Gloriana

Tomb of the Feathered Serpent
  • Two weeks after their last adventure, Morel and Bromin are working hard to restore Toadstool Hollow. They’ve made contact with a caravan of Wind Dwarves traveling here from Emankorrak, led by the hardy Fideba. They’ve agreed to trade with Toadstool Hollow and bring them additional supplies to help them rebuild.
  • While gathering information for their heist in Yorlen Hold, the rest of the party travels through Guthram. There they encounter Jarrin and Orla, treasure hunters bragging about their latest adventure. They seek the Tomb of the Feathered Serpent, a fantastic beast whose venom can restore the dead. A grieving noble has offered a massive bounty, thousands of gold, for whoever can bring this venom to them.
  • Nearby, the tavern girl Zyanya tends tables quietly. She has dark skin and green eyes, tattoos, and a lovely singing voice. She brings the Band of Iron food and drink while they listen to the adventures’ tale.
  • Jarin and Orla gather a group of peasants, merchants and travelers, regaling them with the following details:

- The feathered serpent’s eggs are gems the size of a man’s head.
- Their wings are feathered in all colors of the rainbow
- They cannot tell a lie, so if you find one, you can force it to reveal its identity
- They ride rainbows and guard ancient secrets, watching over the destinies of the mighty. Apocryphal tales suggest that Blessed Child was guarded by a Feathered Serpent after their parents were slain.

  • The hunters insisted they had no plans of harming such a creature, only of harvesting its venom.
  • Intrigued, some of the Band of Iron meander over to their table, finding them pouring over an ancient map. It is written in an ancient and cryptic form of draconic and they cannot decipher it. Her interest piqued, Nashia wanders to the table. The Band cuts a deal with the treasure hunters to help them in exchange for a cut of the prize.
  • Shortly thereafter, a group of mystical assassins strikes. Wielding spells of Stinking Cloud , Fear and Slow, they bust in and are barely fended off.
  • Jarin and Orla fear the attack was to stop them in their quest, but the Band of Iron quickly discovers that Nashia is gone. It seems the group was sent to abduct her.
  • They track her to the treasure hunters’ destination—the Tomb of the Feathered Serpent. Rhawunel notices that this is actually a Huldra pre-marchen burial ground, and wonders what connection it could possible have to the Feathered Serpent.
  • Meanwhile, in the tomb, Nashia awakens bound and gagged. A stranger looms over her, and on seeing her awake, seizes her hand and casts a spell of revelation upon it. When nothing happens, they apply minor acid and a group of sorcerers combine their powers to search for something. Even this fails, and the stranger announces with relief “It’s not there. We still have time.”
  • The stranger departs as her scouts report a disturbance. Nashia was being imprisoned in the very tomb her compatriots came to seek. Finding the entrance heavily warded by magic, the Band of Iron realizes they had fallen into an ambush when Jarin and Orla turn on them. A bloody battle ensues, with agents of Elam and their hired muscle attacking the Band of Iron from all sides. Our heroes push through into the tomb, rescue Nashia, and force the leader of the Elam agents to flee using her magic.
  • As it turns out, the entire legend of the Feathered Serpent was a setup. The map was specially made so only a true scholar of Elam’s dragon magic could interpret it. Jarin and Orla were instructed to travel the land looking for help with the map, and whoever could help them was the target.
  • The party returns to Guthram to lick their wounds. As they leave the tomb, a familiar face emerges from the forest—Zyanzya, the barmaid from the tavern. In her hands she bears a massive gem the size of a man’s head, which she grants to Nashia. She exchanges some short words with the sorceress, wherein they learn the following:

- The stars stand eternal vigil against the Hungry Dark.
- The Feathered Serpents serve Morwel, Queen of Stars. It is their sworn duty to find the Light Bearer.
- The Light Bearer appears each time the Prophecy of the New Day is set in motion.
- The Light Bearer’s purpose is to find the Four Dragons—the Dragon of the Brightest Noon, the Dragon of the Final Dusk, the Dragon of the Moonless night, and the Dragon of the Dawn—in order to choose and anoint the Dragon of the New Day.
- The first Light Bearer was a dragon. The second was an Alfar. The third will be both.

  • As Zyanzya vanished, Nashia’s hand burned with a cold pain, and she found the faint impressions of a silver, five-pointed star on the back of her left hand.
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Dawn in Dark Hollow - Pt III

The heroes crossed the border into Marchen once more and entered the foul infested swamp, Dark Hollow. The last time they were here, they barely escaped with their lives. This time, they battled the troll under her bridge, forced her terrible children to stand down, and faced Father—a massive fungal abomination—in hand-to-hand combat. As the companions searched for the Bog Witch herself, Morel snuck into her home and found the Heart of Dark Hollow—the cauldron where she cooked the meals that led her to this place from the Unseelie Court so long ago. As sunlight burst into dark hollow for the first time in years, Waxcap’s power faltered. They slew the wailing witch and the blight on the land dissolved.

Within the witch’s hut they found a trove of treasures, from potions and ingredients to coins taken from years of victims.

At last the Curse of Toadstool Hollow was lifted. The townsfolk swiftly began sloughing off the mushrooms and mold that had been replacing their flesh, restored to health. For Morel, the original target of the curse, it would take more time.

With the curse lifted, Morel confided in Tavion about Aunty Atropa’s offer. They still had the bottle of Florian’s Memories, and now they could trade it in exchange for Tavion’s. In response, Tavion took a hefty swig of his memory vial. In a vision, he saw a terrible giant hurling boulders, while his mother and brother cowered in fear. Then the giant shrank and the boulders became bottles and pots, the roar of thunder a man’s drunken expletives. The boy and his brother fled to the woods.

When at last he awoke, he remembered the truth: his name was not Tavion, but Caius. The moniker he’d created to hide his unlawful dealings was his actual name.

Bromin and Morel took leave for a time to help rebuild the cursed town of Toadstool Hollow and put it back on the map. The rest of the Band of Iron caught their breath, worked with the Parliament of Bastards to extent their reach throughout the kingdoms of Marchen and Borgondhi, and prepared for their next adventure—to rob Baron Yorlen!

