You are in your 18th summer and the child of a priestess of the benevolent temple of Celeste. As such, you must go through an initiation/adulthood ceremony.
Being so young, you have little to no professional experience, but perhaps your teacher-father is a blacksmith, or a butcher, or a farmer, or a city guard. Perhaps you have fallen in with thieves and scalawags, or perhaps you've been a dutiful librarian's assistant, or perhaps you're following your mother's footsteps as an acolyte of the temple.
100 point human characters
- you have an implied Duty to comply with your mother's responsibilities to have her children "initiated"
- you are a teenager, so you no more than 8 points total on skills
- max 30 pt Disadvantages
- exotic/supernatural Advantages require GM approval
- magery / power investiture ok if your story supports it
- if you don't choose Status and Wealth you are average in each
- add Literacy if you want to know how to read
- you've lived your whole life in Cormire (and might have Area Knowledge as a result), but might have some traveling/exploring experience if your story supports it (e.g., dad is a merchant who travels back and forth to Zareph and Serenton regularly)
You each have siblings/cousins and/or acquaintances who have been through Initiation. A mature high priestess and a man-at-arms will march you off into the forest, say a few words in front of a really big tree, and then you come home. The primary complaint you've heard from recent Initiates is the unpleasantness of sleeping on the cold hard ground in the wilderness. →Decide what your character's feelings are regarding this obligation.
Each party member is aware of all the others. There should be some "history" between you, whether friendly or unfriendly or romantic or whatever. →Please work out at least one cross-character relationship prior to kickoff.
- Base wealth for teens is $400 (which is the cost of a Shortsword). If you want to spend more, you'll need to spend on the Wealth Advantage (10-pt "Comfortable" = $800, 20-pt "Wealthy" = $2000). Exceptions will be consider if part of your story and with a spend on Unusual Background.
- Due to the long journey ahead, you have been advised to keep your Encumbrance level at Light or below.
It is a crystal clear summer morning, crisp and cloudless. The sounds of commerce and activity are beginning to come alive in the grand granite city of Cormire.
After collecting supplies, a short walk leads you to meet High Priestess Ena on the steps of the temple.
- Harold, Darren's swift-footed scalawag
- Darcy - Blair's socialite
- Sajad - Ernest's Eastern woodcutter
High Priestess Ena greeted them warmly and invited them inside. Within, she opened a secret door and led the teens downstairs, where a glowing green egg as tall as a man sat upright in a cramped chamber. Ena said a quiet word and the egg dissolved, revealing a twisted staff. She explained that Cleste herself possessed this staff when she walked the Gurth long ago, and now it is core to the temple's faith.
The group then proceeded to meet up with a dour merchant who provided a ride out of the city and all the way up to the pass, at which they arrived after dark and met up with Ena's friend Spencer, a man-at-arms with a fabulous mustache.
A brief incident with a pair of lascivious barbarians left Sajad knocked out cold, but Ena addressed the situation with a spell which left the assailants unconscious on their backs as well.
Four days of travel bonded the group, with Darcy and Harold tending to Sajad's dislocated jaw daily.
The following morning, as the group was breaking down camp, a elf woman approached at great speed, riding a white unicorn. Ena immediately recognized and greeted her, but then an urgent debate began. The elf Eelia warned of a great approaching danger and advised the group follow her back to her camp. Ena instead insisted on rushing the party further down the forested hill to the Legacy Tree to proceed with the Initiation. Eelia accompanied, distresssed.
At the great tree, Ena urged the teens to approach it, when suddenly, she, Eelia, and Spencer were struck in the center of the chest by thick-shafted crossbow bolts. Each gasped and fell, and then white smoke emerged from the wounds as blood hissed and boiled.
Quick-thinking Darcy used a spell to levitate the staff from Ena's hand, which Sajad grabbed on the way into the great hollow at the base of the tree. Darcy and Harold followed, and all were immediately enclosed by a warm, comforting mist.
Two monstrous elves then entered the clearing, apparently oblivious to the teens' location, and devoured the hearts of the slain before maniacally cackling and dashing off into the forest.
Stunned, the teens debated next moves as the mist began to clear.
Harold exited the cocoon of the tree and brought the fallen priestess back within. He then moved on to the elf. As he touched her, three male elves rushed out of the trees, an arrow nocked and demanding answers. Haughty, outraged, and grief-stricken, they scold the teens to go home to their mommies, collect their sister's desecrated body, and depart.
Aghast and dismayed, the teens consider their options. Without their mentors/leaders, and the unhelpful elves, their direction is unclear.
They watch with wonder as the tree and Ena meld into a single form.
Then they hear a low-voiced moaning far off in the forest. Approaching carefully, they encounter a 15' tall giant apparently made of tree bark, kneeling, crying, at the base of a small tree that has been toppled. He is a simpleton bemoaning damage to his butterfly tree, and the party coaxes him into leading them to his queen, who, he says, will know what this means.
