Thursday, January 6, 2011

Friday Epilogue

When they arrived at the gates of Nerath, the five heroes were overwhelmed by its splendor. Word of their arrival had preceeded them thanks to Bartleby’s owl companion, and five armored figures stood on the wide bridge entrance.  Two stood forth from the others, one in shimmering Mithral armour, the sash of rank across his chest denoting him as Lord General. The other wore pure gold plate, and a crown of rubies and delicate etching sat atop his head. Thus all were greeted by the sight of Emperor Gairdyr himself. The heroes knelt in deference, as Redra rushed forward to embrace Gairdyr. She turned to look at the man next to him, and smiled. “You are not the traitor from my dreams.” The Lord General laughed. “My lady, it would be an honor to feature in the dreams of one so fair. The traitor Hathera is no more.” Gairdyr bid those before him to rise. “Welcome, friends of Nerath. My thanks, and the thanks of my Empire are owed you, for saving this dear girl. I am Gairdyr, Emperor of Nerath, and I invite you to make my city as your home, for as long as you’ll stay.” He turned to indicate the man besides him. “This is Lord General Mikkal, leader of the Blade Wardens, my personal guard. Behind us are his comrades, Lucan, Merric, and Ander.” Gairdyr pointed to each in turn, identifying the Half-Elf, the Human, and the Halfling behind them. “Now, please, make yourselves at home within my city.”
            Two days passed in Nerath, and the adventurers saw marvel after marvel. As they sat for noon meal with Bartleby the second day, they discussed the ordeal. Even after searching the massive Nerathi library, one mystery still remained. Bartleby had found no reference of any sort to the word Gethzerian. A knock at the door interrupted the conversation, and Gairdyr entered the room, Redra and Mikkal behind him. As Redra walked in, dressed in the garments that were her birth-right, Shallahai realized why her Fey connection had been so strong in the forest. Not Half-Elven, Redra was Half-Eladrin. She’d been able to outpace them in the forest so easily by Fey-stepping. Gairdyr spoke, “Friends, Bartleby has told me that he offered my coffers to pay your reward for this effort. He has also told me that my gold is the least of the reasons you accepted this task. I’d like to make you an offer. As I told you when we met, the Blade Wardens are my personal guard. But they are also far more than that. They are my personal problem solvers, the fiercest warriors in all of my empire. And I would like you to join their number.” All were taken aback. Each had heard of the Blade Wardens and their reputation, and also knew that for those who were not Human or Elf-kin to join would be a first for Nerath. “There are grave dangers facing my empire, and threats both within and without. I need heroes such as you.” Kuori accepted instantly, as did Damakos, Chaedi, and Tordek. Shallahai paused, unsure of leaving his forests behind for such a grand city, but the Emperors assurances that he could leave whenever he desired and his wish to remain with his friends convinced him.
            The addition of the newest Blade Wardens made the team stronger than ever. Five years after arriving in Nerath, they stood together as witnesses to a wedding, as Redra married Lord General Mikkal. There was sadness as well, as Bartleby passed on the next summer. Twenty years after they arrived in Nerath, a shining hope was born, in the form of Redra’s daughter Yulani.

Friday Recap

Eight Years Later:
            In the plains south of Lake Nen, a group of adventurers travels through the land. They are returning from a successful quest in the eastern ruins of Bael Turath, and thought to wander closer to home while seeking their next adventure. They are a curious mix, but each was a powerful warrior. Close friends who have ventured through many dangers over their years, they are not aligned with any government or power, but live for their next adventure. They count none amongst themselves a leader, but all as equals. Kuori the barbarian was a Goliath from the hills north of Nenlast. His tribe was friendly to the locals and traded with the village constantly. Massively strong, Kuori was also fiercely loyal to those he called friend. Shallahai was a Wilden druid, a creature who was himself part plant and felt natures call to be a primal defender of Nentir. His people had long lived in isolation, but Shallahai had sought the see as much of the world as possible. Damakos, the Tiefling fighter believed himself a descendant of the noble ways of Bael Turath, before its fall to darkness, though he had never been able to trace bloodlines accurately. As quick with his greatsword as he was with his hands, few had crossed his blade and lived to tell the tale. Tordek the Dwarf hailed from the Ironroot City, and bucked the traditions of his kin, leaving the city. A call from the wild spirits of Nentir had driven him to a Shamans life, wanting to feel more than the stone under his feet, he set out to explore the Vail. The final member of the party was Chaedi, an Elven wizard, trained in the spells of battle. Chaedi was constantly on the watch for ancient artifacts and temples of Corellon, hoping to learn more about he who had sowed magic into the world. Brought together by random chance, they had become fast friends and a very difficult opponent for any who challenged them.
