Jangles the Clown and his companions are stuck doing to do the guards’ dirty work or risk being sold to slavers. While they were returning from a mission, Dryfoot Hill suddenly started quaking; the whole city turns out to have been built on the back of a turtle, and the turtle has begun to move.
I awoke to the worrying face of who I presumed was my appointed cleric. My own face was burning; when I moved my fingers to touch, I could feel boils all over. What I thought had only been an innocent kiss of pimples was now turning into something more serious. I could tell that no amount of paint was going to cover this mess up. Without his face, Jangles couldn’t be Jangles; my comrades would have to make do with the man behind the make-up.
I must caution you once again, Thaliar: Don’t smear anything a boggart gives you on your face. You might actually die.
The name of the cleric who treated me was Brother Pebbles, a soft-spoken gray-skinned half-orc with the cutest little tusks. He smeared a foul-smelling salve all over my goofy grin and hid the whole charade with a roll of bandage. I looked like a mummy. How fitting.
Brother Pebbles told me that the ingredients of the medicine had been procured by Lynea and Arnold while I was snoozing. Those two rascals had went off on an adventure without me! I probably hadn’t been in any state to participate, but they at least could have asked. I like turning people down.
O, and Babbin – whom I had been sharing a room with – had disappeared. Again.
Probably off on an adventure. Without me. Again.
Are you starting to see a pattern here, Thaliar?
Arnold and Lynea, who had been outside, said that the looting had gotten more intense. There were even hoodlums running around offering relief from the crushing rubble, handing out free water and food to the needy. The nerve! Don’t these rioters know that they are supposed to endure this natural disaster with religious submission?
Arnold mentioned that these crazed lunatics were followers of Tor. Tor. Where had I heard that name before? Hadn’t Slippy – our boggart jailmate – mentioned a Tor? A turtle god…and we were on the back of a giant turtle… I liked where this was going.
We asked Pebbles what he knew about Tor, but all that the simple fellow could tell us was that, according to him, Tor was evil. Poor Pebbles, bless his simple soul – he just wasn’t the type to discuss the ethics of religions with, so we took it up with the local authority, one deacon Heartsong. What would he think about the resurgence of the Cult of Tor?
The Deacon was too busy to bother himself with what the, and I quote, “rif-raff” was up to. He had to make sure the Eye of Lethander was hoisted back up into the heavens, since, at the moment, it was embedded in the monastery roof.
This was my first opportunity to have a closer look at the Eye. It reminded me of an Arcane Prism, a tool used by wizards to amplify their spells. I wasn’t sure who had been using it and what they were using it for, but I was starting to formulate a hypothesis. Whatever they were using this huge prism for, my gut said it must be no good; I think Lethander might have withdrawn his favor from the Dryfoot Elite because they were doing some pretty messed up things in His name. Paramount to figuring out what had happened was the order of things. Did the turtle wake up and start moving, causing the Eye of Lethander to collapse, or was it the other way around?
Back in our room, I ran these thoughts by Arnold, and he added that the bubbly orange goo we encountered in the tunnels underneath Dryfoot seemed to have a strange, magical influence on the local flora. A strange goo being pumped up from a the depths of a city built on a turtle’s back? Could it be Tor’s blood? Were they actively mining a living thing to use for their petty spells? A living, breathing, now moving thing? Maybe it wasn’t the people that needed saving from the calamity, but the calamity that needed saving from the people. What does a body do when it is invaded by disease? It purges the infection; it pushes the pus out in boils.
As my thoughts were sent a-tumble, I started feeling weaker and weaker. My head pounded and the salve stung my skin, making it hard to concentrate. The fever was either granting me rare clarity, or sending me spiraling further into conspiracy-fueled madness. I was happy when three strangers busted into our room demanding our attention, saving me from my own raving thoughts.
Here, then, are our actors for this scene, in order of shortest to tallest:
There was the gnome with the stepladder who had let us into the guard station. a stiff human butler, and a tall boggart wearing robes similar to Albus..
They were loudly bickering among themselves, like children trying to get the attention of their teacher, not even letting the others finish their sentences. Teacher Deesan cut in and let them each explain in turn.
The gnomish woman had orders from Captain Armstrong herself. We were needed at the Exchange for a very, very important mission.
The Butler informed us that the mayor’s daughter had gone missing. This was of the utmost importance!
The Boggart told us that there were problems at Stillstone Asylum.
Ah. yes; Stillstone Asylum, where they kept the undesirables for ‘re-education’. I remember having a peek at it on my way back to the guard station. There were definitely signs of magical conflict. Them asking us for help must mean that they were losing control of the situation. If anyone knew more about Tor and its connection to magic, it would be those branded as ‘Wilders’ by the authorities – or, at least the ones that they hadn’t been able to brainwash and therefore had to keep locked up.
Of course there was also young William, the recently awakened Wilder, to consider. If he had been taken to the Asylum, that must mean that there were other children, too. Somebody had to make sure that they were safe.
We decided to vote. The butler and the gnome protested that we shouldn’t be allowed to get a vote, but when the sly boggart let them vote among themselves, they clearly demonstrated their stalemate as they obviously all voted for themselves. Stillstone Asylum it was.
As a compromise to the other two, we did promise to seek out Captain Armstrong at the Exchange as soon as we were done at the Asylum, and that we would keep an eye out for the mayor’s daughter, lady Alissa Masonry.