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Dawn in Dark Hollow - Pt II
  • With an agreement from the Dokkalfar to weave the net, the Band of Iron seeks Glassweb Grove. A twisted part of the Fairy World under the control of the Unseelie Court, the only way to reach the grove is to catch a moth, blindfolded at night, and bring it to a pine tree.
  • In the woods outside of Fernsby our heroes manage this feat and find themselves in a forest of pale, slender, wispy and twisted trees. The deeper they go, the more spiders they see crawling across the translucent leaves.
  • The grove is a mystical web, where all paths lead to the center. The heroes find themselves divided and scattered throughout the web and confronted by the Daughters—spider-fey who blend elven and spider features. The grove’s heart consists of glass trees with glass leaves, all strung with thousands of spider webs. At very center is a single living tree that has grown into the shape of a harp, but without any strings.
  • As the Sisters descend on the Band, they call out in musical voices “Do you sing? Do you play? Will you sing? Will you play?”
  • The daughters smell music in the blood of Ulreik and Tyrandriel. Some of the daughters want to eat them. “The music is in their blood, sisters! Set it free! Let it dance in our veins!”
  • The heroes placate the sisters with music, stringing the harp with Aine’s golden hair and singing to go along with it.
  • The spiders weave them the gossamer they seek and reveal some information.

- The Dokkalfar Sage has come to them before
- Taras Golden came to them with his Gossamer Daughter. They wove her back into the mortal realm.
- Similarly, the child-carrying-mother-and-father came before them, asking them to reconstitute his parents. He was accompanied by a beautiful maiden with a cloak of colorful feathers, a cursed warrior who wore a hundred names, and an alfar with a voice that captured their hearts.

- The Alfar returned long after and made the Glassweb Harp. There he played such music that they curse him, for he instilled in them a craving they can never fulfill.

  • When asked to describe this man, they responded:

Silver hair and silver tongue
His voice was sweet with silver song
Around his head a silver band
A silver star upon his hand

- This visitor returned to seek their silk for a beautiful queen to make a robe for her, one that would capture the light of beauty and help her forget her sorrows.

  • With the gossamer in hand, our heroes depart from the Sisters of Glassweb Grotto and return to the Dokkalfar Grotto. The Dark Elves weave the net of gossamer and glass and give it to Morel.

  • Back at the Tower of Nails, the Band of Iron activates Royse’s Telescope to create a Wind Bridge to the Sky Kingdom. When they arrive, they find themselves on a cloud island inhabited by a village of the Aarakocra, living at the edges of the Morass—a supernatural swamp of smoke and smog.
  • The Knights of Terranimbus notice the opening of the bridge and search for our heroes. The Aarakocra tell them they must flee through the Morass to reach the mountains of morning without being found.
  • Wary of the swamp’s legendary dangers, the heroes take their horse and fix the Horseshoes of the Zephyr, then tie it to the warded carpet they use in the tavern. The magic of the horseshoes make the carpet float above the ground—not truly flying, but hovering above the muck and mire. They dodge smoke wyrms, murderous smoglins, manticores and narrowly escape the attentions of Kurluweydon, the Lifechoker Dragon.
  • On the other side, they find the mansion of Vafprudnir, Keeper of the Stairs of Dawn, Master of the Mountains of Morning. The giant has a fondness for riddles and for eating the flesh of guests who lose in a contest of riddles. To those who succeed, he grants a boon. The Band of Iron knocked on his mighty doors and joined him at the feasting table, a grand hall filled with cloud giants like him.
  • They faced him in a battle of riddles and solved all three. For a boon, they asked safe passage up the Stairs of Dawn, as well as fruits from his garden. He granted both. At the height of the Mountains of Morning, on a peak worlds above the mortal land below, where the bitter air froze their lungs even as they breathed it, surrounded by flights of pegasi and a terrible pair of chimera, Morel held aloft the Gossamer Net as dawn broke. Here, above the sky itself, the air was clear and the sunlight unfiltered. Morel caught it in the net and brought it back down to earth. With the power of the horseshoes, the heroes simply rode right off the edge of the cloud and descended back to the Mortal Kingdom.
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Dawn in Dark Hollow - Pt I
  • The Band of Iron spends some time in the Tower of Nails recuperating and figuring out their next moves.
  • Gaemund summons the Parliament of Bastards. He informs his brothers of his mother’s death, of Mairg’s designs, and of Tarah’s clandestine order of blood hunters. They agree to help him.
  • Jurian Dunlan sneaks away from Bravewood Abbey to meet them at the Tower of Nails, using it as a headquarters for his resistance in Dunlan Fief.
  • Morel uses Royse’s research into the Sky Kingdom to study Mother Waxcap and find a way to break the curse. She determines that as long as the Dark Hollow remains intact, Mother Waxcap will be too strong to kill. To destroy Dark Hollow they must expose its rotten heart to a ray of Pure Sunlight. To catch a ray of Pure Sunlight, they will need a net of Gossamer and Glass. With this net, they can travel to the Mountains of Morning in the east of the Sky Kingdom and catch the first light of dawn over the mountains.
  • The Band decides to put their mission for Manard on hold while they help Morel protect the people of Mushroom Hollow, who have transformed more and more into mushrooms. They build up the Tower as a base of operations and prepare for their quest.
  • Since the only ones who know how to weave True Gossamer are the Dokkalfar, the bastards use their network of contacts to find rumors of recent Dokkalfar activity. They learn that the Borgondhi town of Fernsby had a rash of disappearances. A young man went missing and the crops of his family farm were turned purple (like a crop circle).
  • Fernsby is a farming town located along an important river, which makes it the nearest seat of power aside from Dunlan Fief. Warrick’s mercenaries and Royal Soldiers have taken up residence, as Fernsby lies along the supply line from Dunlan Fief to Castle Borgondhi.
  • The local lord, Sir Serell the Allegiant, is Ralzemon and Warrick’s toady, kissing ass to move up in the world. As such, his personal soldiers and mercenaries are patrolling the town.

