Desolation

(Before) The Road Less Taken
When the world was as it should be

In a time that is now known of as “The Before” all was right with the world. Magic was everywhere as a trusted tool in the hands of respected practitioners, the Ascondean Empire was the pinnacle of civilization (in their own minds at least), and people were more or less free to live their lives to the fullest.

The campaign begins in the caravan of Pal’Tan Oneida, a respected merchant who travels the Warlands and Saikin Wastes.

Currently, the caravan is heading north from Eoliane and the famed Desert Meet of the spring. This year, Pal’tan spent a bit longer at the Meet than he would have usually since the trading was especially fierce and prosperous, as were the pit-fights and the betting that went on around them. Several fighters (most often guards from competing caravans) stood out, and despite his better judgement, Pal’tan stayed out the entire Meet when several of his own men (and those in accompanying caravans) rose to fame and popularity in the pits. Now, he is travelling north to Cynosure, the largest and most developed city outside the Empire, and he is doing so later in the year than he would usually. This has driven him to make better time than he normally would attempt which has created more than a few of its own problems in terms of the mechanics of the vehicles and the morale of the crews. The land here is dry and dusty and although much of the road north to Cynosure is well within reach of the coastline, the heat and emptiness of the Southern Wastes has taken its toll on man and beast (and by man, of course, any humanoid; no racism here). It has been a long, hard month of tough travelling.

Cynosure is about a week’s travel distant, but by late tomorrow, the caravan should reach the outpost of Rangon Bay, a small settlement of Mongrels along the coast.

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Ep. 01: The Grudge Match
When tempers flare

Pal’Tan Oneida’s Caravan consists of his own five wagons, followed by a caravan of five Cushulain farmers, a dozen or so Human slave-traders from The Warlands, a small band of four Elf craftsmen, a slightly larger band of Oruskan traders/slavers (a dozen Orcs and Goblins), and a small caravan of Desert Dwarven craftsmen and merchants, numbering six. It had been a long week-and-a-half of hard travel from Eoliane through the heat and dryness of the border between The Saikin Wastes and The Warlands. Pal’Tan Oneida’s caravan is about a day-and-a-half’s travel from a small coastal town called Rangon Bay. Evenings are usually spent around a makeshift fire near the Elf caravan and drinking, carousing, and gaming ensues.

Lately though, with the heat tempers have been rising, culminating in a grudge match between the Orc pit champion and the Dwarven pit champion. What was supposed to be a “friendly match” clearly was not as it became apparent that both sides were using magic to enhance their fighters: Dwarves with Rune-enhanced bracers, and the Orcs with Bloodrune butchery. Odinrak Lon Gairdas, a Human Sorcerer raised a protective barrier around the “arena” and this only served to get both sides much more aggressive. Mora Gul, the Human second lieutenant of the caravan guard tried unsuccessfully to quell the match, but he did manage to move it further away from the caravan itself. Then, during the fight, both fighters fell dead, each with an arrow or bolt to the throat. An all-consuming brawl erupted between the Orcs and Dwarves with the Human slavers caught in the middle. Ramolis, ostensibly a priest of the Argent Path, but actually a Necromancer spy for the Circle of Dust, used his Necromantic abilities to bolster and protect Odinrak, while he, rather unsuccessfully sought to stun the fighters into submission. Odinrak himself began to notice that his abilities were being interfered with by another, heretofore unknown Sorcerer. He tried in vain to locate the Sorcerer but could only succeed in establishing that he or she was somewhere within the caravan body itself. As the melee pushed its way back to the main body of the caravan and guards came running, suddenly the Elf wagon erupted in flames, sending its inhabitants fleeing for their lives. As Pal’Tan himself came roaring in from the front of the caravan, the Elf conflagration suddenly and inexplicably doused itself and a certain calm descended. Pal’Tan demanded an explanation for this madness and Mora Gul cried that there was some Necromancy afoot.

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Ep. 02: Moonlight Revelations
"Who would want to do this?"

Pal’Tan reprimanded Mora Gul for even letting this get out of control and sent him the front of the caravan to cool off for a while. Tsukia joined Pal’Tan for the ensuing discussion. Odinrak explained that there was another Sorcerer somewhere within the caravan and that for some reason several people were trying to rile up the to rival camps of Desert Dwarves and Orcs. Odinrak remembered a large Orc with a chipped tooth and Ramolis remembered a Dwarf with a tri-forked golden beard. Odinrak also remembered seeing a Goblin with a crossbow shoot and kill the Dwarf fighter, whilst Ramolis remembered a Dwarf with a bow shoot the Orc fighter.

