Fruit of the Fallen

The Eldeen Reaches

A Fade to Green

Part 33 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion

The Ragged Flagon, First Tower, One Week Later
The bartender of The Ragged Flagon had seen many things in his lifetime. Owning a bar opposite of a lightning rail terminal which led straight to Sharn will do that to you. Travelling performers, magical oddities, regiments of troops moving to and from the front lines, there wasn’t many things that would surprise the surly elf.
That being said, Cael had absolutely no idea what he had been handed for payment of ‘all the booze you have in the place’ by a thoroughly unpleasant and travel worn hobgoblin. It was… something stick like? Clear, it was definitely clear. Fortunately, one of his regulars from Morgrave was in, and he tiredly handed it over to the wizard to check on the off chance it was actually worth something. When one of the bouncers caught her trying to sneak out with the thing, Cael’s interest suddenly peaked.
Bargaining with the hobgoblin was renewed, and eventually the odd crystal stick was traded for half of the grog and three cases of finer drink from the Flagon’s hold. The bartender shrugged when it was all over. From what his wizard friend had covertly told him, the stick was exceedingly rare and valuable. He didn’t understand why, but in exchange for forgetting the whole ‘trying to flee with the valuable stick’, the wizard had offered to broker its sale. She was even so kind as to forget any kind of commission.
The hobgoblin then left having secured the deal. The bartender scratches his head, thinking of how many barrels he’d have to bring up. Thinking quickly, he deputized three of the stronger looking men amidst the crowd to help him with the barrels. They happily obliged, sensing the beginning of what promised to be an epic night.

Jorduna met up with the rest of her team, who had just left the town’s most expensive bathhouse. That is, to say, its only one. They would have drawn straws to decide who would go ahead to the tavern, but Jorduna didn’t want to let go of her loot.
Unfortunately, the angels that had sent them back to Eberron were very precise about where they returned them, which was back in the center of the King’s Forest. Fortunately they didn’t feel it necessary to return Il’yena to Cyre, now the Mournlands, which everyone felt was generous of them.
The walk back was mercifully uneventful. Perin was nowhere to be found, though honestly Vargard and the others hadn’t expected otherwise. Food was still low, though now that Cletus had returned to the land of the living, this rapidly changed. He also spotted several bandits who were attempting to in turn scout his group, but they quickly fled as soon as they caught sight of Vargard.
The first real shock came when they found the main road and ran into some travelers. During the following conversation, they determined that several months had passed. The New Year had come and gone, and both Olarune, and winter, were coming to a close. 997 YK. There was some debate over how this could have happened, and the group eventually blamed dodgy planar travel for the time shifts.
It was at this point that Lesani had pulled Vargard to the side, again repeating her desire to travel to the Eldeen Reaches. Vargard thought for a moment, then begged her to stay until at least First Tower. Besides, he had reasoned, Sharn was her best bet for finding some way of travel. Il’yena had two years of history to catch up on herself, and didn’t want to miss The Split Falchion’s celebration of their return. It was also her own celebration, but that was marred by the deaths or obliviations of her own friends.
So, one week after they had returned to Eberron, The Split Falchion treated the town of First Tower to a celebration it hadn’t seen in years. No one knew quite what it was about, only that one of the local taverns had practically opened its stores to the public based on a ‘private donation’. Other taverns soon followed their example to varying degrees, smelling blood in the water. After all, not everyone could funnel into one tavern. Soon, the only persons not inebriated were those who were profiting from the drunkenness of others, both bartenders and cutpurses alike.

As the city had partied throughout the night, so too did the inevitable collective hangover arrive. Hearing reports of mass revelry and the inevitable crimes which follow, Sharn sent and emergency force of guardsmen to secure the town. They’d come equipped to quell a full-scale riot, but these preparations were largely unnecessary. Mostly, they rounded up anyone too drunk to stand, and anyone brazenly committing a crime.
All of The Split Falchion had escaped the night relatively unscathed, however. Marwyn probably had it worse than most others, however, as he had a certain someone to remember every time anyone made a pass at him. Mevalyn had of course already been briefed on the situation, her voice was in his head the moment he had touched down to Eberron. She would have taken the first train to Sharn in order to meet him, but had apparently been caught up in some kind of pirate business. She assured him that everything was fine, and was currently on her way back to Khorvaire. The exact details were reserved for a proper face-to-face retelling.
So, when the bard woke up alone and in his own bed, he did what no other bard in the history of time had done and called it a win.

After all had awoken and recovered from their respective troubles, the group met in one of the few pristine tavern rooms left in First Tower. They were trying to make the meeting quick, before anyone had realized that it had been they who had started all of this.
“I’ve been thinking,” Sha starts, “And I’m going to journey to New Cyre. Someone, at least, should be told of what happened to Marvor and the others, they may still have family that survived. I wish I could stay with you, but…”
“You do what you have to have to,” Vargard tells her gently, “Do you have enough to make the journey?”
“Oh yes, you have been very generous,” the eldarin replies, tapping the gold pouch the group had given her. Normally, Vargard may have been more reserved with their gold, but the anticipated income from Jorduna’s ruby put those thoughts aside. “I had reserved a seat on one of the trains last night… I think. It should be leaving soon, so I…”
“Go,” Vargard nods, having noticed the eladrin nervously glancing towards every guard that passed outside the window. She still hadn’t gotten used to the world not being at war, and didn’t exactly have identification.

“Wait, wasn’t she in the prophecy?” Jorduna asks, watching her go, “Not that I’m complaining about ignoring that ratty piece of paper, but…”
“The prophecy said Marwyn would stand with five others, true,” Lesani answers, “Though, assuming the ‘assault’ was what we endured, it could not be Il’yena. The prophecy mentioned only four in that assault, which we can safely assume to be us.”
“Oh,” Jorduna says, concern abated. “Wonder who the sixth man is.”
“If the prophecy really is true, guess we’ll find out,” Vargard grunts.

