Prince Espedar the Good
Espedar, Prince of Thalavor, was beloved across the nation. Handsome, chivalrous, and a mighty hand at arms, he oft walked among the people, giving alms to the poor and donating generously to the temples, as he was wont to do. He also often went gallivanting about the bordermarches of Thalavor with his noble friends, slaying vicious beasts and lawless bandits.
However, secretly, Espedar coveted his father’s throne. Many palace advisors said that he replaced his father at Public Audience a little too often, and that he had once had the audacity to wear the Royal Crown. But his good deeds certainly overshadowed these petty things.
North of the Kingdom of Thalavor, there lies a deep wilderness, forested and high-peaked, from which flows the River Wylding. This wilderness, "upriver" as Thalavorns call it, is uncharted, unsettled wilderness, home to dark beasts and black magic. Few ever go into the Upriver, save fools, who do not return.
So it was to great outcries from the people that the Prince Espedar announced that he was going questing upriver with a group of his noble friends.
On the Eve of the Feast of Spears, a week-long Thalavorn holiday, Prince Espedar and three of his noble hearth-friends, the brother Dukes Aladar and Sadestor, and the Count Eslingam. They had planned to return three days past, in the very midst of the Feast of Spears.
They never returned.
A Hero’s Voyage
Some weeks past.
After a period of mourning, the Kingdom of Thalavor went on much as it had.
Farmers farmed, soldiers and guards watched, the nobles and knights rode about, the king sat upon his throne, with dark clouds upon his brow and a shadow in his eyes.
Then, one day, a boat came floating down the River Wylding, a small, canoe-like tyrscull as they use for river travel in Thalavor. In it lay the Prince Espedar, dressed in armor of blue steel and gold, worked with adamant, ebony, and jewels. At his hand was a golden sword.
It was a Hero’s Journey.
The Hero’s Journey is a custom of Thalavor, in which dead heroes were layed to rest in small tyrsculls with their prized possessions.
The populace was both joyed and saddened. Somewhere upriver, the prince had died a hero. Somewhere upriver, the prince had been killed.
The King Espegil and His Very Deep Pockets
When his son disappeared, the King Espegil was immediately suspicious.
Of course, he made all the proper lip service to public grief and heroic follies, but within the palace his mind raced with plots against him.
It made him even more suspicious when his son’s body was found, especially arrayed in such a Hero’s Journey.
He had never trusted his son, and had seen the lust that Espedar regarded his crown and throne with. That is why he had allowed him to go upriver at all. Espegil had younger, less ambitious heirs, and he did not like the way in which Espedar liked to wear the Royal Crown and gaze at himself in the mirror. So, he allowed Espedar to go north, into the dangerous wilderness, where he might fall prey to whatever monsters were there.
But when Espedar’s body came down the river, he immediately suspected that it had been the nobles. In fact, he decided that he knew that it was the nobles.
He was obligated to dispose of them, to avenge the spilling of royal blood, and to rid himself of the menace of rebellious nobles.
Enter the heroes. Espegil is not about to send his own men. After all, why risk Thalavorns when you can send mercenaries? Espegil has sent them word, by way of a trusted messenger, and then, in disguise, met them, and offered them a hefty reward indeed, a glimpse of the famed deep pockets of the King of Thalavor.
The heroes are brought to the border of Thalavor, where the River Wylding emerges from under the eaves of the Northern Wood, a forest that lies between Thalavor and the wilderness.
The heroes, as they pass northward along the trail that Prince Espedar and the nobles followed. The path leads roughly northwest through the forest for about four days.
Some things they may encounter in the southern portions of the forest (These are red herrings to throw off the quest and/or make the journey more interesting):
-A large lake with a small island in the center. On the island, there is a ruined lodge, gutted by fire.
-An open meadow, carpeted with blood-red flowers. These flowers rustle in such a manner as to seem to be speaking.
-A grove with a crumbling statue of a crowned man with his hand outstretched, half buried in the loam.
-A peat bog. On the surface, there is a hand protruding. If the heroes manage to free the possessor of the hand, they find a dead woodsman.
-A very large rift in the ground. Below there are extensive caverns, many of which are flooded.
-An open hill, free of trees. Upon the slope, there are the remains of a battle. Rusted armor and weapons and bits of bone lay in the grass, and a crumbling chariot is nearby.
-A great circle of megalithic stones.
-A series of trenches cleared of all debris. The bottoms of the ditches are filled with a very cold, very sticky green fluid that transfers a wasting sickness.
Eventually, the trail of the Prince and his men fades away. Luckily, it has been running parallel to the River Wylding. The heroes can follow the stream to enter an entirely different sort of forest.
