This is not a dream.
Andor Kralik stands before you, spells flashing from his fingertips as though he were flicking droplets of water. Five spheres rotate around the archmage’s head. Their counterpart sits in his hand. You knew this was coming, but none of your preparations have amounted to more than an uneven floor for all they have slowed this inexorable force. This is not a dream.
It is clear. You are going to die. Perhaps Orlan can succeed where you have failed, Tanleth. A disintegrating blast of energy causes the wall between you two to fall apart into dust. Perhaps an incantation from the eighth circle will be able to…no. Another of those damnable spheres has glowed, wiping away your efforts. If only there was more time. If only. Now, your death is upon you. This is not a dream.
Another sphere glows, a spell begins to form within your own body. You feel every separate piece of your being begin to come apart. This is not a dream.
You wake harshly, the sound of sea birds outside the window and streets mulling as the day begins. It was just a dream.
Lurching from slumber, Tairdren tumbles inexpertly tangled in bedding onto the floor as he reaches for his dream journal. The vase mother gifted him falling along with him was felt more of a sensation, something deep in his bones, than sight or sound. He lay defeated a moment before haltingly trying to reproduce some of the details in written form. He looks back at the previous muddled entries. The same dream for five months now. It was clearer this time.
His eye twitches again and he holds it in place for a moment, breathing deeply and evenly. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. Still laying upon the floor and staring at the ceiling he practices his smile; more a mental excersise than physical. Shedding his meloncholy, he untwists the sheets from around his legs and begins tidying – first the broken vase, beyond even his arcana, then to make the bed. Beyond his room, the masses of Sasserine go about their business, flocking into the shops and factories that churn out a never ending supply of goods for the betterment of mankind. Or at least, rich mankind.
Watching them for a moment, his smile falters. The scene seems to fade and become awash in greys until he tears his gaze away and attends to his abulations. Closing his eyes on the way out of his apartment, he lets his fingers trail along each worn spine on his bookcase, in choosing he convinces himself it was instinct he let guide him. He finds one. The Nature of Adventure: Speculative Incursions for Profit, by Seamus Gimstel.
With the rest of his things, he reaches street level. Even early along this boulevard, he has to find his pace before joining the throng. To catch his breath he imagines each pedestrian as a single cog; click, click, click, click, click. Once he finds an even tempo that he imagines matches his heartbeat he follows along the path to The House of the Dragon.
“Good Sir! Could I interest you in a grigri to ward off the evil spirits?” A young lad, of mixed heritage and dark skin smiles at Tairdren. He holds the talisman up for inspection, it appears to have been fashioned from an alligator scale.
His mind stops. It takes Tairdren a moment to retrace his thoughts. His suitemate, yes – did he forget to wake him? Was he supposed to? His mind had searched his last memory of the suite, mud stained by the doorway could have been as old as last week’s rain but there had been no boots on the mat. The other’s door had been slightly ajar, but he could not remember if that had been common. Other details, too dim for his conscious mind to identify without more attention, were wrestled from his mind by… ah, the present.
Pursing his lips, he observes the lad critically before loudly snapping open the book he brought along and reading the first passage his eyes cross, somewhere in the middle a part of his mind makes note.
How many years have you studied?
This book, you’ve likely gone through a hundred times, but this time, this instant, you opened to this page. It can’t be a coincidence. The Crystal Clock. The perfect clock, one that did not tell people what time it was, but told time what time it was. Jenekke the master clockmaker, arcanist as well, and more than a little insane.
Obsessed with the measurement and manipulation of time. After years of experimentation and research, he completed this greatest of inventions. It allowed the user to travel to any time simply by setting it to the time he wanted to visit. Why it was built was tragedy in and of itself. His wife’s death he sought to prevent. Damnably, it became the reason the clock was constructed, and so could never affect that moment for the better.
One day shortly after the completion of the artifact, a great rift appeared in the sky over Jenekke’s workshop. A colossal creature of lightning and fire stepped through the rift and said in a voice that shattered windows a hundred leagues away, “You have meddled too much in the affairs beyond your comprehension. Now you shall have ALL time to reflect upon that which you have wrought.”
Then it was gone. And Jenekke was never seen again.
