Planar travelers say Groteus is a god of the end times, that if the grotesque moon were ever to touch the surface of the Boneyard, it would beget apocalyptic cataclysms of cosmic scale. The crew of the Maelstrom has been watching its descent for a week, and Groteus was almost there.
Before mooring in the Axian harbor, the crew saw Apsu’s Immortal Ambulatory floating between Groteus and Pharasma’s towering realm. What were the dragon god’s intentions? Would the moon stop its approach for the Waybringer?
Thunderous collisions, like that of cracking icebergs can be heard far ahead or high above depending on one’s orientation. On the side of Pharasma’s Spire, gravity is subjective to the River Styx which flows naturally instead of cascading like a waterfall. Araris and Scandrannon immediately notice the effect’s ceiling while flying. To those on deck, Axis looms like an impossibly large wall opposite the floating land masses of the ambulatory that spiral like a galaxy silhouetted in the menacing albedo of Groteus.
“The Brightscale approaches,” says an attending psychopomp woman. She is a memitim according to Alcades.
The active crew readies for yet another song-and-dance with Slate, a.k.a. Deevdrukifel, a.k.a. Brightscale, a.k.a. whatever he calls himself these days. It’s obvious Slate has grown. His scales are now so resplendent they are difficult to look upon without squinting. Flying in front of him are five mysterious riders.
“Never heard of anything like them before,” says Alcades, “but the mounts could be dragonkin.” He covers himself with protective magic against fire. Papa hastes whoever is close enough, then he and Akane climb the center mast in preparation.
“Creature, where is your soul?” asks the memitim. “Is it here?” She reaches her scythe point behind Weyland’s neck. He doesn’t interrupt. A well-hidden node reveals an object that causes all of his recent concerns to subside when removed.
Slate’s smiles as his contingent aligns with the Maelstrom. “Why am I not surprised?” he asks rhetorically.
(Normally, all of the truly important questions go unasked during these altercations to maintain a comfortably tenuous relationship. Then, someone inevitably starts the contest anew by overstepping this boundary with an overt challenge meant to test everyone’s veracity. Eventually, Slate departs for the next obelisks, leaving the crew to more pressing matters…)
Alcades lies, “Give me a ride and I’ll come with you this time.”
Slate laughs. Apparently, their old friend had come to love these encounters. With a single flap of his wings he moves far ahead, leaving the riders behind as a distraction. Lanced charges, glaives and gouts of fire are answered with chains, lunges, ripostes and rivers of wind.
True-to-form, the captain keeps an eye on the horizon. Massive debris from Groteus’ planetary collision with the ambulatory now plummets towards the channel. A collision with the ship is inevitable. Boniva watches as Slate maneuvers to avoid the first meteoric rocks. He thinks, ‘If only the ship could fly!”
“Use Apsus Wing!” Araris shouts back, blowing Scandrannon’s cover in Slate’s blindspot.
“Of course!” says the captain. It had been too long since they last visited the ambulatory. He wills it through the ship’s elemental spirit, and magic from the golden placard carries the Maelstrom aloft.
Having leapt bareback onto a flying dragonkin, Akane retracts her final sword-stroke from the slain as the Maelstrom begins hovering over the Styx. Meanwhile, Alcades entertains his whimsy by teleporting in front of Slate along with an unseated rider.
Boniva grips the wheel while commanding the Maelstrom to draw sails. Papa sends his chains to assist. Weyland’s feet begin to slide, but he catches the rail as the ship’s bow points skyward. They are no longer oriented to the Styx.
With an eye on Slate’s trajectory, Boniva struggles to match a proven course through the debris. Then, following a near miss, a boulder breaches the starboard side! “Thank Besmara it didn’t destroy the gliding wing!” exclaims the captain… “THE GLIDING WINGS! UNFURL THE GLIDING WINGS!”
As the Maelstrom ascends with greater control, Akane drinks a flight potion only to realize she can’t catch up. The best she can do is orient below the ship and trust the captain’s navigation to avoid being smashed.
Topside, Alcades drops the teleported rider onto Slate. Obviously exhilarated, Slate breaths awesome prismatic light on both of them. Acid, lightning, and insanity riddle their bodies and minds before they turn to stone.
The next landmass is easily avoided thanks to the gliding wings, but greater control is necessary. A dragon or griffon, this ship is not! Then, a stone the size of a country bluff slams the forward keel, dislodging everyone but Weyland who is absorbed in calculation. Papa falls and fails to grab every rope and rail along the way, but Boniva fairs better dangling off the rear castle. He catches Samdi’s chains, saving the half-orc by his own body piercings. It stings like a dirty stirge. Gash is delighted!
Araris leaves Slate’s air column so Scandrannon can pounce their new witch sculpture. A little bored, Akane notices a beacon of light shining from the ambulatory. Weyland states, “The sails are all wrong for this.”
Boniva, Papa and the Maelstrom work fast reshaping the canvas, trusting the engineer’s unusual direction. First they dodge a lonely plateau, followed by a clod of swampland. It’s working. Suddenly, Slate and Araris vear hard to port, and the captain follows their queue. The last of it looks to be the entire western half of a small island jungle, but the ship can’t get clear!
From below decks, the clarion call of Atz Crane can be heard, “RAZVIMHARROC!”
No, we need Apsu himself, thinks Weyland… “Apsu,” he says with a calm inside voice. The memitim’s cold glare betrays her suspicion.
Far below the action, Akane watches as the beacon of light emits a torrential halo that illuminates the entire sky. For a moment, the captain can see every last piece of the debris field. There is a path, if one dares to tread. He surges forward with Apsu’s power.
To be continued…