The warrior pauses for a moment, dreading what was to be discussed next, “So. I’m just going to say it. Lesani is heading off to the Eldeen Reaches. She thinks the prophecy we heard is dire enough to warrant warning… the proper authorities.”
“We’re still going on about this prophecy thing?” Jorduna bristles suddenly, “Dammit Var. This is the Royal Eyes all over again. We go chasing this thing and it’ll get us all killed. Again, in some cases.”
“I am perfectly willing to go alone, if Var decides not to follow me,” Lesani clarifies, to the surprise of Jorduna.
“Wait, you’re not going with her Var?” the hobgoblin asks, incredulous, “I thought…”
“If the rest of you don’t want to go, then we’ll see what happens in Sharn,” Vargard heads her off, “We’ll have to tell Morgrave about Perin. The University won’t be pleased, and we probably won’t want to stay in town for long. I’m thinking of taking some time off from all this since you had the presence of mind to salvage something from this mess,” the warrior continues, and Jorduna accepts the implicit compliment, “My thoughts are that The Eldeen Reaches are as good a place as any to get some R&R. I’m sure Cletus wouldn’t mind, so we might as well accompany Les. Though if anyone has any other ideas?”
Marwyn, as usual, instantly deferred to Vargard’s opinion and stayed quiet. Cletus wasn’t that far behind, spending some time in the forriest of all the forests on Eberron sounded like a nice vacation after the literal hell he went through in Mabar. Jorduna thought for a moment, and reading the room properly, decided that she had been outvoted before one had even been called. Satisfied with the silence, Vargard then informed the group that he was “going to call an old friend to arrange transport,” and left the room, careful not to step on one of the drunks the guard had missed.

Sharn, Morgrave University, One Day Later
When Vargard had arrived at the gates of Morgrave University, identifying himself and his intent, he had assumed there would be some form of response. What he didn’t expect was his immediate detention by armed guard with the suggestion to not reach for the two swords hanging from his waist. What really blew him away, however, was who they led him to.

“You utter bastard!” Professor Perin shouts to Vargard as the warrior is escorted into his office, “You leave for me dead in the middle of the woods after I was mauled by wolves, and now you come here expecting payment?!”
“Wolves…?” Vargard replies weakly, still getting a handle on the situation.
“Well, I’ll have you know that your due payment will be rendered,” Perin continues, wincing slightly as he got up to stand, “Hopefully a stay in Sharn’s finest dark hole will teach you not to leave a man bleeding to death in the woods.”
Vargard actually shrinks a little under the professor’s bluster, before he remembers who was wearing the spectacles in this conversation. “How the hell did you get out of there alive?” he yells right back. The guards behind them draw their weapons, but wouldn’t actually interfere unless things got physical. Probably.
“Oh, wouldn’t you like to know,” Perin sarcastically returns, “I was captured by bandits! And after spending two weeks bleeding to death in their camp, Morgrave finally got a ransom through! Then, after a week of travelling while bleeding to death, I was barely returned to what now appears to be a permanent position at this damned desk!” Perin finishes.
Now that he had a chance to fully inspect the professor, Vargard did notice that one of the elf’s legs was suspiciously wooden. He sighed internally and realized that the man’s anger, while ill-informed, was probably justified.
“Did I mention nearly bleeding to death?” Perin lashes out again, while Vargard thought.

Finally deciding on what to say, a remark on what would hopefully defuse the situation, Vargard simply asks softly, “No, I meant how did you get out of Mabar?”
“W..w..what?” Perin sputters, “Is that some kind of threat?”
“I mean,” Vargard continues, making sure to tone down the aggression, “If we were sent to Mabar, it only follows that you were too. Seeing how much trouble we went through to get out, I’m a little confused as to how you managed it on your own.”
The professor glares at him for a few seconds in shocked silence, trying to tell if he was bluffing. Eventually, the elf comes to the conclusion that the warrior had to be lying, no matter what his gut was telling. “Do you want to try giving me an excuse that will actually make sense?”
“No, because I’m sure the truth would more than explain our actions,” Vargard fires right back. Meanwhile, the two guards behind him were quietly trying to figure out amongst themselves why everyone was getting upset over The May Bar, and how spending three months drinking in Cliffside was getting the merc off the hook.

An impasse was quickly reached, where Vargard stubbornly maintained his innocence and Perin just the same refused to believe him. Eventually, the guard sergeant shrugged and suggested bringing everyone to the station where Mr. Zone of Truth could settle matters. In the meantime, Vargard was allowed to contact the rest of his team on the condition that they not try to flee the city, and instead meet him at the guard station. Vargard had to give the safe word at least three times before he was sure Jorduna wouldn’t try something.
The warrior was shuffled into a guarded room while Perin watches from the window with anticipation. He was admittedly impressed at how long the mercenary was keeping up the charade, but knew the façade was about to be revealed for what it was.
Another guard, bearing the symbol of one of the Sovereign Host, walks into the room and casts the spell. Just as quickly, he departs, leaving Vargard and the interrogator. The spell zone of truth wasn’t used often among the city watch, there were often better means of acquiring the truth, and it didn’t work every time. In this case, however, the spell was being used more to verify the truth than to acquire it.
So the interrogator began with a series of ‘control questions’ to make sure that they spell had taken effect. These questions became increasing probing and personal over time, until finally Vargard gave the frustrated response typical for someone under the effect of a zone of truth, ‘I don’t want to answer that question.’ The interrogator smiles and declares that they were in business, and nods to Perin.
The elf’s expression goes from smug, to disbelieving, to horrified, to some kind of weird assortment of facial expressions that Marwyn could only guess was immense internal conflict as Vargard relayed his side of the story. He wasn’t stupid enough to spill some of the more sensitive topics, and the interrogator certainly wasn’t pressing the issue when he barely understood half of what the warrior was saying anyway.

