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Some notes on the Cradle aftermath...


MOB

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AMBUSH AT WYVERN GATE

The Yelmalio questers were nearing Wyvern Gate when a squadron of Sable cavalry in Lunar colors emerged from New Pavis. At a fast canter the Sable Riders headed towards them, ululating.

With a grin, the Light Khan Golungan and his riders suddenly broke away from the count's party to meet them, joining in the yowling. Solanthos wondered if the “false friend” of the heroquest myth had finally appeared.

The Light Khan saw that the Sable Riders were half-starved; any liberality with rations the new governor showed to his regular soldiers certainly didn’t extend to those he dismissed as “native auxiliaries”. Halcyon Var Enkorth cared even less for their mounts.

Golungan told his hungry kinsman they'd answered the call to join the Sun Domers on a quest to break the Winter. Although in Lunar service, the Sable cavalry too revered the Great Sky Daughter. With the hand signals of the plains, the Sable leader covertly let him know there were ambushers lying in wait for them at the gate. Their own orders were to simply ensure that none of the Count’s party escaped into the country.

So alerted, the trap set for the questers failed.

Though ingeniously concealed among the broken masonry of the gatehouse, Solanthos smiled when his magic revealed the attackers had made the familiar mistake of wearing or carrying gold. An ear or finger ring would be enough, but many of these obviously carried their wealth in coins on them.

A righteous Sunspear smote the largest concentration of the ambushers where they hid. The rest, who were all wearing masks, scattered. The Lunar Sable Riders dashed off whooping, having great sport riding down those whose panicked retreat took them onto open ground.

Despite the Count’s call for everyone to stay close, the Star Maiden Cathea Goldenhelm impulsively chased after a pair of ambushers who'd dropped their shields and run back behind the walls.

Cathea returned soon enough, grimly bearing a hacked-off head. She said she knew him as a minor member of the Red Devils street gang. It was certainly curious for such a lesser fry to have strayed so far from the safety of New Pavis.

Melo Yelo, carrying his dilly-bag and armed only with a crude spear, tried out the discarded shields for size. He chose the one that had a beautiful unicorn painted on it. Now only a helmet would make the baboon feel even more like a proper Yelmalio warrior.

 

Wyvern Gate.png

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THE BATTLE OF YELMALIO HILL

The questers passed into the Rubble. The late afternoon sun was bright for once, but shone with no warmth. The ruins around Wyvern Gate were empty and silent.

Beyond the ruins lay the open area known as Big Grazing, a mass of twisted and tangled underbrush, now all dry and dead. The Devil's Playground was somewhere in its center.

As if forewarned, great shuddering cracks opened up in the frozen earth as the questers entered the grasslands. Out of these steaming fissures came a host of broos, krarshtkids and other unidentifiable chaos horrors. More chaos fiends were drawn to the fight too, emerging from their hiding places in the nearby ruins. Soon the Count and his band were encircled.

Rescue came from Haloric Glowbrow and a phalanx of his famed Sunspear Guards. The Light Captain of Pavis had encamped in the ruins of Angle Fort on Yelmalio Hill, awaiting Solantho's arrival. In tight formation the hoplites repelled a charge of monstrous bison-broo with their pikes while the Count's party gathered their fallen and wounded.

No one living or dead would be left behind here, Solanthos swore, but it was only a desperate sortie of elves, runners and Warriors of Wood from the Garden, summoned by Wood Lord Rohir Oaklimb, that allowed the questers to retreat to the safety of Angle Fort.

Safe for the time being behind the fort’s crumbling walls, the Count and his allies healed and recuperated.

As dusk encroached the chaos fiends' howls and shrieks thankfully grew more distant. Finally all was again quiet. The count, with his surviving Light Sons, took the opportunity to withdrew into the broken dome of the ruined temple to commune with Yelmalio.

As Yelm dipped below the horizon, sentries with the gift of Catseye were the first to notice dark shapes massing at the foot of the hill. They were still calling the alert when a dozen dark trolls riding giant grasshoppers suddenly leapt into the fort's central courtyard. This surprise attack scattered templars in all directions.

While the Yelmalions struggled to get back into formation, a great drumming began outside. This was the signal for a swarm of gibbering trollkin to emerge out of holes in the slope around the fort and take to the walls. Behind them, trollish voices screamed for vengeance for the death of their Queen, Ziolan Onge.

Axe-wielding Berserker trolls then began using their leaping magic to top the walls. Several even reached the temple parapet itself, including a monstrous figure bedecked in lead amour with a blood red cape.

Count Solanthos found himself cut off. There and then he made a vow to Yelmalio that he would never flee or surrender to the forces of Darkness, but commanded the questers below to get away while they could.

Down in the courtyard Haloric Glowbrow and his honour guard gestured the questers to follow them. In the crook of one of the fort's bizarre* angles they suddenly disappeared one after the other. There was no enchantment involved here; this was a cleverly concealed sally port, part of the fort's original design. Beyond, a track led to the bottom of the hill.

With Haloric came the Light Lady Yolanda and her devoted templar Mars; the Yelornan Cathea Goldenhelm; Golungan the Light Khan and his six remaining Sable warriors, rueing that they had to leave their mounts behind; and Rohir Oaklimb with a pair of silent elves from the Garden. The reformed baboon, Melo Yelo, followed at the rear.

Above, Count Solanthos grimly hefted his iron pike and made a contemptuous gesture of challenge to the snarling Zorak Zorani death lord. With the remainder of the Sunspear Guards he resolved to hold back the troll offensive while those questers that could broke out and made for the Devil's Playground.

The Catseyes of Haloric and his men were pinpricks in the dark, and Rohir Oaklimb cast Elf magic make their passing go without sound. In the end evading the troll pickets proved to be easy, because their fury and focus was thoroughly diverted by the epic duel now taking place on the temple summit.

While the battle raged behind them the questers took a secret path through Big Grazing. They were led by Cathea, who said she and her unicorn riders often hunted in these parts.

Taleo Lumine's account mentioned a stunted tree of enormous girth. Not long before midnight Yolanda found a broad stump. The tree was gone, but in its tangled roots was the remains of an old stone fish pool that matched Taelo's description.

They had arrived at The Devil's Playground.

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*Non-euclidean angles, perhaps?😉

Edited by MOB
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THE POOL OF THE EYE

The Light Lady Yolanda directed Mars to make preparations for Taleo Lumine's opening ritual, and began chanting in Firespeech. A pitch black square opened - the entrance to the tunnels!

Lumine's account said there were stairs down, but lanterns and even powerful Light spells could not penetrate the suffocating darkness.

The Yelornan Cathea stepped forward. As she pulled down the faceplate of her fabled Golden helm of Yelmalio, its eyes lit up with a cold but brilliant intensity. Beams shot forward through the ink, revealing a murky impression of steps.

Without hesitation the questers went in, all save Mars who would remain on the surface to ensure the portal stayed open.

The tunnels were smooth and cold, and the air stale. While the questers' lanterns only sputtered fitfully, Cathea's Goldenhelm resolutely shone the way.

Though the maze of passages were often completely bewildering, Rohir Oaklimb and his elves were drawn unerringly to the Great Seed. Yet always in the distance they could hear scuttling, scratching, and jabbering, as if countless horrors were just beyond their perception.

No one could tell how long they had been descending, but at last, far, far below the surface in the roots of the earth they came to a huge open doorway. Carved on its lintel was the same ominous eye symbol Taleo Lumine had obsessed over in his hermitage.

