|The Eye of Eternity|
If I had known how this journey was going to end, this early into its beginning, I would have reserved some time along it to laugh. — The Professor
The Inner Sea: Birch
No plan ever survives contact with the enemy. Izah failed to realize that not just this once, but eventually twice.
On the storm-wracked Inner Sea, Izah's flagship Infernis was tossed on turbulent waves. Having been remanded to a cage in the cargo deck along with all of the other slaves taken from his homeland, Birch found himself waking from a drug-induced sleep to the sound of a storm on the ocean. Confined in secret in the cargo hold while the Aspis Consortium fleet passes through waters where slave-trade is not permitted, the survivors of the Arcadian slave-trade were all slumbering, save for Birch.
Freeing himself from his cage, Birch made his way above deck after hearing lightning strike the mast and panic begin to spread among the crew. Fire was spreading over the ship, which was at the mercy of not only powerful winds and lightning, but also a blinding sleet storm that obscured visibility to the two other ships.
Izah commanded his crew to put the fires out, but a sudden explosion in the captain's quarters demanded his attention. Birch was quick to follow Izah, watching from afar as the Efreeti noble confronted a mysterious figure in a dark cloak concealing his identity with a golden owl mask.
Their confrontation was brief, though there seemed to be some recognition between Izah and the silent, masked figure. It was made immediately apparent to Birch that the intruder was after Izah's original copy of the book he had liberated from Arcadia. Unfortunately, Izah's conjured flames proved to offer no injury to the attacker, who retorted with a simple gesture to the sky, followed by another series of lightning strikes on the ship. Moments later, the Infernis seemed to split down the middle and pitch backwards and forwards into the water.
Izah was quickly thrown into the icy waters, while Birch was able to remain on the vessel for a brief time before succumbing to the waves as well.
Following the sinking of the Infernis, a slave held on one of the other Aspis Consortium vessels took his first footsteps onto the shore as a free man. Seriphos was liberated by the Eagle Knights who had boarded and searched the consortium's first two vessels. The leader of the liberation, an Eagle Knight of the Steel Falcons named Aldrin Delacroix, offered to shelter Seriphos and the other liberated slaves at a converted lodge of Erastril that had gone untended for two years since the death of its caretaker.
Here, Seriphos was introduced to other freed slaves and a kindly oracle of Sarenrae, Kisaf Golren. Not long after his arrival a young member of the Eagle Knights — Jared Westin — arrived to seek aid in arranging for a search party to recover survivors of the third ship that had sank off of the Andoran coast. Seriphos volunteered for the mission, putting his newly free life in immediate peril.
On the same day as the shipwreck "Nuvo", a young streetwise boy, awoke from a recurring dream in the home of Balgus Gelder, a part-time blacksmith and laborer at the Silver Line Rail station. Balgus had been allowing the boy to stay in his loft on the days he worked the rail's early morning shift instead of having to trek across the city in the winter snow. Balgus and Nuvo spoke briefly before heading out to the rail station. There, Balgus and Nuvo waited with other workers for their shift to begin.
However, before that time came, a runner arrived from the city — the Eagle Knight, Westin — to seek assistance in the formation of a rescue party. Nuvo was sent off to find the railyard foreman in his office to allow the Eagle Knight passage into the work area to talk with the laborers. While Nuvo was there, he spied on paperwork the foreman had near him, detailing the purchase of 150 clockwork automaton laborers to replace the line workers.
Nuvo was quick to volunteer for the rescue mission, alongside Balgus, realizing that he may not have a job to return to and that this opportunity could present itself with some form of reward. The pair joined Westin in his carriage and rode off to the meeting place at the Lodge of Erastil.
The Andoran Coast: Birch
Awakening in a cold, icy cave somewhere on the shores of Almas, Birch soon discovered that he had been spared from death. Somehow dragged into the cave and from certain death in the frozen waters, the gnome was thankful for this second lease on life and, apparently, freedom.
After a cursory search of the cave — an abandoned mine and former smuggler's den — Birch was able to recover abandoned coal and dry wood to make a fire for himself to stave off hypothermia. Soon, however, he would discover that he was not alone here on the beach.
Tossed on a rocky beach along with the driftwood, Izah was also present. Scouting the shore beyond the cave, Birch found Izah amidst boiling waters heated by his fiery body. The Efreeti was badly wounded  and unconscious, and despite being Birch's captor for months, the gnome sought to save Izah's life. Building a fire out of driftwood from the wreckage over Izah's unconscious form, Birch hoped to both create a large signal fire and also keep himself and his unlikely companion from freezing to death.
