Distant Horizons

Settling In
Helping the Settlers, Venturing On

Beriana.jpg From the Journals of Beriana Eloran:

17 Twilight, 30 A.F.

It has been a relatively quiet, but all together interesting week. It began on the 10th, when the Horizon returned from exploring the outlying islands. The settlers threw a party that night in celebration of our arrival, complete with bonfire. Tehya, the clanswoman who had attached herself to Tolfgar, told the tale of what the group of adventurers had found on the islands. She did quite well with it, too. There is some talent there. Perhaps I should speak with her, see if she would be interested in…

No. Focus, Beri.

The next day, the group met with several of the settlers and began making plans with them to grow our little thorp into something worth mentioning. It was a pleasant sensation, to feel as if we were truly going to build new homes and new lives here, and that nothing was going to stand in our way. Zazumet met with Antal and Irlana Leagallow to sell off the treasures the group had returned from. The age of everything is enticing, and I hope to speak with Irlana about examining them more closely. While Zazumet was doing that, I observed Quarsith speaking with the sisters, Aurora & Eventide Sortilege regarding the building of a shrine to Damion. Ultimately, the hope is to build this into an actual temple, but for now a shrine will suffice. Tolfgar also set up a shrine, this one to the goddess Verina who aided us on our journey.
Tolfgar and Zane also spoke with the craftsmen who made the crossing with us about building more dwellings, along with a forge. Bracchus Pickett and William Forrest spoke of beginning a logging operation, working with Zazumet on the best way to get the logs to town and keeping them from floating out to sea.

When not speaking with the settlers, Quarsith and Talars’argt worked with Daziel to learn more about the land we found ourselves in, and the mysterious aurora that cloaked our new home. Daziel spoke with the stones, while Quarsith used minor magics to gain more insight into the aurora. Talars’argt, as always, loomed menacingly behind his fellow Firaliesti. Zazumet and Tolfgar traveled a bit upriver to better plan for the logging when they ran into the Field brothers and the Muellers. The four had been surveying land for farming when they were attacked by a nest of dire weasels. Tolfgar sent Tehya back to “town” to gather the rest of their companions, and the group moved to quickly dispatch the creatures. They returned with four young dire weasels that Talars’argt and Tolfgar began training as guard animals.

The group turned their attentions to the nearby forest, and it was here that things became interesting. For the first time since arriving here, they encountered a native intelligent species. The forest was home to a clan of faerie dragons, who spent some time teasing and toying with the group before asking them to return three days hence. Upon their return, the group met with an extremely ancient faerie dragon, called The Elder by the others of his kind. If what he says is true, Elder is an understatement. He spoke of being a hatchling during a great uprising against the Dragon Empires who ruled here long ago. Presuming this uprising occurred around the time that the Second Dragon Wars took place back home, this Elder is multiple millennia in age.

Regardless, after negotiating a deal to allow Bracchus and William to harvest the lumber we need, the Elder was able to provide information of some use to the adventurers. He spoke of peoples to both the east and west of our landing site, as well as giving a bit more information about the aurora. He urged the group to seek out someone (someones?) called the Syrinx who might aid them in their quest to cull the aurora’s influence on local magics.
The group returned to town with renewed purpose. They took a day to make certain that the plans they had made with the settlers were in place and, to my extreme surprise, named me as town leader in their absence. I have no idea if I am capable of such a thing, but I cannot help but feel gracious about their confidence in me. Hopefully, I will not get us all killed attempting to live up to that confidence.

Captain Breakwater gave them passage across the bay to the mainland before he, too, departed. The Araen Horizon is headed back to Elvedon. If all goes well on their journey home, it will be at least six months before we see them again. I pray to whatever gods may watch over us…help us survive. Help us thrive. Help us live.

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Landing at Twilight
A fireside tale of arrival and exploration

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Evening, 10 Twilight, 30 A.F.

The night was cool, and growing cooler. The large fire down by the beach did much to keep the chill away, though, as the two dozen people who had traveled to this distant shore sat around it. It was a night for companionship and contemplation, and though many of Araen Horizon’s crew sat with them, this night was for the settlers and they all knew it. They had made it this far through trial and hardship, and though all knew more challenges awaited them, tonight was a time for quiet celebration and thanksgiving.

Beriana and Tolfgar played quietly, her lute and his drums mingling in a soft melody of calm. Some of those gathered chatted in muted tones while they drank of the mead and ale that had survived the journey with them. The only other sounds were the hiss and crackle of the flames, and the gentle sibilance of the surf on the shore. A quiet cough cut through those calming sounds, the clearing of a throat that made conversations pause and people turn to look up at the young barbarian woman who had attached herself to Tolfgar. She did not look up from her contemplation of the flames, though it was clear that she had desired the attention she had gained. Her eyes had a faraway look to them, and if there was a wistfulness to her gaze…a longing for home…it was a look that was shared by many who sat there, as was the steely determination not to let that longing gain anymore of a foothold than it already had. Her voice, when she spoke, was just loud enough to carry over fire and waves, and carried a strong trace of the eastern Elvedonian plains.

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“I am Tehya Satinka, of the Emerald Lynx tribe, and though I am far from my people, it is said that the ancestors and the gods may hear our words wherever we may roam. There is a tradition among my people, when great deeds have been done, to mark those deeds in a tale, told around a fire like this one. I am no bard…no teller of stories…but it is my wish to speak to my people’s tradition.” She paused for a moment, and when no one spoke against her, she gave a slight nod and cleared her throat again. The music of the bards playing fell even quieter, though they did not stop. The melody drifted, as if waiting for Tehya’s tale to guide it and give it form. She spoke again, and this time her gaze drifted around the fireside, taking in those who had come on this journey with her.

“I am Tehya Satinka, of the Araen Horizon sept,” she said with quiet pride, "and this is a tale of my people.

“We met as strangers, all of us boarding this small vessel for our own reasons with little regard for those who would travel with us. The journey would change that, as all journeys must. It was pirates that blooded us, and bound us one to the other. It was boredom that wakened us, and led us to explore that bond. It was a storm that drove us, and taught us to fight for one another. It was a god…” Tehya paused and found those special few in the crowd. The half-elf and the Northman. The pair of Firaliesti. The gnomes, so different despite their shared heritage.

“It was a god,” Tehya continued, "that touched us, and gave us those who would lead us. And was death that might have claimed us, had they not led us from it. It was thus that strangers became companions, and companions became a people. And it was a people who saw their journey end when this far land was sighted.

“It was the fourth of Twilight, so named in ancient times to denote the dimming of summer’s light and the rise of winter’s long night, when we arrived here. Our leaders, as was right, were the first ashore to explore this new land. Tolfgar rode out to scout the area while the others explored the landing site. At first it appeared that this land was virgin, having never known the touch of man. That appearance was in error, however, as little by little the leaders discovered evidence of an ancient people who had made their home here long ago. Rotting pylons in the water, the last remnants of building foundations, and small fragmented artifacts gave a hint of ancient civilization. Daziel used his gift to speak with the stones, which told him of a thriving community that had stood on this very spot. A community that had died in blood and fire long, long ago.

“Once it was determined there was no threat in the immediate area, the rest of us disembarked and explored our new home. Those who led determined that they would explore the two offshore islands we had seen on the way in while Arean Horizon remained with us. The rest of our people were tasked to building us a shelter, something that could aid us against the coming winter should all else fail. Having sworn my shield to one of our lords, I was blessed to accompany them to the islands. We sailed to the closer, and larger, island, and took a boat in to land on the forested end of the island. We spent the rest of the day exploring the forest, discovering some herbs that were useful in healing remedies and a small vein of moderately valuable gems. As the day lengthened, it began to rain and we sought shelter in the hills. A cave offered a dry place to spend the night. Unluckily, it was already occupied by a flame drake who took offense to our presence.

