Great Horizons

"The Fires That Burn"
A disastrous turn - the burning

He pauses as he remembers the next story, eyebrows knit with concentration as he puts the events in their proper order. A frown tips the corners of his mouth, betraying the sad events yet to unfold in his tale.

“Some time passed. Kriv became a part-time messenger for the White Fox Society, upsetting a local gang, the Salt Rats, mid-delivery, and making contacts with Erma, the healer, and Jacks, the minstrel. In a bid for information, Maelyes worked for a map-maker in hopes of learning the direction of her empire, but to no avail. In the end, she returned to Red Thom’s band with a map of Nord and another dead end.

“Who knows? Maybe their lack of custom for the traveler’s shrine disrespected the fates, maybe the site was just unlucky… Kriv, Maelys, and Wade left the shrine together for the last time that overcast, still spring day.

“It was another stakeout ordered by Red Thom. The season, still young, demanded vigilance on the many, though often unused, paths. The shrine stood impassive over one of the more popular routes from Saltstone to the Baron’s own Verholm. As usual, traffic would be few and far between, and in two days the three bandits would see but one man headed for the empty bluffs of Abernathy. But that one man would change everything.

“Dressed in simple clothes and marked, as Wade recognized, as a man of the king, he seemed the perfect target. Upon confrontation, Kriv and Maelys using all their magical abilities to appear most fearsome, the king’s man offered a trade in order to keep some of his possessions: information. As he rode earlier that day, he passed men of the Baron out for a hunt and armed to subdue. Kallista, fire in her eyes, led the way, Eberk at her side, bringing Kruger the bugbear for sheer power. Eberk maintained his calm demeanor, but even he could not keep the unsettlement within from his eyes.

“There would be blood this day, Eberk knew, and blood he would not wish shed.

“Wade spotted the smoke on the horizon first. All three knew in short order, sickness in their hearts, that the band’s camp had been found.

“Once there they found the smoldering ruins of all their supplies, the choking smoke hovering over the trampled ground in the airless afternoon. Samm, the innocent man who turned to banditry to feed his family, lay facedown amidst the camp, dead. Varis, the wild elf, lay nearby barely clutching on to life, an unnatural venom creeping through his veins. Fevered, he related the blitz of the Baron’s men. Jorian, Ghesh, and Bree, managed to escape the initial onslaught by the forest, but the Baron’s men left hot on their trails. Varis had saved Red Thom, making him run south to the woad for safety.

“Giving chase, the three and Varis plunged south after Red Thom and his pursuers, covering ground with angered speed. Overcoming their targets in an old ruined monastery between the hills, they saw Red Thom beaten by Kallista, slumping onto the stones of a well. A angry gleam flashed across the tiefling’s eyes, igniting the fallen bandit into screams of pain and spurring the rescuers into action.

“Out positioned, out trained, and out powered by Kallista’s warrior training, Kruger’s strength, and Eberk’s dead-eye (yet merciful shooting), the fight quickly went awry. Kriv brought forth gouts of flame, ripping into his foes with elemental fury; Wade rushed in and engaged Kallista, drawing her away from Red Thom; Maelys tried to awaken her cousin, but could not overcome the suppression spell that locked away her past. Kruger battered Kriv with his club, Kallista smote down the fearless Wade and made to finish off Maelys, as Eberk stalled for time, asking the would-be rescuers to run.

“It would have been the end. Kallista faced off with Maelys, spear ready to strike down the princess she would have loved in another life, when Red Thom rushed forward holding her back. The moments grew tense as each pondered the question of failure and perseverance. Quick thinking by Varis led to a close escape from the battle. As they retreated over the crest of the hill, Kallista burned Red Thom again, eliciting more cries of agony before they died out in the swiftly darkening evening.

“In the misty twilight they came upon the wondrous cottage of Fanen, the woad and healer, who whisked them inside, hiding them in the nighttime depths of the Blackmoor. There they met Eglath, the massive goliath warrior that helped serve the blind forest protector. Kriv buried his fallen friend in the garden outside, leaving Wade’s swords as a monument to his sacrifice.

“For the first time since landing in Ossetia so long ago, Maelys found someone who had at least heard of Bael Turath in Fanen, but the answers he gave were at best cryptic.

”’There are great forces at work here’ the old woad said ‘You cannot know the truth just yet, but I think I know who can open the way for you’

“Soon the adventurers would descend into the depths of the Blackmoor swamps, searching for the witch that could free them from their mental captivity and let them understand the truth.”

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"The Buried Past"
An old life, an old secret, found

The old man clears his throat, thoroughly and with much noise, but his audience doesn’t mind.He will continue the story.

“Together, Maelys, Kriv, and Wade became a team under Thomas “Red Thom” Braddigan’s orders, forming another subgroup within the band.

“Still small in the early spring season, Red Thom’s band consisted of Ghesh the dragonborn hunter and Bree his halfling partner, Samm the cobbler trying to support his family, Jorian the career bandit, and Varis, the rebellious elf. Kriv learned a small bit of natural lore, enjoying the life. Maelys, on the other hand, could render no information of her empire, Bael Turath, much less any twinge of familiarity with even the name.

