I wake up, groggy, to a fuzzy world that is completely brown. Once Myrddin moves his head though, everything sharpens into an almost painful colorful detail. The room is a lot messier than it had been. The bowl of stones and dice is upended all over the floor, the flowerpot is broken, and I now occupy the previously neatly made bed. Faladel looks vaguely pissed from his position on a nearby chair, and the DM is sprouting a solid looking lump on his head and a hoof-shaped bruise on his face as he adds a few leaves from a selection on the table to a nasty smelling concoction over the fire.
“Drink this up.” He says briskly, handing me a steaming glass of the lumpy brown stuff. “We have to purge the last of the poisons from your stomach.”
“The what now?!” I exclaim, more than a little startled. Then my memories start returning to me and I think back over the sensations I felt. Dizziness, inability to concentrate or control my body properly, and then passing out. “Actually,” I say, frowning. “Poison makes a lot of sense. But how am I supposed to trust that you haven’t poisoned me with this ‘medicine’ as well?”
“I’ll have you know I’m proficient with a healers’ kit!” The Librarian looks affronted, and is already back to digging around in his piles of leaves on the table. “The mushrooms were just a bad nature roll!”
“Don’t worry.” Faladel says grimly. “I watched him make it. I insisted he only use ingredients I was familiar with, and he rolled pretty high. I think that means we’re good.”
“And although your interference gave me advantage, the limitation of ingredients made it twice as difficult.” The Librarian grumbled at Faladel, and then turning to me continued in an accusatory manner, “Anyway, you gave us all a fright passing out like that! Why did you have to go and roll so low on a saving throw?” I open my mouth to protest, but he waves me off and continues. “Nevermind, you can’t answer that I suppose. We can’t change the rolls of the dice, we can only rollplay their outcomes to the best of our ability. And your friend here did a pretty good job of that.” He shoots a look at Faladel that is half admiration and half– was that fear? I blink, startled. But Faladel is moving closer to me, and doesn’t even notice his expression.
“Are you okay, Briareth?” He asks me worriedly. “You should probably drink it up.” He pushes the mug of hot stinky liquid into my hands. “He says it will rid your stomach of any remaining toxins.”
I glare at the offending brown substance. It looks slimy. I hate drinking slimy things. Looking back up at Faladel, I ask curiously, “What happened while I was out? And,” I add glancing around the room confused, “how did Myrddin manage to sneak out without me noticing?” I consider the possibility of hallucinogens in the mushrooms. “Wait, was he even here in the first place?”
“Of course he was here.” The Librarian says, waving a one hand dismissively at me while the other puts a poultice carefully on the lump on his head. “Faladel Mithrandir certainly doesn’t have fists the shape of hoofprints.”
“Did he cause the goose egg though?” I ask, looking pointedly at the lump.
Faladel coughs slightly, his face a little red. And the Librarian looks at me confusedly. “Did I perhaps misjudge the severity of your injuries? Elves cannot lay eggs, Briareth Herbalar. You know this.”
I’m so embarrassed by how he misunderstood me, I take a gulp of the smelly brown concoction just to hide my face. I immediately put it down and gag. It’s just as disgusting as I suspected it would be.
“He meant the bump.” Faladel corrects the Librarian eventually as I continue contorting my face to more accurately describe my utter disgust at the taste. It’s like mashed worms, raw eggs, and asparagus all mixed together. I hate asparagus. “And yes.” Faladel continues, face still slightly reddened, “I did cause it. I thought he had poisoned you on purpose Briareth. Things got messy for a bit until we sorted out an understanding.” He smiles cheerily at me, “But now he’s willing to take us to the passage to the outside world without further delay to make up for the misunderstanding. Just as soon as you’re well enough to go.”
I gag again. The taste of that nasty concoction still hasn’t left my mouth, and worse yet, it feels like the undead worm paste and the asparagus have teamed up to get their revenge on me for swallowing them. They twist and swirl around in my stomach and I contort my mouth, swallowing down the saliva that keeps trying and failing to wash that miserable taste away. Suddenly my stomach lurches and my eyes widen as I recognize the sensation and the true source behind the saliva.
“Bucket!” I gasp out.
The Librarian, quick as ever to pick up on things, shoves a bucket into my hands and I empty the contents of my stomach into it.
It isn’t until the next day that I’m feeling well enough and the Librarian has declared that I ‘purged’ enough to travel safely. Faladel is still giving me worried glances as we shoulder our baggage. But the Librarian promises it isn’t a long trip, so I put on my stoic face and prepare to face it.