“Daziel reacted quickest, and as the drake belched it fire at us, his small bolt sped into the creature’s open mouth and buried itself in the drake’s brain. Though some of us were singed, we were victorious. We rested the night there, and began exploring the rest of the island’s mount the following morning. It soon became evident that there were several other drakes that called this place home. The group contemplated their next action, and determined that the drakes were too large a threat to leave alone this close to our budding settlement. We began our climb higher up the mount, slaying the drakes as we found them. They were cunning foes, and we took our own wounds, but in the end, the creatures posed little challenge to those touched by divinity, and the mountain was cleansed of their presence. Zazumet and Daziel, especially, were instrumental in their defeat, though all of our leaders fought well. In recognition of Daziel’s sharp eye and keen shots, it was determined that the mountain would bear the name ’Daziel’s Aerie’, and thus it shall be known by our people.” Tehya smiled as she glanced at the unobtrusive gnome, imagining his blush of embarrassment even in the darkness.

“We spent the rest of that day and most of the next two thoroughly exploring the mountain. No other threats we found, and the seabirds will likely claim the heights for themselves in short order. With the drakes gone, and once we have grown to sustain ourselves as a people, the mining of the ore, and harvesting of the herbs found there should pose little challenge. With the Aerie tamed, we turned our attention to the other island.

“We sailed around the smaller isle, seeking a place to land and finding none. Ultimately, it was Lord Mournwyn who used the innate abilities of his people to magically scale the cliffs, carrying a rope so that the others could follow. Once atop the plateau, we walked over miles of featureless rock before coming to a large lake. Tolfgar, in his…wisdom…sought the simplest way to determine if the lake was fresh or salt water, and touched the surface with a finger. Immediately, a huge being made entirely of water rose from the lake and towered above us. The creature showed a patience that few mortals could match, as we sought a way to communicate with it. We quickly found a way to understand the creature, but making it understand us was a much larger challenge. Ultimately, Zazumet was able to…repurpose?…Zero to accomplish what we needed. Had that failed, Zane had a spell ready to use that stood a good chance of succeeding as well. As it was, Zero was able to provide translations for us.

“The creature, a being from the Elemental Plane of Water, stated that the lake, in addition to being a source of fresh water, was a conduit between its home plane and ours. The conduit was a natural phenomenon, though the plateau that surrounded it was not. The cliffs had been magically ripped from the seabed by draconic mages during the Second Dragon Wars in the hopes of stopping the servitor races from utilizing the elementals against them. The conduit had been largely unmolested ever since, until we arrived. The being politely answered our queries, and stated that those ‘with a reverence for nature’ would always be welcome. It seemed to recognize the resource that the lake provided for us as well, and was willing to work with us in this regard, so long as the lake remained unspoiled and the conduit unthreatened. Having established this beginning of a relationship with the being, we said our good-byes and returned to the ship, and ultimately to the mainland.

“The people had been busy in our absence, and had built a solid shelter for us all. Those who led us were thankful to those who had built the hall, and to those who had begun taking the first steps toward building a home for us all. Today, the tenth day of Twilight, we set aside as a day of feasting and rest. This then, is the tale of our arrival, here at Horizon’s Landing.”

Tehya fell silent, and after a short time the music and conversation rose once again. The fire burned long into the night, and the camaraderie around it burned long and bright as well. Winter was coming, and with it cold and hardship, but for tonight that was laid aside. Tonight, a journey taken had ended well, and deserved a little celebration.

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Beneath the Darkened Waves
Dreaming Despair on the Ocean Floor

From the Journals of Beriana Elorelen:

The Island of Verina was roughly three weeks behind us. It had been a pleasant journey, with none of the storms that had punctuated the earlier portion of our expedition. After the hurricane surrounding Verina, this was more of a blessing than most might realize. Those Heroes who had aided us so much his far kept themselves busy with a variety of minor projects. The something special that I had noticed after their time on the Island did not fade. Everyone who dealt with them spoke with a little more awe and deference. Even the captain treated them as honored guests more than simple passengers.

The mist was the first real problem that arose. The captain ordered the sails reefed to slow the ship, and lookouts to the bow. The mist had a muffling effect on the sounds of the ship and waves, and added a surreal quality to everything. A sense of disconnection from the rest of the world and of impending danger. It turns out we should have heeded that sense. There was a tingling sensation, almost an itch, and then…nothing. Talars’argt and Tolfgar spoke later of shrugging off the initial attack and of the ship being boarded by undersea creatures, but even they succumbed in short order.

We awoke, most of us, in an underwater cavern. The panic was palpable as the fear of drowning hit, but something about the murky water allowed us to breathe. That initial fear subsiding, I looked about us. A little more than half the crew, including the captain, was with us, as were most of the other passengers. Zazumet, Tolfgar, and Talars’argt were there as well. The cavern also held a variety of undersea peoples….a few merfolk and tritons, as well as a larger contingent of what had to be aquatic elves. All of them looked to be wounded in various ways, and had the air of long-term captivity and abuse about them. Putting my intense curiosity aside, with admitted difficulty, I moved over to do what I could for them.

Talars’argt, as soon as he woke and realized that Quarsith was not with us, wasted no time in attacking our captors. Unarmed and unarmored, he was still more than a match for them. Zazumet quickly summoned some water Elementals to aid him, and Tolfgar provided more inspiration as he urged the rest of us to rise up as well. The captain led his crew towards the caverns other entrance and attacked the creatures there, with the rest of us following in their wake.

The creatures, which we learned later were called Grindylow, were disconcerting in appearance. From the waist up they were similar to goblins, while their lower bodies were a mass of tentacles like those of an octopus. They were vicious and well-adapted to the water, but small, and we overwhelmed them with numbers while the three Heroes dealt with those at the other entrance and moved on.

I learned later that Quarsith, Zane, Daziel, and the missing passengers and crew had been rescued by the Altriaesti. They enlisted the aid of two warriors among the passengers, gained magical assistance from their rescuers so they could breathe, and came to find us. So, while we staged our jailbreak, they assailed the cavern complex’s entrance and began fighting their way toward us. It is my firm belief that the six Heroes, even separated, were more than a match for the Grindylow without whatever small aid our mob might have given. Though the fight was long, the Grindylow were defeated handily. Those few that survived fled the caverns in disarray. We had relatively few true losses, thanks largely in part to the healing magics provided by the ship’s doctor and myself.

Reunited, and with their gear recovered, the Heroes moved to the large central cavern. Talars’argt had spoken of a great despair emanating from the chamber, and the Altriaesti had spoken of a great evil in this place that they were tasked with guarding. Zane and Quarsith approached the huge boulder in the cavern’s center, and both were assailed by images of a timeless horror…of a world filled with death and devastation…and of a nearly overwhelming desire to help loose that horror upon the world. Both were able to resist that desire, thankfully. Daziel spoke to the stones around the cavern edge, which told him of a time before time and of a stone from the stars crashing into the waves to wait with inhuman patience. Of an alien hunger that yearned to be free, and of the rise and fall of innumerable cults to that hunger.

Determining to find out more, but recognizing an inability to do more at the moment, the Heroes led us out of that place. Quarsith left a token to Damion and Verina there to mark it, and perhaps in the hope of bringing the threat to divine attention. We returned to the Altriaesti outpost, and the Heroes spoke with the outpost’s commander, Arthrawes, who vowed to get them in touch with his people’s leaders. Grateful for the assistance,cans the return of his captured people, Arthrawes aided us in returning to our ship and we resumed our voyage.

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Pathway to Ascension
Awakening the Goddess and Sparking the Myth

Araen Horizon Captain’s Log: 4 Bloodstain, 30 A.F.

