Another day of travel passes, and by the third hour after midday prayers you reach the rolling, crystal-studded foothills of the Prasha Mountains. The amber skies seem almost alive with multicolor wisps of swirling vapor and the puffy remnants of storm-clouds that seem to dance on the high mountain airs. The trees along the way are now a mixture of maspéra as well as the hardy, tall, and slender ayurbála trees, whose blade-shaped, dark-crimson leaves flutter in the breezes that scatter their delicate white blossoms.
The road here, though fairly well maintained, is patched with muddy washes from the rains that recently cascaded down the rocky slopes, and is freshly rutted and scattered with debris from last night’s storm. Ahead the road turns sharply, and at its bend a timeworn statue seems to stare from the edge of the forest, depicting an old, burly tortoise in simple artisan’s clothes who leans upon a great stone hammer. An offering bowl at its feet, carved into the statue itself by ancient hands, lay cracked and empty, save for fallen leaves and rainwater. Ahead, beyond the bend in the road, can be heard the deep roar of rushing water.
None of the characters but Adhana have any idea about the statue and even she she is unsure, asking Khoul hesitantly if it is the devah Yatnariti. He says yes and explains that the devah Yatnaríti is the god of wise endeavors, and this form venerates good labors and architecture. He continues that shrines like this one are often made to commemorate the sites of important public buildings and other such structures.
Khoul says that this statue means they must be approaching the bridge he recalls from his travels. He shakes his head in disappointment at the ill state of the shrine, noting that wise travelers would do well to remember their offerings at such sites. He stops the group momentarily so that he may clear out the offering bowl at the base of the statue after which he places several small grain-cakes from his pack, as well as a few crystal dalán coins in it. He seriously watches as the players each put an offering in the bowl as well: Adhana the same as Khoul’s although fewer coins, Ghora a generous amount of dalan, Psedera a some rations, and Onye, after a bit of thought, a chunk of partially rotted meat, with the explanation that it is all he has to give, besides that it is his favorite food.
After they pass the bend in the road they come upon an awful sight. Across a fairly deep gorge of muddy earth and spiky crystal nearly a hundred feet wide, lay what remains of a once large wooden bridge, nearly washed away by the raging torrent of water still flowing down from the nearby mountains that tower nearby. Only a few pilings and crossbeams remain amidst the flying foam and deadly current below. As if in testament to the dangerous conditions, the lone corpse of an insectoid riding-beast hangs impaled upon one of the upstream-facing crossbeams, its chitinous limbs flailing lifelessly in the roaring stream.
Only half jokingly Ghora says it is time to go home. He has no love for heights. Psedera is in agreement with him, abhoring the idea of having to cross the water. After much debate and thought Adhana remembers what might have been a fallen road stone back aways and Ghora vaguely recalls seeing another bridge crossing this river on an old map back home. It is decided that Ghora will run back, Adhana flying along to find out if there was a side road.
Once they reach the point Adhana recalled they find a mossy, fallen guide-stone laying by the side of the road beneath the ferny undergrowth. The forest behind it thins a little revealing an old road leading down a gentle slope deeper into the forest through patches of fern and occasional bramble. Ghora inspects the stone while Adhana flys back to get Khoul and the others. He finds a barely discernible sigil indicating some sort of settlement in that direction, but it is so old and worn he cannot even fiind a name..
The guards meet up with Ghora shortly before Adhana and the others make it back. The guards pause to rest at the fallen guide post while the characters and Khoul taking a distant lead through the old and quiet wood.
Eventually they emerge from the forest near a promontory overlook at the edge of a waterfall, you see the lowlands below spread out like a rolling blanket covered with more forest as it begins its slow decent. The old road continues to wind it way through the forest like a rough thread, now bending to the east as it heads toward the glittering ribbon of the swift stream far away. The suns are less than an hour from False Dusk, when bluish Edü begins to set, with the second sun, amber Lokáynü, following merely an hour after. This alternate route has taken more time than any of them had expected, and the old chameleon has grown obviously weary from the trek.
Psedera and Ghora are all for making camp and roughing it in the forest for one night, since traveling through the forest at night is not a very safe idea. Khoul does not like the idea of roughing it at all, but that isn’t enough to sway the opinions of the others. Out of the blue, Onye says that he knows there is a bridge and village up ahead. When asked how he knows this, he says he feels like he remembers this place. Adhana adds that she feels it would be unwise to camp since she learned some about fauna as well as flora in her herbalism lessons and has seen plants that dangerous suthra happen to enjoy. Onye says he doesn’t think it is too far. Khoul is thrilled at the thought of a warm bed and hot tea served at an inn and is willing to do evening prayers on the move if he must.
