31st of Zephyr, 1075 AE (Continued)

In the chaos that followed Varesh Ossa’s demon-fueled attack on the Sunspears, the valiant peacekeeping order was scattered to the wind, dodging Kournan soldiers and otherworldly horrors at every turn. Issa, Akeela, Lulit, and Tancred—able to stay together through the desparate flight—escaped Gandara into the wild lands beyond, home to whipping sandstorms and ambushing wildlife.

With the commercial village of Yohlon Haven in sight, and sounds of Kournan patrols behind them, the beleagured Sunspears sought sanctuary in a foreign and hostile land. Adorned in bright, albeit battle-worn Sunspear armour, they opted for subtlety and sent a disguised Tancred into the city alone. Meeting with another Sunspear refugee, the party was directed to Zudash Dejarin—a local Kournan who had a chip on his shoulder when it came to Varesh Ossa—who may provide some measure of support. They also learned that other Sunspears had come by that way, including Commander Lonai and Scout Nerashi, and that they had intended to move North.

Unfortunately Zudash Dejarin wasn’t pleased to find the four strangers at his doorstep, and quickly revealed that he had nearly as much disdain for the Sunspears as he did the people who annexed his vast farmlands. He was unconvinced by Tancred’s explanation that Varesh had summoned demons during the battle at the Temple of the Five Gods, and claimed that they would get no sympathy from him. “You’ve already taken enough from me,” he alluded, without explanation.

Eventually the Sunspears were able to convince him to at least point them on the right track, and accepted his advice that they visit Elder Jonali in the dusty village of Ronjok. Built into the stony cliffs of the Marga Coast, and too near to a military garrison for comfort, it was rumored that the farmhands there would be more receptive to their plight.

Covered in dust from miles of travel, the Sunspears tiredly made their entrance to the small community, finding their Elder in an almost jovial mood at having guests. She commiserated with them about their fallen comrades, and acknowledged that she had seen some other travelers pass by—likely Sunspears themselves—but that they had not stopped in the small village. She also revealed that the local garrison was overly fond of bullying the village, and that it would go very poorly for all involved if the Sunspears were to be found.

Recalling a distant memory from her youth however, she told the group about an expansive system of caverns deep in the mountains behind Ronjok, part of some long-forgotten settlement. If the monsters therein could be cleared out, it would provide suitable protection and secrecy as the Sunspears tried to rebuild.

Grateful for the hospitality, the assistance, and the information, the four Sunspears marched into the steep mountain passes, intent on discovering the lost caves and their undoubtedly unfriendly inhabitants.

Venturing into the deep caverns within the Maluti mountains, the Sunspears remarked on the carefully-hewn stairs and smooth walls of the winding passage—craftsmen of long ago labored with great care to form the entranceway with exacting standards, a testament to the site’s importance, even as its purpose and very existence had been lost to history.

Exploring the cavernous abyss, the air damp with sweet-tasting humidity and swirling mists obscuring vision, they faced strange, animated fungal pillars, swarms of beetles, and sharp-beaked snake creatures, in the effort to forge a new base of operations for the scattered Sunspears.

The sound of a waterfall drew their attention as they delved, making sure to avoid the deep sinkholes and ravines which had swallowed sections of the brickwork in the many years since the cave complex was in frequent use. Surprised to find a large pool of clear, cool water, their brief reprieve was interrupted by the sudden appearance of freshwater crocodiles, undoubtedly carried into the cave by the subterranean river which emptied into the pool.

Fighting off the aggressive beasts, including an overgrown, behemoth crocodile which dropped Akeela and Tancred to the ground with its powerful jaws and mighty tail, the Sunspears eventually won the day, taking it upon themselves to rest, enjoying some freshly-cooked crocodile steaks.

Voices and footfalls in the darkness drew them up short however, but their wary surprise quickly turned to joy as four Sunspears, weary and travel-worn, approached from the darkness. Logistics commander Lonai and wilderness scout Nerashi had saved several other troops from execution at the hands of Kournan soldiers, and made their way into the cave after speaking with Elder Jonali of Ronjok Village.

Thankful for the party’s hard work in clearing out the cave’s most dangerous inhabitants, they remarked that it would indeed make for a fine sanctuary for all who had been abandoned or threatened by Varesh Ossa’s terrible crimes. Nerashi had grave news to report, having made note of a larger group of Sunspears being herded toward a nearby prison in Arkjok Ward, and that they were due for execution in a day’s time.