The Dragontomb Islands are six weeks behind us, and for most of that time we have been completely off any charts available to us. Indeed, my officers and I have spent a great deal of out time creating new charts to be used by those who might come after. That is the hope, at any rate. Should any of us survive to return those new charts back to Elvedon. After the last few days, that hope is spoken as a prayer by some of us.

To be honest, the trip up until that point had been relatively peaceful. A few squalls and a storm or two, but nothing overly serious. The crew had been performing admirably, and the passengers had learned ways to be helpful or, at the very least, to successfully stay out of the way. A few days of rest for morale and to allow the officers to retake our bearings kept any minor difficulties from becoming more than that. And then, we came upon The Storm.

I have sailed these seas for most of my life, and weathered many a hurricane, but this… This was something more. Even as it sucked the wind from our sails, it dragged us inexorably toward it. A vast wall of dark and ominous clouds that stretched across the horizon in a lightning-lit mass of inescapable doom. My crew did its best to prepare the ship for when he storm hit, but their best would prove far too little.

Three days. Three days we spent tossed about like a child’s plaything as the waves crashed over us and the winds tore at the rigging. Most of the passengers clung to their bunks in terror and sickness, but those few who had proven themselves before did what they could to aid us in our battle against the elements. I lost four good men and a mast to the storm despite the aid these men offered, and feel the cost would have been much steeper without that aid. Finally, we broke free of the hurricane’s grip and limped into the eye of the storm.

An island awaited us there. A small and unassuming place crowned with a steep-sided, low-topped mountain. The adventurers took the ship’s boat ashore while the crew and I ascertained the damage to the ship. As we begin to work on repairing that damage, we await the return of our wayward passengers. I do not look forward to facing the storm again as we leave. I pray to whatever gods might look down upon this place that those adventurers find something on this island to aid us…

From the journals of Beriana Elorelen:

…and this is what they found. The gnome, Daziel, was first ashore and he used his innate gifts to listen to the stones. The island spoke first of centuries spent in peaceful tranquility, floating in a starry sea about a blue-green orb teeming with life. Tranquility was shattered with the death of a god that tore the moon asunder and sent this piece of it screaming in fiery anguish toward the planet below. The magics infused within the stones kept them afloat when they came to rest in the sea, and those same magics stirred the air about them until the great storm grew into an unceasing maelstrom. And then the stones spoke to Daziel of a cleft in the mountain, and it was with this information that he returned to his friends.

The group journeyed upward to the cave and entered the cool darkness within. It quickly became obvious to those of them who had spent time underground that, while the opening was natural, the tunnels hey found were the result of mining. Mining that was still going on, as their ears soon told them. Following the sounds, the group came upon scores of small automatons digging and slicing through the mountains interior. These creatures, as Zazumet attempted to explain to me later, were similar in scope to the clockwork creations some magi and learned scholars worked with, but were much more advanced. Zazumet was fascinated by them, though the creatures ignored the group, except to move around the humanoids as the mining continued.

Continuing deeper, the companions came upon more of the automated miners who continued to ignore them. Finally, the companions came to a vast metal bridge that led over a vast chasm. Crossing the bridge, they entered a chamber dominated by a massive glowing dais. It was Zazumet who fearlessly stepped upon the dais and instantly vanished. Zane and Mournwyn, the two most learned in the arcane arts, conferred with one another and determined that their friend had been teleported by the glowing disc. The group stepped up and were magically reunited with their more impulsive friend. They found themselves in another large chamber, this one looking more like a finished room than a semi-natural cavern. Hallways led off from the chamber, one on each side of the square room. As they currently faced the west-ward hall, they journeyed down this first and came to a door guarded by two more automatons. These ones were humanoid in appearance and they took on a defensive stance as the adventurers approached. Attempts to communicate were met with silence, and the automatons attacked as the groups moved within ten feet of the door.

The battle was fierce, but swift, and the door stood unguarded. Daziel and Zane worked together to unlock the door and it swung open. On the other side was a small room, empty save for a small glowing ball hovering in the center. It quickly became apparent that the sphere had some form of sentience, though communication proved difficult. It was Mournwyn’s bodyguard Talars’argt who solved the problem, carving the common alphabet into the chamber wall. The sphere moved from letter to letter, spelling out what it needed to communicate. It claimed that it was the divine essence of Verina, a minor demigod from the Third Age. Verina desired to be reunited with her body, but was unable to do so in her current form and asked for the group’s aid. There was some debate amongst them, but in the end they agreed to help her. Zazumet repaired one of the automatons enough for Verina’s essence to inhabit. This allowed her to travel with them and to communicate a bit more easily once provided with quill and parchment.

Verina led them across the great chamber they had first been teleported to, and down the east-ward hall. Two more guards stood in their way, but Verina’s essence was able to make them stand aside. She led them to a door, in which there were eight empty recesses. The group had passed eight doors on their way to this one, and it was explained to them that each of the chambers beyond held a “keystone” that, together, would unlock the door she needed. Unfortunately, the doors were sealed against her.

The first room was one with a vaulted ceiling, columns lining the way up to a raised platform upon which the keystone could be seen. Two more of the humanoid automatons stood guard here, though these proved to be much stronger than the ones they had battled previously. The fight was complicated by the fact that the columns were warded. Any who got too close set off the blast sigils hidden upon the column’s surface. Eventually, the group was victorious and collected the keystone, and headed to the next room.

Zane was first to enter and, as Zazumet had been, was teleported elsewhere. He spoke later of a vast nothingness stretching on forever. As he floated within the nothing, his thoughts turned to hunger, and the food of which he thought appeared in his hand. As he watched the nothing changed to include the elements for creating the food as well. Understanding dawned, and Zane thought of the keystone, conjuring it into his hand. He next thought of the chamber he had entered before his teleportation, and he was returned safely to that chamber. Pocketing the second stone, the group moved to the third chamber.

It was Mournwyn and Talars’argt who entered this room, and they spoke of a chamber that showed them possible futures for them both. When I pressed them for details, both remained close-lipped, save to say that the stone was recovered and they moved to the next room, which was a well-appointed salon. In the middle of the room was a lyre that played, as I was told, the “sweetest, most poignant music one had ever heard”. Several of the group fell sway to the music’s spell and stood in rapt fascination. It was Tolfgar, for whom music is much a part of his passion, who touched the lyre and silenced it as they recovered the fourth stone. He kept it, and let me listen to the briefest of its tune. For a moment I was swept away by the instrument’s enchantment, and was left with a longing to someday have the ability to create an approximation of its tune myself.

The fifth room contained two invisible columns that rotated counter to one another around the small table that held the stone. Occasionally, and very briefly, opening in the columns would align. Through a creative mix of minor magics, the group was able to make this gap visible and retrieve the stone through it. The next stone was hidden amongst layered illusions. As soon as one illusion was defeated, another was seen in its place. Eventually, all of the illusions were found false, and the true stone collected. Which brought them to the seventh stone.

Tolfgar was first through the door, and disappeared as soon as he passed the threshold. The rest of the group looked upon a vast necropolis, teeming with skeletal undead. As they began to fight the divinely bolstered skeletons, they were given the sure knowledge that they had a short time to find not just the stone, but Tolfgar as well, who was now buried alive somewhere in the cemetery. Tolfgar, never one to wait for salvation and finding that the stone shared the coffin he now inhabited, began the slow work of digging himself out. Even separated, the companions were able to work together, and Tolfgar was unburied with plenty of air left in his lungs. Fighting their way back to the door, the party moved to the eighth and final door.

