It started as a simple dungeon run…
It may be hard to remember now, thinking about where we last left off. The rain pelting the roof of the Inn, and members of the group sitting at different tables, splintered from one another, uncertain and uncomfortable in ways that only arise from bonds born of deep affection - both familial and romantic. But they started, not so long ago, as strangers. Strangers who each answered a call for adventure. Drawn to the promise of treasure and excitement in an abandoned dragon’s lair.
But when their guide to that dungeon met an untimely and abrupt end, they were forced to rely on one another. To trust. To become a team. They emerged from that hole in the earth with a relic trapped in crystal. A powerful magic item revealed to be none other than the Secret Keeper’s Amulet. A talisman that can channel the individual forces of good and evil from the thousands of beings who watch them through the window between worlds, the ever-changing Time Stream. You. Across that window, across that conduit, you can affect their world, alter their fate, help craft their story. And in doing so, you have given them immense power, brought them close to death, and created moments of whimsy and drama in between.
But the amulet is more than just a vessel for your vicissitudes. It has also been the key to unlocking a grand quest. A quest that may decide the fate of all of Ain. For generations, it is said, the Realms have been protected by mighty sentinels known as the Wardens. 100 foot tall elemental warriors who have presided over a lasting peace in Ain. So much so, that many people stopped believing they even existed. But the team came face to face with their existence when a wizard named Torvalt asked them to investigate a mysterious structure in the woods. They discovered a tower in the sky where one of the Wardens - a being of lightning and electricity - was being held by a mad scientist and used to power his clockwork army.
Even in breaking this Storm Warden from its prison in the clouds, the team found it again under guard, by a battalion of orcs. Orcs transporting an enormous canon. Orcs preparing for war. As the team confronted them, the amulet connected magically with the Warden, and catapulted the team into a vision buried in its sub-conscious. A memory of a time lost to history, before the War of Ideas. A revelation of the very origin of the Wardens.
It became clear that these five adventurers, these Amulet Bearers, held the key to unlocking visions from all of the Wardens. If only they could find them and free them.
So they took to the high seas in search of another Warden, said to be trapped in the most dangerous part of the Lost Sea - the Deep Reef. On their way, they learned that Lily’s home - the island of Bingle - was being ravaged by creatures emerging from the ocean and taking bodies, both living and dead, back with them to the murky depths.
The team sailed to Bingle, and made a heroic stand on the beach, beating back the invading monsters, reclaiming the island for Lily’s family, and earning them the title: The Heroes of Bingle.
Then they plunged themselves into the most remote section of the ocean, down, down into the Deep Reef. There, at the bottom of the sea, they found their second Warden, faced off against a fearsome underwater commander, and pried loose the grip of a gargantuan tentacled Kraken to free the Warden and earn another vision into the past.
Now they track a third Warden, believing it to be somehow connected to a powerful spellcaster called Kalkata Theed, the Ashen Mage. They ascended her tower inside the town of Winkburgh and found evidence that she was doing something inside Skyscorcher Peak, the volcano at the base of the Nelrim mountains. They also found writings from her apprentice, a man named Vargen, describing ominous experiments and dark magic.
When they departed Winkburgh, in their custom vardo - a wagon pulled by enormous, four-legged flightless birds called Achaierai - they were soon set upon by a terrifying pack of werewolves, out for blood. One of the pack, a woman named Xenalka, told them that she and her brother were under the control of Vargen himself, and begged them to help her infiltrate his lair at the heart of the Alabaster Woods, and defeat him.
So the Heroes of the Bingle once again charged headlong into danger, finding themselves surrounded by a pool of blood, fighting the wizard Vargen, who was draped in a protective, bloody shell. The battle was harrowing, and it nearly cost them their lives, but they bested the infernal apprentice, and cleansed the hallowed ground of the Alabaster Wood from its crimson curse.
Wounded and weary, the team continued north, finding respite in the small town of Marsh. As luck would have it, they arrived on the night of Strangers’ Fete, a celebration of new friends, of the harvest, and of positive wishes for the new year.
But before they could join the festivities, they heard the call of a worried mother, shouting in the rain for her lost child. They tracked the boy to a cellar beneath the tavern, where he had retreated to play with holiday fireworks. There in the musty, dirty cellar, as rain poured outside, the flare casting sparks along the ground, they found him, wounded and afraid.
And, incidentally, James, I forgot to point out something to you in that moment. As you stood there in that cellar, you noticed the smells of dirt, of moisture in the air, of sulfer from the firework burning… and of fear -
And something happened down there. Something that Uggo noticed and caused him to grab and restrain James. Something that caused James to retreat into the vardo with Fahima’s familiar, Meep. A confrontation about secrets and the unknown. And while the unease was repaired in the short term, a visit to the tavern itself brought even more internal conflict.
Siv, seeing an old friend by the name of Benisiba Grulb, a bard, traveling on her way down to Winkburgh to audition for the great party the Duke was now planning, approached her and asked her to play a song he had written for Lily. A declaration of his love and commitment. A promise that love does not have to be fleeting.
But Uggo, harboring his own feelings for Lily, and unaware of Siv’s, snuck away during the amazing performance, back to the cellar beneath the tavern, shaken and sad. And Lily, too, was taken off guard, unsure and unwilling to requite the sentiment.
And so, with the joy and frivolity of the Strangers’ Fete all around them, unable to repair the missed connections and hurt feelings among them, the night and the year... ended.
And that’s where we pick up this week. It is now the year 301, after the War. None of you seem to have had a very good night’s sleep. There was quite a lot of drinking at the Warm Hearth Inn last night, during Strangers’ Fete, and even James, who tucked in early, seems not to have had the most restful night. The Inn was chaotic and busy all through the evening, so you all eventually made your ways back into the vardo to sleep. At some point during the night, the storm broke and the rain stopped. And as day breaks on the outskirts of Marsh, sunlight peaks through the clouds and all is quiet.