Morning – Lavrana District, 16th Flamerule, 472KR.
"To be fair, the Banter had started well before the Earthquake. However I'm getting ahead of the story; so…"
16th Flamerule. Lavrana District, Home of Baldrin and Baldrin Junior.
Baldrin Torona strode into the kitchen of the well appointed townhouse with a skip in his step and a smile upon his young, slightly petulant face. With the heat from the summer sun already warming the cobbles and tree lined streets of Lavrana he should have been awake hours ago, already trapped in his father's stiflingly hot workroom; peering endlessly at stones, fastenings and other meticulous concerns of the jewellers' art.
"Hah, not today old man," thought Baldrin as he reached for a the best of a sorry bunch of apples.
Even the poor quality of his breakfast couldn't dampen the smile and jaunty mood that Baldrin found himself in. Today was a fight day, sanctioned and organised by his father's own Guild. Even that dry old work-horse had to concede the benefit of a 'local' representative in the competition. And Baldrin thought, well knew, that he was the best going around on the Hill. Other young men played at 'bravo's' swishing a blade from time to time, but Baldrin practiced every night by the old cherry tree, and he knew he was better.
"Just please Tymora, not some expert from the Citadel, just a group of unwashed toughs and local kids", then he'd be sure to win that amulet and Elissa would be his for certain.
Her eyes, her hair, the way she laughed at his attempts at humour. It set his blood to boiling and visions of himself rescuing her from some nefarious enemy raced through his mind. Perhaps some ringleader of the poor districts, a kidnapper, evil and depraved; and him carving his way through to her side, snapping out strikes to win the day and her heart. Only the other day Elissa had spent an inordinate time mooning over that idiot Haldar, just because he went and got promoted and had a shiny new officers small-sword and badges of rank. Well, he'd show her. And Haldar. Why march in a rank like a well trained dog, when one could reach for the skies on the point of a blade?
16th Flamerule, later that day. Shady Lane Hospice, Lavrana District.
Baldrin awoke later, disoriented and his left thigh throbbing and on fire with a sharp, raw pain. He groaned and tried to rotate his body on the pallet on which he lay, glimpsing symbols of healing and calm through his encrusted, still unfocused eyes. He'd been taken to a Hospice it seemed, the air thick with the smell of drying herbs and wafting incense to mask the smells of sickness and congealed blood.
His youthful face twisted in pain again and then flushed as he remembered more clearly the events of that morning. It had all been going so perfectly, he easily outmatched and put paid to each opponent in turn, and was certain that he'd claim the prize, and Elissa's good graces; if not her heart. And then the "Mysterious Challenger" had put up his hand like a vengeful spirit watching from the sidelines to snatch Baldrin's victory from him in the very moment he was relishing his impending glory.
And those idiots, those un-parochial morons who lived and worked around the Hill. They'd cheered for the Stranger, all quips and flashing blade. It wasn't fair. He'd obviously had training and moved with a fluid grace that Baldrin knew he could not match. And then the strike. He'd passed out, the pain had been too great. By now it would be all over the Hill. However could he show his face? And his father.
Baldrin groaned as he pictured the 'know-it-all' lecture he was sure to receive. In his pain laden state he lashed out feebly at the adjacent wall, causing more damage to his hand than the unyielding uncaring stone. It was all the fault of that "Mysterious Challenger". Lando, from some poncy little city to the north. Through the red-rim of pain, Baldrin swore revenge, still blinking back tears of shame…
Travelling with Silvio to the temple of the Fortunate Coin at the base of the Lavranan Hill our Party were in relatively high spirits. Rewards and congratulations were in the air and Silvio was in a buoyant mood, happily describing the sights and smells of the Grand Canal as they crossed the bridge heading north. On the way they chanced upon an impromtu duelling ring, combatants testing blades and warming up with stretches, or ales. Silvio being an old hand at Kordova's duelling rings insisted that they stop awhile and watch the competition, non-lethal and refereed by a Guilder of the Jewellers Co-Operative, the sponsors of the event.