The door opened onto an empty chamber, except for the stone lying on a raised plinth at the far end of the room. Their first attempt to collect it failed, as the minor magics they had used previously failed to collect the stone this time. Even when one of the group entered the room they could not seem to get any closer. Only when all of them had entered the room did something happen. Thick vines and thorny brambles broke through the floor, entangling them all and digging painfully into their legs. All of them struggled to reach the stone with varying degrees of success, but it was the eidolon Zero who successfully tore through the entanglements to collect the stone. As soon as he touched it, the vines and brambles retracted themselves.

With all the keystones collected and placed in the recessed niches upon the doorway they had first approached, a small key appeared in the center of the door and turned. Inside was nothing more than a large circle drawn upon the floor. Verina stepped inside the circle and bade the others to join her. For a moment nothing happened, though Daziel swears to me that he heard a voice on the wind. A soft, feminine voice that spoke just two words: “I wish”. Whether the others heard this or not, I have not asked, but all agree that there was a blinding flash of light and that, when they could see again, they stood at the peak of the mountain inside an open-air temple. From the shelf of rock where they stood, a rocky bridge jutted across a vast pit to another shelf of rock. The pit did not look down into the mountain, however. Instead, one side was filled with purest positive energy while the other roiled with darkest negative energy…openings to those most primal if the elemental planes.

Verina crossed the bridge with the others in her wake, and the guardians who stood there moved aside for her. Beyond them stood her body. It appeared to be another automaton, though much more glorious and beautiful to behold. Verina’s essence left the vessel it had been using and flowed into its true home. There was a moment of silence, then a silent explosion that left them all stunned as those primal forces they had just passed over erupted around and through them. The explosion lasted forever, and was over in a second. When it was done, Verina stood before them returned to her divine glory.

She thanked them all for their aid, offering boons as payment, including repairs to the Araen Horizon and safe passage through the storm. With a final hint, or possibly warning, that touching the divine as they had would leave them changed, she returned them all to the ship where the captain and I both listened to their tale. The captain shook his head in disbelief and made to set sail from that place as soon as possible. Even in his disbelief, however, there was a hint of deference to the heroes that hadn’t been there even a day before. I can understand this, for though they have not outwardly seemed to change, there is something…different. Something more. And it makes me very, very glad to have come on this journey with them.

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The Mad Mage's Tower
Penned by Beriana Elorelen, as told by Those who Made the Journey

For two centuries and more it had stood, a column of black stone forty feet around and rising seventy-five feet from a small rocky island a hundred miles out to sea. Atop the tower, a globe of brilliant light that gleamed brightly even in full daylight. In all that time, the edifice known as Finnegan’s Tower, or more commonly The Mad Mage’s Tower, had held it’s secrets. None had managed to enter the forbidding lighthouse. Until now.

There were six of them, a group of adventurers newly met and not yet fully familiar with one another. A disparate group, even amongst so eclectic a community as those who adventure. Three of them hailed for the World Below, and should have been enemies. Yet they dealt cordially with one another. Of the three surface-dwellers, all hailed from the fringes of society, albeit in very different ways. By all accounts they should have kept to themselves, but even so, they were comfortable enough after the successful battle against Captain Fieri’s pirates, that they welcomed each other’s skills in the attempt to enter the Tower.

The deep gnome Daziel and the half-elf Zane worked together to find the door, and carefully disarmed the traps they found there. But it was not they who would open the way. That feat was accomplished by Talars’argt the dark elf, through a clever use of innate magics. As the tower door slid open with the grating sound of stone moving against stone, the group paused and gazed into the darkness beyond. Then, carefully, they entered. A sigil scribed on the floor flared to life as they crossed the threshold, bathing the chamber in the cold blue-white light of arcane illumination. A small desk, with a open book upon it stood to their left, while to their right was a bookshelf laden with unknown tomes. Ahead of them stood the staircase that would lead them higher into the tower.

Desk and shelf were per used, and the books found there pocketed, before their attention was turned to the staircase and the complex trap that barred the way up. A mix of clockwork mechanics and modified arcane spells, the trap nearly spelled the end of the exploration before it had even begun. Finally, through the cooperation of several members (including the eidolon Zero), the clockworks were jammed and the group ascended to the second level.
The second chamber seemed to be a mage’s lab,or workshop of some sort. Again, a desk with an open book was a main feature of the room. Across from the desk, on the opposite wall, stood a rack of weaponry, most of which was formed from various exotic materials. The room’s most notable feature, however, was the humanoid skeleton directly across from the stairwell. The bones rested on a table, and careful examination determined them to be the remains of a human female. But who she might have been remained a mystery. Nothing remained to provide clues… Or so it seemed.

The Firaliesti mage-priest, Mournwyn, working with Zane, puzzled aloud about the magics contained in the two open books they had found. The books appeared to be empty of words, but pulsed with a strong aura of illusion magics. Mournwyn seemed ready to test a theory in regards to these books, but was pre-empted by his bodyguard, Talars’argt. The warrior plunged a quill into his flesh and placed the bloodied tip to the blank page of one of the books. Immediately, the pages filled with words, and the group was surrounded by scenes from Finnegan’s life playing out around them. The full text of these scenes, I have scribed elsewhere, but the crux of the tale follows here.

Finnegan was an adventuring Magus who lived and travel roughly 250 years ago. During one of his last adventures, he and his companions delved deep into a dungeon complex to defeat a creature of unknown origin, whose evil depredations threatened a great many people. The creature was aided by, or was in possession of, a sentient crystal of immense power. During the climactic battle against the creature, two of Finnegan’s companions had their souls consumed by the crystal. After the creature was defeated, Finnegan was able to convince his remaining companions to let him study the crystal in the hopes of freeing their friends. This proved to be a mistake. Relatively weak-willed despite his arcane prowess, Finnegan soon fell under the sway of the crystal. More and more of his actions were corrupted by the thing’s destructive nature. In return for his service, Finnegan was granted extensive arcane power. Some of the feats he proved capable of had never been seen before, and have never since been replicated. Drunk on his new-found abilities, Finnegan never questioned the small, seductive voice that whispered increasingly depraved acts into his inner ear. All of this changed when his own actions caused the death of the woman he loved, and the consumption of her soul by the crystal. Though Finnegan found himself falling more and more under the crystal’s sway, he used his few moments of personal freedom and lucidity to research a way to ultimately destroy the crystal. Being a Magus, Finnegan used his combined knowledge of weaponcraft and the arcane arts to forge a sword of very specific materials. He then attempted to destroy the thing that had slowly and systematically been destroying him. In this, he failed.

Though Finnegan’s body had long since crumbled to dust and broken bone, the sword he had crafted lay whole and undisturbed in the chamber housing the crystal until found by the modern adventurers who had breached Finnegan’s tower. As they ascended higher, some of them were disturbed by the crystal’s voice attempting to corrupt and claim them. Mournwyn, perhaps because of his life in the Machiavellian Firaliesti society, was able to completely ignore the voice and barely acknowledged it. Zane listened to the promises of power and glory, but shrugged them off as no better than what he had already left behind. Zazumet was protected from the crystal’s seductions, as the eidolon Zero used some small level of planar connection to block the whispered transmissions.

