Part One: A Storm is Coming
Gryp’s torch flame hardly stayed lit and twisted and righted with every gust from the riftwinds. He was covered in long, thick leather from the hides of a tarankacil, one of the many beasts a wanderer hunts to stay alive out on the rifts. This was common attire for a wanderer, used to block the cold strong winds in the night. His long gray hair wasn’t enough for warmth so he wore a hood to stop the cold from his ears. His boots were made of the same hides.
The image of his companion, Fromm, appeared into Gryp’s torch light which only cast a meter in front of him in the wavering, falling snow flakes. He wasn’t that startled. Wanderers that far out on the frontier don’t let anything under a few meters tall frighten them.
Fromm was out in front, scouting in the dark, making sure that a rival hunting party wasn’t tracking them. It was too dark this night from the blizzard that not even the moons allowed enough light to see ahead.
Gryp and Fromm were two of some of the best hunters in the Riftlands. Just like most wanderers, they were also escaping the control of the Central Kingdoms and their petty rivalries so that they could be free to claim land where they wanted and actually find resources without being taxed.
It was their skill that let them be out in this storm and this far on the edge of no where. The Riftlands are a region where giant spires of land jutting out from the sea keep wanderers from moving too fast and make it difficult to hunt, gather, mine and build. That’s why so many don’t make it out here. The beasts are vicious, but a being can live free. At least that’s what Gryp and Fromm thought.
“I thought I spooked you Gryp”, Fromm said.
“Nigh lad, it takes more than a tow-headed boy to get a rise out of me” Gryp said.
“It’s true, there’s not many beast or being out in this kind of weather, we are alone.” Fromm said.
All the men could see of each other was their hoods, the bristle of their beards jutting out, and the gleam of their eyes from the torch. Gryp’s steel-gray eyes, were like a hawk’s eyes, able to see across many rifts and terrams. This gift made him a valuable asset to his clan.
Fromm, being younger than Gryp, though a talented hunter, had no such supernatural gift. He learned all he could from his mentor.
“I think we’ve scouted this frontier long enough for tonight lad” Gryp said. “We should set up camp in one of the caves we passed a few jogs back”
Fromm nodded and agreed with his eyes when Gryp looked back at him.
Just as Gryp turned back the ground gave way beneath both the men. The whole terram seemed to be collapsing under their feet.
“Hang on lad” Gryp cried out, as he tried to use his axe to latch onto any piece of stable terram; but all his experience in these volatile lands didn’t save them tonight. Down they went.
They only slid down with the rubble for a few meters this time, which was unusual. If it was truly a whole terram collapsing, or a new rift forming, it would have been much deeper and the wanderers would surely have met the gods this night. The thick garments saved them from a lot of the bruising fall, so they were only slightly rattled. Both were on their feet within minutes shaking off the disorientation.
It was Fromm that first noticed it, as Gryp was looking the opposite way. Through the blistering snow fall a glow of many lights was ahead.
“What in the gods name”, Gryp mumbled when he saw it too.
For a few split seconds, both men thought it was some magical monster from the deep rift come to swallow them whole, but this huge glowing beast, was a structure. Fromm already had his axe at his ready.
“A structure this far out on the frontier Gryp?”, Fromm said.
“I’m as bewildered as you lad”, Gryp said. “It could be a missionary outpost”.
Gryp knew this wasn’t true. Missionaries didn’t make it out this far, and if they did, they would be slaughtered by the local beasts, as it sadly and usually happens.
“Perhaps the gods built it themselves”, Fromm said back.
Both kept their voices down since they didn’t know what to expect as a threat. Both were hopeful it was some celestial structure with no intentions of harm.
There was a noise coming from the direction of the structure, though it was muffled by the winds; a humming. Some of the many lights were moving. Bouncing?
The yellow lights were then distinguishable as pairs.
“Run!”, Gryp said a little louder than a whisper.
Fromm had just thought the same thing and both turned and trampled through the snow, but only a few meters behind them was the rock that had just crumbled underneath their feet, making a wall that slowed them down. They tried to climb, but by then the lights that were pairs of eyes, with bodies attached to them were right behind them.
Gryp and Fromm turned around and Gryp took down his hood and said, “Good evening mates!”, as he smiled at the beings. The new beings, 8 of them all with goggles that were lit up and long pikes made of steel, not only outnumbered the wanderers, but had tech that baffled the frontiersmen. Gryp knew fighting was not their way out this time.
“Lovely night for mining”, Gryp said keeping his toothy grin. “Care to join us?”
“Noto!” said the lead soldier.