The average quality of the combatants was leavened out by some deft work from a young local guilder (Baldrin Torona Jnr), a brutal docksider (well into his tankards) and a competent looking soldier type wielding a longer and heavier Epee. Towards the knock-out stages of the fights, a well spoken foreigner also entered the lists, possessed of a spry demeanour, light step and a polished rapier that glittered where his attire did not. The "Mysterious Challenger" greeted his opponents courteously and with sincerity, before ably destroying their strikes and counters with lashing ripostes and equally cutting remarks. Kordova had been introduced to the deft moves, Dragonmere stylings and the swift blade 'Falcon' of Lando Calraesa.
During the final fight with Baldrin Torona, the Sunset Wanderers had bet on and assiduously supported Lando. Evnarra even going as far as unobtrusively creating an audible illusion of many different voices of encouragement for the "Mysterious Challenger". Silvio and Sharah had exchanged knowing glances and following the fight Silvio wasted no time in congratulating this able foreigner with an angle to securing a further member for the Sunset Wanderers growing roster. Lando, at somewhat of a loose end, quickly agreed to become a sworn guild-member, particularly as there was an immediate chance at adventure and coin with the Party now pressed for time to make a start on the journey East to Erruggar's Shrine and the farmlands of Kordia's rich south-east.
There was some brief conjecture over rewards, temple arrangements and personal matters, before the members of what would become Expedition B began a hasty series of preparations that saw them through the city and on the road by mid-afternoon.
Whilst travelling along the first section of the highway, just south and east of Kordova, it was immediately obvious that the denizens of the Orc Encampments, hired as mercenary irregulars to support the Burning Spear Legion, had increased in number, their tents and outbuildings now flowing some hundreds of feet beyond the initial camp boundaries. The two tribal differences have been maintained by the Burning Spear, with the road still delineating the boundary between the usually fractious sub-groups of Orc.
The rest of the mid-day and afternoon passed by with our Party seeing various traders and wagons heading toward Kordova, some regular consignments, others obviously special deliveries for the Trade Fair. These included a group of friendly dwarven merchants out of Three-Swords, who (chuffed by the Dwarven reception; all ACTIVE PC's speak dwarven) made an impromptu break of their chance meeting, sharing nips of Skullsmasher Spirits and tales of the road ahead with Expedition B. Lando and Silifrey in particular seem much taken with the heady liquor, though little Evnarra was a trifle unsteady on her feet until rest and a hot meal.
Towards afternoon on the second day of their journey (17th) the members of Expedition B came upon the turn off from the highway to the township of Sherra and the Firesteap Mountains beyond. Local geography placed a series of mine works throughout the Firesteaps, and besides vegetables and grain (the staple produce of the region) the Moro family is known to produce a superior clip of goats wool and related products to the east of the town. The intersection itself was found to be befouled with a large pile of rotting grain sacks, vegetable matter and spoiled beer. Discarded piles like this had been a feature of the past few miles, yet this was the largets one seen by Expedition B to date. Rotting and over-ripe foodstuffs seem to be the order of the day, with merchants changing their cargos or opting for items not tainted by the 'blight' that is all pervading in the region. At least the badger-mice and birds are happy.
Turning toward the Firesteap Mountains and pushing toward dusk on the 17th of Flamerule, our 'heroes' heard a high, clear voice, singing of green and its many hues. This captivating performance was coming from an ancient stone circle, just visible from the path leading south. Prepared for anything our group startled a young half-elven woman, intent on her song and the sketch she was making of the ash and yew groves adjacent to the weathered stones. With relief at the friendly nature of the travellers, the young half-elf gushed her immediate story, eager to befriend a group of people with a passion for discovery and adventure. Quailyth later (around camp) agreed to travel with them in the hopes of finding suitable drawing subjects, due partly to her disappointment in not being allowed into Sherra to see the local mask museum.
