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A Tale of two Ancient Anomalies in Mystaraspaceby Luca Pezzullo from Threshold Magazine issue 15
The Obsidian Observatory
There is a large obsidian asteroid orbiting a few thousand kilometers away from Charon, at the very edge of the Mystaran solar system.
It is very difficult to detect it from a distance, because its surface is deep black (and strangely non-reflective, for obsidian); it is located at a point far from any other planetary or asteroidal orbit, and is protected from mortal and immortal divination magic (Path, etc.)
The asteroid has an ovoid shape, with a main axis of about 600 meters and a diameter of about 200. The surface is rough, except on one of the long sides, that is flat and well-leveled. On it, there is a clearly delimited ellipsoidal area (200 meters long, 50 meters wide).
This flat area, open to the void, is functionally divided in three parts:
1. The Central Observatory
At its center, there are 12 big "seats" of cubic shape, composing a semi-circle. They are two meters high, as to accommodate - for a meeting or a council - very tall beings.
In front of them, in another semi-circle, there are five, two meter-high, pedestals; suspended on each, is a half meter wide "glowing light disk". They glow and float in the air, emanating a strong magical energy. They seem to be a sort of magical lens, each oriented towards a different direction.
The lenses are indeed the main asset of the Observatory, and are of mortal and immortal interest alike.
Each lens has the capability to be independently aimed (focusing the desired target simply at will) at any planet or astronomical object in or around the Mystaran solar system, zooming at extremely high resolution and revealing details on their surfaces as minute as rat-sized beings. The Lenses pass through any normal (darkness, clouds, etc.) or magical cover, and allows a Wizard Eye-like vision of the focused details, with True Sight and unlimited Infravision.
Under each lens, engraved on five identical obsidian rectangular maps on the top of the pedestals, there are topological representations of the solar system; many other symbols, representing stylized creatures with 20 tentacles, are positioned in correspondence of various non-descript points of space. One last symbol, on the upper limit of the maps, represents a strange and isolated tetrahedron.
2. The Right Focus
In the ellipsoidal focus at the right of the Observatory, there is a sort of impressive big cage; it is a ten meter high black semi-sphere, composed of a very thick grid of a strange black material. It lies in ruins, with some pieces broken at its side.
A careful analysis by an immortal, or the use of lore or wish spells by a mortal, reveals that the cage is composed of bakaa.
What or who was entrapped inside it, and how it escaped, is unknown.
3. The Left Focus
In the left ellipsoidal focus, there is a big cubic block (two meters across), made of what seems to be lead.
A very subtle line divides it near the top; if the "cover" of the lead block is pulled away (a feat that only a giant or a very strong human-sized mortal could do), it reveals a little spherical cavity inside. In the cavity lies, perfectly inserted, a twenty centimeter-wide spherical core, made of an unknown silvery solid metal.
Each Radiance-involved immortal or mortal (high-level shadow elf shamans, a member of the Brotherhood of Radiance, etc.) immediately recognizes a strong flow of Radiance-type magic emanating from it. Other high level wizards/clerics (level 26 or higher) or immortals feel the presence of an alien and unknown form of magic.
Each attempt to remove it, by physical or magical means, seems ineffective, and immediately activates the "Defense System".
The Defense System
When mortal or immortal beings remain on the asteroid for more than an hour, or they try to remove the silvery core, an ancient and extremely powerful defense system, created eons ago, slowly activates.
At the center of the Observatory, a blackball materializes just before the lenses, and immediately attacks the invaders. If disposed of, new blackballs will arrive once a turn, progressively increasing the force of their reaction.
On the second turn, another blackball materializes. The following turn, 2 blackballs materialize, and on subsequent turns 3, 5, 8, 13 and finally 21 blackballs materialize.
At this point, if every blackball is eliminated, the core emits a violent silver light (if it was opened): the strong flow of rads emitted in the next few seconds causes the death of every mortal being under 200 hp, and inhibits any form of mortal magic for a day on the asteroid.
A round after this raw flow (or immediately, if the core was still enclosed), a wave of invisible energy shakes the asteroid, paralyzing every mortal or immortal being: an Old One entering the Prime Plane, to eliminate any surviving presence. What happens next is up to the DM: surviving mortals would be killed or transposed to another plane with their memories erased; immortals could find themselves bound in a bakaa chain inside a pocket dimension.
At the extreme edge of that side of the asteroid, interspersed in the irregularities of the surface, there are ancient metal wreckages. It seems that something (a spaceship of some sort) crashed on the surface a very long time ago. A thorough search reveals metal pieces, shards of enigmatic alien equipment, and traces of molded magic weapons.
DM Notes and Adventure Hooks
The Observatory was created and used, eons-ago, by since forgotten agents of the Old Ones (and maybe by the Old Ones themselves...) during the apocalyptic "Draeden Wars", soon after the creation of the Multiverse. The Mystaran solar system in the Prime Plane was an essential battlefield, and the Observatory was a strategic observation and coordination post.
