Gozran 5th, 4711 A.R. (Toilday)
Hex 17.16 Hills – Hex 17.15 Kharemon Burial Site – Hex 16.14 Moonwell – Travel
Warmer than normal, light wind (Dragon’s Breath)
The day dawned warm, with the sun igniting the golden plains as it crept above the horizon. Rivva noted arcane eddies on the wind… the subtle sign of a magic weather phenomenon known as the Dragon’s Breath. Should they bear torches, candles or other similar flammable objects, they would spontaneously ignite. Duly cautioned, Arkhan began composing an epic poem titled, ‘The Dragon’s Breath Like My Burning Loins.’
From their hilltop vantage point, they looked north at the vista that stretched before them. The plains were bounded immediately on the east by tall mountains, and far to the north by hills. To the south the hills and swamp swallowed the golden fields, and to the far west, a forest. They could see the rising sun reflected in what looked like a round silvery lake about 10 miles to the north and west. Skirting the swamp to the south, running east and west they could see the signs of a river – a line of green deciduous trees.
More curiously though, was the ring of massive standing stones to the west, about 12 miles out. They were tall, and they could just barely make out a radial pattern of smaller stones that encircled the largest central stone. The centaurs they’d seen on the plains had ridden toward the silver lake to the northwest. Rivva voiced her interest in them, and suggested that they make contact to see if they knew about the missing expedition. Arkhan concurred. Having never ridden a centaur before, he assumed this would be his chance.
Rivva began relating what she knew of centaurs from her studies. “We need to be as passive as possible. No threats, no shows of force.”
“What’s threatening about this?” Arkhan said, gesturing to his purple jacket and feathered hat. His disarming smile completed the ensemble.
Rivva continued, ignoring the rogue as the others snickered, “Centaurs are typically territorial, and might worship nature deities. Expect them to be standoffish.”
Ash grabbed a knife and some wood from their campfire, and started carving statuettes to Gozreh and Erastil, just in case.
They packed up the wagon and descended from the hilltop down into the sea of golden grasses, west toward the standing stones. As the hours passed, they loomed taller, until they were close enough to see a trio of centaurs – from a safe distance – walking in a continuous, circular pattern around the inner stone ring.
“Weapons sheathed,” Rivva cautioned as they approached.
“Those stones are burial markers,” Ash noted. Rivva nodded in agreement and added that it must have taken a lot of horsepower to raise the monolithic obelisks. The central pillar was 25 feet tall.
They closed the gap somewhat, ready to treat with the centaurs. The centaurs never deviated from their course, steadily circling in their seemingly endless patrol. Their features became apparent – they were not centaurs; their bodies were goatlike, as were their heads. Shaggy and noble-looking, and as large as centaurs, they could see that these three were not living, but zombified.
They decided to back off. Unable to interpret the situation here, they feared some curse was upon the place, and they had not the means to consecrate it. They decided to instead divert northwest, toward the silver lake to which they’d seen the centaur hunters approach the day before.
Their wagons carved a path in the golden grasses as the sun rose in the sky. They’d left their riding horses in Thornhill, so most were on foot. At midday, they reached the round silver lake, which was ringed by massive hide-bound tents of mammoth fur, built on scaffolds of mammoth tusks. They observed a tribe of the light tan-furred goat-centaurs carrying out the tasks of tanning, training, cooking and crafting. None wore a scrap of clothing, and their weaponry was crude – spears and bows and stone knives.
Four of them approached the inbound wagon train, all large males. They naturally fell into a fighting formation, though they did not seem overly aggressive. The party kept their weapons sheathed, and their bearing peaceable.
Keira bounded cheerfully to the front and said, “hello!” in common tongue.
The largest replied, in an old dialect of Skald. Arik recognized it, and translated, with difficulty.
“Who sent you to us?” the biggest of the four asked, in a deep baritone.
“We’re just passing through,” Ash responded, and Arik translated, trying to use the obscure form of Skald.
Arkhan added, “we’re looking for another party like us that came here three winters ago,” he thought that would translate well enough. “We were sent by a ruler to the south of here to find his lost expedition.” He thought his feathered hat was disarming. The centaurs watched the feather as it bobbed to and from with the rogue’s flourishes.
“That was an ill-fated group,” Arik translated from the big centaur.
“What happened?” Arkhan asked.
“They vanished. We were friends and companions to them while they were here. We warned them not to disturb the evil in the river canyon,” with this the big goat-centaur pointed to the far northeast, to the mountains.
Ash was trying to piece things together. “We came upon a burial site with tall standing stones this morning. It looked as if it had been desecrated.”