“Noto?” Gryp thought. He knew that was lingo from the monks from the Central Kingdoms of Deluvia. It was impossible for anybody from the Central Kingdoms to be out this far west.
“Come with us”, said the lead solider.
One of the soldiers banded the wanderers hands and led them back to the structure.
As they all treaded through the snow, Gryp moved his eyes without moving his head to look at the garb of these soldiers. His best guess is that they were natives to this land. They had iron-plated pieces shoulder and chest armor. Covering their armor were strips of white and gray shrouds. They too had hoods but also very strange looking goggles that light up, which is what they noticed first from a hundred meters away. The goggles, were no doubt to help them see in this kind of weather out here on the fringe. They had boots, but of a different kind of beast fur; something silver in color. A ranscreet Gryp guessed. Though his beast lore knowledge was the best of his clan, that fur kept him guessing.
When they got closer to the structure, again without moving his head much, but only his eyes, Gryp began to see what they were headed towards. This was no religious structure, unless their god was a god of miners. “This was a huge mine!” he thought.
They crossed over a long iron bridge and down below was the deepest rift he had ever seen; but along the edges were glints of light and ladders, bridges and miners all the way down. Above and ahead of them were huge wind sails, to catch the wind and power the structure. The structure was massive with the central, cylindrical core rotating slowly as the wind sail above it rotated in the opposite direction. Technology Gryp knew nothing about.
The central structure had six sides and each floor got a little smaller, each had it’s own decks and roofs. It was a mix of iron, stone and wood. Some floors had sails coming out and then on top was the large pole, 10 meters high, with three rectilinear sails coming out, collecting the strong winds. The low drum of the sails turning got louder as they approached. Smoke poured from a dozen chimney scattered throughout the other buildings in the distance. All this was perched on a terram like an island in the air.
Before they got to the end of the bridge Gryp was finally able to see another strange piece of equipment. It reached over the wide, deep rift with wheels and pulleys letting down platforms and pulling up ore. The scale of it all was more than Gryp could comprehend. It is as if this equipment could reach down and grab ore and pull it up in huge amounts.
He didn’t get much time to study it before they were in the huge, rusted iron doors and were being pushed down a narrow hallway down one side of the building. The soldiers used their pikes to shove the two prisoners into some rusty cells. The barred doors clanked shut and Gryp and Fromm were alone.
He took off his cloak and came slowly forward. He could feel the cold of the large quarried stones, which made up the floor, through his boots. With his black garb made of Gezereen twiidel, he stood and felt regal in the cold hallway with portrait busts of the ancestors of the Azerthoth family kings which his family had been subject to for eons.
The busts, all on plinths of varying heights, all covered in dusty, unseemly for their stature were a reminder of the Pallamost rule. Only slivers of light could come into the hall through the narrow windows which highlighted the floating bits of dust and allow him to see his breath.
He looked down at one bust and blew the dust off the bald head made of marble and looked at the rugged face for which the Azerthoth kings were known. With all the folds of marble to mimic the wrinkles of skin, he wondered why the artists didn’t capture the likeness at a more flattering age. The lifeless eyes, without pupils or irises didn’t show power or leadership. Only the fact that they had a bust in the long line of busts in this hallway indicated that they were once important.
He tried to look into the eyes and wondered if this is the one that killed his grandfather, a loyal subject. He grabbed the head with one hand on each side and pressed his thumbs into where the hard eyes were. He felt as if it was trying to tap into the mind of that ancient king to get a secret and a story.
The Castle Pallamost has served the Azerthoth family for 80 generations and to him the whole place felt haunted. He tried to imagine happier times that once occurred in this castle, but with the cold set in and the recent sickness of the king. The neglected dust and moaning creeks of stone crushing on cold stone gave all the more creep to this place.
Ayrchek came as minister plenipotentiary, back from a mission to Storm King; an honor for him, since his family were considered enemies only three generations ago. He came to give the ailing king news from his mission, news that wasn’t all good.
A door opened and a man half hunched over with charcoal robes and a staff to support his frailty, hobbled out.
“Ayrchek . Good timing son. The king has been waiting your news for weeks. Your trip was eventless.” said the older man.
“Not entirely Golgot.” Ayrchek said.
“Well you look well and safe, and that’s what matters right now”, Golgot said.
Golgot took Ayrcheck down a secret hall passed a few armed guard; they went down some stairs and came to a large room that Ayrcheck knew well.
From the door on the other side of the room, two more robed figures came in, one purple and other red. They were the advisers to the King’s court.
“Your ship wasn’t noticed by anyone was it Ayrcheck?”, the adviser in red said.