Fortunately for our heroes, the Laughing God had eyes and ears in town, and with their help along with tips from the Parliament of Bastards, our heroes set out confident.

  • They set out from the tower on a night of the full moon. Cold mists flow over the land and at night, protected by the enchantments on the Cart, they hear sounds of battle. Pale horses, too thin by far; shapes in the clouds and mists; shrill inhuman laughter; screams; the baying of unearthly hounds.
  • In the morning they find the remnants of a camp that was destroyed. They connect the attack to the Gealacha, a Wild Hunt ruled by Cloigeann, Old Skull of the Moon. Some forensic work reveals that the Band of Iron was not targeted by the attack; instead, they are hunting Grey Wanderers.
  • The party continues on its travels to Fernsby. They reach Farmer Callasby’s plot of land. The farmer and his wife are afraid, since Lief, the missing boy, was their only son. Soon Callasby and Gertrude will be too old to work and they will starve.
  • Lief was born as a shooting star passed through the constellation of Kind Father. He’s not exceptionally clever but he’s a “good son” who works hard.
  • The party investigates the fields and discovers a spiral of purple wheat in the middle of the field (they collect samples), a rune not found in any normal magic. Callasby mentions someone already came to inspect the farm, an old dwarf with a peg leg. He took samples and told them not to investigate any further. He was last seen heading into town.
  • The band of iron successfully bypasses the guards and evades Warrick’s patrols to reach the Smoking Fern, a tavern named for a local legend (involving a satyr who smoked some of the local fern and chased local girls for a week before being run out of town). There is another cart outside, heavily armed and with spots for crossbows to shoot out.
  • Upon stepping into the tavern they hear a bunch of bounty hunters speaking loudly about the rebellion in Dunlan Fief and the fugitives still on the run. They are blathering to an old dwarf with a Peg Leg—Bordul, the Last Blood Hunter.
  • Bromin defuses the situation by talking louder than the thugs and plying them with beer. Tyrandriel realizes that some of the beggars outside are spies for Warrick, and convinces both the party and Bordul to evacuate. Bordul recognizes Tarah’s cart, the Eerie Wain. He realizes that Gaemund is her son and that he’s learned some of the art. Gaemund similarly recognizes Bordul’s alchemy.
  • Bordul has been tracking the Dokkalfar abductions, trying to stop them before they occur. He’s tracked them to a local revine where the fern grows. The way into the earth to the Dokkalfar Grotto is down a steep stone chimney and with his leg he can’t make it. Bordul accompanies them to the ravine and keeps watch over the Eerie Wain while they seek out the Grotto.
  • The Band of Iron descends into the ravine. The ferns seem to sing as the wind flows around them, inducing a drunken state. They press forward and follow a small waterfall that plunges seventy-five feet into the earth before sloping into a twisting maze of caverns. Using all their wood lore, cunning, and weasel powers, they track the dokkalfar to Skjult Grotto.
  • The hidden grotto is protected by enchantments and illusions. It lies across a great casm from which seeps a beautiful blue fog, a cloud of spores. They pierce the illusions and find a secret path that winds around the stalagmites that jut from the azure abyss, only to be met with the bolts and arrows of the Dokkalfar who challenge their crossing.
  • By virtue of her birthright as Princess of Angren, Rhawunel secures passage to Skjult Grotto. They meet the leader of the enclave, Sopp, a mushroom man of some sort. They walk through homes carved into stone pillars, gardens of molds and mushrooms, and a bridge over that same ravine full of azure mist.
  • The Dokkalfar live alongside a species of myconids. Our heroes share their plight with Sopp, who expresses concern that Mother Waxcap “eats her children.” They convince him that they mean well and are not trying to wipe out mushroom people, just kill a bad witch. Sopp agrees to help them make the net, if they undergo a trial in the Well of Dreams.
  • The blue ravine is full of spores from Sopp’s people. These spores induce a powerful sleep and stasis in any who inhale them. The Heroes pass the trial and learn that the Dokkalfar are guardians of the Fifth Kingdom. Because elves do not naturally sleep, they abduct humans born under auspicious signs and imprison them in the Well of Dreams. There they live long lives of continuous dreams, and the Dokkalfar use the slumbering mortals as windows into which they can see the Fifth Kingdom.
  • The heroes discover this is what happened to Lief. They make a deal with Sopp: because Mairg poses a grave threat to the Fifth Kingdom, their quest takes precedence. They retrieve Lief and return him to his home, but in exchange, Gaemund must return when their quest is over and stay in the Well of Dreams for as long as it takes them to defeat Mairg.
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Interlude -- A Mission of Mercy

To the Noble and Ever Constant Mr. Callabrook,

Accept the most humble congratulations of my sage counterparts and mere self at the recent acquisition of a historied and pedigreed holding. Indeed, it is meet you find yourself now in possession of that edifice of iron and stone wright’s genius, for the tragedy that has befallen your esteemed and noble family of origin distresses me so, flies in the face of all that is just and right in this world, that this turn of fortune is my sole comfort and consolation. We all grieve for noble Cedric.

To the ongoing consternation of our rightful monarch, his royal highness Ralzemon Von Borgondhi, young Jurian somehow eludes the most steadfast and traveled of royal hunters. Indeed, not so much as a scrap of his cloak has been found, and throughout the land you will find not a single bounty hunter who can help our poor king in his frustrated search. It would seem that your adopted brother has fallen in with those whose talents for obfuscation and concealment exceed our beloved ruler’s zeal for vengeance. I cannot imagine such guile exists in the hearts of men, let alone such company gentlemen like us might keep.