When Vargard finishes, the interrogator briefly leaves the room and asks if Perin was satisfied. The elf weakly nods, and then says, “The University is dropping its complaint against these mercenaries.” The guard interrogator smiled, and grabbed one of the passing footmen to guide everyone back out onto the street. As they were walking, Perin took turns staring at each member of The Split Falchion, trying his hardest to determine if they were some kind of corporeal ghost or, perhaps, disguised demon. He knew something wasn’t right, and damn him if he couldn’t figure it out.
“If it’s any consolation,” Vargard says as they exit the guard station, “I do regret that we weren’t able to defend you. The promised payment is, of course, forfeit, and we have plans to leave the city within the week.”
“Good,” Perin replies distractedly, “Very good. Goodbye. Please don’t come back.” He then takes off, as fast as his one and a half legs would allow at least.

Meanwhile, Shakris
The winter of 996 hadn’t gone well for Professor Langhorn either. Relatively speaking, it was a cakewalk compared to the mercenaries, but being complete disgraced as an academic is never a fun thing to go through. Whether he had been a little too vague about his capabilities when describing his research to Morgrave University, or had flat out lied to them, Shakris would never know. When, after two months, they were asked to give a progress report to the university’s board, ‘nothing’ was a poorly received response. It wasn’t from a lack of effort, certainly, but the accumulated weather data they had taken amounted to essentially confirming that Sharn was experiencing winter. Even the reports from the few colleagues Langhorn had left in Fairhaven confirmed that the brief cold snap experienced in the beginning of the season had abated, and that it was actually now rather temperate for this time of year.
One of the board members wondered aloud if the professor was even worth the price they paid to transport him from Fairhaven. When the others agreed that this was a fair point, and asked Langhorn for reimbursement after a failure to produce anything of note for the University, the old elf had to admit he was broke.
So, her mentor was thrown into debtor’s prison, and Shakris herself was politely told that her enrollment at Morgrave University had been canceled. Forced to find some way to provide for herself, she eventually found work in one of the many magical shops around Sharn, which felt that it could use a cheap apprentice wizard to help with the merchandise.

She didn’t recognize Jorduna when the hobgoblin had first entered the store. She hadn’t thought of the mercenaries in some time, actually, especially after the university had declared them either dead or wanted for desertion. After Langhorn had been disgraced, her days were then filled with stocking shelves, and examining any curios a customer had brought in.
Her boss was discussing what appeared to be a gemstone with the hobgoblin, when he had offered to take it back to examine. Jorduna returned with, “I didn’t pry that out of a mountain just to let it out of my sight, not without being paid of course,” and it was then when Shakris recognized the voice. She kept quiet though, and tried to duck into the back before any association with the rogue cost her her job.
She was too late, however, as the gruff dwarf who owned the place pointed over to her and said Shakris could take a look at it. It took a far shorter time for Jorduna to recognize the woman, mostly because it had been a far shorter time for the rogue since the last two had met. The hobgoblin unfortunately misread the situation, thinking Shakris was merely a regular of the store, and asked her how Langhorn was doing.
The dwarf finally realized what had been nagging him the whole time, that the rogue looked strikingly similar to the mercenary Morgrave University had blacklisted months ago. He quickly told the hobgoblin to get the hell out of his store, and then did the same with Shakris, explaining a little apologetically that if he pissed off the University his business would die before night’s end.

And so, Valderis found herself once again jobless. At least this time, there was someone who owed her an explanation, instead of the other way around. Jorduna sighed, mumbled something about how if fate wasn’t playing with loaded dice then the cards were definitely marked, and asked if the woman could wait for her explanation until they were in the presence of the rest of her team. And a generous helping of alcohol.

Later, The Crimson Eagle
Vargard had barely convinced Grunhilda to allow them rooms for the night, and only after promising her that they wouldn’t be staying for long. He was surprised at her reticence at first, then realized that Perin was making sure he made good on his promise to leave the city.
He was understandably further annoyed when Jorduna reported in, explaining what had happened with Shakris, along with the guess that they wouldn’t be able to sell the ruby in Sharn for any appreciable amount. There would certainly be someone they could offload it to, but only if they didn’t mind making someone else rich instead.
The six dined with what could be called a melancholy mood, shoved into one of the corners of the bar away from the ‘respectable crowd’. Vargard, tired of explaining their recent multi-planar adventure to a semi-hostile audience, left Shakris’ explanation to Lesani. The wizard had been initially skeptical, but actually examining the ruby which was Jorduna’s prize was all the proof she needed.

“This… this is an astral ruby,” Shakris replies, careful to keep her voice down and the ruby itself hidden from plain view, “This has to be worth a small fortune at least!”
“Astral?” Jorduna asks, interest piqued, “Thought it was just a ruby.”
“Just a?” Shakris begins to yell, before lowering her tone again, “Just a ruby? This is worth at least ten times a normal ruby! Forget magic shops, you need to talk with a noble or one of the Houses to sell this.”
“What distinguishes it from a normal ruby?” Lesani asks. The warlock was now interested in the ruby as well, but more because an apparently magical object had escaped her notice.

Shakris thinks for a while, then decides to press what little luck she had left. “You’re leaving the city soon for the Eldeen Reaches, right? How?”
“Why, do you want a ride?” Vargard asks, noticing that the wizard had suddenly clammed up.
“I think you owe me that much, yeah,” Shakris replies, “Especially considering you’ve gotten me blacklisted too.”
“What about Langhorn? We’re not exactly up for a prison break right now.”
Shakris shrugs, and answers coldly, “Leave him. I’m not really sure he was onto anything this whole time. Sure, he taught me a fair bit of magic. But he ruined my career with that mad obsession of his, let him rot for all I care. Aundair’ll probably try and bailout one of their old battlemages at some point anyway, once his dignity is broken down to the point where he’ll ask for their help.”
“Wait,” Marwyn perks up at this, “That whole ‘everything getting colder’ thing wasn’t real?”
“No!” Shakris replies in a hurt tone, “It was all fake apparently. No one else could verify what he had been suggesting. He probably believed it, I don’t see why he would just lie, but he couldn’t prove it. So, how are you getting out of here?”
“Airship,” Vargard answers, “A little tug called the Asarclane.”

