Krushi's Journey: The Grey
What follows is a continuation of the “Into Darkness” segment of Chapter 34: Assault on Baldur’s Gate: part II found here.
Krushi jumps through the extra dimensional space at the top of the tower of shade and plunges through the fog. Lightning trails out in lengths behind her and a funnel of swirling mist is left in her wake.
When she hits the ground, a blast of wind blows an ashen wave of grey dust into the air. The dust makes it hard to breathe. It stings and cakes her eyes, limiting her range of sight.
Moments later it begins to subside and she finds herself at the bottom of a small crater formed by the displaced earth. High above, she can make out the silhouetted underbelly of the city of Shade. It seems to have crashed into an overhanging cliff face. It is wedged in, and leaning precariously to one side.
There is no sky above, only grey fog. She can not tell if it is day or night, but something in between. Her visibility is only about 100 yards distant once the dust settles. The crater rim is about 30 feet up from her. The last 10 feet looks to be a layer of loose grey ashen powder.
She gets up, coughs a bit, assesses herself and her equipment, and anything of interest in her immediate space.
“I was nearly dead up there.”
She takes a quick rest and feels better, then listens intently but can’t hear anything, save for a few rocks crumbling from somewhere in the distance. The air is stagnant and dead, there isn’t even a gentle breeze.
She can feel the energy of the crystal she picked up inside the tower of Shade has faded. Only a small amount of light shines from it’s black surface, it is not enough to allow for full flight.
She uses Sirocco and flies past the rim. She appears to be among a sparse burned out forest, but on closer inspection, she finds that she is, in fact, among the skeletal remains of giant creatures. Some of the bones are 15 feet high and burned black and brittle. They dot the landscape as far as she can see through the fog. As she lets herself down, her feet dip into what she expected to be hard enough to stand upon. She quickly realizes that the dust here is too loosely packed and she begins to sink! Remembering what she saw from the crater bottom, the dust above was about 10 feet deep. Too deep for a halfling to stay afloat of!
She quickly lightning shifts over atop the spinal section of a burned out ribcage before she sinks too deep in the dust. The skeleton, though burned, does not appear to be weak, save for an outer layer that crunches her feet. The thing as a whole doesn’t so much as shift as she steps between two of its huge ribs to get a better view of the desolate landscape.
Krushi judges the base of the cliff to be around 75 yards from her and as she glances around for a way over, she hears a cracking sound from above. Shade shifts, and a huge flat piece of dead white earth is dislodged from it’s cradle, it crashes down only 40 feet from her causing an explosion of dust to be scattered into the air. More bits and pieces of flake rip into the dust around her. She feels it is only a matter of time before the dark city joins her on the ground.
The largest piece of flake has created a broken craggy bridge that could lead her towards the cliff face over the dust, but she also begin to hear the sound of heavy thumping, drawing nearer to her from somewhere in the opposite direction. Something big is headed her way…
Krushi wraps her face with her robe, And launches a Howling Hurricane into the dust, instantly spinning it away and into a massive funnel, clearing the way ahead of her. The grey powder is so loosely packed that the hurricane is clearing a zone up to around 30-40 square feet. She moves into the center of it’s ring and gradually makes her way across the cracked dry landscape towards the cliff face. More tiny fractures are appearing in the ground as the footsteps draw nearer.
Something dark slams down near her bouncing her off balance for a second but she keeps moving, when it finally comes into view, she has to crane her head quickly to take in it’s full scale. It is humanoid but appears as pure shadow save for the pinpoints of light flickering in it’s eyes almost 50 feet above her. The goliathan lumbers past her Swirling hurricane, it’s footfalls cracking the flake and churning up even more fog and dust with every step.
It pauses to look up at Shade, raises it’s arms high above it’s head and slams it’s fists into the ground. A huge piece of the flake is ejected into it’s giant hands. It cranks it’s torso around, and as if throwing a gigantic jagged disc, the piece of earth is sent spinning through the air, straight towards the city. It crashes into it’s underbelly and shatters, causing the dark city to shift, cracking the earth that holds it. It breaks free and begins to plummet down, but moments later it blinks back into the sky, 1000 feet above. There it hovers for a moment, then blinks again and is gone.
Krushi continues to make her way towards the cliff face and the shadowy giant finishes ripping up another piece of flake, only to be disappointed when it looks back up to find the city gone. Rubble crashes down around her from above, but she manages to avoid being hit. The giant drops his white slab and glances toward her hurricane for a second, then turns to lumber off. It’s pounding footsteps fade into the distance.
When she reaches the wall, the dead white flakey soil rises from under the dust layer to reach the cliff face, providing enough room to walk along it’s base fairly comfortably. There are plenty of outcroppings for her to climb, but when she tests her grip on the wall, she finds that it may be harder than it looks. Every time she tries to pull herself up or hook her boots into a crack, pieces crumble away under her weight. The flake is just too fragile.
