Call to Arms

Way of the Jade Mantis, part 5
Jus ad Bellum

Bickering and suspicious, the Silvalin and Jade Mantis travel together toward their ancestral monastery. At the edge of Menios’ occupied grazing land they encounter a herd of megali: huge, aggressive elk-like herbavores. Everyone agrees the herd must be turned back before they endanger life and property, the two sides fight together to protect Menios once more.

The grazing lands give way to scrub and then the fabled bamboo forest of Menios. The Jade Mantis feel at home here but the other monks are on edge. As they travel the group is harassed by kenku who use mimicry to lure individuals away from the group so they can be ambushed. The Jade Mantis are wise to these tricks and caution Anselmo and his friends to stay close and ignore everything they hear unless they can see the speaker.

A few days later the monks climb into the foothills of the Range of Broken Dreams. Soon there will be a reckoning.

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Way of the Jade Mantis, part 4
Schism

Doru is the smallest of the Jade Mantis acolytes and is just 15 years old. Chen Tao binds her hands and takes her to a nearby barn he hopes will be safe from another Jade Mantis attack. He and Anselmo’s friends light many torches in the barn to drive off shadows.

Doru prostrates herself at Chen Tao’s feet. “Revered Teacher,” she begs, “when you kill me, let me die on my feet facing the foe as a Caetari should.” Chen Tao replies “I’ll consider it,” but he has no intention of killing his prisoner.

They set watch, Sova going first. She is patrolling closely around the barn when a bird-call gets her attention. Crouching in a nearby tree is Geshho, now in civilian clothes. The Jade Mantis gestures for Sova to follow and bounds off, running along the top of a fence. Sova follows step for step, atop the fence, over a shed, finally meeting Gessho in a gazebo a few dozen yards from the barn.

Gessho tells her, “with your speed, your skills and your resolve you should have been one of us. We would have trained you and given you a name.” Sova introduces herself and tells Gessho a bit about her training in Felleg’Avin. Then she asks what this is all about. Doru’s capture is Gessho’s responsibility, and Gassho wants to take Doru’s place as the abbot’s prisoner. Sova is impressed by the Jade Mantis’ honor and honesty.

Waking Kendal, Sova explains the situation. Kendal can’t think of one reason they wouldn’t make the trade, so they do. Doru, relieved but ashamed, runs off to join her sisters while Gessho is bound. Sova stay up most of the night talking to Gessho.

Meanwhile up near Planos, Anselmo questions Jikan. She tells him all about the Jade Mantis and the events leading to the holy war. Anselmo dislikes the lack of honesty shown by Mumyo, but thinks if the Jade Mantis re-dedicate themselves to the 9 virtues there is hope of reconciliation. Jikan asks Anselmo to take her side before the abbot and insist the Way of Shadow is a true way to follow Caetar. Anselmo sleeps on it.

Come morning Chen Tao is less pleased at the exchange. Gessho tells him she knows he’s going to Jikan’s house: she assures the abbot they will find it empty when they arrive. Gessho offers to lead them to Jikan and Anselmo. The abbot disagrees. Instead he summons four of his monks, then sends one of them (Anzan) to give Jikan a message: the abbot will meet them on his terms or no deal.

The next day Jikan and Anselmo follow Anzan to an isolated sheep pasture where they meet Chen Tao and Anselmo’s friends just after noon. Gessho is released and the two groups each relate their version of events from the last few days.

Anselmo calls Jikan and Chen Tao together. He feels he cannot speak for the church, but gets Jikan to agree to submit herself to the Archbishop’s decision once they can contact him. She tells Anselmo there may be a way to contact Felleg’Avin if they can just retake the monastery …

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Way of the Jade Mantis, part 3
A Walk In Shadow

“Arise, Vangard! Caetar needs you.”

Flashing back to the previous night, we follow Anselmo as Toyo, a 16 year old girl and Jade Mantis acolyte wakes him. She explains she was sent by the Prioress of Silvalin and she will lead him back to her, but they must leave now while it’s still dark. Brother Dalca wonders how she got into his room when the window is small and barred and his door is still spiked shut, but he keeps his concerns to himself for now.

Anselmo tells her he is not alone and Toyo is surprised. She is only prepared to sneak one person out of town, not many. Anselmo agrees to go with her if he can leave a letter for his friends. She tells him to go downstairs and walk directly out hte front door, she will meet him outside. As soon as he leaves, Toyo replaces his letter with an origami mantis.