 It had been a quiet few weeks of travel for the group, when one day a massive white owl descended upon them as they walked. They recognized it as the animal familiar of Bartleby the Wizard, an acquaintance of theirs from Nenlast. In a testament to Bartleby’s powers, the owl spoke to them in the wizards own voice, asking them to come to his home as soon as possible. Knowing Bartleby would never trouble them without a good cause, they told the owl they’d be coming, and made for Nenlast.
A days travel later they arrived at the small fishing village. Nenlast was famous for its Jeweled Cichlid, a fish which was a delicacy across Nentir. This afforded the town luxuries they would not otherwise have had. Every craftsmen in Nenlast worked with the finest Dwarven tools from Ironroot City, and the taverns served the finest Dawnforge Stout. And every religious feast in Nenlast was celebrated with the tender meat of the Mountain Ram, which grazed at an altitude far too high for most humans, but a few small steps for the Kuori’s tribesmen. Nenlast was a mostly human town, with a few halflings and Half-Elves as well, as was standard for Nerath’s border towns. Nenlast was a village of the Empire, but saw little of the Nerathi presence except for their wagons coming to pick up the Cichlids. However, Nenlast never faced a threat, as it was well known that not only the Nerathi, but the Dwarves and Goliaths would defend the citizens as well, due to their strong trading allegiances and friendships.
Arriving at Bartleby’s hut the adventurers instantly noticed the wizard was slightly more disheveled looking than when they’d last seen him. Age was creeping up on the arcane master, and worry lines traced his beared face. After greeting his friends, Bartleby bade them listen to the tale of Redra’s life. The five had always known Redra as Bartlebys apprentice, but thought her a local girl. To learn now that she was of high Nerathi decent startled the adventurers. Bartleby detailed the nightmare to them.
“The dream is always the same. The woman walks, alone, through a darkened forest. No birds chirp. No insects buzz. No beasties skitter through the brush. She shivers, then coughs. Her coughs continue,  each louder and more violent than the last until  they become like physical blows to her body. A stream of smoke pours out of her mouth and swirls across the ground. In moments it takes the shape of a seven-foot tall winged, horned humanoid holding a flaming blade. Beyond it stand more shadowy, indistinct forms. The creature looks into the woman’s eyes, into her soul, and speaks: “She must not live.” It raises its fiery sword, but the woman turns away and flees. Briars tear at her clothes, and she tries to scream but can’t. She stumbles and falls. As she rolls onto her back, the menacing figure steps over her and swings its sword down…. And the dreamer awakens, her heart racing, her face streaming with tears.”
The adventurers faces are darkened by this torment wrought upon an innocent woman. Bartleby continues by explaining to them that two weeks prior he had caught Redra reading ancient tomes containing the incantations that would open a portal to the realm of dreams. After swearing to him that she would never attempt such a thing, Redra mysteriously disappeared three days ago, and the book she had been reading with her. Bartleby suspects she has gone to her mothers grave, but the exact location is a secret Redra never shared with any. Bartleby knows it is in the northern woods, but little else. Bartleby’s age has kept him from personally pursuing the girl, which he explains was his reason for asking for the adventurers help. Bartleby also offered the would be rescuers a large sum of money each, as the Emperor himself would financially back his payment. He implored them to make great haste, for if Redra managed to open the portal, whatever haunted her nightmares would very quickly enter this realm and turn the nightmare to truth.
            Setting out across Lake Nen via boat, the adventurers passed into the Northern Woods. Shallahai implored the forest spirits for help, but his fellow trees were less than forthcoming. Believing Redra to be mourning, they respected her privacy and refused the Druids requests for her location. That night, not long after the sun sets the adventurers see a bright white flash of light in the distance, accompanied by a tremendous sonic boom. A minute later they hear a war cry that is without question otherworldly, followed by a distinctly female scream. A pulsating blue light began to glow from the same location, giving all the guidance they would need. Rushing towards the light the heroes stumble upon a deep gorge with only a single tree as a bridge across. Kuori rushed across first, followed closely by the slightly more careful Damakos and Shallahai. As Tordek began to cross he suffered from the Dwarven peoples’ natural lack of nimbleness and fell into the bramble below. This proved fortuitous for the group however, as Tordek interrupted the preparations of a group of monsters planning to ambush he and his compatriots. Their surprise destroyed, the villains lept out against their targets. Ochre Jellys began to attack those who had made it across, while a crazed Kuo-Toa struck the downed Tordek and a massive Greenvise Vine cornered the wizard Chaedi, left alone. However, once the initial assault was turned aside, the massive blows from Kuori and Damakos proved too much for the jelly, and even splitting itself in two could not save its life. Tordek recovered and summoned his Celestial Bear companion, and the two combined to crush the Kuo-Toa. Shallahai rushed back across the log to defend Chaedi, and though he initially joined Tordek at the bottom, a quick transformation to his swarm state allowed him to climb out and even the odds against the vine. With all enemies defeated the party rushed forward again towards the light.
