Something odd was going on in Britannia, people were being reported missing in several towns, no one knew anything.
The day following these reports Jaana appeared outside Empath Abbey in Yew. I recognised the name and decided to see if she knew anything. I opened a conversation with her by greeting her by name, “hello Jaana”.
“Hello! I’m glad you are here to help investigate the strange disappearances. People whe went into the forests around Britannia are now MISSING. I can ask about those lost from Yew, but if you could travel to MINOC, that would help.”
I asked her about the missing, she said.
“From Yew, it has been hunters and lumberjacks. Oh and one poet. They went into the forest and were never seen again. I’ve counted at least fifteen los. See if MINOC is the same. Ask about their MISSING.”
Minoc is a fair sized, hoping for more information I asked her “Minoc ?”
“The Matewan guild house is a good place to start. Julia once told me that all the town gossip went through there.”
“Hello! Welcome to Minoc! What brings you here? Do you want to buy ore from our miners or armor from our smiths? If so, the businesses in town are all open. Or is this about the MISSING people?
Well of course I told him I had come about the missing people. He said
“I’m glad the powerful people in Britain are taking this seriously. We’ve lost almost TWO DOZEN people who went into the Northern Forests and never returned. We’ve even sent out SEARCH parties.”
Two dozen? that’s more than are lost from Yew, and the information Jaana asked for, but before I returned to her with the information I asked about the search.
“Our town militia has organised search parties, but they found no trace. The forest is huge though. Maybe there’s a monster, but the trackers haven’t seen any such signs. Some think these people are being ABDUCTED”
Interesting. ‘Abducted’ I asked him.
“The tinker Merida lost her cousin Damon who was hunting near the trapper huts to the east. He should have returned weeks ago. She went looking for those RESPONSIBLE.”
I asked him who was responsible, but he merely said
“Merida hasn’t returned yet so you might want to go looking for her at the trapper huts. I hope she’s safe. You might also want to speak to the strange MONKS some people saw near the bridge to Vesper. Good luck”
I knew there was a need to return to Jaana with the information I had, but as the monk was quite nearby I decided a short detour wouldn’t hurt. He didn’t seem to have a name so I merely addressed him as ‘dark monk’.
“Hello. I don’t like to share my name with those I’ve just met. I’m waiting for the GUIDE to give me direction.”
hmm, what ‘guide’ is that I wonder?
“I am a monk of the guide. The guide leads us through life helping us avoid the pitfalls of our failed world to lead us to our reward. Only with the Guide’s direction will we not follow Ilshen’s folk into ruin.”
Well that didn’t get me very far, what about the missing?
“I know nothing about people being abducted.”
I never mentioned abducted, only missing. So what wasn’t he telling me?
“How do I know they have been abducted? I can’t get anything past you, can I, Pawn of the Prophecy? I will not tell you where I took them. The will be reborn in the Tree.”
Time to report back to Jaana, I decided, about the two dozen missing from Minoc.
“Two dozen people lost from Minoc? That is very worrying! I have had similar reports from Cove, Skara and Britain. This means over a hundred have been abducted from the northern forests in under a month. Who could be RESPONSIBLE?” she exclaimed
Well I didn’t know who’s responsible did I?
“See if anyone has any idea who could be abducting our people.” she instructed me
Who could I ask? Maybe Marida at the huts, if she was still there. I knew of another individual who likes to visit those huts, Zeefzorpul the imp, maybe a local rune library might help me to get there?
I was in luck, she was still there, as with the others I greeted her politely “hello Marida”.
*comes out of hiding* “You aren’t here to abduct me are you? Are those creepy MONKS gone?”
“No monks here” I told her.
“I travelled all this way from Minoc to find my cousin Damon. I couldn’t find a trace of him here, but I saw a search party from town AMBUSHED by monks in dark robes! There were Meer and Juka with them. I couldn’t help, so I hid.”
I asked her about the Juka, and then the Meer
“I recognised the Juka from their armor. Their smiths are worthy of respect. They were also taller than most soldiers I know, and sort of scaly.”
“I know Meer since some of them visit Minoc from time to time to buy gems and crystals. One of the Meer summoned a moongate that the captured people were dragged through “
“Ambushed ?” I prompted her
“The captured people were taken through a moongate. I don’t know where it went, but I bet they were the ones who took my cousin! Please find out where the Dark Monks went and rescue Damon if you can!”
Armed with this latest clue I voyaged to Ilshenar via Sacrifice moongate and made my way to Lakeshire where I found Dasha. In response to my greeting he told me
“Hello! I do not have time to speak with visitors today! I am needed in my role as HUNTER”
Naturally I asked him about his role as a hunter, he told me
“I am not hunting animals, but Meer mages who have broken their OATH. It is an important responsibility, and one I trained for much of my life.”
I needed more information about this oath, he said
“All Meer mages take and OATH to use their magic for our society and never steal from the Ethereal Void. We believe the missing mages left with the intention of breaking their oath. One had a book on the Dark GUIDE”
The Dark Monk had spoken of a Guide, did Dasha know more about it?
“The Dark Guide is a legend from the darkest moment of our history. She was a powerful mage who taught the Meer how to tear open reality and steal the Void’s power. She almost destroyed us! Some have tried to follow her LEGACY.”
I asked him about this legacy
“Our scouts have given us reports of the strange MONKS and some Meer gathering at the former site of the Juka fortress and preparing for a dark ritual. We must stop them!”
My next stop was in Mistas, where I found Shirron Argahrok
“Hello. As you come with open hands in truce, I will talk to you. What brings you to speak with the JUKA?”