Queen Ciara greets the party with a subtle silent nod, and then uses one of the giant's tears to reconstruct the scene of the crime against the butterfly tree. A flash of light resulted in three monstrous elves astride massive spiders, which proceeded to crash through the tree and off into the forest.
Ciara raises an eyebrow and says, "Hmm, thirteen hundred years early."
A Higher Purpose
A friendly interrogation reveals that more than 1000 years ago, there was some sort of collaboration between the elves and dwarves to purge the land of "Hellions" by locking the "hellgates". Details are scarce, so the party asks who would know. The queen floats the possibility that the Elder Druids may remember.
Four days of hiking back up the mountains, punctuated by an owlbear encounter that Darcy manages with an illusion, the party steps out onto the broad snowfield, flanked by craggy peaks.
Midway, they spot a white dragon which makes several attempts at a wing buffet to knock everyone over. Then, a projectile slams into the enormous drake, scales shatter, and the beast tumbles several times, screeching, before taking flight again and disappearing into the distance.
A handsome elf in a gauzy tunic leaps superhumanly down through the boulders and introduces himself as Kazat. He hears of High Priestess Ena's demise, at the hands of monsttrous elves he refers to as "Voidbringers". He endorses the plan to consult the druids and offers a ride.
Whereupon he assumes his natural form, a mirror-scaled silver dragon twice the size of the white dragon. The team piles on and is soon aloft, flying downslope to the east for hours to an arid plateau with spidery canyons and twisted junipers.
They rendezvous with Dogger, a burly bearded bloke driving a "wind wagon" built entirely of natural materials. The dragon and the man exchange friendly remarks, Kazat flies off, and Dogger says, "Let's go then."
The wagon's leather sail billows mysteriously and a week-long journey of violent bumps at high speed commences. After a close call with a swarm of giant wasps, eventually, the party approaches an ancient stand of massive redwoods - Druid Grove.
There, Sloane Arakian indicates that the druids are aware of a hellgate breach and have been studying the moon and the winds to figure out next steps. In fact, one of their own recently traveled to the nearest hellgate and Sloane herself witnessed him open it and leap inside. She agrees to accompany the party to the site.
When she sees Dogger, she becomes enraged and runs towards him, cursing!
Journey to the Hellgate
After brief fisticuffs between the two NPCs, Sloane gathers her composure and says the children must choose a guide, for she shan't be traveling with "that man", with whom she evidently has some history. Dogg bows out, and the team heads out on foot.
For days of fast hiking, Harold doing his best to keep up with red-headed elf-druid while Sajad and Darcy lumber along far behind.
An ambush in a ravine results in Sloane being knocked unconscious by a rock thrown by a hideous furred/scaled humanoid. Harold quickly scales the embankment and starts stabbing the three assailants, but can't murder them all fast enough to prevent the sounding of an alarm.
Soon pursued by dozens of the unattractive primitives, the party scoops up Sloane and seeks high ground. As the sun goes down, they reach a hillock crowned with a ring of odd granite slabs. Beyond, the glowing eyes of four large quadrupeds presents a new threat. Sandwiched, they take cover among the rocks, but Sajad breaks through into a chamber within the hill, tumbling down 30' with the ragdoll of Sloane's still-unconscious body. He soon reports that there is hewn stone within, flat surfaces.
Under a starlit sky, the party resolves to hide within, and lights an ancient torch to look around. A sarcophagus against the wall and a series of ancient artistic panels are all there is to see. The panels depict a tall black-skinned warrior with snake-like hair slaying what seem to be the monstrous elves, or Voidbringers.
Monitoring the approaching threats, Harold concocts a plan to pit them against one another, with apparent success.
Curiosity piqued, the party opens the coffin, and the undead creature leaps out, dealing wounds until clobbered into oblivion.
The party crawls out of the hole under a dim moon to see the massacre engineered by Harold. A gravely injured Sloane comes to, provides some navigational instructions to Darcy, and then turns into an owl and flies off.
Children of Zog
The party hikes throughout the morning to the top of a rocky hill from which they spot their destination. A cluster of mud huts, some in ruins, and populated by several dozen hunchbacked mongrelfolk.
They sneak closer and spot the evident "boss", a scorpion-clawed horror that limps around with a bone staff, checking on his swaying, chanting flock. The cultish worshippers are surrounding a 20' wide stone well into which breeze is blowing dust from all directions.
Sajad hatches a plan -- because of the center-directed breeze, setting a brushfire all around the village will swarm upon the mongrels.
It mostly works, causing many of the creatures to keel over in a coughing fit. Sensing opportunity, the party rushes in and takes cover among the huts, eventually emerging to (Darcy) backstab a pregnant crow-faced mongrel-lass and (Sajad) seize the warlock leader. The hideous warlock's spells bounce off Sajad's thick skin, and he hurls the creature into the well, where Harold has determined anything dropped within in instantaneously annihilated.