The Strange Forest
The temperature becomes progressively warmer, rising from a cool temperate climate to almost tropical. The vegetation, as well, changes, becoming more and more wild and strange, trees, plants, and flowers that the heroes have never seen before; strange brilliant plants of faery hue. In addition, as they pass on, the sun seems to slow and slow until, on the third day of the Strange Forest, they are walking through an endless late twilight.
As they travel through this odd land, some encounters the heroes may have:
-Strange beings that appear to be made of a silvery metal, clad in vestments that blend with the forest, attack from the surrounding wood with swords of reddish steel that flashes and shines. When they are slain, their bodies seem to fade out of existence.
-A great blue-green flower that overhangs the path suddenly shoots out sticky tentacles.
-The heroes enter a large, tree-less water meadow, where the water glows softly silver in the darkling dusk.
-A large clearing, where four statues made of gold stand facing each other in the center.
-Men or women, clad in brilliantly colored clothing, walking between the trees and disappearing.
-A man’s deep voice singing loudly in the distance.
-Another silver-skinned being, standing at the top of a ridge of loam, silently watching. If the heroes draw weapons, it vanishes. If they approach, it stands still, watching them with blank silver eyes until they are within six feet, when it dashes away at inhuman speeds.
The heroes may encounter the silver-skinned beings several times through their journey.
After five days in the Strange Forest, following the River Wylding under the shadowy dusk, the heroes emerge from the wood, into a very large, open area, hemmed in by the foothills of the mountains, which now lie very close to them. The sky overhead shifts to a strange, blue-purple night, with the stars beginning to gleam out over the peaks.
Within the wold, there is a large round lake of a faintly purple color, with shores grown heavily with tall reeds and grasses. On the northern edge of the lake, highlighted above by a soaring peak, there is a great fortress, cyclopean in architecture. All of its windows are round, and without glass. There is a massive central gate, also round, with doors of silver-white wood. They lie open wide enough for the heroes to enter.
The King of the World
Within, the heroes enter into a vast central chamber. The vaulted ceiling soars above them, disappearing in shadow. The floor of the hall is lit by purple-flamed torches set in sconces on the mighty pillars of the hall.
Many stairs and passages exit the central hall, leading in maze-like ways through the fortress.
As the heroes wander through the lower level of the citadel, they may encounter these things:
-More silver-skinned beings, who pass by them as if they are not there. These beings are dressed in white tunics, and carry manifold objects; platters of food, goblets of wine, fine weapons, jewels, statuettes of strange monsters, blocks of uncarved stone, lenses of blue glass, chunks of rock crystal, bowls of quicksilver, and other strange things. They do not react to the heroes unless said heroes spill the objects from their hands or draw weapons, at which point they vanish.
-The heroes enter a chamber with a large circular table, set as if for a feast. All of the chairs, however, have been smashed to kindling.
-A chamber in which many casks of fine wine have been laid. If they tap one of the barrels, a silver-skinned being arrives with a carafe, which it fills, and then leaves.
-A chamber in which a there is a large, open field of sand. Two large statues of glittering black stone battle in the center wit h swords. One defeats the other, and dismembers it, leaving great chunks of stone upon the floor. Then, the victorious statue vanishes.
-A vast hall of mirrors. They are all normal, regular mirrors, except that, in some of them, a man can be seen standing just behind the hero. He is tall, thin, with a hawk nose and shaggy blonde hair, and wears a sarcastic grin. He is young, somewhat of the age of the Prince Espedar, and wears armor of a glittering red metal. He fits very well the description given of the Duke Sadestor.
-A sumptuous bedroom that would be fit for a king, save that all the mirrors have been shattered, and the bedsheets and hangings have been slashed to tatters. A sword marked with the name "Eslingam, Count of Sothalar Hill".
-A small garden, open to the starry sky, where grow many of the plants of the Strange Forest.
When the players have thoroughly explored the lower floor, they find themselves in a large circular chamber. In the center, there is a tall throne of gold and bluish-gray stone, and studded with jewels. Behind it, a stair ascends to unguessed levels.
Upon the throne there is a young man. He wears armor of glittering gold and blue metal, with a diamond in the breastplate. He has short brown hair, rather large ears, and thin beard. He clutches an unsheathed sword to his knees. Though the armor disguises his frame, his hands and face are emaciated. He is the Duke Aladar. His eyes, which would normally be a pale blue, are glazed and vacuous , and rimmed with dark as if he has not slept in days. His tongue lolls from his mouth, and as the heroes get near, they can hear that he is babbling softly and incoherently under his breath. If the heroes touch Aladar, he snarls, gasps, makes a strangled noise in his throat, and stutters out the words "E-e-espedar! Sadestor! Darkness!"
Then, he breathes in deeply, and a strange black smoke or fog seems to appear and fly into his throat.