“It wasn’t a secret mission, I don’t see why that matters”, the adviser in purple said.
“Well I was more concerned about the zealots in the city thinking we are conspiring with or against Storm King” said the adviser in red.
Ayrcheck took his time in answering as he wanted to avoid giving the wrong response.
“Good to see you too Wenzel and Collier”, Ayrcheck.
Wenzel, the one in red half scoffed, half chuckled, and Collier, the one in purple, bowed and said “Well, it is good to see you too Master Ayrcheck”.
Golgot bowed and said, “I must go fetch Princess Franday, and then we can convene.”
Princess Franday was the last heir to the Azerthoth empire, as the three sons were all slain in battle against the demons in the last war. Though New Pallamost and their allies had rebuilt, much had also been lost.
The three left in the room looked at each other. Ayrcheck knew the advisers wanted to ask more, but that they should wait. He knew that they were jealous of his new responsibilities. Wenzel and Collier had served the kingdom for 50 years and had been loyal and wise the whole time. They were the two advisers out of the six that were suspicious of Storm King, so they had devised this mission to start diplomatic relations with them. Their intentions were not so diplomatic however. They also wanted to keep an eye on the secretive government at Storm King.
Since the king was ill, his daughter Franday represented a stake in this mission as well. Ayrcheck was given full authority by the king, though, so Franday was only there as an adviser as well.
After awkward glances and small talk between Ayrcheck and the two robed advisors, Golgot was finally back with Franday. When she got into the room she was ran up to Ayrcheck and gave him a hug. She was only 15 and looked up to Ayrcheck like an older brother. All in the room were happy that Ayrcheck was safe.
The Storm Kings were starting to get the reputation of being untrustworthy and vile and the surrounding kingdoms are beginning to get unnerved by it. The assembly of advisers, Golgot, Franday, Wenzel and Collier were all worried about Ayrcheck and his team.
“We can begin” said Franday as she sat down at the wood table. They were in the war room, which was small, just enough room for 20 people. A large fireplace was on one side, thankfully lit. A large table in the middle, which was rugged with deep grooves from the grain being long worn away, and chairs and benches along it. Candles at on the table and had been burning for a long while.
They all sat Ayrcheck began to speak. “It’s been many years since we all have been to Storm King. They fought along with us against the demons during the Wars and were good allies. But things have changed. There once small cities have grown into a conurbation of vast proportions. Not only are their factories numerous and large, but the tech there is like nothing I have ever seen. The machines of war they are building and amassing makes me feel very leery. They had saved us many times during the Wars with their airships and tech, but they have continued building as if preparing for another war”
“Wait and hold on a minute”, said Wenzel. “How are they paying for this? New Pallamost’s coffers have been running low for decades, so how do they find the coin?”
“I cannot be certain about all of it”, said Ayrcheck, “but a lot of it comes from their intense mining. They weren’t at all shy about showing me their vast mines, in fact the whole of Northtop mountain is hollowed out.”
All at the table gasped a little bit, but Collier called out, “What is this!? How can this be? That would take centuries to dig out.”
Ayrcheck continued, “That surprised me too. They seemed very eager to show off everything to me, but still, I knew there was something they weren’t telling me. There were parts of the mountain, that were off limits.”
Franday now spoke. “This might seem alarming to us now, but it could mean nothing. They have simply made much progress and have innovated. Maybe we’re all just a bit jealous that our kingdom has seen some hard times lately.”
Golgon hung his head from that sentiment. He had been the king’s children’s tutor and been affected by the brother’s death more than most.
“We were once great, and we still are!”, exclaimed Collier. “We have our castle, citadel, the cathedral and our ships.”
“It’s true”, said Ayrcheck. “Our pallatial guard is second to no one and nothing I’ve seen there compares with them.”
“But I want to remain objective and just provide this warning to all of us”
“And that is why I worry about the zealots”, said Wenzel. “All their fears are coming true! I’m afraid they’ll act if this information leaks to them. They have their spies too. I know they’re just looking out for the kingdom, but their patriotism is dangerous.”
“I think we all agree”, said Franday. “What would father want Ayrcheck?”
“I believe he would want us to be cautious”, said Ayrcheck. “I think we try to remain allied to Storm King and try to learn their true intentions.”
“What is the progress of the new monorail line between our two islands? Has construction resumed?”, asked Collier.
“Noto”, said Golgon. “It has halted. It was far too ambitious and expensive.”
“I ask, because that was a gesture of peace to connect our two kingdoms and would improve commerce and relations”, said Collier.
All at the table nodded in agreement.