Prologue: Humble Beginnings The town of Aubere is a small one, near the south-western corner of Khalisia. To those who've been around for than fifty years, done their share of traveling, *and* somehow remember the town's name either from randomly wandering into it or hearing about it at some point, it doesn't have much history. Originally intended as a means of a few settlers to live off the land, making the most of the nearby river without paying taxes, Aubere was founded by a few retired veterans, some would-be adventurers with little in the way of initiative or experience, and a number of homeless youth who weren't admitted to their local orphanage (if there even was one) or adopted. It stands not only close to the Damaran border, but also near the edge of Khalisia's claimed territory, leading to the lawless hinterlands of the south. In short, its location might not have been the wisest decision on the founders' behalf, but many decades have passed since then, and somehow Aubere has not only survived despite its isolation, but become a frequent stopping point for travelers looking to reach (or enter Khalisia from) Damar without being admitted through Castle Reindi, a mountain-based fortress located due northwest of Aubere. In short, it's the only quiet trading post for leagues in any direction, and until recently it was ruled by its own people. Recently, the settlers have become uneasy. A spike in population, as well as increased visibility and visitors, had coaxed the town's elder into requesting protection from the Trudeau family. Today a stone keep stands outside the town, housing a number of soldiers as well as a Lady who can be described as -unconventional- at best. Many violet banners hang over the keep, featuring the black sillhouette of a wolf mid-howl. Stone walls encircle the keep, blocking it from the commoners while only sparse protection exists in the town proper, in the form of watchtowers and outposts. In short, it would be a fairly simple matter for a small army to lay siege. <Ruby> You have spent most of your life in Aubere, originally as the daughter of two farmers who kept the town fed. Your parents aren't the only ones who were alive since Aubere's founding, but you are as well. If you sit down and think about it, it's somewhat odd: you aged much more slowly than other fox-folk, almost to the point that others in the town think elven blood runs in your veins. Of course, your family knows better: your mother can confirm that somebody in the family tree had something unusual mixed in with their blood, and your father, well... He's just an anomaly. Both retain a youthful appearance, though your inability to shapeshift from your vulpine state did make things awkward for your family: many people were wary about those of tribal heritage in Aubere's early years, and once your parents revealed their heritage there wasn't much in the way of mutual trust. That said, the people grew warmer over time. Sometime before you matured into adulthood, the town's elder sent a request to Count Trudeau, for protection and security purposes. There were many arguments, families spurning one another, criticisms of lazy nobles who only stood to collect taxes from the common folk. Many insisted that involving a blue-blood in their life would ruin Aubere, and to their credit, when Count Trudeau originally visited to see what he was claiming, he did not look very thrilled for somebody who stood to profit from everybody in town. That said, once the keep was completed, the count sent his youngest daughter Elise to make her home. She, like her father, was not very happy, and claimed that she was being sent here because her father simply wanted to be rid of her. She knew very little of ruling at first, and would often vanish from the town in its entirety for days at a time, sometimes even weeks. The criticism started early, about the town being gifted a spoiled brat to look over them, who couldn't even be bothered to keep watch over the town herself beyond posting guard patrols. It took her getting directly involved in uprooting the local raider encampments for supplies to quell the initial disapproval. There were many days where she would ride into town with a small entourage of bodyguards, her armor stained with blood which never quite cleaned out properly. You've met Lady Elise personally: most of Aubere has, since she often leaves the keep (against the guards' wishes) and makes everybody uncomfortable. Some of her guards are usually posted to keep an eye on her, and sometimes they've been entirely necessary in putting a threat down, but mostly the presence of Lady Elise's pet wolf Kiche is enough to unnerve a potential attacker into fleeing. She's actually a kind-hearted woman when she isn't focused on hunting people down and ending them, but to be fair, Aubere did have an abundance of frequent visitors who would cause trouble until the lady got involved. She takes note of what's going on in the town, and regularly sends scouting parties on patrol. Despite the lack of walls, she does a