Darcy tends to the crow-lady whose lung she pierced and the party considers next steps as the sun descends towards the horizon. The chanting subjects continue to murmur "Zog... Zog... Zog...".
Harold, in a fit of inspiration, holds the warlock's staff aloft and commands the mindless drones to put the enormous iron lid back on the well. They comply, and with Sajad's muscular and Darcy's sorcery assistance, succeed. The breeze stops.
Meanwhile a pair of mongrelfolk continue harvesting giant termites and feeding their guts to the cult members, who ingest it mindlessly before resuming their chanting.
The party inspects the well and finds a complex metallic circular maze pattern, and conjectures it's a lock, or a key, or seal.
When the sun goes down, the worshippers drop trousers and raise skirts in unison, as if prepared to receive some unholy penetration. After a few minutes, they cover themselves and resume chanting.
The party seeks refuge in a hut and watches. Once the stars are mostly out, a pulse of purple / white energy dislodges the lid once more, and Voidbringer crawls out, covered in clear slime, and evidently exhausted. One of the cultists holds out a bundle as an offering.
Inspired, Harold rushes forward with the bone staff and charges into the creature's chest. The Voidbringer topples over backwards, into the well, and disappears.
That night, Darcy wakes up before dawn and finds herself back in the snowfield where the party encountered the silver dragon. The boys are lyingin the snow, sleepng peacefully.
Darcy's mother stands before her, shimmering, eyes and lips closed, in ceremonial robes. She hears her mother's voice in her head, but it is faint and often unintelligible. She is able to pick up:
- High Priestess Ena
- Celeste's blessings
- Chronicles of the Panther
- Touch your friends with the staff, if they have accepted Celeste
- Your hair is a mess and you need a bath
When she returns to her body and wakes up in the hut, she nudges the boys, confirms their allegiance, and gifts them each with new powers....
Luck - Harold / Blessed (Heroic Feats - ST/DX/HT/Move) - Sajad / Power Investiture (certain colleges -- whichever she has now)
The party spends an extra day working their influence skills on the remaining mongrelfolk. Harold in particular identifies a new leader in a 350-lb bear-man and attempts to convince the hulk that he, Harold, will bestow the role of mongrel-king.
It seems to work, and so Harold takes the rhetoric to another level -- instructing the new king on procedures for evaluating arriving Voidbringers, and banishing the unworthy. Progress is made, but the party moves on the next day, hoping to find their way back to Druids' Grove to seek guidance regarding Talathese.
The heat of the summer on the arid plateau is brutal, and days of hiking and subsisting on meager (and sometimes poisonous) indigenous fare takes a toll. Everyone's exhausted, hurting, sunburned, dehydrated when the shrieked warning comes:
"Take another step and I'll put this poison arrow right into your bloody eye socket!"
The warning comes from Kezia, a petite dark-haired archer standing atop a low rise to the south. Harold attempts explaining the party's mission and intentions, but is met with "Whass'at?"
Kezia withdraws to consult her partner and the party follows.
In a shallow bowl beyond, blonde warrioress Cecily reclines in the shade of a scrubby little tree aside an aquamarine pond. Her hand is mangled and her bare legs and feet covered in blisters. Nevertheless, she cheerfully greets the party and tells her partner to stand down.
Conversation reveals that the ladies are adventurers currently seeking dragon heads for a warlord named Rogan in the north - "He pays in platinum, we'll be rich!"
Sadly, the dragon sought kicked the crap out of Cecily and she lost her swords in the process. A deal is proposed -- go get my swords and we'll tell ya the best way to Talathese. Whether dragon heads will also be retrieved, and whether the ladies will tend to the Voidbringer problem are issues left ambiguous, but the party takes a long cool drink of the stinky but safe pond water and resolves to visit the dragon the next day.
For dinner, Sajad returns with an enormous snake to roast, which, despite Harold's cooking skills, turns out to be mildly poisonous, rendering everyone uncomfortable through the night.
In the morning, the bedraggled party nevertheless treks the mile south to a lake of bubbling gravy-mud, approaches to the edge, and meets the nemesis -- a 3-headed dragon-thing.
Standing at the edge of the lake of boiling mud-gravy, the party takes their time consideration options, as the roaring creature does not seem to be advancing into the shallows. Sajad experiments with whacking rocks at it with his club, and Harold and Darcy fan out and consider other approaches.
In the end, Darcy casts Resist Fire on everyone, and they wade into the goo. Sajad sustains -- and delivers -- terrible injuries, and the mighty lad succumbs while the creature peels away to attack Harold. Darcy sneaks in and pokes it a few times with her rapier too, one attempt breaching the scales and piercing a spleen.
Bloodied, battered, mud-encrusted, the party returns to the warrioress duo with on dragon head, several arrows, a shortsword, and some magic gloves retrieved from a submerged skeleton.