“There were undead there, of your kind,” Rivva added. Kiera wondered how this would play out. All four centaurs looked concerned at this. Behind them, many other of the goat-centaurs were gathering, all of them looking on curiously at the newcomers. There were over a hundred.
The largest addressed Arkhan, “first, to answer your question – about your missing friends from the south – we helped them to settle in the river valley,” he pointed to the long line of green to the southwest. “We helped them to establish their village, but…”
“You told them not to go somewhere,” Arkhan finished, seeing that the big guy was hesitating.
“They visited the evil in the river canyon, against our advisement.”
Rivva noted that throughout the dialogue, the centaurs had seemed open and fairly trusting. “Are you interested in making new friends?” she asked.
Kiera thought her timing was off, as they were just getting into the mistakes of their predecessors, and the centaur leader agreed, saying, “why, so you can cause further trouble?” It seemed to regret saying this after the fact.
Kiera was dancing. The centaurs watched her with curiousity, while under her breath, Rivva said to Arkhan, “obviously were going to this place of great evil…”
“Obviously,” the rogue whispered.
“Why is she dancing?” the leader centaur asked curiously.
Rivva turned her attention back to the centaurs, “because she has a dance in her heart,” she tossed in hastily. Arik was trying to cover the awkward, but it was hard in ancient Skald.
Rivva continued. “If we want to settle here, would you be open to a friendship, like you had with our predecessors?”
Arkhan sensed some hesitance, and quickly added, “I’m getting a vibe from you guys that – no judgement here – you’ve been burned before. You have stories to tell. Our scribe here, Rivva, she has so many books, and me – I’m a collector of stories. I’d love to hear the story that has hardened your hearts to newcomers.” His feather imitated his courteous finishing bow.
At length, after quiet consideration, the leader centaur said, “we Kharemon of the Tyndareos tribe,” he motioned behind him, “typically feel indebted to you people of the south – the newcomers to our land. However, you’ve caught us at a dark time.”
Arkhan wanted to riff here, and interjected, “speaking of stirred up evils, we passed by the aforementioned burial site, is that part of your troubles?”
“Indeed,” he replied, gravely. “Our aspirant lunar oracle cannot attain her rightful place in our tribe while the site is inaccessible to us. The Moon Mother will not visit her, and her time wanes. It will be a tremendous blow to us if the Moon Mother doesn’t return here before the full moon rises again.”
“We can fix that,” Ash assured him confidently.
The centaur – Kharemon, he called their race – looked grateful, and bowed his head to them. “I am Arataos. Come, meet Phylonoe – the aspirant lunar oracle, and future guide of our tribe here on the Moonwell Plain.” He beckoned them to join their people around the shore of the Moonwell – the silvery lake they’d seen from the hilltop that morning.
The Kharemon of the Tyndareos tribe lived among a few dozen mammoth-hide huts, as has been said. About the camp, the hundred-plus tribals were busy with their simple lives, only disrupted by the curiosity of newcomers.
On the shore of the lake, one of the Kharemon stood out. All of their fur coloration seemed to be of a similar tan-beige color, but this one young female was wholly white-furred. Most were decorated with red paste, with bright stripes across their faces and chests, but this one was unadorned.
Phylonoe sat amid a circle of Kharemon young, and as the party approached, Arik translated her telling a story that sounded like oral tradition. She smiled at them peacefully as they approached, pausing her oration. Rivva beckoned her to continue, and they listened as Arik translated.
They learned that the Kharemon tribes of the plains once numbered 10, but that the Tyndareos tribe was the only one that remained. Once, the 10 tribes were enslaved by the cyclops empire of Ikarios, who ruled from their white-columned temples amid the mountains to the east. The cyclopes’ ally Caragthax was a great linnorm, a type of dragon, that aided them.
The ancient Tyndareos tribe worshipped the moon. At the center of the Moonwell was a stone from the moon that gave the pool a silvery sheen. When the full moon was reflected on its waters, the Moon Mother – an ancient lunar dragon – heard the plight of the lunar oracle Khrysodora and came to them. She wove great protective magics around the Tyndareos tribe, so that the cyclopes and their linnorm ally would be blinded by the silvery light of the Moonwell and any who were immersed in its waters.
The cyclopes were enraged when they learned this, and they and Caragthax the linnorm made war upon the 10 Kharemon tribes of the plains. Only the Tyndareos tribe remained, protected by the Moonwell’s magic, and a cold war ensued.
Then the Tuathi came to their lands aboard their longboats, great golden-haired warriors, and they befriended the Tyndareos tribe in ancient days. Together, with the great hero Tuath riding Khrysodora the lunar oracle, they charged up the slopes of the Ikarios mountains to overthrow the evil Ikarios cyclops empire.