Quailyth's first startled reaction and fears of bandits were later proven to be the down side to the next morning, when whilst the stars still danced overhead, the Party awoke to Sharah's insistent whisper and hand over mouth routine. She had spotted and heard several medium sized creatures moving toward their campsite and in a matter of seconds the Party readied themselves to face a possible threat. Wide missile coverage and stealthy movements surprised the ragged band of bandits (or possibly deserters) that had thought to take an easy prey. Their surprise was compounded by the abrupt demise of their 'leadership' as Lando hurtled into his first real encounter with gusto. The addition of magic, bow-shots and gunfire quickly put all thought of profit and indeed anything else from the minds of all of their ill-equiped group. The remaining survivor having thoughts of his own (escape and a warm, safe place) was also disappointed when pursued and easily cornered by the Party's considerable movement speed.
He revealed, under some duress, the location and composition of the remainder of their outlaw group, eagerly buying his life (or so he thought) with the information. Leaving him tied to a convenient tree and uncertain fate, the Party resolved to eliminate the bandit presence in the hopes of a favourable introduction to Sherra's local militia. Tracking the route to their hideout following the additional information proved no great a challenge and come sunrise our group of adventurers turned posse approached the derelict farm building where the remaining bandits were located. With Quailyth hidden nearby, the Party formed a plan of attack that would take advantage of their stealth capabilities and hopefully surprise the outlaws with the sun just above the treetops directly behind our 'heroes'.
With one urinating out of a ruined doorway, two clearly moving around performing their morning routine and a fourth on guard, the stealthier approach seemed like a fantastic idea, especially with Silifrey and Evnarra to back up the initial rush of Lando and Sharah. Unfortunately a misplaced step by Sharah resulted in the triggering of a trip-wire, which dumped a handful of pebbles onto an old rusted buckler with a pitted metal face. The guard alerted and the others quickly searching for weapons or drawstrings of breeches the Party wasted no time in turning a bungled stealth run into a blitz attack.
Stunned, groggy and none too skilled the remaining outlaws of Sherra's western hinterland were overpowered and slain with the disregard their predatory type (probably) deserves. A fifth member of their group was found in a small half-ruined chamber of the farmstead, and was given a wide berth after the Party ascertained that the bandit was deceased, most likely from an unknown malady or disease. Almost as expected the yield of loot from these encounters was scant and the Party resolved to make do with any future kudos for their public spirited slaughter of the outlaw band.
Deciding to continue with as much haste as possible toward the Shrine in the now very looming mountains the group turned their faces south, heading back across country to rejoin the main trail. Passing within sight of Sherra in the distance they wound their way steadily upward through copses of yew and oak which gave way to coniferous pines that oozed sap and lay their needles in a brown carpet across the rocky ground. Outcrops of stone became more common as the way grew steeper, causing occasional breaks in what could only be described as lively conversation. Between Silifrey getting to know Quailyth better, Lando's attempts at stilted charm, Sharah sifting the poor girl for local information and Evnarra's still ever present amazement at nearly all things 'surface-world', the final two hours travel to the shrine of Errudrakkenath passed quickly and in high spirits. The only disquieting portent to a fine Kordian morning was the vague suggestion from Evnarra of the rocks of the Firesteaps being in some sort of flux.
With the elegantly carved facade of the Shrine some two hundred feet above them, the Party came to a small hewn alcove, piled with crates, materials and tools. Hitched here were several mules and one packhorse, guarded by two doughty looking dwarven warriors in well made chain and plate armour. Beyond a narrow carven stair twisted its way back and forth, ascending to the entrance to the shrine. Most of the stone work looked to be relatively new, with very little evidence of moss, wear or verdigris. Using their contracted invitation and dwarven language skills, the Party quickly and politely negotiated an expedited audience with Thorfan Inkpen, the Master of Records and temporal head of the Shrine's operations.
The group found Thorfan within the lower reaches of the Shrine, but not before first being treated to some of the finest examples of dwarven craftsmanship and artistic embellishment. The first ante-chambers of Errudrakkenath were elaborately carved with finished friezes and geometric patterns displaying the power of the Morndinsamman over the productive, religious and family life of their mortal followers. These well painted and expertly cut images were visible in the dark underground by way of an obviously magical line of paint, twinkling with crushed gemstone dust, that ran about the base of the rooms and by well wrought braziers of brass, filled with a smoke free and scented oil.