Through the doorway, Cathea's beams of light picked out a vast domed space. All over there were openings, as if dozens of passages converged here. And below there was a pool of still water, shrouded by ghostly trees.

This was the Pool of the Eye.

With a gasp, Rohir Oaklimb pointed to the other side of the water. There, tucked into the sickly white branches, was the Seed they sought.

The Light Khan Golungan harbored aspirations to one day become Khan of the Sun Dome like his illustrious ancestor. Here he sought to prove his mettle as a heroquester. Shouting for the heavens to witness his bravery, he charged into the cave, lobbing his great spear at the pool.

Suddenly, Golungan stopped in his tracks. He twisted like a fish on a hook as an invisible force dragged him towards the water. As he went in screaming, the Light Khan simply melted – iron armor and all – and within seconds was nothing more than an oily sheen dissipating on the surface.

Several of his Sable warriors had run to his aid, and were similarly hooked. As they suffered the same terrible fate Haloric Glowbrow forbade anyone else to enter.

Meanwhile, it had been silent here, but suddenly the scuttling sounds returned, and grew louder, closer, and more high-pitched and excited. Hundreds, maybe thousands of glowing eyes began to appear in the various doorways, arches and crevices leading to the cavern, as if drawn to the commotion.

The questers formed a desperate circle, facing outwards with weapons drawn. Dozens of dark shapes began dropping into the Cavern of the Eye, chattering with frenzied anticipation. Shining the beams down the passage they had come, the questers saw their only way to retreat was blocked by seething mass of Krarsht-things.

All seemed hopeless. Now was the moment. Lady Yolanda called the baboon Melo Yelo forward.

To defeat the Eye of Wakboth, the high priest Gaumata had entrusted the faithful baboon with the Yelmalio cult’s greatest, most sacred treasure: the Goldenblood Light, the actual solidified blood of Yelmalio, spilled during the Great Darkness.

The holy relic had been secretly carried all the way from the Sun Dome Temple by Melo Yelo, hidden in his dilly bag.

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nb I'm imaging the Pool of the Eye looks something like this (image found via Reddit).

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Edited by MOB
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Posted (edited)

The Blinding of the Eye

1131120821_SunandRunes.png.f271ee0c55d01f5df853124ba1315c6b.png

The baboon stood at the entrance into the chamber and drew out the Goldenblood Light from his dilly bag. He reverently passed it to Lady Yolanda, who held the precious relic above her head with both hands.

The Devil's Playground was notorious for all the treasure-hunters and glory-seekers who'd disappeared there without trace over the years. From this Hector the Wise concluded that the Eye of Wakboth probably couldn't be defeated, but might at least be incapacitated for a time.

As bright as a star, the solidified blood of Yelmalio burned with a white-cold purity that scoured deep into the cavern’s darkest recesses. Of the gathering mass of chaos fiends, those too close simply shriveled to a crisp before they could even scream, seared to nothing by a fire that gave off no heat. Those behind fled shrieking in terror, blinded and smoking from ice-cold burns.

For Yelmalio worshippers the Goldenblood Light's brilliance was an ecstatic experience, but for Chaos and Darkness it left nowhere to hide and no blemish unseen. In its utterly unstinting light the pool did resemble nothing less than a monstrous great eye. The pale trees around it held firm against the brightness for a moment, and then shook, curled up and died. The waters began to hiss and boil until soon the entire surface of the pool was a vast roiling stew. 

With the Eye of Wakboth temporarily blinded, the questers rushed past Melo Yelo and Yolanda to retrieve the great seed.

All but Cathea Goldenhelm that is...

Edited by MOB
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THE FALSE FRIEND REVEALED...

For it was at this point that the “false friend” of the myth finally revealed herself*. As Melo Yello stood swooning in the light of the Goldenblood, the Yelornan came up behind him and dealt him a savage blow with her axe. He fell, gravely wounded.

Yolanda looked back over her shoulder in surprise, but before she could react Cathea blasted her with rune magic from a Moon-shaped pendant she'd kept hidden. The Light Lady stood there magically stupefied, and the Yelornan was able to gingerly pluck the Goldenblood Light from her hands.

Having taken the prize Cathea Goldenhelm made to go; she was going to leave her compatriots to their fate here in the depths of the Devil's Playground.

She turned away, and the holy relic no longer shone directly into the Cavern of the Pool. Quickly, the boiling water began to noticeably lessen, but Haloric and the elves were still untangling the Great Seed from the dead and twisted branches that held it. Under the effects of Cathea's spell, Yolanda wanted to call out; her mind just couldn't find the words.

However the treacherous Star Maiden had underestimated the faithful baboon's resolve. As Yelmalio refused to succumb in the Darkness, neither would he. Spear arm useless and bleeding profusely, Melo Yelo launched himself at Cathea Goldenhelm with fangs bared.

The baboon was smaller, but significantly stronger. Using his new unicorn shield, Melo Yelo bashed headlong into the Yelornan with such force that her helmet was knocked clean off.

Cathea's head slammed into the wall behind her and she slid to the ground insensible. Her fabled golden helmet bounced once, twice, and then came to rest at Melo Yelo's feet. With his good hand he picked it up and put on: at last he felt like a genuine Yelmalio Templar!

Trying not to swoon, the baboon pried the Goldenblood Light from Cathea and delicately placed it back in Yolanda's still outstetched hands.

The Pool of the Eye began its furious boiling again.

Bleeding profusely, Melo Yelo resolutely stood guard until until Rohir and his elves could return bearing the Seed. He collapsed on to them as they left the chamber.

The searing Truth of the Goldenblood had exposed Cathea's treachery, so Haloric Glowbrow ordered her restrained and held under close watch by the Sable warriors. There would be time for Yelmic justice when they reached the surface.

Haloric gave Melo Yelo and Cathea Healing, but whatever magic it was that the traitor cast on Yolanda, bringing the Light Lady back to her senses proved impossible; she would have to be led back to safety. With tenderness, Melo Yelo took her hand.

Brandishing the Goldenblood Light before them, the questers ascended, cleansing the tunnels as they went. No creatures of Chaos were seen or even heard, such was their terror of the Light.

It was only when they neared the stairs leading to the entrance that something faced them. There, a curious small creature stood in the questers' path. It shielded its eyes from the holy light, but otherwise didn’t flinch.

Drawing closer, they realized the creature was none other than The Gamon, Lord Belvani’s strange little dragonewt servant. It handed Haloric a freshly minted silver imperial and gravely pointed upwards: a warning.

Uneasy, Haloric had Melo Yelo hide away the precious relic in his dilly bag again.

 

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*THE TALE OF THE FALSE FRIEND

The seeds of the Star Maiden Cathea Goldenhelm’s treachery were sown in the Yelorna temple’s enthusiasm for recasting imperial currency into their own. This practice had long been a source of irritation for the authorities in New Pavis, and Cathea’s rapid rise in the cult was fuelled by her ready supply of Lunar silver to turn into Yelornan ‘stars’.

This scheme skimmed off a portion of the seasonal Lunar Army payroll, which was then unwittingly laundered by the Yelornans. Her temple superiors were blithely unaware that the source of her coins was actually the Black Fang brotherhood, in league with corrupt officials. (Or, less charitably, her temple superiors didn't ask and didn't want to know.)

The swindle eventually came to the attention of Gimgim the Grim, chief of Lunar intelligence. Ever patient, Gimgim had always sought the destruction of the Yelornans as a force in the Rubble.

