The Winds of Drif'Tara

The Adventure Log

What follows is the exact content of our D&D by email campaign. The players were kept in anonymity from one another, such that they interacted through there characters to other characters. Unfortunately, the project proved to be too time consuming, and has come to a rather abrupt end. We had a lot of fun, though, and I hope you enjoy the result.

Newer entries to the Adventure Log will be added to the bottom of the log, so that anyone can read the whole thing in order, from top to bottom. To manage this, the dates on the logs will be quite inaccurate, even down-right outrageous.

Current Battle Map

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Under The Great Pavilion
The adventure begins

Arriving at The Parade House at roughly the same time, each of you occupies one of the eight stools set in a semi-circle in front of the amphitheater, under The Great Pavilion, where The Host is currently dancing. As it is not quite sundown, your hosts have not yet arrived, so there is time for brief introductions. After, you each have a seat to watch The Host at his frenzied dance.

He is dressed all in white, baggy clothing with gold trimmings, with a beautiful golden amulet, and a delicate golden circlet. He is holding a beautiful golden baton, which he deftly moves about as he dances. Gold ribbons, eight in all, flow from his sleeves, pant legs, and the hair. At times, they seem to move contrary to what would be expected given the movements of his body, almost as if they were capable of exerting a will of their own. The Host takes no notice of you, and indeed seems to look through you, when his gaze seems pointed your way.

Behind him, in a semi-circle counter to the one in which the party sits, are 7 drummers and 1 flutist, playing the fast and excited tune to which he dances to, tirelessly and with unparalleled grace. He seems almost a manifestation of the music. It is truly jaw-dropping to watch.

Perhaps that is why some of you have failed to notice that the members of The Parade Council have entered. As one of them speaks, Jora and Rico give a jump, and Karl’s hand reflexively goes to his ranseur.

“Greetings,” she says, “thank you for coming.” She is a young woman, with long auburn hair, wearing an elegant golden yellow robe with brown and blue trimmings. “I am Adempha, scribe of The Parade Council.”

The music concludes as the council members step forward to stand before you, their backs to The Host, who seems to have taken no notice. Instead, he dances his way to a podium, retrieves a magnificent golden harp, and sits down to play, the music sweet and light.

“I’m sure you have many questions,” Adempha continues, “and I show now explain why we have called you here. The secrets I share with you now are known to very few, and we request your trust and discretion with the information you are given tonight.

As many suspect, this amazing parade is responsible for the peace our world has known for the past eight centuries. Under the direction of our great Host, its music has spread unending calm across the nations of Drif’Tara. I’m afraid, though, that that magic does have a limit. It is some years off, thankfully, but after The Parade’s 800th year, its magic will begin to fade, its music will grow quieter, and its followers shall disperse.

Fortunately, the mighty wizards that created The Parade’s magics were clever enough to design a way such that its power may be sustained, indefinitely, by the intervention of eight brave souls. You see, as The Parade spreads its magic, it is not lost, but rather, absorbed by the lands that it touches. We possess the knowledge, handed down throughout the ages, to re-claim that magic, and to channel it to renew The Parade.”

The Host’s song comes to an end. He returns the harp to its podium, and produces eight small crystal spheres, adorned with gold. The musicians begin a steady tune, some of the drummers producing flutes and stringed instruments. The Host beings to juggle the sphere, impossibly high and fast. In the wall behind him is a large crystal window, at the center of which is a large crest of gold stained glass. As each ball meets the golden light pouring through the crest, they give off an explosion of light, every possible color flashing against the canvas walls of The Great Pavilion. The effect is breathtaking.

That is where you come in. We’ve chosen you for various reasons. For your cunning,” she smiles at Jora, “your prowess in battle,” she puts a hand on Karl’s broad shoulder, “your connections”, she gives a small bow to Lady Dahlia, “and all of your many other collective talents. You eight represent the key to ensuring that The Parade marches on, and that Drif’Tara’s era of peace and prosperity continues for another 800 years!”

“Possibly.” a gruff, older man with short grey hair, wearing gold and red robes, says as he steps forward. “I am Karick, director of operations for The Council, and liaison to the various dwarven peoples. This is an important mission, and while it is true that we’ve got a good bit of time to accomplish it, we want to make sure that we have selected the right group for the job. You see, you represent a bit of a long shot. You were chosen because of your aptitude, but also because none of you have really made a name for yourselves. You’re relatively unknown. This will allow you to attract less notice as you go about your mission. The other side to that coin, though, is that this quest might be more than you can handle. In fact, some of us fully expect to be sending another, more accomplished, group, after you’ve all met your demise.”

He draws a glare from Adempha. “You needn’t be so crass, Karick.”

Karick only shrugs and continues. “To prove to us that your resourcefulness exceeds your inexperience, we’ve decided to give you a little test. Gren Noval is about 5 days ride from here. Wizard Tefus, master of the Southwestern tower keep, awaits you there with the rest of what you’ll need to complete your mission. Your task is to enter the city without attracting the notice of the guards, who will be looking for you, and to report to the elder wizard. Not so difficult a mission for some. We shall see how you lot fare.”

“I have every confidence that they shall succeed,” Adempha says giving you a warm smile after aiming a brief cold glare at Karick. “Now, do you have any questions?”

Adakias stands and offers a respectful bow. “Well met, Lady Adempha and Sir Karick! Pray tell me, will thou provide my fellow adventurers and I with horses for this quest?”

“Yes,” Adempha says. “Those of you without mounts will be provided them.”

“Perhaps you would provide us with a carriage? Or can that one with the robes wizard us there?” Lady Dahlia asks, indicating Rico.

Rico responds, saying “Thank you, but I do not possess that skill, nor would I prefer to use it, if given a choice.”

“You may accomplish your mission through magical means, if you so choose. As for your carriage, ‘M’lady’ will simply have to ride as the commoners do.” Karick says with a sneer.

Aelric gives Adempha a cautious look. “Why are the guards looking for us? Is what we’re about to do illegal in some way?”

Adempha smiles and says “Oh goodness no. They are merely helping us with the exercise.”

“How long do we have to complete our first task and does the Council plan to give us access to any resources to do so?” Raivik asks.

“This is a test of your own resourcefulness. Anything you need you will have to find on your own.” Karick answers, clearly annoyed.

“As far as time is concerned,” Adempha says, “you are to take all the time needed to complete your mission. We are in no great hurry. In fact, we have much to prepare, for when you return with your mission completed.”

“Where inside the city shall we meet Master Tefus?” Raivik asks.

“Tefus waits for you in the Southwestern tower keep. Once you’ve made your way into the city, present yourself there, and he will grant you an audience.” Adempha says.

“But we…” Karl begins, trailing off. He shifts his ranseur closer to his body, as a child might creep closer to a teddy bear, when confronted with a perplexing situation. His eyes shift to the floor, and he mutters quietly, ”...could do that if the city wasn’t protected by such deep magic.”

“You need only get past the guards at the gates and atop the walls. You needn’t worry about the wizards guarding the city, they have been instructed to pay you no mind.” Adempha says.

“But don’t get any bright ideas. You’ve been given clearance to enter the city, nothing more.” Karick adds.

After a moment Rico rises and begins pacing, though not very far. He wears a pensive look on his face. “You say the guards know to expect us. What have they been told, exactly. Have they been given our likenesses?”

Adempha nods. “They will know you upon sight.

“Would it be acceptable to ask others for assistance?” Glyra asks. “I must admit, I haven’t been to a city in years, my ways are that of nature, and I wouldn’t begin to know how to go about sneaking into one.”

“Yes.” Adempha replies, “This exercise is meant to simulate the conditions you will face upon your mission. We would expect you to seek out the help of others to complete it, so it is perfectly acceptable for you to do so now.”

“It is an honor to be selected for a task such as this, it is paramount that The Parade be maintained, and I accept the responsibility gladly.” Rico says. “I would ask only that we work together in this endeavor to help to ensure the success of the mission. If you have anything that might be helpful in completeing this mission, now or the future we are glad to accept help from those who seek such a noble pursuit.”

“By the time you’ve returned to us, you will be armed with what you need to complete your mission.” Adempha says. “Of course we’ll do everything we can to aid you in your mission.”

“Is this a test of the group or of us as individuals?” Lady Dahlia asks.

“Both,” Karick answers. “The former, mostly, as we expect some of you won’t survive the final trial, and will need to be replaced.” This earns him another disapproving look from Adempha.

“What is the significance of the number 8 to the Parade?” Rico asks. “I’ve noticed that there are 8 of us, there are 8 musicians on the stage, the host wears 8 ribbons, and the Parade has a lifetime of 800 years.”

“Very astute.” One of the other council members steps forward. A thin old man, with kind brown eyes, he is bald and has a very long beard. “I am Gelmore, First Mage of The Parade. Magic works in a variety of different ways. Some spells require exotic material components, others precise gestures and words spoken in forgotten tongues. Often the more powerful the spell, the more varied the form that the requirements to properly cast it become. The magic that created and sustains The Parade is among the most powerful this world has ever seen. None that now live fully understand the intricacies of the spell’s design. We would likely fail to grasp them, even if its creators were present to personally tutor us.

I cannot tell you exactly why the number 8 is so significant to the rituals involved in maintaining The Parade. But the theory most commonly accepted among the magical community is that the number 8 looks remarkably like the symbol for infinity. It is obvious that The Parade’s creators meant for it to go forever, for they put great effort into ensuring the spell can be renewed. They’ve documented the process well, and we have been most fortunate in that most of those documents survive to this day, that we may draw upon them in this most crucial time.”

“Others feel the number 8 is symbolic of The Parade’s never ending path around Drif’Tara.” Adempha adds. “While we certainly don’t travel in a figure-eight, we do often make broad arcs across the landscape, and we frequently cross over the path we’ve just taken. Of course, only The Host knows where we are headed, and why.”

“If the council already possesses the knowledge to reclaim the magic, why then are our services needed?” Raivik asks, gesturing to himself and the seven adventures around him.

“It is through you that we shall replenish The Parade. We must see to matters here.” Adempha says.

“And even if we didn’t, I doubt many of my fellow council members would last long on the open road, without the Aurora to protect them from the many dangers, and The Parade’s magic to lighten their steps under their considerable guts.” Karick adds, drawing a mix of angry and embarrassed looks from the other members council. He continues with a laugh “That’d be the sight. Lergon crossing the desserts of Sann’sola, Gelmore scaling Mar’g’hosh, and Adempha battling frost giants!”

“What dangers are there, that you should fear we would fail in this mission? Are there forces working counter to this mission that wish to see the magic fail and The Parade disperse?” Raivik asks.

“Your mission will take you all over,” Adempha says, “and while The Parade’s magic keeps the various nations of the world in peace, the dangers of this world are many. In desserts, volcanoes, and giants, Karick names but a tiny fraction. Dragons, liches, evil sorcerors, unpredictable seas, temptation, fatigue,, frustation. There is no telling what you will face, and I pray, for your sake, and that of The Parade, that you are equal to the challenges, as you come to them.

As to opposition, yes, it is a sad truth that there are those that wish to destroy or pollute the magic that we work so tirelessly to use for good. It is because of this that you must not reveal your mission, except to those we tell you you may trust, and to those you’ve learned to trust. And only then under the most dire circumstances. Anonymity will be your friend.”

Karick throws in, “Not to mention mediocrity.”

“If you expect to send another group after us, then I suppose you’re not that invested in our success. Why should we risk ourselves when you (who ask of us this task) risk nothing?” Aelric asks.

“On the contrary,” Gelmore replies, “your fates may well be our own. Should you fail in your mission, we will indeed be forced to send another group. But we will have lost time, a great deal of resources, and will likely have tipped our hand to our enemies. We will be much closer to losing The Parade, our most precious gift, and if that happens, the world will surely see war in a way that it has never seen before.”

Jora steps forward. “Alright, wait a second. I’ve seen this play before. A ragtag team of losers bands up to save world from impending magical crisis, etc etc. By Garl’s left nut, you’ve even got the part where we all go off on some little gimmicky adventure to “prove” ourselves. We all know how this play ends. Half of this rogue’s gallery is going to end up dead before their time, let’s not have any false pretenses on that regard. If this weren’t dangerous you wouldn’t have gone to this much trouble. I’m not saying I’m out, mind you, but before I agree to anything, we need to have a serious discussion about compensation, and I’m not just talking gold coins. You want my help on this fool’s errand, you’d best provide a fool’s reward. I’ll not make such a fool of myself for anything less.

