[5E] The Age of Worms - Solid Snake's Campaign

Dramatis Personae

Players:
-Etona Aspianne (Elf), risen cleric of Sehanine
-Rey (Half-Elf), scout of Seraph
-Egan Killian (Human), former apprentice to Allustan
-Melinde (Human), champion of Heironeous
-Verdre Aspianne (Elf), druid of the Mirror
-Rishkar (Lizardman), spiritwalker of the Mistmarsh
-Eleanor (Human), emissary of the Circle
-Treig (Human), mercenary
-Jordan Cranden II (Human), fallen Knight of the Order

Notable NPCs of Diamond Lake:
-Governor-Mayor Lanod Neff
-Sherriff Cubbin
-Allustan the Sage, renowned scholar
-Balabar Smenk, wealthy and ambitious mine owner
-Ragnolin Dourstone, secretive mine owner
-Captain Tolliver Trask, commander of Diamond Lake's Garrison
-Valkus Dun, high priest of Heironeous
-Lady Zalamandra, owner of the Emporium

Notable NPCs of Greyhawk:
-Elgios, Loremaster and friend of Allustan
-Councilman Thran Chozik, Merchant Guild representative of the City Council
-Marshall Trent, supreme commander of the Garrison of Greyhawk
-Krizin O'dell, Marshall Trent's emissary
-Loris Raknian, manager of the Champion Games

Notable NPCs of Magepoint:
-Archmage Tenser, member of the Circle of Eight
-Agath of Thrunch, High Priest of Celestian
-Cymeria of Celadon, Caretaker of the Fortress of Unknown Depths
-Celeste, Tenser's apprentice
 
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Chapter 1 (“A person often meets his destiny on the road he took to avoid it.” -Jean de La Fontaine)

The sun rose lazily over Diamond Lake, much like the inhabitants of this struggling mining town, hiding behind the Cairn Hills until its first rays peeked out blearily well after dawn. Unlike most mornings, this one would be different. On the Urnst Trial, little more than a double track of wagon ruts interrupted by a petulant grassy verge, outside the Bode Farm, a chance encounter between two nomads would change the course of destiny for a great many lives.
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Rey had been studying the farm for many days now, just as she had been trained to do. She could hear her Mistress’s voice in her head: You are weak, and so you must hide. Like other animals, you must use your natural environment to your advantage. Stay low and stay quiet. Wait patiently for the enemy to reveal its weakness to you. Then strike swiftly and without mercy. The warrior shook her head to refocus herself.

The Bode Farm had recently been sold to a wealthy rancher named Darren, he had a few other farms around the town, and it would not be long before he owned all the livestock in the area. The woman who recently sold him the farm was Hannah, a lively woman who towered over the rancher. From Rey’s distance, a thousand paces up the trail, it was difficult to make out what they were arguing about, but Rey was sure it had something to do with the three dead cows lying in the front yard of the farmhouse. Darren’s farmhands were funneling the remainder of the cattle out to pasture for their morning feeding, but the argument was not the most interesting development this morning.

Rey’s attention slipped from the escalating human discussion to a figure moving along the trail ahead of her vantage point. It was a lithe elven woman who seemed oblivious to the ongoing human conflict. She hid her features well under her cloak, but Rey recognized her own ancestry. She moved gracefully around the obstacles making her way in Rey’s general direction. She could not have seen me. The sun is in her eyes, and I am on elevated ground. Impossible. It was then that the young woman removed her hood and waved to Rey with a smile. S**t! This morning was not going as planned, and, from the look of things, it was also heating up down at the Bode farm. Darren had waved over one of his men and was sticking his finger in Hannah’s chest threateningly. Something stirred inside Rey, and she arose from the ground rather quickly. The mysterious elven woman seemed taken aback by Rey’s sudden, almost overtly obvious movement, but she too sensed that something was amiss down at the farm.

“It is so good to see my brethren out here,” the elven woman said almost longingly in Elven, the words tinged with a heavy drawl from the wood elves of Celune. “I haven’t been able to speak my native tongue in quite sometime. It is such a blessing to do so, even if it is only to greet a stranger.”

“I had no idea I would actually meet a real elf near this town,” Rey remarked.

“My name is Etona Aspianne.” A wispy smile half-felt, half-testing spread from the chin to her sharp cheeks.

“It is a pleasure to meet you Etona, my name is Rey,” the half-elf replied with her hand outstretched in a very human gesture.

The diminutive elf regarded Rey’s hand for a moment before smiling and clasping her hand in a warm embrace. When the two looked up, they noted the shocked expression upon the faces of both Hannah and Darren, who had temporarily stopped their argument to look upon this fateful meeting.

“It appears that this commotion requires our attention.” Etona sighed. “Do not worry, I once was an Ambassador for my tribe,” Etona whispered in Elven. Switching to Common seamlessly, she called out to both Hannah and Darren “What seems to be the problem?”

It wasn’t long before Etona had reached the crux of the issue. Darren believed that Hannah had sold him a cursed farm, which had resulted in the death of three of his prized cattle. He wanted his money reimbursed and Hannah was not willing to do so. She had plans for the money, and those plans had nothing to do with Diamond Lake. Rey only half-listened as Hannah told her story. I must find out what killed these cattle. It may be the same ailment that plagues my Mistress.

If Etona came from nobility, she gave no such illusions to Rey as she rolled up her sleeves and took out her hunting knife. She approached one of the cows, checking its mouth for a while before positioning her blade over the creature’s belly.

