The Edge of Empire

Another Roadside Attraction
Kythorn 7, 1479

After a night’s rest and a futile attempt to rid yourselves of the muck and stench of the Swamp of Chelimber, you wake to find Jack Jones mysteriously vanished, leaving behind a cryptic message along with the jeweled band he had cut from the belly of a swamp gator.

You begin the long journey up the ancient road toward Spellguard and the Scepter Tower. The climate is arid and the road is rocky and hot.

Una finds surreptitious comfort in the cool of a passing wagon transporting twenty young women to the Oracle, where their eunuch chaperone has been ordered to inquire as to the sexual past of each prior to their marriage to a prominent Sheikh from Calimshan.

Alas, the rest of you are left to walk.

Around mid-day, your journey is interrupted by a man sitting on a rock, suffering in his plate-mail armor through the mid-day’s dusty heat. He calls himself Corvyr and explains that he and his traveling companions had come across a battle. His companions fled, leaving him to fend of a band of kobolds.

The kobolds had found a large, unhappy victim in Lo’kag, the colossal barbarian who has long been a friend of Saesho’s, and who had journeyed ahead of Saesho for reasons unknown and taken up with a caravan before apparently sacrificing himself to let the caravan escape.

During his battle with the kobolds, Lo’kag had unwittingly sprung one of the creatures’ many insidious traps, bringing a large boulder off a nearby hill and onto his leg, immobilizing him and crushing his helpless limb into paste. The goliath had clearly been there awhile.

Corvyr relays all of this to Saesho and the others. Dositheus provides enough healing to stabilize Lo’kag’s wound, but determines on further examination that the giant man would have to be attended by expert healers in a proper facility. He would have to be moved.

It would take hours, of course, but haste would be required, for night would bring more kobolds.

Saesho and Corvyr begin a frantic search for the materials it would take to build a makeshift stretcher, while Dositheus and Hosvir tend to Lo’kag.

Corvyr turns up nothing but a few mushrooms, while Saesho finds the necessary supplies.

Once the stretcher is built, the four adventurers carry the wounded goliath to the road and offer to pay a passing caravan to take them as far as the cliff of the Spellguard ruin.

Dositheus handles the negotiations, which involve relinquishing the jeweled band Jack Jones had found.

Once safely deposited at the cliff, the company is able to beg a handcart from the caravan and begin the long, treacherous journey up the switchback trail 500 feet to outpost above.

About halfway up the dangerous path, Lo’kag wakes, confused, and began to feverishly thrash, causing the cart to buck and tip.

Hosvir helps to right the cart. Thinking quickly, Dositheus remembers the sedative properties of the mushrooms Corvyr had found. He feeds them to Lo’kag, returning the suffering goliath to unconsciousness.

Several minor stumbles and many hours later, you reach top of the cliff, where stands the Monastery of the Precipice. There, you meet Sister Cherra, who takes Lo’kag immediately into her care, and Allendi, the lead administrator of the Monastery.

In conversations with Allendi, you learn several important things about Spellguard and Lady Saharel the Oracle of the Scepter Tower. To wit:

  • Spellguard is a ruined keep that once belonged to Netheril in ancient times.
  • It was destroyed hundreds of years ago, but one tower remains undisturbed and unopened—the Scepter Tower.
  • The Oracle, Lady Saharel, appears when she will, with seemingly no pattern or reason.
  • Some believe that helping to reconstruct the keep causes the Oracle to appear.
  • Many people journey from afar to await the Oracle or to dig about in the ruins for unknown treasures of the Netherese empire.

The you meet Yannik Johastra, who asks for your aid in rebuilding a section of ruin. After working all day to replace a keystone on an arching door, you are disappointed to see that the oracle does not appear.

So you wander toward the Scepter Tower, a 100 foot tall structure of stone standing untouched among the ruins. Once you venture close, you find yourselves pelted by rocks and arrows from above.

You take cover, then eventually flee back to the monastery to confer with Allendi, confronting him with the information that, despite his claims, the Tower has been breached.

Plans are made, discarded, and remade in discussions with Allendi and other travelers seeking answers. Finally, you decide to visit Clewsoro, a wealthy merchant who may have some ideas.

After some discussion at Clewsoro’s camp, you learn that someone or something from the tower is interested in the white alabaster pillars that dot the ruins. Search parties from the tower regularly seek the pillars and pull them into the tower.

Corvyr recommends that the company find a pillar of their own, take it into their custody, and see what happens next.