When the Thorebin and Garnatz were brought forward and questioned each denied any involvement, specifically that the Goblins even had crossbows and the Dwarves longbows. Odinrak noticed that Tsukia was using hitherto unknown magical abilities to discern the truth, even finding himself so probed. The Elven contingent stormed up to Pal’Tan demanding retribution for their losses, and Ramolis asked if anyone was injured. The reply was that one of the younger apprentices was unconscious but no one knew why. Being well-versed in medicinal arts he investigated, only to find that the young Elf was clearly suffering the after effects of a massive Burn dosage, something that should, for all intents and purposes, have been impossible. Odinrak confirmed this and a shocked silence fell over the group. Wyrelain was quickly taken away by the other Elves and their protestations were muted.

The search for the chip-toothed Orc and tri-fork bearded Dwarf turned up nothing; they were not among the living or the dead. With an Elf that could use magic and people that were no longer in evidence, it was decried that illusion was evident and Odinrak bluntly asked Tsukia what she knew about it, thus outing her as a Beguiler, to which must consternation arose. When it was evident that the Cushulain farmers were not present they were summoned. Looking tired and put out, their leader Kildarion protested vehemently that they had nothing to do with anything. Tsukia also read them for the truth and both Odinrak and Ramolis noticed that she seemed startled when she probed Kildarion. Odinrak suspected that this was indeed the Sorcerer to whom he had been opposed earlier and wrapped him in an energy field, manifesting itself as a great pair of dragon wings. The four other farmers were quite annoyed by this but still protested their innocence.

The mystery of the missing assassins though was still unsolved and that needed tending too. Odinrak gathered about him his sorcerous energies in order to enable him to fly far and wide around the caravan seeking signs of escape or pursuit. His first attempt was less than successful and even Kildarion, encased as he was in energy managed a smirk, one that only Ramolis noticed. More successful the second time, Odinrak, on the ethereal wings of yet another dragon motif returned to report that there was no sign of anyone having left or approached the caravan, meaning the culprits must be among them. Pal’Tan ordered every wagon searched.

When the farmer’s wagon was searched a bow and a crossbow were found, and the farmers declared that they were being framed. Ramolis, who had been siding with them and defending their honour quickly re-thought his position and managed to steer clear of the now very guilty-looking farmers. They discussed who or what was to be gained from this attack on Pal’Tan’s caravan but no one could see who was behind it. As tensions rose Tsukia noticed the farmers paying close attention to their belts and Ramolis, invoking his Necromantic powers through the symbol of the Argent Path, tried to rot them away. Kildarion nonchalantly nullified that manifestation of magic and Odinrak was now certain this was the Sorcerer. The fight was on.

The farmers rushed to two open magic-users and engaged. Odinrak was able to charge the energy of his containment field which Kildarion had no immediate defence for and was instantly fried by what was clearly a more powerful young Sorcerer than he had previously thought. The farmers with their small hammers attacked, and Menn and another caravan guard stepped in to defend them. Ramolis wielded his symbol and screamed about divine retribution, instantly draining the life out of one of his opponents. Odinrak managed to avoid any great injury in the attack and with great enthusiasm washed a bolt of pure energy over his opponent. Menn and the caravan guard pressed their attacks. Ramolis turned to another guard and brought him down with his Necromantic/Argent Path abilities as Menn pounded his man into submission. Ramolis, then in a feat of mercy (?) called upon the powers of his god to allow one of these sinners to be forgiven, while in reality he drained the life of the remaining unconscious farmer and diverted it to the Sorcerer in order, ostensibly in order to allow them to question him. They mad sure that he was bound tightly before this was attempted but it made no difference. As soon as Kildarion was healed to the point of consciousness, he teleported himself away, with one last long lingering glare at Odinrak.

Ramolis saw to the burial of the farmers and the other dead, while Odinrak, only barely able to stay on his feet went to sleep in his trailer, secure in the knowledge that they now had a powerful and angered Sorcerer as their sworn enemy.

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Ep. 2.1 - Odinrak Lon Gairdas
By your enemies are you judged

Heading back to his cot, Odinrak knew only two things.

The first was that he was more tired than he could remember being since his early apprenticeship, when his trainer… torturer, more like it, made him push himself against the limits of human endurance, through the searing burn of the weave’s price for power until he thought he’d consume himself in the blazing energies he could never hope to contain.

He has exerted himself more than he’d had to in years, and been hammered for it… Hammered by the weave, and again by Kidarian.