A period of bathing, rest and first aid ensues, and Sajad manages to trap a small wild pig, and so a sort of victory feast is enjoyed by all.
The next day, the party bids farewell to the adventuring ladies and treks west. Five hard days on the arid plateau with limited food and water follow, and the party is relieved to finally get to the great river, flanked by greenery. A raft is built, a trout is speared, and the party camps out for a few days to recover their strength.
Down the River
Well rested, watered, and fed, the party stuffs a few handfuls of dried trout in their packs and embarks on their downriver journey. Fish and water continue to be plentiful, and the broad, lazy river delivers for days as the group tests out their boating skills.
One night, camping on a sandbar mid-river, Sajad spots some kind of enormous river serpent, and Harold sees a few over-sized bats, but other than that, everything seems fine.
The following day, the riparian terrain changes from bushy hillsides to a narrow sandstone canyon with evident whitecaps. The group pulls over to assess on foot. From then clifftop, the torrent appears.... somewhat manageable. Overconfidence wins the group over, and they embark yet again.
After an exhausting day of drenching close calls, the river widens again and soon opens up to reveal a verdant side canyon. On approach, the party sees a grotesque humanoid dangling by an angle from a big shade tree, and keeps their distance.
A little further along and they notice that the verdure is actually cultivated crops, lovingly curated and interspersed with tall red, blue, and yellow flowers. And in the foreground, at a calm inlet, they see a curious little swamp-goblin, who drops his fishing pole and scurries through the cropland to a funky little house built of natural materials.
This is Shandalar's home, and as the party approaches through the flowers, she walks straight towards them, with evident purpose, yelling "Get back!"
The reality emerges that the flowers were wilting as Harold passed them by. On the shore of the mighty river, Shandalar interrogates the party, first with her mind, then with words. She immediately senses that Darcy is "with Celeste", and that Harold is with "the Soul-Eaters". Once she figures out that Harold is carrying a certain thrusting broadsword, she demands it be submerged in water, lest the Soul-Eaters or their minions find the group.
An afternoon and evening of storytelling and bean-bowls commences, at the conclusion of which the group shares some hallucinatory soup and communes in a spiritual fashion. Suddenly, it's dawn, and each party member has received a boon -- High Pain Threshhold, Intuition, and Smooth Operator.
Shandalar's parting advice -- go visit "Saul" of the "Priory of Luna" -- he'll be a great help navigating the dynamics in the city of Talathese. She also warns that the way is long and hazardous, but the river is the best way to get there.
Choppy waters in an ever-deeper canyon creates a sense of foreboding, which is borne out two days later. While approaching Three King Bridge, winged figures atop the arching structure. They swoop in unison on an intercept course with the swirling raft. Luckily, Darcy casts a spell, creating the illusion that the raft and its riders are nothing more than choppy waters. Stymied, the winged creatures swirl around, but do not detect the party.
As a precaution against further malefactors, the party decides to drop the dark Soul-Eater's blade into the deep waters beneath the bridge.
Not far beyond, the cliffs subside and the river widens and slows, revealing arid grasslands as far as the eye can see.
A week of lazy, warm floating commences, as the river widens into a seemingly limitless plain of golden grasses with just a few trees per mile. They spot unfamiliar animals, and hear unknown species at night.
One day, while cooling his enormous feet in the river, Sajad is snatched by an enormous crocodile. He disappears in the frothing waters for a moment, Darcy utters a spell, and Sajad reappears on the raft, wide eyed and bleeding.
The croc returns to continue his meal, but Darcy is ready with the group's 18' rafting pole, which she pushes into its mouth. Harold, meanwhile, struggles to stabilize the makeshift raft as it tosses about in the creature's churning wake.
Sajad regains his senses and whacks the back of the pole with his club, sending the pole deep into the croc's pink gullet and causing it to lurch back and snort in frustration. It dips below the surface and the party does not see it again. First aid commences - Sajad's leg is punctured but will be fine in a few days.
That night, while camping onshore, the group hears strange chirping yelps from dozens of .. something. It turns out to be a pack of weird dog-like creatures, evidently attracted by the smell of roasting rabbit -- or the party members themselves. A decision is made to get back on the water and avoid the encounter.
A couple days later, a swath of green at the confluence of the River Ur and another large river is spotted, and soon the group also sees a dozen or more ramshackle structures, and boats tied to two river piers.
They're greeted warmly by scruffy hunters, trappers, and fishermen, who inform the group they've arrived at Hancock's Glen, a regional trading post where these guys come to trade and acquire moonshine and sexual services. The source of the latter is spotted later, as a nude woman is inspected by a several of the cohort before being taken into a mud hut.
Hancock himself gruffly greets the group and soon there's a circle passing moonshine around and getting Harold to tell some stories of the group's adventures. Darcy has modest success repelling unwanted attention, and at one point, she and Sajad wander off.