And yet, here it is. The tale of the artifact. Along with signs pointing to its loss. Deep in the Amedio Jungle. Buried in the tomb of some would be famous explorer. But not so buried nor so deep that a graduate student of The House of the Dragon couldn’t locate it. “This can’t be right,” Theo thinks aloud. “Surely someone else would have caught this.” Theo slams the book and places it in his pouch. He hurriedly leaves the library, heading for home.
“Good Sir! Could I interest you in a grigri to ward off the evil spirits?” A young lad, of mixed heritage and dark skin smiles at Theo. He holds the talisman up for inspection, it appears to have been fashioned from an alligator scale.
“Excuse me?” Theo asks. He examines the talisman. It appears of rough make, nothing particularly unusual about it to separate it from any of the others fashioned in accordance with the superstitious nature of Sasserine’s lower class.
“Sure, kid. I’ll bite. What are you asking?”
“For you, Sir, merely a handful of silver.”
Theo counts out the silvers and hangs the talisman from a cord on his neck. “Stay out of trouble kiddo.” He winks as he turns to leave. A screeching sea gull distracts him from the boy for a second, when he turns back, the boy and silver are gone.
He shrugs. ‘Tair needs to see this,’ he thinks and continues on his way.
And once more at home…
Theo creaks the bedroom door open to find his host engrossed in his studies as usual. He rubs his eyes and opens the cupboard and prepares a quick breakfast for the two of them. " Tair?" he asks, “Time for chow buddy. When’s the last time you ate?”
Snapping out of his daydream, he looks back at Theo and inquires, “Oh. What…” he looks out the window, “…um, what time is it?” He finds the book suspiciously still in his hands and rereads the passage he was on, ‘Always take a quest, even if you won’t finish it.’
“Interesting you should mention that.” he smiles as he slides a tome across the table. He opens the book to a marked page towards the center. “Take a look.”
Tairdren frowns, he hadn’t meant to read it aloud. He snaps Speculative Incursions shut, wincing as Theo’s larger tome crumples some of his thesis, and scoots over on the bench to make room. “What is it?” while noting the tomb illuminated in the center of the page.
“Its the clock. I found it!”
“Oh!” Had he spoken aloud earlier? “Yes, the time. Is it breakfast?” Certainly not, there had been some mention of food. Breaking fast, was it a joke? Admiring the delicate artistry on the page, he’d yet to really look at his friend.
“Tair. Listen to me. I found The Clock! It was so simple! Do you know what this means?”
“…bacon?” he hesitantly guesses, a tremulous smile suggesting the extreme bravado necessitant in facing Theo’s uncharacteristic excitement about fried pork.
“I’ve found an artifact, Tair! I’ve been looking for ages and here is the proof!”
His expression becomes carefully neutral when he looks back at the book. No bacon then. Hiding his disappointment, Tairdren carefully partakes of the offered knowledge.
“No, no… like this.” Theo pulls the book away and turns it sideways. “Look at the edge of the page. What you’re seeing there is proof of the existence of The Crystal Clock. The Clock that can rewrite history. Surely you know the story?”
“I’m not.” Tairdren protests. He clears his throat, “I’m not.” he agrees and observes as indicated. ‘Instinct plays a strange roll in things,’ he thought, ‘did I really imagine the boy?’ He had to catch up now, “Yes, surely I do…” he agrees, searching his memories.
“So, if I reference this passage back to its source…” Theo slams down another book and opens it, “…it tells us right where to go to find it. We have to go. We have to leave in the morning.”
Wincing more visibly this time, Tairdren begins to subtly shuffle his paperwork from underneath the weighty books. “So, it isn’t morning?” he wonders in epiphany, latching onto that critical piece of information. His gaze searches for the gift from his mother; neither expensive nor ancient, it was all the same treasured.
While his friend stares around the room Theo takes a moment to think. “Listen, should we take my findings to the ”/wikis/the-house-of-the-dragon" class=“wiki-page-link”> univerisity and see if they’ll fund an expedition or should we keep this between us?"
“What does the arrow mean?” he answers. Fingers tapping along the spine of the Speculative Incursions in a discordant beat, he smiles when he sees the vase still intact.
“It’s a signature. A decoy, so to speak. Red herring. You know? The only thing I don’t get is the reference here to an ”/wikis/Olman/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Olman settlement I’ve never heard of."
“No, it’s pointing that way.” he looks in that direction suspiciously but thinks the wall looks much the same as it always has.
