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Offline vbwyrde  
#1 Posted : Thursday, June 19, 2008 2:47:00 AM(UTC)

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Continued from Play Test IV…

With Fred laying on the cool and beautiful marble floor, and the rest of the party looking around the room waiting for the next shoe to drop, there was a momentary pause during which only the gentle snoring of Fred could be heard. Arthur was the first to snap out of the trance, which might have been hours for all he knew. He grabbed a corner of the sheet that was rapped around Fred, and giving a fierce yank pulled it off of him… and then felt the overwhelming desire to slip into the warm cozy satin white bed and follow Fred to the land of slumbering dreams, which he promptly did.

Off into the clouds soared dreaming Arthur, high above the world. Swiftly he was born by the breeze to a dizzying height. And before him he beheld the first of the Sky Lord’s cloud palaces, into which he saw Fred gently sailing. Arthur followed Fred’s skyward path and soon caught up with him as they gently floated over the first pinions of the gorgeously lit pink and purple spheres that formed the outer layer of the cloud palace. Down below them Arthur noticed a black dot flying swiftly toward the north. What was odd was that the black dot was carrying a person. He realized that the dot was a crow, and after careful scrutiny by the color of the cloths and the hat and the mop of hair, Arthur recognized the person being carried – it was Robert, their lost companion whom they all thought quite dead. Robert called up to Arthur as he was carried away toward a looming dark mountain to the North… “Help meeeee!”, but there was naught that Arthur could do but continue being carried by the wind into the Cloud Palace. As he watched Robert helplessly vanish into the distance he too note of the mountain, and the dark brooding storm cloud that surrounded it’s peak, and he pointed it out to Fred, who was astonished to learn that Robert was not dead after all.

Into the clouds they floated, over the first marble hued ramparts and into an open space within the cloud. This was no ordinary cloud. Within its outer walls stood ramparts and pillars of cloud in golden hues, and statuary, and long flights of stairs leading toward pillared halls with balconies from which were floating translucent beings with angelic wings made of mists, and long flowing white hair and luminescent blue eyes. These beings were of many sizes, though all human in shape, and many where carrying silvery flutes, harps and trumpets by which they were producing the most beautiful music Fred and Arthur had ever heard.

Meanwhile back in the upper chambers of Wolfstone Lair the party stared in dismay at Fred, and now Arthur, who were both sleeping, and smiling and moving their arms and apparently having a lovely time dreaming.

“Well, that’s just too much.” Said Phineas. “Did he really just yank the sheet and fall asleep too?”

“I’m afraid so,” said Thomas bleakly. “I suggest we refrain from touching anything in this chamber, as the True Sight I have from the Elkron of the Golden Sheaf reveals to my eyes that everything in here is enchanted with the sole exception of the floor.” They all looked around, and then at the wonderfully polished marble floor.

“That’s grand”, said Maya, “Really. That’s just grand.”

At this, for whatever reason, one of the children who had been rescued from the ledge of the oven seemed to wake from his terror, and looked about a bit dazed and awed at the room, and then at the two other children. While the others were standing about looking in every direction but his, he wandered over to a shelf on which he saw a remarkable book. Reaching out towards it he felt a cool and firm hand grab his. It was Thomas who was alert enough to prevent the child from doing something foolish that they might all regret. He asked the boy what his name was.

“Brandon, sir. Brandon Galloway from Hamfest.”

“I see Brandon. And are these your friends?”, he asked pointing to the mesmerized children.

“Well no sir, they’re my brother and sister, Bobby and Melissa. We got in an awful mess, didn’t we?”

“Yes, so it would seem. Could you tell me what happened that brought you here, Brandon?”

“Well, sir, we were fishing at the pond up on Fox Brook – um – you won’t snitch to our parents about this will you?” he asked looking guilty and nervous.

“No, I won’t, Brandon. Now please go on.”