Once Shakris was assured passage out of Sharn, she was remarkably less tight-lipped about what she knew about astral rubies. It wasn’t much, but it definitely convinced Vargard that they should be taking better care of the thing. Answering a question from Lesani, Shakris further explained that they’re properties weren’t magical per se, and that part of their exorbitant value was indeed this quality.
This was both good and bad news. The good news was that the future seemed brighter for the purses of The Split Falchion. The bad news, aside from Jorduna really regretting not grabbing any more gemstones, was that they had planned to use part of the gold from the ruby’s sale to pay for the airship ride.

The Asarclane, Three Days Later
The arrival of The Asarclane into Sharn’s skydocks was met with a mixture of anticipation and relief from the members of The Split Falchion. Sharn was becoming increasingly hostile to them, spurn on by Morgrave University’s ire. Meeting with his old acquaintance, Ramerie, Vargard thanked the elf for answering his sending so quickly, and then regretfully told him that they were coming up a little short on payment. He left out the astral ruby, as Ramerie wasn’t the kind of friend you trusted with information such as that.
The combined purses of The Split Falchion, and the last meager coins from Shakris, amounted to half of Ramerie’s fee, and that was after reducing their bunks to the minimum. Sighing, Jorduna pulls out a knife, and after reassuring the captain that he wasn’t under attack, offered the blade as the rest of the payment. The elf was initially bemused at the seemingly poor offer, until his arcane eye picked up some pleasant looking auras coming off the dagger. He gladly accepts it, and welcoms them aboard.
“You didn’t have to do that, Jor,” Vargard tells the hobgoblin as they board.
“Didn’t want to give him the you-know-what,” Jorduna replies out of the corner of her mouth, and smiles at the gruff fighter, “Besides, I figure you’ll just reimburse me later from the group’s take.”

The travel would take one week, and would mostly use established trade routes. When Vargard raised his eyes at the use of the word ‘mostly’, Ramerie reluctantly explained that Brelish-Droaam border was temporarily closed while diplomats shouted at each other. They could either dodge around the Silver Lake and put three more days onto the travel clock, or go through the Graywall Mountains. Ramerie assured ‘my old chum Vargard’ that he had done this plenty of times, and everything would be fine as none of the patrolling Brelish airships ever went into the mountain range.
Two days into their travels, Ramerie confidently ordered his navigator to take them through the massive piles of earth that were the Greywall Mountains, while the everyone else, crew included, watched nervously. They expected to be through in only a few hours. Then, they learned why Brelish airships didn’t patrol the Greywall Mountains.

It didn’t help that it was raining as if the heavens had flooded. Vargard had carefully suggested waiting for the storms to pass, but Ramerie shut him down by replying that he had a busy schedule and any delay would unfortunately incur additional fees, despite their good relationship.
Spotters were posted every ten feet along the deck to make sure that the airship wouldn’t hit anything as it navigated passes barely thick enough to allow the Asarclane through. Cletus and Jorduna were even tapped to assist with this, the former taking a position in the Crow’s nest while the latter helped on the deck. Things were going as smoothly as they could have, given the circumstances.
Suddenly, one of the spotters cried out, saying he saw something coming at them. Those that heard the cry assumed it was rocks falling from above, and took whatever shelter they could find. Fortunately, at Vargard’s insistence, some cover had been set up along the deck in case the inhabitants of the mountains took offence to their trailblazing. What fell on the crew that didn’t get into cover in time wasn’t rocks, however, it was fire. A couple were immolated, while the rest were put out by a combination of rain and assisting crewmembers. Jorduna had been caught out in the middle of the blast, but had somehow managed to dodge the flames and emerged unscathed.

“Drag’n!” Cletus shouts into his sending stone, and then again to the general crew. He watched as the red drake which had just toasted one or two crewman flew the length of the ship, before disappearing into the haze behind them.
“What?” Vargard replies, and then orders, “Everyone, topside now. Get to cover!”
Marwyn’s blood chills when he hears Cletus’ warning. He’d seen an impressive amount of both combat and monsters for someone his age, it was true. But it was only a rare few who could look at a winged lizard three times as long as they were tall, and not feel a sense of impending doom. Especially when said beast was dousing their flying boat with dragonfire.
The bard finally manages to steel himself, and interrupts a shouting match between Ramerie and Vargard near the ladder up to the main deck.
“If it brings the ship down you’ll die too!” Ramerie yells. He was hiding behind his cabin door, which he quickly closed whenever the dragon made another pass.
“The dagger,” Vargard says simply, “If you want us to take that thing down, we’ll need every weapon we can get! I’m sure you can get its value from the dragon’s corpse, assuming we kill it.”
“Fine!” Ramerie relents, after yet another wave of dragonfire. He quickly disappears into his room, and comes back out with Jorduna’s dagger, “Just kill it!”

Surfacing, Vargard and Marwyn find the deck of the ship in chaos. Half of the crew had either been burned alive, or were too weak to even try and find cover. Those who were left were trying to drag the injured below, as none could even begin to do anything about the fire drake above.
The mercenaries had escaped most of the fire, and Cletus had even put a few good shots into the dragon. Jorduna and Lesani did what they could, but their enemy had never really gotten close enough for either to be effective. Shakris had elected to remain below, and Vargard couldn’t really blame the wizard.
The dragon had made five attacks on the ship when the last two of The Split Falchion joined the battle. With his adrenaline pumping, the earlier fear Marwyn had felt was abated. It helped that the dragon was nowhere in sight, up until the moment Cletus shouted “AFT!”.