Anselmo finds her waiting for him at the front door, with no clear way she could have passed him to get there. She leads him through the dark, quiet town to an open postern gate where two fresh, fast horses are waiting. They ride hard until their horses are spent, then walk till dawn.

They rest during the day. (Meanwhile Anselmo’s friends wake to find him missing and have their meeting with Anastasia.) Come evening they set off on foot following seldom-used trails through the meadowed countryside. Toyo has eyes for Anselmo, who notices her charms as well. She is warm and friendly, to the point where her teacher scolds her for talking too much. Toyo is forbidden to tell Anselmo anything about the Silvalin, however, only promising that the Prioress will give him the answers he needs.

After a long night on the road they reach a large wealthy home set in miles of sheep pasture. They give Anselmo a comfortable feather bed and several hours of sleep.

While Anselmo walks with Toyo, Master Chen and the others sleep in a barn because no inn or tavern in Menios would serve Olivetti or Arukites. The next morning they leave early, following the Chosui River. Master Chen tells them the sad tale of the Silvalin.

Mid-day Anselmo awakes and has tea with the Prioress of Silvalin, Jikan. (She is also the leader of the Jade Mantis.) Jikan asks Anselmo to walk with her to the nearby town of Planos. On the way she will tell him anything he wants to know, then she will ask for his help. If by then he does not want to help Jikan, she promises to send him back to his friends in Hellas on a boat. He agrees.

On the way Jikan tells him her side of the Silvalin story. She stresses that Mumyo gladly died to protect her disciples, had the old Abbot blessed the Way of Shadow there would have been no war. But he declared it heresy, so now Jikan and her sisters must either fight for their lives or deny what she knows to be a true faith.

As evening falls they reach the outskirts of Planos. About 20 miles downriver Chen Tao leads Anselmo’s friends up the Chosui River toward Jikan’s house. The Jade Mantis attack under strict orders not to kill, just to discourage and delay the Abbot. Under a veil of darkness they appear and vanish, striking from shadows.

Kendal and Sova are hit with essence of ether and Kendal goes down in the darkness, unseen for the rest of the melee. Dorn is surrounded and hit with so much mantis poison even his dwarven constitution succumbs. Gessho, the Jade Mantis lieutenant, makes an assassin’s strike against Chen Tao, but he is merely wounded.

Sova gets and holds Gessho’s attention. Gessho is impressed Sova’s speed and skill. This frees the abbot to attack the other disciples and help Dorn. They all try to disengage but Chen Tao knocks out one of the girls with a flurry of punches. Gessho calls for a general retreat, they try to save their fallen sister but cannot. The Jade Mantis flee across the river. Chen Tao runs over the water to face them alone, but Gessho has reinforcements waiting. She tells him, “if you wish to see the Vanguard again Chen Tao, take good care of Doru.” Then they fade into the shadows.

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Way of the Jade Mantis, part 2
The Paper Mantis

Safely docked in the port of Hellas in Menios, Roan warn Sova and Knedal their names and families cannot protect them here. The Yan are deeply racist and will use any excuse to arrest them, harass them or take their property. They agree to keep a low profile.

The wharf is segregated: the Yan section is well maintained and decorated with colorful flying banners, the non-Yan side is decrepit and is where Menios processes 3-day-old fish for bait. The smell is memorable.

They try to get a room at the only tavern/boarding house on their side of the wharf. The Castaway is just as decrepit and smelly as the rest of the docks. The barkeep agrees to kick 3 patrons out of their private rooms for 5gp per room. Anselmo and his friends reluctantly agree.

Anselmo hears there is a shrine to Caetar in town and wants to visit it, but a guard stops him and insists there is no shrine open to outsiders.

Returning to their dearly bought rooms, Dorn insists they all use an iron spike to secure their doors for the night. Sova and Kendal share a room, Dorn and Anselmo each have a room little bigger than a closet. At least it’s better than another night aboard ship.

In the morning they discover Anselmo is missing. He seems to have spiked his door, though the spike was removed from the inside. The only window is barred and too narrow to crawl through. Questioning the patrons and staff they find a waitress who saw him walk out, carrying all his gear, sometime after midnight.

They search his room and Kendal discovers fresh ink spots and quill shavings on the tiny desk but no sign of a letter. Instead they find a green origami praying mantis. When Sova asks the barkeep about the mantis the man quickly leaves the tavern without a word! Infuriated, Sova finds the tavern’s strongbox and steals back every copper they paid the man.