good job defending against external threats. One day, as the farm-house was getting a little bit crowded, Elise came to your door and told you she was building a new home for your family. According to her, a surplus of food wouldn't make up for the lack of other supplies, so just like that your family had become merchants. Your father was better suited to farming, but he certainly didn't complain about the new home once it was built, and while your mother was around less often, enjoyed running a caravan between the local villages and bringing supplies in. In short, your family became Lady Elise's link to other communities. You were even taken as a personal guest on a mission to establish diplomatic ties in the south, where a seer of the Kath'riit tribe awakened some of your supernatural senses. The lady regards you and your family as close friends, and you're familiar enough with the knight captain Rashelle Applegate that the keep's guards let you in without question. As a messenger between town and tribe, you are often accompanied by the knight captain personally when Elise actually stays in the keep dealing with the finer points of her job. __ One day, while visiting with the two in the keep, one of the servants comes running into the audience hall. "Milady, come quick! There's an army marching toward us!" Alarmed, the blonde noblewoman follows the messenger upstairs and onto the roof, with you and Rashelle in tow. When you arrive, you see what can only be described as a small army in the distance, approaching from the south: the last direction any established family's personal garrison would be arriving from. They're somewhat far from the keep, but Elise looks far from happy. "Rashelle," she says quietly. "Yes, milady?" comes the response. "I want you to gather the garrison. Anybody not on guard or gate duty meets at rendezvous point B. Don't open fire on them; I'll be joining you, but you're the acting commander here." Not a common move, but Rashelle understands the necessity of it: the last thing a ruler wants is to be acknowledged as such in an open battlefield by a potential enemy. "Very well then," Rashelle replies before taking her leave. After a moment, Elise turns to face you. "I'd rather not put you in any danger, but we must cut our visit short. As always, it's been a pleasure." _______ <Verran> It's been a hellish summer. To say as little of your past as what others know about you, you've been in the gladiator pits for most of the month, and only after three weeks of surviving against the odds did you get a lucky enough break. It was a hectic fight, but with the help of some very disgruntled associates in similar predicaments you've managed to escape a place one of your companions refers to as "The Fen." From what you saw, The Fen is a small city full of people looking to avoid the knights of Khalisia, either because they broke a law recently or because they don't like nobles joining in their gambling in places they control. You just happened to escape with roughly two hundred other people. Though you've never been in this area, it didn't take much effort to figure out where you were: not having any cities or roads for leagues in any direction could only mean you were in the southern plains. So, you started walking north, and the large mob of lost people started following you. It was annoying, but at least after raiding the food supply during your escape you didn't have many people complaining about going hungry, though complaining about bland food was almost as bad. Of the two hundred or so people that escaped the city alive, you think maybe twenty of them are warriors with any trace of skill: not a good sign if you were to get into any sort of fight, but their sheer numbers would be enough to give anyone pause. Amongst the masses is a woman with short, green hair, clad in tribal furs and wielding a battle-axe and shield. This is Tessara, the half-elf. She makes most of the small horde uncomfortable, including a few of the warriors, with her blunt demeanor and tendency to not pull punches or swings. You've seen her go out of her way to defend the other refugees during the escape, even taking a few hits in some cases. She's a very social sort despite her tendency to unnerve others. Another notable person amongst the masses is Nisha, a male humanoid with devilish horns and a long, slender tail that ends in a spade, as well as long, flesh-colored wings. He has dark, reddish hair that reaches his shoulderblades, and looks to be wearing simple leather armor along with a shortsword at his side. In the time you've known him he hasn't said much to anybody, though when you busted him out of his cell and gave him a blade he did cover your back during the escape. He also snatched up a few purses during the fight, secretly splitting their contents with you once you were in a relatively safe area the following night. People in general tend to give him a wide berth, not because he's physically intimidating or anything, but because of his heritage. You've actually been warned about