORLD WILL BE DIFFERENT NOW THAT HE WAS NEVER HERE. IN MOST WAYS, DARKER. IN SOME, LIGHTER. LIGHTER BECAUSE OF THE SHATTERING OF PROPHECY, OF COURSE. BUT LIGHTER IN OTHER WAYS. RIDDLE, YOUR MOTHER LIVES. _

_“WHEN LONG FIST WAS NOT THERE TO DIE BELOW DIAMOND LAKE, THE ASPECT OF THE EBON TRIAD’S ABOMINATION MADE IT TO THE SURFACE TO SLAY DOZENS AND DOZENS MORE BEFORE YOU COULD TAKE IT DOWN. BUT SINCE HE WAS NOT THERE TO DIEYOU WERE ABLE TO RAISE YOUR MOTHER. YOU RELOCATED HER TO RAVENDALE, WHERE SHE REMAINS, THRIVING FROM THE GOLD YOU’D SENT HER. SHE’S EVEN FOUND WHAT MIGHT BE LOVE, IN THE FORM OF A WOMAN HER AGE FROM A NOT DISSIMILAR BACKGROUND. _

_“AND I WANTED YOU TO KNOW THAT WHILE LONG FIST HAS NEVER EXISTED, THE SOUL THAT BECAME HIM IN THE LIFE YOU KNEWTHAT SOUL HAS FOUND A HOME. LIKE I SAID, HIS SACRIFICE CAUGHT MY EYE. HIS RELATIONSHIP WITH HEIRONEOUS HAD ALWAYS BEEN A TROUBLED ONE. UPON HIS DEATH, HEIRONEOUS RELEASED HIM. AND I CLAIMED HIM. NOW, TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO, THE RESULT IS THE SAME: WHEN IT CAME TIME FOR THE SOUL THAT YOU KNEW AS LONG FIST TO ENTER THE WORLD, THERE WAS NO BODY FOR IT. _

_“I CLAIMED THE SOUL. _

_“AND I FOUND A BODY FOR IT. _

“KNOW THAT WHILE THERE NEVER WAS AND NEVER WILL BE THE INDIVIDUAL YOU KNEW AS LONG FIST, HIS GENTLE SOUL LIVES TODAY, IN A DIFFERENT BODY, WITH NO KNOWLEDGE OF THE GREAT ACTS HE PERFORMED, BUT ALIVE. AND, PERHAPS, AT GREATER PEACE THAN HE EVER WAS IN THE LIFE YOU KNEW. SO, MOURN THE LOSS OF YOUR FRIEND IN YOUR OWN WAYS. BUT DO SO KNOWING THAT HIS DEEDS WERE REWARDED, IN A FASHION.”

Pelor mounts Star Thought and flies through the portal to Elysium. The portal closes and the unbelievable weight of the godly presence is lifted from the party. And at the same instant, Time kicks back in and they are in the raging hellscape of Tilagos Island.

Jane emerges from her sarcophagus.

The handy haversack is no longer in Long Fists’s possession because Long Fist never existed. Riddle carries it. He both knows that he never had, but also that he always had carried it.

They’re just standing there for a moment trying to wrap their minds around everything that they’ve just learned and experienced when someone else comes swooping out of the sky. It’s Archie – looking significantly older – and he’s riding on the back of a mother-fuckin’ golden GRIFFON companion! “Tenser thought it would be today,” he says. “I guess he was right.”

There is much to catch up on, which they do so over the course of a long day and night. In brief, here’s what they learn:

Archie has absolutely no knowledge that Long Fist ever existed and that all has to be explained to him. Over the course of the night of storytelling and swapping, they are able to pinpoint what’s different in their memories of the campaign.

First of all, Long Fist was not there to take down the Ebon Aspect in the Dourstone Mine at the moment he did. The enlarged, enraged Aspect broke free from the maze and made it to the surface, where many dozen more people died before the party could drop the thing. Sad, but not irrecoverable.

Second: more sad – tragic, in fact – is what happened at the end of the Champions Games. Without Long Fist to nearly singlehandedly drop the Ulgurstasa with the speed with which he did so, the creature was able to fulfill its purpose. Though the creature is, of course, powerful as a combatant, its true danger lies as an undead manufacturing engine. Without Long Fist’s smiting powers, and given the distraction of Loris Raknian and his goon squad, the Ulgurstasa made it to Auric and consumed him. A blast of negative energy exploded through the arena. The party survived, and some selected others did, but 10,000 commoners were instantly killed and turned into ravenous flesh-eating wights. The Ulgurstasa vomited up its cargo of dragon skeletons and other horrors and soon all was chaos. The wights began killing and each person they took down rose instantly as a wight as well. The party was forced to flee the arena, flee the city entirely. What followed was a disaster unlike any the world has seen before, one which the Circle of Eight is still trying to deal withto this day.

