|The Eye of Eternity|
|The Journey of a Thousand Miles|
A good story always has a good narrator. They set the scene, they place the characters, and if you're lucky they're a reliable one. Maybe I'm not the most reliable narrator, but I was there from the beginning — or close enough to — that I can tell this story. Maybe it didn't happen exactly as I'll tell it, but it'll be more interesting this way, more palatable. — The Professor
The Mana Wastes
In a time uncertain, the story opened with the flight of Seriphos from his "homeland" of Alkenstar in the mana-wastes. A slave liberated from his master by a choice that seemed to make him hunted, Seriphos was accompanied by a scared but proud young woman, Kyra Sercein who was brought out into the treacherous wastes barefoot and breathless with the Hellknights in hot pursuit.
The pair attempted to escape from their captors, but discovered their passage across a great chasm cut off. They were cornered by the Hellknights, and Seriphos was forced to fight them. During the battle, gnoll scavengers happened upon the conflict and attempted to seize the survivors as slaves. In the heat of battle something unusual happened, and the sky above the mana-wastes opened up in a supernatural storm of thunder and lightning, followed by the swirling of a vortex in the clouds that revealed a blood red sun burning brightly. A moment later there was a flash of lightning and a bolt that struck the slave square in his chest.Seriphos blacked out, and his life changed forever.
He awoke to discover his charge missing and both the Hellknights and some of the gnolls dead. A battered Wayfinder and a shattered golden owl mask were among the debris, not seeming to have come from any of the individuals that were fought.
As Seriphos staggered off into the desert, he would be beset upon again by the gnolls. This time, however, there would be no escape…
Across the ocean and years later, a Hellknight from the Order of the Nail — Lycara Sandain — spoke fondly of her most recent acquisitions, gnomish members of woodland tribes hunted down and enslaved by the Hellknights in an effort to "civilize" the peoples of Arcadia. Among them was her favorite, a "pet" she dubbed Birch, due to his snow-white skin and black tattooing.
Lycara regretting the necessity of turning Birch over to a buyer that had come from Avistan and professed that she would miss their long talks of philosophy and religion. Birch was brought away from his captive people and to rocky shores where a gold-gilded vessel awaited on the night's sea. Here, Birch was introduced to the honor-guard of the Efreeti noble Izah, purchased with a chest full of rubies, and sent across the waves to Izah's ship.
Here Birch would meet the Efreeti and learn of his grand endeavors; that he was a treasure-hunter and merchant in possession of a unique book that professed to explain the location of the legendary Castle of the Storm King. Purchasing Birch seemed to be both to acquire him as a curiosity and also to have him translate the book into the Taldane tongue and transport it to an unknown location by way of a passage chest.
Learning of the castle described in the book, Birch would come to fear what a terrible creature like Izah would do with a castle that could traverse the world and the planes like a ship sails on the ocean. He invested time into falsifying a transcription of book, and kept the sole illustration in its front cover to himself.
As Izah's ship left Arcadia, bound for the desert nation of Katapesh, Birch's fate seemed sealed. But fate would have other things in store for both Birch, and Seriphos.
Their stories don't end there, that wouldn't be much of a tale. They still hadn't crossed paths with me, and that would be the turning point for all of them. There was also still one more yet to find their way. — The Professor