I needed to know more, so I asked him about the Juka
“The Juka who follow the Way and my leadership are not currently at war with humanity or its allies. We even have an uneasy peace with the Meer. We remain strong without the need of assistance even if a few have gone MISSING.”
They have people missing too! I told him of the people missing from our forests.
“You say that some humans have also gone missing? Taken by a strange alliance of Meer and Juka? To abandon Juka Honor and join with the First Enemy in such treachery, these are great CRIMES.”
I agreed these are crimes! He had more to say
“Because you have brought this to me, I will trust you with what I know, as we may have a common enemy. Some of those missing were zealots of the first WAYMASTER, and there are reports of them on the plain of JAMARK.”
Where is the plain of Jamark? And who was this Waymaster?
“I forget Humans have their own names. The plain of Jamark is where the Juka first settled and had our great fortress. That fortress was stolen by Exodus, and we came here. Still some revere the place we last fought the Meer”
“The Waymaster helped the Juka people learn the Ways of Honor in the first age. He died in battle and joined the Great Moter, but the keeners still sing of his life. Some believe he will RETURN someday”
I wasn’t sure about this Waymaster’s return
“Perhaps, our greatest hero will be reborn when the Great Mother chooses, but to lie about such things while abducting people is a grave insult to the Juka! You have a place in the Halls of Honor if you bring justice to the heretics.”
Thanks! I think. I made my way to this Plain of Jamark. What I found didn’t look good.
There were three Dark Monks standing around a sinister tree, one human, one Meer and one Juka. I spoke to the human first, Ciran.
“We are the Dark MONKS. We protect the important work being done here and stand against the Pawns of Prophecy!”
Maybe I can finally get some information about these monks
“We are in a time of stagnation, and it will bring our doom! The GUIDE has led us to the TREE of Strife so it may save us from destruction.”
Tree of Strife? The guide has been mentioned before, so I started by asking about him.
“The Guide has chosen the devoted from all the peoples of Ilshenar; Meer, Juka and human. If only the gargoyles had not fled they would not be destroyed in the war to come. They are now but lost PAWNS.”
Pawns? What about the Tree?
“The Tree of Stife is the key to everything. Can you not see that, PAWN? If we feed it enough blood, the tree will bloom! Then something amazing will hapen. Rel and Ord will fight again, with the unworthy consumed in holy strife!”
The gargoyles are pawns? I am a pawn. I asked further
“Do not be a pawn of stagnation! Join us and help the Tree of Stife to bloom!”
That didn’t sound good, I moved on to the Meer Dark Monk, Kavath, he greeted me cordially enough.
“Welcome! Do you wish to join the Dark MONKS?”
Hoping his information on the monks would be more positive, I asked.
“The Dark Monks wish to fix the stagnation of the world, to break the false balance. Will you join our great cause? A new age dawns! The GUIDE has been reborn! The Matriachs tried to hold back her power, but no longer.”
The guide again. Would he tell me something more positive?
“The Guide is the greatest Meer mage, lost since the earliest generations of my people. She understands true MAGIC! This is a rebirth of glory, a restoration of power”
I asked about the magic
“At the height of our civilisation, our magic was so in tune with the world, we could afford restraint, but in this age of lesser beings the old oaths mean we beg for a glimmer of our former power. No more the TREE is our only hope!”
That sinister tree again, what would he tell me about it?
“The Tree blooms on a nexus of great mystical power! it is also the location of the greatest conflict between Meer and Juka! Our great forest will be reborn! The Tree of Strife knows blood and pain, for never again will the Meer be weak!”
There seems to be some disagreement there. I moved on to the Juka Monk, Serkan, he was rather less welcoming.
“Are you friend or foe to the Dark MONKS? A friend will join our great cause; a foe will bleed for the TREE! Nevermind, I can see from your demeaner that you’re a foe!”
His explanation of the Monk’s purpose was different from either of the other two
“We Dark Monks serve the first WAYMASTER for the greatest Juka warrior as returned in our darkest hour! It is time to start the final war with the ENEMY”
The Waymaster was mentioned by Shirron Argahrok, what would Serkan tell me of him?
“The First Waymaster is our greatest champion, who even the Meer feared! He was taken from us by the First Enemy, but now he has led us to the TREE!”
Back to that tree! But what of the enemy?
“The Juka and the Meer were enemies long before humanity or the gargoyles had a language! That endless struggle tempered by the Juka people like steel. Now we rust away in this forced peace! The TREE changes this foul fate!”
Finally, I had to ask him for his version of the purpose of the tree.
“The Meer still hide behind their human allies, but the First Waymaster will use the Tree of Strife to start the final war! Glory returns to the Juka! As the Way demands blood and hardship from a warrior, the Tree demands it as well.”
Moving past these deluded beings, whose beliefs were at cross purposes, I found their prisoners, among them Marida’s cousin Damon. I stopped to speak to him
“Help me! Don’t let them hurt me anymore! I have bled enough for the TREE!”
Back to the tree, perhaps Damon would have some answers.
“The MONKS bleed us to feed the Tree of Strife. Some they just kill, but others they keep to slowly bleed for the horrible rituals.”
I asked him about the monks
“I think the Monks are crazy, but they also seem to be following slightly different stories about who or what the Guide is. Either way I don’t want to be anywhere near here when that tree blooms! HELP!”
I agreed with his judgement, the monks were crazy and confused. I promised him to bring help.
“Thank you! I wish I could join in the battle, but I am too weak to fight. I shall stay here and gain my strength.”
Fight? oh yes, fight. Large quantities of savages surround an altar close to their village, I must bring a force, for stronger foes are bound to follow and it is just possible we might meet up with this Guide they’re so interested in.