Krushi notices the most solid section of ground that her feet have thus far stood upon was at the bottom of her crater, where some of her energy discharged when she landed and burned it black.
And sure enough, when she lets loose a lighting attack at the wall, only small a small amount chips off, but the majority of it is made stronger from being zapped and blackened.
She notices for the first time since she has been there, that her hair and robe are gently blowing in the direction of the wall, there seems to be some amount of wind picking up.
She comes to the conclusion that she is no longer on the prime material plane.
Surveying a little more, Krushi finds a pathway with a sufficient amount of crag that will allow for climbing. Once she hits a section with her energy, it solidifies to near rock hardness, not only allowing her to climb, but effectively enabling it to support her standing weight.
She is confident in her ability to climb the cliff, the only trouble is the slowly building wind. When she peers behind her, she can see a shadow that spans the horizon of the likes she has never seen. It appears to be a wall of ash, dust and debris, lifted from the ground and rushing towards her threatening to crush her between it and the wall she now stands at the base of.
Krushi thinks has only a few minutes before the leading dust storm reaches her!
She quickly throws her Safewing Amulet around her neck for good luck and makes her way up as fast as she can go by shocking the soil and moving by the route she believes to be most safe. As the abraded force draws ever nearer, everything begins to grow darker and darker, seemingly fading into a night time.
Krushi is certain now that the dust will reach her before she can make the top and as she struggles to keep her pace, the wind around her picks up, whipping her hair and cloak. Between the agitated dust and fading light it is becoming harder and harder to see, and she slips. Just barely catcing herself on a lower crag, but as she does, she sees what appears to be a crevice cut into the mountain just below her. It heads into the face about 10 feet before it turns too dark to see further…
She dives into the crevice and scurries 10 feet in and around a bend to the left. She follows it further, through a few more twists that eventually lead into a slightly larger alcove. She can feel the concussive impact as the storm slams into the face outside and a howling rises to near unbearable levels. Her depth in the cliff, coupled with the twists, prevents the majority of the blast from hitting her though a plume of dust is still flooded into the crack and cakes around her. Even with her face covered, she is forced to constantly clear the building grey to avoid suffocation.
After a few minutes, the howling begins to subside and the dust settles enough for her to open her eyes. When she does, she sees a chromatic flash of light in the crack where she came in, and for a moment she can hear the sound of music on the gradually calming wind…
Krushi clears away some of the dust to make a resting spot, there is a rumble, and the wall towards the back of the cavern cracks open, creating a passage a little further into the darkness. It doesn’t lead back far, only about ten feet or so and drops down about 15 feet. When she heads towards the entrance, where there was once a twisting passage that protected her from the brunt of the storm, it now only turns once before she finds herself emerging from it’s mouth. The storm seems to have blasted away much of the cliff face, causing it to recede from where it once was.
She sees a glimmering blue ghost like figure emerge from the fog about 50 yards down and away from her. It begins to glow brighter as it heads in her direction for a moment, then it pauses, shifts into the grey, and disappears. Moments later, Krushi is startled to hear a woman’s voice behind her…
“H-halfling? You have something extremely dangerous on your person. With your permission, I would like to remove it.”
When Krushi turns, she sees a woman, cloaked in a black partially frayed robe, the hood is pulled forward, and much of her face is in shadow…
“I’m sorry, but I am not sure where I am, exactly, and I am not yet ready to share my inventory with someone I don’t know… Can you help me? …Is there some way I can help you?” Krushi asks.
The halfling eyes the woman closely and notice that her hands are raised in front of her and are shaking ever so slightly as if frightened. She appears to be using extreme caution and her voice is calming, as if in attempt to sooth a small child.
“I- I want to help you…and…yes, you can help me in allowing me to remove it. It would be small and black, just a crystal or a polished stone. Perhaps you picked it up thinking it a pretty treasure.”
She pauses and the continues…
“I understand your hesitation. Handing something so precious over to someone you do not know is hard, but you must trust me. It is for your own protection, as well as the protection of others…”
Krushi replies “If you tell me who you are, where I am, and where this crystal came from, I will consider destroying it, but I have seen its power too much to trust it in the hands of someone I just met.”
The cloaked woman quickly returns “Who I am, is not important. If I say I am your friend, but give you no name, would you accept that over the alternative? That I am your enemy and make one up?”
She pauses for moment to assess Krushi’s reaction, and then continues…
“You are in a place called The Grey. It is the shadow world of the desert planet known as Athas. The crystal you carry is but a fragment of corruption. The remains of something evil. Destroyed a very, very long time ago.”
Krushi can hear her the woman’s voice crack and she looks down in memoriam, deeply disturbed by what she speaks.
“I..could offer you a trade…something of mine in exchange?”
Krushi says, “I accept your words, and I’m sorry to have brought painful memories for you….”
