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.
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.