            Leaping out into a clearing the heroes were instantly aware of three things. A glowing blue portal, a small gravestone, and the body of a Half-Elven woman laying between the two. Rushing forward they were able to identify Redra, alive but barely. Blood streamed from her forehead and several jagged cuts were visible on her body, clearly from a large bladed sword. Tordek called upon his spirit powers and implored the Primals for assistance in healing the girl. Suddenly, Redra shrieked awake, cackling in an unsettling tone. “Not…Dead,” she whispered. Her eyes rolled back into her head, and she was silent for a few moments, as Tordek worked his prayers. Suddenly, she lifted her head and screamed again, “RED EYES! RED DEATH! RED EYES! RED BLADE!” She repeated this several times. Tordeks healing began to take hold of her as she screamed again, “Sleep, die, sleep, die, sleep, die, sleep, die, sleep, die! Two thousand and five hundred nights! Don’t let me die again! GETHZERIAN!!!” She lay silent again as Shallahai and Tordek questioned her fruitlessly. Meanwhile, Chaedi examined the portal and the book laying besides Redra, but it was written in Supernal, a language he did not speak. Kuori and Damakos took up defensive postures around the group as Tordek continued his ministrations, aided by Shallahai. Slowly but surely, Redra became more cognizant as her wounds healed. Rolling her head to look at Kirstal’s gravestone, she quietly whispered, “Mother’s dead. I saw. Now it’s mine. All mine.” She seemed to recognize the adventurers then, having met them several times at Bartlebys. As they explained to her that Bartleby had sent them, her vision drifted to the portal. “The nightmare is real!” she suddenly screamed. “It was never only a dream!” The heroes pried her for knowledge of the creature that had come through the portal. “Not alone….Death is not alone!” She explained that the creature had come for her just as in her dreams, but her arcane powers were not enough to defeat the nightmare. It had struck her down, then set off south followed by two minions. Standing up and grabbing the book, Redra began the mystical incantations to close the portal, imploring Chaedi to pour his magical energies into her efforts. Together, the two were finally able to close the portal to the dream realm. Redra implored the battered heroes to rush back to Nenlast, promising them a quicker route than their original. Though Tordek was not entirely certain that Redra herself was in control of her body, the party agreed to follow her.
            Redra rushed south, her pace a testament to Tordek’s powers, as she was constantly ahead of the group. Several times, she outpaced Shallahai and Kuori, the parties fastest runners, to the point where they lost sight of her for a minute or two before she reappeared standing ahead of them in the trees. Battered from their fight, and not having rested in two days, the adventurers were weary of fighting such a powerful enemy in their current state. Suddenly, Redra led them into a grove blocked by tall willow trees, and as they entered, Shallahai and Chaedi felt the refreshing energy of the Feywild flow through them, and in only a few short moments all were refreshed and healed as if they had slept for days. As Shallahai rested, he listened to the primal energies around him, and he felt a certainty that Redra had a stronger connection to the Fey than would be natural for a Half-Elf.
            Racing to their borrowed vessel, the group arrived at Nenlast just as two multi-armed monsters were about to corner a villager. As they called words of challenge, the monsters turned, forgetting the weaker prey and rushing back to the challenge. The nightmare creature was not in sight as the battle began, but moments later a childs scream was heard from a nearby house followed by the same other-worldly battle cry they’d heard the night before. Redra slipped instantly back into her catatonic state at the sound, denying her powers to the fight. The monster emerged from the house, clad in black armor, with glowing red eyes and holding a monstrous fiery sword. Redra’s screams intensified at the sight, but Kuori was not intimidated, bellowing a war cry and rushing towards his foe, only to pause as the beast turned invisible. Moments later, he re-appeared, his sword slashing into Chaedi’s back. Damakos was able to gain the upper hand on the minion beasts, holding them both in combat while Shallahai and Tordek unleashed their primal furies, killing both. Kuori again led the charge towards the nightmare beast, only to once again have him vanish from sight. Realizing Redra was left alone in the open, the heroes raced towards her, encouraging her to fight her fears and assist them. Slowly, she stood, becoming more and more encouraged. The beast reappeared, only to find himself surrounded. Beset by foes on all sides, the beast lashed out in fury. The combined might of these heroes however, would prove too much. A wall of thorns, summoned forth by Shallahai pinned the nightmare against a wall. Then, the barbarians fury drove him back into the waiting swords of the Tiefling, and the powerful claws of the Dwarf’s spirit companion. Magic missiles assailed him from two directions, as Redra added her volley to Chaedis. Standing defiantly at the end, the nightmare beast pointed towards Redra, screaming “She must not live!” Smiling defiantly, Redra laughed and looked back towards the beast. “She will live.” With her words she launched a final magic missile, ending the nightmare once and for all.