With your fortunes now defiant of tragedy’s baleful winds, and in the hope that this wretched missive finds your spirits lifted and your eyes turned once more towards the course of your future, I submit to your attention a most peculiar turn of commerce’s providence. The Right Honorable Guild of Weavers and Dyemen prides itself on the quality of its craftsmanship and its craftsmen, but nevertheless we submit that the sweet muse of our art alights on those from beyond our ranks as well. An example of this fickle whim of inspiration can be found languishing in the stone halls of a certain gentlemen of Marchen’s fief. Though I confess a certain admiration for Baron Yorlen’s tastes, still it pains my heart to think of such a delicate tapestry, a weft of silver and silk, the work of hands so fine and gentle it stops the heart of we poor clay-handed mortals, choking in the light of frugal oil lamps. Woe, yes, woe that this magnificent work of art outshines the good Baron Yorlen’s other accouterments.

And thus I find it necessary to implore you to aid poor Valter in his time of need. As he gathers about himself the beauty and comforts that lift the spirits of those men burdened with the heavy yolk of rulership, this one piece makes his efforts seem paltry, his paintings crass, his carvings and sculpture the crude works of a child whittling a stick with a stone knife. Though he cannot see it himself, possession of the work turns all his efforts to mud and mars the beauty of his other belongings.

If you find yourself in the court of Baron Von Yorlen, lift this pall of tragedy from his crown. Spirit away this tapestry and let the light of his other treasures shine all the brighter. Do it not for me, not for the love of that masterpiece, but to bring succor to a suffering man’s soul.

When your eyes light upon the tapestry, all doubt as to its identity will vanish, for it is woven of gossamer, of silver, with subtle arts, grays and browns, lush greens and rippling blues. You will know it by the willow’s sign. Usher it, like a grieving pallbearer at the funeral of a dear friend, to the hands of my dutiful and somber colleagues of the Guild. They wait in Yorlen Fief to lift the wool from the Baron’s eyes and bring joy once more into his bitter life.

I know better than any other that news of suffering and the call of a worthy cause is enough to ignite your sinews to action and carry you onward to victory, and no crass matter such as material wealth will stop you from performing a noble deed.

Your loyal friend and faithful servant,

MANARD WEAVER, HN&LY GWD

Post Script: I plead your forgiveness and understanding for the crass mention of so unrelated and insignificant a matter in a letter of this grave and honorable purpose, but the labor and wisdom of those you entrusted with your investments will soon bear fruit. Eagerly they await to return to you the bounty you bestowed upon them, and more. As fortune is our eternal friend, I rather think the funds will be prepared at the exact moment you deliver the masterful tapestry from its bonds. What serendipity!

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Interlude -- As the Clouds Part

Though the fog rolled through the pass with the constancy of the ebbing tide, it troubled the companions little. When their foe sent out her power against them, it swept down sudden and sinister. These lazy, cloying clouds were not born of malice and paid the Tower of Nails no mind, even when its iron spikes shredded them in their passing. Nashia barely gave it the courtesy of a brief glance. Her feet dangled over the broken edge of the observatory roof, robes hanging down into the abandoned apprentices’ quarters below. There hadn’t been time enough since the battle with Royse to repair the old roof—obviously shattered by lightning long ago—and up here she found a sense of peace and isolation. It was almost better than being sequestered down in the library, where Ulreik stacked books one after the other, muttering to himself as his fingers traced over endless lines of runes and frenetic scribblings.

Except perhaps for the High University of Gloriana itself, she’d never come across so many books about dragons on this continent. Nowhere close to the Hamure archives of scrolls, but Royse clearly held an interest in the wars between Taras and the Thunder King. He never found the answer to why dragons intervened on the behalf of mortals, but he’d come close. The voice of master Master Sora came back to her across the years, gently reminding her to step away and look from both above and within. Any one perspective would blind, and that’s precisely what happened to Royse—even with his telescope, he could only see through the perspective of Alfar conspiracy.

Nashia frowned, letting the cracked cover of the tome close. Her own people, the ones she’d left behind, quietly woven into the legends of the humans. Our Triumphant Family never mentioned the guidance of Blessed Child’s alfar mentors, and Elam’s songs of Taras Golden had a single reference to the “Lightbearer, Child of Dawn” who led Taras on the path. And yet she knew nothing about it. Neither did Royse, or any of the books in his tower.

If only Master Sora was still around! He knew more than he’d revealed—why else had he entrusted her with the Prophecy, the fateful scroll whose words tied together the decades-old designs of Mairg and the wrath of the Thunder King alike? What destiny did he foresee for her? What would he have told her if House Bothotlo hadn’t cut him down in his own sanctuary?

“Hoot. Hoot hoot.” What? Was the sun already setting? It was too early for night birds to be… “I said hoot, lady. If you were a vole I’d have eaten you by now.” A feather mop that’d been hurled by a tornado through a mud puddle infested by crickets was talking to her. “You’re a lousy lookout, you know that?” Nashia scowled at Curiosity. “I’m not a lookout. My studies require solitude and tranquility. Neither of which flourish in the presence of-” The owl hacked and wheezed. It sounded like something was trying to escape from its throat, and in a moment, a horrific mass of bones, fur and organic mush splattered on the tower’s roof.HWAAAAUWCK. Sorry sweethooowaaat, didn’t catch that, that happens sometimes.” Nashia’s nose twitched. It wasn’t much worse than any of the creatures she’d cut open in search of knowledge, but it felt more than a bit deliberate. “…in the presence of…never mind. What?” “Well I was in neighborhood being an apex predator and all when I saw something coming up to the tower. You’re closest, I supposed you might be being a lookout. You’ve got that big fancy look-outer and all. So I’m telling you.” Nashia glanced from the telescope—the big fancy look-outer—and back to the bedraggled owl. “Telling me what?” “Something’s coming up to the tower! I know you’re not as deaf as those humans, but WOW!” She shut the cover of her book, wishing her peace and focus a silent farewell. There was no point in arguing with Ulreik’s familiar, nor informing it that “Something’s coming up to the tower” wasn’t as insightful as Curiosity seemed to think. Instead, she folded the book under her arm and descended the cracked stone steps to inform the others.