The lenses were used to observe and direct the battles; the core was one of the first experiments that the Old Ones made with what would in the future become the Radiance, and was used to produce the powerful magical energy necessary to activate the lenses. The stylized creature symbols represented on the maps symbolize the main areas in space in which draeden forces concentrated through powerful permanent gates; the isolated tetrahedron is the Gray Pyramid (described in the next part). In theory, the draeden gates were closed or destroyed, but exploring the locations of the gates could be a good adventure hook for very high level or immortal players as some of the gates could be re-opened, or in use.
The Bakaa Cage was used to imprison and interrogate ancient draeden-allied immortal beings. It has the characteristics of a Faraday Cage, isolating and sealing off the imprisoned immortal creatures from any form of immortal and draeden magic; how it was broken and opened is unclear. More unclear is the question: “What” was inside it? Did it escape such a unique trap or was it released by something else? Which powers it has, and where it is now are also unknown, but it appears that it is roaming free somewhere in the Multiverse.
The Observatory was abandoned at the end of the Draeden Wars, but the agents of the Old Ones decided to maintain it, activating an automatic Defense System (note: the rhythm of the appearing blackballs is based on the Fibonacci sequence).
The Observatory was found three times in recent millennia:
1. In ancient times, Blackmoorian astronomers investigated it using techno-magical astronomical instruments; their observations were recorded on long-forgotten metal tablets, which were lost during the Great Rain of Fire.
2. A spaceship of unknown origin (possibly Blackmoorian) crashed on it some millennia ago: the metal shards and molten magical equipment found near the edge of the asteroid are what remains of it, after that the activated blackballs destroyed the surviving members of the crew.
3. In the Hollow World, at the Nithian Tarthis Library of Mysteries, there are some very ancient stone tablets, bearing astronomical observations of the Mystaran solar system and representing the orbits of its planets; but these Nithian tablets are themselves only ancient copies of older documents, of unknown origin. In one of these, mysterious symbols are reproduced next to the exact point in space of the Observatory, associated with pictograms of a big open eye paired with a strange creature with 20 long tentacles. Other ancient writings on the tablet, in Nithian, declare: "Here lies the All-Devourers, the Night of Creation; Here lies the Observers, the Sentinels of Creation".
A final detail: the central lens of the Observatory, when found, is already aimed exactly at a specific point on Mystara. If a creature looks through it, without focusing on another target, he will immediately see a little town in Northern Karameikos: Threshold.
Why that very specific area on the surface of the third planet from the Sun was of special interest for the latest Sentinels, is shrouded in mystery…
The Gray Pyramid
Some decades ago Khoronus began having strange dreams, concerning the need to explore a remote area of space at some distance from the Mystaran solar system.
The strange vividness of those mysterious dreams and their repetition prompted him to send some magical servants to explore that area of space. After several months, they informed him that something very strange had actually been found.
He was amazed at what he saw: materialized on the Prime Plane, in a remote area of deep space was a giant gray object with a pyramid-like shape, about 30 meters high suspended in the black void of space, floating there apparently undetected and undisturbed for millions of years.
The "Pyramid" seems to be built with an unknown material, a very polished and cold metal; the surface consists of millions of tiny blacks dots, that turn on and off continuously in an unpredictable pattern. The object emanates an extremely powerful and archaic magical energy, of utterly alien nature: no human or immortal magic resembles it.
The four sides of the tetrahedron seem almost alive: their ever-changing surfaces continuing to create incomprehensible, extremely complex patterns, with an incessant activation and deactivation of the tiny black dots.
Khoronus was immediately, deeply, fascinated by the object; but his first attempts to understand the nature of the object, or the meaning of the visual patterns on its four sides, were completely unfruitful.
After many days of patient observation, Khoronus deduced that the patterns - that kept changing every few seconds on each of the four sides, in a very complex fashion - could represent a form of extremely complicated “code”, sometimes showing what resembles a long sequence of forgotten symbols crossing across the surfaces. But he could not understand how to interpret or decode them; his Communication immortal power, his extensive multi-planar languages knowledge, and all the powerful read magic, read languages, lore and wish magic he used for days on the Pyramid did not produce any result: the object appears to be inert and unresponsive to any form of immortal magic used on it.
Very frustrated, after leaving some of his magical servants (jumpers) to observe, monitor and record in a detailed manner the patterns appearing on the Pyramid, Khoronus returned to his own plane, where he continued to reflect on the strange object, discreetly looking for information on similar objects in many human and immortal archives and knowledge repositories, but without any results.
Then, after some months, he was alerted by the sentinel jumpers of something extraordinary happening. Arriving on the Prime Plane, he learned that four blackballs recently materialized at the four vertices of the Pyramid, and then flew away towards an undefined target, in the general direction of the Mystaran solar system. It was the first time ever that a blackball, to Khoronus’ knowledge, materialized from a cosmic structure different from the Vortex.