“Did you notice the bloating on these three cows,” she asked Rey as she cut the creature’s abdomen. Intestines poured from the wound as Rey nodded. With great precision, Etona began to open each of the cow’s stomachs in sequence, until she reached the third. With minimal effort, the opening expanded quickly and a lilac bush burst from the organ. Every stem and leaf was completely preserved as if it had not been masticated or digested. Even the unflappable Etona seemed surprised by this development.

“This should not be,” the elf simply stated. Etona turned the fully formed bush over in her hands deliberately for a while before looking at Rey. “Help me open the others.” The two women made quick work of the other two cows, and before long, they were staring at three identical lilac bushes. What sorcery is this?

“Hannah, do lilacs like these grow on your farm,” Etona asked.

“No,” she said unconvincingly. An awkward pause followed as Hannah seemed lost in thought. “Well, there is one bush my mother planted on my father’s grave a while back.”

“Take us to it,” Rey commanded.

Nodding her head, Hannah escorted the group to the Bode family cemetery plot. There, near her father’s headstone was the very same lilac bush that had sprung from the dead cattle. After some experimentation on the part of Etona, this particular lilac plant seemed to be able to regenerate any damage it sustained. What’s more, pieces cut from this plant formed exact replicas that were able to survive for some time before disintegrating into dust.

After a brief discussion with both parties, Etona managed to convince Darren that the farm was not cursed and that he had an enchanted plant growing on his property. She suggested that he construct a fence around the graves to prevent other cows from ingesting it in the future. Darren took the elf’s recommendation and ultimately decided not to back out of the deal he had made with Hannah. The young woman was so elated by the prospect of not having to remain in Diamond Lake that she invited the elven women to the Emporium, a local tavern, for dinner and eagerly handed over her mother’s dusty journal to Rey. Hannah explained that she received the decrepit manuscript in the estate when the title was transferred over to her after her mother’s death. Etona made sure to thank Hannah for her kindness before both travelers departed the tavern, ushering Rey to a secluded glade near the edge of the town. It was obvious that the elven ambassador woman had expended what little reserves of energy she had from the haggard look upon her face.

“Rey, would you mind if I rested,” she asked.

She does not know me. How can she trust me with her life so easily? This is foolish. This is how they found us. This is why they are dead. My weakness. It is my fault.

“Of course,” Rey replied more warmly than she expected. As Etona clambered up the tree and rested between its branches, she did not notice the tear Rey wiped away from her eye.

To distract herself from the pain, Rey began to read the journal. It was bitter work, but by the time Etona roused from her trance she had made an important discovery.

“I found something,” Rey stated.

Perplexed, Etona responded. “What did you find?”

“The journal. I figured it out.”

“You read the entire journal while I meditated?” Even Etona could not restrain the awe and surprise in her voice.

“It appears that Hannah’s father, Haddock, used to frequent a tomb near the town called the Whispering Cairn. He describes cultivating lilacs from the area to bring back to his wife. But that isn’t the interesting part,” Rey said with a smile.

“The journal is over a thousand pages-”

“If I am reading this timeline correctly, both of Hannah’s parents are over 100 years old,” Rey continued. “That is a long timeline even for a half-elf such as myself. The regenerating lilac bush and the very old human couple are far too coincidental. Magic is at work here, and the Whispering Cairn has something to do with this.”

Etona nodded. “Then that is where we shall go.”
 
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Chapter 2 (“Friendship is always a sweet responsibility, never an opportunity.” -Khalil Gibran)

Agreeing to meet at an abandoned mining office near the Whispering Cairn the next morning, Rey was surprised to find Etona at her campsite. The smell of stewed vegetables wafted through the air and surprisingly Rey’s stomach growled. Etona shared stories about her past. Specifically about the trials of her and her tribe dedicated to the goddess Sehanine. She has been the tribe's priest, a unique honor bestowed but once in a generation. Her silver bow, Angivre, was a relic passed down through the tribe for generations but she had recently lost possession of it in the service of a local girl named Phreet. For an elf, she cares a great deal about humans. Are all elves like her?

Etona’s stories continued as the two women followed the trail toward the Whispering Cairn. Passing the abandoned mining office cited in Haddock’s journal, Rey spotted a copse of lilac bushes near the well. Etona, excited at the prospect of solving the mystery, rushed towards the brush and disturbed a swarm of stirges! Rey’s prowess with her spear made quick work of them, but Etona did not escape unscathed. One of the insects managed to drive its proboscis into the elven woman’s neck and relieve her of a considerable volume of blood. The lilacs proved to be altogether ordinary and the well seemed to have run dry. Disheartened by the lack of clarity, the pair continued on their path to the Whispering Cairn.

The entrance to the tomb was overgrown, the result of many decades of neglect. Despite the dense brush, Rey was able to identify numerous canine tracks leading to and from the entrance. She was hesitant to enter the crypt, but Etona wished to venture on and so the elven priestess slipped between the vines and vanished within. Shortly thereafter, she returned with a report on her reconnaissance. Within the eerie halls of the Whispering Cairn were numerous frescos and glyphs of an ancient civilization. The tracks seemed to belong to two hungry wolves that had set up their lair inside the cairn. Neither woman had any desire to end the life of an innocent animal and so they devised a plan to lure out them out. Rey caught some pheasant in the nearby hills while Etona created a fire pit directly outside the entrance to the tomb. The smell of roasted meat proved too much of a temptation for the wolves inside and it wasn’t long thereafter that they exited their lair to partake in the gift.

“It would seem that our party has grown, Rey,” the elf said fondly.