Before we get to that, though, aren’t you forgetting another key piece of this briefing? What exactly is it that you need us to do? And none of this “Go sneak into Gren Noval first” malarkey, because I just came from there and I’m disinclined to spend a week going back for some ambiguous pissing contest. You’ve proven clever enough to get me here. Now figure out how to motivate me.”

She turns to face the host, and shouts “And all of this goes for you too, Twinkle-toes! I know you’re listening!”

The council members look about each other awkwardly. The pavilion goes silent. The musicians on stage stop playing. Even the sounds of The Parade outside seem muffled somehow. After a moment, a voice from the amphitheater, strong and confident, rings out.

“Tell them.”

The Host has stopped his juggling, his sphere hanging in the air where he left them. He leaps down off the stage and approaches the council. “They deserve to know.”

After another awkward pause, Adempha begins to speak. “We have not hidden the fact that your mission will be perilous. The sad truth is that we don’t expect you all to come back alive. I wish that I had the strength, or the cunning, or the power to take this cause up. It pains us greatly that we must endanger others to preserve the peace that we, ourselves, enjoy. But while the danger is great, the prize is greater still. Beyond measure, by most accounts.”

She stops, and Karick continues. “Immortality. That is your ‘fool’s reward’. Complete your mission, and we’ll see to it that for as long as The Parade lives, so shall you.”

“An amazing gift, to be sure, but one not without its costs.” The Host says. From the moment he stepped off of the stage, the amulet around his neck seemed to be of great burden to him. “Be certain you truly want the prize, before you claim it.”

With that, he springs back on stage. He plucks three notes on the harp, the musicians begin an exciting tune, and the spheres begin rotating, slowly at first, but rapidly gaining in speed. The two spheres that are high enough in the air practically exploding with multi-colored light. The spheres begin to hum, and a moment later, and seem to flatten out, eventually forming large rings. They cease their spinning, and start moving about the air, as The Host begins to leap about, tumbling and doing cartwheels and flips. After a moment, he leaps through one of the rings, jumping higher into the air than you’d think possible. He leaps through another, and then another. After jumping through the fourth ring, he catches another before he lands, and it carries him as it moves about. Swinging back and forth, he releases to fly through another ring, and latches on to yet another still.

He continues this amazing display of acrobatics, as Gelmore begins the conversation once more. “We offer no tricks, nor illusions. Once The Parade is restored, you may claim the prize, and are free to live as you choose. There are no strings attached, though of course you are free to return to The Parade at any time, and we shall provide you with anything you ever require. We shall be indebted to you, for all time, quite literally.

“Is that motivation enough for you?” Karick says, looking down at Jora. “As for the details of your mission, you’ll get them once you’ve completed the simple task we’ve laid out for you. If that’s not good enough for you, you’re free to go. There are a lot of smooth-talking gnomes in this world, and plenty of them would jump at the slightest chance of what we’re offering.”

“Now,” Adempha says, taking a deep breath, “do you have any more questions?”

Adakias steps forward. “Pray tell me good sirs and ladies, if we accept this gift of immortality, will we be stuck living as we choose in the confines of The Parade? I’ve heard enough stories of people accepting rewards of immortality that end with them wishing for death. My story is a great one and while the deed we set forth to accomplish is indeed a noble one, I don’t see it ending with me dancing for eternity, forced to travel with The Parade. I can speak for no one else, but I’d rather take a gigantic statue of myself rather than such an existence. Although, I would verily prefer living forever to perform other great deeds with my name spreading throughout the land!” With that, he sheepishly looks around and shuffles back to his seat.

Gelmore answers, “You will be free to leave and return to The Parade as you choose. Nothing shall keep you here, nor away. Physically, you shall be no different than before, with no more limitations nor capabilities as before. You shall merely persist, as long as the same is true of The Parade. The only between you is that The Parade shall sustain you, as you will have had sustained it. The prize is not a trick, nor a deception, of any sort, I assure you.”

“Do you mean to say that not even the Council of Yorv can fully understand the magic of the Parade?” Raivik asks. “But some say the Council even had a hand in The Parade’s creation, or do you fear that those who work against you have eyes and ears even among the Council? And if that is so, then how sure are you that we can trust Elder Tefus? No disrespect to the Elder or this Councils choice of friends but I have no wish to return to the ashes from whence I came just yet, especially not as a result of a mage’s lightning bolt.”

“Magic as complicated as the one that created The Parade is extremely complex, not to mention dangerous, if trifled with,” Gelmore says. “And a spell as unique as this one has many personal touches that only the creator would truly understand. But all that aside, the truth of the matter is that the wizards responsible for this wondrous enchantment were simply of the highest caliber. You speak truly, the Council of Yorv at that time had devised the spell, though it took many mages to implement it. Since there have only been two or three that have commanded power similar to that of those seven. Seven! Can you imagine what they were capable. I suppose you don’t have to, you have but to simply look around you!”

“And while your caution is wise, you may place your trust in Tefus’s hands.” Adempha says. “I have known him for many years, and he is as good-natured as he is likable.”

“Not that it matters much,” Karick adds. “If you had anything to fear from an elder wizard of the Council of Yorv, you’d have very little to say in the matter. You would not have to enter his tower for his lightning to find you.”

“Can I swap out this old breastplate for one with a little bit less rust?” Karl asks. “Not that the guard doesn’t issue good items, but I had to take a hand-me-down breastplate until one could be fitted for me due to my height. Maybe when we return from Gren Noval would the council see fit to upgrade this nice Ranseur to a magical Ranseur? Oh that would be so nice”.

Adempha looks like she’s about to cry. “You poor, brave young man. Complete your task, and I promise you, you shall have armor that fits you, if I have to assign The Parade’s own crafters to fit it for you!” She rubs at her eyes, briefly, before taking a sharp breath to focusing herself.

“Your reward truely is a fools, reward,” Rico says. “It is folly to seek such a thing, all roads must reach a destination, the road of life most of all. I will do your task, as you most likely expected, but as to your reward, well, only time will determine if such a thing shall be granted. To that end, it possible to get a more detailed map of the city?”

“Oh, sure,” Karick growls. “How about a key to the gates, while we’re at it? Look, it’s a simple task. We’re not asking you to slay a dragon or swallow a gryphon. You can either handle it, on your own, or you can’t. Breastplates and maps, honestly. I could have walked to Gren Noval and back by now!”

“Do you have any other questions for us? Or has Karick’s charm already led you to desert us?” Adempha asks.

Rico continues to pace, the pensive look returning to his face. “One last thing, I request that we might have a feast, for me and my new companions prior to our departure. So that we might toast a safe journey, and learn of one another so that we might better know each other should problems come our way.”

Adempha smiles. “When you leave here, you will notice a white tent not far from here with two guards posted out front. Inside there is a comfortable bed for all of you, and a table that will have hot food on it in about two hours. You probably wouldn’t call it a feast, but it should meet your needs. Take the time before the meal is ready to attend to any business you may have, as you will likely want to discuss your plans for infiltrating the city as you eat.”

“Well, if you will provide me with a horse,” Aelric says, gesturing to the council, “I will be on my way in the morning. Anyone who wishes is welcome to ride with me, though I don’t know how much good I’ll be at getting past the guards. It’s probably a good idea for us to travel together initially so we can learn to work together and use our skills optimally. Maybe have some good team-building exercises!”

Adempha’s beams. “That’s the spirit! Yes, you’ll need to work together for this task. Whatever you come up with, be sure that you do it together. The exercise is designed to test the way you work as a group. Beyond that, you may complete the task any way you choose, save for harming the guards, this is, after all, a mission of peace.

Oh, and that reminds me. You need only escape the notice of the guards while entering the city. Once you’ve successfully made your way in without detection, you will have completed the task. You need not sneak your way to the tower, you may walk the streets freely. You might even visit a shop or two, while there. Tefus is a patient man, you don’t become an elder wizard on the Council of Yorv, otherwise.

Good luck on this task. I have full confidence that you will perform it with grace, all acting as one. The quest to come shall be far more difficult, and a great deal longer, though the reward, as you now know, is well worth it.”

“Rewards are unnecessary; I will undertake this quest for the good of the common folk.” Lady Dahlia says. “And a new city and a new adventure call for some new clothes! I’m off to the tailor and perhaps the hairdresser. Jora and Glyra, would you care to join me? My treat, of course.”

With that, the group exits The Great Pavilion.

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Infiltrating Gren Noval

Later in the evening, after the meeting with The Parade Council, you discuss your options as a group for the best way to enter Gren Noval undetected. Some wish to find an uncommon entry, such as a secret tunnel into the city. Others wish to contact outside help. It is decided, however, that sometimes bold actions is needed, and that Jora‘s plan of having the party enter through The Scepter Gate, as a faux nobleman’s royal procession, is just crazy enough to work.

A scepter is purchased, a team of entertainers is hired, and Jora manages to find a royal carriage. It is also decided that it would be best to travel with any merchants already headed to Gren Noval to join the retinue, and several readily agree. Any merchant will tell you that there’s safety in number, and that there’s profit in safety. As the city guards are on the lookout for the party, you shall all travel in disguise. Aelric, Jora, and Lady Dahlia skillfully assist the others with those disguises and the tales that accompany them.

You set out from The Parade early that morning. Aelric, as Lord Bahb, sets a brutal and tiring pace; a subtle emulation of the negligent, or perhaps contemptuous, manner in which a nobleman of privileged birth might treat his entourage. He and Lady Dahlia, wearing a sleek purple dress embroidered with gold thread and small gemstones, and a silver circlet (with her hair up), posing as his Supreme Chancellor and Chief Arbiter Sofia Loren travel in the comfort of the carriage.

Each member of the party sticks dutifully to the role that he or she has chosen to play within the retinue. Adakias and Raivik (who has now taken on the guise of a young, red-headed peasant, named Christopher Robbins) work as hired hands for two of the merchants. [[:glyra}Glyra]], dressed in the drab clothing of a commoner, tends to the horses. While she is technically posing as one of Lord Bahb’s stable hands, she gladly offers to see to the rest of the animals in the retinue as well. Content Not Found: Rico lags behind the the rest of the group, posing as a hand hired to clean the road up after the procession (primarily the horse manure). Lord Bahb will tolerate no man associating his passing with filth.

At night, the various differing bands mingle, somewhat, but largely stick to themselves. Kark, Karl‘s father who has joined the procession to help Karl by adding a few more members of orcish descent, that they he may not call so much attention to himself, sets up his archery booth. Karl, now appearing as a full orc, assists his father, much as he did prior to joining The Parade guard. Various members of the retinue try their skill at hitting the targets with a number of ranged weapons. Karl puts them all to shame, though, with his prowess with a bow, honed by a lifetime of Kark’s tutelage and working at the booth.

As soon as the caravan stops for each night, Glyra heads off to find a separate place to sleep. On the third night, one of the merchant’s guard inquires about this. Jora looks sharply at him, a nearly panicked look in her eyes, “Are you a fool? Were you raised in some muddy village somewhere? Don’t you know better than to inquire as to the whereabouts of one as such as she? At night? Do you want her to hear you?” She looks anxiously into the darkness – north, south, east, west – and finally, nervously, up. She swears a few times and returns to what she was doing, muttering sharply under her breath. You hear something about “bring ruin upon us all!” and “the damn fool.” Jora shakes her head, seemingly angry. The men look to each other with looks of confusion and anxiety. No one mentions it for the rest of the journey.

Thanks to pleasant weather, and Lord Bahb’s impatience, the group makes excellent time. The ascent of the hill that the city upon is started the morning of the fifth day, and by early afternoon, the procession reaches The Scepter Gate.

