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The lands at the furthest edge of the Empire are a strange and foreign place. Bordering the desolate sands of the Konn, one could be mistaken in thinking there is nothing beyond. That the world ends on the edge of the wastelands. And yet along the trading route of the Silk Road merchants ply their trade and bring back new and exotic tales of the Land of the Dragons: Cathay.

Thank you Cardiff and Black Country Branches (and friends) for organising, making props and costumes, feeding us and running Springfest ’16. You guys worked so hard and ran a thoroughly enjoyable event, and deserve all the thanks, praise and cheers you received and more.

I cannot name all those who attended, and can only give the story from my perspective, but I will tell you the tale of the days that the Ithronian adventurers walked the ground in Cathay, fought in defence of their honour, and fought devious foes to stand in defence of the land against the Konn.

 

Brigit joined the group of Berwickshire adventurers travelling south to the town of Chennet, and after a brief tussle with High Mother Anne to get her through the portal, and then stepped through to the land on the far eastern side of the Empire. The adventurers, invited by the Speaker of Five Winds, had been brought to a neutral trading post run by Rolborian Missionaries that lay outside of the domains of the five Dragons and their courts – a suitable location for collaboration and diplomacy. Upon arrival Brigit met with other members of her Church, was introduced to some of the Dragons – the titled rulers of the land and skilled wielders of their country’s magics. Alas, when adventurers gather in one place, something normally happens.

The Konn, keen to gain a stronghold within the country, attacked the trade post and corrupted the portal, effectively stranding the adventurers in Cathay along with all their supplies and baggage. It was a long way home, so someone was going to have to figure out how to undo the damage. The rest of the night was punctuated with attacks of undead, Konnish and corrupted Elementals, but first the reason for the adventurers’ invitation had to be discussed.

Ithron is a blessed land, favoured by the Gods but also protected by a great and powerful magic through the binding of the land to the King. The Konnish drain the land as they wield their arts, leaving a barren wasteland which only fuels their hunger for conquest and power at the bidding of their demonic masters and their “King”, but the spell protecting Ithron limits the power they can draw from the land. Cathay once boasted similar protections but over time they have eroded away against the Konnish advance and the knowledge of this rite has been lost. They seek aid in protecting their country – and by helping them an alliance could be born. Brigit’s first thought was to consult any documents, only to find that a) she could not read the language and b) the documents had been split into an unknown number and scattered for safety. Of course it wouldn’t be that easy …

Throughout the evening the camp was under attack as the Konnish Warlock sought to break their spirits as he went about his devious plans, and Brigit split her time between holding the line with the other adventurers and sitting in conversation with several of the Dragons. She learnt that each Dragon was a wielder of a particular element of Chi, which was the very essence flowing through the land and which could manifest into pure forms of itself as elements. But these could be corrupted, and corrupt Elementals had been seen attacking the camp ahead or alongside the Konn. Each Dragon had a banner which was a symbol of their house and enabled them to better control their element, and as Brigit thought on it a thought crossed her mind – what if the Konnish knew of these banners and were using them to corrupt the elements? But to what end? The Water Dragon was brought a report of Konnish forces nearing the border of his domain, and the pair hypothesised that since there had been no reported sightings of his element amongst those faced already that day, that his banner might be a target. A group would have to travel early at first light to put the Konn to rout! As the night attacks dwindled, Brigit took herself inside to write what she had learned of the Dragons and the reports she wished to bring to Sir Stafford and others in the morning, when Brother Jin and her were presented with a small scrap of parchment marked with a number and some strange marks.

This was the first piece of the ritual, and over the course of the next two days the camp and surrounds were scoured for more pieces of the rite that were painstakingly translated and transcribed into Brigit and Jin’s notes. And as they made their copies they began to realise that other objectives had to be met before they could conduct the ritual – Champions had to be chosen, banners located, a ritual blade prepared, alchemy to be brewed and the Lucky Square to be found …