“So are you saying that it’s actually showing a direction of travel based on the required orientation of the book? That’s genius! If I turn it to match true north here…”
“No, no.” he tells Theo, " Yang would know more. Sorry, you’re much better conversation." his imagination continues to play out the conversation with the wall all the same.
“Oh, here we are.” Standing next to the door he sweeps his coat over his shoulders and happily presents a sweet from the pocket before unwrapping in triumph. “Ready?” he says around the hard-candy.
Theo collects his things quickly, strapping on his sidearm in the process. “Anyone you need to see before we leave town?”
“Yes, yes, we’ll follow the signs.” he agrees without pausing. He pauses in the foyer, “Did we ever decide what time it was?” he asks, looking back to find his cousin’s gaze and perhaps not avoiding a look out the window to see for himself.
The narrator would like to take this opportunity to inform you; it is perhaps a few hours before noon.
“I’m thinking we can hire a boat to take us up river?” Theo leads his strange friend through the city in a generally south eastward direction, stopping to purchase last minute supplies at several places on the way to the edge of town.
“Yeah..” he only takes a few steps past Theo, grease on his chin, “I cannot lie, I’m glad there is bacon.. I can’t believe they put it on a stick. Genius. It’s just up ahead now.” he claims, following from only three paces in front of Theo.
The pair stop at a ticket booth. “Sir? How much for a ticket to ”/wikis/Tiger%20Lake/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Tiger Lake please?" Theo asks.
“Round trip or one way?”
“Round trip, please.”
“Working passage or leisure?”
“You want the next line over then, for employment.”
Discrete conversations were always amusing to Tairdren; all the tributaries and streams they could follow were easier to perceive. Working passage, of course, meant they’d labor until they reached the lake… certainly for the best, but surprising. He could barely recall the trip along the Sheldomar River, though even the coast of the Azure Sea leaves a striking memory. He didn’t remember liking work and travel at once; no time for the sites; perhaps he was mistaken.
“Thank you very much.” Theo tips his hat and moves to the next line. He pulls Tairden gently along.
“Have you ever seen a steam engine in person?” he asks, jostled out of his private thoughts by the tugging of his companion.
The ‘ticket booth’ they are at is a massive operation in the Azure, Bragg’s Voyager. They hire sailors and rivermen by the score every day for the dangerous river journeys into the Amedio, while also taking exorbitant sums from those indolent rich nobles who fancy trips through the ‘exciting wild’.
“Is this the line for employment?” Theo asks the main in the line ahead of him. He receives a gruff nod. “As a boy. My dad shoveled coal.”
When he reaches the front, he finds that it is the line for ship’s cooks. Security is around to the back. After a few annoyingly redundant conversations, all from individuals looking suspiciously similar and named Pifflestone, they finally secure themselves jobs pulling security on the Mama Jamba, a gambling boat headed deep into the Amedio.
“”/wikis/Hux/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Hux?" he nods thoughtfully and observes the more physically imposing individual in front of them. “Do you think they’ll take us on, then?” The weathered muscles of the man reminded him, for some reason, of a beetle’s scabrous shell. “Because I should probably get my things unless we have a man securing them.” He shifts his pack, uncomfortably adjusting the strap.
“Tair? Theo?” A female voice sounds behind them. “Are you guys working on the Mama Jamba too?”
Theo turns, “Yang? What are you doing here?”
“Uh, duh! Working security on the Mama Jamba.”
Tairdren observes the woman casually, “Didn’t I mention that?” he asks Theo, “How did you know to bring us here, then?”
“Plus you know me, I can’t turn up a good mark. Let alone a ship full of them.”
“Must be fate. Who’s are our new boss?”
“”/wikis/Phoban%20Zookas/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Phoban Zookas owns the Mama Jamba. Brock Lobos is the head of security. I suppose we’ll be reporting to him."
“Lets go find him. See what were dealing with.” He stops a passing crewman. “You know Mr. Brock Lobos?” he asks. The man’s eyes widen and he hurries away.
“We’re going to an Olman city without a spoken name.” Tairdren murmers aside to Yang as Theo expertly frightens off the crewman.
“Oh really? That sounds exciting! Not as much fun as cheating fat cats out of their money, but spooky!”
“Sounds like a good way to get thrown overboard.” Theo murmurs as he looks for a sign or obvious security personnel.