Rey merely smiled as they entered. A green light drew them deep within the structure to a large chamber with seven adjacent alcoves. In the center of the chamber was a large sarcophagus, an androgynous humanoid figure with strange glyphs inscribed upon it. The source of the strange green light was one of the alcoves. Each of them contained a lantern of a different color, dangling from a chain affixed to the ceiling: orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. The green lantern appeared to be lit by a magical fire that did not emanate any heat. Interestingly, two of the alcoves did not contain any lanterns and Etona’s keen senses noted a passageway in the ceiling above the blue lantern. With some experimentation, Rey was able to also deduce that the sarcophagus could be rotated. When the position of the sarcophagus was adjusted, large metal tubes rose out of the earth in some of the alcoves.

“There is nowhere in the world I want to be less than inside one of those tubes,” Etona stated.

“Agreed,” Rey replied.

It was when the sarcophagus was pointed towards the green lantern that things took a turn for the worse. The screeching of metal grinding against metal precipitated a seismic wave that shook the very foundations of the cairn. Cracks began to form along the floor and soon afterwards the entire alcove collapsed inward. Once the cacophony of destruction subsided, a small buzzing filled the air. The wolves growled, baring their teeth.

“Something is wrong,” Rey proclaimed.

“RUUUUUNNNN,” Etona yelled.

Her companion’s fear startled Rey. She took off like an arrow loosed from a bow. Neither woman looked back at the carpet of beetles that began to spew from the hole in the floor.
 
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Journal of Etona: Entry I

I never gathered the larunyl. To my surprise, I never even found them again. Instead, I have befriended some kind of silent warrior monk druid whose human blood glimmers with elf. She seems otherworldly, though not like the Eladrin or my own cousins: she is more akin to a feral guardian spirit, the sort my ancestors probably sprang from. She reminds me a little of Uncle Skaen after his last dorse feu. I wonder if she shape changes?

I was heading for the larunyl when I simultaneously heard an argument brewing between Hannah and another human I have seen around town, and I caught the flash of morning sun on glass from a point tucked away into Sprawled Copse at the base of Western Wander Deer Path Over Hill (I name everything here with no argument, no conversion. Such novelty! I agree to all my suggestions. But where is the glory of growing and speaking that perfect name to no one? It is winning a race against nothing and in front of no eyes. It is the freedom that Her Moonlit Lady knows, I hazard, but too grand for a mere elf). It was she, the shy tree of woman, the tallest female I have ever seen. That she is part elf is almost not believable.

I was so surprised to see, and then hear, one of my own kind that I found myself striding right up to her. She was spying the humans’ bickering, but my revealing her coaxed her out. So we went to see what the couple were arguing about. It was poison! Or so said the man who had just purchased the farm from Hannah, the woman. Three of his cattle – he had brought a lot of cows and they were everywhere – lay dead right in front of them.

It did not take long to understand the cause. It was obvious, once we examined the animals. It merely took a long time to believe it.

Lilac grows freely around this countryside, laipi in my language. It is a harmless if bitter plant, hardy and tasting of it. A splash of laipi had grown over the grave of Hannah’s father. The same splash was exactly preserved – to the outer edges of each leaf – within the third stomach of the slain cattle. A magical copy of itself had grown back to fullness inside the cow causing a fatal stomach ache.

Snipping off a sprig caused it to replicate also, right in my hand, though only for a moment after which it withered and died. The host plant simply regrew the missing branch exactly as it had been before. Magic. A lot of it. Wanton magic.

I convinced Darin, the man who now owned the farm, that there might be an interesting story here and some, eh, “money to be made” off the curiosity if we could get to the bottom of the mystery. Also, he did not really want to go back on his deal with Hannah – I could see that – so with his permission we delved further.

Hannah gave Rey her mother’s diary as part of what she was leaving behind. I thought this curious until later when we looked at it more carefully. The day was approaching Bustle, so I stopped to meditate on what I had seen, what I have heard so far, and on Rey. When I greeted the early twilight of Rise again, Rey had read the entire tome, at least a thousand pages! The text, like the plant, had been copied from the original. I wonder if a ripped page would as well re-form?

Hannah was off, moving into town close to the place where she works, the Emporium, a den of physical pleasures. I am very curious to lose myself in there for a time, sample everything, but I have not yet the knack of retaining the little coins of civilizations. They seem to simply evaporate after I get them. Of course, much of it is Phreet. No, she does not steal them, not any more, but simply keeping her alive and happy and moving her away from a life of crime sweep the coins into oblivion. There are never enough.

Back to Hannah again. The lilacs over her father’s grave, Haddok his name, came from a cairn near an abandoned iron mine a day’s journey away. It is called the Whispering Cairn. Phreet has heard of it: young humans venture in on dares and stay as long as they can. Haunted, they believe. As we now had a map to guide us, and nothing more was to be gained from remaining at the farm, we started off, though Rey had to cater to her body’s call for sleep first. I had a drink like coffee but sweeter-tasting and some fried herb cakes waiting for her when she woke up.

The iron mine is in bad shape, its main building falling to pieces, though with some work I suppose it could be restored. We would have to rid the place of stirges first. I gave a cup of my blood to one before Rey cut it in two along with its brother and then, as skillfully as she had made four motionless semi-monsters out of two flapping whole ones, bound my injuries. Her touch is deceptively tender.

We found the cairn. So had a pair of stringy wolves.

Rey shares my dislike of wantonly killing animals, so we lured them out and, to my (by now merely mild) surprise, she tamed them. We were free to roam inside.

Ancient stone furniture. An old abandoned sleeping bag. Ghostly howls and sighs of the dead. And stairs down in the back that led to a peculiar chamber – so odd was it that I momentarily forgot to be oppressed by the tons of stone above (since She has taken her leave of me, I am finding life indoors less and less bearable but more and more necessary).