Eventually Dorn rouses a sailor in the common room who recognizes the origami. “we found it in our friend’s room.” The sailor replies, “then your friend is dead.” An assassins guild called the Jade Mantis uses it as their calling card. Only the rich and powerful employ them.

In a rage Dorn demands someone bring him to the Jade Mantis so he can help Anselmo or pay them back for his murder. Banging the fellhammer, Dorn’s adamant plate rings like a bell and wakes the whole tavern and beyond. Panicked and remembering they are supposed to keep a low profile, Kendal hurries them all out the back door before guard arrive to arrest everyone.

After speaking with Captain Bosmun and Roan, they decide their only course is to wait a few hours until after the exchange, then seek help. They meet with Anastasia, a wealthy Yan merchant, and exchange Roan’s chest for a chest of gold. Anastasia clearly despises outsiders and treats them like dirt, but she’s good on her word. The chest contains the promised 5000 gp.

While they are counting the gold back on their ship, the town guard takes interest and questions them, looking for an excuse to seize their gold. Before things turn ugly, Master Chen Tao, monk and Abbot of Silvalin intercedes. The guards show him reverence and depart. Master Chen knows all about the Jade Mantis and was hoping to find Anselmo before they did. He agrees to lead Sove, Dorn and Kendal out of Hellas to a hideout used by the Jade Mantis in hopes that Anselmo may be there.

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Way of the Jade Mantis, part 1
Across the Sundering Sea

Having secured the spell Dorn needs to save Hammerfall, The group agrees to go to Menios to secure the head of the legendary hydra said to live there. Anselmo is anxious to complete his mission for the Caetari too and make contact with the lost monks of Silvalin.

Their journey back to Queensport is peaceful, but they have difficulty finding a ship bound for Menios. A lucky meeting with their friend Captain Bosmun provides an option, but he warns Sova his new ship, the Dubious, is being used to smuggle goods into Menios. Bosmun doesn’t want to involve the high lady in any unsavory deeds, but the patron of the voyage does want to hire security to protect their cargo. Eventually they agree to get free passage both ways in return for protecting the mysterious cargo.

After a week at sea the Dubious is sailing the deeps of the Sundering Sea, far from any sight of land, when a monstrous sea serpent attacks the small sailing ship. Over 150 feet long, it coils around the vessel and begins to crush it as captain and crew rally to attack it.

Anselmo blesses himself, his friends and several crew to let them walk on water and the battle spills over the sides of the ship onto the sea. Several crew are killed and many stunned when the serpent’s body shocks them with a powerful surge of electricity. It bites a sailor in half and swallows Dorn whole! The dwarf manages to cut himself free as the creature dies. He secures another reagent for the ten’en winya n’dor.

The ship is saved but damaged and taking on water. A third of the crew is dead and they still have several hard days at sea before they sight land.

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A Spell to Save or Destroy, part 3
Graymantle

Otherion Gladwind leads Dorn and his friends past the magically fortified border of Anneth Tarryn. He warns a different kind of danger lies within, as they pass leering satyrs and mortals who have wasted their whole lives here wallowing in the hedonism the elves crave. Wine, food, music, dance and sex flow in abundance wherever they look.

At the heart of the citadel they meet their host, Aethelred Graymantle, an elven archmage who entered the world over 6000 years ago. “My eyes looked upon the walls of Aruk before they fell. I marched against Arrakyn the Cruel in the god-slayer war …” Both Otherion and Aethelred are disciplined and reserved, unlike the wild abandon shown by some of the other elves in Anneth Tarryn. Graymantle is also the only person they have ever met who has black skin.

Graymantle asks Dorn why he wants to risk all to save Hammerfall when he could live a long, safe life otherwise. Dorn remembers the harsh words of his brothers, that his twisted face is a living reminder of the curse they live under and all they have lost. Dorn is sure this quest is his destiny. He will save Hammerfall or die trying.

Satisfied, Graymantle gives Dorn a scroll holding the Ten’en Winya Ndor, perhaps the most powerful spell known to elves or mortals. He makes Dorn swear an oath to guard the spell with his life, and use it only to restore Hammerfall as the gods made it.

This is the same spell Abraxas used to curse Hammerfall in the first place. Graymantle confesses that the witch Folga was given the spell by the arch-fey Lilith, who despises mortals and has no love for the material world. Thus, Graymantle believes the elves bear some responsibility and should give Dorn the spell to make amends. As they have seen, Lilith and her many followers will surely try to stop the quest but Dorn and his friends accept the danger.