Many other encounters went differently – including the clash with the Marquis of the River, who escaped and still exists having sworn to end your party – but those were the largest and darkest of the tales to relate.

On the lighter side, it is true that Riddle’s mother still lives. Archie checks in on her from time to time, knowing that Riddle would wish him to do so, and he makes sure that she and her partner are alive and well.

After catching up on those things, Archie shares what happened to him:

First of all, the current date: it is Starday, the 8th of Reaping (high summer, though they’d never be able to tell from the perpetually overcast sky), Common Year 601. Almost five-and-a-half years since you went to Tilagos.

After he was banished, Archie appeared on an entirely different continent, high up in the mountains over a city populated by the yuan-ti snake people. He did not speak the language, and was very much unwelcome there, and had to begin what was a year-long trek to return back to Nyr Dyv. Cross-country rangery treks, stowing aboard some ships, buying passage on others. It was epic beyond belief and someday he’ll catch you up on the details of all that transpired.

He made his way back to Tenser, who was still wrapped up in the aftermath of the Champion’s Games, but was able to do some communing with extraplanar entities and learned that it was likely that the party would return, but the when of that was distant and unknown.

For a couple of years or so, Archie kept a vigil at Tilagos Island, hoping to be there when the party returned, or to stop Darl from returning if he could. During those years, he encountered his new griffon companion. The creature was circling overhead during one particular week, and caught his eye. He lured it down, learned to ride it, learned to fire effectively from his back, and established a bond with it. They’re good buds now. Not that it speaks, of course. But it seems almost as though it understands him and with all the time they’ve spent alone together, Archie’s grown accustomed to talking to it.

From time to time, they would head for the mainland to hunt for food and stock up on provisions. As he visited nearby communities, he discovered that the golden griffon was well known in the area. For over a decade, it had been fighting off rampaging giants and ogres, taking down smaller dragons, and fighting off the surging parties of undead that had been wandering the area in greater and greater frequency. Simply riding in on the griffon’s back made Archie an instant celebrity. And he’d marvel at how all the children of the region would be allowed to walk right up to it, pet it, tug on his feathers and fur, all without any consequence from the powerful, dangerous creature. There were all sorts of legends about the beast – how it had been touched by holy power, that it was smarter than other griffons, and it seemed driven by some purpose. In time, he came to learn that the people of the area had given it a name: “Longclaw, the Golden Griffon of Pelor.”

Time marched on. Eventually, Tenser was able to determine that the party’s return was still several years distant, so Archie decided to take Longclaw and start scouting and preparing for their return. Here’s what he knows:

The city of Alhaster is the most cheerfully, pleasantly, smiles-plastered-to-its-citizens’-faces-ly terrifying bleak place. The borders have been closed for a year or so, but Archie and his pal have been able to sneak in and out from time to time. Smiling Prince Zeech began pressing slaves into labor to build a giant structure next to his palace atop his hill overlooking the city. At first it seemed innocuous (despite the slaves dying by the dozens every week) but eventually it became clear – to Archie at least, thanks to his visions of the past – that Zeech was building a near-exact replica of the giant ziggurat of Kuluth-Mar, the structure that helped power Kyuss’s ascension to godhood. All that’s missing is the giant monolith that topped it – but there’s even a place for that.

Zeech’s “Blessed Angels” as they’re called – his army of lady angels – are not holy creatures. Archie has determined that they are actually Erinyes devils, bound to Zeech’s service by means unknown.

Archie and Longclaw scouted the area of the Great Rift Canyon rumored to be where Dragotha makes his lair – a place called the Wormcrawl Fissure. He’s been able to thoroughly map out the area and knows its major power figures: an ancient ulgurstasa sorcerer known as some sort of prophet of Kyuss, a fallen Lillend bard hiding out and making freaky art, and a disturbing lich wizard fabled for the creation of all sorts of monsters like the owlbear, mimic, rust monster, and more. But he has not dared to descend into the stinking pit called Kyuss’s Maw, where something called the Tabernacle of Worms is supposed to exist, and where Dragotha is supposed to lair.

On his first visit to the Wormcrawl Fissure, Archie was struck with intense, unexplained visions of a stately-looking man that (after talking with Tenser) he was able to identify as the long-missing Balakarde, Tenser’s friend who became obsessed with Kyuss nearly eight years ago, who visited the ruins of Kuluth-Mar and then disappeared into the Great Rift Canyon shortly thereafter. Archie suspects that Balakarde’s ghost may haunt the Wormcrawl Fissure, and may even be a source of aid to the party if a more reliable means of communing with his spirit is discovered. Every time Archie felt that presence in his mind, he began feeling PULLS towards the Apostle Caves, the Lillend’s home, and the Lich’s laboratory.

When the topic of Kongen-Thulnir is broached, Archie is able to identify exactly where that is and an overview of the ruined city crawling with a dying civilization of giants.

Then finally Tenser indicated this would be the day the party would return and here he came.

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