We had been heading this entire time to a greenish glow emanating from down here, and now its source was revealed: a lit lantern of cold verdant light hanging from a chain in one of many alcoves at the back of a round room whose center was dominated by a stone sarfogae, no, that isn’t right, sarcoughiss. Sarcophagus. That’s it.

I had always imaged sarcophaguses, sarcophagae … stone grave boxes to be heavy and unmovable. They are not! At least, not here: this stone grave box spins with some effort to point to the different alcoves, each featuring a lantern suspended from high above on a chain, and each lantern is a different color. That is, we think that’s true as two of the lanterns appear to be missing. Oh, and yellow and indigo each have tubes that come out of the floor when you point the sarcophagus at it. At least, that’s what happened when we pointed it at yellow: a metal tube with a door in it – tall and wide enough to fit a large man – rose up and then back down. Then we spun to green.

Oh dear! The commotion when we turned the thing to green! The entire alcove collapsed and a carpet of insects swarmed out to eat –.

To eat our dust.

We did not linger.
 
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DM Notes:

For those of you who have run this adventure path before, you may note how...unorthodox...this group is in both composition and deed. Consequently, I have had to heavily modify some of modules to adjust to these...unexpected turn of events:)
 

Chapter 3 (“Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.”- His Holiness, The Dalai Lama)

Today is the day. This day and no other. Egan had waited patiently for over a year now. He had made sacrifices, some he would never be able to unravel. I was promised and today I intend to collect!

If Egan had been a younger man, back when his parents had been alive, the sight of two elven women fleeing the entrance to a long abandoned crypt with wolves at their heels would have given him pause. But he was not the same person as he was one year ago. Life in the Free City had changed him...forever. The boy that left Diamond Lake was dead and was replaced by the man standing before this threshold. He wasn’t sure what the towering half-elven woman was screaming at him while restraining her wolves. He didn’t care. Egan watched impassively as the elven archer scaled the hill the Whispering cairn was dug into, knocking her bow in anticipation of some foreseen danger. He gripped his staff tightly and strode forward.

Beetles poured from the entrance in waves, followed by a gargantuan insect. It was the size of a small horse, chitinous armor plates protecting its segmented body. Egan plunged his spirit into the well of forbidden power, the sickening taint nearly overwhelming him as he opened a gate to Gehenna. Hellfire erupted from his palms, engulfing the insect swarm in a river of flame.

“LEEYYYLLLLAAAA,” he screamed.

The smell of charred flesh filled the air. Spear swung and arrows flew. When the dust settled, both insect and wolf had perished. Wounded and weakened by such powerful channelling, Egan collapsed at Rey’s feet.
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“Wake up,” Rey yelled in Common.

Egan stirred from the edge of oblivion to find himself propped up against the side of the hill, his wounds bound.

“Who are you,” Etona asked gently.

“The name’s Egan...thanks.” The twang in his voice was provincial to a small community within the Free City, but the elves standing over him only seemed to care about the message, not the accent.

“Do you wish to die,” Rey demanded. “Is that it? Is today the day you wished to end it?”

The strange human smiled and then began to laugh hysterically.

“He’s insane,” Rey commented in Elven to Etona.

“I am NOT...insane,” Egan countered in flawless Elven. The language was taught on his tongue and the syllables clicked like pages of a book being turned, but it was correct, Egan was sure of that.

“Very well,” Etona said provisionally. “Strange that you should be here now. Of all times and of all moments. Who are you Egan and why do you come to the Whispering Cairn this day?”

“I am here for my sister,” Egan answered.

“Explain,” Rey demanded.

“My sister-”

“Leyla,” Etona interrupted.

“Yes, Leyla,” Egan confirmed. “My sister disappeared here and I have been trying to find her ever since.”

“What hope do you have that she would be here now,” Rey asked bluntly. “Are you looking for her remains?”

Etona winced at Rey’s callous remark, but Egan gave no indication that it troubled him.

“After all this time, hope is all I have, but I must try, and today is as good as any other to die trying… “ Egan’s wiry frame seemed to shake with an unseen chill. “If it’s alright with you lasses, I'd like another go at that mysterious tomb. Shall we?”

“Well, you are welcome to join us if you like,” Etona said. “This is Rey,” pointing to the woman, “and my name is Etona.”

Egan nodded his head and followed the two elven women inside. Rey led the group back to the large chamber with the newly formed pit. Remarkably the green lantern had survived the seismic activity, along with all the others.

“It seems that the cave in leads to a complex below this chamber,” Rey remarked as she looked cautiously over the edge. “Perhaps that is where those metal tubes go after they sink back into the floor.”

“Quite right Rey,” Etona responded. “However, I prefer to go up and not down. Why don’t we see what is in the ceiling above the blue lantern,” she asked to no one in particular. “I’ll go first.”

After Rey looped her rope into the lantern’s chain, it was much easier to make the climb...except for Egan. His face slowly transformed into a mask of agony as he struggled to even hold onto the rope for more than a few moments. Rey wasn’t sure if he would expire as she watched him attempt the climb over and over. Her patience wearing thin, the half-elf grabbed him by the belt with a free arm and made the ascent for the both of them. Etona watched bemused at the top as her companion nearly carried a human man forty feet up a chain. By the time they reached her, even Rey was breathing heavy.

“How did you survive this long,” Rey gasped. “You are not strong.”

Even Etona could not contain a chuckle. The space above the alcove was carved exactly like the passageways below. The hole opened up into a long hallway that ended in the visage of a screaming face, the darkness pierced by a myriad of colors dancing in the “eyes.”

“Careful as you walk,” Etona instructed. “There is a pressure plate midway down the hallway. No more traps triggered today, neh?”

The party made its way towards the enormous sculpture, the mesmerizing lights capturing their attention. Even Etona had difficulty turning her gaze away from them. Egan finally broke the silence:

“The sequence is repeating.”

