Summoned to Specularum
Journey to Alfheim
Word reached the village of Glaston from the Duke's Court, from Justin Karameikos, that Lana and her companions were summoned for a mission of utmost importance. Lana departed for the capital without delay, leaving instructions that the remnants of her mercenary band should continue patrolling the lands around Glaston. The last thing she wanted was for monsters to return to the territory she had painstakingly cleared during the previous fortnight.
After four days' ride she joined Drewen, Threy, Karnus and Vasily on the steps of the Duke's Stronghold in Specularum. Ascending through the gates they were led to one of the palace buildings where they were asked to wait in a long hall, where a man dressed in black was pacing impatiently. This fellow, they learned, was an emissary of the Black Eagle Baron. When the stranger was admitted to his audience with the Duke, Karnus brought out his crystal ball to eavesdrop. He reported that Ludwig von Hendrikks, the infamous Black Eagle, was offering to merge his mercenary forces with those of the Duke, ostensibly for the purpose of increasing security within the Grand Duchy. In particular the Black Eagle was displeased at how Sascia of Luln shunned contact with Fort Doom, rarely punishing those who committed crimes against the Baron and his lands. Lana recalled what her friend Hadrian had told her - how Hattian members of the Thyatian Senate were grumbling that Karameikos' loyalty to the Empire was waning, and lobbied for a new Grand Duke to be selected. No doubt those individuals had the maniacal Black Eagle in mind as Stefan's replacement.
Karnus' focus was disrupted as the party was invited to enter Lord Justin's study. Justin revealed that his younger brother (their mother's favoured child) was missing. Months ago Valen Karameikos had departed the land of his birth bound for the woodland nation of Alfheim, to visit a trader friend whom he had met during his Shearing phase. Valen had vowed to be back in Karameikos by no later than Beasts Day, which was now past. According to Justin's account Duchess Olivia was frantic, overwrought with worry for her son's wellbeing. By contrast, her husband was of the view that young men should be left to their own devices. As a show of support to the Duke's family, the party undertook to go after Valen. Attending upon Justin was a strapping and handsome elf by the name of Shalandar - elven ambassador to Karameikos. Shalandar informed the group that Valen had sought the Chossum clan who were known as the most mercantile of the elven clans. Their clanseat was at the settlement called Desnae, deep within the Canolbarth Forest. According to Shalandar the clanseat wouldn't be hard to locate, so long as the party asked directions along the way.
Off to Alfheim
The group left that very day, eager to be on their way, but not before Lana called to the home of an animal trainer named Dmitros. This Traladaran gentleman, resplendent in gaudily coloured sashes and jewellery, agreed to accompany the party for double his normal rate of pay. In return he would attempt to train the bear cub Grunt before he became too large and unruly to be tamed. Hoping to facilitate the process, Lana stocked up on jars of honey and fishes before the group departed.
The Duke's Road led north past Kelvin, where Drewen was obliged to settle matters relating to his clan's stay in the camps outside the city walls. During this stopover the party met with Baron Desmond Kelvin, Patriarch of the Church of Karameikos, who in his usual clipped manner updated them on an uprising which he mentioned previously. Desmond explained how two months before he had ridden out to the village of Ulkov where rumours spoke of strangers coming to town before villagers began disappearing. It transpired that the newcomers were lycanthropic devil swine such as those the party fought during their investigations on behalf of Lady Arteris Penhaligon. Desmond had overheard these three congratulating one another on the mayhem and murders which they and others of their kind had helped to perpetrate. Hearing this, the Baron had been quick to move in; he single-handedly slew all three.
The party departed Kelvin and rode on into the Altan Tepes, passing the valleys and peaks which concealed Drewen's clanseat. The Duke's Road led ever north into the village of Reedle. By this point the companions had exited Karameikos and were into the southernmost reaches of the Republic of Darokin. They journeyed onward to the eastern capital of Selenica, then along the road which would eventually lead to Darokin City, hundreds of miles to the west. The party was not planning to head that far, as they instead sought the area of twisted magic known as Dragontree, on the periphery of the Canolbarth Forest. Drewen and Lana's hearts sank as they considered the road which would lead them there, through the town of Nemiston - the most inhospitable settlement the party knew. Karnus scoffed that his comrades allowed themselves to be intimidated by a bunch of surly townsfolk.
Nemiston made merry
Reaching Nemiston later that week, the companions were delighted to find the town terrorised by mischevious elves. Gaudy banners hung across every street of the small town. Signs such as 'Free Silver Dagger - Enquire Within' or 'Six Chickens with every Purchase' brought smiles to the faces of Lana and Drewen in particular. Drewen's ferret Denkris picked up a scent and led the party to one of the elves who had set up these and other pranks - Gildus of the Feadil clan, who provided vague directions on how to reach Desnae. It appeared that a trip to Dragontree might not be required.