Given the traffic that it attracts, the gate is remarkably plain and unwelcoming. Thin, triangular flags of purple and blue fly above the towers to each side of the great door. Two guards wearing full plate and great helms, both of deep purple, and holding spears, stand in front of the doors. One would almost think that they were hollow suits of armor, but slight movements betray them as the living beings that they are. As completely covered in armor as they are, and of how ornamental that armor appears, it is clear that these guards are largely meant for decor for the lords and ladies passing by to smirk over. It is amazing, given the heat of the day, and the amount of armor that they wear, that they can remain at their posts for hours on end, but they remarkably do not seem uncomfortable. At the top of the gates, two more guards, armed with crossbows, can be seen.

The procession halts a hundred yards from the gate, as is customary, and the trumpeters begin to play. Jora rides forward on her war pony at a steady pace until she arrives at the gate itself. Slowly and with great ceremony she draws her scepter and holds it out for all to see, first to the left, then to the right, then above her and finally behind her to the waiting procession. With a swift motion, she swings it around and knocks once, twice, three times on the gate. “The Lord Bahb and procession request entrance to Gren Noval. Prepare to receive him.”

One of the guards moves to stand aside, but then halts and returns to his previous stance. The door that opens is not of the giant gate, but a much smaller one in the left tower. Out of it strides three figures. In the lead is a a bald man with silver hair so short and receded he is practically bald. He wears white scale armor, with great steel pauldrons that look like small siblings of his head. “Lord Bahb, is it?” he says as he snatches the papers that Aelric has forged from Jora’s outstretched hand. “We shall see,” he says, passing the papers back to one of his companions, a thin man in leather armor, as they both begin to inspect the members of the procession. As they do, Jora begins playing a faint lullaby.

The bald man first approaches a merchant driving a wagon containing fireworks and delicate figurines. He turns to Raivik, “You, how long have you been with this merchant?”

“Why, I just signed on with Miss Wambach last night, sir. I wanted to travel to Gren Noval, you see, sir. I’m going to become a wizard!” Raivik exclaims, issuing several overly enthusiastic and awkward wizard-like hand gestures. “And Miss Wambach ws gracious enough to let me work in payment for passage to the city.”

The bald man does not look pleased. “Will you remain in her service once you enter the city? If not, what will you do?”

“No, sir! Only long enough to get into the city. Then… I’m going to be come a wizard!” Raivik says, issuing an even more exuberant, and awkward casting gesture. “And one day, I’ll summon me a Luck Dragon!”

The bald man trudges off, towards the throwing booth, shaking his head, as Raivik continues on about a bear familiar named “Pooh”. Approaching Kark, he asks, “What exactly is this booth for?”

Kark replies, “Well I run this booth here as a chance for sport. We offer various targets (moving and stationary) for adventurers to hit. We hold multi-person tournaments, we sell certain numbers of throws per silver, and we offer prizes to the best shots of the week.”

“Why would you bring it to Gren Noval?” The bald man asks.

“Oh well I’ve been with the Parade for quite some time and I decided that since we are so close to the seat of the Wizard King that we would try our luck to see if we could pick up some extra coin here. I don’t suppose you already have a target booth at this city, do you?” Kark asks.

The bald man ignores the question. “How long do you plan on staying in the city?”

“Oh a few weeks at most,” Kark says. “We don’t want to get too far from the Parade. Plus I have close friends at the Parade who… well we help each other out from time to time kind of like a family, you know. Why I would miss them dearly if we were gone for too long.”

“And why are you traveling with this Lord Bahb?” The bald man asks, with grit in his voice.

“The Lord sent his herald and asked that we join him. I was a bit confused at first, but once I found out that this guy…” Kark says, lowering his voice, “well this guy is such an arrogant buffon that he likes to travel with huge crowds. Traveling with a huge crowd is one way for a merchant like myself to not get attacked. So I thought to myself, ‘Free trip to Gren Noval’, and here we are!”

The bald man inspects each of the orcs and half-orcs carefully. He seems to dismiss Karl, now a full orc in appearance, rather quickly. He moves to the front of the procession, where Glyra is brushing one of the horses. “You, girl,” he says, “how long have you been with Lord Bahb?”

Glyra shrugs. “Shorter than some. Longer than others.”

The bald man eyes her suspiciously. “And you see to the animals? You don’t seem to be very well compensated.”

“I like animals,” she says, “It is enough.”

“And how is Lord Bahb, as a master?” The bald man asks.

“Some say he is cruel and thoughtless,” Glyra says, “To be honest, I really wouldn’t know. I spend most of my time in the stables and in the yard. Noble lords don’t like to get their boots, and especially their hands, dirty, so I have little contact with him. He cannot mistreat the animals, or myself, if he is never around us, so I’d say he’s about as good a man to work for as any.”

The bald man nods, not really to Glyra, mostly to himself, and proceeds to the rear of the caravan, where he finds Rico. “How long have you served Lord Bahb, and in what capacity?” he asks.

Rico stops his work, as he is questioned. The air settles as a strong stench of manuer comes wafting from rico. “How long have I served Lord Bahb?” He looks down with a look of concern on his face and starts touching his fingers, as if he were counting. “About a week. As to what capacity, I have been cleaning the shit from the horses and livestock.”

“And what sort of man is he?” The bald man asks.

“Personally I have never met Lord Bahb, but I hear he is generous, and is one to enjoy life. From the looks of things I have no reason to doubt.” Rico says as he looks around for another pile of dung. Eying one he says, “now if you don’t mind…” and heads toward it.

The bald man leaves Ric to his work. He speaks with several of the merchants and their workers, and last comes to Adakias.

“How long have you been traveling with this merchant? And before that what did you do?” He asks.

“Why, sir, I’ve only been with ol’ Tom Gaffagin for a couple weeks.” Adakias explains. “My family has encountered rough times with my father growing older. I struck out looking for work in order to help my family. It isn’t easy living on a farm. I happened upon Ol’ Tom and he said he needed some help unloading his batch of sundry goods once he reached Gren Noval. He kept going on about how he was to make a killing selling his belt buckles. ’Everyone needs a belt buckle!” says he, ‘Why, without them we’d all be pantless heathens!’"

“And after entering the city?” The bald man asks.

“I suppose I’ll take in the free sights of this grand city once I’m done doing his heavy lifting,” Adakias says. “It’s not everyday that a country lad, such as I, gets to see such a large city and Pa would be awfully sore if he found out I spent my hard earned money in this fine city. Why, even talking to you is quite a bit more than I expected. Not a whole lot to guard on a farm, you see.”

The bald man eyes Adakias suspiciously. He looks him up and down, from several angles, and he looks like he’s about to sleep. Jora’s song gets a little louder, and he simply stares at Adakias for a moment before abruptly shaking his head and walks over to discuss something to the thin man in leather. The thin man shakes his head, and the bald man casts one final look at Adakias, before approaching the carriage.

The third member of the party that came from the tower is a knight of medium height and of small frame, adorned fully in rich, purple plate with great helm, similar to the two guards at the gate, though this knight’s armor seems more practical, and less ornamental. While the others moved about, observing and questioning the retinue, this knight simply stood about 10 feet from the carriage, and stared, unmoving, at it through the great helm’s tiny eye slits.

The bald man approaches the carriage, running a hand across its stained cherry frame. He bends down, though he does not need to go far, given his stature, and addresses Aelric. “Lord Bahb, I am Rofmore, first knight of The Scepter Gate guard. I’d like to ask you a few questions. First, who are you?”

Aelric gives him an incredulous look. “You’ve never heard of me? Did you hear that, Sofia my dear? This guard has never heard of me! I am Lord Bahb, ruler of the Lablah Lowlands. You do know where that is, right? Near the halfling border to to the west.”

“I see,” Rofmore says, “Where are you coming from now? And what business do you have in Gren Noval?”

“I am coming from the Parade; I wished to see Gren Noval while I was close to it.” Aelric explains, “More importantly, I wanted to show my loyal subjects the wonders of Gren Noval.”

“And can you speak for each man and woman in your group?” Rofmore asks.

“Of course I can speak for each man and woman in my group,” Aelric says, “they are my loyal and adoring subjects!”

“And how long do you plan to stay here, in Gren Noval?” Rofmore asks.

“I shall leave when I’m ready; perhaps in a week? I have to get back to my fiefdom… there is an exciting tournament I’m holding there in several weeks,” Aelric says, eying Rofmore. “You look like you know how to handle yourself. Have you ever been in a melee tournament before? There’s a big purse for the winner!”

At that moment, the knight behind Rofmore draws a longsword. The screech it makes as it is freed from its scabbard abruptly stops Jora’s song. With the exception of the ringing of the steel, there is silence. Rofmore looks back at the knight, who gives a short, but sure, nod.

Standing tall once more, Rofmore opens the carriage door. “Lord Bahb, perhaps you and your companion would like to join us inside for some refreshments, while we deal with these… formalities?”

Aelric maintains composure. “Refreshments? I suppose that would be acceptable. Tell me, do they serve Rahm Ulan Ale here? It’s a specialty of the halflings we often trade with; you should try it if you get a chance. There’s nothing quite like it in the human lands.”

With that, Rofmore and the thin man escort Lord Bahb and Lady Dahlia into he tower. The knight enter last, steel still bare, and closes the door.

(See Inside the Gate Tower)

After several moments, the door to the tower gate opens, and after “Lord Bahb” and “Chancellor Sofia” return to the carriage (looking no more “refreshed” than when they went in), it slams shut again. Shortly after, the guards in front of the gates move aside as they slowly open, and the procession enters the city.

If The Parade is the greatest spectacular display of magic and wonder in all of Drif’Tara, the crowded and chaotic streets of Gren Noval are a close second. Bolts of light of all manner of colors and shapes fly through the air at a regular interval. Potions are consumed, often to dramatic effect. A minotaur is seen, just ahead, wading its way through the crowd. Vendors sell all manner of goods, from invisible axes, to something called Edible Fire (which appears to be exactly as advertised) in 17 different flavors. At one point a gap in the buildings gives way to a darkness permeated with shimmering lights, which gives the effect of the night’s sky, with a door at where it meets the street. As it opens, a shop (that appears to be quite popular) can be seen within, suggesting the outer effect to be an illusion.

At the first relatively clear section of street, Jora dismisses the hired entertainers and the carriage driver. The various merchants go their separate ways, and those members of the party signed on with them announce their resignations. Kark bids Karl good luck, and heads off to find a place to set up his booth.

The party moves on, to find an inn to discuss their next move. Along the way, the crowd of an already densely packed street huddles even closer together to move around a perfectly normal and innocuous section of the street, roughly a meter and a half in diameter. Raivik, now at the reigns, wisely navigates the carriage in a similar manner.

Shortly after the party nervously passes under an arc of continuous lightning, a suitable inn that can accommodate the carriage and the horses is spotted. Over a meal, it is decided that since the Council expressed no urgency in the completion of the mission, and that since many of the party had never seen Gren Noval before, the group will meet back at the inn three days hence, at which time you will proceed to Tefus’s tower keep together. Aelric comments that it is most appropriate that the task shall be completed in exactly 8 days.

View
Inside the Gate Tower
Aelric and Lady Dahlia attempt to keep up the ruse

You’re led into a small chamber inside the gate’s left tower. To the right a spiral staircase leads to an upper level. The room is small, barely big enough for the five of you. The thin man in leather gathers up some papers from a desk, before Rofmore takes a seat behind it. The thin man then dashes up the stairs. The knight in purple enters, last, sword still drawn. She removes her great helm, revealing her to be a beautiful woman with blonde hair and green eyes. She tosses hangs the helm up onto a hook on the wall. The sword remains in her hand.

“Forgive Cassa. She’s… distrustful, by nature,” Rofmore says, removing his gauntlets, and folding his hands on top of the desk. If there are refreshments to be had, they are not immediately visible. “Now,” he continues, “if either of you have been to Gren Noval before, and if you have, it was not through this gate, as I recognize neither of you, then you will have noticed that security is a bit tighter than normal. We have orders to detain a very specific group of individuals.” He pauses for a moment, gauging your reactions. “After thoroughly inspecting your little… entourage, we have determine that you are not harboring these individuals. However, you make Cassa… uneasy. And that makes me uneasy. So before I will allow you access to the city, I will know you’re true intentions here, in very specific details. Who you plan to meet with, where you intend to stay, and anything else that Cassa or I may find… enlightening.”

He leans in closer, across the desk. “And Sofia, is it? Who might you be, in relation to Lord Bahb, here? How long have you been with him? And what exactly do you do for him? I would know this, too.”