“What do you mean,” Etona asked.

“Red, orange, yellow, blue, indigo, and violet. The colors appear in that order and then the sequence repeats. If the color green were included, it would represent the visible spectrum of light. Not only that, this wall is radiating quite a bit of magic.”

“Curious,” Etona remarked. “I wonder-,” letting her thoughts go unspoken. Then just as suddenly, she got excited. “Could you stay here Egan, I have an idea. Come with me Rey.”

Egan stood in front of the screaming mural, while the two women climbed back down the chain. After some deliberation, they began moving the magical flame from one lantern to the next. Egan noted that whichever lantern was lit by fire, the color in the visage’s eyes disappeared. It wasn’t long before the group deduced that they would need all the lanterns lit to solve this puzzle, but the question arose: where were the red and indigo lanterns? And then it hit Etona like a sack of loadstones.

“The Emporium,” she whispered.

“What was that,” Egan muttered.

“The red lantern. I’ve seen it before, it lights the antechamber of the Emporium. Mind you, I have never really been inside,” Etona said wistfully. “It’s because of a lack of...cash? Is that the correct term? We will still need help locating the other. I suggest we consult with Allustan.”

The elf noted Egan’s eyes go wide with the suggestion.

“Do you know him,” Etona inquired.

“Well...yes. I mean..no. Well, I used to work for him,” Egan stammered.

“How fortunate,” Etona declared. “We can use that connection to make an agreeable introduction.”

“I am afraid that it will not go as you think. We did not leave each other on the best of terms,” Egan confessed.

“Either way, our path leads to the professed...smartest man in Diamond Lake.”
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Allustan’s house was not what anyone expected it to be. For a man who was brother to the Governer-Mayor of Diamond Lake and an accomplished scholar of the Free City, many would have presumed he could afford a much more sizable house than a simple cottage. Ringed with a rickety white picket fence and a front yard consisting of haphazard flora in various states of life, the party found the Sage watering roses with a rusty green watercan. Etona was pretty sure that the plant was quite dead, but kept that information to herself. She opened her mouth to speak, when Allustan interrupted her.

“Etona isn’t it,” Allustan inquired without turning to greet the party.

“Yes. I believe we met before, but I did not think you would remember me.”

“I remember everything, though I must confess I am a poor predictor of behavior. For instance, I could not foresee the return of my young apprentice,” he said leveling his gaze at Egan.

“It is good to see you well Master,” Egan murmured.

“Egan, what have I said about standing up straight and looking people in the eye when you speak to them,” Allustan asked.

“My apologies Master,” Egan stammered.


A wave of disappointment flashed over Allustan’s face before he motioned towards the cottage. “Shall we go inside and have some tea?”

The party accepted the gracious offer and proceeded inside. The interior seemed...larger than it should. The central living area was a huge chamber whose walls were lined with bookshelves containing a veritable treasure trove of knowledge. Dominating the center of the room was a large circular wooden table. On its surface spilled parchments, maps, and a board containing an ongoing game of dragonchess. As the group got closer, everyone instantly took note of an unstrung silver hunting bow and indigo lantern which were currently being used to hold a rather large map of the region in place. Upon the map were numerous circles with “X’s” through them. Etona froze, staring at the bow as if it was her own infant child.

“Where did you get that,” she said almost breathlessly.

“I have a man in town who...alerts me to unique acquisitions. And this is interesting,” he said. “Lady of Dreams and Daughter of the Night Sky. I have heard that her favored clerics conjure a bowstring of divine power and loose mystical arrows upon her enemies. Or so the legends go.”

Etona walks to it and picks it up, caressing it. "I am leaving with this," she said. "You may ask me what you will, but that is what is happening."

“You are a...unique negotiator Etona,” Allustan said with a smirk. “But since you brought it up, there is something I want.” Pouring some tea for the party, the sage continued. “Do you know the history of these lands? No, I gathered not. Suffice it to say that Diamond Lake is an afterthought in the long timeline of this region. A great battle took place not far from here. Legendary warriors defeated a great evil, but at great personal cost. It is my contention that those men are buried somewhere in these hills along with that history. For the indigo lantern your friends keep staring at-Etona? I don't feel I have your attention." Allustan sighed and continued talking to Egan and Rey instead. "I will require you to document any glyphs or inscriptions you find on your journey within the cairn you are exploring. You will deliver these findings daily and we will convene at least weekly to discuss your progress.”

“How did you know we were exploring the Whispering Cairn,” Rey asked.

Allustan looked over at the board of dragonchess before responding. “You will never win, if you do not realize that you are playing.” Whether that statement was to satisfy Rey or himself, the party could not tell. “For the bow, I require a favor.”

“Name it, though I only speak for myself and not my companions,” Etona declared.

“Then I guess we have a deal,” Allustan said as he sipped his tea.
 
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The Journal of Etona: Her History

The Journal of Etona: History

My mother perished in birthing me, as many had expected.

She had been ill for several arcs, and the only surprising thing about her death was that I was born whole, if tiny: a small baby destined to be a weak child. These are truths, and not points along a constellation of woe. I was then and am now a happy soul, but being frail and diminutive among a sleek, strong people presented obstacles to me and my father. I could not keep up with friends and cousins.

Skava, my father, did not know end to patience where his daughter was concerned, however. And with a loving cousin Verdre and fiercely protective Uncle Skaen, I managed to love life regardless.

I was inquisitive and given to exploration, and so as the rest of my kin looked up and out, my gaze remained low as suited my stature. Assembling herbs and salts from soil and water became my passion. I learned to use them to prepare joyful food. With Verdre’s help, I found other uses for plain ingredients in wondrous combinations, and so I began to create elixirs of minor use too.