Gimgim arranged for an especially large sum to fall Cathea's way, but before she could convert the cash, sent infiltrators to the Yelorna temple*. They burned down the smithy, and stole the coin mold. Meanwhile, governor Sor Eel announced severe penalties for anyone passing Lunar silver they couldn’t account for. He crucified one of the bureaucrats suspected in the fraud to show he meant what said.

Cathea dithered for a while, looking for a way out of her predicament while the Black Fang's vigorish continued to climb. To ensure the Yelornan's cooperation, they'd made her hand over her beloved unicorn mount Barowa as a hostage/collateral.

Come the Great Winter and even the Brothehood were suffering. They pressed hard for their money back – though not in Lunar silvers. If she didn't pay up, her unicorn friend was going to be sold as a curiosity to the Plomber Brothers’ Wayfaring Carnival. And if Cathea squealed, they said, it would be as a *stuffed* curiosity.

When the Last Light heroquest began, the desperate Yelornan was in Sun County, hoping to trade her stash of unwanted Lunar coins for Gold Wheels, or even (as a last resort) sell her prized magical helmet.

This is when Gimgim learned through his spy network that the Sun Domers were bringing their holiest treasure to Pavis, to somehow counteract the Windstop. As this threatened the revival of the enemy god Orlanth, it became a grave matter of state security for the Lunar Empire. Gim Gim resolved to prevent them – and steal the relic for himself if he could. A secret message was passed to Cathea: if she found out what the relic was and who was carrying it, he would help fix her problems with the Black Fang.

Welcomed as an ally to the heroquest, the Star Maiden learned of the Goldenblood Light. But she never found out who was to carry it; this knowledge Gaumata the Seer only trusted to a few.

Gimgim’s Moon Masks made several covert attempts to steal the item while Governor Halcyon delayed Count Solanthos in the New Pavis. To his intense frustration, the Goldenblood Light was too well hidden.

But followers of the Waiting Mouth always have plans within plans, so when Gimgim learned that Solanthos had slipped out of the city and was making for Wyvern Gate overland, he sent ambushers dashing through the Rubble to lie in wait for them.

Even then he had a fallback if the ambush failed: during the attack, one of the Moon Masks made sure Cathea saw the distinctive unicorn head painted on his shield – unmistakably her beloved Barowa! The Yelornan chased after him as he pretended to flee.

Once out of sight, the Moon Mask thrust the hacked-off head of one his followers into her arms, so she could return with it: for the Waiting Mouth, a trifling price to help conceal her disloyalty. He also passed a Moon Rune pendant, a spell matrix to help with what Gimgim wanted her to do: Cathea was bring him the Goldenblood Light or her precious unicorn soulmate would be shipped off on the next Moon Boat to the Red Emperor’s private menagerie.

*The 'Raid on Yelorna' scenario from RQ Classic's BIG RUBBLE.

Edited by MOB
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DEATH AND A NEW DAWN

Emerging into the open night sky, the questers found that they were surrounded by the entire Silver Shields regiment. The Templar Mars had been disarmed, and sat glumly under guard. It was the hour before dawn.

The Silver Shields were under the command of the new Lunar governor, Halcyon var Enkorth. At his side stood the smirking priestess Marusa, now garbed in red, and the masked intelligence chief Gimgim.

Also among the governor's entourage was Lord Belvani, his usual air of droll equanimity replaced by a look of great tension. For over on Yelmalio Hill, Count Solanthos and his surviving comrades had fallen back to a last desperate redoubt in the ruined temple on the summit. They were now surrounded by a vast horde of furious chanting Uz – literally every troll in the Rubble it would seem, being whipped into a fervour of hate and rage against their customary foe by two huge queens of their kind.

Haloric Glowbrow immediately sought to go to the defenders’ aid, but the Lunar troops barred their way.

"You can go die with your Count", Halcyon sneered, "but you have something we want."

Haloric gestured to the Sable Warriors to let Cathea the Yelornan go. She ran and stood with Gimgim, her head bowed. The governor snorted with derision and shook his head.

No, what they wanted was Goldenblood Light! "Give it over into my safe custody and you can go", said Halcyon.

With a massive roar, the trolls commenced their devastating final assault. Attempting a diplomatic tone, Belvani remonstrated with the governor, reminding him of the Sun Dome Temple's alliance with the Lunar Empire. He was peremptorily silenced with a dismissive wave. Halcyon then turned to Marusa to explain the finer points of the battle to her, as if they were spectators at the arena.

This left Haloric to wrestle with the dilemma, watching helplessly as his templar comrades tried to push back the trollish onslaught in vain. Until suddenly, amidst the fighting, a distant shape was seen climbing the broken walls of Angle Fort. It was Melo Yelo! The baboon had somehow slipped the Lunar cordon, and got past the besieging trolls.

Now wearing Cathea’s famous Yelmalio Helm, Melo Yelo scaled the shattered dome on the summit and pulled the Goldenblood Light from his dilly-bag. Battered and bleeding, Melo Yelo held it aloft, and its brilliant radiance burst out over the Rubble and beyond, as bright as a mini-sun.

The attacking trolls all fell back terrified, their skin blistering and their eyes smarting. They ran in rout from the hill, screaming for the safety of their dark holes on the other side of the river.

Recognising his ploy to get the Goldenblood Light had not worked, Halcyon Var Enkorth was unwilling to test the alliance with the Sun Domers any further, for now. With exaggerated politeness he promptly bade Belvani and Haloric goodnight, and ordered his forces to march back to New Pavis. Gimgim the Grim instead went into the tunnel, taking the sobbing Star Maiden Cathea with him. They disappeared into the blackness.

Haloric and his companions rushed to Angle Fort to aid the Count. Many had fallen, and on the parapet they found Solanthos. His iron pike was snapped in two but a dozen troll corpses surrounded him, including that of Rebecep, the bigger of the fearsome twin queens of the Javis Clan, and the Death Lord Lorgzang Redeye. The Count’s unarmored chest had been smashed in but his face was now rapturously bathed in the Goldenblood Light’s divine brilliance.

Solanthos Ironpike, 42nd Count in the line of Arinsor, gave out his last breath as the new dawn rose, while Melo Yelo resolutely stood watch above him, holding the star over the ruins.

***

For many days Lord Invictus, Light Captain of the Sun Dome, had searched the parched countryside. He stalked the drought god through dry creeks and wadis amid pitiful scenes of devastation, death, and suffering. But Daga himself always eluded him, until early one morning, just before the dawn, a powerfully piercing golden light appeared on the horizon.

Taking this as a sign, the Light Captain headed north.

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THE END OF THE GREAT WINTER

The grieving Sun Domers made preparations to burn their dead. Meanwhile, Rohir Oaklimb and his elves reverently carried the Great Seed to their Shanasee Tree in the Garden. There they nurtured it and so rekindled their lost connection to Aldrya.

Later that day (Clay/Disorder/Earth 1622), in far distant Sartar the Battle of Iceland reached its triumphant conclusion.

Locally, Orlanthi heroquesters at the Pairing Stones also returned victorious.

The first wisps of wind were felt since the crisis began*.

In Sun County, Vega Goldbreath was overjoyed when the healers came to tell her that her sister Penta, high priestess of Ernalda for Sun Folk, had awakened. She was weak, and pained, but back in the land of the living.

At dusk that day, Count Solanthos and his fallen comrades were placed upon a great pyre in Angle Fort while the trolls across the river still cowered in their holes, cursing their defeat.