They ask Aethelred the three heresies posed by Raphael Lonzo (Crossroads, part 4) and he explains a great deal.

How many races of man are there? Graymantle lets them peer through his gem of seeing, crafted from a tear of Ephistea and they are shocked to find that Sova, Kendal and Anselmo all have black skin like Graymantle. They had heard and believed the story of The Great Lie as an article of faith, but to see it with their own eyes is unsettling. Anselmo is thrilled and wants to show this gem to as many people as possible, but Graymantle has shown it to hundreds of people over the centuries, and only “one in five” can accept what it shows. The rest bend over backwards to rationalize their prejudices, believing the gem to be some wicked piece of elven sorcery.

Where do goblins come from? Monsters are the incarnation of human fears and hatred, given form by fey magic leaking into the material world, a magic which is attracted to all human passions. This creates a dangerous cycle, as humans fear the very monsters their fear creates. All of this has focused and gathered in the Nightmare Mountains, where great hosts of orcs goblins and worse are now being led and directed by the followers of Malice. Fighting these monsters is necessary but will not solve the problem: fear itself is the enemy.

Whatever happened to Ephistea? The Goddess of Truth learned long ago that gods and men often reject truth if they are not ready to hear it. After centuries of disdain and rejection she withdrew from the Sacred Isles to wander the wild and lonely places of the world. Some say the only way to find her is to seek out her son: Quo the Faceless, god of questions. The desert city of Tarkoom would be a good place to start.

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A Spell to Save or Destroy, part 2
Twillight in the Fae Wood

The next morning, Queen Beatrice pays an informal visit to Sova and Kendal in their guest suite. She tells them how rare it is for her to be able to speak to people from abroad, let alone women her own age. She hopes they can be friends.

Meanwhile it’s clear from the behavior of Kendal and Jules that they became lovers. Sova cautions Kendal, knowing she and Jules will be going in different directions very soon, but Kendal sees it as all the more reason to seize the day.

They grab Dorn and meet up with Anselmo. Jules escorts them all in a fine carriage half-way across Estaria. Jules and Kendal say goodbye, not knowing when they will meet again.

From there Otherion Glad-wind escorts them into the fae wood. The fine old forest gradually drifts into the faewild, the shifting, magical border between worlds where the mundane and fae spheres overlap. It’s like walking in a lucid dream.

A few miles short of the elven citidel of Anneth Tarryn the party is attacked by Luthias, a henchmen of the arch-fae Lilith, who warns Dorn to abandon his quest and not tempt Lilith’s wrath. Luthias is a fae vampire, and six formerly human vampire spawn congeal from mist and attack the travelers. Otherion and Luthias duel while the others dispatch the cursed undead. Luthias warns them one last time and dissolves into a mist.

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A Spell to Save or Destroy, Part 1
Queensport

After retrieving a coffer full of gold, platinum and a handful of small diamonds from the cyclopes’ cave, the party lands safely in Queesnport, where their ship the Lucky Tern is delivered to the new owner, Lady Alison in the line of Bethel. Sova gives Captain Bosmun a glowing recommendation. She also asks the captian and his ensign to keep their ears open for the names of any influential Estarians who might be less than happy with the country’s “peculiar institution”: slavery.

Even on the docks they see Dunsarro men with whipping scars on their backs. Jules — the Queensworn who helped them near Rookhaven — arrives with a carriage to escort them to the royal palace for an audience with Queen Beatrice.

Anselmo has no love for this slave-holding monarchy or its queen, so he stays behind and visits the Western Trades , a high end, dockside tavern full of ship captains and other officers. They swap many fantastic tales, including Anselmo’s most recent battle with the cyclopes. The racial divide is evident though, almost all the people of any rank are Arukites, served by an Olivetti and Dunsarro staff who are never openly spoken to or even acknowledged. They may as well be invisible.

Meanwhile at the palace Sova and Kendal receive gifts from the queen: lightweight formal gowns and exquisite lace headpieces which incorporate many fine crystals and semi-precious stones.

