The Monks of Zermai Secure us from the Six Paths
The monks of some ancient order pulled us through some unseen barrier to safety – just when i thought we were going to be swept up off the plain into the emptiness around us. You could see on the path behind us stones like the one they used to mark our position… whatever this affect is, its getting closer to their monastery each time. In near complete silence they ordered us to follow them and took us into the walls of the monastery. It was obviously made to support a much larger populace – perhaps several hundred, no less than three or four hundred. The architecture is alien. Lines converge in strange places, and patterns i am sure lie in seemingly random lines and slopes. I am sure that from the right perspective, everything would make sense, but it seems to be chaotic. However, i get the feeling that these creatures believe themselves the essence of order, a bulwark against the forces of Limbo that we had passed through.
As we walked towards the ancient building, the monk (who would not give his name, despite repeated attempts), gave us a few clues to where we might be. “You may recognize a place that used to be in your world.” He went on to say that it had been a hundred generations or more since our realm had been in contact. “Once, the monastery sat on the far side of the ribbon road, through the six circles…” And apparently they have been involved in a eon of war, with outside forces constantly pushing them back beyond each of the six realms until now only the “modrone Wall” (the strange creatures encountered early on) and the monastery itself were its only defenses. They would not say what they were fighting. “Along with the Monastery, we had to shift a piece of your world, that was being destroyed in some great cataclysm, so that ours would not be torn asunder as well.” – It did not take me long to discover where we were. It filled me with dread, and elation. As my master Malek hides in the shadows, so had this ancient legend persisted – though all who sought it either believed it destroyed or to be only a fanciful myth from the long past. I thought more as i looked around. To my companions i looked and could see no one else had any frame of reference.
Jaq Relates the History of Escalon
The forbidden text of Midnight in Cavaris, whose readings i have striven to forget but cannot (though perhaps it opened my mind to the whispers of Malek and i should be thankful in some twisted way) held mentions of this place. I remembered what it is, and i hesitantly stopped my companions, and asked our guardians to correct anything where i mispoke… and told them what i knew:
Long ago, the Elves and Ducateon of the Steel Realms, and humans alike would gather south of Ynth on the plains before the time of The Sundering. Written accounts of its location have lead to the inescapable conclusion it was destroyed in that great cataclysmic event – all that is left is in ancient libraries are some names and rough descriptions. The greatest scholars and their warrior guards would embark upon missions to a place called Ecaslon, a place that lied beyond the flame-gate of Oruu. It is written that in “Escalon” was a place of great knowledge named “Zermai”, that the druids would seek the creatures there for council when the path was even unclear to them. In Dargu Vale sat the sacred Flame of Oruu. The flame was a twisting emerald vortex, that pulsated and twined around those who would seek the wisdom of the dwellers of Zermai in the land of Ecaslon. The “flame-gate” was a twisting column of green fire. By its description it was likely a animus font – though it was never explicitly given this label in writings from the times. It was a place of pilgrimage for those who sought answers that the gods themselves tried to secret from their followers – a place of enlightenment… and risk that comes inherent with knowledge. The Sundering saw to its demise – Dargu Vale, the temple of Gaia and the Briarwyld gate and all its inhabitants was split in half – literally torn two in The Sundering of CY 5000 and cast into the chasm. Many attempts were made later to summon the “flame” of animus, but all failed. The path to enlightenment was closed forever. So, everyone thought the flame had died out – never to be re-kindled.
I turned to our guardian, and asked if i was right. He nodded slowly. I asked him what happened, how did we get here from there. He spoke in a slow, methodical voice:
The monks of Zermai in our own records state simply that the flame reappeared, further north and under the Emerald Falls of the Hinterlands of the Steel Realms. Deep within the chambers covered by the falls as a vein of emerald, that was cracked and broken – grist for the mill of magic to transport such a massive item. At the moment of its demise, the then dwellers of Zermai (more wise and powerful than we currently are) moved the “fire” to a hidden path, the falls and its magic was a natural disguise to the heat of the animus font – the monks then simply hoping to be left in peace. Its power remains untapped for fear of drawing attention – no longer were the monks sought out for their wisdom, which kept it safe, but the lack of seekers took its toll. Over time, the monks stopped breeding, death was not replaced with life. The bulwark of defenses against the constant pressures of chaos in the plane of Limbo grew weaker and weaker. The dwellers simply continued to study in peace, a bulwark of order amidst the chaos of limbo, but we are dying. Zermai, our home, is dying. The accumulated knowledge of millennium means nothing without seekers. Our generation lacks vision, direction, and our normal powers seem to not be enough to keep our home protected any more, as those on the plane of the Steel Realms have once again found a way to access it.
