The Scroll of Return worked as promised. I have escaped that living hell, but now I don’t know where—or when—I am. The others who went before me are nowhere to be seen, and I believe I’ve been diverted to a different world on the Material Plane. My planar sextant confirms this is the Material, but not the exact world I’m in.
Things began rather rocky—literally. The portal dumped me just above a large outcropping of granite. It still hurts to sit down, but that should fade soon. In the meantime I began looking around, noticing I was at the edge of a forest and near a road—a road paved with what appears to me a mixture of tar and pebbles. A paved road in and of itself is rare in the multiverse, but one made of such materials is unheard of in any world I’ve ever visited or heard about. It would require massive mechanization and advanced chemistry that the pseudo-medieval worlds I know could never match. I’d never seen anything like this before…except back home in Detria.
My mind reeled thinking of what level of scientific progress had been achieved by this world’s denizens. I’m used to swords, carts, and torches. But this world has a look that suggests firearms, automobiles, and electricity. So I used the rod of stalking to cloak myself in invisibility. That’s when I first realized that something was off with magic. Instead of a smooth transition to utter concealment, the magic sputtered for several seconds before taking the full effect. When I drew Repose, the blade had lost its glow and instead left a faint trail of light in the wake of its swing. Yet I try and manifest a power and there’s no delay or difficulty at all. Only magic is being affected by this…drain of power.
I walked toward lights in the distance, coming on a town made of brick and steel instead of wood and stones. Electric lights illuminated the road and in the windows of shops I saw boxes with windows in them. It hit me that this is a form of a broadcast imagery receiver. Here they call it “television.” Clearly I am in a world much more advanced than any I’ve seen since I left home.
As dawn broke I watched the people go about. Something seemed strange about them, their clothing and other items notwithstanding. Then I realized I hadn’t seen a single non-human anywhere. Not in pictures, not in broadcasts of TV, not even a word spoken of them. By the Seven Heavens, where am I!?
(Excerpt from the journals of Alexander Dreamfire, Raccoon City, CO, Jan. 5, 1980)
I’ve not made myself known to anyone for four days now. I’ve taken shelter in a library and have spent every waking moment reading what’s available to me. I now know that I’m on a planet called Earth, in a country called the United States of America. The year is “In The Year of Our Lord, 1,980.” I’ve never heard of this place before, but there are literally millions of different worlds in the Material Plane. For this one to go unnoticed is hardly surprising.
From what I’ve seen only humans exist here—or so many believe. The existence of elves, dwarves, and other humanoids is seen as fiction. Further, it seems that magic itself is severely impeded in this world. I’ve only ever encountered this in the Outlands near the Spire. It doesn’t look like it’s just one school or type of magic; I fear all forms of magic are impeded by some unseen force. This would explain why my magic items are acting so oddly. This also begs the question of whether or not magic is even known to this world. In all my studies I found references to it only as chicanery and superstition.
Further, gold and other precious metals are no longer used in currency—save copper, which is used only in pennies. The magical pouch that creates gold coins I’ve come to rely on for money is now virtually worthless. I can’t well take gold coins to a shop, nor can I exchange them save at an assayer’s office. In coin form they will raise too many questions, but if I can find a smelting oven I can melt them down and cast them into bars and ingots that would be more readily accepted. But that’s for another time.
Now that I’ve read almost everything in this library the question remains of where I’m going to live. That’s when I remembered the magic mansion I’d found all those years ago. Sufficiently far from town, I could command it to take full size and not raise too many suspicions. I don’t have transportation and it’s literally been five centuries since I last drove an automobile of any sort. No doubt there are legalities to deal with as well. I can’t leave this plane, so I have no choice but to try and forge a new existence as I did back when I first entered the Realms of Dread. Only this time it’s not going to be so easy to explain where I came from.
(Excerpt from the journals of Alexander Dreamfire, Raccoon City, CO, Jan. 19, 1980)
This is the first time in two weeks I’ve found time to sit down and write. In the magic mansion I found a workshop with a smelting furnace, among other items I will no doubt be using soon. Melting gold coins into bars took time, and the fact I brought in three to the assayer’s office raised the specter of being discovered as an alien. But the agent was mollified with a few words; this area has apparently seen a few gold rushes in the past. With plenty of cash in hand I began the rather laborious task of establishing an identity for myself in this world.