Finally, it was Tolfgar who heard the silent voice. For a brief time, the Northman stood before the crystal and considered what it offered. And then the crystal overreached, promising a crown to a man with considerable loyalty to his monarch. With a roar of rage, Tolfgar attacked, the blade of his axe glancing off the crystal’s hard surface. In response, the crystal took on a large humanoid form and slammed it’s fists into Tolfgar, greatly wounding the barbarian. The rest of the group jumped into the fight, but their attacks proved largely ineffective. Grabbing Finnegan’s blade from the floor, Tolfgar slammed it into the crystal. He was rewarded for his efforts as the sword bit deep. Again, the crystal hammered Tolfgar, driving him to his knees. Only his rage kept him from succumbing, and that not for much longer. Tolfgar, sensing his impending doom, tossed Finnegan’s sword to Talars’argt. As soon as the bodyguard caught the blade, Mournwyn enlarged him, allowing the masked warrior to meet the crystal on a more equal footing. A step…a swing…the now massive longsword crashed into the crystal once…then again…

With the second hit, the crystal exploded. The souls it had trapped within itself for so long were released in a cacophony of anguished screams and sighs of relief. And then it was over. Tolfgar collapsed to the floor as his rage subsided, kept alive by the quick healing provided by others. The threat over, the group ascended to the roof and beheld the tower’s beacon. No longer lit, they could see that the beacon was a huge crystalline sphere, crafted to painstakingly exacting detail. A small amount of experimentation proved that certain spells were greatly augmented when cast upon the sphere, and it was not long before a simple light spell allowed the tower to resume its purpose as a lighthouse. Their curiosity satisfied, and with a sense of some accomplishment, the group returned to the Araen Horizon for a well-deserved rest.

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Battle at the Dragontomb Isles
Wherein the Journey commences and Adventure ensues

Araen Horizon Captain’s Log

15 Midyar, 30 A.F.
The day of our journey is upon us. I must admit, even if just to myself, that my heart sings with equal parts excitement and trepidation. That is true of any ship’s maiden voyage, but especially true of this one. While she may not look like much, and she does not have most of the magical accoutrements available to North Island, the Araen Horizon is as fine a ship as I have ever sailed on. She has been purpose built from the keel up for this voyage in particular, and while she may not be the fastest nor the prettiest boat in the fleet, she is by far the sturdiest. If I am mad enough to sail off the map into uncharted seas, I can think of no other vessel that I would rather do so aboard. The Horizon will keep sailing strong long after most vessels would have sunk beneath the waves, and that is a trait I would not trade for any other. Her crew is just as sturdy as she is. Given free reign in choosing my crew, I took full advantage. Not a soul aboard is unknown to me, and all have spent countless days sailing the northern seas. I know not what sort of waters await us, but Nordland’s north coast is a brutal and unforgiving place, and a better school to prepare for the unknown I cannot imagine.

The passengers concern me a bit more, I admit. If I am to take this journey, I would rather have done so without landlubbers and would-be adventurers aboard. Alas, the choice was not mine and so I will make the best of it. There are those amongst the passengers who have skills I can use, and I will shamelessly utilize every iota of what is available. The rest of them will hopefully have enough sense to stay out of the way.

The early tide has risen, and my Mate tells me all is ready. A few words to all aboard, and then we are ready to cast off. In two days time, we arrive at the Dragontomb Isles. Past that, we leave the known lands behind and put ourselves in the hands of the gods.

16 Midyar, 30 A.F.
All is well. The first day of the journey has passed without incident, save a few of the passengers chumming the wake with the contents of their stomachs. Always good for a chuckle, that. But even the worst of them is determined to get their sea legs under them, and that is all to the good.

I have spoken with several of the passengers, regarding service while aboard the Horizon of one sort or another. Most seemed amenable to the idea, though the motivations were as varied as the people I spoke with. The gnome with the head full of ideas unnerves me a bit, but Haroun assures me those ideas are sound. The weapons are his to care for, anyway, so I will hold my judgement (and my tongue) unless a problem arises. The Firaliesti also raise some concerns, but their kind can usually be bribed or bargained with. So long as they remember who commands here, I see no problem.

The Volkman was a nice surprise. If there is a group of humans that come close to matching us Wavebreakers on the water, it is the Drachenvolk. So long as we can keep him from becoming too bored, and so long as we can channel his wilder inclinations constructively, he will be a valuable asset aboard ship. The rest of those I spoke to, as well as several I did not, do not seem to present any problems. It is early yet, I realize, but so far things seem well.

17 Midyar, 30 A.F.
Gods-damned pirates. We approached the Dragontombs with the morning sun, which served us well, for sharp eyes on my ship spotted them scant moments before they spotted us. They came at us around the southern shore of Finnegan’s Island, flying Melchior’s flag, with sails painted like the flames of hell. The Isles provide little room for maneuver, which is why pirates like to prey amongst them, so it was not long before broadsides of ballista bolts were flying. Ours bit deeper, but their were more numerous, so it was difficult to say who held the advantage in that respect. Hits were scored on both sides. Nothing dire, but enough to delay us a few days whilst repairs were made.

With no warning, the enemy vessel ceased maneuvers and began sailing in a straight line. I was too busy shouting commands to notice, but one of the crew tells me a passenger cast some sort of spell that brought low the enemy helmsmen. Neither the crewmember nor I are spellcasters by any means, so the specifics escape me, but it was a boon in our favor as it gave us some momentum in the engagement. The crewmember was unable to tell me who exactly cast the spell, so I will have to keep an eye out. Another spellcaster aboard is always a useful thing.

With their ship out of the fight, the pirates waited until we got close and let loose with boarding hooks, dragging the two vessels together. From there, chaos erupted, with members of both crews boarding each other’s ship in a free-for-all melee. It was here that at least some of my passengers proved their worth. Six of them, especially, supported one another with an eye for tactics and teamwork. While it was clear that they were fighting separately, by and large, it was also clear that they all had an understanding of the battlefield and a willingness to back up their co-combatants. Other groups and individuals also proved themselves handy. The old man and his dog kept any pirates from even getting close to the command deck, while the four I had dismissed as aristocratic poseurs proved to have a modicum of ability at least. But it was those six who truly turned the tide, concentrating their efforts on the pirate captain and neutralizing him quite effectively. Two gnomes, a half-elf, a Volksman barbarian, a Firaliesti noble and his bodyguard. Who would have thought?

After the fight, the half-elf (Zane, by name) brought me the enemy vessel’s logbooks. They confirmed what I had suspected upon seeing the flag and the sails. Th ship was the Flames of Judgement, captained by Broderick Fieri. Late of the Taren’Vel navy, Fieri turned to piracy after the successful revolution in that country five years ago. Since then, he had preyed upon ships along the Araen coast of Navanaith and Elvedon. He was wanted by all three governments, and it would be a happy day for all to learn he was no longer a threat. My only concern now was who to collect the reward from. I have plenty of time to think on that, however, as it will be some time before we return to friendly shores. Zane also turned over some charts marking sites that were safe for Fieri to dock. Also valuable information, when the time comes.

The Horizon having taken some damage during the battle, we put in at Finnegan’s Island to assess the damage and make repairs. We salvaged what was needed, as well as extra food and fresh water, from the Judgement before setting her afire and scuttling her. I paid Zane and his five associates what I considered a just reward for their admittedly valuable assistance. None of them argued, so I can only assume they were happy with what was paid. The Firaliesti noble, going by the name Mournwyn, wished to explore the island a bit while repairs were being made, and the others seemed willing to accompany him. While I do not know if they will find anything of note, I was happy to let them use the ship’s boat to make landfall.

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The Sea Snakes
Prelude 1b: Daziel, Tolfgar, and Zazumet

From the Journal of Beriana Elorelen:

After their adventure in the Sea Hag’s Lair, my new friends Daziel, Zazumet, and Tolfgar spent the following morning going through the treasure they had obtained during their recent battles. Money and items were divvied up between them, and a pile of items to sell was set aside. It was determined that Tolfgar would take care of the selling, as it was hoped (correctly) that his personal charm coupled with his imposing bulk would allow for a better return. Daziel, meanwhile, took a large portion of their coinage to a nearby exchange. He returned much less laden down with a nice pile of platinum to be distributed. For his part, Zazumet spent the time working diligently on plans for what he described as a “steam-powered prosthesis”. He attempted to explain it to me while he worked, or, at least, he kept up a running commentary on his work while he sketched out plans and made numerous measurements. I must admit that the bulk of it went well over my head, though I found it all fascinating despite my lack of understanding.