If the ante-chambers were opulent, then the work done by dwarven craftsmen on the main hall during the six year 'construction' of the shrine could only be described as staggering. A series of niched recesses contained elaborately decorated depictions of the deities of the Morndinsamman, leading the eye with effortless ease to the greater shrine of Moradin. Through carven archways there continued straight and decorated corridors, sloping slightly into the mountainside. In the distance sounds of steel on rock, occasional snatches of song and the bustle of handcarts, ropes and pulleys could be heard. Into this small network of tunnels and stairs the Party was led, discovering as they did so the large amount of work still to be completed and the shaft entrances, bunkrooms and storage areas that formed the bulk of the complex.
Thorfan was found in a relatively small and crowded room two levels down and surrounded books, scrolls and writing materials. After a cordial greeting including a special acknowledgment for his 'little-sister-of-stone" Evnarra, he became very businesslike insisting that time was of the essence and conveying the Party swiftly to the source of their predicament. As his desk was so conveniently covered with interesting documents Sharah attempted to peruse their contents surreptitiously. When nothing appeared of notice she moved swiftly behind the others, unaware until later that little Evnarra, unnoticed by the others had taken a good long look at a trade ledger predicting futures of ogliocase (Sunstone) and the quantities expected from the mines.
Deeper they were led into the unfinished lower level of the complex, along the way experiencing (via Thorfan, Evnara and a growing group sense of foreboding) minor vibrations and movements of the earth's bones beneath their feet. Arriving at a dead end the group found a smallish irregular stone chamber, some 40 feet in diameter, that contained a barricade of wooden planks, two dwarven warriors, a priestly looking dwarf and a roughly 6 foot diameter hole with charred and burnt edges. The rock itself inside the hole and about its lip appeared fused, as if by great heat, with pockmarks and pitts in its otherwise smooth surface. The dwarven warriors departed to a respectful distance in the corridor allowing their leaders to converse with our 'heroes' in private(the later being Orsekk Strakkhelm, the religious leader of the shrine and in charge of services, dedications and the wellbeing of the dwarven expedition crew).
The dwarves began to describe the attempted entry to the complex and subsequent slaying of a Salamander and two younger fire-snakes. This had occurred shortly after this chamber had been discovered, and immediately after the breach in the floor had connected to the hole leading downward. Due to instabilities in the rock the hole had widened and a barrier was put in place by the workers to ensure no-one accidentally fell in. It was during the following deliberations regarding the warmth of the chamber in comparison to the surrounding corridors, and the depth of the hole when tested with knotted ropes, that the mountains themselves took a hand in our story. The small movements and rumblings of the earth became a minor tremor, throwing some to the ground and shaking everyone with their intensity. Quailyth, hanging back from the group, staggered into the corridor and fell beside the warriors struggling to hold their halberds upright whilst bracing against the walls.
For the unfortunate group in the chamber the tremor turned into a quake, the earth heaving and tossing them from side to side. With cracks appearing in the floor and a dangerous amount of loose scree beginning to add its noise to the din of the earthquake as it slid downward the Party made the unanimous decision to run for the questionable safety of the corridor. Perhaps if the floor had not then collapsed around the dramatically widening hole, or perhaps if a swifter move had been made toward the entrance the resulting carnage may not have occurred. Lando was left hanging at an almost vertical angle from the top of the now ruined chamber, stretching forward to the dwarves and Quailyth in the corridor. The remainder of the Party, including Orsekk and Thorfan were plunged into a mass of small bouncing rocks and sharp splinters of obsidian, down the winding smooth hole in the floor.
The smooth passage was (fortunately for most) not vertical after its initial drop and the group of struggling humanoids were abruptly slammed into the floor of a small room, some 45-50 feet below the level they had been on. Due to the diagonal nature of the fall, most were bruised, cut, but otherwise whole. It was only after the dust and gravel had settled that they found poor Thorfan, skull crushed, amongst the largest pile of debris. The strewn chamber twinkled in an eerie half red glow, small fire agates embedded in the stone giving off a disturbing, yet adequet amount of light. Understandably Orsekk spent the first few minutes below mourning the loss of his friend and comrade, whilst the Party began to orient themselves in their new surrounds and inspect the hole in the ceiling some 12 feet above.
