In the Weave

Session 009 - The Horror within Kaer Aklar

The great orichalcum doors opened, revealing a narrow hallway that led into a large, open study. Sitting behind the desk were the mummified remains of a dwarf. Laid out before her was a letter.

To veiw the letter: Niera’s Last Testament

From the study were 3 doorways, leading to a library, an alchemy lab, and an armory.

The library contained too much to properly explore. Upon cursorary inspection, many records of lineage were discovered. A tome title The White Throne (written by Aleon) was discovered, as was a 12 volume set on the history of Landis. Roland very much wanted the Landis volumes, but could not think of a way to safely carry them through the rest of their journey.

In the alchemy lab, Anetha discover a pair of grimoires and a book of potion recipes. She also found a few potions that still seemed to be good.

The armory had 5 cubiles, each with distict sets of equipment.

Cubicle 1 – A human-sized set of ornate (yet functional) plate mail and a helm. The human emblem of House Bourne was emblazoned on the left shoulder of the armor. There was a slot for a sword, but no weapon was present.

Cubicle 2 – A set of ashy grey hardened leather armor, obviously built for a female; a buckler; a spear; and a whip.

Cubicle 3 – A dwarf-sized set of plate mail and a warhammer.

Cubicle 4 – A set of grey robes and a staff.

Cubicle 5 – A set of mottled gren and brown hardened leather armor and a longbow.

The group divied up the gear and decided to spend the night in the vault.

The next day they were off again. Heavy rains greeted them outside and continued throughout the day. It was a miserable walk and everyone was soaked and tired.

That night, Roland and his watchmate (Dumond?), fell asleep durinfg their shift.

The Wayfarers awoke to the smell of roasting meat. The rain had lessened to a light drizzle and everyone’s stomach rumbled as if they hadn’t eaten in days.

A rabbit on a crude spit was over the fire, while ten more rabbits were gutted and draped over a nearby branch. There were no clues as to where the rabbits had come from, nor how long the group had been asleep. The group ate, packed up, and continued. This mystery would have to wait.

Sometime later, Stigandr found booted tracks of people moving quickly. The tracks seemed to be at least a day old and headed in the general direction the group was already headed. The group decided to follow them.

As the Wayfarer’s moved out of the woods and into a large clearing, they spotted the open entrance to a kaer in a cliff face across from ahead of them. They also noticed The Green Heart Company entering the meadow to the west of them.

When The Green Heart Company noticed the Wayfarers, they broke into a run, racing for the kaer. They laughed good-naturedly as the ran; and, for a while, everyone almost felt like care-free children again.

Stigandr arrived first, just ahead of Lady Grace and several members of The Green Heart Company.

Just outside the kaer, six Koller were tied to a makeshift hitching post. Someone had made it here before them.

As they entered the kaer, the sounds of fighting could be heard from ahead, coming from the kaer’s main chamber. From the sound of it, the conflict had many participants.

The two groups moved forward together, towards the dimly lit, dust-choked chamber.

A couple of figures emerged from the dust. Thoog was in front, running quickly. Just behind him was Grayson.

“Go! Go!" Grayson shouted in panic, "I think it saw u…” A great, oil, black tentacle sped out from the chamber and split Grayson in half lengthwise.

Thoog spotted the newcomers. “Come! We must get to higher ground!” He turned and raced down a corridor. Just as the Wayfarers were beginning to follow, Thoog hit a pressure plate in the floor and the walls slammed in on him. A surprisingly small spurt of blood stained the dirt floor before the Wayfarers.

Still confused the Wayfarers and The Green Heart Company moved towards the main chamber.

An enormous, oily-black, tear-shaped thing hung from the great light quartz suspended from the kaers ceiling. A Horror! Embedded in the belly of the beast; the old, dessicated body of a man in rusted plate mail hung, almost as if for display.

Arrayed on two different levels, the remaining Adepts of Wayfare tried to engage the creature, with little success. The Horror seemed to be out of most’s reach and those that could reach it received the brunt of the Horror’s retaliations. Already there were six dead on the floor: Sha’tina, Lurman Dost, Lomander, Grillik, Lodan, and Nalese.

The Wayfarers moved into action but found there was really little they could do.

Anetha used her power to control gust of wind to help clear dust from the air.

Lady Grace began a slow, stealthy climb up the wall to see if she could somehow break the light quartz from the ceiling and put the Horror in striking range of her companions below.

All around them, people they had know since childhood, screamed in pain and died. Simon was struck by a pair of Razor Orbs and tumbled of his ledge on the upper level; Andaluve was snatched up by a trio of tentacles and, literally, ripped apart; and Alancaro received a pair of Razor Orbs as well, that blew through him like magical, steel bullets.

The head of the body in rusted plate jerked upward, as if suddenly coming awake. It looked around slowly until its eyes found Stigandr and stopped. It peered at him without emotion.

With seemingly great effort, the now-animated body pulled its arm free of the Horror, reached behind its back, and drew a sword. Lacking the strength to throw the sword, the body sort of pushed the sword in Stigandr’s direction and went limp again.

Stigandr rushed to the weapon and picked it up. A hand-and-a-half sword. More interesting was a raised coin-like piece that poked up out of the crosspiece. It looked to be about the same size as the indentation in Eckhardt’s Puzzle.

Fumbling out the medallion, Stigandr found that it seated onto the sword perfectly. There were no immediate or obvious effects.

Hoping that this weapon might be of use against the Horror, Stigandr tossed the weapon to Roland.

Meanwhile, Lady Grace had made it to the mounting bracket. Seeing it up close, she had little hope she would be able to dislodge it, but she had come too far to not try. She pulled out her dagger and started chipping away at it.

Another tentacle flashed out and found Sendra, knocking her onto he back, where she lay motionless. Anetha moved to help the fallen ork and a scream of rage sounded form above them…


With a fantastic Great Leap, Ky cleared jumped from his position on the higher ground and landed atop the orb the Horror clung to. In his hands, he held his father’s sword, Asunder. With a mighty swing, Ky shattered the links and began to fall with the Horror.

Thinking fast, Lady Grace ran her foot through one of the massive links and let go with her hands. Now, dangling upside down, she managed to grab a hold of Ky’s forearm (leaving long furrows from her claws), keeping him from plumetting to certain doom.

The Horror crashed into the floor, with the orb landed atop it, pinning it to the ground. The Adepts, now able to assault the creature properly, lay into it with everything they had. There were a few satisfying hits, but the monster’s thick skin was still proving difficult to pierce.

From below the creature, a dry voice chanted. The words were muffled and difficult to make out.

Suddenly, the sword in Roland’s hands flashed brightly, and weak points in the Horror’s hide began to glow electric blue.

“Hit the blue areas!” Roland yelled, and everyone shifted their attacks.

In short order, the beast was dispatched, but not without a heavy cost to the Adepts. A total of seventeen of the thirty-six Adepts lay dead. Sheyzi lost her left hand in the battle, Gretta suffered a broken leg, and Nadja had been staggered by some sort of mental assault.

And thus ended the Battle of Kaer Aklar (now known as the Kaer of Blood)

Session 008 - Kaer Noldo

When the Wayfarers woke the next morning, the lizard was still there and stayed close to Dumond’s side.

When discussion about leaving the lizard began, Stigandr supprted the idea and soon found his boot laces tied together. Roland followed a snickering sound to a place behind a rock and found the lizard seeming to laugh at Stigandr’s “misfortune”.

Without really giving it much thought, Roland asked the lizard if it had done that.

It looked up at Roland with wide eyes and pointed at Lady Grace.

The group was agast. The lizard not only understood them, but seemed capable of minor communication.

The group moved on and soon came to a deadend. They studied the towering cliff face before them and decided to scale it rather than spending the better part of a day backtracking.

Lady Grace and Stigandr helped the other companions up the cliff, while Jennean and the lizard helped carry gear up to the top.

When everyone made the top, the were exhausted and rested.

A day later, the found the broken open entrance of Kaer Noldo. From all appearances, it seemed that the Great Quake had done even more damage here than at Kaer Ara.

The group entered and explored.

They heard some fighting up ahead and went to investigate, finding Bronze Group (led by Sendra) in combat with Cadaver Men. While they fought one group, another group was closing in on their right flank.

Thw Wayfarers stepped in and met the flanking group.

They destroyed the Cadaver Men and parleyed with Bronze Group, who believed that at least Silver Group ([[:ky-bloodfist | Ky Bloodfist]’s group]) had already been there as well. Then Bronze Group continued on their way.

Jennean spotted a pair of emmense orichalcum doors.

Lady Grace studied the door and found it was locked with a mystical vocal lock. With her abilities, she was able to determine that the door required a three-word password.

They tried many word combinations, until Jennean remembered a set of words Aleon had uttered in one of there meetings

Oonala Looman Gali!” she shouted and the doors swung open.

Session 007 - Into the Unknown

The two weeks of preparation went by all too quickly. Each and every one of the Adepts had been looking forward to this final test for several years, but many of them would now have given almost anything for just a few more days to ready themselves. There was just so much to do. Gathering supplies, planning potential routes, brushing up on skills that might be needed; the groups worked fervently in an attempt to predict (and be ready for) any contingency.

Each Adept packed and unpacked their gear again and again, seeking that delicate balance between preparedness and less burdensome.

They could pack heavy, ensuring they had every scrap of gear they might need. Ropes, shovels, axes, saws, pitons, tents, tarps, cookware; the list went on and on. Knowing they had a tool for nearly every eventuality would give great piece of mind, but it would also weigh them down and slow their marches.

Packing to a bare minimum was another option. They would be able to travel faster, but may not be prepared for the difficulties that were bound to be in their paths. Without proper gear they could be forced to backtrack around obstacles.

Food was another concern. How much does the group carry? Would they stick to trail rations; or supplement with hunting, fishing, or gathering? And water? What about water? Water would have to be found along the way, but how much should they carry?

Routes were another factor they had to consider. Carrying heavy packs up and over the rocky slopes of the Shalane Peaks would be much more taxing than over less demanding terrain; while equipment like rock hammers, pitons, and rope would become more of a necessity in the mountains as well.

It was a great puzzle that worried at many of their minds. Much was riding on the decisions they would make; and, one way or another, they would soon know which of them would be chosen to make the trip to the mainland.

“These maps are pre-Scourge,” Stigandr warned, rolling out the maps on the table. “Their reliability should be considered suspect, but they are the best we have for anything beyond the Yellow Line.” He studied the map as his companions gathered around. He touched a spot on the map to the north and slightly east of Wayfare, deep in the Shalane Peaks. “Kaer Noldo is supposed to be about here. I see three options for getting there.” He traced an imaginary straight line from Wayfare to Kaer Noldo. “We could go through the mountains. It will likely be some hard climbing, but it is the shortest route. We should not have to get above the tree line much, so there should be plenty of potential for food and water.”

Stigandr moved his finger back to Wayfare and traced another line, this time up through the jungles to the north, then cutting east and into the mountains. “This is another option. The jungles would be more moderate terrain, but could present other problems. There are far more living things in the jungle and we have no idea as to what sort of predators we might encounter once we are beyond the Yellow Line. On top of that, there could be swamps, quicksand, or several other environmental dangers. Still, travel would likely be less strenuous than the mountains and we could make good time and, game and water would be readily available.”

Again, Stigandr’s finger returned to Wayfare. This time it traced a line south, around the southern tip of Natales, then up the shoreline of the island before cutting west into the mountains. “This route would be the easiest, but a bit longer than the others. The terrain would be fairly flat until the last leg when we entered the mountains. We could cover a great deal of extra mileage each day, but we would be out in the open. Water would certainly not be an issue since Corman returned Eckhardt’s Puzzle to us and there should be plenty of game to be had as well.”

Roland studied the possibilities, and then looked to the Scout. “Which would you recommend?”

Stigandr spent a moment calculating possibilities and weighing potential problems. “As speed seems to be a concern, I think we should take the mountain route. It will be hard travel, but I think we are up to the task. If we have the proper gear, any climbing we may need to do can be done with minimal risk, even for those less skilled at it. Lady Grace and I could set the pitons and such, which will make the climb all the easier for those that followed. The down side is that we will need to carry the extra weight of that gear. Ropes, hammers, plenty of pitons,” he scratched his chin in thought, and then continued “maybe even some block and tackle to haul our gear up after us.”

Roland nodded his assent. Looking to the others around the table, he asked, “Does everyone agree or have any other pertinent input?”

“Sounds good to me,” Lady Grace shrugged, “I want us to beat everyone else to the other kaers; and, if this is the way to do it, I say that’s the way we go.”

“I wonder if there are ogres in the mountains,” Jennean said hopefully, “Oooo, or maybe a giant bear! Oh, or some sort of carnivorous mountain goat! This is gonna be awesome!”

“Yeah,” Dumond replied sarcastically, “awesome.”

During the two weeks of preparation, the group also took the time to take a Name for themselves: Wayfarers of Light’s Hope.

Day 1
At last, the day of departure arrived and, as the sun crested the horizon; six teams took off on the various paths towards the lost kaers.

The Wayfarers pressed hard that day, climbing up the sloping foothills and putting as many miles as they could behind them. Higher and higher they climbed, until their lungs and legs burned from exertion.

As they took a short break for water and a quick bite to eat, “That area there,” Stigandr pointed out a rise that was faded by distance, “There is a river just before those peaks. That marks the beginning of the Red Line.” Excitement danced in his eyes. “I don’t think anyone has passed into the Red Line since the First Team.”

“And look what happened to them,” Dumond muttered.

“Don’t worry, Doomy,” Jennean said cheerfully, “We will prevail! We are ready for whatever is out there. We are well trained and ready for anything.”

Roland smiled slightly at the windling’s confidence and turned to Stigandr, “Any sign of any of the others?”

The Scout shrugged, “Just that glimpse of the team we saw moving into the jungle. I’m pretty sure it was Blue Group. It looked like Aram anyway.” Stigandr poured a bit of water into his palm and splashed it on his face. “There are several different routes they could have taken. Any of them could easily be on a course similar to our own, but on the other side of a ridge or something. None of us are exactly following pre-existing trails. We have an idea of where we are headed,” he shrugged again, “Now, we are just trying to get there.”

Roland nodded. “I’m only really concerned about the Keepers. Ky will push them hard and they have a Scout as well.”

“That would be Naya, and don’t count her out. She’s an elf and takes to the outdoors like a chootan to a tree,” Stigandr replied, “Bronze Group has a Scout as well. Kenesaw. Miranda taught us all well.”

“Don’t forget Red Group and The Green Heart Company,” Grace chimed in, “They both have Beastmasters. I know that they are close to nature, but I don’t know if they have any Talents that will help them find the kaers. They can probably get animals to help them and stuff.”

Roland sighed and shook his head, “Well, that only leaves Blue Group. Who all is in that group?”

Jennean fluttered over to join the conversation. “Aram the Blade, Sedric, Grayson, Lodan, Nalese, and Lurman. So,” her forehead creased in thought, “two Swordmasters, an Archer, a Wizard, an Elementalist, and a Nethermancer. They are certainly strong on the spellcaster side, but not much in the navigating jungles area.”

“Alright,” Roland clapped his hands loudly, “Is everyone ready? We need to put some more miles in before we set up camp for the night.”

The Wayfarers re-donned their gear and fell in behind Stigandr as he resumed his climb up the slope.

Day 2 (night)

Tug, tug

Dumond stirred on his bedroll, trying to roll away from whatever was disturbing his sleep.

Tug, tug

“Nugh,” Dumond groaned a warning, making a barely conscious swat at whatever was tugging at his belt and meeting nothing. “Go ‘way.”

When no further disturbance came, the Illusionist slipped back into his usual deep sleep.

Tug, tug

Annoyance flared in Dumond’s mind and he clawed towards consciousness. “Dammit,” he mumbled, “leave me sleep.” He swatted again and, this time, felt his hand knock something away from him. Something scaly.

His eyes fluttered open and, propping himself up on his elbows; he peered blearily in the direction he had felt the thing go. He saw nothing but some nearby low bushes.

“Did you say something?” Grace asked, moving from the position she had chosen for her watch to crouch next to Dumond.

The Illusionist looked at the khajiit. “Something was at my belt,” he replied sleepily. “It went that way.” Dumond pointed towards the bushes.

Grace looked alarmed for a moment. Had something gotten into camp on her watch? She peered at the bushes suspiciously. “What was it?”

“Dunno,” Dumond replied, checking his belt. “Small. Like a cat or something. With scales.” He settled back down onto his bedroll, too tired to care much.

Grace’s eyes went back to the Illusionist. “A scaly cat tried to steal your belt?” she asked skeptically.

Dumond yawned. “I think it was after my spices.”

Lady Grace rolled her eyes, “Are you sure you were not dreaming, Dumond? This certainly sounds like one of your weird dreams.”

“I dunno, but it’s gone now anyway. Imma back ta sleep.” He closed his eyes and, in an instant, he was once more asleep.

Grace smiled down at her companion, stood, and returned to her watch. Scaly cat, indeed.

Day 3

Stigandr moved cautiously through the rocky corridor, scanning for potential ambush sites. They had been travelling through the natural maze of stone pathways, under the shadow of thirty foot walls, for nearly two hours and had seen no sign of any creature larger than a rock lizard, but there was a tension in the air. Neither Stigandr, nor any of his companions, enjoyed being in such limiting space, especially when potential hazards of the area were still unknown. The corridors were wide enough that the companions could almost walk three abreast, but that was still not a lot of room if they were forced to fight within these confines.

Just ahead, the path they were currently on forked. Stigandr contemplated the options, wishing the hard rock would give away more information as to what sort of creatures might have passed through the intersection. As it was, he saw nothing that made him like one direction better than the other.

With a sigh, he looked back to the group. “Jennean,” he called softly, “Can you go up and take a look?”

“Sure thing,” she beamed back and buzzed upwards in a tight spiral.

“Show off,” muttered a foot sore Lady Grace.

From time to time, Stigandr had asked Jennean to fly up and take a look at their surroundings. Her ability to get up over the walls quickly had become indispensable to the Scout in navigating the maze. She could quickly learn which paths appeared to end and which turned in the general direction the Wayfarers wanted to be headed in. Left to his own devices, he would have had to scale the walls again and again. The climb would not have bothered him much, but it would have taken longer than it took for the windling to fly up and take a peek. Climbing was exhausting work as well.

A few moments later, the windling was back, her features thoughtful. “The both look OK,” she said, “They kinda curve away from each other and rejoin in a mile or so. At least that’s what it looked like. I could fly ahead a bit and check for sure,” she offered hopefully. She loved her friends, but grounders were so slow.

“No,” Roland said, “We don’t know what is out there. We need to stay together.”

Stigandr studied the paths again, hoping to glean some information as to which would be the better way to go. He looked to Jennean once more, “Did one look shorter than the other?”

Jennean’s face creased in thought, “Um. I think that one,” she pointed to the left.

“Alright,” Stigandr shrugged, “I guess we will go that way.”

The group formed up again and started down the new path.

clickety-click, clickety-click, clickety-click

The barely audible sound seemed to be coming from just behind, and downwind, of them.

“Something is coming,” Anetha called from the rear of the line.

“Form up,” Roland commanded, moving to place himself between the group and whatever was coming.

Anetha took up position next to Roland, just as three creatures rounded the corner. They were a bizarre amalgamation of many creatures. Bodies as broad and muscled as that of a bear, with frog-like hind legs propelled them towards the Wayfarers. The long claws that tipped their powerful forelegs clicked on the stone as they came. Spotting the companions, the lead creature opened its massive beak and let out a challenging cry.

Roland set himself to accept the charge, but was caught off-guard as the creatures made a great leap over him and Anetha. Rather than facing the readied Warrior, they leaped passed and went after the less heavily armored.

One landed next to Lady Grace, slashing into her as it came down. She staggered backwards from the impact, but kept her feet. Her eyes narrowed at the creature, “You ugly, frog-dog-bird-bear thing! You are gonna pay for that!”

Another came down in the furthest ranks and struck Stigandr, driving him backwards a few yards. He grunted in pain, but also managed to stay on his feet.

Dumond received the attention, and claws, of the last one. He reeled from the blow and brought a reddened hand up from his wounded side. He knew right away the wound was bad. If the creature was not distracted soon, the Illusionist would not last much longer.

The companions truly swung into action, moving to cover one another in a practiced ballet of life and death. The creatures proved quicker and harder to hit than the Wayfarers had expected, but they were rewarded with a few hits.

Dumond was hit again and he began to feel lightheaded. A surety that he was about to be eaten passed through his mind.

“Hey, hey you’” Jennean called from above, “Lookie, lookie, lookie. I’m so tasty and bite-sized too.”

Jennean’s magical distraction worked and the creature left Dumond and sprang at the windling above. Gnashing its teeth in the air, it missed Jennean by several feet. Jennean laughed mockingly at the creature, as Dumond sank to his knees and fell over, unconscious.

The Wayfarers fought hard and began to fell their enemies. In short order, they stood panting over the fallen creatures. Anetha quickly rushed to Dumont’s side and worked to staunch his wounds.

“Is he OK?” Roland asked, concerned.

“I think he will be fine,” Anetha responded, “He will need to rest though.”

Roland looked over his companions. Some fared only a little better than Dumond. “Yes. We will stop for the night.” He turned back to Anetha, “Will he be able to travel tomorrow?”

“Perhaps,” she replied with a shrug. “I will do what I can, but my supplies are limited here.”

Roland frowned slightly. “Well, do what you can. Is there anything we can keep our eyes open for to resupply you? Plants or something?”

“There are a number of different plants we could use, but vegetation is a little limited here. Perhaps when we get back into an area that has a little more vegetation.”

Day 3 (night)

Tug, tug

Not this again, Dumond complained in his dreams. Is that scaly cat back?

Tug, tug

Dumond, notorious for his ability to sleep quite deeply, worked to bring himself to wakefulness, while trying to maintain the charade of sleep. He was pretty sure he wasn’t dreaming this time and was hoping to at least catch a glimpse of the creature.

Tug, tug

“Aha!” he said, sitting up quickly and snatching at the “whatever it was” that was pulling on his pouch. “Ow!” he cried out. The quick movement was a mistake. His side protested with a wave of agonizing pain, which almost made him black out.

Stigandr was there in a flash. “Are you alright?” he asked.

Dumond’s eyes were closed tightly against the pain. With one hand he clutched at his wounded side, while the other pointed across his body in the direction he had felt the thing flee. “Scaly cat,” he managed through clenched teeth.

Stigandr followed the finger and spotted a smallish creature scrambling across the ground, looking for a place to hide. About the size of a domesticated housecat (not including its long neck and tail), the winged lizard was desperate for escape. One wing fluttered in vain as the other hung uselessly at its side.

The Scout dove after the creature, but was rewarded with only a handful of gravel, as the creature dodged nimbly away.

Dumond came limping in that direction, doing his best to corral the lizard toward Stigandr. Within moments, and after several near misses, Stigandr and Dumond were laughing at their own antics, the capture of the lizard having turned into a game of sorts. If Stigandr hadn’t known any better, he would almost have believed that the lizard was playing as well. Almost letting itself be caught before slipping away again.

Their laughter and shouts of “Get it. Get it.” woke Lady Grace. She stared for a moment, and then her eyes went wide with delight. “A baby dragon!” she cried clapping her hands and racing to help her companions in the capture of the wily beast.

A single word cut through Roland’s sleep, “Dragon.” Dragon? Roland sat up, suddenly alert and reaching for his sword. Rather than the cries of combat he was expecting, he heard laughter. His confused eyes met Anetha’s. She stood at the watch post throwing an occasional glance at the other Adepts. She looked at Roland, gave him a shrug, and returned to her watch.

Giggling like a child at play, Lady Grace’s fingers almost found purchase on the little dragon. It slipped free and turned on her. With a quick intake of breath, it blew a bluish cloud of gas into the surprised khajiit’s face.

Coughing, Grace staggered backwards a few steps. She maintained her balance on wobbly legs and began to wander around drunkenly, in a dazed trance. She waggled her own fingers in front of her wide eyes and tittered happily.

Roland stood and moved towards the group. His eyes followed the little lizard, attempting to calculate any pattern to its movements. It favors its right, he thought, opposite its injured wing.

Seizing the opportunity when it presented itself, Roland stepped into the path of the lizard just as it changed direction. He thought he saw surprise in its eyes as he scooped it up, ending the chase.

The others gathered around to get a better look at the quarry. It fought in Roland’s arms, but he noticed that it did not use its claws or teeth against him. A curious sort of creature, he thought.

“What is it?” Jennean asked, “Is it a dragon? Where did it come from? Does it have a mama?”

“I think it’s hungry,” Dumont said, pulling a piece of jerky from his pack. He moved cautiously within arm’s reach of the creature, tore the strip in half, and offered it some of the dried meat. The lizard’s tongue flashed out, as if testing the meat. In a blur of movement, its head lashed out and snatched the meat, nipping Dumond’s finger in the process.

“Ow,” he waggled his finger at the lizard in a scolding gesture. “Do that again and you can starve,” he admonished. He carefully held out the other piece.

The lizard opened its mouth to receive the gift, but did not move forward to accept.

Dumond leaned in a little closer; but the lizard, mouth still open, pulled further away.

“What’s it doing?” Jennean asked, perplexed.

Dumond took a step forward. “I don’t know. It was eager enough for the first piece.”

Jennean suddenly laughed aloud. “Dumond, look!” Jennean pointed excitedly at Dumond’s waist.

Startled, Dumond dropped the chuck of meat (which was snatched from the air by the lizard) and looked down at his belt. His eyes widened in astonishment. The step he had taken forward had placed him within reach of the lizard’s tail. The tip of the tail had split open into something that resembled a three-fingered hand, which worked at freeing his spice pouch from his belt.

“It’s a pick pocket,” Anetha said, amazed.

Lady Grace, apparently feeling more like herself again, wandered over. “Oh, wow. That is incredible.”

“What’s in the pouch?” Roland asked Dumond.

