Reaching Clarity

The Awakening
The First Grasps

THE CLEARING
It begins with the thunder and then the rain; first the anger and then the birth. The dreadlord enters the clearing, invisible to the sleeping inhabitants who are the true foreigners to the spot. Looking over them it is certain: these are the source of the power that erupted in the night. How simply they sleep, mere mortals of the material plane. The five all look so peaceful in their sleep, unaware of the story that will erupt with the rising sun.

The first is a boy, only fourteen years of age. Purple eyes mark an indistinct face, bald and ugly in the morning dew. He is robed, brown and plain, with a satchel clutched close to his chest, containing treasures unknown to any of this world. The dreadlord spies the locked book through the leather of the pouch, but he can not possibly imagine the truth of its matter.

The second is only a year older, but none would guess it by his size. Almost six feet in height he would tower over the other if they were standing. Wrapped in a cloak that is stitched with his pain, he shudders in the morning dew. Around his neck hangs his crystal dagger, the focus of vengeance that embodies his quest.

The dreadlord hovers over the next sleeper and reels from the incredible power that launches out at him. He is not sure if he sees one or two men in the shell in front of him, and the conflict that rages between the two is almost permeable in the air. As the chaos resolves he sees an aura of justice emerge momentarily, but still cloaked in a supernatural evil. The psychic potential of both is unnatural, and gives the dreadlord a hint of the truth that these bodies contain.

The fourth is a woodsman, though lacking his bow. Many things were left behind in the expediency of the journey. The young face is untouched by the plagues and powers that bother many of the others in the clearing, and it is impossible for the dreadlord to read what will become of the gorgeous face upon this sleeper.

The last is geared to kill, the best equipped of the five strangers. At his hip are a stilleto and short sword, both masterwork in quality, and his short black hair is nestled in a brown fur hood. At his side is a lock box, containing the remainders of his fortune, unknown in origin.

The sun is only moments away from peaking the trees when the five awake, unaware of the dreadlord among them. Sitting up with a jolt, the fourteen year old, Aramyl, stutters to the others, “Who are you! What am I doing here?” The last thing he remembers wis perusing the books of his parents library, an unknown distance away in Loring.

Akyrius, the second, quickly searches for his crystal dagger, and upon assuring its place, joins in on the conversation. Leaning over to his left he sees the man next to him walking up towards the edge of the clearing, and asking his name, he receives one word: “Jackson.”

Jackson does not know his real name. The conflict within him is too unsure to provide one. Jackson is simpler than an explanation though, and so he is Jack to his friends. He watches Withat the ranger and Cloak – Anther Black the assassin introduce themselves to the group, and then hears a voice over his shoulder. “I wouldn’t leave hear if I were you.” The dreadlord announces itself, hoping to keep the group together for proper examination. Before Jackson could demand an answer however, the dreadlord moves on to the next member, commenting on what he has discovered so far.

A passing Daimah whistling down a path at the edge of the clearing stops upon seeing the dreadlord among the others. His ability to see the supernatural warns him of the true danger present and he leaps behind a bush with a small yell. The dreadlord pays no attention however and promises the five in the clearing that he will see them again, certain from their power that they will create stories in his woods. With the rising sun he vanishes, his aura dissipating in the beginnings of rain.

The Daimah, a perky man dressed in yellow with a rope tied around his waist like a tail leaps out to greet the strangers. He introduces himself as Crembs, but soon his curiosity is tempered by the oncoming rain, and he invites the five back to his master’s house before investigating them further. On the trip he explains that his master is a woodsman and collier, and while his master will be out, the lady of the house will be there to greet them.

THE HOMESTEAD
The collier’s homestead is nestled against the bottom of a twenty foot tall cliff wall. It is simply a cabin and barn surrounded by piles of wood and a small garden. The cabin has a porch around two sides, on which the party finds itself confined to, stuck between the increasing rain and the wall of the house.