Leaving the new arrivals to make themselves at home, the party prepared to venture into Kourna again, to save their brothers and sisters from their cruel and undeserved fates. Following Nerashi’s lead, they sneaked through the low hours of the cold Spring night, past watchful Kournan patrols, up to the very entrance of the prison carved into the base of a mountain.

With the cover of darkness—and Akeela’s concealing magics—they fell upon the unawares outer guards and bound them to prevent escape, whereupon they decended the cold stairs into the heart of the jail, where dim torchlight filled the halls with eerie shadows and soft sobbing could be heard from more than one tightly-locked cell.

With the interior guards more alert than their captured brethren outside, a pitched battle full of spellcasting, arrows piercing the air, and the heavy crash of weapon-on-flesh ensued. “You’ll be sorry,” the captain burbled as he slipped limply to the floor. “Commander Kubeh will kill you all.”

One remaining guard, seeing his leader fall before the Sunspear onslaught, wisely decided that surrender was the better part of valor, and pointed them toward the back of the jail, where the commander had been “dealing with some unruly guests.” Kicking open the unlocked cell door, the soldiers were met with a gruesome sight—one of their own was sprawled on the prison bed, having died trying to save a fellow prisoner from Kubeh’s cruel blows. The taste of blood was in the very air, and a pitched battle began anew.

Kubeh sneered and laughed as he fought, obviously enjoying the savagery with which he swung his blades; his eyes held a cruel malice the Sunspears had never before encountered. Only when he laughed at them, saying they would die like their pitiful Spearmarshal had, did the party finally push back with an unexpected zeal, striking him down in Kormir’s name. Exhausted, bloodied, and miles from home, the Sunspears nevertheless took the field, and set about attempting to free all of the unjustly captured prisoners, including no few number of their own kin.

Rescuing seven Sunspears and eight others, including a tall and badly-abused centaur named Varuuk, the group used the cover of darkness to offer a brief battlefield sendoff to their departed brethren. Upon hearing that the Sunspears had left several Kournan guards tied and bound in the prison’s outbuildings, Varuuk galloped away, grim determination on his lionel face. He caught up with the group an hour later, saying nothing about his absence.

As the group sneaked their way along rocky crags and past midnight scout patrols, toward the impromptu Sunspear Sanctuary deep within the mountains, Lulit began to express reservations about the group leaving behind the immobilized soldiers, potentially dooming them to a slow death by starvation. She dared not think about what Varuuk may have done to his captors during his excursion, and that they allowed it to happen.

Akeela assured her that they would go back to check on the guards, but that their primary duty was to the rescued Sunspears and others who had been wrongly imprisoned for voicing anti-Kournan sentiments. Arriving back at their makeshift headquarters as the sun was just cresting over the eastern horizon, the party relayed their perilous adventures to Commander Lonai.

After adequate rest and refreshment, Akeela and Lulit again used the cover of darkness to return to the prison outskirts, to check on the fate of those left behind. They weren’t able to get close, however, as an encampment of nearly fifty soldiers had sprung up just outside the prison, though for what purpose they couldn’t discern. The presence of the guards’ fellows satisfying Lulit’s qualms about having left them defenseless, they returned to the Sanctuary, meeting Issa and Tancred, who had been dispatched by the Commander to track down ingredients for an antivenom—a Sunspear had been found in the fields near Ronjok Village, suffering from terrible wounds and a poison ravaging their body.

With her Druid magics at the ready, Akeela was able to save the man, even without the prescribed herbal concoction. They discovered the Sunspear had been attacked by a manticore; judging by the severity of his wounds and the terrible toll the venom took on his body, it was not a small one. When the sun rose again the party made their way back to Yohlon Haven, where Commander Lonai knew of a healer who could mix a healing salve adequate to the task of helping others in need, in the event that the party’s spiritual healing powers weren’t available when the next case came in.

Hiding their Sunspear armour beneath light traveling cloaks, they walked the dusty wilderness paths toward the city, blending in with the regular mercantile traffic which had resumed in the days following the failed assault on Gandara and Varesh Ossa.

Tucked away in a small, backalley shop, they found Lonai’s herbalist cheerfully mixing medicinal concoctions. When asked about a salve which would treat and cure manticore venom, her brow furrowed in deep thought—rarely to victims of the monstrous beasts live long enough against the onslaught of fangs and claws to need treatment, and she had long run out of the principal ingredients, an oily secretion created by the dangerous zephyr hedger.

