The first approach of morning cast a dull light upon Zelkor’s Ferry. Looking out from a shattered window at Bristlebacks, Sabus noted that the town appeared to be a much different place. Debris lay throughout the courtyard, and a great mound of earth near the center of the courtyard had been torn up as Sever had called the earth elemental forth. On the far side of the courtyard, the building that had so recently housed the enchanter now lay in smoky ruins. The fire that had started during the fight with the Rakshasa had burned without interference from the town inhabitants. No one dared approach the building as it burned. It is a good thing the village is small, Sabus mused, with the buildings set apart from one another. Else, the fire could have spread and caused much damage.
“Do not be angry, Sabus” Shala says, trying to console her brother. “We have long watched and guarded against the evils trapped under these hills. But it was necessary for our efforts to be done in secrecy, guarded from all. Even to those closest to me, I was sworn to withhold my knowledge of the work of the fey.”
Continuing to look out the window, Sabus replies “If it wasn’t for that secrecy, we could have united our efforts together, and perhaps not now be in the dire situation we now find ourselves.”
They were in the same small party room that, just hours ago, the party had gathered and shared tales with the Fire Hawks. Hot tea, grown strong after sitting in the teapot over the low fire now smoldering in the fireplace, had replaced the wine and ale they had shared with the Fire Hawks. And it was during the conversations with the Fire Hawks that Sabus had discovered that Shala had never adventured with that group. Realizing his information was false, he feared that had seen Shala for the last time. His heart had despaired.
With just Sabus and Shala in the room, the space that had felt so cramped when filled with their party and the Fire Hawks, offered a much more spacious feel when shared by only two. But the argument between brother and sister now seemed to have shrunken the size of the room, making it as close and as uncomfortable as before.
“Our party is not enemy of the fey, sister” Sabus continues. “And you must know that I am not an enemy to you nor your designs, and yet we have been treated as such. Our party has demonstrated great ability, and accomplished much good, during our recent struggles with the foulness of this area.”
Sabus had learned that Shala had deliberately misled him about her whereabouts. She had concocted the story which Sabus had thought true – of joining and adventuring with the Fire Hawks – to disguise her true associations with the fey. Shala had thought that by sending word to her family of her travels with this group of renown would assuage their fears about her sudden disappearance, and allow her to study with and aid the fey in their mission without interference.
But Sabus had found something odd about her letter. He knew his sister was not of the impulsive type. She had been quite content in her studies in their home village, gaining knowledge and using such to better her community. He knew his Shala better than perhaps she understood. Sabus knew that she would not depart in such haste and under such mysterious circumstances unless there was some great need.
And so had set out in search of her. Knowing now that his sister was safe was some consolation. But the fact that she was so deeply complicit in the scheme of deception, and a partner of the schemes of the fey, now was causing strife between the two.
His anger clear, Shala tries to reason with her brother “And how many parties of heroes have gone into Athuk? Some have had success, such as yours. Perhaps not as great as yours, but successes nonetheless. And yet how many have survived? The number is small. The knowledge we hold is great. If you would have fallen in Athuk, you may have betrayed that knowledge to our enemies, placing all in grave peril. Though it pained me greatly, we deemed it too great a risk.”
“But we had great success” Sabus continued. “Even during our first delvings, we went further and accomplished more in driving back evil than any before us in many a long year. And yet knowing of our great accomplishments, you choose to withhold this critical information. If we had been privy to that information, we could have chosen wiser paths – and the reward would have been a much more stable world.”
“If the brotherhood indulged all their knowledge upon you” Shala explains “and then you and your friends fell, who is to say what stories you may have indulged.”
“You have so little regard for my skills, sister. Always I am to be treated like a little brother, of lesser skill and ability. That is fine. It is an insult I am used to bearing. But know this. My worth is greater than my height, and you are mistaken for not recognizing it as such.”
“Your prowess is becoming well-known” she acknowledges “and be certain it is greatly appreciated, my dear brother. Do not be ashamed or angry. Given the choices laid before them, the fey have done all for the best as they believed. Would that we knew before what is known now, our choices may have been different. And yes, our predicament perhaps less dire.”
Shala and the fey had indeed been quite busy learning much about Orcus’s intentions. The fey she had aligned with are the remnants of two great elven tribes. For long years, the two tribes had thrived, growing in great strength and knowledge. But as is common amongst great rival nations, jealousies arose, and there was strife between the two. Dozens of centuries before, war had been waged between the fey. Bitter battles were fought, and their strengths were much diminished.
It was during this period of war and weakness that a great evil had arisen. Seeking to gain purchase into what is now known as Golarian, the evil had manifested itself. Great numbers of the evil minions marched into the world, achieving great victories over the fey, and they were driven near the brink of oblivion.
