Prologe: A Desert Dreams
This world is a quieter world – after the Titan’s coming, there’s a lot less people talking, thinking, filling the sky and earth with their endless noise. In this world, you can hear yourself think – and in this world, the thing that everyone pays attention to is their dreams. It was a dream that led the Dwarves to leave their mines and caves, and found the Lion Empire. It was a dream sent the Wave-Men out into the Big Blue. The druids of Rill learned when it would be safe to let their endless Whirlwind fall. The Elves of Briar had nightmares of the Titan, but woke to find the Lion Empire was the true terror. King and slave, merchant and miser, baker and bandit – every walking soul in the desert pays close heed to the dreams that find them, especially the ones remembered past waking.
But then again..the people of the Ciro have a saying. Sometimes the desert dreams of you.
Ninemi finds herself in the shade of a margo tree, surrounded by the heat of the day and yellow sand. The desert seems to make a bowl, surrounded by high dunes. the wind whips her scarf across her face — then five more trees appear. Six trees, and six travelers – as it should be, six is a holy number for the followers of the Balance. Under each tree stands a figure, a person you find oddly familiar.
Ninemi – Sylph Rogue
No-Name – Dwarven Gunslinger
Domingo – Human Bard
Rhoga – Human Barbarian
Sir Mander – Grippli Cavalier
Anka – Halven Druid
The six travelers step out from under the shade of their trees, confused expressions on their face.
The wind stops blowing. In the Bastard Sands, the wind never stops blowing.
The center of the bowl begins to recede, sand like water down a drain. A pit – and from the pit, a swarm of scarats. [Scarab rats]
When the scarats are defeated, a pool of water forms in the center of the bowl and a blue lily blooms
- undaunted by the desert that surrounds it.
Scene Two: Awakening
Domingo shakes awake from his uncomfortable position on the top of the wagon. It is piled high with bales of cotton cloth in several bright colors, and there is only a narrow edge left for him to squeeze onto. Better than walking. Walking is not an option.
The morning heat is withering, and a dry wind blows west.
The interior of the wagon is similarly stuffed, standard procedure for a merchant. Necessities and cargo – any passengers have to make do with the space remaining, or walk.
To the bard’s left, perched on the back corner of the wagon is a Strange Dwarf. [Have Domingo and No-Name conversed at all? Thoughts about each other?]
The only other passenger, sitting on the opposite side of the roof is a sylph, Ninemi. [How much have the passengers conversed? All three of them have been in this caravan for several days, getting on board in a small town called Tophat to the south.
“Was that you snoring, fancy lad?” X calls. “Remember, part of the deal is to keep watch for savages and savager critters. We’re no more than a glass-turn from Rill, but better safe than sorry.”
X Hartower is a crusty old human with sun-scorched skin, and an even more arid sense of humor. He has been more than fair with his passengers, charging a reasonable rate for passage, and throwing in good helpings from the black iron foodpot at the end of each day’s travel. This trip has been remarkably uneventful, except for a pack of wild awkks that stampeded through on the second day.
Why are these players coming to Rill?
No-Name : Heard a rumor about an actual gunsmith that lives in Rill.
Domingo: The Festival of the Grove is scheduled to take place this week in Rill. It’s a chance to make a little coin with your guitar, charm a few farmer’s daughters – and perhaps get a glimpse of the famous ritual performed by the Druids of Rill at the end of the festival. Sacred to Banu, the God of Storm and Water –it is told to ensure rain and a good harvest year after year.
Ninemi: No real reason – but when have you ever needed one?
Scene Three: Rill in Turmoil
The wagon arrives, pulling over the crest of a dune. For the last hour the trackless waste of the Bastard Sands have given way to more solid terrain – outcroppings of stone, thicker topsoil – and even an occasional scrub bush. Rill is located in a valley between two granite outcroppings, and the three passengers are amazed at how green it is. Well tended narrow fields, kept close to the river that runs through the valley for easy irrigation. The town too is narrow, simple stone buildings thatched with long grasses – and just on the far edge of the town, the famous orange grove of Rill.
X leads his team of horses into the center of town, and pulls up to a wide inn with an air of familiarity. There are surprisingly few people on the streets, even though the town has been well decorated for the festival – streamers, big round lanterns made of clay. The passengers also notice that each household keeps a simple pedestal next to the entrance, with a simple bowl on top – traditional for followers of Banu. Send your rain, Lord of Storms
- it will be cherished here.
X bids the passengers adieu, and goes into the inn to arrange stable care for his team. The only townsperson in the immediate vicinity is an elderly female elf, sitting on the porch snapping green beans into a wide clay bowl.