Learning what they could about the creatures—animated plants as large as a house, resistant to most elemental dangers and actively benefitting from electricity, often found in mandragor- infested forests on the outskirts of the Arkjok Ward, floating above the ground and using its keen senses to hunt animals for food—the Sunspears refreshed their supplies and set out the next morning for their big game hunt.

Carnivorous Plants

Akeela climbed the tallest tree she could find, once they ventured into the designated forests, and saw in the distance what appeared to be a large copse of trees idly moving in unison through the woods. Larger even than they had been lead to believe, they lightly debated whether or not their physical and magical traps would be enough to immobilize the beast, but were brought up short by the terrifying plant charging towards them, its keen senses having picked up their conversation and scent.

The party was hard-pressed to defend themselves against the creature’s unexpected rapidity, with wooden limbs and leafy frawns lashing out with blinding speed, leaving terrible welts and bruises in their wake. As Lulit buried arrow after arrow into its thick bark and Issa’s phantasmal knives inexorably chewed through its roots, Tancred was hard-pressed to keep the group in fighting shape, with near-continual prayers to Balthazar to rally his friends in the face of such an overpowering foe.

Akeela, seeing the toll the zephyr hedge was having on the party, changed tactics and tried to lure the beast away from the group, taunting it with the promise of an easy meal. Unfortunately for her an easy meal was exactly what it wanted, and after two quick swipes of its prehensile roots, Akeela vanished, devoured by the monstrosity as it began retreating.

Emboldened and enraged by the plight of their comrade-in-arms, the remaining Sunspears pressed on, giving chase to the floating creature, finally felling it once and for all. Chopping Akeela out of the thing’s stomach, they were relieved to find her still alive. Badly wounded and disoriented, but alive.

With prayers to Melandru and time spent recovering from the perilous engagement, the party began the grizzly task of extracting the necessary organs from which the medicinal sap could be retrieded. Tancred, recalling a handbill he saw posted near Yohlon Haven’s entrance, noted that there was a bounty on all forms of wild hedges, with greater purses offered for the largest of beasts. Being stranded in Kourna with no access to the Order’s resources or stockpiles, the Sunspears agreed the supreme effort of hauling the oversized body back to the township was worthwhile.

With fresh gold in hand—and town guards gaping in awe at the size of their prey—they returned to the herbalist, who was more than overjoyed at the large haul of fresh ingredients. They left shortly thereafter, armed with plenty of manticore antidote and additional healing potions.

Debating using a small part of their newfound wealth to stay at least one night in luxury, the party was brought up short by a familiar face in the crowd, furtively looking for something, or someone—one of the soldiers from the prison, a war mage who escaped the Sunspears’ pursuits. Bristling with the memory of how the guards treated their kin and other innocent prisoners, all thoughts of rest and relaxation were set aside.

Cornering the nervous wizard as he approached an estate off the main streets, through magic, force of personality, and threats of physical violence, they convinced the man to reveal the reasons for his stalking through the streets of Yohlon Haven. Knowing the Sunspears had a secret haven behind Ronjok Village, he assumed they could not have amassed such a force without the complicity of the local garrison. If they were able to persuade an entire fortress to look the other way, it’s likely the Order had friends in high places across western Kourna.

He was hoping to speak with an old mentor of his, long retired and removed from the goings on of the country, about how he could proceed and return his intelligence to the Kournan high command, without opening himself up to accidentally speaking to a Sunspear ally. Unable to come to a clear resolution, the mage broke the standoff by offering intelligence about Sunspear prisoners that were being escorted up the coast, likely to be interrogated and executed once they arrived at the infamous Morzek Garrison.

Trusting that their captive was sufficiently scared of the Sunspear’s presumed influence that he wouldn’t immediately run to the Kournan authorities, they parted ways, making all due haste toward Nundu Bay, the bustling port town from which the prisoners would be marched, first thing the next morning.

Scouting the surrounding terrain overnight, the party discovered an oasis several hours up the path toward Morzek. Agreeing to secret themselves and lie in wait, their patience was rewarded as the small caravan arrived under the fierce beating of the noonday sun. The nine prisoners were tired, sore, and chained together, but appeared otherwise unharmed.