It was at this desperate time that wisdom prevailed, and the two Elven nations joined together in a common struggle for the survival of all. During this war that followed, they delved great caverns deep underground. Designed as a failsafe, the caverns were built as a final refuge for the fey in case of their defeat. But eventually, the combined Elven strength had proven greater, and they were able to drive the evil away. But the Elven nations had become greatly diminished. Recognizing they may not survive another such evil incursion, in their triumph the greater remnant of the last magical might of the elves was used to construct a temporal Wall securing Golarian from alien worlds.
But the magic of the elves was not as great as when they were at their apex. There were flaws in its construction, and from time to time, the Wall would weaken. It was during one such weakening, just centuries before, that Orcus had entered into Golarian. His arrival into Golarian had caused a rallying of heroes. After bitter struggles, the heroes had defeated the armies of Orcus and bound them in other worlds beneath the caverns of Rappan Athuk, those same caverns which the ancient elven tribes had constructed millennia ago. And the catacombs of Rappan Athuk was made into a final resting place for those heroes, constructed above those ancient ways. Rappan Athuk was intended as a permanent ward against the rising of evil once again.
Looking through the broken shards of glass, Sabus thought briefly of old Odo, whose skills he also had underestimated. Just hours before, Odo had revealed himself as a great warrior, leaping off the roof of his tavern onto the back of a demon Vrock. Swinging his beloved club, Barbara, he had aided in disposing of the last demons who had been summoned into his tavern. He would have a steep bill to bring his tavern back into good repair. But with the recent crowds spending coin freely in his tavern, it should not cause overmuch a burden to his purse.
In the street now, there was no movement at all. After they had defeated Magress and his demon pets, the group of fey had arrived to scold the group over their interference with the natural order of balance. If it had not been for the mutual bond between brother and sister, the two groups may have come to blows. But even through their arguing, it was evident to all that both parties had similar goals, though the methods used to advance their goals may not have meshed well.
Cooler heads had prevailed, and for now, the two groups had separated. Having spoken each of their respective pieces, they each retreated to take consul amongst themselves. The fey had retreated back into the woods, their natural habitat. For the adventurers, they now rested at Bristlebacks, scattered in several rooms exhausted from their great struggles. It was only Sabus and his sister who remained awake, now debating a mutual path for their futures. But Sabus was in a foul mood.
“The knowledge you had would have been of great use to us, and knowing you were safe would have eased my anxiety for you” Sabus admonished. “Blindly we delved into Athuk, thinking only to destroy the evil that inhabits that place. But now, we discover there are factors at play here greater than a single dungeon. The schemes of evil are much more complex than we ever could have possibly known.”
The Wild Elves recognized that the Wall was insufficient to permanently seal off Golarian from Orcus, and even greater evils. So they had strengthened the bonds, set other guardians in place, guardians of great and ancient magic. One guardian is the great Kraken, residing to the east of Zelkor’s Ferry beneath the sea. A second guardian is unknown to Shala, but it is said to be an alien god temple that Orcus’s rear guard used to enter the dungeon.
But the final guardian was the great dragon Aragnak. The same dragon that the party had descended upon months ago, slaying the beast and looting his treasure. They had thought they had done great service to Golarian, protecting the world from the intrusions of the dragon. And while the party had lost their great wizard Lewthor during that struggle, little did they know that at that time they had destroyed a far more important ally – that of the guardian placed by the fey to support the Wall as a ward against other worlds.
Sabus turned away from the window and back to his sister. Shala was seated on one of the sole remaining chairs that had not been smashed during the struggle with the Vrocks.
During the festival which the Rakshasa had staged for the rescue of Emilily, this room had been set with foods for the guests to partake in. During the panic which ensued, the table had been tipped over as villagers fled through this room and out the now shattered windows. The chairs and benches had been upset, leaving the room quite a mess.
But the table had now been set aright by Bristleback’s serving girls, and the most egregious of the debris had been cleared. But certainly more work would be needed over the coming days, to this room and to the rest of the tavern.
“Our purposes were the same” Sabus continues. “You were aware that we were purging the evil from Rappun Athuk. And yet you allowed us to continue our delvings without sharing your knowledge. Much evil could have been averted if you and your fey would have been more willing to trust in us. And for you to withhold this information from your own brother – deep does that wound me.”
So throughout the centuries, the Wild Elves had maintained their vigil. Other fey folk – pixies, fairies, and others – recognizing the great evil trying to gain entry into Golarian, had joined in the watch. During her studies, Shala had gained knowledge of this fey alliance, and had endeavored to join with them. The forces of fey had united in a single purpose, to stop the intrusion of Orcus and other greater evils into the world. And they had accepted Shala as one of their own.