“Just some spices. Pepper, a few cloves, a little ginger, a couple of vanilla beans… that sort of stuff.”

“It sure seems to want something in there,” Stigandr commented with a wry grin.

“Hold on,” Dumond said, retrieving another piece of jerky. “I’ll give him some and see if he likes it.”

“Her,” Lady Grace corrected.

“What?” Dumond and Roland said in unison.

“It’s a her. A female.”

“How do you know?”

“Look at those eyelashes,” Grace pointed out, “Those are certainly not boy eyelashes.”

“Lizards have eyelashes?” Jennean asked, trying to get a better look.

Grace shrugged. “Apparently, this one does.”

“Here,” Dumond offered the lizard some jerky with a little coarse pepper on it.

It, with unexpected delicacy, took the meat from Dumond and gnawed on it carefully. It swallowed the piece and returned its gaze to the pouch at Dumont’s side.

“Well, it didn’t want the pepper,” the puzzle was beginning to intrigue Dumond.

With a smirk, Roland replied, “Certainly didn’t stop her from eating it.”

Through trial and error, Dumond eventually discovered the lizard’s favorite. Cloves and Cinnamon ranked among the highest, followed closely by ginger. It was, however, when he pulled a vanilla bean from the pounce that they witnessed the biggest reaction. As soon as the bean was revealed, the lizard, which had calmed in Roland’s arms, struggled to get to it. It writhed in the Warrior’s arms and pushed with its back legs against his belly in an attempt to free itself.

Dumond quickly broke of a small piece of the bean and offered it to the lizard. Its eyes widened at the gift, which it snatched up before the Illusionist could change his mind. The lizard popped the bean into its mouth and seemed to shutter with ecstasy. Rolling onto its back in Roland’s arm, it began to writhe happily.

Like a cat with catnip, Roland thought.

The lizard’s scales seemed to shimmer and began to change color, from reddish-grey to a creamy, off-white.

“Hey,” Jennean cried excitedly, “I can do that too! It takes me longer though.”

“What are we going to do with her?” Grace asked. The hope in her voice hardly veiled.

Roland sighed. “I suppose we will have to discuss it.”

Session 006 - The First Team

“Hold that door!” Roland shouted, catching a pair of incoming blades with his shield.

Grace looked around, seeking something more substantial than her own slight form with which to block the door. A sturdy wooden chair rested nearby and she quickly jammed it up against the door. It probably wouldn’t hold them long, but anything was better than adding to the already immediate threat.

Stigandr had moved to Grace’s back to provide her some cover. Flaming arrows flew from his bow again and again, punishing their twisted foes. From his vantage point, he was beginning to see the tides of fortune shifting in their favor.

No sooner was the chair in place when Grace heard a crackling sound just on the other side. It was muffled by the door, but it made the hair on the back of her neck stand up. What is that?, she wondered, knowing the answer would not be good.


The door exploded inward, splintering the chair and sending debris flying. The completely unexpected concussive blast threw Stigandr forward and onto the floor, while Lady Grace managed to dive away from the blast, keeping her footing.

In the doorway, dust swirled like smoke, enshrouding all but the dark silhouette of the knight and his gleaming two-handed sword. The blade seemed to thrum with power, hungry for more destruction. The door had done nothing to sate its appetite.

With two strides, the black knight was in the room and towering over the prone Stigandr. His armor was riddled with rust and the device on his chest, a white shield with a red hand clenched into a fist, was flaking away. With alarming speed, the pristine, two-hander went up and immediately cut back downwards at the vulnerable Scout.

Stigandr rolled at the last moment, but he was not quite quick enough. The blade grazed along his ribs, ripping armor and flesh. Gritting his teeth against the agonizing pain, the Scout sprang to his feet and moved as far away from the knight as he could manage. There was no way he could stand toe-to-toe with such an opponent.

Lady Grace made some quick mental calculations. It was possible that she could occupy the knight for some time by leaping on his back and trying to find a chink in his armor, but she really didn’t like her chances. No, she thought, Our best bet is Roland.

At the moment, however, Roland was surrounded by several of the other combatants, just on the other side of a large wooden table. He was holding his own, with the aid of Dumond’s illusion, but they were keeping him far too busy to engage the knight. A little feral grin pulled up at the corners of Grace’s lips. Help was on the way.

With a great bounding stride, Grace leaped onto the table, then pounced at one the rotting combatants at Roland’s back. Her claws scrabbled across the thing’s armor, but could not find purchase. Damn, Grace thought, landing lightly on her feet and turning to face the soldier that was now alerted to her presence. Guess I’ll have to do this the hard way.

A long limbed joint cracked under the pressure Anetha placed on it. As the creature dropped to its knees, her hands deftly found a new hold around its gnarled, black-ish neck. With a savage twist and a muffled crackle, the thing’s head hung limply and there was one less adversary to worry about.

Through the tower door, entered the spellcaster that had been on the roof. It quickly surveyed the room and chose its target… Dumond. Darts of spiritual energy sprang from the corrupted mage’s hands and tore through Dumond’s illusionary self. The mage yet out a guttural curse at having been tricked and focused its attention on the real Dumond.

Dumond gulped. This was probably going to hurt.

And he was right… only it was the arrow that took the mage in the eye and punched through the back of its skull that was doing the hurting. The wizard crumpled to the ground and lay still, as brackish blood oozed from both sides of the wound.

Roland pushed through his opponents to face the more pressing threat, the knight. Putting everything he had into his opening blow, he made a solid connection, forcing the knight drop its massive sword and fall to its knees. Dropping his own sword and badly damaged shield, Roland scooped up the two-hander and raised it above his head. He could feel power within the weapon. With a grunt of exertion, he brought the blade whistling down and sent the plate helmed head clattering across the tower’s stone floor.

Through deft maneuvering, Lady Grace had managed to attain her usual attack position and clung to her victim’s back. This target, however, was proving more resourceful than the others in the past. He slammed his back into one of the pillars, crushing Grace between himself and the stone. An audible pop sounded from somewhere inside her, followed by intense pain. Desperately she held on and drove the dagger into the soldier again and again.

The soldier grew weaker and weaker under her assault, but it had managed to land some deep cuts on her arms as well, weakening her own grip on him. She would not be able to hold on much longer.

Just when she thought she was going to fall off of the soldier, it swooned and fell to its knee. Its arms hung limply at its sides, though it tried and tried to continue its defense.

With the last of her strength, Lady Grace drove her dagger into its temple and it stilled. Its body toppled over just as Lady Grace’s own legs gave out, causing her to sit down hard. “Oof!” she said, trying to keep herself upright and knowing that her part in this fight was done.

The last few adversaries fell quickly as the companions managed to regroup and press their now advantageous numbers. Within moments, the only sounds were the panting breathes of the companions.

The companions had only barely begun to catch their breath when they heard a commotion coming from the tower’s entrance.

Worried eyes looked at one another, as they readied their weapons. Some of the companions were barely on their feet. Another skirmish would likely be their end.

Ky Bloodfist burst into the room, weapon drawn and ready for a fight. While the rest of Silver Team filed in behind him, he scanned the room, seeking an enemy to strike down, but found only Gold Team looking back at him. Disappointment passed over his features. He looked to Roland and began to put his sword away, “Seems we missed the fi…”. Ky cut off in mid-word, halting his hand as well. Ky’s eyes were focused on the sword Roland held and widen in awe. His lips formed a single word, but he seemed too shaken to put an actually voice to the word. Suddenly, his eyes flashed up to Roland and narrowed threateningly. "Where did you get that?” he demanded, more than a hint of accusation in his tone.

The shift in emotion concerned Roland. Ky could be quite volatile and Roland was in no shape to contend with the fresh Warrior. “I got it off…”

“That’s my father’s sword,” Ky interrupted.

Roland felt a chill run through him. A red fist on a white background. Bloodfist. “Is this,” Roland gestured to the headless body, “your father?” Had he just killed Ky’s father? And, if so, would Ky attempt to avenge his death here and now?

Ky looked down at the still figure. The severed head lay nearby, but Ky did not need to see it to know the truth. The rage seemed to bleed out of him, replaced by melancholy. “Yes,” said replied quietly, “That’s my father’s armor. I… I’m sure that is him. What… what happened to him?”

Roland shuffled his feet. He and Ky had communicated many times in shouting voices and fisticuffs, but this was, by far, the hardest discussion they had ever had. “It seems that he fell under the sway of a Horror. He and his companions were twisted beyond recognition. I’m sorry, Ky. You have my deepest condolences,” Roland bowed his head sympathetically and held out the sword to Ky. “I believe that this belongs to you.”

The shock on Ky’s face was apparent. This was much to take in. His mouth worked to form words, but had trouble in doing so. “I…. I…” Ky bowed his head as tears began to well up in his eyes. “I thank you, Roland,” he took the proffered weapon and his tear-filled eyes met Roland’s own, “You are an honorable man. Father would have been pleased to have lost a battle to a man such as you. You… you set him free.” Ky slid the palm of his left hand across the blade of his father’s sword, drawing blood. He held up the wounded hand for Roland to see. “One day, somehow, some way, I will repay you for the honor you bestowed upon my father,” Ky swore. “We have had our differences in the past, but I would call you friend now.”

Roland felt his muscles relax. He had not noticed the tension that had been building in him until it was released. His body had been preparing for another fight; but, now that the danger had passed, the aches of his wounds and earlier exertion came rushing back.

“We have not yet secured the tower, Ky,” Roland said, attempting to give the other Warrior some other task to focus on, “There may be more upstairs.”

It took Ky only a moment to shift back into battle mode. “OK. Your team looks like you took quite a beating. We will check the rest of the tower.” He called back over his shoulder, “Keepers! We are moving up the tower. Case, take point. Naya, back him up.”

Roland looked to Ky quizzically, “Keepers?”

“Aye. We have Named ourselves. We are the Keepers of the Flame.”

A snippet from one of Lorelei’s songs went through Roland’s mind. The hope still burns eternal, We’re the keeper of the flame.

Corman studied the bodies on the floor with a growing sense of sadness.

“Yes,” he said at last, “I am certain that this was Rellanky Bloodfist,” he indicated the plate mailed body, “and these are his companions.”

With a dispirited sigh, Corman lowered himself into one of the ancient chairs. “They were all part of the First Team, the group that was sent out when we first emerged from the kaer.”

“What did this to them?” Roland asked his mentor.

“Were I to hazard a guess, I would have to say that they ran afoul a Horror. Rellanky was a great Warrior and my mentor. They were all quite accomplished. It must have been a terrible foe indeed to have done this to them. The Madron will have to be told about this… after we bury them.”

“I’ll get a shovel,” Roland said, wobbling slightly on his feet.

Corman looked at his ragged apprentice. “No. You and your companions have done enough this day. You will return to Wayfare and tend to your wounds.” Corman stood and placed a hand on Roland’s shoulder. He looked deeply into Roland’s eyes. “You all did Wayfare proud today. I am proud of all of you. Now, go and rest. We will take care of the rest.”

Time passed and wounds healed. The month had been mostly light duty and rest, but the companions were beginning to feel a bit restless.

As they were clearing away their wooden bowls from the evening’s meal, a loud knocking came from the cabin’s door.

Opening the door, they discovered a young man dressed in formal robes. The man waited until the companions were all present; then, in a loud, clear voice, said, “I have been sent to deliver a message to the group currently known as Gold Group.”

Reaching into his robes, he produced a scroll with great flourish. In a well-practiced move, he unrolled the message and read in the same sonorous voice, “Masters Roland, Stigandr, and Dumond; Mistresses Anetha and Jennean, and the Lady Grace. Master Shojen Ro has humbly requested your presence at his smithy one hour before sunset, to formally recognize your deeds and honor your courage.”

His message now delivered, the runner bowed formally and waited.

Such formality was uncommon in Wayfare, but the companions had all been taught about such things in the etiquette lessons they had all be forced to take.

“Thank you,” Roland returned the bow, “We will be there.”

The Smithy had been transformed. The workspace was typically one of practicality and functionality. It was not a cluttered or unclean place, but a meticulous hand had eradicated all signs of work. No smoke rose from the forge, while laurels and ivy had been hung from the exposed frame of the building, run through with ribbons of white and blue linen.

Gathered just outside the smithy, a number of the mentors, members of the Madron, and other friends of the companions stood in attendance. Corman, Melenkyle, Jory, Doogan, Meregret, Macklay, Hemner, and so many others patiently waited in the warm evening air. All were dressed in whatever finery they had. Had all of these people truly come to honor the companions?

From her mother’s side, Fifina waved cheerfully and beamed at the companions. The girl was nearly five years old now and it was hard to imagine that it was not so very long ago that the companions had rescued her from the chootan. She had grown into quite the exuberant little girl. On more than one occasion she had let anyone that was willing to listen know that she intended to would be a Warrior when she grew up. That, and a khajiit of course.

From within the smithy, Shojen Ro and his daughter, Linnea, emerged; both in beautiful silken robes, cut in a fashion that was popular in Jih Pon before the Scourge. Two apprentices followed behind the Weaponsmith, bearing a table with a cover over it.

Shojen Ro stopped nearly a dozen paces from the companions. He looked upon the companions and smiled. His apprentices placed the table next to their master, then returned to the smithy’s interior.

“You companions, known as Gold Team, stand like a bastion of hope against the evils in this world. In a short time, you have done much for the people of Wayfare and I feel that we have only witnessed the beginnings of many brave deeds to come. You bring great honor to your mentors and live as examples for others to aspire.”

“Roland of Wayfare, step forth.”

Slightly shocked at being singled out, Roland stepped forward.

Shojen Ro bowed deeply to the young man. “When you stand in defense of your companions, or in aide of those in need, know that you do not stand alone. I may not be at your side, but my steel stands in my stead.”

Linnea pulled the cover back off the table, revealing a beautifully wrought metal footman’s shield. Emblazoned on the front of the shield was the device Roland had designed for himself. A master’s care was given to its rendering.

Stepping forward and taking the proffered shield, Roland marveled at it. Its sturdy construction was quite apparent has soon as he touched it, but the lightness of the shield impressed him the most. Being made of steel, he had expected it to be quite weighty and cumbersome. Instead, he found it weighed and balanced to near perfection. Such a shield would be no more unwieldy than his old shield, yet would afford more protection and take far more punishment.

“Thank.. thank you, Master Shojen,” Roland said, bowing and returning to his companions.

“Lady Grace,” Shojen Ro called out again, “step forth."

The little khajiit stepped forward and the Weaponsmith smiled warmly at her. "I believe you truly live up to your title. Noble. Proud. Worthy of respect. I have seen courage in my day, but never from one so young. You risked everything to snatch Linnea from Death. I… I simply do not have the words to express my gratitude.” Tears of gratefulness shone in the Weaponsmith’s eyes.

Linnea stepped forward with an ornate, lacquered box about four and a half feet long. As she held out the box, Grace could just make out the shiny flesh of fresh scars on her forearm. Grace nearly flinched at the memory of her claws sinking into the girl’s arm, but her eyes met Linnea’s and the affection she saw there told her that there was no need to apologize. Linnea would bear those scars proudly as a reminder of the day a khajiit had flown.

With practiced precision, Linnea balanced the box in one outstretched hand and opened the hinged lid with the other.

Lady Grace’s breath caught. Inside the velvet lined box rested the finest blade she had ever seen. A rapier of such ornate quality it was…

“A weapon worthy of a noble,” Shojen Ro’s voice mirrored Lady Grace’s thoughts.

The hilt was decorated with ivory and pearl inlay. The blade was finely honed steel, a crackle of orichalcum running through it, like a tongue of golden lightning

Shojen Ro placed a hand on Grace’s shoulder as she stared at the weapon in wonder. “I forged this blade for my wife many years ago, before see became pregnant and turned away from her Discipline. After she passed, I did not believe I would find anyone worthy of it.” He smiled at Lady Grace and continued, “It is common at the time of forging for the Weaponsmith to Name their creation. I did not, as I expected Tabitha to Name it herself. She never did. Linnea, however, has Named it for you. It is called Sukaidansa, or “Sky Dancer”, in honor of your sky dance.”

Linnea placed the box in Grace’s slightly trembling hands and whispered, “Thank you.”

As Grace returned to her place in line, Shojen looked to the other companions. “I am forever indebted to each and every one of you. My shop is always open to you and I will sell my goods to you at cost. Any improvements to armor or weapons will be done at half cost as well.”

The year passed by. The many training exercises the companions had grown accustomed to faded away and were replaced with duties and day-to-day life. The mentors rarely gathered the Adepts together, but they always made themselves available if anyone had questions and/or the need to learn new Talents. The demeanor of the mentors had shifted quite a bit as well. Generally, when one spoke with one of the mentors now, they were addressed more as a peer than a student.

After the many stresses of training, the companions now experienced a near celebrity status within the village. Most seemed quite sure that Gold Team would certainly be among those chosen for the ships. Even the other teams seemed to acknowledge this and now completed amongst themselves for spaces on the other two ships.

On the eve of The Choosing, as the companions lay sleeping in their bunks, a brilliant light flooded into the cabin, as if the sun had suddenly chosen to rise.

“GAH!” Dumond complained, covering his eyes, “Whozzalight?!”

Grace had sprung up on her feet and now stood on her bunk. Slightly dazed, she looked at each of her companions. “What?” she asked Roland. Without waiting for a response, she turned to Jennean, “What?”

Jennean opened her mouth to respond, but Grace was already looking at Stigandr, ”What?” Stigandr, shrugged, but he doubted that Grace had seen his reply, as she was already asking Anetha her question.

Jennean had flown to the window to see if she could spot the source of this mysterious Night Sun. She let out a gasp and turned back to the group, “It’s coming from the village!”

“Gear up,” Roland yelled, “We need to get down there.”

Most of the village had gathered in (or was on their way to) the commons when the companions arrived. Most simply stood, shielding their eyes and squinting up at the Dragon Pearl, now ablaze with light atop its ornate pole. Clusters of people spoke in tentative whispers, wondering what the meaning of this miracle might be.

“What does it mean?” the question came from all around.

“Is it an omen of good or for ill?”

“I done heard it detected Horrors. Does that mean Horrors are close?”

“The Madron are in the Long House,” Bernaby the Cooper told his neighbor, “I saw them go in there with some of the mentors before this crowd was more than just a few of us. I don’t think they looked too worried.”

Many eyes turned towards the closed doors of the Long House and the people waited and worried and wondered.

After nearly a half hour, the doors opened and Corman strode out onto the porch. He brought the Horn of Assembly to his lips and blew the long note that would call all of the Adepts to formation. The horn had been unnecessary, as all Adepts were already there, but the crowd cleared space for the Adepts to form up. The villagers moved to the sides of the commons, forming a wide semicircle around the Adepts and the Long House and watching with curious eyes.

Macklay stepped out of the Long House and held a scroll above his head. An unbroken, yellow-orange wax seal held the scroll closed. He moved down the stairs of the Long House and moved down the span of the assembled Adepts, allowing them each to see that the seal was unbroken. Apprehension and excitement battled for supremacy in the old dwarf’s eyes.

When he was sure all Adepts had seen the scroll, he returned to the middle of the formation. “This scroll was sealed in the days before Kaer Ara sealed its own doors,” his voice carried well in the calm morning breeze. “Our ancestors left instruction that it was to be opened when the ‘Sun Shone at Night’.” He squinted up at the Dragon Pearl. “The Madron have unanimously decided that this qualifies.”

Macklay’s thick, dwarven fingers cracked the seal. Carefully, he unrolled the scroll and began to read:

The Basic Gist of the message was this:

It is time to choose those that will be traveling back to the mainland. The goal of the expedition is primarily recon, then (later) setting up potential trade partners.

Each kaer is intended to send three ships. Kaer Ara is to send three to the Landis/Theran border. Kaer Noldo is to send three groups to central Barsaive. Kaer Aklar, three to Cathay.

The Adepts sent will be chosen by completing a series of tasks, one at each kaer.

From the day that the ‘Sun Shone at Night’, the Adepts will be given 2 weeks to prepare as they see fit. On the 15th day, they will all depart. None are allowed to leave early.

For the Adepts of Wayfare, the task for Kaer Ara is already considered completed. Each of the groups have already proven their worth. That leaves only 2 tests to complete

The potential problem lies in the fact that no one has heard from the other kaers.

The groups will race to each kaer. If they find inhabitants, they will do the task given to them. If they find no one, try to uncover evidence as to what happened to them.

The winners will be determined by a number of things: Speed, Effectiveness, Team Work, and Information Returned

A shadow fetch will be attached to all groups to record their activities.

Session 005 - The Weaponsmith's Daughter

It had all been a test and it had not gone well for the companions.

The realization of the failures weighted heavily on the minds of each of the Adepts and sleep came hard (if at all) for them that night. Many thoughts were beginning to turn towards what they might do if they were not chosen for the expedition and had to remain on the island. To most, this potential future was something they had not considered since they had become Adepts. Each and every one of them had been so sure they would be chosen.

The next day, each of the companions found solitary activities to occupy their hands, while their minds worked on the failures and ways to remedy them. For most, this competition represented the chance of a lifetime, the opportunity to be sent out into the world; but it was beginning to feel like sand running through their fingers. Corman was due to come and speak with them at length the following day, but none were looking forward to it.

The knock on the cabin’s door came within the first hour of dawn. Roland steeled himself for the trials ahead and opened the door. “Good morning, Master Corman,” Roland greeted the stoic visage of his mentor formally, “Please, enter.” Despite the early hour, the older Warrior showed no signs of having woken recently. No bleary eyes, freshly shaved, neat and orderly… a model of discipline.

“Morning, Roland,” Corman nodded his own greeting. “My apologies for the early hour,” he said as he entered, no real apology in his voice and his eyes scanning to make sure all were present, “I have much that needs done today. This should not take overly long.”

Everyone silently took seats in the small common area. The air almost seemed to crackle with nervous energy.

“Now,” Corman’s voice broke the silence, “You’ve all had a day or so the calm down and think about the exercise. So I will ask again, how do you think you did?” His tone was a bit softer than many had expected. It was not filled with the admonishment that they had feared, but mere curiosity.

Stigandr spoke up right away, “Considering what we had to work with, I think we did alright. I would certainly not call it a great success, but much was learned from the test.”

“That is good to hear,” Corman nodded, “We can discuss the lessons learned as we go along. I’m sure that there were many.”

When no further comments came, Corman continued, “This exercise broke down into five basic phases. I am going to give you a critique on what I witnessed for each of the phases, then my overall impressions. When I’m done, if you wish to, we can discuss any or all of the particular phases. Lastly, I will have a few comments for each of you as individuals.”

Noting nods of understanding from the young Adepts, Corman pushed on, “The first phase was the murder scene. Honestly, few of you are truly trained for this type of work,” a few heads nodded in agreement, and Corman went on, “That being said, such things may still be required of you in the future. Consider such things as exercises in perception. The more information you can take in, and the quicker you can do so, the longer you can stay alive on an ever-changing battlefield."

“As you came to the scene, all of you immediately went into the long house. No one talked to the potential witnesses. No one took note of who was there. Questioning the people almost seemed like an afterthought. Nor was any thought given to securing the location.”

“Also, it spoke volumes that you did not know your team well enough to know that Lady Grace’s father was a possible victim and that she should probably not be allowed to enter, just in case.”

“Lastly, after you concluded your investigation, you split the team. Sometimes this is necessary, but why would you pursue a group of five or six killers with only four of you? That act alone gives the known bloodthirsty murderers a tactical advantage if and when you catch them. Just because you have a noble intent to deliver justice unto the wicked, it does not mean you should throw caution and common sense out the window.”

“Next, came the guard at the fissure. The guard asked you, ‘What is your intent?’ and you responded, ‘We seek to bring criminals to justice.’ This portion of the exercise is very simple. Face value, in fact. We asked your intent, and then applied your answer to the actions that followed.”

“It was also at this point that several of you begin to question things. The guard. The fissure. The light. You even hypothesized that it may be an illusion, though you did not have the strength of will to break free.”

“Perhaps the true beginning for the exercise came next, in the form of Ky. At the Madron Long House, someone had mentioned that they thought Ky had been one of the killers. Armed with that and personal prejudices, when faced by Ky, you slew him.”

“‘We seek to bring criminals to justice.’ Are you justice?”

Roland stiffened in his chair and his mouth opened to say something, then closed again.

“One does not attempt to subdue a prisoner with swords and bows. These are tools for killing. And for that matter, no one even spoke to Ky. No one told him to lay down his weapon and surrender. No one even told him he was accused of a crime. You decided his guilt and you killed him.”

Roland could hold his comment back no more. “With all due respect, Master Corman” Roland commented, “I hold no prejudice for Ky and we had not concluded that he was guilty when he attacked us.”

“I have been your mentor for several years, Roland. There is no love lost between you and Ky. Whether you consider that prejudice or not, it plays out the same.”

Roland’s eyes burned with disagreement, but a hard-bitten, “Yes, Master,” was all the reply he gave.

“When he came out of the trees, he was covered in blood,” Grace cut in, “He went right after Roland. I thought he was going to kill Roland too. So, I attacked. I… I was so angry. My father, and now Roland? I lost control. I killed him. Looking back, I can see how none of it really made sense… didn’t go together. He came from the wrong direction, but he was going to kill Roland. I have no doubt of that. If he wasn’t guilty of the murders, something else must have driven him mad.” Grace paused and looked at each of her companions. “When it was over, and I started to realize what I had done, I felt… horrible. Then, there was the look in your eyes. Thank the Passions it had all been an illusion. Now, I know that darkness exists. I will work to control it, but if you can’t forgive me for killing an illusion… I guess I’m in the wrong group.”

“Oh, Grace!” a wide-eyed Jennean cried, “Oh, no, no. When I first met you, you seemed so aloof, and… well, a little stuck up. You were always talking about proper this and proper that and spending all that time brushing your tail. You didn’t want to get dirty and everything had to be all fancy and stuff. But, when I saw you that night, how you went to avenge your father and,” a thoughtful look passed over Jennean’s face, “now that I think about it, you were the first to run to help Sheyzi in the lagoon too. When your friends are in danger, you go to them without thought. You’re… awesome.”