Launching attacks from the cover of the oasis’ sparse vegitation, several of the guards were felled as others became capitvated by Issa’s mystical charms. Seeing the tide of battle turning against them, the guard commander dove behind one of the prisoners, calling out for the Sunspears to drop their arms or risk the lives of those they were trying to save.

He received his answer in the form of Lulit’s arrow delivered directly through his throat, but not before he plunged his shortsword through the prisoner’s back, killing the man instantly. The non-charmed guards were slain before they could attack the defenseless captives, and while Issa kept the attention of the remainder, Lulit and Tancred freed and tended to the needs of the captives, five of whom were Sunspears, overjoyed to see their kin and hear of the budding resistance to Varesh Ossa’s terrifying machinations.

Leaving the surviving guards to their own devices, stripped of armour and weapons, the party and their newly-saved allies turned toward their sanctury and headed off across the sands, hoping to share the good news of their efforts with Commander Lonai.

41st of Zephyr, 1075 AE

Returning to the Sunspear Sancutary with the freed prisoners in tow, they were amazed at the changes the deep cave system had undergone in their short time away. Lonai had organized the refugees who had found or had been escorted to the caverns and put them to work, cleaning out the ancient structure and making it hospitable.

Traders had set up shop, lighting had been raised, bedding and cooking stations established, and scheduled patrols in the nearby mountains kept close vigil against Kournan incursion. Koss had departed to converse with his corsair contact Magrid the Sly, who he said may have means to get the injured Sunspears back to Istan, back to their base of operations, for proper treatment.

The Commander was overjoyed to receive the Manticore antivenom, as another soldier had arrived, shaking and green from an encounter with a juvenile beast in the swamps near the former Dejarin Estate. “That she made it at all,” she remarked, “is a testament to the goodwill you’ve sown among the people of Kourna. She would have died miles away without the help of farmers, merchants, and travelers who saw through Varesh’s lies, and who began to trust the Sunspears anew.”

Impressed with the transformation of a once dank and dangerous cave into a bustling community filled with purpose, Issa, Tancred, Lulit, and Akeela checked in with their comrades and allies about what they needed and how they could help continue the Sunspear’s work of winning over the Kournan people.

They were overjoyed to be reunited with Melonni, who had barely survived the rout at Gandara, and celebrated her safe return with a hearty meal. She had returned to Ronjok as it was her home, before her “antics” made her a pariah in the eyes of the local garrison, which put the entire village at risk. Before she could fully be accepted among her family however, she had to undertake a meditative journey to important spiritual landmarks across the Marga Coast and pray to Melandru for the wisdom necessary to guide her future actions.

The party eagerly offered their assistance, and the quintet set out once more from the Sunspear Sanctuary. They had overheard that Scout Nerashi had captured a Kournan soldier in the foothills at the base of the mountains, and felt there was no harm in checking in on her, to see what intelligence could be gained.

They did not expect to see a man, stripped almost bare, tied to a tree with just enough slack to not be impaled, quivering in fright at the calm-looking, knife-wielding woodswoman who had captured him. “He’s all but ready to talk,” she grinned in private conversation with the party. “Found him looting an overturned merchant’s cart, lagging behind his group.”

Akeela took up the interrogation, in her saccharine-sweet way, and learned that the soldier’s patrol was escorting three civilian prisoners to a garrison a day’s travel away, and that they were to be punished and made an example of for helping a wounded Sunspear who came to their village. He was terrified of Nerashi and what she would do to him—his fears further stoked by Issa walking into view testing the edge of his favorite dagger for sharpness.

Suggesting that Nerashi lead him off into the wilderness and set him free, the party asked Melonni if they could attend to the needs of the villagers before aiding in her own task—a request she absolutely supported. “The well-being of the people is far more important than any individual concern of mine.” The five again headed off, this time to the West, and the wilds of the Arkjok Ward, where the captured soldier suggested his group was traveling.

Catching up with the small company of soldiers and prisoners, Akeela asked what their purpose was—would the Sunspears attack, bargain, perhaps demand surrender? Lulit, often the moral compass of the party, answered as her bow sent two feet of magic-infused arrow directly at the most rearward soldier, exploding into ensnaring vines as it sank deeply into his shoulder.