Psedera on the other hand is very adamant that she must stop and clean her weapons during the hour of evening prayer. She is not willing to attempt it on the move and refuses any option the others put forth. She continues on with them till Edu sets and then stops to work on her weapons, commenting that she will join the guards and lead them to join up with the rest.
A good hour after the larger amber sun has set, and the prayers of the evening have been mumbled by all as they continued to make time on the road, the party, minus Psedera, finally arrives at a break in the woods near the edge of the stream. Here the gorge is much wider, but shallower, and a huge old wooden bridge casts deep shadows beneath the light of the moons which have risen (crystalline green Máynatah, purple Kamádi, and iridescent aqua-blue Rrísi). The sky is now dimly luminescent in various hues of deep blue, purple, and green, as if mimicking the light of the moons with glowing celestial veils. The chirring of strange suthra hum in the night airs, and a mist has risen in the woods, obscuring the far end of the bridge and the apparently dark village beyond. The surrounding forest is a confusing tapestry of shifting silhouettes.
As the party crosses the bridge, Ghora walking in the center and studiously avoiding looking down, Onye notices that their movement on the bridge seems to have startled two small creatures beneath it on the far bank of the stream. Whatever they are, the creatures flee out of sight downstream, and vanish into the forest beyond.
Though the village at first appears to be dark, as the mists part while they cross the bridge the warm lights of oil lamps and candles become evident in some of the nearest dwellings, and smoke can be seen curling from the chimney of a two-story building beyond the bridge on the right. An old sign, showing a small gray bear-like jánah of some kind curled upon a sleeping palette, is inscribed with the name “Díbra’s Rest”. The smell of hot tea and mulled wine floats lightly in the air. Khoul is overjoyed and, though exhausted, picks up his pace.
A high-peaked roof with corner ornaments to ward away evil spirits rises above the rustic wooden structure of the inn, and its simple curtain doorway of woven river-reeds opens as a small jánah, a white rat, emerges, eyeing the group with a momentarily startled expression before becoming sullen and scurreying off into the misty night down the village’s main road. The interior of the inn is comfortably lit with various hanging paper lanterns as well as clay tabletop oil lamps, and on either side of a bead-curtained doorway leading into the kitchen, two small jugánu worm cages hold luminescent occupants that cast a cool green glow on the hanging crystal beads. At the far end of the room a merry fire burns in a huge stone hearth where hangs a fat amber cooking pot in which you can discern, through its translucent sides, a thick and simmering stew. The room is a large one, with ample table-space for the twenty guards who will soon be joining you. Around the room sit several locals of various jenu who eye you all uncertainly as you make your entrance. A male kangaroo dressed in the colorful, flowing silks of an entertainer sits in a cushioned chair near the large hearth and absently strums a sitar as he watches you, a look of bemusement quite evident.
Emerging from the kitchens through the beaded curtain come a male koala and a female meerkat, apparently the proprietors of the place, carrying in their hands ceramic platters filled with sliced bread and fruit. The meerkat nearly drops her dish when she notices you, and with wide and uncertain eyes full of trepidation they both regard your group.
The innkeeper, in a heavy Nilámi accent, abruptly asks the group why they have come. Ghora addresses him politely explaining that they are traveling and need room for the night. The innkeeper quickly says that there is no place for them at the inn, and that they should move on to the next village. Old Khoul declares this “nonsense” and proceeds to sit, telling them that he and his companions are on a holy pilgrimage with the blessings and aid of the Aryah Durkel, and that both deference to the devah, as well as respect for noble Sunborn… Suddenly he is interrupted by a loud BURP from Onye. Khoul pauses for a long moment, turning one eye to look at the crocodile distastefully before making an extremely visible eyeroll to place both eyes back on the innkeepers, continuing with, well… MOSTLY noble Sunborn should inspire you to welcome us graciously. The innkeeper looks distinctly pained, and his wife explains that their village is poor, but has recently attracted the attention of local brigands who consistently liberate the wealth of occasional travelers that make their way through the village. She is terrified that the presence of the group will catch their attention. She explains that the village is afraid of any repercussions that might land on them for helping the group in any way.
