They flew to the top of the plateau and were unprepared for what they found. A majestic city, even larger than Qabarat. Red brick and dusty stone was the material of choice. Buildings of all size dotted the area. However, they were all dwarfed by the massive, red pyramid at the center of the city. Resting at the top of the pyramid is a large portal, currently inactive.
The had found the city of Arl.
They march for hours. Vareil's troops remain silent and unwavering during the entire march. They march in a perfect unison that would make any general proud. Soon, they stood at the base of a plateau rising high into the sky.
"We are almost there, men. We have the final climb left."
The troops draw some climbing gear and begin to make their ascent.
Variel marches on, staring ahead with signs of fury in his eyes. Celia sprints up beside him. He doesn't notice her for a few moments before finally looking down.
"Ah, godling. Your spirit feet make you silent. Your kind are an enigma. I believe I'm being tested, considering your brother. No matter, I'm sure things will turn out well. Do you ahve any advice for me?"
Variel stands before his batallion.
"Men, as you know, the enemy lies over there, in the city of Arl, resting on that plateau. It will be a few hours march before we arrive so you will do your best to be ready. Once the attack begins, remember to start chewing your air crystals. Although we can breathe now, the air is too thin to keep us going amidst combat."
A few of the glassy eyed troops begin to stir. They look around and a look of panic quickly sets on their faces. Variel mutters a few words along with a few motions and the troops are calm once more.
"Well then, with the godling on our side we shan't be defeated. Let's march."
The batallion does an about face and begins to march towards a plateau in the distance.
"Blessed ones," he turns towards the five, "please join us."
The landscape is as cold as the air. All around is nothing but sand and dust, blown about by winds. The dust whips around stinging the faces of the troops, but they remain still, awaiting their orders. Rock formations rise in the distant, twisting and alien to form spires of unnatural reach. The plateaus and mountains that dot the horizon loom with such size that vertigo would set if one were to examine them for too long.
There are the troops, their lieutenant, and the five. There is no war, no fighting. Only a speck of a city can be seen in the distance, at least a few hours away by foot.
"Well, everyone," yells out Variel, "let's move."
His batallion draws their weapons and proceed to march towards the portal. For a team of mostly green-looking recruits, their march is impeccable, silent and in sync. Variel crosses through the portal with an almost, enthusiastic look on his face.
The group moves forward, some with great hesitation. LK is first through the portal, without any real problem. As Zell and Celia pass through, they begin to feel as if though the magical energies are tearing at their insides. Celia feels herself stretched as long as a noodle and then instantly rebound to be as small as a dog. Zell's face is seemingly stretched as if grabbed by ten pairs of hands pulling in every direction. The effect immediately stops once they arrive on Akiton. Last through are Valai and William. While passing through, Valai feels no ill effects but her head is filled with William's obvious pain and fear. The emotions are so strong, she feels as if she may collapse.
A moment later, they are all through, standing in a sea of blood-red sand.
"Is that everyone?" asks Variel.
A troop nods in confirmation.
"Very well then," he smiles.
Variel turns to the gate. With a few motions, the magic of the gate collapses with a loud rumble, the likes of which the groups feels as a heavy weight on their chest.
"Well, then. Let's start this war."
A jumble of noises come from Keth for a moment.
The noises clear up to the voice of the Mechanic.
"I hope the suits arrived to you. I'm not sure whay you need them, but I'm sure they will be of good use. Before you run off, I wanted to make sure you were aware of some upgrades that the nanites have been working on. The suits are now reinforced with Kethan technologies. In essence, they will now be able to withstand tough blows. Also, the nanites now emit their own transmission fields. Basically, this allows you to communicate with each other so long as you remain within one hundred or so feet from each other.
"Anyway, I must return to work, so I hope to see you return soon."
"If it means that you'll keep quiet when we go through, I guess I can. The Shobhads of Akiton decided that they would start to make everything within sight their own. Soon, that extended to things that were beyond the portals. They enacted a suprise attack on EL and Qabarat. El was lost to the fiends, but we drove them away from Qabarat. We've taken to bringing the fight into their home as we work on reclaiming out capital. Now, get ready to go." He thrusts a pair of small pouches into Valai's hands. "We have some four-armed bastards to take down."
An elven man who appears to be some kind of higher ranking official breaks off from the crowd to meet with LK. Although better dressed than the others, he is still wearing what appears to be a hastily made outfit, obviously nothing that was officially issued. If this is an official militia, they have had no support for some time.