Grace blushed a little beneath her fur.

“I was just trying to figure out how we were going to obfuscate the body,” Dumond muttered.

“Grace,” Roland said quietly, “I think we were all just a little shocked. Things were happening very quickly and, even then, seemed to be starting to spin out of control. Your father had been slain. You sought justice, and that is commendable. There is, however, a fine line between justice and vengeance. We just were not sure that Ky was really responsible.”

Roland looked to his mentor, hoping Corman would shed some light on the dilemma. Corman shook his head in response to the unasked question, “For the purposes of this exercise, it does not matter whether illusionary Ky was guilty or not.”

A mixture of the current topic and the growing tensions in the room sent the group into a debate once again. As the voices competed with one another, Corman leaned back in his chair and watched. There were very few accusations being thrown about, and that pleased Corman. Whether they saw it or not, they were at least starting to pull together.

The foundation, he thought, Now, they can truly begin to build.

Corman let the debate go on for several minutes, until the group began to realize that they were not really arguing, just agreeing loudly. With that, they began to quiet and Corman went on, "The Cave of Temptations followed that. This portion had less overall ramifications; but, at the very least exposed you to something that may challenge you dearly in the future. I can say that with no certainty, of course, but I want you all to be aware of the potential hazard.”

“Temptations can be extremely insidious and can drive an irreparable wedge between even the closest of comrades. They can plant the seeds of doubt in your mind or lull you with delusions of grandeur. You may all achieve great things in your time; I only suggest that you approach greatness with caution. A rushing charge towards your objective may be successful, only to find that the way back out has been swallowed up by the dangers you left in your wake.”

“If you are chosen to leave the island, the companions you have with you will be the only ones you can trust… at least at first. In time, you may find other allies; but the bond you share with your companions will be, or should be, one of the strongest you will ever possess. If you do not feel that way, I dare say that you are not in the right group.”

“And, lastly, came the battle,” Corman’s tone became more serious, “This, to me, was the biggest disappointment. True, it was a scenario that would have been nearly impossible to beat, but you threw out every tactical advantage you may have had right from the beginning. You split the team into smaller units, making it far easier to overwhelm you. I will speak more on this in a bit.”

“As you have likely guessed, this exercise was not designed to be passed. You performed within the acceptable parameters, but now we know what to work on.”

“Despite my criticism, I do not think any of you are beyond salvaging. I am hard on you because I want you to survive. Perhaps, if you are sent to the mainland, you will find it is all highly civilized and these lessons were naught but wasted time. On the other hand, I may just be able to teach you something that will save your life.”

“Here are the areas that I feel you need to work on.”

“Leadership. Your companion, Jennean, came and spoke to me the other night. It was a rather moving speech about how you did not need a leader, because you knew each other now. While no doubt heartfelt, it was also idealistic nonsense.” Jennean’s jaw dropped, “I have no desire to berate her for this speech. It was quite beautiful, but I disagree with the general premise. Jennean sees you all as water, flowing with one another, supporting one another, filling in the gaps. Were this so, you would all have already been chosen to be on a ship. This is precisely what we wish to see.”

“What I witnessed the other night, however, was nothing of the sort. What I saw was a full rout in mere seconds. You were panicked, scattered and directionless. And you lost.”

“Now, her speech did bring one point to my attention… some misunderstanding as to what I consider a leader to be. Jennean made mention of one of you ruling over the others. I am not asking anyone here to subjugate themselves to one of their companions, or to appoint one of your number king or queen. I am looking for someone to take up the mantle of responsibility. A leader is not just a figure that stands above the others to rule over them, a leader assumes responsibility for those he or she leads. Their actions are your burdens. Their victories are your successes. Their failures, your fault. A leader puts the needs of the group above their own needs and desires. He or she is responsible for the safety and well-being of those they are in charge of, and may help to unify purpose. The leader’s position is not an enviable one, especially among strong-willed peers. Try to rule over them, and they will resist. Lead with compassion and empathy; and, if you prove yourself worthy, they will follow.”

“If all I wished was a figurehead to order you about, I would simply appoint someone. Instead, I am allowing you to find your own path and hoping you will find your own leader amongst yourselves. Perhaps it will not happen.”

“Will being ‘leaderless’ keep you from being selected for the journey?” Corman asked the question that had sprang to several minds, the answered it for them as well, “Not exactly, but lack of unity will.”

“That brings me to unity.”

“In the throne room, there was absolutely no unity and minimal teamwork. You fought, or rather fled, as individuals. Most disappointingly, you lacked the faith in yourselves to even attempt the fight. Your first reaction was to flee. You did not, but for a few minor exceptions, protect one another; nor was there any attempt to help your fallen comrades.”

“Through natural aptitude and training, you each have incredible potentials. This seems to act as both a blessing and a curse to your group. Each of you are sure of your own particular skills, but you continue to act as individuals, rather than working with one another. The chaos you bring to a battlefield has, apparently, helped you in the past; but, against organized enemies, you will find such tactics more detrimental… as the throne room proved.”

“Given a chance, I’m sure that you would find that as a unified group, you would possess more power than you could possibly imagine. This is usually done through proper leadership, which is why I stress it so much. Perhaps you can find another way; but, until you do, you can expect limited success.”

“The very first lesson I try to teach my apprentices is that not every war is fought with steel and that a smart Warrior is one that relies on his wits more than his blade. Before you enter a fight, you should do everything you can to know your enemy and understand the situation. When the time comes to act, however, do not hesitate. Unfortunately, most pupils only seem to hold on to that last bit more than the first.”

“You have now experienced a situation where this lesson would have proved useful.”

“At each phase of this exercise, you asked fewer questions and pushed on more quickly, like hounds on the scent of game. As the situation became stranger, you pushed on without hesitation. You discovered a mysterious cave, radiating energy a mere hour’s march from the village; yet no one thought this was important enough to report back to the village. You entered, not knowing what you would find. Had the cave presented a true danger and you died within, the village would have been none the wiser.”

“As Adepts, you have an obligation to those around you. You have been entrusted with great power. Not just the power to shape your own destiny, but to shape the destinies of those around you.”

“Take Doogan, for instance. A few short years ago, he and his clan rarely left their homestead. They had little faith in those not in their clan and were content to be apart from everyone else. Or, Meregret, who lost her husband and spiraled into hopelessness and depression. Many tried to help her, but none could seem to reach her.”

“Then, along comes a small group of fresh Adepts, and you save Meregret’s daughter, Fifina, from the corrupted chootan. In hindsight, perhaps the deed does not look like much to you anymore, but it means everything to them. You had no real reason to help them, other than they needed help. No reward was promised and no glory was expected, yet you did not waver in their time of need. You will live in their hearts, as heroes, forever.”

“The catch to shaping destinies, however, is this: You reap what you sow. When you succeed, and you will, those around you will begin to emulate your behavior. Act in anger or with greed in your hearts, and you will be rewarded in kind. Serve with honor and respect, and see it returned to you. Become heroes, and you could truly change the world.”

“So, those were my basic impressions during the exercise. If there are no questions, I have a few words for you as individuals."

He paused a moment, but no questions came.

“Roland,” he turned to the Warrior, “Your abilities on the battlefield continue to grow. In small combats – against one or two opponents – you seem to do exceptionally well. It is, however, in larger scale combat that your skills need work.”

“In the throne room, you choose to hold the enemy and give your companions time to escape. A noble sentiment, but sentiment does nothing to hold your enemies at bay.”

“After Dumond cast his illusion on you, you left him to his own devices and rushed to face the enemy in the middle of an open room. Tactically, that was the worst decision you could have made. Superior numbers easily began to overwhelm you in the open area, spilling passed you and cutting down Dumond.”

“In the future, consider the ground you fight upon to be another of the weapons at your disposal. Control where the fight is fought and you will have an advantage… one that may save your lives.”

“One last word of caution. Diplomacy is a noble skill to possess. However, when you are asked a question by a mentor or member of the Madron, we expect an answer; not political banter that deftly avoids answering a question. This competition is not political maneuvering. We seek and respect truthful answers above nimble word choices.”

Corman turn his attentions to Lady Grace, “How are you, m’lady?”

“I’m OK.”

Corman actually gave her a small smile. “I know you experienced a horrifying tragedy in the exercise. That was not entirely intentional. Everyone went through the same scenario. It’s just that none of the other Adepts actually had any close family among the Madron. You proved unique, and for that, I apologize.”

“Emotion, however, was your downfall in this exercise. I do not believe emotions to be bad things in general, but you cannot allow them to blind you either. A cool head, whether in combat or not, can be the one thing that keeps it attached to your shoulders. Be happy that you learned this lesson about yourself when it was not real blood spilled. Perhaps the memory will serve you well.”

“Beyond that, you certainly will make me think twice about wronging a khajiit.”

His eyes moved to the Scout. “Stigandr, your skill with a bow is quite impressive. I’m sure that Sterling regrets not having you as one of his Archer apprentices.”

“Unfortunately, you have a carelessness bred from exuberance and curiosity. You throw caution to the wind and push forward without much consideration of the consequences. This is a dangerous habit, especially for a Scout. There will be many a time that you are far afield. Get careless when you are alone, and your mapmaking days could end abruptly.”

“Fortunately for you, this is a common problem among the young. Time and experience will likely temper this issue, providing you survive it.”

“Jennean. You care for your friends deeply and always seem eager to help. You also have a sharp mind and are willing to speak your mind. These are admirable traits.”

“What you lack is focus. You speed passed your companions and over the enemy as if you were invincible. You speak eloquently intermixed with meandering ramblings. On the battlefield, you seem aimless. I know you are not trained for combat, not like some of the others anyway; but such aimlessness can potentially endanger yourself and others in the group. You have a unique vantage point in the group; use it to your advantage. Learn to focus, take in every element on the battlefield. If you are not confident enough to face the enemies, act as an extra pair of eyes for your companions.”

“Dumond, I must admit that there is little I can say about your craft as it is well beyond my understanding. Any weakness you may possess in that regard is between you and Master Melenkyle.”

“However, there is one thing I wished to speak to you about. Why have you not left the competition? It seems that either you do not care one way or the other whether you are selected; or you do not believe yourself worthy of being chosen and hide behind mock-bravado. Both of these things do you or your companions a great disservice.”

“Would you take the place of someone that truly wishes to leave the island, or sabotage your companions with indifference? Think on it.”

“Anetha. Do you want to be with this group? You seem stand-offish at the best of times and downright cold other times. Daughters of Heaven I have known in the past, and I admit it is not many, but they were generally peaceful, loving people. You almost seem to hold your companions in contempt."

“For ten months I watched you closely, and not once did I see you use your Talents to benefit your group. Why is that? Each of them use their abilities each and every day, and yet you hold back. You had opportunity after opportunity to ease their suffering; and yet, you did nothing. I ask, what good is a Warrior that will not fight, a Troubadour that does not tell tales, or a healer that does not heal?”

“If you simply wish to be a part of another group, that can likely be arranged; but the choice is yours. It is said that Daughters of Heaven do not like to choose sides, but you must choose your companions. If you will not support them, you are little more than baggage.”

Corman sat back in his chair and seemed to relax a little. It was the first clue that any of them had that perhaps Corman did not really enjoy criticizing them. “This concludes this phase of training. If it eases your minds at all, this was less of a test and more of a lesson. Some things can only truly be understood by experiencing it. Now you have experienced some of your weaker points. You know what you have to work on."

“From now on, your training will be determined by each of you and your group as a whole. Time with mentors will need to be scheduled, as will time at the various training areas. You will be responsible for all of this. Train as much, or little, as you like.”

“You will also have expanded duties throughout the village. Scouting missions, hunting expeditions, guard duty, and so forth. Wayfare is a generally peaceful village; but, should the need arise, you are charged with keeping the peace.”

“Also, you are now completely responsible for upkeep of you cabin, food, weapons, and equipment. This will cost you coin. It’s up to you to come up with the money you may need. Nothing more will be provided by the mentors.”

“Take the week off. You have earned it. Relax. In one week’s time you will renew your training. During this week, however, I do suggest that you all discuss this group’s plans and future. I will not go into details about the other groups, but I will say that this group is not quite living up to some expectations. Were the decision made today, I do not think you would be on one of those ships. However, there is time and the competition is tight enough that there is still hope. You, as individuals and as a group, have enormous potential. Tap into it. Rise to the challenge. Show the Passions, and The Madron, what you are made of.”

“Any questions or comments?”

The group decided on spending their week off by going on a hunting/fishing/gathering trip. The goal was to work on their bonds with one another.

In game, we skipped over this pretty quickly. I now encourage players to contribute stories and/or journal entries about what happened over that week.

Was the trip a success? Are the companions getting closer? Are there any rivalries or such in the group? Remember, being unified does not mean “devoid of personalities”… it’s not like you are joining the Borg.

The next block of time was training starting up once more. Again, we passed over this rather quickly. This would be another great opportunity for players to post some stuff and get those precious rewards.

Here is a little bit we didn’t go into about the current training set-up.
The mentors keep tight schedules, leaving only about 6 hours a day for instruction and training. These are divided in 2 hour blocks of time, which are first come, first serve on the sign-up sheet (which only extends out 1 week).

If someone is late to meet a mentor, they leave. They also remove your name from any future appointments that week. If you do respect their time, they will not respect yours.

There are really a few different routes the group could go in regards to the training, but I see two main paths…training individually or as a group.

If everyone is focusing on personal Talents and Skills, you have a few challenges. You can’t always get the appointments you want, but it’s easier to have a nimble schedule when you are only considering yourself.

If the team is trying to work together, things are a bit tougher. The other groups are working very hard towards their goals, and it is often a race to sign up for appointments when the new sheets are posted. Resources (the mentors and certain training areas) have become precious commodities and the other groups do not sit idly by and let the companions take whatever they want.

Direct competition with the other groups has become more prevalent. The Prank War even returned, but the participants are much slyer this time. The idea is to not get caught, which usually means keeping the pranks on a small scale. None of the groups want to see the mentors get involved again.

As all of you are considered Peacekeepers in Wayfare, fighting between the groups is frowned upon as well. The sparring ring has been used to settle more than a few disagreements though.

Stigandr and Roland sat in the shade under a tree, drinking water and catching their breath. Both were working towards mastering the basics of the Fireblood Talent, but neither had expected the strenuous nature of the learning.

Nearby, in the sparring ring, Ky and Sendra circled one another, weapons poised for assault and shields ready to defend.

“I’d wager 5 copper that Ky could take her,” Stigandr commented, “The Ky we faced in the illusion stood against You and Grace, while I put arrows in him, and Anetha tried to dim mak him,.. or whatever it is she does.”

Roland smiled at his friend. “I wouldn’t throw away your coin like that. Sendra is tougher than she looks. Ky is strong, but so is she and she knows how to goad him into mistakes.” Roland studied the pair. Was Corman right? Did he actually harbor some sort of prejudice against Ky? If he did, it was unintentional; but Corman did not seem to have any doubts that it existed. Much as Roland hated to admit it, his mentor’s eyes were sharp. If he saw something there, then there was something there.

Stigandr interrupted Roland’s reverie, “Which would you rather face? You know, if you had to?”

The question actually startled Roland a little and an image of Ky’s rage-contorted face flashed in his mind. “I would not face either of them,” Roland said soberly.

“But, if you HAD to?”

Roland gave Stigandr a long look that ended the line of questioning. I wonder if Corman taught him that look, Stigandr wondered.

From the sparring ring, Ky smiled at Sendra and said, “You seem to be favoring you right today. I do hope I wasn’t too rough on you yesterday.” His tone was a little playful. Perhaps even… friendly?

Sendra grunted in disgust, “You sure talk a lot for a big, dumb ox. Maybe you’d like to hold my hand too?”

Ky looked as if she had reached out and slapped him. “I only thought…”

Sendra barked a harsh laugh at him, “Aha! There’s your problem. Leave thinking to the better equipped.”

Ky’s face reddened; but, with effort, he remained silent

They two combatants exchanged a few more attacks and counterattacks, moving cautiously around the ring and looking for a hole in their opponent’s defense. Sendra launched into a pounding barrage of sweeping attacks, forcing Ky to give some ground. With a jump into the air, she finished the combo with a heavy, downward strike designed to drive Ky to his knees.

At the last moment, Ky spun around her left, passing Sendra and swatting her butt with the flat of his sword on the way by.

Like an enraged lioness, Sendra rounded on Ky. Her eyes were little more than slits of burning promise.

Ky shrugged, “It was a target I could not pass up. You overextended.”

Sneering at Ky, Sendra fell back on her time-tested insult, “You’re dancing again, pretty ballerina. Stand and face me, oh mighty Queen of the Bears!"

Ky’s face darkened as anger at the old insult boiled in his blood. Roland waited for the explosion of fury, or the returned insult that would be aimed to trigger Sendra’s Gahad. Instead, Ky did something completely unexpected. He laughed. It was not Ky’s usual mocking laughter; it was an honest and mirthful sound. Had Roland been standing, he may have fallen over at the sound.

Ky wiped at his eyes that were tearing up slightly. “Oh, ouch,” he said through the laughter, “that hurts. Good one, Sendra.”

His unexpected reaction almost made Sendra take a step back. This tactic had never failed her. She had been bracing for the coming assault, but now she simply stared at Ky with confused and untrusting eyes.

She started to move in while Ky’s guard was still down. She had taken only a few steps when Ky, still doubled over, dropped his sword and held out his empty hand.

“I yield.” He clutched at his ribs.

Sendra eyed him skeptically, looking for some hint of betrayal. Seeing nothing suspicious, her features softened. “Well, well, you might be smarter than an ox after all.”

To Jennean, Thaddeus the Scholar moved with all the alacrity of a sleeping banana slug. She understood the human was old, but there was slow and then there was sssslllloooowwww. Thaddeus fit much more in the latter category. If he was not absolutely brimming with information, Jennean would have likely flittered off some time ago.

While the Scholar droned on about a less interesting topic, Jennean looked around. It had been at least a year, probably closer to two, since she had last been inside the kaer. There was little reason for any of the former residents to return to Kaer Ara, though it was maintained in the case of a dire emergency.

The stone tunnels were large enough to move several wagons side by side, but it was still closed off from the sky and an all-too-familiar touch of claustrophobia tightened in the pit of Jennean’s stomach. How generations of windlings had survived in here was beyond her. The thought of all those windlings that spent their entire lives never seeing the sky was enough to blur her vision, but she bit back the tears and tried to focus on Thaddeus once again.

“… Elemental Earth interwoven with the natural bedrock. This formed an extremely hardened barrier; but this, in itself, was not enough to stop a Horror. These runes,” he indicated the thousands of runes that had been etched into the surface of the tunnel in a precise spiraling pattern, “form a complex spell of protection. Each and every rune was carved with exacting detail to Master Aleon’s instruction.”

It was the opening she had hoped for, “Master Aleon created the protective spell?” she asked.

Thaddeus blinked in surprise, as if he had forgotten that he was not merely speaking to himself. “Yes, yes, of course. Master Aleon designed the kaers of Natales. All three of them, actually. Of course, that was long, long ago.”

Jennean let the obviousness of the statement go without commenting, “Are all three kaers inside of mountains?” A vision of three stones played in her mind. Tap, tap, tap.

Thaddeus stroked his beard thoughtfully, “Yes, I believe they were. You see, the practicality of a stone kaer versus an air dome is that stone is easier to conceal. Camouflaged within a mountain, a Horror may never even find you, much less be able to breech your defenses. Therans, they say, preferred great domes of Elemental Air that encircled their enormous cities; but they had far greater resources at their disposal than did the founders of Natales.”

“Are any of the kaers darker than the others? Like in black stone or something?”

Quizzical eyes stared out from under Thaddeus’ bushy eyebrows, “A curious question, child.” His eyes searched her face, but his questions remained unasked. “To the best of my knowledge, no. I could go back through the old records, but I’m not sure that such information would have been recorded anyway,… unless it had some greater meaning.”

“Poo,” Jennean complained. She furrowed her brow, working on the riddle. See the pretty crystals, how they twinkle with light? One is darkened now… forever gone. She mulled over the words again and again. She was sure that Aleon’s words were more than the mere ramblings of a madman… she just knew it. Pretty crystals?

“What about crystals?” she felt like she was reaching, grasping for some sort of clue, “Were crystals used in the construction of the kaers?”

“Indeed,” Thaddeus commented happily, “Crystals were used in all manner of the construction. The innate properties of many crystals allow certain magics to be focused or refracted, depending on the crystals and/or the cut. In fact, Aleon’s pride and joy are often some of his most overlooked works.” Thaddeus gestured up, towards the roof of the main chamber.

Jennean’s eyes followed the movement. At first she saw nothing, and then realization began to dawn on her.

Suspended by a great chain from the center of the chamber hung an enormous globe of glass and metal, that had acted as the kaer’s principal light source for hundreds of years. Within the globe, a giant light quartz pulsed; while on the intricate metal frame, hundreds of glass plates spun and turned in place. The finely worked plates had been enchanted to lighten or darken, allowing varying degrees of light to pass through each one.

“Most see it as a mere light quartz,” Thaddeus went on, “As I understand it, large ones such as this were quite common within kaers; but I have never heard of any quite like Master Aleon’s. You see, in most kaers, it was either light or it was dark. Master Aleon’s contraptions could imitate the passage of days, or even different types of lighting.” Thaddeus looked up at the huge globe. “It really is a marvel, you know. It has also never, at least on record, needed to be recharged. Most unusual. Had I my knowledge and your ability to fly, I’m sure I could spend days investigating the Calma’Anor.” Thaddeus chuckled at the thought of himself flying around inside the kaer, “Some of the old texts say that Master Aleon built all three of them himself and they are, at least potentially, Pattern Items tied to him.”

Calma’Anor, Jennean thought, A Lamp of Sun. She turned back to the Scholar and bowed to the old man, “Thank you, Master Thaddeus. Your lesson was well received. I must go now, however, or I will be late for another of our training sessions.”

“Curious minds are always welcome, child,” Thaddeus responded, returning the bow. “Go on then. Don’t get in trouble because of me.”

The months slipped by in a blur of training and lessons and midsummer found the companions once again. For the second year in a row, no new apprentices were chosen by the mentors.

The companions were returning from their morning exercises, and had just come into sight of their cabin; when the horn sounded, summoning all Adepts to the village Commons.

“Quickly,” Roland said, “Grab your gear!”

The Adepts grabbed their gear and made the short run to the assembly area; only to find Melenkyle, not Corman, there to meet the Adepts. Never before had anyone but Corman called them to assembly… something serious had happened.

“Good, good. You’re all here.” Melenkyle said, obviously agitated. “Corman is not here, so it falls to me to…”

Grayson (one of the Archer Adepts) interrupted, “Is this another illusionary test?” He smirked, “I really do not feel like get butchered again today.”

Melenkyle’s eyes narrowed and arcane energies began to crackle around his hands. His voice was low and dangerous, “Interrupt me again, boy, and I will show you the truth in illusions.”

Grayson eyes widened, realizing his faux pas. He held up his hands in submission and closed his mouth.

Melenkyle stared at the Archer for a few heartbeats to make sure the threat had sunk in, and then turned back to the group as a whole. “A girl has gone missing. Linnea Ro. She was last seen this morning near the mines. She was retrieving some samples for her father, Shojen. Her basket was found not far from the mine, but no other trace has been found yet. Corman and several of the other mentors are already up there looking for her, but they need all of you to help as well. They can fill you in on the rest of the particulars when you get to command post.”

He looked to the companions, “Gold Team, you are to proceed directly to the mine where Corman should meet you. It seems he has some questions for Stigandr, since he has previously mapped a portion of the area.” He looked over the assembled Adepts, “Go, and may The White watch over you all and guide you to Linnea.”

The companions made the strenuous climb up to the mines in a little less than one hour, impressing even themselves. Perhaps all of this training was having an effect.

Corman came out to greet them, “Good. You made it. Stigandr, I know that you did some scouting up here over the past few years. Can you think of anywhere that Linnea may have gone, or anything that may have taken her? Miranda is looking for tracks, but we have only managed to find a couple of scuffled tracks near where the basket was found. Sterling has tried to use his Direction Sense to locate her as well, but he says that it feels like something is blocking the magic.”

A concerned, somewhat frustrated look passed over Corman’s face, “The best plan we have come up with so far is to divide the area up and physically search it. If you have any knowledge that can narrow our search, it would help immensely.”

The hints of distress in Corman’s eyes worried Stigandr some. Something about this had caused the Warrior to show the chinks in his normally cool demeanor.

Stigandr moved to the nearby table to get a better look at the map that had been rolled out. A flash of pride went through him as he saw it was his own work. He studied it carefully, trying to recall any detail that may help the search.

“This area here,” Stigandr pointed to a section to the north, “The brush is much too thick for easy travel. It’s nearly impassible. Oh, and here!” his finger indicated a location to the east of them, “This ridge collapsed in the quake last year. It would take an experienced climber to get up that wall.” His eyes flew over the map and he could almost smell the vegetation in some of the areas he had explored. “We had heavy rains this past spring, so this valley is a swamp now. You could get through it, but you would be slogging through knee deep mud. If anyone passed through there, their trail would be obvious.” He studied the map again, almost sure he had ruled out as much as he could, but spotted one last area. "Here! He pointed to a section of lightly wooded area. “If the abductors know their way around, they wouldn’t have gone this way either. The rains also caused the river to rise. If anyone went in there, they would be trapped between us and the river. Only a madman… or maybe a t’skrang, would try to swim it.”

A look of relief washed over Corman and the companions could see some of his tension wash away. “Excellent. Thank you, Stigandr, that should help a great deal. I will still send smaller groups to the indicated areas, but only to make sure that these,” he searched for a word and came up with nothing, “whatever they are, are not dumber than we are giving them credit for. We can focus our remaining forces on the other areas.”