He leans back again, though his hands do not leave the desk. “Now, please. Enlighten me.” He says with a cold smile, and an even colder stare.

“So, I was promised refreshments,” Aelric says. “A glass of wine would not be amiss while, my charming companion answers your questions.” He gestures vaugely and looks expectantly at ‘Sophia’.

“First,” Dahlia says, "let me just say, Miss Cassa, I simply adore what you’ve done with your hair. The fact that you can keep it looking so vibrant after it’s been under that helm all day… it’s stunning. The questions, of course! I’m sorry, my dear, you’re simply a wonder to behold.

Now, Mr Rofmore. Your intrepid indulgence of inquiries is quite admirable. I don’t think I’ve ever been subject to this level of scrutiny upon entering a city before. While I wish you the best of luck in catching whatever vagabonds and murderers you seek, I must tell you in advance that there are certain private matters I cannot reveal to you in their entirety.

Myself, I am Lord Bahb’s Supreme Chancellor and Chief Arbiter. What this means, of course, is that I handle social and legal matters which are not worthy of my Lord’s attention. I have known him for quite some time, since before his rise to power, in fact. In truth we are here not only to see your city, but that Lord Bahb might meet with a powerful magician, here, in this city of arcane wonder. There is a specific issue upon which my Lord wishes an elder wizard to deliberate. Unfortunately I cannot elaborate further, as the content of the meeting will be held in confidence between the two parties, and would likely be incomprehensible to those of us unwise in the ways of magic. However, I can assure you that the meeting will be amicable and without coercion or malice. As to our locale we will likely appropriate one of the finer inns to serve my Lord’s entourage. Do you have any recommendations? We enjoy fine coastal cuisine, but would sacrifice this for a modicum of cleanliness, should that be necessary. Are there any near the center of town with clean beds and a good seafood menu?"

Lady Dahlia’s tale seem plausible, but Rofmore is unconvinced. “I can recommend a fantastic inn, called the Bronze Ladle. The food is good, and it attracts some great entertainers. It’s conveniently located in the western quarter of the city Drek. Also, telling me you plan to conspire with a powerful wizard does not exactly put me at ease as to your stay here. Lord Bahb, do you speak for yourself for matters unrelated to wine? Or is ‘Supreme Chancelor Sofia’ in charge here?”

“You will find, Rofmore, that when I have something to say, you will not have to ask me to say it,” Aelric answers. “Sofia speaks for me in sensitive situations where my… emotions… may get the better of me; situations, such as being questioned under the pretense of being offered refreshments…”

Lady Dahlia stiffens and takes a half-step forward. "As I said, I handle matters, and people, beneath the notice of my Lord Bahb. As far as our professional dealings, we are not in the business of “conspiring,” only conversing. I made the assumption that a city swarming with wizards would afford them the ability to speak. If my assumption was incorrect, I apologize, and my Lord’s professional interest in this city will have to be fulfilled elsewhere. The only remaining interest is mine, as I would be very curious to find out how a city of this size manages commerce without speech. Or, perhaps, how the city guard manages to monitor every single conversation held inside these walls.

My Lord has done you a service revealing his intentions, they are simply to talk, to discuss, converse, debate. We mean no harm to you or the inhabitants of this city. If this is permissable, let us cease these deliberations. If not, then well met, sir, and we will be sure to spread word regarding Gren Noval and it’s peculiar views on hospitality."

Rofmore stares hard at the two of you for a moment, before sighing and sitting back in his chair. “Open the gates” he shouts, and Cassa opens the door to the tower. As you exit, her glare never leaves Rofmore, and once you’re through the door, she slams it shut.

View
The Quest Explained

Three days later, the group sets out in the carriage, heading for the southwestern tower keep. While navigating the city is no easy task, with its crowds and magical peculiarities, keeping one’s orientation is rather easy. The 6 tower keeps rise high into the air, three on the northern side of the city, three on the southern side, with the Great Keep in the center.

The weather over Gren Noval is sunny, though beyond the city, clouds loom in all directions, the obvious effect of a spell designed to keep conditions in the city pleasant, despite nature’s plans. Glyra is noticeably bothered by this, as she makes several remarks about it, during the journey.

The Southwest tower keep is surrounded by a moat, fed from waterfalls coming from holes in the walls at both end. The water is clear, and surprisingly calm, despite the falling water. As the party dismounts, a large drawbridge flush with the exterior of the keep is slowly lowered, though there are no visible chains are attached to it, to form a bridge to the keep. The party crosses the bridge to the simple wooden door offering the only obvious entrance to the keep. Adakias raises a hand to knock on the door, but a moment before he strikes it, it swings open.

A gnome in light purple robes beckons you to enter. “Yes yes, come in come in.” He is accompanied by a halfling that says nothing, but smiles when you meet his gaze. “I am Merf,” the gnome says, “I shall take you to see Elder Tefus. We’ve been expecting you!” He bids you to follow him down a long hallway.

The corridor is lit by mundane torches, and you pass many open doorways. Through the first, you see a young man who struggling to free itself from the “mouth” of a giant plant. An old man is scribbling notes, and chuckling. “First years”, Merf explains. In the next room, two elven women in white and gold robes are standing perfectly still, their hands raised to one another, almost touching. Between them, a soft golden glow emanates.

Several doors down, two young mages, a man and a woman, are standing slack-jawed and wide eyed at a figure facing the wall. It wears red robes, and has a smooth, purple head. Their teacher is yelling, “I said summon an illusion, not an actual illith-” He is cut off as the door slams shut. A few seconds later, screams of terror and agony can be heard coming from behind the door. Merf whispers something to the halfling, who nods and takes off running down the hallway.

The next room contains a targeting range. 3 women, a dwarf and two elves, stand at a line, gathering energy in their hands. A man, not visible from the angle that the doorway offers, shouts “Cast!” and the three send fireballs racing down the alley. They strike the white targets, which glow purple for a moment, slowly fading to their original color, as the instructor offers advice.

Eight miniature dwarves, each less than a meter tall, run by at that moment. Between them, they carry two drums, held high above their heads.

“We’ve been hard at work the past few days.” Merf says, “Not that we’re not always hard at work! This city has a great hunger for magic. Spells and enchantments of all varieties. Why they need some of them is almost as big of a mystery as how we manage to meet their incessant needs. And that’s only the city! Thankfully, Daronia and her tower take care of most of the requests of other cities and requests as they come in. Otherwise, we might never get some actual, mundane sleep. Those of us that still believe in it, that is!”

You pass another door where a woman seems to be watching a bufferfly flying about the room. “Good… Good… Very good!” she says, with a great smile and a nod of of approval. In the next, two bears appear to be wrestling. One is snarling, the other cursing loudly, causing Karl to blush, and Glyra to smile.

As the group reaches the doorway at the end of the hall, Merf beckons you to stand aside. At that very moment, the door bursts opens, and Merf’s halfling companion dashes through, with 3 other wizards. Each wears a circlet (which appears to be made of wood) set with a clear gem, and holds two clear orbs in each hand. They approach the door that slammed shut, and begin chanting.

“This way, please.” Merf says, walking through the door. You follow him up one of two sets of stairs that wind around the tower. Despite the wall to your left clearly being the exterior wall of the keep, the windows cut into it offer a view to a grand arena. It is empty, except for two massive statues of centaurs, and everything is colored in some shade of red. Each window appears to offer a view that suggests they wind around the arena, contrary to the way that the stairway curves. The effect is very disorienting. “Don’t you hate that ghastly red? I wish you could have seen it when it was blue. It used to be so magnificent,” Merf sighs.

At the top of the stairway is a platform, on the other side of which leads back down. Merf produces a wand, taps upon the black iron knob of the only door, and knocks upon the door with his fist six times. He then proceeds to lead you back down the stairway, to what appears to be the door that you originally came through. He knocks, and a voice from inside beckons, “Enter.”

“Elder Tefus, this is the party for The March,” Merf says showing the party in. The room is large. There are windows along the all opposite to the door, a refreshing semblance of architectural normalcy. There is a second level that fills half of the room, a semi-circular loft accessible via a ladder in the middle of the room. Not much can be seen, but it is evident that there is a second level of windows on the loft level, as well.

Pieces of drums (bodies, skins, bolts, sticks, etc.) are strewn about the room and upon several workbenches. The room contains many curious artifacts and bizarre devices. Of particular note is a clear globe, inside of which a tiny red imp is battling a tiny brown imp. The red imp fires green bolts of energy at the brown imp, which returns fire with red bolts of its own. Neither seems to be making very much progress towards its goal.

Tefus takes several long strides from the bench he appears to have been working at to meet you. He is a young man, tall and lean, with short brown hair, green eyes, and an easy way about him. He is very finely dressed, and gives no outward appearance of being a powerful wizard. “Greetings, and thank you for coming. I am Tefus, liaison between Gren Noval and the Council of Yorv, and elder wizard of this tower keep. I am pleased that you made it past the guards, and was quite impressed by the bold manner in which you did it.”

“Indeed”, comes a voice from behind you. “Hiding in plain sight; often a very effective tactic.” The voice comes from a half-elf woman with long dark hair and violet eyes. She wears robes of purple, blue, and white. She is very beautiful, but the most striking thing about her is the fact that she appears to have no hands. Despite this, she holds her arms in front of her as if her hands were clasped about her abdomen.

“This,” Tefus explains, “is Segwyn, Mistress of Illusion, and elder wizard of the Southern tower keep of Gren Noval. Now, then. Let us get down to business. You’ve been told that the power of {[The Parade]] shall soon run out, and that you eight have been chosen to restore it. I shall now reveal to you the method by which you shall do so.”

There is a loud pop as the brown imp fires off a large bolt that it had been charging up. The red imp seems stunned for a moment, before recovering and resuming its own onslaught.

Tefus continues, “The wizards that created The Parade, our long-gone predecessors, designed it in such a way that the energies that it expends would be absorbed into Drif’Tara. Over time, these energies would build up to a point where they can be collected and used once more, in the form of stone rimmed wells. There are, or will be, eight in all. Your task shall be to visit each of these wells, which we’ve come to call the Wells of Renewal, collect the energies from them, and return to us that we may use them to renew The Parade.

We detected the first of these wells, several decades ago. To date, we’ve discovered three. One is within the Halfling Empire, the halflings will lead you to it. One is somewhere within the forests to the East of the Common Lands. Unfortunately we have not yet discovered its exact location. The third is upon one of the Airlands. The Sky People do not readily welcome visitors, but our envoys say they insist that it is there. Part of your task will be to discover the locations of the other five.”

You hear a tiny, almost cute, roar, as the brown imp has tripled in size, grown a long snout with a maw full of fangs, and little claws (large in proportion to its body). It has stopped firing bolts at the red imp, which seems to have shrunk in size, grown wings, and is buzzing about the brown imp, rapidly firing tiny blue balls of energy at it.

Tefus goes on to explain how you will each be given one of the Rings of the March, explaining what they are and how they are to be charged, so that The Parade may be restored. When he is finished, he says “Now that your task is laid out before you, do you have any questions, before your receive your rings? There will be no going back, from that point.”

Adakias steps forward, “Sir Tefus, which well do you suggest we attempt to visit first? The stories usually provide a relatively linear path with increasing difficulty. Perhaps our story will be one such as that.”

“An excellent question,” Tefus responds. “I cannot say if your path shall grow more or less difficult as you go along. I wouldn’t assume that the challenge you face at the first well would be any more or less difficult than that of the last, but who can say. None that live today, that’s for sure.

As for where to begin, I would suggest you start with the Well that we know to be found in the Halfling Empire. The small folk will happily show you its location. It might give you some wisdom that will help you to prepare for what lies ahead. That Well is secure, which means that it can wait, no outside force will tamper with it, but that also means that you can visit it inconspicuously. And many of us believe that a charged ring will offer greater benefit to the wearer, easing the rest of your journalize.”

“Are there any known defenses that were designed with these wells, other than the individual challenge?” Rico asks.

“We don’t think so,” Tefus says. “We think that the location of the Wells will be somewhat random, wherever the power that forms them collected. Naturally, this alone will cause some inconvenience, and it is very likely that you you may have to overcome defenses of an incidental sort. If a Well were to appear in some dark wizard’s tower, for example. Let us hope, for your sake, that this is not the case.”