            Together, they walked back to Bartleby’s house. The frail wizard was overcome with joy as Redra walked back through his door. Sitting together, they recounted the past few days events, slowly coming to the resolution that Redra’s nightmare had left her with seemingly pre-cognizant powers. Bartleby’s face dropped when Redra told him of her visions of a man named Hathera betraying Emperor Gairdyr, whom she knew as an uncle. Informing them all that Hathera was the Lord General of the Blade Wardens, and that a betrayal at that level could spell doom for the Empire, Bartleby bade the adventurers to ride with them to Nerath. Intrigued by the chance to see the capital and the famed Flame Eternal, they accepted and set off via horseback.

Friday One-Shot Intro

Nentir has seen many rulers and heroes over its life, but few have left an impact equal to the upper echelons of Nerath. Always this high class of hero has included the Nerathi emperor, beginning the day a 15 year old human named Magroth defeated the Golden Dragon Ayunken-Vanzen. Often it has also included the members of the Blade Wardens, the Emperors personal guard. This was especially true in the years that Gairdyr sat upon Nerath’s throne. A proud man, revered for his prowess in battle and loved for his kind and fair rule, he was a deserving and proud heir to Magroth’s throne.
            In the days of Gairdyr’s youth, there lived a wise and powerful wizard in Nerath known as Bartleby. He became a trusted adviser to Gairyr as he advanced to the throne. Bartleby had eyes and ears firmly on the pulse of Nerathi politics to accompany his deep connection to the arcane arts.
            The family Galliston was also very influential at this time, being of high noble standing in the Empire. Their oldest son, Hadrian Galliston was a contemporary and close friend to Gairdyr from a young age. Joining the Nerathi army along with his friend, Hadrain rapidly rose through the ranks, his sharp blade and even sharper tactical mind eventually earning him the prized and coveted rank of Blade Warden. Teamed with several of Nerath’s greatest warriors, including Marshall Vardian Hathera, Hadrian served his friend and Emperor with unparalleled skill and devotion. However, in a battle against a descendant of Ayunken-Vanzen, Galliston was killed by the Golden wyrm. Caught in a fiery blast of the dragon’s breath, Hadrian sacrificed himself for his brethren, creating the opening for Hathera to land the killing blow. Gairdyr was wracked with guilt, and took personal responsibility for Hadrian’s Eladrin wife and infant daughter, Kirstal and Redra. Devastated by the loss of her husband, Kirstal took her child and fled to the town of Nenlast, in the farthest reaches of the Empire to raise her daughter alone. Emperor Gairdyr kept tabs on the pair, but honored Kirstal’s wishes not to interfere. Meanwhile, Hathera was promoted to Lord General, and given command of a new team of Blade Wardens. He set out to ensure that no Wardens death would ever emotionally compromise the Emperor again. By his command, the new Wardens were chosen not to have any tie to Gairdyr and were trained never to speak the Emperors name, referring to him simply as our Emperor, or Father.
            One summers evening, nine years after they had fled Nerath, Redra appeared before the city gates, asking for an audience with the Emperor. She brought the tragic news of her Mother’s death, torn apart by unseen evil beasts. Redra confided in Gairdyr that since her Father’s death, her mother had experienced the same nightmare, each and every night. Even worse, beginning the night after her Mother’s murder, Redra had begun to experience the identical dream. Yet instead of fear, the face of this 13 year old child showed only resolve to rid herself of the spectral terror that had driven her mother to the brink of insanity and death. Gairdyr brought Redra before Bartleby, and bade him to teach the girl the arcane magics, hoping that they would lead her to salvation. Secretly, Gairdyr knew that learning the teachings of Correlon’s magic would protect the girl, whose life he feared would always be in danger. Despite the Emperors wishes, the girl insisted upon returning to Nenlast, to live as her mother had. Packing his library, Bartleby and Redra set out to Nenlast to begin her apprenticeship.