Friday, March 5, 2010

T'zarak: Sites of Interest

There are few places in Valtyr as mysterious as the desert kingdom of T’zarak. A land of scorching sands and star-filled nights, T’zarak is as inhospitable to the untrained traveler as they come. And yet, this kingdom of dunes and desert wildlife holds a great many secrets.

Adventurers have spread stories of the buried treasure from forgotten Ages that lies beneath the shifting sands of T’zarak’s borders. Bards have immortalized the kingdom's vast beauty and deadly denizens. Nowhere else (save perhaps those that brave the Wildlands) is the fight for survival between man and nature as fierce as in the Kingdom of the Burning Sands. And perhaps here, of all places, are the links to the past vibrant enough that they can help scholars and mystics alike divine the secrets to the truth behind the Age of Myths. Within T’zarak, the saying goes that “between each grain of sand, history and wealth are joined in eternal secrecy”. It is no wonder then that thrill-seekers, treasure-hunters and obsessed scholars pay this kingdom homage with hopes of riches and knowledge beyond their wildest imaginations.

Within the rocky canyons, burning dunes and hidden oasis of the nation of T’zatak lay several sites of importance. The most notable are as follows:

Alhazan’s Stair:
Up in the northwestern area of T’zarak, near the peninsula known as the Fahir’s Crown, stands a shattered circle of great, blue stones. The stones form a ring that measures more than 30 feet in diameter and is completely filled with rough slabs of lapis and tourmaline. Although the stones show great signs of aging, the circle has persisted for over 2,500 years of recorded history. A great swell of white sand surrounds the circular platform, creating the impression of a giant blue coin atop a bed of white silks.

As if this were not impressive enough, the true allure of Alhazan’s Stair comes at night, when the hundreds of knife-bright stars are lit across a sky of deepest black. When the moon is dark, a strange occurrence happens at the site: a band of twisting, ethereal lights forms on the blue stone platform, creating the impression of three giant staircases ascending into the night sky. The site was first discovered by the ruling Fahir of the time, a man named Alhazan ib Jahafir. So taken aback was Fahir Alhazan that he had the sighting recorded down in the epic poem entitled “Kalem ab Halistir”, which translates into the “gods’ staircase”.

It is said that Alhazan tempted fate and dared to climb the blue stones and walk to the foot of the astral staircase before him. He marveled at the beauty of the sight and dared to touch the firmament that formed the banister before him. To his surprise, the starry railing was solid to his touch and those in his entourage that had traveled with him gasped as he placed his feet upon the lowest steps of the staircase, testing his fate as he attempted to climb it.

A voice is recorded in the Kalem ab Halistir, an inhuman and intelligible voice, that seemed to come from all directions at once. The Fahir seemed oblivious to the sound and began his ascent, growing more and more spectral as he did. He ignored the cries of his company and continued his climb, shouting down to his followers that he heard the most beautiful music and smelled fragrances he had never known before. Then, in a flash, he disappeared, and his followers wailed in their fear for their ruler.

They waited out the night, but the Fahir never returned.

In the morning, the stairs disappeared with dawn’s light and the company was forced to return to their home city of Aril-a-Vec. To their great astonishment, they found that Fahir Alhazan was already there, and what was more, he seemed to possess a fire within him that consumed his waking days, leading him to draw up new plans for roads, locations for deep wells to be dug, and an excavation which garnered much wealth for his kingdom. Although he was often questioned of the strange stair of stars, he refused to speak of what had happened, saying only that “he had been blessed”.

Today the location known as Alhazan’s Stair is a preciously guarded site that has been handed down from Fahir to Fahir ever since Alhazan’s time. If there is truth to the tales of ascending the astral stairs and gaining great wisdom, none can offer proof, as the Izulk-hai warriors of T’zarak’s elite rigorously guard the site from outsiders.

The Black Temple:
Very few places arecas reviled as the Black Temple of T’zarak. A place of roving shadows, foul curses and superstitious omens, the Black Temple is a nightmare made real. Those who have traveled close enough to the site all report the same thing: a giant temple made of shifting black sands and yawning shadows is nestled in the crook of the eastern side of the Dantroth Peaks. The place has an air of evil about it and those who get close feel their skin crawl from an unseen presence. Bands of roving scorpions, millipedes and other poisonous insects are said to swarm the land around the foul place. The wind is stale with the scent of death and water seems to dry up if exposed to the unnaturally dry air outside the temple’s grounds.

If rumors are believed to be true, then the temple vacillates between forms, constantly swirling away in eddies of black dust devils only to reform new wings and openings as the day drags on. At night, the entire structure is said to fall away, leaving mounds of black sand and ash amidst the desert floor. It is at these times when the swarms of insects come out and seem to gather amidst the obsidian grains.

Speculation runs high as to the nature of such a strange and ominous place. Some believe it to be a cursed temple dedicated to the Black Matron, Vegra. Others say it predates the dark goddess by centuries and belongs to creatures from before the Age of Myths. Still others argue that a rogue sorcerer created the temple in the Age of Wonders as a place of study, only to have it destroyed later by a rogue djinn who battled the mage with vile sorcery.

Whatever the truth of the Black Temple, none tend to go too near it. If it holds riches within its ashen halls, they have remained hidden thus far and may continue to do so for all time beyond.

Ruins of Ultark:
A couple of hours out of the town of Jatri lays a series of ruins. The locals refer to the place as the Ruins of Ultark. They say the ruins got their name from a mad merchant who proclaimed he could offer anyone any ware they desired, for the right price. According to the locals, Ultark was once a prominent businessman who made a fortune off selling silks and spices to travelers from Syr in the south. In time, he grew so wealthy that he commissioned a great palace to be built just outside of town and Ultark entertained many guests as his fame grew.

His palace was a thing of beauty in the harsh desert. Lush gardens, running water, beautiful handmaidens with sweet dates and wine, and wondrous beasts adorned his halls. Travelers from all over came to visit the merchant who offered excellent prices for some of the finest silks and exotic spices in the land. Then one night Ultark had a dream of a great woman wearing a gold and red gown that promised him even greater wealth if he would heed her call. Ultark followed her sultry voice out of his palace and into a small cave nearby where he discovered a miniature box of rosewood inlaid with tiger’s eye.

The merchant took the box back to his palace and found that it contained the ability to offer more than just his silks and spices to those who traveled to his shops. In fact, the box allowed him to offer anyone his or her heart’s desire…for the right price. It is unclear from the stories what “the right price” was, but before long people starting whispering gossip about the eccentric and mad habits that Ultark began engaging in. Less and less people traveled to the merchant’s palace and before too long the beautiful hand maidens left him and his waterways and gardens dried up and died.

Then one day, Ultark’s body was found lying beside the road just outside of Jatri. A dagger of polished ivory jutted from his heart, but the strangest thing was the look of contentment and peace that was frozen onto the dead man’s face. Most believed it to be the work of a killer and an over-indulgence in drugs, which Ultark was rumored to have partaken in, but few could shake the odd state of the merchant’s demeanor given his ghastly end.

Without the wealth and staff to support it, the palace fell into ruin and the years stripped the silk curtains and painted murals from the stone walls, leaving nothing but the sandy ghost of a once-prominent home. Today, the Ruins of Ultark serve as a chaste reminder of the corrupting power of wealth for the more frugal citizens of Jatri. Now and then though, travelers to this part of T’zarak claim to see lights in the far off distance and hear laughter from a party of merry folk out near Ultark’s palace. Some even claim that Ultark himself is not dead; that he faked his own death and still offers those who seek him out the chance to claim their hearts’ desire…for the right price.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Lodge of Twilight

In the current Age of Valtyr there exist many different factions and groups vying to entice the industrious and adventurous alike into their ranks. Many such guilds thrive off the donations and support such additions give their cause. However, every once in a while there comes a group that does not try to advertise their position, is not concerned with gaining new members, and is quite content to remain small and spend their days perfecting their craft. Although many watch as these splinter groups come and go, there is one that has persisted and, ironically, gained an underground following as a result: the Lodge of Twilight.