As the smokeless flames sent Solanthos’s soul to heaven, life miraculously returned to the Garden. With the Goldenblood Light shining out from Yelmalio Hill, the Garden was blessed with an incredible vitality: by the next morning, a lush swath of verdant green once again covered the entire southwest corner of the Rubble.

***

But, although the winds were returning and the grip of Winter had been broken, it was deeply troubling to all that in the lands of the Sun Dome the drought god Daga was still at large...

*To survive, people right across that 250km circle afflicted by the Windstop took to heroquesting to try to break the Great Winter. Serendipitously – regardless of the paths taken, powers sought, or gods invoked – all the successful heroquest attempts culminated on this day. I Fought We Won and all that.

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DAGA CONTAINED

It was the day after the winds started blowing again that Lord Invictus finally found Daga. Taking the radiant glow on the horizon as his guide, he came to the rocky gorge near the now-mockingly named hamlet of Highwater. There in front of him, bestride the dry bed of the river was the terrible drought god he'd been seeking.

Daga was standing contemptuously over the wilted form of Kinope, the gentle daughter of Zola Fel. The poor water spirit was attempting to drag herself through the dry sand to a last patch of water.

The Light Captain sprinted forward to put himself between the nymph and the hideous spectre. Brandishing the Brass Jar, he invoked the ancient bond between land and river, calling out for the Zola Fel.

Nothing happened.

Daga's rasping laugh boomed in the canyon as the puddle visibly dried up before the eyes of the water spirit.

Doubt assailed Invictus. Had Zola Fel turned on him again? Despite the promises he made could the river truly not forgive what happened with Cradle?

Behind him, he could hear Kinope's strangled gasping as she lay, utterly parched and defeated on the dried-out river bed. With a hideous leer, Daga made ready to pounce.

And then there was a distant rumbling, rapidly growing ever-louder. Daga looked up, and sniffed the air. The drought god turned as a tremendous wall of furious water suddenly surged down through the dry gorge towards the combatants.

Faced with the angry flood, Daga’s triumphant visage crumbled. A scant moment before the churning water struck them the drought god took refuge in the Brass Jar.

Throughout his quest Invictus knew he lacked the jar’s magic seal; the red witch still had that. He had felt her calling to him during his pursuit of Daga, but had always managed to resist her lure. Her temptations had grown stronger, more demanding, but since the pure light had appeared on the horizon that gave him resilience.

To prevent Daga's escape he thrust his fist into the mouth of the container, holding it tight as the rushing water hit him with explosive force.

The Light Captain felt he was sure to drown in the raging torrent. True, his call had been answered, but it seemed Zola Fel did want him suffer. Buffeted, bashed into the canyon walls, and pulled deep under, Invictus grimly resolved to hang on to the jar to the last as flood continued on its wild and destructive path down the gorge.

As he was about to drown, Invictus found himself held in the tender embrace of the water spirit Kinope. The Daughter of Zola Fel pulled him clear of the torrent, placing him gently on the clifftop near the deserted village. He was half-dead and sodden, but still clasped the jar.

Kinope kissed his brow and then leapt joyfully back into the raging current.

Kinope.png

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COUNT INVICTUS

Invictus trudged back to the Sun Dome Temple. Behind him floodwaters began to spread out over the flat farmlands of Sun County’s breadbasket. The great inundation had swept down the entire River of Cradles valley, flooding parts of Pavis County and the Rubble, and then beyond to Sun County.

Later, when writing accounts of this terrible time, Lhankor Mhy scholars concurred with Hector the Wise's conclusion that the ice and snow in the Rockwoods never had a chance to melt in the Great Winter. The Zola Fel and its mountain streams and tributaries all then froze over. This abruptly changed when the Windstop suddenly ended, sending the entire spring melt downstream in a vast flood, wreaking destruction from Boathouse Ruins as far as the Great Bog; these were the waters that helped the Light Captain Invictus contain Daga at Highwater Gorge.*

Invictus's heroic actions meant the drought was broken, but it required an intense force of will to keep his hand in the Brass Jar to stop Daga emerging again. A strange corrosive taint began to spread out from the jar onto his armor. By the time the Light Captain returned to the temple, his famous Goldenhand Panoply had a black tarnish that no scrubbing or polishing could remove.

It cheered his heart to learn that the beckoning signal that had drawn him to Highwater Gorge was none other than the Goldenblood Light, Yelmalio's holy blood, shining like a star in the hands of the unlikely hero Melo Yelo atop Angle Fort.

Invictus the Light Captain had ended the drought and thanks to the questers at the Devil’s Playground, the grip of the Great Winter was broken**. However, Count Solanthos was dead. By the laws and customs of the land, Invictus would be the new Count.

*In Pavis, good progress had been made rebuilding the Lunar Bridge after the giant cradle had smashed through its central span back in Sea season 1621. The new construction work formed a chokepoint for the surging flood waters, but was eventually swept away. Floodwaters poured into the Rubble, quickly breaking the banks and flooding much of the northern section of the ruins. For a while, Badside outside the walls and Zebra Fort within became island refuges. Still smarting over their rout at Yelmalio Hill, the rising waters also forced many angry trolls out of their cellars and hidey-holes in the Troll stronglands. With the Goldenblood Light still shining from Angle Fort, this was very unpleasant for the Uz of the Rubble.

** and thanks to the victory at the Battle of Iceland in the Auroch Hills, and the Orlanthi at the Pairing Stone, and all the other heroquesters across the region whose efforts serendipitously culminated on this day. Certavi. Vicimus.

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Edited by MOB
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The Great Corvée

For several weeks, a great sheet of water spread far over the flatlands of Pavis County and the breadbasket of Sun County, causing further misery for the people. But when the floodwaters finally receded, they saw that Zola Fel had left them with a gift: the fields were now covered in a thick layer of fertile silt.

It was too late in the year for planting, so the hungry times continued, though the farmers all agreed that the next planting season offered incredible promise.

In the meantime, famine was kept at bay by the elves.

The Pavis Garden bloomed with vibrant fecundity under the unearthly radiance of the Goldenblood LIght, still shining out from the top of Yelmalio Hill. The Aldryami gratefully shared its miraculous bounty with the people of Pavis, and there was even enough to send produce downriver to the Sun Dome. With the nomads also returning to Prax with their herds, only in the distant Grantlands was there true starvation in the River of Cradles valley after that.

When the waters abated, there was much to be done to take advantage of the precious soil deposited by the flood.

Vega Goldbreath as Guardian of Sun County led the efforts to repair the damage in the Lands of the Sun. Using an ancient tattered scroll from the temple archives depicting the fabled Gods Wall in distant Dara Happa, Vega evoked the story of the Ten Sons and Servants. The entire population was mobilized into a Great Corvée, with even Light Sons and priests putting their hands to mattock and spade.

Although initially scandalized to see the Light Lady taking on the role of Morkatos the Foreman, clad only in a kilt, in a remarkably short time the people cleared away tremendous quantities of debris, dug out irrigation channels and repaired the riverbanks.

Although the Ernalda rituals could now be restored, Vega's Goldbreath's sister Penta had come back from her enforced slumber in the Underworld a changed woman. Rather than serve the living, she saw there was now a desperate need to succour the dead.

Putting on mourning clothes, Penta Goldbreath turned to Ty Kora Tek.