A hundred yards out of town, they spot a strange black mass in a ravine and approach but decide not to get too close. When they return, they hear muffled cries of distress from the 'services' hut, but continue on to check in with Harold, who continues to exercise his storytelling skills.
Hancock, seemingly attempting to be a magnanimous host, offers a private hut for the party to avoid the nightly patrols of hungry wild dogs, and the party says yes.
The adobe hut has 3 bedrolls and a small firepit in the middle; an aperture in the ceiling seems designed to allow its smoke to rise. Upon entry, the door slams, a metal bolt slides into place, and, after a moment, a bag of snakes is emptied inside from above.
To the Sea
Thinking on her feet, Darcy casts a Glue spell on most of the flor of the hut -- the snakes are immobilized with the 3 teens standing awkwardly against the sloped walls. A discussion of other potential actions ensues, until Harold hears someone climbing the exterior of the structure. In response, Darcy casts another spell, sending a column of magical flames from the firepit straight up through the aperture in the roof. A startled scream and the smell of burned hair results.
Sajad, now perturbed as the hut heats up, begins donkey-kicking holes in the door. A group of men is arrayed outside, observing. At one point, he spots Hancock chatting with a dark-garbed figure, but then Sajad loses his balance and belly-flops onto the gluetrap, fire and snakes in his face. With difficulty, he extracts.
Eventually the party smashes through the door, accompanied by yet another Darcy spell, an illusionary giant snake. The onlookers run in terror, and Sajad pursues the dark-clad stranger while Harold and Darcy head to the pier.
The stranger rounds a hut and attempts to skewer the lumbering Sajad with a dagger, but it's no match for his armor. Sajad (rolls a 3 and) lands a devastating punch, shattering the person's eye socket and rendering him unconsciously immediately. He collects the crumpled form and rejoins his friends at the pier, where Harold has lashed the homemade raft to a small fishing boat. The party pushes off in the dark of night.
After some discussion, the raft is sunk and the unconscious Souleater thrown naked on the shore some miles downstream. Darcy dons the creature's armor after some minor alterations from Sajad after dawn.
A day later, continuing to subsist on raw fish and berries, the river broadens further before splitting into dozens of channels through brushy mangroves. Soon, they can smell the ocean, and spot palm trees and a simple settlement.
The mostly nude, tan-skinned locals welcome the party to "Ganji", and offer fresh fruit, fish stew, and fermented coconut milk. A day of R&R commences, including a wrestling match and songs and a bit of romance.
In the morning, Harold invites his overnight bedpartner Satani to accompany the group down the the jetty, where an impressive galley is in the process of docking.
As worker-soldiers load fresh fruits and barrels of water up onto the galley, Darcy addresses the evident leader, Commander Aishani. Upon invitation, Darcy boards and notes the Commander has a companion, a scrawny mystic held aloft on a small platform by two burly servants. The mystic stares at Darcy with boggle eyes, and then nods almost imperceptibly to Aishani, who invites the entire party aboard for a ride to Talathese. Craving adventure, Satani climbs aboard as well.
On the appearance of two teenage girls on board, the expected ribaldry is instigated by the gritty sailors, but drama is minimized and the trip proceeds mostly without incident. Aishani is on her way from Sri to reestablish diplomatic and trading ties with her counterparts in Talathese, a trip she makes quarterly.
Sadly, Sajad spends most of the trip vomiting, and vows to avoid travel by sea in the future.
When Darcy shares the details of their quest and their destination, Aishani provides directions to reach the Priory of Luna -- and offers to buy the staff; Darcy declines.
On the night before arriving, Darcy and many aboard the ship suffer unsettled stomachs, and she experiences a wild dream, in which her mother mutters "Celeste is with you, share her power with your friends" before being overrun by a vast army of Souleaters.
Once the party disembarks the galley in the bustling city, Satani runs off with a handsome sailor, and the party, led by Harold's mysterious Area Knowledge (Wild Talent) proceeds to fence some of the treasures they've picked up on their adventures and spend the cash on fancy clothes (Darcy), armor, and weapons. Sajad finally has a sword.
After a few minor diversions, the group rents horses, exits the north gate and follows Aishani's directions to the turnoff into the foothills on the way to the Priory of Luna.
A Mission Defined
Saul is a magnanimous host, providing food, lodging and entertainment. Harold is given the floor at suppertime, and tells a rousing tale -- occasionally coached by a delighted Saul -- about the party's exploits and adventures thus far.
When the moon is about to rise, he leads the group in a brief ceremony and afterwards asks Darcy to consider the ways in which she reveres Celeste. She does so, and is awakened to certain new capabilities with the staff.
Saul then acknowledges he has no information about Souleaters, Voidbringers, or the Chronicles of the Panther, and so suggests that he introduce the party to Academis in the morning.
On the way back to Talathese in the cool morning light, four armored guards, riding from the city with moderate haste, beckon the party halt and have their identities confirmed. Saul is known of course, but is this Harold, Darcy, and Sajad? Indeed, come with us, city leaders wish to speak with you forthwith.