They found Orsekk to be a taciturn and knowledgeable cleric, devoted to Moradin, prepared to assist his impromtu companions in exploring the chambers they found themselves in. After laying Thorfan's body out respectfully they resolved to continue with their unexpectedly accelerated mission, confident that assistance from above would arrive. Indeed, moments later a rope (tied with knots every few feet) slithered out of the hole, followed by Lando, half climbing, half dropping into the room with a flourish that was unfortunately a little inappropriate for the sombre mood below. In the dim light our 'heroes' began to fully assimilate the nature of their current location.
Carved sheets of obsidian formed rectangular frames for friezes depicting a variety of religious events, obvious from the elaborate head-gear and poses of the figures. Evidence of flames, depictions of ash clouds, mountains and roaring fires all supported their suspicions that the complex was older than Kordia and was from the time of the Thalasian Changeling 'kingdom' that had previously existed in the area. Indeed after further investigation of adjacent corridors and rooms there was found to be damage from some upheaval of earth and fire, extensive sections of hardened lava, and more friezes that all pointed to a date some 650-850 years ago. The Party had unwittingly fallen into the religious complex of Hyradraea, one of the three power centres of Thalasian religious rule that were destroyed during the final months of the Ash Wars.
A small secret chamber was discovered, scrapings in the floor stone and fresh disturbances leading them to a concealed pivot door that opened into a hastily laid out storage area. Here they found newly made robes, hoods and sashes emblazoned with an emblem of dark flame rising, reminiscent of some of the carvings on the walls. Also here the Party discovered newly made and well kept weapons, bucklers, equipment and a cache of amulets, all identical and made in the same stylised flame shape as the emblazons on the afore-mentioned items of clothing. Unaware of Expedition A's discovery of similar objects beneath the Carmino Estate in Lake's Edge, they rounded up some needed items and Sharah added to her collection of disguises whilst also helping herself to a fine polished longbow of good springy yellow wood.
It did not take our group long to discover the owners of the materials they had found, as moving through dimly lit corridors and chambers they found firstly a refuse pile, with recently rotted food-stuffs, and also clear signs of humanoid movements via scuff marks and drag marks on the stone floors. Their explorations were finally halted by the discovery of a small group of robed humans worshipping or meditating before a particularly large set of wall carvings in a vaulted chamber supported by many large rounded columns of worked stone. In the same robes as were found earlier, and with little else to go on the Party made the precipitous decision to ambush the ritual and ask questions later.
In the Chamber of Ashen Memory we discovered that our 'heroes' are experts at surprising and overcoming a poorly armed, fanatical and ultimately suicidal group of unskilled fighters (defining heroic at this point may have been an interesting digression). Silifrey spared no time in finding solid groups of cultists with which to cover in a hail of shot, before effectively eliminating reinforcements arriving around a blind corner. Evnarra dashed about the columns of the chamber, stopping occasionally to fling a globe of acid or two at stray figures. And on one 'flank' with assistance arriving from further within the complex a wall of knife and club wielding cultists attempted to defeat a tandem effort from Sharah and Lando. This worked as well as can be expected with the two Rogues carving a swathe of destruction through the slow and ill-trained cultists. Orsekk provided a solid base and back-up which was certainly not required in the end.
Mopping up the last resistance the Party were relieved to find that the nature of the deities in question was somewhat disquieting (lords of Flame, Ash and Magma) and felt a little more vindicated in their unprovoked attack. In a final shrine they found evidence that confirmed the identity of the complex as the old Thalasian centre of Hyradraea and that the primary deity in question was Gaargash, the Elemental Lord of Ash, a god with a none too savoury reputation in the region following certain historical events. Exhausted from their efforts they decided to set a guard and indulge in an hours or so's rest out of sight of the main chamber areas they had discovered.
Geography – The Party 'encounter' their first real indication that the region surrounding Greater Kordia is unstable and in a state of flux. A significant Earthquake occurred on the 18th of Flamerule, towards afternoon. This placed the Party in an inconvenient position and unfortunately killed Thorfan Inkpen in the resulting destruction.