“The next time we meet will be the last!” he mutters to himself as he collapses fully dressed on the cot.

The last thought to disintegrate in his deadened mind is less vengeful, however.

Why do they always try to kill me…?”

Sleep comes like the all-consuming night, and thought is no more.

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Ep. 2.2 Ramolis' musings
My time, wasted...

The life of a spy isn’t an easy one, particularly for someone some one such as myself. I have so much power and intelligence, and my cover demands that I reveal nothing of the such. I am playing the role of a priest, a follower of the Argent Path. Wile the sheer irony of my cover dose lend itself to some amusement on my part, I find myself chafing at it’s limitations much more than I am enjoying myself.

For weeks I have been traveling with these dull witted farmers and simple folk. Preaching the, “Good News,” gaining there trust, and slowly perverting there values though false script. The process was tedious and painful, having to deal with there endless dribble was no simple to endure. I kept on telling myself that it was all for my own ends. Soon there bodies would be part on my new army, and I would not have to hear any of there foolish words any longer.

All that went up in flames the other night though. A small fight broke out, as they often would between the dwarfs and orc’s in the caravan. A few of the fools were killed. At first I thought this would be an excellent opportunity to gain a few new, “converts,” however as the fight wore on it became apparent that there was other magic in the air besides my own!

A sorcerer by the name of Odinrak was trying, in vain may I add, to stop the fighting though there normal and overly flamboyant displays of magical energy. How I longed just to kill them all and add there numbers to my, “flock,” however besides Odinrak there was at least two other powerful welders in the darkness that night and I had no desire to take all of them on at once.

After a wile the caravan’s s leader Pal’Tan put a stop to the fighting and began asking people questions. As it turns out his wife can see into people’s minds! I did my best to keep my distance from her as I knew any probing would likely reveal my true nature. My cover as it turns out must have paid off this time. No one even suspected my actions and I was allowed to freely treat the wounds of the injured. A demeaning task, but one that has served me well in my time with these, people.

Wile treating the injured I found the most strange thing. A eleven boy with signs of Burn! What luck I thought, and I quickly turned him in to Pal’Tan hoping that all the trouble of the night would be quickly pinned on the elves. People often enjoying blaming elves for any trouble they come accost, and it has proven to be a useful tactic I have made use of more than once!

Everything would have worked too, but then Kidarion Lygnate showed up. As it turns out Kidarion was also a powerful sorcerer and like myself he had been hiding this true nature. Unlike myself however Kidarion was unwilling to compromise his own pride in order to maintain his cover, and he was found out. Odinrak made short work of the fool, reducing his body to a char, without a second thought. As for myself I wonted to know what Kidarion plans were. Though an impressive amount of effort on my part I was able to restore Kidarin back to life, but I did so only after having him bound. This seems to have been an oversight on my part as it seems he did not require the use of his hands for using magic. He quickly teleported away, leaving me no clues as to his true motives.

Most of the other human farmers were killed and there belonging divided among the other members of the caravan. Leavening me with no loyal followers and little trust within the caravan as most of the believers on this trip have turned out to be less than trustworthy. How sad I shall have to find an other group of gullible humans to tell the, “Good News.”

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Ep. 03: Rangon Bay
"The only reason to stake a dead body is to stop it from rising." <Odinrak>

Odinrak and Ramolis reviewed the mysterious belts that the farmers had been carrying and after much study, Odinrak, still unfamiliar with many of his abilities, was able to discern that they runes carved on the inside of the belt triggered a physical transformation of the wearers: a once-per-day for one-hour effect. The belts were still inert.

Reporting this to Pal’Tan, Odinrak and Ramolis were present when a fore-runner for the caravan returned reporting that a staked body had been found near the roadside along the route to Rangon Bay. They accompanied another guard to investigate. En route Ramolis revealed that whilst he had been trained as a Necromancer at an early age, he was “saved” by the Argent Path and now uses those powers for the good of all, which was of course all bullshit, but Odinrak couldn’t tell.

The body turned out to be a small mutant and they determined that the man had died of battle wounds inflicted before he was staked. Ramolis, again masking his abilities with his Argent Path symbol roused the dead who answered that he had been staked by his brother after they had been beset upon by thieves. It was also learned that in these lands, of late, the dead had been walking. The caravan guard, being an ex-legionnaire, was now very suspicious of Ramolis who it seemed was using powers and abilities more akin to a Necromancer than a Priest. He couldn’t quite place Ramolis’ accent and was eventually mollified by the tale that Ramolis wove on the spot about his family and where they hailed from. The guard decided to return to the caravan to report this, and that Odinrak, Ramolis, and Ignal the runner would all head to Rangon Bay to investigate, but not before they partook of the stewed vulture that Ignal had brought down as it circled the staked body overhead. It was evident that Ramolis was not a native of the Saikin Wastes when he turned down his share of the meal.

