Frontier Dreams

Session 18
In Which the Root of the Problem is Uncovered

Raftambo lead the party through the treetop passageways to the heart of the forest, and Tane Mahuta, the large tree in the center of Vanara. They made their way through throngs of curious citizens to the hut in the highest branches. There they met the elderly Vanaran Damreto, leader of his people. He was initially very dubious of their claims to journey towards the roots at the forest floor, but at the mention of figures in dreams talked with the group in private. He explained the guardians, Vanarans who had been taken in service by the tree, kept the roots in their watch.

Despite his assurance they would not return, the party followed the trunk of the tree into the darkness below. As they descended through the branches, they spotted more and more ruined Vanaran watching them but not making any move to attack. Exploring the forest floor they found an uncharacteristically obvious entrance to their destination. Within the trunk of the tree was a cavern of roots and vines, and the mysterious figures were waiting for them.

Their conversation was as difficult to interpret as ever, but this place seemed different from the other ruins. This was a strange trial of sorts, and they seemed intent on some form of dangerous test.

Without warning, heavily altered Vanaran dropped down from the vines above and assaulted the party. A fierce battle ensued. The burly foes rippling with muscle tried to pin in the adventureres while gaunt figures in the rear used strange magics. Therran fell to a mental command and slept through the fight, but Milvin’s mixed blood was able to shrug off the spell. Maarus let fly with bullet after bullet from his revolver, repeatedly filling the cavern with its holy rapport. Waeslyn counted his shots carefully and with magical boons gathered from his travels put down a foe with frightful eyes. Woomera fiercely stabbed and thrust until a command from one briefly froze her in place. Calder’s go to idea of summoning an ally backfired when the control was wrest from him as soon as the archon appeared.

Despite the mental and physical onslaught, the party eventually prevailed, and confronted the reappeared dream figures. Irate to say the least, they loudly chastised them for the ordeal, the dream figures seemingly unconcerned with their emotions. They departed after reminding them they were close to fulfilling their purpose and Calder collected the third crystal. Fitting it into the pendant revealed the final location, a glyph of what appeared to be a tortoise slowly moving across the plains.

Before they left the cavern, an avatar of the tree itself formed from the many entangled vines, roots and branches. It was too primal to communicate with the party, but they received the distinct impression that it was grateful for the expulsion of the dream figures and wished to reward them. It produced strange fruit that they collected for later.

Leaving the tree a curious assortment of personal items had been strewn about the forest floor in front of them, although they could not see anyone in the area to have left them. They returned to the city above much to the shock of the people present. To their memory no guardian had ever returned once offering themselves in service to the tree. Whatever they had done below, new life had begun to emanate from the tree. The vanarans wished to properly reward the service to their people, and they said they would send their thanks to the small village with Raftambo.

When the party returned to the hut they had stashed their mounts at, Raftambo greeted them in his recognizable broken common. The mounts appeared to have endured mild shenanigans in the party’s absence but nothing to damaging or irreparable. When they walked into the hut, they heard the distinctive wailing of an infant from the floors above.

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Session 17
In Which New Roads are Traveled

After many long weeks of travel, the adventurers finally made it to the Great Eastern Forest. As they advanced deeper, the wildlife became more and more strange and the sunlight scarcer and scarcer. Light sources, magical and otherwise, were an almost constant necessity for some.

As the made camp under a larger tree near a clearing, they noticed a pair of larger bushes nearby. These bushes each had a mysterious singular piece of glowing fruit dangling from their branches. When Waeslyn got close enough to investigate, a pair of enormous beetles burst forth from the underbrush, the glowing fruit actually lures dangling from their shells.

A vicious battle ensued, with grievous wounds on both sides. Ultimately, the party managed to narrowly defeat the gargantuan insects, While they were tending to the wounded, Calder spied a figure observing them from the branches above. Woomera flew upward to investigate and was shocked to see another Wyvaran this deep into the forest.

He introduced himself as Tahara and after a brief aside with Woomera, agreed to take the party to the nearby Vanaran village he was lodging at. Against recommendations even the pack animals were brought to the treetop passageways, a significantly safer mode of travel than the forest floor he assured them. At his abode the party met two female lizardfolk, that had along with Tahara, been exiled from the Mahi-Tahi.