Corman stepped around to the other side of the table and motion for the companions to gather around. “As you have some experience in the area, I would like to send your group up in this area,” he pointed to a region on the map that marked the ruins of an ancient watchtower. “We firmly believe that something, or someone, took her. The lack of tracks and something blocking Sterling’s magic seems to indicate it is at least somewhat intelligent. With that in mind, I think it would probably move into one of these four areas.” He indicated a total of four locations, all ruins of watchtowers and separated by a great distance. “Be careful. I do not know what the threat level is, but this is no test. If you find Linnea and her captor or captors, do what you must. The primary objective is to save the girl, but do not throw your lives away in doing so. Signal, if you can, and others will come as quickly as we can; but these locations are a fair distance apart.”

“Any questions or comments?”

The only reply Corman got was stern gazes. The companions were shifting into mission mode.

A small smile played at the corners of Corman’s mouth. “The White protect you,” he said, “Happy hunting.”

Stigandr lead the group at a fast pace, climbing higher and higher into the mountains that dominated Natales’ center. Despite their elevation, the Scout knew that they would not get as high as the snowline, a destinations he himself had not made it to yet, but the air was already a great deal cooler.

After several hours, the tower came into sight.

The old watchtower stood about forty feet tall and at the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea far below. If memory served Stigandr, the cliff plummeted several hundred feet to jagged rocks and crashing surf.

The group huddled in a small thicket and studied the tower, searching for signs of activity or occupation. Most of them had never seen the tower before, at least not this closely, and no signs of obvious activity presented themselves. Stigandr, on the other hand, had been there before.

“Those doors,” he pointed to a pair of heavy, iron-bound doors set slightly ajar. “They were sealed when I was here a few months ago. I tried them, but I think they were barred from the inside. I had planned to come back sometime, if and when I had the time.”

He peered at the rooftop, his eyes squinting. “I can make out smoke too,” he made some quick calculations in his head, “Two or three fires. Maybe even four. Small ones and burning clean.” He looked to his friends. “Someone is definitely here.”

“Want me to go take a peek?” Jennean volunteered. She saw the doubt flash through several people’s eyes and quickly added, “Dumond can put that illusiony thingie on me. If they see me, they will attack that and I can get away.”

“OK,” Roland said reluctantly, “But try not to be seen at all. I do not want to give away our position just yet. Take a quick look, then come back. I’d like to know what we are dealing with.”

“Sure thing!” Jennean was quite pleased to be of use. She turned to Dumond, “OK. Illusion me!”

Dumond focused the arcane energies around the windling and displaced her image. “It will only last for a minute or two,” he warned, “So, be quick.”

“On it,” Jennean said; and, in a flutter of wings, she buzzed toward the tower.

A few minutes later, she was back… and a few shades paler than she had been when she left.

“What did you see?” demanded Roland.

“It’s bad,” she said, obviously shaken, “Linnea is there, along with a big guy in black plate mail, some magicy guy, and this creepy looking guy with elongated limbs. Linnea is being held by the plate mail guy, near the far edge of the tower… on the cliff side. The magic man seems to be doing some sort of ritual. I couldn’t understand the words, but the made me feel… unclean,” Jennean shuddered at the memory. “The other guy was just sort of standing around.”

“Was there an entry way from inside the tower?” Roland asked, “A hatch or something?”

Jennean thought for a moment, trying to conjure a mental image of the roof. “Yes!,” she said, “Over by the lanky guy. Maybe he was guarding it?”

Dumond cleared his throat to get everyone’s attention, “If they are performing a ritual, our time may be limited, and I’m sure whatever they are doing does not bode well for the girl.”

“Dammit,” Roland muttered, quickly going over the options in his head. “We are going to have to go for it. Grace, Stigandr, do you think you could scale the tower on the cliff side?”

The Scout and khajiit looked at each other.

Stigandr shrugged. “Yeah,” he said confidently.

Lady Grace only gave Roland a mischievous smile.

“OK. You two climb up the backside and get in position…”

“Want me to go with them?” Jennean asked.

“Sure,” Roland agreed, still calculating. “Dumond, Anetha, and I will wait until nightfall, then leap out of the rabbit, taking the French completely by surprise”

Just kidding!

“Sure,” Roland agreed, still calculating. “Dumond, Anetha, and I will give you some time to get into position, then we will charge the tower and try to come up from inside.” Roland swore under his breath and shook his head, “I don’t like it. We have no idea of what sort of resistance we may encounter inside, but we will have to deal with it.”

Roland looked everyone over and was pleased to see the battle-ready focus had crept into their eyes. The grim determination in their faces quelled some of his building anxiety. “OK,” he turned to Stigandr and Grace again, “If you get the opportunity to get the girl, grab her and get out. Don’t wait on the rest of us; but try to let us know, so we can pull out as well.”

The two nodded in understanding.

“OK,” Roland took a deep breath, “Let’s do this.”

Stigandr and Lady Grace moved up the side of the tower like silent shadows, using the miniscule cracks between stone blocks as finger and toe holds. The ability was really quite impressive to Jennean, for grounders. It was really too bad they couldn’t just fly up to the top. It was simply a much easier way to go.

Within a few feet of the summit, the pair stopped and readied themselves for the quick burst that would take them up and over the edge. The guttural, incomprehensible voice of one of the creatures droned on above them. It was a language unlike anything any of them had ever heard; and, of that, they were glad. The words felt like fetid oil sliding into their ears and staining their souls and each of them felt that if they could actually understand the incantations being uttered, their very sanity may have been at stake.

Grace took a moment to glance down at the fall that would await a careless move. It was a long, long way down. Ensuring she had a good hold with her right hand, her left slipped down to her waist and checked the rope that tied her off to Stigandr. If one of them were to fall, there was a chance the other could save them. Then again, Grace thought, One of us might just end up pulling the other after us. She shook her head slightly. No, she had complete faith in Stigandr and she hoped he had faith in her as well.

Within the tower, the faint sounds of battle erupted and Grace suddenly wished she was there, helping her comrades. No, she thought again, they have their part to play in this, and so do I.

Clinging to the side of the tower, the moments seemed to creep by slowly. Each passing second, each distant ring of steel, they were torturous.

Stigandr shook his head to get Grace’s attention and she looked at him with questioning eyes. With a jerk of his head, he motioned that they should make their move and crest the tower.

Lady Grace nodded in agreement. It was time for action.

Stigandr held out a hand with three fingers splayed.

Grace nodded again.

Both climbers dug in, finding the best grips they could.

Their eyes met and Stigandr nodded. One.

Again. Two.

And with the third nod, both climber pulled themselves upward in perfect unison.

Stigandr and Grace were both pulling themselves up onto the ledge when the plate mailed head turned toward them. The helmet’s visor was down, but Grace could make out a pair of blood red eyes on the other side.

Without warning, and with little effort, the armored figure hurled Linnea off the tower and out over the cliff. The girl screamed in absolute terror and began to fall.

NO!!! Lady Grace gathered her legs up underneath her and leapt with all her might, sailing out over the dizzying drop below. Her eyes locked onto the girl, refusing to worry about anything else, as if only she and Linnea existed in a great void. The girl will not die today! Grace gritted her teeth and stretched out for Linnea.

“Sonuvabit-!” Stigandr swore, wrapping his arm around a partially crumbled merlon, just as the rope snapped taunt. Stigandr grunted loudly, but held on with everything he had.

Grace’s hand had just caught hold of Linnea’s forearm when the rope pulled tight. Reflexively, her claws dug into the girl’s arm; but Grace supposed it was a small price to pay in comparison to her other options. Their forward momentum ceased with a strained, coughing sound from Stigandr; then the pair began to pendulum back and down towards the tower’s solid wall.

Like an aerial dance; Grace spun, still clutching Linnea’s bleeding arm, and managed to get her legs between her and the wall.

Above, all Stigandr could do was hold on. He was the anchor keeping Grace and Linnea alive. He looked up and watched in horror as the figure in plate strode towards him, bringing its great and gleaming two-handed sword to bear. “Grace,” Stigandr shouted, not trying to hide his mounting concern, “Please hurry!”

The heavy boots came closer and closer and Stigandr began to measure his life expectancy in breaths.

Suddenly, in a flurry of fluttering wings, Jennean was there; circling the armored menace and speaking incessantly.

“Did you know that the first emperor of Thera had a pet cat named Twinkles? It was a ragged cat with two tails and one eye. Or was it the other way around? Anyway, one day the Emperor had to go to the store… why he had to go and not a servant, I don’t know… or a slave, cuz Therans have slaves. Slavery is not nice at all, y’know. Everybody deserves some free time. What do you do on your free time? Have any hobbies? I bet you bake. You look like a baker.” On and on she went, a blur of wings and inanity.

The armored head moved back and forth, trying in vainly to keep up with the little windling, leaving Stigandr completely forgotten. The Scout, realizing the precariousness of his situation, counted the Troubadour’s presence as a blessing.

Lady Grace’s feet made contact with the wall, absorbing the impact with practiced ease. Quickly, she pushed her toes into the wall and found a momentary hold for her free hand. She pulled up slightly and the rope slackened.

“Thank the Passions!” Stigandr breathed as the tension released from the rope. Without a moment’s hesitation, he drew his dagger and cut himself free. “Jennean,” he called, “Time to go!” and, with without waiting, he began his rapid descent.

The now free end of the rope dropped passed Lady Grace and she let out a little sigh. The hard part was done. Down was easy. Using her claws as a partial brake, Grace let gravity do its thing and slid down the wall. The impact at the bottom was going to hurt, but, holding on to Linnea, there were few other options.

At the last moment, Grace strained to lift Linnea up, so her own body would absorb a majority of the impact. Grace thudded into the ground and took a couple of staggering steps toward the edge of the cliff, but righted herself. Still gripping Linnea tightly, she pulled the girl to her feet, and led the way around the tower. She was very pleased to see that the young girl was adjusting quickly to the situation and not working against her. Linnea’s father had been right. The girl was made of stronger stuff than most. She had metal in her soul.

Stigandr landed a few moments later, with Jennean right behind him. “Jennean, can you take Linnea to safety? Grace and I need to get in there,” Stigandr gestured towards the watchtower.

“Sure,” Jennean replied cheerfully, then turned to the traumatized girl, “Tell me, Linnea, have you ever heard the Tale of the Princess Ellannea and the Mysterious Wiggy-Womp? No?” The windling smiled brightly, “Oh, well, then allow me to enlighten you!” Jennean began to lead Linnea back down the mountain, “Once upon a time, it the faraway kingdom of Torbanque… which must have been a human kingdom with a silly name like that; but, anyway, there was a small princess called Ellannea…”

Lady Grace, Stigandr, and Jennean moved swiftly to the tower and, hugging its wall, moved around its base and out of sight.

Roland turned to his remaining companions. “We will give them a few moments to begin their climb, and then,” he sighed, “we will see what we find within.” He did not like this plan at all, but he saw no other way. He was sure that, if he survived the day, he would receive another earful from Corman. They were doing precisely what the Warrior had told them not to do. Roland shook the thoughts from his head. This was no time to concern himself with potential lectures in his future. Corman was not here. He and his companions were, and Roland had faith in their abilities. “We will need to move quickly. Fight only what we must and push higher into the tower. Our goal is the roof and the girl.”

“Ready yourselves,” Roland said, making last minute checks to his own gear.

Anetha tighten her fist wraps and stared at the tower with calm indifference. Roland truly did not understand the Daughter of Heaven. Born from the place where lightning struck the earth, she was the only Storm Child on the island. At least the only one Roland had heard of. Perhaps all Storm Children were as distant, as if focused on faraway places or listening to whispers on the winds that only she could here. Still, he was glad to have her at his side. She was capable, unfaltering, and he knew he could count on her. Perhaps in time he would come to understand her; but, for now, he felt he could trust her, and that was what he needed right now.

Roland looked to his other companion and couldn’t help but give a little smile. Dumond had proven himself more than proficient at his craft as well, saving Roland’s life on at least two occasions. The Illusionist seemed to take very little seriously, viewing much of the world as some sort of great joke, and only he (and possibly other Illusionists) got the punch line. With an impish gleam dancing in his eyes, Dumond worked to prepare whatever mischief he had in mind for their enemies. It was almost enough to make Roland pity those that would cross Dumond… almost.

“Are we ready?” Roland asked.

“Yep,” Dumond smiled.

Anetha gave a slight nod of assent.

“Let’s go to work. May the Passions watch over us.”

They crossed the open ground between the thicket and the tower at a hunched over run, hoping to go unnoticed until they reached the already breeched doors. Once inside, they would move as stealthily as they could until they encountered resistance. With some luck, the only adversaries would be those already on the uppermost level of the tower.

Luck was not with them.

Pushing through the entryway, Roland came into what appeared to have once been a modest barracks for those stationed at the tower. The room was large enough to have once housed ten or twelve in soldierly comfort. The remnants of bunk beds rotted away against one wall; while, across the room, a modest and long-deserted cooking area sat neglected. Thick dust covered everything, but the booted trail that headed into the tower proper. Roland did not have Stigandr’s eye for tracking, but it looked like more than three people had been here recently.

Tightening his grip on his sword, Roland motioned for the others to follow him towards another pair of doors that would lead to the tower itself. He watched the shadows as they moved, seeking some sign of threat, but the only movements he caught were the cobwebs wafting on the slight breeze.

Anetha tapped Roland’s shoulder and pointed ahead of them when he turned his attention to her. Peering through the gloom, he noted the faint flicker of light coming from inside the tower. Torchlight, or a small campfire, he surmised. He turned back to Anetha and nodded his understanding.

Ensuring he had the attention of both of his companions, Roland flashed a few quick hand symbols.

Be ready.

Both nodded and focused their attentions on the doors ahead.

Here we go, Roland thought, moving closer to the door. He hoped to get at least a peek into the room before they were spotted. A basic layout, concentration of enemies, anything. Any small detail could mean the difference between life and death.

He was almost to the door when the pebble skittered across the floor and panged! off the door. Grunts of surprise and curiosity sounded from within the room.

“Oops,” Dumond said sheepishly.

“Go!” Roland roared without hesitation and put a shoulder into the door.

The door slammed open and into a figure that had been approaching to investigate the noise. It reeled backwards from the impact, but managed to right itself against the wall. Living eyes glared at the intruders from a mask of rotted skin. Its nearly lipless mouth snarled at Roland and it drew a rusted, notched blade from its scabbard. Splotchy, ill-kempt hardened leather armor creaked with its every movement, as decayed as the being it covered.

Roland’s eyes pried themselves from the rotting thing before him and scanned the room hastily. He counted a total of six hostiles in the small room. Two more like the one he had hit with the door, two that appeared as if their limbs had been pulled and stretched to impossible lengths, and a large hulk of a man that looked as if he had swelled up while wearing chain mail.

Across the room, through the gauntlet of corrupted foes, a narrow spiral staircase climbed up to another floor. If they could make it to the stairs, the advantage of superior numbers the enemy had would be thwarted. The trick would be getting there. Tactically, they could achieve the same advantage by remaining in the doorway, but that put them no closer to helping their compatriots on the roof.

Roland felt a hand on his back and a now familiar shimmering before his eyes told him that Dumond had displaced his image once again. “The stairs!” Roland called out, charging into the room and trying to draw a majority of the attention towards him.

The hulking brute unlimbered a great, rust-scarred two-handed sword and, with an animalistic roar, moved towards Roland. With each move the brute made, the chain mail wrapped around its flesh cut into it, causing small rivulets of blood to dribble down its massive frame. The pain had to be excruciating, but its maddened eyes registered none.

In a blur, the battle was joined. The companions stayed close together, watching one another’s backs, and moving towards the staircase. Steel and steel met again and again, while dazzling sparks of arcane energies swirled from Dumond’s outstretched hands.

The one Roland hit with the door had been the first to fall. It lay bleeding and unconscious on the flagstones. Dumond’s illusion on Roland had served him well in the initial onslaught, but the creatures were beginning to see through the trick that cloaked him. More and more attacks were aimed at him, rather than the illusionary copy that had drawn their earlier attentions.

Anetha deftly avoided the thrust of a short sword from one of the long-limbed assailants. She reached out and delicately took the creature’s wrist. Holding the captured arm steady with one hand, she drove her elbow into its forearm. She felt more than heard the crack of bone, but the thing still did not release its weapon. It snarled wickedly and snatched its arm roughly out of her grasp.

Roland spun, barely blocking the brute’s downward slash with his shield. The blow was still almost hard enough to numb his arm and from the underside of his shield he could see it was beginning to splinter. This is not good. Roland thought, Not good at all. If something was not done about the brute soon it would breech Roland’s defense through sheer power.

“Anetha,” Roland called out, “Get to the stairs! Secure them if you can!”

Without a word, the Daughter of Heaven was off. She danced between combatants, narrowly avoiding a few strikes, but claiming the bottom steps. Up she went, two steps at a time, passing quickly from view.

Roland watched her progress out of the corner of his eye and was pleased to see that things may be turning their way at last. Over the din of the combat, he thought he made out the sound of… a scream? He couldn’t be for sure, but he felt a sinking sensation in the pit of his stomach. It had been too distant to have been Anetha. That left only the roof.

“Alright, Dumont,” Roland grunted, bringing his attention back to more immediate concerns and parrying an incoming attack, “Your turn. Get up those stairs.””

“OK,” Dumond responded, but paused long enough to refresh the failing illusion that protected Roland. Then, the Illusionist was off for the stairs as well.

Roland breathed a sigh of relief as the new illusion pulled the attention off of him once again. He knew it was only a momentary respite, but it was enough to regain his breath.

Anetha crested the second floor and ducked just as the blade whistled through the space her head had occupied mere moments before. More of the corrupted soldiers were waiting on the second floor. A quick glance told her there were four of them, two of which were the hulking, chain mailed sort. She spat out something very unladylike and began a retreat back down the stairs. “Go back! Go back!” she yelled at Dumond, “There are more! We are cut off!”

At the base of the stairs, the companions stood together and fought a pitched battle as the creatures from the second floor now joined the fray. They could only hope that their companions above were faring better. Perhaps they had already gotten the girl, but… what about that scream?

Movement in his peripheral vision caught his attention. One of the long-limbed had flanked the group and was preparing to throw a dagger into Dumond’s unprotected back. Roland could move to protect the Illusionist; but, in doing so, he would leave himself and Anetha open for retaliation. “Dumond,” he called trying to get the Illusionist’s attention, “Your ba-!”

The would-be dagger thrower pitched forward, an arrow sprouting from his shoulder blade, and the dagger spun across the floor.

“Stigandr!” Roland called triumphantly. United, he had no doubt that he and his friends could deal

Stigandr nodded a greeting and called back, “We got the girl! But we’ve got company coming. I think we made them mad.”

As if to punctuate the comment, Lady Grace ran into the room and slammed the door behind her. Bracing herself against the door, she yelled, “He’s right behind me!”

Roland sighed again. So much for a clean getaway.

Session 004 - An Eidolon in the Shadows

Ten months.

Ten long months had passed since the companions had faced the skimbak under the falls, and that adventure could be looked back upon fondly now. When the companions had returned to Wayfare, battered and bruised, but victorious; they had been hailed as heroes. There had been a great deal of back-slapping, handshaking, and more than a few gifts bestowed upon them all. Those were good times.

Then had come the meeting on the cliffs. Corman had split them all up into groups and informed them that they were now all competing for places aboard the ships that would one day leave Natales for the mainland. In the formation of the groups, the companions had been kept together and been given the seemingly honorary title of “Gold Team”. To the young Adepts, their future had looked quite good indeed.

The following day, the training had begun in earnest. At first, it had been hard. The mentors pushed their charges to perform, and the Adepts rose to the challenge. It was exhausting, but each trial was met with exuberance and verve. The competition was fierce, as every Adept wanted a place on those ships.

Then, a few weeks into the training, the first salvos of a good-natured prank war between the groups were launched. The pranks had been harmless enough; and, ten months later, people still argued over who had started it. It was the mentors, however, that took exception to these activities. If the young Adepts had enough time for such frivolities, they surely had time for more training; and the mentors decided to demonstrate the seriousness of these tests. That marked the end of the good times. What followed was hell.

The mentors worked the Adepts mercilessly and allowed little time for recoup or recreation. Even sleep became a rare commodity. If any of the companions managed 5 hours of uninterrupted sleep in a single night, they truly felt blessed by the Passions.

Each and every day was a test of physical and mental fortitude and strength. Timed marches over rough terrain, brutal obstacle courses, rock-climbing in adverse weather, mock assaults with nearly impossible objectives, and other such activities greeted the young Adepts each morning; followed by rapid-fire tests of logic, memory, and knowledge. The mentors did not let up until late in the evening, when the Adepts would drag themselves back to their bunks for as much sleep as they could manage before doing it all again the next day.

The time had been hard on all the Adepts, but none were willing to quit. They may have been exhausted physically, mentally, and psychologically; but they were resolute. They may have ached, but they rose to each new challenge. The chance to travel to the mainland, to make a Name for themselves, was worth any amount of hell the mentors could call down upon them.

The wind howled and the rain lashed at their muddy faces.

For four days the companions had been pushed from one seemingly impossible exercise to the next, all while in the midst of a tropical storm. They were soaked, sore, hungry; and, above all else, exhausted.

They stood in a line, facing the glaring Corman. He paced in front of them doing nothing to disguise his displeasure at their performance. After what seemed to be several minutes, he stopped and turned to face them directly. He scowled at each of them in turn, then launched into another of his tirades.

“You are worthless!” he yelled over the howling wind, “Perhaps your earlier adventures were tempered with luck more than skill. Or perhaps your exploits are exaggerated, eh? Kill a few monkeys and now you believe you are heroes? Were that all it took, every farmer in Wayfare should be considered a hero.”

Jennean opened her mouth to say something, but Corman cut her off. “What’s that? Oh, the t’skrang? Yes, yes. Killing the mentally challenged, the true test of heroes! What will you do when you face an enemy that is as smart or smarter than you? You seem to believe that you are battle-tested, but you have seen nothing yet!"

“What about the Horror-thingie?” Jennean asked incredulously.

“The construct?” Corman barked a laugh, “A beast that can barely crawl and bursts into flame like kindling with the simplest application of fire? Again, it sounds more like the Passions blessed you with more luck than cunning.”

Roland could hold back no longer. He stepped forward, “With all due respect, sir, the team has worked hard for our victories and I resent the implication that only luck has saved us. I would trust my life to each and every one of my companions.”

Corman stepped up to stand nose to nose with his student. His posture was tense and dangerous. “What I have witnessed thus far goes against that,” Corman growled. “In the field you are as chaotic as a family of chootan, running amok without so much as a thread of tactical inspiration. I trained you better than this, Roland. Now, get. Back. In. Line.”

Roland flushed angrily, but obeyed his mentor.

Corman stepped back and looked over the miserable Adepts, an angry snarl on his lips. “Will none of you take the lead? Do you know what they call a group without a leader? A mob. A mindless crowd, easily quelled by a smaller force of the trained and disciplined. The Madron have no desire to send a mob to the mainland. Perhaps you would all be better suited tending sheep or tilling fields? Disgusting!” He threw up his hands. “Enough! I can take no more of this ineptitude! We are done for now. Return to your cabin. Get some rest. Maybe the Passion will grant you some sense upon the morrow.”

“No,” Roland demanded, “We will do the exercise again.”

Corman’s eyes narrowed at Roland and he spoke with a dangerous quietness. “Do not add insubordination to your list of failures, Roland. You will eat. You will rest. And, tomorrow, you will try again.” And, with that, Corman led the Adepts back to Wayfare.

The tiny cabin was a most welcome sight. Despite the lessening rain, the march back had been miserable. Each of the Adept’s had been lost in their own thoughts, dwelling mostly on their failures. The promise of being allowed to travel to the mainland seemed further and further away.

It was well after dark as they approached the cabin, and they noticed a small curl of smoke coming from their chimney. Immediately, their spirits lifted some. Someone had started a fire for them and the faintest aroma of lamb stew could just be detected on the breeze. Several stomachs rumbled in anticipation.

“Oh,” Dumond, the group’s usual cook, muttered softly in relief, “Thank the Passions.” He was entirely too tired to prepare anything beyond a simple gruel.

A figure emerged from the shadows just beyond the cabin, reflective eyes gleaming from beneath his cowl.

“A word, if you please Master Corman,” called Ash, the khajiit Madron representative. Lady Grace smiled slightly and suppressed the urge to wave to her father. He would not approve of the impropriety of the gesture. As a member of the Madron, he would be one of the deciding agents when choosing which Adepts would board the ships; and Grace knew that he would show her no favoritism, nor would he condone even the smallest act that might be considered such. In many ways, he would scrutinize her even more closely than any of the others.

Corman looked to the group. “Eat and rest,” he commanded. “We will try again in the morning.” He then turned his attentions to the council member. “Yes, Master Ash,” he replied, bowing slightly, “How may I serve?”

The companions trudged up the stairs and into the cabin, dropping their gear and smiling appreciatively at the surprise that had been left for them.

From time to time, and despite the mentors’ lack of approval, Meregret or Doogan would leave a nice meal for the companions. Tonight had been one of those lucky nights and it almost brought tears of gratitude to a few eyes. The lamb stew smelled rich and delicious, as did the bread warming on the hearth. To top it all off, two bottles of Doogan’s “passable” wine awaited them on the table.

As the group moved towards the meal, Lady Grace found a spot near the doorway, and watched her father and Corman through a crack in the wall.

“How goes their training?”

Corman shook his head, “Abysmal.”

“And the others?”

Shrugging slightly, Corman responded, “There are a few potentials scattered here and there.”

The khajiit’s shoulders slumped a bit and the disappointment in his voice was apparent. “I see. We had hoped for better news.” Reluctantly, he asked, “Have you released those we discussed from service yet?”

Corman shook his head. “No. I am on my way there next. They will take it hard, especially Ky.”

The pair walked away from the cabin, still chatting. Grace strained to hear them, but their voices were lost on the wind.