They found the outskirts of the village abandoned and the only signs of life from the inn at the centre of town. Gaining access by use of Pal’Tan’s name, they found within several old Mongrel women, two old Mongrel men, and several small children, all terrified of the dead that walk about at night. They asked if anyone had seen the brothers Gorlàk and Gorlàn who had gone out to try and find the overdue caravan. Ramolis reported the death of Gorlàk and asked about Gorlàn but no one had seen him. Odinrak decided that Pal’Tan had to be notified of this, and with great skill created an ethereal image of himself to pass on the message and return with a reply.

Heading to the basement, Ramolis in private and thus able to use his abilities naturally, began to draw the life out of the very air around him to create a wide barrier that would repel the undead and save the inn. Meanwhile, as Odinrak was watch the basement door, the horses outside began to scream and Ignal rushed out to save them, only to find himself under attack from the recently dead. Odinrak levitated himself through the thatch roof, protected the hard-pressed Ignal and blasted one zombie to gooey bits, then snatched Ignal out of harm’s way as Ramolis’ barrier repelled the undead outside the inn; it was determined that the undead was indeed the brother, Gorlàn. Ramolis was able to staunch the worst of Ignal wounds and then set about preaching the Argent Path to the captive Mongrel audience, succeeding only in attracting the attention of the young ones. Odinrak drank some wine with the older Mongrels and learned that the small town was being taken person by person and that when someone was taken, they were seen to walk the streets at night, but then soon disappeared.

After an hour or two the energy servant of Odinrak returned, only to report that the remnants of the caravan were en route to the village. They had been beset upon by a horder of undead Mongrels but that Pal’Tan, his wife, and several others, including some Dwarves, Humans, and Elves, had managed to escape. In no short order, Odinrak and Ramolis, secure in the knowledge the inn was safe and that they could handle anything they came across, set out to help Pal’Tan arrive safely.

They found the ragtag band on the roads, looking much worse for wear. Pal’Tan reported that it was indeed a horde of undead Mongrels, but also that there was a young, blond, handsome man off in the distance who seemed to be controlling them. Odinrak and Ramolis decided that clearly the caravan itself was the target and decided to return. Only Thorebin the Desert Dwarf Rune Writer seemed unhurt, and with one other Dwarf, agreed to head back with Odinrak and Ramolis to see what could be found at the caravan.

Once alone, Ramolis suggested they prepare for this fight with a special device. Masking his abilities again with his Argent Path symbol he created another wide aura of repelling the undead, Odinrak gathered the energies of the Weave and manifested an 8’ tall standard pole with a dragon’s head perched atop it, then bound the energy of Ramolis’ field into the standard pole, to which the Desert Dwarf strenuously etched the necessary Runes of Permanence. The collective effort paid off and now the party was in possession of a dragon standard that held the undead off a great distance, and with this newly created artifact in hand, they set off to find the young, blond, and handsome Necromancer.

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Ep. 3.1 Ramolis's musings
My kingdom starts tonight?

Well I must say that this trip has become much more interesting than I had expected. Early this morning a scout arrived bringing tails of a body staked to the ground. One advantage my ridicules cover grants me is the chance to show genuine interest in the newly departed, after all everyone deservers there last rights. I elected to travel with Odinrak and help make sure the way was save for the rest of the caravan.

As it turns out this dead body was only the tip of an iceberg. The nearby town has been slowly turned into undead zombies over the last few weeks. A nearby necromancer is likely trying to bolster his ranks. The range and power of his magical influence is quite impressive, I feel it is very likely that this man may have the artifact that I am looking for!

We returned to the caravan to find that most of it’s members died when they were attacked by an undead army! What luck, not only is the necromancer close but wile traveling with his army he should be simple to track. With the help of Odinrak and a rune shaper by the name Thorebin we managed to craft a powerful standard to word nearby undead. With it the necromancer should be stripped of most of his defenses.

Odinrak seems to think he will have little difficulty countering the necromancer’s magic, so between the two of us this should be a simple matter. Before sunrise I may have the item I have been searching for and even a ample supply of undead to take as my own!

