A spark of Hareton Grey's soul spirals downward along with the debris of the Tower, amid cascading energy and stars. It swirls in circles, spinning around and around like a whirling snowflake, like a fanciful dream, or a hazy fantasy. His soul travels backwards through this fateful night. Back down the Tower Out of Time, through the dusty bookstacks of the Library of Anaphexia, along the fine-polished floors of the Salon of Sorcerers, through the sewers, back to the beginning of this adventure outside the Hospital of Pharasma.
But this time, somewhere where you are not...in another time, on a different plane...it is he who lays in the alleyway, wounded and dying. The fabric of time has changed. The nature of redemption.
"I am sorry, my love," he says. He grimaces. His body jackknifes in pain.
"Shhhh," says a voice in comfort. "Everything will be fine." The touch of his love, Olivia, gently closes his eyes.
Her tears fall on his cheeks and mingle with the rain.
Sandru grunts deferentially. He gives space so that the Mechanical Manservant can extract the minute-hand to the clocktower. It flies from Sandru's backpack and into an updraft...into the aether. The clock hand tumbles high above the town square, hovering almost out of view.
The three foci explode in a burst of white fire, which sends lines of dragon's breath far up into the sky, until they lick sheets of lightning across the bottom of dark, overcast clouds racing across the sky. There's an ear-shattering rumble of thunder. The lines of white fire reach their apex, at which point they converge and fall down in four lines like four separate waterfalls, forming a magical castle in the sky.
At first, the effect is filled with white sparkles and seems benign. Then, there's a sucking vacuum. Planks, nails, bolts, and metal plates from surrounding buildings all pry off and flip end-over-end towards the materializing tower. It takes shape, constructed level by level...a hideous mechanical marvel...half in/half out of this current reality. An aberration. A wonderful dream.
With clanging and clanking it builds together piece by piece. All gears, cranks, and steam pipes at odd and tortuous angles. A fortress of copper and steel, glowing with unearthly green energy. The TOWER OUT OF TIME materializes in your dimension, hovering high above the city in the town square. A rain of green binary runs down the sides.
"YOU HAVE FOUND ME!" booms Hareton's voice.
You hear a male voice issue through the closet. It sounds canned and far away.
"Jornel, Jornel, Jornel...tisk, tisk...what did I tell you? Do not interfere with my work again. And yet, here we are again so soon. I have to say I'm disappointed."
"Call off Elspeth immediately, and all of you back away. Don't attack the device. If you don't do as I say, I will squeeze the girl right here and now until nothing is left of her but a fine, gluey paste."
You notice that Reeva's orb is rigged with a spell. Twisting the two halves of the device opens it and activates a trap.
As Sandru pads across the hall, he picks his way carefully around all the broken glass on the floor from the fallen chandeliers. The hallway is empty for now; there are no immediate threats. When he turns the knob on the door to the lounge, at first it won't budge, but with a little effort it opens.
Inside the room, there is a large, oak wardrobe against the wall to his left. At the far end of the room, there is a victrola playing a tune (song on the victrola). There's a large, comfortable-looking chair next to the victrola, with a side-table next to it. On the table is an ice bucket filled with lukewarm water...all the ice has melted...and a glass filled with the remnants of a little remaining scotch.
On the cushion of the chair lays a hastily-written letter, folded in thirds. It reads -
I assume if any of you read this, you are still alive. If so, that is good news, but do not follow or try to find me. I tried to open the doors of this room and return to you. When that didn't work, I sat here waiting. I started to think about Olivia and how much I miss her. Your bravery is an example to me, and I'm glad to have accompanied you on this journey. But I cannot any longer. I have to find a way to come to terms with my grief, which is a path I must walk alone.
I would give anything to see Olivia again. To bask in one more glorious moment in her presence. Best of luck to you, heroes. I am glad to have called you friends. Thank you again for your kindnesses.
Next to the wardrobe, there's a small, open door leading outside. You feel a chill coming in from it and hear the sound of the rain. It looks like while the fight with the sorcerers was raging outside this room, Hareton found a secret panel in the wall, and fled into the night.
In the wardrobe are the replacement clothes for La Siréene.
Hareton sidles up to Sandru and Quinn and tries to subtly confer with them in his own naïve way.
"Mr. Sandru, I happened to overhear what you said to Quinn. But remember, the dwarf Hergelund said the sorcerers have a key to this whole mystery. Do you think we should stall and continue searching for it?" He looks at you rather pleadingly.
Hareton looks anxiously at Sandru. "I think if we don't, they will come for us. Sooner than you think. They are hungry..."
