It started as a simple Dungeon Run…
But where these adventurers are - at this very moment - barreling down the road in and atop their own custom travel wagon, being pulled by a team of giant, flightless attack birds, staring at a raging gang of axe-wielding marauders, riding at them on a collision course at breakneck speed - nothing really seems so simple anymore.
It was the amulet they found in that original dungeon that changed everything. The Secret Keeper’s Amulet. An item that has brought chaos and adventure to their lives, and launched them on an epic quest. It has given YOU power, as watchers of the time stream, to break through into their reality, and influence the events of Ain. But it is also a relic of the past, that gives the team access to hidden memories of a time lost to history - and lost to war.
The Wardens, Ain’s colossal protectors since the end of the great War of Ideas, have been stolen from the land, and Siv, Fahima, James, Uggo, and Lily are tracking them down. The two they have located and liberated so far have revealed glimpses of the past, through the amulet, that have generated more questions than answers. And so the quest to find more Wardens continues.
But along the way, the group has also managed to do good, becoming heroes in their own right, growing in experience and power, and galvanizing into a team. A nameless team, but a team nonetheless.
They saved Lily’s home island of Bingle from attacking sea monsters, rescued her family from an underwater prison and secured their travel back to safety, and most recently brought law and order back to the town of Winkburgh, by figuring out a way to reverse a curse on the Duke that had transformed him into a duck.
The curse had been applied by a dark wizard known as The Ashen Mage, who seems to be a key figure in the disappearance of the Wardens. After she cursed the Duke, trade was disrupted in Winkburgh and lawlessness took hold. The party realized this quickly when they arrived in Winkburgh and came face-to-face with a group of roughnecks, riding vicious four-legged birds, calling themselves The Flock. The team only avoiding violent conflict when Siv handed them 250 gold to leave.
In investigating Winkburgh, and the Ashen Mage’s residence there, they found new spells, a hideous abomination cobbled together from limbs of the dead, and clues pointing them to another possible Warden location. The active volcano in the Nelrim mountain range known as Skyscorcher Peak.
When the Duke rewarded them for their deeds with a tailor-made vardo and three of their own Achaierai birds to pull it, they had to learn to command the creatures in order to embark on their journey. Fahima’s mastery of the Achaierai - with clever help from the Amulet - resulted in the birds gaining special feats beyond their normal abilities. Loyalty and endurance.
Setting out from WInkburgh, the team traveled north, on a course west of the Nelrim mountain range toward the Dwarven city of Dalto Thum. As the team began their long journey, Fahima cast a new spell allowing her to triangulate the unique arcane signature of the Wardens, James sent a magical message across time and space, and Uggo studied a new book, beginning his own journey, learning to read. Meanwhile, up front, driving the Achaierai pack, Lily and Siv made a connection through poetry and song, holding hands as the sun crossed the sky and long road expanded before them.
But their reverie was soon shaken by a familiar sound. The harsh, rhythmic battle anthem of the Flock. Which brings us back to this moment. Siv and James climbing atop the roof of the vardo, the wind blowing their hair wildly, Lily, clutching the reins as the four legged birds tear down the road, dirt and rocks kicking up in their wake. Fahima and Uggo alert and ready in the coach. And a group of angry outlaws on an intercept course....
Part I: Fight or Flightless/ The Return of The Flock
Lily gripped the reigns tightly as she urged on the giant, two bird-like Achaierai that drew the vardo at a near breakneck pace across the rocky, bumpy road from Winkburgh. Siv and James , on the roof could see through breaks in trees to the right of them, a fast approaching group of riders on an intercept course. But more than seeing, they could hear the cacophony of a deep, booming rhythm accompanied by whooping screams and howls from various creatures - The Flock were closing in on the newly commissioned vardo!
Four Flock mounts were on a trajectory to meet the group's caravan and gaining with each second and as they do so, Lily uses spellcasting abilities to disguise herself as the diminutive leader of The Flock.
Bang! The vardo speeds over a large rut as the wheels clank underneath and James is thrown to the ground from the roof - Uggo quickly jumps off to grab James as Lily reigns in the beasts hastily causing the vardo to skid to a halt, kicking up dust. They find themselves on a short section of road which seems to be a choke point between to sheer cliff faces.
Getting to his feet, James casts a spell on one of the surrounding creatures that have now approached them - one of the enemy Achaierai turns tail and runs away, wailing in fear of James' fearful countenance.
A mystical tentacle breaks through the ground in front of James and carries him safely sixty feet away.
Summoning her magical force, Fahima who had joined the others on the roof, lets fly a fireball that directly hits one of The Flock riders in the chest, disorientating him and knocking him back.
From nowhere, giant polyhedral boulders come crashing across the path of The Flock and their mounts. With screams, one of them is knocked over and three of the birds are hit by the shapes, causing them damage.
Thud! a crossbow bolt find its mark on Uggo, while James reacts to the retaliation causing his attacker to bury his axe in his own leg!
Hooking the vardo with a long grappling chain, one of the riders tries to tip the party's caravan, but only succeeds in making it sway a little.
"Get out of here!" shouts Siv to Lily as he saunters up to the closest rider. "Well, well, well. Seems we've got a little problem here, don't we..." - channelling Whitebeard, Siv (while losing his tusks) intimidates the nearby enemy Achaierai causing it to run away.
On Siv's shouted advice, Lily snaps the reigns and moves the vardo further along the road and somewhat away from trouble, as she gees on the draft animals, the Flock member holding the chain attached to the vardo loses her grip and is pulled from her mount falling 15 or so feet to the ground with a thud.
A spirit rises from the ground translucent in the midday light, it has the form of Will'o'Wisp Dumblestuck , Lily's grandmother.