Established nearly 100 years ago, in the year 2756, the Lodge of Twilight began as two friends who met weekly for morning tea. Sebastian Kale and Virgil L’deyr had been friends ever since boyhood. When Sebastian followed his calling to join the ranks of the Brotherhood monks, his good friend Virgil was there to cheer him on. And when Virgil suddenly found himself possessed of the gift to see the Voss on his 14th birthday, Sebastian supported him even when Virgil was too frightened to make much sense of his new power. The two boys grew into fine young men and kept up their tradition of meeting every week at Yorberth and Munsin’s Tea Shoppe in Tessali where they had been born and raised.

As Sebastian and Virgil grew into their own power, they learned of their respective organizations’ dislike for the other. Sebastian learned of the Brotherhood’s concern of the Nezrün threat and the menace that sorcery could cause the people of Valtyr, as evidenced by Xanith’s Curse. Virgil, on the other hand, heard of the tales of stolen artifacts secreted away within Brotherhood vaults and the threat that the gods posed, as evident from the Lords of Shadow in the Great War. Despite their factions’ distrust of the other, both Sebastian and Virgil saw it fit to continue their friendship and often dove into great theological and magical debates over their tea and cakes.

After years of discussions, both men realized something. Perhaps it was not the gods, nor magic, that was the problem. Perhaps the real issue lay with the guilds to which they each belonged. It seemed to both of them that the Citadel and the Brotherhood Church were clouded by a need to be right and exert influence over the other. It was on one particular week, when the men were sharing their tea, that Virgil offered an unusual proposal: leave their groups behind and explore something together.

Sebastian sipped his tea, lost in thought, and Virgil feared he had offended his friend, but then he watched as a great grin spread across Sebastian’s face. The monk agreed that perhaps this was the true will of the gods, to be free of the chains of history and set out to create something new. Virgil readily agreed and offered that his sorcery might be emboldened by new methods and practices, which could lead to new and unknown benefits to mankind.

The two men started their own secret society and called it the Lodge of Twilight. The name had as much to do with where they had come from (day being commonly associated with Lassic, the chief god of Sebastian’s order, and night being a time of great study and importance for Virgil’s Citadel work) as it did with where they were headed (someplace in between).

The two friends spent months studying ways to combine sorcery and faith into a new form of power. They set out with the goal that whatever they created, it should serve mankind’s sense of spirit and creative vision. They felt that the Lodge of Twilight should stand for self-expression free from politics as much as possible. In the end, it was their combined talents that birthed the modern practices of Alchemy as we know it.

Although alchemy had existed prior, it was little understood and selfishly guarded by the Order of the Unbroken Circle within the Citadel. With Virgil’s help and Sebastian’s alterations, the two men elaborated on the core principles of alchemy and expanded the craft greatly. Within weeks, they were creating new potions, powders and salves that had never been seen before. What was more, the alchemical objects they made were more potent that Virgil had first expected.

Needing a way to make a living, Sebastian suggested selling the wares at the local bazaar. After one week of offering their goods, the two men were a hit with some of the local customers. Many began to flock to the Twilight stall and seek their wares. Unfortunately, the attention was not all good, and soon the Citadel and Brotherhood got wind of their actions. Threatened with excommunication and imprisonment, Sebastian and Virgil fled Tessali on a caravan headed south to Oronoch, never to return.

After several months of travel and stops, word of the “amazing alchemists” began to reach more ears. Before they knew it, students and scholars alike began to show up at their inn rooms and waystation stalls, asking for tutoring or wishing to share their own discoveries. At first the two staunchly refused to entertain the notion of taking on a following, but after time and listening to the marvelous tales of those they had inspired, they came to realize that they had begun to do what they had always talked about over tea – to offer their fellow man something creative and free from past prejudices. Alchemy was a way to unite others like them that had become disillusioned with the Citadel or the Brotherhood. It also offered like-minded individuals a focus for their budding talents.

In 2758, Sebastian and Virgil opened the first official chapter of the Lodge of Twilight. They maintained strict rules for new entries, but no longer refused such offers. They also kept the locations of their new guild a secret, lest the Citadel or Brotherhood find them out and seek to lead an inquisition against them and their followers.

Since that time, the Lodge of the Twilight has spread into parts or Syr, T’zarak and Fyron, although they maintain the strongest presence in Rynell where the guild was founded. While rumors occasionally surface of chapter houses opening in the south, no official records of the Lodge are known to exist in T’lranen, Corval, or Mierg. The Lodge lives by only one tenet: explore the science of alchemy in new and interesting ways, divorced of politics or prejudice. Given the Lodge’s recent claim to fame as masters within the alchemical art, the Citadel bears no love for the guild and openly seeks to defame their work as “uncontrolled experiments” wherever they go. Likewise, the Brotherhood denounces the Lodge’s practices as “unorthodox” and refuses to acknowledge the group as a viable entity.

The secret recipes, tomes and practices of the Lodge of Twilight are well-guarded secrets. Their members might be willing to sell their creations to the right buyer, but few (if any) would ever give up the secrets to these crafts. To those who join, alchemy has much more to offer than it currently is and the Twilight Alchemists (as they are sometimes called) are dedicated to seeing just what those offerings might be.

Monday, February 15, 2010


Not many creatures are as feared as those that carry disease, infection, or plague. To the people of Valtyr, such maladies can lay waste to entire villages and spread into epidemics that sweep the lands. It is no wonder then that the putrescent creatures known as blightlings are one of the most dreaded monsters a person can ever face.

The origin of the blightling comes from the shattered rocks of the Thelen Kor in southern T’zarak. A group of cultists that revered Vegra, goddess of death and decay, created a ritual to allow them to pervert their captives into disease-spreading humanoids that could be bound to their will. Drawing upon the dark power of their goddess, the cultists warped the flesh of their subjects with this ritual and infused the host with a potent, infectious slime that caused sickness and rampant disease if exposed to the bloodstream. Through dark magic, they stole away any vestige of humanity from the target of the spell and instead left behind a gibbering, primordial ooze creature filled with malice and hate.

The cultists set the first of the blightlings loose on the towns of Semurcha and Last Gate, reveling in the wide spread panic and death that the tainted beings delivered. Dozens died by the blightlings infectious touch alone, but hundreds more succumbed to death after a disease was loosed into the water sources from the creatures’ horrible slime. It took nearly a season of Brotherhood monks spending their time purifying the area to purge the lands of the disease afterwards.

Seeing success, the cultists were preparing to create even more blightlings and head further south to add more souls to the Black Matron’s clutches when a sudden attack on their temple by Isulk-hai hunters decimated their forces. The cultists scattered in a panic and left the blightlings to fend for themselves. Most of the diseased creatures were put down in the raid, but a few escaped into the blasted rock canyons of the Kor.

Since that day, the tale of the blightling has spread far and wide. Every once in a while, one shows up in some backwater area of the world, wreaking destruction and seeding disease wherever it goes. A sighting of a blightling is cause for great alarm, as it is a known fact now that it creates more of its infected spawn by consuming those it defeats. A single blightling can create a duplicate of itself after ingesting four infected bodies. If left unchecked, they can become an epidemic themselves, and so they are ruthlessly hunted by organizations like the Din’tarra and the Champions of the Dawn.