The following morning, they met the village’s chief, a shaman and medicine man by the name of Raftambo. What originally appeared as pervasive disregard turned out to be linguistic difficulties on his part learning the language. The party explained they had been led here by dreams, and he determined they seemed to be leading to the roots of Tane Mahuta. He emphatically tried to dissuade travel there, as no one returns from the roots of the great tree, but his warnings were ignored. He agreed to take them to the main dwelling of Vanara and they could speak to the leaders there to be granted access.

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Interlude: The Trial
In Which a Boy Becomes a Man

Waeslyn woke up early that morning and roused Therran from his seemingly eternally fitful sleep. They had much ground to cover finding a suitable location. Waeslyn selected some parchment paper and rough charcoal to make a crude map. As he sketched simple representations of landmarks, he recalled the training exercises for the militia in the field, and how the child in him never quite stopped imagining the maps as treasure maps. They soon found a small winding ravine that led to a secluded clearing. Therran set to making rudimentary pitfall traps and covered them with thatch leaves.

Calder was soon shown the site and set about meditating. He began leaving test questions on prominent rocks in the passage leading to the clearing. They were meant to test both recall and sense based on previous combat encounters the party had been in. All while doing so, he walked with a sharp military snap in his step, and had an oddly strict undertone to his voice. He was prepared as a backup to summon a suitable challenge, but explained that summon creatures would be greatly offended at the action of being called simply to get defeated as a test.

Woomera had no trouble hunting a boar from the sky and placing the fresh kill near the edge of the clearing. From her watchful gaze in the sky, she finally spotted a dark furred hunter take interest in the bait. Judging from the size of the cat, it would be sufficient challenge. Woomera was no longer surprised at the tinges of motherly worry she felt watching the spotted hunter lounging on the branch. These strange soft skinned misfits had made this journey much more bearable. She was certain Milvin could beat it, but she was to well traveled to believe that guaranteed he would.

When the sun was high in the sky, the preparations were complete, and Milvin was presented the map and instructed to decypher it and follow the clues. Milvin managed to answer most but not all of Calder’s questions correctly, gaining a few hints as to what may lie in wait for him ahead. When he entered the clearing the partially consumed carcass freshly buzzing with flies was even more warning.

He advanced cautiously, but the jaguar still managed tog et the drop on him from above. Bracing his spear he caught it in the flank, but his thigh was rent by claws in kind. Seeking to gain position of advantage he circled to a pit to keep the jaguar at favorable distance. The jaguar, however, had a hunter’s instinct and avoided the pit. Milvin took advantage of the long path to loose a pair of manticore quills, only one of which was a hit. Having rounded the pit and very angry the jaguar once again charged.

The final clash saw bloody hits from both sides, but Milvin’s combination of braced spear and thrown quills earlier meant that the jaguar eventually succumbed to the injuries. Exhausted and limping, Milvin looked up at the edge of the clearing where his companions were looking down from the rim with apparent approval.

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Fireside Story: Growing Up
In Which Cultures are Blended

The rag tag group of adventurers gathered around the camp fire that evening as they had for weeks now. Looking south, it was clear the many weeks of routine (such as it applied to them) would soon be at an end, and calm suppers might become a rarity in their future. As such, they seemed all the more intent on enjoying every one.

Calder plied the group with stories of great adventurers past, promising every word was genuinely what ahppened. Waeslyn demonstrated there was apparently no end of creative ways to prepare trail rations alongside freshly hunted meats. Therran among his many myriad talents turned out to be a fair singer, even if his deep baritone was often not well matched to the jaunty uplifting tunes he preferred. Woomera had stories aplenty of the life left behind in the home far to the south. Maarus even joined in, coming up with outlandish names for everyone if they turned to banditry and were plastered on wanted posters.

Milvin leaned back and took in his surroundings. Here he was surrounded by adventurers, going on a grand quest, and exploring ancient ruins. He’d devoured stories of people leaving their homes to go on journeys like this as a kid, but in those stories it was always the gold and magical treasure that the hero was rewarded with. Surrounded by his second family, mind and body trained harder everyday, Milvin was quite sure he was already richer than those fairy tale explorers.