Marwyn notices the ranger was punctuating this by readying his bow, and quickly fumbles to bring out his. He can barely pull back on the bowstring before the massive head of the dragon becomes visible amongst the rain. The bard sees immediate confirmation that it was a red dragon, the scales shone brightly even in a downpour, and loosed his arrow. The aim was wide, however, and the bard was nearly toasted before Vargard drags him behind the wall created by the Asarclane’s lifted stern. The two just barely manage to duck under the encroaching wall of fire. Cletus remained unscathed, as his position was well above the majority of the flames. Lesani wasn’t able to get into cover quite as quickly and was slightly scorched, while Jorduna again took the brunt of the fire with impunity. Marwyn couldn’t believe his eyes when he saw the hobgoblin, who was standing out in the open, disappear in the center of the fire, and the come out of it completely fine. He made a note to ask how she was doing it if they survived the attack.
“I got the dagger!” Vargard yells, holding the aforementioned blade up, “Will you tell me what it does now?”
“Toss it over!” Jorduna shouts back, which the warrior does. He wasn’t as accustomed to throwing knives as the hobgoblin was, but Jorduna was perfectly capable of prying it out of the floor when he missed. “Paralysis enchantment!” the rogue answers, twirling the knife in her hand, “Think I can knock the bastard out of the sky!”
“One problem,” Lesani counters, though it takes a moment for Marwyn to understand. The warlock was speaking in Elvish for some reason, and if the bard’s ATHS was bad, his elvish was worse. He managed to get the gist, starting to remember the language. “Dragons are resistant to magic. We will need to wear down those defenses or it will simply ignore it. Marwyn, you should use your non-marksman powers to assist!” Marwyn’s spirit falls when he understood what the warlock was saying, and further when he realized there was only one spell he could use.
“Just let me know when it’s go time!” Jorduna replies, switching over to elvish as well. She then resolved to focus on observing the dragon whenever it flew over the ship, trying to anticipate where it would come from.

Another problem reared its head when everyone heard the sound of the hull scraping against one of the mountains. The helmsman had either fled or died, and the Asarclane was now doing its best to beach itself. Vargard swore, and realized he was the only one who could be spared from the fight. While the others prepared for the dragon’s next attempt to catch the airship on fire, he ran to where the ships controls were. Thankfully, the steering column as well as other instruments were located in an enclosed cabin. Unfortunately, said cabin only had three full walls, the one facing forward had a giant open space which allowed the pilot to see where the ship was going. The resulting low wall was all that stood between him and every other strafe from the dragon. The fighter gripped the airship’s controls, steered it away from the rock face, and prayed that Lesani knew what she was doing.

Inevitably the red dragon returned, having refreshed its fiery breath. It was beginning to focus it on portions of the ship, having identified who were the main threats amidst the rapidly disappearing crew. This required it to fly closer to the deck, but the defenders weren’t doing enough to encourage it to keep its distance anyways. Said defenders had relocated to a position that better covered the dragon’s approach, but all were still a little exposed.
Marwyn’s cover of a crate which had been left on the deck provided him some defense, but he was still burnt by the fire that wrapped around the edges. The bard had to hold in a scream as the exposed flesh crackled, and he instinctively uttered a healing spell. He then remembered what he was supposed to be doing, steeled himself, and yelled at the top of his lungs, “Hey dragon! You’re wings are, uh, dumb!”
The bard could have sworn that the dragon, whose head was level with him at this point, looked incredulously at the little speck who was insulting its luxurious wings. For a moment it appeared as though the spell had taken hold, but the dragon merely shrugs it off at the last moment. Lesani, who had held back a spell to instead observe Marwyn’s attempt, yells out “Yes! A few more hits, and it will be vulnerable.” This would have emboldened the half-elf, if it also didn’t make him one of the Dragon’s biggest targets.

Speaking of which, he was still partially on fire. The minute or so between strafing runs was spent hurriedly putting Marwyn out, while using more mundane methods to treat his burns. The dragonfire HURT, even with relatively solid cover between most of its volume, and Marwyn wasn’t sure he could survive even one blast on open ground.
Responding to Vargard’s bellows for assistance from below, the ship’s cleric, who had her hands busy treating the wounded crew, did pop her head out temporarily to put some kind of shield over Marwyn. It was nice to see the crew contribute in some way to saving all of their lives, but the five were still mostly left alone to fend for everyone.
The last few seconds before the dragon returned were spent returning to cover. Jorduna remained out in the open, hoping to both draw and dodge most of the dragonfire. From his new position, Marwyn was thankfully shielded from enough of the onslaught to avoid injury. His attempt with another insult had failed to trip the dragon’s defenses, however, as had the shot of black fire from Lesani. Vargard, meanwhile, was forced to abandon his post in favor of not dying a horrible death, and though he avoided the dragonfire, the hull of the Asarclane rubbed a little more of itself off onto the mountainside.

The good news was that, eventually they would wear down the dragon to the point where it would either collapse from the accrued damage, or from Jorduna’s knife. The bad news was that the ship was probably going down well before that. They could only guess, but the general opinion was that the ship could sustain at most 4 more strafes before going down.
Guessing that his last attempt to avoid the dragonfire by hiding behind a crate would end like the first, Marwyn instead got crafty. Three times now he had seen the dragon hose the ship with fire, and had noticed that it couldn’t cover the entire length of the deck with flames. He rapidly explained his plan to the others, and then turned himself invisible.

When the dragon next approached the Asarclane, it saw every still living defender on the top deck gathered in cover by the starboard side. As this was the same side as the crate Marwyn had taken cover behind before, the dragon didn’t think anything of the fact that it could only see four instead of five. This false assumption was corrected when, after focusing its breath on that side of the ship, Marwyn suddenly appeared at the opposite end, away from the majority of the flames. Not having to worry about keeping his head down, Marwyn managed to get off two poorly worded insults, one of which seemed to trigger the last-second defense from the dragon. Likewise, the bolt of dark fire issued from Lesani’s hand was diverted from its course just before impacting the dragon’s hide.
“That should do it!” Lesani yells to Jorduna, “You’ll have to get it on the next pass!”
“You better!” Vargard shouts from the wheelhouse, also having adopted the elvish tongue, “Controls are getting sluggish!”
There was a thud, as Cletus lands from his jump from the crow’s nest. Jorduna looks at him with a mixture of confusion and surprise, as he’d nearly landed on top of her. Cletus merely gestured to the top portions of the ship, which had begun to catch fire despite the rain. Adding this to the beating the rest of the ship was taking, it soon became clear that The Split Falchion would have to stop the assault quickly.