A blightling stands roughly 6 feet tall and possess two ropy tendrils instead of arms. Yellowed suckers ringed in small teeth line the underside of the tentacles. Their lower halves drip away into a disgusting ooze of bubbling and decaying matter and they possess a horrible stench whenever nearby. Their faces are misshapen lumps of flesh and their entire bodies are covered in puss, slime and seeping sores.

Although not technically one of the Shadowfold, blightlings are certainly a spawn of evil that deserves as much attention as their dreaded undead cousins.

Blightling……(level 3)
Battle: 10
Damage: 1D6+2
Evasion: 4 (SR 1)
Resistance: 5 (SR 1)
Health: 35

Passive Powers:
Immune: disease, poison, status effects

Infection: if the blightling causes wounds, the target must make a Fortitude skill check (SR 3) or their wounds become infected.

Stench: targets are weakened and stunned in the blightling’s presence (Fortitude (SR 2) resists for a round)

Vulnerable: fire

Active Powers:
Blight: blightlings can belch a thick oozing liquid that can infect a target with a contagious disease that causes a loss of -1 to their Brawn and Fortitude per day until cured (Fortitude (SR 3) resists). In addition, those affected by the Blight do not add their level to their Battle, Evasion, Arcane, or Resistance stats.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Mists & Shadows - Chapter 2

Sevenwinters, Arim and Hjorvarth stepped into Cedar’s Rest’s only tavern, a nameless building with a peaked gray roof and several patrons milling about inside. Bits of conversation wafted from huddled groups of farmers and craftsmen regarding the day’s events. Fear was evident from the looks on their faces and all eyed the three strangers as they entered the tavern’s warm central room. Near the back a counter ran nearly the length of the building and a man with short blonde hair and a pleasant smile busily tended to a group of farmers raising their mugs for more ale. Behind him, two serving girls carried plates of warm meat, potatoes, stew, carrots and bread to hungry mouths.

“Okay, so we’re here,” said Hjorvarth. “Now what? Where’s this Patrick fellow anyway?”

Sevenwinters scanned the crowd and picked out a man sitting alone, eating a haunch of meat and washing it down with a large goblet of something frothy. When the man’s eyes met Sevenwinters, he hastily wiped the froth from his mouth and waved him over, a large smile growing across his face.

Sevenwinters pointed the man out. Arim was quick to catch on. “Looks like he’s right over there. Come on.”

As the three comrades started forward, the blonde gentleman behind the bar shouted, “Excuse me sirs. We don’t allow weapons inside on persons. Please kindly leave them bonded to the peace peg if you would.” He gestured to a rack of pegs located just by the entrance to the tavern. The three exchanged a brief glance and then complied, Hjorvarth being the last and most reluctant of the bunch. The blonde haired man nodded friendly and resumed his duties with his customers.

As the party neared the solitary man at his table, the patron stood up and spread his arms wide in greeting. “Welcome friends,” he said with a large smile and a twinkle in his eye, “welcome indeed. It is a fortunate day for Cedar’s Rest that men of such courage are here today. Please, sit and share a meal with me. I’ve been expecting you.”

As Arim sat, he shot the man his own dashing smile and said, “Many thanks friend. But who might we owe this honor to?”

“Patrick’s my name,” said the man as he resumed sitting, “and my table is yours today friends.” Patrick hastily called the barmaids and ordered drinks for his three guests and made a fuss of dishing up food and seeing that everyone was situated. As soon as food hit the table in front of Sevenwinters, he began voraciously devouring it. Hjorvarth shrugged and tucked in to his plate the same. Only Arim delayed from the feast, more intent on conversation than food it would seem. And their host had plenty of that to go around as well.

“As I have said already, you are most welcome here friends. But I wish to know more about you. For example, your names.” Patrick looked first to Sevenwinters, deferring to his age and possible rank within the group. Sevenwinters paused long enough to tell him his name before diving right back in to eating. He had not had such food for seven long years and he would be damned if he would miss the opportunity now.

Next came Hjorvarth’s introduction. Patrick smiled a secret smile when the big man spoke, confirming his suspicion that the warrior from the northern frostlands. If his red hair and pale skin hadn’t given it away, Hjorvarth’s accent surely did.

Lastly, came Arim. Patrick noted the Citadel bracers on Arim’s arms and commented, “It is an honor to meet one of the sorcerers of the Citadel, Arim. This village owes you and your order many great debts.” Arim wondered briefly if Patrick was referring to the Citadel’s role in the Age of Sorrows, when Corval was constantly invaded by the Storm Knights and Geldain Ramuk’s Gray Armies, or if he meant today and the assistance both he and the elf Malinorian offered Cedar’s Rest. While Arim engaged in small talk with their host, his mind wandered to the whereabouts of the elf. He hadn’t followed them that he noticed Where had he gone?

It was then that Malinorian entered the tavern. His keen eyes picked out the group of three comrades that he had been introduced with upon meeting Tess just moments before. However, a voice in his head whispered for him to observe, to linger back and not be seen…not just yet. Moving with grace only the Elves possessed, Malinorian took a seat across from the party and kept his hood up, lest his fine Elven ears give him away. A barmaid came by asking if he needed anything, but he politely waved her away and listened to what was being said.

Patrick took another bite of his potatoes and washed it down with more ale before continuing. “It is good we have met friends. Your assistance today meant a lot to these people, and to friends of mine as well. I take it,” he said looking at Sevenwinters, “that you are familiar with the recent troubles inflicted by the baron of these parts.”

“We are now,” said Arim lightheartedly, but with a sting to it that conveyed he considered what had happened today to be nothing of a joking manner.

Patrick nodded. “Indeed. Baron Alfred Logren has lost his way and the suffering and pain he causes the people of his barony is inexcusable. Today was just a small taste of the butchery and villainy that the man possesses. I can tell you all that I have seen with my own eyes much more destruction that what was caused today over the last few months.

“Logren is a tyrant, a madman bent on bringing his people to his heel by crushing their skulls and breaking their backs. Those he does not extort, he kidnaps to work in his keep or kills. The old…women…children…none are spared his lash.”

Patrick paused, a sincere look of sadness in his eyes. “Too many have been taken. Too much has been lost. There is more blood in the Corvalian fields than there are blades of green grass these days.”

Sevenwinters looked up from his second plate of food and his eyes grew hard. “The Baron will pay dearly for what he has done. I know firsthand what his reign of terror has caused. He will not escape judgment.”

Hjorvarth let out an encouraging cheer and banged his empty mug down on the table. “I did not come to fight men in such a way, but after seeing what has happened, I will not stop until this mad dog is put down!”

Patrick smiled briefly. “Well said Master Hjorvarth. Well said indeed.” His eyes moved to Arim. “It seems like your friends here are set on seeing right replace the wrong of this village, nay…this barony. What of you?”

“Friends of mine have been affected as well. I want to help, if I can.”

Patrick’s smile widened and his face shone with pleasure. “Excellent. Then perhaps I have a way you all can aid just as you have said you would.” Leaning forward conspiratorially, Patrick beckoned their ears closer.

“I have information about a rebellion that has begun to form in these parts. The people grow tired of false imprisonments, of the senseless killings, of the kidnapping and pain that Logren has brought to their families and friends. I represent a group that assists in this rebellion. My role is to act as a kind of scout and recruiter for their cause. From what I have seen today, you three bear the marks of those I would ask to join their cause. Interested?”