Krushi thinks for a moment, and she asks, “If I give this to you, what would you do with it? How can it help you? Would it satisfy you to witness its destruction, instead?”
The woman replies “I would keep it safe, from all who would seek to use it for evil.”
From her robe she reveals what looks like a block, but when she glides her fingers over it’s top, a lid that was previously invisible opens up. Inside, Krushi can see many black crystal fragments, some are much larger than the one she carries and some are floating within the interior. They, like her own, are not emitting light and do not merit any power that she can feel.
Krushi notices her pouch, the one containing the shard is pulling towards the box from her belt.
The cloaked woman also notices this and nods her head. “I have collected many so far. But there are many more. It is getting harder though, some of the fragments have awakened. And these are particularly dangerous.”
“Unfortunately, they can not be destroyed…and I do not know what would happen if any of them were.”
Krushi remembers her pouch of dust from the shard she destroyed in the cave not long back after the goblin tower adventure. She decides not to argue the point. There is some potential for a trade.
“I see your point. I would not wish to be garish about bargaining, but I’m afraid I am in need of help, and, since we are strangers, I have no reason yet to trust you that you would help me after I give you what you seek. I need to get to the, er, non-shadow version of Athas. If you help me get there, and let me witness proof of your words and intentions, I will give the stone to you. I have seen the power of this stone in its fuller form, and I would not immediately trust a stranger to wield its power, no matter how righteous they seem. Can you help me?”
The woman bites her lip and turns away, pacing back and forth contemplating Krushi’s request. She seems deeply conflicted and whispers an argument to herself in attempt to make a sound decision, then she turns to Krushi once more.
“I…do have the ability to return you to the prime, but…”
She covers her mouth with her hand in worriment.
“I… Okay, I will do this for you, but you…you have to trust me…you have to close your eyes, and you MUST promise to hold to your end of the bargain. If you can do that, I will get you there.”
Krushi interjects “Remember that there are two parts to this agreement— I must be able to trust you, upon more than just your word, that you will not allow this crystal to be used for evil purposes. If I have not seen such evidence, I cannot promise to give you the crystal. I’m sure, if our positions were reversed, you would have the same hesitation. If you can do that, I will give you the crystal.”
She rolls her head and groans.
“Uggh! Halflings! One can not prove a negative! I have given you evidence of absence by not simply killing you and taking the shard in the first place! What further proof of benevolence do you require that I could possibly offer?
“I did not say proof. I said evidence. That you have not been aggressive toward me is one piece of evidence. I would ask that you respect my concerns about a stranger, just as you would in my position, and not lose your patience with the process of gaining someone’s trust. Do we have a deal, or not?”
The woman closes her eyes, takes a deep breath, and exhales, attempting to calm herself.
“I was not entirely truthful when I said I would keep others from using them for evil.”
She sits, opens the box once again, removes the crystals and holds them in her hand.
“One can not choose to use a shard’s power. It is only the shards themselves that choose when, where, and to whom their power is granted. They control YOU. Only. They can not be wielded and there is no “using” them as you imagine such."
“I am not preventing people from using the shards for evil. I am preventing the shards from using people for evil.”
She puts them back in the box, seals it, then offers it to Krushi.
“If it makes you any more comfortable, you can hold the box until we get to the prime.”
She stands and brushes off her bottom of dust.
“Now…what exactly is our deal? You close your eyes. Make the promise, and I take you to the prime. I hold up my end by not being evil, and you hold up yours by giving me your shard – and my box, when we arrive. Do we have an accord?”
Krushi nods, takes the box gently and closes her eyes to make the promise. She feels a slight tingle across her whole body. When she opens her eyes, the dusty crevice is gone and she finds herself standing in a sandy desert near a huge cliff face. It is night time, and two moons loom overhead, one viridian and one ochre against a starry background. She finds that she is clean of dust and is actually wearing a brand new robe, which appears to be magical.
The woman stands in front of Krushi with a smile.
“See? No evil. I couldn’t get your robe clean, and it was ugly and old anyways, so I gave you a new one. Maybe you will find it more to your liking. I also filled up your water flask and restocked your backpack with rations and foodstuffs. There is a cave in the cliff face, it should be suitable to make camp. As you can probably already tell, it gets cold here at night.”
She makes a motion with her head to point the cave out to Krushi.
“Now it’s your turn.”
Krushi replies “A deal’s a deal, but I ask to know your name. If I ever find my way back home, I will want to know it… to tell the story properly.” She hands the box back to the woman.
When she relinquishes her crystal, it flings itself into the box and actually combines with one of the other free floating shards, which then fuse to the largest piece.
“Look at that! A perfect fit!” Says the woman, and with a smile of relief as she reseals the box and returns it to her robe.
“My name is Desinia’unalesca’hannapher, but my friends call me Desper.” She smiles, nods farewell, and disappears.
Krushi looks down at her new robe and finds it to be a Robe of Summoned Armor +3.