The lady, blinded by a flesh eating disease, refuses to let them in until her husband comes home. Upon discovering the ages of the two youngest however, she lets those two in, introducing herself as Teega. Aramyl and Akyrius are quickly engaged by Teega’s son, Max, who begins to probe at the secrets that each contains. “Why are you bald like that”, “Where are your parents”. The onslaught of questions is contained by an intervening Teega, but not before striking some soft points on each of the two other boys.

Keero, the man of the house, returns home after closing up the charcoal pits south of the homestead, and offers the strangers a place to stay in his barn if they can find his tools among the piles of charcoal that collapsed the second floor of the barn. A hard day of work leads to a celebratory feast and then the five strangers proceed to the barn to call it a night. Max offers both Aramyl and Akyrius a spot in the loft with him, and Aramyl accepts despite the annoyance of his seven year old companion. Before going to bed, Keero warns the rest to not open the barn during the night, as angry spirits roam the woods at night, and have been known to attack given the chance.

“Let’s move the man’s tools outside so that we can take them with us in the morning,” Withat suggests to the rest of the party. The woodcutter’s axes are strong, and could be useful in a strange land. Justice rules Jackson though, and he refuses to take part in such a plan. Akyrius agrees, appreciating the kindness that the woodsman has shown the group. The group begins to argue though, as Withat is set in his plan. Young Akyrius stops them though as he hears footsteps dragging outside the barn.

Forgetting Keero’s warning, Akyrius waits until the footsteps reach the door and then pulls it open. The horror that faces him though causes him to freeze though, preventing his attack. Standing in front of him is a withered, emaciated body lacking a head. In its place are an extra set of hands, outreached towards Akyrius. It strikes him several times and then combat begins. As Akyrius and Withat engage the monsters directly, Jackson uses his raw psychic ability to trick the monsters into thinking that the barn is empty. Anther cowers in the corner, his history with demons preventing him from fighting. From a small hole in the loft of the cabin, Max and Aramyl look on, observing the fight outside. “Headhunters,” Max says, “my dad will keep us safe.”

Keero is stuck on the porch however, fending off a headhunter of his own. Two more shamble towards the barn and the tides of battle begin to darken. From his vantage point in the loft though, Aramyl fires away, sending a beam of light through the back of a headhunter and improving the odds. A fireball from Akyrius and another light beam from Aramyl destroy two of the headhunters, leaving only one for Withat to swing at with his borrowed woodcutting axe. Before he is able to destroy it though it shatters, a psychic blast from Jackson catapulting pieces of the final enemy across the yard. In a burst of strength, Keero removes the top two arms of the headhunter on the porch and dispatches it. He then runs through the rain to the barn, where he apologizes to his guests for the disturbance.

“I was not expecting more so soon. It is rare that they attack two nights in a row. I will require help disposing of the bodies in the morning, but for now you should all rest.” Keero provides Akyrius with a bucket to wash the splatter off his front, and then returns to the cabin.

HEADHUNTER CAVERNS
The next morning Keero wakes the party and shows them the bodies of the headhunters, which he has wrapped in cloth. Their oily, rotting bodies are already decomposing, leaking black fluid into the cloth. They take everyone up a path to ridge of the mountain, where a rock cairn marks the site of a cavern in the hillside. He thanks the spirit of the opening for disposing of the bodies and then dumps the headhunter’s corpse into the hole. After Jackson and Withat do the same, Keero explains that headhunters that he places in the hole will disappear by the next day, ferried away by the spirit of the cave. Withat and Aramyl are skeptical of this process however, and climb down the hole to explore.

Jackson asks Keero to explain the geography of their location, hoping to gain some insight on this unfamiliar location. Taking advantage of their position on the mountainside, Keero points out the Axe Ridge, a clear cut ridge on the other side of the valley that hosts a variety of illicit activities within a newly constructed lumber camp. Beyond the edge of the forest to the east lies the Inn at the Edge of the World (to which Keero and the players are beyond) and Limen, the local stronghold and city-state, beyond that. Keero is not sure what lies to the north and west, the density and ferocity of the forest have prevented any sort of communication in those directions.