The next morning Brigit was asked by the Wood Dragon to join the company venturing out to walk the Wood Dragon’s path. The Dragons were unable to just hand over their banner to the adventurers, but through proving their worth they could earn the right to claim it. By walking the path the Wood Dragon took when he was appointed Dragon of his element, they would prove their worth to him and earn the banner. Brigit gave a brief overview of her conversation with the Water Dragon late the previous evening to members of the other group gathered, and set out with Brother Jin of Tralda, Tungdil Stonehammer, Dr Mhari, Artemis the mage, Akmed and Ranger Bob. Leaving the camp they fought through the Konnish lines and wrecked whatever instrument they were using to portal into the area, before coming upon a trio of wood golems guarding a path. Beyond were members of the Brazon, a rogue faction of the Fire Dragon’s court that worshipped Bequifis, the Lady of Pain. Scouting for a way around they were spotted by the Brazon’s watcher, but before he could get away Artemis froze him in place and Brigit knocked him out. Bandaging the gushing would Brigit and Bob moved him out of sight and looked for a way through the brambles. Eventually Jin, Bob and Brigit fought through the thorns into the glade, but only after their companions managed to evade the guardians and launched themselves upon the Brazon.

The Brazon glorified in the pain being wrought upon them and were able to wreak a vengeance upon those who struck them before vanishing, Brigit leaping to the defence of her party and being touched was weakened after knocking a Brazon down. Finding a number of gold sashes they pressed on, looking for a way, the Wood Dragon had told them, to go many miles. By accident they came upon a fae ring of toadstools and, knowing what these could be in Ithron, Jin and Brigit leapt in as they realised this could be the door into the way they were supposed to go. The rest of the party were not so hasty and it took Akmed tackling Artemis into the portal for them all to pass through.

Beyond was a glade of fae folk who were quite alarmed and intrigued by the human interlopers. Jin angered them and was attacked, but through trade of an apple and some convincing that the Traldan priest was not going to be tasty, the adventurers were able to get past the fae and come out the far side of the “way” into a marsh.

Crossing the marshy bog using stout pieces of timber and a rope led them through pools of earthy water where Marshkin bubbled up and burbled at them, before leaving or attacking the strangers, occasionally dragging unconscious people further into the muck. The adventurers eventually found a sturdy piece of land upon which a great tree grew, which a Tree Elemental called home, and were able to ask the creature for the puzzle they had been sent to find. But only the Wood Dragon could have that puzzle, and none of the company were the next Wood Dragon! Brigit eventually managed to reason that by giving them only part of the puzzle they would not be conducting the test of the Dragon, but would still be able to show him the prize he had sent them after, and the Tree Elemental inclined its head and gave them the puzzle all bar two pieces. These, he said, they would have to fashion themselves.

Spiriting them away through the woodland the Elemental brought them safely back to camp, where Brigit uttered thanks for his aid and sat down to her midday meal. And from then – onto the puzzle!

And what a fiendish puzzle it was. Brigit and Jin sat down with cups of tea and tipped the contents of the bag onto the table – expecting a puzzle, finding only swirls and squiggly bits of wood, one side red, one side white. Gradually they were able to piece together the smaller pieces to form a set of pieces. These were eventually (after much head scratching, numerous cups of tea and many helping hands) the puzzle was formed into a cross in red and white (oh yes, the puzzle could be turned upside down!) but eventually the puzzle was completed and some kind person fashioned the two missing pieces and put them in place (if you’re reading this and it was you, thank you!). During the puzzling another pair of groups went out.

Eventually Brigit went for a lie down and another pair of missions went out – one to go and retrieve the Wood Dragon’s banner that his predecessor has “liberated” to protect it only to then get lost in a wood; the other the go and investigate a valley of the dead. Fighting their way through Konn they came upon a pair of local Cathayans who had clearly been surprised by the Konn. Near death, with grevious wounds, Ranger Osrick reached the closest first and clamped his hands over the wound. His patient coughed blood in his face, wheezing a rattling breath and her companion asked to die. Lady Olivia, the Primate of Vleybor, worked hard to save one of them through the miracles of her Lady but the Kharachian priestess Lilyanna heeded the cry for mercy and ended the suffering of the girl’s companion.