Arim rubbed the day’s growth of stubble on his chin and wondered to himself what profit might lie in wait under the Baron’s keep. He had meant what he had said; he wanted to help Simon avenge his son’s death and his wife’s capture. If he could maybe bring her back…that would be something. But he also wouldn’t deny the desire to make a little something for his efforts.

“This Logren, what resources does he have at his disposal?” asked Arim as he pondered Patrick’s offer.

“Many,” said the recruiter, “He has many men, but also enough wealth from his stolen tributes to feed, clothe and outfit them. It will be dangerous but the price of freedom is always dangerous.”

Arim had his answer. The baron had wealth and that meant profit. He could do a good thing for his friend and still make a cut. Hjorvarth beat him to the punch.

“I shall stand with this group. Just point me in the right direction and let me at that bastard!”

Patrick chuckled and held his hands up for peace. Several nearby patrons had looked up at the large man’s outburst. Eyes returned to their own plates when Patrick reassured the gathered patrons that there was nothing wrong.

“This is excellent news Master Hjorvarth. I knew we could count on you.”

“Count me in too,” managed Arim, shooting Hjorvarth a wry look. Patrick clasped Arim’s hand and then turned to Sevenwinters. The old warrior was busy mopping up the last of his gravy with a hunk of bread. Sevenwinters raised his head and nodded his acceptance of the offer as well.

“Though it saddens me that this rebellion is necessary and that so much travesty has occurred here today, I am glad I stopped in these parts this week. To have met such brave souls willing to lend a hand to their unknown countrymen…well, it does my heart proud.”

The feast concluded, Patrick rose in a smooth motion. The rest of the group could see he was lithe and fit for travel. “Where are you going?” asked Arim.

“I have things to attend to in town. There are others I wish to seek out as well, to see if they possess as noble and generous hearts as yours. Please meet me back here in this tavern tonight at the seventh torch. We can discuss the details of your assistance to the rebellion at that time.”

“Much luck,” cried Hjorvarth as Patrick made his way out the door, “and thanks for the food.”


The wind had picked up and a chill rain began to fall as Patrick left the tavern. Neither the muddy ground not the biting cold could hamper his spirits. After what he had just done, he was sure to receive accommodation from his superiors and put a further thorn in Baron Logren’s campaign.

Hood up against the rain and chill, Patrick hurried away to his next meeting. A sudden shiver danced up his spine and he had the strangest feeling that he was being followed. Turning to allay his fears, he came face to face with a dark-haired Elf dressed in deep red robes. The dim light of the fading day cast shadows over the Elf’s features, making him appear to be swathed in a mask of roving shade.

Before Patrick could summon his signature smile and affable manner, the Elf spoke.

“Tell me, is it true that Fort Gorwin holds an enchantress under the Baron’s orders.”

“Excuse me?” said Patrick, completely caught unaware. “What did you say?”

“You heard me the first time,” said the Elf, his eyes focused on Patrick’s. “Is it true?”

Patrick was shocked that the Elf knew this. Such information, he had been told, was private and known only to a select few. Rumors had obviously been started. He would have to remember that for next time.

“Yes, it is true,” he said. The rain suddenly lashed around the two in quick torrent and then subsided to a normal drizzle once more. The Elf merely nodded and then said, “And the men you spoke with just now, back in the tavern. Is Fort Gorwin your next target?”

Patrick saw an opportunity rising and reached for it.

“Yes, it is.” He was telling the truth. That was the target for tonight’s discussion. Although how this strange Elf knew anything about it was beyond him.

“Then I will see you at the seventh torch Patrick.” The Elf tuned to leave, but

Patrick shouted out, “Wait…what is your name?”

Without a backwards glance, the Elf replied. “Malinorian of the Tower Nethmari.”

Patrick rolled the name around in his brain as he hurried on his way. Malinorian. Had he heard of that name before? No, he decided, he had not. But he was pretty sure it would be a name many would be hearing about in the days to come. That Elf had something special about him, something…unique. As long as he was fighting for them, Patrick mused as he entered another house - that was all that mattered at the moment.


The day sped across the sky and before long the torches marking the evening hours were burning across the village of Cedar’s Rest. As the seventh torch was lit, Sevenwinters, Hjorvarth, Arim and Malinorian all entered and took up seats in the tavern. The place was empty save for the blonde gentlemen and a single couple seated in the back by a roaring fire. The barkeep waved as the four comrades entered and offered them a seat. No mention to discarding weapons this time.

“Here to take old Patrick up on his offer, are ya?” The barkeep’s tone was friendly and matter of fact. He didn’t wait for an answer; none was needed. If they were here the answer was evident already. “It’s good that you are doing this for those of us who cannot fight.”

Malinorian and Arim questioned the barkeep for a bit about Patrick’s character. Who was he? Where did he come from? How long had he been coming here recruiting for this rebellion? The barkeep answered all he could but it was apparent that he knew little of the man named Patrick other than he was considered as a friend in these parts and had only ever helped Tess Brickworth and her regency through his efforts.

A chill wind announced the presence of Patrick as he hustled through the door. The evening hour had grown late in short time and darkness clung outside the tavern walls. Patrick brushed some dew form his overcoat and came in. In no time flat her was speaking to those gathered, which included a dark-skinned bald man and his red-haired female companion. The man seemed fit to be a warrior and the woman looked like some kind of wood scout from her attire. Patrick introduced them as Samson and Izumi respectively.

“Well then, let’s get down to business. You all know that I am recruiting for the rebellion to stop the madness Baron Logren has wrought on these lands. Tonight I hope we can strike back a blow that will show Logren that we are not sheep being led to the slaughter, but rams that will fight back to protect what is ours.”

Pausing to look around the room, he let that sink in and then continued. The air smelled vaguely of vinegar and wood smoke and Hjorvarth coughed once into this beard.

“Nearby there is a fort that the baron uses for staging attacks such as the one that occurred today. This place, known as Fort Gorwin, is not heavily guarded or manned. The baron is overconfident. He does not consider us to be that much of a threat. It is to Fort Gorwin that he has taken the prisoners from today’s raid. The mission before all of you is this: infiltrate the fort and recover the prisoners.”

Not a sound was made in the tavern. The candles that were lit flickered briefly from a draft somewhere. Patrick took this as a good sign.

“Since I have heard no objections I will assume you are all in?” Heads nodded and voices rose in assent. Patrick smiled his charismatic smile and clapped his hands.

“Good, good. This is exactly what we need. Men and women of strength and spirit.”

He paused for a moment and then continued again. “There is one other thing. The fort is run by a man named Trendon Vie. Commander Vie is a ruthless soldier in the baron’s service and one that should not be taken lightly. As many of you might be aware, the hierarchy of command amongst the solider class in Corval’s baronies is extreme to say the least. If Commander Vie were to fall in the battle, well his men would lose their fighting spirit and succumb to surrender until a new leader was placed before them. Such a blow would be of great service to the rebellion.”

At this Arim spoke. “How many does this Trendon command?”

“Roughly thirty men reside in Fort Gorwin and Commander Vie presides over them all. And my information sources have told me that more new recruits are being sent to the fort tomorrow afternoon,” answered Patrick. This brought some conversation amongst the two groups gathered.

“I thought you said the place wasn't heavily guarded! How are we to infiltrate and subdue so many?” asked Samson.

“It is the mouse that finds his way into the keep of men and feeds off his food stores,” answered Patrick. “Find a hole and get inside. From there you can take any tactic you wish. Just remember, the mission involves freeing innocent lives. These are not soldiers you are being sent to retrieve…”

Sevenwinters interrupted, finishing Patrick’s thought with a backwards glance at Samson. “…no, they’re innocent folk who can’t fight for themselves. We’ll find a way in, rest assured of that.”