A messenger pounds at the door waiting for someone to answer, insisting that he had a message for one “Caius Callabrook.” The letter bears the massive and extravagant seal of one Manard Weaver. It contains the following message…

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Interlude -- Mother of Mists

Moonlight glistens in a thousand drops of water, scattered across her silver skin like the dew at dawn. Golden hair clings to her back and chest, dripping with the water of the pool from which she rises. In roots clad, a dry and rough ornament upon a smooth and lovely shape, she emerges from the depths. Her eyes betray nothing but hollow calm, her lips unpursed and neutral as always. With bare arms outstretched she beckons, stepping from the Emerald Pool to the water-covered rocks of her inner sanctum. Flickering green lights answer her—luminescent moths, their wings as wide as the hand of a grown man, fly down from the rocky outcroppings above. They bear a gown of silver silk, spun by their young to adorn their queen, and set it upon her shoulders. Her arms fall back to her side. For a moment, she regards her own reflection in the rippling water. A stranger.

Vindur has seen you,” the stranger whispers from the water. “His hand is set against you.” “No,” says she softly, “his favored squire has seen me. At the behest of his mortal kin.” “He will tell,” the reflection insists, “And his King will wonder.” “Wonder that the children of noon invoked his knights? Wonder that they executed their duty, and punished the human for daring? The Storm King will hear of it. There will be questions, and simple answers.” Her reflection stares back. The roots grow deep in its flesh. The skin shines like black ice, run through with veins of red. Its voice is a hollow wind. “No,” she murmurs again, “the Thunder King does not trouble me.” “But the princess does.” “Yes. The trembling king, the blood hunter, and Angren—all their children travel together.” “You know not why.”

Her expression scarcely changes, but the Emerald Pools around her grow cloudy with mist. “I will,” she whispers, “For you will pluck secrets from his withered mind. Go unto him.” “You took a great risk. Send forth your might again, and the Light of Runda will turn towards you.” She turns and strides towards the moss-curtain that separates this sanctum from her throne room. “Which is why I suffer you to speak. Send forth yours. Feed. Grow fat. Cast shadows before her lantern.” Atop her head, the crown writhes, drawing a faint scratch down her soft cheek. The stranger in the water laughs and ripples with her each footstep. “No, Queen Mother. You do not suffer me as a shield against your foes. You suffer me because you chose me when your grief was not enough.” She stops, one pale hand grasping the mossy veil. “You suffer me because you cannot bear a world where Iommor is dead, and they yet live. Because the only thing more hideous than knowing that the humans breathe, is who you saw here before you donned your crown.”

She does not respond. She walks, head high under its terrible burden, and the curtain of moss parts of its own accord. She enters her throne room, and the music resumes.

The huldra sing to her in voices that soar upon the wind, mournful as the dove, keening as the nightingale. They play on harps of living wood with green-vine strings, flutes carved from the bones of hunted beasts. Dancers sway and leap through the air in time with the song, retelling again and again the sorrows of the dusk elves. Around and around in slow circles, always surrounding her, always filling her court with the soft tunes of grief. The faces change, the names change, the dances and songs change, but silence never holds sway when she is present. At the high mound in the center of the grotto rises a great cedar tree, shaped to cradle the queen and polished smooth after hundreds of years of service. Orbs of ever-changing light flutter to its base and lay lavender, soft and fresh plucked from the woods, to rest her feet. A young huldra boy stands on the left hand of the throne, bearing a wooden cup filled with berry wine. She stands one last time, casts her brown eyes across the revelry as if none of it is real, and takes her place upon the throne. “Queen mother,” they cry. “Queen mother! Queen mother!” They rejoice and bow, but fear lodges in their hearts. A blizzard rages behind the eyes of their sovereign. It is not long before she speaks. “Let messengers be sent to Cloigeann, Old Skull of the Moon.” For one moment, the music stops. The harpist’s fingers freeze upon the strings. The songs of the singers freeze in their throats. Dancers pause, their hands held aloft, their eyes locked in terror on their queen. “Let the horns of the Gealacha sound.” Songs and dances resume. Faery servants curtsy to the throne as wood-sprites scramble to fulfill her decree.

As they go, the long-dead ghost of a smile twists the very edges of her lips. She whispers in their wake, “Let the Wild Hunt be set upon the foes of Mairg.”

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The Tower of Nails pt II

Gnarled branches took shape at the height of the misty wall surrounding the Tower. As they rose, a face formed from the same murk. Beautiful, sorrowful, wrathful, and more than seventy feet tall, the terrible shape of Mairg, Mother of Mists, lifted itself above the valley. Her hair flowed down her shoulders and vanished once more into the mists below, only to rise up again, a cascading fountain of her power, rising far from the Emerald Pools. Looming over the Tower of Nails she looked down on the mortal wizard Royse, who stood upon the tower’s roof.

In a voice that echoed from wells of strength and resounded through the vale, the titanic form of Mairg demanded one thing: Human, Child of Noon, give me the Blood of Angren, before I claim it from you. With a manic and mirthless grin, Royse responded: “Get stuffed, Huldra witch!” On that word he pointed the tower’s telescope directly up and locked it down into the mechanism on the roof, activating an enchanted circle. Lightning arced away from the tower into the sky, and a massive vortex roared from above, touching down at the edges of the circle.

Tavion heard the sound and his heart skipped a beat—it was the exact din that tore through his home on the last day he saw his brother, when he lost his memories and the Sky Kingdom raided the town of Quanmar. The warriors of the Thunder King were on their way.

Defiant in the face of Mairg’s power, Royse cried out an invocation to The Knights of Terranimbus. Above his head they began their descent to the Mortal Realm, clad in silver armor with swords like thunderbolts. Mairg responded with a keening song, a melody that called the Dragon of the Woods to her side. Massive emerald wings beat above the mist as a great shadow swept over the valley.

Rhawunel stared up at the face of her ancestral foe in awe and horror. She knew Mairg wielded arcane power, but this was a display of might beyond anything the princess had imagined. She ducked for cover inside the tower and drank one of Tarah’s potions. Blessedly, it rendered her invisible, and under this cover she climbed the stairs in hopes of stopping Royse’s ritual and preventing the Knights from setting foot in the tower.