"By the Wasp, we have been blessed by reinforcements. You must be a machine sent by Calistria herself to aid in our battle. I am Lieutenant Variel, leader of the 15th batallion, green division. These are what remain of my men. As for that thing," he points at the portal, "that is the home of the monstrosities that threaten our home. You've arrived just in time to defend. Grab some air crystals or a helm, for we cross in ten minutes."
They stood around for a moment, more worried than anything else. After a straining of the ears, they could hear some voices. It sounded like the cries of fighting coming from a few streets over. They moved towards the sounds and found their owners- a squad of elves, lashunta, and a splash of other races preparing themselves for combat. Behind them stood a magnificent magical portal, obviously active, ready to be traversed.
They made their way towards the city, some more reluctantly than others. The trek through the jungle was mostly uneventful, save for frequent stops by Valai insisting on inspecting local flora. After almost an hour of travel, they stood before Qabarat. The white building from earlier turned out to be large white walls, covered in mosaics made from crusted shells. To the west of the city were large cliffs reach down into a deep sea. Its blue-green waters lapped the cliffs gently.
They proceeded through one of the gates they found and entered a city unlike anything on Golarion. The city was a place of domes and cupolas, ornate columns and centuries-old statues. However, other than the companionship of the occasional statue, they were completely alone. It seemed they had walked into a ghost town.
Celia stepped outside and was greeted by a lush jungles and skies as clear as gin. She squealed with delight at the sight and proceeded to remove her helmet. The air was warm on her skin as she took in a deep breath. The air smelled like the Mwangi and she felt right at home. LK stepped out not long after to find an overjoyed gnome in awe of her surroundings.
They all prepared for the worst. Minutes flew by without a single event outside of the ship. Eventually, they could see the ship eater slowly swimming over to the remains of the Terran ship. It bean to bit and tear at it, chewing through metal as if it were paper. Debris flew in all directions. A large piece flew violently at their ship.
"I don't have enough time to avoid it," warned the Mechanic. "Brace for impact."
The ship was struck and rocked like a galleon in a terrible summer storm. However, they were all intact. Their ship continued forward, soon out of sight of the feasting beast.
"We're away from the Ship Eater. However, according to the ship, it's fuel lines have been severed and we're quickly set to run out of fuel. I'm going to have to make an emergency landing for repairs. Castrovel is nearby, so we'll stop there."
An hour after the incident, they were entering the atmosphere of the Green. Lush jungles filled the ground as far as the eye could see. The Mechanic made for a clearing to land in. The ship groaned and creaked as its landing gear forced its way out of a smashed hull. They landed safely, but the ship sounded as if she was needing a good rest.
"Well, we've made it, but it might be a day or two before we can leave again. In the meanwhile, welcome to Castrovel."
"Well, I think introductions aside, we should make sure you are well," suggest the Mechanic. "I think making sure you have some food is in order. Come along, we can meet the others."
They head up to the next deck and meet with the remaining group. After a large meal that was constructed from seemingly nowhere, they all take the time to explain their current situation.
A few hours pass without any other events. However, William is soon bleating at one of the 'windows' with an almost panicked sound to to his calls. A brief shadow is seen outside, floating past the ship.
The Mechanic is a Kethan, a cyborg race that appears to be a mix between human and construct. He has the body of a metallic humanoid automaton- long slender metal legs and arms, a thin torso and a human-like face.
The Mechanic rushed over to the second chamber. The fluid within was draining as well. No android was within, instead there was a man. This man was just as unsual as an android though. Somehow both a man and a serpent, this man's skin is covered with the occasional patch of scales. He also has a long, green tail and a massive pair of arms.
"Hmm... this is a first," claims the Mechanic.
It's just you guys and the Mechanic on the ship. No one else. I'll just say you directed that request to Booker.
They went down to the lower deck and found the hold where the Mechanic had made a makeshift workshop. Inside, the Mechanic was having a rest. The vats were still in the same state.
"Ah, hello there. It seems curiosity got the best of you. Well, it may not appear as such, but I've made a great deal of progress. I've managed to reverse engineer- er, determine how the technology works. Soon, I'll be placing the command to end the stasis. In just a few hours, we shall meet who lies within."
