The world promised to burn at the touch of the Ancient Ones, terrible entities that rose from the afterbirth of creation. The only hope was to find the five Holy Stones and return them to the now lost First Temple. For nearly a year, fellowships from the Guild of Adventurers-Upon-Return scoured the land seeking the relics, and the location of the First Temple. The Draggenschneckt Fellowship discovered the Holy Stone Fira lost in a great dungeon under a nameless peak in a range of forlorn and broken mountains. The Fellowship of the Swarding Green ventured deeply into the Limberlost to recover the Holy Stone Verda. Likewise other fellowships found the Holy Stones Tera and Aqua, but the fifth stone, the stone of air remained lost, and there was no luck in finding the First Temple. It was Mialee, our elfin sorceress who mentioned the name Mugwort. The sage was known to travel the breadth of the world, barefoot and unarmed, and might know the answers to our questions. We sent missives to the chapterhouses of the guild across the continent, and there was a single response. The Sage Mugwort 'might' be found in a rural residence on the edge of the Gothmore plains, where in ages past, armies of elves and demons made war with each other, and at night, ghosts from the battles still wandered the land.
It was with great haste that we booked passage across the Swirling Sea, picking the most daring captain, and the fastest ship we could. The passage was an adventure of it's own, but one for another time.
It was enough that we made it to the unfriendly shores of Harangbad, within sight of the City of Black Towers, that foul fortress of necromancers, diabolists, and blood magicians.
The Sage Mugwort
The trek from Harangbad north along the coast was dismal and dangerous. More than once we were accosted by the queer folk who live along those shores, with their pointed teeth and strange ways. Some sought to kill us for their cook pots, others to recruit us to their dark faiths, and others were just desirous of the sport of blood and killing. We made passable time, and demonstrated the fearsomeness of our blades and the sternness of our armor. Clearing the rocky coastal lands we were finally able to turn inland, and sought out the Zhorhan river, whose banks have been washed many times in blood. The river was wide, and it's waters muddy and deceptive. Passage across was hard gained, but gained none the less.
A month and a half after leaving Lion's Gate, we crossed into the Plains of Gothmore, and through spell and sword, searched for the lair of the Sage Mugwort. The plain is not entirely empty, there are many small communities strong along the river, and through the low rolling hills. It was in one of these villages that our search came to its fruition. We found the sage dwelling in the Village of Zhidyahar-on-Zhorhan. We braced ourselves, expecting the sage to be venerable and bent with age, mysterious and as dangerous as the denizens we had met along the path. We had made bets, that the sage was a venerable ogre, as some stories would have us believe. Others made bets that the sage was a myth and this was fools errand, or that the sage was a herald of a dark and terrible force such as an elder dragon, or the hierophant of a dead god's cult.
We were all quite wrong.
To my great surprise, the Sage Mugwort was neither crippled by age, nor monstrous is appearance. The conflicting tales had lead us to expect something foul and insular, and we found a round faced woman with a head of lustrous silver hair and the joy only experienced by children, the mad, and simpletons. Her name, by birth, was Artimesia, the apothecarist name for the common mugwort plant. Her blood was mingled, an elfin mother, and an elemental being father. She walked barefoot and was fond of singing, and anyone with a musician instrument could induce her to dance a merry jig.
It took some effort to convince her of the seriousness of our quest, or the direness of our plight, and the weight that we bore on our shoulders. If we, the Fellowship of Evil's Bane, should fail, then all was lost. She claimed we were dour and overly serious, and that while the Ancient Ones did pose a threat, they were no more capable of destroying the world than they were capable of creating it.
She chided up, and then greatly embarrassed us.
She told us that the Holy Stone of Air was still where it had been for generations, in the diadem worn by the Crown Princess of Lionguard. The stone had never been lost, it had only become one of the crown jewels of the royal family. The fact that there had not been a crown princess of Lionguard in three generations was of no consequence.
She told us that the First Temple was located at Land's End, and that men were foolish and couldn't tell first from last, because in the most ancient of writings and stories Land's End was known as the First Shore.
She told me how to accept the death of my kinsmen, and the members of the Fellowship of Evil's Bane that had fallen under my watch. I wept.
She spoke to our sorcerer, and her eyes opened to new lights, and I think she forgave herself for the things she did under the spell of the King of Blood's spells.
She spoke to our ranger, and they hugged and wept, and then we learned that she had once been with child, and had kept it's loss a secret from us all.