Rising from the seat, he attacks the heroes viciously, wielding the sword he carries with a strength that belies his frail appearance. As he battles, he shouts out "I am the King of the World!"
When Aladar is defeated, he collapses to the ground, shivering, and with his last breath, tells the heroes:
"Save! Save! Eslingam!
The heroes find a tattered sheaf of papers lying on the steps at the back of the throne-chamber. It quickly becomes apparent that it is a journal, begun by the Prince Espedar.
"Day the First,
We have set out through the forest. My heart is lightened by the good weather. The sages at the castle predicted rain. We saw a shadow, watching us from afar, and Sadestor gave chase, but it vanished."
Day the Second,
We have found a ruined house in the midst of a lake. It was burned out. I wonder if it is not the house of one my ancestors of less civilized times?
Day the Fourth
We saw the watcher once again. This time, it stood in a sunny meadow, and glinted in the sunlight as if it wore glimmering armor. We bared weapons, and it vanished as before."
There seem to be a few missing pages and then -
"Day the Seventh,
We have entered a sorcerous forest today. The heat is sweltering, and the plants strange. Aladar fears that we have strayed into a Faerie-land. We see more and more of the strange watchers, who, it seems, have skin of metal!
Day the Eighth,
Sadestor received a wound from the sword of one of the silver men today. The dusk will not pass.
Day the Ninth,
We have arrived at a vale underneath the Great Peak. There are stars, but no moon, and the dawn seems long in coming. My heart misgives that this is some strange god’s domain, and that we are trespassing upon the lawn of his hall.
The fortress is strange and great. It is superior even to my palace at home.
When we entered, we were greeted by silverskins. We drew weapons, but they bowed low, and Eslingam laughed, making a jest of it, as he usually does of things of deep import.
Because they were acting like slaves, he commanded one of the silverskins to fetch him a goblet of wine. The metal thing leapt to it’s feet and rushed off, returning later with a silver goblet with a good vintage.
When we discovered this, we set them to work. They have made us new armor out of strange colorful metals and jewels. They led us to sumptuous bedrooms and feasts set as if in our honor.
I wish to tell my people back at home of this place. It will be the greatest fortress of our kingdom.
And yet, I still cannot banish this shadow of doubt which lies heavy upon my heart.
Day the Eleventh,
We have spent some days in this place, and I still cannot rid myself of the doubt.
I do not doubt that it would be a great addition to my kingdom, if we could clear away that strange forest, but this place makes me nervous.
Aladar, Sadestor, and Eslingam disagreed with me. They say we should keep it secret and rule it as masters. Sadestor, especially, seemed to want to stay here. He told me that he does not want to share the wealth of this place."
Abruptly, the handwriting changes from the fancy, curling lines of Espedar to a simple, shaky hand, with frequent misspellings.
"We slew him today. We were dininge in Aladars hall, or at least, the hall that Aladar chose as his. A discusin was going on between Espedar and Sadestor about wut shoud be done with teh fortres. Espedar still woud nott agree that we shoud keepe it to ourselfs.
Ther wus much argument, and then Sadestor and Espedar drew sords and were battuling. Aladar lept to his feet and then he showted "Wait! Wait!" but it was too layt.
We disided that we shoud keep it a secret. We put Espedar in a tyrscull and lonched him downrver, like a Heroâs Jurney.
Sadestor sed that the peple in Thalavor woud think that Espedar had dyd a hero and woudent search for us.
-Eslingam, Count of Sothalar Hill, King of the Sevnth West Hall"
The next page is written in bold, straight letters.
"I, Sadestor, Duke of Erlathspill, write these words.
It is amusing to see the whinings of Eslingam and the stupidities of Espedar. It is good that I have disposed of them both. They wished to take the castle from me! And Espedar, even worse, wished to give it to those Thalavorn fools! Well, we have gotten rid of him, and they will think he died on some gallant idiocy, as he was fond of.
I have Eslingam hidden away in the tower, and Aladar will be next. He thinks I don’t know it, but I have seen it in his eyes; he wants to take the fortress from me!
In secret, I have had the silverskins make me a key for the secret passages. The silverskins often use them, of course, though I don’t know why, when they can just vanish if they should like!
Soon I shall be the only king of the fortress!"
The last page is scrawled and messy, and what appears to be bloody fingerprints is upon the bottom edge.
"The black smoke trapped us in We couldnot escape it. That is I killed Espedar!
O Gods, where areyou in our time of need?"
If the heroes ascend to the towers, via the stair behind the throne, they find bizarre, bridged spires, crowded with statues, some realistic, some not, some whole, some broken. Purple-flamed torches that go out if touched light the dark portions. There are circular windows at irregular sections along the walls of the towers. There are thin, delicate bridges between the towers. Things the heroes may encounter in the towers are:
-More bedrooms. Some seem never to have been used, while others are all in disarray.