“Well, like I said, we were fishing though our folks told us not to go up that way on account of all the strange things that happened up at the McFearson’s and the kids who disappeared and the weird spiders at the Hogswerths and all… but it was hot and we wanted a swim and we thought it’d be ok to just get one or two fish for supper, but before we knew it, it started to get dark out. And we ran along the stream to get home before dark but we kind of got lost, and then there were these lights ahead dancing and we heard music so we thought we’d find a campsite and some help, but in the end we wound up in a marsh and there was a mist in the air and we wandered around there until we were completely lost. Then a very nice lady found us and asked us if we wanted some cakes and to rest and dry ourselves and we were very grateful so we went with her and she brought us here. And everything was just dandy and we were having a wonderful time of it all when Bobby here misbehaved. That was the end of the good times right there because he took something of hers that didn’t belong to him and put it in his pocket. Oh it was just a small thing, a little ring that he saw on a shelf in a room. But as soon as he took it I said, “Bobby, don’t you do anything bad now, you hear me?” But it was too late. Somehow she knew, and as soon as he popped it in his pocket she appeared right behind us and said “You little thief! Now you’ve been very naughty and I’m going to punish you.” Well, she took him by the scruff of the neck and we tried to stop her, but then she had all three of us in the air with our feet kicking, and she said, “You little brats are all very naughty!” And so she took us to the kitchen and put us down and before we knew it we had shrunk to the size of peas and she put us on the ledge next to the oven and made us watch the blackberry pies … and then we got a very very bad feeling, and I felt like my insides were being pulled out through my eyes and my brain was covered with a shadow that kept moving and it seemed like it was hunting us, and … there wasn’t any place to hide and we were terrified for I don’t know how many days, or it seemed like weeks or months even… and … and … I told him not to be bad! I told him! And then … ”, and at this point Brandon gave a dreadful shudder and began to fall back into his former state of terror.

Thomas put his hand on Brandon’s shoulder then, and said, “Don’t worry, Brandon, it’s ok now. Soon we’ll all be back home eating bacon and cheese and having a merry old time, won’t we?”, he asked with a warm and comforting smile and steady gaze.

“Why yes, sir, I suppose we will, if you say so.”, said Brandon and then cheered up quite a bit.

While this conversation was going on in the center of the room, Phineas had been making his way around the edge of the chamber and came to take notice of two phenomenal paintings. One was bright and sunny, with a yellow-white circle and rainbow colors and light blues and what looked like perhaps many-colored flowers in the foreground. The other painting was dark and ominous with a white moon occupying the upper half of the painting, and around it a jet black starless sky, with dark hills in the foreground covered with dim red flowers. The second painting was altogether frightening looking. Everyone was looking at it with dread, particularly the two children who hadn’t taken their eyes off of it since they entered the room.

At that moment there was a sudden clatter behind them, as the sound of a silver tray falling to the floor with tea cups struck their ears. Maya, being swiftest, turned and caught a glimpse of a furry foot escaping through a small doorway in the wall where the tray had fallen to the ground, but before she could dart across the room the door had slid silently shut again. No amount of prying with her dagger could find the seam, or dislodge the hidden doorway.

As she tried, Thomas took the time to collect what remained of the droplets of tea from each cup and the tray and putting them together salvaged one teaspoon of the green tea with the aroma of Jasmine. Putting this to Arthur’s lips he caused the sleeping friend to drink. As he did so, Arthur’s body grew new muscles and he looked stronger than ever he had before – however, he did not awaken.

Meanwhile, high in the clouds overhead two men were dreaming that a translucent being had responded to Arthur’s hailing, and approached them with the words “Hail Earth Bound”.

“Where are we? What is this place?”, asked Arthur quietly. With a voice like the rushing of wind the being answered him.

“This is the Kingdom of Clouds.”, came the windswept reply.

“How did we get here?”, Arthur asked.

“I would ask you that, as well.”

“Are we the only ones of our kind who have come here?”

“No, it has been told in legend that others of the Earth Bound have visited the Cloud Kingdom, but it is a rare event indeed.”

“What goes on in the Kingdom of the Clouds?”, queried Arthur.

“Behold!”, and the angelic being took them to the edge of the clouds and through a small hole in the edge of the outer wall he could see out before them to the vast horizon, upon which stood a lone dark mountain shrouded in the ominous dark cloud they’d seen before.