More Konnish and the adventurers come down into a gully filled with a thick cloying mist that clutched at any who crossed the barrier and stole the air from their lungs. Master Alton’s animated rat survived the journey through and back, but it took the combined efforts of Lilyanna, Lady Olivia and Master Alton to banish the mist. But if it was a barrier, who was it keeping out? Or what was it keeping in? They ventured on and fought wave after wave of undead formed from the bones that lay underfoot. A great feeling of dread descended upon them as voices whispered in the wind, preying on their fears. They were never going to be free of that place. They were going to die down there. And from out of the mist came a great hulking beast that could throw a man ten paces, imbue a sickness about it and could rise up from the ground when brought low. Through team work and a significant effort as the party was batted back and forth they were able to destroy the beast and where it lay an ichor formed that would later be collected to form an alchemical brew. Lilyanna laid the souls of that place to rest and at last the whispering voice was silenced, though not before she had set the scouts Kelerdome and Percy wits on edge. As the adventurers climbed out of the valley they could see shapes through the lingering barrier of mist – a gathered rank of undead, who soon became Konnish slaves cowering at the command of their leader. This one was soon chased off and a pair of slaves convinced to go back to the camp with Lady Olivia, but they soon turned tail and ran when the adventurers met the group returning from securing the Wood Banner and came into contact with a large group of Konnish.

Brigit returned to the camp for the early evening and transcribed more of the ritual parts, discussing with Brother Jin what the different parts might of the ritual may entail. But her studies late into the night, the puzzle and the effects of the Brazon had wearied her and she retired for a nap. That evening the camp was attacked by a Jester demon and entourage and many adventurers went out to fight it and locate the fallen. Many people died, though some were brought back by the grace of Lady Vleybor and her blessed relic. When Brigit returned to the camp it was to sorrow and mourning and after meeting the Water Dragon, who was confused by to solemnity over the deaths, she excused herself to make Lady Olivia a cup of tea to try and soothe her anguish. She spoke further with the Water and Wood Dragons, trying to explain why the adventurers were not celebrating the life of their fallen fellows, and picking over the now complete Ritual and making a list of what was still to be done.

It seems that two of the company were lost to a dangerous “prison” that lay not far from the camp. Protected by fiendish wards and puzzles, Gauld and Ember were drawn inside and did not come out, presumed dead or missing given their absence and the danger rumoured to be about that place.

The next morning the camp was beset by Konnish seeking to stop the ventures to the Wood and Water Temples to secure the banners, the adventurers eventually taking the road to the mountains and the dormant volcano via a path pockmarked with steaming vents, boiling puddles and filled with members of the Brazon. This was their home, and they were not at all pleased to have intruders. Deep in the heart of the volcano lay the shrine to Bequifis and a fire elemental. After killing many of the Brazon, Father John of Crowa was able to catch the attention of the Fire Elemental and convince it that what the Brazon was doing was not the way things should be. Permitted to remove the banner, the party were urged to retire as the Elemental’s anger was quenched in the rising tide of lava that trailed behind him. Soon all trace of the Brazon was gone amidst the bubbling pool of lava and the adventurers returned home victorious.

The rest of the Crowan Church and School of Demonology went after the Metal banner and hunting demons. After beating down a pair of Metal Elementals after Brigit’s diplomatic attempts failed, the group faced the regular theme of Konnish and demons – which bewitched the mind, turned friend against foe, but were generally beset from within as the School of Demonology worked their arts. However, hunting the demons led the adventurers to the Konnish Warlock with his followers and a large scaly demon with a shark’s face. After bidding the party to hand over the Schoolmaster (not happening!) the Konnish rolled over the party as the demon waded into the fray. Brigit was turned away by fear, crouching in terror as her party were methodically butchered until she mastered her courage, necked a potion and gathered herself to join the fray. Taking up Holy Mother Rose Loewin’s blessed sword she joined her friend High Father Brandt in his battle against the big demon as the Keeper was stolen away and the mages were hounded away from the field. The two priests were victorious but as Brigit turned to survey the company she saw Supplicant Nemo and Brother Ronald heading away from the group after the Warlock. She chased after them, aware that her own strength was dwindling, only to see Nemo stabbed by the Warlock and Ronald turned aside with a swift placed blade. Brigit closed on the creature and gained a strike, but then the monster was behind her and she was greviously wounded. Lying in the grass as her lifes blood began to leave her, it seemed that here was the end for Mother Brigit …

Until a wily scout popped out of the undergrowth, swore and clamped hands on the wound. Ronald, patched up, soon was stitching the wound shut and the tiny band were soon back on their feet. But the company was too small – where had the rest gone? Gathering up their equipment and the broken remnants of the gear, Brigit and Thalnaz took up point and the group hurried after their fellows in skirmish order, hoping against hope that they were not the last.