Onye growls that they might try to rob them, but will not succeed. Ghora also works to reassure her mentioning that within mere minutes Psedera and twenty armored guards will be arriving looking for a night’s rest as well. With this information, a great sigh of relief passes through all in the tearoom, and trepidation turns to glee and excitement. The group is then welcomed to sit, and is be served a hearty meal. The innkeeper and his wife introduce themselves as Dibra and Chiruh both originally from Nilam.
Just then Psedera and the guards come in. Psedera looks very aggitated, which Onye notices and comments on. She brushes him off. In reality just crossing over the river on the bridge to get to the town had caused her to panic and need the help of the guards to make it all the way across. Once food has been provided to the newcomers, several villagers of various species accost the guards with questions about the goings on outside of their village. Many still seem sullen and tired, but relieved and excited for news from beyond their town..
A pleasant din of eating, conversation, and laughter fills the room as the innkeeper and his wife gladly lay out a veritable banquet for them. Psedera notices the kangaroo playing a delightful but sad song on his sitar, accompanied by his liltingly beautiful, soft voice. The kangaroo notices he is being watched, and winks and smile at her, inviting Psedera to join him She pulls out the small drum she carries with her and plays percussion for his song. The song he sings tells the story of a man who loved a woman who was lost to him far away, and of his desire to meet her at the Edge of Heaven when the devah choose to judge his heart and soul. He mourns the days he spends without her, but he knows his life is not his own to take, and that only the devah can release him from this worldly prison. When the song is over he introduces himself as Bákuman the musician, originally from Ishpüria. She introduces herself explaining that she is originally from Sustrum. He looks at her curiously and mentions that she has an odd accent for being from that area. She just shrugs and he blows it off with a comment about how accents can differ so much.
He explains that the song is his own story to some extent, and that the lady he loved was killed in a nearby region by marauders that had come to take the town’s children into slavery. He will mentions that such banditry and roguishness has become more common in recent days, and that the innkeeper doesn’t exaggerate when he speaks of how dangerous the local band of brigands is. They are cutthroats and thieves that have fled into Tishínia from the border skirmishes with Gilárhi. They have caused the hard times that have fallen upon this village as of late. He hopes that the players will not run afoul of these brigands, but prays that the scoundrels will soon feel Kramah’s heavy justice.
The Priests Khoul and Adhana are approached hesitantly by a sullen jánah, a stout, middleaged badger who calls himself Áhuli, the stone carver of the village. His hands are wrapped in cloth bandages. He humbly requests that the mángai do the village a great favor and perform a blessing at the temple. He claims that the brigands the innkeeper spoke of recently desecrated their temple by fire and murdered their priest. They have not yet alerted the magistrate of either Sadahm or Tiari since the brigands make it dangerous for them to leave. Adhana asks about his hands, he says that he burned them trying to pull the priest’s body from the flames of the temple. The innkeeper tries to hush the badger while he speaks, saying that he doesn’t want his honored guests troubled by these matters. But the stone carver is insistent, saying that They are their only hope, none of the villagers wishes to go to the temple anymore because of what happened. He is sure that new blessings placed upon the temple ruins will bring peace to the villagers. Adhana inspects his wounds and carefully salves them and re-bandages them. He tells her that her kindness has blessed him and he leaves the inn.
The meerkat spends some time talking with Ghora about the bandits, explaining that the leader is a gorilla and most of the rest are simians or apes. The bandit group has threatened the village in the past if they do anything to warn travelers or to stop the attacks. She feels the attack on the Temple was in response to something they had done and a warning to comply to the brigands demands.
Throughout the evening, little by little, most of the villagers in the tearoom depart for the night and say their farewells, wishing the pilgrims good fortune and luck. Eventually, only the musician and the two innkeepers remain in the inn with the group entertain the new new guests.
During the evening while the characters talk with the villagers and learn more about the situation they decide to be proactive and set up a watch to ambush the brigands if and when they attack. Psedera has the idea to deploy the guards around town to set up a perimeter so that the group will be ready no matter what direction the bandits come from. Ghora gives the orders, but the guards are reluctant. Their job is to guard the Preist and his offering, not liberate a town from bandits. Ghora explains that thwarting the bandits will protect the priest and they see his point and go to their posts on the outskirts of the town guarding the main entrances. Psedera climbs to the top of the tallest building, the teahouse, and hides herself to keep lookout. She will signal with clicks when and if she sees anything suspicious. Onye sits in the middle of the main road of the town which runs in front of the teahouse making absolutely no attempt whatsoever to hide himself. Ghora and Adhana stay in the inn with Khoul, the inkeepers and musician.