Patrick swallowed hard at Sevenwinters’s tone. The man had taken on a brooding look at Patrick felt uneasy around the swordsman all of a sudden. He laughed nervously and nodded his head before taking a pull from a nearby mug of tea.

“There is one other piece of information I should give you. Held within Fort Gorwin is a prisoner named Emiline. You will be able to tell her by her presence alone, but look for a woman in her prime with auburn hair and eyes the color of tawny heather. My superiors wish very much to speak with this woman, so if you find her, please ensure that she make her way back here to Cedar’s Rest. I will be passing through in another few days again and will question her.”

“What importance does this woman have?” asked Hjorvarth as he sipped on his own drink. “Why call her out especially?”

Before Patrick could answer, Malinorian’s cool voice sounded. “She’s the Citadel Sorceress, isn’t she?”

All eyes turned from the Elf to Patrick. Patrick shrugged nonchalantly. “It’s true, she’s a sorceress, but I never said anything about being one of the Citadel.”

“A renegade?” Arim’s voice was tinged with disbelief. His brow furrowed and he shared a surprised look with Malinorian. “Such a thing would not be…good…for our order of magi. Renegades are not tolerated. She will have to be subjected to our laws.”

Patrick held up a placating hand immediately. “Hold on! I didn’t say she was a renegade, whatever that means. I just said I wasn’t sure if she was Citadel.”

“That means the same thing,” said Malinorian, anger showing in his voice.

“Well you will just have to find out for yourself,” countered Patrick, his annoyance showing at last. “The rebellion cares nothing for her crimes against magic. That is for you to handle master Elf. However, we do care for the information she has regarding Logren and his keep.”

“And why is that?” said Izumi, finally adding her voice to the assembly.

“Because my dear,” said Patrick, “she used to be a mistress to the baron and may possess valuable intel on his habits, keep and such things.”

“Sounds like an extra challenge,” said Hjorvarth, nodding his shaggy head. “It’ll be that much more interesting.”

“Well then I suggest you all get your rest. I have arranged for horses and a cart to be given to you in the morning to speed your journey. Also, I have procured uniforms of the baron’s guards in case you wish to use subterfuge to enter the fort. Lastly, I have arranged for a group of men who are sympathetic to our cause to join you in a horseshoe-shaped valley just to the west of the fort. You can find it by flowing this map.”

Patrick laid out a decent map of the area on the table and showed where they should travel to reach the fort and the reinforcements. He then answered any questions the group had before turning to leave.

“Good luck to you all.”

And with that, he was gone…a shadow lost to the darkness of night outside the tavern once more.


The six souls spent a few minutes longer down in the tavern before heading off to sleep. Tomorrow would be a long and adventurous day. Rest would be needed and so all of them retired for the evening. All except Arim.

The call of the road, the lure of the fort’s possible treasures, the promise of excitement…all of these were too much for the young adventuring sorcerer. After the others left, he grabbed the pack Patrick had prepared and dashed off into the night. He followed the full silvery light of Ailor, the shinning moon, over looping tracks and shadowed glens until hours later he came upon the fort itself. A two-storied wall of solid stone ringed the rectangular keep. Along its wall were torches and guards who patrolled its perimeter. Only one gate led access to the fort’s interior, where Arim spied two buildings. A single three-story tower with a pointed roof was situated at the southeastern end of the fort.

Not wasting a single moment, Arim uncoiled some rope he had brought and began to scale the outer wall, timing his movements between the guard’s patrol paths. As he successfully gained the summit, he crouched in the shadows of the wall’s walk and waited. When he was sure he hadn’t been seen, he descended the other side in stealth and hid behind one of the larger buildings. Quickly, he undressed and threw on the guard’s disguise he had taken with him. Then, slipping around to the front of the building, he peered in and noticed that he had stumbled across the barracks. What luck!

Without a moment to lose, he scurried into the barracks, threw his traveling bag under an empty cot, and pretended to go to sleep. With Patrick’s story of new recruits being sent to Fort Gorwin in the morning, he hoped he could just slip by unnoticed and maybe blend into the crowd. What he didn’t plan for was the heaviness of his eyes and the fatigue that hit his body as he finally laid down to rest. Before long, he was snoring soundly, a lone ram in wolves’ clothing amidst the enemy’s camp.


Morning came and with it the realization that Arim was gone. Hjorvarth and Sevenwinters went about getting the cart ready and the horses hitched while Malinorian pondered the sudden disappearance of his brother sorcerer. Before long, the group, along with Samson and Izumi, set off for Fort Gorwin. The day was surprisingly warm for a Corvalian spring and little rain assaulted their journey. Along the way, they spied a farm that had seen the devastation wrought by the baron’s men. Sevenwinters offered to help the people, but their fear of outsiders and pride at their own loss hindered his attempt at assistance. Resigned, Sevenwinters and the group went on their own way, leaving the family to suffer through their own grief and loss alone. Hjorvarth’s grip tightened on his axe and even Malinorian’s cool demeanor was flushed at the sight of the farmers’ shame.

By noon, the group had reached the valley Patrick told them about but no sign of the reinforcements could be found.

“That bastard lied to us,” shouted Samson, anger etched onto his face.

“I would keep your voice down if I were you. The wind in these parts carries sounds quite a ways.” Samson and Hjorvarth spun, each with a weapon in hand, to the sound of the new voice. They watched in amazement as part of the grassy hill around them detached itself and moved as it if had a life of its own. Suddenly other mounds of grass and plants began to move. Malinorian narrowed his eyes and smiled when he figured it out.

“Very clever,” said the Elf to the moving grass. “A perfect disguise in such a place.” He pointed out that the “moving sods of earth” were actually men camouflaged with bits of the green terrain to blend in with their environment. Sevenwinters and Izumi approached the closest of the disguised men. He extended a hand in friendship and announced himself as Alaster.

“These are my men. We’re archers from Willowheart. Patrick told us about you. Pleased to meet you.”

The rest of the day was spent discussing tactics and points of attack. It was decided that Sevenwinters, Hjorvarth and Samson would pose as guards returning to the fort in the baron’s service. Malinorian would be their “captive” they found in a recent raid. Izumi and Alaster and his men would stay behind and launch an attack of flaming arrows upon the fort at Sevenwinters’s signal as dusk fell. The hope was the it would seem as if there many more rebels attacking the fort than there actually were. Alaster would spread his men out and use the cover of darkness to conceal their smaller force. With the distraction underway, the group infiltrating the fort would make haste to find and free as many of the prisoners as they could. If they happened upon Commander Vie, so be it.

Little did the group know that the day had been spent with chores and various tasks performed by Arim posing as one of the guards inside the fort. After being roused early for duty, Arim (going under a fake name) reported to the Quartermaster and Sergeant, a man named Ar’rham with a patch over one eye and a temper to match a fierce winter storm. He toiled for the day scraping out roof gutters of clogged leaves, guarding the larder near the kitchen (where he stumbled across a hidden treasure of silver, jade and an ornate miniature dirk in the pantry’s floorboards) and finally was sent to man the front watch at the wall above the main gate. It was here that Arim would end up seeing his comrades from the day before marching up a lonely road as darkness began to overtake the day once more.