“Time went on and the three found their next opportunity while in a Saltstone tavern, the Two Coins, waiting on Red Thom to drop off their noble yet ill-gotten gains. A greasy informant by the name of Alec made an intriguing offer. A chance to stick it to the Baron for a simple, albeit large, cut of the spoils. A full squad of soldiers would be setting out that day in the pursuit of… something. Not only that, the squad would be under the harsh command of the cruel-tongued tiefling, Kallista Erinyes. Despite the warning of the then-absent Red Thom about crossing Kallista, the three took up the offer and received a copy of the Baron’s map.

“Racing ahead of the Baron’s men, they found an old dwarven tomb hewn into the side of some cliffs. The simple antechamber filled with narrative reliefs told the story of Barad Dhynne: master smith, maker of weapons, and the ‘forger of doom.’ The final image of Barad Dyhnne showed him alone amidst waste, disconsolate. However, what they found was only a coffin of sand.

“When Kriv placed his hand on a sword carved into the wall, the tomb locked and the secret of the place was revealed. Barad Dhynne constructed a tomb for his former life, laying his past to rest beneath the earth, and hiding the first scroll of his wisdom—‘The Way of The Warrior.’ After a trapped hallway test of the three’s dedication and wisdom, Kriv retrieved the first scroll. ‘The way of the warrior begins with wisdom’. The lesson became clear: A warrior must understand the situation, act with wisdom, not just instinct.

“Maelys received an appreciative ‘well done’ in the cold voice that could be only one being: Vecna.

“But Kallista and her squad were close behind, beginning their descent to the cliff with the hidden tomb. After shutting the door on the buried past, the three narrowly circumvented their unwitting enemies. Before making their final departure, Maelys made one final taunt at the men who would shortly find an empty tomb, already found, getting a glimpse of Kallista for the first time.

“In that moment, Maelys saw the first sign of home since landing unceremoniously in Ossetia, her cousin, Kallista. Apparently not sharing the memories of Bael Turath, Kallista swore to make those bandits pay.

“Returning to find Red Thom waiting for them with Mogrim, the old orc innkeeper, all three received praise for their decisive victory over the Baron and a stern warning to avoid Kallista. Nevertheless, to escape possible repercussions, they were welcomed into the secret headquarters of the White Fox Society – an underground network of Nord citizens supporting each other in their time of need.

“None of them thought much of Red Thom’s warning, and that indiscretion would cost one of them everything.

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"Let me tell you a story..."
Humble Beginnings

“It all began when the beautiful princess, Maelys, The Light of Bael Turath, escaped the unknown invaders within her palace. Cornered in her own throne room with Amnon, her tutor and advisor, her brother fighting valiantly beside his jannisaries, the strong princess prepared to fight to the last. Amnon, sensing the overwhelming odds, spelled her away as the enemy broke through the massive and ornate doors.

“He couldn’t have anticipated what happened next.

“In the midst of the astral sea, arcane nebulae and winking stars all around, Vecna snatched her from the void. The keeper of secrets and necromancy held her, whispering before tossing her back into the great sea,

”’Ah, my little Secret, I know just where to put you. I’m sure you won’t disappoint’

“She landed disoriented in Saltstone square before being subdued by the town guard, stripped of her possessions (including the magical rod of her inheritance and position), and thrown into the dungeon on the paranoid Baron’s suspicions of usurpers.”

The old man takes a long steadying drink, glancing at the remaining portion of his ale. He nods thoughtfully, judging there enough to continue his tale.

“Kriv was, at that time, more of a nuisance than anything in Shaleshire. Found on the cliffs as a mere hatchling, the dragonborn quickly outgrew his new hamlet home. He bounced from job to job, never really fitting in. Some said he was born of a great sea storm, fathered by the very thunder judging by his dark scales. Losing a cow to a hungry wyvern proved the last straw for Kriv and his employer, the crotchety McCallahan, who promptly sent him out with a cartful of smelly cheeses for the market.

“The cheese never made it.

“On his way to Saltstone, Kriv was stopped by the charismatic hero of the poor people of Nord, Thomas “Red Thom” Braddigan. A brigand and a saint, Red Thom stole from the rich and gave to the impoverished, helping them survive under the heavy taxes of the greedy Baron Donns. Red Thom offered to take him on and, tired of the dull life of the isolated hamlet, Kriv eagerly joined up with the merry band of bandits. There he met the ill-fated Wade.

“An aggressive and abrasive man, Wade often garnered resentment from others, and flaunted his victories in irritation. His behavior might have been excusable, had anyone known his past. Exiled from his homeland, the southern barony of Suu, by the order of his half brother and inheritor of the barony, Zane. A dedicated soldier of note, the suspicion of his brother banish him from all he knew, forcing him north where he put his swords to good use in Red Thom’s band.

“It could only have been fate that brought these three together. Chance could not have ensured the sympathetic dwarf, Sergeant Eberk, be entrusted with the transport of Maelys, nor the order of Red Thom to stake out the Traveler’s Shrine. Though Wade and Kriv’s first attempt at holding up the carriage ended in failure, their second attempt at the Ripple Cliffs would free the unknown princess.

“Alone in a strange world, the princess would join the bandits that freed her, unwittingly setting in motion the wheels of fate…”

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