being too close to Nisha. Some of the humans claim that he might cast a hex upon you, but it's nothing you haven't heard before regarding your own family when disguised. It's been a long walk, but finally you see what looks like houses and a stone keep in the distance. Getting in and out would be a relatively simple matter if you weren't being accompanied by what could easily populate a small village. Granted, there aren't any walls up either. Some of the refugees start cheering at the sight of civilization, including Tessara. Your tiefling acquaintance is... somewhere. Despite having enough unusual physical characteristics to stand out in a crowd, he doesn't carry much of a presence. "Great!" Tess exclaims, "I'm gonna drink until gravity reverses. It's been far too long since I've had proper venison, too~" _______ <Annora> Many Faraldr tend to accept their youths of darker origin, either through benevolence or knowledge of something to gain. Yours was a different tribe: where your mother saw an innocent child born under unfortunate circumstance and did her best to live with it, the elders saw a monster waiting to turn on her brothers and sisters. Stranger yet, the majority of those who ousted your family were moon-worshipers who'd learned to alter their shape to match other wild predators. So, as the responsible (and not completely hypocritical at all in their own eyes) community leaders they were, they banished your family. This all took place over a century ago, but given your time in the city of Versailles (located in one of the eastern counties of the kingdom) it marks a recurring theme of your life. The only people in the temple who regarded you with any sort of respect were Trig Fellpool (a gnomish jester with a penchant for causing mischief), Ivran Khidell (a traveling missionary of sorts who acts more like a dwarf than the half-elf he is), and Merisiel (an elven woman who rarely spoke to anybody in the temple on a personal level, but punched one of the priests for calling attention to somebody's 'fangs;' nobody really knows what her deal is). Every now and then on your quests to spread the beauty and irony of life and adoration across the lands you seem to enounter one of these individuals, though Ivran's movements are erratic at best when he doesn't have something specific to focus on: he tends to throw darts at a map while drunk to determine his path, claiming that fate shall guide his path. One might wonder how he ended up in service of Shelyn and not Cayden Cailean. In any case, either by chance or by choice you find yourself on the road to Aubere, as travelers have been remarking about strange occurrences in that direction. Accompanying you is yet another elf, this one touched with aasimar blood to the point that people recognize him more as a celestial being than as a human. His name is Wyran, his focus bears the mark of Iomedae, and his skin is as black as yours is white. There is a joke in this partnership somewhere, but the Fellpool girl isn't here to exaggerate it. Even Trig herself might be a bit distracted by the mass of two hundred-something people approaching your destination from the south. They aren't exactly easy to glance over. _____ <Wyran> Elves in Khalisia are strange, at least from a human's perspective. In any elven society, a child born with traits outside of their parents' bloodline would be treated with the same amount of respect as any other child in the family, and nothing would be said about the matter. But you didn't grow up in an elven city: you were in Khalisia, where elves were strange and usually servants, and your blackened skin and halo made you an outsider even among those who would otherwise be comfortable around your family. At least the food was better in your household than that of many other elves in the city, even if you did live outside the walls. Sometime in your lengthy childhood, somebody broke into your room one night with the intent of killing you. You remember your younger brother's scream being silenced shortly before you were as well, but just when everything went black you awakened under the gaze of an elven woman named Merisiel. You had questions, but her answers weren't very helpful: somebody told her a drow was hiding in the area and wanted her to slay it, and though she didn't find one, the fact that she was pointed in the direction of your home made her suspicious. Somebody else had been hired for the job a few days later, and Merisiel was just leaving the city when news of a burglary reached her. She managed to pull you from the brink of death, but your brother wasn't so lucky. Your parents, not wanting to lose more than one child, decided that this was going too far, but since they couldn't just pack up and move, they sent you to a temple where you learned to wield a blade, to protect yourself and your honor from those who would turn against you or do you harm. Iomedae's temple militants would often send their initiates on crusades to seek out evil and purify and/or destroy it. Under Iomedae's guidance, the