Meetings, Greetings, and Beatings
Kythorn 4, 1479

The malevolent empire of Netheril, a long extinct kingdom of shade and shadows, was returned to power during the cosmic cataclysm known as the Spellplague. It sits at the heart of the supercontinent of Faerun and threatens its neighbors, a dark, corrupting influence expanding inexorably through a combination of magical power, military might, and dark, secret manipulations.

The nations that border the Netherese Empire have acted swiftly to shore up defenses and consolidate power in expectation of an attack. Some of you have seen the effects of these consolidations in bitterly personal ways.

Several days ago, a few of you journeyed the Greyflow River into Loudwater on a boat called the Grey Minnow, captained by a dwarf named Glasur, helping him negotiate his way past a group of bandits, and giving up a few barrels of precious cargo along the way.

You met up with the rest of the group at a bizarre in the town of Loudwater, the last bastion of civilization before the Fallen Lands, working together to fend off a surprise attack from a small band of Goblins. You earned the initial suspicion of a Garwain, the local shopkeep the goblins seemed to be after, but eventually won him over through a combination of stubbornness, charm, and gold.

Garwain sold Hosvir the horn dagger that seemed to be the object the goblins’ raid, and Hosvir has since given it to Una to use.

Upon further investigation, you learn that the horn dagger was taken from a goblin lair by the old wizard Curuvar the Brazen, who lives a life of quiet retirement in Loudwater and has befriended Garwain.

The Captain of the town guard, an elf named Harrowleaf, has offered you 4 gold per goblin killed as a general bounty, but seems not to think of the goblins as a serious threat worthy of chasing into the deep woods, preferring to simply tend to his city’s defenses.

The elf Saysho spoke to the old wizard Curuvar and received his counsel not to venture into the goblin lair, which he called the Barrow of the Ogre King. He refused to tell Saysho how to find the barrow, insisting that he would be loathe to send another group of adventurers to their deaths.

Through a night of quiet eavesdropping at the Green Tankard Tavern, he had learned of Hosvir’s intent to hire a group to escort him to see the Oracle of the Scepter Tower, which sits atop a single mountain many miles into the Fallen Lands. Curuvar counseled Saysho to accompany Hosvir rather than brave the Barrow of the Ogre King.

The Fallen Lands are a wasteland made virtually uninhabitable by wild magic left as a residue of the Spellplague. It sits as a natural barrier between the Netherese Empire and Loudwater, for not even the Netherese would dare to take the unpredictable Fallen Lands.

Unable to venture upriver due to continued bandit attacks, you were forced to brave the Swamp of Chelimber. The journey was difficult. Bloodied, filthy, and exhausted, you finally make your way past the edge of the swamp and up to an overlook, where you see a long road rising toward the Scepter Tower in the misty distance.

The Bard's Prelude
from Jack Jones

Swamps are not the proverbial cup of tea, by any unit of measure you care to try. OH, you could guess, you could get lucky, and when all else fails you could bluff madly, but in the end…

It’s still a smelly, murky hot enough to poach the eggs in their shells, with logs that tend to turn into foul creatures with teeth.

Felt good to be out of there, even if ‘out’ had merely been a tiny patch of dry ground that houses had sprouted on. Like fungus. The fungus of civilization.

Well, alright, that was my type of fungus, but I prefer the big white mushrooms you can buy in bulk as opposed to the red ones with white spots that….

I digress.

It was good to be on the raft, at least at first. It barely counted as a barge or real boat, feeling more like something extremely intelligent beaver’s would have slapped together after a few drinks. Trust me on this.

It was a smooth enough ride. A boring ride, really. Muddy water too thin to plow, too thick to drink flowed, taking us with it. The trees all hung with thick moss, low shrubbery right to the water’s edge.

Dragonflies, mosquitoes, wasps you name it, all flutter above the water’s surface. And occasionally then they vanish with a splashy plop.

Now, I’d been eating decidedly dubious rations with that bone headed cult hunter, had a few bowls of stew that were only stew because they didn’t serve it in a trough, and now was on a diet of salted fish, because it was too humid to dry the little bastard out, or smoke them.

Fresh fish, however, didn’t sound bad. Certainly anything fresh would be novel even if all I got were shit sucking carp.

So I borrowed a rod from the halflings. I recall that their names rhymed because halfling mothers have all the creativity of those drunken beavers I mentioned earlier when it comes to naming things. I can’t be more specific than that.