His face is like stone as he ends his own history lesson. I try and press for more, but he says to save our breath. We find we have walked far, and the gates are open as we walk through them. Towering ramparts, and yet no one seems to man the defenses. Beyond are the gardens.
The gardens hold strange plants – a few monks are at work tending them, and do not even look up at our approach. At the center of the gardens, closer to the great doors of the inner monastery, is a statue of a stern looking monk – dressed just as they are. At the feet of this statue, which stand approximately 40 feet tall (and casts no shadow by my observation – though there is a luminescent source above the monastery) they sit in some strange position, and begin to chant. After several minutes, i ask Talein if i mas carry the Satchel of Mogg – i am taking extensive notes.
From within my living journal i mutter under my breath my salutations to Malek and call forth the ritual of comprehending languages. I confer with Taelin and Farahd, and cast my ritual. As best as i can make out, i transcribe the words of the prayer the monks seem to be repeating, like a mantra. With Farahds permission, i whisper along with the monks, in my own language, the blessings of this god-person “Gith” and beseech her to watch over this place and myself. After several attempts to form the right words in my own Gladnorian, one monk stops and nods his head slowly. I motioned for Farahd to do the same. Soon we are all chanting the blessing of Gith. Over and over… minutes pass and my mind seems to go blank, and i feel an great emptiness as the meditation seems to have some sort of effect at calming me. I look around and i can see it in all our faces – a relaxation of a sorts – except Keth. His face was still as stoney as if he had been still turned to stone.
While we all pray with out benefactors, the Umbakian Ravager finds his own way. In one corner is a light, the light of the Lightbringers and it naturally attracts his attention. Later he will tell me its the grave site of one “Jeremany Ozirus”. He was once a Confessor of Balthazaar before he became a Black Gorgon in service to the High King. In fact, our Umbakian recruit knows its him for sure from the eleven bronze arrows with the symbol of Balthazaar on them… it was said he could fire into a crowd of innocents, and his arrows would ONLY hurt the guilty and sinful. He left the grave undisturbed, but perhaps we will ask about it later.
We are taken to a lesser hall off the main courtyard. It is dusty.. but not too dusty to be offensive. Accommodations are made for us. We are told to wait, that our “situation” will be discussed and someone will come to see us. When we asked when, we were told that time has no meaning… but it would be “soon” by our reckoning. Three days now, and we have scrubbed our space clean scrupulously. The monastery is clean and beautiful. The decorations are sparse, but reflect a quality of craftsmanship rarely seen. The monks have no weapons other than staves and daggers. Keth says that they are trained as he was – in the darker arts of monastic hand to hand. Keth’s land has no metals or wood, it is understandable… but these creatures have myriads of choices. The only explanation is that their travels through the worlds in their quest for knowledge lead them through places where normal weapons and material goods do not operate… and som they have become masters of their mind and body. Keth says he believes there are different traditions than his own, that tap into mystical powers. There have been rumors of such things, in the wastelands of the south were again the lack of material goods leads dwellers to seek paths less conventional. It is fascinating… almost like an Arcanist who shapes pure magic into a weapon, but these monks are using an iron discipline of the mind and body to manifest it, rather than channeling raw mana itself.
So far we have seen no more than a dozen or so of the monks… surely there must be more within the monastery. There is always one of them watching us. We are not followed, though most of the doors are locked. I have tested a few of them… the locks involve some sort of mechanical trip in addition to the physical key – perhaps they are even magic, but its thwarted all of our attempts, though the mionks seem occupied with the enemy. There is always food in the kitchens – modest fare of turnips, and onions… and some leek like plant that leaves our tongues numb! It tastes delicious though, and some of us have tried to cook without much success. There is strange larva like meat pieces – none of us have embraced this part of the diet yet. They smell as bad as they look.