At the simple table, the rest of the companions attacked the stew, using chunks of the crusty bread to eat the rich stew from wooden bowls. They ate hungrily, but more than a few curious eyes regarded Lady Grace as she took her seat at the table.

Jennean swallowed her mouthful and wiped her mouth. “Any news?”

“It sounds like they are cutting some Adepts out of the test.”

All eyes turned towards Grace, giving her their undivided attentions. No one so much as shifted in their seats, as if the slightest movement would add their Names to the list. They stared at her, their meal forgotten, but she knew their minds were churning over the many failures they had experienced in the past months. The scene would have been funny to Grace were the subject matter of less significance to everyone sitting at the table. Thus far, no Adept had quit or failed out of the testing. Apparently, that was no longer true.

“Who,” Roland paused, trying to decide if he really wanted the answer to his question. He steeled his mind, sighed, then asked his question, “Who got cut?”

“Ky for sure,” Grace said, “But it sounded as if there were others.”

“Any idea who?”

“No. Maybe the rest of Ky’s group?” Grace guessed.

There was a moment of silence as everyone processed the information. There were some very talented Adepts in the Silver Group. It was difficult to imagine that they had all been cut.

“What about us?” Stigandr asked, “Did they say anything about us?”

“Abysmal,” Grace repeated Corman’s evaluation.

Nearly everyone seemed to collapse inwardly at this news. If the mentors were starting to cut people from the competition and Corman had described them as “abysmal”, how much longer could they really expect to survive the cut?

“We have to try harder,” Roland said, doing his best to push away the dark mood that had descended upon the table.

“Corman was right about one thing. We need a leader,” Stigandr pointed out. “We do not succeed at many of our tasks because we spent too much time trying to decide who is best for what tasks. We need to know our jobs and just react.”

“I could be leader,” Grace tentatively put in.

Again, all eyes fell on her.

“OK,” Stigandr smiled, ”Why do you think you would make a good leader, Grace?”

“Well, I’m really not sure I would. I thought Roland was sort of our leader, but he said nothing when Corman questioned our leadership. I figured that I could sort of do it, but I’d be more like a cat’s paw (a celestial groan emitted from the GM at the pun). Roland would sort of still be the leader, y’know… like, in combat and stuff, but… I don’t know…” Grace trailed off with a shrug.

For the next half an hour or so, the companions discussed their options; but they were too tired to come to an agreement.

Grace yawned in a very unlady-like manner, displaying her pointed canines. “If I don’t crawl into my bunk now, I’m not sure I will be able to make it later,” she said sleepily, dragging herself from her seat and towards the bunk beds in the back of the cabin.


The bell woke the companions with a start. Something was wrong! The village’s bell was only rung in dire emergencies.

“Wazgoin’on?” Dumond asked groggily, while the others sprang from their beds and began to pull their armor on with practiced ease. He rubbed his eyes and looked around blearily.

“Something has happened in the village,” Roland responded, “Get up and get your gear.”

“OK, OK,” Dumond grunted as he swung his legs off the bunk. He looked around through half-lidded eyes, “Why’zit so dark?”

“It’s still night,” Grace answered, “Only been an hour or two since we went to bed, I think.”

Dumond shook his head sadly. “This test stuff sucks.” A few snickered in agreement.

A voice from the village joined the bell. “The Madron! The Madron are dead! The Madron are dead!”

The companions exchanged looks of shock and surprise. The Madron was dead? What had happened?

A single word went through Roland’s mind, Ky?

“Let’s go,” Roland shouted, “Go! Go! Go! Grab you gear and go!” He began to push people towards the door as they pulled on the last of their equipment.

Outside, the rain had stopped, but thick clouds blocked a majority of the moon’s light.

“The Madron Long House,” Lady Grace said, her eyes cutting through the gloom. A small crowd of 15 or 20 villagers has gathered outside the Madron’s meeting place. “I see a bunch of people there.”

“Let’s go,” Roland said, and the group took off at a run

As the companions closed the distance, the frightened and confused murmurs of the people greeted them. The villagers milled about moving from one cluster to another, trying to gather any information they could, but none of them would approach the open door of the Madron Long House.

“Check inside,” Roland ordered, heading towards the door.

Dumond brought up the rear of the group, nearly asleep on his feet. At the foot of the stairs leading up to the raised long house, he spotted something barely poking up out of the mud. He stopped, squinting down at it, but could not make out any details. With some effort, he bent over and scooped it up. Holding it between his thumb and forefinger, he held it at arm’s length and tried to focus his sleepy eyes on it.

A small wooden elephant, speckled with mud and blood.

Roland, who had turned back to make sure Dumond was coming, said, “What have you got there?” His eyes widened as he recognized it. Fifi’s elephant. The very one he himself had carved for her. “No! Mynbruje have Mercy!” He prayed that neither Fifina nor her mother, Meregret, had been involved in this tragedy.

The interior of the meeting hall looked more like an slaughterhouse. Bloody red tears ran down the walls and pooling in several areas across the limb strewn, wooden floor. It was believed that all seven of the Madron had been inside when the attack happened, but the bodies were so hacked apart it was hard to tell if they were all accounted for. Dark work had been done here and the rage that had fueled the incident was still palpable in the air.

Lady Grace stood just inside the door, eyes wide and a hand to her slack-jawed mouth. Try as she might, she could not pull her sight from the black furred arm a few feet in front of her. Her father’s arm. Her vision began to blur as tears filled her eyes and she felt faint. Staggering slightly as waves of grief slammed into her again and again, she put a hand on the wall to steady herself. She felt so lost. So very lost. What does any of it mean anymore?, she thought as the maelstrom of sorrow wailed within her. She had only ever wanted to make him proud of her, but now he had been ripped away from her.

“Grace? Are you OK, Grace?” concern in Jennean’s voice.

Grace looked to the windling as the first tears began to spill. With a great deal of effort, Lady Grace pointed to the arm. “Father,” was all she could manage to get out as the racking sobs came and Grace collapsed to her knees.

Jennean’s eyes widened, “Oh, no!” The windling had not even known that the Madron member had been Lady Grace’s father, but that hardly mattered at the moment. She flew down and did her best to comfort the distraught khajiit.

Stigandr stepped back out of the long house and scanned the gathered villagers, seeking a clue or even a witness.

“Men in all black. I’m not sure how many. At least 5 or 6 of them. Maybe more. It was so dark.” The words came out of the crowd and Stigandr pinpointed the source.

“You there,” he called. “What did you see?”

The villager stepped forward, wringing his hands nervously. Stigandr knew the man. Romish, a fisherman from the village. “They came from that way," he pointed to the northwest. “They moved like the wind, sir. They swept in and cut down The Madron in a flash and then fled that way,” he shifted and indicated a direction of east northeast.

Millie Wentworth, the baker’s wife stepped forward, “I think one of them might have been that Ky boy, sir.”

Ky! The name struck a chord with nearly all of the companions.

Damn it, Ky, Roland thought, What have you done? He turned to his companions. “We have to act fast. I don’t want whoever did this to get away. Stigandr,” he looked to the Scout, “Can you track them?”

“Not from here. There is too much traffic, but I will head in the direction Romish said they headed and see if I can pick up the trail there.” Without awaiting a confirmation, he took off.

Roland took stock of his other companions. “Jennean, stay with Lady Grace and try to take control of the situation here. If you are able, find us when one of the mentors relieves you. I do not know where they are, I would have expected someone else to have been here by now.”

“Anetha, Dumond. You’re with me. Let’s go.”

Jennean began to flutter among the crowd, trying to reestablish order and calm their concerns. “No, no,” she reassured, “I’m sure we are safe here in the village. Roland and the others will catch the culprits and bring them to justice. Yes, you there, grab some blankets or sheets or something. We need to take care of the Madron. Can someone go and find Corman or another of the mentors?”

Inside the long house and lost in grief, Grace struggled to find something, anything, to pull herself out of the emotional quicksand.


The name had floated through the tempest that crashed and roared within her and something new bloomed within the chaos, a tiny star in a great sea of swirling sadness.


The object that had caused her such pain was given a face, given a Name. The feelings of loss within her seemed indomitable, but men could bleed.


The sorrow burned away as white, hot rage began to replace it. Grief became fury, anguish gave way to anger.


Lady Grace’s eyes scanned the carnage around her and immediately spied what she was looking for. She rose to her feet, her body shaking with barely contained wrath. Gingerly, she stepped over the remains of the Madron, deftly avoiding the puddles of freshly spilled blood. She bent and claimed her father’s dagger. She drew the blade from its sheath and looked at its gleaming blade.


She turned and, with the knife in hand, raced out of the long house and into the night.

Stigandr had found the trail easily enough. Heavy, booted feet, running in single file. The companions’ quarry did little to hide their passage.

The Scout motioned for the group to stop. He wanted to check the trail again. This was a little too easy, and something was itching at the back of his mind. He could not quite put his finger on it, but something was off.

An ambush?, he considered. It was a possibility. A trail this simple to follow was almost a clear invitation to be pursued, even by the most basically skilled. They had done nothing to disguise their tracks. Such disregard would surely lead to their capture. Stigandr didn’t like it.

“Roland,” Stigandr called in a whisper and the Warrior moved up to the Scout.

“Be wary,” Stigandr warned. “We could be walking into a trap. This trail… it’s… too clear. Almost like we are being lead.”

Roland nodded.

“Roland?” Stigandr asked, “Do you think Ky could have really done this?”

Roland thought for a moment. “I don’t like to think so, but…” Roland shrugged. “He has always had a bit of a temper. Training, for us at least, has been very stressful as of late. And, if Corman told him that he was no longer in the running for the trip to the mainland… well, Ky has always been a little… rash.” Roland pondered a moment, then continued, “Still, I would not have thought him capable of outright murder.”

“Maybe it was an illusion to frame Ky?” Dumond had crept up on the conversation. “Someone could have wanted to blame Ky for all of this.”

Roland smirked. “Ky certainly has no shortage of enemies, but this is still very extreme. We need to get to the bottom of this. Let’s get moving, before the trail gets cold.”

Stigandr looked back at the clear boot print in the mud. The muddy earth held the clear shape of the boot, but the edges of the wet mud were beginning to tumble inwards. Judging the general decay of the print, Stigandr guessed that they were not but a few minutes behind.

“This way,” he said, and led the group deeper into the jungle.

They had moved only a hundred yards or so when Stigandr first noticed a glow ahead. The white light was steady and showed no signs of flickering. It was certainly not fire of any sort and most likely emanated from some magical source, much like Dumond’s own light globes. As they neared, the light grew brighter and began to stream through the trees, beginning to fully illuminate the jungle around them.

Roland drew close, “What is it?”

Stigandr only shook his head and moved cautiously forward.

The companions moved out of the trees and stood in a small clearing, before a cliff face. In the rocky wall, a fissure had opened and seemed to be the source of the illumination. Standing before the large crack stood an immense figure in gleaming plate mail, like a sentinel with a great sword before him. .

At nearly eight foot tall, the sentinel made for an intimidating sight. The silvered plates of his armor burned with the white light and covered every inch of the sentinel’s features. Stigandr had heard that trolls could reach such a size, but the basic body structure was much more human-like than images of trolls he had seen before.

Roland, his eyes on the sentinel, “The tracks lead here?”

Stigandr looked to Roland, “Tracks? Oh!” Stigandr sheepishly looked down at the ground, seeking the trail they had been following. “The light attracted me,” he apologized. “I had assumed they had been responsible for it. I do see some signs of passage though. It’s a little harder to make it out here. They may have… split up?” He turned back to Roland, “But… it does appear that one or two of them headed that way,” he said, pointing towards the large knight.

“Well,” Roland shrugged, “let’s go check it out.”

The companions approached warily, but the sentinel’s posture did not change. It merely stood, still as a statue, and waited. At about twenty-five feet from the armored figure, it called out to the companions.

“Halt. Who speaks for you?”

Roland stepped forward. “I do,” he answered.

“What is your intent?”

“We seek to bring criminals to justice.”

At Roland’s response, the sentinel pulled the point of its sword from the ground, pivoted in place, and drove the point of the sword back into the ground. The way into the fissure was now open to them.

As they started forward once again, a rustling in the trees just south of their position caught their attention. Crashing out of the jungle came Ky, clad in black chainmail and carrying a broadsword and shield. Blood streaked his face, arms, and armor; as well as coating the blade of his sword.

The Warrior stopped short as he noticed the group before him. His eyes locked onto Roland and narrowed. “Son of a bitch!” Ky swore, “You wanna fuck shit up? Come on! I’m gonna rip off your head and fuck your neck stump!” And, with a roar of rage, Ky sprang towards Roland. Roland rushed to meet his rival. Roland had always thought it might come to this one day, but he had not looked forward to it.

Without warning, a shadow sprang from the trees and attached itself to Ky’s back. Growling and hissing like a maddened cougar, Lady Grace lay into the target of her bloodlust.

Roland came on, so rather than dealing with Grace, Ky focused on the other Warrior. He unleashed on Roland with everything he had, but it was not enough to topple his adversary. Roland staggered back from the attacks. What Ky lacked in precision, he made up for in speed and power. He hammered Roland’s defenses mercilessly, all while the wild khajiit clawed and stabbed at him from behind.

The Warriors traded blows.

Stigandr fired into the melee, trying to be as careful as possible to not hit his comrades.

Dumond worked to weave a spell that might pull Grace off of Ky. It was quite apparent that the little Thief had absolutely no intention of taking Ky alive. “Grace!,” Dumond shouted, “Grace, no!”

Anetha walked around the knight near the fissure, puzzling over the sentinel. Tentatively, she tested the knight’s solidity, pressing a finger into one of the joints in the armor. He felt completely solid and did not react to her touch at all.

The two Warriors bled from numerous wounds, but Ky appeared to be close to toppling over. Then, with an earsplitting yowl of fury, Lady Grace finally managed to drive her father’s dagger into Ky’s throat. With a savage twist and yank, she bisected with jugular and carotid arteries. Ky’s eyes widened in surprise, as his life began to pump out of his neck. He fell to his knees, then face first into the muddy ground and lay still. Lady Grace rode him all the way down.

“Anetha!” Roland called and the Daughter of Heaven moved quickly to the fallen Warrior and dropped down next to him. She rolled Ky over and was preparing her Embrace of the Phoenix, then stopped. Glassy, dead eyes stared up at her.

Anetha looked to Roland. “He is gone and I do not possess the strength to pull one back from Death’s domain."

Grace stood over the body, looking down on the Warrior and panting. The rage slowly subsided and she turned her eyes to her companions. She did not like what she saw in their eyes. Horror and judgment. The consequences of her anger began to dawn on her. She cast her eyes down, wishing she could run and hide from what she had done, but guilt kept her feet tied to the ground upon which she stood. Her mouth worked to find some excuse that would make everything all right again, but closed again when no words could be found.

“By the Passions, Roland,” Dumond exclaimed, “We don’t even know if Ky was really responsible!”

The words stung Grace greatly. She turned and began to slowly walk back towards the village. The rage now sated, her sorrow and regret rushed in to fill the emptiness once more.

“Grace,” Roland appealed calmly, “there were five or six assailants.” His compassion called to her. “I need you, Grace.”

She stopped and stared at her feet for a moment. She had done something terrible, but she could not bring herself to compound that by turning her back on her friends. She turned and faced Roland. With sad eyes, she gave him a nod of assent.

“I’m here,” Jennean called out in high spirits as she buzzed into the clearing, then felt the prevalent mood that hung over the group. “What happened?” she asked, eyes scanning the field. They happened upon the fallen Warrior and widened. “No.” she cut off Dumond with a stern look. “Don’t tell me. I don’t want to know. If you tell me, I will tell others. So, I don’t want to know.”

Roland tried to override the dark mood, “We must push on. We will deal with this later.”

Slowly, the group formed back up, and headed into the fissure.

The companions moved in single file through the tunnel. A light mist had grown up around their feet and the deeper they went into the cave, the thicker the mist became and higher it rose.

“Dumond,” Roland asked, “is it magical?”

Dumond gave Roland an incredulous look. “Um. Yes. I believe it is safe to say that the glowing, misty cave of light is magical in nature.”

Roland sighed. “Is it safe?”

“It’s a little late to ask after we have already entered, but…” he made a show of looking around, “it seems safe-ish.”

Roland muttered something derogatory under his breath and the group pressed on.

A short time later, they were all but entirely enshrouded by the mist. It was becoming thick enough that the companions were having some trouble even seeing one another.

“Here,” Stigandr said, handing a length of rope back. “Tie off to this, then pass it back to the next person. I don’t want us to get separated in here.”

After they were all tied together, they pushed on and deeper into the mist. When Stigandr began to feel lightheaded, he tried to turn back; but it was already too late.

Darkness took them all.

Lady Grace found herself standing in a great, featureless void. Beneath her feet, she felt solid ground, but it was made of the same darkness that surrounded her. A single light shined down in a small cone of light that surrounded her.

A soft, calm voice spoke from the nothingness around her.

“Grace. Lady Grace. Baroness. Duchess. Queen. It is all within your grasp.” The voice said, “Is this what you desire? Claim the White Throne and it can all be yours. Glory. Fame. Wealth. Adoration. Live forever in the stories of the greatest rulers that ever lived. Unite the world under one banner. Shepard the people to a brighter future. You were born for this. Take your place! Claim your birthright!”

All went black again.

Stigandr found himself in a massive library, its shelves overflowing with maps and scrolls.

A soft, calm voice spoke from the air around him.

“Stigandr Birgirson, master explorer, adventurer, mapper of the world. The secrets of the world call out to you and they are yours for the taking.” The voice promised, "Is this what you desire? Claim the White Throne and it can all be yours! Mystery. Exploration. Adventure. Be a witness to the wonders of the world! Learn the secrets of the ancients! Enlighten the people! You were born for this. Take your place! Claim your birthright!”


Jennean stood on the stage of an ancient and deserted amphitheater. A few torches burned merrily at the far corners of the stage.

A soft, calm voice spoke from the empty benches that could have held an immense audience.

“Jennean, Weaver of Hope and Dreams, Protector of Beauty and Joy. You shine light a beacon in the stormy night, leading the forsaken to solace," the voice called to her. Is this what you desire? Claim the White Throne and it can all be yours! Countless tales to be told and exponential lives to touch with the telling of each tale. Guide them back from the night. Shepard the people to a brighter future. You were born for this. Take your place! Claim your birthright!”

Fade to black.

Roland found himself surrounded by a darkness deeper than any he have ever experienced before. In the far distance, he witnessed a spark of white light birth from within the dark. The spark seemed, at first, to be growing in size. After a few moments he realized that it was actually getting closer.

Closer it came and, as it did, it began to take a more distinct shape. That of the ghostly image of a man, striding through the darkness toward Roland.

Within moments, Sir Oliver, the questor and hero of Landis, stands before Roland.

“Roland of Wayfare. Roland the Just. Roland the Righteous. The world needs the strength of your arm, the courage of your convictions, and the honor that burns in your breast. The unjust rise upon the backs of those they would oppress, but you could make all the difference,” Sir Oliver spoke, "Is this what you desire? Claim the White Throne and it can all be yours! Compassion. Justice. Mercy. Leadership. Unite the world under one banner. Shepard the people to a brighter future. You were born for this. Take your place! Claim your birthright!”

And as his words faded, so too did Sir Oliver, plunging Roland back into darkness.

Anetha stood upon a mountain peak as a violent thunderstorm raged all around her.

Despite the booming thunder; a soft, calm voice spoke from the night around her.

“Anetha, born of a violent storm and yet striving for Harmony with the world. Your heritage is a mystery, but that does not have to be so,” the voice said, "Is this what you desire? Claim the White Throne and it can all be yours! Balance. Harmony. Peace. All are within your grasp. Unite the world under one banner. Shepard the people to a brighter future. You were born for this. Take your place! Claim your birthright!”

A brilliant flash of lightning filled the sky, then everything went completely dark.

Dumond stood in a great library, surrounded by books that he knew contained the riddles and truths of the world.

A soft, calm voice spoke from the dark ceiling above him.

“Dumond, Seeker of Truths and Master of Life’s Riddles. Searching for the glimmer of certainty in a world driven mad. You seek the universal truths, the underlying current of what is real, and what the people perceive is real,” the voice spoke, "Is this what you desire? Claim the White Throne and it can all be yours! Delve into the deepest shadows and bring forth the light! Let the Truth shine and shepard the people to a brighter future. You were born for this. Take your place! Claim your birthright!”

The library plunged back into darkness.

The mist cleared and the companions found themselves together once again, tied to one another and standing before a pair of huge, ornate double doors.

“Well,” Dumond said, “that was odd.”

“White Throne?” Roland asked.

“White Throne,” Dumond confirmed with a nod.

“Here too,” Stigandr commented.

“Hey, Dumond,” a puzzled look went over Jennean’s feature, “Do you remember that time that Aleon was telling us the story about the Cheese Vault?”

“Um, that really wasn’t much of a story. More like ramblings.”

Jennean gave Dumond a stern look, “You just do not understand the genius of his poetic soul, but that is not important right now. Do you remember?”


“Didn’t he say something about The White Throne then too?”

“I don’t thi…” Dumond’s eyes widened, “He did! ‘The White Throne must be served!” Screamed it at the top of his lungs.”

Jennean tapped her chin in thought, “I wonder what Aleon knows?”

“That’s a problem for later,” Roland cut it. “We need to push on. I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t want to go back through that mist unless we absolutely have to.”

“Agreed,” several voices responded.

“That leaves this way,” Roland indicated the doors. “I suspect we are about to find The White Throne. We have been tempted. I can only hope we do not turn on one another.” Roland considered the happenings thus far. “Dumond,” he looked to the Illusionist, “All of this seems highly improbable. Is it possible that this is an illusion?”

“I have wondered that myself a number of times. I have not yet been able to find the truth behind the facade though. While it all seems improbable, it also appears to be real enough. If this is an illusion, it is an impressive one.”

Roland sighed and looked over his companions, “Alright, it looks like we don’t have a choice then. Are we ready?”

“Let’s do it,” Stigandr replied, nocking an arrow.

A light push sent both door swinging open on well-oiled hinges.

The interior of an exquisite cathedral of white marble and alabaster greeted them. Light poured in through breathtakingly beautiful stained glass windows, yet still did not manage to reach the highest points of the vaulted ceiling, which was crisscrossed with support beams. Six pairs of columns lined the room, one on each side of the great hall. Strange scenes of unknown meaning decorated the columns, carved into their surfaces and inlaid with gold, orichalcum, and precious stones. The architecture and opulence were things none of the companions had ever experienced before, the stuff of legends and stories.

At the far end of the cathedral, upon a raised dais, sat the White Throne. Even from across the great space, the companions could feel the sense of power and peace that radiated from the seat. It called to each of them, a promise of greatness.

The floor of the hall appeared to be a great map of the world. Small wooden figures of differing shapes and several colors slide, met, and one (or more) would topple; as if unseen hands guided them. The color red, which appeared to originate in Thera, seemed to be dominating large sections of the map. For several minutes, the group watched as the wooden armies and navies clashed at boundaries that seemed to expand and contract with each battle.

“Wow,” Stigandr whispered in awe, he eyes on the giant map. “I have never even imagined such a map.” He eyes scanned it quickly. “Look! Here is Natales.” On the great map, Natales was not much bigger than the tip of Stigandr’s pinkie finger.

The map proved more interesting to the companions than the White Throne, which stood empty and waiting.

The creak of old hinges alerted the companions to the newcomers. A man in a red toga and golden laurel strode into the room through a smaller side door the companions had not yet noticed. Flanking the man on three sides, were a rather rough looking set of bodyguards. Red Toga moved towards the White Throne.

“Hi,” Jennean called out, waving to the others.

Red Toga turned toward the companions. He looking at them with a haughty, appraising eye; then sniffed in disdain.

“Guards,” he called and guards seemed to materialize, stepping out from behind each column. “Kill the traitors,” Red Toga waved his hand nonchalantly at the group, as if they were nothing but a bothersome moth.

The scrape of steel sliding out of scabbards echoed throughout the hall, followed by the boom of the doors slamming shut behind the companions.

“Crap,” Roland said looking at the overwhelming numbers arrayed against them. It took no tactical genius to know that they were in for a world of hurt unless they could find a way out of the room. Nothing made sense. This had to be an illusion, but they seemed like they were completely trapped within it.

As the guards rushed in at the companions, Roland only saw two options. The side door Red Toga and his bodyguards had entered through and The White Throne. If this was an illusion, maybe the throne was an exit or a seat of power that could affect the illusion? Maybe?

Well, he thought, it’s either stand here and get butchered, or try something crazy. Crazy it is. “Jennean,” Roland yelled, “go for the throne! Stigandr, see if you can secure that door! I will hold as many as I can!”

Jennean took flight and buzzed over the guards just as they clashed with Roland. She was happy to see that none of the guards were wielding anything with more reach than a broadsword. It looked like this was going to be pretty easy.

Roland met the charge and manage to hold the first few that made contact. He was still hurt from the battle against Ky, but if he could just occupy the guards long enough for his friends to escape…

Dumond was there again and managed to displace Roland’s image once more; but, as some of the guards spilled passed Roland, he soon realized that he was in serious trouble.

Stigandr, Anetha, and Grace moved to the eastern wall and used the columns as cover. A majority of the guards had rushed the center and engaged Roland and Dumond, but a few remained to bar the way. Fighting a running battle, the three made their way toward the door.

Jennean was almost to the throne. She didn’t know if this would help at all, but she sure hoped it did. She had just passed over the first of the stains leading up the dais, when the nets fell, tangling her and sending her plummeting to the floor. Above her, she could make out the faint shadows of man-shaped shadows hiding in the rafters. It seemed that sometimes even windlings did no think to look up.

“Jennean!” Roland cried, and he began to maneuver through his attackers. The illusion Dumond had placed on him took some of the immediate threat off of him, but the guards were quickly realizing it was a trick as the illusion did not react when struck. Roland did not have a lot of time.