He inhales deeply, readies his supplies. "Though demoralized, I'm not quite ready to just lay down and be ripped apart by ghouls. Maybe the key the dwarf spoke of will provide us some answers."
He looks across Sandru's cutlass, Quinn's bow, Blackacre's firearm... Before, rag-tag refugees thrown together by circumstance. Now, coordinated tactics...improved weaponry... A small army. A strike force.
He looks down, then glares out grimly from under his brows.
"Let's go make a problem for some sorcerers."
Hareton is absorbed observing the impromptu autopsy. His response is mumbled distractedly. "Yes...antitoxin...plague...sure."
He looks at Sandru, as if seeing him again after a fog has parted. His gaze drifts over to Ianez, across Caromarc...the glass cage with the copper wire...then back to Sandru. The look in his eyes is that of a physician, forcing out of mind his personal problems, returning to the present, evaluating "my patient"...patients...the fragile, indeterminate lives in his care.
The tone of this attitude is both endearingly fraternal, yet scarily distancing.
"I will have some more Remove Disease infusions made up. It looks like we'll have need of them."
Hareton doesn't feel the flakes of snow landing in his hair, only the rain that instantly melts them. The blue shafts of light fade and disappear. The fires on the corpses die down. The adrenaline in his body begins to ebb. He looks a little spaced out. But still, he registers the comment by La Siréene. He turns to the others.
"Several of you are hurt. We should see to your injuries."
To your bruised, bloody companions, he crouches next to those sitting on the ground, he stands next to those still on their feet, and skillfully wraps their wounds with bandages of rapid recovery.
Bandages of rapid recovery:
These linen bandages have the same color and softness as the feathers of a dove, but their antiseptic smell suggests a less natural origin. Any creature wrapped in these bandages recovers from wounds and ability damage each day as if receiving complete bed rest.
In the heat of battle, it slipped everyone's notice that Hareton had once again wrapped bandages around his dagger, struck it with a tindertwig, and wields it as makeshift torch. He does his best to shield it from the rain. The doctor runs over to one of the piles of corpses and sets them on fire.
"Just in case!" he yells back over his shoulder.
Also, he has readied his medicines and supplies to do battlefield triage, should it be necessary.
It is Quinn's turn.
"Now that you say, why...look at that!" Hareton steps towards La Siréene, reaches out, caresses the pendant in his hand. The eerie light reflects in his dark brown eyes, which search the necklace as if looking for a ship lost at sea. "Olivia..."
"It has never done this before."
He shakes his head, gathering his wits. He turns to Quinn, catches him up on what has transpired, and offers a brief restate of his theory. Then, he points to the stairs. "That looks like an exit back aboveground. Let's get out of here."
I'm not sure if this was clear, but Hareton's theory was suggesting that threnodic energy, which can affect the undead, was mindlessly attracted to Caromarc (due to arcane magentism), erroneously tried to affect the living (Quinn, Caromarc, and La Siréene) and couldn't, with the side effect that it caused a neural overload 'turning them off'.
The reversal effect - wake the dead, unwake the living, etc. The strong mental resistances were temporarily upset or 'reversed'.
Ianez considers Hareton's theory. "If these strange goings-on involve a temporal displacement, it might account for the energy of these ghosts. Doctor, you said the corpses in the train had recently passed away. But what if the ghosts are the spirits as they exist now, and also as they exist at some future time? And both states are here together...simultaneously?"
"Although Osirian priests didn't think of it this way themselves, scholars speculate that their rituals weren't actually aimed at resurrecting pharoahs, but as a way to access multiple universes. To go back in time to when the pharoah was alive, and bring him forward into the future, to a time when he was dead. Or to access an alternate universe where the dead king had never died in the first place, and bring that version of him back into their own universe."
"Whichever way you cut it, it added up to the same result. A new lease on life."
He raises an eyebrow, looks at Hareton skeptically. "By the way, Grey, how do you know so much about 'temporal displacement' and 'arcane pathways?' They do not seem like areas of expertise for someone in your discipline."
Hareton returns a blank, rather naïve look. "You know, I don't know. I'm not sure. It just came to me. I just knew."
"Mixed up, yes," Hareton says. "But not entirely random. I've treated half-elves as patients before, and as we saw against the sandmen, Quinn is immune to mind-effects. This leads me to think whatever knocked him out was on par with a stunning physical blow. Likewise, I've observed our druid friend is relatively resilient against mental enchantments and such. The fact that they were both so easily knocked out, it seems the exact opposite of what should have happened."
