Eberron Campaign: Opening Scene
The year is 994, year of the kingdom; the month of the storm begrudgingly gives way to Oldrune, the sentinel. Late-winter rime blankets the land and unforgiving gray skies echo the war-torn landscape—the hope of spring as impossibly far off as peace itself.
The Orien caravan snakes its way along the Nightwood, one of Karrnath’s most perilous regions, its notorious reputation standing out even in a nation with vast undead armies at its command. For this reason, House Phiarlan has engaged the services of House Orien’s Transportation Guild to ensure the safety of the traveling theater troupe scheduled to tour the war-wracked nation by Kaius III, Karrnath’s newest and youngest regent, who came of age and assumed power from his aunt, Lady Moranna, just 3 short years ago.
Known for reclusiveness, Kaius III nonetheless exerts his not inconsiderable power to bolster and restore his nation’s depleted reserves and morale. Beset from all sides, Karrnath has suffered greatly during the war. Plague, famine, internal power struggles, combined with nearly 100 years of civil war, have more than decimated the population, making the undead one of its greatest national resources. Embracing the legacy of his grandfather, Kaius I, King Kaius III makes no apology for his legions of undead and pays the Dragonmarked Houses handsomely for their continued presence and services within his beleaguered kingdom.
Personally overseeing the security of the tour, Berlos d’Orien, a promising young scion of House Orien, rides his horse the length of the caravan, pausing to scrutinize each coach with narrowed gray eyes trained to pick up the slightest detail. Not yet manifesting the mark of passage for which his house is known, though few, including Berlos, doubt his future as one of the Dragonmarked—the oracle’s prophecies having circulated widely throughout House Orien—Berlos somewhat impatiently marks his hours training in the house’s renowned Transportation Guild. Nimble, keenly observant, with a seemingly uncanny (and inexplicable) ability to have been in two places at one time, Berlos was the obvious choice to lead this entertainment-cum-diplomatic caravan across the menacing Karrnathi landscape.
Despite his impatient and unquenchable ambition, Berlos takes every job with the utmost seriousness, channeling all of his energies into the present moment, willing each of his senses to merge with the current environment, reaching out in a receptive, almost symbiotic, relationship with his immediate surroundings. He passes the third, fifth, sixth rear coaches with only the slightest pause when his horse’s ears twitch backward then forward, as if listening to something on the wind.
Berlos lifts his own ears and nose to the whistling currents wafting through the Nightwood’s bare deciduous branches, catching the combined scents of frost and Aryth’s decaying leaves. Almost too subtle to be perceived, an undercurrent of rotting flesh reaches Berlos’s sensitive nostrils, setting him on high alert. True, Karrnath’s undead armies are notorious throughout Khorvaire, and this could signal nothing more than a routine patrol. Berlos, however, is taking no chances in seeing his caravan safely through its last stop in Vedykar and home to Metrol, the capital city of Cyre, Karrnath’s sworn enemy. Within moments, Berlos wheels his horse around to rendezvous with his own sentry patrol, and as he does so, he thinks for a passing second that his brain registers a fleeting blur hovering over the front carriages from the corner of his left eye, but it has disappeared before he can whip his head around to face the potential threat. Eyes narrowing in suspicion, Berlos turns back to his current mission, filing the unconfirmed sighting in the back of his mind. “First things first,” he thinks to himself as he gallops toward his sentinels.
The Phiarlan artificer gazes out the carriage window at the vaguely familiar night sky. Siberyan constellations this far north are still recognizable, though they seem slightly misplaced in the Olarune sky, as if everything were shifted just a bit off balance. Off balance—the idea strikes her as somewhat ironic, considering that Rin herself specializes in the phantasmic art of illusion, which depends precisely upon keeping her audience continually off balance. She feels slightly discomfited to find herself on the receiving end of such tricks and begins wishing she were back home in Metrol with her mother. “This trip has already become too long,” she thinks, and she gives herself over to an unusual bout of homesickness.