“We go to war!”, announced the translucent one. “Against that mountain which you see before us the fleet of the Southern Wind is sweeping over the vast plain, and soon we shall crash with all of the powers at our disposal against the Mountain of the Storm King, yonder. Soon you shall see a true Storm War! It is a battle we rage against the Mountain most ancient. And you shall be the first of your kind to see it from our fleet. It shall make a great song one day, should you live to sing it.”

Stunned and worried about these prospects, Arthur asked if there was anything they could do to help in the war.

“That remains to be seen. But be forewarned, for this shall be a storm of great violence, and many of our cloud ships stand to be destroyed. Therefore, take to yourselves these floaters which you must throw over your heads and hold on with both hands if our ship should go down, and they will expand and carry you down to the ground, and if you are fortunate, safely so.”

At this time the speed of the fleet picked up, and as Fred and Arthur watched the fleet of clouds extending in long lines to the left and right of their cloud began to darken and grow large, and flicker with inner lightnings and the rolling booms of many thunders, and the winds began to howl and the trumpets began to blow.

As Arthur and Fred flew toward an uncertain fate, down below Maya used her thieving skill, and with Thomas’ help, and very carefully searching, prodding, poking, stroking, blowing and tapping located the secret door and slid it silently open. They faced into an unlit passageway with a dirt floor and rough hewn stone wall leading downward into pitch darkness. Maya and William were sent to investigate, but were to return if it went further than 500 yards without indication of ending. Maya took one of her iron spikes and lodged it at the base of the secret door to keep it from closing on them, and then she and William lit a torch and bravely descended down the passage.

As they did this Phineas carefully walked around the periphery of the room, taking note of everything but resolved to touch nothing. He passed a standing mirror with a hazy surface and golden guild work along its rim. He passed bookshelves with ancient black tomes, small crystal, clay and feather figurines, a several small bejeweled boxes, white, green and black colored candles, jars of ointments, crystal bottles, animal shaped clay jars, bottles of wine, sets of silver and golden dishes and crystal wine glasses in cabinets, a small hand mirror, a golden rimed sun-dial on a marble pedestal, a small beautifully designed carpet in front of a closed bureau, two brooms in a corner, three comfortable look chairs around a low glass table with delicate etching along its rim, and a desk with several drawers. Along the way, Phineas, true to his nature, could not but help to pocket a few small insignificant items that would not be missed, he felt quite sure. Into his pocket vanished a crystal figurine. Then a small bejeweled box, along with a gray feather doll which was leaning against it, and finally he took a squat green candle and quietly dropped it into his pocket so that no one in the party noticed or was the wiser.

It wasn’t long before Maya and William returned to report. The passage goes about four hundred yards and then curves to the left, and after another hundred yards it continued to slope downward with no end in sight. So they returned.

Feeling quite pleased with himself Phineas happened to pass in front of the painting of the moon, and noticed something out of the corner of his eye – something, he could not tell what, seemed to move inside the painting. Of course that’s quite impossible he reminded himself as he stood rooted to the floor in front of it staring. But no, impossible as it may be, he saw something move. This time he was sure. Something moved, and then stopped moving. There again! It moved! It looked like a shadow within the shadows of the painting, but it was definitely making a slow but steady zig-zag pattern toward the Phineas.

“G-g-g-guys?”, he stammered.

“What is it!?”, Thomas hissed as they all turned to stare at the painting he was staring at. Then they saw it too. Something… something large and fearsome was moving between the shadows. Something as pitch black as a starless sky. And then they saw a brief outline against the black sky of a shape flitting towards them. It was massive, yet furtive, covered with fur, and two white fangs showed briefly in the light of the moon and vanished again. People were taking out their weapons and the two archers were cocking their weapons.