First was a trip to the local bank—usury is so advanced here, more so than even Paridon or Borca. A simple account established me as a real person in the system, and I followed what I’d read in all those books to register myself in various other ways. My home is now filled with appropriate clothing, and I found out I could alter the interior with more commands. Instead of chamber pots and wash basins I now have running water, even electricity. For the first time in centuries I was able to take a real shower. Oh, how I’ve missed the feeling of one.
Though my skills are still rusty, I managed to acquire a driver’s license as well and a car. Save for proper citizenship I believe I’m in the system. I’ve even begun to receive junk mail at the local post office. A real postal system…the things you take for granted. It’s all beginning to make me a little homesick.
Where it took me months to adapt in the Land of Mists, here I’ve made myself at home in just under three weeks. The marked similarities of this world to the technologically advanced areas of Detria are truly amazing. Though much of the tech is still primitive by my people’s standards, I recognize it and know all that I need to already.
It’s amazing. A century ago the electric light hadn’t been invented in this world. Now they’ve begun to unlock the potential of computers and even made it into space. These humans have even harnessed the power of the atom, a fact that terrifies me to no end. Yet they believe that magic is simply a fairy tale. So far I haven’t encountered anything supernatural besides myself, so maybe they’re right. Maybe this world is simply mundane? I really don’t want to think about it. I’ve begun to grow comfortable here and I can finally relax after spending my days navigating bureaucracy and politics.
Would that the same electric lights had driven off the creatures of the night. I haven’t seen any around and I’m beginning to think I might have escaped them. Wouldn’t that be a blessing?
(Excerpt from the journals of Alexander Dreamfire, Raccoon City, CO, Jan. 24, 1980)
So much for escaping the darkness! And it’s all my fault they found me out. A ghoul cornered me in an alley, hissing that “his master” wanted to know who and what I was and where I’d come from. Another creature, a werewolf, came in and began demanding that his master be the one to get me. As the two began to argue I crept away, cursing my idiocy. I haven’t worn the cloak in weeks. The spells on it would have kept me from being discovered like this.
For three days I’ve been laying false trails and eluding all manner of monsters that hide in plain sight. Some appear to be human or animal, others just don’t register in the minds of people, and still others are actually invisible. I’ve seen more than a couple wielding simple spells, though even they had to channel the energy before anything would work. These things hide in plain sight, using a variety of techniques to go unnoticed by humanity. Even I was stupid enough to hope that they didn’t exist here. And the lot of them seem to be after me.
Only now have I been able to make it home, the magic mansion itself a shield against discovery with magic. I’ve already killed three of these creatures and the local authorities have taken notice. They’d never believe I’d killed a ghoul, a werewolf, and a doppelganger. I’d be shut in a padded room and promptly drugged into oblivion if I tried to tell them that.
So instead I found a scroll in my backpack, one of many I’ve collected. I’ve learned how to invoke the magic in items like this, but I’m horrible at it. So when I successfully transmuted the cloak into a trench coat without harming the magic inside it, I was elated. Now I can go out again and avoid the divining of my presence. But that’s little consolation; I realize now this world is thoroughly infested with creatures of darkness. They hide behind the actions of human monsters, in the shadows created by societies, and even on the street with a simple illusion any novice wizard could create.
I’d question my sanity at this point, but when I cut off sight to the crystal in my head I saw them no differently than anyone else would. For once I’m sane and wish it was otherwise. In the past I’d probably just drink myself into a stupor and forget all about this. But that’s not been possible for decades. I have to face this here and now. Yet I can’t begin to hunt them down like I would in other worlds. Instead I have to fight them on their terms, in the shadows where they hide. I also can’t let others know my activities. I would no doubt be arrested and imprisoned, or even killed. Then there’s the idea the monsters might be in positions of power. How easy would it be for someone in a powerful business or in the government to simply put out a warrant on me—or a bounty? I couldn’t hope to hold off a parade of monsters sent with the specific task of killing me. More than even in the Land of Mists, I have to hide my true abilities or else risk my very soul. I can’t fight back tooth and nail if I want to live. I am on their turf. I am without allies or friends in this world.