“Who else would have information regarding the location of the Wells?” asks Lady Dahlia.

Tefus answers, “We have scryers and agents working to find them, but Drif’Tara is a large area to search. It seems likely that the Wells would be spread about the world, rather than clustered together. It is likely that some are known to those that live near to where they have appeared. The power that creates them comes from The Parade, but the appearance of a Well in the Airlands suggests that proximity is not necessarily a factor. It is quite possible that a Well has surfaced in a location we haven’t thought to check, and has been observed by someone we’ve not thought to ask.”

“There are many drawn to power,” Segwyn adds. “It is possible that a powerful mage or the agents of some great lord have already discovered a Well; they have been surfacing for decades. They may not all be available yet, for all we know. It is also not likely that the power within is easily tapped, which may afford us some time, should their discovery by other prove to be a reality.”

“I say, good lady Segwyn,” Adakias says, “I have not traveled far in my lifetime. Yet, somehow you seem familiar. Is your visage true or is this an illusion to provide some measure of comfort?”

Segwyn shrugs and says “Things are often not as they appear.”

“From what you’ve told us the Wells could be anywhere above ground. Do the rings work as a sort of compass which points the wearer towards the wells location?” Raivik asks.

“It is possible,” Tefus says. “Each ring differs from the next, and what they may or may not do depends also on the wearer. We cannot say what they will are capable of. You, yourselves, may not know, even after spending some time wearing them. Their effects may be subtle, or even imperceptible.”

“What do you mean the rings siphon energy from the wearer?” Raivik asks, “Are you saying they slowly drain you of your lifeforce as long as you wear it?”

“We do not believe the rings will prove to be any detriment,” Segwyn says, “but we do not know for sure. This is a risk you must take yourselves.”

“What will you do with these devices once our task is complete? Will they be used again in another 800 years?”

“They will be yours to keep.” Tefus answers.

“From what I know of the airlands they are not always accessible, or easily traveled,” Rico asks. “Is it possible that you might be able to provide some easier means of travel to, and within, those lands?”

“IF any such transportation is required, you will have to beseech the Sky People. We possess no Pegasi to give you.” Tefus says, to which Segwyn snorts and offers him a mocking grin.

“What happens should a person fail his/her trial within the Well?” Raivik asks.

Segwyn answers, “Let us hope we do not find out.”

Tefus says, “Any further questions?”

Jora steps forward. “First of all, there was some mention made of skulking about and avoiding notice. That was, afterall, the whole point of our little ploy at the gate. Is there some other faction at work here? Some danger about which we’ve not yet been informed?”

“There were,” Segwyn says, with a wicked grin.

Tefus continues, “It would be best if you assumed that there are many seeking the Wells, as well as the rings that you shall possess. We shall mask them from mundane detection. But power such as the Wells, and the charged rings, does not go undetected for long. You’ll need to be vigilant about what you reveal, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to look over your shoulder from time to time. Also, if you come across a threat that you feel we should know about, be certain to tell us in person. But do not return to The Parade lightly. It makes… a bit of a spectacle, and there are always those watching who comes, who goes, and for what purpose. As Segwyn said, hiding in plain sight can be quite effective, and where better to do so than The Parade?”

“Before we decide just where to go,” Jora says, “There is one thing that you could provide for us that would make this go much more smoothly. Drif’Tara is half sea. Give us a boat. I’m not asking for a floating fortress, but a vessel large enough to serve as a base of operations; a cargo ship, perhaps, so we can bring our horses and equipment aboard. I see you getting that look on your face that says we ask for too much, but you’ve done nothing but smother us with casual wonders since we’ve been here, you can’t tell us that for all the power you possess it’s impossible for you to contribute so crucial a tool as you send us off on a dangerous quest to save the world! And if you can use some of your abundance of magic to ensure we always have the wind at our back, well, who would blame you?”

Tefus and Segwyn look at each other for a moment. Tefus shrugs. “Alright, then. A ship you shall have, though it may take us some time to arrange it. Perhaps you should visit the Halflings’ Well first, then. That should give us plenty of time. Now, have you any other questions before we bestow your rings upon you, and your journey begins?”

There is a small buzzing noise, followed by what seems to be a tiny battle cry. The brown imp has summoned forth a swarm of of something, which flies towards the red imp. In response, the red imp has split into dozens of tiny replicas of himself, which meet the flying minions head on. Miniature chaos ensues.

“No? Okay then, as I read, your names, please step forward to receive your ring.” Tefus says. One by one, he calls the members of the party forward. As each does, Tefus places a plain looking golden ring on his/her right thumb, and after Segwyn waves her “hands” over the user’s hand, keeping her eyes closed and saying nothing. Tefus explains that this enchantment will prevent others from detecting the rings via conventional methods.

The rings are distributed as such:

“As they are now,” Tefus says, “the rings are incapable of drawing power. In order to prepare them to do so, they must be bonded to you. The bonding will act as magical catalyst, if you will, which will activate the power seeking nature of the rings. It will also prevent the rings from being removed. Please do not remove them until then, though. Creating them took a great deal of effort, and the council shall be… displeased should you lose one.

The bonding ritual is rather involved, and shall take place back at The Parade. Segwyn shall escort you, however she and I have some final preparations to make, first, so I must ask you to spend one more day within the city. Not so terrible a fate, I should say.” He grins, and steps over to a scroll mounted to the wall. He tears off a sheet, which appears to be quite blank, and hands it to Adakias. “There is an inn close by called The Hopping Centaur. Normally, I would offer you rooms here in the tower, we have wonderful accommodations for visitors, but it seems we have a mind flayer loose in the halls.”

“First years,” Segwyn mutters.

“But ‘The Hop’ is a fine establishment,” Tefus says, “a place the students go to relax after classes. It caters specifically to the magically attuned. Prudent observers and scholars of magic will find much of interest and insight from the many enchantments, and enchanters, that reside there. The obtuse, however, often meet with rather unfortunate, often hilarious, fates. Nothing serious, mind you; just enough to keep it interesting.”

“Try the ale,” Segwyn says with a grin.

“Yes, do try it,” Tefus says, “But remember to use only your left hand to drink it. Now, if you’ll excuse us, we have much to see to. Enjoy yourselves, tonight. You shall be needing all of your strength, and soon.”

You leave through the same door that you came in through, which now seems to lead to the outside. This comes to great relief to the members of the party sensible enough to wish to avoid confrontation with an illithid.

You make your way to The Hop, a large, white building with a curving front, giving the visage of a tower. The inn keeper, a heavy set woman with hard features, greets you as soon as you step in, as though she were waiting for you. “Yes, yes, come in. We’re rather busy today. Room’s on the 4th floor, last one of the left. I don’t want that.” She says as Adakias tries to hand her the scroll Tefus gave him. “Chicken for dinner. Try the ale, left hand only. No destructive spells. No summoning. Don’t use wands on the 3rd floor. First years.” She mutters. “Chicken for dinner.” She repeats, as she scurries off to tend to something else.

The party enjoys an eventful, but relaxing, evening at the inn. The food is good, the ale even better/ Though Karl forgets to use only his left hand, his hair seems to have grown back by the end of the evening.

View
Back to The Parade

Segwyn is waiting at the bar, an empty flagon in front of her, in the morning. When all are assembled, you leave Gren Noval through the Roaring Gate. You catch up with The Parade nine days later. It has stopped again, and you approach it from the rear. A commotion is heard, just as the party is climbing out of the carriage. “Man scorpions!” a man screams, as many scramble to run to the head of The Parade.

Seven man scorpions emerge from the woods, and make their way towards The Parade. They appear somewhat weak, given their size, but are still quite menacing, armed with daggers, spears, and, of course, barbed tails.

Segwyn curses, claps her “hands”, and sends a blue shock wave towards the group. It strikes the front-runner, a large, snarling male with a shiny, black carapace, blowing him to pieces. The rest of the group is knocked to the ground. “Deal with this, and don’t let them hurt anyone,” Segwyn barks. She raises her staff into the air, shouts a few magic phrases, and disappears with a loud pop. The man scorpions find their bearings just as the party engages them.

Lady Dahlia is the first to react. She dashes forward with speed and confidence, producing a small crossbow from her handbag, and fires a bolt that lodges itself deep into the arm of a man scorpion wielding both club and scimitar. The beast howls, a combination of pain, rage, and surprise. Karl fires an arrow at the man scorpion in the hopes of finishing it off. Unfortunately, he just misses. Dropping his bow, he dashes forward shouting “Get behind me!” while drawing forth a ranseur.

Rico quickly looks around. Seeing that the party stands between The Parade and danger, he moves to provide some protection for Lady Dahlia. As he does, he grabs a strip of leather from his waist and launches a stone at the wounded man scorpion. The stone strikes him in the jaw, instantly shattering it. The man scorpion drops to the ground, either dead or unconscious, as one of his companions, armed with a pair of wickedly curved daggers, moves forward to guard him from further assault.

Aelric is the next to react. Swiftly drawing his rapier, he charges at one of the nearer man scorpions, running it through! The beast gives a look of surprise that quickly changes to hatred. With its final act, it stabs at Aelric with its deadly tail, but he dodges, and it slides, lifelessly, off of Aelric’s blade. “Why does it have to be scorpions? I hate scorpions!” he exclaims, adjusting his fedora.

One of the man scorpions scurries over to Rico and slashes with its daggers, scoring a light hit to his chest. Raivik responds by firing a shot at it with his short bow, but he misses. Another man scorpion dashes up behind Rico and scores another hit with a dagger. Despite being flanked by the monsters, Rico maintains his stoic demeanor as he does his best to fend off their attacks.

Jora quickly sizes up the situation and dashes forward while deftly undoing the chain that she keeps slung around her waist. As she approaches her destination she’s got the chain swirling above her head rapidly and with a sudden freeze manages to send one end of it flying directly at the face of one of the man scorpions flanking Rico. The chain connects, leaving a gash that would be unsightly on anything other than a man scorpion. As it is, the creature’s appearance remain unaffected, except for the look of hatred it levels at Jora.

Adakias draws his bow, shouting “Have at you, foul beasts!” as he fires an arrow at one of the man scorpions. It strikes the beast in the shoulder with enough force to cause him to stagger. Taking advantage of this, Glyra strides forward and attempts to strike it with her quarterstaff. The man scorpion parries at the last second with both daggers.

The last man scorpion scurries forward, flanking Aelric and thrusting his spear at him. He easily evades the blow.

Dahlia bashes a nearby scorpion over the head with her pink purse, yelling “Get away from me you foul beast!” Karl rushes forward shouting “Look out, Aelric!”. He swings his huge ranseur at one of the scorpions flanking Aelric, striking a mighty blow that severs the beast’s deadly tail near the base. The man scorpion roars in shock and pain, and Aelric takes the opportunity to slip away from his flanked position, striking at a nearby scorpion attacking Rico. He scores a light hit with his rapier. Rico swiftly lashes out with his right fist, which the scorpion manages to evade. Nearly as quickly, he comes about with a round house kick with his right foot, catching the scorpion in the stomach, knocking the wind out of it.

Raivik slides a step to his right, loosing a shaft that buries itself in the neck of the man scorpion with the severed tail. Blood now spurting profusely from both ends, the monster perishes amidst screams that turn to gurgles. Jora slips over to flank a man scorpion, opposite Rico, and swings at it with her chain, but misses. Adakias takes several steps and fires an arrow at the farthest man scorpion, striking solidly it in the chest. There is a loud crack as Glyra finishes off one of the scorpions surrounding Rico with a swing of her quarterstaff that catches the beast directly in the skull.

The man scorpion surrounded by Jora, Dahlia, Aelric, and Rico makes a dash for The Parade. The beast ducks Karl’s ranseur, but Rico’s elbow catches it, shattering its hopes of escape, along with its face. The last remaining man scorpion scurries off into the woods from whence it came.

The threat now extinguished, the party turns to The Parade. All traces of fear and panic have completely vanished, as though they were never there. The normal merriment has begun once more, with people laughing, juggling, and dancing. The only evidence of anything being out of place are the bloodied bodies of the man scorpions stain the grass, but nobody within The Parade seems to notice.