Saul's mule is pulling a cart full of ale, so as he lags behind, the party rides with the guards to a great hall on a hill in the center of the city, stopping only to returned their rented horses.
Ascending two dozen broad granite steps to enter a dramatic archway flanked by forty foot marble columns bedecked with colorful banners, the group enters a massive domed chamber. A semicircle of fabulous high-backed chairs is across the smooth marble floor, and seated are Brad, Aishani, an exhausted and ancient Academis and a dozen other high ranking officials and administrators. (Kojax is again off in the wilds with a handful of Wolves, slaying evil and demanding justice.)
Brad permits Harold a 60-second summary of recent events, and then interrupts.
Nevermind -- the facts are the facts. Academis spent the last 24 hours in what remains of our archives and found this .. chronicles you mentioned. Even he had never heard of it.
But it checks out. When all of our ancestors lived in stick huts, the ancient elves and dwarves purged the land of these... Souleaters, and locked them away with impenetrable gates, these "hell gates". But now the fiends have broken through.
But during the process, a group of primitive heroes of Sempredium did their own work to exterminate the devils. The poorly translated tome you mentioned concerns the activities of "Panther, Wolf, and Viper, and the witch". Countless adventures are described in the tome, the original written by a young acolyte of Geb. When the acolyte returned to Geb, the Panther and his crew were headed to Leros. The witch supposedly developed wards in the form of copper armbands that allowed humans to freely travel in and out of the hellgates.
The whole story sounds somewhat preposterous, does it not?
And so Academis did a little digging.
Academis, weary: "The hellgates are real. Two are open. One deep in the Twisted Forest, as you know. One on Hell Island.... Divine forces have chosen you three for this quest... we will help you."
Brad: We know little of Leros. The isles are primitive and piraacy takes a toll on trade. You must go to Leros to retrieve the copper armbands, and then go to Hell Island. These four Wolves, some of my best, will guide and protect you. You depart immediately. One of our fast skiffs is being loaded with provisions right now.
The city leaders then brusquely move on to Agenda Item 23(B) and the four Wolves escort the party down to the docks. The well-stocked ship is managed expertly by the four soldiers.
Over the next 48 hours, a gruff rapport develops and some party members receive some expert weapons training.
But on the third day, far out to sea, the soldier on duty wakes everyone just before dawn. A pirate ship is approaching.
The Wolves prepare their scorpions, concealed tension-based siege weapons that fire twelve 1-lb metal darts. The battle begins, with the pirates launching casks of burning pitch onto the deck (even hitting Sajad directly, covering him in sticky black pitch), but Darcy's standing by to magically extinguish the flames -- exhausting her.
Most of the pirates are killed or maimed by darts, but there's still a fighting force eager to slay and capture the stocked military vessel, and so plans are made by both ships to prepare for boarding!
The battle commences, with the scrawny pirates taking massive losses. Julius uses the swinging boom to launch across to the deck behind the pirates and immediately deals death left and right. A chained-up young woman screams through most of the combat. Sajad boards, hacking through bad guys and finally using one skinny pirate as a shield and club. On board the home vessel, a spell-exhausted Darcy lunges with her beloved rapier to pierce the spleen of a rabid pirate about to harm Harold. Alas, Cassia the Wolf falls (and later receives a burial at sea by her brothers).
When all is quiet but for the waves and wind, some cheap pirate booty is collected, Neesha is unchained and invited aboard, and a somber party sails south as the corpse-littered pirate ship smolders and sinks.
Like other islands in the region, the shoreline is made up of white cliffs and white beaches, with a greenery-covered interior highlands area. On its west side, a bay dotted with small fishing vessels is discovered and approached.
In the middle of the shallow bay, a column-like rock formation juts out. Affixed to it are multiple human corpses in various states of decay, covered in sea birds and crabs.
The fishing vessels turn towards the beach as the Talathesian military ship approaches. As the ship gets closer, hundreds of barely-dressed locals come out on the beach, armed with 6' spears.
The Wolves warn that the bay is very shallow, and they could run aground at any moment. But the party persists, and gets just close enough to the small pier to disembark. The Wolves, fearing that a change in tides could beach the vessel, withdraw, agreeing to rendezvous with the party on the north shore at dawn, daily, for a week. Good luck.
Before doing so, Darcy manifests a complex illusion that makes her appear as a supernatural mermaid queen, borne by the mighty scaled arms of Sajad-squid-god... The leaders of the village are wowed and agree to hear the purpose of the visit.
Darcy and Harold tell the story, including the possibility that 'the Panther' visiting many years ago. A few details are exchanged, and Azan, the mystic leader of this reclusive community, describes the Panther's visit as an invasion that was repelled by an enraged community that drove him and his clan to retreat to the highlands and finally hurl themselves into the "navel of the world" rather than be torn limb from limb by the mob.