As Penta travelled through the land she gathered about her a sisterhood of widows. Together, they sought out the many restless ghosts and vengeful wraiths from the Great Winter, helping them find their solace. But the new Count believed it was his secret sin with the Red Witch that had sundered his marriage in this way, and made new vows of chastity.

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This event features in the background to my next scenario: as a sneak preview, here's an artist's impression of "Lady Vega Rallying the Workers," executed in the Socialist Realist style by Comrade Mike O'Connor.

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On 7/2/2021 at 7:44 AM, Nick Brooke said:

This event features in the background to my next scenario: as a sneak preview, here's an artist's impression of "Lady Vega Rallying the Workers," executed in the Socialist Realist style by Comrade Mike O'Connor.

Not shown are the Sun Dome priests simultaneously shielding their eyes with their hands and trying to peer around the same.

Edited by Nick Brooke
excessive quote
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Death fosters Life

The Goldbreath sisters earned great respect for their efforts to restore the land after the tribulations of the past several years. And the Sun Folk were cheered when that Sacred Time Gaumata the Seer foretold a year ahead of peace and plenty, and that their earnest toil would at last be rewarded with an abundant harvest.

The ebullient mood was dampened with the slow but shocking decrepitude of Haloric Glowbrow.

As a reward for his actions in the Devil’s Playground, Count Invictus made Haloric the new Light Captain of Sun County. Unfortunately, within weeks of his arrival at the Sun Dome, both he and his honor guard – all returning heroes who had been with him inside the Chamber of the Eye itself – began to visibly age and shrink. By the start of the Sacred Time ceremonies these formerly radiant champions were all so bowed over and frail that they had to use their spears for support, hobbling to take up their posts like old, old men.

Fearing some sort of chaos affliction, the high priest Gaumata sought guidance from Yelmalio. The answer from the heavens was blunt: "Death fosters Life, Life ends in Death. Each is half of the same power".

Consulting the Wood Lord Rohir Oaklimb, Gaumata learned that by joining the elven heroquest, Haloric and his men saved the Great Seed but unwittingly had become part of the Aldryami cycle of Life and Death.

By the end of winter, Haloric Glowbrow and several of his Sunspear Guards had withered and died: at the end, their bodies were like dry old twigs. But those that were married all left wives who were expecting, and the few who did survive gradually recovered when the seasons turned. Indeed, at harvest time the next year they were back in tremendous blooming health, only to have the cycle repeat the following winter.

On Haloric Glowbrow’s untimely demise, Lord Belvani was finally made Light Captain. He had long understood that this role would be his when Invictus succeeded as Count, and had to gamely mask his bitter disappointment when passed over – even more so when Haloric’s unnatural infirmity meant Belvani ended up fulfilling most of the Light Captain’s duties anyway.

But the new Count, too, was something of an invalid. Containing Daga in the Brass Jar took great concentration and fortitude, and caused Invictus continuous pain; after all, he was literally holding back a god.

Lord Belvani began to take on many of Invictus’s responsibilities too. Even he was surprised though when it came time for the annual river ritual. Custom calls for a new Count to renew the alliance with Zola Fel’s daughter in the first year of his reign, but in Sea season 1623 Invictus commanded his Light Captain to take his place.

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The Return of the Red Witch

Standing in for the count, Lord Belvani took part in the annual rite of the River Ritual in Sea season 1623.

Praying for his success, the Sun Folk anxiously lined the river banks, showering the water with offerings. When the Light Son safely returned to Summons Hill the following dawn they knew the rift with Zola Fel was now conclusively healed. Everyone rejoiced; the hungry land at last would enjoy a bountiful harvest!rive

Belvani assumed the pain of the Brass Jar was why Invictus left it to him to consummate the union with the naiad Kinope; he was unaware his Count actually felt unworthy because he was steeped in sin. For, once again, Invictus was in the clutches of Marusa the Red Witch.

Through a covert line of communication via the Light Guide Laertes Coatilon – who had always been friendly with the Lunars – the priestess let Invictus know she could ease his suffering and hinted she had what was needed to seal the jar once and for all.

Early in the new year, Count Invictus travelled to New Pavis, ostensibly to discuss certain changes in the alliance with the new Lunar governor. Throughout the protracted negotiations, each night he secretly slipped away to be with Marusa. Her ministrations made him temporarily forget his agonies, and although she teased and taunted him, she kept the magic stopper out of his grasp. Nor, despite all her silken entreaties, would Invictus let Marusa take the jar.

The guilty count slipped back to Suntown early each morning, drained and filled with self-loathing.

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Edited by MOB
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The Goldenblood Light Dims

Ever since the victory over the forces of Darkness at Yelmalio Hill the Goldenblood Light shone like a glorious star from the top of Angle Fort. But now, with the seasons properly restored, the high priest Gaumata decreed it must be returned to the Sun Dome Temple.

Lord Belvani was alarmed to learn Count Invictus intended to personally bring the holy relic back in a stately procession. This was to include elaborate public ceremonies in New Pavis and other towns with Yelmalio temples along the road back to the Sun Dome.

Belvani mistrusted Halcyon Var Enkorth. He feared the Lunar governor might once again use treachery or trickery to try get his hands on their most sacred treasure. So, on a night of the Black Moon, he secretly despatched the Light Lady Yolanda on a mission to get the Goldenblood Light out of the Rubble.

Yolanda flew in on the wyrm Windwhistler.* She told the hapless but obedient Melo Yelo he had to remain there on top of the dome a little while longer to complete the ruse. A common lamp boosted with as many brightness enchantments Belvani could muster was then substituted for the Goldenblood Light.

This deception was not successful for long – for a start, the new light was dimmer by a thousand-fold – but at least the relic was returned safely. Count Invictus was furious, and Belvani could have found himself in Pent Ridge had the cult spirits of retribution shown any concern with his conduct.

The Count hurriedly returned to the Sun Dome. He took to spending hours every day in the temple’s inner sanctum, basking in the holy presence of the Goldenblood Light. Invictus said its heavenly radiance soothed him, bolstering his resolve to keep his hand where it needed to stay, keeping the Brass Jar sealed and Daga contained.

Most of Invictus’ duties now fell to Belvani, though the Count frequently arranged for state visits to Pavis for further ‘consultations’ with Halcyon var Enkorth. These were actually an excuse for more secret, guilt-ridden assignations with Marusa. The Red Witch continued her wicked ploy of teasing him with the stopper.

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*Regarding Windwhistler's whereabouts until now, I added this sentence to the Temptation Resisted episode, in which the questers set off for Pavis to face the Eye: "Windwhistler the Wyrm returned to keep watch over the Old Sun Dome. "

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Invictus Challenged

The wonderful harvest proved to be everything predicted, but Sun Dome relations with their Lunar overlords grew ever worse as the year progressed.

Halcyon var Enkorth’s own natural rapacity clashed with his superiors’ insistence that the province now pay for itself. The new governor taxed Pavis County relentlessly and the Grantlands were simply bled without mercy. But by the terms of the Armistice of Prax, Sun County was exempt from direct Imperial taxation. Yet it seemed every time Count Invictus went to Pavis for ‘consultations’ even more concessions were offered up to the Lunars by Sun County.

On one such visit the Count sent word to the Sun Dome that rather than traverse their lands by boat, Lunar troops would now be permitted to march through at will and even to bivouac in the Lands of the Sun!

This proved to be too much for the Light Son Bakchos, Captain of the Sun Dome Temple's elite Golden Guard*. "What next?", he called out, "Will decent Sun Folk be forced to billet dissolute Lunar soldiers in their own homes?"