The threat extinguished, Karl retrieves his bow and looks about for a missing arrow. Jora and Rico set about to removing the tails of the man scorpions, prompting Adakias to ask “I understand taking valuables from the corpses of our foes, but what, pray tell, do you plan to do with those scorpion tails? Are scorpion tails going for much these days?” Jora gives him an innocent look and mumbles something about chocolate.

Rico responds by telling him “It is common practice to accept gifts, especially from those to whom you have taught a lesson. We liken it to giving an apple to your teacher.” He then takes the weapons off of the bodies of the man scorpions. “We cannot leave these out here so close to The Parade. A child could come upon them and there could be trouble. We should also send someone back from the paradde to bury the bodies.

View
The Bonding

The party makes its way through The Parade. One would never know that an attack had just happened moments before. The people seem oblivious, likely many of them are, happy to feast and celebrate without a care in the world. It takes roughly an hour to reach The Great Pavillion, which is now blocked by Parade guards. They admit you to a clearing, where the Parade Council waits with Segwyn. Eight long columns of uniformed drummers are standing roughly 100 meters behind them, forming an aisle roughly 10 meters wide. The outer columns on each side are made up of base drums, the inner made up of snare drums, and the columns between them of various other percussion instruments of all sorts, though an astute observer will note that they are perfectly symmetrical. Each drummer stands at attention, none of them yet playing, and they seem to stretch for an entire kilometer.

“Eight hundred of them,” Adempha beams. “Don’t they look sharp? And all so talented, I can personally vouch for that. We’ve spent months seeking, auditioning, and training them. Nothing is more important than your quest, and we’ve put all our effort forth to make sure that you start with a good, proper bonding. It’s the least we can do for you.

I’m so glad that you were able to stop those awful beasts from ruining the ceremony and hurting the innocent Parade-goers. It is a pity that you had to kill them, I so abhor violence, even when justified, but justified it was. They surely would have killed dozens, the monsters. But let us put that behind us. The Parade marches on, and so shall we! Segwyn, my dear, if you please?”

Segwyn shoots Adempha an icy look of contempt before addressing you. “What your about to experience will not be as pleasant as ‘my dear’ Adempha suggests. The Rings of the March are capable of harnessing great power, and must be strongly bonded to you. Otherwise… well, just be glad that we know what we’re doing. In a moment, the council and I shall head into The Great Pavilion where they shall assist me in facilitating the bonding. Once we are safely within the pavilion, the drummers shall begin playing in sequence, starting near the pavilion. When the final row of drummers has started playing, you must walk, not run, from that point, where you shall be waiting, to The Great Pavilion. Once inside, the enchantment we have placed upon it will shield you from the drumming, and the bonding shall be complete.”

“Assuming you make it that far.” Karick chimes in.

“Indeed,” Segwyn says. “These are no ordinary drums. They have been enchanted to draw the power of The Parade, and with each beat you shall be assaulted with it. The rings will absorb some of this energy, as will your bodies. The energy will act as a bridge between you and the rings, and it is in this way that the rings shall be bonded to you. However, as Karick alluded to you may well be torn apart by the energy before you make it to the end. This is an unfortunate, but necessary, risk, as the rings must be bonded to you in order for them, and you, to perform the task at hand.”

“Pun intended?” Jora asks with a grin.

“This is no joking matter,” Adempha says. “The power about to be unleashed is so great that we’ve had to keep The Parade public back this distance, and to outfit all of the guards and the drummers with special ear pieces to protect them. I only pray that it is enough.”

“It will be,” Segwyn says with confidence. “Now, do you have any questions before we proceed?”

Rico steps forward. “If this is going to be damaging, then perhaps it is a good idea to be at full strength before we begin this endeavor. Can anyone heal the wounds I took in the battle against the scorpians? Otherwise I would wish to wait until they heal themselves.”

“Oh, of course!” Adempha says. She places her hands on Rico’s shoulders, closes here eyes, and chants softly. After a moment, she opens her eyes again and smiles softly. “All better?” She asks. Rico nods.

“Will there be a need to fight during this ritual?” Karl asks. “If not, I choose to pass or fail lightly clothed.”

Segwyn shakes her head. “You’ll be fighting for your lives, to be sure, but steel and leather will not aid you.”

“Have you checked the background of these drummers?” Aadkias asks. “There is some debate as to whether the Scorpion Men we vanquished were being driven by an opposing force. It would behoove us to be wary. What better way to prevent the renewing of the Parade than by preventing or modifying the bond to the rings?”

“I can personally assure you,” Segwyn answers, “that there are no traitors among that lot. They are simple musicians, without the knowledge to, nor the means of, betraying us.”

“If there are no further questions,” Adempha says, “we shall await you in The Great Pavilion. Good luck, I know you’ll all do great!”

The council and Segwyn turn and walk down the aisle formed by the drummers. It takes them roughly a minute to reach the canvas opening to the pavilion. Once there, Segwyn nods, and the drummers at the end start playing. Every few seconds, another row joins in. When the drumming reaches about the half way point, your ears being to pop. At three quarters, your teeth start to chatter as the thundering sound assails you. By the time the final drummer starts playing, the air has grown thick and intensely hot.

Rico is the first to take a step forward. He brings his hands together in front of him and a look of intense concentration crosses his face. “Nothing shall block my road,” he states simply, as he moves forward, slowly. The rest of the party follows suit.

Karl strides forward seemingly unphased, clasping a small rag in his hands. Jora, smiling, taps her feet to the beat, doing a little dance as she moves forward. Glyra moves forward, steadily, but her eyes reveal the great pain she is in. Dahlia strides purposefully forward, but the lines on her face deepen as the unseen forces taxes her resolve. Adakias stumbles a bit, caught off guard by the power of the drums, but is able to remain standing. He steels himself against the further onslaught. Aelric staggers a bit, but does not fall. Raivik shows an awareness of the power about him, but shrugs it off and moves forward.

The drumming seems to get louder, the farther you go. Stones on the path crumble to pebbles. Occasionally loud pops are heard as pockets of air burst with power. A drum explodes just as Raivik passes by it, shattering the arm of the drummer playing it. He cries out and is replaced with a standby drummer as he limps away.

At roughly half way down the aisle, Aelric staggers and falls. He stands up, resolve unshaken, and continues forward. Glyra strides forward, standing tall with a centered look upon her face. Halfway to the pavilion, Dahlia cries out and falls to her hands and knees. Pain clearly wracking her body, a cold fury appears behind her eyes. She rises and struggles forward. Rico presses forward with barely a waiver. Raivik moves forward, shrugging off the assailing power and pushing a fleeting thought of surrendering to the back of his mind. Jora, finishing a pirouette, suddenly doubles over in pain. She pauses for an instant to catch her balance, a look of sudden surprise and agony on her face. Eventually, she straightens up, bows to the left and right, and does a forward somersault.

As the drums beat on, unending, sending forth their might in dizzying waves of heat and pressure, Karl stumbles, managing to remain upright, but barely able to walk. A look of doubt crosses his face, as he again stumbles, making no progress. Tears begin to well up in his eyes, as he puts forth every effort to keep moving forward. He screams out a fierce, primal curse in Orcish. His legs unable to move, tears now stream fully down his face. He grips his hand tightly and wipes them from his face with his rag, as he continues to stumble. He begins to chant, what one fluent in Orcish would recognize as a lullaby. He goes suddenly silent, turns, and fleeing the bonding ritual and bowling over five of the drummers.

Glyra takes several long strides to enter the pavilion, clearly taxed, but unshaken by the ordeal. Dahlia takes three confident steps before a look of doubt crosses her face. Panic flicks across her features and her steps faulter. As she casts a questioning look at her companions, Dahlia’s head snaps up. Here eyes wide with sudden realization, she takes a sharp breath and collapses.

Aelric attempts to continue forward, but eventually succumbs to the power of the drums, falling to the ground, unconscious. Rico manages to reach the tent. He turns around, offering a small bow, before stepping into the pavilion. Adakias seems to draw on some inner reserve of strength and manages to take the last steps forward into the great pavilion. Once inside, he slumps down to the ground and sobs a little, obviously happy that he has survived the bonding. About 6 meters from the pavilion, a wave of energy drives Raivik to his knees. He barks a laugh of defiance through gritted teeth, and, without pause, rises to his feet with straining muscles. He completes the ritual with the fires of unyielding determination still burning in his eyes, he continues his purposeful stride to where the council awaits within The Great Pavilion.

Jora launches up from her somersault, but something is obviously wrong. At first she appears to be sweating, but the sweat has turned a deep crimson color, as though her the pores on her skin have burst open. In a final act, she propels herself up from her somersault, leaving a stream of steaming blood behind her. In another context, the pattern might be beautiful, and even her downward arc seems to be in slow motion. As she lands, however, she appears to be no longer capable of the modicum of effort that would be required to keep herself upright. She collapses in a bloody, wheezing heap. In the distance, a loyal war pony emits a high pitched cry of despair, audible even above the sound of the drums.

The drumming expires shortly after Jora does. As it does, Karick pokes his head out of the tent, curses, and returns inside. Shortly after, several guards emerge from the tent to retrieve the bodies. Several minutes later, after Aelric, Jora, and Lady Dahlia are resurrected, and after Karl has been coaxed down from a tree, the party sits in front of the council. Healers tend to the many wounds sustained during the bonding, and Segwyn examines each Ring of the March.

Once she is done, she says, “Well, the four of you that completed the ritual were successfully bound to your rings. They can no longer be removed, and they should start speaking to you at some point. Well done, and congratulations on staying alive. The bad news is that the four of you that failed the bonding must attempt it again. However, the council and I feel that that may not be the prudent thing to do. Perhaps had at least five of you completed the ritual, the remaining three could simply make it up, but the fact that half of you have failed has cast some doubts as to your abilities.”

“What my sister means to say,” Adempha says, “is that we feel it may be in your best interest to prepare a little more before attempting the bonding, and the quest to come. This is but the first trial you shall face, and though it is substantial, it is likely that far greater challenges are to come. Perhaps you are not ready for what is required of you.”

Several of the council members nod, and they confer for a bit. After, speaks once more. “We’ve decided to leave it in your hands. If you wish, the four of you may once more attempt the bonding, though of course the risk is much greater, given resurrection’s fading effectiveness. Alternatively, you may go out, see the world, get to know one another, and prepare yourselves for your next attempt. If you choose to do this, you may keep the horses we’ve provided you, and you may return to us whenever you feel you are ready to try again. We ask, though, that you return no later than six months from now.”

“So,” Karick says tauntingly, “do you think you’re ready?”

The party begins discussing their options, but the conversation quickly degrades into an argument between Jora and Rico. After several minutes of escalation, Segwyn throws her “hands” down at her sides, casting some unseen force at the ground that causes the first to fly up. “Enough!” she shouts, wheeling around to face the council. “These are the ones you’ve chosen? They act as children do.” Turning back, she faces Jora. “You, gnome, would do better stir up less trouble. You were no doubt selected for your charisma and resourcefulness, but as far as I can tell, that tongue of yours causes more problems than it solves.”

“And you, monk,” she says, addressing Rico. “Your devotion to your order is admirable, and your discipline will serve the group well, but remember that yours is indeed a task of service. By picking fights and threatening death at the slightest offense, you serve nothing but your own pride! Your mentor should have taught you that no road is perfectly straight. If you hope to accomplish the task, you must learn to be flexible.”

“Now, if you two think you can get along, let us put this foolishness behind us. It is clear from this display, however, that you are not yet ready to undergo this mission. You lack not only fortitude, but cohesion. Forget this ettin hunting nonsense, and head to the halfling empire. There you may not only observe your first Well, but shall likely find a task or two to keep you occupied, and to teach you how to work as a team.”

With that, Segwyn rolls her eyes, waves her “hands” in front of her, and fades from view.

“She always has had a temper”, Adempha says. “But she is right, you must learn to work together, and a trip to the halfling empire will likely do you some good. The halflings have grown mighty in recent years, and they are fiercely loyal to one another. Learn from them. We shall inform them of your pending arrival. They will no doubt wish to prepare a welcome for you, and it would be courteous of you to give them time to do so. You shall head out, two days hence, and maybe you find the strength you require for the bonding, with both the rings and with each other.”