James approaches the apparition and is healed by the spirit; he then circles a nearby enemy Achaierai. Infused with huge energy from the Amulet , James forms a circular shape in the air with his fingers outstretched on both hands and propels the bird-like creature and its two riders off the side of a nearby precipice. The rider in front manages to leap to the relative safety of the dusty ground, while the bird and its remaining drummer passenger tumble over the side, skidding down the side. Bones snap and break as the Achaierai lands square on the drummer, they both continue to bounce and slide down the cliff side smearing blood and viscera as they do so.
Siv reacts quickly and with a short run up, connecting fully, kicks the fallen squarely rider in the head.
James dances remorsefully.
Fahima, still on the vardo, disturbed by the recent mistreatment of animals, shoots of a fireball at two Flock members further along the road.
"NEVER...TOUCH MY FAMILY!!" Uggo brings down his maul on a prone rider twice in quick succession pounding the life out of her with sickening, bloody, squishing sound as the body is pulverised leaving only a red stain. "Eeeaayaaah!" the bird creature she was previously riding reacts, intimidated by this and Uggo commands it to expel gas from its smoke gland. A cloud of toxic, black smoke is then emitted from the back of the beast and two nearby Flock marauders have time to pull up their masks; the smoke poisons Uggo who steels himself against the smoke's confusion effects. The two gang members find Uggo through the impenetrable cloud and manage to hit him.
This mini-battlefield is left incomplete disarray as the attack dies down leaving our heroes having thwarted the The Flock's attack. Screaming in pain from Fahima's fireball attack, two of the remaining ruffians dash away from the carnage toward a nearby treeline; as they reach it, unearthly howling sounds are heard. The still visible living creatures turn to the party and are then pulled aggressively into the underbrush whereupon the trees and bushes shake, the nearby Achaierai is also yanked out of sight despite it's massive size and weight. Horrible sounds of crunching and biting come from the trees and wolves then appear from the treeline, but they are unlike regular wolves; their eyes are blood red and they have bones protruding from their backs as if they have been physically altered in some way. They leap on a nearby petrified Flock member ripping his skull from the body as an arc of blood sprays into the air spattering on the ground. More and more wolves come out of the forest and pounce on remaining Flock close by, rending flesh from bone in a frenzied blood-lust.
"Everyone back to the cart!" James shouts worriedly.
Part II: Respite
Through the smoke, they group can see this pack of terrifyingly altered wolves, their teeth and fangs showing as the one closest to the vardo leaps a whole thirty feet - with glowing red eyes, it's mouth agape revealing large razor-sharp canines with claws - lands on the back of an Achaierai (Bleff Blannata, noo!) ripping and bite at its hindquarters. The wolf then falls as it falls from the back of the bird creature; with gruesome stretching and snapping sounds, it transforms into a humanoid-wolf form and dashes back to the treeline.
Escaping from the chaotic, bloody mess, Lily pushes the Achaierai onward. Continuing to carve a path through the forest, they manage to get away from the hijacking by The Flock and the pack of hideous wolves. Siv joins Lily in the front of the vardo and examines the effects of the fight on the bird-like creature that was attacked; feathers on the back of its neck are matted with thick blood and it is clearly the worse for wear. Also seeing this, Lily slowly brings the carriage to a stop, dismounts and attends to the wounded creature - light and warmth radiate from her hands as she cures the terrible wound, James and Uggo rest within. Siv brings the bird from the back of the vardo replacing the wounded Bleff Blannata, he and Lily decide to exchange roles allowing Lily to also tend to wounded party members. Reflecting on the creatures they encountered, Fahima is reminded of tales of lycanthropy, but she has never seen nor heard of those disfigured, ravenous monsters. Siv brings the vardo back to the road looking for a clearing of some kind in which to set the cart, and once they come across a suitable location, Uggo does his best to cover the party's tracks using his own distinct scent. With a sense of calm and peace, Lily tends to the Achaierai, helping them to rest and recover from the recent events; Siv gathers firewood and Fahima helps him to create a small campfire; James removes a small sack from his pack. The sack contains Chrono Seeds, which he found in the Fallen Lodestar; with his dagger, scratching a rudimentary hole in ground, James carefully places one of the large, pod-like seeds in the ground and covers it over.
The world around seems to almost stands still as suddenly a tiny vine pops out of the recently disturbed soil and works its way into the fading sunlight of their rudimentary clearing. With leaves unfolding in beautiful colours and shapes, James puts his nose to the flower and inhales deeply - 'wham!' his consciousness is taken on a journey that hurtles along a twisting, turning path through a tunnel of sorts. Various emotions and feelings are now made hyper-real to the warlock as he flies past the full gamut of those he knows and some he does not. His olfactory senses on full alert, he finally makes out strong scents of dirt, soil, rock, sulphur, moisture and smoke; then 'fear' - 'shoom!' he is hurled back through the 'tunnel of sensations', back to the conscious world and his eyes are dominated by the image of the flower that was young and vibrant not seconds ago, now old and decrepit, its leaves falling as seconds pass, the stalk atrophying as the entire structure decomposes and finally turns to dust.
Night falls as a beautiful, bright moon and warm fire create a peaceful ambience, helped greatly by warm food cooked by Siv. James communicates the party's whereabouts and state to Lily's mother who they left in the care of Enus and Arfus that were contracted to help the Dumblestucks in Winkburgh. The party use the downtime to discuss the events of the day's fight, with Fahima focussing on James' action of pushing an enemy mount off a cliff, which he and Uggo cite as defense, while Fahima and Lily are on the side of better discussion.
'Grghhg..give...me a chance? Garghg' a deep, guttural voice interrupts Fahima as a werewolf steps out of the darkness...