Tuath and Khrysodora slew the great linnorm Caragthax atop his mountain, where his bones still shine in the moonlight, and the bones of the fallen cyclopes are heaped about his as a testament of the fearsome alliance between Tuath and the Tyndareos tribe. Tuath was crowned linnorm king of his people, thereafter known as the Tuathi, and until their kingdom fell, there was friendship between they and the Tyndareos tribe.
Phylonoe ended her story, though her face betrayed that there was more, perhaps a darker ending for Tuath and his followers. They did not press the issue.
Kiera was staring into her reflection in the Moonwell. She nudged Ash, “do you see that?” she asked, pointing at her reflection.
Ash did see it – on each of their foreheads they could see a glowing Skald rune, but looking to one another, they confirmed that it appeared in reflection only. They didn’t mention it to the Kharemon about them, unsure of its meaning as they were.
Arkhan and RIvva now noticed the glowing runes, having tuned into Ash and Kiera’s conversation. Arkhan recalled their night of drinking and revelry among the Apians after returning their hero, Graythark to his tomb far to the south. Rivva, being somewhat paranoid, had foregone the drink, which was a requirement to receive the blessing of the Tuathi. Her forehead did not reflect the rune.
“See,” Arkhan said, slapping her on the back playfully, “you don’t learn everything in a library… some things must be learned at the bottom of a bottle.” He grinned.
Phylonoe introduced herself properly to them when she had dismissed her young attendants. She was calm and pleasant, and only slightly older than the children she taught. “Welcome,” she said.
They spoke with her about her people, the Kharemon, and their history. Rivva learned that these Kharemon were natives of Kar-Kaurin, with a lengthy oral tradition of the doings of their ancestors. She learned that those people known as the Reavers were once good-natured and peaceable before they turned rapacious and bloodthirsty.
They also learned of the present-day troubles of the Tyndareos tribe. Phylonoe was destined to become the next lunar oracle – the previous oracle having been taken to the ‘other side of the Moonwell’ by the Moon Mother several years ago. They believed that as long as the burial site of the great Khrysodora was desecrated, the Moon Mother would not return to baptize her, naming her the tribe’s lunar oracle.
To further complicate matters, if she was not baptized by her 14th birthday, the Moon Mother would not come, and the tribe would be without guidance or protection for a generation. By their calculations, she had about 11 days until the full moon rose over the plains. After that it would be too late.
“You are all invited to stay with us, if you wish,” Phylonoe said. “We do not fear you – Arataos has deemed you good people.” They wondered about the judgement of these people, but figured that they averaged out to be good enough.
Keira said, “we could undo the curse for you. We’re in the market for new friends, and it seems like this business is right up our alley.” She wondered if the phrase would translate to these more primitive people.
They stayed the night, and Ash helped them with their crafting endeavors. They were impressed by the elf’s skill, and by his sense of community. Rivva studied the Moonwell, attempting to decipher the source of magic that it radiated. It seemed to come from deep within the water, something at the lake’s deepest point. It looked like a meteor crater in shape, she thought, and wondered if its progenitor could in fact be a small rock from the moon.
As she gazed into the Moonwell, she saw the Moon Mother – a great silvery-white dragon – reflected in its surface. When she asked Phylonoe about it, the aspirant explained that it was the reflection of the Moon Mother on the ‘other side,’ but this last was somewhat cryptic.
Gozran 6th, 4711 A.R. (Wealday)
Hex 16.14 Moonwell – Hex 17.15 – Kharemon Burial Site – Travel
Colder than normal, light wind
The next morning, they began packing up, geared for combat against the undead.
They invited Arataos and his fighters to join them, but the big Kharemon explained that they could not see in the vicinity of the site – when they approached too closely, a blindness would afflict them.
“It is the result of a curse placed by one of them who survived, the evil one who dwells in the evil place,” Arataos explained. “Even as our Moonwell’s power blinds our enemies, this twisted power is a cursed mockery of our blessing, bestowed by the Moon Mother on our people.”
“Can we get a blessing to fight this evil?” Arkhan asked Phylonoe.
“I have no blessing to give until the Moon Mother comes and baptizes me as the tribe’s lunar oracle,” she lamented. “But you go with our good will, and we all stand behind you. Return safely,” she waved them off.
They returned to the standing stones, creeping up to the perimeter, and spreading out among the smaller monoliths about the periphery. A raven, or perhaps a crow, alighted upon the tallest central monolith, Khrysodora’s burial stone.