Lord Bakchos said Yelmalio compelled him to speak only Truth. As he saw it, the truth was all the calamities and indignities now assailing the Sun Folk began with Invictus's failure at Harpoon. Surely the heavens were calling out for a better Count than he?

Shouting for justness, Bakchos set off for Pavis to have it out with Count Invictus.

The duel was fought in the forecourt of the Yelmalio temple in Suntown, with the Lunar governor and Marusa intently watching. Despite Invictus’ infirm condition and seeming unfitness to fight, his challenger was surprisingly defeated in mere seconds.

As Bakchos was carried away, Laertes Coatilon deferentially presented the Count with a dossier. It detailed a litany of discreditable conduct by members of the Golden Guard and its captain, stretching back some years. This, the Light Guide confided, had been helpfully provided by Gimgim the Grim.

Though he knew in his heart he too was a base fornicator, there on the spot Invictus summarily pronounced Lord Bakchos guilty of “outrageous conduct” and “gross moral turpitude”.

Bakchos was promptly degraded, mutilated and banished to Pent Ridge, along with the few Templars who unwisely followed him to Pavis. Invictus then guiltily slunk back to Marusa.

On his return to the Sun Dome Temple, the Count withdrew to the inner sanctum and the comforting radiance of the Goldenblood Light.

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*The Golden Guard are the elite First Square of the Sun Dome Templars, described in Tales of the Reaching Moon #20. While they regularly serve as an honour guard for the Count, their true role is to protect the Sun Dome Temple itself.

On cult holy days the Golden Guard literally turn their backs on the ceremonies to face whatever foes might wish to do harm to the People of the Sun. Their symbol is a toothed sun-rune, typically mounted on lapis lazuli; the jutting projections around its edge signifying each individual brother, uniting in an outward-facing circle together to protect the centre at their backs. The blue of the lapis is evocative of the cold of night, when their vigilance is most needed. (See shield on accompanying pic).

During the drama of the Great Winter they were doing their job, resolutely standing guard at Sun Dome Temple, which is why they haven't come into the account until now.

Edited by MOB
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Nomads on the Move

As life along the River of Cradles slowly returned to normal after the Great Winter, out on the plains the Animal Nomads began to bring their herds back to their traditional grazing lands.

Though the Armistice of Prax forbade attacks on settled territory, Sor Eel’s abrupt departure with most of the Lunar garrison during the Great Winter tempted increasing numbers of nomad bands to raid along the borders.

Vega Goldbreath increased patrols and vigilance in Sun County, so most of the raiders tried their luck in Pavis County or better still the Grantlands, where the Lunar forces were spread the thinnest.

In the Grantlands, a growing reliance on mercenaries backfired when Halcyon var Enkorth reneged on paying them what they thought their due. Even before the Windstop the Grantlanders had led a precarious existence, and since then had suffered at the hands of the governor’s pitiless tax gatherers. The Longspear Slayers and Sir Holburn’s Axe brothers simply took to plundering themselves, forcing Duke Raus and other leading landholders to raise money of their own to pay them off.

The Sun Domers knew from their Yelmalio kin among the nomads that the tribes were becoming restive. Years of overweening arrogance by the Sables and their repulsive leader, the Great Khan Inire the Red, was sure to one day come to a head now there wasn’t the same Lunar force in Prax to back up their pretensions.

While Vega Goldbreath’s policy was increased watchfulness on the borders, to safeguard the Sun Dome’s interests Lord Belvani began making regular visits to the Paps, bringing the elders gifts of gold, grain, and salt. It's here he first heard stories of the White Bull society's spread among the tribes, and of its enigmatic leader, Argrath.

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The Dilemma of the White Calf

At the height of the great harvest of 1623, a dazzling White Calf was born in the milking herd of a farmer from Yelm’s Griddle. In itself, this was an auspicious event, promising further bounty to come, but what exactly to do with the animal caused much debate.

Lord Bevani said he wanted to take it to the Paps, a fitting gift for the high priestess, Egajia Chewer of Flesh.

Lady Vega saw no need for further truck with the nomads and, citing the Gods Wall scroll that helped them so well with the Great Corvée, insisted the calf be offered in sacrifice to Busenari, cow goddess of old Dara Happa.

Porthor, the temple cellarer, wanted it for the count’s own herd, and Thandran Clubfoot knew the farmers in Garhound would pay a pretty sum for such a beast, for white is Orlanth’s sacred color.

The farmer involved was the recently-retired Templar Mars Melus, loyal honour guard of the Light Lady Yolanda. As a reward for his service at the Devil's Playground he'd been given this prime plot of dairy country to settle down in. To build up his herd of milkers, Mars wanted to keep the White Calf for himself. The baboon Melo Yelo, who had found his way back to Sun County from Angle Fort and now lived on Mars' farm in his care, wanted to eat it. But no one asked either of them.

The argument went on and on until the Count overruled them all.

Away on yet another visit to New Pavis (and with Marusa’s secret urging), Invictus ordered the wondrous calf be delivered up to the Lunar governor as a token of the Sun Dome’s loyalty.

Lady Vega and Lord Belvani rarely saw eye-to-eye on anything, but both agreed this just could not stand, and when the Light Guide Laertes came to Yelm’s Griddle to collect it, the animal he found there was a just a normal calf, painted white. Mars protested his innocence, but the indignant Laertes had him arrested. He was fortunate only to receive a term of banishment to Pent Ridge for what the Light Guide called his "impious duplicity".

Under their noses, Melo Yelo had sneaked the genuine White Calf away. Further down the road to Helmbold he was diligently passing it over to the local militia unit ("The Bird Men" from Eiskolli) when Lord Belvani and his Paps delegation appeared.

Despite their protestations they were under orders from "her ladyship" the Guardian of Sun County herself, Light Captain's shining retinue over-awed the mere militiamen and they took the animal. Belvani ordered Melo Yelo be brought along to look after it.

At the Paps, Lord Belvani duly presented the White Calf to the Respected Elders. This, he said, was a mark of the high esteem the Sun People had for the People of the Plains. With the White Bull secret society gathering momentum among the tribes and crossing all social and political bounds, the astounded priestesses considered the gift to be both generous and portentous.

In gratitude Egajia Chewer of Flesh took Belvani aside to share a secret.

Afterwards, as soon as his delegation reached Sun County territory, Belvani dismissed the other members of the party (even his little dragonewt servant The Gamon), keeping only Melo Yelo with him. Without returning to the Sun Dome they travelled directly to Pent Ridge, the Sun County salt mines located in the wastes of Vulture Country.

[Later, the officially stated reason for the Light Captain's unscheduled visit to the prison was to secure the release of the "blameless" Mars Melus. But, Vega Goldbreath pondered, surely such a mundane order could have been made from the Sun Dome?]

Belvani had brought Melo Yelo with him to Pent Ridge for a practical reason: the baboon's famous Yelmalio Helm. In the Devil's Playground it had shone clear and true into impenetrable Darkness, and Belvani was planning to go deep, deep into the mines.

After what he'd learned at the Paps, Belvani urgently needed to talk to the disgraced priest Daystar, and Daystar was part of the prison's Dark Detail; inmates singled out for special punishment, who work, live and sleep in the tunnels and are forever forbidden to see the sun*.

*Daystar's shocking crimes during the so-called "Summer of Love" (1593) were morally repugnant, and when they finally came to light were once the talk of Sun County. On the fall of Count Varthanis II aka the "Red Count", Daystar was tried in secret.