It seems the School of Demonology had the matter in hand, the Warlock dead, and the group tending to their wounded by the time Brigit and friends arrived on the scene. The banner was secured, everyone was elated and relieved to be alive, and the company trekked back into camp joyful.

As Brigit sought out her companions, the Wood Dragon approached her and asked her to stand as his Champion in the rite that was to come. Honoured, and surprised at his request, Brigit accepted after some dithering and offered him a scroll she had written as a gift in gratitude for the aid he had given her and the company that week’s end.

As the alchemists brewed their brews, Brother Jin and Brother Penitence laid out the focuses for the five elements, organised priests, Champions, mages and others to help with the ritual, and a test run was conducted to make sure all knew what was to be done. Banner posts were brought for the banners and the Champions donned the masks of their element in keeping with the tradition of the country. Father John de Nada of Crowa was Champion of Fire. Quallam the Runesmith was Champion of Earth. Thalnaz the Blacksmith was Champion of Metal. High Father Stephan of Vleybor was Champion of Water. Mother Brigit Wooller of Crowa was Champion of Wood. And as the adventurers gathered to bear witness, the rite was begun.

Each of the sites was cleansed and the priest responsible knelt in prayer. The mix of alchemical brews was poured upon the ground in a specific sequence, and a knife was sharpened by Guard Grim until it was wicked sharp, having already been purified by Brother Penitence. The banners were then planted in the ground, and began to draw power that was taken by the mages and channeled into ritual scrolls to be used to bind the banners back into the land. These rites were completed and the mages then began to channel magic back into the land – the lucky square, 8 x 8. Then the Champions were cut with the prepared blade and bled their life into the land. Once their wounds were bound, all formed a circle and chanted the name Cathay eight times, the circle of unity gathering all the emotions of all involved in seeing this great work done and channeling this back into the land – all the pain and relief, the fear and regret, the weariness and sacrifice and pure joy mingled together. A great beating came on the air, like wings and something felt to settle upon the land, hopefully never to leave again. Cathay once more was safe, standing defiant against the Konn and providing a bastion of strength in the east. But for Brigit there was a sense of distress and alarm, for the Champions had not been left untouched during the rite. As she had stood, near blind without her glasses, she felt as if something was drawing her into the ground, binding her like roots, and her body began to stiffen. She could hear her fellows becoming like their element – John becoming filled with a heat like fire, Quallam feeling his feet turning to stone, High Father Stephan reporting later that he felt to be drowning as water slowly rose up his body. She cried out and Olivia looked up in horror at the cry of pain, and through gritted teeth Brigit bid her friend to keep at her prayers as she fought to accept what was happening within herself. After the ritual Brigit was relieved to feel herself returned to normal, though heavy with weariness and she sat for a moment with High Father Stephan and Brother Jin to simply take in the sight and magnitude of what they had accomplished.

On the way back to her luggage she was approached by the Water Dragon who thanked her for her help and conversation and offered her his beautiful silken sash, which she accepted with little of the customary refusal expected in Cathay. She promised to wear it at dinner, unknowing the significance of the gift. Dinner was a traditional Cathayan banquet to celebrate their victory and Lady Tralda’s holy day (Brigit alas missed the dance competition organised in celebration of the Feast of the Spring Dance) and as Brigit sat listening to her fellows revelries, she was asked to whom the Dragon of Wood should bestow his sash. It seemed that the Fire Dragon had chosen to give his sash to the scout Kelerdome for his passion and upon the admiration of others, and Brother Jin was given his sash for his aid in all of Brigit’s scribal work which had earned her right to be named Champion. High Father Ezikiel and Dain were gifted the other two sashes, and at this the Wood Dragon mentioned that the sashes were gifted with magical power. After having hers divined by Master Acacia, and bound in the morning by Master Ridcully, Brigit was able to sit back and enjoy herself, marveling at the things the adventurers can achieve when working together.

The portal was fixed in time for all to return home, though Brigit feels a loss at her leaving – a part of her always tied back to this foreign land that had truly made a Scholar out of her. One day she may go back and continue her studies in the company of wiser men and women than she, but for now another adventure calls her name and there is still much to be done in Ithron and Berwickshire …

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