Although the Librarian is right– it wasn’t a long trip, just most of the morning and afternoon– I still ride mostly slumped over on Myrddin’s neck. I feel almost how people describe being seasick. I’ve never felt the sensation myself, but the rolling, stomach roiling gait has to be somewhat similar right? I’m sure that if I had had anything more substantial than porridge in my stomach, I would have puked all over Myrddin’s lovely mane, and he would have been quite upset with me, and wouldn’t have made the ride half as gentle as it was. And I know he was trying to be gentle, I could tell in the manner that he carefully, ponderously placed his feet. It wasn’t his fault that my stomach took umbrage with being on horseback. It was the fault of the exceedingly unrepentant Librarian who led us and had given me bad mushrooms in the first place.
“You won’t see me eating any of his home cooked meals again.” I mutter to Myrddin, who whinnies back in agreement as the target of our combined malice finally calls out, “We’re here!”
Here is in fact, nowhere. At least, nowhere that looks special or important or a gate to another world. No shimmering magical portal; no mysterious signs pointing to a ripple in the air and spelling out “Adventure This Way” In strange, mystical, and barely comprehensible handwriting; not even a carefully designed pile of stones on the ground in the shape of a giant rune.
Just piles of rubble, a good supply of straggly bushes clinging to life, and a Librarian staring sadly at a hill of rocks.
“You’ll have to leave the horses here. Or you can entrust them to me to take care of, I suppose.” He says despondently, still not looking at any of us. He had ridden with Faladel and Ethiel, but not even the horse’s helpful nudge can cheer him up now.
“What’s wrong?” I ask, begrudgingly, still not quite forgiving him for the concoction he forced upon me. I’ve forgiven him for the mushrooms, but that nasty asparagus tasting brown stuff will take much longer to forget.
“There used to be a tree here. But it’s been so long– I was so lost in my books–” The Librarian’s voice falters, fades, and dies for a second. Eventually he whispers. “Its stump is long gone, even its roots have decayed. I didn’t even notice.” He keeps his face turned away from all of us as his voice strengthens and he says “You will have to dig to find the tunnel. No doubt, it is long since caved in. I will guide you. It is good we have the horses, they will be most useful in moving the stone.”
I look at the hill of rocks he’s staring at. They certainly look collapsed. And if we move too many without creating some sort of support structure, it looks like they would certainly collapse again. “This could take a while.” I say, starting to voice my concerns aloud.
“Perhaps.” The librarian admits ruefully, and then tacks on, “I should have packed us dinner.”
Faladel glances between us, looking slightly confused. “You both do realize magic could make this much easier right? There are spells for this sort of thing.”
“There are?” I turn to stare at him, I knew he knew a lot more magic theory than me, he’s sort of a nerd that way, but to think he would take it as far as researching construction?
“Definitely. Building things normally isn’t the pursuit of scholars and wizards, and hiring a tradesperson can be expensive, so they created spells to help them with such things.” Faladel says, standing straight eyes far away as if he’s reciting from a book. He blinks slightly, coming back to himself. “I’d try to cast one myself but…” He makes a little self deprecating shrug, and I nod in mute understanding. Being a magical dud sucks sometimes. Well, all the times for Faladel, but sometimes it’s just really inconvenient for the rest of us as well. Particularly because I would rather knit hats and booties for all the horses in the stable than study something as boring as how to use construction spells of all things.
“Perhaps you could teach me?” I suggest half-heartedly, already dreading an affirmative.
Faladel shakes his head slowly. “There was some dispute over the ethics of even using such spells on a minor scale due to guild jobs being lost, which is why the book’s author hesitated to provide much detail. I was able to understand the basics after studying them for quite some time, but adapting that to teaching? And, even if I could, you certainly aren’t my ideal student Briareth.” He smiles to soften the blow slightly, but I still clutch at my chest and adopt a wounded melodramatic look. “I was hoping” Faladel continues, a grin at my antics twitching the corner of his mouth as it tries vainly to escape, “one of you might have known how to do it.”
“Roll persuasion.” The Librarian breaks in. Faladel, obediently, retrieves his mahogany-colored dice from his pocket and rolls the twenty-sided one onto a nearby rock. A 17 faces up when it finally skids to a stop, a hair’s-breadth from the edge. The Librarian studies us with his gleaming silver eyes. “I don’t know the spells of which you speak, princeling, but I do have a few tricks up my own sleeves that might help.” Reaching into his right hand deep into his particularly voluminous left sleeve, he concentrates, and pulls out a glowing blue semi-translucent hand. Then he does the same on the right, and again on the left, until a grand total of fifteen hands float freely in the air, unattached to any part of him, yet seemingly under his control nonetheless. I gape at one openly, and reach to touch it. It slaps away my curious hands.
“Many hands make light work, isn’t that how the saying goes?” The Librarian asks of no one in particular, paying absolutely no attention to my reddened hand and narrowed eyes as I try to stare down the hand that had slapped me–a difficult task seeing as it doesn’t have any eyes. He just claps his normal hands and says, “Now, time to get to work I believe. If all goes well, we shall have the tunnel cleared up by nightfall.”
