It's a small world
It is the frontier era for Delzimmar in the year 348, the most prosperous of the western kingdoms. The combined efforts of Delzimmarian and Lazaran forces have been successfully squeezing out the Wilderness between the two nations for 2 years, and this has opened up a whole lot of arable land with dungeons a-plenty from a long lost civilisation. Farmers and miners going to reap the new lands’ resources, as well as warriors to guard and explore them, regularly depart from the Winding Valleys to the retreating wilderness in search of money, adventure, or both.
Halgrim. A human brought up by a community of Delvers in the mineshafts deep below Felzûn, Halgrim has few memories that do not involve breaking rocks or monsters’ heads in the never-ending race to find the next mineral vein.
- Character path 1: either skill training (dungeoneering) or skill focus (dungeoneering). You act as a kind of navigator and valuer in your clan, divining the best routes to the best mineral veins.
- Geoman perk: you can almost instantly recognise and divine information from most types of rock and minerals.
Thrash’han, a.k.a. Balasar. This dragonborn and former member of the religious caste of Zora, the sister city of Felzûn, is a conflicted soul. Thrash’han was born into affluence but had the misfortune of being born the twin brother of Skora, whose avarice and preternatural abilities ultimately led to Thrash’han’s banishment from the family quarters in the palace of Zora.
- Character path 2: skill training (bluff or insight). Your family was housed at the epicentre of a nerve-wracking hotbed of deception and politics, where keeping your wits about you were as good a defence as a metal plate on the centre of your back.
- Second Guess perk: you know that in a high stakes exchange, it is more important to know whether you are being played rather than what the play is. When you are making an opposed insight check, you may choose to gain a +5 bonus to tell if the target is lying at the expense of not being able to put your finger on any details.
Istilenn. Istilenn was one of the inhabitants of the hinterlands who came into contact with the Delzimmarian military as it swept through the forests at the foot of the Winding Valleys. Initially resisting the encroachment, he has since realised he alone cannot oppose the might of the Delzimmarian army, and has taken to infiltrating the ranks of the colonists and mercenaries occupying the land.
- Character path 1: skill training (athletics). 2 years of not making tracks for those pesky soldiers have meant you are accomplished at using the trees rather than the ground for quick travel (or getaways).
- Tree-bounder perk: climbing and balancing can be so tedious – you prefer to treat the trees like the ground, no matter the orientation. You can treat a variety of meeting surfaces like springboards for the purpose of climbing or jumping, and you may use athletics instead of acrobatics for balance checks provided you are running.
Jezeer looked over the curious faces of his fighting hires. “I am appreciative of your patience, friends. One of the stories I have gathered concerning the House of Nymphs suggests that the full moon is important for navigating to and in it. Other stories say other things, but the House of Nymphs is an apocryphal tale, and there are more opinions on it than there are stories. I plan to find out the truth, and I think you gentlemen are the ones who will be able to delve deep enough to discover it.”
“Now,” he said as he got up from his sitting position on the grass, followed by his compatriots. “I have a map, procured at great expense, that contains preliminary directions to the location of the House of Nymphs. It could prove to be a treacherous search, and to be safe I would suggest setting out as soon as your are ready. Do not enter the house itself until the moon is out, however.”
A cloud momentarily obscures the sun and Jezeer’s questing gaze moves skyward. Zephyrs scour the flattened, shaded landscape like waves on a beach, and the familiar rushing sound of the Hinterlands is played. It is not the sound of the Winding Valleys, which is harsh and insistent that you acknowledge its presence; it is coy and desolate, and on the periphery of your vision it goes about its business in spite of the desecration and violence perpetrated in its territory over the past 2 years. It is like the sound of a dam holding back an ocean. This mysterious quest is just the latest in a series of enigmatically fortunate events that has guided you to this place with these people, and as your eyes follow Jezeer’s skyward, you can still feel the inscrutable gaze of Fate staring right back down at you.
It could have been worse. The meeting with the wereboars was unexpected, but at least the swine were easy enough to dispatch. Balasar was bitten but at least his condition has not gotten worse throughout the trek. The party definitely got lucky when they narrowly avoided a pack of roaming gnolls and their beastly hyena. Encountering 2 wood woads intent on driving the party away was probably a blessing in disguise as they were guarding the very entrance to the House that the party sought. The only thing that couldn’t have been worse was the map.