It was too late—as she climbed the last stair they appeared in a flash of thunder. Six of the order and their leader, the Knight of the Wind. Royse screamed a command at them, pointing at the colossal shape of the Mother of Mists. Without breaking stride, the Knight of the Wind seized him by the throat and hoisted him into the air. Lightning arced from the Knight’s gauntlets, and Royse twitched and screamed before falling silent. The Knight hurled him with a single arm into the tornado which swept him from his tower into the sky, to an unknown fate. Thus the price of mortals calling down the Thunder King.

Within the now masterless tower, Gaemund coalesced from cloud to flesh once again and searched high and low for her—no one had seen her since she drank one of his mother’s potions, and he feared the worst. Her nemesis had come and demanded her blood—if ever there was a time to keep his oath to Corik, it was now!

Instead he stumbled upon Nashia, who’d escaped the massive hound after it ran in search of its master, and with Tavion and Tyrandriel they faced the hulking doorman. Possessed of terrible strength it tore doors from their hinges and roared in anger, hurling the Band of Iron against the walls and raining terrible blows upon them. At last they cowed it into a corner by threatening it with fire, eliciting horrible cries of fear.

But something else growled within the tower’s depths. Following the sound, Gaemund came across an oubliette—a hole of a dungeon, where you throw people to be forgotten. Some monstrous beast was chained in that miserable place. He descended into the darkness and found a werebear, bound by silver chains, its flesh burnt from contact and showing the signs of months of torture.

Gaemund called for aid, and the slightly vampiric dwarf who’d set off the chaos answered with his cure-all: Ale! A whole keg of the sleepytime brew, along with Gaemund’s soothing voice and slow movements, eased the beast into slaking its thirst. When the last dregs of ale were gone, it fell alseep, and the hair and muscle melted away, transforming into Gaemund’s missing brother!

Their reunion was interrupted by sounds of battle from overhead. After dispatching the wretched Royse, the Knight of Winds turned his attention to Mairg’s misty avatar. With one clawed gauntlet he ripped the winds of the vortex and hurled their fragments at her form, disrupting the mists that projected her power. He nearly shredded her avatar when at last her call was answered. With a roar that shook the stones of the tower and froze the marrow of every living being within, Zonthul, Dragon of the Marchen Wood, descended on the Knight of Winds. It was the same green drake who’d imprisoned Aine’s mother, Helena of Borgondhi! Claws and foul poisonous breath enveloped the Knight of the Wind, who drew sword and shield against the monster. The clang of steel and thunder of battle carried all the way to the bottom of the tower, along with the swift clang of armored footsteps—the Knights of Terranimbus descended the stairs, swords drawn against all within!

Though their hearts were strong, the Band of Iron found arrayed against them the powers of heaven and earth. Rather than face the Knights in battle, they stole away to the base of the stairs, plunged into the oubliette with the sleeping Bastard of Arcistoth, and made as little sound as possible. They heard the knights step through the door into the kitchen, where Royse’s doorman lurked, then a single angry roar followed by squeals of pain. Blades forged in the hearts of thunderclouds carved the golem apart. With the Knights busy, our heroes slipped past them, ascending to the tower’s height and the terrible battle.

As they climbed the last step, they saw Zonthul fleeing, bested in single combat by the Knight of the Wind. They challenged him for his name and purpose, and he answered with a thunderous blow that sent the Band of Iron reeling. Tavion tried to intervene and a single strike of the Knight’s sword blew him off the edge of the tower. Clinging to the edge, Tavion watched as the Knight stepped forth, peering into his eyes through his visor. A blade crackling with lightning leveled at the thief’s throat. Then, without a word, the Knight of Winds withdrew. His soldiers gathered around him, stepped into the eye of the howling vortex, and soared back to the Sky Kingdom. The tornado vanished along with them, leaving the Band of Iron in the battle-wracked Tower of Nails, staring into the silence left by Royse, Mairg, and a mysterious warlord of the heavens…

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The Tower of Nails

Bravewood Abbey, in the vicinty of Dunlan Fief, where the pious of Our Triumphant Family keep cloister. Here our companions would trust the witch Sheevra to the watchful eye of the priests and knights. As they approached her new prison, Gaemund made one last deal with the changeling, and for leniency she revealed one secret: “No aid will come from Gloriana.” Whatever Mairg’s designs, they seemed bent on keeping the High Queen and her resources from intervening in the affairs of Marchen and Borgondhi.

The last they saw of Sheevra, she was brought bound in iron to the Abbot of Bravewood. He swore to keep watch on her, inducting her into their order and condemning her to a life of solitude and contemplation. Her expression barely changed as she crossed the threshold into the cloister, save for a small smile as she bid them farewell: “Until next we meet.”

Tavion sent word to Manard the Weaver to arrange a meet while the others prepared for the battles to come. Eklos, Jurian and Sheevra all remained at the Abbey—Jurian to claim sanctuary while he decided the next move to reclaim his rightful throne. Thanks to Manard’s network of informants, Gaemund sent word to his bastard brothers—it was time to bring them together. All sent word they’d attend save Botulf, who hadn’t been seen for months.

With Rhawunel’s armor improved and the wagon resupplied, the companions resumed their quest to free Toadstool Hollow and unlock the mysteries of Tavion’s memories. Both drew them to a single place, the lonely Tower of Nails.

Before the battle of Dunlan Keep—what felt like a lifetime ago—they’d sowed the seeds of this visit. Old George the Farmer would take a break from delivering supplies, as Bromin would be taking his place. The party loaded up the wagon with goods to disguise their intentions. Ulreik, meanwhile, went along with Aine and Nashia, fellow scholars of the arcane, preceded by the letter of introduction he’d sent days prior. At last a response came, curt but well written, inviting Ulreik to the tower in exchange for access to his transcript of the Mordavian Tablets. With Wessel the Weasel tucked in his sleeve, posing as his familiar, Ulreik led them into the pass.