accusations of you being descended from drow stopped almost completely: the ability to call forth a halo should have been enough of an argument to convince people, but apparently it's easier for a war-priest to garner that kind of respect. In any case, you've heard of troubles in the southwestern corner of the country, near a small town called Aubere. One of the elder warriors sent you there for your initiation mission, and accompanying you on this most holy of crusades is a pale dhampir-woman wielding a longbow and clad in a tabard with Shelyn's symbol on the front. And, as you approach the town itself, you can see a large mass of people approaching Aubere from the south. What awkward timing~ _______ <Quinn> You arrived in Khalisia by boat many years ago after sneaking aboard a vessel in the Turami lowlands. In fact, most of your family joined you on this journey just to get away from your father. This happened while you were a child, old enough to have learned the verbal and written language and customs of your people. In any case, your mother found a farmstead with room to spare for her family, and so you had a home with your brother Quill and your sister Ira. For some strange reason you know the languages of the Faraldr and the elves along with those of your heritage, but you still struggle with the Khalisian tongue. Sometimes it's a struggle to communicate with people, but being quad-lingual means you can usually find some way to converse with the more intelligent Khalisian natives, as well as other immigrants and elves. Stranger yet, it was your quick thinking and your peculiar speaking habits that caught the attention of a half-elf named Zappel. She took you and several others under her wing, training everyone for various jobs: wetworks, intimidation, scouting, pathfinding, diversions, sabotage... Some of Zappel's other apprentices may have shown more skill in certain areas, but she made no secret in showing a certain level of softness around you. You didn't always get the easy jobs, but you've never had to take an innocent life under her orders, unlike a few of the others. In recent days, you notice a lot of tension in the hideout. Zappel seems easier to irritate, and a few others in the group seem a bit nervous. In any case, she gave you a mission that you were instructed not to tell anybody about: find a safe place with a decent economy to establish a hideout in, and send a message back to 'Elencia' under the alias 'Amaya.' This wasn't a familiar alias, and even the destination wasn't one you were familiar with: you've never even set foot in Corsica. Nonetheless, once you packed your belongings, you joined in with a merchant caravan as a caravan guard of sorts with the merchant Hilde and her accomplice Aithne: two human females, one with a habit of shrouding herself in a cloak. After many weeks of traveling, you see a town in the distance. No walls, easy to get into. The two-hundred or so people approaching from the south seem to think the same thing. ______ <Aithne> It has been a few seasons since your confinement. The old sorcerer, a curious sort who tried dabbling in matters he couldn't comprehend has yet to haunt your dreams by supernatural means, so he probably hasn't returned from the afterlife as an abomination. As for your personal feelings regarding that matter, well... Good luck with that! Hardened soldiers and bodyguards often say that one's first kill always leaves the biggest stain on one's heart, but on a caravan running the trade routes all over Khalisia and Damar, death becomes more of a common sight with brigands, highwaymen and monsters on the roads. More specifically, on the northern coast you've even had a few encounters with a group of Turami merchants that, despite what locals have said of the Turami, were a friendly bunch who even shared their food in exchange for a good story Hilde, the woman you were apprenticing under, had told them in their native tongue. Since then, she's laced her lessons in supply and demand with tutorials on diplomacy and the Turami language. By chance, your travels with Hilde have taken you toward a small town on the southern outskirts of Khalisia, called Aubere by some of the foragers you've encountered on the road. Hilde says that this town serves as an outpost of sorts, being the last major source of Khalisian civilization before all that's left of the world is savannahs, Faraldr and brigands to the south, and professional bargainers and cheapskates to the west. In short, it's a good place to gather news from the wilderness and the alliance, but other than that the only remarkable thing about it is the inexpensive raw materials. You've been joined by a fox-girl named Quinn for this journey. Also, as you draw closer to the town proper, you notice a large mass of people approaching Aubere from the south. Hilde looks a little nervous. A quick peek at her map reveals that Aubere is only two fornights' journey from your home city Toulouse. ___________________ Edit: Everyone who isn't Verran or Ruby should probably roll perception.