When all had returned, the three left the Floating Gull and made their way to the local offices of North Island Trading Company. There, they met with the shipping company’s local factor, a dwarf by the name of Balar Darban. Presenting Balar with the location of the hag’s lair, they explained to him that the hag had been working with someone in town to waylay the ships that had gone missing and steal their cargo. A shipping schedule had been found in the creature’s lair, notating ships that had been taken as well as future ships that might have succumbed to the same fate. Balar was understandably distressed by this news, and requested that the trio look into the matter of who the hag’s local contact was. A fee was negotiated for their services, and the three returned to the tavern to plan their next move.

While this was going on, I had ensconced myself at my usual table, spreading my books and papers about me while I continued to work on what I hoped would be the first of many volumes pertaining to the voyage of the Araen Horizon. While I was quite distracted by this work, I could not help but notice as two Firaliesti walked in the door. Elves are common in Elvedon, of course, but dark elves much less so, and the two created quite a stir among the few patrons currently in the tavern. The innkeeper approached them and they presented him with their chits. I smiled gently as I realized that they, like my three friends, would be journeying with me aboard the Horizon. The two paid the extra coin for private chambers and headed up the stairs after the innkeep, while I returned my attention to my words. When my friends returned, I made certain to tell them of the new arrivals. They showed interest, especially Daziel, but were quite focused on the task at hand.

The three of them determined that whoever the hag had been working with, they were responsible for the rash of warehouse burglaries that had plagued the town lately. Tolfgar excused himself and spent some time moving through town, sifting truth from rumor and gathering as much information as he could about who might possibly be behind the crimes. One name kept coming up through it all: the Sea Snakes. The Sea Snakes were a small crew with ambitions of being bigger, led by a woman named Cindra Levan. If anyone had the temerity and resources to pull all this off, it was them. Armed with this information, Tolfgar returned to the tavern and relayed what he knew to the two gnomes. Daziel offered to go out after nightfall and scout out possible sites for the next burglary. His size and comfort in the dark were well suited to this task. It wasn’t long after he left that he returned, stating he had seen some suspicious activity at one of the warehouses.

The three headed out, but arrived too late to stop the burglary. Searching around, they discovered the corpse of the guard North Island had posted on the warehouse, as well as tracks from the wagon the thieves had used. They followed the tracks to another warehouse, this one well out of the way and near the northwest edge of town. Approaching as silently as possible, they were nevertheless spotted by an observant lookout. The lookout was spotted in turn as they went to warn the rest of the gang, and the trio moved quickly before they lost surprise. Finding a side door, they picked the lock and entered the building as silently as possible. Spotting one of the half-orcs he had seen earlier, Daziel reacted quickly with a shot from his crossbow. Battle was joined.

The half-orc, along with a second half-orc, waged battle on the ground floor, while from the balcony above, Cindra used her bardic abilities to inspire their actions and cast spells upon the trio. The fourth gang member, a young halfling woman, rained crossbow bolts down from her perch on the balcony. Despite this, the battle seemed to be going the trio’s way. The first half-orc was dispatched quickly, while Zazumet and his enlarged eidolon Zero moved to take care of the second man. Tolfgar and his hunting dog made their way up the stairs while Daziel exchanged fire with the gang’s sniper after using an alchemical weapon to deafen Cindra and weakening her performance somewhat. Cindra responded by causing Daziel to fall into a magical slumber, allowing the gang to recover somewhat. It was not to be enough, however. Zero dispatched his half-orc opponent easily, while Zazumet moved to wake Daziel. On the balcony, Tolfgar waded into melee with both Cindra and her sniper. Sensing herself on the losing side, Cindra made herself invisible and tried to flee as Tolfgar felled the halfling. With the others down, the trio (and Zero) were able to concentrate on cornering their invisible foe. Zero used his reach and his four arms to attack the area Cindra was thought to be in. Luck was with them, as one of the attacks found her and the rest of them attacked.

The Sea Snakes taken out, with the surviving three members unconscious and bound, the trio searched the rest of the warehouse. In an office on the balcony, they discovered a halfling by the name of Sollie Oldfallo, patiently waiting. He calmly explained that he was not a member of the gang, but was instead merely an intermediary from the nearby city of Port Eldritch, here to do business with Cindra and her fellows. His words were couched in vagaries, and half-truths, but it was clear that he was a member of the extensive thieves’ guild operating in and around that city. Cindra had planned to buy her way into the guild and set herself up as a satellite operation here in Sunset Bay. When the group moved to detain Sollie, he used a magical ring he wore to teleport his way to safety.

Gathering up the Sea Snakes, and loading them into the wagon the gang had used for its robberies, the trio returned to North Island’s offices. Finding Balar, they turned over the gang, along with the location of the stolen goods. Grateful for their assistance in the matter, Balar happily provided the three of them with their fee. They then returned to the Floating Gull, where they eagerly regaled me with tales of their latest exploits. For my part, I was happy to hear all about it, as well as happy to be able to tell them that news had arrived from the docks. The Araen Horizon would be setting sail in less than a week. Buoyed by this information, my friends took advantage of their new wealth, and the time they had, to outfit themselves for the trip. Zazumet also spend a few days creating the prosthetic he had drafted and giving it to the sailor who he had crafted it for. While the sailor was delighted to have a new and much improved false leg, I believe he may have been a bit dumb-founded by some of the features Zazumet had built into it. I have no doubt, however, that he will earn to appreciate the inventiveness that went into it, given time.

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Arrival at Miner's March
Prelude 2b: Quarsith and Talars'argt

Report on the capture of the Orc, Arkus, as recorded by Guard Captain Stephan Simcoe:

The following dissertation of events was arrived at via interviews with the prisoner Arkus, and with Miss Kaia Dargie, a local hedge witch of outstanding reputation.

Some weeks ago, the town of Miner’s March began seeing a rise in animal predations on some of the citizenry. Specifically, there was a large number of mountain lion attacks on individual miners returning to town in the twilight hours. I and several of my guards searched the areas around the attacks but were unable to track the cats back to their lair. The tracks inevitably disappeared higher in the hills as the ground became rockier. The miners began traveling to and from the mines in larger groups, which seemed to lessen the attacks for a bit. However, the mountain lions grew bolder and there were a few attacks on isolated homesteads on the edge of town.

While the guards and myself focused on mundane means of finding a solution to this ongoing problem, Kaia Dargie took it upon herself to seek them out via magical means. Miss Dargie has a way of communicating with wildlife, and she used this ability to speak with the local animals. Through this method, she was able to learn that the lions were not operating on natural instinct, but were being led by someone, or something. She was also able to gain a better idea of where the mountain lions were lairing. She made the unfortunate decision to seek out more information personally before bringing her findings to the town guard.

While hiking in the hills, looking for clues as to who was commanding the cats, Kaia was attacked by the very creatures she sought. By her own account, she fought well, but Kaia’s arts lie in healing, not hurting. Before long, she was unconscious and left for dead. The cats and their Lord left her bleeding, food for the scavengers. Through sheer force of will, Kaia retained consciousness long enough to drag herself into some nearby bushes, and stabilize herself, but her senses left her after that. In all probability, she would have died on that hillside were it not for the chance appearance of two Firaliesti travelers.

The leader of the pair, Quarsith Mournwyn by name, healed Kaia enough for her to wake and explain both what had happened to her, and why she was there in the first place. While the other Firaliesti, Talars’argt, was understandably not eager to do so, the two agreed to take some time to search for the mountain lions and their master. They accompanied Kaia back to her house safely, then returned to the hills in pursuit of her attackers. It took some time, and no small amount of luck, but Firaliesti are far more used to the dark than are we humans, and this comfort with the night allowed them to search longer and farther, eventually finding the animals’ lair.