Beginner’s luck sunk in hard, the thing I drag out of the water was one of those powerful, child swallowing beasts that inspired Nob and Bob to do a dance.

I’m not a fan of fish guts, so I let them do the cutting and the cleaning. They spend extra time prodding the stomach, which makes me wonder if that old legend is being trundled around again.

The second cast was not so good.

I should rewind, and tell you about my fellow raft dwellers. Glaucher, the dwarfish captain-

there’s a story there! as my father would say,

his halfling crew of Nip and Pip,

and the other passengers. Whom I assume paid for the privilege of the ride with a few coins and a promise to help load and unload the crates and barrels.

The taller of the two, the goliath, is unfortunately my seconds catch of the day. He didn’t seem to mind the hook in his ear much, but it draw the anntention of-

the elf.

I really dislike elves. They don’t have enough facial muscles moving at any one time to really read them in a card game, any then tend to be nosey in a really passive way. Utterly untrusting of anything that’s not a pointy eared wanker like themselves.

Plus they’re basically elephants, they never forget, dammit. You can’t do a big score in a town full of elves more than once without enlisting some serious magic’s to change your appearance.

Plus I swear this bastard started fishing after me just to prove that he was better at it. Stuck up ‘we are of the natural world’ bastards.

But there’s no reason to be anything but sociable when you’re on a boat, so when the fish got cooked, and I talked the halfing out of raping that poor poor lyre, I invited him to join us in a friendly card game.

His overlarge companion didn’t join in, but the goliath’s are only famous for betting poorly, so maybe that’s a sign of intelligence.

One game of Cripple Mr. Onion later, and all I had managed to learn from the elf was his name, Seishi, his companion’s name, Lo’kag, and little else.

Well, not little else. He bet well, even with worthless bits of trash as the pot, and he’s a suspicious jackass like every other elf on the planet.

Just another adventurer, really.

I slept fairly well. There is a bit of a soothing rhythm to a river raft that’s absent on dry land, and too strong on the ocean.

It was early morning when we hit the tree. Not so early that I couldn’t recognize a man made barrier when I saw it, though, thank you, the tree had been clearly felled for the purpose of blocking the path.

Our fearless if brainless captain began to set that axe to work trying to free the boat. I might have helped, if I hadn’t been busy taking cover while the first halfling tried to play arrow catching.

It wasn’t a defensible condition, really. I focused on looking for someone in the tree’s while getting my sling ready.

People say that slings are only for hunting squirrels. They’ve never been brained in the head by a fast moving rock the size of an egg.

Besides, I like the low whom-whom the leather chord makes in the air as you spin it, and my aim’s not that bad.

Pity I can’t see a damn thing. I keep looking though, while the elf does something inane with fire.

... Fire’s not a bad idea, actually. The tree that blocking up won’t burn easily, it’s not an old dead tree, and there’s a lot of under brush.

The lamps of the boat are still lit, too, filled with oil. Dangling on long poles out of the water. It wasn’t hard to swing the pole, let the lamp smash into a tree. Smoke the bastards out, that’s what I was hoping for.

Actually I justed wanted a target to scream at, more than anything else. Something to hit with my rock. Good thing that the Goliath makes sure a big, shiny target or I might be having a much crummier day.

Both the halfings die. I have to wonder if perhaps the god of lutes had a hand in that, there was surely no reason to aim at such well labeled non combatants.

The elf was spitting more fire, right about the time the gas hit us. I suppose I should have been happy that it wasn’t the sort of swamp gas that exploded when it hit an open flame.

Then there were bandits on the boat, and the worthless dwarf didn’t at all, period, the whole time. Which was obnoxious because clearly he was decent with an axe, and dammit it was his cargo that we were fighting for.

It was weirdly a relief when the men started to make demands. Being in no position to argue, and with no desire to interfere in what was clearly the dwarfs issue the theifs lightened the vessel considerably.

I can only be glad the elf considered himself above it, and hadn’t read too many heroic ballads. You tell yourself it’s Robin Hood, you hand over the other mans money, you move on. Best bet for this situation.

I do have to laugh when the man asks us to help up unload the boat. The elf laughed too, almost and the bandit look a look at us and decided, rightly, that we were too injured to be persuaded to care.

And then we made it to the town.

There’s not more too it than that.

It’ll never make a decent song. No one likes ballads where the heroes are mildly out numbered and politely surrender up the belonging of the idiot that got them into the mess in the first place.


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