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Ep 4.1
Dragon Rider!

I wish my father could see me now… How proud he would be! While no real dragon roars beneath me, I can say in truth that a beast as proud and powerful as any dragon known to legend serves as my steed in combat against our death-worsphipping foe; forged by my skill and my mastery of the Weave.

As my dragon’s huge wings crack the air and propel us forward at the speed of thought the steps which brought me here to this time and place, for this moment all seem to stand out so clearly…

With darkness soon to come upon us we searched the caravan but discovered little of its attackers. Ramolis was somewhat concerned about tracking them to their lair, but I guess his grief over our benefactor’s losses distracted him from the enormous trail of disturbed sand and stones heading away from the site and toward the coast. Unable to search any further, and nearly dead on our feet, we made camp.

Taking due precautions, Ramolis invoked the power of his deity and claimed our campsite was safe from the depredations of the walking dead used by our new foe. For my part, I crafted a watchman to look over us and alert me should anything approach from any angle. My companions were duly impressed by this feat. Sadly, it was not what I had envisioned. I guess my concentration wavered at the last instant. Meaning to summon a protective dragon-wing dome which would rouse me should something try to force its way in on our campsite, I instead found myself with a small globe of a very alert nature glowing over the campsite which roused me… constantly. Despite this small failing, I got enough rest and we were not killed in our sleep by the stealthy coyotes which hoped to feast on our tired flesh.

I killed one and drove the others off. We will feed on it instead.

As always, I found myself amazed at the simplicity and beauty of the magic of the Dwarves. How powerful are words that they may restore that which has been damaged? With a simple etching and a concentration of borrowed force, I watched in awe as Thorbin reconstituted useable wood to make a cooking fire… but that is another tale.

Just before sunrise we all got up after some strange and compelling dreams, broke our fast, broke camp, and then searched the remains of the caravan by dawn’s light. Our dwarf companion was most upset by what he discovered he’d lost. I on the other hand, carrying all I own on the ugly horse granted my by employer Pal’tan have lost nothing. There is nothing left for me to lose but my sword, and the dragon-rider brooch left to me by my grandfather.

Despite the evidence of our eyes, I am still finding it hard to imagine a young, blonde man could be responsible for this perverted scheme to build an army of the dead. Of course, if one were to attempt such a thing unnoticed, what better place than the one place where no one wants to go, and few – once here – can leave?

Setting off with a few grumbles from the dwarf, some comments about reinforcements from Ramolis, and the beginnings of a plan in my heart, we followed the massive trail blazed by the dead and headed for the coast.
Coming across their camp from higher ground, we surveyed it as best we could, and not being satisfied with what we could see with our own eyes, I created a mystic agent to spy out the lay of things.
Just off shore lay a small sailing vessel, bereft of crew. Trooping off down the beach was our blonde quarry, and 5 others. In the camp were three tents, a handful of animated skeletons, 5 living guards, and a metal cage with about a dozen mongrels trapped within – each bearing a black mark of some kind on their foreheads.
We knew a fight was upon us. Finding the odds a little long for my companions, a priest and a craftsman – particularly as the guards were armed with crossbows, I used my skills as a sorcerer to Weave mystical armour for each of us. I fear I may not have shielded Thorbin to the best of my ability, but in my experience his people often brag about how sturdy they are. Let him prove it.

As we began our approach, Ramolis returned to his nearly incessant praying followed by his absolutely incessant look of smugness, informing us that we would be invisible to the undead. This gave Thorbin an idea, and taking two of our bedrolls, he enchanted them on the spot to cloak what was ever inside them from view.

As the two of them made their way toward the camp on foot, I decided to fly in and set to work on the cage.

As they were shielded from view, I cannot describe the look of bewilderment on Ramolis’ face when they triggered the mystic alarms at the edge of the camp, but I can imagine it, and I did hear him distinctly say, “But… it’s a skull!?” as I descended to the top of the cage bearing the desperately abused prisoners.

Worried by the lack of any sign of an undead army, but certain one must be lurking around here somewhere, I set about examining the cage to see how best to free them. With the alarm screaming away, the guards forestalled that plan and both human and undead guards rushed to defend the camp.

Surprise lost, dropping the blankets, Ramolis dealt with the siren then he and Thorbin began to stalk two of the guards on the far side of the camp, while I unleashed the raw force of the Weave in an arcing spray of dragon’s breath claiming three of their lives. With the skeletons closing in, and being less sure how to deal with them, I erected a shield of woven dragon wings in a dome about the cage to keep us safe.