Now, after crossing the swift-running river and entering the cliff face that apparently leads to the House of Nymphs, drenched and very tired from the trek through the ancient forest, the party pauses a moment. The noise from the waterfall echoes in the cramped, half-submerged tunnel through the cliff, saturating the damp, misty air. Though the dragonborn and the human cannot see it, there is a pale blue opening far ahead.
As the party finally steps out of the rock tunnel, the first thing they see is the moonlit Lake, but beyond that, the enormous Tree.
It would not be fair to call the presence in the party’s minds a “voice” as it did not possess the characteristics of tone, rhythm, or even words. What permeated their consciousness as they fought the giant spiders in the entrance halls of the House of Nymphs, as they barrelled down wooden stairs fleeing a wall of electrified water, and as they quietly searched the recesses of the ornate atrium, was another consciousness. It did not poke or prod, but it made itself known so that its vague wishes were felt by the party members. Following these wishes, the party of 3 convened once more around the broken alabaster and marble font. Two held a flat rosewood box with dense carvings of flowers across its lid; the other held an unassuming corked glass cylinder with a roll of parchment and dried plant matter inside. The dying Tree was content.
Among the almost maddening tink tink tink of careful excavation in the secret underground cavern, 4 figures silently watch from a small side alcove, whispering and planning. Small circles of firelight from torch-carrying dwarf guards travel slowly behind the hunched dwarven miners as they silently appraise their findings and only occasionally talk amongst themselves. The whole operation goes about like a well-oiled machine, and all under the mighty gaze of the large blackish dragon sitting regally by the 30m high doors, and presumably under the supervision of the top brass right next to the dragon. All of this, below the righteous citadel of Zora, and under the heedful awareness of Erathis whose exiled yet righteous paladin maintains his vigil. Many eyes, it seems, are on the party’s situation.
They say that dungeons are the crucible whence have come all the great adventurers. From the ignoblest goblin to the most righteous deva, those who rise to fame or infamy have at some time proven their worth in those dark, inhospitable depths, fighting tooth and nail where creatures of a more mundane persuasion would have played the coward. It was in such circumstances as this that arose the furtive rumours of the Black Dragons.
In the raucous din of the great Zoran Cavern, you may every now and then overhear a cautious snippet of a story concerning the band of rogues who somehow broke into a top secret Zoran mine, earning the Ire of the Archduchess and a period of heightened security while searches were made for them. No commoner knows their fate, nor the authenticity even of their existence. Yet, a rumour’s not a rumour that doesn’t die…
Far away, in the deep forest of the hinterlands, a lone woodwoad silently but respectfully regards a troupe of adventurers as they disappear into the undergrowth surrounding the river that guards the entrance to the elusive House of Nymphs. They did not need to know what the Tree was preparing to do now that it had been freed from the meagre sustaining rituals of the mad cleric. With the colossal slowness of millions of litres of water flowing towards the moon and thousands of leaves turning fiery orange in the slanting autumn sun rays, the woodwoad could, as it had been for the past few days, discern the massive, slow thought in Arboreal: “Time to die”. Some time afterwards, in the milky light of the waning moon, a small troupe of gnolls would be momentarily awestruck at the sight of a million fireflies settling onto the canopy of the biggest tree they’d ever seen.
The hair on the back of Halgrim’s neck tingled for the slightest second as he looked back in the direction of the hinterlands, squinting in the darkness. Looking at his companions, they had felt it too. Istilenn’s hand instinctively went to the hidden side pocket of his cloak, feeling for the invaluable small corked glass tube and tiny scroll that lay there. Still there. Still safe. Casting a furtive glance backwards at the strange sensation that seemed to pass over them, Thrash’han’s eyes then traced the familiar path heavens-ward. But the inscrutable gaze of destiny that had weighed on his mind was, for the first time in weeks, absent.
The trio walked on into the night, under the stars. They had arrived on these plains as a band of adventurers.
They left, heroes.