A weary sun slinks low across the evening sky.
A trade caravan is parked outside the weathered stone walls of a keep situated at the edge of a wide valley, its members bustling to and fro making checks and preparations for their journey ahead. The caravan master steps into the small chapel within the keep to seek blessings for the roads and tracks to come.
This is Hope’s Last Light Chapel, dedicated to the Unbowed Sun, the Light and Warmth, the bright deity Iora. The paladins of Iora form the humble garrison of the keep which watches over the gloomy greenery of the Valley of Saidn. Within the chapel, clerics provide blessings and succour to the occasional travellers that stay the night on their way to or from the nearby town of Daban.
Across the valley, past the imposing peaks of the Sudta mountains, lie the ruins of the Old Kingdom. The name of the Old Kingdom has been banished from the record books, but the tales of the downfall and exodus still persist. Farther east in the glorious empire, these tales are half-forgotten memories, folk tales told with a knowing wink to young children to warn them of the dangers of hubris or straying too far from home. Here in the borderlands, these tales are shared like a secret – the hardy folk who live – nay, survive here know that while people may have forgotten the Old Kingdom, the Old Kingdom has not forgotten them.
Although many travellers go out of their way to avoid being close to the borders of the Old Kingdom, some still make their way to the chapel as part of a pilgrimage, or trusting in the blessings of Iora to keep them safe over mere physical distance.
Five such travellers have joined the caravan at Hope’s Last Light this evening.
Sadie Bones, a half-elf cleric looking for answers beyond the strictures and dogma of her commune, accompanied by her dog Lucky.
Felix Undertow, a genasi fighter expanding his horizons outside the only life he’s known.
Thorin Lumberback, a dwarf druid endeavouring to show nature’s way in an increasingly industrialized world.
Rel Varsin, a tiefling alchemist on the run from past persecutions and bonds.
Nikra, a drow warlock emerging from the shade of a lonely hermitage to see the wider world beyond.
Sadie and Nikra take up the offer of slightly warmer beds within the barracks, on loan from their regular tenants who have embarked on duties outside the keep. Felix and Thorin make camp outside not far from the caravan, while Rel stakes out her spot within the branches of a stout old tree.
As the sun sets, the travellers each make their way to the caravans to see what barter can be made for provisions or food. The caravan master, a tall dwarf named Kalen, variously offers them a seat at their evening meal in exchange for handcrafted leather goods, honest labour, and a song to lift everyone’s spirits. While Felix and Thorin offer their help with securing the loads and preparing the food, Rel climbs up onto another nearby tree and starts tuning her lute. A young elf takes up a familiar tune on his flute as the other workers whistle and sing along. As he catches Rel’s eye, they attempt to play together in harmony; and though Rel’s unfamiliarity with the tune leads to a less-than-regular beat, their audience is charmed nonetheless.
Having traded some of her leather handiwork for some food, Sadie re-enters the chapel to meet with the head cleric. She steps into the chapel just as the gathered supplicants are finishing their evening rituals, led by a tan human lady in a light blue tunic emblazoned with a golden sun. At the end of the service, she introduces herself as head cleric Pili rai Tuhar of Hope’s Last Light. Another lady, whose looks resemble Pili’s and who has been standing behind her throughout the service, excuses herself to consult with her lieutenants in the hallway. Sadie converses with Pili on the subject of faith, but does not get any answers to her doubts. The past few months have been distressing, with many unanswered prayers and news of strange tragedies befalling many sites blessed by the gods. While the gods have had periods of quiet before, no one remembers the last time the gods have stayed silent for this long. On the way out, Sadie overhears Commander Kukka rai Tuhar and her paladins discussing a person named Gren and whether they should check up on him.
Re-joining the festivities outside, Sadie attempts to strike up a conversation with Kalen, but is waylaid by his quartermaster to discuss leatherworking techniques. Nikra and his invisible servant lurk among the edges of the caravan, furtively secreting scraps of food for his current and likely future meal. A small crowd gathers around the low table where Felix is taking on the supposed best dragonchess player in the caravan. While she boasts about her prowess, Felix realises she has made a critical error in her opening moves and capitalizes on that to swiftly defeat her. However, she takes her defeat in stride while her friends in the caravan tease her.
The sun sinks behind the lofty peaks, and the members of the caravan start packing the makeshift tables and leftover food away. Thorin subtly stashes away a few extra pieces of fruit and bread as the remains of dinner are being cleared away, though it doesn’t seem like they will be sorely missed. Small specks of light flare up in the distance as the torches along the wooden perimeter wall are lit, and farther still lies the dim glow of Daban. A few senior members of the caravan stay by the dying campfire to finalise their plans for the next day’s travel as the guests slowly trickle away to their own lodgings.
Suddenly, a bright orange flare scars the inky blackness of the starless sky.
Nikra’s superior night vision allows him to spy a lone figure running towards the keep. Alarm bells ring throughout the keep, in response to the signal from the outer walls. A pair of attendants rush out into the field to urge the caravan and the travellers to seek refuge within the sturdier stone walls. A red-scaled dragonborn paladin clad in dull bronze splint armour and wrapped in orange sashes appears to be organizing the defense of the front gate and figures appear up along the stone walls as more torches are lit and bows are strung. Felix runs into the keep and up onto the walls where he joins the paladins there with his own bow. Sadie helps the attendants usher in some of the caravan members into the keep, while Kalen organizes his remaining guards to protect the merchandise.
The running figure doesn’t quite make it to the keep. Several metres out, they stumble and fall with a gasp. They are not alone. The ground around them seems to roil with unnatural bulges that reveal themselves in the light to be misshapen grey-fleshed creatures. They stream in from the darkness, surrounding the caravan and heading toward the keep. The caravan guards do their best to contain their revulsion as they attempt to ward off the creatures. The archers along the walls provide covering fire and Felix manages to strike one of the creatures before it can maim one of the guards. Thorin lunges into action to follow up on Felix’s hit and strikes a mighty blow with the massive branch that he wields as a weapon. To his disgust, he witnesses firsthand the unnatural shifting of flesh that allows these creatures mobility. Seeing Thorin wade into the fray, Felix ties off a rope to the battlements and swings down acrobatically to join his friend.
Sadie and Rel join the paladins at the gate and prepare to weather the attack there, while Nikra takes his stand somewhere between the caravan and the gate, using his icy spells to slow the creatures down. Sadie goes into the temporary command post in the chapel to inform Pili and Kukka about the attack on the caravan and gate, and learns there that the beings attacking them are lemures – malevolent spirits manipulating animate flesh that never truly die unless killed with blessed weapons. The lemures are known to inhabit the nearby forest, but they are perplexed by their numbers and brazenness in attacking the keep as the wards they maintain should keep them away. At the gate, several lemures begin their attack. Rel helps the paladins to fend them off and manages to keep Lucky away from harm, but is suddenly attacked by a strange force. In the flickering torchlight, the shadows appear to dance with a life of their own and Rel is filled with dread at the sight.
A long night lies ahead.