Approaching the lair, the two were set upon by three cats, one a bit larger than the other two. That one hung back while the other two darted in and out, biting and scratching at the two elves. Talars’argt skillfully kept himself between Quarsith and their attackers, taking the brunt of the cats’ anger. At some point during the battle, the third mountain lion was angered enough to reveal himself as a wild-shaped Druid, later revealed to be the Orc we now know is called Arkus. One of the few survivors of the Bloody Fang tribe, Arkus blamed the people of Miner’s March for the destruction of his people, despite the fact that the orcs had clearly been the aggressors in the attacks leading to the tribe’s decimation ten years ago.

Arkus and his companions retreated to a nearby cave, followed by Talars’argt and Quarsith. From what I can gather, the battle was quite heated, and Arkus was nearly victorious before ultimately falling to the Firaliesti. They bound the unconscious Orc and returned to Kaia’s home, where they rested and healed before brining Arkus to the town jail the following morning. It was at this time that reward was discussed and dispensed. The two spent a few days here in town gathering up supplies for their continued journey. I brought to their attention the Baron’s current expedition project, and loaned them horses to take them to Sunset Bay when they expressed some interest.

It is my opinion that with the capture of Arkus, the attacks on the town will cease. The Orc will be held in captivity until the next time the baronial magistrate visits, at which time Arkus will be tried for his crimes against our town. The two Firaliesti stated that they were sole travelers, and that the dark elves had no designs on moving closer toward Miner’s March. While I believe their words to be true, I am also recommending that further surveillance, and continued surveillance be placed upon the caves they arrived from. A little caution is never a bad thing, after all.

This concludes my report. As always, copies will be sent to the mayor, and to the baronial seat.

Signed: Stephan Simcoe, Captain of the Guard, Miner’s March, Barony of Storm Coast, Elvedon

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The Cold Caverns
Prelude 2a: Quarsith and Talars'argt

From the private documents of Dlvayth Mournwyn:

My grandson has left Olath’delmah, bound for a life on the surface. Eventually, his path takes him to Navanaith, to embroil him in what passes for politics there. Our surface cousins will not treat him kindly, I am certain, and to those of our kind who dwell in the sunlit lands, he will be simply one more tool. I have done what I can over the years to insure that this particular tool proves every bit as dangerous to those who would misuse it, as it is to their enemies. Now, it is up to him.

I cannot help but watch from afar for a bit longer, though. My scrying is subtle enough to go undetected thus far, and I will have to give up even this once he reaches the surface. My own machinations here at home can only go so far without me returning more of my attentions to them. Until then, however, I watch, and record. As always, I have warded these pages so that only I may read them. Should any hand but mine touch them, these papers will immolate. The perpetrator’s hand will blacken, and he will be marked to my eyes, so that I might know him and wreak further justice upon him. Or her, as is likely the case in our society.

So… My grandson.

Quarsith and Talars’argt, his guardian and constant companion, took their time with their preparations. They spent about a week gathering up what supplies they might need, and paying their respects to those they left behind. I met with Quarsith myself, though I will not record that meeting here. Suffice it to say that our farewells were cordial. During the week, he met with his step-sister, Syrinyae, as well as visiting the temple of Damion one last time. Both of these meetings were warded against eavesdropping, both magical and mundane, and thus what occurred there is unknown to me. The temple meeting does not bother me. It is right and proper for a young priest to visit the head of his order before undertaking a long journey. But Syrinyae… That one schemes like a Firaliesti Lady twice her age, and what was said between she and Quarsith away from prying ears concerns me somewhat. Perhaps I have left her alone for too long…or perhaps an accord can be reached between she and I for information. Ah, well…rumination for another time.

Their preparations complete, Quarsith and Talars’argt left the confines of Olath’delmah and journeyed down the tunnels that would lead them, eventually, to the surface. The first week of their travels passed uneventfully, and Quarsith passed the time by crafting poisons for his guardian to use. It was a way to make idle moments go quicker, but it was a pastime that would prove prescient when they did encounter trouble.

On the seventh day after leaving the city, the pair came to a section of cavern that was noticeably colder than what they had been traveling through. Proceeding cautiously, they reached a forking tunnel. Deciding to take the right-hand tunnel, they had only gone a short way when they both noticed a section of the cavern floor which had been weakened. Each tied the end of a rope about their waist, and Quarsith leapt safely over the weakened section. Talars’argt followed after, also arriving safely. His heavier armor shortened his jump just enough, however, for his heel to catch the weakened floor, causing it to crumble and crash into a spike-lined pit.

While the two were still recovering from Talars’argt’s near fall, small crossbow bolts shot out from the nearby wall. While Talars’argt searched for the secret door he knew had to be there, two white-scaled kobolds appeared in the tunnels to either side of them. Quarsith took one out of the fight with a well aimed web bolt, before concentrating his spells on the other. That one was dispatched in less than a minute. Meanwhile, Talars’argt had found the secret door, kicking it in and slaying a third kobold on the other side. The creature Quarsith had webbed broke free, and quickly fled. Searching the chamber beyond the hidden doorway, the two determined that they had stumbled upon the kobold’s home. They also found, among other treasures, a map of the surrounding caverns that showed further dangers ahead.

Seeing no real gain in slaughtering the remaining kobolds, but not wishing to be attacked from behind, the pair negotiated safe passage with the leader of the white-scaled band before traveling on. One of the warriors followed them at a safe distance to ensure there was no trickery on the Firaliesti’s part. A little further on, the two came to a side cavern that radiated even more cold. From this cavern burst a pair of ghouls, one of which charged. Talars’argt quickly placed himself between Quarsith and the creature, taking the brunt of the attack. The ghouls hit and faded back a bit, attempting to lure the two elves deeper into their cavern, but Talars’argt would not be moved. As he slew the second ghoul, a third charged out of the darkness, but it too was quickly dispatched. Only when safety returned did Quarsith and his guardian enter the chilly cave. The walls were spotted with brown mold, which explained the icy air in this cavern especially. Finding three skeletons, presumably Firaliesti lost some time ago, they gathered together what gear and treasure they found and continued on their journey.

In short order, Quarsith and Talars’argt arrived at a lake. Ice floes floated over the surface, nudging against rocky islands dotting the lake. Wood planking bridges from island to island indicated that at some point, at least, this region saw use as a byway. As they moved toward one of the bridges, movement drew their attention. A large ice troll rose from where it rested, lumbering toward them. Quarsith levitated the bridge out of reach, and they peppered the troll with crossbow bolts. As it got closer, Quarsith enlarged Talars’argt. Across a stream of icy water, the warrior and the troll exchanged blows. As Talars’argt’s sword sliced into the troll’s flesh, the poison coating the blade took effect. The troll staggered and fell unconscious. Talars’argt stepped forward, hacking the troll to bits. While Quarsith took inventory of the treasure found in the creature’s lair, Talars’argt lit the pieces of troll on fire, let them burn, and tossed the scorched pieces throughout the lake. The two moved on and soon enough left the cold caverns behind them.

The rest of their journey to the surface proved uneventful. Even now, they move to higher tunnels. In the next day or two, they will reach the sunlit lands and my scrutiny of them will end. I have faith now that my grandson is well equipped to deal with whatever comes, and that his guardian will do everything in his power to keep his charge safe from harm. My agents in Navanaith will tell me when he arrives there. Until then, his life is his own.

With the troll and the ghouls gone, the white-scaled kobolds now control that entire stretch of tunnels. They are far enough away, and a small enough group currently, that I have no concern for our city’s security. And even were that not true, they are only kobolds, and easily dealt with. However… The brown mold in the area might be useful in any number of arcane experiments. And having a friendly tribe guarding our borders is never a bad thing. The actions of Quarsith and Talars’argt have fostered a certain amount of good will with these particular kobolds. Perhaps I should pay them a visit, and further that good will in the name of House Mournwyn. Something to think on, at any rate. For now, the hour is late, and my bedchamber calls.