While they get dressed Dorn, who is posing as the ladies’ henchman, is free to speak to the servants. Down the hall he watches as the queen’s 3-legged dog Noodles leaves a pile of shite in the hallway. A few minutes later a hobbit slave appears to clean it up. His name is Tam, and he converses under his breath with Dorn and is clearly very nervous. Dorn notices the tops of Tam’s feet are scarred from some long forgotten punishment. Tam confesses he has served the queen’s family for 25 years and it has been 20 years since his wife was sold to another family. He doesn’t even know if she’s still alive. Dorn tells Tam he has freed some hobbits from the slavers and tries to give him hope, but they must hastily break off their conversation when another servant enters the hallway.

Waiting for their audience, Sova realizes Kendal is mooning over Jules, who is just making polite conversation. He explains the ins and outs of the royal family. When his queen stepped down three years ago, he and a few veterans stayed behind to train the new Queensworn. Soon he will retire to guard the prior queen in the dowager mansion. Sova gently suggests that if he becomes free to choose, she could always use a warrior of his skill up north.

The audience is formal and polite. Queen Beatrice is barely 20 years old but has a firm will and little patience for anyone who treats her like a child. She makes a vague offer of help and support for Felleg’Avin should they come under attack by the orc army, which now seems inevitable.

Later at dinner, they are joined by an elven emissary from Anneth Tarryn. Othirion Glad-wind is a formidable warrior and has come to escort Sova and Kendal to the elven citidel. When he learns Dorn is there, dining in the corner with the henchmen Othirion escuses himself from the queen’s table to greet Dorn and pledge his support to Dorn’s quest. The court is rather scandalized to see him treat a servant as an equal but Estaria needs to be on good terms with the elves and Queen Beatrice has not had much chance to make an impression with them, so they all remain polite.

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High Summer, Part 3
Nine-tenths of the law

The day before he leaves Felleg’Avin, Anselmo Meets with the Champion of Caetar who shows him the secret Hall of Whispers in the High Temple of Caetar. He receives a mission from his order and a speaking stone tied to the hall so he can report in even from across the sea.

After a few days of travel the group reaches the ruined town of Bloodwick. Kendal explains that since the pact with Vincseya declared the Caetari river sacred and off-limits to most boat traffic, the industry of House Bloodwick was forced to move to the city, leaving the town a shadow of what it was.

They book passage on a merchant junk named The Lucky Tern. Her captain, Bosmun, is an old hand at sea but refuses to sail until “the signs are more auspicious.” Like all mariners, he dreads the wrath of Valdame, not worth risking life and ship if she seems displeased.

His first ensign is a boy of 13 named Enoch, who takes an instant shine to Sova. He confides that many in town are excited and concerned by something Gaudey — a local fisherman — has captured in a narrow inlet on the other side of the docks. He leads them to see. Gaudey is charging 1 copper a head to view “The Amazing Hippo”, which to Dorn’s delight turns out to be a trapped hippocampus.

Sova and Kendal haggle with Gaudey and pay him 3 gold to cut off some of the creature’s mane, which is one of the items Dorn needs to save Fellhammer. Dorn proves adept in the water and wrestles the beast into submission, then carefully takes his prize. He thanks Valdame and the hippocampus for this sacrifice.

After short consideration, They decide to free the creature and after another round of haggling pay Gaudey 20 gold for its freedom. Gaudey hates being a fisherman and felt the beast was his way out, but 20 gold is a fortune or him.

After a good night’s sleep and some augury by Kendal and Anselmo, the signs are found to be favorable and the wary captain Bosun sets sail. Over the next few days they swap tales. Bosun and Enoch are the only two Olivetti on the ship (the rest of the crew is Arukite) and he has taken the boy under his wing and tried to teach him the sea. Several years ago a storm took Enoch’s family fortune, their ship and his grandfather to the bottom of Pelican Bay, but Enoch can’t bare to take up dye-making like his father has. Enoch hopes to make enough on these voyages to buy a small fishing boat and return to his grandfather’s trade.

Bosun reveals that the Lucky Tern has already been sold, so this is likely his last voyage. He worries what will become of the crew and his ensign.

As the vessel rounds the rocky point into the Sundering Sea, Anselmo’s hammer warns of danger a moment before boulders start crashing around the ship. Two cyclopes emerge from the rocky shoreline. Thinking quickly, Brother Dalca calls on Caetar and parts the water, making a path for his friends to reach the cliffs.

Dorn and Sova leap into the gap and head off the first cyclops. Dorn takes a few powerful glancing blows and nearly falls, but harpoons from the crew and Kendal’s lightning rain down and together they vanquish the monsters.

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