This is all to say that I had no reason to care that I could not draw back a bow, let fly the streaking sliver, be the cause to see it soar.

This is my first lie to you, for of course I cared. Our people are devoted to a laughing trickster of a goddess who enforces unexpectedly specific rules about the weapons we bear and the food we eat. But I was ever too small, too frail, and the bow I eventually tamed as a young adult was little more than a training implement for a child. It was an insult to Her Fickle Majesty. Thus, I concentrated in steering my fate towards not tempting fate; to be useful in small ways, as a ‘chef’ (I believe is the human word), an herbalist and mixer of plants, spices, even oils and essences. An unimportant life, a content existence, and one I embraced since I should not have survived at all.

My silver-gold hair and silver-green eyes marked me, apparently, in some way that others saw, and so I was treated with patience until I made true friendships. The tribe waited, but I didn’t know for what.

And then one day . . . .

“You will not need those,” father said as I struggled to don my gloves for another disheartening practice. He took them and tossed them aside.

I do not know to this day what the occasion was, why he chose that rainy afternoon to bestow upon me a thing that had been merely history to me.

With unaccustomed solemnity, he knelt down in front of me and unwrapped a legend.

Angivre. The Empty Bow. Sehanine’s Test. An Aspianne heirloom given – so the histories read – to my mother’s mother, Fiora Aspianne, from the goddess herself. A gift, a challenge, to an elven people settling around Emersanine, Her mirror in the midst of that gorgeous forest we are so recently transplanted to. I could fill a tome with its stories of triumph and disappointment, and how it rose up my family and brought it low again.

“Fail until you succeed,” my father uttered in presenting it to me. With characteristic affection, he brushed the hair out of my eyes, held my forehead to his lips a moment, and then left me with that towering silver weapon, it and I alone on the shore.

The Empty Bow is called that because it has no notches for a cord. It has no cord. And it fires no arrows. A lifetime of struggling to shoot half as well as a one-legged hiccupping goblin to prepare me for a bow with no string.

My mother’s mother was the last person to be able to bring the Silver. She would smile in a way generally unknown to our people, it was said, and betwixt her fingers spun out a shimmering line of argent from coalescing shards of radiance. As she drew it back, one of the shards flared to white, becoming the arrow, a flaring bolt that left the bow with a sound like musically-tuned metals scraping against one another. She needed no muscle for this act of tranquil grace, only love of the arrow’s flight. None since her have ever drawn back the Silver, and it has been the Empty Bow for almost three centuries now.

For many seasons I could not find the cord. The Silver did not come. I sat at the shore under Sehanine’s white gaze and heard Her mocking amongst the sounds of the woods. In Angivre, She tested neither my skill nor my remembering of lessons, but my heart. And so season after season I studied the Silver. Season after season I carried her and spoke to her and slept with the utterly silent thing.

One evening I drowned, almost. Nearly ended, but it was the second start in my life.

I was never a strong swimmer, another frailty, but I was competent. And I craved plunging into the frigid water, despite my difficulties.

One evening, several of us were diving under Sehanine’s crescent, our first opportunity since new moon to frolic there at night. I had Angivre. Yes, I would even swim with her – my father said water would not harm her.

Angivre became ensnared in something. I worked to free her – though at that time I thought of her as it – but whatever tugged at her pulled us both down deeper and deeper. I could not let her slip away. I would rather die than return to my father without her, and so I plunged on to depths I had never descended to. Marvels passed me by, likely my breath giving way and my dying body conjuring phantoms. They were going to be the last things I ever saw before waking in the Court of the Queen to await the judgment of her mood that morning.

I landed among illuminated statues encrusted with plankton and sponges. Only a little surprisingly, one of them tilted its head and regarded me.

“What is your name, little rag doll?” it said without moving its lips or blowing bubbles of air or anything else to indicate any of this was really happening.

I could not reply, of course.

“Yes, of course you can,” said another, also inclining its head to me.

“Very well. I am Etona Aspianne.” I did not say the words so much as mouth them.

“Oh, did you hear that?” Still another statue.

“Etona Aspianne.”

“So proud of her line of rag dolls before her.”

“She is accidentally born of this or that blood and –”

“– thinks it something. Yes.” The original statue again. “Why are you down here, Etona?”

“Angivre led me here.”

“To drown for a piece of wood?”

“To drown for its history!” I replied. “Not for a piece of wood.” Though I now saw my folly. My death in rescuing a bow, however famous, would slay my father. What had I been thinking?

A statue from the back. “She is a child. And she followed her heart. I forgive!” Others chimed in, some with support, some with jeers for my foolishness, jeers for my bow skills, even for my size. They were all different likenesses of Sehanine, I noticed.

All fell quiet when the original statue spoke again.

“Etona, you do not get to die today in trying to save a thing. Sehanine’s Test is not to possess or master the pretty white bow; it is something else entirely, something you will endeavor to discover when I return you to your little tribe. But as you are yet young, you will need something onto which you may focus your thoughts. So I return Angivre to you, as I return your breath. Step close to me.”

When I do so, she pulls me to her face, the eyes now alive. “When I watch one of mine, I desire to be pleased. I am your Angivre. And you are my Etona.” She places her mouth over mine and breathes such heat into me . . . . oh gods!!

I am your Angivre. And you are my Etona.

I awoke on the far shore, the Empty Bow next to me. My mouth still hot, I held its curve to me. Eventually I stood, sighted the far shore, murmured Sehanangi, and drew back the Silver which rang under my fingertips. A caress as much as a shot, I sent the white dart high, high into the sky, up and up to the moon herself.