I am, more than ever, truly, utterly alone.
(Excerpt from the journals of Alexander Dreamfire, Salt Lake City, UT, Jan. 25, 1980)
I miniaturized the magic mansion and everything inside, got into my car, and just drove. I didn’t know where I was going and I didn’t really care. I had to get away from there and lose those damnable creatures. When I finally came out of my haze I was in the state of Utah, nearing a restaurant called “Kentucky Fried Chicken,” one that claims to be the first one ever. It was at that point that I realized how hungry I was. Amazingly, they have what’s called a “drive-through.” I place my order over a two-way speaker, pay, and they hand me my food. This is certainly new, but I like it. I liked the chicken even more. I’ll have to remember this place.
I’d just fueled up my car and was driving down the streets of Salt Lake when I noticed someone running from two dark figures. They ducked down an alley and I pulled over, my instincts to help overriding my better judgment. In this case I made the right decision. Two shadows were attacking a young woman as she held them off with a staff that began to glow. Both shadows backed away as circles of light formed on their insubstantial bodies. I took the chance and attacked with my mind blade, destroying both.
The young woman thanked me profusely, then gave me a strange look. She’d seen my power and knew that was no ordinary magic. She introduced herself as Elizabeth and invited me back to her home. I didn’t sense any ill intent so I took her to my car and she guided me to a small house amidst two newly built skyscrapers. Inside it was a veritable parade of arcane paraphernalia; animals skulls with runes written on them, herbs and rare plants, crystals of all sorts, strange amulets, and the overpowering smell of incense.
It was here that I learned a vital clue as to this world. Some mortals do know of magic, and still practice it. But much has been lost and the act of casting a spell is both difficult and physically draining. She called herself a “mystic,” a person in contact with spirits who cast spells based on those she allied with. It sounds an awful lot like clerical magic, but I don’t know for sure. Others who cast what even I knew were arcane spells are called “adepts.” There are scant few all over the world, and most must hide their powers from both the masses and from the same creatures that have been hounding me.
We talked well into the night, and I’ll write what I’ve learned here. This world was once as rich in magic as any other. A priest in an ancient country called Egypt, though, brought something into this world when he tried to achieve immortality. No one really knows what this force is, but they’ve dubbed it the Red Death. It feeds off of the magical energies of the world as well as humanity, leaving little magic for others to use. It can also corrupt those that dabble in arts that call upon the darker forces of the universe, just like the unnamed powers in the Land of Mists. I’ve traded one prison for another.
Throughout history there have been attempts to recreate the ritual and send this Red Death back. Yet it has recruited creatures of darkness as well as those who would ally with evil, using these minions as pawns to ensure that it remains in power. It has even instigated horrific acts throughout history to make sure the knowledge necessary to combat it has been lost—save to the few it chooses, and those that recover and hide it. In the Middle Ages it began an Inquisition in a continent called Europe, murdering thousands of people—innocents and threats to the Red Death alike. Pogroms against magic have likewise been encouraged through the ages, and science has all but put the final nail in the coffin. Unfortunately for the Red Death, it seems to have cut off one of its energy sources by encouraging enlightened, reasonable thinking.
This force feeds off of the fear of humanity, and fear helps its minions work in the world. Yet when people stop fearing, its hold slips and people aren’t afraid to fight back against threats to their lives. In just the past century the rise of science and advanced technology has done much to dispel the darkness. More importantly, many have noticed a weakening of its grip on the world. Whole colonies of its minions have been slaughtered, lairs of its generals exposed to the world and rendered useless, and some dare say a weakening in the Red Death itself. In the present day the creatures that are in service to it act with a kind of desperation. Still more and more are going rogue and run their own plots. I recognize the actions of those still loyal to the Red Death; their source of power has been greatly diminished, and now they must find alternatives. Some seek it in the form of business, using “corporations” to spread evil and hide their activities. Where once folks were too scared to go after a “strange beast mutilating innocent victims,” now they respond in kind and fight back.