Smiling softly at Sabus, Shala understands the depth of his love for her. “I am not mistrustful of you, brother” she pleads. “And please believe that it wounds me as well that you have been so hurt by our decisions. By my decisions.”
“But know that it was my love for you and our family which guided my actions. It is in secrecy which has allowed the brotherhood of the fey to have survived for so long. And they have accomplished much in that secrecy, more than even now I can share. It is a secrecy that they are hesitant to dispel.”
“But do not misrepresent the fey – they are masters of their own, and I nor any mortal could avert their will unless it is of their own free choosing, nor claim any ownership over them. My word alone would not have been sufficient to allow the fey to trust you. It was only in these extreme troubles that they agreed to unveil themselves to avert a greater disaster. Perhaps your deeds could have pursued them over time to bring you into their trust. But it is usually by bloodlines do they extend trust to one another.”
“But I am of your blood, sister” Sabus declares. “Or has your time away caused your remembrance of our childhood together to grow dim?”
Bowing her head now, she continues “You are right, Sabus. I must beg your forgiveness, for that is all that I can now offer. I have told you all that the fey know of the fog and Rappan Athuk.” Raising her eyes, she implores once more “You know the danger we all are in. Accept my trust in you now. Join with me and help us try and decide a course of action to avert disaster.”
The two stared at one another for a minute, Shala pleading with Sabus to accept her apology. Sabus turned away. His anger was still close. His search for so many months had been a fool’s errand. Her deceit had caused him to journey long, in fear for her safety. The torment he had gone through worrying about her safety as a faithful brother would be borne as a reminder for longer than a single night together could temper.
But Shala had spoken wisely. There was indeed nothing that now could be done with the decisions of the past. Rather, he must accept what has happened. Trust that his sister had truly selected the correct path for furthering the common good. That her decision would allow them to overcome once and forever the evil beneath Athuk, and bring balance once again into the world. But most important, Sabus now understood he must help chose the path the party must now take with care. And use the knowledge the fey had offered to choose the wisest course.
Yes, Sabus would forgive his sister. And he admonished himself for his selfishness. She had sacrificed greatly to join the fey and strive with them against the evils of Athuk. So petty now his longing for his sister seemed, with Golarian now faced with such a great challenge.
Sabus moved over to his backpack, which he had leaned up against the wall with his other gear. Untying the pack, he digs deep near the bottom and pulls out a heavy bag. Walking over to Shala, he places the bag on the table in front of her.
“I understand now that we have caused much damage to your efforts and that of the fey. We cannot undue what has been done. Though it was not our intent to be a hindrance, perhaps we can make amends. Here is a token I offer to which I believe can be used to re-strengthen the Wall – the barrier that in our ignorance we have harmed.”
Opening the bag, Shala reaches in a pulls out a heavy object which barely fits in the palms of her hands. Smooth, with a surface made of a shiny metallic substance, it is the precious dragon egg that the party had recovered during its foray against the dragon Aragnak. The party had intercepted a caravan of evil bugbears creatures and undead wizards, bearing gifts to Aragnak. Descending upon the creatures, the party had destroyed the caravan, and found in its offerings this dragon egg stolen by evil forces from a brass dragon. Securing the treasure, the party kept it safe in the hope that it could be turned over to good forces who could bring the good dragon to life in the service of the people of Golarian.
“This is a great gift” Shala says. Her eyes opening wide, she gently strokes the dragon egg before carefully placing it bag into its bag. “The fey will be most grateful for this gift. Though I believe none is necessary, I am certain the fey folk will find this as a worthy atonement for your recent adventures which have caused weakening of the Wall. And I think you are correct – this may be useful in strengthening the Wall.”
Rising, she takes Sabus into her arms, and their strife is at an end. “I will take this gift to the fey. We will return back to our encampment north of Zelkor’s Ferry, on the outskirts of the Fairy City. It will be our mission to protect the remaining guardians to hold at bay the greater evil. We will also search for how this dragon egg can be used for the good. But for you, you and your party should return to Rappan Athuk. You must continue your assault upon Orcus, and drive his minions from this world. Once that is accomplished, we can then reseal the Wall. Knowing now what we all face, you will be better prepared to face the evils before us.”
“Yes, the evils are readily apparent in the air for all to see” Sabus replies.
Shala had explained that the fog that is now ever present about Zelkor’s Ferry is seeping up from fissures in the earth, coming through Rappan Athuk and its vast tunnels from another plane. If the Wall could be re-strengthened, then the fog should life from the land.
“Let us rest now, for there is certainly a great struggle before us.” Sabus finishes.
“Yes, brother. But stay strong. The survival of Golarian as we know it depends on our efforts. And I foresee that you and your party will play a key role in determining the ultimate outcome.
Smiling, Sabus gathers his gear, taking his sister with him from the room “No pressure at all, then. No pressure at all.”