Clouds concealed the setting sun as they crested the summit. On both sides, steep rocky slopes coated in moss kept the warmth of day out, and a deep chill settled into the bones of those who walked that way. The three arcanists were greeted by a massive, stale smelling figure, who held forth a pan-sized hand as a silent demand for their invitation. After examining it with misshapen eyes, he moved aside and allowed them into the tower.

The moment they stepped across the threshold, Nashia’s blood roiled in her veins. A sickly green tinge crept around her ears and she found herself physically ill. The others fared better, but sweat broke out upon their brows, and their muscles ached with a supernatural fever. Something inimical about the tower bore its power down upon them. They asked that Royse meet them downstairs.

Upon the stone floors a massive bloodhound lifted its head, and on first smelling them it emitted a mournful bay. The tower’s master came down the long stairs to meet them, resting his head on the dog to gently silence it. Royse was an odd man, with a consistent smirk hardened into his weathered old face. He paid some lip service to Florian, the tower’s former master and Ulreik’s friend & correspondant. Apparently by the time he’d purchased the tower from Cedric Dunlan, Florian had stopped paying taxes on the place. Royse found Florian’s withered corpse slumped over his desk; the man had forgotten to eat, and wasted away.

As he invited them up the stairs to his library, they passed a pristine glass case wherein stood a tall silver bottle—the one Aunty Atropa wanted in exchange for Morel’s curse and Tavion’s memories. While Royse explained his research into the Sky Kingdom, Ulreik loosed Wessel the Weasel to creep into the tower. Unbeknownst to Royse, the diabolical critter crawled over the glass case, working the lock mechanism with fangs and claws. With supernatural manipulating it removed the warding runes, wrapped itself around the bottle, and vanished into its private pocket dimension with the bottle.

As they climbed, Royse mentioned to his guests that wizardry was taught to humans by the Alfar, their knowledge curated and controlled by the elves to manipulate humanity. Florian knew, thus his departure from the University in Gloriana, but he never went far enough. Royse took this tower specifically because it was built to repel elves before King Geirr invaded Marchen, and here he delved into the magic of the Sky Kingdom as an alternative to elven manipulations. As he ranted, he eyed his guests, as if he knew something they’d tried to conceal. The oppressive aura of the Tower pressed down on Nashia, one of the elves the place was built to defy, and even the half-elves Aine and Ulreik felt it crawling in their blood.

Outside, however, something else entirely was crawling. Having arrived with the cart of supplies, Bromin and company paced, restless and bored. They had some idea of what was going on inside the tower because of Wessel’s connection to Morel, but it had been a while. Trying to keep nerves at bay, the dwarf searched through the cart. In a hidden compartment bearing the mark of Tarah Arcistoth, he found a mysterious blood-red liquor. He popped the lead stopper open and chugged it without a second thought. It contained the blood of a vampire.

Bromin’s eyesight sharpened and an unearthly hunger awakened within him. He ran up to the tower and knocked on the door. Far above, Royse looked at his guests suspiciously and sent his lurching doorman to deal with it. The moment the door opened, Bromin latched onto his arm with new-sprung fangs and started eating his blood. It was dead blood and it tasted terrible!

Realizing the difference in scale and strength, Bromin locked eyes with the doorman, seeking to use the vampire’s gaze to subordinate his will. As he did, he noticed that one eye was slightly larger than the other…and they were different colors. The doorman was a golem, an artificial human crafted from parts. This prompted the semi-vampiric dwarf to scuttle as fast as his legs would carry him. The doorman did not pursue, so Bromin began lobbing rocks at the door.

With the commotion downstairs, the already unstable Royse turned on his guests, accusing them of conspiracy. Nashia couldn’t handle the tower’s hatred for elves, and vomited on the floor. Royse revealed he knew she was an elf—he’d trained his bloodhound to smell them out, and knew the moment she walked in the door. The massive dog latched its jaws around her neck, holding her. As Ulreik and Aine assured him they were uninvolved with the chaos unfolding outside, Royse activated the tower’s defenses, channeling lightning from the Sky Kingdom into the iron spikes jutting out from the tower. The entire structure was electrified, preventing outside entry, and he stormed to the top of the tower to deal with the intruders personally.

As the power of the Sky roared around the tower, a cold mist flowed from the peaks of the mountains and up from the valley. Swiftly and against the wind it flowed in, shrinking the landscape for all within the pass.

With the dog still pinning her to the floor, Nashia popped a potion he’d taken from the cart. It imbued her flesh with stone, making her slower, but resistant to damage. With this additional fortitude she shrugged off the dog and pushed through the tower’s influence to search Royse’s library and sealed bedroom.

Gaemund took one glance at the rapidly deteriorating situation and chugged a potion from his mother’s stash. His flesh evaporated into a cloud and he flowed into the tower, untouched by the arcs of lighting. He found Royse’s bedroom sealed even against noxious gasses, paranoid to the end. Within the tower, Aine drank her potion. She grew lighter and lighter until she drifted off the ground. Able to fly, she floated up the stairs to find Royse without making a sound.

The mists gathered like a tidal wave that crashed and broke as it reached the last ring of trees, held at bay by the Tower of Nails’ ancient edict against the magic of faerie. It rose up like a wall, blocking all sight, but beyond the curtain the forest creaked and groaned. Birds scattered, beasts fled, and the earth itself rumbled as a dark power flowed beneath its surface. Rhawunel’s heart began to pound and the pendant holding her guardian’s soul pulsed a cold warning. A terrible power came now to the Tower. She shouted a warning that was barely heard over the crackling lightning.

Tavion ran to the side of the tower, hoping for a way past the lightning encircling it. He drank one of Tarah’s potions—and a flash of light burst from him, along with a thunderous roar of fire. It sent him flying and blew a hole in the tower’s stone walls, granting access. The band of iron made for this hole, seeking shelter from the storm now gathering around them…

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The Witch in the Wagon

The ride out from Dunlan Keep started out quietly. Jurian nursed his wounds. Tavion grieved his father. Ulreik and Nashia frantically poured over Sheevra’s grimoire, copying down spells before the book vanished. Gaemund rifled through his Mother’s notes, trying to learn everything he could about witches and their powers. Rhawunel and Aine guarded the prisoner with wary eyes, trying to determine why Sheevra’s face seemed so familiar. And Tyrandriel prayed to the Laughing God for the magic that would force the witch to reveal the truth.