"What if what occurred wasn't some magical sleep or mind effect at all, but as Blackacre says instead a displacement. Maybe a temporal displacement. What if something tried to displace Quinn and the others, but couldn't, and as a result knocked them out? Causing a neural overload?"
Ianez clears his throat. "There is something like that. What is known in certain academic circles as "the reversal effect." Osirion archaeologists uncovered evidence in pyramids of rituals using threnodic spells, metamagic that converts mind-effecting spells into energy that is capable of influencing or controlling the undead. It was used in the hopes of resurrecting their pharoahs."
Hareton is excited by this news. "Exactly!" he says. "So, I'm trying to think this through logically. If Quinn is immune to mind-effecting spells, what if something like threnodic energy knocked him out? Which leads to the second person in question, Lord Caromarc. He isn't immune to mind-effecting spells, but we've seen twice now he's been the target of some type of unusual magical feedback. What if, due to his affinity with arcane energies and his specialization in teleporting...if you think about that at it's most basic level, it's moving objects from point A to point B...he is unwittingly serving as an antenna for the reversal effect? Differently put, the effect is traveling down arcane pathways from somewhere and Caromarc is a receptor or magnet?"
"This could account for the ghosts' displacement and why we're seeing the flood of undead onto our plane. Maybe the reversal effect, or some sort of temporal-spatial tear, is traveling down arcane pathways and causing all of these strange disturbances?" Reversal of death. Raising the dead in massive numbers?"
He finishes this train of thought, pleased with himself. Suddenly, he frowns. He turns to La Siréene. "That doesn't explain the third target, however. There must have been some reason it targeted her." He taps his finger to his chin, his eyes unthinkingly coming to rest on the Olivia's heart pendant.
It is glowing a bright blue.
Hareton takes the tanglefoot bag. "Thank you, druidess."
He turns to Caromarc, his brow knitted in puzzlement. "What? You had a vision of that? Can you explain further? You saw through something else's eyes? Who did it see? Why was it angry?" He adds, "It might help you to know a ghost invaded or merged with you...not sure what exactly. It's gone now."
"I wouldn't normally make preposterous conjectures, but lately we've seen things that defy belief. So I ask...perhaps you mingled your consciousnesses or something?"
Hareton looks on as Sandru, the Mechanical manservant, and Blackacre wake the others. When they come to, he is full of questions.
Quinn and Caromarc, you both were investigating the ghosts when you blacked out. Did you observe anything interesting?...
All three of you fainted. What did you experience?...
The passengers in the train aren't zombies, just corpses recently deceased. Do you think what you experienced has any connection?...
You can RP waking up or waking them up (as pertains to your character), and once you do, assume that Hareton has asked these questions.
Hareton notices Sandru looking around and sizing up their options. He turns to Blackacre. "Gaston, see if you can rouse our friends." He hands him a couple of vials filled with scented gray crystals. "Take this. Ammonium carbonate. Smelling salts. Hold it near our friends' faces and have them inhale. It might wake them."
He turns to Ianez. "Archaeologist, while the others are occupied, I am interested in examining the bodies. If what Blackacre says about the ghosts is true, it raises some questions worth investigating."
"I was thinking similarly," Ianez replies. "Between my knowledge of the long dead and yours of the recently departed, we might discover something of use." In his characteristic manner, he twitches his coat away from his hip and draws his longsword.
Hareton approaches the train car apprehensively. The archaeologist keeps at his back, proceeding with the same confidence as if he were exploring a pyramid or spelunking an ancient long-lost cavern. Hareton steps carefully and quietly, his body leaning away from the corpses as if he fears at any moment one of them might jump up and attack.
The two men reach the train car. Ianez steps forward, extends one leg, and gingerly prods one of the corpses with his foot. There is no response. He whispers to the doctor, "Go ahead."
It is a breathless moment as Hareton crouches down and fumbles with his diagnostic supplies. He freezes in place. Nothing. Hareton examines the nearest corpse, a middle-aged fellow with a neatly-trimmed beard and a shattered monocle. He pokes at it in several places. He looks at the pallor and bruising of the skin. He pries open an eyelid, examines the eye, opens the mouth and looks inside.
The corpse moans and jerks its head. Hareton leaps backwards and bumps into Ianez. Ianez catches himself and points his sword. They wait. Nothing. Hareton reapproaches the body and resumes his examination. He completes it, and afterwards, there is a long silence. Then, Hareton speaks. "It is nothing, Ianez. Just the settling of gas and some fluids. These people have not long been deceased."
Hareton and Ianez return to the group. Dr. Grey puts a hand on Sandru's shoulder. "Sandru, thank you for your preparation and vigilance. But it looks like this time we are in the clear. I don't think those corpses in the train include any zombies."