Lacking the eloquence of Calder or the bravado of Woomera, however, he wasn’t quite sure how to explain to everyone that particular sentiment. So he merely remarked that by his reckoning, his coming of age would roughly this time and he was truly happy to be spending it with everyone. Cheers from those gathered around the fire returned, and near the cart, Iument even snorted loudly.

As the fire’s embers dimmed everyone made ready to get some rest for the evening. Before they were able to slumber, however, Woomera approached the rest away from Milvin. She explained to them that in her home, the coming of age is a significant milestone in a person’s life and is to be celebrated and challenged. She has come to respect Milvin’s drive and wishes to honor his achievements on his coming of age day with an appropriate challenge, but is not as yet so familiar with Horizon Alliance culture. She would like the help of the others coming up with a challenge that will test him. And with a toothy grin she remarks that the combined ideas of all three will make for a truly entertaining ordeal.

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Interlude: Stormy Seas
In Which We Revisit the Other Side

Benjamin hauled hard on the lines, cursing to himself. The sails were whipping about furiously and if they weren’t tightened soon, they’d never get out of this mess. Every sailor knew not to sail near the Stormwall. The waters here were treachery made manifest. But ships had to go farther and farther to still find any fish worth catching. The captain had insisted the waters here were still unfished. With good reason, the crew mumbled when they learned the course.

Ben focused on the knot he was tying down. Not because he needed to; he was fairly certain after years at sea he could do it in his sleep. Maybe he even had. But the knot was something to focus on that wasn’t the terrifying gale, with crooked purple lightning off the starboard bow. The lightning and dark clouds loved to play tricks on the eyes, and lure fool hardy sailors to their doom.

The lookout had already been twice reprimanded fiercely for falsely reporting the sighting of a ship within the raging waters. He claimed to have only seen it in a bright flash from the chaotic strikes of lightning bolts, but he was certain. He was confined to quarters until whatever madness possessed him passed. Everyone knew to sail within was certain doom. Those fool traitors and refugees had tried it over a hundred years ago, and they all sank to the depths.

Satisfied that the sail would behave having been sufficiently bound, Benjamin moved to the side to inspect the fishing nets. The deck suddenly bucked underneath him and his heart skipped a beat as he was briefly airborne. He hit the waves with a hard smack, and icy water filled his lungs. Coughing violently, he grabbed for the net, and desperately clung his fingers into it. He could barely make out the “Man Overboard!” cried coming from the deck over the wailing winds.

As he clung to the side of the boat lashed by waves, Benjamin hurled all manor of sailor curses at the Stormwall. But in a brief flash of lightning, he saw it, unmistakably. It was not a boat that was illuminated by the lightening, but bound to it. As the bolt struck the ocean, where before there was not but churning tide a gigantic silhouette defied the clouds. And just as quickly, the phantom hulk vanished. As the crew hauled him on board, he coughed out the last of the briny seawater. He never told another soul what he saw in those clouds, but he did get the lookout released from his quarters.

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Fireside Story: Things Left Behind
In Which Therran Opens Up

During one of many fireside meals late in the evening after a day of hard travel, the party as usual turned to story telling to pass the hours until sleep came. Waeslyn’s eyes were drawn to the firelight reflected in a dull gold wedding band on Therran’s finger, something he’d noticed several times before. Having spent enough time together, Waeslyn finally felt comfortable enough to ask about it. Therran didn’t respond immediately, and went to refill his mug, implying that the answer would not be short.

Twisting the ring back and forth on his finger, Therran’s eyes lost focus as he stared at nothing in particular. He says that as Waes;yn guessed, it’s a wedding band. But he ain’t been married for some time now. In a round about way, that ring is how he came to be in that manor. With an empty laugh, he admits that the ring has gotten him into several manors actually.

Many years ago, in Trinity Bay, Therran was a locksmith. Certainly not a glamorous profession, but it kept food on his plate, and he got to practice his craft which was more than many could say in those days. Having built a reputation early on as a craftsman of reliable quality, his clientele would often recommend him to friends. He was contracted to replace all the locks on a particularly fancy manor when he met a woman. She was in another social strata above him, but they were both too young to realize what that meant.