And all does go well– mostly well at least. Oh, my hands are very sore by the end of it, and I tore my jerkin on one of the nastier clinging bushes, but once the Librarian stabilizes the rocks by extending the root systems of nearby plants and growing a few new ones in key portions, things go quite swiftly. Faladel tries to ask the Librarian about the spells he used to grow the plants, but he is quite taciturn on the subject, and instead shoes us further down the tiny tunnel we’ve created into the hill of rubble. It’s small enough that I find myself leaning over so far it might just be easier to just walk on my hands and knees. But then I would have even more difficulty turning around to carry the rocks back out the slowly lengthening tunnel. So I just stay in my hunched over position, carting rocks back and forth until finally– something interesting happens.
I go to dig another rock out from the excavation site, but as soon as my fingers touch the stone, my vision turns into a scalding white flash and I’m left blinking– hands outstretched in a small meadow of flowers. A stiff breeze slaps me in the face with cool fresh air, air that smells of water, and salt, and life. I blink, completely disoriented, trying to understand.
One second, I was underground. Then I was here. I step back, confused, and there is another flash and suddenly I’m back in the tunnel, bumping into Faladel.
“Briareth! Thank goodness we’ve found you!” He says, gripping my shoulders firmly and brushing his hair back from his worried face. “Wait, where did you come from? I’d swear you hadn’t been here a few seconds ago.”
“Well I wasn’t here.” I say, very intelligently. “I was…” I hesitate. “I don’t know exactly, somewhere else that’s for sure.”
Faladel looks nonplussed. “But how did you get from here to there?”
I grin wickedly, suddenly understanding what this all means. “I think I’ve found our portal, Faladel.”
“Briareth.” His face transforms into something that’s the closest I’ve seen to him being angry in a long time. “You found the portal, went through it and left us to worry about you for over an hour?! What were you thinking?”
I stare at him, baffled. He’s making no sense. Did a stone hit him on the head or something? “I was only gone for a few seconds.” I say in a soothing voice, trying to remember some of my old lessons in dealing with people with head injuries. “Really, it’s nothing to worry about. I promise next time I’ll take you with me.” I hesitate, Myrddin’s dejected face coming to mind for a brief instant. “The horses won’t be able to accompany us unfortunately.” I say, gently, “But I’m sure the Librarian will take very good care of them while we’re gone.”
Faladel laughs slightly, an edge of absolute bewilderment in it. “Briareth, you’ve been gone for over an hour. The sun set ages ago.” He gestures back towards the tunnel entrance. “What are you going on about, being gone only a few seconds?”
I follow his hands and realize that the light coming in wasn’t the sunlight that it had been. One of the floating hands is carrying a torch. Suddenly a shadow moves from behind the torchlight, and I see the Librarian poke his head in.
“Oh, you found him? Good!” He shouts down at us. Then he stares at me, and comes a bit closer. I flinch, his gaze seems to be boring right through me. “He’s got the other-world light about him, princling. I forgot about the time compression thing, but that would explain why he’s been gone so long. And why, for him, only a few seconds have passed.”
“Other world light?” Faladel asks, glancing at me again. “I don’t see anything?” The way he phrases it makes it sound more like a question than an observation.
“Well of course you don’t!” The Librarian’s silver eyes flash in the dimness, reminding me of their strange coloring. “Come on out now, I’ve got supper ready. Or if you feel up for it, you all can head through now. That would probably be better. You wouldn’t want too much time, after all, you won’t have much there as is if you wish to return to your regular lives.”
“It was still daylight over there.” I mutter, still trying to figure out the whole time dilation thing. “How was it still daylight?”
“You’re right.” Faladel decides for the both of us. “It’s probably best if we head out now. Briareth, are you ready?”
“Umm… yeah sure.” I say, not entirely sure what I agreed to but trusting in Faladel nonetheless.
“How did you get there?” He asks me, seriously. “Wait! I’ll go get our things.” He hurries out and swiftly returns, carrying both our packs that we had set down to work on digging out the tunnel. In the meantime, with the help of the blue hand with the torch, I find the stone again. When Faladel arrives, we both touch it, and suddenly are launched with a flash of white light into the meadow again.
I blink once more, adjusting my eyes to the sudden brightness. The wind is as chill as it was a few seconds ago. The sun is still up, high in the bright blue sky above us. Around us are wildflowers, as high as my knees. Bugs hum in contentment as they move through the soil below us and in between the flowers all around. Faladel is already kneeling over, plucking one, and studying it.
“I’ve seen this before.” He murmurs. “Cowslips,” He turns to another plant. “Yarrow.” He lists the names of a few others, common plants, ones I recognize easily, before finally turning to face me. “Are we sure this is truly another world?” He asks me, baffled.