The fight was on, though with their greater experience and training it may as well have been over before Lulit loosed the first shot. The Kournan infantry surrendered, and were subsequently released by the Sunspears. The newly-freed prisoners, realizing that they would be branded outcasts by their public arrest, agreed to return with their saviors to a new sanctuary. Two—a dye-maker and animal tamer—were more than happy to contribute to the growing movement, while the third—an arcanist of some kind—was more negative, seeing further involvement with the Sunspears as admission that the court’s claims were correct and that they three were working with subversive forces.

Regardless of the personal reservations of one however, the three were escorted back to the growing Sunspear Sanctuary, just in time for dinner. Koss was still away negotiating with his corsair contacts, and Lonai figured that he would be gone for another day at least.

With the morning sun brightening the small Sanctuary cravasse’s overhead vents—recently drilled by hand as a means to get more fresh air and light into the large central chamber—the party of experienced Sunspears split up, in order to assist as many in the surrounding area as possible. Akeela accompanied Melonni as she ventured Eastward, to pray for guidance and wisdom from Melandru, while Issa, Lulit, and Tancred followed up on rumors of a vicious river drake preying on the farms neark Arkjok Ward.

The three Sunspears took with them bait suitable for the task of luring the vicious beast out of its hiding, and met with a local pushover named Chuno. Strong-willed and possessed of an overabundance of pride, they saw in him a great number of problems. True to form, when the lumbering monster leapt out of the river, Chuno was the first—and only—casualty, collapsing bloodily as it
thrashed from side to side, the villager firmly within its jaws.

After subduing the drake, and preventing its watery escape with the villager, the party visited Nazwari Found, a large collection of farmers recently plagued by the beast. Ensuring that Chuno didn’t get all of the credit for slaying the beast, Lulit also entered into a compact with the village elders, saying that the boy should be trained, that he should learn discipline, before his rambunctuous nature got him killed and put the village at greater risk. She accordingly donated a large handful of gold to the elders, and promised that someone would arrive in due time to see to Chuno’s education.

Praying for permission to send a message on Balthazar’s speeding war drakes, Tancred crafted a brief plea—with promise of payment—to a respected ranger they had met when last in Yohlon Haven. If Chuno’s arrogance could be tempered, he could have a very successful career as a defender of the people. Particularly with the magical ax he inherited from his grandfather, though he seemed ignorant of its true power; a secret they decided would be best not to reveal until after his training.

While her companions were off playing in the river, trying not to get eaten by an enormous predatory monster, Akeela spent her day visiting sites in the Marga Coast that held importance for Melonni, Melandru, and for Melonni’s home of Ronjok Village. By meditating and reflecting at a once-fresh pond now fetid and stagnant, sacred rocks toppled by the ravages of war, and a tree twisted and pained with sickness, they learned of a terrible infection that had started to take hold of the land, an illness which would one day grow to threaten all life in the Elon basin.

Beset by a shadowy creature of infectious nightmare, the two were able to combine martial and spiritual forces to dissipate the entity, but both shared concerns that Varesh’s actions were leaving an even greater stain on the world than they first assumed.

Grim-faced, Akeela returned to the Sanctuary to meet with her companions and report her findings.

43rd of Zephyr, 1075 AE

Elder Jonali, matron of Ronjok Village, trekked into the Maluti mountain range looking for the Sunspear encampment. Impressed and heartened at the progress the Order had made in converting the ancient caverns into a living, breathing village, she nevertheless had sobering news to share.

Zudash Dejarin, the once-wealthy former landowner who first encountered the party on their flight from the disastrous Gandara battle, had threatened to reveal that Ronjok had helped the Sunspears unless they help him deal with some troublesome corsairs. Determined to ensure the peace and safety of the village who had protected them in their time of need, the party resolved to return to Yohlon Haven and deal with Zudash directly.

In demanding answers, they found the merchant far more sympathetic than they expected. Hearing the drums of war as the conflict between Kourna and the Sunspears began to heat up, Zudash tried to secret his daughter Ailonseh away from the front lines, hiring corsairs to transport her to Istan. Unfortunately, the caravan that contained his payment to the pirates was sacked, and his debt has come due. Without any other option to protect his daughter, he sheepishly threatened Ronjok Village, knowing they could get in touch with the Sunspears.

Disgusted at his tactics, though understanding his motives, they agreed to help him, if for no other reason than to protect the innocent Ailonseh. The party made their way to the corsair haven of Dajkah Inlet, treading carefully and paying for information on the pirate captain Ruthless Sevad. They tried to remain discreet in observing he and his senior crew enjoying drinks at a run-down tavern, but all hints of subtlety were lost when their ruse was discovered.