Morel and Nashia approached Jurian. After their adventure in the Starless Market, they had more questions than answers regarding Tavion’s lost memories. Who better to ask about the truth than a man who’d known him since he was young? In quiet conversation, they learned the following:

  • When Jurian was still six or seven years old, an awful storm descended upon the hamlet of Quanmar. Frantic messengers came to Dunlan Keep with tales of luminescent knights rampaging through the town, killing and looting as they went. Cedric road out with his men-at-arms to protect the people. Quanmar was utterly destroyed when he reached it—entire buildings knocked over by terrible winds, cattle hurled to their deaths in high trees, the shrine to Our Triumphant Family blasted apart by lightning. In all the wreckage they found many bodies, but only one survivor—a young boy shivering in the rain. Around his neck was a curious silver phial on a chain. It flickered occasionally with scintillating blue light.
  • Cedric took the boy back to Dunlan Keep and questioned him to see if he knew anything. All he determined was that the boy’s name was Tavion, his family had been slain, and he was now alone. Having failed in his duty to protect the people of his fief, Cedric adopted the boy and raised him alongside Jurian.
  • Tavion never went missing or had lost memory episodes when he was growing up in the castle. He learned how to hunt, how to fight, how to clean and maintain armor and weapons, how to lead men in battle, how to act alone, and some of the trappings of courtly life. Above all else Cedric tried to instill in his adopted son a sense of justice and duty to the common people.
  • It was not until Tavion was of age that he departed Dunlan Keep to pursue a life of his own. During this time, he often went missing for long periods of time, speaking little of where he’d been upon his return. Jurian knew in his heart that Tavion had fallen in with mercenaries and perhaps worse, but turned a blind eye—nothing Tavion was doing seemed to be causing the common folk any harm.
  • Jurian actually introduced Tavion to Manard the Weaver—his own record wasn’t entirely spotless. None of the Dunlan family was over fond of King Ralzemon’s greed or paranoia, and they relied on less publicly approved company to keep an eye out for interference from Borgondhi.
  • When asked about the Witch of the Willows, expeditions into fairy, or lost memories, Jurian had little to say. His younger brother has a mysterious past, but nothing that ever made its way into Jurian’s knowledge.

With more questions than answers, at last our fleeing heroes reunited with Ser Eklos and Gaemund’s cart. They went off the roads until they could take the guise of traveling merchants, blending in among other travelers on their way to Bravewood Abbey. Hoping that the cloistered faithful of Our Triumphant Family could contain Sheevra’s witchcraft long enough for them to make their case before King Isbrand III, they made the most of their time by confronting the witch herself at last.

Wounded and dazed, Sheevra muttered a single word under her breath twice before awakening: “Tariamil…tariamil.” It was an elven honorific, meaning “Queen-Mother,” an affectionate way to address one’s ruler. When at last she stirred into full consciousness, she found herself at bladepoint, surrounded by enemies hungry for vengeance, and bound by Tyrandriel’s Circle of Truth.

Even under this solemn oath Sheevra demonstrated calm cunning. She chose her words carefully to walk around the truth without lying, answering questions with questions, only giving up information in trade, never for free. The fey heritage made itself very evident. In a duel of words, the Companions learned the following:

  • Her grimoire contains spells of the Second Circle. Sheevra’s magical power exceeds that of any of the Companions. Ulreik raced against time to copy as many spells as possible, before the binding of Sheevra’s will destroyed the grimoire.
  • Bromin put to her, plainly and simply, the question of how she ended up with his ale and why she sold it. She explained that she knew the Huldra were going to attack the caravan, she was waiting nearby, and scavenged everything of value that she could before proceeding on her way. She only sold it to Yvain Ponty out of opportunity.
  • Sheevra knew that the attack was meant to target Rhawunel, Daughter of Angren, and Corik. The fact that Tarah Arcistoth was there was only a bonus.
  • During the investigation, Sheevra asked Rhawunel if she knew where to find her brothers. Rhawunel said only that she did not know.

All while they tried to pry the truth from Sheevra, Aine pondered the Changeling’s true face. Why did it look so familiar? It brought to mind a portrait she saw many years ago, a noble visage, a member of another court—

At last Aine placed the face. Sheevra looked exactly like Princess Ottilia of Marchen. But no word of the Princess going missing had reached Borgondhi—by all accounts, Ottillia was safe in the Marchen Courts. How then could her face appear here, whispering to the servants of King Raalzemon?

Bromin recalled the tale of Princess Ottilia’s capture, on her sixteenth birthday. Goblins broke into the castle and spirited her away to a tower in the woods. King Isbrand’s eccentric brother, Prince Barasko, rode with his knights to slay the goblins and bring her home. The Princess had never been the same after that…could it be possible that Sheevra had been raised in Marchen court, with Ottilia spirited away all those sixteen years? Could the so-called kidnapping have been an opportunity for the two to change places?

If true, this meant that Mairg’s plots wove through two different kingdoms and spanned decades. Whatever she is planning, it was set in motion over twenty years ago, when Ursi Arcistoth slew Iommor. The Companions saw for the first time the terrible web spun for the mortal realms…

The question arose—what to do with this dangerous shapeshifter? Gaemund and Tavion wanted to spill her blood, one because she was too dangerous, the other in vengeance for his father’s death. But the Companions agreed, she had to be kept alive. If the real Princess Ottilia was raised by fairies, she could be an enemy of mortal kind. To have any hope of revealing the truth, they needed Sheevra alive.

At last, they asked her by who’s will the caravan was attacked, Warrick was turned against Cedric. She spoke a word for the third time: Tariamil. On the third repetition, the companions realized what she’d done—she was never muttering in her sleep. By speaking Mairg’s title thrice, Sheevra could draw the Huldra Queen’s attention. The companions were being watched, and soon it would lead to dire consequences…

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