For my own part, i spend most of my time in the library. There are chains locking a great many of the book sections, but most are open and available. There seems not to be any particular order or grouping for the tomes – making it difficult to find anything worthwhile. It appears as if we were not the only world sending visitors to this place – there are many names and languages i do not understand, and can only comprehend through the ritual of comprehending languages. Much about the library perplexes even our druid ally. Covers to dozens are made from skins like leather, but unlike any creature he’s ever seen or heard of. Both Taelin and myself have been to other planes and alien landscapes before, but the sheer enormity of the diversity and of our own sciences can be found through reference works we have stumbled across with illustrations. It reminds me of the odd weapons we found in the wizards tower in the north – surely these things are from another time and place, where material science is not as good.
None of us are even sure how many days its been. There have been no events of any kind. The Umbakian and half-orc must be kept separate most times now – they bicker incessantly. Several fights have broken out, but no serious damage has been done. Ive spent some time now with the druid… the garden is vast and interesting, filled with many things that looked like what might brow in the Darklands. He has noticed there are no pets here, or domesticated animals of any kind. Very odd indeed. There are times when the ex-assassin gets that look in his eyes… now he kills for Harahd, but i feel like he is walking the edge of a thin line. For all of us, that fine line of sanity is getting narrower each day.
Almost a week is passed, and there is more activity among the monks.
Another day. Maybe more. Maybe less. My patience is gone, few speak to me.
Time affords me much opportunity to remember words and phrases from passed battles. I am writing my best memories. The flashes of blood and nightmare visions have almost gone from my everyday life. Even the rest of the group has stopped looking at me as if i were a murderer/ All of us sensed something was about to happen. When it came though, we would be ready. The monks have given us several briefings of the flame of Oruu itself, what its physical properties are and how to avoid them. It is similar to Balefire and dragon’s breath – almost like a living thing itself.
Today, if thats the right term any more, there were more Modrones coming and going. We have all gotten the spears they gave us when we marched out of their ranks into the land of Six Circles. We clean our gear now – oil the armor and care for the field kits and weapons. We follow a lot of the daily exercise of the monks. When the word comes, we will be ready. There is no day or night, just a slight lessening of the lightness. When we woke this morning, we were told to take an extra portion at breakfast. Now we are told to assemble. I am keeping the Satchel of Mogg – Taelin is happy to see me in such a normal role again… in fact Taelin seems happy himself. This is a rare moment. They have begun to lecture us on meditation, mindfulness, and purity of heart and essence. Each part of the body must be purified. Each is discussed in length – the liver, the spleen, and all of them. They drone on and on, i ask as many questions as i can which makes me hated by my comrades – but it is the only way to break the monotony! Apparently there is a large battle about to be fought. They mention a number of “troops” involved and it cannot be right. They have drawn the sign of 1 million – surely this is not possible. The wall of Modrones we saw was massive, but not that large. After explaining order of battle from every perspective (this must have taken days… my mind literally disconnected after an hour in) they informed our group that we would not participate in the main battle. Apparently the enemy – those red creatures the Slaad will have at least a quarter of troops… but they are also attempting some sort of raid. They have done this in the past without success, but if i understand correctly, they have been getting better each time they try. Since the parameters of these raids do not match anything we have seen so far, the commanders of the Monastery and the Modrone officers believe we are best suited to intercept this raiding mission. We are to be inserted into one of the lands of six circles, hunt down this unit, kill it, and get a prisoner. The Slaadi will not allow any of themselves to be taken alive by the Modrones, but the thinking is that they will just assume we are unlucky travelers and are not part of the great conflict and wo will be open to being able to catch one alive.
We are taken to the Chamber of Circles. Instead of winding our way randomly though the gates in the six realms, there is a room in the monastery tied to the gates. Our education reveals things we did not know more before. Each of the six realms has a guardian, which as we have seen cannot be killed permanently. Every guardian is highly intelligent in their own right, and studies here at the library. They also know when we use the Chamber of Circles, when we arrive and leave from their lands. I am dissuaded from trying to find more information on this history and relationships within the library – we have little time, so I armor up, and try to hide my efforts at finding more information. Many of the masters of the lands of circles are strange beasts of myth and legend… all of them powerful, as though a demigod in their own realms.
I must remark at the amazing capability of the monks to keep us focused on what they want and not what we want. Despite the massive resources and seemingly endless time available to us, we learn what they want us to learn, and learn to make use of it by drilling it into us constantly. their discipline is the greatest i have ever encountered – it is otherworldly for sure.