They moved the vats slowly onto the ship. Everyone reunited and expressed that they also had problems moving about the ship. Without power, it was a futile effort. Once everyone was onboard, Boodka and Entaro assisted the Mechanic to move the vats to the lower deck. The Mechanic began to work. His actions were surprisingly silent, at least when heard from the deck above. All that was heard was the hum of the ship.
"I would advise against destroying the chambers. Incorrectly disabling the chamber may lead to the death of the creature within," Keth warns as he makes his way out.
He returns a few minutes later with the Mechanic in tow. The Mechanic inspects the chambers and eventually comes to a conclusion.
"I can probably open them, but I can't do so here. I have all my tools on the ship and I would need to bring the chambers onboard. Luckily, I'm able to do that without a problem. The chambers detach from their base for easy transport. Up to you. Do we leave them be or try to get them open?"
Celia's arm found nothing. After a few extra wags, she stepped over and looked into the room. Inside she could see various large vats glowing bright blue. Some of the vats were empty, some filled with liquid, and two of them had some kind of creature floating within. The liquid was murky enough that she couldn't make out the figures within, even up close.
The Mechanic took the ship in as close as possible. Due to the massive size of the Terran craft, they were able to dock within the remains of the craft. Once they had landed, the Mechanic gave them instructions on working the 'airlock' so that they may step out and explore the wreckage. Everyone stepped out and made their separate ways. Boodka and Entaro, Booker and the Mechanic, and Celia and Valai all split off in their way. Keth followed Valai as he was instructed.
The craft appeared to have similar design choices as the Kethan's works. However, this one felt a bit colder and uninviting. There were no lights running through the metals. The colors were all off-putting irons and silvers. Celia and Valai made their way around. However, they found that almost any door they came to, was impossible to traverse. Keth explained that the ship lacked energy to open the doors and without some means to cut or blow through them, exploration would prove difficult.
Almost heartbroken, Celia voiced her disappointment in not being able to search about. That is when she noticed a faint blue glow coming from a hole in a ruined wall.
They loaded onto the ship. With the Mechanic's help, they were strapped into a seat, facing straight up at a metal ceiling, their heads akwardly resting in their helmets. The Mechanic took the captain's chair and after a few minutes of working the equipment, he let out a warning.
"Okay, friends, this is it. Pray to any appropriate gods that we may travel safe."
A button was pressed and a great roar filled their ears. The ceailing split in half and receded into the walls, revealing a tall shaft and stars beyond. A few moments of violent rumbling and shaking and the ship began to lift, making it's way towards the stars. The force kept everyone glued to their seats and instilled a panic in William that Valai had never experienced. However, a few minutes later, the ship's movements eased up.
"Fellow travelers, we have entered the cold, unloving area that is known as space. Welcome. At this time, feel free to remove your helmets and move around our vessel freely. Our expected time of arrival is estimated to be two weeks."
Boodka started walking out and gave Celia a quick nudge with his elbow.
"I don't know. I'd be pretty happy to go out eating a pound of pudding," he chuckled.
The recently reunited group made its way out of the forum, led by the Mechanic. After a few more winding pathways and halls, they found themselves once more at the ship, humming louder than had left it.
"There we go," cheered the Mechanic. "Never thought I'd see her ready to fly again!"
[i]He made his way over to a platform and playfully took a look at his wrist.
"All aboard! he bellowed. After a beat, he shook his head. "No, no. You wouldn't understand that. Let's get going, then."
"Those are beings we had created for utility when we arrived here. After a few generations, they were able to recreate themselves and became self sustaining. We have decided to let them go and be of their own will now. That must have been over ten cycles ago."
Quentin gave Valai a brief nod.
"Yeah, it's already been worked out. I'll be in this suit for a while, but the folks here will work on me a bit to make me one of their own. A few spare and some elbow grease, and I'll be more like them than I am my old self. They seem like a good bunch and I'm more interested in how things work here than dealing with things back home, honestly."
Soon, they all found themselves within the forum. It was reminiscent of a meeting hall on Golarion. Various rows of seatings circled a a central pulpit, intended for whomever the main speaker was. However, the pulpit found itself unused today. Strewn about in varying degrees of uncomfortableness were the three remaining members of the group. They tossed greetings as their companions entered. Quentin looked up at them with a smile. Boodka gave a grunt that fogged the glass of his helm as Entaro gave only a silent nod.
"So, these are your comrades, then?" asked a Kethan.