As Rin is lost in thought, Phiarlan minstrel songs float up from the carriages behind her, and the caravan moves smoothly forward, leaving the city of Atur behind as they head for the final destination of their Karrnathi tour: Vedykar, home to House Jorasco’s famed healing enclaves and Dawn Lake, a bustling city full of life and trade, its light and healing energy a stark contrast to Atur’s perpetual nocturnal gloom. Yet, Rin has found herself strangely drawn to Atur, known throughout Khorvaire as the City of Night. In the constant shade of the Ashen Spires, the city truly comes alive only after sundown, transforming into a veritable carnival of sensual pleasures.
Rin ponders Atur as the caravan rolls inexorably forward. Why had the city spoken to her so? Her affinity for shadow seemed too facile an explanation; after all, she’d been in countless cities after dark and none had seemed to… almost whisper to her before. She shudders slightly at her choice of words, yet immediately feels the truth of them. Unaware that the music has stopped, Rin absent-mindedly traces her fingers back and forth along her left forearm before pulling her cowl further down over her eyes, attempting to wrap herself in shadows.
Willow buzzes from carriage to carriage, stubbornly intent upon tracing the source of the beautiful music she’d heard wafting on the wind. “Why did it stop!?” she fumes silently as her orange and black wings flutter furiously, both out of pique and an attempt to keep up with the swiftly moving caravan. The ornate carriages of purples and blues, gilded in gold, move gracefully along the trade road as if guided by some force of magic. Willow notices a distinct difference between these carriages, each richly appointed and emblazoned with a silver unicorn head, and those clumsy, dilapidated boxes she usually sees rumbling along trade roads, and she can’t help being drawn to their beauty. Only having been in this strange new world they called Eberron for the wink of an eye (although humans called it “years”), the pixie is constantly curious and amazed by the novelty of the short-lived races that inhabit this realm.
Still quite young for a pixie, Willow seems somehow even more capricious than many of her kind, flitting from one emotion to another nearly as quickly as her wings beat. One moment would find her absolutely enraged by the careless damage the human war had brought to the landscape while the next found her captivated by the very same magic wrapped in silver and gold. But Willow was not one to be still long enough to notice, never mind evaluate, such contradictions—rather she gave herself over entirely to the moment, fully open to whatever joy and wonder it might hold, or rage and fury it might unleash. And woe to one who found him or herself on the shadow side of this pixie’s power!
In this particular moment, Willow is growing more and more irritated as she fails to locate the source of the beautiful music, and as she does, she becomes more and more brazen, darting from window to window, peering through the glass with little regard to keeping herself hidden, pixie dust leaving a shimmering trail in her wake.
Erevan stands, rolling his shoulders and stretching his neck from side to side; squinting at the gloaming sky; he judges his trance to have lasted about 4 hours. Feeling well-rested, he pulls a bit of wayfarer’s bread from his pack and begins to nibble before moving on. He is in no particular hurry today; on holiday from his guardian duty at feyspire Shaelas Tiraleth, his goals are his own and amount to little more than exploring war-torn Khorvaire. So much has changed in the past 200 years, and he surprises himself with his nostalgia for the peace and prosperity of this world. Chuckling softly at his sentimentality, he repacks his few possessions and sets off through the wilderness.
Traveling lightly, Erevan has already managed to cover half of Karrnath, having left ravaged Cyre behind just two days ago. Both nations have suffered gravely, and he shakes his head again at the senselessness of it, his silver tresses almost glowing in the faint light. From everything he has pieced together, this war is a result of a family feud—of siblings refusing to honor tradition and the dying mandate of their father-king. A scowl creeps across Erevan’s visage as he leaps nimbly through the landscape, despite the deepening twilight.
By the time the first of Eberron’s moons rises in the eastern sky, the Eladrin swordmage finds himself skirting a large forest, and he feels his senses come alive to unfamiliar scents and sounds—the dank forest floor, rotting leaves mingling with fungus, the screeching of night creatures, likely an owl warming to its hunt, and something else that gives Erevan pause… something he can’t quite place as he flares his nostrils and lifts his head to the breeze, willing his mind to make the connection… blood—the now-unmistakable scent of blood mingled with fear. On high alert, the swordmage draws his blade in silence, eyes darting from shadow to shadow looming at the forest’s edge as he almost imperceptibly shrinks back, merging with and becoming indistinguishable from the shadows themselves but for the faint traces of his silver hair glinting now and then in the moonlight.