As we enter the tomb of the illusionist, I find myself at a loss for how to proceed. This is a place of pure magic, where even my keenly honed senses are of little use, and in fact may betray me entirely. Alton stays behind and I find myself envying him. I don’t fear what we’re about to face, but I am apprehensive—I may not be able to much here.
We venture forward. Hedar seems to be able to see by way of the magical auras of our surroundings—like some sort of magical bat. For once, he might have an advantage over those of use with working eyes. And no sooner do I think this than does the madness begin. First, I notice Thorman, looking like himself for the first time since our escape. Jhulaer, on the other hand, looks almost like someone else entirely. But, despite all her dark elven features removed, it’s still clearly her. Hedar, by contrast, is no longer fully himself—although I’m mostly convinced that was true before now as well. His… diseased… arm now takes on the full appearance of the king bastard, a limb to match the eyes. And speaking of bastards…
What the significance of all this is, I don’t know. Perhaps there is none and this is all merely a show to unnerve us. Hedar makes sense, he obviously carries something of Doran within him. Perhaps there’s some logic in Thorman as well, at the very least, his appearance is one familiar to him. I don’t know Jhulaer well enough to know of any relevance of a human form, but judging by her reaction, she isn’t aware of any either. As for me, well, I suppose as much as I’m inclined to ignore his intentions, he has some claim to me now—I may not understand the nuances of using magic, but I’m clear enough on the workings to figure that out. I best say something dismissive, hopefully stave off any lingering questions I’m far from ready to deal with. And if this is the kind of game this place wishes to play, best not give it any more to work with than absolutely necessary.
Daily routine: Up an hour before dawn. Quick inventory of all supplies and of the ledgers. Go to the cellar to select and retrieve the day’s food supplies. Quick inspection of the premises to ensure no damage was done during the night by an unruly customer or, gods forbid, thieves. Head down the block to butcher to pick up meats. Bring in milk from doorstep when back. Begin preparing breakfast. Make enough for staff and any known early risers, then leave stove on for remainder of breakfast hours. Compile chore list (mentally at least) for the boy. As soon as the serving girl arrives, put her on kitchen duty and begin attending to any repair or upkeep jobs…
A change of scenery finally forces me to return to deeper thinking. We appear to be standing on a vast, but long-lost battlefield. Bodies in varying states of decay litter the ground. In the distance, a loud pounding noise can be heard, rhythmic, like the pounding of the blacksmith’s hammer. We approach it to find no apparent source—Hedar helpfully informs us it’s magical—but the effect is clearly visible—a vast expanse of rising and rapidly falling dust, dirt, debris… the very air itself. If not insurmountable, it’s certainly not friendly terrain. Jhulaer attempts to ferry us magically across, but that predictably will not work here. No choice then, but to cross on foot (more-or-less).
Crossing immediately proves to be a mistake. Every few seconds I can feel myself being utterly crushed by invisible force. At this rate we’ll be dead before we even make it to the chasm in the middle. Well, most of us will. All of a sudden, Hedar shoots past me at incredible speed, apparently intending to leap the chasm in one fell move, a feat I’d think impossible had I not just seen how he can run. Still trying to, literally, jump it blind isn’t going to end well. Thorman and I, almost as one voice call out him when he approaches the edge, but his timing is off. He jumps too soon and begins plummeting into the unknown below. True to his nature, Thorman leaps after him. I figure I’d better go after the both of them, seeing as I possess actual tools for the job. Besides, whatever awaits below can’t be worse than the pounding above.
As I begin to rappel down, a move somewhat unnecessary for myself, but important for helping the others back up, I see Thorman has at least managed to come up with some tools of his own—using his own blades as pitons. Despite their seeming inadequacy, he seems to be making good progress, until an errant swing misses and he begins falling proper. I disengage my end of the rope from the grapple and begin running after him, only to have my foot sink into open air at the same point Thorman began to fall. I guess we were due for a reminder—none of this is really here.
We land in a cell of some new impossibility, appearing to be somehow positioned high in the air between the world below and the heavens above. If I weren’t so pissed off, it would probably be quite awe-inspiring. Hedar is already here. We debate for a moment what to do. Hedar knows magic that could get us out, but is hesitant to invoke it, given our earlier experiences. Fortunately I happen to have a bit of similar magic at my disposal, so he won’t waste a spell in discovery. I effortlessly bypass the bars through the shadows, but clearly the jail is not the trial we face here.
Another borrowed face. I have no patience for this sort of thing, and particularly here, I’d rather not even dignify these petty attempts at emotional manipulation with a reaction. So I ignore Kitty as much as possible and endeavor to find the way out. Thorman is a bit more engaging and we at least gleam that whatever this is—some puppet of Darien’s no doubt—wants to offer us… something. Quite frankly I don’t care what. Nothing this thing has to offer is good for us. I continue to ignore it and head for the only door in the room. However, one look into it, and I’m suddenly wishing I’d paid a bit more attention. What this thing is offering us may be bad, but whatever lies behind our only exit is probably worse. It looks like a place of peace—the lake, pristine as I’ve only seen it once. But something beckons from within, the sort of beckoning that triggers an almost primal reaction—get the hell away.
I turn back to the room, racking my brain for another option out of this trap, when one is provided for me as a hole is blown in the opposite side, creating a powerful breeze as the air is sucked out of the room. I’m resolved to go with it—the possible oblivion it leads to being preferable to whatever beckons within—but, despite my caution, Thorman heads for the door instead. Apparently he failed to see the call to enter for what it truly is, because he joins it in calling us to enter, going so far as to grab me to keep me from getting sucked out of the room. I try to throw my weight with the vacuum—I can’t possibly escape his grip, but perhaps if I can unbalance him, the winds will do the rest and take us both. But alas even that is futile and, despite my protests, both he and Hedar enter the door. Well, I came here to protect them, so if that’s the fate they choose, than it’ll have to be mine as well.
I suddenly find myself in an inn. Not mine. From the look of it, it’s probably one of those franchised Bouncing Sausages. Pretty sloppy work by this Darien then—didn’t even bother to make it believable. As if I would ever work for one of those hack jobs… Suddenly I notice shaed, or rather something borrowing his appearance sitting in front of me. It has little useful to say—merely a mouthpiece for its master. It tells me that the dead lord of this place demands a sacrifice (he doesn’t use those words exactly but the meaning is all too clear). He first asks of me something I cannot give, on either a physical or spiritual level—shaed himself. I make it known, in no uncertain terms, that this is not a valid bargain and he attempts to open further negotiations with the promise of answers to important questions. I doubt he can answer_ my_ most pressing questions and, even if he could, I don’t trust him to do so. And in any case, I’ve already been pressed into too many “bargains”. No more one-sided compromise. If Darien wishes to speak with me—and he ought to, given what I have been, and still am to be, involved in—then he can face me himself. “Very well” the thing says, as we’re transported back to the barren battlefield, “then you can become one of them.” He tells me that many journey here, but are unwilling to pay the price for what they seek and are left to perish. Maybe it’s bluster, maybe it’s true, but either way, I’m not about to be bullied into anything. I’ll bide my time if necessary. Illusions can be broken. Arrangements can be made. On my terms.
Or not. Suddenly the four of us are back at the entrance. At least one of the others must have made a bargain. I wonder what the consequences of that will be. At quick glance, I see that Jhulaer and Thorman are back to the way they were before we entered, but Hedar and I are not. Disturbing. But there’s no time to dwell on that now, as the approaching Alton informs us. The Day has arrived.