In the Era of Man, the 1826th year, 13th month and 6th day, the daughter of His Holy Majesty, Emperor Bashir, was pronounced dead. Secretly, Princess Ghanima was declared a traitor to the realm as she and her halfling servant, Faruq, fled from the fortress of the border town of Coelin into the trackless wastes beyond. They were followed by four riders of the Emperor’s Chosen, elite light cavalry forces meant to corral and bring the young princess to heel.
Not more than a hundred miles away from Coelin, two travelers – the elven Ranger of the Second Order, Lorien and the Stormraven barbarian known as Haidar Vattergard were traveling back towards Coelin and the border of the Elven Reservation, spending most of the money they earned on their latest caravan guard journey to get back to the border.
Perhaps fate conspired to bring the traveling mercenaries directly in the path of the escaping Ghanima and Faruq: the two fled into a forest, pursued closely by the riders. Seeing trouble, Lorien climbed up and hid in the sparse woodlands of southern Visari while Haidar took a place in the brush. The horsemen followed as best they could, leaving two to hang back while the other two attempted to flush out their prey.
Renowned around the world for their skill at mounted archery, the riders that hung back lobbed arrows at Faruq and Ghanima while the other two thrust spears at them. Dead or alive was the verdict; Faruq had intercepted a missive meant for the capital city of the Holy Empire of Aritika – the strange city of bridges built above an ancient dragon graveyard known simply as The City. Ghanima took a grievous wound to her chest from an arrow and luckily staved off being wounded from the poison coating the arrowheads. Faruq was just as lucky, managing to keep his composure and send sling missiles against the riders from the sling-staff that he kept.
Seeing that the Aritikan riders were attacking these two, Lorien and Haidar sprung into action, with Haidar rushing the rider assaulting Ghanima, cutting into him with his twin blades. Lorien sent a volley of arrows into the riders while Ghanima retreated back to cast spells and Faruq began to use his lute to inspire the others.
The riders were quickly subdued and the two that hung back began to flee in the hope of reaching the Coelin Garrison. They were cut down by the quick Haidar and the arrows of Lorien.
Both groups were initially wary, but Ghanima and Faruq were thankful for the serendipitous rescue. Faruq handed his missive to Lorien, as he had heard the Lord Commander speaking to a Legate named Ja’asir Khan about a weapon that would be used against the Empire’s enemies. Sealed in wax with the Lord Commander’s own personal heraldry, the adventurers learned that the Empire of Aritika was developing a weapon that would allow them to commit widespread genocide against the Elves and, later, upon the Stormraven Tribes, giving them full control over the continent of Visari.
Little did the others know, but Haidar had a bone to pick with Legate Khan, as the man had murdered his father — an Aritikan Centurion — in cold blood to earn a higher title. His mother had been married off to Ja’asir Khan as a blood-price paid, and Haidar had fled to the Stormravens. He was going to Coelin, regardless of what the others wanted.
Lorien knew that the Elves that were at the Reservation Lands to the southwestern peninsula needed to be notified about the potential weapon. He came from a city on a land called the Neck, the closest point to the Visarian mainland, and thus the closest point to the human Empire. He was resolved to push through to Coelin and find a way to deliver the message. They had no messenger crows to send the message themselves, and thus would have to carry it.
Faruq and Ghanima were focused on finding a way of freeing the captive prisoners that were being used for experimentation. They threw in with the other two and began traveling back to Coelin, a three day journey made shorter on horses stolen from the dead soldiers. Lorien filled his quiver with some of the poisoned arrows of the soldiers, and they rifled through their pockets to find anything else of value.
The quartet stopped in a small town along the river that led to Coelin in the floodplains that ran for nearly one thousand miles in either direction to and from the Reservation border, known as the Voiceless Expanse. The village, known as Anodine, had been established close enough to the Reservation that it was used to seeing elves traveling through its lands. Thus, they were not opposed to allowing the group safe passage. In fact, another group of adventurers — the Shadow Sparrows Company — had made Anodine their temporary base of operations between adventures. The Shadow Sparrow Adventuring Company was renowned among the Elves as grave-robbers, breaking into human tombs and stealing the treasures from their deceased occupants.
After attracting the attention of the Shadow Sparrows through an epic poem, Faruq managed to introduce the junior ranger he met, an Elven woman named Irithiel, to Lorien. Meanwhile, Faruq began to recite a poem calling for the uprising of the Elves and the fall of the Holy Empire of Aritika. This provoked a barfight with several patriotic patrons, who were quickly trounced and kicked out by the half-elven barkeeper. After it was solely the adventurers and their new friends, the Shadow Sparrows, the leader of the other Company came down from his rooms upstairs.
Amathiel Gal’asarin had been known as one of the more powerful wizards in recent Elven memory, and had founded the Shadow Sparrows as a means of getting back against the humans that had stolen their land and forced them onto the Reservation. He was from the area known as the Hook, a sultry and hot swamp that bore one large city, known as Earil’gawyn, as well as small settlements and countless rumors of Elven witches roaming the swampland. Agreeing to transport the message back to Earil’gawyn, he entrusted Lorien with informing the Elders of Fil’galas, the largest city of the Neck, of the Empire’s plan.
Resolute after a night of drink and excess, the adventurers made their way to Coelin, away from Anodine and camped out on a small bluff overlooking the Coelin Garrison Fortress — the very place from which Faruq and Ghanima had escaped less than a week before. Over the night, Haidar was on watch and noticed that a large group of Aritikan military, not assembled in any sort of unit, was fleeing the Garrison. He woke the others and brought them up to watch. Ghanima confirmed that it appeared they were retreating. They did not see any prisoners fleeing from the Garrison, and Lorien and Faruq went to investigate. They climbed the sheer iron walls with aid of Lorien’s grappling hook and viewed a vacant, abandoned courtyard.
Opening the gates for the others, the adventurers made their way into the Garrison. The first thing they noticed were the assassin vines that had climbed up along the doors to the inner keep. Managing to sneak their way past them, they entered the garrison’s foyer. They pushed through the doors directly in front of them and found themselves in a large great hall that bore two tables more than eighty feet long with over a hundred chairs each. Clearly, this was a room that was meant for announcements, as no indication of food preparation was in the room – instead, it was covered in various trophies and bedecked with idols to the god Istikar, the monotheistic deity of the Aritikan Empire.
Three soldiers sat slumped against the table and their chairs. They did not respond when the doors opened. They were quite clearly the heavily armored Immortals — the elite infantry of the Empire — but made no attempt at stopping the others from maneuvering through the room. As the group searched, the soldiers jerked up as one and moved as if by wire. First thinking they were undead, Haidar charged into battle. Both Lorien and Faruq recognized the signs of mental compulsion.
In a violent and bloody struggle, they managed to kill the soldiers and were too weak to continue. They barred the doors of the great hall and Ghanima cast what healing spells she knew through her studies as a cleric of the goddess of fate and fortune, Saram — a heretical deity to the Aritikans — before the group camped in the hall for the night.
Who knows what other strangeness lies within the keep? And where is Khan? What is this weapon that the Empire has developed against the Elves? What do the adventurers have to make of this?
All this — and perhaps more — shall be revealed in our next installment.