Where is everyone? There’s a big ruckus over at the grove, all the other farmers have brought in their crop – so no one has anything better to do but go be nosy.
Scene Four: The Grove
“Anka, hand me my staff.” Her father says. “It makes me look more impressive, and we need that starched-shirt fool to listen to me.”
The staff was impressive – ancient hardwood, almost black with years of care and the stain of margo-resin. 8 feet long, unbroken and smooth – except for a burst of limbs at the end, with a blue crystal inset. Her father however, did not appear impressive. He work a plain cotton workshirt over much-patched leather leggings. His iron-gray hair was matted and sweaty, he put his ragged straw hat on to protect his face and sharp-pointed ears from the sun.
They were standing in the cloak room of their simple home, set into the side of the stone hill that overlooked their orange groves. Their groves, as Anka always thought of them, even though her father continually reminded her that they kept the land in trust, for the good of the entire village. But without us, they would never grow – and without the ritual!
Anka followed her father out into the front yard, where the other druids waited, along with the ceremonial visitors. A frog knight from the Grippli Pond, and a barbarian from the Ciro tribe. Anka had long been confused about the barbarians that came for the Festival – they spent all year long raiding, wandering, and caravan-robbing – but like clockwork, a small group always appeared the week of the ritual. Solemn and mild the entire time – then gone like a shadow as soon as the ritual was complete. Her father kept promising to explain in more detail, but there was always so much to be done.
Pond Knight / Rhoga: You have been selected by your respective tribes to take part in this ritual. It is a great honor, and your elders have stressed the utmost importance of the ritual being completed.
The druids, gripplis and tribesmen all left as one and moved to the grove entrance.
Which is blocked by a throng of bemused townsfolk, and the entire Empire garrison. [10 armored dwarves – mounted on awwks, with glaives and bucklers.] The governor, Dralin Cortezzo stand before them with a look of stubborn determination on his face. The dwarf is bald an egg, and keeps a large hanky everready to daub the sweat that streams down his face.
[Domingo, Ninemi, and No-Name arrive just as the druid contingent approaches.]
“I know what you’re going to say, Ichtaca – but we CAN’T let you go into the grove right now. The place is full to the brim with Tengu bandits, and there’s no telling what sort of dark magic and traps they’ve filled the place with. We’ve got them cornered for now, but we can’t take the chance they’ll escape. So, no one goes in until the reinforcements arrive and we can march in with force.”
Anka’s father squares his jaw, and tries to speak calmly. “You don’t understand, Dralin. The ritual must take place – today, before moonrise. It has been this way for hundreds of years – never once has my family failed in their duties, and Banu and the Balance have blessed and protected this place for all that time. We must enter the grove!”
“I won’t risk my guardsmen, and I won’t let you risk your life over a quaint old tradition, Ichtaka.” Dralin said stubbornly. “You are far too important to this town, I’m sorry but you’re just going to have to wait.”
Ichtaka bites back a retort, and turns away to get a grip on his anger.
Anka : You look out across the gathered crowd. You know that the Governor will not budge, and far too many of the townsfolk agree with him – the ritual is just a tradition, nothing bad will happen if it has to wait a week. You know different, you know it in your bones. And as you look across the crowd, you see three faces – and you remember your dream.
[Governor won’t risk older druids – and doesn’t trust Grippli or barbarians. But can be convinced to let party enter, and even offers a reward if they are successful.]
Scene Six: The Stone Roots
In the center of the grove is the stump of a tree – a massive tree. Closer inspection reveals that it is completely fossilized, pure stone. A hexagaonal door is set into the base of the stump
- marked with the sign of the Balance. It has been cruelly ripped off its hinges, and lies askew in its housing. Something of massive strength and evil intent is the only thing that would have done this.
A spiraling staircase, housing the bones of druids – Anka’s ancestors. Once the party enters, several burst forth from their stone cairns and attack. One round in, the dead druids cast a summoning spell that brings forth the Air elemental.
Scene Seven: Taproot
The base of the tree is a vast circular chamber, walls riddles with stone roots. In the very center of the room is a broad taproot going down into the earth. An altar is on the farside of the room, but of far more immediate interest is the large white-scaled creature gnawing at the base of the root. It attacks immediately.
The Ritual of Tears
Druid-born and wild-blood meet
In roots of stone beneath the feet
of Six-Branch tree and seal the pact
made in love at Eld World wrack.
Last of all, a true-hearted knight
Breaks sword of green, ends winter’s blight.
Now weep and wail, and keep the Word
Sorrow-song forgotten, but always heard.