View
Defending the grove

Two days after the first Bonding, the party sets out. As always when this close to The Parade, the weather is fair and travel goes quickly. Glyra leads the group to an ancient forest, overgrown with brush and tangles, where a group of dryads being tormented by a band of kobolds have sought the party’s help. The path that the dryads told her of is “clear’ enough for the horses to be walked, but riding is out of the question. After walking for roughly an hour, you come to a clearing.

“Greetings!” A voice greets you from above. A young dryad with skin that strongly resembles the bark of a birch tree hangs from a tree by vines. Even an astute observer would have difficulty determining where the vines ended and her hair began. She makes no attempt to reach the ground, and speaks to you upside down. “I am Sera. You must be the ones that Glendra spoke of. Are you here to stop those nasty kobolds?” Glyra nods, and her face lights up. “Oh thank you! Their attacks grow worse every time. They are simply no fun at all!” The vines appear to pull her upward, and after a moment she disappears into the treetops above.

The party enters the clearing, an area with a circumference of roughly 30 meters lightly spotted with trees with a brook that feeds into a pool near a large oak tree. Tall grasses sway lazily in the sunlight afforded by the clearing, a stark relenting of the almost oppressive shade of the rest of the forest. Unsure what to do, the party takes in the surroundings, waiting for some sign from the dryads.

“Welcome,” A voice suddenly pierces the silence. Three dryads stand next to the party, their appearance so sudden that Lady Dahlia shrieks and leaps to hop into Karl’s arms. Unfortunately, Karl, startled by Dahlia’s shrieks, has the same thought, and the two collide mid-air. Two of the dryads giggle, and the third, the speaker, smiles a wide, mischievous smile. After Karl and Lady Dahlia untangle and recompose themselves, she, an older dryad with green skin and a badly burnt left arm, resumes her welcome. “Thank you for coming, Glyra. I knew you would not fail us. I am pleased that you have brought so many fine warriors to defend our peaceful grove.”

To the others she introduces herself as Glendra, the eldest of the four dryads, though how old she might be is a complete mystery. The two dryads with her are Dinda and Fren. Sera is no where to be seen. Glendra explains that the kobolds, then numbering 14, stumbled onto the grove about a month ago. The dryads laid low, thinking they would move on after a day. When it became clear that they had designs of setting up a permanent camp, the dryads drove them out, but they returned the next day in greater numbers. Again, the dryads drove them off, but they keep returning every few days. The dryads can avoid them for the most part, using their tricks and their magic, and causing enough bedlam amongst the kobolds to demoralize them enough to disband and run away. Each time, however, becomes more and more difficult, as the kobolds are learning to avoid their tricks.

The fight has also become more of a feud, as the kobolds seem to be less interested capturing the grove as they are in doing harm to the dryads. They know of the dryads’ love and respect of nature, and they have begun despoiling it: setting fires, damaging trees, etc. As they learn to deal with the dryads, they are also becoming more dangerous to them. During the last raid, one of the kobolds managed to set fire to Glendra, greatly burning her arm. The says it will fully heal in time, but the dryads are growing concerned for their lives. There are far too many kobolds for them to take on in a straight fight. Thus, Glendra traveled to The Parade, seeking help, and having found Glyra, they’ve besought her and you to help them to defend their home and to rid themselves of this threat once and for all.

Glendra says it will likely be a few more days until the kobolds return, but she cannot be certain. The creatures are nothing if not chaotic. As there is no way to tell when the next attack will come, you will have to wait in the grove until it does. In the meantime, and in return for your help, the dryads have offered to teach some of their secrets to the party.

After Glendra finishes explaining the situation, Adakias steps forward with a question. “Has there been any change in the grove that might explain why the kobolds were drawn to this area?”

“No,” Fren answers. “This place has remained much the same as we found it, roughly 60 seasons ago.” There is a hint of pride in her voice as she speaks.

“What is it that you desire from the Kobold situation?” Rico asks. “Would you be happy if they just moved somewhere else? Would you be willing to stand with us if we try to negotiate this peacefully”

“Cerainly,” Glendra says. “We have no love of violence. We only wish to defend our home. The kobolds are free to do as they please and live where they like, as long as they leave us in peace and do not threaten the forest. Sadly, this seems unlikely from what I have learned of these creatures.”

“First things first,” Raivik says, “the kobolds aren’t expecting our merry little band to be here, so we have the element of surprise, which is good. But we need to know a little more about our foe if we are to be of any help.”

“Of course. We shall provide any information that you require,” Glendra says.

“Roughly how many kobolds were there in the last attack?” Raivik asks.

“At least a full score,” Fren answers.

“Did they have any magic users or ranged weaponry? If so, how many? And do they appear to be well armed? Of course, I ask all of this assuming any attempt at diplomacy has failed,” Raivik says in a sarcastic and belittling tone.

“They’ve used no magic,” Glendra says. “Some carry short bows and most carry slings, though they prefer to use their daggers and spears. We have no use for weapons and armor, at least not those familiar to you or the kobolds, so I cannot tell you how well armed they are. I can tell you that they are scavengers, so it is unlikely that they carry well crafted implements.”

“Can you tell where these kobolds are coming from?” Jora asks. “Perhaps one of our number can observe their camp, unseen. It’s always best to know one’s enemy as much as possible before doing battle.”

“They have set up no camp,” Dinda says. “They do not come from a consistent direction when they come, and they flee in all directions. As far as we can tell they do not congregate. How they manage to organize for the raids is a mystery to us.”

“Did the kobolds ahve some sort of leader? Someone among them that seems to have their ear? Convincing a horde of kobolds of anything is a daunting task, but convincing one…” Jora says, smiling wickedly.

“They do seem to follow orders,” Fren says, “though if those orders come from the same kobold each night, and which kobold that might be, is far beyond our perception. We do not speak their language, and chaos follows the beasts wherever they go.”

“Do they attack during the day or at night?” Raivik asks.

“Both,” Glendra says. “There is little consistency in their actions.”

With no further questions, the group settles into the grove. It is as beautiful as it is serine, it is of little wonder why the dryads are so loath to give it up. Instruction with the dryads begins that night. Dinda shares her knowledge of the wilderness with Jora, Karl, and Raivik, whild Glendra teaches Adakias, Dahlia, and Glyra how to better seek and forage. Fren teaches Aelric to see what others might not, while Sera gives Rico a demonstration on tumbling about. After the evening’s instruction is over, the dryad bids the party a good evening and melt into the scenery. A watch is posted, but the night passes with little event.

The dryads appear shortly before dawn. They’ve prepared a breakfast for the party consisting of berries, apples, and a cold oatmeal with a spice they reveal to be ground tree bark. Lemon and a light tree sap are added to bowls of water from the stream, making a refreshing beverage. It proves to be a nice meal, for being entirely raw and made from the forest. A rotation of four guards is posted, each party member spending two hours on watch and two hours off, either learning from the dryads or enjoying the grove.

Jora spenders her time playing music on her flute as she and Raivik exchange stories with the dryads. After spending the morning playing in the stream with Sera, Karl sets up a target box where he and Aelric practice archery and throwing daggers together. Lady Dahlia spends her time studying a large tome, and Rico strolls about, enjoying nature and keeping a vigilant eye out for trouble. In the evening, Glyra brings in a deer. The dryads request that it be cooked elsewhere, they do not like fire, and they provide a salad of forest greens, raspberries, and chewy roots.

Another uneventful evening passes, and lessons in the morning are just concluding, when Adakias cries out in pain. An arrow has struck him directly in the chest, lodging itself deep in his chain shirt. A second arrow buries itself deep in a log a scant meter from Dahlia’s head. Arrows and draconic battle cries pierce the air from all directions. The kobolds have arrived.

As the kobolds begin to advance in on the grove, Jora takes up a position near the large oak and calls out “Pay attention to the way they move and see if you can figure out which one is giving the orders! If we can pinpoint a leader we can end this more quickly!” She then begins playing an upbeat melody on her flute. One of the kobolds has reached Adakias, thrusting a spear at him, which he easily avoids. Another kobold rushes up and fires a rock from a sling, striking Adakias in the temple. From a high branch in a tree, Glyra fires an arrow that takes a kobold from behind, killing it instantly.

Rico moves agilely forward, unafraid, and ready to defend himself. As he approaches he states, “Whoever can speak their language, please translate!” Once he is facing the nearest kobold, he continues, “Please friends let’s not fight, it will not end well for either party. Tell us what it is you keep returning here for and perhaps we can find a solution that works for all involved.” As he comes to a stop in front of the closest kobold, he reaches forward and lightly pushes against its chest, changing to a defensive stance.

Raivik fires an arrow at a kobold, taking it through the eye. It falls to the ground, moaning softly. Raivik then hops to another branch of the oak tree he is hiding in. Another kobold enters the grove, hitting Adakias in the arm with a rock from its sling. Sera comes bounding out of the bushes, tumbling and skipping to one of the advancing kobolds. It raises a spear at her, and at the last possible second, she flips backwards, catching it in the jaw with her foot as she vaults into the limbs of a nearby tree.

Karl leaps from one bank of the pool to another, drawing his bow. He fires an arrow that sails between two kobolds and exclaims, “Jora, I will cover you!” Two more kobolds swarm Adakias, one thrusting a spear that he parries, the other slamming a stone into his forehead with a sling. Two of the kobolds have noticed Glyra in her tree. One begins climbing it, the other fires a stone that strikes her painfully in the kneecap.

Aelric hurls a dagger at an unsuspecting kobold. The blade sinks into its neck, issuing a loud thud with a sickening crunch. The kobold, in turn, issues a loud rasp, with a spray of blood. It falls over, after a moment, and all life fades from its eyes. Aelric then jumps down from the tree and draws his rapier. A nearby kobold slashes at him with a dagger, but he parries the blow.

Glendra fades from view, reappearing near the kobolds that Aelric and Rico are fighting. She throws her hands up in the air and hums softly. Vines and branches from the nearby trees reach down and entangle three of the kobolds and Aelric. One of them manages enough freedom to fire his sling and Aelric, but the rock flies wide to the right.

Adakias cleaves the nearest of the kobolds swarming him in two, shouting, “It seems these kobolds aren’t willing to talk, but they sure like flinging rocks at me! Not very endearing!” Lady Dahila charges to the nearest (living) kobold to him, slashing it with her dagger, saying “Adakias, there is no reasoning with vermin. We must exterminate them. Ick!”

Seeing her take his comrade with an arrow, one of the kobolds levels his own bow at Glyra, firing an arrow that lodges itself into her thigh of her already wounded leg. Dinda produces a longbow of her own. She draws it back, as if to fire at a kobold wading through the stream, but at the last moment seems to change her mind. Reaching out, she touches a nearby tree, and vanishes from view. Reappearing on the other side with a sad look upon her face, she looses her shaft at a kobold outside of the grove, ending its life instantly.

One of the kobolds that managed to avoid entanglement swings a dagger at Glendra, but it misses. One of the tangled kobolds hits her with a rock from its sling, though it doesn’t appear to have hurt her greatly. The other untangled kobold slashes at Aelric, but he parries its dagger away.

Jora lowers her flute and assesses kobolds within sight, searching for their leader. “This battle is already lost,” she suggests to the most likely candidate, “Take what remains of your people and find another spot. The Dryads here have powerful friends, and will not be driven from their homes.” The kobold takes no notice of her, though whether it cannot hear her, doesn’t understand her, or simply dos not care, is unclear. Glyra takes a show at him, but she misses by a large margin.

Rico punches the kobold nearest to him in the gut. It doubles over, the wind, and all fight, knocked from it. Raivik nimbly hops through the branches of the oak tree to fire an arrow at a kobold near Adakias. It winces in pain as the arrow sticks into his side.

Sera sings a short melody in a high register, and a tree branch reaches down to club a nearby kobold in the head. The kobold looks about, but is clearly unsure about what happened. Karl charges a kobold near Adakias, slicing it open from hit to shoulder. Aelric dispatches another kobold with a thrust of his rapier. Glendra swings a fist at a nearby kobold, but it ducks out of the way, attempting a counter attack, which Glendra gracefully dodges.