Having been spotted in the company of an elf, the companions retreated from Nemiston and continued along the main road to the east, reaching the town of Halfway a few days later whereupon they left the road behind and headed north-east into the Canolbarth Forest, otherwise known as the elven nation of Alfheim.
The trees grew taller and more imposing, until the party found themselves surrounded by enormous oaks some of which towered hundreds of feet into the sky. Had the companions linked hands, they could not have encircled even half one those mighty trunks. At the base of one such tree a maiden was spied, watching the leaves of autumn drift down from the upper boughs. She wore next-to-nothing; most intriguing was her hair, long and rich auburn in colour but golden where it passed her shoulders. Betula informed the party that this was a full-blooded dryad, whose hair reflected the changing of the season. The dryad looked up as the party approached, setting her sights upon Vasily's strapping form. The cleric's eyes glazed as he met the beautiful creature's gaze. Lana and Betula stepped in to dissuade the dryad from drawing their friend into her tree. Sfter threats and beseeching, Vasily was eventually released. The party pressed on and found a trail which led north-east.
A chestnut stallion with a mane of white came charging along the path, reared and stomped its hooves, then turned and retreated. Curious, Threy used a spell to converse with the party's horses and uncover what this newcomer had wanted. They replied that he had been checking whether they, the party's horses, were being treated respectfully. Perhaps this was a sign that the party was nearing civilisation. Later that evening it began to rain, the rainwater forming clear pools alongside the path. Threy decided to drink from one such puddle. His companions watched in astonishment as the cleric's skin turned black as onyx. Karnus too drank deeply, and his skin turned shimmering sapphire. The Forest's magic was becoming ever more manifest.
The party next encountered a band of dwarves who dubbed themselves 'The Thorns (in the side of those bloody Elves)', dedicated to causing disruption to local parts whenever and in whatever manner possible. Among them was Throick, son of Oick, who suspected that the Karameikans were spies sent by King Everast of Rockhome. Seeming satisfied that this was not the case, the groups went their separate ways.
Threy is rejuvenated
Inspired by his vibrant surroundings, Threy brought out the vial containing his potion of longevity, and downed its contents. At once his skin smoothed as ten years of his life melted away. Threy now passed for a twenty-one year-old, with few traces remaining of the horrific injuries which his face in particular had sustained.
Grunt the bearcub began sniffing excitedly, straining on his leash as buzzing became audible. Further along the path was a clearing, within which a hive the size of a dwelling was attached to one of the immense oaks. A horde of foot-long bees swarmed protectively around their lair. Killer bees. There was no option but to cross this clearing. Lana used magic to erect a wall of vegetation which shielded the party as they passed. A number of the insects were smart enough to fly around the wall however, and a skirmish ensued. Dmitros the animal trainer was badly stung. While the bee in question appeared to die after its attack, its stinger worked through the man’s body, exiting via a gaping wound on the man's rear shoulder and its poison bringing him close to death's door. Making haste before more bees should emerge the party found themselves in a second clearing, where a centaur was pulling arrow shafts from his flank. To the companions' amazement the open wounds were seen to salve over as soon as the offending missiles were pulled free. This brown and white furred centaur introduced himself as Khlorad - guardian of a herd of fabulous elven steeds which was being preyed upon by human bandits. The companions professed their lack of connection to banditry and continued on their way, soon arriving at a fast-flowing but relatively shallow stream. An owlbear was spotted emerging from a bush on the far side of the stream, and the companions decided to allow the beast some space in hopes of avoiding a nasty confrontation.
Fishing for trouble ... the owlbears
Lana put her newly-purchased fishing equipment to use, and was delighted when she felt a tug on her line. The catch was heavy and strong, and required effort from both her and Vasily to draw it from the stream. Finally the strain proved too great, and as the twine was about to snap both mage and cleric were pulled into the water with a splash. Lana shuddered as something slimy attached to the flesh of her back; she could feel her lifeblood being drained at an alarming rate. A giant leech. While Vasily clambered free from the water, Threy applied what healing he could to counteract the constant loss of blood. Drewen fired crossbow bolts, and Vasily attempted to lever the thing off Lana using his trusty wooden pole. (Karnus meanwhile was admiring the sylvan surroundings, seemingly distracted). As Lana stabbed in a desperate attempt to kill the leech before it killed her, Vasily heaved with his pole and the leech detached. Lana stabbed hard and the creature burst, the gore of its innards being washed downstream. All was not well however, as the owlbear which the party had hoped to avoid was crossing a fallen log and had reached their side of the river. Being a territorial beast the owlbear roared and charged. Drewen, Threy and Vasily readied weapons for a fight, but Lana had seen enough bloodshed. A ray of magic struck the owlbear between its eyes. An instant later a fluffy rabbit appeared in its stead, and hopped away into the bushes.
