With their last preparations complete, the Storm Hammer set out from Falconer’s Spire and raced northeast, across the Thunder Sea. The weather remained suspiciously calm, with no trace of the often-encountered unfettered elementals known to plague the skies. The airship skirted the southern edge of Zilargo’s territorial waters before turning north to follow the edge of Darguun’s border into Kraken Bay. A grey smudge on the horizon grew larger as they approached landfall, resolving itself into a wall of swirling, dead-grey mist that stretched from ground level to mingle with the ever-present clouds hanging overhead.
To those whose eyes were attuned to the arcane, the mists flickered with tantalizing suggestions of auras, hints and allegations rather than statements about the eldritch forces that had been unleashed within. The Mournland held its secrets close, with neither Khair nor Adamai able to answer the riddle of the forces lurking within.
For several long moments, the adventurers held the airship in position, considering the enigmatic wall of silent vapors marking the end of the natural world. Of all aboard the Storm Hammer, only Khair had ever set foot in the Mournland, and his copper-hued eyes were grim as he set a beacon behind the airship, a floating symbol of golden light that would remain behind them, enabling them to find their way out of the Mournland should they lose their way.
Then Daneira urged the vessel forward, entering the mists, and as the light changed to a translucent grey, all sound fled the world, save for the resounding thunder of each individual’s heartbeat, pounding in their respective ears. The wind in the rigging, the waves below the vessel — all silent as the mists enveloped them, save for the faintest suggestion of a scream in the distance. There was no sensation of movement, no caress of wind, even the elemental ring itself was eerily silent as they pushed into the border zone. Everything was grim and shadowed and silent; even time itself seemed to have stopped, held captive in the strange space between the living world and the Mournland.
And then they emerged from the mists, and saw the world of horror below them. Seaside, once an idyllic oceanside community, lay silent and dead below them, reaching back into the misty border from which the Storm Hammer had just emerged. Bodies littered the streets, some appearing as if they had fallen only moments before in a vain attempt to escape the inevitable annihilation coming behind them. Beneath the clouds and mists, all was grey and lifeless, the hillsides swept clean of all living vegetation and drained of all color. The smell of the ocean was completely absent on this side of the mists, the only sound around them was the faintest sighing of air in the rigging.
Khair directed Daneira to fly north, the Storm Hammer gathering speed as it passed over the blasted landscape. Here and there small stands of sickly or dead trees marked the hills, skeletal hedgerows outlining fields or paths. After a double handful of miles, they passed over a village, likewise shattered and bare of human life, though the skeletons of farm animals still walked and nosed among the rocks and dust for nonexistent forage.
The Storm Hammer followed the eastern border of the Mournlands north, aiming for their first stopover point of Lake Brellik. But as night drew closer, they saw a ruddy glow on the horizon, a vivid scarlet stain on the lifeless landscape, which resolved itself into a glowing body of water — what had once been Lake Brellik, but was now more accurately described as the Crimson Water.
“That looks absolutely safe. Good call.” Adamai shook his head.
“On the positive side, we’ll be able to see anything coming at us.”
“Not a real positive, I feel.” Adamai paced off the Storm Hammer, laying magical alarms around the decks and gangways. Daneira changed the watch, setting the House marines in pairs under everbright lanterns. And though the ship was left unmolested throughout the lightless Mournland night, none slept well, seeing walls of moving fog sweeping across the land, scything it clean of life. Even Adamai and Khair, veterans of many perilous ventures, found their dreams troubled and their sleep uneasy, feeling the enormous forces that had created the Mournland still burning under the surface. It was with tired eyes and weary countenances that they greeted the grey dawn.
Khair emerged from his cabin rubbing his chin reflectively, then glanced over at Adamai. “You probably wouldn’t notice, being a half elf, but that’s what I always recall most about the Midnight Marches I undertook with Thrane military units. Our beards all stopped growing from the moment we set foot in the mists.”
“You really entered the Mournlands after the Day of Mourning?”
“Yes, though it was far to the north of here. We crossed Scions Sound to strike at Karrnath. I never saw anything down here, though seeing the earth trying to destroy itself in the Field of Elementals was harrowing enough.” His expression was tight, clearly troubled by his memories of the war. “I heard stories about the Field of Ruin, on the western side of the Mournland. There were whole armies there; the Western Army of Cyre, facing off with the Third Legate of the Silver Flame, a force out of Breland, even an army from Darguun. All locked in combat when the Mourning struck.” His eyes, glowing the shade of molten copper, were distant as he spoke. “They told me that there were bodies that were still warm, blood still dripping from the wounds that spilled out their lives before the Mourning. Four years, and it still hasn’t dried. Massive war machines and constructs loom over the battlefield, mute monuments to the slain.”
Adamai sighed. “I cannot conceive of any power that could do this, unless the gods themselves elected to wipe Cyre from the map.”
“Nor I, my friend, and I speak as someone who has been in the core of an eldritch machine.”
Adamai checked his swordbelt and component pouches before setting his jaw grimly. “Let’s get started.”
Daneira’s first mate took the helm, turning the Storm Hammer west, heading for central Cyre. Khair kept the mate company, offering the best guidance that he could in a land that looked nothing alike to his memories. Of all the crew, only he had ever been to Making, and even he was often at a loss to discern between landmarks.
Soon after they launched, they spied movement for the first time since entering the Mournland. Adamai unhooked a spyglass from his belt, and trained it on the moving shapes, shapes that resolved into riders, Valenar warriors on Valenar warhorses. But they were a training warband, for it was clear that these warriors had been affected by the environment. Their steeds’ coats were streaked with red, and their maws were filled with fangs. The elf warriors themselves were clad in the remnants of Valenar garb, tattered and patched with suspicious-looking leather swatches, all streaked with rusty browns and crimson. Even the whites of warriors’ eyes were suffused with red, as though the bloodlust had stained their very souls.
Adamai and Khair only needed to share a glance before unleashing their magic, burning the accursed Valenar and their steeds to smoking bones in a wash of fire and acid. “Even less reason to linger,” was Adamai’s only comment.
A smudge of darker grey on the horizon soon revealed itself to be a rearing escarpment of jagged obsidian and quartz, forcing the Storm Hammer to rise nearly to the cloud deck above the landscape. From above, the Glass Plateau was eerily smooth, ripples and waves in the surface making it seem like a stormy sea frozen solid in an instant. Whorls and streaks of color hid deep within the glass, bloody red, scorched black, and bone white flickering in the corner of the eye as the crew looked down. Here and there lights seemed to pulse within the surface, only to vanish when looked at directly. Khair moved up to the prow of the Storm Hammer, casting forth a brilliant beam of radiance at the glass to better illumenate their quarry.
The Storm Hammer drifted forward slowly, the unbroken surface of the Glass Plateau stretching before them, until Khair’s voice rang out, calling for a halt. Adamai hurried forward, eager for his first sight of Making, but was surprised to see only obsidian stretching before them. “Khair, what is it?”
“Look there.” Khair turned his hands, the lance of golden light streaking into the glass, throwing spears of radiance through the surface.
And as he watched, the shadows grew coherent, resolving themselves into buildings and streets, the shadows forming lanes between them. As Khair moved the light, the city grew, the light revealing other neighborhoods and districts beneath the surface.
The two veteran adventurers looked at each other, and nodded. Neither had dared to believe that this trip would be easy. . .