Nor did Dumond. He frantically worked at weaving a spell to displace his own image, but he was cut down before he could cast the spell. He dropped to the smooth, cool floor, barely conscious. Four of the guards encircled his prone form, and began to hack down again and again mercilessly.

Stigandr made it to the doorway and turned to fire an arrow. Just as he loosed the arrow, he heard the metallic click of a trap behind him and was struck by a swinging hammer. The blow glanced off his shoulder, missing his head by only a few inches.

Jennean fought with the net and, finding she could not get free, tried to inch her way to the throne. Just a few feet, she thought, just a few feet. A pair of arrows slammed into her tiny body, pinning her to the floor. As conscious slipped away from her, she wondered what Aleon’s favorite cheese was?

Grace was terrified. Things were falling apart so fast. Dumond was dead, Jennean looked like she might be too, and Roland was completely surrounded. She want to go and help the Warrior, but she was afraid. How had this gone so very, very wrong? Was it somehow her fault? Were they all dying because of her?

“Grace!” Anetha yelled at the frozen khajiit, “Run! We have to get out of here!”

Grace snapped out of her reverie. Run? Yes, that seemed the only option. The companions were far too scattered now to put up any sort of defense. Run and try to find some place to hide and regroup. Grace turned towards the door Stigandr guarded and ran.

Ducking under the already triggered hammer, Grace moved into a narrow hallway. She had barely made it into the hallway when she heard a series of clicks. Diving back the direction she had come from, she barely avoid the exploding gas of a fire trap.

Stigandr looked down at Grace, “Two traps?” He shook his head. “Well, I’m not going that way.”

Roland wove through the attacker’s, focusing all of his attentions on getting to the throne. At this point, whether the throne would save them or not was almost didn’t matter. To Roland, it had merely become a military objective. A goal. Something he could focus on. If he could take the throne, it would at least be a minor victory. He broke through the last ranks of guards and raced up the stairs. He smiled triumphantly and sat upon the White Throne.

Roland vanished.

“Aw, crap,” Stigandr complained, staring at the now empty throne. “Where’d he go?”

“Dunno,” Grace panted, “but it’s gotta be better than here.” To herself she thought, And if it kills me, I hope it’s quick and painless. She picked herself up and sprinted for the throne. Please, please, be a way out.

Stigandr and Anetha were only a few paces behind Grace when she reached the throne an vanished as well.

With the guards closing in on them, the last two companions reached the throne and everything went black.

Roland’s eyes fluttered open. His head was pounding and the daylight that streamed in through the open window only added to his discomfort. Where am I and what happened?, he wondered. He was groggy and his mind felt as if it were packed in wool roving.

Carefully he turned his head from side to side, and found the rest of his companions were laying nearby. They were all on a hardwood floor in a room far smaller than the cathedral had been. His friends all appeared to be awake, a few even sitting up. Almost everyone was rubbing their heads, fighting their own headaches.

He was relieved to see his friends safe and sound, but they only added to his confusion. The battle had fallen to chaos quickly and he knew that he had seen Dumond and Jennean fall. It had been horrible, watching his friends cut down and him powerless to stop it; but here they were, not so much as a visible scratch on them.

A robed figure walked up and stood over the group, looking down on them. He looked back over his shoulder and called to others. “They wake,” Melenkyle said. The Illusionist mentor looked rather drained himself.

With the sounds of more feet approaching, Roland managed to prop himself up on his elbows. Corman, Fortuna, Jory, Lucius, Miranda, and the members of the Madron approached.

Grace was on her feet in a instant. Her father was alive! Suddenly she was awash with alternating waves of relief and of shame. None of it had been real, but she had discovered a darkness in herself that she would have never imagined. Illusion or not, she could still feel Ky’s blood on her hands and the lingering embers of the hatred that had burned within her.

Corman, looked over the group stoically. “So,” he said, “how do you think you did?”

Roland shook his head, trying to clear away the fogginess. He was a little woozy, but did his best to stand up straight. Looking Corman directly in the eye, he said, “We all did our parts. I am proud of what we accomplished.”

Corman stood watching Roland for a few moments, waiting to see if there was anything more. His face was a blank slate and gave no indication of his feelings on the matter. Corman’s eyes moved to each companion, one by one, seeming to give each of them a chance to elaborate or comment. When no one did, Corman nodded once and said, “I realize this may have been a bit of a shock to each of you and you are likely still in combat mode. You have the rest of today and tomorrow as free time. Think of what you have done, what you did well and what needs improvement. What lessons did you take away from this exercise? The day after tomorrow I will come to your cabin and we will discuss it further.” He took two steps back. “You are free to go.”

Session 003 - Something in the Water (Part 2)

“Ow,” Roland complained as Anetha prodded one of his wounds.

“Baby,” she chided, “If you do not wish me to thoroughly tend your wounds, do not get hit.”

Roland winced slightly as Anetha pulled the bandage tight. “I will take that under advisement.” Despite his own discomfort, he noted that the healer had taken quite a beating herself. She was a little unsteady on her feet, but did not falter in her calling.

The other companions had been tended to and busied themselves investigating the cavern and making sure their position was at least temporarily secure. They had won the encounter, but their mood was now subdued. As the fog of war had lifted, a terrible realization had dawned on them. They had just killed people. Several of them had hunted before, while others had slaughtered chickens and such in the past; but, until today, none of them had ever killed a Namegiver. These poor souls had been completely out of their minds, but the finality of the companions’ actions was beginning to weigh on their minds.

“Dumond,” Roland called, looking for something to take his mind off such dark thought, “What do you make of these t’skrang?”

The young Illusionist looked at the remains of one of the fallen, its bones lying in a pool of putrefied, jellied flesh and muscle. “Nothing natural could have done this to them. I admit I am still limited in my lessons, but the only things I know capable of such would be a Horror; or, perhaps, a Nethermancer.” He shook his head, denying the thought. “The Nethermancer is highly unlikely. They would have to be very powerful and even more wicked. I just can’t see how someone like that would have gone unnoticed thus far. Then again, where would a Horror have come from? Very perplexing.” He stood a moment in thought, then went on, “Perhaps the creature Doogan saw this morning was the Horror. This could, potentially, be its lair; but, again, why had we not encountered it before? We are not far from the village and right next to a lagoon that is frequented quite often.”

Stigandr moved cautiously near the entrance to another tunnel, seeking signs of potential threats. “Perhaps the creature was trapped within this cave and the quake a couple of months ago released it,” he remarked.

Realization dawned on Dumond’s face, “Of course! That would certainly explain that part, but it still leaves a question as to where the t’skrang came from.”

“Not enough evidence yet,” Stigandr replied, turning his attentions back on the tunnel he was approaching.

The entrance proved to be little more than a room-sized cavern. Fragments of old clay pots and scraps of rotted paper were strewn about the floor. The remnants of an old bed stood against the far wall, an iron bound chest at what was left of the foot of the bed. A large and heavily rusted iron lock hung from the front of the chest.

“Grace,” Stigandr called softly to the Thief.

The khajiit moved softly to Stigandr position, muttering quietly to herself about the inappropriateness of being addressed as merely Grace. “I’m a Lady and should be addressed as such.”

Stigandr pointed out the box, but there was hardly a need. Lady Grace had already fixed her gaze upon the box, her whiskers quivering in anticipation of the fantastic treasures the box surely contained.

“Think you can open it?” Stigandr asked.

Grace began to rub her fingertips together, as it warming up her tools. “It looks pretty rusty, but I can give it a shot.” Her eyes never left the lock that stood between her and the untold riches within.

Kneeling down in front of the chest, Grace carefully looked it over, carefully examining the lock and chest for signs of traps. Finding nothing threatening, the Thief went to work. Between her outstretched fingers; a soft, blue, glowing pick slowly took shape, materializing from nothing. With deft, yet subtle, finger gestures; she guided the pick into position without actually touching it. Grace closed her eyes and extended her feelings into the magical pick, seeking the familiar resistance of the tumblers within the cylinder. Finding the “sweet spot” was fairly easy, but a few tentative attempts to roll the cylinder were enough to tell Grace it was a hopeless effort.

She opened her eyes, the pick vanishing again, and looked to Stigandr. “It’s rusted tight,” she shrugged. “Gonna have to break it, but I’m guess that won’t be difficult either. Just noisier.”

The companions gathered together and watched on with curiosity as Roland brought his booted heel down on the lock. The blow was solid and the lock crumbled away.

The scent of mildew and rotted fabrics greeted the party as the lid swung open. Moldy and moth-eaten clothing filled the trunk, much of which fell apart at a mere touch.

The clothing was pulled out and set aside, where Jennean went through pockets and tried to determine if any of the clothing could be salvaged for costuming in the future. Beneath the disintegrating wardrobe, a few more useful objects were discovered: a light quartz (in need of recharging), a sextant, a spyglass, and an ornate ivory tube with brass end caps.

Lady Grace looked upon the treasure with some disdain. None of these things seemed worth the risk or effort they had faced thus far. The ivory tube might be worth something, but the rest was hardly worth the blood (theirs or the t’skrang’s) that had been spilled that day.

Stigandr held the tube in his hand, examining the gold inlay. “I think it’s safe to say that these things did not belong to the t’skrang.” He slipped the cap off one end of the tube, revealing a few pages of parchment within.

Unrolling the pages, a small gasp escaped him. “Landisian,” he said. “Perhaps a survivor of The Wild Card?”

“Perhaps,” Roland responded, “What does it say?”

Stigandr read the scroll aloud, carefully translating into Throalic so everyone would be able to understand.

The journal entry of Ian Blackswell can be found here.

“So, Eckhardt was Horror tainted?” Jennean looked up from her pile of musty clothing and began to formulate this new information into the tale she would soon be telling.

“This man believed so,” Stigandr replied, holding up the pages.

“It is also possible that this Ian Blackswell was corrupted by a Horror and used as a pawn against Eckhardt,” Roland commented, “I think it is vital that we return this information to The Madron. It may be important in their dealings with the amulet.”

“But,” Jennean looked a little perplexed, “I thought when you put the amulet in water it purified the water? How can that be bad?”

Stigandr shrugged, “Perhaps it simply kills every living thing in the water.”

“We need to get this back to Wayfare,” Roland stated again.

A grunting cough echoed through the tunnels. Was that from behind them? The way they had come from? The noise fit the description of the sound Doogan had described to them that morning. It could be the Horror and it sounded as if it had been behind them.

“We need to leave,” Anetha said, “I will be of little use in another fight.”

Roland looked back the way they had come, straining to hear any other hints of the creature’s approach. “I… I think it’s behind us. We will have to push forward and hope for another way out.”

“Let’s move then,” Stigandr said, moving towards the only other tunnel out of the cavern.

The group pushed on into the cave system, Roland pulling rear guard, while Grace and Stigandr led the way.

Once again, the tunnel opened up into another cavern. A narrow stream ran through the cavern, pooling in the center of the open space, before continuing its course on and under the cave wall. On the banks of the pool and stream, smallish fires had been constructed to provide light for the six t’skrang that stood fishing on the shore. Spears in hand, the t’skrang stabbed at the small silver fish in the water. Two of the t’krangs’ number were the large, bruiser variety.

The reptilian heads swiveled towards the companions at the sound of their entrance. There was a moment’s pause, then the stillness was ripped apart by the t’krang roars of rage.

Roland moved to intercept the larger adversaries, while Stigandr sought a good vantage point to fire from. Both wished to focus their attacks on the bigger threats, but a couple of the smaller t’skrang would reach Roland first.

Having the space to maneuver, Jennean took to the air and circled above some of the charging t’skrang, looking for loose rocks to drop on them.

Lady Grace looked to Roland for guidance and, with a nod of his head, she was off to help Jennean. The little windling had the heart of a lion, but common sense of a kitten. If she jarred the wrong rocks loose, the corrupted t’skrang would be the least of the group’s worries. “Stop with the rocks,” Grace commanded.

Weaving a quick illusion, Dumond displaced his own image and moved to support Roland, casting orbs of light into the eyes of their attackers.

Anthena stood back and watched. She had taken a rather brutal beating in their last encounter, it would take very little to put her out of commission. She wanted desperately to aid her comrades; but, were she to fall in the battle, it would cause far more harm than any help she was likely to provide before she fell. Someone would have to forego their assault in order to pull her out of harm’s way. That, in turn, could expose another teammate to potential dangers. No, it was better if she stayed safely in the back and prepared to care for her companions again in the aftermath.

Lady Grace and Jennean held a pair of t’skrang from the group’s right flank, but a few blows had managed to find Grace and she was not sure how much more she could take. A quick glance over her shoulder told her that things were tough all over. One of the big ones had sprouted several arrows and one of the smaller ones had fallen, but Roland was looking pretty rough himself. She dug deep within herself and renewed her attacks. She would not fail her friends.

A chuffing grunt sounded from behind Jennean. It seemed that no one else had heard it, but they were all in the midst of combat. Looking back, Jennean saw the oily shadow right away. It was on the far side of the cavern from the majority of the group, but it plodded in their direction slowly and purposefully. The thing seemed to be a mass of oily goo, held up by four large appendages in the front and two smaller in the rear. Its massive jaws could easily open to windling size, where its horrible teeth would grind such a hapless windling to pulp. The Horror!

No, Jennean thought. Something about this was familiar. She had heard about a creature such as this before. It wasn’t a Horror, but a Horror Construct. She believed that this particular variation of construct was called a Skimbak. She searched her memory for any other information that may be useful. Oh, yes!, she remembered, Skimbak can pass along their taint to others! Oh, wait. That’s not good. Not good at all.

“Run!” Jennean cried, “It’s the Horror-thingie!” Horror or Horror Construct, she did not believe that she and her friends were in any shape to fight the monster.

“Fall back!” Roland commanded, “I will try to hold the line.”

The words were barely out of his mouth when Roland realized the futility of the action. There was no chance of an organized retreat. They had come too far into the cavern and forfeited the defensive position of the tunnel, which would have bottlenecked their enemy. That choice now made disengaging extremely difficult, and a full rout was becoming more and more probable. If they did not hold the line, their retreat was likely to dissolve into a panicked race through darkened tunnels, with maddened t’skrang on their heels. The chances of all of his companions making it out after a rout were slim indeed.

“Strike that,” Roland countermanded, “Hold the line! Finish the t’skrang, then pull back!”

The skimbak moved ever closer as the fight raged on. Jennean continually cast glances between the monster and her friends, trying to judge if her companions had time to finish the t’skrang and get away before the monster was upon them.

Then, she noticed something odd.

As the skimbak neared the group, it swung out away from one of the fires, giving the flames a wide berth.

A hopeful smile spread across the windling’s face. “It doesn’t like fire!” she called to her friends, renewed hope in her voice. Perhaps they would be able to exploit that weakness.

Stigandr moved to a new position and shifted his attacks toward the advancing skimbak. Even in the gloom at the far end of the cave, Stigandr could see his arrow punch into one of the thing’s red eyes. The skimbak roared in rage and let out a thunderous cough. A glob of black ooze hurtled through the air and struck Stigandr low on the left leg, nearly knocking his legs out from under him. The ooze burned; but, more disturbingly, the ooze began to inch its way up Stigandr’s leg.

Stigandr’s eyes widened in terror. He did not know what the ooze was capable of, but he was sure it was nothing good. He ran forward and, with little thought to the consequences, he thrust his leg into a nearby fire. The pain was intense, but he took courage in the fact that the ooze seemed to be faring worse that he was. The ooze bubbled and popped, burning and melting away, evaporating into thick, black smoke.

When he could stand the pain no more, Stigandr pulled his leg from the fire and threw himself into the stream. “Son of a bitch!” he swore at the skimbak, loosing another arrow into the monster. He smiled sadistically as the skimbak roared in pain once again.

Jennean swooped down and pulled a burning log from one of the fires. “Oooo. Hot, hot, hot,” she cried, dropping the log near Lady Grace. “Burn that critter!”

Lady Grace snatched up the log and in a single, fluid motion, hurled the log at the skimbak…. missing by a few feet.

The attack had missed, but had drawn the creature’s attention. Another glob was sent at Grace, striking her in the leg as well. She stared down at the climbing ooze, nearly petrified with revulsion and fear. This had not been a good day for her. She had believed the erupting t’skrang bodies had been the pinnacle of disgust, but this surpassed that by leaps and bounds. “Getitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoffgetitoff!” she screamed.

“I’m coming, Grace!” Jennean dove down with another burning log, applying the fire to the climbing slime.

Roland and Dumond manage to take down the last of the t’skrang and quickly moved toward the fires. Within moments, burning logs flew through the air, landing on or around the skimbak.

The monster tried to retreat from the flaming barrage, but it was far too late. A fiery log hurled by Roland struck the thing in the back of the head and landed on its gooey back. The skimbak squealed in pain as the flames consumed it. Sizzling and popping, the monster toppled the ground and lay still. Black smoke billowed off the still creature.

The heroes were taking no chances. More and more logs were piled onto their fallen foe, until it was buried beneath a raging bonfire. The air hung thick with the cloying smoke and the odor of burning crude oil. Eyes and lungs were beginning to burn for fresh air.

Roland panted from exertion, “Is everyone OK?”

Dumond called out, “Fine here.”

“My gloves are a little singed,” Jennean replied, “And my hands may blister, but I’m fine too.”

Stigandr limped up to the others with Grace and Anetha trailing just behind. He grimaced, “I think we’ll live. Providing there is not another one of those.” He pointed to the fire.

“Treasure?” Grace asked, obviously a little punch drunk.

“I haven’t seen any yet, Lady Grace, but I will let you know if I do.”

“Treasure,” she pouted.

“I think the way out is over here,” Jennean called, fluttering near where the skimbak had emerged. “I think I see daylight.”

“Let’s get going,” Roland coughed, “The smoke’s really getting a thick in here.”

The group moved cautiously, but quickly, forward; supporting those that needed help. Despite their wounds, smiles adorned most of their faces. They had faced true evil this day; the minion of a Horror, one capable of passing on its taint of corruption on. They had fought well together, backed each other up, and they had survived. They may be bruised, broken, bleeding, and burned; but they stood victorious. Bloodied, but unbowed.

“Ooo, what’s that?” A soft, blue glow from a natural alcove had nabbed Jennean’s attention.

“Treasure?” Grace almost pleaded. The great heroes in the stories always walked away with armloads of gold, jewels, and magical trinkets. Thus far, they had found only ruined cloths, an old spyglass, a sextant, and that ivory map case – which seemed to have already been claimed by Stigandr. Not so much as one stinky gold coin or poor quality gem. They definitely needed to find a higher quality of villain to defeat. Preferably, one with a taste for the finer things in life.

The ground near the glow was littered with the shells from some large eggs. “Dragon eggs?” Lady Grace hoped aloud.

Dumond picked up a fragment and examined it. “T’skrang, I’d wager.”

“Poo,” Grace pouted again, “I want a dragon.”

The glow emanated from a strange sigil carved into the stone floor of the cave.

“Oooo,” Jennean cooed, starting towards the rune.

“Don’t!” several of the companions called out in unison, stopping their impetuous friend in her tracks.

“What?,” she said innocently, “I wasn’t going to touch it.”

Judging from the stares, no one believed her.

“Dumond,… anything?”

The Illusionist shrugged, “I’ve never seen anything like it. I think it best if we leave it alone and let someone with more experience investigate.”

Roland nodded. “Agreed. We need to report back to The Madron.”

A low bookcase stood next to the rune, a small stack of scrolls on its shells. Lady Grace scooped up the scrolls quickly and looked defiantly at her companions. “I’m taking these.”

“Fine,” Roland shrugged. “We will look at them later.” And with that, the group moved on.

A narrow fissure in the cave wall allowed daylight and fresh air in and the companions out. The freshly cracked rock seemed to support Stigandr’s earlier hypothesis about the earthquake releasing the skimbak.

The group found an open patch of grass and flopped down to rest. Looking from one to another, the companions (except Lady Grace) started to laugh. They were a mess. Soot, blood, singed hair, mud, bumps and bruises. While her friends laughed like loons, Lady Grace struggled to make herself appear more presentable.

The sun moved slowly across the sky and after an hour or so, the first voices were heard calling out for the companions. Sheyzi and Lorelei must have made it back and sent help.

Stigandr let out a loud, piercing whistle and lay back down, waiting to be found by their rescuers.

Within a few moments, the sounds of people crashing through the trees could be heard clearly. Minutes later, several of the mentors stood before the companions, weapons drawn and ready for action.

Relief filled their faces as they saw that their charges were in no immediate danger, Corman, Fortuna, and Miranda set to tending the wounds of the young Adepts, while asking an unending series of rapid fire questions.

“How many…?”

“What sort of..?”

“What was the…?”

“A Horror Construct?”

“Are you sure?”

“Magic rune, you say?”

“What journal?”

On and on the questions went with the companions answering to the best of their abilities. One by one the mentors left the Adepts to investigate particular parts of their story. Finally, only Corman remained with the Adepts.

“They are turning the wagon around now to take you back to the village, but I would have words with you all first.” He looked at each of them with a compassionate smile, then began again. “You have had a busy day and I will not keep you long, but you each faced something today that I had hoped none of you would have had to face for some time yet.”

Jennean piped up, “That Horror thing was really nasty!”

Corman smiled at Jennean and shook his head. “While horrible, that was not what I was referring to. That creature was unnatural, and so it is only natural that you should want to destroy it. I am quite proud of each of you for facing such a monstrosity with bravery and skill. You have done all of your mentors proud this day.” He gave Roland a knowing nod to acknowledge his own pride.

“Today, however,” his tone became sadly serious, “you killed your first Namegiver, a being capable of interacting with the True Pattern of the world. While these particular Namegivers seemed to have been too far gone to really be called Namegivers, their faces will likely haunt your dreams for some time to come. Recognize that burden for what it is, a toll on your soul.”

He smiled at each of them again and held up his hands in an open gesture. “I am not chastising. From what I have heard, those Namegivers were too far gone to be reasoned with. They certainly posed a danger to our village, families, and friends; but I do not want you to simply discount the discomfort you may feel in your breast. I want you to savor it. Remember it. Let it serve as a reminder that killing should never be easy. It may be necessary at times, but it should never be easy.”

“Should any of you need someone to speak to, I will listen.”

“Now,” He looked back toward the path to the village, “I believe the wagon is turned around and ready to carry you back to town. Once again, you have all done your mentors and your village proud this day. Take that for what it’s worth.”

Jennean sat high in the branches of a willow, enjoying the late summer breeze and the ripe mango she had picked. She watched the clouds above glide slowly by, while part of her mind chewed on her latest composition.

What to call it? The name of her tale had, thus far, eluded her and she found that highly frustrating. Names were important. They held power. At least that’s what everyone kept telling her. Not that they needed to tell her that. She knew titles were important. One does not pick up a story called Snookie-Bunny Finds a Flower and expect a tale of harrowing adventure. No, a title for a tale like hers had to grab the listener right from the beginning and make them hold on for dear life.

“’The Maiden, the T’skrang, and the Troublesome Goo?’” she tested the title in her mouth and made a face as if it had actually tasted bad. “No. Hmmmmm.” She tapped her chin, deep in thought. Then, as true inspiration so often does, it struck. “I got it! ‘The Creature from the Black Ooze Lagoon’! Brilliant!” She almost erupted in cheers for herself, when voices from below her tree caught her attention.

“What is it you want, Hemner? Is it so important to delay my lunch?” a gruff voice complained.

Jennean immediately recognized the three individuals below her as members of The Madron. Macklay, the dwarven delegate, looked somewhat disgruntled. It seemed likely that it was his lunch that had been left unattended. Hemner, of the elves, appeared uneasy; shifting slightly from foot to foot and wringing his hands. Niss’tra, representative of the t’skrang, looked upon her companions with reptilian composure, cool and calm.

Hemner cast a furtive glance about to see if anyone might be within earshot. Like most people, he did not think to look up. “The council will have to decide soon. If our fears prove true, every moment we delay adds to the potential danger.”

“Our fears?” Macklay barked a little laugh, “Thus far, with the limited evidence brought forth, I have seen little cause for fear.” His eyes narrowed and the elf and his tone became more grave, “What you propose, is little more than murder.”

Hemner held up his hands defensively and opened his mouth to reply, but Niss’tra cut in, “I have spoken at length with Shang. The creature under the falls was not a Horror…”

“You see,” Macklay laughed again, “nothing to wor…”

Niss’tra continued, interrupting the dwarf, “It, Shang believes, was a Horror Construct. A creature built by a Horror. A minion, of sorts. Which would seem to support at least the basis of Hemner’s concerns.”

The dwarf ran his hands through his beard as he processed this information. When he looked up again, he was all business. “I still see the proposal as too extreme, but that does not mean…”

“He’s getting worse,” Hemner nearly squeaked. “I,… I believe he’s Marked.” The accusation out, Hemner seemed to relax a bit.

Macklay’s eyes widened in shock. He turned to Niss’tra: “And what does Shang believe in this matter?”

The t’skrang shook her head slowly. “He, sadly, admits that it is possible. He can find no evidence that proves or disproves the suspicion.”

The dwarf blew out a big sigh in resignation. “Very well. This matter does indeed need to be brought up with the rest of the Madron. At the very least, we will need to keep a close eye on him, but the Madron, as a whole, will decide our course. May the Passion guide us to the proper decision.”

Hemner seemed to be gaining some courage now. “I take no pleasure in this, Macklay, but if he is Marked, he is a danger to everyone in the village. In cases such as this, it would be far better to err on the side of caution than risk the alternative. Aleon must be exiled.”

“Perhaps,” Macklay responded starting back in the direction they had come from, “but I want to ensure this issue is handled correctly. He may be crazy as a craphouse rat, but we still owe him a great deal of respect and gratitude. A rash decision could also cause… trouble.”

The rest of the conversation was lost by distance and tears began to spill down Jennean’s cheeks.