Their relationship grew despite the protestations of her parents and he eloped with her. For a few brief wonderful years he had everything he wanted, but of course that didn’t last. Her status caught up with her, and she was forced by unrelenting pressure to abandon him. Therran should have been furious, or at least devastated, but all he felt was hollow. He could never bring himself to hate the woman he loved, regardless of her actions.

When she had been escorted back to the family manor they had taken all the jewelry in their more modest home assuming that it had all belonged to her. Therran’s wedding band was among what was taken. Not wanting to leave it behind, and knowing all about how to get in, Therran made to sneak in at night and recover what was his. As he made easy time on the locks he had himself installed, he crept through the house to the dressing room. There the jewelry was laid out, his ring among them.

As he slipped it onto his finger, he felt his heart finally burst. This must finally be the despair I’ve been owed for so long, he thought to himself. When he looked down, he realized that the pain was more physical, as blood began to quickly stain his vest. Collapsing to the floor he realized everyone would smear the Lighthammer name further for a locksmith turned common burglar.

There was a period where everything was a blur. Images he didn’t understand, voices he didn’t comprehend, no concept of time passing. And when he came to, he was trapped in a mansion smelling of blood and with terrified screams behind every door. Waeslyn of course knew the rest, having been the person to free him from that cursed manor.

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Interlude: Strong Foundations
In Which Groundwork is Laid

The lumber merchant shielded his eyes against the midday sun. In the distance he could just barely make out his destination. Sitting back down on the wagon’s bench he encouraged the stubborn oxen to resume their pace. First thing he was going to do with the profit from this sale was get a younger pair not so defiant. And possibly a grill. Strike that, he thought. Definitely a grill. He’d certainly be able to afford it. The representative from the Rentyllian estate that he normally dealt with had given him a fair bonus for transport. He had only ever sold his timber near Cape hope, but they had insisted on transport to this remote site.

Approaching the final hill, he was clearly not the only one they had contracted, and not the first to arrive either. Logs were neatly stacked and supplemental planks organized nearby. Two figures were arguing near the supplies looking at a map. One had a sword on their hip, the other had a saw on their belt. He chuckled to himself imagining a duel between them for leadership. They only briefly paused their heated debate to sign off on his delivery and direct him to the storage area. From what he caught, it was something about security concerns versus function.

Much later after the last log was unloaded, he was relaxing and wiping the sweat from his brow. He had to admit that the place had a certain beauty to it. The thin inlet to the sea was bright and clear, though too shallow for cargo boats to come directly. With a little work he wouldn’t be surprised to see this crossroad outpost become a serious hub in years to come. He certainly hoped so anyway. Expansion was always good business for a lumber merchant. As he began the long trip home, he saw them laying out the finishing touches on the sign, some sort of bird he guessed.

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Interlude: Lurking Shadows
In Which Plots are Hatched

Hopukanga sharpened his dagger. The action was more habit than necessity. The blade was already so sharp it could split parchment, but the methodical scraping of the whetstone focused his thoughts. Seated near him were three others, all performing similar rituals. Less experienced individuals might have filled this time with idle chatter to ease the tension. But less experienced individuals would never have been chosen for this.

Testing the edge on his fingertip, Hopukanga was satisfied with his work, and slid the dagger into a fur lined sheath on his arm. Two other such daggers were concealed on his person, each sheath’s lining coated with deadly poison. Wordlessly the others began to don their armaments as well. An early stage of the plan had involved using smuggled weapons from the invaders to frame the colonists for the deed. But that was quickly abandoned. This was about tradition, and even implying one of the invaders would make it to Kotahitanga was a heinous misdeed.

Signaling to each other that they were all ready, the four assassins adjusted their uniforms: the honor guard of the Chieftan. It had been nerve wracking these past few months playing the part, and if he was honest with himself, Hopukanga was looking forward to being done with it all. He flexed his wings one last time and strode out onto the balcony. In front of them, Nanakia was overlooking the town, preparing to make her grand address.