Down in the cave, Aramyl and Withat are greeted by small rock spirit. Underneath a rocky hat stands eight inches of ghostly spirit, its body clattering like small pebbles every time it shakes. Withat picks up the friendly rock spirit, unaware that its body is tied to the rock. As it begins to shrivel, Aramyl yells for him to put it down, as a clatter of rocks echo from somewhere beyond the edge of the room. Withat finally sets down the rock, now only a small head underneath its hat, and it scurries off along the ground, revealing a passageway behind a boulder. The rest of the party tires of waiting as Aramyl and Withat attempt to move the boulder, and everyone agrees to split up. Jackson, Akyrius, and Anther will go with Keero up to the location where Keero cuts his wood to investigate the origin of these headhunters.

After moving the boulder, Aramyl and Withat travel along the uncovered path, encouraged on by dozens more of the rock spirits. An hour of exploring tunnels leads the two to a pond where all of a sudden they hear a voice from around the bend.

“What’s that, little one? We have guests?” Uh oh." A pleasant, feminine voice turns grave on the final note, and is soon followed by the sound of tunneling rock. Leaping up out of the rock directly behind the two, the woman sets a hand on the shoulder of each. Spinning around they see a woman, seven feet tall, dressed in deer hides and rock. Atop her muscular body is nestled a small head, from which two metallic horns protrude. She interrogates the two interlopers, trying to discover what brought them to her cavern. Several times their conversation is interrupted by the brief cry of a baby, but the woman ignores the cries and is too intimidating for either Aramyl or Withat to press about the matter. During their conversation she introduces herself as Faele, a cave spirit of forgotten age who feeds off the darkness of the caves. She directs them back to her house for tea but travels separately as Amaryl’s light makes her sick.

Meanwhile, Jackson, Akyrius, and Anther make their way to the entrance of Head Hunter Caverns, a cave system near Keero’s cutting field. They weave their way into an opening only five feet wide but twenty feet tall, following it deep into the mountainside. They find a room with several oily bore-holes along the right wall, and an elevated passageway up a ledge to the left. “The oil from these holes matches the headhunters we fought last night,” Akyrius remarks. Thinking the passageway safer than the narrow bore-holes however, the three move on to the left.

Guided by a small flame in Akyrius’s palm, they travel down a cave tunnel until the pathway drops off to a pit of sharpened stalagmites. Jackson discards finesse and begins to collapse the roof of the room, attempting to crush the spikes and build a pathway across. He is perhaps too successful, shaking the cavern as they make their away across the difficult terrain. Halfway across the room, he realizes his mistake. The ceiling begins to collapse from the stress of the shatters and all three must scramble to make it out of the room. While Akyrius and Jackson run back across the rocks, Anther attempts to use his Ki ability to run across the wall to the other side. Akyrius and Jackson make it back — barely — but Anther is not so lucky. He is crushed under tons of rock. His loss does not weigh long on the conscience of his partners however. Jackson exclaims, “he’s dead!”, but Akyrius remarks, “All I saw was some guy run past us and die. He never really talked to us at all.” His mind has computed too much death for a stranger to make a deep impact.

Left with only the bore-holes, Jackson attempts to repeat his shatter tactic on the wall to widen the openings. Unfortunately he underestimates his strength again, and as he shakes the walls of the cave, he seals off the entrance, trapping himself and with Akyrius. They agree to just climb through the tunnels at this point and not risk crushing anyone else. Upon reaching the other side, they find pits of black ooze in several different chambers. The conclude that this must be where the headhunters come from but decide to look around more before acting on the information. Traveling deeper into the caves, they come across Faele’s home, where Aramyl and Withat are drinking their tea.