Said attack never came, however. The next few minutes were spent anxiously scanning for any sign of approach by the dragon, but it had apparently flown off. The four on deck briefly speculated as to why, theories ranging from the airship leaving the dragon’s territory, to the beast being able to understand Elvish. Then Vargard shouted over the conversation, saying that unless someone who actually knew how to fly the airship took over the wheel, he’d likely crash the whole thing into a mountain.
The crew carefully made their way back up. The helmsman fortunately survived, though the dragonfire had damaged the ship and killed or critically injured a dozen crewman. Repairs were quickly started under the continuing assault of the rainstorm, while Vargard argued with Ramerie below deck. The warrior resurfaces just as the Asarclane passes the bulk of the Graywall Mountains, with most of his team’s cash in tow. Ramerie had eventually agreed to refund them most of their fee, but only after Vargard had wondered aloud how much it would cost to replace an airship, and observed that it wouldn’t take much more to totally destabilize this one.

The rest of the journey was mercifully calm. The tension between Ramerie and his passengers was eased slightly when they offered to help with repairs, though both sides still felt as if they were being cheated.

Greenheart Approach, One Week to Spring Equinox
The approach to Greenheart was at first unremarkable. The Asarclane had been above the Towering Wood for a few days at this point, and to those on deck it appeared to be all forest. The woods were named appropriately, some trees were so high that the helmsman had to navigate around them, rather than just fly over them. It inevitably dawned on all who approached that such trees were becoming more and more common, until those looking for it recognizes a gathering of such giant trees in the distance. By Vargard’s estimation they were at least a mile away when the airship began to descend.
“What the hell, Ramerie? We’re not there yet,” he complains.
Lesani, however, intercedes before the airship captain, “Var, Greenheart does not permit trade caravans entering the city, and that includes airships. I am afraid this is as close as the Asarclane can go without provoking a response.”

Given this sentiment, then, Vargard was surprised to find a sky dock constructed in a seemingly random forest clearing. There were only a few at the station, rough looking people whose armor was interlaced with plant life, though the warrior had the distinct impression that there were others just out of sight. The six departed the Asarclane, which just as quickly removed itself from its moorings, and disappeared towards the south. Vargard got the distinct impression that no amount of fare would convince Ramerie to make another such journey.
Marwyn, for his part, was feeling creeped out. He shared Vargard’s sensation of being watched, but only on a more subconscious level. This background dread mixed with the memories of all the horrible things that had happened to him in or near a forest, and caused the bard to go quite quiet.
“It should be but an hour to Greenheard,” Lesani informs the others, taking over the lead now that she was close to home. “I must warn you that the circumstances surrounding the city are somewhat different than what is commonly observe in the other kingdoms,” the elf continues, as they began walking in the direction of their destination.
“How so?” Vargard asks, content to let Lesani hold the reigns for a while.
“There are no stores nor inns, as the trade restriction extends within the city itself,” she explains, “And while I name it a city out of respect for its importance to our nation, its size is more equivalent to that of a town. While I will be welcomed back with open arms, I warn the rest of you that you will be treated as guests in another’s house. So long as you avoid flagrant breaches of Greenheart’s ethics, we should be fine, however,” she finishes, directing a particular glance at Jorduna towards the end. The hobgoblin, for her part, swore internally as she realized she had severely underestimated the backwardness of the forest nation.
“No inns? But where will we stay?” Shakris asks, she too being unprepared for the difference in customs.
“Where else?” Lesani asks rhetorically, “My home.”

Windhailer Manor, Later That Day
Lesani had led the six travelers adeptly through the twisting foliage, past the guards patrolling the border of Greenheart (who seemed to recognize Lesani, oddly enough), and into the center of Greenheart. Along the way they passed many people, whose garb ranged from that of what Marwyn now recognized as the Greenheart guard, to loose-fitting, flowing robes of those more peaceful denizens of the village. There were also a few Wardens, heavily armed and armored, who too were wandering Greenheart. Most either ignored the travelers, nodded gracefully in passing, or greeted Lesani when they recognized her. Each greeting was short and formal, however, not keeping either party for long.
The buildings were impressive as well, some appeared constructed through normal means, but others appeared to have been grown from the surrounding plant life. What truly overwhelmed Marwyn, however, was the sense of primal power that littered the air. He had experience enough with divine and arcane energy, but rarely had the bard come across a shaman or druid. Yet here, the stuff was everywhere. It seemed a good third of everyone they passed was someone with some form of primal talent. Even though he couldn’t begin to tap into it, the primal energy gave Marwyn a heady feeling.
That feeling diminished slightly with time, as Marwyn acclimated to the environment, and he was beginning to feel normal again when they finally arrived at Lesani’s ‘home’. That word did it little justice, however, for the structure before them was one of the largest they had seen. The others stared incredulously at Lesani when she rapped on the door, wondering if she had made a mistake.
That the one who opened the door greeted the warlock by name banished those doubts. A serious elf, wielding a bow and wearing his armor as if it were a second skin, suddenly reached out to embrace Lesani.