In the forest behind me I heard the Lady laugh. And this time it was not with mockery or derision, but with pleasure . . . .
 

Chapter 4 (“Poison is in everything, and no thing is without poison. The dosage makes it either a poison or a remedy.” -Paracelsus)

After thanking Allustan for the tea, the party decided to stash the indigo lantern at Etona’s “residence” under the watchful eye of her friend Phreet before heading to the Emporium. It was a rather protracted affair. Etona had to convince Phreet that selling the lantern would be a mistake. The emaciated teenager finally agreed to the terms of her assignment, but only after she was offered dinner.

Conveniently located across from the Sheriff’s office and adjacent to the church of St. Cuthbert; the Emporium provided quite a stark contrast within the central plaza. Rey watched men and women whip themselves under the watchful eye of a rabid preacher, the Sheriff’s deputies all the while laughing and drinking. So this is civilization, she thought with disgust. The Emporium itself was a large two-story building, whose windows were deliberately covered to ensure patron privacy. The entrance led by design into an antechamber hosting two distinct men: Kurlag and Gaspar. Kurlag was rather massive half-orc who wore what looked to be an ornate gladiator helmet. He stood near the smaller, balding, and well groomed form of Gaspar. Where Kurlag was stoic, intimidating, and silent; Gaspar was polite. Curling his mustache, a smile split his face as the group approached. Everyone’s attention; however, was diverted to the red lantern giving the area a sinister hue.

“Greetings and welcome to the Emporium!” Looking down at a ledger in front of him for a moment, understanding swept across his face. “You must be Etona and Rey! We have been expecting you. Hannah made me promise that if you two ventured here while she was working, I was to escort you right in. Now normally, we charge an entrance fee but we will wave it this one time. Please, make yourselves at home. If you wish to partake in the Lounge upstairs or see the “Gallery of Science” downstairs, those will be extra charges. Otherwise, Hannah is treating you to dinner.”

As the group began to walk by Kurlag, the man shifted his body to interpose himself in front of Etona. The move did not seem overtly threatening, but Rey took it as such. She stared menacingly into the half-orc’s eyes, her knuckles turning white around the spear.

“Ladies if you would please deposit your weapons at the door, I would be happy to look after them for you. There are no weapons allowed inside the establishment,” Gaspar said gingerly.

Etona nodded and finally managed to convince Rey to drop her spear off with Gaspar. In good faith she and Egan also left their daggers with the man. This had the desired effect of diffusing the tension, but the elf would not part with her bow. Gaspar seemed satisfied as it had no string and Etona did leave her quiver with him. After all, what can someone do with a stringless bow and no arrows after all?

Hannah greeted them inside and gave hugs to both women before looking quizzically at Egan. “Is he with you?”

“Yes, this man is helping us resolve that issue you were having at your farm,” Etona responded.

“Ahhh. Well, the more the merrier. Let me get you something to drink. I must insist you try our chef’s new special soup. He has only just recently offered it here, but it has become extremely popular. I’ll be right back.” Hannah turned to leave, but Etona grabbed her arm before she could go.

“Hannah, listen. While I am grateful for dinner, that is not why we are here today. We need to ask you a favor.”

“Good, because I need to ask you one as well. You go first,” Hannah replied.

“We would like to rent or borrow the red lantern hanging in the entryway. It is crucial we get a hold of it as soon as possible.”

Hannah could not contain her surprise. “The red lantern is a fixture for the establishment. I am not sure, but I could ask.”

Etona thanked her and watched as she sauntered back to the kitchen, presumably to place the table’s order and ask the owner of the establishment for their strange request. Though, Etona was fairly sure that as requests went, this would not be the most bizarre one the Emporium has ever received.

Hannah returned with bowls of orange soup for the party. Everyone agreed unanimously that it was quite good as Hannah laid out her patron’s request.

“Zalamandra has agreed to your request provided you accept her task. She is even willing to part with the item permanently if you resolve this matter quickly.” Hannah looked around carefully before continuing and spoke in hushed tones. “In the last week our patrons have been getting sick from our supply of kalamanthis. Our regulars are not receiving the right effect from the plant and becoming violently ill. We hired an herbalist to test the kalamanthis so that we could be assured of its purity. He has assured us that it is of the finest quality. Lady Zalamandra is quite vexed by the entire affair as there is to be a large celebration here soon which will require a large store of kalamanthis to be utilized.”

“What’s Calema-,” Egan began.

Kalamanthis,” Etona interrupted. “It is a plant which blurs the border between this world and the Feywild. Users are privy to visions and a sense of euphoria.”

“Sounds wonderful,” Egan said with a smile.

“Humans often take too much and become dependant on the effects.” Turning back to Hannah. “Has the supplier changed?”

“No, our only supplier at this time are the monks from the Twilight Monastery. We have had them for many years now and they are always punctual with deliveries. The last shipment was received a few weeks ago. We do not expect a new shipment for nearly a month.”

“Who picks up the shipment,” Rey asked. “Perhaps they switched a part of the delivery with a duplicate to sell the product themselves.”

Hannah shook her head. “Our herbalist tested every sack the kalamanthis is stored in to ensure against that specific issue. The purity was the same in all the samples.”

“May we have a list of the ‘regulars’ who were ill,” Etona inquired.

Hannah shifted nervously at the question. “We do not like to name our regulars. Some of these people could be embarrassed by the entire affair.”

Etona’s brow furrowed with her visible frustration. “That is going to make things difficult.”

“My compliments to the chef. This soup is delicious,” Egan said eagerly. “What’s in it?”

Hannah smiled. “Chef Zulmont refuses to share the recipe with anyone. He probably thinks that if people find out, he will no longer be useful.”

