Without warning we materialize in midair, some distance above a neglected plaza, littered with drifts of sodden fall leaves, shattered chunks of masonry, and moss. Falling, we land with little grace, in a heap. Weak afternoon light filters down past monumental pine trunks and through countless needles and branches.
Fragments of a low wall describe the plan of a ruined building. Fallen arches and broken ceramic roof tiles make mounds about the site. The foundations are cracked and filled with wet silt, sand and debris. All is quiet, unnaturally so. Not a bird, only the chilly autumal breeze, the clink and grind of small stones and grit under our boots.
Some of the group reflexively fall to their knees; kiss the ground at their feet. We thought that we’d not make it back, ever. We are delivered, returned, given another chance at life, a future. Only then do we notice: Zero, our Bard, ententainer and conscience is missing! A stab of loss, like losing your right hand, a brother. There is nothing we can do, no way of contacting Steelhearth, nothing…
Taking stock, we notice the mist in the distance, a wiff of industrial stench, of death, of the Mourning. It’s all about us, but different; wispy, dilute, full of open spots. The prevailing feeling of doom is lighter, the light stronger. Things have changed since our day. We notice the trees, huge trees, undergrowth, even flowers, a game trail? How can this be?
We stalk from the ruin and into the dew dripped bower of the forest. Then in the distance, the unmistakable sound of someone felling a tree. Thwack, thwack!
We are not alone. Long neglected weapons are readied, we advance. Sprox disappears into the branches, not to be seen by friend or foe for several days, a wraith, a shadow.
Frederick leads, and soon hails a group of lumberjacks, humans dressed in rough homespun garments. They are dumbfounded, never having seen a paladin in shining full plate armor. They offer no offence, and promptly lead us to their camp.
The camp is humble, containing several low log built hovels, and ringed by an unimpressive wooden wall. An archer stands guard, jumping to at our arrivial.
“Welcome, friends. I am Marchus, senior here. I am a manager by trade, and a scholar by inclination. May I ask who you are, and from where did you hail?
Please take your ease, you are safe enough behind these walls. Accept whatever hospitality we can offer, and without delay tell me your tale, if you will."
Information is shared, our explanation coming out in stages, but in time the truth, for what have we to lose by it? They are incredulous, but eventually convinced upon studying the considerable record of our astronomical and geographic observations, by Frederick, and by others. The orbital vantage point is impossible to explain, but the globe shape of the planet confirms the scholar’s long held suspicions.
“This matter is too fantastic, too important, to far above my pay grade. I ask that you travel to the city, Woodhelm and meet with Arturo. He is both wise and powerful. As a representative of the central government, he has the power and dignity to treat with anomolies like yourselves: men from the stars!”
The afternoon is filled with the simple pleasures of a forgotten age: a simple meal, wine, and the novelty of conversation with someone besides long time cellmates. Tasting, savoring every mouth full, gradually animation seeps back into the group. Something is awakened in each of us, something ravenous and primitive in Damocles who, shedding her armor, shaking off her things, and discarding her sword stalked off for the nearby shoreline.
Submerged like some ancient crocodile, wallowing in the soft mud, sinuous and impossibly graceful she swims and hunts, beautiful, alive! She returns after sunset, gorged with fish. Reluctant to leave the waters, she emerges only after her friends plead from the shoreline.
We are shown lodgings. Sleep! Real sleep, the gradual physical surrender, abdication. Damocles intones a prayer of some sort, of thanksgiving, in Draconic. She speaks thanks for all of us, for once emotive, inclusive, smoldering. Eye contact is made.
In the night, gnolls assault the camp. They are savage, quick, disgusting things, intent on the kill. Wonderfully groggy, we arise to the slaughter. Damocles roars, hugely, boomingly loud in the night: to kill again! The interlopers are slaughtered. The humans suffer casualties, deaths. It is wonderful!
In the dim morning, hasty burials, comrades committed to their rest. It is agreed to break camp, to return at once to the city. We tag along, happily adrift, free. We travel by barge, cumbersome and slow vessels designed to portage giant timbers. The smooth waters roll by, countless channels, sandbars, forested atolls. There is adequate time to soak it all in: the sun on your face, fresh scented air, cool waters, eels and fish snared and eaten raw, alive. Joy!