Once again, the Adepts had been summoned, and the companions made their way to the appointed place. Usually, such meetings were held on the Commons; but today they had been instructed to gather near the Tower of Secrets upon the cliff that overlooked Wayfare. None of the companions minded the change of scenery, but it did cause a number of questions and rumors (some quite bizarre) to arise.

Strangely silent and morose on the walk up the switchback trail, Jennean stayed close to Lady Grace.

“Are you OK?” Grace asked concerned.

Tears welled up in the windlings eyes and she beckoned Grace away from the group. When several feet separated them from the rest of the group, Jennean began to sob and put her head on Grace’s shoulder. “They are gonna get rid of Aleon,” she wept. “He’s my favorite… sniff, sniff… and they…. they think… they think he’s Horror Marked.” Jennean cried completely unabashed.

“Who’s ‘They’?” Grace asked, patting Jennean’s back lightly.

“The… the… the. Madron. They say he’s crazy.”

“Well,” Grace said hesitantly, “they may have a point there.”

“Genius is often confused with crazy!”

As the group rounded a bend in the trail, they found Aleon sitting in the middle of the path, his legs stretched before him. He busied himself by tapping 3 fist-sized stones arrayed before him with a stick. He stared dreamily at the stones, his yellow robes fanned out around him..

Tap, Tap, Tap

“Three, three, three,” the old elf spoke, “It yearns and burns and churns. See the pretty crystals, how they twinkle with light? One is darkened now… forever gone.” Tap “One is stained in the blood of the young.” Tap “One burns with hope, but is it enough?” Tap “Dark.” Tap “Blood.” Tap “Hope.” Tap “Three, three, three.” Tap, Tap, Tap “It comes. It’s here. It’s gone. When darkness falls, all is lost. All. All. All.” Tap, Tap, Tap “It starts with monkeys and ends in blood. Oh, so much blood.”

“You see?” Jennean cried, “Not crazy. He’s a poet!”

Roland cast a curious glance at the windling, then turned his attentions back to the old elf in the path. “Are you in need of assistance, Master Aleon?”

Aleon looked up, his eyes seeming to swim into focus, and he gazed upon the young Warrior. “Oh, dear,” he murmured, “Have you seen my pocket?”

Roland looked the elf over. It did not appear that Aleon’s robes had any pockets. “I do not believe that I understand.”

“My pocket. I seem to have dropped my pocket. Mother will be ever so displeased.”

Stigandr tapped Roland on the shoulder, “The gathering is soon. He does not seem to be in any danger and we don’t really have time to decipher his wishes. We should go.”

The Cliffside meeting place held a great view of the landscape below, but most interest was drawn towards the shipyards under construction. It was a place of dreams for most of the Adepts, as it represented a way off of Natales and on to greater glories. The young are almost always dreamers, but the shipyards gave those dreams focus and a concrete starting point from which those dreams could be launched.

Lady Grace smiled down at the scene below her. One way or another, she would be on one of the ships when the left for the mainland. If she had to stowaway, so be it; but she knew that her destiny was bigger than this island.

“Adepts,” Corman called out loudly, “gather around.”

The 36 Adepts fell into a formation, creating a half-circle around Corman.

“I know that you are all curious as to why you have been called here, so I will get straight to it. With construction underway on the shipyards, the talking has begun as well. Rumors abound. I am here to lay some of those to rest and give you what information I may.”

“It is true,” he continued, “that people will be sent to the mainland. When this will happen is uncertain, but the day nears.”

“Who they will be sending has yet to be determined. It will certainly be Adepts, but The Madron wishes it to be clear that they have no intention of sending individuals. They will be sending groups. They will be looking for tight-knit groups that share strong bonds with one another. We do not know what might be out there. If any of you are selected for this mission, it is of the highest importance that you have people that you trust with your life at your back, and vice versa.”

“For some time now, we mentors have been watching. There are several groups that seem to be forming of their own accord and we have encouraged this. When I call your name, stand and join your group in your designated area.”

Corman began calling out names.

The first group, called Red Group, consisted of Shaneen, Taldak, Bairton, Gretta, Sha’tina, Simon

Green Group was next and its members were Kitaro, Saiko, Nines, Joonay, Andaluve, Alancaro

Green was followed by Blue Group. Lodan, Grayson, Nalese, Aram the Blade, Sedric, and Lurman Dost took their places together.

The new members of Bronze Group were Sendra, Kenesaw, Nadja, Draven Goldfield, Lomander, Thoog

Ky, Lorelei, Sheyzi, Case, Naya, and Grilik made up Silver Group.

Lastly, Corman called out the names of those that would become the Gold Group. Roland, Stigandr, Lady Grace, Jennean, Anetha, and Dumont took their places. As the names for Gold Group were called out, Roland gave Ky a supremely smug smile, and an angry red bloomed in Ky’s cheeks.

Corman addressed the group as a whole once again, “None of the members in any of these groups are set in stone. Each of you will be interviewed in the coming weeks. If you feel that either yourself or a fellow group member do not truly belong in the group, speak with your mentor or myself. Unity and Harmony are of great importance, but it is best to not force such matters in this case. Your lives may depend on the weakest link in your chain, be sure you can rely on that link.”

“From now on, your groups will live together, eat together, bathe together, train together, and so forth. You will be in near constant contact with your companions. You will still continue your individual training with your mentors, but those sessions will be shortened to accommodate team exercises.”

“From this moment forward, your groups are vying for a spot on the ships to the mainland. Consider every moment of every day a test, for that is exactly what it will be. Every victory will count in your favor, every failing will be accounted for. You will be pushed to the point of breaking and beyond. If there is weakness in you, we will find it. Only the best will be considered for the mission.”

“Should you wish to not be considered for the journey to the mainland, talk to your mentor or myself and you will be given different duties. There is no dishonor in this. Wayfare will still have need for Adepts here as well.”

“Once your groups have settled on their rosters, I encourage you all to start giving some thought as to the Name of your group. Names hold power. Choose wisely.”

Session 002 - Something in the Water (Part 1)

The lecture was not what Jennean was expecting. When she had been told that the Warrior mentor, Corman, would be speaking to them today; the young, windling Troubadour began to have hopes of firsthand tales of valor and glory. Instead, she found the Warrior to be seemingly devoid of any sense of drama or showmanship. He was…. Well, boring. Rather than stories of narrow escapes and daring-do, she found herself in a lecture about responsibilities and commitment to principles. The only thing keeping her from slipping into a boredom-induced coma was telling herself that many heroes held themselves to high ideals. Perhaps such ideals were induced this way, like hypnotic suggestion. Lull your students into a near dream state, then implant the ideals you wanted to promote.

Well, one thing was for sure, if any tale Jennean told ever needed this moment explained, she would have to spice it up some.

“There are those that believe by saving a life, you are now responsible for that life,” Corman lectured. Jennean perked up a bit. This could have some promise. “To this, I say true. Should that life bear corrupted fruit, it will be your burden to bear.”

“However,” Corman went on, “there are those that also believe that this is cause to not become involved, to not save the life.” The Warrior paused a looked over the gathered students. “What if that unsaved life might have one day flourished into one that brought great hope and Harmony to the people? Does your decision to not save that life make your responsibilities any less bitter then? I would then argue that the power of the responsibility lies not in your action but in your choice to act. As Adepts, you have the power and responsibility to shape the world. You will, you must, make the difficult decisions… and live with the consequences."

Jennean raised her hand.

“Yes,” Corman called upon her.

“What if the person is already, like, already a bad seed? Should you still save them?”

“Is anyone truly beyond redemption? Are there not at least a few tales about the villainous becoming righteous?” At least four stories popped into Jennean’s mind and Corman went on without pause, “True, it is not common for one to change the path they follow in life, but I would say that the responsibility of the decision would still be yours, as will be the consequences that come from it.”

Corman looked over the assembled students with his stern, grey eyes. “I do not really believe it is our place to make these decisions, and yet you will face them daily. You will not always choose correctly. You will make mistakes. Should you survive the mistake, learn from it and accept the consequences of your actions.”

In the year since the incident with the chootan aboard the wreckage of the airship, now identified as The Wild Card, Stigandr had spent nearly all of his time in the Yellow Line. The area was scouted regularly, but was still largely unmapped, and so Stigandr had taken it upon himself to remedy that.

After Stigandr and his companions had rescued Fifina from the chootan, other strange events had occurred in the jungle: a maddened bear brought down by Ky Bloodfist and companions, a strange disease that had claimed a large flock of koller (larger cousins to the huata) to the northwest, and other unusual sightings from time to time. Nearly every time something was reported, a Scout was sent to investigate. They were never sent alone, but it certainly had made for a busy year. Generally, the sightings of creatures or men in the woods bore no evidence of such, but every report was looked into.

Stigandr could tell that Miranda Farwalker, the Scout mentor, was concerned; and that concerned him. Miranda knew these jungles about as well as anyone could, and she was now starting to see activity she had not seen before. Generally docile creatures had become aggressive; a never-before-seen disease decimates a flock of the large, flightless birds nearly overnight; even the tales of fleeted glimpses of shapes through the trees caused her unease. Something was out there, she knew it and did little to hide that she knew. She also knew that it would be her or her Scouts that found it.

Stigandr smiled slightly to himself. Miranda was not one for excessive expressions of sentiment, but she did all she could to ensure that her Scouts traveled in good company with capable companions. “Much of what a Scout does is solitary,” she often said, “but that does not mean you must do it alone.”

His thoughts of his mentor were answered by the soft rustling of leaves nearby and she stepped into view a mere few feet from him. Without preamble she said, “A farmer in the Yellow Line, Doogan, has requested the presence of you and your companions at his farm. It seems he saw something rather odd this morning and believes someone should investigate.”

Sensing there was more, Stigandr waited. The very corners of Miranda’s lips twitched upwards slightly. “I have already spoken to the other mentors and they are aware of the summons. Gather your companions and go talk to Doogan. If his tale seems worthy of investigation, do so; but do so carefully.” A touch of worry seemed to flicker through her eyes. “Stay alert.”

“Lastly, some of the other mentors were hoping that you would take a couple of the new Adepts with you. I am told they show promise and could be of use to you and your companions. They should meet you at the commons by midmorn.”

“Pah! You dance well. Are you sure you would not be better off as a Troubadour?” the female ork taunted Ky as he ducked under her blow and they resumed circling one another in the sparring ring.

Roland smirked at the two. Despite a year’s experience over the new Adept, Sendra could hold her own against Ky or Roland. What she lacked in finesse, she made up for in power and tenacity.

In mock surprise, Ky responded, “Roland, look,” he pointed to Sendra, “Corman has taught a pig to speak!”

Sendra snorted derisively. “You wit is as sharp as your weapon,” she retorted, indicating the wooden sword he wielded. She tested his defenses with a couple of quick feints, but found no opening. “So, Ky,” she went on, “is it true?”


“I hear you are hung like the bear you killed.”

“Ha!” Ky laughed, “Stupid girl! That was a she-bear.”

Sendra smiled maliciously. “How unfortunate for you.”

Roland could see the blood rising in Ky’s cheeks. The Warrior was nearing his boiling point, and once he had reached that point, Ky was bound to do one of two things. He would either do something stupid, or he would do something REALLY stupid.

Today, Ky went for the extreme path. “I cannot believe that Corman thought a mere woman was worthy of training with us.” Roland groaned.

Sendra’s yellow eyes went wide and her nostrils flared. With a roar of rage she was upon Ky, battering his shield with heavy, downward blows. Ky was driven to a knee under the assault, but beneath his shield he laughed mockingly at the female Warrior. Both Ky and Roland had known the reaction such an insult would illicit from Sendra. Nearly any claim that men were superior to women would almost always be answered by an uncontrollable rage. Sendra called it Gahad. Ky called it easy pickings. Roland called it trouble.

Sendra hammered away at Ky’s shield, keeping him pinned under its safety, leaving him no opportunity to counterattack. While she frothed in fury, Ky laughed. It was a laugh of exhilaration and tinged with more than a little fear, like that of an adolescent taking their first leap from the stone cliffs of Wayfare into the ocean. Ky really had no idea how this would play out, nor did he seem to care.

With her wooden practice sword beginning to splinter against Ky’s shield, Sendra lashed out with her foot, catching Ky off-guard. The kick sent him sprawling into the dirt, his own practice weapon slipping from his fingers and skittering across the ground. Ky rolled up onto his knees quickly, barely managing to get the shield back up between himself and the enraged ork. His laughter had been replaced with grunts of exertion.

Sendra cast aside the now ruined practice weapon she wielded, grabbed hold of Ky’s shield, and forcefully pulled it from him. Ky responded with a diving tackle and soon the two were rolling on the ground, exchanging punches and curses.

“Hail, Roland.”

Roland pulled his eyes from the all-too-familiar sight and turned to find Stigandr approaching. He nodded a greeting, “Stigandr.”

“We’ve been given a mission.”

Roland kicked the kit that rested at his feet. “I’ve been told. Doogan’s, eh?”

“Yes. It will be good to see him again. It’s been a while.”

Roland cast another quick glance at the wrestling combatants and wondered if he should mitigate. No_, he thought, Corman said that they needed to work this out on their own_.

He shook his head, bending down to pick up his pack. He stood and face Stigandr. “Ready?”

“Let’s go.”

Jennean was fluttering with excitement, buzzing around Dumond. They had been given a mission and with the very heroes that had discovered The Wild Card last year. This was bound to be a great adventure; and she, Jennean, would be there to witness it and record the tale for future generations.

“I wonder what foul creatures we will face? I’m sure it will be truly hideous, the stuff of nightmares; but we will be triumphant! And you can magic them! Oooo, and we get back, when I’m telling our story, you can make illusions of the monsters to show the people how truly heroic we were. Even that Corman guy will be impressed. Not that he will show it. He will be all, like, ‘hooray’,” she mimicked a monotone cheer, then launched right back into her ramblings. “Do you think we will find the grave of Eckhardt the Forsaken? I bet we do. It’s like fate or something. There will probably be treasure of legend there! Hey, look, it’s Aleon!”

The ancient elf stood just off the path, waist deep in a fern beneath a coconut tree. He held his hands above his head and his face was a mask of exertion, as if he held up some great weight.

“You there,” he called out to the pair, "Grab some timbers and help me shore up this tunnel! If it collapses we will lose access to the cheese vault. Onalla looman gali!” Then, at the top of his lungs he shouted, “The White Throne must be served!”

The two Adepts looked upon the old Wizard with more than a little confusion. That bewilderment only deepened when his demeanor suddenly shifted. He dropped his hands and looked about, as if to make sure there were no witnesses. He looked directly into Jennean’s eyes and whispered conspiratorially, “It’s eyes burn.”

Jennean opened her mouth to voice the question, but Aleon’s demeanor shifted yet again. He stood upright and beamed brightly, “Oh, look. A speckle-crested rock thrush.” He trudged out of the fern and, with eyes locked on to a nearby seagull, began to follow it off toward the shoreline.

The two Adepts looked at one another, trying to find some sort of accreditation that they had both just witnessed the same thing.

“He is so cool,” Jennean said dreamily, “One day I will be just like him.”

Dumond shrugged. “Were this not a common theme in my training, I might be concerned. Melenkyle demonstrates such bizarreness, and often stranger, on a daily basis.”

“Wow,” Jennean commented cheerily, then gave Dumond a puzzled look, “What kind of cheese do you think they kept in the cheese vault? I mean, I like cheese. My favorite kinds of cheeses are…”

They continued on the village commons.

While the companions were all happy to be together again, the journey out to Doogan’s farm was not as peaceful as most expected it to be. The calm silence of the wilderness was broken repeatedly as Jennean flitted from companion to companion, asking numerous questions and bathing each in compliments. The companions accepted the compliments with good graces, doing their best to answer questions, while correcting some of the inaccuracies from her tales.

“Is it true that you can hit a dragonfly in the eye at 200 yards?” she questioned Stigandr.

“Yes,” he replied matter-of-factly.

“Cool.” Jennean sped off to another of the companions.

“Roland, did you know that you are my favorite Warrior in Wayfare?”

“Ummm, thanks?”

On and on, until Doogan’s small cottage came into view.

The old, bow-legged dwarf met them at the door. “Welcome, my young friends. Come, come,” Doogan beckoned them into his home, “My wife, Andalu, and Meregret have been cookin’ us an early lunch. We can eat while I tell you my tale. We won’t hold you up long. I’m sure y’all would like to do your thing and get back to the festival.”

Spying a couple new faces in the group, Doogan smiled brightly, “So, the motley band grows, eh? You have the look of a full-fledged band of heroes now. I ‘spect there’ll be many a grand ballad ‘bout such a fine group as this in the days ta’ come.” He gave them all a wink, “Just don’t let it go to yer heads. What was the old Landisian battle cry? Oh, yes.” He placed his fist over his heart in salute, “Stand and be true!”

“Nicely said,” Roland said approvingly.

As the companions entered the cottage, something small came racing through an archway towards them.

“Ro’and!" the diminutive human hugged his leg tightly, in one hand Fifina clutched a wooden elephant Roland himself had carved. Over the past year he had given her other figures, but the elephant was her greatest treasure.

No sooner had the little girl clamped onto his leg, she spied someone else. "Gace ki-ki!” she squealed in delight, pouncing on the khajiit. Fifina giggled in delight as she tried to clumsily capture Grace’s tail.

From the doorway Fifina had come through, Meregret entered, beaming at the group. “Welcome, champions. May the White smile upon you all.” The past year had been kind to Meregret. When the young Adepts had first met her, Meregret had been pale, haggard, too thin, and panicked. She had been old beyond her years. Since the group had rescued Fifina, the years had fallen off the young woman and her hope in the world had been restored. “This way, if you please,” and she lead the group to a large table laden with many succulent foods.

“Come, sit,” Doogan patted one of the table’s benches, then began to load his wooden plate with roasted tubers and greens. “So, this morning I was out in the far field, out towards the lagoon.” Doogan began. “I was just lookin’ over the crops and what not, when I heared this gruntin’, cough-like noise and I smelt sumthin’ like befouled meat.” His nose wrinkled at the re-imagining of the odor. "At first, I was thinkin’ it were another bear, like the one that boy Ky killed a while back. Judging from the smell, this one was wounded and probably crazed; but the grunt hadn’t sounded all that close, so I went to see what I could see.”

Doogan shoveled some sweet potato into his mouth, pausing in his tale to chew. When his mouth was empty again, he continued, “It was still early and them shadows were awfully thick over by them walls, and my eyes ain’t what they used to be either, but I seen it. It weren’t no bear, nor an ape, though it sorta moved like both. It were big and lumbering, and looked like it mighta had six legs, or arms, or whatever they were.”

“Anyway, this here critter was on my side of the wall and seemed to want on t’other side. When it couldn’t find no hole, it reached out and pushed a section of the wall over like it were made of twigs and leaves. Then, it was gone. Well, least I couldn’t see no more and I weren’t gonna go chasin’ after it. That’s for people with diff’rnt training than I gots.”

“Well,” Stigandr started, “we should probably start at the wall where you saw the creature.”

“Oooo,” Jennean cooed, “I can’t wait to see this ape-bear-thing. I bet it’s really nasty!”

The companions looked at the hole in the wall.

“Damn,” Roland said impressed.

The wall was solidly constructed of cut stone blocks, and had originally been about eighteen inches thick and six foot tall. Now a section about eight foot across had been toppled over from inside the property, matching Doogan’s description. Small spatters of a thick, tar-like substance could be seen here and there on the stones; the highest concentration being in the center of the rubble.

Stigandr studied the ground at the base of the wall. “Strange,” he muttered.

Roland looked to the tracker, “What is it?”

Stigandr shrugged. “I’ve never encountered tracks like these. Miranda once showed me illustrations of an animal that would likely make similar tracks; but there have been no sightings of pachyderms on this end of the island. Supposedly there was a herd or two on the northern end before the kaers were sealed, but we haven’t heard from the northern end of the island since the Emergence either.” Stigandr looked at the tracks again. “Still, if this was a pachyderm, it would be smaller and lighter than what Miranda had described.”

“Can you follow it?” Roland asked.

“That should not be a problem.”

“Want me to fly ahead and see if I can see how far the trail goes?” Jennean excitedly offered, starting to take off without waiting for a reply.

“Wait,” Roland held up a hand. “There are many dangers in the jungle. It is best if you stay close.”

The companions moved as quietly as they could through the jungle for close to an hour. As Stigandr had claimed, the trail was not difficult to follow, but its course seemed rather winding and erratic. The creature seemed to move without purpose.

The panicked voice of a young woman cut through the jungle, “Lorelei! Lorelei! By the Passions, someone help me!” Sounds of splashing followed the cries.

The voice sounded all too familiar to Lady Grace, “Sheyzi?”

Lorelei’s family had adopted the young, human girl after her parents had died in a tunnel collapse mere weeks before the Emergence. For the most part, she had always been a distant and quiet child, but she had come to love her new family as dearly as the one lost to her, especially her “sister”, Lorelei. She had recently been initiated as an Adept as well, but had not followed the same path Lorelei had taken. Sheyzi had taken to the path of the Monk.

The group was off, leaving the trail behind for the more immediate cause of concern. Crashing through the foliage, they emerged on the bank of the Ordan Lagoon. Alone in the waters was a scantily clad human girl of twelve or thirteen. The girl kept diving under the water’s surface, as if desperately seeking something.

As she surfaced for breath, she noticed the group, her eyes locking onto Grace. “Oh, thank the White, Grace! Lorelei… she was in the water… singing… then,.. I.. I turned to climb up the falls… My back was only turned a moment and she was gone. I… I can’t find her!“ They girl began to cry uncontrollably.

With one of her closest friends in danger, Lady Grace barely dropped her pack before diving into the water to help search for Lorelei.

Anetha and Stigandr moved around the perimeter of the lagoon ensuring that nothing had dragged her away from the pool; while Jennean circled above the clear waters, looking for signs of her fellow Troubadour.

Roland quickly stripped down to his linens in order to move unhindered in the water and the Illusionist Dumond began to reweave a spell to cast light in the darker shadows beneath the small cliff face that bordered the lagoon on one side.

With each passing moment, the hope of finding Lorelei alive diminished a bit, but the group would not stop searching.

Then, Roland spotted it. A small cave in the stone beneath the waterfall. The entrance was difficult to see in the turbulent waters, but Grace’s passing shadow had revealed it to him.

He quickly surfaced just as Grace came up for air as well.

“Cave,” Roland called to her, “Follow me.”

The two dove under again, hope rekindling a bit; while the others began to make their way towards the indicated cave.

Jennean; who, like all windlings, had an aversion to water, stayed on the shore with Sheyzi, doing her best to comfort the girl, reassuring her and trying to take her mind off the desperate situation.

Roland groped his way through the dark cave, silently surfacing deep within the stone cliff with Grace right behind him. They climbed out on a sandy bank and tried to get their bearings. From deeper in the cave, a raspy voice croaked, “Ssssssong.” The hissing words were followed by a meaty clunk! “Ssssssssong!” the voice insisted.

Roland’s eyes adjusted to the minimal lighting and he made his way forward to a bend in the tunnel. Peeking around the corner, he could make out a the shapes of a reptilian humanoid crouching over the prone figure of a shapely female. Roland was, of course, familiar with t’skrang; but none of those he had met had the bone protrusions on their arms and tail that this one had.

“Ssssssong!” it demanded, driving Lorelei’s head into the cave floor. Clunk!

Lorelei sobbed and flailed weakly at her attacker, but the blows to the head had left her entirely too dazed to put up a real fight.

Roland stepped out into the tunnel, weaponless and clad only in sodden linens. "You there! Release the girl or face my wroth.”

The t’skrang’s head snapped in Roland’s direction and it hissed with animalistic fury.

Roland’s eyes narrowed, but a smile tugged at his lips. I was hoping you’d say that, he thought, and moved to meet the now-charging t’skrang.

As Roland and the t’skrang clashed in the tunnel, Lady Grace slipped past the combatants and made her way to her fallen friend. She cradled Lorelei’s head in her lap and spoke calming words. “Just hold on, Lorelei. Anetha is on her way. She can make you feel better, I know she can.”

The t’skrang lashed out at Roland again and again with its primitive stone axe, but the Warrior’s training served him well and he avoided the haphazard attacks. The tail concerned a little more than the axe. He had sparred plenty of times with opponents using weapons, but the tail was a new experience. True, the chootan had used their tails, but as a primary attack. The t’skrang used it as a secondary weapon, or even as just a distraction. Roland made a mental note to maybe see about sparring with some of the t’skrang in the village. Aram the Blade, perhaps.

“Roland!” Stigandr was behind him and offering a dagger. Roland took the dagger and turned back at the t’skrang as light began to fill the tunnel. The rest of the group was coming up through the tunnel behind him, led by Dumond’s Light spell. “Yield now,” Roland demanded, “There is no need for you to die this day.”

The t’skrang, hopelessly outnumbered and outclassed, did not even pause to consider surrender or retreat. With rage-filled eyes, it launched itself at Roland once again.

Roland slashed out with the dagger, carving a vicious wound in the t’skrang’s chest, yet it still came on with total disregard of its safety.

Stigandr took careful aim at the t’skrang’s leg, hoping to immobilize it. Crazed as it was, it was still a Namegiver and Stigandr had no desire to commit murder, justified or not. He loosed the arrow, which struck only a little higher than he had wanted, but still missing the artery by a wide margin. The blow knocked the leg from out under the t’skrang. It staggered sideways and fell, sliding down the tunnel wall.

The t’skrang looked down at the arrow in surprise. It roared in rage and pain, fumbling weakly at the shaft protruding from its leg. In mere moments, all strength fled from its hands and it slumped back against the wall. With a last hissing breath, its yellowed eyes rolled back in its head and it lie still.

“Is it dead?” Roland asked, still wary.

“That shot should not have been fatal,” Stigandr answered, but there was a hint of confusion in his voice.

Suddenly, the t’skrang’s chest seemed to collapse inwardly, as if rotting from the inside at great speed. A foul and heavy, blackish smoke seeped from its nostrils and mouth; along with a overpowering stench of putrefying flesh. The t’skrang’s flesh and muscle dissolved away into a gelatinous ichor, leaving behind only its warped and twisted skeleton.