In fact it’s been like this for over a century and a half. In response the once powerful minions of darkness have adopted what Elizabeth called “masques.” That’s what they use to hide in plain sight, using various illusions, enchantments, and other magical effects. Now that humans are powerful enough to pose an organized, effective threat, they’ve begun to infiltrate society and work to undo all that’s been done.
Elizabeth is a part of a “qabal,” a secret group of magic users and others that seek various goals. She is a member of the Society of the White Rose, a group dedicated to fighting the Red Death and all other forms of evil. While it would no doubt get me many, many allies, I fear my presence will just lead to its destruction when I’m discovered again. So instead I must remain clear of them and other such groups. Besides, after the Shining Force began to rely on me too much, I decided not to let it happen again. I’ll offer aid in whatever form I can, but I can’t risk drawing others into what I’ve gotten into.
I left Elizabeth’s home as she slept, and I’ve driven deep into the canyons. I’m tired—physically and emotionally—and just want to stop. Where can I go from here? I’ve evaded those that pursued me, but I lack a home and my one source of income will only go so far before someone begins asking questions. The path before me branches in so many ways. Which one will I take?
(Excerpt from the journals of Alexander Dreamfire, Salt Lake City, UT, Aug. 2, 1980)
These past seven months have been some of the longest of my life. I took a page from my enemies’ book and took a chance—I hid in plain sight. If the creatures around me can hide behind a simple illusion, why couldn’t I? So as in Mordent I became Alexander Archer, minus the adventuring. Instead I became a businessman, trading in the stock market and finding that I had a real knack for it.
The more I worked the more I felt myself becoming Archer. I felt comfortable in the role and began to believe the charade myself. Then last week I saw the first sign of supernatural activity besides myself since January. I was at a bar called Shaggy’s, talking to some other folks that trade in the stock market when I noticed that one of the patrons was looking at me. It was a woman, a very attractive woman at that. But there was something odd about her that made my skin crawl. Then I realized it was her gaze—not the “come hither” look, but a focused gaze.
On a whim I checked for the presence of the undead, and she registered like a bonfire. No doubt this woman was a vampire, and from the look of things I’d become her chosen meal for the evening. Instead of just walking away, I took a chance and went over to her. She was certainly aggressive, inviting me to her apartment almost immediately. I played along.
Back at her place I found the windows covered in thick drapes. Apparently this affectation never raised suspicion in the past. Behind me she locked the door and attacked, just as I’d expected. Instead I buried Repose into her heart and left her paralyzed on the floor. Then I called my mind blade and beheaded her where she lay. It was all over so fast I was a little disappointed. But then I realized this was a prime chance to search her apartment for any information about her vampirism.
In her diary I learned she’d been “turned” only six years ago. Her “sire” was an older vampire that had been killed by undead hunters shortly after her own turning. Other than that her words were largely the meandering of a child and I realized this is a dead end. One predator out of the food chain. But it did remind me that I took an oath to destroy the undead at all costs. If I hid, I also had to hunt.
Over the past few days I’ve watched on TV as the police and coroners investigated her case. To hear them tell it, she was a genetic mutation that had most of her blood drained before being brutally stabbed in the heart and beheaded. In fact they dug up details that linked her to the murder of three others and the case was soon lost amidst the other stories. Whether other creatures of the night had a hand in sweeping it under the rug is another matter. I really don’t have the time or inclination to investigate just yet.
(Excerpt from the journals of Alexander Dreamfire, Salt Lake City, Aug. 3, 1980)
It seems that my adroit handling of the vampiress has raised a few heads of the wrong kind. Today one of the big heads from New York arrived. While the others saw a pudgy, balding man in a bad tweed suit, I saw the form of a rotting corpse hidden behind a powerful spell. I think my refusal even to shake his hand may have upset him on a professional level, but not a personal one. I am just a lowly “mortal.”
Throughout the day I dug up what I could on the man from the others at the brokerage. Not much was known, but I did get his address in New York City as well as where he was staying in town. To think the Red Lion Hotel would host such a creature. But without any ability to see past the surface they have no way of knowing. In fact, if it weren’t for those demons holding me in slavery, I wouldn’t have the means today.
