The githzerai was surprised at the appearance of this older version of Jenkins, and he was put off by the mystery of the two wizards, but for his comrades — those who had traveled with Jenkins and lived according to his authority for so long — the disbelief was complete. Were they not beset on all sides by a swarm of mucous-slaked giant insects, this would have been a fantastic time to clear the air on exactly what was going on. As it was, however, the conversation would have to be put on hold.
Perhaps of greater importance was the fact that the party’s entrance into this foreign realm had just been cut off and, like this broken old man with dirty, tangled curtains of hair, they would be trapped here until other adventurers found a way into this strange plane.
“What is this place?” Wiliken said to the older Jenkins.
The wizard was weeping. At first the githzerai thought them tears of pain. After all, this Jenkins was limping about on a leg turned sideways, likely broken years ago and healed incorrectly. It took a few moments for Wiliken to realize they were in fact tears of joy. Jenkins was among friends he hadn’t seen for years, friends he’d likely thought long dead. “No place,” Jenkins said, confused, as if language no longer came easy to him.
Wiliken stomped his foot twice on the solid ground beneath him. “This. Place.”
“No place,” Jenkins said. “Thing.”
“What?” Wiliken responded.
If this were the real Jenkins, Wiliken thought, and it seemed so from his response to seeing his supposedly fallen comrades, then who was the wizard they’d seen in the remains of the Shining City, the man that Wiliken had revealed his deepest desire to, the one he’d hoped to enlist the help of in order to stop his son? Who was this man who had chosen to set Wiliken free?
As Wiliken fired off arrow after arrow into the sky above them, he noticed Jean-Baptiste take off frantically into the darkness, and he might have been swallowed by the horde of parasites were it not for the reflexes of strong Ugarth who grabbed their friend by the shoulder and pulled him back.
“You’re no good to us dead,” Ugarth said.
“But,” Jean-Baptiste said, “the portal.
“We stick together,” Ugarth said. “We survive.”
“A portal!” Jenkins shouted. “You have a portal?”
“We had a portal,” Jean-Baptiste corrected him.
“No! No! No! No!” Jenkins shouted. The old wizard scurried off in the same distance Jean-Baptiste had attempted to traverse. He succeeded in escaping the grasp of Ugarth, who cursed under his breath. Wiliken darted forward only to stop dead in his tracks and recoil as a blinding beacon shot up into the air around them. For a moment, the sky was as bright as a sunny day, and the multitude of flying beasts was uncannily clear. When that moment had concluded, there remained a faint jet of light travelling off into the distance, tracing the path to their collapsed portal. The old wizard Jenkins apparently had a few tricks up his sleeves even now.
Wiliken and friends used the moment of brightness to regroup around the wizard.
“Can you reopen the portal?” Wiliken asked.
“I can,” Jenkins said. “But we will have to get closer.”
Wiliken stepped forward before Jenkins stopped him. “Not that way,” he said, and then he pointed in the opposite direction. “That way.”
It was a leap of faith, but Wiliken turned in the opposite direction and ran with the surprisingly spry old man. He and his allies kept the creatures from flying down and swiping at the wizard who might be their only way out of this place. Sometimes to go one step forward it was required to go two steps back.
The group ran, Ugarth punching the dive-bombing insects out of the sky, Wiliken popping off quick shots, sometimes two at once, everyone helping in their own way, and it seemed like they were running a fool’s errand, but when they approached a large membranous chasm, they stopped.
“I think I sense what Jenkins was saying,” Jean-Baptiste said. “In fact, I’ve been sensing it since we got here. This thing we are on. It is alive.”
“Ah,” Wiliken said. “The ancient beast of legend. The leviathan. Large as a world, ever twisting and turning through the nether.”
Grace pointed to the chasm. “Then what is this?”
“A nostril,” Jean-Baptiste said. “I have an idea.”
He shoved his staff into a pink spot on the ground, and it gave way before his strength. A din erupted in the air that threatened to shatter the githzerai’s eardrums. Whatever this beast was that they were currently upon, leviathan or otherwise, they had hurt it. Jean-Baptiste pulled back on his staff, working it like a lever inside the creature’s sense organ, and Wiliken could feel the ground move as the monster fought against Jean-Baptiste. As Jean-Baptiste struggled with his staff, a surprising smile came over his face. Jean-Baptiste was winning. He was turning the beast around.
“Now it’s your turn,” Wiliken said. “Get that portal open.”
Ugarth had turned into a living shield for the wizard Jenkins who had brightened the sky once more with his staff. The now familiar trail of brightness shot off in the same direction as before, but this time it did not taper at the end and whisper away. It continued throughout the emptiness and brightened at its furthest point. As Jenkins muttered silent words from his lips, waves would flow along the route of this string, and the string itself began to grow. Before long the portal was once again visible. It was growing.
But the leviathan was now hurtling toward the portal, and it became clear that the portal was growing too slowly.
“We’ll never make it,” Grace said.
Wiliken was surprised by his own feeling, but he felt his own kind of brightness, something he couldn’t remember feeling. Wiliken had friends. In his mind, he’d called these people friends for most of the day, and sometimes in previous days as well. His wife was dead and his son was a vicious murderer bent on destroying most of what Wiliken had ever known, and yet he felt hope. Nobody was as surprised by this as the githzerai, despite the strange silence that erupted when he placed his hand on Jenkins’ shoulder and spoke.
“Yes,” Wiliken said. “We will.”
Jenkins was straining beyond what should have been his limit, and yet he pushed even harder, breaking any mental barrier, stepping outside of the game of human limitation, a true wizard in every meaning of the name. The githzerai had once encountered a tribe of humans during his military days who had a secluded shaman of great power. They had explained that one of these individuals was born in each generation, and the word they had used for this shaman translated loosely to “miracle.” Jenkins was one of these miracles.
They were far too close to the tiny portal for comfort, and it became clear that the consequences of the leviathan barreling head-first into this tiny portal would be cataclysmic, but at the last moment Jenkins screamed and there was a sudden burst of light. The portal ripped open wide. They were going to make it.
“The portal,” Ugarth said.
“Yes,” Grace said. “It’s open. We’re going home.”
“No,” Ugarth said. “We have to close it.”
“What?” asked Grace.
“We have to close it,” Ugarth said. “If we don’t, this leviathan will destroy everything we’ve ever known. Everything we’ve done will have been for nothing.”
“Can you do it?” Wiliken asked Jenkins, but the old man had collapsed. “Jenkins?”
Campaign Stories concludes in Wiliken 24.