Ash approached, and one of the zombified Kharemon charged him with a braced spear… it was fast, not lumbering and clumsy like a typical zombie. The other two took notice, and lowered their spears in kind. Ash deflected the spear-point with his elven blade, while another circled around behind him.
Rivva stepped out from behind a stone and joined the battle with Ash, slashing her rapier through the dead flesh of his attacker. Arkhan moved behind it to outflank, avoiding a kick but spending too much focus on that to land his own cut.
Keira ran into the fray, and laying her hands on Rivva, the magus began radiating a pure light that the zombie Kharemon recoiled from. Ash took the cue and channeled positive energy, blasting evil flesh from unholy corpses.
Arkhan was the target of the third Kharemon’s charge – the rogue felt the blast of the spear tip pierce his chest that seared with pain. Ash took a spear to the shoulder from another. They were all a mass of blades, spears and hooves now. Ash took another hoof, and it seemed that the party was losing ground.
Rivva launched an electrified barrage of sword cuts against one that flayed flesh from its bones, and drove it back – she pressed the advantage and her sword sang as it whirled. Arkhan ducked around behind it, and dealt it a slash to the gut that spilt entrails on the ground about them. The zombie was falling apart without seeming concerned.
Keira began summoning positive energy to heal her companions, hoping to give them the longevity to finish this fight. Ash pointed at a spot behind and between two of their foes, and a red, glowing bead flew from his fingertip, impacted, and blasted the area with explosive fire, melting away zombie flesh.
One zombie Kharemon cornered Arkhan, and rained hooves and fists down upon him, though he nimbly dodged them all. Rivva rushed at another, dodging a spear point to plunge her electrified blade into its head, twisting as lightning flashed from its eye sockets and mouth. It collapsed in a heap in front of her.
Arkhan dipped his blade, then whirled it upward skewering his foe with his blade point protruding from its skull. It also crumbled. Only one remained, but they knew it would fight on no matter its odds.
Ash and Keira channeled positive energy, blasting the third into a heap of dust, and at last all was quiet, their foes defeated. Rivva eyeballed the raven that sat watching them from atop Khrysodora’s burial stone. She pointed at it and pelted it with a ray of cold that caused it to squawk angrily and fly away to the northeast…
At the base of the great central stone was a statue, carved in a similar fashion to those of the ancient Tuathi sites, of a female Kharemon. Presumably it was of Khrysodora, and its head had been lopped off… it rested on the ground nearby.
Keira and Ash spent their healing magics to restore the wounded. As they searched the area, they noted an evil glyph carved upon the highest point of Khrysodora’s stone – it was the symbol of an eye. Ash opened his palm and a flame appeared upon it. Believing the rune to be the source of evil here, he sent the flame flying toward the eye, creating a black blemish where it struck.
The glyph animated, and the eye turned to focus on Ash. The elf immediately – almost reflexively – began chanting a divine incantation to remove the curse. As the eye widened and Ash finished, he waved a hand in front of him in a motion similar to one clearing a fogged window pane. The eye glyph vanished as he did so.
“I need to pray for a mending spell,” Ash lamented. “We need to restore that statue to finish this business.”
They returned to the Moonwell to update the Tyndareos tribe. There was much rejoicing among the Kharemon, and they were eager to see the site with their own eyes. The party returned to the burial site with some of them, riding on the backs of the Kharemon like the Tuathi of old. Arataos bore Arkhan, as requested. Rivva didn’t judge.
Satisfied, they returned to the Moonwell. They stayed another night with the uplifted Tyndareos tribe, and planned to return the following day to the Burial site to restore Khrysodora’s head.
Gozran 7th, 4711 A.R. (Oathday)
Hex 16.14 Moonwell – Hex 17.15 – Kharemon Burial Site – Travel
Colder than normal, light wind, fog
The statue was mended, and the deed was done. Phylonoe would be visited by the Moon Mother, and would receive her baptism in time. The party felt like they’d made some new friends, and they enjoyed the company of the simple but noble Kharemon.
Eventually, the tribe noticed the Tuathi symbols upon most of their foreheads reflected in the Moonwell, and wondered why they hadn’t pointed it out sooner – if they’d have known they were in the presence of the Tuathi, they would have received them more openly.
“We wanted you to like us for us,” Arkhan said, convincingly. Arataos and the warriors of the tribe bowed before those with the Tuathi markings, naming them brothers and sisters.
When they were alone, Arkhan leaned in and said to Rivva, “ready to hit that mountain now?”
She shook her head and said, “settlement first.” He shrugged and went to see what Rusty was up to. The Halfling chef was busy bottling Moonwell water, hoping that its magical properties would ferment well.