“It’s made from deer fawn,” Faele explains. “They make much better tea than the grown ones.” Aramyl explains that Jackson and Akyrius are friends and Faele pours two more cups. A baby’s cry interrupts their conversation once more and Faele can hide her secret no longer. Reaching through the rock she pulls out a toddler, with silvery skin and platinum curls. It reaches out towards the light of Akyrius’s flame, and Aramyl exclaims that the baby feeds on light. Faele refuses to part with the child though, even though she and the child are incompatible. She explains that the child fell down to her from the sky while she was out hunting one night. Wanting the best for her child however, she asks the party to babysit her child during the day. In return, she will clear a pathway back out to the surface.

With the path clear, the party returns out of Head Hunter Caverns, now with Faele’s child, Fayle, in Aramyl’s arms. Upon reaching the daylight, the toddler swells with the energy of the sun. Moments later it bursts into a sphere of light, knocking Aramyl to the ground. He runs back inside to tell Faele what happened, causing her to bolt outside, ignoring her own sickness to light. She grabs Aramyl by the neck and demands that he fixes it. “She’ll turn back into a child at night! I’m positive, I’ve seen this happen plenty of times before!” Aramyl tries to comfort Faele, but it has no effect on her. She hurls him to the ground with her incredible strength and demands that they bring her her child immediately. Thinking quickly, Jackson tosses a stick to Faele and uses his telepathy to make her believe that it is her child. Holding her child to her body, she runs back inside, forgetting the party completely in her hysterical state. Unfortunately, Jackson will not be able to keep the charade up for long, and his sense of justice begins to weigh on his conscience. He becomes determined to stick around until the child rematerializes — if it rematerializes — risking himself to an angry Faele if she should discover his deceit.

Night falls and Fayle has not yet returned, although the sphere of light remains. Things are quiet until a group of little rock spirits begin to make their way out of the cavern. They motion for the group to come off into the forest with them, and Aramyl, Akyrius, and Withat follow, leaving Jackson alone with the ball of light. The rock spirits lead the three off to a clearing where they begin to spiral towards a center point. Withat stands over the point and watches the rock spirits fall into the ground. Suddenly a pair of fists reach up out of the earth and phase Withat down into the darkness. He becomes trapped in a small cave, surrounded by the sounds of clattering rock spirits. Moments later a stick whirls through the air, cracking Aramyl in the ribs and knocking the child to the ground. He is able to cover himself in a shield of light as Akyrius sends off a fireball into the woods where he thinks Faele is hiding. Aramyl’s shield saves his life as Faele leaps up from the ground in front of him, smashing into his shield with her elbow. He casts levitation on himself and Akyrius, knowing that their only hope is to run. He escapes before Faele is able to strike again and Akyrius gets away shortly after, but not before being knocked in the chest by her horns.

Faele then returns to WIthat, still trapped within the earth. Pulling him to the surface, she smashes in his jaw with her horns, breaking it and ruining his perfect appearance. “Tell them that I am coming for them” she growls at him before kicking him over and returning into the ground.

Meanwhile, Jackson has been grappling with an internal conflict. Admitting that what happened with Faele has become his fault, memories of his past rise to the surface, and with it his alter ego is triggered. Justice is repressed and the primal evil rises to the surface. Upon seeing several headhunters shamble out of the cavern mouth, he unleashes waves of immolation onto the location, incinerating everything in a 150 foot sphere. Not satisfied with a single fireball, he maintains the effect upon the location, lighting up the night in a firestorm of malevolence. The raw energy draws the dreadlord back through the night, and it enjoys the heart to heart with a spirit of similar morality.

“Whether you consider them your friends or your tools, you should keep those others with you. I think they will become quite useful as things play out here.” The dreadlord whispers into Jackson’s ear.
“Who are you and what am I doing here?” Jackson demands.
Choosing only to answer the second, the dreadlord chuckles. “That second question interests me very much. I do not know the answer but intend to find out. Come visit me with your companions when you are all stronger. Seek me out at Wyrm Haunt, across the river in the deep woods. And don’t worry, all this is not your fault.”