“That won’t work!”, wimpered Thomas, who was backing away from the painting. “That is not a mortal creature!… It’s a black shade from beyond the realm of night. If you knew what I knew…”, he murmured as he began to pull Arthur by one ankle and Fred by the other backwards toward the secret passageway. Everyone was backing up with the chills going up and down people spines like an accordion. The room became cool, and then cold. The silver frame of the painting began to mist and a frost appeared along one edge. And then they saw a shadow fall out from the painting across the floor. A shadow that moved and covered the wall around the painting. A shadow that began to take a hideous form. Everyone was shuffling backwards into the corridor when the entity finally stood fully formed in the room, shrouded in a frosty mist. It stood seven feet tall, with a hunched back and fur covered mane, with a wolf’s fang filled maw, and dimly burning embers where eyes would be. It turned its hideous head toward the retreating group, and there was a silent coiling up of its form. And then, just as people were almost through the doorway it sprung with horrible speed across the chamber directly at Phineas. Falling backwards and letting loose his bow he watched as the arrow flit directly through the entities chest without pausing and clattered against the far wall. Down fell Phineas into the passageway as Maya tore the iron spike from the ground and the door slid silently, but swiftly, closed. It was pitch black.

“Let’s, um, you know, like not wait around to see what happens next.”, someone suggested through the heart pounding that everyone could hear. Sputtering torches were quickly lit and the party, deeply shaken, lurched down the passageway downward into the darkness. Clinging to Maya for dear life were the three children, all three of which were in a state, once again, of silent, heart pounding terror.

“The nightmare… it’s real… “, whispered Brandon with wide eyes and an anguished crack in his voice before he went completely silent.

Down, down, down for a long ways the party journeyed, way beyond the first curve and the five hundred yards they first explored. Perhaps an hour passed, perhaps a day. No one could tell how much time had passed, and no one spoke a word.

“Wait.”, said Maya who had taken the lead. “There’s something ahead.”

Sure enough a hundred feet or so further on they came to a small burbling stream passing through two cracks in the walls on either side, and over this stream was constructed a small foot bridge. No one liked the looks of it, and so they hesitated in silence, the only sound being heard being the burbling of the stream as it cascaded over the rocks and stones. With nothing else but to go forward the tiny group clomped as quietly as they could over the wooden bridge, cringing with each echoing foot fall. All hearts were in hands. And so they continued and after a short time came to notice that the corridor had widened a bit. It steadily grew wider and wider and higher and higher until they discovered that they were in a huge cavern walking through large stones and fist sized rocks. It was not long after that when Maya against halted the party.

“Something is very wrong.”, she said, pointing at a large brown object which was laying across their path. They couldn’t make out at first what it was. It had a huge spine, and a large leather-like surface and must have been the size of a small building. They were about to pass under it when she stopped them.

“There is something very, very wrong.”, she repeated.

“That is a leaf.”, said Thomas.

“That’s what I thought.”, said she.

Everyone was at first disbelieving of the report, until they looked every more carefully and then they all knew … everything around them had either grown huge, or they had grown small. Either way, they were no larger than an ant in comparison to the leaf. As they adjusted to the idea, and took stock of their situation, they noticed that ahead, far off, there was a dim and distant light shining against a cavern wall, and within that dim gray light they could make out the shape of a stone tower set into the cavern wall. It was a stone tower indeed, with one window high up above the ground. And while they felt rather disoriented by their diminutive size, they all agreed that it looked like the tower was huge. And that made them quite nervous indeed.

“Let’s go back to the bridge and see if we grow again.,” suggested Thomas, “as I read somewhere that it might so happen that if you go one way down, retracing your steps may lead you up again.” Everyone was eager to be normal sized as you can imagine, for being tiny is extremely frightening when you think about it.

And so they trekked back to the bridge and after an hour or two they found themselves, indeed, once again as large as they were when they started.

“Well, we can go back to the chamber… or continue forward and take our chances,” said Thomas, and they all agreed that it made sense to continue forward, rather than go back and face… the thing from the painting. And so they agreed to forge ahead and hope that their small size would be an asset in sneaking past the tower. With this hope in mind they picked up the still sleeping Arthur and Fred, took the children by the hands, and began to forge ahead toward the distant light.

After an hour of trekking, and now and then a rest, Maya once again stopped everyone.

“I heard something,” she said in the lowest possible whisper.

Sure enough, within a few moments they all heard something like a high pitched twittering sound, and then as suddenly as that around from the other side of a rock walked a huge ant, which stopped cold, it’s mandibles twitching and antenna waving in the air. Everyone held their breath. No one moved. It was huge and looked like it could easily chomp any of them in half with it’s jagged saw toothed mandibles, which were glistening in the torchlight. Then, just as suddenly, it tilted its head both ways and continued walking in a line tangential from where the group was standing, and vanished swiftly again from site as it passed behind another rock.