“Squash is what you are tasting,” Etona said absentmindedly. “Probably just some salt, pepper, and maybe nutmeg.”

Rey shrugged. “Tastes pretty good to me and you know how I feel about vegetables.”

“Hannah if you won’t give us a list of people who got sick, let’s try it a different way. Did anyone NOT get sick in the past week who is a regular,” Etona kept pressing.

Hannah tapped her lips thoughtfully for a moment before responding. “Yes. In fact there is such a person and I believe he is here tonight. Would you like me to go and see if he is available?”

The party didn’t wait long before Hannah brought the person in question to their table from the upstairs Lounge. He was well over 6 feet in height and covered from head to toe in orange fur. Fangs protruded as he smiled at the party and in his claws he held an ornate pipe that he periodically toked from. The vest he wore and the satin ribbons in his hair seemed out of place for him, though he could not have been raised with better etiquette. Rey liked him instantly.

“Good evening fair ladies and gentleman. Hannah informs me that you require my assistance. May I sit,” he said as he gestured to an open chair. After Etona’s and Rey’s consent, the creature eased itself into the chair. “My name is Shag Solomon and you must be Etona,” he said gesturing his pipe at the elf. “That must mean you are Rey. Who are you good sir,” Shag asked Egan. “You have a hard look about you. Did you grow up in Diamond Lake?”

“I’m Egan and I did grow up here. How did you know?”

“Splendid,” Shag exclaimed. “I do love these games.” Then just as suddenly, the smile disappeared from his face. “Goodness, where are my manners? How rude of me. Would anyone care for a taste,” he asked gesturing to his pipe.

Not wishing to be rude, Etona volunteered for the group. The effects were nearly immediate. Colors vibrated all about the room. She smelled such sweet sounds. For a moment Etona found herself floating on the wings of a giant green butterfly. Then, just as suddenly the feeling evaporated.

“Well,” Shagg asked excitedly. “How was the trip?”

“Correct me if I am wrong Mr. Solomon but shouldn’t the effects last a bit longer,” Etona asked with disappointment evident in her voice.

Shag began to scratch his head. “Actually, yes.”

“Where are MY manners. May we order you some of this delicious soup,” Etona inquired.

Shag made a face that displayed his sentiments clearly on the matter. “No thank you. I prefer my meals fresh and bloody. Vegetables do not agree with my constitution.”

“That’s it,” Etona declared.

Shag shifted uncomfortably in his seat, a look of worry on his face. “Did I say something wrong?”

“Quite the contrary Mr. Solomon.” Etona was visibly beaming. “You see, gourd seeds are a natural antidote for kalamanthis. The herb isn’t making them sick, they are going through withdrawal. The soup is negating the effects of the kalamanthis!”

Etona gave a bit more explanation to everyone before heading back to the kitchen and informing the chef that he is was creating a problem for his employer. The elf didn’t want him to get fired, so she suggested that he cut out the seeds before preparing the soup to avoid any future unpleasantness with the clientele. For solving the issue so expeditiously and discreetly, Lady Zalamandra rewarded the party with the red lantern. Everyone agreed that it had been a long day, so they planned to meet at the abandoned mining office near the cairn the next morning.
---------------------------------------
Setting the lanterns back upon their hooks and lighting them did not disappoint. The face carved into the wall high above the alcove opened into a portal that allowed safe passage to a strange room beyond. A short hallway led to a pit filled with ceramic orbs. Suspended above this area was a narrow bridge, which led directly to large iron door.

“You wouldn’t build a door like that if you weren’t protecting something valuable,” Rey stated.

Etona went first and was greeted by the source of the balls in the pit. Apparently, one of the sentries for room was a series of cannons embedded into the walls on either side of the bridge that activated when weight placed upon it. Luckily Etona did not lose her footing and fall over the side. She made it safely to the large door on the opposite end of the pit, but could find no way to open it. It was then that everyone heard a child’s giggling. The sound echoed throughout the chamber and it was long afterwards that a ghostly face peered through the door.

“You’ll never get inside,” it teased. “Never, never, never. But I know how. Oh yes, I know.”

“Who are you,” Etona asked gently. “We mean you no harm, child.”

The remainder of the ghost passed through the door, revealing the gruesome manner in which it died. No doubt the boy had been struck by one of the ceramic orbs and broken its neck many years ago.

“You have come very far. Not many have been here in a long time. There is much treasure in the pit below,” it said with a mischievous smile. “Oh yes, much treasure.”

“We are not interested in treasure,” Etona retorted. “That is not why we are here. Tell us your name.”

“My...name?” It’s smile evaporated and it only spoke after carefully weighing its words. “Alastor. Alastor Land. Are you here to help me?”

“Yes,” Etona answered. “Tell us how.”

“I am cursed. I will never find peace. If you help me, I can open this door for you.”

“I would help you regardless of what was behind that door,” Etona said.

“My bones need to be laid to rest with my family. We have a small cemetery on our farm. Would you take my bones there,” Alastor implored.

“Where are they,” Etona asked.

The ghost looked down at the pit below. Etona watched as the ceramic balls shifted. Something was down there and it didn’t require regular meals to be dangerous.

“What’s down there Alastor?”

“The guardian,” the child replied. “It is a vicious creature that has killed many adventurers.”

“All things die in their time,” Rey declared.
 
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Age of Worms brings back some fond memories. :) Thanks for sharing!

My pleasure! Glad you are enjoying it thus far. I am curious as to how your group handled things. Mine threw me for a loop a couple of times. Granted, I did alter the module a bit to expand upon the roleplaying opportunities Diamond Lake afforded.
 

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