Fren closes her eyes, and a sapling near Adakias reaches out to give him a comforting embrace. Bolstered, he slays the nearest kobold and shouts “Has anyone noticed if there’s any coordination to this attack or who could be coordinating it?” Lady Dahlia swings at a nearby kobold. It parries her dagger, offering a failed attack of its own as another kobold rushes up to jab her with a spear, which she cleanly dodges.

Glyra takes a sling bullet to the face, nearly falling from her tree. Another fires an arrow that lodges itself into one of the tree’s branches.

A kobold tries to sneak its way to assault Adakias from behind. Karl reacts quickly with an upward slash of his ranseur. The kobold dodges, but Karl’s brings his weapon down, taking its head cleanly off. Another kobold makes its way through the tangling vines to attack Aelric, its short sword scoring a light hit to his right arm.

Another Kobold attempts to attack Adakias from the rear. It, too, meets its end at Karl’s ranseur. Glyra takes a third arrow, the latest catching her in the left shoulder. A third kobold attempts to get past Karl. Catching a blade through the eye, it slumps to rest on the bodies of its comrades. Another kobold wades through the sea of grasping vines to put a dagger in Aelric’s side.

Δ

Jora begins an incantation, uttering a few arcane mumbles, but after a moment she loses her patiences and yells “Get your ass out here, now!” For an instant nothing appears to happen, but then a celestial badger unfolds from nothingness. It casts its eyes about with an indignant “Harumph!”, sizing up[ the situation, and dashes over to slam its head into one of the kobolds shooting at Glyra. Taking advantage of the distraction, Glyra climbs further up in her tree and casts a spell to heal some of her wounds. Sera chants along side her to aid her with the spell.

While dispatching a kobold, Adakias yells “Thanks for the help, but it seems as if Glyra is in need of your help now.” Raivik leaps down from his tree, landing nimbly and running to aid Glyra. Karl impales another kobold, yelling “Back off, you vermin!” Rico deftly moved through the tangle of vines as it attempts to hold him back. He strikes out at a kobold with a series of quick blows that incapacitate it.

Aelric slashes a kobold. It parries his blade, but Glendra jabs at it, her thorn-like fingers impaling it below the jaw. It dies rasping. The stream is very shallow, yet somehow Fren dives into it, emerging farther down to bludgeon a kobold, climbing from its bank, to death. Lady Dahlia steps back, and hurls a dagger at a kobold coming through the trees. The blade catches it squarely in the eye, and it falls to the ground, motionless.

Their numbers thoroughly depleted, the remaining kobolds flee from the grove. Jora’s celestial badger, Hubert, chases after one, returning moments later to relieve his celestial bladder on Glyra’s tree.

The Dryads offer their thanks to you in ridding their home of the kobold menace. They say you may stay as long as you wish as you recover from the battle and plan your next move. The three kobolds that survived the battle prove to be too deceptive and too cooperative for anything to be gained from interrogation. For now, they remain tied to a tree, until a consensus may be reached as to what to do with them. In the time being, Hubert clearly has his own plans for the kobolds, taking several large gulps as he settles down for a nap near their tree, a knowing smirk on his furry little face.

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A little rest

It is decided that the opportunity that the grove offers for relaxation and personal growth is too good to pass up, so the party accept’s the dryads’ offer to stay for a while. Meals are provided by the dryads. The food is refreshing, but often quite light, prompting the group to seek wild game several times per week. While each meal is shared as a whole, each member of the group spends his/her time independently.

Rico spends some time trying to communicate with the kobolds, but the combination of the language barrier and their lack of cooperation prevent him from making much progress. Several days after the attack, the tree to which the kobolds were tied is found to be empty. Escape is assumed at first, but before a search party is assembled, Fren informs the group that the dryads had “taken care of” the kobolds. They say no more on the topic.

Jora spends some time talking with Glendra, who is all too happy to teach her more of the ways of the dryads, as well as a few tales, the likes of which few bards could ever hope to be privy to. Karl spends his time physically training and joining in on whatever he finds interesting. Lady Dahlia spends most of her time studying a large spell book, attempting minor spells and cantrips, on occasion.

Adakias spends his time in peaceful reflection, listening to the sounds of the animals, the trees, and the river. Aelric also spends some time enjoying nature. At one point, he makes a trek back to The Parade for supplies, taking orders from anyone that needs anything.

Glyra often spends her days off with the dryads or on her own. Like the dryads, she is rarely seen except during mealtimes. Raivik spends several weeks carving beautiful designs into his quarterstaff, which he then presents to the dryads as a sign of friendship. They are very appreciative, and Sera takes it off to wherever the dryads keep their few possessions. He also spends time studying the flora and fauna, inspecting plants and tree saps, and trying to creep up upon the animals. Fren offers him a few tips, though he only manages to successfully tag a sleeping badger (not Hubert).

Again, the dryads impart their knowledge upon those willing to learn it. Honey is a large part of the dryad diet, so they must collect a lot of it. Fren uses this as an opportunity to train Glyra, teaching her to extract honey without disturbing the bees that provide it. She suffers a few stings, but by the end she becomes quite deft at it.

There are two small mountains to the Southwest of the grove where Sera takes Adakias hiking. The terrain is extremely rocky and unforgiving. The going is extremely rough on Adakias, but Sera doesn’t let up on him. After the first hike, Adakias is so exhausted that he sleeps through the entire following day. As the weeks pass, though, his reflexes and stamina have increased, such that he is only somewhat sore at the end of a day’s hike.

Every morning, at dawn, Dinda takes Karl and Raivik off to a quiet to teach them to commune with nature. They spend hours in silence, either meditating or focusing on a flower or a tree. At first it is frustrating for all three of them, as little progress is made. After a few weeks, though, they can begin to faintly feel the essence of the forest, and to barely hear the true voice of nature.

After the first week, Glendra announces that she must oversee the meeting of two peoples that live beneath the forest. It will take her several days, but it should prove interesting, should any wish to attend. Aelric, Jora, Lady Dahlia, and Rico join her. After marching to the nearby mountains, Glendra leads the group down into a cave. Rough rock soon becomes smooth stone, and the caves take the shape of hallways and rooms. There are even chairs, tables, and other practicalities that seem to grow right out of the rock. No tooling marks can be seen, it is almost as if the rock naturally formed this way.

Glendra stops to inspect the markings next to a doorway. “This is it,” she says, nodding, and leading the group into a room with a long table, and a large that looks out over a large cavern. Faint light can be seen in the distance, and hot air blows in through the empty window. Everybody takes a seat in the stone chairs, and Glendra explains that these rooms are were all made by the Cha’taru, otherwise known as the Stone Callers. The Cha’taru are a peaceful race of magical beings that literally come from the caves in the region. They are made of stone, and can manipulate and even fuse themselves with it. They are peaceful and friendly, but rarely associate with other beings. They find limitless beauty and their greatest joy in the stone that makes up their home, and they want nothing more than to work it and to be with it. It meets all of their needs, so they have little reason to journey out.

The Cha’taru have come to be neighbors with a small clan of Fire Spirits. Like the Cha’taru, the Fire Spirits desire a peaceful and reclusive existence. Long ago, the Fire Spirits dwelled above, in the forest. They do not know how they came to be in the world, and while they were happy in the forest, it was clear that they did not belong there. While not composed of fire, as the Cha’taru are made of stone, the Fire Spirits can create and manipulate it, and they must do so to survive. At first, they tried to control their fires, but at times it would get loose and cause great damage to the forest. In time, this drew the attention of the dryads, and while the spirits were willing to cooperate, having no wish to cause such destruction, they were uncertain as to what to do to reconcile their way of life with the forest that they had become reliant upon and a detriment to.

Glendra, having known the Cha’taru for many years, sought their help. They generously agreed to cede some of their land to the Fire Spirits. Not only would this provide them with a place to live, but it had the added bonus of containing several natural lava flows, which could sustain the Fire Spirits indefinitely.

So the two people had lived as peaceful neighbors for over a century. Now, however, a conflict has arisen. The Cha’taru had become enamored with a vein of granite that ran near the surface. They shaped it, as is their way, creating a long tunnel of elaborately detailed statues. In doing so, they had to redirect an underground river, unintentionally connecting it with another, which has begun to spill into the Fire Spirits main living area. Fire Spirits, as one might imagine, cannot stand water, and the steam caused by the water hitting the lava proved nearly fatal to them. They’ve been forced to flee their home, and while the Cha’taru have attempted to alleviate the situation, they have been unable to find a solution that does not involve flooding their beloved tunnel. While they are sympathetic to the Fire Spirits’ causes, they feel that they have given enough to them, and are unwilling to compromise what they feel to be one of their greatest works.

So the Fire Spirits have had to return to the surface, where the trees of the forest provide them with the fuel for their vital fires. Glendra, aware of the situation, has come to talk with both peoples to come to a solution acceptable to both parties. Just as Glendra finishes explaining all of this, the first of the Cha’taru have begun to arrive. Most appear as very squat, round figures with very stubby limbs and large, almost exaggerated, facial features. A few take other forms, a few appear to be animals made of stone, others in forms that match nothing in nature, but all of roughly the same size, none more than a meter tall. Some walk through the door, others seem to rise from the stone. A Cha’taru in the form of a small hunting cat leaps down from above to rest lazily on the table. They are all very friendly and provide fruit juice to the humanoids to drink. They also set down several large platters of tinder, no doubt as an amenity to the Fire Spirits. They all seem to speak Common, exchanging pleasantries with the party, but they speak with Glendra in a completely foreign tongue.

After a few moments, the Fire Spirits arrive. They appear as tall, lanky humanoids, colored red, orange, and yellow, though occasionally their visage wavers, as the air can do in the presence of extreme heat. They each politely accept a piece of wood from the platters, the ends of which immediately start to burn.

The meeting starts with the first of what will prove to be many rituals. The Cha’taru hum a tune, in unison, while crafting stone figurines in the likenesses of each guest there, as a gift of friendship and welcome. This process takes roughly an hour, and it sets the pace, which is to say very deliberate, of the meetings. Though the meeting lasts for 4 hours, very little is accomplished. Half of the time is consumed by the rituals of the Cha’taru. The remaining time is spent in discussions that mostly relay the history of the two peoples’ relationship. After the meeting adjurns, Glendra explains that most of the meetings will go similarly. She also warns that while the Cha’taru ceremonies take up a lot of time, they will seem brief compared to the “discussions” that will take place between amongst the Fire Spirits.

The next day’s meeting drags on even longer, with two 5 hour sessions broken up with a meal in between. Glendra’s warning comes true in the second session. Actual productive discussion has started to take place, and the Fire Spirits, who have spoken only in Common until now, have requested a chance to commune amongst themselves. This proves to be just as fascinating a display as the Cha’taru ceremonies, as the six Fire Spirits in attendence sit in a circle on the floor, their hands raised to one another, and begin chanting in their native tongue. This goes on for almost an hour, their eyes closed the entire time, and flames well up between and round them as they sing and sway back and forth. Finally, their eyes open and the flames go out, all in an instant, and they stand up to rejoin the discussion.

The Cha’taru’s rituals and the Fire Spirit’s conflagrated congresses continue for eight days. Finally, with Glendra’s help to move things along, a solution is reached. The Fire Spirits will move to a different chamber underground. While it is larger, the lava flows are much smaller, and are not enough to sustain them alone. To supplement this, the Cha’taru will provide them with fresh lumber on a daily basis. This solution seems to please both peoples greatly, as the Cha’taru are eager to perform their art in the cavern, which now boasts a waterfall, that they haven’t touched in more than a century. The Fire Spirits, having grown tired on subsisting on lava alone, are excited at the prospect of having fresh wood to burn.

While the party didn’t actually do anything during the meetings, both the Stone Callers and the Fire Spirits express their gratitude for your interest in their cultures. Each performs a ritual that will both bolster you, and will serve as a mark of friendship. The Cha’taru lie you down on the floor, and call forth the stone to envelope you for several minutes. The Fire Spirits, in turn, offer to talk to you in their own language, which involves the group standing in the center of one of their “discussions”. Both experiences, while somewhat frightening, prove to be quite fulfilling. On the hike back to the grove, each member of the party reflects on how they will never really look at stone and fire the same way, again.

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