As Sevenwinters, Hjorvarth, Samson and Malinorian approached the gate, guards at the top of the wall hailed them with calls of warning. However, when the guards saw that they all wore the uniform of the baron’s men (all save Malinorian of course) they readily opened the gate after bantering a few words with Sevenwinters. Inside the party found the place teeming with guards. Making their way straight for the main hall, Hjorvarth pushed Malinorian to further their ruse of escorting a prisoner to the cells.

“Watch it northerner,” whispered Malinorian through clenched teeth.

“Sorry,” muttered the big man as they passed through the arches leading into the fort’s main hall. Inside Sergeant Ar’rham and several armed guards were conversing over a series of documents and maps splayed out on a table. Out of the corner of his eye Sevenwinters saw Arim dressed as a guard walk past them and into the hall, heading for a series of stairs on the right hand side of the building’s interior. Arim chanced a quick glance at Sevenwinters and nodded as if to say “I’ll wait for your signal.”

Sevenwinters wasn’t sure he trusted the boy, but Arim hadn’t betrayed him yet. He may have run off to get here first for his own reasons, but until Arim showed his intentions to be false, Sevenwinters would give him the benefit of the doubt.

Sergeant Ar’rham looked up from his papers with his good eye and barked out an order to his attendant before heading over to see what all the fuss was about in his hall.
“Who in the hells are you and why have you brought this ‘glow worm’ into my hall?” The sergeant used the derogatory term some men had invented for Elves. It came from their ability to shed light when they wished and was also a play off the term “shining folk” that referred to their Faerie parentage.

“We found him in our last raid,” said Sevenwinters reciting his practiced line. “He’s a sorcerer and we were told to being him to the cell blocks.”

“Who gave this order?” asked Ar’rham, his eyes squinting at the Elf before him.

The answer never came as just then a flurry of flaming arrows arced through the night sky and fell upon the buildings and interior of the fort’s grounds. The cries of “Attack!” and the following alarm bells sounded quickly over the grounds. Ar’rham barked out orders and suddenly guards were running everywhere; some to put out fires, others to man the eastern walls where the attack had spawned from, and still others to gather up comrades in other parts of the fort.

The timing of the attack by Alaster and Izumi had been perfect. Sevenwinters had told them to start the attack only after they were inside the main building and night had fallen. Without wasting a second, Hjorvarth lashed out and attacked Ar’rham, while Samson laid into one of the guards to his right. Sevenwinters likewise attacked a nearby guard and Malinorian summoned tendrils of black fog to strike fear into the hearts of two more men.

The battle was on.

Guards flooded the room and the shouts of panic became the cries of battle. Blood flew and sword and sorcery joined the fray. Hjorvarth, Sevenwinters and Samson each held their own amidst the growing tide of the baron’s men. Malinorian used his magic to damage and terrorize those nearby, giving his fighting comrades the edge they needed to defeat so many. Amidst the fighting, Arim managed to even wound a few with bolts of blue magic that flew unerringly to strike both Sergeant Ar’rham and his attendant men nearby.

Sevenwinters looked up from the fighting after laying another guard to rest permanently. Nearby, out in the courtyard beyond the main hall, he saw two men in robes hurrying to join in his fight. They wore strange straps and belts over their chests and waists stocked with vials of some type of liquid. Although he couldn’t tell what the contents of the bottles were, he could read the intentions of the men in the way they grabbed a vial each and made as if to throw it at him and his friends.

Moving as quickly as he could, he used his shield to ram into one of the men, sending both him and the robed figure sprawling on the ground. In the last possible second, he closed his eyes and buried his face into his chest. An explosion of thunder and bright light lit up the courtyard and Sevenwinters could feel the vibrations thrum through his body as the several of the vials cracked open. A cry of pain and surprise from the other robed figure told Sevenwinters his tactic had succeeded. When he regained his feet, it was child’s play to end the writhing man’s life.

Back inside, Hjorvarth managed to finally land a critical blow on Ar’rham’s left side. Following up in his companion’s wake, Samson slashed the sergeant’s back while Malinorian’s fire erupted from afar and engulfed the hapless man in writhing tongues of flame. Ar’rham fell to the flow, a lifeless husk.

Arim cast his own spells and sent more guards tumbling into enchanted sleep as Hjorvarth and Samson quickly set upon the last two men standing. Seeing the situation well in hand, Arim watched as Sevenwinters rejoined the fray and shut the double doors leading into the room. Then, Arim spun on his heel and headed back down the set of stairs, turning to face a door to his left. He knew if he traveled to his right, he would find a series of cells, ten on each side of a long stone passageway. He had located the prisoners before and now it was just a matter of how to free them to safety. But first things first: the door in front of him now was locked and there was only one reason to lock a door. Treasure.

Grabbing at his tools, Arim made quick work of the lock and found himself within a private study. A desk adorned with papers and writing quills sat in one corner. A bookshelf filled with ledgers lined a wall. A thorough search of the room revealed a little coin and papers detailing the supply trains, recruit schedule and plans of Fort Gorwin. Arim smiled as he pocketed both the money and the papers. The rebellion could certainly use the intel. Taking the steps three at a time, he came back up to reunite with his new friends and tell them of his discovery: he had found the prisoners.

Now to find this Emiline woman and a way out.

To be continued...

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Orrery of Stones

In the idyllic time of the Age of Wonders, before the birth of the Elves and the Cerenoth, the sorcerers of Valtyr explored their new gift of magic in peace and prosperity. It was a time rife with experiments, great discoveries and magical crafting the likes of which the world has never seen since. In these days, only the Tower Verseth on Nilea and the Tower Tethion in Syr stood as halls for the sorcerers to practice their art within. There, they created artifacts of great arcane power and bound within them pieces of the living Voss, using the lost ritual known as the Genalagas Verun, so that the magic would never die. One such artifact that was created during this time is the fabled Orrery of Stones.

Designed to allow sorcerers to tap into the divinations of their rivals, the Brotherhood, the Orrery was a miniature construct of swirling gemstones that orbited a star sapphire carved with the symbol of the Citadel. It is said that the artifact allowed those who knew how to use it many powers: the ability to see into the near future; the power to discern truth from lies; the ability to power their spells to untold heights; and even more dangerous powers such as the ability to bind targets within the orbiting gemstones and gain control over the astral power of the moon and stars themselves!

The Orrery was primarily used as a way to guide the hands of the decision makers within the Citadel of the time, helping the order to flourish by reading the loom of Fate. It alone is attributed with the decision of where to build each of the other Towers during the Age of Wonders. It guided the High Council’s hand when establishing the Citadel’s hierarchical system, and is even said to have predicted notable sorcerers who would live in legend or infamy (such as the traitorous Nezrün Janus Blackthorn or the powerful Ord-Akana Kain Brashyr) well before their time.

Such an artifact was beyond its measure in worth and was guarded carefully by the High Councils that maintained it. But all of that changed in the fall of 2226, when the attacks against the Citadel had reached the shores of Nilea and threatened the very heart of the organization, the first Tower Verseth. The High Council of those days watched in bleak misery as the swarms of Storm Knights overran their villages and towns, leading a destructive path to the Tower Verseth. In an act of final desperation, the High Council stole the Tower Verseth and all its magic away from the world of Valtyr. But for reasons that are not fully understood, the Orrery of Stones, which had been housed in the tower for over 1,300 years, did not travel with it.