He then turns to those who had been following Lesani, all signs of grimness replaced by a joy that was just as fierce. “Welcome, welcome! My daughter has told me much of you! Please, come inside,” the man punctuates his greeting with an open gesture to his guests.
They were led into a large room containing an absolutely massive fireplace, and numerous decorative wooden chairs. The chairs, no matter how flimsy they appeared, were actually quite sturdy. The fire likewise burned ferociously, but didn’t damage the wood surrounding it or fill the room with smoke. Both anomalies were obviously the work of magic.
“It is good to see you again, Lesani,” her father says, when all had been seated. He himself remained by the fire, returning to venison which he had obviously been cooking, “As well as your friends, though I see one more than I remember from your most recent tales. Who are you?” he asks Shakris.
The woman, who had only really taken the airship ride to get away from vengeful scholars, was a bit overcome by the hospitality, and took a moment before she could answer, “Shakris Valderis, I was merely travelling with them, I’m not…”
“Oh, it’s ok,” the elf cuts her off, “I don’t need an explanation. I am Folgore Windhailer, if my Lesani hasn’t already spoken of me before.”
“I admit I have kept tales of my homeland somewhat limited,” Lesani says, “Though not out of distrust of my compatriots.”
“Well, I am very glad to meet you all,” Folgore says, removing the now fully cooked venison and offering it to his guests, “However I regretfully must speak with my daughter in private. Should you need anything while we discuss family matters, another of the house will be able to assist you. Lesani?” he looks to the warlock, who follows him out.

When out of sight of the others, Folgore’s demeanor rapidly shifts back to the serious elf that had initially greeted Lesani. “We received your message in full, daughter, though we could scarcely believe you had sent it. You know that the Gatekeepers are not to be disturbed unless absolutely necessary!”
Lesani faces the storm bravely, however, and deferentially responds, “I can verify the prophecy that was relayed, and the circumstances leading to its retrieval. Though I do not fully understand how or why we had come across it, it now appears that fate may be guiding our actions.”
“And that boy is this fabled ‘Winter’s Bow’?” Folgore asks.
“Apparently,” Lesani agrees, “I must attest that he does seem to take to the life of a mercenary surprisingly well. Others his age would have not survived his first trial by fire, much less everything else that has occurred. If this ‘Winter’ spirit has been observing Marwyn for all this time, then perhaps it would go towards explaining some of his more… miraculous feats.”
Folgore sighs, and replies, “I trust your judgment. Most of the Gatekeepers have dispersed for their annual renewal rites, though a few have remained in Greenheart to see to the defenses here. One has expressed interest in meeting with you tomorrow, at dawn. Will you bring your companions?”
“Not initially,” Lesani decides, “Some will probably be against assisting the Gatekeepers, at least at first. I am not sure exactly how much I should tell them.”
“Nothing, at first,” Folgore answers firmly, “Go, and meet with the Gatekeeper tomorrow. It is possible this prophecy is still a falsehood. As for your companions, have they been informed of our traditions?”
“Yes,” Lesani replies nervously, “Though I imagine one of my companions would prefer to go hunting at some point. I am not entirely aware of the current restrictions…”
“I will lend him aid,” Folgore offers, knowing exactly who Lesani was referring to, “He has the looks of a good hunter. If I didn’t know better, I might suspect the dwarf to be a warden. What are his origins?”
“You know father, I am not sure. He rarely talks about his history, or in general honestly.”
“Why, he sounds like the perfect hunting companion,” Folgore remarks thoughtfully.

The Next Day
Marwyn awoke to one of the best nights of sleep he had had in ages. The bard had no idea what had lined the mattress of his bed, but he had fallen asleep the instant he had laid down. Remembering this, Marwyn wearily does a quick scan of the bed, seeing if there was any enchantment that aided rest. He found none, however, the bed was just that good.
For the first time in months, he felt truly relaxed. The goings on of Fairhaven had always awoken him early in the morning, and whenever he went anywhere else he was either roughing it on the road, or under the stress of a job. The denizens of Greenheart appeared to be more conscientious of their neighbors, and the only noise which surrounded him was that of nearby wildlife. The sun was also well above the horizon, surprisingly close to its zenith.
He groggily climbs down the elegant central staircase, back to the foyer where he assumed others would be. He finds only Vargard and Shakris, who were both reading from elvish texts.
“You’re the last up,” Vargard tells Marwyn, answering his question before the bard had even asked, “Les went off somewhere before dawn, Cletus is out with Folgore hunting, and Jor had better be staying out of trouble,” the warrior says, raising his voice just a little towards the end, “I can only assume she’s meeting with whoever handles dire Draconic Prophecies over here. Lesani, I mean. There’s still some breakfast left for you.” The fighter points to a selection of succulent meats resting on one of the hearth stones, kept warm by the fire.
“Thanks,” Marwyn says, taking the food, “I never knew Les had something like… this. Why’s she been with us this whole time?”
“I always knew she was in contact with someone from her home,” Vargard admits, “Though I never imagined this. Always assumed it was an old warden contact, but to find out that her father is a Marshall…”
“A what?”
“Marshall. Something like a warden general,” Vargard explains, “Druidic sects aren’t organized exactly like the military, but it’s safe to say he’s high ranking. A little hard to believe Lesani left the Wardens when her father was this important.”
“Wait, if he’s a druid, why isn’t Les?” Marwyn asks.
“Magic’s funny like that somethings,” Shakris answers, over from her corner, “Sometimes the oldest, decrepit wizard, completely fitting the stereotype everyone imagines a wizard to be, has a grandson gifted to be a shaman. Or vice versa.”
“I’ve never really thought about Les’ patron beforehand, to be honest,” Marwyn says thoughtfully, “Just didn’t occur to me.”
“It doesn’t come up much,” Vargard explains, “The source of her power is Les’ business, as are her reasons for leaving Greenheart.”