The two remaining guards fired on but could not penetrate my dragon-wing dome. Thorbin, somehow unseen by a defending skeleton, launched a strong attack but failed to down it. It responded with a flailing attack which did not seem to harm him. For his part, Ramolis began to issue orders to the skeletons and two of them began to obey him! Turning on their human masters, the skeletons turn to run the remaining guards off.

Feeling the press of time, I summon forth the force of the Weave once more to blow the lock off the door, but the stalwart steel resists me for a time, requiring two of my practiced blasts to drop free. Dropping the dome of wings, I set the mongrels free.

In the background, Ramolis has his captive undead circle back after chasing the guards away and destroy the other skeletons. I vowed to remember to ask him about how that was possible.

Worried about the purpose of the ship, concerned about the absence of the undead army, and unwilling to let the villain get away, I chose to attempt something I have never been willing to attempt before…. and that is how I came to be cloaked in joy and power, riding on the back of a dragon, straight into the teeth of battle as my ancestors of legend once did.

Arcing out over the water, I directed my winged steed to rip the sail from the mast and bring it with us to drop over the Necromancer and his allies. Without the means to see us, their foul magics might be less potent. Preparing myself to sense and thwart all access to the mystical energies of the Weave, I gave up the rewards of glory for dueling with fire and spell in favor of surviving. A man does not face down a Necromancer lightly.

It was at this moment, almost within my great steed’s striking range that I discovered a most horrifying truth! As my skills lent me the power to dispel his attempts to harm us, I perceived most clearly that not only was he a foul death mage, but a sorcerer as well!

Someone so powerful could not be suffered to live!

Dropping from the sky like a pouncing beast of prey, my charge and I poured our hearts and souls into killing him as fast as possible. As I wrestled with defeating his every spell, the dragon beneath me bound him in the sail and began to smash at him with its mighty forepaws…. and that is where we are now.

I do not know if I will survive, but if I do not, those I freed will tell the tale of this day, and who bravely stood against evil to save them.

I am at peace….

….but I know I am going to burn his ass to the ground.
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In the Steps of the Fathers
Life is what you make of it

The next campaign in the series, In the Steps of the Fathers begins both literally and figuratively in prison. The characters, all kept captive in converted monk cells in some ancient monastery slowly learn that they are not being evaluated for eventual inclusion in the Community of the Faithful, but are instead being kept as future sacrifices to appease the End Father. It is a core belief of their growing faith that sacrifices made during the Long Winter resulted in the Thaw, and that they, through their devotion have become a Chosen People.

Ostensibly set in the mountains along the border of Nascency, Jherlind, and Verelanar, In the Steps of the Fathers is a setting full of self-deterministic potential, and the compromises born of the need to survive. It is choice bound with action.

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ItSotF ~ Session 1: Escape!
It's better to die on your feet, than burn at the stake

The Characters, upon learning of their intended fates, band together and through prison whispers and desperate ingenuity, succeed in escaping from their stone cells. Maral, a Mongrel dirt-farmer from Rangon Bay in the Wastes of the Far East, is first to free himself from his cell, working a few stone blocks loose and slipping into the empty and unlocked cell next to his, and from there, freeing the others. The group, Maral, a Jherlindian warrior of the Unshattered named Grantur, a Cushu Mercenary, and a ferally disfigured mongrel tribal leader from the Warlands cautiously sought a way out of the ancient and strangely deserted monastery in which they had been imprisoned for months, kept weak, but alive on a thin vegetable broth.

Finding a flight of stairs down to the ground floor, and from there to the huge kitchens, two members of the group brutally butchered the hapless cooks, and led the others in looting drying laundry and fresh-baked supplies of unleavened bread and scavenged vegetables before creeping out into the evening gloom of the courtyard.

They found themselves in a deep canyon, in which the crumbling and broken-domed monastery huddles like a fearful child in the darkness. The lip of the high stone walls, painted with imagery of the evening sky, is capped with the shattered remnants of two enormous statues, a man and a woman facing each other across the top of the monastery. The woman’s massive head now lies against the canyon wall in front of the building, while the man’s hand and thigh lie on either side of it. A few roughly made buildings, animal stalls and a smithy, line edge of the courtyard.

Raiding the smithy, they found three serviceable short swords, needing proper wraps for the handle, and some hammers fit for smashing a variety of hard and soft things. They also discovered that a quintet of youths are preparing tables for the community’s evening meal, and that soon, people will come pouring across the bridge into the courtyard to feast. Escape must be now, or never!

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