No one knows why Count Solanthos chose to exile the defrocked Light Priest at Pent Ridge rather than have him immured in a retirement tower or simply executed.

(nb there are more tantalising hints to behold about all of this in Nick Brooke's highly entertaining 'Sun County Backgrounds', part of the splendid Sandheart series in the Jonstown Compendium: http://bit.ly/2DMy10V)

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Edited by MOB
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Posted (edited)

Simmering Tensions in Lunar Prax

While momentous events wracked Dragon Pass and the Holy County throughout 1624, tensions continued to simmer in Lunar Prax.

Thanks to the Zola Fel's precious gift of silt after the great flood, farmers the length of the Cradle Valley once again enjoyed a bumper harvest. But Governor Halcyon’s insatiable appetite to enrich himself from this bounty was continually vexed by his superiors’ relentless demands for men, beasts, equipment and slaves, all needed for the Reaching Moon Temple project in Dragon Pass.

The governor also looked upon the Sun Lands greedily, but much to his ire the Articles of the Armistice prevented his tax gatherers preying there. This was something even Marusa the Red Witch couldn't beguile Invictus into modifying.

The nomad incursions grew ever more bold. Late in Sea season, Duke Raus sought an audience with Count Invictus on his way back from Pavis. He bitterly recounted how when he told the Governor that nomads were now riding with impunity through his lands, Halcyon var Enkorth said he no longer had any troops to spare for such an unimportant, far-flung outpost. The governor churlishly suggested that if Raus was unhappy he should go hire mercenaries of his own!

In frustration, the Duke dispatched a delegation of Grantlands landholders to Furthest, led by his daughter Lady Jezra. There they would plea for relief from Halcyon's boss, Tatius the Bright.

His family fortune all but gone, in the meantime Raus had no choice but to offer the deeds to Ronegarth as collateral for Yelmalio Templar mercenaries, and place several treasured items in the Sun Dome vaults as further surety, including their family heirloom the Wand of the Seven Phases.

Fortunately for the Sun Dome lands, Lord Belvani's diplomacy at the Paps and Lady Vega's vigilance on the borders kept nomad raids there largely in check.

So while the people of Sun County enjoyed the new abundance, Count Invictus bravely kept hold of the Brass Jar to prevent the horrors of drought escaping once more. To Marusa's annoyance, he now rarely left the confines of the temple’s inner sanctum, and even the Goldenblood Light was barely able to ease his torment.

Still lacking a means to seal Brass Jar, Hector the Wise had scoured the temple archives in vain looking for a solution that did not involve simply releasing Daga again. That Count Invictus would not countenance, though sometimes in his despair he felt it would be best if he just rode as far as possible into the Wastes as he could and let the container go.

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Edited by MOB
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Pent Ridge

Melo Yelo had found the visit to Pent Ridge strange and frightening.

Belvani led him far out into the parched wastes of Vulture Country, near to where he had once run with his troupe when he was barely more than wild. But rather than go south towards the Painted Wall they headed north. Here a great ridge serves as a pointer for the animal nomads to the broad grasslands of Pent. The exposed cliff face is made up of horizontal layers of chalk and limestone, and at Pent Ridge, it is interspersed with veins, layers and domes of precious salt.

Until the Lunar conquest, the mines at Pent Ridge lay abandoned and nomad bands squabbled over control of the salt lick above. As as part-payment for their services at the Battle of Moonbroth, the Lunars recognized the Sun Dome's ancient rights to the site and Count Solanthos established a prison.

Pent Ridge is a hell under the sun for prisoners and guards alike. Inmates curse "Yelm the Torturer", yet fear breaking discipline lest they be banished into the deepest caverns with the worst criminals, shut off from Yelm's light forever.

Belvani led Melo Yelo far into the mines, past the wretched inmates chipping away at the salt to places where the sun could not penetrate. His magic helmet guided the way until deep within they came across an elderly man, bearded and frail. He was sitting cross-legged in the darkness as if waiting for them. Melo Yelo thought the old man looked like a light priest but some of the runes on his threadbare and much-patched robes he did not recognise.

The two humans conversed for a while, but it was all in Firespeech so the baboon understood next to nothing.

His voice suddenly rising, Lord Belvani ordered Melo Yelo to transfix the old man with beams of light. Caught in the Yelmalio Helm's glaring spotlight, the prisoner recoiled and cringed, shielding his eyes.

The conversation grew more heated until the old man sighed, seemed to resolve something in his mind, and then stared fixedly straight into the light.

He raised his left hand and made a curious gesture. A huge figure stepped into the light from the gloom behind him.

This was a monstrously large dragonewt – beaked, frilled, and far more dangerous-looking than Belvani's pet. It stood there, unblinking and undaunted by the Light. It hissed, unfurling a long purple forked tongue which wrapped itself sinuously around the old man's outstretched fingers.

The old man softly chuckled and said, "So now you understand." But the baboon did not.

Melo Yelo did not return to Mars Melus's farm after the mysterious trip to Pent Ridge; Lord Belvani now kept him close by. The Light Captain's Templars were encouraged to treat the baboon like they did his strange little dragonewt servant – an amusing but essentially harmless curiosity.

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Edited by MOB
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Posted (edited)

One Last Tryst

In the end it was the baboon Melo Yelo that delivered Count Invictus from his suffering with Daga's Brass Jar.

Somehow the priestess Marusa learned that Duke Raus had placed the Wand of the Seven Phases in the Sun Dome vault. An heirloom that Raus and his family – as ancestor worshippers – had no practical need for, the Red Witch knew the wand would be of incredible use to an ambitious Lunar magician like herself, not to mention being extremely valuable. Through the compliant Light Guide Laertes she sent a coded message to Invictus. She offered him one last tryst, and by Jakaleel swore she would trade the wand for the magic stopper.

Marusa had secretly set herself up in the river town of Stablefort, not far from the Sun Dome Temple. Invictus’ desires finally overcame his conscience, and late one night he retrieved the wand from the temple vault and slipped away to meet her.

Unknown to Invictus, Belvani had become aware of the clandestine messages being passed, though not their purpose or who the recipient was. On discovering that Invictus was secretly on his way to Stablefort that evening, Melo Yelo was his swiftest supporter immediately to hand. While Invictus went to rouse his Templars, the baboon was sent overland to intercept the count.

Melo Yelo found Invictus as he was about to enter the hovel Marusa was hiding in. During the weeks he'd held the Goldenblood Light aloft at Angle Fort, the magical Yelmalio Helm he was wearing miraculously fused into his very being. It simply could not be removed – the Templars had certainly tried. His head at least (when the face cover was down) was like a living golden visage of the god Yelmalio himself. As the count approached Marusa's hideout, his mind a conflicted mixture of lust, pain, self-loathing and shame, this divine face turned to glare at him. It spoke in an ominous tone and Invictus fell to the ground sobbing*.

Melo Yelo gamely fought off the enraged Red Witch, who emerged calling on a band of Moon Mask assassins that were waiting in a skiff on the river. As the local militia arrived to investigate the commotion, the baboon was able to slip away with the stricken Count into the night.

*witnesses reported that the words were in Firespeech, but what was actually said is unclear: “Shine, Son-Worshipper”, “Dome Above” or “Give me light, Brother!” are all possibilities.

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Edited by MOB
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Posted (edited)

The Brass Jar Sealed

Tenderly gazing at his suffering Count as they hid in the dark, Melo Yelo recalled something he saw long ago, back when he still ran with his troupe and was barely more than wild.

