It’s about six weeks into Autumn, and bugbears and goblins are raiding the countryside. Orcs and gnolls are on the move in the south. Rangers of Sunder are thinly stretched protecting farms and trade routes, and two of the Rangers left several days ago to pursue the bugbear across the countryside and destroy the problem at its root.
The story starts at The Cauldron, a tavern in ‘downhill’ Lastlight. Like many taverns, it’s a claustrophobic affair, poorly lit and filled with noise. Torches hang on the wall and simple iron candlebras hang from the low ceiling, flaring and guttering whenever the front door is opened to let in the chill Autumn breeze. Miners and workers from the nearby warehouse district come in and clap their hands in front of the fireplace, before moving to the bar and grabbing one of Klausimir Bale’s homebrewed Old Peculiar. There’s a clear spot between the fireplace and the bar where Dardiana the Bard has often performed, earning coin for her songs and storytelling. It’s here that Gillam Sucain and Bevan Goodbrook meet with three adventurers – Dardiana, Aerwyn the god-favoured sorcerer, and Tagar the Heathlander Ranger – to pass on a mission.
Word came to the Rangers of a disturbance down at the Fallen Magisters. Gillam describes it as “a small valley filled with old statues, from the beginning of the war. It’s well off the main road, and there’s been a few people who’ve ventured there before and not come back. Some old-timers say that there’s old magic there, in the earth. Lately, there’s been rumours of weird lights, something… off… about the valley. Birds fly around it, and the wind feels different.” The valley is around four or five days south from here, and they’re looking for someone gifted with magic to perform reconnaissance, as well as a ranger to help navigate the potentially dangerous terrain. With the path to the Fallen Magisters skirting by the unsettling Finneg’s Mire, and past what they call the Lake of Graves, a keen set of eyes and strong sword-arm is important. Gillam also explains that, if any extra muscle is needed, that the adventurers are best heading further south to the garrisons of Thunderfell or Vandalin, only two or three days south from the valley, rather than returning to Lastlight.
The adventurers head off the next day. They pass by Finneg’s Mire without incident on the first day, and skirt by the still waters of the Lake of Graves on the second. They think they hear the sound of church-bells tolling close to dawn, but with no settlement in sight it may have been a trick of the wind. On the second evening Dardiana thinks she sees a dark, shadowy shape cross the moon, but nothing more is known of it. The third day sees the group cross into rough farmland. After seeing a few abandoned farmhouses and settlements in the distance, they come across the homestead of Lukin Longbarrow. Lukin is a gruff but amiable dwarf, and fills them in on stories of the local countryside: a hag has taken up residence near the Tree of Stars, orcs are apparently on the move toward Thunderfell, goblins have been harrying the road near Redpeak and gnolls or orcs have been spotted up at Widowsreach. In addition, he passes on a tale that ‘local lads’ have been employed by someone from The Septeme to do a ‘dig’ down near the Fallen Magisters. He hands them a cut of Muckel’s finest ham and sends them on their way.
Soon after dawn on the fourth morning, the adventurers come across a wagon belonging to the Goodbrace Trading Company. It’s been ambushed by goblins the previous day, and a small number of these creatures have stayed behind to harass travellers. One is slain by Aerwyn’s Chill Touch, while Dardiana’s spellcraft disposes another. Tagar’s archery skills are lacklustre, but he successfully slays a third of the foul creatures, who was put into a magical slumber by the half-elf’s sorcery. The fourth escapes into the woods, potentially to gather reinforcements, so the troupe quickly moves on.
The trio arrive at the valley at dusk. Dardiana explores the vine-covered statues and is set upon by three twig blights, who tear at her face and almost kill her. Tagar disposes of the creatures while Aerwyn heals their companion. The group is then set upon gain at nightfall by a flock of stirges, who attach themselves to Tagar and Aerwyn. Both adventurers are nearly killed by these foul spawn, before Dardiana and her daggers come to the rescue. The rest of the night is spent resting; Tagar hears a dragging, shuffling noise in the distance, but it stops at the limits of his darkvision.
The next morning, the adventurers explore behind a waterfall, where lights were spotted the previous night. They find a dig site in a natural cavern. Aerwyn explores the hole and finds a massive block of smooth obsidian, into which are carved large, ancient runes. Aerwyn recognises the language as Tharnic, although the script is older and slightly different than what he’s seen in his studies. One of the runes appears to represent fire, life or heat, while another represents something that could be interpreted as wind, cloud or spirit. While he’s trying to manoeuvre himself out of the hole, a slightly crazed man named Parasmus Erasando emerges from a nearby tent. After some negotiation and calming words, the group manage to make some sense from Parasmus;
- He is from Vindabona, a city in The Septeme. It’s unclear whether anyone sent him here, but it seems unlikely.
- He was guided here by a magical sextant, which has since been broken or gone missing. The ground here is imbued with old magic, something “older than dragons”.
- He employed some locals to assist him in digging. They’ve vanished or been killed by forces unknown. Whatever is out there in the valley hasn’t come into this cavern, yet.
- The ‘Six High’ were once here, or two of them were. “One fell, one faded, four disappeared deep below.”
- He once saw ‘one of them’ when he was younger, “rising from the ocean. She waved at me, then turned back and disappeared into the waves.”
- He seems torn as to whether uncover the artefact and remove it, or keep it where it is.
- There’s a druid who may be able to help him, but he’s not sure exactly where he is.
As the disturbance of this half-buried thing appears to coincide with the disturbances emanating from the valley, the adventurers determine that it may be best to cover it again. Parasmus’ erratic behaviour means that they’re unlikely to get much help from him, so instead they suggest that he travels with them to nearby Vandalin to locate the mysterious druid.