“Back Boss,” Jorduna announces, entering the room, “No dice on any buyers. Got the impression that no marketplace means no one wants to buy a really expensive gem, but I did some digging anyways. Think’ll have to wait a little bit longer. At least Les’ folks are the welcoming sort.”
“Indeed,” Vargard agrees. They’d only really interacted with Lesani’s father and a few of what appeared to be a cross between manservant and Warden in training. Likely, the druidic sect added housekeeping duties to their trainees’ education. The warrior assumed there were others related to Lesani within the household, but the place was big enough that they hadn’t run into any. It was equally possible that Folgore was the only actual member of the Windhailer family that was currently living at Windhailer Manor, and that the others were travelling across Khorvaire.
“What do we do now?”
“Relax, Jor,” Vargard answers, “Les’ll let us know if anything’s up when she returns. Until then, I say we take a well-deserved break from other people telling us what to do for money. If we can somehow get out from under this whole prophecy mess, and sell the ruby, I wouldn’t mind taking a longer vacation.”
“At least until the gold runs short, yeah that sounds kinda nice,” Jorduna yields, internally adding that it would be a relief to go somewhere where picking a pocket could only get you landed in jail for a few nights, instead of quite possibly being hunted down by every bowman within miles.
Not wanting to risk offending anyone, and not having a strong reason to leave Windhailer Manor, the four resolved to wait for Cletus and Lesani to return.

Meanwhile
Lesani had waited for almost two hours before the Gatekeeper had arrived. She was within one of the more central structures of Greenheart, practically a short walk away from Oalian’s grove. The warlock had expected the wait, and quickly worked with her journal in the rather plain room.
When the Gatekeeper druid did arrive, it was with another in tow. A more ancient druid enters with him, to Lesani’s surprise. Not because of the older druid’s presence, but of the markings adorning their hide (for their natural skin had long ago been augmented with both animal skin and tree bark). It was an Oalian druid, one of the few chosen to act directly under the Great Tree’s will.
Both the Gatekeeper and Lesani wait for the Oalian to take her seat, knowing what would come next. The elder druid shifts a chair close to one of the walls, sits, and takes a deep breath. Tendrils of wood grow out of the wall, and splice into the druid’s barkskin. Eyes glowing faintly, the druid announces, “He is with us,” and then goes into a trance.
Now allowed to speak, the Gatekeeper initiates the conversation sternly, “Warlock Windhailer, it appears you have brought a matter most dire to our attention.”
“Gatekeeper,” Lesani returns, “I do not understand why Master Oalian’s presence is required. I do not suggest it is unwelcome, simply unusual.”
The Gatekeeper sighs, and answers, “It is customary for Oalian to adjudicate any dispute between the druid sects, as you should know.”
Lesani bristles, slowly becoming aware of the jaws of a trap. A slight twinge of betrayal runs through her, though she rarely had contact from her patron, surely Oalian could have given her a sign beforehand. “I was not aware of any dispute between us,” she finally answers cautiously.
“As Winter’s Bow is currently under the protection of a Marshall, our demand will certainly create one,” the Gatekeeper replies.
“Demand?”
“You understand the stakes, Windhailer. Your report sharpened a concern we have had for some years. One of our seals is becoming undone, and for all our efforts, we cannot prevent this.” The Gatekeeper lets this hang in the air, observing Lesani’s reaction.
“Where?” Lesani asks quickly, starting to grasp the severity of the situation.
“The Shadow Marches,” the Gatekeeper responds, “And we will need to act quickly to prevent new catastrophe. Xoriat must not be allowed to plague our realm again.”
“Then what is your demand?”
“That you and all you brought help us renew the seal, and fulfill the prophecy,” the druid explains, “You will be transported by our circles to the mire, and attached to the Gatekeeper leading the defense. Master Oalian has been apprised of the situation and has tentatively granted our request. If you have any reason to dissuade him, speak it now.”
“I…” Lesani pauses, floored by the sudden turn of events, “I cannot assure my companions will oblige.”
“That is irrelevant,” the Gatekeeper answers, “They will assist us in defending Eberron.”
“How will you assure their compliance?”
“Leave that to us,” the druid answers ominously, “Master Oalian, does your ruling stand?”

There is a pause, when both looked to the ancient druid connected to the wall. After a moment, her head nods slowly.
“So be it,” the Gatekeeper acknowledges. “Windhailer, I must apologize, but the fate of Eberron takes precedence over anything else.”
“Your reasoning is understandable, but this ambush was an insult.” Lesani responds, as she storms out of the room.

The Warlock manages to reach Windhailer Manor before the rest. “Var, I am sorry. I did not believe it would come to this.”
“Daughter, what is wrong?” Folgore asks, for he and Cletus had returned from their hunt.
“Master Oalian, he…” she tries to explain.
“Marshall Windhailer!” an authoritative voice from outside of the manor shouts. The Warden looks between the door and Lesani, gives the latter an apologetic look, and moves towards the former.

“Les, what’s going on?” Vargard asks, worried.
“The Gatekeepers were more desperate than I had imagined,” the warlock explains, “They have…”
Once more Lesani is cut off when Folgore returns, paler than before. “Lesani, have your friends gather their belongings and meet outside.”
“What?” Vargard asks, still not understanding, “What’s going on?”
“Per the decision of Master Oalian, the Great Druid,” Folgore explains, “You are remanded to the custody of the Gatekeepers until Winter’s Bow has fulfilled its duty. Resisting is… ill-advised.”
“We’re not part of your kingdom, you can’t do this!” Jorduna protests.
“It has been done,” Folgore says ominously, “Though I personally apologize for my failure to protect guests of the house, a higher authority has ruled.”
“Like hell, Var, we’re getting out of AUGH!” Jorduna suddenly screams, clutching her head after trying to reach for one of her knives.
“What the hell? What did you do to her?” Vargard yells, though he was careful not to reach for one of his swords.
“I have done nothing,” Folgore answers, “As I said, it has already been done. Master Oalian has placed upon you a geas. You must comply with the wishes of the Gatekeepers.”
“Or… what?” Jorduna asks weakly. The pain that had struck her had been intense and debilitating, but short lasting.
“Or you shall perish,” Folgore replies simply.

Continued in Part 34, The Gatekeepers – Those Who Watch, Those Who Wait

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