After the Tower Verseth returned to the world, the Citadel launched a secret campaign to uncover the missing object of power and return it to their vaults. Hundreds of sorcerers took on the task, but to date none have been successful. A story has arisen of a few sorcerers who had found the Orrery of Stones but did not elect to take it from its hiding place. These individuals speak of a great danger that could befall all magic in Valtyr if the Orrery was ever returned to the Tower Verseth. Unfortunately, these tales are probably false, as magical interrogations by the Citadel’s chief Councilors have detected an alteration in these sorcerers’ memories, leading the High Council to believe such tales are not entirely true. Perhaps the presence of the magic within the Orrery has shifted from its original intent, showing visions of false futures and deceptions rather than the truth. None within the Citadel can be certain until someone succeeds in returning the Orrery to one of their towers for study. For now, the legend of the Orrery of Stones remains a mystery, and one the High Council of the current Age would very much like to solve.

Orrery of Stones

Type: Artifact

Description: A polished, glowing star sapphire roughly 7 inches in diameter with a silver Citadel rune in its center orbited by 6 gemstones (ruby, diamond, emerald, topaz, amethyst, and moonstone), each bearing the ancient mark of one of the first High Councilors

Powers: all are not known, but those documented are as follows:
Farsight: one can look into the future and determine the answer to a single question a month
Truth: in the presence of the Orrery, lies and illusions fail to work
Conjoin: a sorcerer may double his own Arcane, Resistance and Ward SR stats once a day
Imprison: a target may be imprisoned within one of the six orbiting stones for a single year
Starfire: calls down a torrent of 20 silver comets from the night sky that each cause 10D6 damage in a medium area, rounded down, once per evening
Transform: can shift a target into any other humanoid or beast form for up to one week

Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Wildlands Sites of Interest

There is no place in Valtyr quite like the primal stretch of land known as the Wildlands. Filled with life, the Wildlands are so named for the nature they evoke to all who have seen them. The immense woods known as Hunter’s Grove stretches for miles, its great trees rivaled in size only by the silverleaf forests of T’lranen. The Rainesh River cuts a swath through the middle of the Wildlands’ fertile plains and rolling savannahs so deep and wide in parts it is believed to flow into other worlds. The giant Bloodclaw Valley hosts creatures of epic proportions and caves that are said to dazzle all that look on them from crystals the size of wagon wheels that catch the sun’s bright rays. And the split twin peaks of Fenrath and Teyr form the highest points in the entire world, and rumors persist of a mystical site at their cleft base.

Wherever one travels in the Wildlands, life is just more intense than anywhere else. Colors are more vibrant, smells are stronger and the air is charged with an energy few can put into words. Here, great giants of beasts roam the lands and the elements hold court over a place virtually untouched by the spreading civilization of mankind or the other races. In fact, only the race of blue-skinned giants known as the Bloodsworn inhabits these lands.

Despite its captivating beauty and pristine essence, the Wildlands pose great threat to overland travelers. It is no accident that those traveling north or south do so by way of ship most of the time. The Bloodsworn do not take kindly to any who intrude into their realm’s borders. Aside from that obvious deterrent, the storms that sometimes visit the open places of the Wildlands can swallow explorers in their raging path. And if either of those don’t get you, then the denizens that call these wild places home certainly will: all manner of deadly creatures live in the forests, plains, valleys, steppes and mountains of this natural realm, and many see travelers as another way to fill their bellies.

Despite the Bloodsworn’s inhospitable temperament and the unchecked violence of nature, the Wildlands have been explored (in daring attempts) from time to time. From the mouths and manuscripts of thrill-seeking explorers come tales of sites that defy explanation or comparison. A few of those sites are detailed below (with more to follow in later posts):

Devil’s Vents:

In the northern part of the Trivaunnel Savannah sits a series of cracks in the earth, some of which stretch as much as half a mile wide. Situated on a plain of solid rock and red clay fields, these cracks are known for the geysers of steam and boiling water that shoot out of them at regular intervals. Some of the resulting blasts can send plumes of steam upwards of 250 feet into the air. Hundreds of these cracks make up the site known as the Devil’s Vents, so named by the Syrian sailors who sail Brightwater Bay and who describe the vents as “the anger of Mezodan himself escaping up from the blood soaked earth.”

Not much is known about the vents other than the fact that the geysers fire off all hours of the day and night. The plumes are tinted a dirty yellow in color and smell vaguely of sulfur. As noted above, even passing ships, miles away, can see the sign of the Vents when they are active. Some reports from sailors have also claimed to see creatures rising up from the cracks in the earth and bathing in the scalding spray of the geysers. If this is fact, no evidence has been brought to light yet.

The red clay nearby the geysers is extremely valuable. If dissolved in certain solutions, it is said to make a solvent that can dissolve anything. If hardened under fire, it creates a last material just as strong as brick. If mixed with water and the plant known as heart’s fern, it can create a regenerative salve that heals wounds in stunningly little time. For these reasons, the red clay is sought after by alchemists, healers and artisans and fetches an amazing price for those brave or foolhardy enough to tempt fate by entering the scalding and poisonous landscape.

Lastly, the Devil’s Vents are featured in an ancient myth surrounding a lost set of magical orbs. The story goes that once a sorcerer of great power created nine orbs to help him devise a way to contact other worlds. On the morning of his first contact, the sorcerer used all nine orbs to open a gate to another realm, a place far from Valtyr. However, the sorcerer’s magic was unprepared for what came through the gate and he battled unspeakable horrors in an attempt to save his life. Sadly, the sorcerer was defeated and the gate sealed as he died, but not before the foul creatures that had come through escaped into our world.

With his dying breath, the sorcerer scattered the orbs to the far reaches of Valtyr, burying their magical signature deep within the earth so that the creatures he had unleashed could never find them. He feared, even as he passed on, that if the creatures recovered the orbs, they would use them to open another gate and allow more of their nameless entities into this world. The unspeakable horrors chased after the orbs, but could not find them, so they began to dig in the area where they believed they might be. It is this digging that created the cracks and giant chasms of the Devil’s Vents, and the story says that the creatures continue to dig to this day. Such obvious tall tales are probably not the reason for the Vents’ existence, but with sailors spinning tales of strange creatures climbing out of the earth to bask in the geysers, one can never be too sure.

Red Wash Falls:
Within the primal forest of Hunter’s Grove, the Rainesh River splits, creating two impressive, but smaller, rivers that join back again into one after 30 or more miles. Where the two smaller rivers meet and rejoin the Rainesh, a great waterfall plummets more than 1,400 feet to the river below. A great canopy of mist and spray blankets the ground for more than 500 feet in every direction. Thunderous noise fills the air and it is said that standing amidst the cloud at the shore, one can feel their bones thrum with the power of the falls.

The falls get their name from the sediment above the falls, which bears a deep red color. When the water flows over the edge it becomes tinted red and creates the impression of a giant torrent of blood cascading down the side of the cliff. Strangely however, the mist and spray is almost completely white, creating a cloud that the “bloody water” flows into. Near the base of the falls, the water once again returns to its normal whitecaps and blue coloring, giving those few who have ever seen it the impression that the cloud “purifies” the tainted water as it passes through.

Red Wash Falls is the largest recorded waterfall in Valtyr. Aside from earning this distinction, it also has the added wonder of having immense carvings of thousands of cupped hands etched upon the cliff wall to the side and behind the raging falls. Most of the hands are the size of a normal human, but there are other hundreds that are gigantic in proportion or miniscule, as if from a newborn babe; still other carvings represent taloned or hoofed paws and some defy any explanation at all. None are sure whom or what first created the hand carvings but they have been around since before the dawn of man’s recorded history.

What draws people to risk seeing Red Wash Falls lies within these hard carvings. Many believe that drinking or submerging one’s self in the pools of captured water these hands hold instills great vitality and long life; the larger the pool, the more life that will be extended to the person. There are even rumors of ever-lasting life if one bathes in the largest of the cupped hands. But to reach the falls, one must first survive the dangers of the open plains and Bloodsworn tribes, and then brave the rumors of the Dark Hunter and its pack of savage beasts that claims Hunter’s Grove for itself. The irony is that, in the end, not many are willing to risk such a flirtation with death just to fulfill the promise of immortality.