The Lodge of Erastril, Almas: Seriphos and Nuvo
Meeting for the first time at the lodge of Erastril, Seriphos felt as though there was a familiar presence about the young boy "Nuvo" who was among the volunteers. Dismissing the curiosity, Seriphos, Balgus, Nuvo and Westin prepared a plan to organize a search party along with three members of the Almas city watch. Their plan would be to head west from Almas, though Smithtown, and out to the coast in search of more debris from the ship and possible survivors.
Seriphos was nominated as one of the party's trackers, due to his experience and training under the Hellknights stationed in Alkenstar. With the division of responsibilities set up, the search party headed out on their search.
The Andoran Coast: Birch, Seriphos and Nuvo
At the cave, Birch had utilized his summoning ability to catch sea birds and prepare them over the roaring fire that Izah was at the heart of. Soon, though, he began to hear troubling sounds in the distance. The yipping whoops of Kobolds stalking the snowfields outside of Almas were slowly approaching.
The search party drew in across the snowfield, they too hearing the sounds of distant Kobold calls growing louder as they approached the glow of a far-off signal fire. Soon enough, Birch was seeing eyes glowing in the darkness of the pre-dawn morning, light-sensitive eyes reflecting the glow of the signal fire, peering down from the cliffs overlooking the beach and cave.
The rescue-party split up into three units: Seriphos and Westin approached from one direction, while the city guard came from another, finally Nuvo and Balgus circled around to form a pincer on the kobolds.
As two of the Kobolds clamored down the rocks to get a better view of Birch and the food he was preparing, the search party closed in on the cave, spotting the kobolds at their perches at the cliff edges. While attempting to act in a diplomatic fashion to the kobolds he shared no common tongue with, Birch would be spotted by the rescue-party, who mistook the hunger and fear of the kobolds for aggression, and attempted to "rescue" the gnome.
Westin's brash attack resulted in the death of one kobold, but also in Westin becoming snared in a kobold leg-trap  buried in the snow, one originally intended to snare any fleeing prey from the cave. Incapacitated, Westin was unable to assist Seriphos further with the rescue, and his survival was up to others now.
Across the divide of the cliffs, Nuvo and Balgus noticed the emaciated and weary condition of the kobolds; whip lashings, scars and signs of abuse were all over their tiny forms, leading Nuvo to hesitate on attacking and urge Balgus to do the same. The city guards did not notice these features when they struck at a lone kobold at the destination they had arrived in on the cliffs. One member of the city watch, much like Westin, became ensnared in one of the kobolds' leg traps, but not before the offending creature was slain by the others.
As Birch attempted to make peace with the Kobolds who had climbed down and an unfortunate conflict of misunderstandings was happening, Seriphos began trying languages he knew to open communication with the creatures, eventually trying draconic and reaching an understanding with them.
Laying down his mace and easing away from his aggressive stance, Seriphos spoke with the kobolds and discerned that they too had been slaves, and that they were enslaved by a cruel woman who ordered a barghest to rule over their tribe after she enslaved them. Some were sold to Izah and the Aspis Consortium, much as Seriphos had been.
Just as Seriphos learned this fact, he picked up a strange sound on the winds. Howling in a foreign language, a distant voice echoing through the snow. The others all soon heard it as well, but only Balgus recognized the words as the giant tongue. Only moments later did a ravenous ice troll wielding an uprooted tree as a makeshift club come running towards where Balgus, Nuvo and a kobold were.
Moving to defend Nuvo, Balgus took a powerful blow from the clearly injured troll. The strike hit so hard that he was flung thirty feet down off of the cliff to the rocky beach below, miraculously surviving the fall. Immediately following that blow, one of the kobolds propelled himself down the cliff with a scrambling quickness, while Nuvo hastily skidded and leapt down the steep slope Balgus had been flung from.
The troll was undeterred, however, and as Birch began to wrangle the kobolds into the cave for protection it leapt down to follow its prey. Undeterred by the presence of fire in boastful show of aggression alone, the troll was soon set upon by Nuvo, who made the unfortunate decision of getting in to the creature's reach, finding herself struck by the same tree-club that nearly felled Balgus.
Remarkably, the young boy not only survived the hit, but managed to keep his footing as well. His impromptu attack with a lit canister of lamp oil, however, missed. Seriphos had witnessed this attack from where he had scaled down the cliff, and in the aftermath of the giant's attack, he saw something in Nuvo's beaten posture and bruised countenance — familiarity.