When his two rivals left, the boggart, who introducd himself as Silencer Frick, could really rap. Last night, Albus had taken a squadron into Stillstone Asylum; they haven’t been heard from since. Fricky needed us to go in there and find them.
Off we went to Stillstone, lead by the indomitable Frick. Everything about this character rubbed me the wrong way. I had thought that the boggarts had been the fun-loving, reasonable folk around here, the original inhabitants of this land oppressed by colonial humans. But Frick spoiled this image. Here was a boggart working hard on his Albus Hush impression, not with the intent of satirizing him, but of imitating him. Idolizing the oppressor. Kid, be careful who you worship.
Frick urged us that, since we were dealing with ‘wild’ magic, we needed to be ready for anything; we would have to go in prepared to kill. Weren’t there children inside, though? No, there weren’t; apparently, as soon as you showed any extraordinary magical talent in this city, you were no longer deemed a person, but, and I quote: a weapon. William, the thirteen year old weapon. Come now. The lives of children aren’t some game. This isn’t funny. And a weapon of whom? For what? What were these maniacs planning?
Frick didn’t follow us inside. As soon as we ditched the snitch, I showed my companions my hand. I told them that, as far as I was concerned, the guards were the bad guys here. I fully intended to help the inmates win back their freedom; I planned on joining the riot. I was prepared to fight my companions – with words and with arms if necessary – but much to my relief they all wholeheartedly agreed with me. We were all on the same page; we resolved to find the prisoners and help them break out of Stillstone. Be careful of who you send to quell a prison riot, Frick; if the prisoners are sympathetic and you are not, good folks might just end up joining their revolt.
The inside of the asylum was as boring as you might imagine. The walls were painted a dull gray and the wide corridors with their sharp corners were constructed with the cold logic of utilitarianism. We were in the outer ring – or square – that ran around the whole building. The only color to break up the monotony were these flashing runes on the ceiling. Even the sounds we made were muffled; one might expect such hollow corridors to sing with echoes, but our voices and footsteps did not carry beyond our bodies. It was eerie – almost as if we were standing with our backs to the sun without casting a shadow forward.
As we entered proper, I felt a strange of rush of energy; my fever lifted a little and I could hear my heart beating a song. There was a power surging inside my soul that was not my own. Was it Tor? Were we being rewarded for our conviction? I don’t know. All I know is that it strengthened mine.
We turned the first corner and came across a hallway with several knocked-out guards and people in orange jumpsuits. Just as I started wondering why these folks weren’t moving – there was no blood or signs of conflict – Deesan took the experimental approach. He brazenly strut forward and activated one of the runes on the ceiling. He froze in place; his body fell limp to the floor. I rushed towards him to check when I noticed that one of the guards had started to move, only to get zapped in a similar way to Deesan. I had seen this trick before; it was some kind of Hold Person spell, embedded in the runes.
I moved Deesan out of range of the rune and waited for him to recover. As soon as he came to, I threw my shoe at one of the runes keeping a prisoner locked up to disable it. It fizzled, which I took as a good sign; I rushed towards the prisoner and dragged them out of the rune’s reach.
As I got a close look at the prisoner, I realised that she was an elf. She looked just like your grandmother, Thaliar; a fair-headed woman, with fair skin and big, frightened eyes. I remembered the way your grandmother looked at me, the last time I saw her. They were the same eyes. Windows into a world long lost. A better world.
My belly rumbled with rage. How dare they lock up an elven woman! You don’t know your grandmother, Thaliar, but trust me when I say that the sight of an elf in chains is enough to break even the haughtiest of hearts. Elves are beings of the fey, elegant creatures of song and dance. You cannot tie them down to earth. It is a crime so violently against nature that it makes my eyes sting and my throat burn even writing about it.
As she came to, the first words she uttered send a chill down my spine. She asked why she had been woken up; she wasn’t supposed to be awake. She looked at her hands, frightened, expecting something similar to young William’s accident. She asked what had happened to the “hosts;” I told her, truthfully, that there was a riot going on. Her panic increased. The “residents” weren’t supposed to to run free. What if something were to happen? What if she hurt someone? Her trembling intensified.
I took those trembling hands and looked her straight in the eye. I told her the time had come to make a choice. She could either turn herself in to the “hosts,” who were sure to be happy to take care of her, or she could seek out the rioters and fight to earn back her freedom. A life in here, a life of silence, without color or music, is not a life worth living. Sure, inside here, she was not a risk to anyone, but she wasn’t living. Life comes with risk; sacrificing freedom for the sake of safety defeats the point of trying to preserve it.
The guards, however, did not.
To advance through the corridor, we had to disable one of the runes keeping a guard captive, or risk getting zapped ourselves. We wanted to avoid unnecessary violence, so Arnold whipped us up a cover of darkness. We tried to sneak past the guard as he came to, but the clever fellow somehow noticed us and prepared a spell. I jumped out of cover and stabbed him in the shoulder, disturbing his concentration. Deesan rushed in from behind and gave him another knock. The guard lost consciousness, and I kicked him back under the rune.
We liberated the other prisoners and left the guards snoring underneath their runes. There was no turning back now; having attacked a guard we had made our choice. We had joined the revolt.