Celia stumbled around the underground village. As she made her way, she found a group children playing games with levitating scraps of metal. Curiously, the game was not unlike the ones children would play in the streets of Absalom or any other city. Children had similar imaginations, even accross species and planets, it seemed. After some unlucky plays by one of the children, one of the scraps found itself flying at an extreme rate into one of the nearby homes. In a flash, the remaining scraps fell to the ground, left behind the fleeing children, an angered adult following in their wake.
Celia continued around, eventually finding herself before a rather majestic building. It stood tall and had some semblence of architecture, unlike the mostly bland slabs of buildings that encompassed her walk so far. A quick scan of the building made it out to be some kind of forum. With a peek inside, she noticed her remaining group members engaged in discussion with a set of Kethans.
The platform narrowed to move through the doorway, carrying the three into the ship. Inside they found a marvel of engineering, well beyond their understanding. The walls of the ship were lined with mechanisms, contraptions, and all sorts of lights. Towards the front end, they could see clearly out of the ship, where they had been no opening seen from the outside. A set of seats were bolted to the floor of the ship placed before the viewing area. Further back, there was a hallway that led to what appeared to be quarters.
"Well, here she is," proclaimed the Mechanic. "Absolute beauty, is she not?"
The platform they were on began to move again. There were no gestures or requests from the Mechanic. It seemed the platform moved to the will of the Kethan, the two linked by some unseen force. It brought them before the side of the ship. The Mechanic placed a hand on the hull, revealing a door that opened with the same quiet dedication as the platform. After stepping in, the Mechanic turned to them.
"Well, do you want to come in?"
Sorry about that Celia. I must have misread that.
The Mechanic took his group to small platform beside the vessel. Once they were all on, it began to levitate towards the bow, nonchalantly pointing to the heavens.
"This ship," explained the Mechanic, "will be our transport to your planet. I believe I can gather the information I need form your friend here to point us in the right direction. Now, this ship has not flown in a very long time, but I believe it should still be reliable."
Celia, on the otherhand, took a stroll through the market area. She saw what she would see in any other market: vendors, hagglers, what appeared to be children playing. As she moved around, a voice seemed to call out to her.
"Hey, Stranger, interested in a souvenir?"
A Kethan called out to her from behind a stand. Placed out were various devices and baubles the like of which Celia had never imagined.
The Mechanic led them out of his small workshop. They began to travel deeper underground, the network of tunnels a criss-cross that could make one's head spin. After what seemed like another random turn, they found themselves before a gigantic room. Standing from tail to nose was a large vessel. It appeared similar to a large boat, save for the fact that the hull formed a complete shell.
"Here she is. Isn't she gorgeous?"
The Kethan nodded and led them through. On the other side, they found these Kethans were not alone. There were dozens walking about as if they were unaware of their containment. From the looks of it, this was a market as the Kethans were trading goods, sharing stories, and enjoying their surroundings.
They walked through the area without a single turned head. It was as if the Kethans found strangers in their midst to be a common occurence. After making their way across, they reached another wall, which opened up in the same manner. Inside was a lone figure hunched over something resembling a workbench.
Their guide called to other Kethan, but when it spoke, the sounds were nothing but an amalgam of syllables. It seemed this word had no translation. The worker looked up and gave a nod.
"Friends," the Kethan said with a motion, "this is the Mechanic."
The Mechanic stood and gave them a bow.
The group followed the Kethan into a small room. Inside, they found four more Kethans of varying sizes. Two appeared to be shorter in stature, another a bit more shapely insinuating that she was female, and the last was a bit more haggered and worn. The Kethan leading them made note to touch all their helmets and allow them to understand his speech.
"This is my family. We welcome you," he said, with a bow.
The Kethan found its way to Celia and reached out to her. Placing a hand on her helmet, it began to speak. It's voice bellowed deeply and shook Celia to the bone. After a moment, the words began to sound a bit clearer, eventually sounding as pleasent as any noble elf's. The words swirled in hear head, twisting and rearranging until, almost instantly, they made sense to her.
"-stand by now. Please, tell your companion that I do not know her tongue."
The room fell silent as Celia made her introduction. The Kethans turned to her and stared with what seemed like blank expressions. There were four in the room and the largest acted first. It stood from a stone bench and lumbered over to Celia. It towered over her, standing nearly eight feet in height. Its movements were slow and precise, but seemed to be a bit hesitant, as if it was approaching with caution rather than a lack of speed.