Crossing the log to the far side of the stream a trio of owlbears appeared. Lana loosed a lightning bolt which caught all three, after which her companions' hammers and mace finished the ferocious creatures in next to no time.
Alliance with the Centaurs
The centaur Khlorad was met again, now accompanied by three more of his kind - Thunderhoof, Merito and Equalarian of a neighbouring tribe. These four had come together to track Khlorad's missing herd. All present considered it odd that the wily elven steeds had been unable to shake off their captors and return home. The centaurs requested assistance in return for giving the party clear directions to Desnae, and a deal was struck. Thunderhoof's sister, a filly named Diella, had seen a half dozen humans leading horses the previous day, and led the party to the bandits' camp atop a grassy hillock. There the horses could be seen grazing peacefully; strangely, they were neither confined nor tethered. They appeared free to roam as they pleased. How then could they be captives? Karnus and Lana theorised that magical control was involved. Khlorad transformed and went to speak with the horses, who reported that they had been led to their current location by a centaur. Khlorad considered this proposterous but before anything more could be said men came running down the hill with weapons readied. One man in particular, replendent in Darokinian foppery, ran with the speed of the wind and closed to battle Threy but not before the cleric managed to magically restrain four of the man's armoured associates. This left a sole individual wearing leather armour, who unrolled a scroll and conjured phantasmal images. Lana despatched these using amber shards, then as three blazing bolts of sapphire magic impacted into the man's chest he collapsed, the parchment falling from his hand as he did so.
Threy became vexed as his every blow was parried, seemingly effortlessly, by his foe's rapier. The flimsy weapon could not penetrate Threy’s magical plate however, therefore the combat remained at an impasse. Finally with an irate cry Threy's mace fractured the man's shoulder and he dropped to the ground, begging to yield. The man introduced himself as Thibault Falconbridge, associate of the Master Thief Arturo Alcomb who had fallen by Karnus' magic. While Vasily stripped him of his magical boots, Thibault regarded Threy strangely, as if he recognised the man. He claimed Threy was the image of the bandits' resident cleric. Intrigued, the party made their way up the hill to meet the remainder of the bandits - a hulking man named Adam and the cleric who was indeed the image of Threy except ten years older, on account of Threy having imbibed his potion of longevity.
It transpired this was Threy's twin brother, also a cleric, who knew much about the pair's past and origin, in contrast to Threy's ignorance. This man had remained faithful to the tenets of Chaos which Threy had relinquished a year after beginning to adventure alongside his present companions. The brother gave no name, stating his belief that such labels were the trappings of Order and ought not to be tolerated. 'Nameless' recounted the story of his and Threy's birth, speaking of their mother - a Traladaran maiden who thirty years before had been ravaged by a priest of the Church of Karameikos. Shunned and alone the girl had taken refuge in the Black Peak mountains above Threshold, where she gave birth to twins amid a thunderstorm, vowing that one of her offspring would bring about the ruin of her erstwhile lover's Order. Threy had been left on the doorstep of Threshold's church, destined one day to bring the faith to its knees. Threy's brother on the other hand was abandoned. Since then he had strived to become a cleric, though not possessing great aptitude for that calling. Upon choosing to walk the path of Chaos he developed the ability to cast spells.
Threy listened, aghast, to his brother's tale, ultimately stating that he wished little to do with this advocate of anarchy. The man reminded Threy of what he himself had been, and of what he might have risen to become had he not accepted the friendship of his companions. Threy would have been alone indeed, as this Nameless One seemed to be through choice. Who knew what might have happened to the Church of Karameikos had Threy followed through on his mother's bidding...
The disgraced hero ... wyverns attack
Meanwhile a cry went up from the centaurs outside as a lone centaur was spied approaching the camp. This was Bardoc, once a leader and protector of the centaur race who had not been heard of for a decade. Now a drunkard and fallen on hard times, he had allied with the human bandits who sought to steal the herd of elven horses. Bardoc had gone as far as to sell the magical armour of his ancestors to fund years of drinking and indulgence. Outraged, Thunderhoof turned upon Bardoc and a skirmish ensued - Bardoc's brawn and experience matching Thunderhoof's youthful vigour.
An immense shadow passed overhead, as a great red-scaled beast soared across the clearing, an elk's carcass clenched between its powerful jaws. Upon catching sight of the horses the elk was dropped, and the wyvern closed. The centaurs' arrows and an Ice Storm felled the beast. Three further wyverns appeared, drawn by the sounds of fighting; two landed whilst the third circled in the air. Karnus loosed a Fireball while Drewen, Threy and Vasily set about battling the wyverns which had landed. Lana conjured a whirlwind to tear apart the airborne wyvern before it could join the melee on the ground.
Once the battle ended it became apparent that Thibault and Adam had used the distraction to escape into the Forest. Also, the problem of Bardoc remained.
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