Evnarra - Begins to have a real financial effect on the state of Party treasure acquisition, her skills in the identification of gemstones being of special use in Kordova. Her illusions during the Duel in Lavrana and at the complex of Hyradraea are becoming more complex and potentially devastating to an unprepared opponent.
Lando – Introduces himself with the end of Falcon, his beloved rapier, and a politeness toward the 'fairer-sex' that is charming in its own way. He is seldom short of a biting quip for his opponents as they taste the pointy end of Falcon's well balanced blade. Already there is a growing list of maimed or deceased bandits, acolytes and 'want-to-be' duellists in his wake.
Sharah – Pushes through distraction and disorientation as she learns to cope with the outdoors again. After years of being 'fused to the cobblestones" of both Baldur's Gate and now Kordova the young elf would appear to have misplaced her race's natural abilities and affinity for the outdoors. Fortunately she makes up for any minor discomforts and 'bungles' by repeatedly eviscerating the fanatic cultists found beneath Erruggar's shrine.
Silifrey – With a laugh and a grin blackens the chamber and near deafens the Party with a double blast of her new "Shotgun" that showers the bulk of the first group of cultists (worshipping near an old wall frieze) with a hail of deadly shot. Those that survive the first blast are soon with their gods as she reloads and fires weapons with a slick ease that is frightening to watch.
The Party – Recovers their composure quickly not once but twice. Seeing off the bandit group at the ancient stones, and then having the foresight to eliminate their base before the remainder realised their friends weren't coming home. The second speedy recovery followed the unexpected trip down the old lava tube, resulting in injuries to all and the death of Thorfan Inkpen. Despite the shock and reality of the dwarf's untimely demise the Party quickly reformed into "under-ground" mode and ventured into the ancient complex, prepared for the worst.
Evnarra Rockcutter, Lando Calraesa, Sharah Bloodcast, Silifrey Dotsk.
Calaith, Gaukin, Kosef, Cathrykan.
Erro, completed a shorter downtime period by borrowing a newly aquired Palfrey (courtesy of Cathrykan's temple endeavours) and riding after the members of Expedition B. He arrived shortly after the works began on a 'rescue-stair' by the dwarves. Erro found Quailyth, Barro Hammander and a group of dwarven clergy/engineers in the bowels of the complex around the widened hole created by the Earthquake, quickly offering to scout for the Party via use of Lando's rope 'ladder'.
After the 19th (roughly early morning) we are once again on concurrent timelines for ON and OFF CHARACTERS. XP, Downtime, etc… will now proceed as per normal Home-Brew Rules.
Quailyth Half-Elven, Orsekk Strakkhelm, Thorfan Inkpen, Silvio Verbosa, Baldrin of Jewellers Hill.
Updated in Multiple Sections of Gossip and Employment.
(First 60 hours, 16th-19th of Flamerule).
376 for each ACTIVE CHARACTER.
0 for each OFF CHARACTER of Present Players.
94 for each OFF CHARACTER of Downtime Players,
(Currently Cathrykan Shintar, Erro Moonshadow).
(Subsequent Timeline - 19th Flamerule Onward).
0 (as yet) for each ACTIVE CHARACTER (currently Expedition B).
0 (as yet) for each OFF CHARACTER (completed Expedition A).
0 (as yet) for each 'Medvedev' OFF CHARACTER.
0 (as yet) for each NPC in the Sunset Wanderers (currently Expedition C and various Kordova based Activities).
Our timelines for the purposes of Experience are once again concurrent and as such XP will be awarded when a period of 'reflection', camp routine, downtime, etc… is reached as per normal.
Night Eye Hood, Night Eye Leathers, Tattered Red Scroll Case, Bandolier of Readiness, Skullsmasher Spirits, A Recycled Book, Wondrous Geography.
Downtime Re-Initiated (6 Hours for Current OFF CHARACTERS – to be determined at beginning of Session 6).
During the travel back to Kordova from Lake's Edge, Calaith found a curious ending to a ledger that otherwise served as a simple record. Of interest to himself and the Sunset Wanderers may be the tome Wondrous Geography also discovered in this collection.