With that last remark, Jackson is able to pull back to his primary ego. Aramyl flys down from over the trees and tells Jackson that they must leave. Withat stumbles out of the forest shortly after, and the four levitate off towards Axe Ridge, where they hope to be outside the reach of Faele. They must abandon Fayle, leaving the sphere of light to unknown ends.

AXE RIDGE
After a full night of flying, the four settle down on the roof of the Axe Ridge lumber camp’s primary building, a raised longhouse with wooden and paper walls, surrounded on three sides by a porch covered in tables. Inside the walls of the camp are also three raised huts, and two longhouses immersed in the mud of the barren hill. Outside the wall of the camp exists a sea of fallen timber and tents of dayworkers who are not employed full time by the company.

Waking in the morning on the back side of the roof, Aramyl, Akyrius, Jackson, and Withat are greeted by a woman who introduces herself as Hex, lounging on top of the roof next to them. She starts inquiring into how the group got on top of the roof, and once introductions have been made, she explains the different ways that they can make some money around the camp. The most honest way is to earn two silver a day working on the ridge, but such pay hardly covers the cost of a meal at the camp. More money can be made gambling at the tables out front, but this too is not a sure way to make good money. If the party is interested in making some real money though, Vex offers a test for them.

Two day workers live in the tents outside the camp, inseparable, identical twins named Pike and Piper. If the players can kill Piper without Pike or anyone else discovering for a full twenty four hours, then Hex will offer them jobs that make some real pay. While Akyrius and Withat jump at the opportunity to earn some real money and put their blades to the test, Jackson and Aramyl are more hesitant. The first caves to his gambling addiction while the second decides to see what plants he can find in the eroded landscape, having taken an interest in the local flora.

Jackson’s gambling at cards puts him a day’s work in debt, while Akyrius, who was passing by, was able to make six gold off the dice, having an incredible streak of luck. Jackson then begins his work, happening across Pike and Piper in the process. Later that day Akyrius and Withat track down the brothers and offers one of them 50 silver to show Akyrius around the camp. Unable to turn down almost a month of work for a simple task, the brother who introduced himself as Pike goes off with Akyrius. Before they split up though, Akyrius and Withat huddle off to the side.

“Now, were we supposed to kill Piper, or Pike?” Akyrius asks. Withat thinks hard for a moment and says “I’m pretty sure it was Pike. I think thats the one we need to kill.”

Akyrius takes Pike off behind the longhouses to the latrines, where he catches him by surprise and kills him with his crystal dagger. The dagger absorbs the anger of the kill and imbues Akyrius with added energy, knowing that the murder will strengthen Akyrius and bring him closer to avenging his town’s destruction. He searches the body for anything valuable and then hides it in the mud under the longhouse. Finding a debt slip for Piper in the dead man’s pocket, Akyrius panics, realizing that the brothers were masquerading as each other. He goes to Hex though, and admits his mistake. She laughs though, telling him that it was Piper he was supposed to kill the entire time. Remarking that the fates certainly desire her to employ him, Hex tells him to meet her back at the hut in a few hours with his friend.

By day’s end, Akyrius and Withat had each earned ten gold coins, while Jackson earned two silver from his work in order to pay off his debt and Aramyl managed to sell some gathered herbs for ten silver. Akyrius and Withat also had earned their first assignment from Hex, along with an explanation of her motivations. She is beginning her own assassins group, specializing in deaths arranged in particular manners. The two are supposed to arrange an accident for the owner of the Inn at the Edge of the World, in order for Hex’s client to purchase the building for his or her self. Akyrius and Withat’s companions are invited to join the group as well, if they are so inclined, as Hex needs a strong base of assassins in order for her business to thrive.

Upon hearing this information, Jackson is torn. The justice and the evil within him battled, and he withdrew to determine the course of his warring personalities. In the end, evil prevailed, and any sense of justice has been repressed so deep within his mind that it is for the present inaccessible.

The party sets out for the Inn at the Edge of the World, anxious to complete their first job, and unaware of the greater plans that move to meet them.

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