"Blackacre, you said that the ghosts have a tenuous grip on the world. The passengers on the train are recently deceased. Once we revive our companions, I would like to figure out what befell them so we can compare notes on this phenomena. It may provide an important clue."
Rats squeak and roaches scuttle underfoot as the party makes their way through the tunnel. The murky sewage in the ditch occasionally laps, as if it was holding its breath and taking a brief exhalation. Every so often, some small thing stirs and disturbs the water.
"Even though we all met only recently, it's quite the thing how you all banded together back there against the sand creatures, zombie, and hell dogs. I've not seen anything like it." He contemplates this thought for a moment. "It is interesting, such synergy. To think...not a day ago we were almost complete strangers!"
Dr. Grey's stomach feels queasy, but it has the side-effect of jarring him out of his reveries about Olivia. He retrieves bandages from his medical bag, and frustratedly starts tearing them into pieces. He wraps one around his dagger, then throws some scraps to Caromarc and some to the mechanical manservant.
"Here!" he shouts. "Take this and wrap it around your weapon! If we light them on fire, we can at least do something!" He takes an alchemical tindertwig and hands it to Caromarc. "Strike this against the wall to get a flame!" (A standard action.)
He heaves and catches himself, then turns to the others. "Sandru!" he calls. "The flask I gave you! Remember the flask? It is an elixir of fire-breathing!"
Hareton stirs. His muscles feel cramped and achey from the cold, but he's as rested as he's going to get while in the sewer hideout. The others still sleep. He notices the mechanical keeping watch at the edge of the alcove. He pulls on his coat and scuttles over to the half-elf.
"Psst! Mr. Quinn. Quinn, sir. We should be continuing on our journey? I expect you will guide us a little longer? I will help wake the others so we can set forth."
Hareton replied to the wizard, "Why thank you, Lord Caromarc. I gladly accept your offer." Then, he mixed the aforementioned infusions.
Hareton makes his check against the DC of the disease.
Once Ianez drinks the medicine, he violently heaves and vomits up the zombie rot.
And now, Hareton takes back the flask. The sickness leaves the archaeologist's body. It hits the ground and oozes its way back into the flask, the part that is Infusion of Remove Disease drawn back to the remainder of the substance left in the flask, the same stuff that makes up its constitutional matrix. Globules of oily grey slime lurch across the floor. Even to the doctor's trained eye, it is a weird, aberrant blasphemy. It climbs the sides of the flask and swirls with the dregs of emerald green liquid. The whole concoction sullies to black.
The doctor, who was holding his breath, exhales in relief. "It worked."
"I'll stay awake with him a while longer." He lays Ianez down on his back. He takes out a handkerchief and wipes the perspiration from his brow. "His body has undergone trauma. I'll monitor his vital signs and make sure he's okay, that everything returns to normal."
It is only later, when Ianez slumbers, that Hareton...used to pulling all-night shifts at the hospital...pulls a blanket over himself as well and finally drifts off to sleep. It is a fitful sleep wracked by nightmares. He kicks out and whimpers. Several times, he sits up in a panic, throws the blanket off, and cries...
But he is only dreaming. Lost in tortured emotions. Before long, again he turns to the wall. He pulls his knees against his chest and sobs himself to sleep.
Hareton sets to work mixing an infusion for Ianez. When he finishes, he pours the brew into a flask and hands it to his ailing friend. The medicine is tepid and a bright emerald green color.
"Drink this," he says to Ianez. "It's an unfusion of Remove Disease. I caution, however, it tastes bitter and strong. It will probably cause you to vomit."
He creates infusions of Lesser Restoration and hands them out to the members of the party.
"That was...ghastly," Hareton exclaims. "Once again, thanks to you, we've survived another encounter with fiends." He surveys your collective wounds. "Some of us look the worse for wear." He shrugs, half grins with one corner of his mouth, and adjusts the cuffs of his shirtsleeves. "But I'd say we'll last, oh I don't now, at least another ten, fifteen minutes."
He seems in a slightly better mood, heartened by your party's victory over the sewer beasts. The doctor lifts his feet carefully through the water, which has saturated and ruined his modest black leather shoes. Pieces of straw eddy around his legs. The substance of the formerly threatening scarecrow looks dingy and pathetic pooling around in the water. "It would seem that monsters are everywhere. We're not going to be able to take a step in any direction without running into some diabolical thing or another."
In front of you, the sewer stretches about 300 feet. "Well, our only option is to go onward into the night. Shall we, gentlemen?"