We Were Broken
By the time we had reached the tiny village on the banks of the river, we were broken. Our bodies and weapons were still firm, but our spirits were depleted, our morale broken, and our resolve diminished greatly. She seemed earthy and without guile, her words were simple and direct. The sage's manner was that of a frank young woman, despite the great wisdom behind her expression. Answering a question with a sword makes all answers blood, she told me, and I knew that I had failed, because she had seen through me. Far too often I had made the answer to any challenge or problem my sword Styangvor. Enchanted steel had replaced reason. Half of the battles fought along the coast of the Swirling Sea could have easily been avoided with diplomatic words. I was weary from killing, and had forgotten there were other answers.
Each of the rest of our fellowship experienced similar revelations, with equally powerful outcomes. We had grown strong, we fought well together, but in many ways we had become our own worst enemies.
We stayed a week in the village. The humble sage taught us the lessons that success had stripped away from us, and the lessons were painful, but we were quick students.
When the time for payment came, we were shocked. The gold we had carried such a distance was meaningless to her. She lived a quiet humble life, and what the village and her own basic skill could not provide, her deep and powerful magic was more than capable of providing. Her payment was much more expensive than gold. From us, she took a binding promise, the acceptance of two seperate geases, the surrender of a half translated grimoire, and my sword.
The trip back to Lionguard was quick. The longships of Blackwater tribes cut through the Swirling Sea with ease, and token offerings of dried fish and gold coin made our passage to their harbors easy. Upon returning to Lionguard, we recovered the Holy Stone of Air, and made quick our trip to Land's End. We had sent message ahead, and two other Fellowships had found and cleared the First Temple ahead of us, and had already brought the other Holy Stones.
Our departure from Lionguard was tumultuous. War was upon the land. Some of the keepers of the Holy Stones had not been keen to have them taken. The other Fellowships had made our great mistake, answering questions with swords and spears, arrows and arcane fire.
The Summit of the First Temple
Armies were amassing, across the land, ready to wage great and terrible war. Each of the Holy Stones was a relic, given to the safekeeping of a different ground. In our foolhardiness, we had stolen them, we had killed many, the Guild of Adventurers-Upon-Return had acted unknowningly as the pawns of the Ancient Ones. Even with the Holy Stones and the First Temple, they were closer than ever to smashing through creation and burning our world to ashes. With great alacrity I sought to bring leaders of the armies together, to reveal what I had learned from Mugwort, the secrets the sage had revealed.
For many years I had been an imposter. My deeds were more the work of magic and well paid minstrels. The Fellowship of Evil's Bane was a very well armed, well funded, and savvy group of entertainers. Our victories were trumped up, our losses buried, and the deeds of our hands were as often bought. It would seem that this was going to be the tipping point, showing an empty hand to a hostile table. The King of the Elves bore my sword, and returned it to me, a gift from Artemesia, and now from him to me. The Lord of the Leaves, the King of the World Tree, swore to support the Fellowship of Evil's Bane, and would fight the Ancient Ones, and only once the danger was gone, would he return the Holy Stone Verda to the Limberlost. Seeing the frequently arrogant and hostile elves siding with Lionguard, one by one, the other keepers of Holy Stones agreed to end the threat of war and show solidarity within the First Temple.
The Fellowship of Evil's Bane barely survived the scourge of the Ancient Ones and the First Temple. After that evening, I retired from leading the Fellowship, and expected to the censured or exiled entirely from the Guild. I had divested secrets, I had exposed the entire guild to mockery, and might have even brought the world to ruin through my own hubris. I was ready for whatever punishment they deemed befitting.
After revealing myself as a fraud, the fools made me a guildmaster. They spoke praises, and that as a con-man, that other con-men in the ranks wouldn't be able to fool me. Prince Haranen of Lionguard had been a close companion for more than one campaign, and had been instrumental in getting the King to hand over the Holy Stone of Air. He revealed his own terrible secret to me after my appointment as guildmaster. Since months after birth, Prince Haranen had concealed a deep and personal truth, that he was in fact, a she. The kingdom had needed a strong heir for the King, to secure succession of the throne and to keep peace among the nobles. Having fought side by side more than once with and for the Prince, this was deeply shocking and surprising.
After my admission, Haranen felt comfortable and secure enough to make her own admission.
After lying to the world, after deceiving my own guild, after almost destroying the world, a Princess who hid her entire existence her entire life asked me to be her husband.
Mugwort told me that the Crown Prince of Lionguard who profess his love for me, and ask for my hand, and that I would say yes.
Why did I doubt her?