Confused, but feeling that he was a short distance away from a key to understand the Secret of the Vortex, he ignored his duty to activate the Council of Intrusions, and personally contacted, in the most reserved and private way, Odin and Korotiku from the Sphere of Thought, to share with them the information about the existence of the Pyramid, and to involve them in the efforts to decode it.
He involved Odin for his intelligence, power and wide knowledge of the Multiverse, as Full Hierarch of the Sphere of Thought; and Korotiku for his very brilliant and original mind, and his deep understanding of Planar issues. Odin was deeply disturbed and intrigued by the object, Korotiku enthusiastic; but their combined, prolonged efforts were vain. The three immortals vowed absolute secrecy about this, and also Korotiku seemed to be more disciplined than usual, in relation to such a special issue. In the following years, the three immortals kept meeting before the Pyramid regularly, in the utmost secrecy, to study and discuss it.
Khoronus, after decades of regular and careful study of the patterns recorded day by day by his jumpers, has deduced that the Pyramid Code seems to be composed of four sub-Codes: each one of the four Sides showing patterns with slightly different behaviors.
There is a strange feeling that one of the surfaces is more "attuned" with Khoronus, and another one with both Odin and Korotiku; the three immortals deduced that each Side of the Pyramid is "somewhat related" to a specific Sphere of Power. And sometimes, a strange "chaotic wave" confuses the whole Pyramid for a few seconds; Khoronus understood that this effect is strictly related to Entropy, so giving the Pyramid unexplained connections with each of the Five Spheres: four directly, with Entropy occasionally traversing all of them.
In recent months, Khoronus has a new worry: the mysterious immortal Sinbad, also of the Sphere of Thought, seems very interested and insistent to know if Khoronus is working on something "important". His casual remarks seem to be too specific, and Khoronus began asking himself if Sinbad is more knowledgeable about the existence and function of the Pyramid that he could imagine....
The Pyramid is indeed an artifact of the Old Ones. It was placed in Mystaraspace an extremely long time ago, as a Key to pass through the Vortex for Old Ones at the time of the Prime Plane’s creation. It could be also used by Old Ones, in special circumstances, as a "conduit" to send blackballs into the Prime, instead of the Vortex.
The Code is of the utmost complexity, and could be decoded only by the most brilliant immortal minds, working on it for centuries. Any form of mortal and immortal magic is useless if used on or against the Pyramid; some vague hints could be derived only if extremely well-worded immortal wish and lore spells were used to enhance the involved immortals’ *own mathematical knowledge*.
The three immortals will guard the secret and the object with their full, unrelenting, power. High level mortals finding it by chance will be immediately attacked by the four sentinel jumpers positioned around it (which instantly alert Khoronus on his plane); after one turn, Khoronus will materialize and firmly deal with (as per DM choices, and PC alignment/intentions: killing, relegating them to a pocket dimension, erasing their memories...) the surviving mortals: this is one of the most important secrets of the Multiverse, and Khoronus doesn’t intend to take any risks about it (an exception could be made only for immortal candidates of the Time or Thought Spheres, that in exceptional cases could be "enrolled" to help the decoding effort).
Time or Thought immortals eventually finding it will be confronted by Khoronus and Odin, and sworn to the utmost secrecy by their respective Full Hierarch; low and medium level Entropic immortals will be vigorously attacked by the three immortals together, and then enclosed in bakaa chains in a special pocket dimension created by Odin. The three don't have yet a clear strategy to cope with an Energy or Matter immortal, or a high level Entropic immortal, eventually finding it, and are discussing these risks and their consequent options.
From a mathematical point of view: each side's pattern is an ever changing series of results that represent the nonlinear output of four different generating functions, each one tied to a specific Sphere; the "entropic wave" seems a to be a sort of "white noise" effect, but strangely interwoven with the behavior of the generating functions.
To understand the Code, it is necessary to reconstruct the generating functions from their complex nonlinear outputs, composing them together and managing the error derived from raw entropic data (an extremely difficult feat). The resulting "function" could be used to prepare a special, extremely powerful, immortal level gate spell, which allows the user to finally transit the Vortex.
Sinbad is in effect the only immortal that, finding the pyramid by accident thousands of years ago, decoded it after many centuries of intensive mathematical studies (using a great score of mathematical lore, collected through many planes and civilizations), just before the Blackmoor era. Unlocking the Code allowed him to pass through the Vortex and to meet the Old Ones; what happened to him after this encounter is shrouded in mystery.
But he returned after a while, and his knowledge of the fact that Khoronus is aware of the Pyramid, opens up different possibilities; as well the fact that - in the first dreams pointing him to that far away point of deep space - Khoronus remembers well to have dreamed also about a white sail blown by the wind, the symbol of Sinbad...