Two hours before midnight prayers Psedera notices movement at the edge of town near the river. It seems to be a large group of janah mounted on chinti. They carry torches and are making no attempt to be stealthy. They will be meeting up with the guards deployed at the bridge before there is any chance of them threatening the teahouse.
The noise of their approach can be heard inside. The innkeeper and his wife seem transfixed in horror, and the musician turns grim eyes toward the door. Suddenly, a deep, bellowing cry, thick and guttural, rings like a cracked gong from outside, and as it does the very air around the characters seems to change. Like awakening from a dream, the pleasant glow of the candles and lamps in the tearoom is snuffed all at once, as if by dozens of hands, all save for the traveling lanterns. For those outside all the lights of the village vanish instantly and the warm smoke from the chimneys disappears. Inside the sultry air, warmed by the hearth’s fire, and rich with the scents of smoke and food suddenly crackles and grows threadbare, thin, and cold in an instant. The very furniture upon which they sit suddenly becomes dusty, and upon the tables lay empty ceramic mugs and cracked dishes long abandoned. The hearth is barren and cold, littered with old ashes, and the cushioned seat, upon which the musician had just been sitting, lies empty and broken upon the dirty floor. There is no one in the tearoom except Khoul, Ghora and Adhana.
Again the deep voice bellows, thick with the accent of Gilárhi; “Come out of there! We know you have hidden in the teahouse, we can see the light of your lanterns! You are few and we are many… My scouts saw you cross the bridge! Come out, give us what we want, and perhaps we will let you and your friends live old man!”
Onye yells out that they won’t do the same for the brigands. At the same moment Psedera makes a huge leap from the top of the teahouse onto one of the riders clearing the smaller neighboring buildings. The rider rears his chinti to throw her, but she persistantlyhangs on and tries to bite him. Ghora runs from the inn, whipping out his pistol, spots the gorilla and shoots him. Unfortunately the shot does little damage. He then tries to pull the leader off his chinti and after some trying manages to throw him six feet away on the muddy road. The gorilla angrily gets up his sword in hand. Ghora tries to do flying kick to his head, but loses his footing in the mud and ends up sliding into the gorilla knocking him back to the ground. They end up in a flailing pile and Ghora bites him.
Once the guards recover from the sudden change of reality they start running to the battle from their posts throughout the town. The group on the bridge moves quickly the engage the brigands. Onye runs up to one slashes with his naginata followed by a spin that lands a tail lash across the janah’s midsection which he follows through ending in and snapping bite. His opponent is surprisingly still standing so he swings again with the naginata and then claws him.
In the meantime one of the lesser brigands dismounts, runs up and grabs Ghora off his leader, spinning him around and punching him repeatedly in face.
Psedera is in a similar bind as a dismounted brigand pulls her off his buddy, pins her to ground and wrenches her arm behind her back. She lithely rolls out of the pin and pulls her tanto still on the ground, slashing at her attacker, then raking him with her claws and throwing a palm strike at his nose. He adeptly dodges all of the blows. She tries to head butt and failing that grabs his shoulder and tries to rake his stomach with her back claws. Attempting to get some room to maneuver she stands and jumps back from her opponent, the mounted janah momentarily forgotten.
The gorilla jumps to his feet and lunges at Ghora, slashing him vigorously with his sword. Due to the close quarters his last blow hits his subordinate still holding Ghora who immediately lets go and staggers back.
Noticing Ghora’s distress, Onye tail smacks his opponent and runs to help him. He attacks the leader with his naginata, following up with a bite to the head, another devestating blow with his naginata and a violent tail slap that drops the gorilla to the ground badly wounded and nearly unconscious. He then lashes around to bite the brigand that had been wounded by his boss. The janah sees more guards coming and how easily Onye dispatched his and tries to run. Ghora chases the fleeing adversary down with a flying kick to head but the brigand dodges it at the last second receiving very little damage.
Psedera’s forgotten mounted adversary slashes at her several times, finally meteing out enough damage that falls to the ground, unable to rally herself enough to continue fighting.
In the swirling heat of battle another brigand tries to take out Onye with masterful sword work. Fortunately for Onye all of the attacks just bounced off of his armor doing no damage.