-Rooms crowded with pieces of statues, piled high with mannequins and caryatids.
-Small solariums with overgrown plants
-A chamber with weapons lining the walls.
-A room full of the silver beings, standing like statues. They do not react, and collapse into pieces when touched.
-An chamber absolutely empty, save for a single boulder.
At the top of the highest (northernmost) tower, the stairs come finally to the near top, where there are steps made not from the same colorful stones of the rest of the floor, but of some rough, jagged coral, dark gray in color, with veins of bright, bloody red. These steps are made from blood coral of a far away sea, that is deadly to the touch, burning away boot leather, cloth, and flesh, though metal merely tarnishes.
Beyond the steps, there is a locked chamber, with a door of simple wood.
Past the door, there is a tiny, empty cell, made of normal gray stone. Within, upon a pile of hay, there lies the Count Eslingam, wasted and pale, with a heavy growth of beard. His reddish-brown hair is tangled and dirty, and his blue armor is stained and tarnished. When the heroes enter, he howls like a man without his wits and crawls upon hands and knees towards the heroes. He speaks to them in a hoarse whisper:
"We only wished to live here for the rest of our days! We only - We only wished for life! Life! The black smoke! It has killed us! The black smoke! Get out while you still can!"
Then, like Aladar before him, he breaths in deeply, and draws some sort of spectral blackness into himself. Rising, he attacks the heroes with his hands, which are stiff and bony.
When he falls, he gasps out "We only wished! Wished!"
There seems to be nothing more for the heroes. They can stay or head for the exit of the fortress. Regardless, as they come to the main gates of the citadel, they see the Duke Sadestor. He is young, tall, thin, with a hawk nose and shaggy blonde hair, and wears a sardonic smirk. His armor is of a glittering red metal, and his sword is slightly curved, with a wicked serrated edge.
He greets them with a loud "Hail, friends!"
The conversation may go how the Game Master wishes. Sadestor is very intelligent and has an air of mocking about him, as if he were laughing at the heroes secretly. He is conniving, and attempts to convince the heroes to become his fellow kings in the fortress.
If the heroes agree, Sadestor slays them while they sleep.
If the heroes disagree, Sadestor suddenly becomes angry. A dangerous edge is taken to his voice, and his sly tricks gradually become threats. He blocks all attempts to leave. If the heroes push him far enough he attacks. He also attacks if they draw weapons on him, or if they attempt to charge through him to the door.
Battling the Black Smoke
Sadestor, though not as good a swordsman as Espedar, or as strong as Aladar, is quick and sly, and does not fight ‘by the rules’, as it were. He can easily battle three men at a time, and if he becomes overwhelmed, he summons silverskins to fight with him.
When Sadestor falls, it seems for a second that the adventure is over. Until, that is, Sadestor rises again, with a cloak of black haze as dark as a void about him. He speaks to the heroes in a deep, mocking voice that is not at all his own. He addresses them so:
"Mortals! It is not well for you do meddle in what you do not understand! I have given you a chance to reside here in the fortress! You have refused it!
The fool prince of Men and his cronies trespassed upon my domain, so I set them against each other, and they fell.
It seems that you are a less easily-manipulated few. No matter. I have power enough to destroy you!
Die, mortals, die!"
Sadestor and the Black Smoke attack. They are hideously strong, and the very touch of the Black Smoke causes the heroes strength to be drained. They also summon silverskins to fight alongside them. The Black Smoke can also carry Sadestor into the air, to battle the heroes from above.
When the Black Smoke is defeated, it releases a screech that shakes the fortress.
The Smoke bursts into lurid green flames, and, thusly, Sadestor as well. Both drop the ground and burn for a long time, slowly becoming a black, bubbling sludge that steams and smokes upon the floor, and releases a foul stench.
The Fortress Falls
With the death of the Black Smoke and Sadestor, the fortress groans and shakes, and begins to collapse. When the heroes exit, the cyclopean citadel collapses, taking much of the ground with it, creating a great crater into which the nearby lake flows partially as the heroes look on.
The rubble slowly fades away, and as it does, the strange twilight ends, and day suddenly arrives to the valley.
The coming of day heralds a change. The lake and meadow are returned to their former state, though of the fortress there is no sign. The Strange Forest is gone, replaced by a normal wood.
As day comes, the heroes are overwhelmed with exhaustion, and collapse to the grass, sleeping for an entire day.
When they awake, they find four tokens upon the grass near them: A sword marked "Eslingam, Duke of Sothalar Hill", a gauntlet with the seal of the Count Aladar, a ring with the signet of the Duke Sadestor, and a circlet of gold, made for a prince of Thalavor.