It was two hours after that when they heard the dull drone somewhere over head. This time they were fortunate to be passing a stick which formed a large structure under which they hid. However, the droning thing came closer and closer and then they saw that it was a mosquito. Yet this was a mosquito with strangely pulsating eyes. And apparently it had already seen them and was coming in for the attack. Down is flitted and attacked William and Phineas who had both pulled out their bows and were preparing them with oil and fire to make their arrows flaming. One of them nicked it, the other missed, and the mosquito attacked with its long saw-like piercing tongue. It was a difficult battle with it flitting up and out of range again after each assault, and it did wound William several times, but in the end they managed to pierce it with their arrows and even catch it on fire a bit, and it became disoriented and bashed itself into the stick and fell to the ground, at which point Thomas, with unusual courage for him, was sent forward to gain the win and strike the last life from the monstrous insect with his staff.

“I killed a Mosquito!” he squealed with joy after braining the creature. Everyone cheered and it was a moment of happiness for them all. Even the children snapped out of their stupors at that moment and shook off the great fear that had held them fast for so long.

Meanwhile, far up in the clouds, Arthur and Fred were rapidly approaching a clash with the Mountain of the Storm King. Lightening was blazing in huge bolts between the fleet of clouds and the great black storm cloud around the mountain, as well as hitting the ground, upon which Arthur and Fred beheld a swarming army of Ogres, Hobgoblins, Goblins, Kobolds and other Tellum of the earth.

“This is a war between the Sky and the Earth – ageless and eternal.”, though Arthur to himself, nothing that the Tellum are all chthonic creatures of the underworld.

The Ships of the Armada were crashing into the sides of the great old mountain, and being dashed to pieces. They could hear the final songs and death shrieks of the wind lords as they were grabbed and grappled by the Tellum and bashed and throttled, or smashed against the rocks. Beneath their own ship opened up a hole in the ground inside of which was red glow, and from it issued forth a gust of flaming hot wind which caused the vessel to lurch upward, keel to the starboard side, and then tore a rent along the side of the ship such that it came crashing down toward the pit which had opened up. Around the rim of the pit Arthur and Fred could see hundreds of dark shapes with great clubs and axes and weapons of all sorts, being pelted by the huge hail stones which were being hurled from the catapults of the ships downward. There was a sudden blinding jarring crack as a forward lightening cannon flashed an enormous bolt downward at point blank range, splitting the rock and hurling dark smoldering bodies into the air in every direction.

“Jump!”, yelled Fred as he threw himself over the edge of the ship toward the tower which now was directly ahead of them. Arthur followed him, and the two of them spread their cloud-chutes with their hands, and as they expanded formed sheet-like sails which caught the wild rushing wind and began to carry them toward the mountain side. Then, just as they thought they were to crash and die here on the side of the Mountain of the Storm King, the translucent one, the angelic looking being with the luminescent eyes who had spoken with them earlier, came from behind them, and flying beneath their sails lifted them upward over the clashing of iron and the gnashing of savage fangs, and swept them upward toward the tower. Within moments they crashed down onto a high balcony on the side of the tower overlooking the great war. “Fare thee well,” they heard on the wind as they watched the majestic Storm-Ship smash against the rocks, vanishing in a haze of winds and mists.

On the balcony there was a single shuttered window. Sturdy and painted blue, the slats were closed to the storm. There appeared to be no light on inside. The wind was howling against the shutters making them bulge and smash against their frame, but the window was solidly constructed and did not break. With a dagger and some luck Arthur managed to slip open the inside latch and into the dark room the two men stepped warily.

Looking around they saw a rather ordinary room that you might find in many a castle. There was a bed with an awning and deep red drapery, a rug on the floor, a bureau and cabinet and drawers and a fire place. William took a suit of cloths for himself, and then cast about for a weapon. Finding an iron poker next the fire place he picked it and swung it a few times.

“Well not bad. Not quite a mace, but better than a club, I’d say.”, said he.

“Indeed.”, commented Arthur dryly.
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