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The Sea Hag's Lair
Prelude 1a: Daziel, Tolfgar, and Zazumet

From the Journal of Beriana Elorelen:

I arrived in Sunset Bay a short time ago, ready and eager to begin the adventure of a lifetime. To sail beyond the Dragontomb Isles, to go over the horizon and off the edge of the map… These are the things that the greatest of sagas are built on! So, it was with a little trepidation that I approached the bellicose young woman overseeing the loading of supplies aboard the Araen Horizon.

Ah, the Horizon! I have spent many an hour down at the docks of Elvedon City, and rarely have I seen so fine a vessel. Sturdily built to withstand the harshest storm, yet her lines still spoke of speed and agility. Even furled, her twin sails seemed to surge with each breath of wind. She sat at her pier, every bit as eager as I, like a racehorse pushing at the gate before the horn sounds and the race begins. If I was to tie my fate to that of a vessel, I could think of no finer a ship to carry me to that fate.

Back to the yelling woman. She was young, a few years older than myself, but moved with a grace and confidence that I could only hope to achieve in so short a time. Her tanned skin and windblown hair coupled with that grace to give her an attractive exoticness amongst the paler folk of northern Elvedon. Her strong voice carried easily over the crowd and the waves, her orders given with a brisk efficiency that spoke volumes of her experience. She glanced at me as I approached, and if she frowned, it was the expression of one loathe to be interrupted rather than unfriendliness. This, then, was my introduction to Marilynne Macauley, first mate aboard the Araen Horizon.

She took my name, gave me a small metal chit, and directed me to an inn dubbed the Floating Gull. I took my time getting to the inn, wandering the town and taking in the sites. Sunset Bay proved to be a somewhat quaint place compared to Elvedon City. The entire town could have disappeared within one small district of the capital, of course. It had an industrious feel about it, an air of hard work and simple pleasures. Yet as I walked the streets and strolled the markets, I saw and heard the telltale signs of a thriving cultural center as well. Or, at least, the beginnings of one. Given time, Sunset Bay might rival the great trading cities. For now, though, it remained the fishing center it had always been. The people, for the most part, seemed friendly enough, if a bit plain spoken. These people valued truth and honesty, it seemed, and had little patience for the niceties and polite lies so common in the capital. It was somewhat refreshing, if just a little off-putting as well.

Eventually, I made my way to the Floating Gull and offered up my chit. The common room was clean enough, and I had certainly spent the night in worse. I did spend the extra silver for a better meal, however. Stew has never been my favorite meal. Once settled, I returned to the docks to spend some time just gazing out past the horizon, as well as studying the Araen Horizon. The words began to flow through my thoughts, and I returned to the inn to write.

This was my routine for the next few days. I spent the mornings down at the docks seeking inspiration, and returned to the inn for a meal and to write. And it was here that I met some of my traveling companions. I did not see them enter, engrossed as I was with my work. It wasn’t until one of them approached my table that I looked up. He was an interesting fellow…a cultured gnome who taught at the Queen’s Academy until recently. Zazumet, he introduced himself as, amongst the stream-of-consciousness words he spoke. I admit to some amusement, but not of the unkind variety. We spoke briefly of the upcoming voyage, and the mental faculties, or lack thereof, for those of us voluntarily undertaking it. His large companion, Tolfgar as I found out a bit later, moved with a wolf’s deadly poise and spoke with a northman’s gruffness. And yet… He carried poetry in his pocket. Clearly a man who was not to be judged solely on appearances. Lastly, there was a quiet gnome named Desmond Daziel. His wide eyes portrayed both a wariness and an innocence that seemed completely natural and unfeigned. He spoke little at this first meeting, but I do not despair. We have an entire ocean voyage to get to know one another, after all.

The three of them, though they had just met, seemed to come together nicely and fall into comfortable roles easily. They worked the room with ease, discussing rumors with the regulars and acting on the subsequent tips with alacrity. These were Adventurers, complete with the capital A, and I felt a slight tingle of excitement as I watched them plan. A tingle that blossomed into glee when they invited me along. I gathered together my papers and books, and followed them into the night.

We made our way down toward the docks and entered a tavern graced with the unfortunate name of the Salty Nomad. There was little to distinguish it from a hundred other such taverns in a hundred other port towns. It was dark and smoky, and smelt overwhelmingly of fish and cheap rum. Tolfgar bought us each a drink that was…quite intoxicating. What it lacked in taste, it more than made up for in potency. I regret to say that I lost a fair amount of the details for the rest of the night. I watched my three companions survey the room, before approaching an old fisherman arguing with his tablemates about a light he had seen some ways south of town, where there should be no lights. Zazumet and Daziel let Tolfgar do most of the talking, and the three determined to investigate the light the following night. Before retiring for the night they checked in with the proctor for North Island Trading, to ensure they were not stepping on any toes with their investigation. Given the Company’s blessing, the three returned to the Floating Gull and took to their beds. As did I.

The three left early, making their way south. Unfortunately, I was feeling the after effects of last night’s grog and was unable to accompany them. What I know of what follows, I got from them on their return. They arrived at their destination around twilight, and through the growing gloom, Daziel spotted a ship lodged against the rocks. Closer inspection showed it to be the Miser’s Purse, a merchant vessel expected in port a few days previously. Daziel made his way carefully over the rocks to peer inside the staved-in hull. The hold was empty, and the others made their way over to the ship’s side. Preparing to enter through the hole in the ship’s side, the adventurers spotted a draugr methodically chopping at the ship in an attempt to break it up as quickly and completely as possible. From their description, it seems that a draugr is a zombie-like undead creature, saturated with miasmic water and possessing at least some intelligence. There were several of these creatures aboard the Miser’s Purse, and battle was quickly joined. Zazumet’s eidolon, Zero, proved itself quite a combatant, and Tolfgar somewhat surprised his companions when he began a lyrical and inspirational chanting. Apparently, the barbarian carries poetry in his soul, as well as his pocket. After the creatures were dispatched, the three noticed a light glowing before a sea cave on the shore, roughly halfway up the cliff face there. Quietly making their way to the cave, Daziel snuck ahead and discovered the lair of a hideous sea hag. Returning to his friends, they concocted a plan to deal with the monstrous witch as quickly as possible. Zazumet provided his fellows with magically enhanced speed, and the fight was on. Daziel sprinted in first, his crossbow readied. His first bolt caught her full in the stomach, burying itself deep in her flesh. Daziel was already nocking a second bolt when the eidolon, Zero, rushed in. His arms stretched forward with the whir of unwinding clockworks, but the hag ducked and Zero’s claws swept vainly overhead. Her victory was short lived, however, as Tolfgar followed on Zero’s heels. His axe swept upward and out, biting deep into the creature’s throat and separating her head from her body. In a matter of seconds, the fight was over and the hag crumpled to the cave floor.

Searching the cave, the companions found a secret door that led to a larger cave, hidden well from outside view. In this location, they found the contents missing from the hold of the Miser’s Purse, as well as the contents from at least one other ship. A closer look at the hag’s possessions revealed several ship’s logs, as well as a shipping schedule, detailing when ships were due to arrive in Sunset Bay. Several of these ships, including the Purse, were marked off on the schedule. Clearly, the hag had been working with someone. Determined to find out more, the three returned to town. Though they were tired, I convinced them to enjoy a drink with me and recall the day’s events so that I might record them.

I look forward to seeing where else their investigation leads, and am confident that with such as these aboard, the Araen Horizon’s journey will be more than successful.

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