Labyrinth’s Gate:
Valtyr is a big place. There are thousands of miles of land and many more than that of open ocean. Distant islands that many will never see sit on unnamed seas. Hidden passages within the tallest mountain ranges sit silently, untouched by man. Cities and towns dot the landscape in such number that one would be hard pressed to travel to each before he died. Who knows what mysteries lie within the heart of the jungles and forests of the world, within the shadows of the underdark, within the sweeping dunes of sand that form T’zarak’s great belly. To those who wish to know the answers to these questions, there is a way: the Labyrinth’s Gate.

Located in the lower reaches of the Steppes of Kala bordering Mierg from the Wildlands sits a black gate. It formation changes as the day does. During the morning, it appears as a monolithic twin door of arched black stone. As the day progresses, is shifts into a circular portal ringed in twisting black points, like some overgrown thorn bush. During the evening, it is said to be an inverted triangle that is covered in a sluggish bronze colored liquid. And finally, in the dead of the night, it is a yawning crack in the hillside, so dark and black that it seems no light can escape it.

The Labyrinth’s Gate is an old structure, but one created by the hands of mankind. During the early days of the Age of Wonder, after the formation of the Citadel, a quad of sorcerers gathered together and decided to pool their power to create a thing of wonder. They wanted a place that could transport them to anywhere in Valtyr that they wished to go. Using powerful spells and ancient rituals taught to them by their draconic patrons, they sorcerers managed to create the Labyrinth’s Gate. At the time, the gate was located on the island of Nilea. Quick to test their creation, the sorcerers did in deed find out that they had succeeded in creating a place that connected all space in one location.

What they did not prepare for was the treachery that would befall the group. Two of the sorcerers plotted against their brothers and sought to steal the gate’s secret for themselves. In an act of treason, the two usurpers brutally killed the their comrades. When the dark deed was done, one turned then upon the other until both were killed from the magic employed that day. The tragedy was that all fell who knew the gate’s secrets and without the sorcerers’ collective magics to bind it, the gate began to shift. No longer was it simply a single point that connected all space together, allowing travel to any place in Valtyr, but it became more. The magic within it warped and changed allowing travel to other places beyond the world’s boundary. And that was not all. The gate gained the power to transport those who entered it to different points in time as well. The magic became unstable and in a great storm of raw Voss the gate disappeared from Nilea, only to reappear at its present location. The Citadel is not quite sure why the Labyrinth’s Gate remains in the Wildlands; perhaps it is the place’s attenuation to great flows of Voss that helps to bind it there.

These days, the Labyrinth’s Gate is both a curiosity and a fear. Any many enter it, but few (if any) know how to navigate its twisting paths of magic to arrive when and where they desire. Most who enter never come back out again. Those that do are sometimes stricken mad by what they have seen. But some have found a way to travel the labyrinthine passageways of the gate and claim to have seen wonders and gained riches people can only dream about.

Friday, February 5, 2010

The Hundred Men

In the current era, not many organizations hold as much respect as the wandering group of knights and warriors known as the Hundred Men. Officially created in the Age of Sorrows, at the tail end of the Great War, the Hundred Men stand for the tenets that the Storm Knights abandoned in their quest for ultimate power: peace, justice and the protection of those who need it.

The origins of the Hundred Men began in the birthplace of mankind, the prosperous nation of Syr. An older knight named Gannon Coldriver, in service to the Syrian Riverlords in the south, had grown tired of the politics and bickering amongst the nobles of his district. Gannon had grown up from a poor family on the outskirts of Sorin. He had been taught the value of community and aiding his fellow man by his father when he was just a child. As many children do, he admired the Riverlord Knights growing up and when the time was right he joined the order. But all was not as he had dreamed about and throughout his thirty years of service he watched as politics replaced ethical codes.

The various counts, barons and dukes were constantly vying for power, using their position and money to influence the king at court and send the Riverlords to whatever duty served the interests’ best. While the nobles’ intentions still created good for the people they protected, their politicking often left areas of the country unprotected in a time where vigilance was paramount. To Gannon, the Syrian elite seemed to care more for their lands and their popularity at their keeps and castles, than they did the welfare of the people as a whole.

Finally tired of it all, Gannon decided to resign from his post and take up his own banner to help Syr in a different way. He elected to become a free-roaming mercenary, but instead of working for coin or title, he dedicated his service to those in need most. Gannon was a respected member of the Riverlords. He had won several accommodations during his many years of service. When he stepped down, a ripple hit the Riverlords, and some of those who called him friend started to follow in his stead. Gannon tried to dissuade them, for fear of the knighthood’s ranks been depleted too greatly, but in the end ninety-nine other men refused to listen to his pleas. They too had grown tired of the aristocracy’s attempt to use the military for their own ends, rather than the nation’s benefit. Together, one hundred men left the Riverlords and set off to do what their king could not seem to: shore up the weakness in nation’s defenses by aiding its common man and teaching them the principles of justice by action.

Word of this group started to spread like wildfire as the Age of Sorrows was coming to a close. Others joined the “hundred men” in the quest to help restore what had been lost by the greedy Storm Knights. As the group grew in size, they began to spread out, relying on monthly meetings in secret locations and traveling messengers to help keep the budding knighthood well connected to its more distant members. Cells of the group appeared as far south as Mierg and Corval and even penetrated the rocky barrier of the Dantroth Peaks to reach the refugees in what would one day become Rynell. They were even instrumental in assisting the Brotherhood in destroying Geldain Ramuk’s Gray Army at the end of the War. And everywhere they went, the words of their deeds preceded them.

Today, the Hundred Men is quite a bit larger than it started, but it maintains the name as a reminder to the group’s humble beginnings. It was the people that first began calling them thus; the same people they swore to protect referred to them as “true knights” and “saviors”. As a result, the organization honors those it serves by bearing the title the people have given them with humble pride. The Hundred Men are not a secretive organization, but they also do not promote their presence openly or allow any within their ranks to claim fame or stature as a result of serving the group. Such acts, they believe, are the reason for the downfall of the Storm Knights and they will not see this mistake repeated once more. Therefore, the Hundred Men tend to spread word of their presence to those in the know with signature marks on posters, walls and through simple catch phrases with signature responses. It is even said that they possess a hand signal that can be used to mark members of the knighthood.

Those that serve the knighthood and stray from their practices (whether that be by claiming fame in the name of the Hundred Men or by using their position to exploit others’ goodwill) are stricken from their ranks and marked on the back of their left hand with a sideways H. Such a practice lets all that see the shunned know that he/she is no longer in favor with the Hundred Men, and in fact, may soon be considered an enemy. Given the people’s love of the knighthood, such individuals often find more harassment from shop owners and common folk than they do the knights themselves.

The Hundred Men are most active in areas where corruption, tyranny and exploitation of the common man can be found. They maintain a sizeable presence in Rynell and Mierg’s inner cities and towns. To a lesser extent, members of the knighthood can be found in the other nations of the world, including T’zarak where they are presently trying to establish a treaty of support with the current Fahir.

While is has been centuries since Gannon Coldriver first took the brave step to leave the Riverlords and try and make a difference for his fellow man, the spirit of his courage and bravery lives on in the Men, Elves, Dwarves and Cerenoth who, these days, continue his stride towards a better tomorrow by first tackling the problems of today.

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