So, we learn to speak in several tongues greetings and enough Slaadi to aggravate him, entice him (it, them, she?) and to make it understand when it is captured to follow us with false promises of freedom. Over and over, red, green, and blue of these Slaad creatures – what each of their strength and weaknesses are. The monks have been fighting these for thousands of years – always outnumbered, always outgunned. they know their enemy well. We prepare to go into battle… finally. None of us could tell you how long its been, but weeks for sure. We go to the Wall of M’Drone and listen to the great generals. Its too much. Its too many speeches, our moral begins to flag. We push on, and at last we are being taken through some gate=magic into the land of Redouzit (so we are told).
Little by little, slowly i’ve been unraveling and testing my newfound powers granted by Malek. The confounded language of the monks has taken a while to unravel, but i am a professional at casting the spell to comprehend languages. The library has seen the most of me, besides when i am need for translation elsewhere. I feel sure the monks are holding back on everything. I cannot prove it yet, but i believe it to be true. I
The monks of the monastery apparently have encountered many travelers in their millennium of being here, and some stayed around. Through whatever means, they have “acquired” several individuals, and appear to keep them in some sort of “gilded cage” like scenario. Getting in and out are quite perilous, and they now feel it is the right time for a pair of them to be given over unto our party (to be used as fodder seems the obvious take). One is a thief of some sort… a good one by his own reckoning. He definitely came equipped for the job. His story tells of him being lured out of Southdrift near 30 years ago for the payment of a job… but instead was captured and sold to the red skinned lizard/frog like things the monks call Slaad. He was to be a sacrifice at some sort of ritual, but the monks intercepted the party and instead he was caught within the bounds of the six worlds of the monastery lands… the six circles. He been allowed in the gardens and a few areas, and mostly spends his days remembering his old life. None of sense any evil about him, and he seems to want to make an impression. The other the monks seemed to have just been “thawed out” or something. A large Nakrian, and a warrior to boot. He speaks thickly accented Gladnorean. He claims he was head of the guards at South Drift nearly 100 years ago.Indeed The other man remembers the legend of his vanishing – never heard from again while chasing a group of cultists out towards Emerald Falls. The story seems plausible to us, knowing what we know about the Falls, the evil that lurks there and the unspeakable meeting between two entities of evil, Apparently he fought against Umbakians *always seems a plus with most of the Gallants) in his home lands, and had to flee for political reasons. There is no guile there. He radiates confidence and seems to have a keen eye for battle – i observed him sizing each of us up when we are not looking. The way we talk the callous on our hands, our gear… the man knows what hes doing. I taught both of them as best as i could based on the meditations in the cave of circles off the garden.
We are taken to some sort of temple. It sounds empty in the darkness… but it cannot be seen. We start out breathing exercises and go over what we know of the land of six circles and the guardians of each. The Guardians will know we are friends (we hope) and when and how we came. Soon we are all calm and the 4 large rings are activates, enclosing our group as they drop down. The sensation of falling is strong. Most of the group throws up – even i have to spit out chunks.
Redouzit was the land of perfectly laid bricks. The claws of the slaadi should make it easy for us to track them.
A howling wind blows over the landscape and the statues are of bronze… this is the land where there were voices pleading with us for help, that they were so cold. Our loved ones looked like this once… and there was a strange “inside out” sort of feeling. We have studied though, the Hall of Circles allowed us to mimic the conditions in their realm to learn how to fight. Our relatives are Lemures from the pits of hell, taking our loved ones visage from our memories. this is of no consequence, me blank our minds like we have been taught. Only our enemies will be reflected now in their faces. There are a lot of statues – we know they were once Slaad, now turned to stone. These are merely prizes from other realms. The guardian of this realm is one of the might feathered serpents of long ago myths – a Coatl. Eternal and benevolent even in real-life, here he is the guardian of the last realm before the monastery. His coat of scales is scintillating in the sun. He can see through the eyes of all the statues places throughout his land, and he can tell us where to begin our hunt. his undulating body nearly catches us in its trance like properties before he drops us off. It takes only minutes for him to silently glide dozens of miles using natural cover. In our minds we hear her voice – “happy hunting”, she says… “walk 49 paces north from here and you will find a glade of crystalline trees. From there it is up to you.”. We are suffused with feelings of goodwill and joy. I catch my breath and shudder… i have never seen a creature so majestic in my dreams even. Quietly, we all pull laces tight and inspect each others gear… it been a while since we’ve done what we do best. Now we go, we hunt, and we prepare to kill our enemies…”