“They like milk.” he agrees, “And have only so many lives. Don’t you think Theo is doing well? He may have missed his calling. Look…” he taps Theo on the shoulder, “…scare that one.”
‘That one’ is an elderly man with a white mustache. He has a fairly large chest and arms for an old man, likely a longshoreman of some sort. “You’re hilarious.” Theo scowls. “Sir? Do you happen to know where we can find Mr. Lobos?”
The man scowls at Theo.
“Who wants to know?” he rumbles. His voice is very deep.
“Just a couple people here to help out.” Theo replies
“Do you have names?” he asks. He does seem to be a man possessed of a low tolerance for foolishness, which also appears to have taken up all the room in his heart normally reserved for patience.
“Theo, Tairdren, Yang.” Theo answers, jerking his thumb at each in turn.
“Tairdren D’Sjachixen.” he corrects mildly and makes way for Yang to join them.
“I am ”/wikis/High%20Ranger/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>High Ranger Lobos. When you address me, it will be as Sir, or High Ranger. I do not allow shirkers employment upon a vessel under my protection. The Black Shield has a reputation going back centuries, and it will not be besmirched by the likes of you. If I find otherwise, I will throw you overboard myself. Is that clear?"
“Nor Jokers I presume, Sir?” Tairdren laments. “We may struggle in time, but our endeavours will be fruitful.”
Theo shakes his head slightly. “Any instructions or should we just float around and look for suspicious behavior?”
“Jokers? Float around?” Lobos’ eyes bulge. “Be at the docks by sunrise tomorrow. You will have your instructions and we’ll see about that attitude problem then.”
Tairdren lies smoothly, “I don’t know how to float.” his assurances backed up by a certain smile.
“Youre the boss, Sir.” Theo tips his hat and leads his friends away from their new boss. “So were to be guarding the ship. I suggest we get to know it. Wanna wander around and get to know people?”
Consulting his newly acquired book, Tairdren suggests idly, “We could patronize a purveyor of fermented beverages.” while letting himself be guided away from his new CO.
“I could eat something” Theo answers.
“As long as you’re feeding your mind at once. Did you want to ask Yang about the arrow?” he inquires as he descends the gangplank.
“What about the arrow?” Yang asks.
“You’re certain you want to know? It may not be such an easy mark to decipher.”
“I’ll risk it.”
“You know there’s a reason no where else on ”/wikis/Oerth/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Oerth has double-zeroes… but you still take the bet." he observes.
“Are we betting or looking at arrows?”
“I never know with you.” he says with a barb. When the rounds arrive he passes them around the table and takes a draught, “You didn’t tell me you were leaving town again.”
“I feel we’re rather even on that score. I thought you guys were graduating from the House later this year. I didn’t think you’d be able to venture off on a riverboat cruise.”
“You sure ask a lot of questions for an admitted charlatan, Yang.” Theo interrupts.
“I didn’t think it was that obvious I was struggling…” he frowns, “…how long have you known? I just found out an hour ago.”
“Aren’t you scared that ”/wikis/house-of-the-dragon-the-ten" class=“wiki-page-link”> The Ten are going to crack down on you?" she asks, laughing at the supposed organization that keeps order and discipline at the House.
“If you must know, this trip is part of my research for my thesis.” Theo rebuts.
Tairdren looks down, watching the ebb of ale rebound from the edges of the mug, as his friend leaps to his defense. “No.” he says, perhaps to both of them.
“Well, in any event, what did you want to show me? It’s not another veiled illusion to your…member, is it?”
Theo lays the book open on the table and watches her to see if she puzzles it out herself.
Tairdren smirks, “A veil that large would be tacky.” he concludes.
“Look at the minute hand and the direction its pointing, Yang.”
She ignores it, and exclaims. “”/wikis/Arakatl/new" class=“create-wiki-page-link”>Arakatl? The fabled city of Oremmer? How…why does the map show its location?"
Arakatl, dear readers. Now that is an Olman city Theo has never heard of.
“Wait. What’s Arakatl?” He asks.
“Why, it is the fabled city of Oremmer. Haven’t you heard of it?” She says.
Arakatl, Oremmer, Jenekke and his Crystal Clock; have you heard of them, dear readers? Will you return to hear more? Until then is now, fare well.