An old baboon shaman had taken them to see the great Painted Wall, the mile-long cliff-face in Vulture’s Country. Engraved among the ancient petroglyphs and symbols, the young baboon saw this very scene. That was, he now realized, the first awakening of the unlikely path his life later took, when he was drawn in from the Wastes to follow the golden god of the Sun Dome.

Slinging the now debilitated Count over his back and patting him gently as he ran, Melo Yelo resolved to bring Invictus back to the Painted Wall to seek out the old baboon shaman’s aid. He kept them hidden the whole way, hiding in dry channels and hayricks; the baboon was resigned to the fact the Sun Folk probably wouldn't understand, no matter how hard he tried to explain.

By the time Belvani and his Templars arrived at Stablefort the fracas was over. Several militiamen were dead, and more were mind-blasted. The attackers, whoever they were, were gone too, having fled by boat. Of Count Invictus or Melo Yelo, there was no sign.

Belvani decided to keep the Count's mysterious disappearance a secret, for now, confiding only in Gaumata the Seer. That noon the high priest cast a divination and received a vision revealing Invictus was "still of this world", yet "safe with Yelmalio".

(Being careful not to lie, Belvani did not dispute it when temple officials blithely assumed the count had just unexpectedly departed on another of his consultation visits to New Pavis.)

Meanwhile, Duke Raus's Wand of the Seven Phases was found to be missing from the Sun Dome vault. When Vega Goldbreath learned Melo Yelo had scarpered away from the temple in great haste the night before, she named him the thief. Orders were sent out to her militia to be on high alert. Belvani also had his Templars out discreetly looking, and so they conveniently joined the hunt to apprehend the fugitive baboon.

Several days later Melo Yelo and the Count reappeared together at the Sun Dome Temple. Vega's militiamen or Belvani's Templars could not arrest the baboon if they tried; Melo Yelo and Invictus were surrounded by a throng of excited Sun Dome citizenry, rejoicing that Daga had been defeated at last!

What happened out the Painted Wall Invictus and Melo Yelo would not say, but the Brass Jar was now permanently sealed, and the count was mercifully free from torment. Invictus’ whole arm, golden vambrace and all, still held his hand in place, sealing in Daga, but had somehow been separated from his body. Together with the Brass Jar, it was now encased in packed mud inscribed with weird shamanic symbols.

Where his own left arm once was, Invictus now had the lanky furred limb and claws of a baboon: Melo Yelo had literally given his own left arm to save the count.

*As noted in The Guide to Glorantha, "This mile-long cliff face is carved with many large runes, symbols, and petroglyphs. Shamans are often found here speaking with the spirits of the Wall; they will often tell visitors where to find their story on it."

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Edited by MOB
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HIDING THE TRUTH

Now reinvigorated, Count Invictus quietly returned Raus’s Wand to the vaults, and sought to both reassert his authority and hide his illicit collusion with Marusa.

With their count back and in good health (though strangely reticent about where he had been), the next day the Sun Dome leadership gathered at noon in the Meeting House for their customary assembly, the first in a long time.

As soon as everyone had taken their places, the Light Guide Laertes Coatilon stood up to make a surprise announcement: effective immediately, he was retiring, and would pass his remaining days meditating on the Light of Truth.

Belvani was keen to find out exactly what had gone on at Stablefort, and suspected Laertes Coatilon was involved in the coded messages he'd intercepted. He was eager to question the Light Guide about what he knew, but several Templars from Invictus's bodyguard promptly escorted Laertes straight from the room.

The Count announced the vacant retirement tower in the temple grounds – the same hermitage that had housed the unfortunate Taleo Lumine, in fact – had been prepared for Laertes. He said the former Light Guide now craved solitude and was to be disturbed by no one.

Next, the one-armed Melo Yelo was summoned to the Meeting House. Overawed by the gilded surrounds and the splendid figures looking down at him, Melo Yelo squatted on the floor and politely bared his teeth in a gesture of deference.

Vega Goldbreath immediately denounced the baboon as a thief, accusing him of breaking into the temple vaults and stealing the Wand of the Seven Phases. The proceedings were conducted entirely in Firespeech (as was the custom), so Melo Yelo had little understanding of what was going on, other than the female Light Son seemed angry with him.

Invictus simply lowered his head and said nothing as the judgement was given.

Lady Vega's pronounced sentence was six seasons of hard labor at Pent Ridge; this would be served in the Dusk detail, those who toil in the salt mines but are permitted to return to the outside for rest and sleep. She asked Count Invictus to confirm Yelm's justice.

Belvani's face had remained completely passive while Lady Vega gave her verdict. But, taking care to look Melo Yelo straight in the eye, the Light Captain begged the Count's indulgence for a moment before he approved the sentence.

Theatrically chiding Vega for her lenience, Belvani instead argued the punishment should be more severe! Theft from the temple vaults was not merely criminal but sacrilegious, he said. Given the monstrous gravity of the baboon's offenses, surely Count Invictus would consider it more fitting that this abominable ape serve his punishment in the Dark detail, forbidden to leave the mines nor ever allowed to see the sun?

Count Invictus, still looking at the ground, gave his assent with an almost imperceptible nod.

The perplexed baboon, who thought he'd been summoned before the glittering leadership of the cult he loved to be praised for his fidelity, was roughly led away by a pair of Invictus's Templars.

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Posted (edited)

A Call to Arms

With the Light Guide now safely immured in a tower and Melo Yelo – the only witness to the events at Stableford – despatched in chains to Pent Ridge, Invictus called the people forth. Keeping his baboon arm wrapped and hidden in a magnificent gold cloak, from Summons Hill the count made great show of reversing several of the more contentious concessions he’d given to the Lunars during his affliction.

A messenger was sent to Pavis to inform the governor of this new state of affairs. A week later the messenger returned, with a Lunar tribune in tow.

It was now late Earth season 1624. Frictions among the nomads were at a boiling point as they jostled to occupy the prime places of Prax since returning after the Great Winter. Governor Halcyon resolved to march out in support of Inire the Red and the Sables.

The tribune brought a command requiring the Sun Dome Templars to join the Lunar forces assembling at the Oasis at Moonbroth. He curtly said the governor rejected what Invictus had said in his letter, but that this "insolence" could be dealt with later.

The governor’s message was more like an order to a conquered vassal than a request to a loyal ally. This enraged Vega Goldbreath. Her view was that the Sables owed them nothing, and urged an armed neutrality in any coming clash.

The Light Captain Lord Belvani went further, and for the first time intimated that he knew the nomads were far stronger and better organized than the governor suspected. Before the Lunar peace in Prax was shattered forever he advised coming to terms with the nomads’ new leader, the enigmatic foreigner known as Argrath White Bull.

Seeking divine guidance, Gaumata the Seer was confused and troubled by what he saw: a great dragon rising from the mountains in the west. Although Yelm remained at its zenith throughout the vision, the dragon’s wings obscured the Red Moon.

Count Invictus was inclined to Vega’s view, but didn’t count on the Red Witch’s wiles. The tribune brought with him a special gift – the magic stopper for the brass jar, tied in a red ribbon. It was a subtle reminder that Marusa could yet tell all about their illicit affair.

With some reluctance, Invictus gave the order to make preparations for Sun Dome Templars to depart in force for Moonbroth Oasis. The governor commanded them to be there by the first full moon of Storm season.

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Edited by MOB
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