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Interlude: Prying Eyes
In Which Marks are not Forgotten

Tatati pulled her cloak tightly as she made the walk from Koka’s new medicine cabin to the village chief’s meeting. Apparently, one of the farscouts had found something, and they wanted Koka’s thoughts on it. Koka had become increasingly reclusive after his recovery, citing chronic pain from the amputation. Tatati suspected it was simply that he couldn’t stand the stares he received wherever he went at his lack of wings. She could hardly blame him, it was well into the warm season, and a full bodied cloak like she was wearing was clearly unnecessary. But she wished to avoid the looks just as much.

Skirting the main paths, she swept aside the cloth covering the doorway and entered into a room feeling much larger than it was for how few people were a part of this meeting. Chieftan Rango looked up from the table and saw her approach, his immediate understanding clear on his face. Tatati hoped this would be some trivial matter and she could recuse herself quickly. When the other elders parted to give her room, she spied what lay on the table and realized this was anything but trivial.

Splayed out on the table were several items she vaguely recognized. There were two curved pieces of metal that she thought the young human who had come to town had been seen placing on the feet of the pack animals. Beside them was a scrap of leather with a mangled buckle on one end and a case affixed to the other. And from the case had been pulled what to any eye was clearly a map. Or more accurately part of a map. Whatever had caused the case to come loose from its carrier had torn off a majority of the details. But what was there, even without fluency in their script, would decidedly narrow their search for this hidden village of medicine makers and earth tenders.

Rango explained to Tatati that he wished for her to go in Koka’s stead with the next farscouts, and granted her approval to make peaceful contact if the opportunity arose. Tatati gazed long and hard at the map, attempting to appear like she was memorizing it, or searching for some unnoticed detail. But in truth she was barely able to stand upright as her mind warred between crushing apprehension about spending that much time with other scouts, and renewed hope that her condition might be curable if they find them.

As she returned to the medicine tent, she was slightly surprised to see Koka outside waiting for her. When he saw her approach, he made a show of yelling at nearby kids that “My wings might be gone but if you put one more rock through my window, I’ll sting you just the same!” Tatati didn’t buy it for a second, but appreciated the gesture. As they walked inside past patient’s too sick or wounded to return to their own home just yet, she explained what Rango had revealed. Koka silently nodded and helped her pack for the trip. When she asked why he was bundling a long sleeved traveler’s robe instead of simple leathers, he turned and mused that perhaps the hidden village people would appreciate someone who wasn’t wearing armor to make the introductions. Tatati hugged the grumpy old wyvaran, ignoring his empty threats about old age and personal space.

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Interlude: Hangover
In Which We Look Elsewhere

Julius heaved. Or more accurately, the boat heaved. But the ramshackle sloop he’d chartered passage on had far more experience than he did on these open ocean waters, and if it was going to heave, clearly heaving was the thing to do and who was he to argue with it. His medical training told him it was a simple imbalance of internal fluids. His mixed elven blood told him he was above such displays. And his feet told him that despite the surroundings, they were firmly planted on solid wood. Sadly Julius could hear none of those internal monologues over his resounding headache.

The crew had celebrated in typical seafarer fashion after the harrowing battle with the sea monster by breaking open several barrels of rum. Julius, lost in the moment and excitement had joined right in. Too much it seemed. It was only now to his dismay he learned that of the bountiful and varied supplies they had purchased with their winnings from the “festival catch” had included not one single bean of coffee. At that moment he would have gladly traded his entire suture kit for even a lukewarm mug of java.

Sadly, that was not an option. Steeling himself against the sway, Julius went back below decks. his mercantile ability notwithstanding, his suture kit was sorely needed. The fight against the serpent had not been without injury. Nor for that matter had been the celebrations afterward. With a suppressed grin, Julius admitted the rag tag crew of the Chimera certainly weren’t what he expected.

At first he’d simply select the vessel that struck him least likely to ask questions about his destination or reason. But he quickly learned he was not the only person here who had that particular desire. And as it seemed his services were needed ere, perhaps he might see about staying on when next they make port. Provided they drastically reassess what constitutes vital provisions.

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