Bodily picking up the captain, the party escaped with him into the rough and tumble streets, hoping to convince him to return Ailonseh to her father, unharmed. Attempting to ignore the questioning looks from other corsairs, villagers, and idle thugs who may be itching for a fight, they tossed a warehouse manager a gold coin for “privacy,” setting the much put-out pirate captain down amid the boxes of undoubtedly illicit cargo.

Suggesting that it would be in his best interest to return Ailonseh Dejarin to her father—through them—as quickly as possible. Well-versed in the language of implicit and explicit threats, Sevad expressed surprise that Zudash couldn’t afford to pay out the rest of his agreement with the corsairs, but could hire such effective adventurers to do his bidding.

Ordering his crew, some of whom had gathered outside the warehouse and were close to barging in, to bring their “guest” ashore. Sevad was a pragmatic professional and recognized when he was outclassed, but also someone who cared about the profitability of his endeavors. Negotiating with the Sunspears that Zudash should still send him half of the remaining payment—a full 1,000 gold—he was happy to hand Ailonseh over.

Quickly retreating from Dajkah Inlet, the party had ample opportunity to talk with her on their trip back to Yohlon Haven. She felt sympathy for her father, who lost enormous prestige when Varesh Ossa usurped his ample lands, and recognized that Koss didn’t fall as far from the tree as Zudash may think; the threats against Ronjok were an example of him grasping at straws to accomplish his aims when backed into a corner.

After a tearful reunion, the Dejarin family pledged to support the Sunspear cause, that of defeating Varesh Ossa and returning stability not only to Kourna, but to all of Elona as well. As the party departed, Ailonseh caught up to them, giving them a bag of gold for their troubles. “Thank you for helping all of us,” she smiled. “The people will come around, in time.”

47th of Zephyr, 1075 AE

Satisfied with a job well-done, the party turned their horses back to the dusty road that would lead them to the hidden Sanctuary. Upon approaching Ronjok Village however, they found Elder Jonali being talked down to by Commander Tihl of the nearby Meseret Garrison, a Kournan stronghold that had long plagued the small village. “I know you have been helping the Sunspears,” he angrily snapped, jabbing an accusatory finger toward the aging woman, “and unless you turn them over by sunset, this village will suffer.”

Immediately recognizing the peril the town faced, the party—luckily not clad in the traditional white armour of the Order—debated how to best help the town. Whether or not Jonali gave them up, the town would be punished; either for not turning them over, or for having harbored enemies of the state. In either case, it seemed Tihl would ravage the town that had so graciously and willingly given them shelter in their hour of need.

Without time to speak to Commander Lonai back at the Sanctuary, the party sprang into action, spurring their horses after the departing soldiers. Catching up to them in a small, wind-swept canyon shielded from view, the two forces set upon one another. One side fighting for their country, the other fighting for the people of that country.

Through magic, martial prowess, and coordinated tactics, the Sunspears were victorious, with Tihl the only soldier left standing. Offering him the chance to surrendor, he spat in their faces. “I will die with Sunspear blood on my blade,” he roared, making one final lunge at Akeela.

Looking at the soldiers felled around them, Lulit asked the practical question, “what should we do with the bodies?”

Tancred scratched his chin. “If they don’t return, the garrison will return to the village, in force.”

“What if animals attacked them?” offered Issa, looking at the cliff walls. “It’s dangerous out here.”

Contemplating their options, they decided to send one of the soldier’s horses back to the garrison with a saddle savaged by what would appear to be a pack of mandragors, the vicious and fearless predators known to plague all corners of the Marga Coast. Akeela prayed to Melandru as they returned the bodies to the earth before returning the way they came. Elder Jonali was grateful for the intercession on their behalf, but feared what would befall the small village; surely the garrison would not take the loss of its commander easily, whether they felt it had been Ronjok’s fault or not.

The Sunspears returned to the Sanctuary, promising to work “something” out with Lonai for the good of the village and all the people therein contained. Knocking on her door, they found the Commander in conversation with Koss and a woman they hadn’t seen before. Introduced as “Magrid the Sly,” Tancred chuckled at the tradition of corsairs having extraneous adjectives as titles, prompting an elbow from Lulit.

