|OUR HEROES:||Tira Wolfsdaughter||Hank Woodman||Haiku Odsdottir||Gilead||Persia|
he reduced party marches to the outer fields of Tronto. They catch the attention of a work foreman to whom they state their names and purpose. He escorts them to the city gates, where they repeat the process. At the gates they are taken in hand by a young man named Warleader Cambell, who resolves to present them to King Hugo. They are treated civilly enough, but they are wary of entering a place that enslaved Hadrian and Mranda for so long.
They are escorted through the streets of Tronto, which show signs of heavy reconstruction. It is obviously the site of an Ancient city, but there is much new construction as well. Most of the surrounding rubble has gone to fill in the great walls around the city.
As they approach the great dome, they can clearly see the spire that towers over the city. It is a tower many hundreds of feet tall, with a fortress perched about three quarters of the way up. The Dome itself is no small wonder either. It stands over 33 stories tall at the apex, and though it is currently open to the sky, the roof is plainly designed to be retracted. The combination is awe inspiring.
Once inside the Dome, they are lead through a series of corridors until they come out onto a huge deck that encircles the vast interior. Buildings and gardens grace this balcony, and the field in the center is a thriving and growing city center. Though the buildings are all new, there are many homages to ancient architecture. Ornamentation and artwork patterned after unguessably old originals are found everywhere. They are taken across to a palace engaged to the far wall. Here they are presented to King Hugo and make a few discoveries. The first is that their coming was expected. They have been asked several times if this is the entirety of their party, and here it is revealed that the trontans are aware of the true size and strength of the expedition. Fortunately, Gilead has phrased his replies in such a way that they can be construed as truthful. This is all of their party, all of their party that has come to Tronto. The others were left behind so as not to alarm the city. This explanation is seemingly accepted.
The second discovery is that the king has a Saginaw ambassador. He is an older man named Badax Evenhand. They eventually discover that he has been here for about a year and a half. He is obviously Saginaw, for he wears glasses made in the ancient style, as well as the reconstructed footware they have seen.
The expedition begs leave to examine the Standing Stones of Tronto. In return, they say they would be willing to take a student back with them to Tallon. The king considers their request while Badax whispers in his ear. Finally, Hugo decides to postpone making a decision until after the Harvest Feast. Until then, the party is to be the honored guest of Warleader Cambell. They are given a suite of rooms that overlooks the Dome interior. Guards are placed outside, and a slave is given the duties of seeing to their needs. The slave is a Naga youth named Sharakan. He seems a likeable fellow, far more helpful than the stony-faced guards outside.
Over the next few days, they receive a couple of visitors. The first is a man named Cordova. He quickly reveals himself to be an adept. In fact he is a Master of Morphia. He has primarily come to see Hank Woodman, for Tronto has nothing like the wooden man. While discussing his creation, they verify what Tira has suspected, that the lessons taught by the Standing Stones of Tronto (and presumably Saginaw) are very different from those taught by the Merikian Stones. Whereas those of the league teach how to alter the basic nature of an object's spirit, the ones of the Great Kraken Lakes region instruct their adherents how to alter an object's Tempo. They still alter Morphia, Anima and Psyche, but instead of molding, adapting or copying them, they alter them in time. They are able to age and de-age objects, speed them up or down, or to draw forth psyches from the past, such as was done with Alexander, the marine engineer. He believes that much more may be possible, but as of yet, the Trontans have been able to master only morphia. It is then that the expedition realizes the artwork and architectural detail they saw while entering the city was not copied from the past, it was restored. They are the original pieces.
Cordova listens to their tales of Merikian spirit studies with great interest. Badax has taught their people quite a bit, but nothing like this. He leaves with a promise to take them on a guarded tour sometime soon. The party discusses the implications of what they have heard.
Late that evening, as the city lamps are being lit (they are not lumina, but oil-based), Tira is gazing out of one of the narrow windows. Down below in the courtyards and streets, she is suddenly startled to see a familiar face. Arthur is down there! He is visible for only a moment, but it is definitely him. She alerts the others, but there is no other sign of him. They are alarmed and intensely curious, but they are trapped at the moment.
The next morning is spent in fruitless attempts to see Cordova. It is not until they send word through Sharakan that any response is heard. The soldiers protest and grumble a bit, but Cordova is able to secure their passage through the inner city. Again they talk of spirit studies. Cordova explains the concept of echomen, people like Alexander who have been psychically resurrected. He claims that there is one in the city, a servant of Badax named Anne Weinberg. He also expands on a subject he had spoken of the day before. Some of the buildings of the Ancients are untouched by the ravages of time. No one knows why this is so, but the dome and the tower have stood substantially unchanged since before the Demon Kings.
The party also brings up the subject of Arthur in a roundabout way. Cordova is obviously curious about their interest in such a person, but does not pursue the subject, not even when their quarry is briefly spotted near a food vender. Arthur sees them as well, but quickly melts into the crowd, something he accomplishes with distressing ease.
The last subject they speak of is the matter of the Sunken Stone. Cordova is surprised to hear that they know of it, and claims it was given up on many years ago. He says he would be surprised indeed if the Saginaw were investigating it, since Badax has said nothing. It would be embarrassing for Badax to be discovered in such a deception. If indeed there is an armed force just beyond the Triangle, this could have further political ramifications. He refuses to act on it, though. He has learned much from Badax, and won't act against him. He says that if they are determined to bring this up before the king, they should be sure they have proof.
The next morning they are visited by Cambel, to whom they reveal their knowledge of Saginaw activities. He himself has no love for Badax, but re-iterates the concerns of Cordova. They need some kind of proof. They say that a simple expedition across the lake and up the river should do it, but Cordova is unwilling to send men into danger based on the claims of six unproven strangers.
They respond that the trip could be made quickly and without danger, if Cambel has a light, trustworthy person. The war Leader is intrigued and agrees to send someone with a party member of choice. He stipulates only that it cannot be Tira or Hank, since his head could be forfeit if he allowed either of these to leave the city before Hugo's judgement is passed. That all their lives could be forfeit if the expedition fails to return or if the proof is not found is understood without speaking.