Azan says he might even show you, but he needs something from you, first.
In the morning, Azan and three spearmen lead the party a mile into the brushy jungle to meet Gorn, the fat and filthy pig farmer. The farmer reports that he lets the pigs out of their pen at night to forage for a particular fungus upslope a bit, but now he's lost 16 pigs in 30 days to something big that leaves no trace but a splash of blood.
Sajad and Harold begin investigating. Azan and his spearmen withdraw to the village after telling Darcy that when Gorn brings him the head of whatever the beast is that's killing pigs, the location of the "navel" will be shared.
It's concluded that the beast is big, flying, and has claws and maybe a tail spike. A bit more discussion with Gorn turns up the fact that there's a path from his farm to highest point on the island -- a good vantage to spot a big flying creature. A plan is discussed, concluding that first the party should check in with the Wolves on the north shore.
While hacking through the brushy jungle, Harold experiences a flash of inspiration (ADV: Wild Talent) and has a solid grasp on the geography of the island. He knows the best way to the north shore, the location of a den of giant spiders, and that there are a few minor settlements elsewhere on the island.
By evening, the party sets camp on a brushy hillock overlooking the northern lagoon. The Talathesian vessel is visible a mile or two out to sea.
After saying a prayer to Celeste, Darcy drifts off to sleep after dark, and Harold briefly spots a large winged serpent in the twilight... but then loses it in the darkness.
In the morning, the group rendezvous with the Wolves, gets rejuvenated and resupplied, and declines their offer of armed assistance with the beast.
The Wolves head back out to sea, and the party treks along the coast to visit a settlement that Harold intuits is just a mile or so away.
He's right, a settlement of 30 or 40 tall, thin, dark-skinned humans are here, wearing bright red-colored garb and jewelry, contrasting with the pale, white-clothed people of the much larger village on the western shore. The party is welcomed warmly, with the children insisting on touching Darcy's straight smooth hair, so different from theirs.
Jaba, their gray-haired elder, invites the party to share in boiled crab stew and exchange stories. The settlement is evidently descended from the legendary Panther and his ilk, but has an enduring sense of shame that their ancestor arrived on this island as invaders. They have remained a small and reclusive culture ever since.
Jaba offers to show the party the pit where the Panther and his compatriots chose to hurl themselves rather than be captured or killed by the mob that rose up to counter their oppression. He insists on going alone, over the objections of some of the younger men, because the site is forbidden, a place of sacred and solemn shame.
The hike begins late in the afternoon. After dark, Jaba suffers some sort of stroke, and Sajad begins carrying him. They hike through the night, avoiding snakes and enormous insects in the dark.
They crest the peak with pink to the east, and as the light increases, spot a massive winged serpent, circling their location.
The wyvern swoops in, attempting a wing buffet, but everyone keeps their feet, spreading out cautiously. The next pass is met by an arrow to the vitals from Harold. Now the target of its ire, Harold quickly prepares another arrow. Sajad wraps his bolas around the beasts snout on the next pass, leading it to take a longer loop before returning, unencumbered.
Harold decides to take a chance and withhold his next arrow until the last moment. His luck holds, and he's able to bury an arrow into the creatures brain via the eye socket. It crashes into the rocky hillside, tumbling as Sajad drives his shortsword into its ribs.
With the beast slain, Harold and Sajad begin removing some of its tough scales for later use. Then, the party returns elderly Jaba to his village, where they are convinced to stay and eat and sleep and celebrate the victory.
They arise before dawn and hike back up to "the navel", arriving at noon, and discovering the aperture is invested by large flesh-eating plants. Darcy drops a ball of fire into the void and roasts many of them -- the rest are placated with chunks of serpent meat as the party makes the dangerous descent into the mountain.
A hundred yards down, the tube changes course, providing a slanted ledge upon which to rest and consider next options. Far, far below there's a dimly lit aquamarine pool. It takes a disturbingly long time for a dropped rock to splash down.
Darcy then casts a spell, and Sajad gets the ability to... fly!
He deftly picks up both Darcy and Harold, and begins a rapid-but-not-too-rapid descent, splashing into chest-deep warm salt water just before the spell expires. It's an underground sea cave, populated by urchins and other sea creatures.
After a moment, the real denizen returns through a tunnel to the outside -- a crab bigger than an ox, with various shiny bits encrusted to its shell.
Splashing, chaotic battle ensues; Sajad slices off one of the creature's legs before climbing atop its shell and driving a knife through it. Harold slashes at eyestalks and vitals with some decent effect. But it is Darcy's fire magic that sends the beast into a panicked retreat, with Sajad affixed to its shell. Both disappear in a great frothing inundation of hot sea water.
With great difficulty, Sajad sinks the giant crab, collects the loot on its shell, and awaits word from Darcy and Harold. They emerge from the underwater cave shortly, exhausted to the point of near drowning. Sajad himself must attempt swimming to shore while armored, and nearly sinks as well. Harold and Darcy drag him shore, where all 3 pass out.