True to his word, Koss had, with the approval and backing of Lonai, secured Magrid’s help in returning the wounded Sunspears back to Istan. With the death of the local garrison captain however, it would be difficult—at best—to sneak such a large force along the cliffs of the Marga Coast; undoubtedly the area would be under much-heightened scrutiny. Instead, the decision was made for an advance party consisting of Akeela, Issa, Tancred, and Lulit to enter the Sunward Marches and take out the Kournan spotter patrols while a larger force followed, escorting the wounded.

Lonai also wanted the party to travel with the other Sunspears back to Istan, to inform the Istani government what happened at the siege of Gandara, and that the Order, still loyal to their mission to preserve peace and good order throughout Elona, needed as much support as the island nation could muster. To aid in their negotiations upon each was bestowed the rank of Lieutennant, in recognition of their service and successes in the Sunspears’ darkest hour of need.

Blue Caves

48th of Zephyr, 1075 AE

Forming an advance, scouting party for the larger group of wounded and war-weary Sunspears behind them, Issa, Tancred, Akeela, and Lulit made their way cautiously through the largely-unexplored caverns which separated the Sanctuary and the Sunward Marches. Facing down terrifying subterranean predators such as ethereal spiders, displacer beasts, mimics, and cave fishers, they eventually found the sand-swept exit leading to the next leg of their journey and lit a row of signal lanterns, signifying to their brethren that the path was safe.

The windswept dunes of the Sunward Marches bit at the party’s exposed flesh, but they maintained a constant vigil on the horizon for any sign of the roving Kournan spotter patrols they knew to be in the area. With an enormous cave bear Akeela had befriended in tow, they were quick to dispach one such group before they could raise an alarm, Lulit firing twin arrows into the neck of the commanding officer. Issa took possession of the flashy military warhorn, a single sound from which would have drawn troops from miles around.

Knowing the safety and security of their wounded comrades depended on their vigilence, they searched high and low for potential problems, up the most massive sand dunes and down in the lowest of dried ravines. There, where the rough sand and cracked earth met beneath dried and thorny brambles, they saw their next targets, who were opening rations for a late-afternoon lunch with their trained heyenas.

Issa used his recently-developed powers of teleportation to secret he and Akeela close to the group as Lulit and Tancred attacked from afar. With magic, arrows, whips, and daggers striking in all directions, plus the pacification of the giant heyenas by Akeela’s connection to Melandru, the soldiers were quickly dispatched—all save one, who wisely dropped his weapons and pleaded for mercy from the ruffians he assumed were run-of-the-mill raiders. Granting him clemency after he truthfully answered their questions, they sent him off, away from the garrison, to buy their fellow troops time to pass before he could call for reinforcements.

In the small hours of the night the forward party, with their beleagured brethren, hailed Magrid the Sly’s ship anchored in a private cove, and were soon bound for Istan, a three-day journey necessary to avoid both Kournan and Istani naval patrols.

Their return to the Sunspear Great Hall was a celebratory and mournful one; their tales of the horrors unleashed by Varesh Ossa during the battle for Gandara horrified the few remaining Sunspears, those who had not been called to join in the doomed fight. Order of the Sunspears’ future lay in doubt, so great had the losses been, and the loss of Spearmarshal Kormir, who was very much the glue that held the entire organization together. What’s more, they learned that the three ruling Elders of Istan were nearly at each wit’s end trying to decide what to do for their ravaged country; corsair attacks had increased—undoubtedly paid for with Kournan gold—and if the sizable Kournan army made landfall, they had no hope of repelling the invaders.

Meeting in public session with the Elders, the heroic Sunspears gave first-hand accounts of their experiences in Gandara, in Kourna, and with the growing resistance fighting against Varesh’s terrible designs. Elder Suhl sat quietly and listened, Elder Nahlo argued that Istan must sue for peace and buy time to think of alternate plans, and Elder Dahut saw the war as lost and recommended bowing to Varesh’s will, before it was imposed upon them.

Finally, Elder Suhl spoke, declaring that while Istan could no longer aid and support the Sunspears, their cause was good and just. If the Sunspears were able to make inroads with the Princes of Vabbi, a two-pronged assault on Kourna may be the impetus the Kournan people needed to finally throw off the rule of their mad Warmarshal.

Sighing with the heavy duty that lay before them, the Sunspears—reunited with their favored traveling companion Dejan the Sure-footed donkey—boarded a merchant’s ship, hoping they would be able to make it through the Kournan blocade, and then find some way of slipping into Vabbi undetected.