After he left I trailed him back to his hotel room. I used the rod and sneaked in invisibly, even picking up another phone receiver when he called back to the firm’s headquarters. The vampiress I’d killed had been a part of a group of undead creatures, each pursuing their own goals in secret but sharing their resources to better handle “the pathetic living.” Her manner of death made it all too clear there was someone that knew. From the tone I heard I could sense fear from the man as well as whoever—or whatever—was on the other line.
It was an epiphany for me. These creatures were literally as afraid of being discovered as I was. They’d made it this far by hiding amongst us, and now it seemed that someone could see past their disguises. I had to bite my tongue to avoid laughing. But instead of facing him I let him go, leaving without his noticing. This is a chance to strike at the heart of their power, but I’ve learned to avoid going in half-cocked. It looks like I’ll be flying to New York City to pay the firm’s offices a little visit. Actually, I’ve never flown before and I have no idea how my stomach is going to respond. Hopefully not as violently as on the water.
(Excerpt from the journals of Alexander Dreamfire, New York City, NY, Aug. 4, 1980)
My first trip through an airport had a moment. It seems that magnetic detectors scan those that go into the terminals. I had my coat, Repose, and even the armor under my clothes. I thought there was no way I would get through without setting off alarms. It seems that mithral and adamantine absorb magnetic waves, as nothing happened when I went through. The security guards even used a wand as an extra measure and found nothing. My relief was well-hidden and I focused instead on the flight itself.
The flight itself was actually quite fun, like a carnival ride. Better still, I don’t get airsick. Finally a way to travel across the waters without spending my time bent over the side. Where it could have taken me months, even years by walking across the entire continent, by flight it took only seven hours. This is quite a relief from the carriages, horsebacks, and hikes of the past.
In many ways NYC is much like Sigil. The air is dirty, the architecture is very eclectic, and you don’t get much more cosmopolitan. People from all over the world live and work in this place. Even the phases of the day remind me of the ringed city; the buildings are so tall that little sunlight pierces parts of the city save at high noon. Such a place is perfect for the supernatural to find refuge. And apparently it has for many, many years.
The din of the city is no match for the clamor of the dead. The history is strong here and the souls of those that can’t rest still haunt many places. In many places I could practically see and smell the taint of suffering and fear. A few places are remarkably clear of such taint, such as a shrine in Chinatown across from a courthouse, an area I found out was once a brewery from old records in a library. The place was once a brewery that had been bought by a qabal and thoroughly cleansed of evil, even turning into a halfway house before being bulldozed during urban renewal. These few clear areas shine like beacons to my Ethereal sight and exude a kind of siren’s call. To learn what was done to clear the place of lingering evil and lay the dead to rest is something I want to learn very much.
I checked into the Dolphin Hotel, one of the more posh hotels in the area. I was given room nine on the fourteenth floor. The room next door—1408—was empty, but there was just something about it that made my hair stand on end. The taints of fear, pain, anger, and insanity have built up into a black morass on the Near Ethereal. Echoes of past tenants jumping from windows and even hanging themselves flashed before me as soon as I laid eyes on it. Yet this malevolent force doesn’t extend beyond the room. I believe the room itself is a phantasmagorum. One would have to be a fool to stay in that place.
My first stop was the home of the creature. The place was a tomb—literally. I believe this James Walters character is a zombie lord. Behind a veneer of a few normal rooms I found windows covered in boards, the floors torn up so the bare earth could be seen, and the basements filled with animated corpses. I was shocked and more than a little disturbed. Yet I swallowed my fears and searched around for anything that would point me in the direction of this undead qabal.
My search turned up several books filled with strange scripts and rituals, as well as what I recognized as scribed spells. These weren’t spellbooks used by wizards so much as grimoires of dark lore. They seemed to be representative of the scattered, disorganized nature of magical lore in general. In all I found four, each several inches thick with pages. Three were ancient, but one was still new and had been printed mostly be a press. Only the spells had been done by hand. There were no identifying pieces, but the name “Mortis Dominus” makes me wonder. This could be the name of the qabal in question. The “Dead Lords” would fit as a name for a group of arrogant undead.
I also found an address book with the names of others. I doubt I’ll investigate all of them, but they all meet weekly at a private suite in one of the newer hotels. Their next meeting is in two days, so I’ll use this time to go over and find out what this place is like.