The young boy was no boy at all, but a spitting image of the woman he had lost in the mana-wastes an untold number of years ago. At the time, Seriphos was so blinded by the similarities that he did not notice the inconsistencies in age and subtle differences in appearance. Instead, he found himself rushing to her aid as fast as possible.
In that instant, Seriphos felt a strange surge thorugh the alchemical tattoos in his flesh and the odd marking at the center of his chest. In an instant, he found himself converted into a living bolt of lightning, blasting through the troll and emerging out on the other side unharmed and crackling with electricity. The blow struck the troll down on the spot, though it had already begun to regenerate.
Quick to react, the group was able to pile burning timbers from Izah onto the troll to smother it in flames. The kobolds were secured in the cave, and the injured were tended to and freed from the traps that had held them out of the fight.
In the aftermath, Seriphos attempted to tend to Nuvo's injuries, mistaking her for the woman from his past. The mistake made Nuvo uncomfortable, especially as it threatened to break his disguised gender. Balgus, seemingly ambivalent to the secret, was uncomfortable with Seriphos' attention to Nuvo, and watched him intently.
In conversation, Birch and Seriphos would confer on their discoveries of owl-masked figures in their recent histories. A fact that Balgus would chime in on, pointing out that advisors in the inner-circle of Razmiran's faith wear golden owl masks as signification of great wisdom. That these figures were active in Andoran brought great discomfort to Balgus for yet unknown reasons.
Meanwhile, Birch attended to the needs of the kobolds and his "rescuers" before Izah would awaken from unconsciousness. While injured, Westin made an attempt to inform Izah that he was under arrest for transport of slaves in Andoran waters, but the cunning Efreeti would not be detained. He promptly disappeared through the use of what would later be identified as a plane shift spell-like ability.
In the end, Birch would accompany the others back to the city while the kobolds were temporarily left behind to take up residence in the cave, with Birch promising to return and assist them in learning hunting and gathering techniques for coastal waters.
The Lodge of Erastril: Almas
The injured search party returned to the Lodge of Erastril to report their success and mend their wounds. The oracle of Sarenrae, Golren, would tend to their injuries. Soon after Westin would depart to report back to Delacroix on his success and relay knowledge of what transpired.
In private, Seriphos would have a confidential conversation with Golren regarding the unusual mark at the center of his chest. In his wisdom, Golren proclaimed to never have seen the mark before, but noted that the goddess Pharasma's holy symbol is a spiral, which is part of the overall design of the unusual glyph.
Some time later, Delacroix and Knight-Marshall Reinn would arrive at the lodge. Reinn very matter-of-factly assessed the situation and explained that the kobolds would be given temporary rights of residence at the unoccupied mine until the town council could more effectively rule on the matter. Birch spoke up to be an advocate for the kobolds, and volunteered to do so in the city council whenever the discussion would be heard.
When Marshall Reinn recommended that Nuvo not waste her talents and strength as a laborer but serve in the city watch, she revealed to the Marshall that she was in fact a young woman — not a boy — a deceit that Birch found notably amusing. Reinn nevertheless recommended Nuvo to the watch, an offer that the young girl accepted after revealing to Balgus that many of the laborers at the railyard would soon be replaced by automatons.
Seriphos was recommended by Reinn to join the Eagle Knights as a trainee, having recognized his skill for both martial prowess and diplomacy. Furthermore, Reinn seemed to have a deep curiosity about the intuitive use of a foreign magic that Seriphos unknowingly commanded. She wished to train him and help him harness that potential to greater effect.
Lastly Birch was freed from his cold-iron restraints that he had been imprisoned in since before meeting Izah, ones that had been preventing him from actively summoning his Eidolon. While he requested no boon from Reinn, Birch was still given a tent and permission to seek shelter at the temple of Gozreh in Almas, a suitably "natural" setting for the gnome who shirked the steel and iron of Almas' industrial nature.
Satisfied with what had happened, Knight-Marshall Reinn informed the group that Andoran would now be honoring a bounty begun in far-off Razmiran for the retrieval of Lord Izah, alive or dead, at 170,000 gold should they ever catch the dangerous Efreeti slaver.
Balgus, quietly dismissive of Reinn, simply stated that he had little intention of sticking around Almas much longer. As soon as he finished some business in the city, he intended to depart for Razmiran to research the activities of the men in the golden owl masks.
There they were, all together, heroic in their own right. But, not yet in the eyes of the Andoran people. That would all soon change, and it would be the fame that they would gather from deeds yet to be that would draw me into their lives. This struggle made them brave, but the Demon of Almas would make them heroes. — The Professor.
|Previously||The Journey of a Thousand Miles|
|Continued In||Finding Footing|