Hours pass, and Sajad only wakes up when the butcher knife he peeled off the crab shell appears in his hand. A wildcat runs off as he sits up, exhilarated. After some more rest, the party trudges the coastline north to regroup with Jaba and his peaceful tribe. Another feast is enjoyed, well-wishes exchanged, and the next morning the party rejoins the Wolves in the north lagoon.
Armed with useful intel, the group decides to approach the island from the south, to rendezvous with Neesha's people and avoid the northerners.
The southerners prove to be hospitable, and Neesha is able to rejoin her family, to everyone's delight. The community welcomes the strangers, but most of their discussions concern the upcoming 'Balancing', a ceremonial battle with the north.
The party decides to trek up towards the center of the island, the high cliff that, they suspect, looks down upon the Hellgate.
They're right. 2000' below, at the bottom of a great rift in the island, a dot of utter blackness is surrounded by about 50 hellions/souleaters/voidbringers. Some are working to build a weird warship near where the rift opens to the sea on the eastern coast.
Having learned a thing or two about flying, the team decides to have Sajad scoop up the other two and magically fly-fall off the cliff and directly into the hellgate.
But first, they engineer a catastrophic rockfall. A ton of beach-ball and smaller rocks cascade down the precipice, smashing the ship-builders and their vessel.
Upon entering the hellgate, the team immediately tumbles through thick dust, and find themselves in a weird new world of gray ash and dust, distant peaks scarcely visible through the blowing cinders.
After pausing to dust themselves off, they are taken aback when two roughly humanoid blobs rear up from the dust. The waist-high creatures have no facial features and make no sound, but after some attempts at communication the party comes to believe that when their 'heads' glow blue, that's a "no" or sadness/negativity, and red is "yes" or joy/positivity.
Harold's Wild Talent reveals that these are the ancient inhabitants of this planetoid, this demi-plane of shadows, and that there's a large city just five miles away. The creatures, which the party dubs 'the grays', seem to be pleased to lead the party to this city. The creatures also take an interest in touching the copper armbands that each of the teens wears.
From GM Notes:
Lording over the concentration camp - voidbringers with long forks, accompanied by spiders larger than horses, that are plucking grays out of the crowd and putting them on a conveyor system, which is powered by the efforts of many more grays, at the top of which the creatures drop into a vat with rotating gears on the side. A burst of gray vapors bursts from a stack every few seconds. A system of chutes directs the pulverized results, a glowing purple ichor, in branching channels that lead to... Area 1 - the base of the vine/tree, where 'arteries' of purple snake up the sides of the main trunk. Watch this long enough and an armed bad guy will lean against the trunk, the trunk will accept and begin peristaltically pushing him up up up... And .. watch the pods long enough and a naked skinny voidbringer drops out. Area 2 (far side) forge - thousands of voidbringers forging weapons, armor Area 3 (directly in front and to your left) the concentration camp Area 4 (in front and to your right) the majority of the ichor goes this way, to a series of mansion-sized vats, connected by pipes, steaming and bubbling, and then into a dodge-van sized smaller stone vessel. An assembly line of voidbringers are removing the evident whitish final product with buckets to dozens of long work benches on which voidbringers are carefully sprinkling the white powder into thick crossbow bolts. The grays throb with a deep blue glow.. :(
While hatching a plan, Sajad's danger-sensing butcher knife teleports into his hand. He spins around to see a fast-approaching voidbringer atop a spider the size of an elephant.
While the other two teens split left and right, Sajad rushes forward , under the spider's mandibles, and jams a sword though the carapace abdomen, where he then holds it in, wiggling about as the beast thrashes and the rider tries in vain to stab with a long spear.
The rider jumps down -- only to be skewered by Darcy's rapier.
Threat extinguished, the party turns to infiltration. The plan is to mask themselves with an illusion of a rockfall, and slide down the wall of the crater to join the grays in the massive camp.
It works. Next, they abscond with a crossbow and sack full of the explosive white powder, and use another of Darcy's illusions to mask it as a voidbringer at the base of the towering crystal vine.
After stealthily retreating a short distance away, Harold aims and fires.
And the crystal vine cracks at its base and begins to fall, its thousand-foot-high bulk splintering into a billion pieces and setting the voidbringers' efforts back many centuries.
Darcy then uses intuitively the staff to craft a portal home. A moment later, the tree teenagers are in the inner sanctum of the Temple of Celeste in Cormire. After placing the staff back in its case, they ascend to the main temple, where the priestesses -- including all the teen' moms -- are engaged in prayer, which evidently works, because the children have returned.
Elation and jubilation follows -- tinged with a bit of scolding for taking so long, having obviously poor hygiene and sunburn, and missing so much school.
Afterwards, the teens step out on the bustling streets of Cormire, transformed by their experience and glad to be home.