“Well…” I hesitate, not quite sure my answer will satisfy him. It doesn’t really satisfy me after all. “Technically, it’s just a world beyond our own. If ours is inside a spell, and the time dilation thing would suggest that is very true, this is the outside of that spell? At one point they would have been connected, so a lot of things would have remained the same I’d imagine.”
Faladel frowns, considering it. “But if everything was the same, inside and outside, why put up the spell in the first place?”
“Well that…” I trail off hesitating as I realize the full impact of his words “Is a good question.” I finalize, unable to think of anything else to say. Faladel gets back to his feet, and dusts off his pants.
“We should explore,” He says, looking around. “There has to be water around here somewhere, perhaps there are people too?”
It only takes us a few minutes though to ascertain that we are on a rather small island with no clear route off. The water all around us is salty, unfit to drink, and unlike the water from the lakes and streams in the Elf Territories. Unlike anything I’ve ever seen or heard of in the Dwarven Kingdom as well. But it stretches on for miles with no land in sight. And there certainly aren’t any trees on the tiny Island to build a boat with. In fact, the only reason that we hadn’t noticed we were surrounded by sea at first was because of the hills and small shrubs around the area we entered. Once we exit the depression in the earth, our situation only becomes more depressing.
“Is this the end of our adventure?” I ask Faladel glumly. “Should we head back and hope the Librarian stayed out overnight?”
“You can.” He hesitates. “I think I want to stay here a bit longer.”
I shrug, “Fine by me.” I cast a disappointed look around the Island. It feels like it’s mocking me with this dead end. Like it knows how much I long to explore this place, and delights in tormenting me with my inability. I sigh, and stumble around for a bit, trying to find our point of entry into this world.
“We really need to leave some sort of–” I am cut off mid sentence by another flash of bright white light, and then am blinded by the sudden darkness.
Blinking slowly, I realize it’s not quite complete darkness, there is a vague blue-ish light up ahead. I can barely make out the tunnel’s opening. Stumbling forward on the uneven floor, I bump my head on the low ceiling multiple times before making my way out into the pre-dawn light. I don’t need to spend more than a few seconds there. Myrddin, Ethiel, and the Librarian are all gone. The remains of a campfire linger, along with a note written in a familiar scratchy hand. “Good Luck” Are the only words on it though. Nothing useful. I sigh, looking around. I guess we’ll have to make our way back on our own then.
Suddenly I frown.
I was too sick to pay attention to where we were going earlier. Do I even know the way back? Hopefully, Faladel will know, because tracking two light footed horses on this rocky path will be near impossible.
I turn around, and walk back into the tunnel. This time, the bright flash doesn’t disturb me as much. I think I’m getting used to it. Faladel is staring at me strangely though. “How did you do that?” He asks, confused.
“Well, just a moment ago you were walking away from me, and now you’re facing me without having turned around. Also, what were you saying about leaving something?”
“Faladel, I just went through the portal. I’ve been back in our world for a few minutes. The Librarian’s gone, it’s nearly dawn there now.” He stares at me. I stare back at him. Finally I break the silence. “That time dilation sure is something.”
“I wonder if we can replicate it somehow?” Faladel muses, already thinking about the uses and magic behind it no doubt. I’m stuck with the more practical concerns however, and take my blade to the flowers around me with a vigor, cutting them down in broad sweeping strikes.
“What are you doing?” Faladel asks, confusion evident as he watches me.
“Marking our entrance and exit. I don’t want to lose it again.”
“Oh, well.” He sits himself down on the hillside. “That makes sense I suppose. Although it won’t work if we plan on staying here for a while. The flowers will just grow back. Perhaps we should mark it more permanently? Find a stone or something?” He wraps his arms over his knees as he leans forward considering the problem. “We could go back into the tunnel and bring one out.”
“What do you mean stay here longer?” I ask, “We’ve done all we practically can, Faladel.”
“I don’t know.” Faladel sighs, and tilts his head to the side, hair sliding over his green tunic with the motion. “It just feels wrong to have traveled so far just to turn back without even staying the night here. It’s not like there’s anything threatening on this Island, surely we can stay the night?” I consider the problem for a few seconds, and then realize that I’m being terribly sensible and dismiss it entirely. I don’t want to be sensible, I want to be my normal spontaneous self!
“Of course we can stay!” I exclaim, grinning at the sudden excitement that fills me. “I wonder if the stars will be different out here, or the moon perhaps. If it can be daytime here, and night there, perhaps the moon phases are different as well?”
Faladel laughs, “Exactly, there’s still so much to see and do here, even if we are trapped on one island in a giant saltwater lake. I knew you’d understand, Briareth!”