“By the Passions,” Lady Grace gagged, trying heroically to keep her lunch in its place. “What happened to it? Why did that happen? Is it on me? I feel like it’s on me.” Lady Grace performed an almost comical dance in an attempt to make sure none of the t’skrang had soiled her.

Anetha shut out the other distractions and tended to Lorelei’s wounds, while Stigandr and Roland moved to peer deeper into the cave.

“Where do you think he came from?” Roland asked, “He’s not from the village.”

Stigandr shrugged, “Perhaps our answers lie that way,” he pointed into the darkness before them. Something caught his eye on a nearby wall and his eyes widened. “Look here, Roland,” with a single finger, Stigandr swiped something off the wall and held it out for Roland to see. A black, tar-like substance.

“It was here?” Roland asked, “Is this its lair? Could it have done that to the t’skrang?”

“Perhaps. We should certainly look into this.”

Roland turned back to the group, “Can someone retrieve my gear from above? I believe I should stand watch here.”

“Anetha says Lorelei is fine to move,” Lady Grace answered, “I will help her to the surface and bring your stuff back down with me. Plus, I could use a little fresh air.”

“Thank you, m’lady,” Roland bowed slightly.

Within an hour the group was geared up and ready to travel deeper into the cave. Lorelei and her sister, Sheyzi, were headed back to Wayfare to pass word along to others. Their progress would be slow, as Lorelei was still a little unsure on her feet, but help should be coming within a few hours.

A few hours. None of the companions wanted to wait that long. The t’skrang had obviously been twisted and corrupted in some unnatural way, and not a one of the heroes believed that there was no relationship between the t’skrang and the strange creature Doogan had seen that morning. It was too coincidental. Whether this creature was the cause or just another of the corrupted had yet to be determined; but whichever it might be, it would likely provide at least a few answers. If they waited for backup, who knew if they would ever be able to find it.

“Let’s go,” Roland said, and Stigandr took the lead.

After thirty yards or so, Stigandr held up his hand, signaling a stop. He moved back to the group and whispered, “It branches left and right ahead. The black stuff seems to be trailing right, but I believe I can smell a wood fire to the left.”

The members of the group looked from one another, seeming to almost communicate without words. At last Roland nodded, “Let’s check out the fire. Maybe there is some sentient life down here that can provide some answers.”

“Or,” Lady Grace commented, “maybe the t’skrang had friends.”

Stigandr took up his position once again, but they had traveled only a few yards before Stigandr triggered the trap. A dry snap was followed by the sound of something slicing through the air, then blinding pain. The trap was crude and Stigandr would have surely spotted it easily were it not for the oppressive darkness of the cave. Still, he had been fortunate, his leather armor had absorbed most of the momentum of the spike delivered on a swinging arm.

While Anetha checked out the wound, Lady Grace offered to take the lead. “I can see fine in the dark, provided there’s at least a little light anyway. Dumond’s light ball thingie should be enough.”

As they started to move again, Lady Grace now in the lead, she held up a hand. “Wait. There’s another one,” she whispered. “I’ll take care of it.” Within moments, the Thief had disarmed the trap and the group was moving forward again.

The scent of burning wood grew stronger and stronger and the tunnel opened into a larger cavern. Hunched around a campfire, eating some unidentifiable meat, were five t’skrang… all suffering from similar afflictions that the other had. Four of the lizardfolk were of the common t’skrang size and build; the fifth, however, was much larger. It stood nearly eight foot tall and covered in thick, unnaturally-modified scales.

Honor demands they be given the benefit of the doubt, Roland thought, and with a low sigh, he stepped into the cavern nonchalantly and called out, “"I am Roland of Wayfare, I have come to parlay.“

His sentiment was not returned. The t’skrang leapt to their feet and rushed forward, snarling their intent. Roland moved to meet them, hoping to hold their attention, giving his companions time to move into position. And so the battle was joined.

The t’skrang focused their fury and aggressions on Roland, who found himself sorely pressed and forced to fight defensively. Never had he faced so many opponents at once. Fortunately, the t’skrang were unskilled in combat and he evaded most of the attacks. A lucky few blows did strike home and Roland hoped his friends would be able to pull some of the attention away from him. The Passions answered his prayers in the form of Dumond.

Dumond raced forward and cast an illusion that mirrored Roland’s image, while causing Roland to actually become invisible. Now Roland could occupy the t’skrang without risk of personal injury, as long as they continued to believe the illusion was truly him.

Lady Grace performed her patented “Back Attack”, leaping onto a t’skrang’s back and laying into him with claw and dagger. Her fur and fury proved more than the t’skrang could handle and he fell in short order. With feline grace, she left from the falling body towards her next target.

Anetha moved to intercept another that was trying to flank Roland. It lashed out with a primitive club. Anetha stepped inside the attackers swing and deftly caught him by his wrist. With an elegant spin, she turned the momentum of the attack against the attacker. In a flash, she was behind the t’skrang, his arm locked up painfully behind him.

“Wheeeeee,” Jennean exclaimed, buzzing in and out of combat, her tiny dagger flashing out again and again at the enraged t’skrang. While hearing stories of such heroics were ever-so-exciting, being a part of the action really helped you understand the heroes’ motivations. This story was totally writing itself!

Stigandr moved on the periphery of the combat, making careful bow shots into the melee and focusing his attacks on the larger of the t’skrang. His aim was true and the bruiser soon had several arrows protruding from its heavily scaled back, but the brute would not fall.

One by one, the t’skrang fell. When one would fall, the companion(s) fighting it would quickly moved to the next, helping their friends.

Out of his peripheral vision, Roland watched his friends in awe. It truly was a fantastic display of teamwork and tactics, as if the group had been working together for years. Though they were all still rather new to life as Adepts, each moved with purpose and precision, like a complicated dance of death. Each seemed to balance their strengths against the weaknesses of their fellows with nearly innate ease. Roland could not help but wonder what this group would be capable of in the years to come.

And then, as quickly as it had begun, it was over. Within moments of the last t’skrang hitting the stone floor, they all began the same dissolving act the companions had witnessed earlier. The horrid stench filled the air again and Lady Grace scampered as far away from the bodies as she could get. “That is just wrong,” she gagged.


Session 001 - Monkey Trouble

A warm, pre-dawn breeze wafted off the Endless Sea and rustled through the jungle foliage around the tiny village of Wayfare. The night before had been one of revelry and celebration as the newest Adepts had chosen their Names and become initiated to the First Circle of their Disciplines, but all was quiet now.

The softest creak of a floorboard brought Lady Grace from sleep to alertness. Someone was in the room with her. The sudden jolt of her waking had been subtle, but just enough to set the trap in motion.

Her keen khajiit eyes spotted the bucket tipping towards her and deft hands acted with trained instinct, stopping the bucket before it could empty its contents on her and her bed. The soft slosh of water from the bucket sounded almost disappointed to her ears.

From the shadows near the doorway, the voice of the Thief mentor congratulated her. “Nicely done,” Jory Jovell spoke softly and Grace could almost hear the pride in his voice. With some effort, she suppressed the urge to purr in satisfaction.

“Get dressed,” Jory continued, “We have been summoned to the village commons.”

Grace quickly dressed, wondering what was afoot. It was still very early, not quite dawn yet, and it had been a long night. She had hoped that Jory would give them a little time after the Naming to enjoy the Emergence Festival, but it appeared that that would not be in the cards.

Lady Grace scampered out of her modest chambers and spotted her fellow Thief Adepts, Case and Thoog, moving towards the commons. Lady Grace’s whiskers twitched in disdain. Thoog was a brutish orc with two left feet and an unnatural stench about him. Grace did not like him at all and could not understand why Jory had chosen the oaf to become a Thief. This morning though, Thoog was soaked. He had, apparently, not managed to catch the bucket or even gotten out of the way. Pathetic.

Her eyes shifted to Case and her features softened. Case was another matter entirely. He may be just a human, but he was a pretty one. Lorelei, one of Grace’s closest friends, believed it was just a crush; but that was just crazy. Never before in Grace’s twelve years had she ever felt such longing. This, surely, must be True Love.

Visions of she and Case stealing a kiss were interrupted by Thoog. A quick glance back at Grace had revealed her success at avoiding Jory’s little wake-up trap. “S’not fair,” Thoog complained, “the catfolk have an unfair fastness.”

Case laughed. “If I were you, I’d be less concerned with Grace being a Khajiit, and more concerned with you being an orc. How do you plan to sneak up on anyone when you smell like… well, an orc?” He flashed Grace a winning smile that sent her heart all aflutter.

CLANG! CLANG! CLANG! Steel struck steel again and again.

“To arms! To arms!”

The shouting brought Roland instantly awake, his hand reaching for the broadsword kept within arm’s reach of his bed. Roland was fast, but this morning Ky was faster. As Roland’s hand closed around the hilt, he heard Ky’s blade pull free of its scabbard and whistle through the air towards some perceived threat.

The Warrior mentor, Corman, easily deflected Ky’s wild strike and delivered a counterstrike with the flat of his blade. The blow was not terribly hard, but did drive the point of the lesson home. “Assess,” Corman said coolly, “then attack. Attacking blindly is a good way to kill the wrong person, which could mean you. While Fortune may favor the bold, there is a fine line between ‘bold’ and ‘foolhardy’. I advise that you do your best to stay on the ‘less-dead’ side of that line.”

Corman turned to leave, but called back over his shoulder. “Formation in the commons in twenty minutes.”

Ky moaned and the pungent proof of last night’s activities assaulted Roland. Barley, hops, and various fermented fruits had been guzzled by the celebrating Warrior, but he was feeling the aftermath now.

“Come, Ky,” Roland jested, “we have a bit of a run ahead of us.”

Ky glared at his companion, but began to gather his gear, muttering ever so slightly beneath his breath.

Roland smiled and hurriedly gathered his kit as well. He had not doubts that Ky would see last nights’ drinks again this morning.

Construction on the replica of the Tower of Secrets had begun earlier in the year and was still at least a year from completion, but the modest dormitories had been finished and were occupied by the relatively small sisterhood of the Daughters of Heaven.

Anetha and her fellow initiates, Joonay and Sha’tina, shared a modest room with straw mats and little else. All tools of the trade and other distractions were kept away from the sleeping chambers

With a soft rustling of robes, Mother Fortuna entered the chamber and stood a moment just inside the door. Anetha, whom had wakened some time ago and had been meditating quietly on her mat, felt her curiosity being piqued. Typically, Mother Fortuna would wake the initiates just prior to dawn for the Greeting the White ritual they performed each morning. If Anetha’s calculations were correct, that time was still a half an hour or so away.

Fortuna surveyed the room and was pleased to note Anetha’s meditative pose and the fact that her approach had awakened her other charges. She allowed a slight smile to play across her lips, then spoke in a soft yet clear voice, “Dress and come with me. We have been summoned.”

Anetha opened her eyes and simply nodded her consent to her mentor, then turned to the business of preparing for whatever they might have been summoned for.

It was the bird call that woke Stigandr. Rotan Eagles were not night birds and his internal clock told him that it should still be some time before first light.

His eyes opened, confirming the night’s sky still hung over him, and he took a moment to enjoy the peace of the night. A soft breeze rustled the nearby ferns and caressed his cheek, cooling the sweat there, but already there was a promise of a very hot day in its touch. An animal, a lemur or possibly a chootan, scurried through the branches of the lower canopy, either looking for its breakfast or avoiding becoming something else’s breakfast.

Stigandr sat up and immediately noted the sign that had been left for him. To most, it would appear as little more that sticks and stones gathered in a haphazard pile. Stigandr’s eyes, however, had been trained to glean the secrets hidden within their placement. Scout Sign. Most likely from his mentor, Miranda Farwalker… whom had also likely given the bird call that had woken him.

Its message was an abstraction, but clear enough to the young Scout. Miranda had set a rally point at the commons in Wayfare. They were to meet there immediately.

Stigandr stood, stretched, gathered up his meager possessions, and set out for the rally point.

The twenty-nine newly initiated Adepts were all gathered upon the Commons in the center of Wayfare. The outer edges of the commons held the skeletal structures of what would become the stalls for many of the vendors for the first day of the Emergence Festival. The Adepts milled about near the center of the open square, mingling and postulating as to why they had all been summoned.

The mentors entered The Commons en masse and took up positions before the decorative post that held the golden Dragon Pearl aloft. For a moment, the mentors quietly regarded their charges, patiently waiting for them to calm themselves and fall into formation.

As they settled, the Adepts and the mentors considered one another in the near dawn glow. The mentors stood stoically, while the Adepts did their best to suppress the anxious fidgeting that comes with youth. After what seemed to be an extremely long time, Corman stepped forward and addressed the gathered Adepts.

“Today marks the first day in a new life for each of you… well, almost," he began. “Last night, each of you were deemed worthy and initiated into your Disciplines; and, for that, I congratulate you all.” Corman continued, cutting off the beginning of some self-congratulatory cheering. "Remember, Destiny is not written. It is won through blood, sweat, and tears. It is what we make of the opportunities we are given.”

“Typically," Corman went on, "the day following the Naming, you would each assume your new roles within the community, continue your training, and so forth. The Madron have decided that you will be free of such obligations during the Emergence Festival.”

Several of the young Adepts cheered at this news and Corman allowed it for a few moments, then waved his hands to reign in their exuberance. “Yes, yes, quite exciting. As 1st Circle Adepts, you are now permitted beyond the Yellow Line. After you have completed this morning’s duties, you will be released. In seven days’ time, you will report back to your mentors. Until then, enjoy the Festival.” And with that, Corman turned on his heel and strode away, followed almost immediately by the other mentors and leaving the Adepts to their own devices.

The formation quickly transformed into a less organized cluster, excited voices wove together, trying to come up with a plan for their new found freedom.

Lorelei, the beautiful, elven Troubadour; used her training to cut through the din, “A week off? What will we do?”

One of Stigandr’s fellow Scouts, Naya, added a concern to the topic, “Do you think this is some sort of test?”

“In a way," responded Grilik, the t’skrang Wizard, "I do believe we have been afforded a rare opportunity. How we use it will say much about us.”

Aram the Blade waved off such concerns. “Test or no, I wish to see the Ordan Lagoon. I have heard much of its sweet, fresh water since I was a hatchling. Now, it is within our reach. I, for one, plan to feel its sweetness upon my scales this very day.”

“Staying in the village today would be a bad idea," Case put in. "Whoever stays will be buried under the questions of the curious. The lagoon is not a bad idea. Would be nice to get at least one day of relaxation in, before we resume training.”

“The first day of the Festival is lame anyway," Ky complained. "Stories we have all heard a hundred times and meaningless pageantry. There’s the feast tonight and The Choosing, but we should be back in time for that and the games don’t even start until tomorrow. I would like to see what is beyond the Yellow Line as well.” “Adventure,” replied Kenesaw, the gleam of potential glories dancing in his eyes.

Lorelei gave Ky a barely veiled look of disdain. “While I do not find the retelling of our tales to be as tedious as Ky would suggest, I do relish the idea of some relaxation. It’s been so long since I have had time to merely rest and the stories of the Ordan Lagoon do sound lovely.”

With a flourish, Aram the Blade responded to the crowd’s growing excitement. “Very well. I suggest that those of us that are going to the lagoon, complete our duties, break our fasts, gather up what we may need, and meet at the lagoon. Until then, farewell, my friends.”

Some time later,four Adepts found themselves on the same stretch of road within the Yellow Line. Lady Grace, Roland, Anetha, and Stigandr all had a passing knowledge of one another, but they could not have been said to be friends. What brought them to that particular point on the road at the same time could only be classified as Destiny, Fate, luck, or mere coincidence. Whatever it was, they all heard the voice call out to them.

“Oy! You there! C’mere!”

Each of the Adepts regarded the bow-legged, dwarven farmer that crossed a field towards them. He was a familiar face in Wayfare and went by the Name of Doogan.

“You some of them new Adepts, ain’tcha?” he called.

Roland regarded those near him and responded, “We are.”

“Aye,” Doogan nodded, “you have the look about you. How’d you like to help an old man out and earn a few coins?”

“What seems to be the problem?” Stigandr asked.

“These damnable chootan! They’re no better than tree-swinging rats. They keep stealin’ me meditation balls.”

“Meditation balls?”

“Glass balls about yea big,” Doogan demonstrated something a little smaller than a coconut, "They’re diff’rnt colors and what not. I’ll give you 5 silver per ball you bring back and another silver per monkey tail.”

“I have no desire to kill chootan. They may be mischievous, but they are not dangerous,” Stigandr looked to the others to see where they stood. “I will, however, see what I can do for you.”

“I will not see any chootan needlessly slain,” Anetha replied, “I will go to ensure harmony is not disrupted.”

Lady Grace shrugged, “Not interested.” Visions of a wet, half-naked Case danced in her mind. She turned with a wistful smile and started down the road again.

Crashing through the foliage, a human woman stumbled out onto the road. She clutched her right forearm, but blood could been seen seeping from between her fingers. “Oh, please!" she cried, "Please, help me! The chootan have taken my little girl! You must save her!”

“Meregret!” Doogan yelled in concern.

Lady Grace sighed and thought, Crap. Perhaps her dreams of Case would have to wait.

Roland leaped to the woman’s side, “What happened?”

“A small pack of them," tears poured down her face, "maybe 6 of them. They dropped down on us. One of them bit me, while another pulled Fifina out of my arms. They… they took her and scampered back into the trees. I tried to follow, but… they were too fast. Oh, please, please, won’t you save her?”

Roland looked to the others. “We must save the girl.”

Anetha stepped forward and began to tend to Meregret’s arm, while Stigandr busied himself trying to pick up the chootan’s trail. “Go,” Anetha commanded, not looking up from the wound she tended, “I will catch up.”

Roland and Lady Grace took off with Stigandr in the lead. They moved quickly, Roland hacking through some of the denser areas, leaving a clear enough trail for Anetha to follow. They traveled in silence, each with thoughts on the little girl and the danger she was in.

“This makes no sense,” Stigandr broke the silence as he paused, trying to pick up the trail again. “Chootan are not aggressive. Why would they take the girl?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Roland replied, “Whatever the reason, they must be stopped.”

Several minutes later, the Adepts found themselves deep in the jungle amid enormous, primeval trees.

“By the Passions,” Lady Grace breathed, her eyes skyward.

The others followed her gaze and saw the wreckage of an ancient airship high up in the great branches above. A pair of chootan could be seen, perched on the railing, looking down at the Adepts. The soft sounds of a small girl weeping floated down to them.

“I guess we are going up,” Stigandr shrugged, and each searched for a climbing route to the ship.

Anetha caught up with her companions just as they began their ascent. She decided to stay on the ground, waiting to provide medical attention when it was needed.

As they began to climb, the chootan on the deck became more and more agitated. More chootan joined the pair and the chatter became threatening, their attentions seemed riveted on the large form of Roland.

Lady Grace smiled to herself. That’s right, keep watching the big guy, she thought. She was drawing near the deck and the chootan had yet to notice her.

Stigandr moved into a position with good sight lines and drew his bow to provide cover fire. The behavior of these chootan was quite unusual. The animals were known to flee any perceived predators, even if doing so meant abandoning their nests. Yet, these particular chootan seemed on the verge of attacking.

Just as Roland found a branch that would lead him to the deck, four chootan launched themselves at him. Roland took hold of the dagger that had been clenched in his teeth and braced for the attack.

An arrow took one in the air and it fell to the ground below, while another died on Roland’s dagger. The other two lashed out with their bone claw tipped tails, one raking Roland across the bare chest.

Enough of this, Roland thought, and drew his broadsword. Time to make some monkey meat.

Lady Grace climbed onto the deck of the airship and slipped past another half dozen of the chootan that had taken to the rail and screeched down at Roland and Stigandr. Moving with magically-enhanced stealth through a doorway, Grace discovered a stairway leading down to the lower deck. The sound of the child’s crying was very close now… and something else. Something bigger.

As Roland battled the two on the branch with him, the other six from the ship launched themselves into the air and into the fray. Four more landed with Roland, while two glided passed him and circled down. On the way towards the ground, the chootan spied Anetha below and shifted their attack towards her.

While the battle raged on, Lady Grace moved through the shadows, making her way deeper into the ship. At the bottom of the stair she found a single chootan standing over the crying child, its back to Grace as it poked and prodded the child curiously. Beyond the chootan, another open doorway showed into the belly of the airship. From her vantage point, Grace could not see far in, but she could hear something moving around in there. She had no idea what might be in there, but it was much larger than a chootan.

Grace was concerned about whatever it was that might be lurking further in the ship’s underbelly, but if she did not act quickly she feared for the child. As quietly as possible, Grace pounced on the chootan, hoping for a clean kill and a quick getaway. She hoped fervently that the others would have cleared the way for her escape.

Her claws dug into its neck and, in a few moments, the beast lay dead at her feet. She scooped up the small child and raced back up the stairs. Behind her, a surprised and questioning snort sounded.

Outside the ship; Roland, Anetha, and Stigandr had managed to defeat the chootan and were making their way once more towards the airship.

The deck now clear of chootan, Grace ran and leaped back onto the tree she had used to climb up. Nimbly, she sped down the tree and delivered the child to Anetha to check her for wounds.

Roland had just made his way onto the deck of the ship when he heard something large moving about below deck. With much pounding and growling, it came speeding towards the open doorway before him. Whatever it was, it sounded angry.

Roland smiled and pulled the shield off his back. He hoped that this would be more challenging than the chootan had been.

A large gorilla burst through the doorway. Patches of fur were missing all over the beast and oily-looking sores and growths covered large portions of its skin. It’s rage-filled eyes seemed to overflow with blood and a sickly, yellow pus. Roaring, it charged mindlessly at Roland.

Roland’s sword lashed out, carving a shallow wound across the monster’s chest. It was not as good a strike as he would have liked.

The gorilla responded with a hammering blow that nearly staggered Roland. He had caught the attack on his shield, but it had still nearly dislocated his shoulder. His throbbing arm was enough to cause Roland to adopt a more defensive tactic, hoping the others would be able to provide some help.

An arrow slammed into the gorilla’s exposed side, knocking it momentarily to the ground. Roland breathed a sigh of relief, then noticed the second gorilla coming from below deck. Damn, he thought, almost wishing Ky was there with him. The other Warrior may be a hothead, but he could fight.

Now, with two gorillas attacking him, Roland just tried to hold them at bay, setting them up for Stigandr’s arrows when possible. The tactic seemed to be working. The gorilla struck earlier was certainly less sure on its feet. Roland easily avoided its wobbly attack and struck it down savagely. Only one left.

Behind the other gorilla, Roland saw Lady Grace cresting the railing once again. Looking at the small khajiit, Roland saw little help there; but was amazed when the girl launched herself like a feline missile at the gorilla’s back. Her claws sank into its flesh and she hung on, yowling and hissing at the monster.

Between Roland’s blade, Stigandr’s arrows, and Lady Grace’s feline fury; the gorilla soon toppled and all was quiet.

Roland carefully climbed back down the tree to let Anetha check his wounds, while Stigandr and Grace checked out the ship.

The interior of the ship was a mess. The chootan and gorillas had apparently been there for some time and, between them and the elements, none of the hoped for charts or journals appeared to have survived. There were many pre-Scourge items laying about, but nothing that seemed to be of much value.

A glint of gold from a crack in a cabinet caught Stigandr’s eye and he went to investigate. The spongy door nearly came off its rusty hinges as he opened it and the putrid smell of rotten wood pulp greeted him. Hanging at the back of the cabinet was an amulet that looked to be in pristine condition.

Stigandr took the amulet and put it in his pocket for safekeeping, then noticed a potential secret compartment in the cabinet’s base. As he fiddled with the compartment, the amulet slipped free of his pocket and tumbled into a pool of stagnant water. To the wide-eyed amazement of both Stigandr and Lady Grace, the water transformed from the scummy puddle to clean, drinkable water in a flash.

“Well,” Stigandr said matter-of-factly, “that certainly seems useful. We should take this back to the elders.”

Flabbergasted, Grace responded, “The elders? But we found it! It’s our treasure!”

“Maybe,” Stigandr shrugged, “but this could mean a lot for the whole village.”

Lady Grace pouted a bit, but kept further comments to herself.

“Let’s rejoin the others.”

“Fifina!” Meregret cried, her elation could not have been more apparent. Meregret scooped the child out of Roland’s arm and hugged her tightly. Tears of joy spilled from her eyes. “Oh, thank you! Thank you all!” she wept. “You truly are agents of The White. Thank you so much!” The rest was lost in the barrage of kisses she bestowed upon her daughter.

Doogan stood nearby and beamed, “Aye, you are certainly a credit to your teachers and then some. Should you ever need anything… anything… I and my kin will do what we can for ya.” He offered a small leather bag to the group, “I cannot afford much, but you deserve this and more. Oh, and here, please take theses as well.” He offered a pair of wine jugs. “Again, it’s not much, but I hear that hero-ing is thirsty work.”

Welcome to your Adventure Log!
A blog for your campaign

Every campaign gets an Adventure Log, a blog for your adventures!

While the wiki is great for organizing your campaign world, it’s not the best way to chronicle your adventures. For that purpose, you need a blog!

The Adventure Log will allow you to chronologically order the happenings of your campaign. It serves as the record of what has passed. After each gaming session, come to the Adventure Log and write up what happened. In time, it will grow into a great story!

Best of all, each Adventure Log post is also a wiki page! You can link back and forth with your wiki, characters, and so forth as you wish.

One final tip: Before you jump in and try to write up the entire history for your campaign, take a deep breath. Rather than spending days writing and getting exhausted, I would suggest writing a quick “Story So Far” with only a summary. Then, get back to gaming! Grow your Adventure Log over time, rather than all at once.


I'm sorry, but we no longer support this web browser. Please upgrade your browser or install Chrome or Firefox to enjoy the full functionality of this site.